Will overspeed running help me?
with advice from Daniel Butler, CEP,
Chelsea Cole, PTA and
Mark Salandra, CSCS
With margins in elite competitions getting smaller and smaller — Usain Bolt won his gold medal in Rio by running the 100 meter dash 0.08 seconds faster than Justin Gatlin — many advanced athletes, particularly in track and field, are constantly looking for ways to grow stronger and improve their times.
Overspeed training is one way that runners (and other athletes) try to strengthen the muscles used in short bursts of movement, by using some type of external assistance to run faster than one normally would run, about “8% to 13% faster than the athlete’s fastest speed.” Daniel Butler, a clinical exercise specialist at the Take Charge Fitness Program, a wellness facility run by Clinton Physical Therapy Center (a Physiquality network member in Tennessee), explains that there are several ways to do this. Tail wind running is the simplest method, running with a wind at your back. Similarly, slight downhill running is running down a hill with a slight grade. (A study in 2008 used NCAA sprinters to determine the best grade of hill for improving sprinting times; the authors concluded that a hill with a grade of about 5.8 degrees was optimal for improved performance.)
For more intense athletes, towing machines pull the runner down the track at a slightly faster pace than his normal rate. Runners have also used anti-gravity equipment like that from AlterG, a Physiquality partner, as well as wind tunnels, parachutes and speed harnesses. Chelsea Cole, a physical therapist assistant at Clinton Physical Therapy Center, cautions that athletes trying these types of methods should do pre-testing to determine maximum limb speeds and target speeds before training, and advises that any of these training methods should be created and supervised by a professional to ensure safety.
Daniel also notes that using pre-activation, or potentiation, exercises before sprinting has been shown to improve running times. “The exercise performed before the sprint would be selected for its ability to activate the target muscles without overly fatiguing them, allowing the muscles to fire more effectively and the athlete to sprint faster,” he says. John Shepherd, a coach for Team Great Britain, explains in an article how this has been done by other athletes: “To provide a potentiation example, the 30m sprint performance of athletes from various sports, including football, handball and basketball, was improved by performing 10 single repetitions at 90% of their 1 rep maximum 5 minutes before the completion of the sprints.”
Before focusing on speed and results, good form must be established, reminds Mark Salandra, a certified strength and conditioning specialist and the founder of StrengthCondition.com, another Physiquality partner program. Mark emphasizes the importance of flexibility in improving stride frequency and length, two key components of faster running times. He suggests strength training to increase leg strength, incorporating such exercises as squats and deadlifts into your off-track regimen, in order to increase your stride.
Mark also notes that overspeed training often causes eccentric muscle damage, which usually presents as soreness in the quadriceps (thigh) muscles and can be painful to the touch. To minimize such pain, Mark recommends that these techniques be introduced into any training program gradually, combined with other pre-conditioning and strengthening exercises. Daniel also emphasizes that overspeed techniques should be used only by advanced or elite athletes, as beginner to intermediate runners and athletes would see more results from perfecting their technique and form (as noted by Mark above) and building their explosiveness strength.
For help customizing your running regimen, and to find out which training techniques are right for you, contact your nearest Physiquality location.
Daniel Butler, CEP, has been a personal trainer for more than 10 years at the Take Charge Fitness Program, a wellness facility run by Clinton Physical Therapy Center, a Physiquality network member in Clinton, Tennessee. A former Marine, Daniel holds certifications from the American College of Sports Medicine as a clinical exercise specialists and the Arthritis Foundation as an aquatic instructor, and he completed his B.S. in health administration in 2012.
Chelsea Cole, PTA, is a physical therapist assistant at Clinton Physical Therapy Center in Clinton, Tennessee. She graduated Summa Cum Laude with her AAS as a Physical Therapist Assistant from Roane State Community College in 2012.
Mark Salandra, CSCS, is the founder of StrengthCondition.com, one of Physiquality’s partner programs. Salandra educates and trains athletes young and old in strength and conditioning, with the goals of better fitness and lower rates of injury.
For further reading, look through our selection of articles on sports and fitness, in addition to the below links:
Shepherd, John. Is over speed training helping or hurting you? WatchFit.com, November 27, 2014.
The what, why and how of overspeed training. AlterG, July 25, 2011.
Ebben WP. The optimal downhill slope for acute overspeed running. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, March 2008.