Four Reasons Why Athletes Must Sprint
Four Reasons Why Athletes Must Sprint
Robert A. Panariello MS, PT, ATC, CSCS
Professional Physical Therapy
Professional Athletic Performance Center
New York, New York
The athlete’s ability to sprint at high velocities is an integral component in the
related fields of Sports Rehabilitation and the Performance Enhancement Training
of athletes. A principal objective of the rehabilitation process is to restore the
athlete to their previous level of athletic performance including the athlete’s preinjury running velocity. With regard to the athlete’s performance enhancement
training, a necessary component of training, when appropriate, would be to enhance
the athlete’s abilities in linear velocity. The review of the various rehabilitation
and/or performance enhancement training program designs often leads to the
inquiry, as well as reveals the lack of an appropriate programmed sprinting volume
as often the focus of the running volume prescription is “tempo” in nature. The
Rehabilitation and Strength and Conditioning (S&C) Professional must ensure that
the athlete incorporates an appropriate and proficient amount of sprinting volume
into their rehabilitation and performance enhancement training program designs.
Based on the athlete’s medical history, demonstrated physical quality levels,
biological age, training history, etc., these appropriately prescribed sprinting
volumes will vary from athlete to athlete. Nonetheless it is essential to incorporate
appropriate high velocity sprinting volumes into the athlete’s rehabilitation and
performance training program design.
The following are some of the simple explanations for prescribing suitable sprinting
volumes for the athlete:
1. Speed Enhancement– The obvious reason for the incorporation of
appropriate sprinting volumes is for the athlete to increase their linear
velocity. Speed is a dangerous weapon in the world of sport and the fastest
athletes will have a distinct advantage over their slower opponent in the
arena of athletic competition.
2. Improve the co-activation index of the lower extremity musculature An additional benefit of performing high sprinting velocity training is the positive
effect upon the body’s co-activation index. A simple example of the co-activation
index transpires during slower velocity body weight (as well as applied weight
intensity) activities resulting in the stabilization of a joint via the agonist and
antagonist muscle groups working together as these slower movement velocities
result in an applied stress application over a prolonged period of time. Thus the
co-activation index of the agonist and antagonist muscle groups working together
during a prolonged slow activity performance is close to or at a 1:1 ratio.
High velocity sprinting movements are dependent upon a brief factor of ground
contact time. The performance of high velocity sprinting activities requires a
prominent contribution from the agonist muscle group(s) while the antagonist
muscle group(s) has a lower level of contribution. This emphasized contribution
of the agonist muscle group results in a shift in the co-activation index in favor of
the agonist. This emphasized contribution of the agonists result in optimal high
speed propulsion, as well as a fluid motion of the body in the desired direction of
movement. Charlie Francis and Tudor Bompa have indicated that the highest
skilled athlete’s are those with the ability to completely relax their antagonist
muscle groups during high velocity movement and that ridged and rough
movements are a result of poor coordination between the agonists and antagonists.
3. Speed Endurance – It’s one thing for the athlete to perform at top sprinting speed
for a few repetitions, but a necessity of many athletic contests is for the athlete to
perform at top velocity frequently throughout the length of the competition. If the
athlete does not have the speed endurance to perform at maximum velocity
repeatedly over time, excessive fatigue will occur resulting in a loss of force
output, technical proficiency, possible risk of injury, and neuromuscular
inefficiency during the sprinting performance. The athlete must perform an
adequate volume of sprinting to establish an appropriate level of speed endurance.
4. Neuromuscular timing – The literature has demonstrated that the hamstring
muscle most often injured during athletic competition is the biceps femoris (BF).
One possible mechanism that may result in the injury of this muscle is poor
neuromuscular timing. The BF muscle is comprised of a long head and a short
head with different nerve innervations. The tibial nerve innervates the long head
of the BF while the short head is innervated by the common peroneal nerve
(Figure 1). If the neuromuscular “timing” of the BF muscle innervation is poorly
coordinated, this may result in a hamstring injury.
Figure 1 The Biceps Femoris Muscle
An analogy of the significance of applicable neuromuscular timing of the
shoulder occurs during the rehabilitation of the rotator cuff musculature in a
baseball pitcher. During this shoulder rehabilitation process a neuromuscular
timing must be established between the musculature of the gleno-humeral (GH)
and scapula-thoracic (ST) joints of the shoulder for optimal throwing performance
to occur. During the final stages of rehabilitation the initiation and progression of
a post-operative rotator cuff repair tossing/throwing program may be prescribed
as follows: Short Toss to Long Toss to Pitching on Flat Ground to Pitching from a
This throwing progression requires the shoulder/arm to travel at higher throwing
velocities during each progressive throwing phase of the athlete’s rehabilitation.
Thus the neuromuscular efficiency, or timing, of the GH&ST musculature that is
required for optimal throwing performance is enhanced via a progression of
higher throwing velocities. Therefore wouldn’t the efficient timing of the dual
innervation of the biceps femoris require the same high speed program design for
optimal performance as well as the prevention of injury?
Optimal running velocities are imperative for success in many athletic endeavors.
Appropriately prescribed sprinting volumes at the applicable times will not only
enhance and athlete’s sprinting velocity, but maintain that linear velocity
throughout the course of athletic competition while assisting in the prevention of
lower extremity injury as well.