Strength and Conditioning Considerations for the 100-m Sprinter : Strength & Conditioning Journal

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Strength and Conditioning Considerations for the 100-m Sprinter

Cissik, John M MBA, MS, CSCS*D, NSCA-CPT*D

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Strength and Conditioning Journal: December 2010 - Volume 32 - Issue 6 - p 89-94
doi: 10.1519/SSC.0b013e3181fd9e34
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The 100-m sprint is an explosive fast event. This article will first summarize the literature that analyzes the 100-m sprint. Next, it will describe the physical qualities that make an athlete successful at the event. Third, this article will provide recommendations for a strength training program based on the analysis of both the event and the physical qualities that make an athlete faster. Finally, a sample program will be provided.


The 100-m sprint is an event that requires an athlete to react quickly to the starting gun, leave the starting blocks explosively, accelerate maximally, and maintain velocity for as long as possible until the end of the race. As of the writing of this article, the world record for the 100-m sprint is 9.58 seconds for men (Usain Bolt) and 10.49 seconds for women (Florence Griffith-Joyner).

Gaffney (10) divides the 100-m sprint into the following phases: reaction time, block clearance, acceleration, maintenance of maximum velocity, and deceleration. Over the years, a great deal of research has been done on each of these phases of the sprint. One of the foci of these papers is whether any particular phase or technique will positively influence the outcome of the event. This section of the article will briefly review that research.

Reaction time refers to the time from when the gun is fired until the rear leg is lifted off the block (10). According to Schmolinsky (22), reaction time should range from 0.12 to 0.18 seconds. Theoretically, possessing a faster reaction to the gun would give an athlete an advantage in the race because they would be able to start the race faster than his or her competitors. Research suggests that gender differences among elite sprinters with regard to reaction time exist. When studying the 2004 Olympics, Babic and Delalija (2) found that elite men had a faster reaction time (0.164 seconds) than elite women (0.184 seconds). The authors did not provide a rationale on why this difference might exist.

Block clearance begins when the rear leg is lifted off the block and ends when the front leg has left the block (10). The angle of the starting blocks may impact the velocity with which the athlete is leaving the blocks. In a small study (9 sprinters, mean 100 m, time of 10.86 seconds), Mero et al. (20) examined the effects of 2 different starting block angles (40 and 65°) on block velocity. They found that those athletes with a smaller front starting block angle achieved a higher velocity getting out of the blocks, although this increase had disappeared by the 20-m point in the sprint. This difference disappeared early in the sprint in the Mero et al. study, but a different group or athletes (for example, elite sprinters) might have been able to take advantage of the higher velocity and translated it into a faster race.

Another important observation for the strength and conditioning coach is that both legs do not exert an equal amount of force to get out of the starting blocks. When analyzing the first 2 steps of a 100-m hurdle's block start, Coh et al. (6) found that the rear leg exerts 61% of the force that the front leg exerts to get out of the blocks. In this study, block clearance was largely achieved through recruitment of the erector spinae, vastus lateralis, and gastrocnemius muscles (6).

According to Letzelter (18), after clearing the blocks, the 100-m sprint is organized in a similar manner when comparing elite to junior sprinters. There is a phase where velocity is increased (i.e., acceleration phase), velocity is maintained, and then velocity decreases (18). The lengths of these phases and the sprinting strategies vary as a result of ability level, however.

Acceleration is the time from when the front leg has left the block until the athlete has reached his or her maximum velocity (10). According to Coh et al. (8), this is the phase where the kinematic parameters change the most dramatically, including stride frequency, stride length, duration of the flight and braking phases, and the body's center of gravity (8). According to Coh et al. (6), much of this is because of the activity of the gluteus maximus, rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, biceps femoris, and gastrocnemius. In the Coh et al. (6) study, the electromyographic data demonstrated that during acceleration, the gluteus maximus and vastus medialis are most active while the foot is on the ground, whereas the biceps femoris, rectus femoris, and vastus lateralis are most active when the foot is in the air.

Faster athletes have a longer acceleration phase than slower athletes (18,19). For example, Letzelter (18) compared junior sprinters (mean 100 m; time 12.78 seconds) versus elite sprinters (mean 100 m; time 11.03 seconds) and found that junior sprinters achieved their peak velocity at 28 m into the race, compared with 52 m for the elite sprinters. Mackala (19) also examined this, comparing male sprinters (mean 100 m; time 11.18 seconds) with participants in the 1991 World Championships (mean 100 m; time 9.97 seconds). The slower sprinters achieved peak velocity at 60 m, compared with 80 m for the elite sprinters. Faster sprinters have a higher velocity at all points during the acceleration phase (see Coh et al. (7) and Mackala (19) for examples).

Why are these differences occurring? Maximum velocity is traditionally considered to be the product of stride length × stride frequency (4). In other words, if one or both can be increased through training, technique, or both, then maximum velocity will be increased. Analysis of the 100-m finals in the 1991 International Association of Athletic Federations World Championships showed that elite sprinters may increase their stride length until they are 80 m into the race and their stride frequency until they are 60 m into the race (19). When comparing faster sprinters to slower sprinters, stride length is greater for faster sprinters (7,19). For some athletes, stride frequency is greater for the faster athletes (19) but not in all studies (7). It is unclear if this result is because of the level of ability used in the research, for example, Mackala (19) compared elite sprinters like Carl Lewis with average level sprinters. However, Coh et al. (7) compared 2 groups of national-caliber sprinters.

Interestingly, male and female sprinters may have different running mechanics. Analyzing the 2003 World Championships, Paruzel-Dyja et al. (21) found a statistically significant correlation (r = −0.39) between stride frequency and 100 m time for female sprinters. This correlation did not exist for male sprinters. Rather, there was a statistically significant correlation between stride length and 100 m time for male sprinters (r = −0.43), which did not exist for female sprinters. To reinforce this, analysis of the 2000 Olympic games found that the male athletes tended to run by striking the ground with their mid foot, whereas the female athletes ran by striking the ground with their forefoot (16).

Maintenance of maximum velocity refers to the period of time that the athlete can maintain his or her maximum velocity. This phase of the race tends to be shorter for faster sprinters because of the fact that they are spending a longer time accelerating. Success in this phase is influenced by the ability of the athlete to maintain his or her speed, which is a quality called speed endurance. Typically, track and field coaches train this quality with 30- to 300-m sprints with full recovery (24).

Deceleration is the period of time during which velocity decreases toward the end of the sprint. All sprinters reach this phase in the 100-m sprint. Possessing speed endurance will help to minimize the amount of deceleration, but it will still occur. When comparing the finalists of the men's 100-m sprint in the 1991 World Championships with 8 slower sprinters, Mackala (19) noted that the elite sprinters peaked at 11.70 m/s around the 80th meter of the race. But by the end of the race, they were running at 11.22 m/s. This trend occurred with the slower sprinters but at the 60th meter in the race.


Understanding why athletes are successful at the 100-m sprint can help to direct strength and conditioning programs. This section of the article will review the research on physiological characteristics of athletes that make them successful at the event. Many athletes use sprinting in their training or as part of their sport, but as this article is geared toward the 100-m sprinter, the analysis below is going to limit itself to sprinters.

To the extent that it has been studied, the cross-sectional area (CSA) of the type II muscle fibers seems to have a relationship with 100-m sprint performance (14,15). In a series of studies, authors have noted the decline in performance of sprinters from the age of 18 through the age of 84. Interestingly, fiber type percentage (i.e., type I versus type IIa, IIb, etc) does not change, but the CSA of those fibers changes (by between 6 and 11% per decade depending upon the type of fiber). Along with this, there are marked changes in sprint performance (6% per decade), vertical jump performance (11% per decade), rate of force development (9% per decade), maximal force (8% per decade), stride length (4% per decade), stride frequency (1% per decade), and even 1 repetition maximum (RM) half squat (9% per decade) (14,15). Implementing a 20-week periodized strength training with these master sprinters, however, increased the CSA of the type II fibers by as much as 40%. This lead to an increase in 1RM half squat, squat jump performance, triple jump performance, propulsive ground reaction forces, rate of force development, stride length, and a decrease in ground contact time (9). In other words, increasing the CSA of particularly the type II muscle fibers would seem to increase a 100-m sprinter's performance, although this would be limited by one's genetic potential to develop type II muscle fibers.

A coach should be careful with increasing the CSA area of the muscle fibers too much. There seems to be a relationship between the CSA of the muscle fibers and the pennation angles of those fibers (the angle of the fibers relative to the tendon), although it is unclear how trainable this is. Muscles with a larger CSA have a greater pennation angle of those muscle fibers (13). Muscle fibers with a greater pennation angle generate more force (13). Theoretically, it would be advantageous for a sprinter to have muscle fibers with a lower pennation angle as the nature of their orientation would result in a faster velocity of shortening (17). Studies have noted a relationship between pennation angle and speed. Abe et al. (1) compared 100-m sprinters with distance runners and noted that the distance runners had a larger pennation angle of their muscle fibers. Kumagai et al. (17) compared faster sprinters (mean 100 m; time 10.58 seconds) with slower sprinters (mean 100 m; time 11.37 seconds). They found that the faster sprinters had a lower pennation angle at the vastus lateralis (19 versus 21.2°), medial part of the gastrocnemius (21.4 versus 23.5°), and lateral part of the gastrocnemius (14 versus 15.2°) than the slower ones and that there was a statistically significant correlation between pennation angle and performance on the 100-m sprint. Not all studies, however, have found this relationship between pennation angle and 100-m performance. Stafilidis and Arampatzis (23) compared faster male sprinters (mean 100 m; time 11.04 seconds) and slower male sprinters (mean 100 m; time 11.64 seconds) and found no difference in pennation angle. Theoretically, if muscle CSA is increased too much and if this increases pennation angle too much, then this could ultimately reduce the sprinter's performance.

Another debatable variable for performance is the length of the muscle fascicles (i.e., bundles of muscle fibers). Theoretically, longer fascicles would have a greater velocity of shortening, potentially resulting in better performance in the sprint (17). The studies by Abe et al. (1) and Kumagai et al. (17) that have been described earlier found that faster sprinters had longer muscle fascicles, and they also found that there was a statistically significant correlation between the length of the fascicles and performance on the 100-m sprint. Stafilidis and Arampatzis (23) did not find this relationship. It is unclear if this quality is trainable of inherited.

Muscle stiffness, that is, resistance to a change in length, is believed to have an impact on sprinting (3). Theoretically, muscle stiffness would influence rate of force development, elastic energy storage and utilization, stride length, and stride frequency (3). This seems promising. For example, Harrison et al. (11) compared sprinters with endurance athletes and noted that the sprinters demonstrated greater leg stiffness than the endurance athletes. Hypothetically, strength training and eccentric training would increase stiffness (3).


Analyzing both the event and the athletes that are successful at this event lead to several important considerations that should be kept in mind when developing a strength and conditioning program for the 100-m sprinter. These are as follows:

  1. The 100-m sprint takes 10-13 seconds
  2. Given the fast explosive nature of the event, sprinters need to develop their type II muscle fibers
  3. Sprinters exert force against the ground
  4. Only 1 leg is in contact with the ground at a time
  5. Sprinters use multiple training modes beyond strength training

Because the event only lasts 10-13 seconds, its primary fuel source is going to be from adenosine triphosphate and creatine phosphate stored in the muscles and glycogen via anaerobic glycolysis. This means that the majority of training needs to focus on shorter duration and higher intensities allowing for full recovery.

Because of the importance of the type II muscle fibers for sprinting performance, training needs to focus on both maximal strength and exercises that develop explosiveness (plyometrics, weightlifting variations, etc).

Sprinters exert force against the starting blocks and the ground. As a result, the focus of any program needs to be on training the athletes to exert force against the ground. Squats, deadlifts, Romanian deadlifts, cleans, pulls, snatches, jerks, and so on should be prioritized ahead of exercises that do not train the athlete to exert force against the ground.

Analyzing block clearance and running technique shows that there are periods where either 1 leg is in contact with the ground (during running) or when 1 leg is exerting greater amounts of force than the other (block clearance). Some time should be devoted to exercises that emphasize 1 leg over the other (e.g., split squats, lunges, split cleans/snatches, etc).

Finally, sprinters do more than just lift weights, and all this training has a cumulative effect on the athlete. An approach for linking track training to strength/conditioning is to synchronize the training together by energy system and/or biomotor ability (see Cissik (5) and Hoey (12) for more information). This allows the athlete to recover fully, rather than overstressing the same energy systems and abilities.

The final part of this article will apply the above considerations to a sample strength and conditioning program for a freshman collegiate 100-m sprinter.


Figures 1-4 show a hypothetical program for this sprinter based on the preceding analysis and considerations. The year is broken up into early off-season (September and October), late off-season (November to mid-December), preseason (mid-December through January), and in-season (February through July). Only an overview of the workouts is presented. In reality, volume, intensity, and exercises would be modified from week to week and month to month, and this is not reflected Figures 1-4.

Figure 1:
Early off-season training (September and October).
Figure 2:
Late off-season training (November through mid-December).
Figure 3:
Preseason training (mid-December through January).
Figure 4:
In-season training (February through July).

In the early off-season, the focus on the track is on developing the foundation for the sprinter to be successful. Acceleration, maximum velocity sprinting, and speed endurance are all emphasized equally. Ample recovery days are included to get the athlete used to the demands of training. The strength training seeks to compliment this with Monday being a heavy day focusing on fundamental lifts, Wednesday is the explosive day focusing on the variations of the Olympic lifts, and Friday (endurance) focuses on higher volume training. Note also that the intent is to begin to familiarize the athlete with the fundamentals in terms of technique.

The late off-season prioritizes acceleration work on the track. Only 3 days are being spent in the weight room. The focus of this phase is to continue improving strength (note the wave loading on the back squats), continued mastery of technique (the power snatch is introduced), and the introduction of single-leg exercises (primarily on Friday).

The preseason training runs through the part of the indoor season as it runs through January. The priority on the track is on maximum velocity, although a second speed endurance workout has been added to assist with the recovery. With regard to strength training, eccentric training has been introduced on Monday. Wednesday continues to focus on the variations of the Olympic-style lifts. Friday continues to emphasize 1-legged training.

During in-season training, weight room work is cut back to twice a week. The demands of travel and competition do not realistically allow for more time to be spent on this aspect of training. With that in mind, much of the training is devoted to maintain the gains in the weight room. Monday primarily focuses on strength-using both eccentric and 1-legged exercises. Wednesday focuses on explosiveness.

The 100-m sprint has a number of distinct phases that may be run differently based on an athlete's level of ability or gender. In addition to the race, there are a number of physical characteristics (including muscle fiber CSA, pennation angle, fascicle length, and stiffness) that can influence performance. Understanding these can help a strength and conditioning coach to design a program to address an athlete's specific needs.


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sprinter; program design; pennation angle; fascicle length

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