4 Weight Room Techniques for Elite Speed and Power

John Cissik  STACK

Sprinting athletes need to be strong and powerful. To run fast, an athlete has to be able to exert force against the ground, not only does the athlete have to be able to do this but they have to be able to do it quickly! Sprinting athletes must also be able to maintain their posture while sprinting otherwise they will slow down.

All of this means that sprinting athletes need to develop their strength and power to improve their sprinting. When I’m working with track and field athletes, I make strength and power a year-round component of a training program. But I try to really focus on it in the eight weeks before the season.

There are several tools I like to use with my more advanced athletes when concentrating on sprinting strength and power. These include:

  • Olympic Lifting variations
  • Wave loading
  • Bands/chains
  • Split Squats

Olympic Lift Variations

The Olympic lifts and their variations teach an athlete to exert force quickly. This is an important skill for a sprinting athlete. I like to take this a step further and focus on two Clean variations, in particular. Keep in mind both of these variations are more advanced versions of the basic Clean, so it is wise for athletes to master that movement first before progressing. But once they have, I believe these variations can be great tools for speed and power. The first variation is the Split Clean, as demonstrated in this video:

Everything about the setup and action is similar to a standard Clean, but instead of catching the bar in a normal bilateral stance, the athlete goes into a “split” stance underneath the bar by explosively moving one foot forward and one foot back.

Next, let’s talk about the One-Legged Clean.

  • For the one-legged variation, the athlete begins in the hang position with the bar at mid-thigh while standing on one foot (then can begin in a spilt position before lifting the back foot off the ground).
  • From this position, the athlete performs the explosive part of the power clean, just off one leg.
  • The bar is then received with both feet on the ground in the split position described above.

Both of these exercises are important for sprinting athletes, as sprinting is an action that sees you generating force with the one leg in contact with the ground. Like the regular variations, they should be done for 3-5 sets of no more than 6 repetitions per set.

Wave Loading

Wave loading is a strategy to increase strength during a concentrated, intense period of time. Using it for 4 weeks at a time is optimal, after which I recommend at least a 12-week break from it. For wave loading, pick just one strength exercise for each strength workout (using this strategy with more than one exercise at a time can increase your risk of injury from the training). Once you’ve picked the exercise, you will perform 6-9 work sets on that movement.

What makes wave loading unique is that the weights will gradually be increased over the first sets, then dropped down, then increased again, then potentially dropped down and increased a third time. An example of a 9-set wave loading scheme using percentage of one repetition maximum is below:

  • Set 1: 80%
  • Set 2: 85%
  • Set 3: 90%
  • Set 4: 82.5%
  • Set 5: 87.5%
  • Set 6: 92.5%
  • Set 7: 85%
  • Set 8: 90%
  • Set 9: 95%

This allows a great deal of concentrated work to be done on a specific exercise to increase strength. Since you are only doing this with one movement per workout, I recommend picking a big compound exercise like Squats, Deadlifts or Bench Press. With the uptick in volume for this movement, volume should be reduced elsewhere in the workout to prevent overtraining.

Bands and Chains

Bands and chains offer what’s called accommodating resistance. The intent is to keep strength exercises challenging throughout the entire range of motion. For example, the hardest part of most lifts comes within the first 6-12 inches of the concentric. This is often referred to as the “sticking point.” But once you conquer the sticking point, a variety of factors make the remainder of the concentric quite easy. You never see someone fail a Back Squat when they’re just inches away from standing fully upright, for example, or someone fail a Bench Press when their elbows are just a handful of degrees from being locked out.

When properly implemented, bands and chains help make certain portions of lifts more challenging than they would be otherwise, which I believe is a great advanced strategy for increasing strength and power development. They’re typically used with Squats, Deadlifts and Presses. How and when to utilize them is an entire topic in and of itself, but if you’re looking to get athletes faster, stronger and more powerful, they’re certainly worth looking at.

Split Squats

The previous three points have largely been strategies that are best reserved for athletes with plenty of experience inside the weight room, but Split Squats make sense for both relative beginners and advanced lifters.

Again, strength in this split-stance position translates well to sprinting and a plethora of other athletic activities. If you’re trying to become a better athlete and you’re not integrating some form of Split Squat into your routine, I believe you’re making a mistake.

Now that we have some exercises and strategies, below is a sample eight-week weight room program that I’d use with track and field athletes to focus on sprinting strength and power. The program involves working out four days per week; two workouts are focused around maximal strength and two are focused around power. It is divided into two four-week long blocks of training.

Block One (Weeks 1-4)

Day One (Maximal Strength)

Day Two (Power)

Day Three (Maximal Strength)

Day Four (Power)

Block Two (Weeks 5-8)

Day One (Maximal Strength)

  • Back squats (with bands): 8 @70%, 6 @75%, 4 @80%, 8 @75%, 6 @80%, 4 @85%, 8 @80%, 6 @85%, 4 @90%
  • Good mornings: 3×4-8
  • Dumbbell bench press: 3×4-8
  • Kettlebell rows: 3×4-8
  • Seated military press: 3×4-8

Day Two (Power)

Day Three (Maximal Strength)

  • Front squats: 8 @80%, 6 @85%, 4 @90%, 8 @ 82.5%, 6 @87.5%, 4 @92.5%, 6 @85%, 4 @90%, 2 @95%
  • Split squats: 3×[email protected]% each leg
  • Dumbbell incline press: 3×4-8
  • Pull-ups: 3xMax
  • Seated kettlebell press: 3×4-8 each arm

Day Four (Power)

During this program, sprints and plyometrics should also be performed. Acceleration workouts should be done in conjunction with the maximal strength sessions, maximal velocity work should be done in conjunction with the power workouts. Horizontal plyometrics (e.g., standing long jump, triple jump, hops, etc.) should be incorporated during the power days. This is the time of year when bounds and resisted sprints can be incorporated and they could be trained during the maximal strength days.