Sprinting Workouts - How To Build Your Own Program

As fall approaches in the Northern Hemisphere and summer track events begin to wind down, athletes shift their focus toward off season training so that they can prepare for the next season. Today we will discuss some ideas surrounding how to approach your off season training so you can have a good shot at success when it comes time to compete.

 

The Debrief

The first step to take before setting off on your training is to do a season debrief with yourself or your athletes. The goal of a debrief is to take an honest look at how your training went in the previous season and perform something similar to a SWOT analysis, were you look at strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Essentially, you want to see what went well, what did not go as planned, how you might be able to improve best this coming year, and any issues you need to be aware of so you do not run into problems later down the road.

Strengths or What Went Well

Start off by taking note of what went well in your training and your competitive season. For me, I set a personal best in the 50-60m zone, the 20-50m zone, 30m-70m zone, and the 40-80m zone. Also I did not suffer any serious acute injuries, which I see as a positive.

Weaknesses or What Was Missing

Next, identify any weaknesses you had, aspects of performance that were lacking, or areas you felt you could have done better within. Personally, my training was inconsistent in the fall, my strength levels were not well developed, my early acceleration was subpar compared to what I’ve done in the past, and chronic overuse injuries popped up in my right knee and left hip and groin region.

Opportunities or Areas You Can Improve

Now we want to look at any opportunities that may exist which give you room to improve. These may be areas you know you can improve at but for whatever reason did not in the previous season. In my training, current opportunities are that my strength is higher than last year which should help my acceleration, my schedule allows me to train more consistently than last year and my aggregate stress load is lower, and my leg recovery mechanics are better which should allow for better quality upright sprinting.

Threats or Issues To Be Aware Of

Last, we should consider what issues we need to be aware of that may threaten our ability to train or perform at our best. I recently had a grade 1 hamstring strain because I progressed too quickly into curved sprinting on the track. I had no pain prior to the injury, so this sort of came out of nowhere at me. Also, since I dealt with some chronic injury issues last season, I need to be aware of what led up to those so that I can make sure to not let them reoccur. For example, how many weeks in a row did I do sprinting workouts 4 times per week? What were my volume, intensity, and densities of training in the weeks prior to when injuries became a prominent issue? Identifying these patterns and avoiding the same mistakes can be crucial for further development.

Forming a Training Plan

Once you have performed a debrief, you can analyze what you came up with and use that information to pave a path forward. For me, I need to not repeat the same mistakes of training fast sprints too frequently and being relatively weak compared to what I am capable of. 

Weekly Structure

The first step to take here is to think about what kind of weekly training setup would be optimal based on what you want to target in your training, what your schedule availability is, and what your aggregate stress loads are. For example if you have no job, no kids, and are in online school, chances are that you can train fairly often. On the other hand if you have a full time job, you take on stress and scheduling conflicts which impact when and how you can train.

My goal is to work up to sprinting workouts performed fast 3 days per week, starting with two fast days of sprinting. I want to lift three times per week in the fall and transition to two times per week in the spring, and I’d like to incorporate some amount of tempo running early and then progress that toward short speed endurance over time.

From this point, I can come up with a few options for my initial training setup.

Example 1:

  1. Monday - Short acceleration, jumps, lifts
  2. Tuesday - Bodyweight circuits OR tempo & medicine ball throws
  3. Wednesday - Jumps & lifts
  4. Thursday - Bodyweight circuits OR tempo & medicine ball throws
  5. Friday - Long acceleration, jumps, lifts
  6. Saturday - Off
  7. Sunday - Off

Example 2:

  1. Monday - Short acceleration, jumps, lifts
  2. Tuesday - Bodyweight circuits or tempo & medicine ball throws
  3. Wednesday - Off
  4. Thursday - Long acceleration, jumps, lifts
  5. Friday - Off
  6. Saturday - Intensive tempo, jumps, lifts
  7. Sunday - Off

Example 3:

  1. Monday - Short acceleration, jumps, lifts
  2. Tuesday - Extensive tempo & medicine ball throws
  3. Wednesday - Off
  4. Thursday - Long acceleration, jumps, lifts
  5. Friday - Bodyweight/med ball circuits & medicine ball throws
  6. Saturday - Intensive tempo, jumps, lifts
  7. Sunday - Off

Example 3:

  1. Monday - Short acceleration
  2. Tuesday - Jumps & Lifts
  3. Wednesday - Off
  4. Thursday - Long acceleration
  5. Friday - Jumps & Lifts
  6. Saturday - Off
  7. Sunday - Off

Once you have a few options for your overall training structure, you can go back and consider which will give you the best balance of training load, ability to recover, and ability to repeat this cycle over the course of multiple weeks.

For example if you struggle with achilles tendon pain, you might want to opt for circuit training instead of tempo running as a way to reduce the risk of any chronic overuse injuries in your ankles. Maybe you can safely manage one tempo session, and your other low intensity days can be low impact circuit training.

If you are someone who deals with hip or groin pain, you could modify your program such that only one of your acceleration days is from a crouched start position, with the other acceleration day being performed from standing or rolling starts. Alternating your start leg would also be wise for these individuals.

When looking at options for training plan setup, consider how you would feel after each session, being honest with yourself as to how well you’ll be able to recover. Use mental visualization to get a feel for how taxing each day of training would be, what areas of the body you might aggravate with this training setup, and consider if it is realistic for you to be able to regularly train within the chosen framework.

Once you choose a certain weekly structure, you can try it for a few weeks and see how your body responds. Ask yourself some questions:

  • Am I recovering enough between high intensity sessions?
  • Do I have any areas of tightness or pain that seem to get worse or at least not go away?
  • Is there anything my program is missing, which if added, would not disrupt my recovery?
  • Is there anything in my program that is unnecessary that I can leave out or use less often?

If time goes by and you feel adjustments are needed, make the adjustments. You should take some notes each day when you train, that way you can have something to look back at after a few weeks and have a clear idea of how you felt and how things are going.

Training Progressions

Once you’ve narrowed down to the weekly training structure you want to use, you can go about planning some training progressions. As with any training plan, a sprint training program should be somewhat of a living document in that you can make adjustments when needed. Regardless, we should have some form of a forward looking plan which can bridge the gap between where we are now and where we want to be in the future.

A safe way to approach your training progressions is to put together 3 week cycles where the first two weeks include increasing intensity and volume, dropping the workloads down in the third week to allow for greater recovery. You can do 4 week cycles as well, but many sprint athletes find that by week three of a cycle their performances suffer and their bodies begin to struggle with the loading. 

Here are some examples for progressing workloads within a cycle:

  • Day 1, Week 1 - 6x30m @ 100%
  • Day 1, Week 2 - 2x4x30m @ 100%
  • Day 1, Week 3 - 5x30 @ 95-100%
  • Day 5, Week 1 - 5x100m @ 85%
  • Day 5, Week 2 - 6x100m @ 85% 
  • Day 6, Week 3 - 5x100m @ 75%

With this example, we’ve got a range of 150m to 240m total sprint volume for day 1, and 500m to 600m total volume for day 5. From here, you can aim to progress total sprint volumes within each day of the week from cycle to cycle. Maybe the next cycle includes 180m to 250m of sprint volumes on day 1, and 600-800m of volume on day 5.

Here are examples of progressions from cycle to cycle:

  • Day 1, Cycle 1 - 150m to 240m
  • Day 1, Cycle 2 - 180m to 240m
  • Day 1, Cycle 3 - 200m to 280m
  • Day 1, Cycle 4 - 200m to 300m

One additional point to consider here is that, if you are getting faster each cycle, you may not want to increase total sprint volumes very much, since the intensity of the volume will increase as your speed increases. 200m of 40m accelerations at 4.2 seconds are going to be less taxing than 200m of 40m accelerations at 3.8 seconds. So if you are getting faster between cycles, the volume of sprinting should only increase in small amounts. Eventually, such as when you are closer to competitions, you might even decrease overall sprint volumes. For example 4x60m at 100% effort in January, prior to an indoor competition, might be more taxing on your system than 6x60m at 90-95% was in September.

What Are We Trying To Develop?

Deciding what you plan to work on over the next months should be informed both by your debrief and SWOT analysis, as well as within some general guidelines or best practices of sprint training.

For example, initially we want to increase our work capacity for specific training loads, that way we have the work capacity needed to perform high quality sprint work when it counts. As time goes on we want this work capacity training to shift more into developing the fastest sprints over various distances, and one way to modify this is through rest periods.

In your first cycle of training, acceleration days can be focused more on acceleration capacity, where you sprint a distance, take a short rest period, sprint again, and then take a longer rest period. You can do 2 or 3 sprints in a row with short rest, followed by a longer rest period between sets.

After a cycle or two, longer rest periods can be used to allow for faster times in each sprint. During the first cycle you might rest 1-2 minutes between 20m or 30m sprints and 3-5 minutes between sets, whereas during an acceleration development period you might perform the same workload but with 3-5 minutes between each sprint. This progression from shorter to longer rest periods will allow for your sprinting speed to progress as the rest periods get longer.

Another approach is to dedicate one sprint day to acceleration capacity, and another day for acceleration development. The main difference here would be the rest periods you choose, where the capacity day uses short rest and the development day uses longer rest periods.

In general, I like to work on acceleration and some intensive tempo early in the training year. This allows for a natural progression toward speed development and speed endurance training as the body adapts and cycles progress forward. 

Recap

Hopefully this gives you some idea as to how you can set out on building a training plan for your off season that sets you up for high quality performances later when it comes time to compete. As stated, the first thing to do is to analyze your last season of training and competition, identifying what went right, what went wrong, opportunities you can take advantage of, and threats that you need to be aware of and avoid.

Once you identify your needs, you can decide on a weekly structure of training that fits in well with your life as a whole. If you work a job or have kids, you will likely have a lower training capacity than someone who is single and doesn’t have a job.

When you do come up with a weekly plan, you can then build training progressions which will allow you to start with where you are currently at physically and allow you to progress toward where you would like to be in a few months time. Avoid being overly aggressive with your progressions, such as having drastic changes in training volume from week to week or cycle to cycle. Your progressions should nudge your body toward more stressful workloads, not sucker punch it in the face with huge changes that are too much stress for you to handle.


Over time you can keep notes of how training is going and make adjustments as needed. Know that every training program ever made will probably need to be adjusted, and this is fine. Regardless, we should still do our best to set out a logical progression of training, that way we give ourselves the best chance possible to stay healthy, improve our performances, and to perform well at the right time.