Harry Marra, Former US National Decathlon Team Coach


There is no question about it!  The stronger you are the faster you will be able to run.  It's as simple as that!!  Does that mean that the strongest man in the world can be the fastest man in the world?  Let's take a closer look at strength training for speed improvement.


Physics tells us that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.  Transferring this concept to sprinting simply means that the more force we apply to the ground as we put our foot down in a running motion, the more force will be returned to us in the form of energy to propel us down the track or playing field.  However, if we loose sight of the fact that we need to develop our sprint technique and overall flexibility, then the strength we gain in the weight room will be for naught.  It is therefore important to include these latter aspects into your entire strength training programs.  As an athlete, you are always in the weight room as a means to an end.  Weight training as an athlete is NOT an end all in itself.  Too often, many athletes listen to the local "Gym Rat" and get off the track on their lifting program.  This usually has disastrous effects on their season and performance.


Performance enhanced strength training, especially in the off-season, is the initial basis for improved performance in the next season.  By getting stronger, we are able to work longer and harder in developing our skills in practice.  It can help us to create more power (speed X's time) in each of our sprint / running strokes and therefore increase our speed output. And we can actually improve our flexibility, which is so critical to mastery of technique. In addition, flexibility is an insurance package against sustaining a possible injury.


There are a variety of ways to go about getting stronger as an athlete as you set up your weight-training program.  Always refer to two principles though...Specificity of Training and Overload.  Both of these will have a direct bearing on your desired outcomes.  It is not the purpose of this article to go into a long discourse on strength training.  However, it is important to understand that you don't just lift without a plan.  Below I will outline a very basic strength-training plan for speed development.  It is a foundation.  It can be easily modified as to age, strength levels, time available to train, etc.


The ability to recruit all of the muscles that you need to perform a skill is the foundation of what technique is all about.  Hence, in sprinting, strength from the top of the head to the tips of the toes is important to develop and be able to use functionally.  Therefore, a tremendous amount of work needs to be done on the upper body, the lower body and the mid torso / abs region.




Primary lifting days per week: two days / week... Monday & Thursday (after sprint practice)

Auxiliary lifting days per week:  one day/week.... Could be Saturday with this schedule


Repetitions Schedule: (Primary lifts)

1st month-10 reps

2nd month-8 reps

3rd month-6 reps

4th month-4 reps ** (Competitive season begins now)


Test Periods:  Once per month, normally during the last training session of that month, you should test the strength levels in one or two primary lifts for the number of repetitions you are doing that month.  For example, if you are doing 8 reps that month, then you should test the bench press (or one other lift) during the last session for the total amount of weight you can do 8 X's in that lift.


Post weight training Med Ball Dynamics:  Approximately once every third training session, the athlete should go through a series of med ball exercises in a dynamic and explosive pattern.  My suggestion would be to do these exercises individually, using a wall as your partner.


Lifting Schedule:  Monday


Bench Press

One Arm Rows

1/2 Squat

Leg Extensions (light weight, for patella tracking purposes only)

Leg Curls

Lat Pull Downs (Chest)


Seated Pulls

Back Hyperextensions

Triceps work 3-4 styles

Bicep Curls 2-3 styles

Pull Ups

Abdominal work




Incline Dumbbell Press

Bear/Super Cat

Bench Steps with dumbbells

Leg Extensions (light weight, for patella tracking purposes only)

Leg Curls

Seated behind the back press

Cable Crossovers

Seated Pulls

Lat Pull Downs (Back)

Bicep work 2-3 styles

Triceps work 3-4 styles


Abdominal work


Saturday...Auxiliary work day

Rotator Cuff Dumbbell Lifts: thumb up, thumb down, thumb in, thumb out

Rope Curls

Wrist Curls

Calf Raises

Dynamic Flexibility Drills

Pull Up / Abdominal circuit work

Mirror Sprint Drills in between each lift (15-20 seconds each)


Dynamic Weight Training Day

Take two specific muscle group lifts (say lat pull downs and seated rows) and do each exercise with 10 reps, immediately followed by a dynamic med ball exercise (say chest-pass) for reps of 10.  Do this routine 3 X's each and then take a 3-minute break and choose another two lifts plus a med ball exercise and do in like manner.  Normally you would end up with 10 different lifts and 5 different med ball exercises here. It's important to remember that the med ball portion should be fast, explosive & dynamic in nature.  Be sure to maintain correct technique here.


Some final thoughts

Variety in lifting schedules avoids boredom and staleness in an athlete’s development.  Keep a watchful eye on how programs progress and don't be afraid to make necessary changes as you see fit.  And last but not least, free weights are more conducive to enhanced athletic performance than are machines.  Use machines early on for technical development among the younger athletes.  Graduate to free-weights as soon as technique in the lifts has been mastered.