General Weight and Fitness Training for Sprinters

A sprinting event during the 2012 London Olympics.
A sprinting event during the 2012 London Olympics. Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The ability to run fast is pretty much determined genetically by your predominant muscle type — the fast twitch fibers and how many of them you have been blessed with.Even so, that's not to say that you can't improve on what you already have.

Training to run fast means running fast in training, but on top of that, most serious competitive sprinters now do some sort of weight training to enhance their power and strength and hopefully their speed as well. Consider this a basic program from which to build an individual training program.

Weight Training Plan for Sprinters

This program has three phases: a general conditioning phase, a strength and power phase, and a maintenance phase that you can use during competition. Keep in mind that all athletes have individual needs. A generic program like this one will need to be modified for age, gender, goals, facilities and so on.

General Conditioning

The general preparation phase should provide all-around muscle and strength conditioning in the early preseason. You will probably be doing sprint training on the track as well, so you will need to fit it in with your track work.

As a general rule, and for all the following programs, don't do the workouts prior to track work. Do them on a separate day if possible. Nothing you do should limit your ability to train fast on the track.

  • Frequency: 2 to 3 sessions per week
  • Type: General conditioning
  • Exercises: 9 exercises, 3 sets of 12, plus warm-up and cool-down in the Basic Strength and Muscle program. (I favor the Romanian type deadlift rather than full deadlift in this program.)
  • Rest between sets: 30-90 seconds

Strength and Power

In this phase, you will focus more on the development of strength and power. This is the period leading up to the start of the competition.

Maintenance/Competition Phase

The aim of this phase is the maintenance of strength and power. Track training and competition should dominate. Prior to the start of the competition, take 7-10 days break from heavyweights to work at the end of strength and power phase while maintaining your track work. Weight training in the competition phase should play essentially a maintenance role.

  • Frequency: 1 to 2 sessions per week
  • Type: power; lighter loads and faster execution than in the specific preparation phase
  • Exercises: 3 sets of 10, rapid concentric movement, 40% to 60% of 1RM. Squats, power hang clean, Romanian deadlift, crunches.
  • Rest between sets: 1-2 minutes

Training Tips

Keep basic health, safety, and injury-prevention tips in mind as you move through your sprint training program.

  • Be sure to warm up and cool down prior to weight training.
  • Don't sacrifice a track session for a weights session — unless you're treating or recovering from an injury with weights work.
  • Don't train through injuries, acute or chronic.
  • If you have a knowledgeable coach, be guided by him or her regarding the details of your program.
  • If you're new to weight training, read up on the fundamentals before you start.
  • Take at least a few weeks off at the end of the season to recover after a hard season of training and competing.

By Paul Rogers
Paul Rogers is a personal trainer with experience in a wide range of sports, including track, triathlon, marathon, hockey, tennis, and baseball.