Resistance Sprint Drills to Boost Speed

Rugby player running while pulling weighted sled
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One of the best ways for any athlete to boost his or her acceleration, top speed, and agility is to practice sprinting against resistance. This training technique has been around for decades, but advances in equipment and gear make the methods of practicing sprint-resistance drills more widespread, safe and even more fun.

Whether you are an athlete or a coach, you may want to add a variety of the following resistance-based sprint exercises to your workout. Here is what you need to know about sprinting against resistance as well as some ideas for different types of resistance sprinting.

Why Sprint Against Resistance?

The main reason to do these drills is to help athletes build functional power to generate faster accelerations and attain higher maximum speed. Resisted training helps athletes increase their speed-to-strength ratio which improves their ability to generate greater force during sprint starts, or during any quick accelerations while running.

It sounds complicated, but it's a fairly simple concept. The more power an athlete generates when pushing off against the ground, the faster they will propel themselves away from the ground. It's the key to sprinting.

As with other forms of strength training, the best way to build muscle is to overload it by working it to fatigue and then allowing it to rest and rebuild.

That is typically done in the weight room and that works well. In fact, squats and deadlifts are ideal for building power. But weight room training doesn't always build functional strength, and it doesn't always translate to more speed on the field.

Building functional strength, power, and speed require that an athlete use the same muscles in the same movement patterns as during their sport. It is not always easy to find ways to overload the muscles while performing the movement used during a sport.

Two of the best ways to accomplish this are to increase either the athlete's body weight with the use of weight vests or to add resistance to the movement. Some of the best ways to add resistance to movement include the use of weight sleds, parachutes, hills, stairs and even sand.

How to Sprint Against Resistance

The most important factor of a successful sprint-resisted training exercise is to increase the drag on the athlete without altering good running mechanics and form. This is often where athletes and coaches go a bit sideways in the training principles.

To maintain proper form, an athlete needs to add resistance extremely slowly and pay attention to any changes in form. As soon as running form is compromised, the effect of this sort of training will be reduced.

One rule of thumb is to add no more than 10% resistance and make sure the load doesn't cause the athlete to slow more than 5% from his or her maximum, un-resisted speed.

Speed Parachute Sprints

Sprinting with a parachute attached to the athlete via a harness is a great way to begin resisted sprint drills. These parachutes can add a little or a lot of resistance and rarely affect the running form.

Have a partner hold the parachute at the start of the sprint to get the chute properly inflated. Speed parachutes create an overload on the muscles used for sprinting during the sprint. The faster the sprint, the more resistance is generated, so parachutes create an even and steady resistance.

General recommendations are to use 20- to 50-yard sprints repeated for three to 10 repetitions with a long rest between sprints. Some coaches have the athlete release the chute after 20 yards to create additional speed bursts.

Weight Sled Sprints

Using a weight sled or otherwise dragging weight while sprinting creates a constant load on the muscles used for acceleration and top speed sprints. It is basically a mix of sprint drills and weight training. When done correctly with proper form, weight sleds are a great training tool.

The basic structure of the drills is the same as when using a speed parachute. Most weight sleds should be pulled on grass or turf, and the amount of weight should be varied to accommodate the surface resistance. Again, don't use so much weight that your speed drops more than 5% from your regular sprint speed over the same distance.

Weight Vest Sprints

Weight vests can increase the resistance during sprint drills as well. As long as form and speed are maintained, most athletes can see good results using a well-fitting vest. Another option is to wear the weight vest while stair or hill running, or while practicing jump and land drills.

Speed athletes will usually start with no more than 5 to 8 pounds of weight. Practicing skills drills while wearing the vests also help build power and strength through a variety of sport-specific movement patterns.

Stair and Hill Running Sprints

If you have limited equipment, hill and stair drills can also provide a good resisted sprint training workout. While it may not mimic the movement patterns in a given sport, it will create a full-body overload and help an athlete build functional and dynamic strength and power.

Start slowly to avoid injury or delayed onset soreness, and gradually build up intensity and time. Use the return phase as recovery, rather than sprinting back down. The repetitions will vary based upon the length of the stairs, so work with your coach to determine the best routine.

Sand Sprints

Sand is one of the most challenging surfaces on which to practice sprint drills. The softer the sand, the more force an athlete will need to produce to move forward. It also requires more energy, more balance, and more strength than a hard surface.

The downside of sand sprints is that it is nearly impossible to maintain proper running form due to the sliding motion of the surface. So, while it's a killer workout, and will build speed and power, it's not ideal for all athletes.

Make sure to follow the best form you can to avoid injuries from running on sand. For ultra-intense athletes, consider adding sandhill sprints, which will create a vigorous workout.

A Word from Verywell

Adding resistance sprints into your running workouts can improve your speed and boost your power. But as with any other form of exercise, proper form is vital in ensuring an injury- and pain-free performance.

No matter which type of resistance you choose, make sure you're maintaining proper running form and not overcompensating for the added weight. Gradually increase the weight you're pulling in order to slowly and effectively improve your running.

5 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Elizabeth Quinn, MS
Elizabeth Quinn is an exercise physiologist, sports medicine writer, and fitness consultant for corporate wellness and rehabilitation clinics.