Overspeed Training

Does overspeed training work?  Is it dangerous?

What’s better assisted towing (bungee or cable that pulls you to faster speed), downhill sprinting, or are there other options?

Towing and Where the Wind Takes You

If you look around you’ll find programs that have used overspeed training in the program and have been successful.  You’ll also find many folks who didn’t use downhill or towing that were successful at the highest level.  Over speed training can work.  In fact most good speed coaches already use it in a very simple way.  Running speed work with the wind at your back is overspeed, just as running into the wind is resisted speed.   It’s common to see good coaches use different parts (and thus directions) of the track to take advantage of the wind direction for speed work.

The difference between assistance via wind (reduced drag allows faster speeds) and towing is the athlete actually and naturally propels themselves to the higher speed with the wind.  In towing outside forces (pulley or another athlete via a bungee) contribute to their velocity and it’s more about tolerating the higher speeds while attempting to maintain sprinting mechanics.

Both the wind and towing produce higher speeds and eccentric forces which provide potential for speed improvement.  However, it’s handling those higher eccentric forces and contraction speeds in maximal velocity sprinting that pose the greatest danger to tissue, notably hamstrings.  The big disadvantage and increased risk for towing goes back to the athlete not naturally propelling themselves to that speed.  The athlete didn’t earn that velocity by a succession of sprint actions and the artificial influx of speed from towing often brings about reaching (further increasing eccentric forces and general discoordination (again they didn’t achieve the speeds by their sprint action and the delicate timing of muscle actions in Max V sprinting is likely to be disrupted).   If the athlete does manage to survive, adapting to these huge eccentric forces is likely where some obtain performance improvement.  However, the overloaded and altered sprinting often lead to athletes tearing hamstrings or beating up their tissue and neuromucular timing enough to set them up for it.  You still have to be careful doing speed work with the wind, but most coaches have found this to be the safer, more sustainable, and ultimately more successful option.

Going Downhill

On the surface downhill sprinting is an intriguing option.   Sprinting down a small declined surface of 2-5 percent increases eccentric force/power demands, particularly vertically, which is a key limiting factor in speed performance.  In the northeast many coaches get a taste of this option sprinting the downhill coming off the curve of banked 200m tracks.  My experience and that of other coaches I’ve talked to has been that you can do some flys off the curve and use the bank to teach a bit.  Downhill sprinting demands athletes not over push and to do it well neccesitates shorter ground contacts and slightly more frontside dominant mechanics which are paramount in efficient max velocity running.  Like the crazy blokes in the video below, push too long and you encourage forward rotation.

However, most sprint coaches aren’t going to be scripting downhill themed workouts.  The increased eccentric forces and altered stride and flight demands pose similar problems to the force and coordination issues of towing.  The declined surface introduces potential for reaching/braking and altered neuromuscular coordination if used as a main stimulus.  It’s also debatable if high level athletes would even be able to achieve higher max velocities on the declined surface.  I remember seeing a picture of an IAAF facility a few years back with a declined straightaway so their are folks out there experimenting with declined surfaces.  Still I haven’t seen many sprint coaches raving about downhill as a viable primary max velocity sprint training option where benefit outweighs the risk in a well thought out and executed program.

Sequential Overspeed By Increasing the Speed Limit

Supramaximal speeds and overloading speed actions are alluring for most folks as overload seems like an obvious means to improvement.  However, speed is a delicate and rate dominant nueromuscular task and introducing outside means of loading to the sprint action introduces the risk of interference with stagnation or worse detioration.  Good coaches commonly achieve relative overload by periodizing speed and manipulating conditions.   Classical short to long or velocity progressions by distance accelerated offer speed progression and overloads over the course of a program.

Additionally, coaches often use footwear and surface manipulation as a means of relative overload.  Doing accels in flats in the grass or on a field is an early season option for speed.  This may progress to the track, which then may progress to on the track with spikes.  Each progression offers increasing speed over the previous.  When working with field and court sports just using faster surfaces, footwear options, and doing well rested speed offers relative overspeed.  Where appropriate, adding in other athletes running at the same time or using a more stimulating practice setting (timing, testing, alternate facility) are environmental options to increase intensity.  Couple the above manipulations with periodizing  the other elements in the program (plyos, weightroom, etc..) such that they allow  and support increases in speed intensity over time and most coaches find plenty of options to overload and progress speed over the course of a program.   For overspeed my preference lies with a complete and progressive program with an occasional dose of wind.





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