There are two main ways to improve sprint speed, produce more force or get better mechanically. In this article we are going to talk about one specific way to produce more force: Plyometrics, specifically jump training. There are a lot of things that can be done to improve force production and mechanics: sprinting drills, Olympic lifting, sled pulling, traditional resistance training, and jumping, which is what I want to go over today.
But how can jumping improve sprint speed? Isn’t jumping only good for athletes that need to jump in their sport? No, every athlete can benefit from jump training. Jump training improves the athlete's ability to produce more force. When an athlete puts more force into the ground, the athlete can then propel themselves further and more efficiently with each stride. Jump training is great, but we first have to look at some safety concerns. Before we jump into what type of jumping is best for your athlete we have to look at the importance of landing.
When an athlete is first learning how to produce more force and organizing their bodies to be able to jump, they must first learn how to land. This is not only for safety concerns, but also because if an athlete does not land properly they will not be able to produce optimal force in their next step. This will reduce their ability to change direction quickly. As we know change of direction speed is important in team sports. During each stride while sprinting the athlete has to catch themselves on one foot then push off the ground. You can even think of sprinting as a bunch of little jump, landing on one leg and then the other. Landing is the prerequisite for jumping.
Once an athlete learns how to land, we move on to teaching them how to jump vertically in place. This movement is a little easier to learn as the athlete is landing in the same place they started, making it easier to land effectively. The standing vertical jump also makes it easier to stay consistent as there are less variables involved in this type of jump. When the athlete has mastered vertical jumps, we will teach them the broad jump, and then we can start to mix in some lateral jumping, single leg jumping, and, ultimately, drop jumps like hurdles and depth jumps.
The video below outlines how to properly perform the exercises talked about in this article.
What type of jump training is right for my athlete?
The answer to this question is, like with many other questions I am asked, it depends. What the science shows is that improving jumping height or distance will improve sprinting speed. As always, the less advanced the athlete the more variation they should be exposed to. For most kids a combination of different jumps will work best because they are not elite athletes. There is some evidence to show that jumping should be used more as a transition element from a heavy strength training cycle to a competitive season to get better transfer from the strength training to the plyometric training then ultimately to the sprinting, which is such a big part of the competitive season for most athletes.
As the athlete becomes more advanced we have to consider the principle of specific adaptation to imposed demands (SAID) which states that athletes will get better at what they do most, and the closer your training activity to the sports challenge the more it will positively affect that challenge. For example, research indicates that single leg horizontal direction jump training, (single leg broad jumps or skipping drills) would be the best type of jumping exercise for improving sprint speed.
There are basically two ways to look at sprinting, acceleration and maximal speed. Most athletes will not reach maximum speed until they have been sprinting for 30m or more, this means that most team sport athletes will never reach maximum velocity in a game. So most team sports athletes are going to be doing a lot more acceleration work than max speed work. Acceleration and maximal speed improvement require different types of jump training. This is not to say that acceleration athletes will not benefit from the same type of training as max sprinters or vise versa, but it will dictate where each athlete will spend more of their time closer to the competitive season. In short, acceleration is more about muscles and max speed is more about elastic energy. Maximal speed sprinting will be affected more positively from things like depth jumps, ankle pops, hops and skips, where acceleration sprinting will be more positively affected by box jumps, broad jumps, squat jumps and some skipping drills.
Most athletes that we train here at our facility will get a mix of of jumping drills because they are young athletes. Young athletes (athletes under the age of 18 for most sports) should not be specialized in any specific sport, so variety is key. Horizontal single leg jump training may have more carry over to sprint speed than any other type of plyometric. Max sprinting and acceleration sprinting will require different types of jump training to get the best results from a jump training program.
So a combination of some of the drills shown above and a little bit of tailoring the jumping program around the competitive season will go a long way in improving your sprint speed through jump training.
If you are looking to get your athlete faster this summer look no further than our Summer Speed Camp. We use drills like you see here to get your athlete as fast as possible in our 6 week summer program learn more here
Strength and Conditioning for Sports Performance by Ian Jefferys and Jeremy Moody
Strength and Conditioning Research by Chris A Beardsley
Relationships between unilateral horizontal and vertical drop jumps and 20 m sprint performance.
A Comparison of Isometric Mid-Thigh Pull Strength, Vertical Jump, Sprint Speed, and Change of Direction Speed in Academy Netball Players.