“The art of the sprint is about so much more than getting out and running,” says Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S., Men’s Health fitness director. The approach to sprinting and long-distance running are vastly different. A marathoner is trying to conserve as much energy as possible to be able to last the several hours out on the course. Sprinting is about pushing as much power as possible through every stride. That requires muscle strength and power—so much so that MH Advisory Board member David Otey, C.S.C.S. calls sprinting “the fundamental power exercise.”
A fast sprint is generated from powerful hip extension and flexion, which is powered by the muscles of our lower body. Creating power through each and every stride requires a push off the ground that comes from a strong leg extension. Strong hip flexion allows for that proper high knee position that translates to a longer stride. Training the muscles the facilitate these actions will help you hit the gas on your sprints.
Here, Samuel and Otey demonstrate four essential exercises that will prime your muscles for a powerful sprint.
4 Strength Training Exercises to Power Your Sprints
Trap Bar Deadlift
3 to 4 sets of 2 to 4 reps
You need to build power potential through the lower body for a strong sprint, Otey says. That means a powerful hip extension through a strong contraction of the glutes to push the hips open. One of the best ways to do that is the trap bar deadlift.
This isn’t your traditional heavy deadlift, though. Instead of loading up as many plates as possible and grinding to pull the weight up into a standing position, we want to train for explosive power. That means taking off some weight and focusing more completing the movement quickly while maintaining good body position.
This movement also requires a ton of core engagement to ensure there’s minimal arching through the spine. Core strength is essential in sprinting, as it helps stabilize the powerful movement and prevent you from swaying left to right with each stride.
Staggered Stance Kettlebell Swing
3 to 4 sets of 4 to 10 reps each side
“With the kettlebell swing we’re getting a lot of power generation through the hips,” Otey says. “But, the staggered stance is going to start to change our base of support from foot to foot which is now going to integrate some of the balance aspect.”
The staggered stance forces the body to work extra hard to minimize rotation while in a position that makes you susceptible to it—mimicking body mechanics seen in sprinting. It’s all about keeping the hips and shoulders square to the front as you drive your leg forward. The same is true in sprinting. You want your momentum to press forward, and this exercise helps you to reinforce that concept.
Reverse Lunge into High Knee
3 sets of 6 to 8 reps each side
This exercise primes us for the progression of power generation off the ground into hip flexion. With the reverse lunge, the body is working through full range of motion in a unilateral position. The added knee drive allows you to work on hip flexion power as well as stability through a single leg. Hold that top position with the knee drive for a few seconds to hone your balance.
There are several ways to load up this movement. Try holding a set of kettlebells or dumbbells in a front rack position for an extra shoulder, back, and core challenge. Focus on that explosive power coming out of the reverse lunge and into the knee drive while maintaining control over your balance.
Plyo Push Press
3 to 4 sets of 4 to 6 reps
Most strength training staples are excellent for the expression of one kind of strength—but they’re lacking when it comes to the type of force production and movement you’ll need for sprinting. One key problem: Squats, deadlifts, and the like require to stand flat-footed and stable on the ground. According to Otey, the types of exercises that will help to train athletic movement like sprinting requires bouncy, twitchy force production that puts you on your toes.
The plyo push press is one of those movements. When you do this with a landmine, you’re able to apply a forward body lean the way that you naturally would when you’re sprinting. The landing of this movement also mimics the deceleration that you see in sprints.
As with all of these movements, think about loading lighter to be able to explore stronger through the movement.
Cori Ritchey, NASM-CPT is an Associate Health & Fitness Editor at Men’s Health and a certified personal trainer and group fitness instructor. You can find more of her work in HealthCentral, Livestrong, Self, and others.
Brett Williams, a fitness editor at Men’s Health, is a NASM-CPT certified trainer and former pro football player and tech reporter who splits his workout time between strength and conditioning training, martial arts, and running. You can find his work elsewhere at Mashable, Thrillist, and other outlets.