Use short sprint training as the primary protocol for better anaerobic sport performance. Vary the conditioning protocol to include longer sprints for the best growth hormone (GH) response and to prevent boredom or overtraining. A new study from an Israeli research group that has done extensive research into the effects of different sprint training protocols on anaerobic power and hormone response shows that both short and long sprint training can produce comparable improvements in aerobic and anaerobic power. Short sprints are superior for speed and agility training, while longer sprints will provide a potent GH response due to the high metabolic demand.
The new study tested the effects of two sprint protocols on maximal oxygen uptake, 30 meter time, 250 meter time, and 4X10 meter shuttle time in teenage competitive soccer players: short sprints (4 to 6 sets of 4X50m all-out sprints) versus long sprints (4 to 6 repeats of 200m sprints at 85 percent of maximal speed). The soccer players trained their assigned protocol three times a week for seven weeks.
Both protocols resulted in significant improvements in all areas, with the long sprints leading to greater aerobic endurance as measured by maximal oxygen uptake. The short sprints led to the greatest improvements in anaerobic endurance (250-meter test), speed (30-meter test), and agility (4X10 shuttle test).
Neither protocol resulted in improvements in a long jump test, which surprised researchers who had hypothesized that short sprint training would improve jumping power. Based on the principle of specificity it is most likely that jumping ability didn't improve because no jump training, plyometrics, or even lower body strength training was done. Researchers suggest the volume of work was too low because studies with greater training volume have shown that sprint training enhances jumping ability, but this is less likely than the fact that no muscular power exercises were trained.
It’s always good to mix it up in order to produce new adaptations and to prevent boredom from training. Indeed, there is a benefit to longer intervals as shown by previous evidence from this research group that longer sprint intervals triggers a powerful GH response. Using four 250 meter sprints at 80 percent of maximal speed elevated GH with no increase in cortisol in elite youth handball players. Additionally, IGF binding protein-3, which is GH dependent and has anabolic effects because it stimulates IGF-1 bioactivity, did increase. For further variety, the same research group has found that a decreasing sprint interval scheme (400, 300, 200, 100 meters) also produces a large GH and lactate response, and is perceived as easier than running the same distances in increasing order (100, 200, 300, 400 meters.
For peak performance in anaerobic sports, such as soccer, football, basketball, and rugby, short sprints are critical for optimal speed and agility. Longer sprints are excellent for variety and to help maintain players’ enthusiasm, while triggering GH. Best results in power and speed will come from adding strength training and plyometrics to the program.
Meckel, Y., Gefen, Y., Nemet, D., Eliakim, A. Influence of Short Versus Long Repetition Sprint Training on Selected Fitness Components in Young Soccer Players. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. September 2011. Published Ahead of Print.