Get faster and increase sprint performance by performing a complex warm-up in the form of a heavy squat exercise. Research shows that just as complex training can increase power output when jumping, pre-activating the muscles to be used when sprinting will make you faster and more powerful.
A new study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research
is the first one to test the pre-activation effect in a 100-meter sprint. Previous studies have shown that pre-activating the lower body muscles with a near maximal squat or Olympic lift will improve sprint time in short distances ranging between 10 and 40 meters. This new study shows that at longer distances, the benefits persist and can dramatically improve speed.
Participants in the study were trained college-aged women with previous athletic experience. There was a control group that only performed two 100-meter sprint tests, with 9 minutes rest in between. A treatment group performed two 100-meter sprint tests with the first one acting as a baseline time. Then they performed one set of four of a 4RM half back squat, rested nine minutes and ran the 100-meter sprint. Performing the pre-activation squats resulted in significantly faster 100-meter times with the treatment group averaging .20 of a second faster than their baseline times. The control group had no change in performance between the two tests.
Researchers suggest that the heavy squat exercise has a post-activation potentiation effect in which “acute muscle force is enhanced as a result of contractile history.” Basically, this means neural drive to the legs is improved and the muscles are “activated” by the heavy resistance exercise. Additionally, there’s evidence that post-activation potentiation increases energy production in the muscles and may contribute to performance.
This study is interesting for two reasons. First, the dramatic performance improvements with pre-activation warm-up have the potential to change the outcome of short sprint races. Consider if some of the 100-meter finalists in the Olympics performed a heavy squat prior to running. For example, in the 2008 women’s 100 meters, .20 seconds separated first from third place, whereas in the 2004 women’s 100 meters, .20 seconds separated the first six places. Although, this effect has not been tested on elite athletes, it has the potential to provide a significant benefit.
Second, the post-activation potentiation effect is well known for improving performance in complex exercises that pair a heavy strength lift with a plyometric power move such as a jump squat or vertical jump, but this is the first study to show the effect extends to long sprints. Although the improvement in performance with complex training is likely due in part to increased neural drive, the neuromuscular factor that is at play is activation of the muscle-tendon unit with the stretch-shortening cycle contributing. This effect works because the muscles are activated in the strength exercise, and then in a vertical jump, there is an elastic effect such that energy is stored during the eccentric phase and then released during the concentric phase, producing greater power output.
Take away from this study an understanding that you can improve sport performance by using a pre-activation warm-up that is specific to the movements you will use in your sport. Pre-activation with a heavy exercise is beneficial when you want to produce maximal power, as when jumping or pushing with the upper body, or absolute speed in short and longer sprints. For sprint events the evidence suggests that you should use an active rest of 8 to 12 minutes in between the warm-up and the event to allow recovery but not lose the muscular activation.
To read more about pre-activation, check out the tip, Perform Hang Cleans Before Vertical Jumps to Develop Maximal Power
for a unique complex training program.
Linder, E., Prins, J., et al. Effects of Preload 4RM Maximum on 100-M Sprint Times in Collegiate Women. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2011. 24(5), 1184-1190.