Since publishing Underground Secrets To Faster Running,
I’m frequently asked why there seems to be minimal
information regarding on-track sprint training workouts
in a book about running faster. This is often followed
by questions about standard sprint training protocols,
such as: What about volume? What about density? Intensity,
CNS fatigue, distance, recovery days?
And so on ad infinitum.
They are fairly common questions, but are they fair questions?
Let’s examine them from a different viewpoint.
If we recognize them as standard questions,
then they are not really about ‘secrets’. Rather, they
encompass the common vernacular of the sprint culture.
What the questioners really want to know is how the answers
to their questions might differ within the parameters of the
protocols they already use and whether any difference might
give them an edge, as trainers or athletes, over the competition.
Therein lies the problem with the questions. The focus
of sprint coaches and athletes is on changing the numbers
within the framework they know. It’s about finding
magic or secret numbers – what number of repeats of a distance,
how many plyo jumps on the track, how many rest days, what
number of hard days, how many recovery days, etc. There
is never a challenge to the framework, only to the numbers
that are provided.
Underground Secrets To Faster Running would be about the
weight room if it was written to show how its particular
strength training protocol fits within the broader and
more well established category of strength training. But
Underground Secrets To Faster Running is not about the
weight room. It’s about addressing a paradigm change
in training to run faster that is long overdue. Its about
the science of sprinting and the elimination of the rampant
guessing as to what actually happens during high speed
Far from being a book about how much weight one can lift,
it fully addresses one of the most (if not the most) important
aspects of sprinting: The effect of mass-specific force
on running speed. It goes on to describe a very simple
yet powerful training method that will result in faster
running, even if most of the standard on track training
protocols were significantly reduced or eliminated.
At this point, many will think that what I’m writing
here is merely a way to increase sales of my book (while
that is not the case, I would certainly welcome that outcome!).
Others will shake their heads while muttering to themselves,
.Just another weight guy trying to make himself important.
He doesn’t get it that you have to run to be fast.
Just get on the track and run..
Well, I do get it. You do have to run to be fast…and
faster. But you must do more than that to run your fastest.
There is purposeless running and there is focused running.
There is purposeless strength training and purposeful
strength training. Can you distinguish between them?
Since this article is in response to the track training
portion that appears to be missing, let’s look at
that aspect first.
Did you know that 95.89% of the track coaches throughout
the world use purposeless running to train their sprinters?
How did I arrive at that precise number? By strict scientific
research? By analysis of local
coaches and interpolation of raw data? By regression analysis?
You caught me! I guessed.
Which is precisely how coaches arrive at the ‘right’ number
of repeats at the ‘right’ distance. It’s
what they do because they’ve always done it, or darn
close to it. Is this the best way to build a sprint training
program? I don’t think so!
Are you part of that large, guessed-at number of coaches?
You are if you give your sprint group a single set of instructions:
Today I want you to run 5 200.s , then 8 100.s, 10 50.s
then do some block work and call it a day. Or, maybe you’re
the up and down ladder type instead. Same guess, same result.
Are you thinking to yourself, “That’s not
me! I don’t guess, I got my workout from John S..
or Charlie F… or Clyde H.. or Dan P. or the guy at the
clinic I went to.”
And those coaches and clinic guys got their workouts from
where? From the coach that coached them? Years of trial
and error? By keeping up with the latest in research?
Perhaps the fundamental question should be: What is the
purpose of training on the track?
There are really only 2 purposes for on-track training:
neuromuscular adaptation and plyometric training.
In its simplest form, Neuromuscular adaptation is teaching
your body to adapt to high speed movements without loss
of energy. You can only do that by running at your high
speed as often as possible, but this is no secret.
What is plyometric training? It is defined as causing
a rapid change from eccentric contraction (lengthening
a muscle) to concentric contraction (shortening a muscle),
in which elastic energy is stored and released. The act
of running fast is a plyometric exercise, so it trains
for the storage and release of elastic energy. Elastic
energy is a necessary part of increasing your speed. How
much running should you do?
As much as is effective in increasing your speed, but
this is no secret.
The number and length of repeats should be different for
each runner, and they must have a specific length and measurable
goal if they are to be effective. Either specific time/distance
or distance/time goals work best. If someone is telling
you to run x number of repeats at x distance, ask them
why that number and that distance. Ask them how it would
specifically benefit your particular needs and demand an
answer with specific number goals, such as maximum completion
time per rep. If you’re a coach, ask the same question
on behalf of your athlete before you give them a workout
or shame on you! When running speed decreases to a point
below the goal over a set distance, or distance covered
decreases to a point below the goal over a set time, your
workout should end. Immediately. But stopping when goals
can no longer be met is no secret.
(Psst. I’ll have to keep my voice down so no one
can hear this secret except you: muscles don’t care
about what the are being used for! They don’t ask
if they’re lifting a weight or walking up stairs,
or moving down a track. They only want to know about the
load placed on them so they can gauge how to respond. This
is the same basis of the strength training protocol in
Underground Secrets To Faster Running!)
If you’re thinking that a track workout could be
very short, you’re right. If you’re thinking
that it could be very long, you’re right. The preceding
statements reveal this important ‘secret’:
There is no magic number of sets or reps in a running protocol.
The correct number of set or reps is based upon the portion
of the race you need to work on. That differs for every
What about rest times between repeats?
(Hey tiger, here’s a little used underground secret,
just between me and you:
Inside the weight room or on the track, it’s all
about the phosphagen pool. It’s a secret revealed
in Underground Secrets To Faster Running.)
What about form problems, what about sleds, hill running
or weight vests to increase strength?
All of those questions relate to how your muscles work.
All of those issues are addressed by and through the strength
training protocol in Underground Secrets. None of them
should be used or addressed on the track.
What about speed endurance, speed strength, strength speed?
All of these are improved in the weight room, and speed
endurance is enhanced by targeted on track training in
addition to the weight room.
What about CNS fatigue?
Interestingly, coaches seem to believe something different
then experts in this area. Certain well known sprint coaches
are brazen enough to base their entire workout around CNS
fatigue. What do the real experts say? Here’s some
“Hence, during exercise, only 5HT neurons that are
firing should increase 5HT production/release when brain
TRP rises. It is not known which 5HT neurons fire during
exercise; the 5HT neurons that respond to exercise-induced
increases in brain TRP are therefore not known. Hence,
it is not possible to conclude which 5HT neurons contribute
to the generation of central fatigue. Because some 5HT
neurons control specific functions important to physical
performance (e.g., respiration), the current understanding
of 5HT neuronal function in central fatigue might benefit
from the study of specific 5HT pathways during exercise.
Exercise, Serum Free Tryptophan, and Central Fatigue; John
D. Fernstrom and Madelyn H. Fernstrom
Departments of Psychiatry, Pharmacology, Epidemiology,
and Surgery, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine,
Pittsburgh PA, 2006
“Several factors have been identified to cause peripheral
fatigue during exercise, whereas the mechanisms behind
central fatigue are less well known.”
– Eva Blomstrand,
Astrand Laboratory, University College of Physical Education
and Sports and Department of Physiology and Pharmacology,
Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden, 2006
While researchers in the field believe 5HT and TRP are
responsible for CNS fatigue, they simply don’t
know what causes these fiends to generate CNS fatigue.
To base a training protocol on a factor that no one is
sure about seems ludicrous. That being said, it doesn’t
hurt to keep on-track and weight room training to no
more than what is essential.
The bottom line of all the foregoing? You’ve
probably wasted enormous amounts of your
valuable time spending useless hours on the track. More
than likely, your workouts focused on effects rather than
causes. In other words, the entire framework from which
your speed training has been derived could be seriously
flawed. If your on-track or weight room workout is based
on a model other than the spring-mass model, you can be
sure it has serious flaws.
By now you are probably wondering if there
really are any unrevealed ‘secrets’ to faster
running? The answer is simple: yes and no.
No, there are no ‘secrets’ as
to how we run faster. The spring-mass model of running
locomotion introduced in the late 1970.s, followed by extensive
testing of many of its facets from the 1980’s through
the early 2000.s revealed that .secret.. The results of
the rigorous research over nearly 30 years has shown the
validity and merit of the model to virtually all locomotion
experts throughout the world: Those who understand the
causes and effects of bipedal and quadrupedal running.
Unfortunately, sprint coaches rarely fall into the category
of experts in locomotion.
The spring-mass model takes into consideration the effects
of gravity, as well as the physics of motion and energy.
From that model, and the testing of it, has come some surprising
conclusions that should alter the entire sprint workout,
both in the weight room and on the track.
Those conclusions have been kept .secret. from us for
more than 20 years. Not by the real experts, but by the
self-proclaimed experts. The .guru’s. of the sprint
community simply don’t want to accept the studies.
Instead, they put up straw man arguments with no basis
in fact, show little or no understanding of physics, and
ignore the effect of gravity.
Are there ‘secrets’ to faster running revealed
in Underground Secrets To Faster Running? You can bet on
The most important of the factors affecting running is
mass-specific force. The greater the force applied
to the ground relative to mass and in opposition to gravity, the
longer the stride length and the faster the stride rate.
Stride rate increases because ground contact time decreases,
not because the limbs are moving faster.
Longer stride rates are effects of strength training.
Faster stride rates are effects of strength training. Simply
running on the track will never maximize stride length
and stride rate. Increased mass-specific force comes only
from strength training.
Mass-specific force may not seem much like a revealed ‘secret’ at
first glance. In fact, many would say they already knew
that being stronger then your bodyweight would make you
run faster. What they are referring to is the ability to
apply force from a muscle contraction. They will often
use squat max vs. bodyweight as their example.
However, that is not what mass-specific force in opposition
to gravity means. Mass-specific force in opposition to
gravity does not come from muscle contraction. It is isometric
(by definition – strength production without change in
muscle length). An accelerating mass (the sprinters body
as it returns to the ground) increases force. Gravity acting
on the falling human body will cause ground contact force
to reach or exceed 3 times bodyweight. The ability to withstand
hitting the ground that hard without collapsing (thereby
dissipating energy) requires tremendous isometric strength.
Where is the most efficient place to increase that strength?
(Shhhhh, don’t let anyone see or hear this underground
secret: It’s in the weightroom. Not on the track.)
So what, you say, big deal. That’s why I’m
in the weightroom doing my squats, power cleans, deadlifts,
and all my ballistic stuff. So I get strong enough to push
of the ground to..
To do what? Propel yourself into the next stride with
a massive push off? Sorry, that doesn’
t happen because
IT CAN’T HAPPEN.
Think about it. If you’re a weight room stud, you
know how much force is required to push up a big weight
when squatting. If you believe you push off the ground
during a sprint by using a concentric contraction of the
leg muscles then consider this: Ground reaction force plate
measurements show maximum forces of 3 times bodyweight
at midstance during high speed running. Research shows
that ground contact times can range from .09 to .10 seconds.
Half way through that time frame is midstance. So maximum
force is fully developed in .05 seconds or less.
If you weigh 150 lbs, and you can push your bodyweight
plus an additional 300 lbs (a total of 450 lbs or 3 times
bodyweight) 3 meters down the track from a voluntary muscle
contraction of one leg (with a minimal angle of flexion)
lasting 5 hundredths of a second or less, then you’ve
got bigger secrets to reveal than I do.
Where are these massive forces coming from if we cannot
apply them by volitional muscle contraction? Force measurements
are correct, so what force is being measured?
Ground reaction force plates measure the opposite side
of the force applied to them. This relates to the 3rd law
of physics. Because of the reasons stated earlier, you’re
not pushing off the ground with a force equal to 3 times
bodyweight. Instead, you’re hitting the ground as
a falling body with that amount of force. That’s
why the force, and your response, can occur in such a short
time frame. If you collapse, or partially collapse (increase
knee flexion) under the force being thrust against you
from the ground, then you can’t use that force to
Increasing the ability to withstand that force, by opposing
it with isometric strength, increases your ability to use
it to your advantage. In fact, being able to withstand
forces of multiple times your bodyweight (mass-specific
force) increases running speed dramatically. How? Partly
because of what ground reaction force does to you. You
hit the ground with 3 times bodyweight, but the ground
is hitting your real bodyweight, 150 lbs in our example.
Think of it this way, if you hit a cue ball into another
billiard ball, without any added spin of the cue ball,
then the both of them will react equally upon contact with
each other, i.e. the cue ball will move back to you and
the struck ball will move away from you. The reactions
are equal and opposite. If you hit a bowling ball with
the cue ball, the bowling ball will barely move and the
cue ball will move toward you for about twice the distance
of the earlier example. What happens when your little
150 pounds of rock hard mass hits the earth’s mass?
If your answer to the last question is that your going
to fly, you may or may not be right. In the cue ball analysis,
the surfaces of all the objects are about the same hardness.
Not so with you and the earth. If you are rock hard in
your ability to withstand the blow, you will fly and your
stride length will increase.
(Hey, you! Yeah you, the one reading this article! Stay
tight with me on this, k? —
You don’t need to spend all that time working on
paw-back or push-off drills, ya know? They don’t
do nuthin to help! Just a an underground secret between
me an you, k?)
What about ‘form’ defects? How does one fix
(Listen up! Don’t tell anybody this underground
secret: Overstriding is a strength issue for almost all
who suffer from it, but it can be fixed. in the weight
What about upper body strength? How about arm swings?
Each of these issues falls under the parameters mentioned
at the beginning of this article. The spring-mass model
renders most of these as moot. They are not training issues
at all. The reason this is so hard to believe for so many
coaches and sprinters is because the purveyors of the old,
false parameters are so heavily engrained in the sprint
culture world wide.
Strength training and on-track training are simple. The
protocol of Underground Secrets To Faster Running treats
them as that. Instead of inventing new lifts or using lifts
based upon false information, its focus is solely on what
is really needed to run faster. It takes many of the training
aspects of on-track training inside the weight room, thus
shortening and laser focusing that protocol as well.
Abandoning the familiar is always difficult. In this case,
abandoning the old is imperative – if you want to
If you want to learn more about Coach Barry Ross’s ‘Secrets’
click on the link below: