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Resisted Sprint Training

Key Points:
Resisted sprint training (RST) can be effective for improving certain sprinting qualities,
mainly acceleration over shorter distances. (<20metres)
Training a field sport athlete is different to training a track athlete.
Resisted sprint training is just another tool, its not the be all and end all. Specificity
will always be key.

Introduction: What is resisted sprint training?

Sprint performance, both acceleration and maximum velocity is important in a
multitude of different sports including track & field, field based team sports, and court
sports. With this in mind a lot of research and thought has been put into potential
training methods to improve this important performance component. Resisted sprint
training involves sprinting with attached additional weight or resistance in an effort to
improve sprint performance, particularly by improving acceleration (how quickly one
can change their velocity). Most commonly this is achieved by using a towing sled that
is attached to the athlete via harness.

Additional methods include elastic band resistance, weighted vests, pulley systems, or
incline sprints. The optimal additional load has been investigated by a small number of
different researchers and although there is some debate regarding this issue an

approximate 10% decrease in sprinting velocity is generally recommended (this will be
questioned later in the article). This is proposed to ensure an adequate overload of the
involved musculature without adversely affecting sprinting biomechanics (Hyrsomallis
2010). Sprint performance is governed by stride length and stride frequency, an
increase in one without a detrimental effect to the other may enable faster sprinting.
It is hypothesised that adding additional load during RST will increase the propulsive
force ability of the extensors of the hip (glutes & hamstrings), knee (quads), and ankle
(calves), (Spinks et al 2007) which may in turn increase stride length or stride
frequency (Hyrsomallis 2010). (Most likely stride length)

What the research says:

There is mixed results from the research studies that have been carried out on resisted
sprint training. Hyrsomallis (2010) carried out a review of resisted sprint studies
between 1973 and 2010 and the overall analysis was that resisted sprint training
improves sprint performance, but no more so than regular sprint training. There may
however be a slight advantage for resisted sprint in improving the first few steps of
acceleration. Harrisson & Bourke (2009) carried out a study with semi-pro rugby
players and found that resisted sprint training twice per week for six weeks
significantly decreased time to 5m during a 30m sprint, but not overall 30m sprint
time. These results are echoed by Zafeiridis et al (2005) who found that resisted sprint
training improved 0-20m time, but no improvement in 20m-50m was seen. In these
two studies the groups who completed regular sprint training did not improve to the
same degree in acceleration speed.

It is important when reading studies to be able to critically analyse methodologies and
examine possible weaknesses and results produced from them should not be taken as
undisputable fact. A big issue with a number of the studies up to 2010 is that they
used for the most part un-trained athletes. When given similar training protocols it is
likely that a highly trained athlete, for example a professional rugby or soccer player
will experience different training adaptations to a generally active, but un-trained
subject. Generally an un-trained athlete will have an improvement in performance
from most training stimuli while a highly trained athlete may need more advanced
training methods to continue facilitating adaptation. From a coaching and practical
viewpoint I was disappointed that the majority of the studies concentrated on resisted
sprint training vs unresisted sprint training, without a group combining the two
methods. While useful to a point, I think it is highly unlikely that an athlete or coach
will completely forego regular sprint training for 6-8 weeks in favour of resisted sprint
training, which is the duration of many of the studies.

Enter West et al 2013 which used professional rugby players as its subjects (so highly
trained) and their training intervention involved a combined resisted sprint training
and regular sprint training group vs just a regular sprint training group. For these two
reasons this research study may have the most applicability to coaches of high level
athletes. The combined resisted sprint and regular sprint training group had
significantly better improvements in 10m and 30m sprint times when compared the
regular sprint only group (who also improved, just not quite as much).

To my knowledge this study has not been included in a review and it produced
significant results so I will delve into the methods used a little deeper.

Experimental procedure: 20 professional rugby union players were used as subjects
and split into two groups, matched for sprint times.

The players were 2 weeks into pre-season when the intervention started, and had
been out of structured training for 4 weeks, although an off-season maintenance
program had been provided. As both groups were required to continue team training
during the intervention period in addition the prescribed combined or regular sprint
training they each completed 3 resistance training sessions (1 upper body, 1 lower
body, and 1 overall), 3 conditioning sessions, 3 technical sessions.

Training Protocol: The combined group performed 3 x 20m sprints towing a sled with
12.6% of bodyweight added in total. According to Lockie et al (2003) between 12.5-
13% bodyweight is the optimal additional load as it does not interfere with sprint
kinematics to a detrimental effect. There was a 2 minute recovery between each
sprint. After the final resisted sprint, the subjects rested for 8 minutes and then
performed 3 x 20m sprints without any additional load. Again 2 minutes recovery was
given between sprints.

The regular sprint training group performed the exact same procedure, except that for
their first 3x20m sprints they were not towing the sled.

Table 1: Combined resisted and regular sprint training vs regular sprint training
Pre 10m (s) Post 10m (s) Pre 30m (s) Post 30m (s)
Combined 1.74 1.70 4.26 4.15
Regular 1.74 1.72 4.19 4.15
*Figures are time in seconds to complete 10m or 30m. N.B all times are the group

The table above shows the actual time improvements seen in each group. In terms of
percentage improvements, the combined group improved their 10m time by an

average of 2.43% compared to 1.06% for the regular sprint group. Over 30m the
combined group improved their time by 2.46% compared to 1.15% for the regular
group. (All results taken and adapted from West 2013)

What about heavier sleds?

The argument against using heavier sleds (>10% reduction in sprinting speed) is that
the mechanics of the sprint may be changed too much leading to alterations in sprint
technique when the athlete goes back to sprinting un-weighted. In general on one side
you have sprint or track coaches who fear this will be the case, while on the other
hand you have strength and conditioning coaches who view heavy sled dragging or
pushing as an excellent way to develop strength in the muscles important for sprinting
in a semi specific way, which when combined with regular sprint training will deliver a
nice transfer effect. This method is essentially turning resisted sprint training into
using heavy sled dragging as a developmental strength exercise. Track coaches and
sprint coaches will probably argue about this for a long time, especially until more
research with elite athletes is released. For now the best we can do is look at the
evidence there is to date.

Kawamori et al (2013) investigated the effects of an 8 week training programme on
club level players which implemented two sessions per week. One group sprinted
with a sled that reduced sprint velocity by 30% (heavy group) while another group
sprinted with a load that reduced sprint velocity by 10% (light group). The average
weight on the sled was 33kg and 11kg respectively. After 8 weeks of training the heavy
group reduced 0-5m time by an average of 5.7% and 0-10m time by 5.0%. The light
group only significantly improved in the 0-10m time, by 3%. The heavy group also
increased stride length by 8.1%, whereas no significant change was seen in the light
group. Interestingly the heavy group showed a significantly larger decrease in vertical
and resultant impulse, while neither group had a significant change in horizontal
impulse. This is contrary to the popular belief that sled dragging would be an effective
way to increase horizontal GRF during acceleration. The authors in this study suggest
that learning how to apply force in a more horizontal direction, than actually applying
more horizontal force was the critical ingredient for the favourable changes seen in
the heavy group, and that this could make the heavy sled dragging as much technique
work as it is strength work. While the results of this study look promising, it is the first
paper to examine a sled load of this magnitude and its effect on acceleration so more
research is needed before a conclusion can be drawn.

Follow up & Practical Applications:

Resisted sprint training combined with regular sprint training may provide an
advantage compared to sprint training alone for athletes trying to improve
acceleration. This is useful particularly for field or court sport athletes who generally
sprint short (0-30m) distances during a game play. In my opinion this type of training
adaptation may also be useful for athletes who have to break tackles. If the increase
in acceleration speed is due to more powerful hip, knee and ankle extension I think a
case can be made that athlete will be harder to stop during game play. 100m sprinters
who struggle out of the blocks may also find this method useful for improving the first
30m. It must be noted however that just because professional rugby players saw an
increase in performance that the same results may not be seen in track sprinters. A
study using a similar procedure to West (2013) but using high level track sprinters
would certainly be interesting and I am sure it will be done in the future. (If somebody
reading this knows of one please let me know in the comments section below).

Maximum velocity running is technically and physiologically different to acceleration
and is worthy of a separate article which may be written in the future. Maximum
velocity and acceleration training require different training strategies. While resisted
sprint training has been shown by certain studies to be effective for improving
acceleration, regular sprint training has been shown to increase performance over
slightly longer distances after the initial acceleration phase is completed. (20m-40m,
Zafeiridis 2005). This was also shown in to be the case in Alcaraz et al (2012), the
resisted sprint group improved acceleration, while the regular sprint training group
improved during the maximum velocity phase. No combined groups were used in
either of the latter two studies.

In conclusion resisted sprint training combined with regular sprint training is likely an
excellent way to improve acceleration, while regular sprint training seems to have
more potential for increasing maximal velocity. There is however plenty of scope for
further research in this area including more combined resisted & regular sprint groups,
more studies with elite athletes, and also using track athletes as opposed to field sport


Alcaraz, P. E., Elvira, J. L. L. and Palao, J. M. (2012), Kinematic, strength, and stiffness
adaptations after a short-term sled towing training in athletes. Scandinavian Journal of
Medicine & Science in Sports. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0838.2012.01488.x

Hyrsomallis, C. (2010) The effectiveness of resisted movement training on sprinting and
jumping performance, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 26(1), 299-306.

Kawamori, N., Newton, R.U., Hori, N., Nosaka, K. (2014) Effects of weighted sled towing
with heavy versus light load on sprint acceleration ability Journal of Strength and
Conditioning Research, Published ahead of print.

Lockie, RG, Murphy, AJ, and Spinks, CD. (2003) Effects of resisted sled towing on sprint
kinematics in field-sport athletes, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 17(4), 760
767, 2003.

Spinks, C.D, Murphy, A.J, Spinks, W.L, and Lockie, R.G (2007) The effects of resisted sprint
training on acceleration performance and kinematics in soccer, rugby union, and Australian
football players, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 21(1), 77-85.

West, D.J, Cunningham, D.J, Bracken, R.M, Bevan, H.R, Crewther, B.T, Cook, C.J, and Kilduff,
L.P (2013) Efects of resisted sprint training on acceleration in professional rugby union
players, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 27(4), 1014-1018.

Zafeiridis, A, Saraslanidis, P, Manou, V, Ioakimidis, P, Dipla, K, and Kellis, S. (2005) The
effects of resisted sled-pulling sprint training on acceleration and maximum speed
performance, Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, 45, 284290, 2005.