The purpose of this study was to evaluate the effects of sprint training on muscle function and dynamic athletic performance and to compare them with the training effects induced by standard plyometric training. Male physical education students were assigned randomly to 1 of 3 groups: sprint group (SG; n = 30), plyometric group (PG; n = 30), or control group (CG; n = 33). Maximal isometric squat strength, squat- and countermovement jump (SJ and CMJ) height and power, drop jump performance from 30-cm height, and 3 athletic performance tests (standing long jump, 20-m sprint, and 20-yard shuttle run) were measured prior to and after 10 weeks of training. Both experimental groups trained 3 days a week; SG performed maximal sprints over distances of 10-50 m, whereas PG performed bounce-type hurdle jumps and drop jumps. Participants in the CG group maintained their daily physical activities for the duration of the study. Both SG and PG significantly improved drop jump performance (15.6 and 14.2%), SJ and CMJ height ( approximately 10 and 6%), and standing long jump distance (3.2 and 2.8%), whereas the respective effect sizes (ES) were moderate to high and ranged between 0.4 and 1.1. In addition, SG also improved isometric squat strength (10%; ES = 0.4) and SJ and CMJ power (4%; ES = 0.4, and 7%; ES = 0.4), as well as sprint (3.1%; ES = 0.9) and agility (4.3%; ES = 1.1) performance. We conclude that short-term sprint training produces similar or even greater training effects in muscle function and athletic performance than does conventional plyometric training. This study provides support for the use of sprint training as an applicable training method of improving explosive performance of athletes in general.
I have to admit that I’m not a fan of plyometrics. When I was on the weightlifting team at NAU doing my undergraduate course work on exercise science I read the book Jumping into Plyometrics by Donald Chu and got the idea that adding drop jumps to my weightlifting program was a good idea. I remember my weightlifting coach at the time saying that was dumb, but I didn’t listen. My experience was that it didn’t help my weightlifting ability a single percent, but within a couple weeks I had a nasty case of patellar tendinitis that plagued me the rest of my weightlifting career. It did get me VERY interested in the treatment of tendinitis when in physical therapy school and my resultant tendinitis treatment protocol is stellar. So perhaps my reading Dr. Chu’s book was for the greater good. Unfortunately I didn’t figure out my protocol until well after I graduated so my knees pretty much just hurt, all the time, until I quit competitive weightlifting. I was still able clean and jerk 347 lb, which was pretty good, but I always felt that if my training wasn’t limited by the patellar tendinitis. I would have cleaned and jerked over 400 lb. Thanks plyometrics!
It was of interest to me when I read the above paper comparing plyometric hurdle jumps and drop jumps at 40 to 60 cm height to that of roughly equal time doing short sprints of 10-50 meters. The subjects were then tested on speed, jump ability and strength. One might expect a degree of specificity to come about with the sprint group being better at running type drills and the plyometric group being better at jumping drills. This, sort of, happened with the sprint group running away (haha) from the plyometric group with significant improvements in 20 meter sprint times by 3.1% and 20 yard shuttle runs of 4.3%, while the plyometric group was shy of significance with less than half the improvement of the sprinters. The sprint group improved in strength (squats) by 10%, while the plyometric group didn’t improve at all. When testing got to where the plyometrics should have the advantage, the plyometric group did improve, but the sprint group always edged them out. Sprint training improving performance over the plyometric group on squat jumps (10% vs 6.5%), countermovement jumps (7.4% vs 6.3%), drop jumps (15.6% vs 14.2%) and standing long jump (3.2% vs 2.8%) for the sprint vs. plyometric groups respectively.
So to sum it up, sprinting made you faster and more agile in running related activities while the plyometric group didn’t. Sprinting increased squat strength while the plyometrics didn’t, and while both groups improved vertical and horizontal jumping ability the sprint group managed to do even that ever so slightly better. Plyometrics have become commonplace in sports and fitness training programs and while I think they are a higher risk with regards to overuse injuries I don’t think they deliver enough performance improvements to make that risk worth it. So if you ask me where plyometrics can best be implemented into a training program, I say nowhere, leave them out. Yes plyometrics “work” but I think I can always think of something that works better. As this study demonstrated, sprint training always works better.
The sprint group protocol was 3 sessions per week thusly:
week 1 10-m sprint x 3 x 3
week 2 10-m sprint x 4 x 3
week 3 20-m sprint x 3 x 3
week 4 20-m sprint x 4 x 3
week 5 30-m sprint x 3 x 3
week 6 (rest)
week 7 30-m sprint x 4 x 3
week 8 40-m sprint x 3 x 3
week 9 40-m sprint x 4 x 3
week 10 50-m sprint x 3 x 3
week 11 50-m sprint x 4 x 3
The plyometric protocol was, eh who cares.
Thanks for reading my blog. If you have any questions or comments (even hostile ones) please don’t hesitate to ask/share. If you’re reading one of my older blogs, perhaps unrelated to neck or back pain, and it helps you, please remember Spinal Flow Yoga for you or someone you know in the future.
Chad Reilly is a Physical Therapist, obtaining his Master’s in Physical Therapy from Northern Arizona University. He graduated Summa Cum Laude with a B.S. Exercise Science also from NAU. He is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, and holds a USA Weightlifting Club Coach Certification as well as a NASM Personal Training Certificate. Chad completed his Yoga Teacher Training at Sampoorna Yoga in Goa, India.