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For example, in strength training it is relatively common knowledge that if you want to see your lifts go up, you should focus on doing 3-5 sets of 5 relatively heavy reps, with 3-4 minutes rest in between. Is there an equivalent with speed training? Say if I wanted to improve my 100m dash time as fast as possible, what would be the optimal training program in terms of intensity of reps and rest in between sprints?

I have actually never seen any empirical research done on this, so if you could point me to an article that would be awesome.

Everyone has heard of starting strength, is there starting speed?

Edit: How many 100m sprints should I do a training session to get at optimal speed? How long should I rest? I know it is a naive question because sprinters will not often do the same thing every workout, but I am curious.

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Tom Kurz' book Science of Sports Training has a good chapter on speed training, with oodles of studies backing it up. One relevant section is on page 191-192:

A well-trained athlete must rest 5-8 minutes between sprints of up to 100 meters if the number of repetitions is not excessive. Because these rest intervals are so long, besides passive rest light exercises similar to or imitating the main exercise are done while the athlete is recovering to maintain the specific neuromuscular coordination for the main exercise.

According to Naglak (1979) speed exercises should be done in small doses but frequently, even several times during the day, but in varying form and in different conditions and not too often at the maximal speed.

That last part about avoiding full-time work at maximal speed is in order to prevent a "speed barrier" from forming, which is discussed in more detail in the book. There is literally an entire chapter on this specific topic, so I recommend reading the book or narrowing down the question. Personally, as someone using sprints for other sports and fitness purposes, I do three to six sprints with anywhere from thirty seconds to a few minutes between them.

Keep in mind that speed training is distinct from power training, and the set/rep/rest schemes that work for barbells are not the same as those that work for interval sprints, kettlebells, and so on.

The element of weight training that you want for speed is power. Power is optimally developed with a moderate number of reps (e.g. 3-6) done with near-maximal bar speed (though pauses between reps are fine) and submaximal loads. For the goal of optimal sprint times, that might mean five sets of three power cleans or snatches done at 60% of your 1RM, or four sets of four at 70%, or similar. I'd also make sure to work on maximal strength, which in the context of running would mean a handful of near-maximal deadlifts. For instance, one heavy set of 3, five singles, a maximal set of 2, or similar.

For sprints, the takeaway I got from Kurz' book was that the best way to train speed was to take complete rests between sprints. One would still do longer runs and sprints where one was not fully rested, but maximal sprints seem to develop best when fully rested but not cold.

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Instead of thinking in terms of sets and reps, think instead in terms of groups of exercises and the manner in which you perform them. The weight room is there for both general physical preparedness, and to build more strength. The goal is to build both plain physical strength and explosive strength.

The most important principle is Compensatory Acceleration Training (CAT). The idea is to accelerate all the way through the lift as if it were your max effort. It is always performed with submaximal weights that feel heavy, but you have no doubt about hitting 5x5. For further reading, look at Donche, Dan (2008). FF Trainer Certification Guide. USA: Fatal Fitness.

Your training should at least include the following:

  • Squats: including back squat, front squat, lunges.
  • Box Jumps: various heights
  • Deadlifts: for power development

Sam Byrd, a power lifter, is known for his training style which would fit your needs quite well. He starts with squats running 5 sets of 5 reps, but the weight stays the same. He uses CAT to decrease the time it takes for each set, and then when he can't shave more time off of that he cuts down the rest times between sets until he can get all 5x5 done within 13-15 minutes. Once he hits that threshold he will increase the weight and repeat. He has two squat sessions a week, one for back squats and one for front squats. Sam's training methodology was outlined in Juggernaut Training Systems' ebook on squat training.

Box jumps and lunges are supplemental activities. The idea behind box jumps is to generate power. You don't need to jump as high as you can, but you'll jump on to a platform for 5 sets of 5. When that becomes too easy, increase the height of the platform. Lunges should be more like 5 sets of 10.

For more detail and programs geared more towards athletes who are in more traditional sports (track and field, football, etc.), Do check out Juggernaut Training Systems. You can download the 3 free training manuals which includes the squat training manual that outlines Sam Byrd's training. They also have a couple well regarded books called "The Juggernaut System 2.0" and "The Cube Method". I hate to sound like I'm plugging them, but they are a source I trust and I know they also train non-strength sport athletes.

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What about the actual sprints? Like running the 100m, how many should I do? How long should I rest? ect. ect. –  Mike Flynn Jun 25 '13 at 20:38
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