No matter the distance we're training for, we all want to be faster.
Sprint intervals, hill repeats and Fartlek runs are a step in the right direction, but to really put your speed training into overdrive, you may need to use some advanced apparatus.
The Key Benefits of Resisted Running
In the past, resisted running has been mostly limited to the world of short distance sprinting. Research shows that lightweight sled pulls and parachute sprints can effectively improve early-phase acceleration over the first 20 meters of an all-out sprint.
But there is plenty of research demonstrating that sprint training can be beneficial for long-distance runners as well, largely due to the boost in VO2Max that high-intensity sprint intervals can elicit. Sports scientists have also found that resisted running is actually gentler on runners' joints than all-out sprints and other forms of strength training. The additional load slows the pace and reduces the number of steps without significantly increasing joint strain. Is it possible, then, that resisted pulling or pushing at max effort can net even greater benefits?
A 2007 study that had a group ofthat required "strong man" Strongman athletes to push a 4,000-plus-pound 4,000+ lb vehicle found that resisted pulling or pushing elicited incredibly high metabolic workloads. Luckily, you don't have to push or pull the family car around to reap the benefits of resisted running--most studies have found that sprinting while towing a weight equal to around 10 percent of your body weight is ideal for improving acceleration and power, while moderately heavier resistance levels may provide other significant performance benefits.
Which Tools Are Best?
For developing early-phase acceleration, sleds and parachutes are both effective training tools. Each device should be attached to a harness more than 30 feet long, in order to allow for unrestricted movement.
If your aim is to pile on the weight and build strength and aerobic power, then the sled has a clear advantage. That's because the only way to increase the load with a parachute system is to use a larger parachute, or to hook up a complicated network of multiple parachutes. With a sled, all you have to do is add another weight or two.
If you want to be able to change the resistance level at various points throughout a single repetition--to train yourself to push hard at the end of a race, for example--you'll want to use a heavy-duty bungee and harness system. This option is lightweight, portable, and relatively cost effective--but it will require a workout partner or training coach.
Gradual Progression, Workout Timing and Recovery
Sprinting of any kind is metabolically taxing, both to the muscles and the central nervous system, and resisted running is no exception. For this reason, it's imperative that you start slow and gradually increase total training volume: load x sets x speed. It's also important to allow your body to fully recover after loaded training days. Even though you may not experience the muscle soreness that a heavy weight workout or plyometric training can produce, you'll only be hurting your performance if you follow up a resisted running day with another demanding workout.
Because of the high metabolic demands, it's best to incorporate these workouts early in the training season or during the off-season.
Kyle Williams, an Australian high-altitude endurance athlete and coach, says that he uses sled training in the early, base-building phase of training and sticks with "tried and tested long runs and challenging tempo or interval sessions" later in the training season. He also recommends that runners limit resisted running to one session per week in order to allow for adequate recovery.
While little research has been done on the benefits of resisted running for endurance performance to date, this hot training trend has runners, coaches and exercise physiologists taking a closer look. By starting off slow and testing different training loads, resisted running could kick your speed into the next gear.
Bonus: A Resisted Workout Sample to Get You Started
Australian coach Kyle Williams uses a heavier weighted sled workout to boost strength and power as well as to stimulate the acidosis threshold response. He recommends that runners pull about 40 percent of their bodyweight forward, backward, and laterally right and left in an all-out effort for 15 seconds with a two-minute rest between each direction. For pure acceleration work, however, he unloads the sled and drags it empty for 60-second sprint repeats with two minutes of rest in between.