Do All Athletes Need Top End Speed Work?

Sprinting is a very plyometric activity. Research shows EMG activity during both acceleration and top end speed is comparable to the activity found during reactive plyometrics (Pogo jumps, repeat broad jumps etc.) This means some athletes don't need to do a ton of sprint work if they do a lot of plyometric activity OR they don't need a ton of plyometric work if they do a lot of sprinting. Either way, both modalities need to be recognized as helpful in improving explosive ability.

The question really becomes: Should the sprint work include top end speed and if so, where do I draw the line for my athletes?

To make a long story short, every land-based athlete, regardless of sport, should be exposed to top end speed work in the form of sprinting. A very bold statement, especially for athletes who are unacclimated to such a stimulus, but there is a solid rationale behind why…

  1. Sprinting is plyometric

At different points of the year, athletes can benefit from varied levels of plyometric stimulus. Once an athlete has a solid foundation of general physical preparation, top end speed work can be helpful due to it "plyometric like" stumulus.

  1. Helps Recruit High Threshold Motor units

Being able to recruit high threshold motor units are a key ingredient in athletic performance. Research has shown that top end speed work recruits 10-20% more high threshold motor units than a Snatch or Clean, so using it can be extremely helpful if a weight room is not available.

  1. Challenge intermuscular coordination at high velocities

When it comes time to perform, athletes don’t have the time to do a lot of thinking. Rather, they need to act with automation. In other words, they need to “do things without thinking.” Learning to operate at high velocities and move in a coordinated fashion can play a role in how “automated” an athlete can be.

However, to properly utilize top end speed work in training, you need to have a solid foundation of general physical preparation. In other words, you must be in good enough shape to handle such high stimulus work. As the saying goes: “there is a time and place for literally everything”, so be aware of how and when to implement!