This article was provided by Training and Conditioning
By Dan Hutchison, MS, ATC, CSCS
Improvements in sprinting speed have been manipulated through the use of various techniques and unique instruments over many decades. The high speed treadmill (HST) has been one of those unique instruments that although highly effective, has come under much scrutiny. Early Russian research supported the benefits of inclined and over speed applications for the enhancement of sprint performance through the use of towing, most commonly applied using a motorcycle or automobile to tow the individual. The high speed motorized treadmill was developed to bring both of these applications together through 3 specific factors – safety, optimal teaching environment and accurate quantification of the training. Using this approach, the coach is able to teach mechanics and body position at specific velocities, inclinations and time, to progressively enhance ability and performance, and more importantly, within a safe environment. If one can properly manipulate strength, speed, and power, within the mechanics of the activity, improvements or adaptations will occur. If this activity is straight line sprinting speed, these applications through the use of a high speed treadmill, are no different than using traditional lifting techniques like the back squat or power clean, to enhance lower extremity strength and power. Inevitably, the motion of sprinting will be done on the ground, but arguments can be made in favor of utilizing HST for speed enhancement through specificity and stimuli occurring through inclination and velocity.
Common rebuttals of HST training involve statements like, “the treadmill does all the work”, “running mechanics change because of the moving belt”, and “running over-ground is completely different”.
Three facts that debunk these statements, based on clinical research:
• The kinematics, ground-reaction forces, and metabolic cost of locomotion are nearly indistinguishable from over-ground locomotion when the treadmill has an adequate motor and flywheel, and the belt speed does not vary (Kram, et. al. 1998). Basically, a stiff and powerful treadmill emits the same forces and physiological adaptations to the body, as ground-based running.
• Speed training on a treadmill provides load resistance based on spatial position and gravitational pull during bouts performed on inclines greater than 0% grade (Myer, et. al. 2007). If the HST is at an inclination anywhere above 0% grade, the body has to apply force in the same sequential firing pattern to propel the body both vertically and horizontally, and the individual has to adequately ‘hold’ their position on the treadmill.
• Inclined treadmill sprinting creates adaptations in stride frequency by increasing lower extremity muscle activation and through increases in joint angular velocities (Swanson, et. al. 2000). Similar to resistance training with various lower body movements to improve both muscle force and power, utilizing a HST to induce these adaptations is no different than using a heavy back squat to improve force development, or a power clean to improve lower extremity power.
The objectivity of developing speed on a HST provides the technician with two key components to determining speed improvements – raw miles per hour (MPH) and the time for which he/she can hold that velocity. Ground-based testing from 10 meters (m) to 400m is essential, and can provide the technician, through some arithmetic, similar MPH numbers. Either method can be utilized on the HST to properly progress the individual, along with the times for which these efforts need to be applied can be meticulously adhered to. Often, if performing high effort sprints on the ground, individuals may “hold back” on the intensity due to the length of the workout, fatigue or the body’s instinctive nature to protect itself. In addition, total work performed and power outputs per bout and training session can be calculated.
The HST allows individuals to work within a “True Velocity Training Zone”, which is categorized between 80-90% of maximum velocity. The inclination adds a ‘speed-strength’ component to this application by not only increasing muscle activation in the correct mechanical sequence (Swanson and Caldwell 2000), but by also preventing over-striding and eliminating excessive braking forces. Since the individual is working concentrically when performing inclined HST training, the frequency of training may be increased because of the diminished eccentric forces (braking forces induced by flat ground contact).
Individuals should be aware that ground-based applications are necessary for adequate transfer characteristics from the HST to the court, diamond, track, or field, and should be implemented concurrently during HST. Although surrounded by myths and opinions, HST can be a valuable resource for speed development, including sprint mechanics, increasing maximum sprinting speed, and enhancing energy system development (Hauschildt, 2010). Applications for strength, speed, and power involve manipulating the body using weight, cords, boxes, drills and/or time intervals to elicit improvement. High speed treadmill training is another resource that specifically caters to the improvement of sprinting speed, using speed and specific inclination, but also acts as a compliment to all other movement training. Running, and more importantly sprinting, is the backbone of all sports related movements. The best runners/sprinters tend to be the best athletes, male or female, and can perform multi-directional skills with finesse and fluidity. Technical development of this skill through strategic manipulations of speed (MPH), inclination (% grade) and time, provide the ultimate mechanism for sustained running speed development.
Hauschildt, M. D. (2010). Integrating high-speed treadmills into a traditional strength and conditioning program for speed and power sports. Strength & Conditioning Journal, 32(2), 21-32.
Kram, R., Griffin, T. M., Donelan, J. M., & Chang, Y. H. (1998). Force treadmill for measuring vertical and horizontal ground reaction forces. Journal of Applied Physiology, 85(2), 764-769.
Lockie, R.G., Murphy, A.J., and Spinks, C.D (2003). Effects of resisted sled towing on sprint kinematics in field-sport athletes. JSCR 17: 760-767.
Meyer, G.D, Ford, K.R., Brent, J.L., Divine, J.G., and Hewett, T.E (2007). Predictors of sprint start speed: The effects of resistive ground-based vs. inclined treadmill training. JSCR 21(3): 831-836.
Gottschall, J. S., & Kram, R. (2005). Ground reaction forces during downhill and uphill running. Journal of biomechanics, 38(3), 445-452.
Swanson, S.C. and Caldwell, G.E. (2000). An integrated biomechanical analysis of high speed incline and level treadmill running. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc. 32: 1146-1155.