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Q: Coach Defranco – Whats your take on resisted running (sleds, tubing, etc) for athletes? Many speed experts say that resisted running is counterproductive to speed because it alters the athletes running mechanics. This makes sense to me but I would love to hear your opinion first because I have the utmost respect for you and the results your gym produces.
I am a big fan of resisted sprints when they are loaded properly. (I prefer weighted sleds over “tubing” because they provide a much more “even” resistance.) Resisted sprints have always gotten a bad rap amongst “speed experts” because all it takes is one popular coach to say he doesn’t like them and then all the other coaches will blindly follow him. I used to be one of the “blind followers”. Then - one day – I decided to experiment with some college athletes (and myself) and draw my own conclusion! The first time I had my athletes perform weighted sled sprints, I couldn’t believe how much they helped when we went back to unresisted sprints. After experimenting with a couple dozen other groups of athletes and experiencing the same results, I was sold! I’ve now been incorporating sled sprints into my programs for about 10 years now.
Anyone who has read my website knows that I place a tremendous amount of importance on the start and acceleration portion of sprints. (Remember that in most sports, athletes spend most of their time in acceleration…they almost never reach top speed!) Here are the three main reasons that I love properly resisted weighted sprints:
Having weight behind you enables you to lean forward and maintain a proper acceleration lean. Resisted sprints have helped many of my athletes break the habit of popping UP when they fire out of their stance. The weighted sled requires them to fire OUT of their stance (which enables them to cover more ground on their first step).
The forward body lean that is required to sprint with the sled forces the shins to be in the proper angle during each foot strike. This “positive shin angle” (knee in front of the toe) enables the athlete to apply force BACK into the ground during the acceleration phase; this helps the athlete cover more ground with each step and breaks the habit of overstriding during acceleration.
Weighted sled sprints overload and strengthen the hamstrings, quads, glutes and calves in a very specific manner. I feel that this strength helps “bridge the gap” from weightroom strength to the specific strength required to overcome your bodyweight and accelerate into a sprint.
*Also note, if you load the sled properly, your athlete’s sprinting form will NOT be compromised! Check out the video below of three of our athletes from this years Combine class. The video shows Syracuse fullback, Tony Fiammetta; USC linebacker, Brian Cushing; and West Virginia guard, Greg Isdaner performing a 20-yard sprint with 45 pounds on the sled. Has the sled drastically hindered their sprinting form??
Ironically, ALL THREE of these athletes PR’d in an electrically timed 10-yard sprint after performing six of these resisted sprints! Coincidence? I think not! You see, all three of these athletes were having problems standing straight up at the start of the 40-yard dash; the weighted sled sprints helped engrave the proper motor patterns into their head. Now they are MUCH more consistent when we work on their starts.
So contrary to what many “experts” will tell you, the weighted sled sprints actually IMPROVED their sprint technique when incorporated properly into our speed development program.
And before all the arm-chair experts get their panties in a bunch and start pissing and moaning about how resisted sprints will train your body to be slow because you’re unable to run at your top speed with the added resistance; please note that we only sprint with added resistance once per week! We always “supplement” our resisted sprints with “regular” sprints and sprint drills that enable the body to move at full speed. In my opinion, the combination of resisted and unresisted drills provides the highest neurological transfer to the athlete’s speed.
I will keep everyone posted on the progress of this years NFL Combine/Pro Day class. (We've been working around the clock to make sure that this year's results are the best ever!) In the meantime, check out the below video link; it's an interesting segment that the NFL Network did on Brian Cushing. It shows you how grueling this process is for these young athletes….and it also shows you what a meat market it is!