Strength & Conditioning Part 2 Athletic Performance

30 Mar
The following post will very briefly address the use of strength and conditioning as a tool for athletic performance, how I design the sessions for my athletes and myself, through years of very good experience working with world class athletes, through 4 events and 2 different, speed/ power sports.
The previous post, if you have yet to read it, explains the importance of injury prevention through S&C.
I will do my best, in as little words as possible to highlight the two components that make an athlete faster and how to best utilise them.
As always, I’m happy to answer any questions.
Speed of movement
Regardless of the event in athletics, the faster the athlete can move their limbs, the greater their potential.
I would like to also point out, I am strictly speaking about sprinting speed although this can be applied to many other sports, however outside of sprinting and weightlifting, I am by no means close to being an expert.
With sprinting and running, speed is a direct result of large amounts of force, applied over very short contact times.

Coaching sprinters to run faster is, by no means a simple task, however it needs to be simplified in order to develop programmes to address the two most interrelated aspects.

Essentially the athlete must have a powerful engine, and a stiff chassis.
They must be able to produce large amounts of force on ground contact and be able to withstand these large forces without significant changes in joint angle stiffness, which reduces contact times.
Below is a graph showing these two factors at play.
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Rate of Force Development
RFD is how quickly an athlete can produce force.
Improvements in RFD come from improvements in the athletes muscle-tendon stiffness.
Exercises that address developing specific joint angles and movement patterns for the events will, overtime improve the athletes RFD.
For more information on RFD, this article from
Goes into much greater detail.
Plyometrics or Strength Training?
There are of course benefits to both, if an athlete does fairly high mileage or is returning from injury, I would limit their plyometrics to double leg or perhaps none.
Clyde Hart, who coached Michael Johnson, did little to no plyometrics, some athletes respond great to them, others really feel the fatigue.

The best adaptations for speed and RFD come from stimulating the nervous system, not annihilating.
For many of the exercises that I have prescribed to my athletes, there are targets relative to their body weight, should the athlete reach those targets, they then have world class strength to weight ratio.
Generally once they’ve achieved these targets, we no longer aim to work heavier but teach the system to produce force faster, developing RFD.

When it comes to developing strength, it’s so easy to get distracted and when I was younger, I was so focused on getting strong, thinking it would be the tool for getting faster and more powerful.
This can work, generally with athletes that are already incredibly fast but lack strength.
Athlete profiling is the quickest way to get results.
If you rush through the strength phase without teaching the athlete to transfer force quicker along the way, the programme will not be as effective as you’d like.
Below is the famous force velocity curve, progressing from exercises that are slower to faster by matching load percentages is a really useful method that, overtime works increases athletic performance.
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A useful tool for measuring athletic performance (alongside recording data between training blocks) is to monitor the athlete’s ability to jump, either for distance or height.


To summarise, if you can improve your RFD, overtime through specific measures, you will positively impact your joint stiffness on ground contact and be able to sprint/ run at faster speeds, be it maximal or sub maximal.
There are other methods to increase joint stiffness, alongside increasing RFD but that may be a topic for another day.