Run Faster and Jump Higher With This Workout: Split Squat Jumps
Track and field athletes depend on general strength and endurance as much as any competitor in any sport. But the primary traits that separate good track athletes from great ones fall into two categories: velocity and explosivity. To build the muscles that support explosive running, track coaches and trainers push a wide variety of moves that specifically target the hip flexors. These are the muscle groups that require focused attention in order to drive track and field athletes as they move from a position of stillness to powerful, immediate, maximum- velocity running speed.
Those who depend on jumping, sprinting, hurdling, and running track for short explosive distances need to focus their workout sessions on agility and bursts of controlled motion. This means a concentrated focus on technique (proper position and body mechanics while running) and a resistance training routine that builds the hip flexors, glutes, quads and hamstrings.
The Hip Flexors: What These Muscles Mean to Track and Field Athletes
As a group, the hip flexors form one of the most complex and highly coordinated muscle systems in the body. There is no single muscle called the “hip flexor”, but rather a set of muscles that work together to allow the upper leg to rotate 360 degrees at the point where it connects to the body. The weight that these muscles are asked to carry and the impacts that they create and sustain are among the strongest that the human body can generate. They’re located on either side of our center of gravity and their opposing actions push and pull our largest and heaviest bones (those of our pelvis and thighs).
There are no less than then ten muscles that contribute to this coordinated effort. At the highest point in the system, we find the psoas major, which originates at the low-mid spine, drapes down past the pelvis, and connects at the head of the femur, or thigh bone. Another key muscle in the group is the tensor fasciae latae, a gluteal muscle that originates at the wing of the pelvis and connects at the base of the femur, almost at the knee. The adductor longis and adductor brevis are part of a subset of smaller muscles that join the base of the pelvis to mid points along the femur. Each of these muscles must be properly conditioned, adequately stretched, protected from injury, and rigorously trained in order to provide track athletes with the explosive power they need to jump, sprint, and maintain sustained speed during track and field events.
Track and Field Training: Stretching
Track athletes should focus careful attention on stretching the hip flexors properly. Cold and static stretching should be avoided, since this not only increases the chance of injury, but also creates weakness in the muscles and reduces velocity and explosivity. Instead, track athletes should begin each training session with a light jog to heat the muscles and generate circulation. Once the muscles are active and warm, track athletes should engage in a series of dynamic stretches in which the muscles are in motion while they’re being stretched. Straight knee kicks and spiderman crawls are excellent stretching exercises for track and field athletes.
Track And Field Training: Body Technique
While running, track and field athletes should pay constant attention to form and body mechanics. Running is a very repetitive exercise, so habits—both good and bad—become ingrained very quickly. Track athletes who are focused on explosive velocity and running speed should concentrate not just on the legs and hips, but on the arms as well. If the shoulders are relaxed and rotating smoothly through a full range of motion, the hips are likely to follow. Keep the shoulders loose and the elbows at a 90 degree angle, and make sure the hands cover a full sweep from the level of the face to the level of the hip.
Track and Field Training: Resistance Exercises
In the gym, resistance training for track and field athletes should focus on generating sustained tension in the entire set of hip flexor muscles. Track exercises like those in this video can build explosivity in the hip flexors as well as the glues and quads.
During the split squat lunge, the track athlete begins by attaching the Kbands resistance bands securely to the upper leg, just above the knee. He then drops into a deep lunge, with the left leg extended forward, the right leg pushed behind, and his weight centered evenly between the two. As the move begins, he jumps straight up into the air and reverses the positions of his right and left leg. As soon as the track athlete touches the ground he explodes back up again.
The track athlete completes the move as many times as he can for 12 full seconds. Note how he focuses on the position of his arms, completing large, full range motions to generate powerful momentum for the jump.
As the hip flexors and glutes become tired, track athletes tend to reduce the stride length of the move and bring the feet closer and closer together. But the feet should stay wide in order to keep pressure on the hip flexors and build explosive speed.
To get the most out of this track running exercise, track athletes should complete three 12-second sets with 30-second rest periods in between. The first two sets should use the Kbands to generate hip flexor resistance, and the third set should be unresisted. Simply disconnect the long bands from the KBand straps and clip them to the side so they stay out of the way during the third set.
During the third set, track athletes should take advantage of the lack of resistance and sink down into the hips with each move. Stay under control, but stretch the hip flexors fully with each repetition. More advanced track and field athletes can add a few additional resisted sets to generate even more speed and explosivity.
Explore the track and field training section of the Kbands website for more training guidance specific to the needs of track and field athletes. In the meantime, feel free to reach out to our experts with questions and comments.
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