How strong is strong enough for a sprinter?

How does one determine how much limit strength is necessary for a sprinter and when to shift the focus away from strength development and onto another aspect of training?
Charlie, when Ben was capable of squatting 660lbs (approximately 3.75 times his bodyweight), you decided to increase the reps rather than increase the weight because you thought 660lbs was heavy enough. What made you decided this? How does a coach know how much strength is enough for his athlete? I would have thought that squatting below parallel with 3 times body weight would be enough limit strength for a sprinter and past the point of diminishing returns.
What do other people think?

i believe there are instances where a sprinter may get so strong (ben) that he does not specifically have to focus on becoming stronger, but very few will ever reach the strength to weight ratio that ben did.

Here’s my thoughts, the stronger you are, more the weight you can bounce around in explosively.

If you can squat 600lbs, you can bounce around with 300lbs pretty easily.
If you can only squat 300lbs, well 150lbs is the most you can handle at any great speed :slight_smile:

I think it just opens up the ceiling of potential power. It doesn’t mean you can generate that much in the contact times while sprinting, but you could probbably generate more than the 300lb squatter.

Just speculating anyway :saint:

David W, in another thread, reminds us of Jonathan Edward’s dropping of ‘power’ movements to focus more on OL. Presumably, with adequate strength levels in place, this was to focus more on RFD. Anyone know what numbers Edwards was putting up in the Squat, DL, Bench etc.?

JE dropped squats: a limit strength exercise (not a power exercise!)

I think when improvements in limit exercises fail to yield improvements on the track, emphasis should be shifted to other paramaters such as RFD or possibly towards (gasp!!) more ‘specific’ movements :baddevil::


power was deliberately put in inverted commas to denote an aberrant use of the term!!

Power was used in the context of the sport of Powerlifting (Squats, Deads, Bench). Was that not implict in the post?


My question is how can you maintain current levels of strength without maintaining your strength in the squat, snatch grip dead etc?

I think you can reduce your volume (while maintaining high intensity) and go into a maintainence phase with squats/deads. Try to keep your existing strength levels in place while concentrating on advancing specific skills and components in lifts like powersnatch and Powerclean.
I dont think you can cut squats, snatch deads etc out entirely or you will lose in the OLY lifts too

IMO When you drop the volume or intensity in one area you should increase in the other area.


In our case, sprinting being the primary benifactor of decreased volume, in other areas.

i think charlie icreased the rep for ben as ben dont need too much power ,he had to develope the endurance of ben’s muscules so to run the 100 in a faster time,i which charlie post to this thread has he will stop the conflicts

This question is the essence of explosive strength deficit (as defined by Zatsiorsky)

which summarized is as follows:

The time needed to generate maximal force in a similar biomechanical movement to (in this case) sprinting is one variable. This must be weighed against the time which elapses during the takeoff phase in sprinting (which according to Zatsiorsky ranges from .08-.10s for elite sprinters).

So if we use the squat exercise, as an example, we know that maximal attempts surely exceed this time frame. Thus, the maximum achievable force exceeds the time frame in which force must be generated during take off. This difference in value represents the ESD.

To be entirely mathmatical about the situation, on may utilize a force plate to measure the force and time during take off. Then test max strength, and duration of 1RM, during a max squat attempt. Divide the squat 1RM by 2 (50% for each leg) and measure this figure against the unilateral force/time recorded by the force plate.

Zatsiorksy points out that most elite shot putters are only able to use about 50% of the force generated during one of their 1RM bench press results, against the shot.

However, the increase of limit strength plays a very important role in the development/preparation of power development athletes. Zatsiorsky points out that the increase of maximum achievable force proves to be very beneficial to young athletes, and then becomes less valuable as athletes achieve advanced status, at which point RFD becomes more of an asset.

In essence, Young athletes will benefit more by focusing on increasing maximum achievable force, while experienced athletes will tend to benefit more by focusing on decreasing ESD/developing RFD.

In the end, all things being equal, and as others have already stated, when increases in 1RM cease to yield improvements in sprint performance, then one would be wise to shift their focus to decreasing the ESD.

HAHAHAHAHA yeh he increased the reps to develop ben’s endurance, thats right…no it was so ben could still train max strength without taking on a huge load as it would be dangerous when combined with other elements of training.

As always James, very informative, and more importantly, clearly articulated.

My question is as follows: For masters guys, who probably aren’t going to be setting the world on fire with new limit strength maxes every week, should we be focusing on speed-strength/RFD stuff to a greater degree? Moving 30-50% of max weights quickly for more reps? Or is the injury risk of such training prohibitive at our age? [35 +]

Thanks Johnny, to be honest I have yet to work with a masters level sprinter. Charlie would be the guy to ask here, and actually anything sprinting related.LOL

I’ll say this, I would still apply the same logic/reasoning. If new increases in max strength show improvements on the track then bleed the well till it’s dry. If not, then change your course of action to RFD work. Remember, for a sprinter, DE work is not a requirement. However, if the masters guys find that DE work is less taxing than RFD work on the track, which it should be as sprinting is more taxing than lifting, than one option would be to supplement track work with DE work.

In the end, performance results and feedback from the athletes will tell all.
Inability to recover as quickly is also more of a factor for ‘older’ trainees.

Thanks, jman. Yes, recovery is first, second, and third on my priority list! With my strength basically plateaued for years now, but at a reasonable level for my build, I’m thinking it is time to try more work on the speed side of things in my weight training sessions. I’ll report back!

Johnny, if your max strength has been stagnant for years than I think that that is worth paying attention to.

There’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to keep hitting max strength PR’s well into your 40’s or even 50’s in some cases, at least in the squat, dl, and bp. Obviously there are many variables which factor in (eg training age, injuries, etc), however, don’t sell yourself short just because you are ‘masters level’. There are masters level powerlifters who total better than many in the open class.

If you don’t mind me asking, how old are you, what times/distances are you running, and what are your current max strength levels?

Sure, no problem. 39 years old, 6’3", 180 lbs, tall and skinny, 5% bodyfat on hydrostatic underwater test, ex-volleyball player, springy and quick type athlete, squat 300, bench 200, can chin 15 good ones, 7.8e 60m, 12.0 100m. Extremely clean diet. Track training age of 1 year. [100m was 14 flat 1 year ago]

My major problems are bad tendons [despite all the prerequisite diet and regeneration strategies] and a very sensitive CNS. I can get fried the minute I do heavy squats and run track in the same week. CNS fatigue is quick to come with me; even as a young guy I was susceptible.

It’s tough to improve limit strength with concurrent track work when you have preconditions like mine!

Well, you are very fit, which greatly aids in developing relative strength/power ratio. And you know your body well, which is key.

Judging by your 60m and strength levels, I am fairly confident that you will be able to drop your 60m time by increasing your max strength. I say this as an educated guess, admittedly not knowing what your track work consists of.

Have you experimented with different sub-maximal loading parameters which yield the development of max strength (eg Prilepin’s chart)? You may find that you can further your max strength development without causing the CNS fatigue with which you are so familiar.

What is your vertical jump and standing long jump if you know them?

As a former VB player I must presume that your jumping ability is a strong suit. The motor requirements in order to be a successful VB player would suggest that RFD is also a strong suit of yours, which you elude to as describing yourself as quick/springy. Hence, my prediction that increasing max strength may serve you most optimally.

jman, my track work is very Charlie-esque, short-to-long, and I keep my meterage low and my intensity high. Recently tested vertical jump is 28" [taking no steps, against the wall, not what it used to be!], and standing long jump is 2.82. I haven’t done much jumping in the last 10 years.

I also do not go to failure on my low rep strength work to protect my nervous system as much as possible.

I guess I’ll just keep at it as best I can!


What is your 200m PB?

I think for the (sub)masters athlete especially one that is working full time (in my case 55-65 hours a week) and subject to lack of sleep and restricted window for training needs to monitor VERY carefully their program, recovery and state of their CNS.

I am following an extended GPP/SPP type program right now. Concentrating on getting fit again and it is working well

Right now I do the following:

1 - SE-2/lactic work
2 - weights/core (lower body but not CNS intensive)
3 - Strength End circuit (upper body but not CNS intensive)
4 - Speed/plyos
5 - Extensive Tempo
6 - Tows (partner resisted towing for time)
7 - Rest

I used to do short to long and lots of heavy weights. I was strong but slow (12.00FAT with a DL of 425, oly squat of 340 and bench of 265) CNS was fried all the time and I ended up popping my hamstring.

I have switched to the routine outlined above and am already running as fast as I did before but in flats with full sweats on after only a few weeks!

My goals this year are modest. consistent sub 12.00 FAT in the 100m and sub 24.00 FAT in the 200. I am thinking it is going to take ~2 years to really get things in the groove and get in the mid 11/mid 22 second range.


ps- this might not work for you but it definitely has been working well for me. I think our CNS reserve given our other stressers needs to focus on the track work and the strength work be secondary and focusing on the endurance side.

HeHe. You had to bring up the 200m, didn’t you! I suck. I’ve only run it a few times, and it shows-25.2. [first time 1 year ago 28.2!] My age-grading is strongest at 60m and tails off from there! You and James both have valid points. Work drains me a lot.

I now do tempo in the form of easy weight circuits twice a week and that seems to be helping.