Sprinting and Resistance Training - Obtaining the Subtle Balance

Sprinting and Resistance Training - Obtaining the Subtle Balance

Juggling sprinting and resistance training

Bob Hayes (above), Human Thunderbolt: born in 1942 in Jacksonville, Florida, Hayes never lost a sprinting race in high school, college or on the world stage. Bullet Bob was not a tiny sprinter. He stood 6-1 and weighed a muscled-up and ripped 195-pounds when he destroyed the (drugged-up) Russian and East German sprinters at the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games. Bob ran a 9.1 second world record in the 100-yard dash in 1963, a mark that would not be broken for eleven years. Hayes once ran a hand-held 8.9 that disbelieving officials refused to submit as a record. He was also the first man to break the 6-second barrier in the 60-yard dash. Bob played 11 years in the NFL and is in the Hall of Fame. Hayes is the only man to win an Olympic gold medal and win a Super Bowl.

Sprinting and strength training go together like ham and eggs, fish & chips or Mick and Keith. Speed and strength are inexorably intertwined, two sides of the same coin. There can be no speed without strength: strength is used to overcome inertia; strength generates acceleration and adding strength improves all-out top end speed. Progressive resistance training has been an integral component of the elite sprinter’s training template for decades.

To go faster, become stronger. To go way faster, become way stronger. The event creates the physique and ergo, great sprinters are always muscled-up. Look at any international level sprinter and the distinguishing commonality, the identifying characteristic is leanness combined with a substantial amount of lean muscle mass, mostly in the legs and glutes.

The similarities between hardcore lifting and hardcore running are numerous. In both sprint training and strength training all-out bursts of energy and power, max efforts, are performed; it could be an all-out 40-yard sprint or an all-out set of high-bar squats. These short, super-intense efforts are interspersed with rest periods. Sprint sessions and hardcore lifting sessions are filled with multiple bursts of maximum effort. The goal (be it lifting or sprinting) is to exceed current best efforts.

  • An elite powerlifter will squat and deadlift, train legs and back, once a week. A good lifter’s top set for a deadlift session might be 635-pounds for 3 reps. That set might only last 15 seconds - yet those 15 seconds will trigger ALL the deadlift strength and muscle gains for that entire week. Nothing else matters except those top sets wherein current capacities are assaulted in some way. Everything prior is windup and throat-clearing.
  • An elite sprinter might go all-out, 100% or more, once a week, and that sprint session might consist of eight all-out sprints of 40-yards, the sum-total of time the sprinter is actually sprinting might not exceed 60 cumulative seconds and of the 60 seconds of sprinting, only 25 seconds would be run at 100% or more – yet those 25-seconds operating at 102% of capacity will trigger ALL the all-out top speed gains for that entire week.

Combining sprinting with strength training is smart, appropriate, and handled right can be incredibly effective. However, great care and attention need be paid to the construction of the training split. Weight training can destroy a sprint session. Trying to run all out on fatigued legs, glutes or low back muscles is ineffectual and a waste of time. It is also potentially injurious to run at 100% + of diminished capacity.

Creating the integrated strength/speed training template

Combining sprinting and weightlifting requires a subtle touch. The challenge is to design and create a non-conflicting training split. The eternal conflict for the hard runner that lifts hard is how to sequence heavy leg training (purposefully fatiguing calves, hips, thighs, lower back, abs) with sprinting?

Heavy back training (deadlifts, cleans, rows, heavy pulls) also stresses and fatigues legs, hips, and lower back. How does the athlete schedule sprint sessions so that they are not run on legs prefatigued by a heavy leg or back training? There is no sense attempting to sprint all out on fatigued legs or glutes. When creating the integrated strength training and sprint templates, first, design the two individualized systems…

Strength training split questions

  • Session content what exercises? sets? reps?
  • Session frequency how often?
  • Session timing what time of day?
  • Periodized? part of a larger plan?

Sprint training split questions

  • Max effort frequency how many times a week sprinting at 100% +?
  • Content of non 100% sessions what is done on non 100% day?
  • Sprint session timing what time of day?
  • Periodized? stair-step speed imperceptibly upward?


Legs and back are trained hard once weekly. Are the legs and back trained on the same day or different days? If legs and backs are trained on different days, they should be placed at opposite ends of the training week. If legs are blasted on Sunday, then heavy back work should not be done until Wednesday or Thursday.

The ultra-basic 1-day power split is…

Sunday                        squat, bench press, deadlift, overhead press

A simple 2-day power split would layout as follows…

Sunday                        squat, front squat, leg curl, calf raises            bench pressing and triceps

Thursday                     power clean, deadlift, Romanian deadlift       overhead pressing and biceps

How would a strength training 3-day training split look?

Sunday                        squat, front squat, leg curl, calf raises

Wednesday                 bench pressing,                                               arms (biceps & triceps super-setted)

Friday                          power clean, deadlift, Romanian deadlift       overhead pressing

Here is a 5-day power split….

Monday                       squat, front squat, leg curl, calf raises

Tuesday                      bench pressing

Thursday                     power clean, deadlift, Romanian deadlift

Friday                          overhead pressing

Sunday                        arms


Strength and speed have many overlapping similarities. The way in which we improve our top end, all-out speed is to run when totally and completely rested. Highly trained, extremely fit sprinters might have multiple weekly all-out efforts in them. Sprinting can be subdivided…

  • Acceleration how fast can you get to 100% of current sprint capacity
  • top speed once at 100%, how long can you stay there?

For the all-around athlete looking to include some real running into his training template, start with one all-out sprint day a week. There are additional run drills, assistance exercises, protocols that are used to improve acceleration, technique, and conditioning - without conflicting with the development of top speed.

To run as fast as possible, that athlete needs to run on fresh legs. Can an athlete sprint, all out, the day after a body-crushing leg or back training session? No. Commonsense and decades of empirical experience tell us that running hard the day after and all-out leg or back training session is a real bad idea. You are running all-out on fatigued legs.

It gets complicated. If you are training legs and back on different days of the week, when, during the training week, is the body fresh enough to slip in an all-out sprint session. This is a thorny dilemma – how do you juggle the subtle balance between hard running and hard lifting? And do so in a way that optimizes both? What constitutes the ideal sprint training week and what constitutes the ideal strength training week? Can the two be combined without degrading workout performance? 

Combined Strength/Sprint weekly training template

*if legs and back are trained on separate days….

Sunday            Leg training

Monday           easy, long run, 30-40 minutes, flush muscles of toxins & waste products, light, easy, fun

Tuesday          triple length sprints                                         eight sprints, 75% to 85% of 100% capacity

Wednesday     double length sprints                                      eight sprints, 85% to 95% of 100% capacity

Thursday         Back training – no running of any kind

Friday              easy, long run, 30-40 minutes, flush muscles of toxins & waste products, light, easy, fun

Saturday          all out 100% all-out sprint day                       eight sprints, 97% to 102% of 100% capacity

*if legs and back are trained on the same day…

Sunday            Leg training + Back training

Monday           easy, long run, 30-40 minutes, flush muscles of toxins & waste products, light, easy, fun

Tuesday          triple length sprints                             eight sprints, 75% to 85% of 100% capacity

Wednesday     double length sprints                          eight sprints, 85% to 95% of 100% capacity

Thursday         easy, long run, 30-40 minutes, flush muscles of toxins & waste products, light, easy, fun

Friday              all out 100% sprint day           eight sprints, 97% to 102% of 100% capacity

Saturday          no running, no lifting

  • Sprint assistance work: if all-out sprinting is done once weekly (at least initially) then what if anything can or should be done to “assist” all out sprinting without engaging in it? One strategy is to work on the acceleration and run techniques.
  • Double/Triple-length sprints: begin with short sprints of 20, 30 or 40 yards before moving to 50 and 60-yard dashes. 100s and 220 are too long for beginners. Master short sprints first. If your sprint length is 30-yard sprints, 60-yards is double length; 90-yards is triple length.
  • Use the longer length sprints to ingrain ever-better sprint technique. Longer length runs done at lesser velocity allows for thoughtful, inflight technical adjustments. Longer distance sprints improve cardio conditioning; fitter athletes can train harder, longer, and more frequently.
  • The double-length and triple-length sprints add a superb conditioning element. By running further using lesser velocity, sprint technique is refined. Tendons, ligaments, muscles, connective tissue, fascia, and cartilage are hardened and toughened.

Make haste slowly. Sprinting, like hardcore lifting is violent and dangerous. Having said that, those that successfully meld effective resistance training with serious sprinting will take every aspect of their physical being to the next level of physique and performance.

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About the Author
As an athlete Marty Gallagher is a national and world champion in Olympic lifting and powerlifting. He was a world champion team coach in 1991 and coached Black's Gym to five national team titles. He's also coached some of the strongest men on the planet including Kirk Karwoski when he completed his world record 1,003 lb. squat. Today he teaches the US Secret Service and Tier 1 Spec Ops on how to maximize their strength in minimal time. As a writer since 1978 he’s written for Powerlifting USA, Milo, Flex Magazine, Muscle & Fitness, Prime Fitness, Washington Post, Dragon Door and now IRON COMPANY. He’s also the author of multiple books including Purposeful Primitive, Strong Medicine, Ed Coan’s book “Coan, The Man, the Myth, the Method" and numerous others. Read the Marty Gallagher biography here.