The Most Important Muscles for Sprinting, and How to Train Them

Posted: September 1, 2016 in Speed, Training
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bolt sprint run olympics jamaica


It’s been widely theorized for a while now that a runner’s ability to extend his/her hips powerfully is the most important factor in determining sprinting speed. High hip extension velocities have been shown to be correlated with greater running speed, and the force produced by the hip extensors have been shown to increase with higher running speeds, so it stands to reason that training your hip extensors to put MORE force into the ground at a FASTER rate will make you run faster.

Furthermore, research has also shown that stride length may be more important than stride frequency when it comes to running speed. Usain Bolt actually has about the same stride frequency as the other runners he faces, but his stride length is considerably longer, as is his ground contact time (the amount of time his foot is on the ground during each step.) This longer ground contact time likely allows him to generate more force through hip extension, which propels him forward FARTHER and MORE POWERFULLY, resulting in both longer strides and faster times.

The main muscles involved in hip extension are the gluteus maximus and the hamstrings, which are comprised of the biceps femoris, semitendinosus, and semimembranosus. Probably not coincidentally, the semitendinosus muscles of a sprinter are on average about 55% larger than those of a non-sprinter, which is the biggest size difference between those two groups of any muscle.

How Do We Train These Muscles?

The best way to train the hip extensors is by doing hip extension exercises (shocking, I know). The key, however, is to build strength and power in the hip extensors and also to train the knee flexors to resist knee extension during the portion of your running stride when you’re “pulling back” from the hips. Here are a couple ways of doing that:

Hip Extension Strength: Barbell Hip Thrust

Sets/Reps: 4-6 sets of 5-8 reps


Hip Extension Power: Standing Triple Jump

Reps/Sets: 3-5 sets of 2-3 reps


Hip Extension Power: Single Leg Explosive Hip Thrust

Sets/Reps: 3-5 sets of 3-6 reps

Knee Anti-Extension Strength: Isometric Hamstring Bridge

Sets/Reps: 2-4 sets of 8-20 reps

Knee Anti-Extension Strength: Nordic Hamstring Curl

Sets/Reps: 3-5 sets of 6-8 reps

If you’re an athlete looking to improve your running speed, add these exercises to your program if you haven’t already, and be sure to pay more attention to how well you’re training your glutes and hamstrings. And for more information on the role the hamstrings play in sprinting, check out this post as well.


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