How They Move or What They Move? The Associations between Technical RunningProficiency, Force Production Capacity and 30m Sprint Time in Youth Athletes

Introduction

Research has long outlined the importance of physical preparation in supporting the successful performances of team and individual sport athletes (Gamble, 2009; Haff & Triplett, 2016; Jeffreys & Moody, 2021). Within elite senior track sprinters, relative peak force and rate of force development have been cited as primary physical qualities underpinning successful maximum velocity sprint performance (Majumdar, 2011) with technical development also cited as a critical determinant through optimising sprint kinematics, kinetics and reducing injury risk (Francis, 2013; Haugen et al., 2019a; Morin et al., 2011). However, there currently exists a paucity of research investigating the influence of technical and physical parameters on the maximum velocity sprint performance of youth athletes. Uncovering the relative influence of physical and technical qualities may provide important implications for the organisation and prioritisation of these components of training for sprint coaches and strength and conditioning practitioners working with youth track athletes. As such, the aim of this study was to explore the relationship between technical running proficiency and peak relative force capacity on flying 30m sprint time in a sample of youth track athletes currently engaged within a leading talent development program.

Methods

15 regional- and national-level track athletes (7 females, 8 males) ranging from 16-18 years of age were recruited for this study. After a 15-minute dynamic warm up, each participant completed three attempts at a maximal effort flying 30m sprint. Sprint time was measured using timing gates (Brower Timing Systems, IR Emit, USA) and filmed using a Sony α-6000 4K camera. Each athlete was allowed a self-selected build up distance to achieve maximum velocity prior to reaching the first timing gate. Footage was processed using Kinovea and a kinogram was generated for each athlete. Using Microsoft Excel, kinograms were analysed against key technical criteria outlined by McMillan (2018) to produce a technical running percentage score. On a separate occasion, force production capacity was measured using a standardised isometric mid-thigh pull protocol as outlined by Musham and Fitzpatrick (2020). After a dynamic warm up, each athlete completed a familiarisation protocol consisting of 1x3s efforts at 50, 70 and 90% RPE with 60-s rest between reps. Each athlete then completed 3x3s maximal efforts with 30-s rest between attempts. Peak force was measured in Newtons using an industrial crane scale (Modern Step, USA) and made relative to each athlete’s body mass.

Results

The cohort average technical running score was 72 ±11 %, the average peak relative force was 19.3 ±5.9 N.kg and the average flying 30m sprint time was 3.46 ±0.27 s. In order to establish the association between technical running score and peak relative force on flying 30m sprint time, a Pearson’s correlation coefficient was conducted. A statistically significant strong negative correlation was observed between peak relative force and flying 30m sprint time (r = -0.85; r2 = 0.72; p < 0.001). A statistically non-significant weak negative correlation was observed between technical running score and 30m sprint time (r = -0.19; r2 = 0.04; p = 0.50). A statistically non-significant extremely weak positive correlation was observed between peak relative force and technical running score (r = 0.04; r2 < 0.01; p = 0.89).

Practical Applications

These results provide a novel insight into the influence of technique and force production capacity on the maximum velocity sprint performance in a cohort of youth track athletes. Authors have previously highlighted the importance of developing physical and technical qualities to optimise the maximum velocity profiles of elite senior sprinters (Majumdar 2011; Morin et al., 2011). However, limited information is available in youth athlete populations as to the relationships between these variables and max velocity performance. The weak association between technical ability and sprint time observed in the current study highlights that maximum velocity performance in youth is highly complex and may be determined by other physiological (fibre type composition, ankle stiffness), neurological (maximum force, rate of force development) or psychological (arousal, motivation) factors. Indeed, the evidence provided in this study suggests that maximum velocity performance in youth is more strongly predicted by physical parameters (i.e. relative peak force production). As such, it is recommended that strength and conditioning coaches working with youth athletes incorporate and emphasise heavy (>85% 1RM) multi-joint resistance and ballistic training modalities during the competitive preparation of youth track athletes to best facilitate improvements in maximum velocity sprint performance (Thompson et al., 2020).

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