The various events of track and field test every facet of the human body -- speed, strength, agility and jumping ability. In order to get faster, be it in the short sprints or in the longer distances, you obviously have to practice running. To actually reach your potential, however, you need a clear idea of the specific workouts and exercises that allow you to perform your best at just the right time.
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Before you hit the track for the meat of your workout, it's important to make your muscles loose and supple and prepare your cardiovascular system for your efforts. While static stretching, which involves sitting or standing in place, was once the gold standard for track-and-field flexibility, this has been supplanted by dynamic stretching exercises. According to "Competitor" magazine, this type of stretching may help promote recovery from certain running injuries and prevent their recurrence. One basic routine: do 10 leg swings, 10 lateral leg swings and 10 giant lunges on each side, then do 30 seconds of lateral bounding with squat and lateral running with rotation in each direction.
Performing better on the track is dependent not only on running fast but also perfecting certain skills. For example, mastering the use of starting blocks for sprints allows you to accelerate to top speed in as little time as possible. In the starting position, the knee of your rear leg should form an angle of about 120 degrees and your forward knee should be flexed about 90 degrees. Your hands should be shoulder-width apart. If you're on a relay team, practice exchanging the baton and make awareness of the front and back boundaries of the exchange zones on the track second nature. The first runner in the 400-meter relay should carry the baton in her left hand, and team members should alternate hands thereafter.
Mike Holloway, longtime track coach at the University of Florida, has his athletes execute a lot of drills in the six to 10 weeks preceding the start of the competitive season. These emphasize optimizing stride length and stride frequency. Circuit training improves basic aerobic fitness, and running itself addresses stride mechanics. Sample workouts on the track include five times 20 meters, four times 30 meters, three times 40 meters all-out with walking rest; six times 250 meters at 80 percent of max with two-minute rests; and two to three sets of 300, 200 and 100 meters at 80 percent effort with a 100-meter rest between reps and a 400-meter walk between sets.
Plyometrics reinforce limb movements and coordination at a neuromuscular level. As Mackenzie Lobby of "Competitor" magazine notes, studies have shown that the resulting increases in speed and power translate into faster performances on the track. Drills such as switch lunges, single-leg hops, leg bounds, bench taps, box jumps and rocket jumps strengthen your legs and challenge you to develop balance.