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Interview: Bret Contreras on Strength and Speed

Featured Joel Smith Speed Training 04 March 2013

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Bret Contreras has a masters degree from ASU and a CSCS certification
from the NSCA. He is currently studying to receive his PhD in Sports Science
at the Sports Performance Research Institute New Zealand (SPRINZ) at AUT
University in Auckland, New Zealand. Visit his blog
at BretContreras.com and his research review service at
If there is one specific physical quality that athletes want, it is speed. My day
job is to strength train track and field athletes, and if there is one person who
has influenced me the most in regards to my exercise selection in the weight
room, it is Bret Contreras. I am thrilled to interview Bret with some questions that I have pondered over the years in
regards to strength training for speed. If you are interested in becoming a faster athlete, you will find this interview
contains fundamental concepts for your sprinting success. Also, if you like the interview, I highly recommend you
check out Brets fantastic new product on sprinting research: The Optimal Athlete, Sprinting.
1. Glute work for sprinting
Just Fly Sports: Aside from the hip thrust, are there any specific glute exercises that you would highly recommend
to sprint athletes looking to improve maximal speed? What about acceleration?
Bret Contreras: I like squats for flexed-range glute strength and hip thrusts for extended-range glute strength. Of
course, if you tinker with stance, ROM, # of limbs, etc. then you have dozens of variations between these two
exercises. Sure, acceleration involves a greater lean and relies more on concentric power, I dont think that the
strength exercises necessarily differ between the two phases of sprinting.

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2. Hamstring training for sprinters
Just Fly Sports: The Nordic hamstring has broken though in research as a means to prevent hamstring injury in
soccer players, yet it works the hamstring with a knee dominant rather than hip dominant bias. What do you think of
the Nordic hamstring exercise, and what are your thoughts on hamstring strength training for sprinters?
Bret Contreras: Many coaches dont know this, but you can change the optimal length of a muscle with resistance
training. What this means is that you can shift the torque-angle curve so that a muscle can produce its greatest
force at longer or shorter muscle lengths. In the case of the hammies, they function at long-lengths during sprint
running, so it makes sense to get them strongest at long lengths. Eccentrics in general (and Nordic hamstring
lowers specifically) have been shown to shift the torque angle curve of the hammies to longer lengths, and this is
very important.
Why? Because its indicative of sarcomerogenesis. In other words, the sarcomeres are being added to the
hamstrings in series. This increases fascicle length, which allows for faster contractions. Longer fascicle length has
been shown to correlate with faster speed, and sprinters have been shown to have longer fascicles compared to
controls. Eccentric hamstring exercises, in addition to long length exercises, both induce sarcomerogenesis and
shift the torque-angle curve to longer lengths in the hammies.
A final benefit to the Nordic hamstring lower is that the most challenging part of the movement is at the end, near full
knee extension. Knee flexion torque at this muscle length is very important as this is the length at foot strike, where
braking forces are high and the runner is pulling his body over the foot. Knee flexion torque is underestimated by
most track & field coaches, and its been shown to rise considerably as speed increases. So you want strong
hammies as hip extensors and knee flexors.
For the reasons mentioned, Nordic hamstring lowers and RDLs are imperative for sprinters.
3. Unilateral vs. Bilateral exercises
Just Fly Sports: What are your thoughts on unilateral vs. bilateral exercises for sprint training?
Bret Contreras: I think that you build up the raw materials in the weight room and then coordinate everything
during sprinting. In other words, gym strength is more about increasing the force and power potential of the limbs, in
addition to inducing neural and structural/architectural changes. Sprinting takes these new-found qualities and
blends them into the motor pattern to reach new levels and stay coordinated.
Therefore, I lean toward bilateral being more important as they also require more spinal stability, leading to greater
gains in spinal stability. However, unilateral exercises are more challenging in terms of hip stability, so its very
important to ensure that a sprinter possesses sufficient single leg stability as any deficits will impair performance.
But assuming single leg stability is sufficient, then I believe that bilateral exercises give more bang for the buck. I
realize that sprinting is a unilateral endeavor, but any proper sprint program is centered around sprinting and also
includes some unilateral plyos and sled work. Therefore, weight room exercises should comprise of perhaps 80%
bilateral and 20% unilateral exercises.
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4. Hip flexors in the weightroom
Just Fly Sports: The hip flexors are a critical muscle group for sprint success. What do you think about actively
training the hip flexors through resistance training? Do you think they get enough work out on the track, or should
they get extra attention in the weightroom?
Bret Contreras: Research has shown hip flexor strengthening to transfer positively to sprinting. They indeed
require extra attention in the weightroom. Hip flexor exercises are not challenging and dont require a ton of effort or
equipment, nor do they induce much fatigue. All you need is two sets here and there to keep them strong. A coach
could add in a couple of sets of hip flexor exercises once or twice per week in between core or upper body
exercises and it wouldnt prolong the workout. Remember to incorporate two types of hip flexor exercises ones
that strengthen the flexed ROM and ones that strengthen the extended ROM.
5. Core training
Just Fly Sports: Being around track for a while, I notice that many track athletes seem to be obsessed with
abdominal and core training, and even Charlie Francis recommended quite a large workload in terms of abdominal
training. What are your thoughts on training the core for sprint athletes?
Bret Contreras: I think lower abdominal strength is more important than upper abdominal strength as the lower
abs act more on the pelvis to prevent excessive anterior pelvic tilt during ground contact, which might impair power
transfer. However, I agree with you many coaches overvalue abdominal training. A couple sets here and there is
all you need, just as is the case with hip flexor work.
6. Upper body and sprinting
Just Fly Sports: What are your thoughts on training the upper body for sprinting?
Bret Contreras: I believe that its overrated as well. You definitely want to be performing exercises such as close
grip bench press and chin ups, but sprinters dont all need to be benching like Ben Johnson. The lats can work
synergistically with the glutes, but this has only been shown through hip rotation, not hip extension. Train the upper
body, but dont be obsessed with upper body strength measures.
7. Brets 3 recommendations
Just Fly Sports: If you had three general recommendations for the strength training of advanced high
school/college aged sprinters, what would they be?
Bret Contreras: Get good at hip thrusts early on to build the glutes, which will pay dividends over time. Strengthen
the hammies as hip extensors and knee flexors. Squat deep to stay flexible in the hips and ankles.
8. Kettlebell swings and sprinting
Just Fly Sports: How do you feel about the use of kettlebell swings for training sprint athletes?
Bret Contreras: I think its very wise. If you watch videos of many sprinters, you can clearly see that theyre not
natural-born Oly lifters. I love Oly lifts for the right lifters, but the kettlebell swing is such a natural movement that is
easy to learn for all body types. You get a huge load on the hammies down low in the hips-flexed position, and you
get a huge load on the glutes throughout the entire ROM, all while producing as much hip power as humanly
possible (in my opinion). Need I say any more? Okay, I will say more. Many coaches dont buy heavier kettlebells,
which I believe is a mistake. A proper swing workout should progress in weight, so that the athlete is using lighter
loads and heavier loads.

Concluding remarks:
The face of strength training for speed is changing, and helping to make athletes faster than ever. Remember, the
fastest sprinters are the best force producers. Strength training IS complementary to proper sprint training, but
when strength is done right, it can have impressive effects on performance.
When I first saw Bret demonstrating the barbell hip thrust, I was skeptical, but ever since I took the plunge and
started using it, I have noticed amazing results from my coaching and training efforts. The hip thrust is one exercise
of many to improve sprint performance, and I hope that the information he has presented in this interview makes
you a better coach, along with you and your athletes running at speeds you didnt think were possible!
If you liked the interview, please take a look at Brets new Ebook on sprinting research. Any coach who deals with
speed-athletes would be greatly served to have it in their collection. Once again, you can find the book at The
Optimal Athlete, Sprinting.

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tanie ogrzewanie pruszkw
MARCH 26, 2013 AT 9:23 AM
Oh my goodness! a tremendous article dude. Thank you Nonetheless I am experiencing subject with
ur rss . Don!t know why Unable to subscribe to it. Is there anyone getting an identical rss
drawback? Anybody who is aware of kindly respond. Thnkx
Reply Reply
MARCH 6, 2013 AT 1:26 AM
Any evidence of the addition of sarcomeres in series in humans or animals? At a conference, I recall
Richard Lieber explaining how sarcomeres may be temporarily added, but soon return to the initial
Reply Reply
Jordan Syatt
MARCH 5, 2013 AT 10:22 PM
Awesome interview! Seriously, tons of great information. Thank you both very much for taking the
time to put this together.
Reply Reply
MARCH 5, 2013 AT 11:30 AM
Thanks for the article. Some good stuff here. What is a good example of a hip extended rom
exercises ? Thanks for all your help
Reply Reply
Bret Contreras
MARCH 5, 2013 AT 2:24 PM
Bill, the hardest part of a squat or deadlift is the bottom ROM, where the hips are in a
flexed position. The hardest part of a hip thrust or back extension is at the top ROM,
where the hips are in an extended position. Therefore these exercises have very
different torque-angle curves, which is why its important to perform a variety of hip
extension exercises for maximal strength and power.
Hope that makes sense!
Reply Reply
Mat Herold
MARCH 5, 2013 AT 9:02 AM
Great interview Bret and Joel. Some of my favorite topics covered with answers being simple and
Reply Reply
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Bret Contreras
MARCH 5, 2013 AT 2:24 PM
Thank you Mat, I appreciate that.
Reply Reply
MARCH 5, 2013 AT 6:49 AM
What is hip flexor extended rom exactly psoas?
Reply Reply
Bret Contreras
MARCH 5, 2013 AT 2:22 PM
Hi Troy, good question. What I mean is, a coach should include an exercise that works
the hip flexors in a stretched position (Verkoshansky had some good ideas with this
the athletes would sit on a beam propped up on their hands, so semi-supine, with a
kettlebell on their feet, which would create the most torque in the stretched position)
which is where the thigh reverses from extension to flexion (actually Bulgarian split
squats work the rear leg very well from this position too). Standing cable hip flexion
works this ROM well, but its better when you have something to grasp a hold of for
And then also an exercise that works the hip flexors in an extended position (for
example a standing hip flexor raise with a kettlebell on the foot, or a band lying hip
flexion). Some say this works more psoas, but I dont really agree, I just think of them
as different ranges of torque production. This way, you get strong in a full ROM, similar
to what I recommend for hip extension strength (squats and RDLs for flexed position,
and hip thrusts and back extensions for extended position).
Hope that makes sense!
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