How many speed gurus or trainers claim that they can make you faster through the addition of ladder drills or running sprints through the sand?! The answer is sadly a lot of them!
However all of these things are gimmicks. Are there benefits to performing ladder drills? Absolutely. Will these ladder drills make you sprint faster? Absolutely not! Running in the sand is another gimmick that everyone claims will increase your sprint speed but in actuality will not.
The most important thing and predictive factor to sprint speed is HORIZONTAL FORCE PRODUCTION.
For a little throwback to high school physics we are going to talk about forces. Force is a vector, which means that it has both a magnitude and a direction. The magnitude of force is the quantity or amount that is produced, usually measured in Newtons. Where as the direction of force is the angle at which it is applied into the ground.
A study by Morin et al in 2011, looked at sprint performance to assess if there was any correlation between forces and sprint speed. This study included 2 sprinters out of their 12 subjects. Horizontal, vertical, and total forces were all measured in this study. The amount of net horizontal forces was calculated by subtracting brake forces from propulsive forces.
This study found that there is a direct correlation between the direction of force applied and the net horizontal force with sprint performance. The authors also concluded “the orientation of the total force applied onto the supporting ground during sprint acceleration is more important to performance than its amount”.
What does this mean for athletes who are trying to get faster? It means that not only do you have to generate a significant amount of force, but you also must produce this force in the proper direction in order to increase sprint speed.
While exercises like squats, box jumps, and dead-lifts are great for increasing muscle strength and power, they will not help you get faster unless you learn how to produce forces in the proper direction.
Morin, J., Edouard, P., & Samozino, P. (2011). Technical Ability of Force Application as a Determinant Factor of Sprint Performance. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise,43(9), 1680-1688. doi:10.1249/mss.0b013e318216ea37