Drag Training Essentials for Optimal Improvements in Speed
Increased sprinting speed is often at the top of the list of training goals among recreational and competitive athletes. There are a number of training methods available which can be used to increase maximum speed as well as acceleration, including but not limited to; technique drills for increasing stride rate and length, unloaded repeat sprinting, overspeed training, reactive strength drills, complex training and drag training.
Drag training includes the use of external implements such as sleds, vests, parachutes or bungee cords as well as variations in terrain (e.g., uphill or sand sprinting). Some trainers also use sled pushes or stadium-stair drills as part of their drag training repertoire; however, it should be understood that these options are not considered true drag training because the biomechanics required for proper execution are notably dissimilar from sprinting. Nonetheless, they can still be used in conjunction with drag training for improvements in hip power and speed.
When performed correctly, drag training helps develop the participant’s speed strength as well as increase recruitment of the hip and knee musculature used during acceleration. However, many exercise professionals employ drag training using loading schematics, distances or volumes that fail to match the goal of the client.
A few research-based guidelines have been provided for reference when implementing drag training to help ensure optimized adaptations:
- Sleds, vests or bungees with lighter loading (≤5% BW) should be used to enhance maximal velocity and acceleration as the client will be able to maintain proper kinematics and muscle recruitment patterns. Field evidence suggests loading can be a little more aggressive for elite athletes; ultimately the trainer should ensure the load does not impact form when working on maximal speed. If the load is implemented properly, horizontal velocity should not fall much below 90% of maximal speed due to the load.
- Sleds, vests or bungees with heavier loading (~10-15% BW) can be used for shorter distances to enhance power and reactive strength, but it should be noted that this will often alter proper running kinematics.
- When performing sled pushes, short-distance high intensity drills for distances of 5-10m are preferred. Sled pushes can be used for power improvements and can be loaded up to 30% of the participant’s BW. The trainer should ensure full knee drives are performed and proper trunk and head posture is maintained. A mid-height push position is preferred as lower sleds can cause excessive trunk flexion and loss of power.
- If using parachutes for drag, running technique must be carefully controlled to avoid negative biomechanical adaptations. Pull angles during sled drags are less than 90° which allows for natural forward leaning when loaded correctly. This usually changes when using a parachute to an angle of pull greater than 90°; requiring the participant to perform more of a forward lean. Gusts of wind can also provide unexpected variations in intensity and loading.
- Sand running increases the energy cost of locomotion and impacts biomechanics. It should therefore only be used for short distance sprints. Sand sprints decrease stride length, hip and knee flexion during foot contact and hamstring activity. The trainer should also ensure the participant has adequate hip, knee and ankle balance to reduce the risk for strains.
When implementing drag training activities, trainers must take these guidelines into consideration. External loads should be added only when an individual demonstrates proper movement mechanics. If mechanics are affected once the external load is applied, even if it is less weight than the recommended percentages, it should still be reduced.