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If there’s one thing Derek Hansen knows, it’s how to help athletes oppose gravity. No, he’s not showing them how to float in midair. But the top sprint coach has been helping elite competitors in the NFL, NBA, and NCAA oppose the natural force for three decades—all in the name of getting faster.
“Gravity pulls us to the ground, so my job is to oppose it in the best way possible by limiting friction,” he says. He likens it to an inflated ball. One that’s full of air will fly and bounce farther, while a deflated ball won’t move as efficiently. “[When sprinting], you need to put a lot of force into the ground but also be elastic and bouncy to get back off the ground as quickly as possible,” Hansen adds.
To train this gravity-defying elasticity into his athletes, Hansen hammers home the importance of sprint mechanics. He notes that you want to get your knees up to just below the hip joint so that you can drive your feet into the ground as hard as possible. Such acceleration is necessary to create that coveted bounce effect. Your arm pump should match the action of your legs to counterbalance your body. This will help to ensure that your stride is smooth and synced.
Finding that balance takes work. That’s why Hansen puts runners through technical drills like skipping and high knee marches, and often has them work at sub-maximal intensities. “You can’t just go out and run as hard as you can all the time,” he says. “Once everything looks good technically, then you can bring up the intensity. You need to build up, otherwise you’ll get hurt.”
Most of that training takes place on the track, but Hansen notes the importance of resistance training and plyometrics to increase strength and explosiveness—particularly for sprinters. It’s less vital for endurance runners, who must consider how gaining muscle and adding bodyweight will slow them down over time. Either way, he warns that hitting the weight rack won’t help your speed if you don’t know how to run properly.
“Lifting heavy weights when you don’t have the [sprinting] mechanics down is like putting a huge engine into a car without addressing the transmission, steering, and spark plugs,” he says. “You won’t get good results, and you might blow something out.”
Try this Hansen-approved workout incorporating sprint drills and weights. Once you’ve built a strong base, he says you can increase weight and decrease reps. Just be sure to taper off before competition.