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The Relationship Between Strength and Sprint Times

Daniel Brady | February 16, 2013 in Sport

Take a look at the photo below and answer me this: do you think those muscles came from running or from lifting weights? And another question: do all Olympic sprinters have big muscles? Just by looking at the arms you can tell that the muscles came from lifting weights, and the answer to the second question is yes, they do all have big muscles. With the assumption that building strength (and muscles) improves sprint times, this article will analyse which exercises correlate strongest with faster sprint times.

Dwain Chambers Sprinter Muscles To the right is Dwain Chambers, record holding sprinter. Note the big arms and legs and probably every other muscle too. He was banned from athletics for 2 years for taking anabolic steroids. Clearly those steroids, which helped to increase his muscle size and strength, helped him to break those records. Without going to the same extent as Dwain, every runner can drastically improve their sprint times by increasing their strength.

Which Exercises Increase Sprint Times?

Take a look at the following table[1], there are a couple of significant conclusions to be seen, here’s the first conclusion: absolute strength is a weak predictor of speed, but strength relative to body weight is a strong predictor.

Correlation Between Strength Exercises & Sprint Times

Strength Measure 10m Dash 40m Dash
3RM Squat -0.06 -0.19
3RM Squat / Body Weight -0.39 -0.66
3RM Hang Clean -0.36 -0.24
3RM Hang Clean / Body Weight -0.56 -0.72
Note: The negative correlation shows faster sprint times.

That first conclusion can be explained quite easily; a huge guy with enormous strength will be a slow runner, but a smaller guy with significant strength will be fast. So to be successful in sprinting, you need to get strong without getting too big.

The second conclusion is that full body Olympic style lifts are great predictors of running speed. Not leg press, not bench press, but full body exercises. This is further emphasized in that hang cleans have a higher correlation with sprinting speed than squats, while squats are the quintessential leg strength exercise. The reason for this is that sprinters require power more than strength, and the hang clean is clearly a power exercise where you move the weight very quickly. Also consider if a sprinter was to only train leg press, how well do you think his abs, back and arms will be able to contribute to his running speed with no training at all?
Hang Clean
Exercises worth doing: Hang Clean, Squats, Jump Squats, Deadlift, and all of the regular exercises in a normal strength training program.

How Strong Do I have To Be?

The following strength targets are rough ratios of where you need to be to become a real competitor[2]. You can see where you are now and where you need to be. As you can see below, a 70kg guy needs to be able to hang clean 91kg or so (1.3x body weight). Hang cleaning 91kg is no mean feat, so get training!

Pro Strength Targets

Strength Measure High Level Medium Level Low Level
1RM Squat / Body Weight 2x 1.7x 1.4x
1RM Hang Clean / Body Weight 1.3x 1.2x 1.1x


Strength is definitely correlated with speed, particularly power related exercises with results being measured as a ratio of weight lifted compared to your body weight. You don’t just have to be strong, you have to be very strong. You have to be stronger than 99% of guys your size. Then you’ll have a chance at real speed. If you’re not already doing the hang clean, add it to your training routine now.

  1. How Strong is Strong Enough? Professor Mike Stone, Gavin Moir []
  2. How Strong is Strong Enough? Professor Mike Stone, Gavin Moir []

Daniel has a strong interest in evidence supported fitness training, preparation and supplementation. His goal is to provide clear information that simply works. He's currently 16 kg of muscle above his starting weight (7kg in the past 12 months), and targeting a continued growth rate of 5kg+ per year.
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