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Measuring a Sprinter’s Maximum Velocity


Sprinters of all ages and experience from young aspiring high school athletes to world-class elite sprinters can run at maximum velocity for about eight to ten steps. Once a sprinter has achieved maximum velocity (typically measured in meters per second), the sprinter’s speed begins to gradually decrease. Measuring maximum sprint velocity is important for any speed training program, because maximum velocity affects the performance at all other distances. A sprint fly of between ten and twenty meters is often used to measure maximum velocity, and it is important that the fastest eight steps fall within the zone being measured. This article presents a simple method to ensure the sprinter’s maximum velocity falls within that zone.

Essentially, the method uses an automated timing system capable of capturing a split time. When using the Freelap Timing System, three Tx Junior Pro transmitters can be used to measure two consecutive 15 meter splits (a 30 meter fly with a 15 meter split). The fly-in distance is then adjusted on each subsequent sprint to find the optimal fly-in distance.

Note: It is possible to use other distances such as a 20 meter fly with two 10 meter splits, but for consistency in this article, we will assume a 30 meter fly.

Once the transmitters are positioned, the athlete begins running a series of fly-in sprints and both the fly-in distance and split times are noted and recorded. A piece of athletic tape can be used to mark the start of each run, and the feedback from the splits is used to move the mark forward or back.

If the first split time is greater than the second split time, then the athlete was still accelerating, and the fly-in distance should be increased on the next attempt. For example, if the first split was 1.65 seconds and the second split was 1.51 seconds, then the athlete was accelerating from the first to second split and the fly-in distance should be increased. Conversely, if the first split time was less than the second split time, then the athlete was decelerating and the fly-in distance should be reduced on the next attempt. Adequate rest should be observed between each attempt to ensure the ATP energy system has been fully restored.

When the times of the two splits are similar, the optimal fly-in distance to reach maximum velocity has been achieved. The optimal fly-in distance can now be measured from the tape mark to the center of the 30 fly. The purpose of measuring to the center of the 30 fly rather than the start of the 30 fly is to know where the middle of the fastest eight to ten steps occur. Using this approach, it is possible place these fastest steps in the center of any future workout such as a 10 meter, 15 meter, or 20 meter fly.

This distance can be recorded and used for future workouts and maximum velocity tests. High school athletes often underestimate the optimal fly-in distance, and using an automated timing system to determine the optimal distance can provide objective, reinforcing feedback. In addition, high school athletes tend to delay their effort in the acceleration zone to conserve energy for the fly zone. Reviewing the split times with them can help them understand that they are still accelerating in the fly zone, and they do in fact need the longer fly-in zone with good effort in order to achieve maximum velocity within the fly zone.


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