The Effect of Sprint Training on Running Economy in Distance Runners

Middle- and long-distance running performance requires a unique blend of physiological characteristics; VO2max; lactate threshold (LT), anaerobic capacity (sprinting ability) and running economy (RE).  Previous research has demonstrated the importance of VO2max for distance running performance. However, at higher performance levels (elite or world-class competition), RE has a larger role on performance.  RE is defined as the energy demand for a given velocity of submaximal running, and is typically measured via steady-state oxygen uptake.  Over the last two decades there has been a substantial growth of research demonstrating the beneficial role that strength training (i.e. maximal-strength training, power training and / or plyometrics) has on improving RE in distance runners. Further, there is recent research demonstrating that strength exercises implemented during a warm-up may provide an acute stimulus (i.e. post-activation potentiation [PAP]) to subsequently improve RE during a training session or race. The physiological mechanisms underpinning RE adaptations from strength training is speculated to be due to changes in neuromuscular function (i.e. improved rate of force development [RFD], stretch-shortening cycle [SSC] etc).  However, as the neuromuscular adaptations of sprint training are similar to that of strength training, sprinting may provide a more ‘sport-specific’ stimuli to improve RE in distance runners. Also, distance runners have traditionally utilised ‘strides’ (sub-maximal sprints) in training sessions to improve their sprinting ability.  Nonetheless, there has been a lack of evidence supporting the physiological adaptations of sprinting in distance runners.  Therefore, the aim of this project is to evaluate the effect of sprinting on RE in middle- (i.e. 800m, 1500m) and long-distance runners (i.e. 5000m, 10000m, marathon).  The findings from this innovative project will provide key stakeholders (e.g. Athletics Ireland, Athletics NI, Sport Ireland, Sport NI) with evidence-based research and best practice on utilising sprint training to improve RE within competitive distance running.

PHD Student

Lee Van Haeften

Lee’s educational background includes an MSc in Physiotherapy and a BSc (Hons) in Sports Science and Health. Outside of private practice, Lee has held a variety of positions over the past few years. Lee worked as the lead first team physiotherapist for the St. Patrick’s Athletic first team in a professional capacity from 2017 to 2020. A European campaign was also part of his tenure at St Pats in 2019. Lee has also lately supported Leinster Rugby’s youth squads with physiotherapy. Lee presently works as the physiotherapist for the Dublin senior hurling team.