("core strength" link added aug 18, 2001)
THE LOWER BODY
HIP AND KNEE EXTENSORS: Running at maximum speed, the velocity of the sprinter is tied to the the speed of movement of the leg. More specifically running speed is directly related to how fast the athlete can move the knee from it's high point in the stride to half way through the support phase. The muscles involved in this action are the hams, the knee extensors, the abductor magnus and the gluteus maximus.
STRENGTHENING THE HIP AND KNEE EXTENSORS: Studies make it clear that the results obtained via isometric exercises (where there is no body movement) are significantly better than those obtained via exercise machines. It is the created muscle tension applied against force that leads to the strengthening of the muscle. For this reason, it is strongly recommended that the athlete use either free weights, resistance exercise bands or strap-on weight packs when doing leg curls, knee extensions, toe raises, squats and lunges. Where possible, all exercises should be done one arm or one leg at a time. This includes squats. When doing lunges, the forward foot should not extend beyond the knee. All foot/leg exercises should be performed with the toes pulled up toward the knee. This will help strengthen the Tibialis Anterior making it easier to run dorsiflexed.
THE TENSOR FASCIAE LATAE MUSCLE: The strengthening of this muscle is often ignored. However, it is very important in the development of maximum leg speed. The role of the Tensor Fasciae Latae is to tighten the Fascia Lata. What the h--- is the Fascia Lata, you ask. To quote Keith L. Moore's 'Clinically Oriented Anatomy', Third Edition, page 386 "---, it (the Tensor Fasciae Latae) tightens the Fascia Lata, thereby enabling the thigh muscles to act with more power." Question answered----
STRENGTHENING THE TENSOR LATAE: Sit on the floor with the legs flat and with the torso erect. Lift one foot about 10 inches above the floor, rotate the toes as far toward the opposite foot as possible, then slowly move the raised foot across the other leg while keeping the toes pulled-up and pointed to the side. Next, return the foot to the original position bringing the toes to the vertical position and keeping the foot/lower leg from touching the floor. Do as many of these as comfortable and then switch to the other leg. Initially, you may only accomplish ten of these, but keep building onto the base. Elite sprinters will do 200! You will be able to feel it working the front/outside hip as it also works the Sartorius. The Sartorius is the longest muscle in the body and acts to flex and stabilize the hip joint. The strength of this muscle is important in hurdling.
FORCE TRANSFER, STABILIZATION AND CONTROL: All too often, this portion of the body is neglected when doing weight/strength development work. The mid-torso transfers the force developed by powerful arm drive from the arms to the legs. To obtain maximum, efficient stride length, some hip rotation is required. Without adequate mid-torso strength, maximum stride length will not be obtained. This results in inefficiencies in technique and slower speed. The mid-torso controls pelvic tilt. This is the center of all body movement and is subject to tissue strains and sprains. The External Oblique, the Transverse Abdominis and the Internal Oblique are the three flat stomach muscles. The Rectus Abdominis is a long, broad flat shaped muscle that is used to flex the trunk. These muscles comprise the mid-torso muscle group.
SOME EXERCISES FOR THE MID-TORSO: Nothing beats the sit-up and variations of the sit-up to best strengthen and condition this part of the body that includes the vertebral flexor and rotational muscles. Performing a full sit-up significantly increases the stress on the lumbar region, so it is recommended that either a partial sit-up or a 'double crunch' be used. The 'double crunch' is accomplished by raising both the shoulders and the buttocks while lying on the floor with the feet extended upward. Doing the sit-ups or stomach crunches with the torso partially rotated will also help in strengthening the mid-torso.
In addition to the sit-ups, isometric (against resistance without movement) drills need to be performed. One of these can be accomplished either standing or lying prone. While holding the rib cage in a normal position and breathing normally, pull/suck-in the abdominal muscles as hard as possible and hold this position for up to 60 seconds. In an advanced form of this, use the hand/fingers to press in hard at the belly button area. Another drill is termed the 'Isometric Prone'. Begin the 'Isometric Prone' by getting on the floor and positioning the body on the knees and elbows. Then raise the knees off the floor so that the body is resting on the elbows and toes. Contract the abdominals and hold these muscles tight for from 15 to 60 seconds.
THE UPPER BODY
THE FORCE GENERATORS: The biceps, triceps, the deltoid, the four muscles making up the rotator cuff, pectoralis major, trapezius, rhomboids---all of these muscles in the upper body play a role in the generation of forces which are then transferred via the mid-torso to the lower body.
UPPER BOYD STRENGTHENING: Here, the athlete needs to work on curls, extensions, pull downs, shoulder abduction (a straight arm movement, raising the hand straight out to the side and the to a position above the shoulder) and shoulder flexation (similar to abduction, except that the hand/arm motion is to the front with the thumb up). Keep in mind that the desired strengthening comes from the muscle tension and not from the movement, so moving against a force and then holding the muscle under tension is the desired action.