Resistance is Not Futile - Speed Parachutes

There’s no argument you can take your speed program

By Kim Goss
Published: Summer 2001
In a classic Monty Python comedy sketch, a man goes to a business that sells clients the opportunity to engage in their choice of otherwise socially unacceptable activities. This particular guy enjoys arguing, so after getting directions from a receptionist, he enters a room, pays his fee, and proceeds to get into an argument with the fellow inside about whether or not he paid the fee to get into an argument! The same type of circuitous activity takes place, although on a slightly more rational level, when strength coaches get together and start talking about the concept of specificity of training - everybody gets into an argument about it, sometimes just for the sake of arguing!

Specificity of training refers to the concept that the best conditioning exercises are those that parallel the activities you are trying to improve. The results that come from specificity of training exemplify why some athletes can excel in different sports. For example, good swimmers may become good water polo players, and good wrestlers may become good football linemen.

The concept of specificity is identifiable when strength coaches are training different athletic qualities among bodybuilders, powerlifters and Olympic-style weightlifters. Although all these athletes train with weights, they all achieve different results. Speaking on this topic in his book, Supertraining, sports scientist, Dr. Mel Siff, says Finnish researchers found that of these three types of athletes, the Olympic-style weightlifters were the most powerful. Says Siff, “The special advantage of high-velocity concentric training [such as the Olympic lifts] is that it conditions the nervous system, whereas lower-velocity training [such as typical bodybuilding exercises] is better suited to development of muscle hypertrophy and slow-speed strength.” Let’s look at a practical application of the specificity principle.

For improving jumping ability, a beginner can make excellent progress on powerlifting exercises such as the squat and deadlift, take it to the next level with more explosive lifts such as the power clean, and finally, take it to the highest level with specialized jumping activities such as plyometrics. To achieve the highest levels of specificity in improving running speed, BFS offers athletes two important running tools: sprint sleds and sprint chutes.

A sprint sled is a weighted sled that attaches to your torso with a harness, whereas the sprint chute is a parachute that attaches to your torso with a harness. Although both provide resistance as you run, they produce different training effects. (continued on page 42)

Sprint Sled Training Secrets

Tim Adams is a former strength coach for the US Air Force Academy, and now operates a private strength-coaching consulting business in Colorado Springs. Adams, who has had considerable success in training pro football players and preparing college athletes for professional combines, says it’s important to recognize the separate values of each of these pieces of equipment. “With a parachute, the air time is delayed, which means it doesn’t give you the immediate resistance you get from the sled. The parachute is better for developing maximal running velocity, whereas the sled is better for improving acceleration.”

One of the most underrated sprint coaches in the world is Mario Greco, a Canadian who has worked with five Olympians in the sprints. He agrees with Adams that the sled is best for developing acceleration. “You seldom want to pull a heavy sled past 25 yards, because that ignores how your body works,” says Greco. “Once your body goes into an upright position through the transition phase of a sprint, acceleration is basically zero. The problem with using the sled this way is that if you keep pulling it, let’s say for 100 yards, you’re always working to drive drive drive - it’s not natural. Plus you start fatiguing, and when you fatigue, you start to see a breakdown in body mechanics -it’s like doing sets of 15 in the power clean.”

In addition to selecting the proper running distance, an important factor in getting the most out of sprint sled training is determining how much weight to use on the sled. Says Adams, “I vary the weight depending on the kind of feedback I want to give the athlete. If I want to force him into extension, I’ll add a little more weight as this will create a longer ground contact time.”

When Greco introduces sled training to his athletes, he doesn’t use any additional weight. “At first I just use the weight of the sled - I just want them to feel that something is there.” He adds that during practice, he varies the weight according to how the athlete is performing that day. “This is where a coach has to watch, because you don’t want to see a breakdown in technique-you don’t want the athlete muscling down the track.”

In addition to using the sled to improve acceleration, Greco uses it with extremely heavy weights to develop strength, as a supplement to regular weight training. However, technique is also important when using the sled for this purpose. “If you’re walking with the sled, you want to make certain your walk is dynamic with a long, deep step - you want to work the muscles through a long range of motion. I weigh 180 pounds, and I’ve gotten up to being able to use 200 pounds.” Greco notes that the intensity involved in using the sled makes it easy to overtrain and he usually doesn’t use heavy sled work for longer than three weeks straight. He adds, “Powerlifters can do more of the heavy sled work, because they don’t run in addition to their regular training.”
One alternative to the sprint sled is the BFS speed harness. Instead of a sled providing the resistance, a coach or training partner holds onto the end of a rope attached to the harness and provides manual resistance.

Sprint Chute Training Secrets

Although both Adams and Greco tend to use the sprint chute to improve maximum running velocity (or speed-endurance as some prefer to call it), there are many other benefits.

According to Greco, because the chute can move back and forth, it creates an unstable environment that can be used to improve joint stability. “I actually like it for team sports. Take the example of football running backs who are basically running and people are hitting them from the side. I think this instability helps significantly . . . and even with sprinters, because if you’re coming off a curve and there’s a gust of wind that throws you to the side, your body has to get used to that.”

Another advantage of the sprint chute (and the smaller version BFS offers called the power chute) is that it can improve running technique. Greco sometimes uses a 100-meter, rhythmical type of run. “When you have some resistance you tend to focus on your technique a little more. What happens when your technique is not sound when you use a chute is that it feels as if you’re working too hard.”

How you take advantage of the many uses of BFS sprint sleds and sprint chutes depends upon the types of athletes you’re working with, and of course, at what level. The bottom line is these can be valuable training devices for those who are serious about fulfilling their athletic potential. There’s no argument about that!

Parachute type resistance provides resistance without a significant change in technique. It is better for improving maximal running velocity.

Sleds provide immediate resistance and are better for improving speed acceleration.