Take off your pants. You heard me. Take off your pants and go to the mirror and stand sideways. Look down at your gluteal junction the point where your caboose meets your hamstring and look for something called a gluteal fold. A well-developed hamstring/glute junction is smooth. In other words, the hamstring flows uninterrupted into the glute. Now, answer honestly do you have a smooth junction, or is the fold so pronounced you could store the wooden handles of garden tools back there, firmly entrenched between the heft of your ass and the tops of your hams? If you're like most people, chances are you could be a regular Edward Scissor-butt.
You may scoff and assume that this flabby rear syndrome is a problem faced merely by those hefty women who wear blue tights and are seen in never-ending supply at local K-marts, endlessly pushing their carts up and down the aisles in search of blue-light specials, but it's not. It's common to even the most fit athletes, bodybuilders included.
It never occurred to me though, until a few months ago when I was reading through all the Testosterone e-mail at the beach. In between letters, I was bird-dogging women, as any testosterone-laden man worth his salt will do, when it occurred to me that real first-class behinds are few and far between. I then, shudder, began looking at men to see if they were in the same keel-heavy boat. A lot of them were in worse shape.
I didn't think too much of it until later when I was flipping through the pages of one of the other bodybuilding mags. Lo and behold, there they were gluteal folds galore. Even some high-level bodybuilders had bad upper hamstring/glute development.
I started going through a mental inventory of athletes swimmers, football players, tennis players all lacked proper development. Then it hit me. The only athletes who are well-developed in this area are runners not those anemic-looking long distance runners but sprinters.
Personally, I've always looked at sprinters as spiritual cousins of bodybuilders. The best ones train religiously with weights, and their main activity, sprinting, has much the same physiological action on muscles as weight training as both activities recruit a good degree of fast-twitch muscle fibers. In fact, there aren't many bodybuilders who wouldn't trade legs with someone like Ben Johnson (and no, the small amount of steroids he was taking had very little to do with his overall development).
With all this in mind, I started thinking about incorporating some sort of sprinting program into my training. At best, it would increase my hamstring/glute development, along with giving my quads a new type of stimulation; and at worst, it would give me more speed for my tennis game. It was a win-win situation.
It required a little work, though. I sought out the advice of a couple of higher authorities. The first was Charlie Francis, who was runner Ben Johnson's coach. Francis is the author of a great book on running and training in general called "The Charlie Francis Training System." The book is full of great stuff that I was able to digest. My second source of info was none other than our own Coach Poliquin whose expertise isn't just limited to strength training, but all kinds of training. Together, the "three" of us were able to put together a sprinting program to increase thigh development and augment my regular weight-training program.
Did it work? Yeah. I think my legs look better than they ever have, and I certainly haven't lost any size or strength. If anything, I gained a little size, not to mention giving my calves a much-needed kick in the pants.
I'll describe the actual program first, and then I'll talk about more mundane things like mechanics, form, and hamstring/quad imbalances.
TC's 12-Week Sprint Program
Before you try this program, be aware of the difference between sprinting and running. As sprinter Perry Duncan once said, "You run on the ground you sprint over it." In other words, don't just plod through your "sets" like some aging Clydesdale; race through them.
Before attempting a sprint, warm up very, very well. Sprinting puts a tremendous amount of stress on the tendons, so make sure you've done your preparation. For most people, this involves jogging for a few minutes, followed by several minutes of rigorous stretching. Make sure you have some shoes that offer plenty of arch and heel support, too. I once tried running in some of those Atomix weight-training shoes and screwed up my Achilles tendon for a full year!
The program itself is simple:
1) 10 x 25 yards, resting one minute between sets.
2) Rest ten minutes.
You're going to run ten "sets" of 25 yards, taking a flying start instead of a sprinter's start. (A flying start involves beginning to run from a standing position several yards back of the start line so that you're running at full speed by the time you hit the first yard.) You'll rest 60 seconds between each sprint.
After doing 10 "sets," you'll rest 10 minutes and then do ten more sets.
This workout will take the place of one regular weight-training leg workout. So, if you work legs once every five days, you'll do sprints once every ten days. And, on every second sprint workout, increase the sprint distance by 5 yards so that by the eleventh workout, you'll be sprinting for a full 50 yards on each "set."
This may not seem like a lot of work, but believe me, if you're not used to sprinting, you'll have trouble walking for the next few days.
A Few Words About Form
Most people can't imagine that running requires any special form, but it does. Sprinting is even more unforgiving. Of course, I'm not trying to turn you into a track athlete, but if you keep a few things in mind, your sprint workouts will be a lot more satisfying and a lot more rewarding.
For one thing, keep your torso erect. You're not racing against anybody, so you don't need to lean into the finish line. Secondly keep your head high. Use your arms to power your body, and with each stride, pump your arms furiously so that the hand of the driving arm comes up to your face.
The most important thing to remember and probably the hardest thing to do is to keep your shoulders relaxed while sprinting. According to Charlie Francis, if your shoulders start to rise, the hips lock up. If they're tense and pulled upwards around the neck and they're not able to roll forward and backward with each stride, the hips won't function correctly. If the action of the hips is limited, sprinting efficiency is limited, too, since the most of the greatest forces are generated around the hip joint.
You may find, while sprinting, that you'll feel the sprinting in your quads more than your hams. This means that you have a quad/hamstring imbalance and that your quads are proportionately much stronger than your hams. Conversely, as your hamstrings become more developed as you become faster and faster, your contact time with the ground will decrease. You'll become less conscious of your foot pushing off the ground and more conscious of the feeling of up and down.
Sprinting may help alleviate this imbalance (and go a long way in getting rid of the dreaded, aforementioned gluteal fold). Of course, we have to ask ourselves what caused this imbalance in the first place. Chances are it's because most bodybuilders train the hamstrings as knee flexors rather than their key role as hip extensors. In other words, people do lying leg curls, or standing leg curls, ad nauseum without doing anything else for their hams. This creates an imbalance which often leads to hamstring pulls.
Ever wonder why so many pro athletes pull their hamstrings? I bet you that if you spied in on their weight-training sessions, very few of them spend much time working the hams, opting instead for the glamour lifts like squats or leg presses (the ones that you can impress the hell out of everyone by loading them up with more plates than you'd find on Rush Limbaugh's dinner table). The trouble is, unless the hamstrings are roughly 66% as strong as the quads, you're a walking pulled-hamstring time bomb.
If you fall in this category, you might spend some extra time doing straight-leg deadlifts or those butt-kickback machines that are usually the exclusive domain of women. Those, combined with regular sprinting sessions, could give you the type of quad/hamstring/glute development that's just about impossible to find.
The Finish Line
It may be hard for some of you to occasionally get out of the gym and onto the track. I can understand that. Somehow, working out without weights or machines seems too natural. Let me put it to you this way: Have all the hours you've spent working your legs paid off to your satisfaction? Do they look like you want them to? Do they even look remotely like those of a world-class sprinter? If not, you may want to put aside your prejudices and give sprinting a sincere try.
Now pull your pants back on and get to the track.