Acceleration Progression – Working from the Top Down

Posted by Gabe Sanders

Over the summer I’ve had the opportunity to both have my questions answered by some of the best colleagues and friends a coach could ask for and also to answer a few questions myself as well.  One round of questions from a fellow coach that recently caught my eye was in regards to acceleration.  I thought it’d be a great opportunity to share some of the answers and I know many coaches could benefit from, and even reflect a bit more, on how they’ve approach this subject.  Below is the round of questions.

GSanders-question list2

I honestly can’t give you a definitive answer to the first question in terms of reps, volume and distance because, well, it changes every year.  In general, what you see in my progressions in those terms is very likely similar to what you may see in other programs in terms of acceleration; i.e. reps starting in ranges of 10-20 meters in the initial phases of general prep, over time progressing out to 30-40 meters later in special prep, and peaking into 50 meters around precompetition.  Similar with reps and volume, going up to 12 reps total in a session and going up to (in special cases) 400m of volume in a session as well.

Here’s where the real nitty-gritty comes in.  My focus in acceleration progression is in fact NOT on reps, volume and distance of runs.  My focus is mechanical progression and intensity progression.  My thought process that brings these two pieces together is addressing acceleration development from a TOP → DOWN approach rather than a DOWN → UP.  “What the heck does that mean?!” you might be thinking, haha.  It’s this: many coaches can agree with the idea of approaching training from a general to complex approach and simultaneously a lower intensity to high intensity approach.

How is this achieved in acceleration progression?  I’ll try and keep in simple with the chart below:

Gabe Sanders acceleration progressionsClick here to watch Gabe Sanders teach these progressions in a seminar setting.


At the end of the day, the above picture is more or less our goal in position and acceleration development.  It is much easier to achieve this position from a standing start, thus the intensity demand is lower than a more complex task such as starting from a down position and thus increasing the intensity demand.  When I start to see consistent levels of both mechanical and intensity output, I move the progression to the next task in terms of increasing complexity and specificity.

Workout set ups in terms of reps, distances and volumes are all well and good, but if you aren’t achieving the above position, they really don’t mean anything.  Working backwards from an upright position allows the athletes to getting an easier and better understanding of how to apply force in acceleration.  Another way to think of it is, once they know the destination (power/post position), they’ll have a much easier time with the journey (working to get into that position).

Related Article: A 10-14 Day Taper within the Context of the Program: The BU 4×4 Experience

All that being said, I have incorporated blocks as early as the 6th week with well seasoned, veteran athletes to as late as the 12-13th week of training, based on what I’m seeing in training both in mechanical efficiency and power output.  One way to add intensity early while simultaneously working on good mechanical efficiency is short hill work (~30-40m).  You’d be shocked as to how the body naturally reacts and gets into position when introducing a decently graded hill.

Also, if I still don’t feel we’re ready to progress in moving down the acceleration chain but I still want to move up in intensity, I will introduce sled work from various positions using heavier loads (~20% BW) for very short reps, (5-10m) to lighter loads (~5% BW) for longer reps (20-30m).  I’ve even used sleds for contrast training as well, (short run, 5-15m with sled, break, accel without sled for up to 30m).


So I guess the overall answer to all these questions is the classic, “it depends” answer that everybody hates to get, but it really does depend.  One thing I do hope to communicate is the biggest take home should be to work your progressions NOT in terms of numbers but in terms of what’s actually happening and being achieved while those numbers are in action.

Gabe Sanders acceleration progressions


I would enjoy facilitating any more questions anyone might have as I see it as a great self reflective exercise into my practices more than anything.  Feel free to reach out to me on my twitter handle @CoachGSanders. I try to post daily training sessions for the Stanford sprints team once we get in season so you’ll have the opportunity to see the progress in action!  All the best, everyone.


Updated May 24, 2024 by Latif Thomas

Gabe Sanders - Sanders has completed three years as Stanford's sprints and hurdles coach, having joined the Cardinal staff in October 2015. Sanders previously coached at Boston University for seven seasons, where he was the program’s recruiting coordinator. Fifteen school records were set under his watch and Terriers’ sprinters and hurdlers combined for 16 Patriot League titles and 28 America East crowns. He also coached athletes to 10 conference meet records – six in America East and four in the Patriot League. Sanders was named 2012 USTFCCCA Northeast Region Indoor Men’s Assistant Coach of the Year and had 21 NCAA regional qualifiers and one NCAA Championships finalist. A native of Ann Arbor, Michigan, Sanders earned his degree in kinesiology with minors in sport management and communication from the University of Michigan in December 2005. In 2014, Sanders earned his master's in physical education with a specialization in coaching from Boston University.

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