T Nation

Paper: You Can't Teach Speed: Sprinters Falsify the Deliberate Practice Model of Expertise



Most scientists agree that expertise requires both innate talent and proper training. Nevertheless, the highly influential deliberate practice model (DPM) of expertise holds that either talent does not exist, or that its contribution to performance differences is negligible. It predicts that initial performance will be unrelated to achieving expertise and that a long period of deliberate practice â?? at least 10 years or 10,000 hours â?? is necessary and sufficient for achieving expertise. We tested these predictions in the domain of sprinting. Study 1 reviewed the biographies of 15 Olympic sprint champions. Study 2 reviewed the biographies of the 20 fastest male sprinters in U.S. history. In all documented cases, sprinters were exceptional prior to or coincident with their initiation of formal training. Furthermore, most reached world class status rapidly (Study 1 median = 3 years; Study 2 median = 7.5). Study 3 surveyed U.S. national collegiate championships qualifiers in sprints and throws. Sprinters recalled being faster as youths than did throwers, whereas throwers recalled greater strength and overhand throwing ability. Sprintersâ?? best performances in their first season of high school, generally the onset of formal training, were consistently faster than 95-99% of their peers. Collectively, these results falsify the DPM for sprinting. Because speed is foundational for many sports, they challenge the DPM generally.


That sounds like a college or high school paper. No so much validity and written to sound smarter than the message really is (complexity is the langage of the simple minds).

HOWEVER that having been said; I do believe that speed is the most genetic-dependant of the physical capacities as it is highly dependant on the ratio of fast-twitch fibers (which is pretty much set as a child) and the way the nervous system is "wired". I believe that someone who is not born with the proper "tool" will not be able to be an international level sprinter regardless of training.

THAT HAVING BEEN SAID the title of your post (and the massage of the "paper") leads people to believe that speed cannot be improved, which is simply a dumb thing to say. Just because the potential to be a world class sprinter is pretty much genetic doesn't mean that you cannot improve speed signficantly with the proper training. I've had tons of athletes improve their 40 yards time by a ton.

I myself ran a 5.2 seconds 40 when I was a 18 years old football player (YES I was training, but mostly like your average teen, focusing on getting bigger) and then at 23 or 24 when I was finishing my olympic lifting career I ran an electric-timed 4.52/40 and if anything I ran more often when I wasa football player.


  1. like i said before. "confucius"
    2.your speed likely increased due to the type of training. olympic lifting, no matter at what level, will increase explosiveness and speed. As do the field events in Track and Field. these events train you to accumulate/accelerate all of your energy into a small/short, space/time. 1throw, 1 jump, 1 lift, 1 short sprint. It's like taking a complete gallon of liquid and forceing it thru a pin hole in 1 complete shot. BOOOMM!!
    Completely different duck than a football game.


No question about the type of training. Which is why I use a ton of olympic lifts and weighted jumps with football players. My point was that you can increase speed with the proper type of training.


I Absolutely agree! I was trying to express that in my post. My apologies if it didn't come out that way. I had similar experience growing up. I was slow like turtle. I started throwing the shot, disc, and jav. (you know the type of training it involves). it didnt take too long before i could blow away some of the sprinters in the 30 or 50.


My son is moving on to a D2 Collage with a partial scholarship to run track. His 100m was a 10.80 and the 200m was a 21.90 both FAT in AAA high school where he holds 4 school records. Here is what I learned:

Agree; He was always the fastest in his class.

His coach stated on a local T.V. interview that he credits my sons achievements to two factors. 1. No one works harder then him and 2. he has a health fear of loosing.

If there was one thing I drill into my four boys it that "Hard work beats talent when talent does not work hard". Maybe I am taking this paper the wrong way and if that is the case, I apologize. It just kills me to hear people, most of whom are not top athletes or trainers of top athletes speak on genetics like it's eye or hair color. It detracts from the hard work that these men and woman put in.

By the way, my 18 year old son also has a 300 lb bench press at 175 lb bodyweight. Guess he got that from his mom too?


I am positive your son works very hard. But, it's apparent to me that, at 175 lbs., he has a favorable amount of Type 2 fast-twitch fibers with accompanying neural recruitment. Working long and hard, the 10,000 hr rule (Outliers and The Talent Code) is really a key...but can be overcome by natural gifts.


From experience, those who are wired to be great sprinters also have a lot of potential for strength, especially strength to bodyweight ratio.

The fastest man I trained was a member of the national bobsleigh team and ran a 4.17 (hand time) at the Chicago Bear combines. At a bodyweight of 167lbs he could bench press 425


Maybe the problem is very few work up to their potential. When someone does, it becomes talent after we reverse engineer it. People become great at what they are good at. I don't ski or golf, I looked silly when I tried. Had I not fallen so may times or missed the ball as much as I did I bet I would have stuck with it and been good at it.

Let me ask this, and remove today's technology from the equation; since records are being broken all the time, does that mean that today's athletes are more talented then their predecessors?

I try to get my boys to work up to their potential, in school or on the field. A favorite saying of mine is," Your talent is a gift from God, what you do with it is your gift to him".


I guess that would hold true when you think about it.

With all due respect, could he pass a blood test?


I firmly believe that speed is very much genetic and I don't think that anyone would argue that. However, you aren't just born fast enough to win at an elite level. To reach the top it has to be a mixture of a kid from that top 1% who then puts in the work to be better than his fellow 1%ers. I thought this was pretty much common knowledge??

I was the fastest kid in my high school by the time I was a sophomore, while not training (long story as to why but it involves playing 3 sports and switching coaches multiple times during the summer). Being the fastest kid at a public school as a white kid is pretty unusual around here but it was strictly genetics. I can really take no credit for it at all because I just would hit the field and run, it was nothing that I worked for. Now if I would have wanted to pursue sprinting or something of the like, I would of had to started training specifically for sprinting in order to keep up with anyone else who was also gifted the same way, and if I didn't, I would have gotten my doors blown off.


Yes and no...

He actually failed one in 1996 (urine not blood test). I wasn't training him at the time since I was 19 :slight_smile: He served a 4 years ban and he didn't train at all during that time (he is a single father without any degree, he had to work long hours of a physical job). Got back into training in 2000. I started to help with his training at that time and was more involved in 2001 and 2002. In 2002 when he was training at the national center they actually tested him in-house every single week to make sure that he stayed clean.

During those 2 years he posted better numbers than in 1996 despite being lighter (he was 181 in 1996 and 167-169 in 2001). The sad thing is that the guy was one of the biggest freak I have ever seen and really didn't need steroids. He actually did one cycle while he wasn't even training for the olympic or any international competitions. Bobsleigh is a weird sport. Very few guys do this full time since it doesn't require much skill (except if you are a driver). He did the olympics in 1994, was 100% clean (and a bodyweight of 173). Then in 1996 he wanted to play football and wanted to get bigger. He wasn't even competing in bobsleigh at the time and they still tested him.

Before doing drugs he front squatted 396lbs (180kg), back squatted 505lbs (230kg) (full) bench pressed 396 (180kg). For the brief period he was on his lift went up about 20lbs. Then in 2002, totally clean he did his 425lbs bench press. Oddly enough he did look less muscular but was still stronger and faster.


A lot of people are born 6'8" - 7'0" tall (well they are not born that tall... you know what I mean!) yet very few become elite basketball players. Genetics give you a very solid base, but you still need to develop your capacities to excel.


I actually thought that they wanted the bobsleigh guys to be fairly heavy to give more weight to increase speed? Am I wrong about that??


You are 100% correct. Actually the total weight of the sled + crew can go up to a certain amount of weight (1389lbs for the 4-men and 860lbs for the 2 men). When the crew is light, they add weight to the sled to get right on the weight limit since it goes down faster.

The advantage of a heavier crew is that you do not have to add much weight to the sled, which makes it easier to push at the start.

Now you don't see many small guys. Most are in the 220-240 range with some brakmen being in the 190-200 range from time to time (because they need sprinter-like speed and few 230lbs guys have it).

To make a bobsleigh team when you are light you need to be very strong and unusually (freaky) fast. Then you are used as the brakeman (the last one in, the one who pushes the longer) where your biggest contribution is the final acceleration before you jump in. Guys with more top speed at the 60m mark are best suited for that job.

When he made the team they had three very big guys (drivers and no.2 and 3) who were well into the 230s and 240s so the total weight of the crew was the same as every other crew.

But nowadays you see more and more big and fast athletes being brakemen. In north america you often see former college (or even pro, think Hershel Walker) RBs doing that job. In Canada the current brakeman for the Canada 1 team is Jesse Lumsden who until recently played (or still play) pro football in the CFL as a runningback and is about 225.


Well thanks for taking the time to satisfy my curiosity. I saw an interview with Lolo Jones where she was talking about trying to bulk up for the bobsleigh so that was actually fresh on my mind.


I wasn't trying to be antagonistic with my post title; I just took the title from the paper itself. The nature versus nurture argument should be concluded by now. No one is a blank slate and genetics will always play a role as will one's environment. There are genetic limitations but I was not discounting the role of the individual's personality or his or her external environment will play on maximizing his or her genetic potential. I posted this because I wanted CT's thoughts as he always talks about how he was never genetically gifted but his Olympic lifting experience allowed him to dunk a basketball and drive a golf ball further than he ever could before he trained with the Olympic lifts.