In the world of sports performance, one of the most misunderstood topics is speed training. Parents and young athletes become fixated on performing quick feet drills or speed ladders in the off-season to improve speed and agility. If those movements were all that were needed to get faster you would assume athletes would naturally get faster just by playing their sport and by doing those movements all throughout the season.
Many people fall into the trap of believing these are the best ways to get faster, but they just can’t produce the significant gains you need. When I first entered the field, I used cone drills and speed ladders as part of a speed and agility program with a high school football team. While they got better at these drills, tests of their speed and agility such as the 40-yard dash and 5-10-5 pro agility test did not improve. Disappointed by these results, I researched the best ways to improve speed and found 6 simple, proven solutions that have led our athletes to see significant gains in speed. I implemented these solutions with a Top Tier Baseball player whose 60 yard dash time dropped from 7.5 to 6.9 seconds compelling his coach to change his position from Catcher/1st Base to Outfield in order to better utilize his newfound speed. During the season, he ranked second on his high school team in stolen bases, stealing 13 bases while only being thrown out once.
So here they are: 6 surefire ways to get faster on the field or ice. They may not be glamorous or sexy, but they are highly effective, powerful tools for gaining the SPEED you desire.
Achieve Structural Balance » Athletes are always eager to get to the big bang for your buck lifts such as the squat, deadlift and bench press without addressing any of their glaring imbalances. This is a flawed approach and will limit your ability to maximize your speed and will also put you at a greater risk for injury. You’re only as strong as your weakest link. If you neglect certain muscle groups they will not be as strong as they need to be to maximize speed performance. These neglected muscle groups can disrupt the length tension relationship between muscles, leading to faulty movement patterns and increased risk of injury. Correcting common imbalances at the beginning of the off-season is nearly always top priority in order to get the most out of your training. Some of the common imbalances that limit an athletes ability to express their true speed potential is a weakness in their VMO’s, the teardrop muscle on the inside of the knee that stabilizes and tracks the knee, and their posterior chain which includes the low back, glutes and hamstrings – all of which are responsible for speed and power. Look to perform exercises such as Step Ups, Split Squats, Leg Curls, Back Extensions and Good Mornings to create structural balance in your lower body this off-season. Contact a qualified performance specialist to help you appropriately program these lifts into your training.
Improve Flexibility » Improving flexibility specifically in the glutes, hip flexors and hamstrings will increase your stride length and allow you to cover more ground with each step on the field or ice. Many athletes are held back from a lack of flexibility due to poor posture, repetitive movements on the field/ice, previous injury, surgery or over-training. Our athletes see quick, lasting flexibility gains and report feeling more powerful, faster and more fluid in their movements with the use of Fascial Stretch Therapy (FST), Functional Range Conditioning (FRC) and performing their strength training exercises through a full range of motion. We have witnessed 40-yard dash times drop by as much as 2 tenths of a second by applying appropriate mobility exercises to an athletes program. It is essential that you prioritize your mobility work as directed by your qualified strength coach to improve your stride length and increase your on-field speed and agility.
Increase Maximal Strength » When sprinting or skating there are gravitational and inertial forces the body must overcome in order to accelerate. Increasing strength, specifically in your erector spinae will allow you to counteract these forces, initiate movement and accelerate at a faster rate. For example, improved low back strength will increase your speed during the first 10 yards of a sprint, and these first 10 yards are where games are won and lost and where players really stand out and separate themselves from the competition. Plyometrics and SAQ drills are useless unless you develop maximal strength first since power is the product of both maximal force and speed. Deadlift, back extension and good morning variations are great ways to improve low back strength.
Strengthen Your VMO’s To Decrease Ground Contact Time » Ground contact time or the amortization phase of a sprint is described as the length of time an athlete spends on the ground during each step. The shorter your ground contact time the faster you are, all of which is directly tied to the strength of your Vastus Medialis Oblique (VMO), a teardrop muscle on the inside of the knee that stabilizes and tracks the knee. With more stability and strength in the VMO you’ll be able to generate greater force into the ground propelling your body forward at a faster rate. A lack of strength in your VMO creates an energy leak and prolongs ground contact time slowing you down as you’re forced to stay on the ground longer to maintain stability. Since the VMO is most active in the top range and bottom range of knee flexion the best exercises to address any weakness are full range of motion squat, split squat and step up variations
Increase Upper Body Strength » The impact upper body training has on speed development is often overlooked. Overall upper body strength helps counterbalance the torque created from the lower half while running. This allows you to be more efficient. With each stride there is an alternating effect between the hip on one side of the body and the shoulder/arm on the opposite side. Your arm drive will directly affect leg drive. The faster your arms can recover, the faster your legs will be able to recover which increases stride frequency and ultimately sprinting speed. Having a well-rounded strength training program that incorporates upper body strength exercises such as pulls and presses will undoubtedly impact your speed development.
Decrease Body Fat & Maximize Relative Strength »
Fat creates intramuscular friction reducing the speed and strength of muscular contractions thus lowering your ability to produce more power. Additionally, fat is extra weight without a functional purpose in running. Think running with a weighted backpack on. The backpack will only slow you down. The additional weight requires you to be stronger in order to produce more force to run just as fast as you were without the backpack on. Two athletes of similar strength levels will have differing levels of speed based on their relative strength. Relative strength is a function of your strength level relative to your body weight. The leaner of the two athletes will move faster and with more ease as the leaner athlete doesn’t need to produce as much force in order to move at the same speed. Our athletes rid themselves of excess body fat through diet and lifestyle modulation and supplementation protocols based off their Metabolic Analytics results. Simple strategies to become a leaner and healthier athlete include getting good quality/quantity sleep, staying hydrated, and minimizing processed foods and focusing on eating food from the land to maximize nutritional value.
The training approach taken with every athlete is undoubtedly unique. However, these simple yet highly effective methods to increase speed are universal and will surely improve any athletes’ ability to sprint faster.