Improving Linear Speed

March 1, 2009 | Featured in the March 2009 Issue

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If you’ve been attempting to shave tenths off your 40 time, but for some reason your training isn’t producing results, read on. To supply the sharpest blade for slicing away patchy training stubble (and stumbles), we hit up Lance Walker, director of performance at the Michael Johnson Performance Center (MJPC), whose speedy clients include up-and-coming NFL stars Darren McFadden, Knowshon Moreno and Michael Crabtree.

STACK: Is it important to develop a plan of action before attempting to train?
Lance Walker:
Yes. Formulate a plan with realistic goals and timelines to assess. Train and reassess goals. An athlete who knows where he is and where he wants to head is [more likely to move] in the right direction and pace toward individual goals.

STACK: What training mistakes do young athletes commonly make when trying to boost speed?
Too many athletes work on speed endurance—such as conditioning runs and repeats sprints—in hopes of getting faster. Being in great shape is critical to success, but a slow athlete that gets in great shape in the summer is still a slow athlete, but now he can run slowly for longer.

STACK: How do you approach training linear (straight ahead) speed?
An athlete must be complete with his training. To maximize linear speed improvement, an athlete needs to attack all three factors of speed: force development, rate of force and application of force. If a player is not attacking all these areas, then he’ll never realize his full linear speed potential.

STACK: Define force development, rate of force and application of force.
Force development primarily deals with increasing stride length and decreasing ground contact time. Rate of force focuses on improving stride frequency and turnover. Application of force improves technique and attempts to maximize efficiency.

STACK: What’s your overall philosophy for linear speed training?
I believe an athlete should not just train hard, but also smarter. This basically means I’ll use any effective, efficient and ethical training methods to get the most out of my athletes. Obviously, if a player isn’t working hard, then the smartest training in the world can never be truly effective. However, many times, “hard work” without a smart approach limits improvement and can increase risk of injury.

Check out Lance Walker’s exclusive eight-week summer training plan for improving speed and acceleration in the April/May 2009 issue of STACK Magazine, which will also be available online. The plan is similar to the speed training used by MJPC clients McFadden, Moreno, Crabtree, Michael Oher, Brandon Pettigrew and Peria Jerry.

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