Now more than ever, there is a profound need for exceptional speed in sports. Quick feet will not only improve your overall game, they could also earn you a nod in the recruiting and drafting areas of your sport. For example, a 6'4" 284-pound defensive tackle I trained for the 2011 NFL Combine hurled his body 40 yards down the Lucas Oil Stadium turf in a time of 4.70 seconds, the fastest time for his position at the Combine. This speed performance earned him a "late first round to early second round" grade from draft analysts.
An athlete's lack of speed generally stems from a deficit in one of three key areas, or a combination of overall lack of strength, weak rate-of-force production or poor technique.
This article will help athletes learn how to run faster and give coaches a tailored approach to teaching speed development.
Lets face it. In most cases the stronger you are, the easier it is to move quickly and for a longer duration. Athletes are generally regarded as having a solid base of lower-body strength when they are able to squat one and a half to two times their bodyweight. But the posterior chain—i.e., the muscles of the back, glutes and hamstrings—is often neglected. Many athletes like to focus on the muscles they see in the mirror, failing to realize the importance of their backside musculature. From what I have observed, this is the primary area of improvement for underclassmen and female athletes.
If an athlete has an adequate level of strength, I look next at his or her rate of force development (RFD). Is the athlete able to harness his or her strength and move weight at a high rate of speed? The thing to remember is that although high strength levels can indicate a great potential for power production, "strong" does not always equal "powerful." Athletes with a poor RFD can improve their power by training with Olympic lifts and plyometrics.
Another area that influences relative strength and RFD is body composition. Excess body fat is nothing more than extra weight an athlete has to get moving.
The last area, "general technique," is a term I use as an umbrella, because it encompasses an athlete's specific movement patterns, range of motion, joint mobility and other attributes, all of which vary from person to person and must be addressed by a knowledgeable track or sports performance coach on an individual basis. Athletes need to improve their flexibility, since poor range of motion can be a major cause of bad technique. Most athletes and coaches now recognize the importance of a good post-workout stretch; but taking an extra 10 or 15 minutes to stretch before bed can help more than most athletes realize. The majority of muscle repair takes place while you sleep; and lengthening your muscles before bed allows them to heal in an elongated state.
I'd also like to take a second to emphasize the importance of hip flexibility. Think about the daily schedule for most young people: sitting on the bus to school, sitting at their desks in class, sitting on the bus for the ride home, sitting at a table to do their homework, sitting down for dinner. An awful lot of sitting keeps the hip flexors in a near constant state of contraction. Tight hip flexors reduce the ability of the legs to extend or push off the ground.