Physically, the most effective athlete is a fast one. Speed is partly a matter of genetics, but it's also a skill that can be taught and learned through proper training. When beginning a speed program with athletes and teams, it's important to set a strong physical and mechanical foundation. When you do this correctly, you will see instant gains. (See STACK's Get Faster Guide.)
Below are four simple but extremely effective drills to increase your athletes' speed:
Seated Arm Action Swing - 2-3x10-20 seconds, each set at a different tempo, the last being the fastest.
Proper arm action will get your athletes moving faster with less energy expenditure and wasted movement. Moving their arms through the full range of motion also enables their legs to do so, as they work together in unison.
- Have your athletes sit down on the ground with their legs straight, chests up tall and heads positioned straight ahead.
- Position their arms at 90-degree angles. Being seated forces the athletes to keep their arms bent so they will not straighten and hit the ground.
- Keep hands open and fingers apart. Coaches have different opinions on this technique, but I find that athletes with closed hands tend to tense up and shorten their arm action and stride.
- On your queue, have your athletes drive their elbows back aggressively, moving their front hands up to their chins and their back hands to their back pocket, making sure to move their arms through the full range of motion.
- You can also have them swing their arms for a time period at three speeds: slow, moderate and as fast as possible.
Single/Double Groiners - 2-3x10-20 seconds. Start with single groiners and end with double groiners.
Many ahletes lack the strength and flexibility to drive their knees effectively when running. Single/double groiners are an effective way to increase the strength of the muscles responsible for driving the knee (hip flexors) and actively stretching the musculature of the posterior chain (hamstrings and glutes).
- Start your athletes in push-up position with their shoulders over their hands but with their hands closer together than a regular Push-Up to avoid hitting themselves with their feet.
- Drive knee(s) forward as far as possible until one foot (single-leg groiner) or both feet (double-leg groiner) land in line with and just outside of their hands. Drive one or both feet back to starting stance after each rep.
Mountain Climbers - 2-3x10-20 seconds. Start with alternating reps and end with continuous reps.
Most people know what mountain climbers are without appreciating all their benefits. Besides their physical benefits, mountain climbers are a quick and easy way to teach acceleration mechanics.
- Start your athletes in push-up position with their shoulders over their hands. This simulates a good forward lean, which is necessary for great acceleration.
- Keep their hips even with their shoulders; keep them extended without raising up or bouncing.
- Drive knee forward to under chest with foot under hip (anything past the hip risks over-striding, as opposed to single/double groiners, where the focus is on strengthening musculature instead of technique). The opposite leg should punch back and lock out in fully extended position.
- Make sure your athletes avoid performing "butt kicks," as this teaches improper running technique.
- Do this drill for single or continuous reps at various tempos.
Falling Starts - 2-4 x each stance, starting with standing, then staggered or symmetrical, and ending with a position-specific stance
A big reason some athletes are slow in their first step is that they lack an aggressive forward lean. Generating speed requires maintaining a hard lean forward for a given distance, or until your sport requires you to come up.
- Position your athletes in a standing, staggered, symmetrical or sport-specific stance.
- On your queue, have them fall forward until they can effectively burst out at or near a 45-degree angle (which might take practice for some to achieve).
- Tell your athletes to drive their hips and knees forward, keep their chests down and punch back with their feet. This will activate appropriate musculature to generate maximal power.
- The goal is to keep the forward lean for 10 to 12 yards (five to eight yards for younger athletes) as they gradually rise up.