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The greatest challenge and most overlooked factor for increasing an athlete's speed is the need to acquire strength and power. Being explosive and quick requires force, and strength is the muscular ability to produce force, whereas power helps you expend force over time. (See Resistance Speed: The Key to Increasing Speed, Strength and Power.)
Research has pinpointed the five phases of speed where force needs to be developed:
- Start and Acceleration
- Stride Length
- Stride Rate (number of steps taken)
- Speed Endurance
- Form and Technique
The speed demands of your sport control which phases should be developed. (See Boost Sport-Specific Conditioning With Interval Training.) For example, starting, stopping and changing direction are important for football, baseball, basketball and soccer, whereas form and stride rate/length are essential for track athletes. Boost your speed workouts by targeting each phase of speed training with these guidelines.
Start and Acceleration (change of direction)
To maximize your potential acceleration, you need to develop force-to-ground power, train to correct muscular imbalances and perfect your starting technique, minimizing extra body movements.
- 10-Yard Get-Offs from sport-specific stance: assume 4-, 3- or 2-point stance and use cadence to come off line.
- Sport loading: use a weighted vest to add extra resistance to sprint training and elicit great foot-to-ground force.
- Overspeed training—e.g., Decline Sprints: use very small decline on downhill (technically not what you'd describe as a hill, but just a field with a small downhill decline), allowing for faster than max speed running by just five to 10 percent, or use a grassy hill with a slight gradual decline.
The ability to lengthen your stride will allow greater ground coverage in a shorter amount of time. However, there is an optimal length and point past which over-striding can slow you down. To avoid this, training should include balance, flexibility and strength phases.
- Speed endurance training with 50- to 100-yard sprints to achieve maximum gait training. The range for sprinters will usually be between 7 and 40 seconds, where there is nearly complete recovery between runs (especially if the runs are near 95 percent of maximum speed).
- Horizontal plyometric training, including single- and double-leg bounding. S-L Bound power plyometric: jump off one leg and land on opposite leg. Immediately repeat jump off landing leg using force transfer and foot-to-ground force.
- Form running and mobility training are essential.
- Cycling on wall (10 reps per side)
- Seated sprint arm movement x 30 seconds
- Sprint arm movements, jog in place and go
- Butt Kickers
- Wall slides
- African dance
- Drum major
Form Technique Training (20 Yards)
- Two-Foot Push-Off and Drive x 5
- Two-Foot Push and Drive x 5
The number of strides taken during a given sprint is often used as an indicator of speed. Focus on increasing stride rate on acceleration and decreasing it as distance increases.
Athletes who lack speed endurance reach a top speed and then begin to slow down as their muscles fatigue. Speed endurance is a crucial element of athleticism, especially in distance sports, where you must be able to maintain top speed for an extended period. (Check out Sprint Endurance Drills.)
- Form running training at distances over 60 yards
- Timed sprint intervals (60 to 100 yards)
- Perfect form sprints: two at 50 percent, 70 percent, 90 percent and 100 percent
- Hollow sprints: a period of jogging or rest between sprints; acceleration sprints from rolling start (i.e., start off slow and gradually gain speed to jogging and then full-power sprinting)
- Hill sprints: develop power and acceleration by running uphill (the hill should be slight, not too steep)
- Gear Sprints: use 40 to 60 meters to build up to full speed, then maintain speed for another 30 meters. A session could consist of two to three sets of three to six repetitions.
Form and Technique
This is actually a phase where all athletes can benefit. A consistent form running program will help to maximize power, strength and stride efficiency.
- Form running
- Upper-body / lower-body strength training
- Balance training
- Mobility Training
- Plyometric Training
- Video taping and evaluation