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True speed training should not be confused with conditioning. When training for speed, every rep must be as explosive as possible as to train the central nervous system (CNS) to fire as fast as possible. The CNS controls the contraction and relaxation of all muscles. If the CNS is fatigued due to a lack of recovery time, sprinting and jumping will suffer.
Maximum strength is the base of all explosive movements. Pushing yourself to get stronger in core lifts—Back Squats, Front Squats, Deadlifts, Power Cleans, Bench Press and Chin-Ups—will help you reach your full athletic potential. Stronger muscles will allow you to apply more force into the ground, improving your ability to run faster. (For more, see How Olympic Lifts Increase Speed.) When designing speed workouts, determine which area of speed needs the most attention. Is it the acceleration phase, multi-directional movement, or top-end speed training?
When I train athletes for acceleration, I like to prescribe resisted sprints using 10% of the athlete's bodyweight followed by non-resisted sprints. Resisted sprints are great for improving stride power. Good technique is key because "form dictates function." I use waist harnesses rather than shoulder harnesses for resisted sprints, because a waist harness promotes more engagement of the glutes and hamstrings, which are generally weak points; and it is important to drive your hips forward when accelerating. (See The Mechanics of Improving Acceleration.)
Sample Acceleration Workout
Rest 90 to 120 seconds between repetitions. Remember, this is speed training not conditioning.
Moving as explosively as possible is taxing on the body, so it's important to take adequate rest between reps and sets. I like to use a progression when coaching athletes for multi-directional movement, using "center-of-gravity management." I start with slow movements where athletes have to change direction to feel where their center of gravity is. I teach proper techniques and body angles so the athletes understand how to decelerate, stop and reaccelerate quickly and safely in a different direction. A huge percentage of non-contact-related injuries occur at the point of rapid change of direction, and the right techniques can greatly reduce these injuries. (See Lower-Body Rotation for Change of Direction.) Fast, reactionary drills are my favorite to use during change of direction sessions. These drills are specifically related to the movements the athletes will make when playing their sport.
Sample Multi-Directional Workout
- Dynamic Warm-Up: 10 to 15 minutes
- Speed Skaters: Keep center of gravity stationary while feet move side-to-side
- Plant Stop: Side-shuffle five yards, then plant with your body leaning back in the direction from which you came; your center of gravity must be leaning in the direction you intend to move in
- Mirror Drill with Partner: Two athletes stand facing each other; one mirrors the movements of the other (this is a great beginning reactionary drill)
- Sprint, Side Shuffle, Side Run, Backpedal: Athletes stand in an athletic position facing the coach; coach points in a direction and yells a command on which type of movement to make, then points in a different direction and yells a command for a different type of movement
Again, rest 90 to 120 seconds between repetitions (possibly more depending on the duration of the drill).
Top-End Speed Training
This is an important element in the development of an athlete. (Check out Speed Phase Drills: Training for Complete Speed Development.) Learning the correct mechanics is crucial for efficiently running at maximum speed. As humans, we can only hold top speed for a short time, so training is key for maximizing top speed and holding off deceleration for as long as possible. Anaerobic training is an important piece of holding maximum speed. Learning how to quickly and efficiently apply force into the ground while also cycling your legs aids in achieving higher top-end speed.
Sample Top-End Speed Workout
- Dynamic Warm-Up: 10 to 15 minutes
- Individual Leg Cycling Drill: Supporting yourself on a wall, learn how to fold your leg, recover with your thigh parallel to the ground, release your leg and strike back with the ball of your foot
- Shuffle Bounds: 4 x 10 yards
- Straight Leg Bounds: 4 x 20 yards
- Flying 20's: 4 x 20 yards (focus on cycling the legs and proper arm action)
- Flying 30 's: 4 x 30 yards (focus on cycling the legs and proper arm action)
- Flying 40's: 4 x 40 yards (focus on cycling the legs and proper arm action)
Again rest 90 to 120 seconds rest between repetitions.