In sports, speed kills. Having breakaway speed when getting out of the hole can be the difference between a three-yard rush and a 45-yard run for a touchdown. Game-changing plays in sports nearly always occur at maximum velocities and require instant acceleration.
But where to start developing speed? Here are some fundamental areas to work on, followed by a sample program, to help you get faster.
1. Build Strength
Adequate strength levels are essential for quick athletes. Speed involves applying large amounts of force into the ground as rapidly as possible to move an object across a distance. In this instance, the object is your body. Athletes with large baseline strength levels, especially in their lower-body muscles, can exert more force into the ground—enabling them to move faster. Studies of the relationship between maximal squat strength and sprint times—especially for 10-meter and 40-Yard Dashes—showed that subjects with higher strength levels relative to their body mass had lower sprint times. Variations of Squats, Lunges, and Deadlifts will help you get faster as you get stronger.
2. Increase Rate of Force Development
As mentioned above, another component of game-changing speed is applying force as fast as possible. A quicker rate of force development is associated with higher levels of velocity. Training for a quick rate of force development will improve your ability to get faster on the field. You'll become more efficient at rapidly recruiting your muscles and exerting force quickly.
The amount of ground contact time an athlete has at max speed is relatively limited. When you do make contact with the ground, you want to exert high levels of force as quickly as possible. Incorporate plyometrics, jumps and hops into your workout to increase your rate of force development. These are great exercises because they require you to fire several major muscle groups in a short amount of time—which is essential if you want to get faster. Another benefit is that they can be done either vertically and horizontally, so you learn to generate force in multiple directions. This is necessary in sports where multi-directional speed is crucial. In a study of elite U-20 soccer players, athletes who incorporated vertical and horizontal plyometrics into their workouts reported improvements in velocity in the 10-meter and 10-to-20-meter sprinting ranges.
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3. Train Max Speed Specific to Your Sport
Once these first two attributes have been developed, training at maximal speed velocities specific to your sport will be most effective to help you get faster. It's important to remember that when you're training at maximum speeds, you must observe rest intervals and maintain intensity when running—and when intensity drops, you must end the session.
Weeks 1 & 2 (3 x a week) - Strength Phase
- Front Squats - 3 x 5 @ 85% 1RM
- Sumo Deadlifts - 3 x 5 @ 85% 1 RM
- Kettlebell Lunges - 3 x 6
- Bodyweight Glute Bridge - 3 x 10
Weeks 3 & 4 (3 x a week) - RFD Phase
- Single-Leg Lateral Hops - 3 x 6
- Depth Jump - 3 x 5
- Broad Jump - 3 x 5
- Single-Leg Bounding - 20 yds (each leg)
Weeks 5 & 6 - Sport-Specific Max Speed Phase
This is where you get specific with respect to your sport.
- Baseball: home plate to first base sprints
- Basketball/soccer: Sprints with the ball from midcourt/midfield to basket/goal
- Football receivers: Full speed route running
Mcbride, J., Blow, D., Kirby, T., Haines, T., Dane, A., & Triplett, N. (n.d.). "Relationship Between Maximal Squat Strength and Five, Ten, and Forty Yard Sprint Times." Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 1633-1636.
Loturco, I., Pereira, L., Kobal, R., Zanetti, V., Kitamura, K., Abad, C., & Nakamura, F. (2015). "Transference effect of vertical and horizontal plyometrics on sprint performance of high-level U-20 soccer players." Journal of Sports Sciences, 1-10.
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