A lot of coaches think that the answers to speed are ladders, cones, and all types of technique and footwork drills. Truth is—they only help so much. When an athlete comes to my training center (Ultimate Advantage), the first order of business is always strength training.
Yes, that's right. We lift weights to get faster. I can already hear some speed coaches and athletes grumbling: "This guy is crazy. You need to focus on drills on the track and technique." I agree with and use many of those drills and techniques. But you need to accept the fact that it your athletes are not strong and powerful, how the heck are they going to put power into the ground to propel themselves forward?
Let's say a baseball player has a perfect swing, but rarely hits the ball out of the infield. He simply lacks the power to hit the ball forcefully. Similarly, a fighter can have silky-smooth hands, but he might not be able to land a knockout punch because of a lack of power. Jeff Gordon will not win a race driving your mama's minivan, despite his excellent driving skills.
The same thing applies to speed. An athlete can have Olympic-class form, and still not be fast. (Read 40-Yard Dash Form Tips From the Pros.) Trust me...it's possible. Power can overcome a lack of technique to an extent, but technique cannot overcome a lack of power. It's a waste of time for a small, skinny kid to spend countless hours doing form drills, without the base of strength he needs to sprint fast. Worst thing—many "speed centers" consistently ignore the fact that they aren't really helping their athletes with their fieldwork.
I am consistently amazed by how many parents and coaches see speed improvements in their athletes without realizing they were working on power. Believe it or not, it's possible to get faster without ever walking onto a field, touching a ladder or even taking a step.
Furthermore, weak muscles cause many technique breakdowns. I am shocked at how weak many athletes really are.
If you look at Olympic track athletes, they are extremely strong and have perfect technique—which is the recipe for max speed. They have extremely strong glutes and hamstrings and solid cores. In fact, many elite sprinters spend more time in the gym than on the track throughout the year. (Check out Usain Bolt's track workout.)
So, it's important to build your athletes' functional strength—i.e., strength that will directly add horsepower to their stride. My favorite exercises include the Parallel Box Squat (done correctly), Glute Ham Raises, Reverse Hypers and Banded Hamstring Curls. Then have your athletes perform lots of plyometric jumping movements. These two types of training combined will help them get stronger, faster and more explosive—and improve their durability.
I have never met or worked with an athlete at any level who said, "Man, those squats really made me slower." I guarantee you haven't either. So if you want to actually help your athletes get faster, don't shy away from the big movements.
At Ultimate Advantage, we spend the first several months building our athletes' horsepower before we add traditional speed work to their training. Once they're strong enough, we break out the cones, hurdles, ladders and speed boxes and do field work, assisted sprints, resisted sprints and other common speed, agility, conditioning drills. We teach our athletes to their power as efficiently as possible, helping them reach their maximum speed potential.
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