Why Youth Athletes Need to Focus On Strength to Improve Speed

Young athletes can benefit from including strength training as part of their quest to get faster.

When most athletes and coaches think of speed, they think of it as the ability to get from one point to another as quickly as possible—and rightfully so. They run countless drills to improve acceleration, stride length, stride frequency, top-end speed and conditioning.

Although this may work fine, it leaves a stone unturned to improve speed, and that stone is strength. Strength is the ability of a muscle or a body to produce force, which is measured against an external load.

To be fast, you must be able to generate high amounts of force against the external load of the mass of your body to propel yourself. The stronger you are, the more force you can apply into the ground and the faster you will be.

Many athletes under 18 have little or no experience with training to develop strength and power, and a ton of experience with absolute speed work, speed-strength, conditioning and skill work—sprinting, throwing, jumping and practice for their specific sport.

Once you reach your speed potential without developing strength, speed will plateau or diminish in relation to competition.

Think of it this way. Players A and B start with the same amount of speed and experience in absolute speed and skill work development. Player A starts to train at the opposite side of the spectrum to start developing strength, while player B continues to follow suit with just speed and skill work. The results? Player A becomes much faster than Player B and surpasses Player B's capabilities on the field or court.

Here are some qualities developed from strength training that are important in developing speed:

Rate of Force Development (RFD)

RFD is the measure of how quickly you can reach peak levels of force. It is best developed through training strength-speed—moving submaximal loads fast—and maximum strength. The lower body is most important here. Movements such as Squats, Deadlifts, Speed Box Squats, Speed Deadlifts and Olympic lifts work best. The quicker you can produce high amounts of force into the ground, the faster you can become.

Force Production

Newton's Second Law of Motion states the acceleration of an object or body is directly proportional to the amount of force produced on that object or body. The stronger you become, the more force you can produce and the faster you have the potential to be. Unless you develop more strength, you will minimize your potential to increase force production.


Once you reach your full potential in maximum strength, power development is essential to continue to get stronger and faster. Power relates to the ability to produce maximal force in minimal time. To be fast, you must be able to produce power. Without strength and the ability to produce maximal force, you will not develop power optimally.

RELATED: Why Power Development Must Come Before Speed Work

Improved Movement Patterns and Motor Recruitment

Although it doesn't take much for most youth athletes to get stronger, many are not ready to train with maximal or even submaximal loads to optimally develop force and power. However, youth athletes can optimally develop correct movement patterns and the motor recruitment of the right muscles. Basic movement patterning using body weight can directly transfer to improved motor recruitment and mechanics used in producing speed.

RELATED: Youth Speed Drills You Need to Know

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