Being fast means you can get to the ball quicker, outrun your opponents, and potentially have a huge impact on the outcome of the game. For this reason, coaches look for athletes with speed, making it a critical athletic attribute for you to train.
With speed training, you can do a number of simple things to improve your ability to run faster. This article describes four easy strategies you can use to become a faster athlete.
Strength is critical to running fast because the more force you can exert against the ground the faster you can run. Not only do you need to be able to exert force against the ground, but you also need to be strong enough to maintain your posture when your foot strikes the ground.
To develop your ability to exert force against the ground, focus on the following exercises:
- Squats: Squats teach you to use your entire body to exert force against the ground. You have the potential to work up to fairly heavy weights, and the exercise also trains hip extension, which is important for sprinting.
- Lunges / Split Squats: Lunges and Split Squats train you to exert force against the ground primarily with one leg at a time. This is important because when you sprint, only one leg is in contact with the ground at any given time.
- Romanian Deadlifts / Good Mornings: These exercises train your hamstrings and glutes, which are important for injury prevention during sprinting. But they also train you to extend your hip, which is key to exerting more force against the ground.
To develop your ability to maintain your posture during foot strike, you should also focus on eccentric strength. You can do this by modifying any of the above exercises, either by doing them with an exaggerated eccentric focus (take ten slow seconds to descend with the weight) or by taking a four- to five-second pause at the bottom of the lift.
Apply your new strength
Being strong is important for sprinting, but the ability to apply it is even more important. Sprinters move in a horizontal direction. The weight room develops strength vertically. This means that you have to take the foundational strength you develop in the weight room and apply it horizontally. There are several tools to do this:
- Jumps: Jumps performed in the horizontal direction teach you to apply your strength for sprinting. Hops, long jumps, triple jumps, jumps covering distances (e.g., hop for 20 meters) are all exercises you want to include, and they don’t require much equipment!
- Bounds: Bounds are essentially exaggerations of the sprinting stride meant to cover great distances. One of the best way to do them is to pick a distance (like 20, 40 or 100 meters) and keep track of how many bounds it takes you to cover that distance, then try to reduce that number each workout.
- Sleds: Pushing weighted sleds improves your ability to exert force horizontally. However, sleds can create poor sprinting form and teach bad habits, so it’s important to approach the sled as a slow strength-building exercise.
- Resisted sprinting: Resisted Sprinting is a very effective way to improve your ability to increase your speed, especially over the first 5 to 20 meters of a sprint. Care needs to be taken with Resisted Sprinting. If you find yourself leaning forward, or if your speed slows down by more than 10 percent, then you’re using too much resistance.
Take longer steps more quickly
Today, the concept of exerting more force against the ground is very popular for improving speed. In the past we were worried about taking longer strides and trying to move our limbs more quickly as well. While these are no longer popular, there is still merit in improving these qualities. Think about it: if you can take bigger strides, you can arrive somewhere more quickly. Also, if you can take faster strides you have the potential to get somewhere faster.
Stride length must be trained deliberately. I set up a course with some type of markers (e.g., miniature hurdles, tennis balls on the ground or even pencils—just something the sprinter can see). I then set up the course so that the athlete will run for about 20 meters. After that point, the markers are set up so that the athlete has to increase his or her stride for about 5-6 strides, then maintain it for 4-5 strides.
In other words, set up 5-6 markers so that each one is a little further apart than the one before it, then set up a maintenance course. But be careful with stride length. If you are leaning backwards, then your stride length is too long and you are probably spending time braking and learning bad habits .
You can train stride frequency with drills that teach you to move your limbs more quickly. One of the best is a Fast-Leg Drill. Line up at the start line and face the course. Take a step forward with your left leg. With your right leg, quickly bring your heel to your hip, cycle the leg forward, and drive your foot toward the ground. Repeat for 10-20 meters and then switch legs.
Run fast to get fast
Of all the strategies described in this article, this is the most important and often the most overlooked. Running fast is a skill, and like all skills it has to be practiced. If you want to get better at running fast, you have to practice running fast. This means running 20 to 80 meters in training at maximum speed.
The table below lists training guidelines for each of the strategies described above. Focus on each strategy one to two times per week, depending on where you are in your training year and your focus for that phase of training.
|Training for strength
||3-5 sets of 4-10 repetitions at 88-90% of maximum, resting 60-120 seconds between sets
||1-3 sets of 5-10 Jumps
1-3 sets of 20-100 meters for Bounds
1-3 sets of 20-100 meters for Sleds
1-3 sets of 20 meters of resisted sprinting followed by 20 meters of unresisted sprinting
Full recovery between sets
|Taking longer steps more quickly
||1-3 sets of 20-meter run-ups followed by 5-6 lengthening strides and 4-5 maintenance strides for stride length
1-3 sets of 10-20 meters for each leg on stride frequency drills
Full recovery between sets
|Running fast to become fast
||3-5 sets of 20-80 meter sprints at full speed
Full recovery between sets