There's a saying in sports that "speed kills." It kills anyone who doesn't have it. This holds true for any athletic event, whether its sprinting in a 100m dash, a defensive end getting off the line, or an outfielder tracking down a fly ball. Adding even the slightest bit of speed can be the difference between first and last place, getting to the quarterback or catching that fly ball. However, that extra pep in your step doesn't come easy. It is important to remember that training for speed is a process, and takes dedication. Strength is part of the game. The second part of it comes down to technique.
Improving speed requires:
- Increased Stride Length
- Increased Stride Frequency
- Increased Power Output
One of the best ways to accomplish those three things is training for speed with a solid strength program. Why strength? Because increased strength leads to producing more force you can put into the ground with each step. This leads to longer stride lengths and power output. We've covered two of the main points to speed development. The other—frequency—is a matter of technique. As an added benefit, your body should become more resilient to injury.
However, there seems to be a predisposition to using things like agility ladders, parachutes and fast feet drills to increase speed. While this may appear to be fast, it's likely not increasing true speed. Unfortunately, these kinds of drills are rising in popularity. But nothing builds speed quite like strength training.
What is Speed?
Speed refers to the rate at which someone or something moves. Seems pretty simple. How about covering more ground in the shortest time possible? That seems more applicable to sports and training.
For any training program, we want to include the fundamental movement patterns:
- Hip Hinge
- Single Leg
We can also include core exercises among those as the core is going to play a big role in speed development.
The typical hip hinge exercise we look at is the Deadlift. It is a strong developer of the posterior muscles of the body. Glutes, hamstrings and the upper back see improved strength gains from Deadlifts. However, not everyone needs to deadlift with a barbell. There are other options, like using kettlebells or trap bars.
Second to the Deadlift is the Hip Thrust, which is another great glute developer. It's said that the glutes are the powerhouse of the body, especially when it comes to anything athletic. So why not use exercises that will make them stronger.
Adding Squats to your training will develop the ability to put more force into the ground. There's a reason why many strength coaches use it as the ideal way to build speed. Squatting uses a lot of the large muscles of the lower body. However, just as there are variations with the Deadlift, Squats can be done in a myriad of ways.
The standard in most weight rooms is the Back Squat, but you can also implement Front Squats and Goblet Squats, along with a multitude of specialty bars like the safety squat bar.
When using strength training for speed, the upper body tends to get lost in the mix because no one really thinks about the upper body's contribution to moving faster. However, building strength in the upper body helps with the arm drive necessary to pull the legs along.
While sprinting and athletic movements related to it look like mostly a lower-body driven activity, the upper body and arms really drive the body. The legs will only go as fast as the arms can move.
Push movements include the Bench Press or Overhead Press, both with a barbell or dumbbells, and Push-Ups. Our pulling exercises would include Pull-Ups and different row variations with body weight, dumbbells or barbells.
Single-leg movements are ideal for speed development as sprinting essentially is a bunch of single-leg movements. Therefore, increasing our single-leg strength can have a lot of carryover into our sport.
Single-leg movements to incorporate into your strength training for speed program are Split Squats, Step-Ups, Single-Leg Deadlifts and Lunge variations.
For speed development, the hamstrings might be the most important muscle in the body. When they are weak, they tend to get strained often, and they have a huge role in deceleration. If we want to stay on the field and also stay fast, strengthen your hamstrings, especially using eccentric training.
Exercises like Slide Disc Curls, Nordic Curls and Glute-Ham Raises will provide a lot of benefit to strengthening your hamstrings.
As far as our core is concerned, you want to include movements, or should I say "anti" movements. The core needs to be able to resist movement; it needs to keep the spine stable. That's why you want to use exercises like Deadbugs, Side Planks, Pallof Presses and multiple loaded carry variations.
Strength training for speed doesn't have to be fancy or flashy. In fact, sometimes the flashy doesn't take us anywhere. Stick to the basics and master them.