Training for speed is not as easy as it sounds. True speed is a skill, but it doesn't develop the way many people think. Too often, coaches run athletes to exhaustion, where form starts to lag and the runs turn into slow jogs, finally dropping off to a walk. Although the coach may feel great, thinking his or her athletes have completed a grueling workout, running to exhaustion just makes them slower. (Check out the Sprinter's Speed Workout.) It also trains the nervous system to work at a slower rate, which in turn makes muscles sluggish. Long runs increase muscle endurance, but not speed.
So what does train speed? The following four running drills have a guaranteed, 100% success rate. I use them with my athletes, and they have increased their running speed tremendously.
Author's note: Some of these drills have a high risk of injury. Be sure you understand how to perform them before you attempt the drills.
Quick Steps/Quick High Knees
These two drills increase stride frequency. The key is to decrease the amount of ground contact time.
Quick Steps - 2 x 20-yards
Begin moving in place, lifting your feet off the ground to ankle height. As you begin to move forward, place your feet on and off the ground quicker as you get closer to the five-yard mark. Go for five, walk another five, then begin the drill again until you reach the 20-yard mark.
Quick High-Knees - 2 x 20-yards
Begin in place with high knees for speed. As you move forward, increase the speed of movement and decrease the amount of ground contact time. Go for five yards, walk another five and begin the drill again until you reach the 20-yard mark.
Once you have done two sets of both, combine the two into a sprint. Start with Quick Steps, transition into Quick High Knees, then sprint for 40 yards. Remember, the focus of this drill is stride frequency, so do not slow the movement of your feet in the transitions. Also, keep your posture up tall throughout the drill.
This drill will help you improve your acceleration and get to your top speed in a short distance and time. The key to this drill is to stay low.
Start on your stomach with your toes on a line. React to your coach's cadence. When coach says "up," rise to push-up position. Next, coach calls out a specific leg to bring forward, putting you in a four-point stance. Finally, coach says "go." On this command, react as quickly as possible and sprint 20 yards at full speed.
Advance options include "mountain climber starts," in which you perform Mountain Climbers before sprinting; and "explosive push-up starts," in which you explode out and sprint from the push-up position.
The sprinting sled is one of the best ways to develop speed using resistance. Start light, going against five to 10 percent of your squat max. Too much weight turns this speed drill into a strength drill. Remember, short and fast. The key is to produce a high rate of force into the ground while staying low and accelerating. (Check your form.)
Get into a two- or three-point stance and sprint full speed for 10 yards. Rest 30 seconds between sets. Start with four sets. As training progresses, increase to six and then to eight sets, with the same amount of rest time. Train for four weeks, then increase the distance to 20 yards (but athletes under 15 years old should stay at 10 yards). With 20-yards Sled Sprints, rest up to 45 seconds between sets and bring your set range back four. Gradually increase the number of sets.
High-Speed Treadmill Sprints
This drill is an excellent way to increase your turnover rate. But before beginning, make sure you understand how to get on and off a treadmill moving at high speed.
Warm up with five to eight runs on the treadmill at slow to moderate speed. (Take a look before you try it out.) As you begin to feel comfortable, increase the speed. Start by standing on the sides of the treadmill with a firm grip on the handlebars and one leg following the tread. Once you're comfortable, hop on the moving treadmill, still holding on to the handlebars. When you feel comfortable with your turnover speed, let go of the handlebars and go as fast as you can for six seconds. When done, grab the handlebars and jump off to the sides of the treadmill. Rest for 60 seconds and proceed to perform six to eight sets.
As your training progresses, increase the speed of the treadmill for a higher intensity. Once you reach the maximum speed of the treadmill, start to run on an incline. Again, reduce the speed of the treadmill and work your way back up to maximum speed.
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