One small but explosive first step equals one giant speed advantage over an opponent.
The ability to glide into top-end speed is a highly coveted skill. But unless you’re running a track meet or sprinting down an open field, you’ll rarely fire up the top-end burners in a competitive setting.
Your ability to reach top speed in the shortest amount of time is what’s most crucial. “If you don’t beat your guy within the first two steps, then you won’t beat him at all,” says Walter Norton Jr., former Boston Celtics strength coach and current director of training at the Institute of Performance & Fitness in Andover, Mass.
Norton’s charge holds true for most sports. Whether it’s a burst off the line of scrimmage or a redirection on the court, your first step can help you blaze past a defender on a pass route or beat your opponent to a loose ball.
The size of a playing field and the speed of play often prevent even the fastest athletes from reaching full speed. “Within three to four steps, an athlete has to decide whether to slow down or keep running in another direction,” Norton says.
How do you reach top speed at a faster rate over a short distance? Develop first-step quickness. The key is to train explosive movements that force you to rapidly accelerate from a start position into a full-speed movement as quickly and as powerfully as possible.
Those first powerful steps happen when you produce maximal force into the ground to overcome inertia. “The quicker you can apply force into the ground, the harder you can accelerate on the first step,” says UCLA football strength and conditioning coach John Krasinski.
After training yourself to get up to speed and blow by opponents in a few, powerful steps, you might get that rare chance to fly down the sideline and into the end zone at top speed.
Develop first-step quickness and acceleration by performing these three exercises, resting 60 seconds between sets.
Box Drop With Sprint
- Assume athletic stance on top of plyo box
- Step forward off box and land softly on ground with knees slightly bent
- Immediately decelerate from landing and explode into sprint
Sets/Distance: 6×20 yards
Coaching Points: Keep body under control upon landing // Work for limited ground reaction time between landing and exploding into sprint // Adhere to proper sprint mechanics
- Assume push-up position with body in straight line
- Place one foot under hips and press ball of foot into ground
- With weight loaded on front leg, explode out into sprint for specified distance
Sets/Distance: 3×20 yards each leg
Coaching Points: Keep hips below shoulders when driving out // Explode into sprint as quickly as possible // Maintain forward lean throughout sprint
Non-Countermovement Box Jump
- Assume athletic quarter-squat position with arms at sides
- Without lowering further into squat or cocking arms back, drive through ground to explode up onto box
- Step down slowly and return to start position
- Repeat for specified reps
Coaching Points: Don’t lower into squat or use backward arm movement to load jump // Land softly on box with knees bent
Train speed early in the week and early in your workout, when your muscles are fully recovered and free from fatigue, and when your body is capable of performing at its highest level. You need to train fast to get fast.
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