One of the questions most commonly asked of any strength coach is, "Can you teach me how to run faster?" There is no one-size-fits-all answer, due to individual differences and needs in strength, mobility/flexibility and coordination. However, there are two things that every athlete can add to his or her performance program to develop more speed.
Follow these two tips and you'll be more dangerous in your sport of choice.
1. Add more single-leg variations to your lower-body training. The hamstrings and glutes are the muscles typically used to do single-leg lower-body movements such as Split-Squats and Single-Leg Hip Bridges. It just so happens that these two muscle groups are also important as hip extensors, enhancing the ability to produce large amounts of force. Adding single-leg movements to lower-body resistance training workouts can help develop these muscle groups, allowing you to produce greater amounts of force and, in turn, more speed.
This doesn't mean that bilateral movements (two-legged exercises) should be removed from your program. Such movements are important for increasing lower-body strength. But single-leg variations work well in combination with bilateral movements to create a full program.
Here's what a typical lower-body training day could look like:
Trap Bar Deadlift
- Drop hips so shoulders, knees and ankles are in line
- Keep chin tucked to create neutral spine
- Make sure chest is out and back is flat
- Drive up through heels
- Squeeze glutes at top
- Assume split stance
- Keeping chest up and front knee behind toes, squat until front leg is at 90-degree angle
- Drive up with front leg into start position
- Repeat for specified reps
- Perform set with opposite leg forward
Sets/Reps: 3x8 each leg
- Stand on one leg with bench behind you
- Lower until butt taps bench
- Drive up through heel of standing leg
- Squeeze glute of standing leg at top of exercise
- Eventually progress to no bench and go as low as possible, keeping spine neutral and body under control
Sets/Reps: 2-3x6-8 each leg
Vary your routine with even more single-leg exercises.
2. Perform plyometric and power movements. Many athletes mistake foot speed for actual speed and base their performance programs on this false concept. Ever wonder why the athletes at the NFL Combine who have the highest vertical leap often have the fastest 40-Yard Dash times as well? It has to do with the amount of force and power these athletes are producing, not foot speed.
Adding exercises such as Box Jumps, Sprints and various types of Olympic lifts can help increase total body power, allowing you to create greater amounts of force and boost your speed. Below is a simple VertiMax drill that we use at Accelerate Basketball to increase power and force.
This drill is called the VertiMax Basketball Press. Our athletes perform three sets of eight to 10 reps. If you don't have access to a VertiMax, perform Squat Jumps either wearing a weight vest or holding light dumbbells at waist level. On each jump, make sure your shoulders, hips, knees and ankles are in line when you drop down. Create as much force as you can with each jump.
These two simple tips can help you increase your speed and be more effective in your sport. Every athlete is different, so no single training regimen is right for everyone; but single-leg exercises and power movements are beneficial for athletes in any sport, and should be added regardless of your goal.
Justin Wetherby is the head strength and conditioning coach for Accelerate Basketball Training in Charlotte, N.C. He has worked with hundreds of athletes, including high school, college and professional players. Although he devotes most of his time to improving basketball performance, Wetherby is enthralled with all aspects of human performance.
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