You may be fast, but are you really reaching your true speed potential? You’re not unless your training encompasses the five elements of speed. Incorporate all five in your training to reach your true speed potential.
1. Build Strength
Strength is the foundation of speed. If you’re weak, your legs won’t generate enough force to propel you forward at high speed. Even if you perform speed drills, you won’t get much faster if you lack fundamental strength.
“Many people think that when you gain strength, it makes you slower. Functional strength will make you faster and more explosive,” says Rick Scarpulla, owner of Ultimate Advantage Training.
You need to strengthen your lower body with a focus on the glutes and hamstrings. “The functional running muscles are the hamstrings, hips and glutes along with the core,” Scarpulla says. His go-to exercises include the Deadlift, Squat, Box Squat and Split Squat.
Also, you cannot ignore the rest of your body. If you take a look at Olympic sprinters, you’ll notice they are very muscular. That’s because a strong core helps keep their bodies stable when sprinting, and a strong upper body improves arm drive, which increases their power and forward momentum.
Develop your upper-body and core strength with a complete training program. Specifically improve your arm drive with exercises like Swinging Hammer Curls.
2. Get Powerful
Once you have established a base of strength, your next focus should be to train your muscles to produce strength quickly. This is power. Without power, you’ll lack the explosive speed you need to sprint fast.
To develop power, Scarpulla recommends performing a strength exercise explosively, such as a Squat, Deadlift or Olympic lift. He says, “Lifts performed explosively give you horsepower. Without horsepower, you cannot get faster.”
Instead of going heavy, focus on the speed of movement. Use between 75 and 85 percent of your max, perform no more than five reps, and fully recover between sets.
Plyometrics play a critical role with power development. Plyos teach your muscles to absorb force and rapidly release strength, which is exactly how your muscles function when you sprint. Effective plyo options include Box Jumps, Split Squats with a Jump and Broad Jumps.
Scarpulla urges caution when you perform plyos. “Reversal strength [i.e., plyometrics] is one of the most misunderstood forms of training,” he says. “Plyometric speed drills have to have proper rest between sets and not too many reps, or they become conditioning drills. A speed drill should not last more than 10-12 seconds, and the rest ratio should be at least double that.”
3. Increase Your Stride Length
According to Mark Roozen, owner of Coach Rozy Performance, how far your center of gravity travels with each stride determines your stride length, not how far your feet move. A more powerful and efficient stride will propel you further forward.
All of the strength and power work in the world will not improve your stride length. You need to take your strength and power and apply it to your stride when sprinting.
“The more backside extension and knee lift you can get allows for more thigh separation, which is going to help you lengthen your stride,” Roozen says. Hill Sprints improve your backside drive, and Bounding drills improve thigh separation so you can stride through a full range of motion.
Mobility drills can also improve thigh separation. “When athletes run, they extend at their ankles, their knees and their hips. If any one of those joints is not working properly, the athlete limits his or her ability to run as fast or jump as high as he or she can,” explains Alan Stein, owner of Stronger Team. “Limited range of motion in the ankles and hips will limit speed and explosiveness potential.” Stein recommends this yoga sequence and the Lunge and Reach to improve hip mobility.
But you don’t want a longer stride just for the sake of having a longer stride. If you reach too far forward, it will cause your torso to tilt forward and take you out of your optimal power position. Scarpulla says, “Your toes need to be under your shoulder at all times when striking the ground in order to have acceleration.”
4. Stride Frequency
The second trainable part of the stride is frequency. Common sense would seem to indicate that the faster you stride, the faster you run. But that’s not the case. If you just pump your legs unnaturally fast, you will reduce your stride length and power.
You still need to stride through a full range of motion to maximize your power. However, increasing your stride frequency makes your stride quicker and more efficient.
Roozen explains that once you finish your backside drive, your foot should recover close to your butt, followed by a powerful and high knee drive. This combination allows you to more quickly prepare for the subsequent stride and reduces energy leaks that can sap your speed and power.
This is largely technique-driven (more on this below), but there are drills that isolate each part of the stride to improve frequency. For example, Resisted Step-Ups or the Chinese Hip Flexor Drill improve knee drive, and Resisted Butt Kicks improve stride recovery.
You also need a stable core so your hips don’t move when you’re sprinting. Farmer’s Walks and Dead Bugs help you maintain core stability while moving your legs.
Proper technique ensures that the work you did to improve your sprinting won’t go to waste. Stride length and frequency involve technique elements, but you have to work on your overall technique so everything comes together seamlessly.
Roozen asks you to imagine your body as an elastic band when thinking about technique. The tighter the band, the more force it can produce. “If you can get in the right position, you can get tight and tall to stretch that band so you can put more force into the ground,” he says. “If you have energy leaks, like poor arm drive technique, you aren’t getting a full stretch of that rubber band and will lose force and power.”
The simplest way to improve your overall technique is with Wall Drills. As Coach Rozy demonstrates in the video above, they teach you to maintain the proper posture and drive your legs in the power angle needed to sprint at full sped.
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