There is no major team sport for which speed and quickness are not essential skills. If you want to win and be successful in your sport, speed drills should be a major focus of your training.
Speed training seems simple enough. You run through exercises designed to make you faster. But it’s more complex than running for 40 yards and performing Wind Sprints. Speed exercises must be performed with perfect mechanics, or you will never reach your speed potential.
Sprinting is really a science. Sprinting follows the laws of physics so closely that any deficiency can dramatically slow you down. Every move must efficiently transfer force into the ground to propel you forward. This applies to all sports, whether you are running through a hole in the line, sprinting to catch a pass, trying to stretch a double into a triple or leading a fast break.
One of the best ways to hone your mechanics is to watch a pure sprinter and note his or her characteristics.
- Tall upper body with spine erect, chest out and head straight
- Full fluid arm swing with no unnecessary twisting of the torso
- High knee lift with foot strike beneath the body (not in front) and toes up
- Relaxed frame with no difference, appearing like it takes minimal effort to run fast
These cues are difficult to master by reading about them in an article, so let’s get to the must-do drills. The following will reinforce correct sprint mechanics and motor patterns in your muscle memory. Perform them regularly before practices, on their own or as part of a speed training day.
Emphasize high knee lift with a rhythmic bounce in each step. Focus on staying tall with full arm swing. Remember to strike the ground directly under your body.
This is a faster version of the A-Skip. No pause in this variation, since there is a quicker switch of the feet. Think of the track as made of hot coals; you don’t want you feet on the ground for long. Be sure to stay tall and keep your arms pumping!
Bounding emphasizes the lines of force you need to generate when starting from a static position, like when sprinting off the line of scrimmage. Maintain a forward lean and make sure your trailing leg is reaching a full extension. As always, your arms should be working hard. Keep your eyes focused down the track.
If you lack strength and power, you will be unable to sprint faster beyond improvements from refined technique. Remember to lift weights in an explosive manner to help you move faster without them. Studies have supported the idea that accelerating loads of around 50 to 60 percent of your max effort has the most carryover to increased speed. Perform a lifting tempo of 3 seconds down, no pause at the bottom, an explosive upward phase and no pause at the top. Perform the exercises below for three to five sets of six reps.
- Hang Cleans
- Push Press
- Box Jumps
- Inverted Rows
- Bench Press
Speed Training Workouts
To train for speed, you need to spend time actually running. Alternate short speed days with long speed days, interspersed with weight training. Here’s an example of a typical week:
Day 1 – Weight Training
- Deadlift – 4×6
- Push Press – 4×6
- Hang Clean – 4×4
- Box Jumps (to highest box with good form) – 4×4
- Pull-Ups – 4×6
Day 2 – Short Speed workout (drills described above, 3x20m sprints, 3x40m sprints, 3x60m sprints 3x80m sprints)
Day 3 – Weight Training
- Inverted Row – 4xMax in 15 seconds*
- Bench Press – 4×6*
- Rear-Foot-Elevated Split Squat – 4×6 each leg**
- Band Face Pull – 4×8**
- Dumbbell Walking Lunge – 4×12***
- Dumbbell Push-Up Rows – 4×6 each arm***
Perform single, double and triple asterisked exercises in superset fashion.
Day 4 – Long Speed workout (drills described above, 1x250m sprints, 2x200m sprints and 3x150m sprints)
NOTE: Don’t focus on much more than technique when running. Run fast, but under control. To gauge it, I recommend sprinting at 85 to 90 percent of your max. This will allow for a strong technical emphasis and a relaxed but fast sprint.
To be fast like a sprinter, you need to train the way sprinters do—at least in some capacity. Supplementing your own sport training with sprint mechanics and speed drills can have a notable impact on your speed on game days. A few rounds on the track, and soon you’ll be tearing up the opposition.