Last month, we established that developing game-changing speed results from a two-pronged attack: weight work to develop explosiveness, power and strength; and time in the lanes to improve stride length and frequency. Florida track strength and conditioning coach Mark Campbell already let you in on the weight room work. Now, David Abernethy, strength coach for Clemson soccer, offers some drills to help you stride past the competition.
Speed is a function of stride frequency and stride length. The faster you can take another step and the greater distance it covers, the better your time. To boost their speed, Abernethy trains his athletes with several drills, including build-ups, over speed sprints and resistive sprints. “With all the drills, allow for full recovery before performing the next rep,” he advises. “You’re not conditioning with these drills; you’re training speed.”
He prescribes 2 to 3 minutes of rest, so you’re fully recovered to reach top-end speed each time. “We’re trying to train the nervous system to respond to full speed,” Abernethy says. “If you don’t train at full speed, you won’t get faster.”
Abernethy recommends training speed two days a week. On each training day, warm up with four 40s at 50 to 75 percent; perform 4 to 6 reps of one of the following drills; and finish with four 45-yard sprints. “We use 45 yards on our final sprints to teach the athletes to run through the line instead of up to it,” he says.
Abernethy uses build-ups to increase stride length. Running at half, three-quarter and full speed during a single rep teaches you to work on different phases of the sprint and improve acceleration.
• Run a total of 45 yards
• Run half-speed for first 15 yards
• Run three-quarter speed for second 15 yards
• Run full speed for final 15 yards
Coaching Point: “Make smooth transitions from half to three-quarter to full speed. I shouldn’t see a sharp change. It should be gradual, like a car with automatic transmission versus one with a clutch. That’s what I tell my guys—I shouldn’t see a giddy-up in their steps when they change gears.”
Over-speed sprints teach athletes to run faster. A cord is attached to the athlete, and a partner pulls him forward at a faster than-normal pace. The end result: his muscles and nervous system become accustomed to moving at the faster speed.
Abernethy says, “You have to watch the athlete’s mechanics when he performs this drill. If he’s not mechanically sound during the sprint, there is a chance he’ll pull a hamstring.” To reduce the incidence of such injuries, Abernethy watches his athletes for fatigue and prescribes sprints of only 30 yards. When fatigue sets in, mechanics can suffer, and longer distances increase the chance of fatiguing.
• Attach over-speed cord to body harness
• Sprint 30 yards with cord assisting in direction of sprint
Pulling a weighted sled effectively works the drive phase of a sprint; and an improved drive phase makes for faster starts and greater acceleration. “Sled pulls provide added resistance to the hips and hamstrings,” Abernethy says. “When you start to strain as you sprint against the resistance, you train the central nervous system, which tells the body to work harder. Then, once you take off the sled, working at the same intensity as you did with the sled makes you faster.” Like over-speed sprints, resistive sprints have the potential for injury when fatigue sets in and mechanics break down. Therefore, only perform sled pulls for 30 yards.
• Attach weight sled to body harness
• Sprint 30 yards pulling against sled
• Use 10-15 percent of body weight on sled
Coaching Point: “Sometimes, when you pull against a sled, your arms swing across your body to help pull the extra weight. Make sure your arms drive front to back, and keep your entire body loose. Don’t overstrain your face or abs.”