All athletes want to run faster. Speed is probably the most sought after attribute in sports today. There is no such thing as too fast. The only issue is many athletes, parents and coaches are not really sure how to actually go about getting faster.
I come across parents who say their kids need more speed on the field. Fair enough. But then they say they want us to work form and technique and want to see hurdles and ladders plus all the bells and whistles that claim to be the best remedy for a slower athlete. Yet their kid lacks any sort of significant foundation of strength. I believe many young athletes lack the required strength needed to make meaningful improvements in speed. We can work on form and technique all day, but if we're never adding horsepower to the car, the results are likely going to be mediocre at best.
I see it all the time. An athlete comes in to our facility and their dad proceeds to tell me that his son needs to work on their stride length or technique and if they just do that, they'll be an All-County athlete. Yet I look at junior and see that they're not carrying nearly enough muscle to have any kind of speed to their game. I try to explain to Dad that it is most likely a strength issue first and foremost, and if junior puts on some muscle in the proper spots, they'll be well-positioned for serious speed improvements. Dad doesn't want to hear that junior isn't strong enough, so he tells me again how strong the kid is and that he's actually running people over.
We take junior over to the squat rack, put some weight on the bar, and their lack of strength is quickly exposed. Then I do a quick assessment of his hamstring and hip strength, and sure enough, both are weak. Not just weak, but very weak. The only way junior is running anybody over, I think, is if they are already on the ground.
Muscle is the equivalent of horsepower in humans. If you can add horsepower to the hamstrings, glutes and hips, you will get faster. Add muscle to the quads, core and back, and learn how to apply that newfound strength by honing your technique and practicing top-speed sprinting, and watch how fast you can get. There's certainly a point of diminishing returns, as a bonafide meathead probably won't get much faster by increasing their already impressive PR lifts and doing no other training, but for young athletes who lack foundational strength, getting stronger is a simple way to get faster. It's also a need within itself, so why not kill two birds with one stone?
What are some of the best weight room exercises that can translate to enhanced speed? Let's quickly run down some of our favorites at The Ultimate Advantage Gym.
The king is the Box Squat. Yes, Box Squat. Not free Squat, but Box Squat. When done correctly, the Box Squat forces you to directly fire the hamstrings and glutes to get off the box. A 2012 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research also found the rate of force development during the Box Squat to be 3-4 times higher than that of a traditional Squat. High reps are not the best way to go here. You want to keep the reps low and explode off that box like its on fire! Try 4 working sets of 3 with a weight of about 85-90 % of your one-rep squat max. Then do a couple of single reps at your max, or even push for a new max.
Most people can box squat more than they can regular squat. And remember, there is a big difference between squatting down and barely tapping a box with your butt and doing a real Box Squat. Pause for a second on the box, disengage the hips, and then re-fire to explode off the box into a standing position.
Big hamstring movements are needed. If you have a ham glute machine, that is a great one. If not, an RDL or Stiff-Legged Deadlift will do. I recommend Deadlifts, as well. People simply overlook the Deadlift as a speed builder, but big deads will help you get faster. When doing these accessory lifts, mix up the reps. Sometimes go big weight for low reps then sometimes do lighter weight for higher reps. Aim for 4 or 5 sets of each movement.
Bulgarian Split Squats are another great option. These are good for hitting the glutes. I also like Glute Bridges and Mule Kick Thrusters. Plyometric movements will also help your cause. Broad Jump, One-Legged Jumps, jump rope, etc. The key is lots of work in the hamstrings and glutes along with the hips and posterior chain. If you gain strength in these areas, your horsepower will increase.
There's nothing wrong with teaching young athletes sprint technique and mechanics, but when it's something you spend hours on each week at the sacrifice of building a solid foundation of functional strength, I believe you're putting the cart before the horse.
Photo Credit: Jale Irak/iStock
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