By Nolan Kowal, Sport Performance Specialist

I want to be faster…this is a common goal for athletes when a strength coach asks what are your goals for your off-season training program. Everyone wants to be faster as an athlete but there are several different components to speed development that we need to consider before we can get “faster” and getting faster is not really a goal.

First off, if we don’t attach numbers to the general goal of getting faster, the process we go through to achieve the goal and a timeline to accomplish it, getting faster is just a wish. This holds true for any goal you want to achieve as an athlete.

For example, if you run a 40 yard dash in 5.00 seconds, your goal over an 8-12 week time frame should be to shave that down to 4.90s or 1/10th of a second. It doesn’t seem like much, but it is a significant difference in any sport that requires speed, quickness and reaction time where fractions of a second mean the difference between winning or losing a race to a loose ball in basketball or catching a ball for a touchdown or getting it intercepted and the defence scoring a touchdown the other way. Insert any athlete in almost any sport and you will be able to see where those fractions of a second will make a difference, so 0.10s can make a big difference.

Let’s talk about the different components of training for speed. At Sport Manitoba Performance, we work on (1) linear speed which is further broken down into acceleration speed and absolute speed and (2) lateral speed and quickness which includes things like change of direction and agility.

Before we go any further we will briefly define the above terms so we are clear on what is involved in speed training:

  • Linear speed is basically running as fast as you can in a straight line forward. This can be done from a dead stop or it can be trained in what is termed a flying sprint where you build up speed until you are at or near top speed and work at that pace. Acceleration speed is how quickly you can go from a dead stop to at or near top speed. It is typically measured in a 10 yard or 10 metre sprint. Absolute speed is the fastest speed you can achieve once you have accelerated to top speed. We measure absolute speed with a Flying 20 Yard test. We measure the combination of acceleration and absolute speed with a 40 Yard Dash.
  • Lateral speed and quickness is a little different than linear speed in that it is a combination of moving laterally as quickly as possible but we also include change of direction (a predefined pattern of movement that includes moving in one direction, stopping, changing direction and moving in another direction as quickly as possible) includes acceleration, deceleration, stopping and changing directions. We measure change of direction through a variety of tests depending on the sport but for the most part we use a 5-0-5 test or a Pro Agility (5-10-5) test.  Agility is another component of lateral speed and quickness and it involves moving in different patterns and directions but with an added reaction component to it.

Okay, enough of the technical stuff, how can you get faster? As we mentioned in our previous post about plyometrics – speed training is very similar in that the focus is on quality movement, not the quantity of movements. Many strength coaches call their camps “Speed Camps” but they are often conditioning camps, not true speed development camps. Speed and power is developed by performing quick, explosive movements for short durations or distances with plenty of rest to ensure each repetition of each set is done with high quality movements with intent.

There is a time and place in a training program where an athlete should train for speed and power under fatigue but that will often take place closer to the start of a competitive season or during a down week in an in-season setting. This can and should be done if the sport requires an athlete to be fast and/or explosive at the end of a game or in overtime, etc.

Speed Training Basics

As with our previous post on plyometrics, speed training should be included in an athlete’s well-rounded strength and conditioning program. Speed is important but keep in mind without a solid foundation of strength, it will be challenging to reach your speed or power potential.

Acceleration

Below are some basic acceleration drills that we work on with our athletes to help them feel the right body positions and angles to produce great force into the ground.  They should be performed for 1-2 sets of 6-10 repetitions per side.

Acceleration Speed Wall Drill Load and Lift

Acceleration Speed Wall Drill Posture Hold

Acceleration Speed Wall Drill Single March

Acceleration Speed Wall Drill Double March

Acceleration Speed Wall Drill Quick Switch

The key to these drills is the body position and alignment. Note that the support leg has the heel lifted slightly to create stiffness in the ankle which is critical to quick ground contact times. Also note that the athlete’s body is straight as steel from head to heel in the support leg.

The other important factor is in the thigh that is in front of the body is parallel to the floor and the shin is parallel to the support leg. Imagine both your thigh and your foot are each holding a pail of water and try not to let them spill any water in the top position of the movement.

As you progress through the above drills, we can begin to incorporate some similar drills while in motion. The thought process is very similar to the above body positions. Here are a few drills to focus on:

Acceleration March in Place to Moving

Acceleration Skip in Place to Moving

Acceleration Resisted March

Acceleration Resisted Bound

3 Step Starts

Absolute Speed

Training for absolute speed requires our bodies to be more upright so you will notice that these drills emphasize being tall. As with acceleration, there are some base positions and drills that we start our athletes on the wall to make sure that they understand the positioning before they move on to those drills on the floor. Below is a sequence that we start with:

Absolute Speed Posture Hold

Absolute Speed 3 Position Posture Hold

Absolute Speed Wall Drill Dynamic Leg Recovery

As we graduate from the wall to the track, we will focus on similar drills. Here is a breakdown of some of the drills we use with our athletes:

Absolute Speed Straight Leg March

Absolute Speed Straight Leg Skip 

Absolute Speed Straight Leg Bound

Absolute Speed Single Leg Cycles

Absolute Speed Ankle Run

Absolute Speed Shin Run

Absolute Speed Wicket Run Level 1

Flying 20’s

The bulk of these drills are working on the technical aspects of sprinting. In order to run faster, improving sprinting technique is critical. As athletes improve at these drills, we will incorporate more explosive movements along with races to help athletes focus on being as fast as possible.

We focused on linear speed today. Look for our next post on lateral speed and quickness training. For now, get started with these few drills and next time we will address the lateral and change of direction and agility part of the total speed development programs we offer at Sport Manitoba Performance.

If you are interested in improving your speed, check out our 6-week Summer Speed Camps that start July 20 and run until August 28, 2020.

Register for the camp here