This article was provided by Training and Conditioning
By Dan Hutchison, MS, ATC, CSCS
In the majority of athletic events, an athlete is attempting to beat their competition (opponent, ball, etc.) to a specific location. Whether it is the finish line in a track and field event, the end-zone on a football field, or the base in a baseball game, one constantly needs to call on speed to achieve success. The improvement of running speed is one of the three fundamental pillars of athletic improvement: Strength, Skill, and Speed. Much like the first two components, the improvement of running speed initially needs to be coached, followed by repetitive technical application, and continuously complimented by a strength/power program. Although the speed component of any human endeavor involves some genetic predisposition, the applications of speed improvement can be mastered through the development of specific movement patterns.
Specific drills for speed development have been utilized by athletes for many years, most notably in track and field. Other sports, understanding the need for a consistent stimulus for speed development, have incorporated these strategies with their athletes. Typically, a series of progressive drills are performed at a high intensity to re-program the rate at which muscles respond to the ground and how quickly they can move in space. Multiple movements generating power through the ankle, knee, and hip are performed when the athlete is not only properly warmed up, but also somewhat “fresh” prior to the start of the training or practice session (1). These drills and exercises are still strongly encouraged prior to the start of training or practice session. A truncated version of these drills can be supplemented to develop speed and eliminate some of the fatiguing effects of a long dynamic warm-up (1).
Detailed below are three specific drills to initiate the speed development process. These drills cover detailed physiological and biomechanical components of speed development that include, but are not limited to, overload, force development, maximum velocity, neuromuscular learning, and progressive periodization. If each of these areas is maximized, speed improvement in all sports can, and will, occur.
Speed Drill #1 – A-Run: The A-Run, or A-Kick is a dynamic speed drill that mimics the proper movement pattern of a sprint. The A-Run emphasizes the heel-to-butt concept that adequately places the shin as close to the hip as possible during the swing phase of running and places the hip in the proper parallel position with the ground which allows for sufficient stride length. These main components are practiced repeatedly, and as time progresses the speed of the movement and the distance of the movement are increased. Once the technical aspect is attained, the athlete will perform the drill as fast as possible in a 10 meter area for 3-4 sets. If fatigue causes either a slowing frequency of leg movement, or a technical error, shorten the distance and reduce the sets. The progression is to perform fast and technical A-Runs up to 50 meters and up to 5-6 sets. Recovery is the walk back to the starting line.
- Intense, Fast, Movements
- Increase sets before distance
Speed Drill #2 – Split Squat Jumps (SSJ): The SSJ is utilized to improve power, strength, and acceleration in a running athlete (2). The SSJ resembles some mechanical qualities of forward sprinting, with the goal of this drill to improve power, most notably during the acceleration phase of running. The initial position of the SSJ forces the athlete to produce the maximum amount of power in the front leg. This is followed by an explosive movement vertically while switching legs at the peak height of the jump and landing under control ready to perform the exact movement again. Power is enhanced by spending as little time as possible on the ground and producing as much power and height on the vertical component (2). Arm swing should mimic the sprinting movement. Effort is maximized on each jump so repetitions should initially be low, 4-5 reps per leg for 3-4 sets, but not to exceed more than 10 reps per leg. Ideally, once an athlete can perform 8-10 reps maximally per leg, dumbbells or preferably a weighted vest should be added for resistance; the more resistance added, the fewer the repetitions. Recovery should be 1-2 minutes between sets.
- Maximum effort on each jump
- Increase reps before adding resistance
Speed Drill #3 – Maximum Velocity Running (MVR): Maximal velocity sprinting is a traditional approach to improving speed, especially in the day and age where implements are quickly applied sometimes before proper mechanics are learned at high velocities. MVR is a simple approach to educating the athlete about body control at peak velocity. This drill should be performed after the first two speed drills because it combines the phases of speed development: acceleration, maximum velocity, and maintaining maximal velocity. Once an athlete has attained maximum velocity during the drill, sustainability is encouraged for as long as possible, but as soon as velocity is lost the set is complete. Distances should initially range from 20-40 meters and progress to no more than 100 meters, unless the event determines otherwise, performed for 4-6 sets. Implements may be added for additional resistance (parachutes, sleds, bands, or pulley systems) without losing emphasis on proper body control and mechanics at high velocities.
- Combination of the speed development drills
- Body control and technique at high velocities
- Maximum sustainable effort
These specific drills for speed improvement should be performed between 3-5 days during the week, even during the season with reduced repetitions performed at the same high intensity. In addition, a strength/power program should be an ongoing practice in one’s endeavor for success. Adequate and structured strength training allows individuals the stamina to meet the demands of the sport and the speed-specific training demands (4). These tools for success are challenging, but may be the difference between scholarships, colleges, the varsity team, and of course, WINNING!
1. Gabbett, TJ, et al. Influence of Closed Skill and Open Skill Warm-ups on the Performance of Speed, Change of Direction Speed, Vertical Jump, and Reactive Agility in Team Sport Athletes. J Strength Cond Res 22(5): 1413-1415.
2. Markovic, G, et al. Effects of Sprint and Plyometric Training on Muscle Function and Athletic Performance. J Strength Cond Res 21(2): 543-549
3. Aguilar, AJ, et al. A dynamic warm-up model increases quadriceps strength and hamstring flexibility. J Strength Cond Res 26(4): 1130-1141.
4. Delecluse, C. Influence of Strength Training on Sprint Running Performance: Current Findings and Implications for Training. Sports Medicine 24(3): 147-220.