Speed Exercises for Elite Athletic Performance

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The 10 Best Speed Exercises for Athletes

Todd Durkin -May 4, 2015

Improving speed should be a goal for every athlete. No matter what sport you play, being faster than your opponent can be the difference between winning and losing a championship. With that in mind, I’ve assembled a list of the 10 best speed exercises that will leave your rivals in the dust.

Although these are the best exercises for improving speed, they should not be the only exercises that you do. Be sure to have a total-body strength and conditioning program in place, as well as proper nutrition and recovery protocols, to maximize your results.

1. Power Clean or Clean Pull

To be fast, you need to be powerful. A good way to build power is by training the Power Clean (or any Olympic lift variation).

  • Starting with your feet hip-width apart, grab the bar with an overhand grip.
  • Keep your back flat and chest tall as you pull the bar off the floor.
  • After the bar passes your knees, sweep the bar into your hips (making contact at mid-thigh/the hip crease).
  • Aggressively extend your hips, knees and ankles to catapult the bar up to your shoulders.
If you cannot perform a clean correctly, replace it with a Clean Pull. A Clean Pull is a clean performed without catapulting the bar onto the shoulders (think Explosive Deadlift).

2. Squat

The Squat is one of the best exercises no matter what your goal is in the gym, so it’s an obvious pick for being one of the best for improving speed. There are many squat variations that are excellent choices. We will focus on the Barbell Back Squat.

  • Grab the bar with a grip that’s comfortable for your shoulders.
  • Unrack the weight, brace your abs and push your hips back to descend into the squat position.
  • Squat until your thighs are parallel (or slightly below parallel) to the ground or slightly below parallel.
  • Keep your knees in line with your toes, chest up and back flat as you push through your heels to stand up.

3. Deadlift

Like the Squat, the Deadlift is a clear choice for this list because it increases the amount of force you can put into the ground.

  • With your feet about hip-width apart, grasp the barbell with an overhand or over/under grip outside your knees.
  • Keep your chest up and back straight as you pull the bar off the floor by fully extending your hips.
  • Keep the bar close to your body throughout the lift.

4. Sled Push/Sprint

Incorporating sled work into your program is a great way to build strength and speed for sprinting. It’s especially valuable for accelerations because of the forward body angle. I recommend doing both heavy Sled Pushes and lighter Sled Sprints.

  • For a heavy push, load a sled with a weight that’s challenging to push for 10 to 20 yards.
  • Push the sled forward, keeping your elbows straight and your back flat.
  • For sled sprints, lighten the load to a weight that will allow you to sprint with the sled for 10-20 yards.
  • You can even pair both exercises in a contrast set.

5. Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat

Many athletic movements take place on one leg, including sprinting, so it’s a good idea to utilize single-leg exercises in your training. There are a ton of single-leg exercises to choose from, but my particular favorite is the Rear-Foot-Elevated Split Squat.

  • With dumbbells at your sides and your back foot elevated on a bench, squat while keeping a straight back and tall chest.
  • Push through your heel to extend your front knee and hip back to the starting position.

6. Single Leg Romanian Deadlift

The Single-Leg RDL is another great single-leg movement, but it focuses on your hamstrings and glutes, or your “go” muscles.

  • Hold two dumbbells in front of you, and balance on one leg.
  • Slightly bend the knee of the balancing leg and begin to push your hips back toward the wall behind you.
  • Be sure to maintain a flat back position as the dumbbells reach knee/shin level.
  • Extend your hips to go back to the starting position.

7. Broad Jump

No list of the best exercises for improving speed would be complete without some plyometrics. This move teaches your muscles to contract explosively, an essential trait of speed.

 

  • Set yourself up with feet hip-width apart.
  • Perform a quick counter movement by pushing your hips back to the wall.
  • Quickly extend your hips, knees and ankles to jump forward for distance.
  • Land softly in a squat position.

8. Single Leg Hurdle Jumps

Single-Leg Hurdle Jumps train quick single-leg movements and deceleration, important for multi-directional speed and quickness.

  • Standing on one leg, perform a quick counter squat and immediately extend your knee and hip to jump over the hurdle.
  • Land as softly as possible on the same leg.

 

Both the Broad Jump and Single-Leg Hurdle Jumps can be done by going into the next jump immediately after you land or by pausing yourself in between.

9. Depth Jumps

This is one of the best exercises to increase explosive power needed to sprint.

  • Stand on top of a bench or plyo box.
  • Step off the edge and immediately jump as you touch the ground.
  • The jump performed as you land can be a vertical jump or a broad jump.
  • Use a small to medium size box/bench to minimize the force that is absorbed when landing.
10. Pallof Press

Sprinting takes a tremendous amount of core stability, so it makes sense to involve core stability exercises in your training.

  • Set up the cable handle at chest level.
  • Take a few steps away from the machine to unrack the weight.
  • Press the handle away from your chest and hold it at arm’s length.
  • Pause for 3-5 seconds as you squeeze your abs to stabilize your torso.
  • Return the handle to your chest and repeat.
  • Complete the exercise on both sides.

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