How many times have you, as an athlete, been just one step behind an opponent who outran you, or just one second too late for a chance, a shot, a pass?
Seemingly everyone’s first reaction to such a situation is a socially less-acceptable variation of “oh no!” and the second one is “wow, need to be faster next time.”
Everybody needs more speed.
That is not up for debate, as there are few sports that do not rely on power and speed!
Field sports like soccer, lacrosse, football, hockey and basketball obviously require speed and power as an entry point for the game.
Less commonly considered sports like tennis, dancing, swimming and diving all demand power and speed as well. As these sports are more technical, however, speed and power may not present themselves the same way as in field sports, where opponents face off against each other and the faster one usually wins that moment-long duel. But these skills are most certainly needed!
So how DO we get faster?
As a performance coach for mostly field sports, I may be biased, but many experts in our field seem to agree: Speed is perhaps most purely expressed in its truest form—sprinting.
Sprinting is one of the most aggressive things the body can do. It’s also a “hindbrain” activity, meaning your thinking brain—the “executive” or prefrontal cortex, literally the front part of your head—needs to be turned off to do it well. Sprinting is a natural, instinctual act. This seems perhaps like a contradictory dilemma: If you should not think while sprinting, but you are not already fast, how can one get faster?
Before we address how to increase speed, let us break down the common ways we keep ourselves from it.
How Not to Get Faster
“The more, the better” is not true when sprinting. Because expressions of speed and power—sprinting being the purest expression of this—is exhausting to the central nervous system (CNS), less is actually more.
Overdoing conditioning work will not help you get faster. Wearing yourself down with high doses of speed and power work, called “high CNS fatigue,” is not a good plan either; it just make you tired and sweaty, and not want to train tomorrow. At the same time, training at a low intensity or effort is clearly not beneficial for speed gains!
Contrary to some “sport experts,” permanently breaking up with strength training also does not result in more speed. Neglecting your recovery, diet and sleep is also detrimental to improvement, as the nervous system must recover for the body to heal and repeat speed and power skills.
Lastly, one surefire way to keep yourself from increasing speed and power is to not listen to your coach. If your coach is competent and you have discussed your need for speed, then athletes need to buy into their knowledge and trust the plan. Adding or skipping sets and even workouts is definitely not going to bring quick returns!
How to Get Faster
Sprint fast and often
Does this seem counterintuitive? Did I not just say that, in fact, less is more? The primary message here is to, above all else, be consistent in a speed program and manage your volume according to your training and competition schedule.
Sprinting more often—increasing speed sessions to twice a week from once a week, for example—can certainly help you get faster. However, that does not mean you should lace up and sprint 15 sets of 40 yards at 100% effort every day of the week. That is too much!
It does mean that you should purposefully vary your sprint workouts across different distances, at different velocities, at different levels of effort, with a phase focused on Acceleration in the first 10 steps and a phase of Maximum Velocity. This calculated, purposeful training will make maximum-effort sprints in games much more manageable when the body is used to completing them several times a week.
The central nervous system is sensitive but it can also adapt incredibly well with the right amount of stress and recovery. Starting to sprint more often and in a controlled environment that allows rest, instead of just in competition, is a great way to improve the body’s ability to run faster with less effort and more often.
Train at Appropriate Intensity
Although similar to the last point, it is worth reiterating: To get fast, you do not need to sprint at maximum effort for 100 reps per day. But when you do sprint, you need to make it count.
Again, listening to a competent coach and program is important. Does your workout say 90-95% effort on 5 sets of 20m today? Or is it 5x30m at 70%? Either way, all reps need to be focused and executed with proper technique, with appropriate rest between, and hitting that prescribed intensity every time.
It does not take a high dose or a million reps of sprinting to make an athlete fast. It just takes many small, intense, well-timed and recoverable doses.
Do not stop lifting weights.
In working with teams as a performance coach, I have heard every variation of “I’ve never seen an athlete get faster by lifting weights” and “weights make you slow and heavy!”
Although the equation Speed + Weights = Heavier Player = Less Speed may appear to pass the logic test, it skips over some key factors.
If lifting weights makes you slow, you are lifting wrong. Strength training for performance sport is not bodybuilding or powerlifting; those kinds of lifting do indeed add mass and restrict mobility, which can make an athlete slow.
By the time you are in the preparation and competition phases, when you need speed and power, your “strength phase” is over. You do not need to be lifting maximally four times per week or put on mass with intense soreness after every workout.
Mass makes athletes slow. But lifting weights does not necessarily equate to adding mass!
Another complaint I hear regarding strength training and speed is that athletes are too tired to be fast after lifting.
This equation does make sense.
Every stress we put on the body, including training, taxes the CNS. Some movements and types of lifts tax the CNS more than others, such as Olympic lifting—that’s why you do not need very many repetitions in a session. The Shoulder Press, though, is a low-CNS movement—if you complete 3 sets of 6 reps, you might be a little gassed, but you will not be wiped out on the floor as if you Clean-and-Jerked 3×6.
But that is not the only way to lift weights!
Lifting with speed can help.
Heavy lifting to maintain maximal strength is important, as are hamstring-specific accessory lifts to keep your legs in top condition for sprinting. Depending on your sport and its demands, you can also work on upper-body lifts because this will not tax your nervous system heavily enough to detract from your speed gains.
However, lifting below your 1-Rep Max, around 60-70%, and moving at a higher velocity is essentially “weighting” your speed in the gym, with the goal of moving faster when the weights come off.
There are also other training methods of getting faster, such as ballistic training and the ever-famed plyometrics. A competent coach knows how to program these into a speed and strength program so that all exercises contribute to your power, velocity and resilience.
Power training—sprinting, throwing, jumping—and speed lifts should come before the lifts in a workout. You do not need to stop going to the gym to get fast, but do not spend your whole week there powerlifting either.
The Other Stuff
This might sound basic, but you need to focus on your recovery. Again, speed requires a healthy, regenerated, and adaptive CNS. That means between workouts you need quality sleep, appropriate food intake and to keep your stress low. Just keep your recovery a high priority.
Listen to Your Coach
Speed training has to fit into your training schedule, right?
If you are just out there sprinting every day with no guidance or idea of how to progress, the truth is that you will get slower because you are tired, taking on too much training volume. This translates to the CNS as stress—throughout your whole week with games and training sessions—and not recovering enough to improve speed in games.
If your strength or speed coach is competent, it is worth listening to him or her and trusting the program. They know how to manage your body’s stress and fatigue, your load, and how it all fits together with the rest of your performance.
Speed is awesome, and everybody needs it. It is a requirement for most sports!
It also seems like gaining speed should be easy and intuitive, but it actually is not!
Speed and power are very fine balances that require attention to fine details—your CNS, your recovery and your schedule.
Always keep in mind the following tips, which I hope make speed training more accessible to you:
- Sprint, jump and throw more often, but know that less is also more!
- Sprinting is perhaps the best tool for training speed and power.
- Take your recovery seriously. Speed and power training is hard on the CNS, and regeneration time is when you heal and adapt.
- Continue lifting. Weights do not make you slow; they make you strong and resilient.
- Listen to your coach! They wrote your program that way for a reason.
Good luck, and sprint hard!
Attention High School and Middle School Athletes
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K2’s 2-Day / 13-week program is designed to help your athlete…
– Become Quicker, Faster, Stronger
– Develop first step quickness
– Develop breakaway speed
– Change directions quicker
– Jump Higher and Further
– Strengthen Muscles to help prevent injury
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Part 1: Actual Drills to improve speed ASAP.
by Kevin Haag, CSCS. Speed and Agility Coach
We are starting with the actually drill so that our young athletes can practice them and improve on-field speed immediately. Be sure to check with your coach to make sure they are being done perfectly!!
I Believe, (Speed = Biomechanics + Force + Power)
- Step 1) Learn Proper Sprinting Mechanics and Fundamentals
- Step 2) Increase Power – You need muscles to move fast
- Step 3) Generate force into the ground
Speed is a skill….Skills are learned……so, therefore speed can be learned:
Below are 3 drills to improve each of these areas. For you to elicit change in your body, you must perform these drills at 100% and with consistency. Not in any area of life, will 1 hour a week change or improve anything. Perform these drills 3 times a week for immediate results.
Fundamental Mechanics of Sprinting
Although not an individual segment of mechanics in sprinting, posture is the foundation that allows the other techniques to be performed properly. Listed below are components of posture:
- Erect body with hips under the center of mass
- The head is looking straight with the chin slightly in.
- The pelvis should be neutral or slightly posterior to allow for complete cycling of the legs.
- The chest should be up and the shoulders back (neutral) to allow for proper swing action of the arms from the shoulder joint.
Once proper posture is established, the actions of the legs and the phases in which they should go through will be more efficient.
Step 1: Mechanics Drills
- Seated Arm Action. “Arm Speed Controls Leg Speed) 1) Rotation at shoulder 2) Elbow at 90 degrees 3) Thumb moves from cheek-to-cheek
- Wall Drill – 1 – 3 – 5 Counts. Set-up: Straight Line from head-shoulders-hips-knees-ankle. Wall: wrists at shoulder height
- Acceleration A-Run. Faster Movement with High Knees
Step 3 Power Drills: Get Stronger and more powerful
Step 2 Force Drills: Put Force into the ground
Written on September 25, 2017 at 6:27 pm, by Eric Cressey
As a kid, I was a big fan of “The Flintstones.” I loved how Fred and Barney could run so fast. I can remember when they were chased by a Sabretooth Tiger; it was amazing how they could escape so quickly. Hmm, maybe there is something to that…
Fast forward to 2017, I still love speed. But now, I actually study it. I continually ask myself the question; “Why were humans given the ability to have speed and quickness?” This question has taken me down a road not many speed coaches travel. Many of these coaches like the traditional route of current methods of training. That’s cool, and in most cases, proves to be quite successful. But…
What if coaches would investigate more down the road of our human history? What if they allowed themselves to be vulnerable to the ways of how we escaped or attacked for survival? How would they think differently about speed?
What if we asked the question, “Why were we given the ability to have speed and quickness?” What can we learn when we venture down that path?
Here are a few of my thoughts:
1. Survival drives us through channels not so easily understood from a Central Nervous System (CNS) standpoint. We have to bow down to the subconscious effort that makes us move quickly on instinct or reflex. This is harder to understand, so we try to ignore it as a viable option for speed training.
2. Playing competitive sports actually taps into our CNS – or should I go deeper and say our “sympathetic nervous system?” This is where our heightened awareness of our surroundings kicks in. If I am caught in a rundown in baseball – or going to be tackled in football, or being chased during soccer i- it takes us to a level of effort we don’t commonly experience in our daily lives.
3. Our body kicks into what we call fight or flight: the survival mode. This occurs all the time during sports competition. It drives us to make incredible speedy plays. It forces us to react in such a way that our feet move quicker than our conscious mind can drive them. This is where I want to concentrate on for the rest of this article. I want to share with you strategies to make you faster!
Repositioning is a term I use to relate to how an athlete moves his or her feet quickly into a more effective angle to either accelerate or decelerate the body. Terms I have used to describe repositioning are:
Plyo Step: The plyo step is an action that occurs when one foot is repositioned behind, to the side, or at any angle behind the body. This act quickly drives the body in a new direction of travel.
Hip Turn: This is basically the same as the plyo step except the athlete turns and accelerate back away from the direction they were facing. Repositioning occurs to find an angle to push the body in that direction.
Directional Step: Think base-stealing. The athlete will face sideways but turn and run. The front foot opens to be in a greater supportive position to push down and back during acceleration steps.
The goal is to get into acceleration posture as quickly as possible to make a play when one of these repositioning steps occur.
A great drill to work on repositioning is what I call “Ball Drops.”
a. Simply have a partner or coach stand 10-15 feet away from the athlete with a tennis ball held out at shoulder height.
b. The athlete is in an athletic parallel stance facing the coach, turned sideways, or back facing- depending on the drill.
c. The coach will drop the ball and the athlete must accelerate to catch the ball before the 2nd bounce. I encourage the coach to use the command “Go” at the exact time of the drop to help when vision is not an option.
The action you will see 99.9% of the time is a repositioning or a hip turn or plyo step (the directional step is the act of preparing the front leg for push off; it angles in the direction of travel). Perform this drill facing forwards for four reps, sideways for four reps, and backwards for four reps (2 to each side for the side-facing and back-facing). Perform this drill 2-3x per week to tap into the “fight or flight” response.
Reactive Shuffle or Crossover
In this drill, the focus is on reacting to either a partner (like a mirror drill) or the coaches signal to go right or left.
a. The athlete gets in a great defensive stance and prepares to explode to her right or left.
b. The coach will quickly point in either direction.
c. The athlete will create quick force into the ground in the opposite direction of travel. Typically, there will be a repositioning step unless the athlete starts in a wide stance where outward pressure is effective in the current stance.
d. As soon as the athlete shuffles one to two times, he will shuffle back.
e. The same drill is repeated, but now using a crossover step.
Perform 3-4 sets of ten seconds of both the shuffle and crossover drill. Allow 40-60s of recovery between bouts.
Crossover with Directional Step
Hip Turn to Crossover
The final skill I want to write about might be one of the most important “survival” speed skills an athlete can have. It falls under the “retreating” set of skills where the athlete moves back away from the direction they are initially facing.
The hip turn can allow an athlete to escape or attack. The critical features are:
1. The athlete must “stay in the tunnel.” Do not rise up and down; stay level.
2. By staying level, the immediate repositioning that takes place allows for a great push off angle to move the body in a new direction.
3. The athlete should attempt to create length and cover distance quickly. Short choppy steps are not effective when in “survival mode.” GET MOVING!
4. In the snapshots below, the athlete is performing a hip turn based on the coaches command or signal. The athlete will perform a hip turn and either a shuffle, crossover, or run – and then recover back to the start position as soon as possible!
Perform 3-4 sets of 7-10s of work. If quickness/speed is the goal we want to do it in short bursts of time and not long duration where speed in compromised. Recover for roughly 45 seconds and repeat.
Now, I know it sounds kind of crazy to be talking about survival, cavemen, and “fight or flight” when we are referring to speed, but we have to always look at the genesis of all things. Animals that don’t have reactive speed have other ways to protect themselves. Humans have intelligence and the ability to escape or attack using systems derived out of our CNS to help us use our speed. Our job as coaches is to tap into this ability and use it to help our athletes “naturally” move fast!
The crack of a baseball blasted over the fence; the whack of a golf ball blasted off the tee; the sound of lacrosse pads smashing against each other. These are all signs spring is in the air, and with it, spring training for many of our children.
Are you ready? Are you physically ready for the season? Not just ready to run sprints on the first day of practice, but strong enough to complete day-in and day-out for the next 3 months.
We’re encouraging our student-athletes to follow their training guidelines, eat healthy meals and drink plenty of fluids, and most importantly, listen to their bodies. Minor aches and pains from training and activating those dormant muscles are normal, but prolonged pain that causes difficulties with your training regimen is not and may be a sign of injury.
More than 2.6 million children are treated in the emergency department each year for sports and recreation-related injuries.
Sadly, many of these injuries can be prevented through proper training, which MUST include muscle prep activities such as foam rolling and stretching.
Athletes must listen to their body as spring training gets underway and see your healthcare professional when those minor aches persist. There are so many treatment options as basic as the use of ice packs and cold compresses to myofascial release which will improve your injury recovery.
These are a couple steps to stay healthy during spring training and through the season:
- Get a physical. Ask your primary care physician to give you a physical exam. He or she can then clear you for participation in your sport.
- Seek support. Your school has athletic trainers, use them. They can guide your training efforts and help you safely prepare your body for your sport.
- Protect yourself. Use the correct protective gear for your sport – helmets, knee and elbow pads, goggles, ankle braces, etc. Make sure your protective gear fits, is worn correctly and is in good condition.
- Practice your form. This can prevent many sports-related injuries resulting from improper swings, kicks, throws and other sports mechanics.
- Make sure you hydrate. Prevent dehydration by drinking lots of fluids, preferably water. Sports drinks are OK, too.
- Get enough rest. Your muscles need some time off to heal and ultimately help you get stronger. Plus, resting prevents your muscles from becoming overused which can lead to injury.
- Take care of your head. All concussions are serious. They can lead to a host of problems including, but not limited to, nausea and vomiting, headache, mood swings, altered sleep patterns and more.
Spring training brings with it renewed championship hopes and dreams. Do your part to make sure you perform your best this season without having to experience an avoidable injury.
If you are looking to take your game to the next level and stay strong all season long…… K2 is the place to be!
Please call me if you have any questions and / or concerns. I look forward to hearing from you.
908-803-8019 (Call or Text)
By: Coach Lee Taft
Exercise #1 Medicine Ball Side Throw Progression:
A. Standing side throw– The athlete will face sideways to the wall in an athletic stance with the ball at chest height and elbows out. (stand roughly 10-12 feet away depending on the bounce of the ball)
- Using the backside leg to drive the hips forward and taking a small step toward the wall with the lead leg…
- Explosively drive the ball, keeping the back elbow up so the shoulder doesn’t get injured, into the wall.
- The focus of the exercise isn’t so much on throwing, it is on understanding being in the best stance to drive the off the back leg like a lateral shuffle.
- If the athlete is too narrow in stance or standing too tall the power production will be limited.
- This exercise needs to be done on both sides
B. Forward shuffle side throw– The athlete will back away from the wall roughly 6-8 feet further. The exercise will be performed the same as the standing side throw but the emphasis changes to lateral speed:
- The athlete will shuffle one to two times staying in a good stance and then driving off the back foot and transferring the speed into the throw.
- The athlete must use the back foot to push down and away to generate more speed on the throw.
- If the athlete does not have a good athletic stance (foundation) they will not generate enough force to gain benefits.
C. Backward shuffle side throw– Same exercise but now the athlete will shuffle away from the wall. Start the athlete only 6-8 feet from the wall.
- The athlete will shuffle aggressively one to two times away from the wall and plant aggressively to throw the ball.
- This is the most important exercise of all to reinforce the athletic stance and the importance of plant leg angles.
- If the plant leg of the back leg is too narrow when attempting to stop the throw will be weak.
- The athlete wants to still get forward movement when throwing. I like to do 2-4 sets of 3-5 reps on each side. The exercise has to be intense. The wt of the ball, experience of the athlete, and skill level determines the sets and reps.
This is the stationary version of the Side Medicine Ball Throw. The forward shuffle throw and backward shuffle throw would still get the athlete back to this position. The backward throw crucial for teaching deceleration angles. If the plant is poorly done the throw will show it. Great feedback drill.
Excerise #2 One arm One leg tubing row
This is a great speed exercise because it focuses on both deceleration (which is what most quick athlete do better than other athletes in athletic speed) and acceleration.
a. The initial position is having the athlete squat/bend on one leg and resist the pulling action of the tubing. The decelerators are kicked on.
b. Then the athlete quickly stands and pulls on the tubing while driving the knee up. This recruits the accelerators.
c. The extra benefits of the this exercise is the balance and stability ttraining.
We normally do 2-4 sets of 5-8 reps per side. Slow down into the squat/bend and explosive up.
Exercise #3 Reactive Shuffles and Crossovers
In this shot the athlete is ready to react and shuffle or crossover in the direction the coach points. This is a real live setting for athletes to develop their skill and for coaches to use great feedback.
a. The athlete will get into a loaded athletic stance and be prepared to shuffle or crossover (already determined by the coach) and react to the coaches point.
b. This type of exercise is great for athletic speed development because the athlete must randomly react. The athlete will use his or her innate abilities. If a mistake is made the coach can easily correct and have the athlete reproduce a better pattern for many reps.
I normally will do 2-3 sets of 3-5 reps. The athlete will react out to the cone and get back as quick as possible for one rep. Because I am after speed I will allow decent rest so the athlete isn’t completely pooped out.
Exercise #4 Resisted power skips
I like resisted power skips for speed because it increases force production and extension of the hips.
a. The athlete must learn to drive hard to move the resistance of the tubing yet maintain good posture for acceleration.
b. The athlete will learn to coordinate the arms and the legs during this exercise. It isn’t easy at first.
c. The biggest benefit is that more muscle fiber gets recruited when attempting to power skip. This is the goal to generate more acceleration speed.
I like to perform 3-6 reps for 20 meters. This is enough distance to get enough quality push offs yet not too far to get overly fatigued and change mechanics.
Exercise #5 Pure acceleration starts
To increase the mechanics and efficiency of accelerating from various starts you must practice them.
a. I will use falling starts, get ups, box starts, parallel stance starts, and many other variations so I can coach the athlete on the proper technique.
b. The goal is to be consistent with leg and arm action as well as acceleration posture.
c. If the athlete has breaks in his or her form they can be addressed quickly.
I like doing 2-3 different stances and 3-4 reps of each. Plenty of time is available to teach the form well.
Exercise #6 Cutting skills
Teaching cutting is a great way to improve the efficiency of the athlete in athletic speed. Most court and field sport requires so much in regards to change of direction it is important to address it.
a. The first thing I want my athlete to understand about cutting is the reactive nature of it. There is not enough time to think about the cut. Just do what comes natural and we can correct mistakes if they present themselves
b. The athlete must learn to make the cut by re-directing the cutting foot outside the width of the body that meets the angle they cut will be made at. I do not want the athlete to purposely drop low with the hips if the cut must be quick and not real sharp.
c. If the cut is sharp and the athlete must come back then the hips may lower slightly but only enough to control the center of mass.
d. The key to cutting is to create separation if an offensive player and to close the gap if a defender. The better body position you have and foot placement the better the results
I like to do 3-6 reps of 2-3 different variations of cutting:
a. Speed cuts
b. Sharp cuts
c. Rehearsed cuts
d. Random cuts
e. Jump stop cuts
f. Spin cuts
Yours in Speed,