Basic Essentials of Speed
Howdy! This is for the everyday athlete seeking information on how to get faster. Either you’re not fast and want to be fast. Or you are fast but not fast enough. Keep reading. If you’re a sport coach wanting to help your athletes, keep reading. Let’s jump right in!
In sports, it’s widely accepted that “speed kills.” While experience and reactive ability are key components to competitive sport play, speed is a game-breaking quality and lends itself well to the lesser experienced athlete and to the elite athlete alike. Many can recall “that new fast girl/boy” getting a lot of attention, be it in ultimate frisbee, football, soccer, etc because a fast, skilled player is easily one of the most dangerous people on the field of play. Making a fast person skilled has a huge payoff for a team. Take-off speed, or more nerd-ily, acceleration, is a key quality. What if you’re skilled and not fast? Keep reading.
Even me for example, I play ultimate frisbee. While I’m no elite sprinter, but I do have a solid initial burst. Being able to separate from people in 2-5 steps affords me a physical advantage that helps me compensate for not always knowing where to be or being a great thrower. Players who are fast, and know what they’re doing are outright dominant. In soccer/football, many of the best scoring attackers, are FAST. Guess what?!
Sprinting (running fast) is a skill that can be improved
2 examples of take-off speed are shown below. Look at the left side of the screen. You may need to watch the 2 plays over. Starts at 38 seconds:
Yes, some people are genetically wired to have a faster baseline speed, and higher “ceiling” or maximum attainable speed, but unless you are an Olympic sprinter with 10+ years of sprint training under your belt, you likely haven’t hit that ceiling.
In a field sport, if you can quickly get separation from (or close in on) your opponent, you become a problem to deal with.
If you can’t separate or close, you can be the problem.
I ran track from 12-21 years old, and still can afford to be significantly faster. So can you.
Here, let’s learn some important stuff and make it easily understandable.
Components of Acceleration
There are 3 main components of acceleration:
Speed of force development
- Technique. In sprinting, technique is a big deal. 3 main factors are:
- Having a forward lean of the trunk (torso, chest-waist)
- Good use of the legs in “pushing the ground away”
- Use of the arms striking down and back “beating the drum”
How do you improve your form? Get coached. Study people that fun fast. Sprint, a lot. And do it fast. None of that end of workout sprint conditioning that happens. That’s fitness, not speed. Dedicate time to run at full speed 1-3x a week. The slower you are, the more often you should.
Here is a true gem of a video of Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake starting a sprint in slo-mo. You will see all 3 of these factors as well as the application of strength and speed off of the ground.
Here is a still shot from my coaches clinic in Nairobi. Technique
- Strength. In general, the stronger you are per your body weight, the more forceful your strides are, and the more distance you cover. World class power lifters are said to be able to keep up with high level sprinters for 10-20m due to their per body weight strength. These are big people. A measuring stick you can use is: a male athlete should be able to back squat and/or deadlift 2-2.5x their body weight to get the most out of this. A female, 1.5-2x body weight. It’s not a necessity to hit those numbers spot on for a few reasons, but many high level athletes can. A few key points about strength for speed.
- Get your leg muscles and glutes (butt) stronger. Skip the skull crushers. Repeat get glutes strong.
- Lift heavy. Sets of 8 reps or less. If you are new to weight lifting (no experience in last 6 months) start lighter with 10-15 rep sets, but as you progress, you should be doing weight that you can’t do more than 10 reps of.
- Get your core very strong. Very strong. “Abs”, obliques, and transverse abs. Importantly, do stability exercises: palof presses, planks, etc. If you can’t hold a plank for 2 minutes, get it right. You should be able to, at any moment, plank for 3 minutes.
- Squats, lunges, and deadlifts are the basics to master and be strong at.
One of my top athletes hitting multiple 355lb deadlifts. Who said frisbee players aren’t strong.
- Speed of Force Development. In the sport science world they say “rate of force development”. Simply, how quickly can you generate power? In sprinting, this is reducing how much time your foot is on the ground. Usain Bolt, little time on the ground. Your uncle Steve who is 30 years past his “glory days”, likely more time. When jumping from one leg to the other, it’s about how quickly can that foot get off the ground. Key points to understand:
- The quicker you produce force, the less time you are on the ground
- Do plyometrics (jump training)
- Plyometrics are jumps that teach you to get off the ground quickly and with as much force as possible.
- Jumps are 2 legs, 1 leg to another, 1 leg same leg jumps. 1 jump at a time. Many jumps in succession. There are many ways to change the style and intensity.
- Least intense would be 2 legs to 2 legs, one at a time
- More intense would be step 1 leg to same leg, for height and distance, in succession
Sprinting is a skill that is made better with practice. Sprint a lot, at near full speed (or at full speed), with a lot of rest (longer the distance the more rest is a good rule of thumb). That aside, training to have good technique, be strong, and be able to generate force quickly will help you improve your speed.
If this is very new for you to consider, all you need to do is dedicate 2-4 days a week to training. Here is a simple workout you could do 2x a week:
- Squat Jumps 2 rounds of 15 – 2 minute rest
- Split Jumps 2 rounds of 16 – 2 minute rest
- 20m sprints x 7 – 45sec rest
3 minute rest
- 30m sprints x 5 – 1 minute rest
- 40m sprints x 3 – 3/4 minute rest
- Goblet Squats 3 rounds of 12 with a 2 second hold at the bottom
- Plank 30-60 seconds for 3 rounds
- Box Step up 3 rounds of 10 on each leg, weights in both hands
- Push ups. At least 50.
- Pull ups. Complete in the range of 15-30. More if you’re stronger. Assisted Pull ups if you need them.
If you handle these things, maybe you can have a transformation like this:
After some time of training these qualities, she’s improved much:
I hope this was an understandable piece on how you can improve your take-off speed. It is a crucial piece of your game and something you can certainly improve. Much of this is counter to how many athletes are taught to train, especially in sports where a “training culture” is lesser developed.
I am more than willing to exchange dialogue about training and answer questions you may have. Comment or shoot me an email! Donald @ ghperformance . com (have to beware of spam).
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