Everyone at some point in their athletic life has wished they were faster. I remember from back in my cricket days that if only I was quicker between wickets, or quicker to run around the boundary and take a simple catch rather than having to dive full stretch to narrowly miss the ball and watch it bounce over the rope for four runs to the batting team.
In sports, speed kills. The faster athlete is always a force to be reckoned with. Speed is the difference between picking up the ball and breaking away from a pack without being touched, or being grabbed from behind and brought to ground. Speed is the difference between getting away from the defence to run in to an open goal without pressure, or being chased down just enough so that the pressure causes a miss kick.
For athletes, they always wish they could be that little bit faster. But so much effort and work can be put in to training for little to no change in sprinting ability leaving frustration and anger, as well as acceptance that being fast just isn’t their ‘thing’.
But speed CAN be your ‘thing’, you just need to know how to train it.
Here are my top three tips to help you improve your speed.
- Practice Sprinting
To get better at sprinting fast, you need to practice sprinting fast. But in addition to practicing the speed component, it’s also necessary to practice the technique component. When practicing your accelerations, grab a camera and video yourself from the side. Here’s the basics of what you should be looking for:
- Forward lean of the torso
- Violent arm drive
- Strong Knee drive
- Positive shin angle
- Triple extension of the hip, knee, and ankle
Importantly, practicing the mechanics of sprinting will not only help your ability to move faster, but will also help reduce the risk of injury associated with sprinting due to improved efficiency and motor control.
- Get Stronger
You need to get stronger relative to your body weight. Sprinting, especially the initial acceleration, is largely determined by how well you can overcome your own mass. Being stronger through the hips and legs will allow you insert greater levels of force in to the ground, which in turn, will help push you at a greater velocity.
- Improve Your Mobility.
Being able to get in to the correct positions are vital for developing speed, if your hips are locked up then being able to drive the knees whilst keeping a neutral spinal position is going to prove extremely difficult. Furthermore, if your ankles have poor dorsi and/or plantar flexion, how do you expect to maximise the stretch reflex through the achilles tendon to propel you at maximum velocity?
Methods of Training to Enhance Sprint Speed
So, in addition to the points above, what are some of the methods we can use to enhance our ability to sprint faster?
1. Resistance Training
Resistance training is used to develop the strength required to sprint fast, which addresses the force portion of the equation for power (power = force x velocity). Having sound levels of strength is also going to help protect joints, muscle, and connective tissues from injuries, which are always at risk when moving at high speed.
There are many modes of resistance training that can be used and this included techniques such as Olympic weightlifting, heavy strength training, isometrics, and weighted jumps (ballistics). When picking a mode of resistance training to use, try to pick movements that will have the greatest transfer to sprint speed. This may include Olympic weightlifting and its derivatives, high box squats, jump training, and for those who are more advanced, isometrics.
2. Resisted and Unresisted Sprint Training
It was discussed above that, to get better at sprinting you actually have to sprint, however there are various ways to go about training it other than just using bodyweight sprints alone. First off, resisted sprint training can consist of heavy loaded prowler pushes, or light load sled drags. But if you don’t have access to either, finding a slightly inclined hill will be sufficient. Previous studies have suggested that light load sled drags with around 7-20% bodyweight is effective for enhancing sprint speed, however recent work has shown heavy sled pushes are also effective in the development of speed, so using both may be of use throughout various training cycles. It’s important to note here, that loads of greater than 20% body mass may be more appropriate for improving the initial acceleration, whereas lighter loads may be better suited for maximal speed training.
Plyometrics are different to jump training mainly because they consist of multiple repeated jumps with a ground contact time of less than 0.2 seconds. Plyometrics are a great way to develop the stretch-shortening cycle within the muscle and tendons at a given joint. When choosing which plyometric exercises to use to help improve your sprint speed, again, look to use those which have the most transfer to the skill of sprinting. Therefore, it may be wise to prioritise exercises that have you moving in a horizontal direction rather than upwards, however both have their place!
The Importance of Training Volume and Rest Periods
The number one mistake athletes make when training for speed is that they train to complete failure, likely because they feel the need to be fatigued through high volume and short rest period training. But there’s one problem with this, fatigue is the killer of speed.
If the aim is to maximise adaptation for speed, you MUST be fresh both from a muscular and nervous system standpoint. Why? Because going back to our power = force x velocity equation, both force and velocity outputs are reduced when the presence of waste products occur in the muscle from sustained energy turnover. This ultimately leads to a slowed conduction velocity along nerves, depleted glycogen stores, reduced availability of ATP, and a host of other mechanisms outside the scope of this article.
So, how long should the work and rest periods be? I’d aim to hit a work:rest ratio of around 1:12 – 1:20, with work efforts no longer than 10 seconds. Therefore, if you are working at a longer time interval, say 7-10 seconds, I would be aiming to have my rest a little on the longer side. In contrast, if you are shooting for 3-6 second efforts, recovery could be manageable on the lower end of the recommendation. For example, a sprint training session may include sets of 40m sprints (roughly 5 seconds’ work), with rest periods of 60-200 seconds, depending on the levels of recovery you require.
In conclusion, to run fast, you need to train to run fast, and practising the technique required to sprint efficiently is extremely important. In addition, having sound levels of strength and mobility will help your cause in the pursuit of speed, along with using various modes of resistance training, resisted sprint training, and plyometric training. But none of these alone are the magic pill to becoming a speed demon on the field, smart planning and consistent training will be the ultimate predictor of improvement.
Now go get FAST!
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