There is not a sport in existence which dictates that an athlete would benefit from moving slower or being less explosive. Even golf, which many consider to be the ultimate mental over physical game, is seeing its best players become better and better athletes. However, increasing your speed is also one of the most difficult things in sport training to accomplish. Difficult does not mean impossible. Not that we call can train hard and turn into Usain Bolt, but with concentrated effort on speed training, every athlete can improve in some way. What usually holds them back, however, is a lack of balance between three areas of training: Technique, Strength Development, and Plyometric Training.
- Technique: Just like athletes have to focus on lifting with proper form, they need to sprint with proper form. Imagine doing a back squat, but letting your knees cave in, not going to at least 90 degrees, and letting the chest fall toward the floor. It is very likely that you would not be able to achieve a strong back squat ever, and it is just as likely that you would hurt yourself! The same thing goes for sprinting. If you do it with improper form, you will limit how fast you can run, and it is likely that you will find yourself injured from your speed training. When sprinting there is a lot to think about, actually, but try to focus on the following three cues: keep your weight forward and through the balls of your feet, drive your arms from “cheek to cheek” (your butt to your face) and keep driving your knees high every step.
- Strength Development: If I was given two athletes of equal size and one is significantly stronger than the other, I can almost guarantee he will also have a greater sprint speed than the weaker athlete. In reality, speed is dependent upon strength. If an athlete lacks the ability to generate force (strength) if is very difficult to run quickly. This is not to say that achieving a 400 pound back squat is going to make an olympic sprinter. It is important that strength development does not come with large increases in body mass, as every pound gained is another pound to carry when running. The goal of strength development for speed is to increase relative strength, or how strong an athlete is relative to body weight. Some exercises to include in strength development for athletes are the Back and Front Squat, as well as Weighted Step Ups, Power Cleans, Glute Bridges, and Bulgarian Split Squats.
- Plyometric Training: Along with technique and strength training, it is important that an athlete works on being explosive in order to gain running speed. A powerlifter is probably much stronger than a 100m sprinter, but the sprinter understands how to turn that strength into speed by understanding how to be explosive. One way to develop this is through plyometric training. Plyometrics have been somewhat of a buzzword in the fitness community lately, but they need not be complicated. Including speed ladders, box jumps, depth jumps, and single leg bounds is a simple and effective way to introduce an athlete with plyometric training without overwhelming them with difficult exercises. What is truly important about plyometric training is that it is done at absolute maximum effort. Don’t train slow to be fast. For this reason, I like to often warm up with plyometric drills, as the athlete is fresh and can give one hundred percent. Additionally, it ensures that the strength work is done while completely warmed up and ready to work.