Fundamentals of Speed Development

Enhancing speed is a complex challenge for coaches with many different factors that combine to make someone fast. When I talk to coaches speed development and agility are probably the areas that most feel least confident in.

Check out this awesome tweet by Dr Brad DeWeese that summarises all the contributing factors:

I thought I’d write this article to share some of the concepts I keep in mind when I think about making people faster and the training methods I utilise to optimise strength, power and speed. When it comes to speed development I am definitely someone who is still digging and learning.

Important things I keep in mind….

  1. Acceleration = force/mass

How well we accelerate is in one part down to how much force we can produce (max strength) and how quickly we can produce it (power).

The second factor the athletes mass – how heavy they are and what the composition of that mass  (lean muscle vs body fat) is has as big an impact on how quickly someone will get off the mark.

LARGER FORCE x EQUAL OR SMALLER MASS = BETTER ACCELERATION

SMALLER FORCE X EQUAL OR HIGHER MASS = SLOWER ACCELERATION

  1. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction

There are a couple of important things that we must consider with his point.

Direction & Angle of Force Application

When accelerating we want to go FORWARD so we muboltst apply force BACKWARD into the ground, which is why in the early phase of sprinting there is a much greater lean angle than in maximal velocity running. In maximal velocity running vertical force becomes increasingly important as we must overcome our bodyweight and gravitational forces.

In acceleration, the goal must be to produce the maximum horizontal force whilst minimising forces in all other directions (particularly vertical).

The ability to produce force horizontally is the most important factor in successful sprinting.

Amount & Rate of Force Production

In addition to the direction and angle of force application, how much & how quickly you can produce at each ground contact is very important.

If you are weak, when your muscles contract you can only put a relatively LOW force into the ground behind you, you will end up with less propulsion into the direction you want to go (in this case forward) in comparison to if you are stronger and more powerful and you can put a HIGH force into the ground.

Our approach to enhancing speed

As I have mentioned in previous articles the methods we use for developing speed have been heavily influenced by the likes of Lee Taft (www.leetaft.com), Nick Winkelman of Team EXOS, Mike Young, Mike Boyle and Ian Jeffreys to name just a few. Below is a summary of ten points which are fundamental to our speed training philosophy at this point in time. Is it perfect? I’m sure it’s not, but it has produced some good results with our athletes thus far and we are continually evaluating it and trying to improve it.

  1. Know your athlete – assess relative strength, power (squat jump, vertical jump & depth jump), body composition, ranges of movement at key joints and make sure you actually watch them sprinting. In fact video them sprinting so you can watch it in slow motion, pause it and check their technique in the different phases.
  2. To steal Jeremy Sheppard’s phrase “Pigs don’t fly” – if your athlete is carrying excess body fat, you need to address this quickly. At this point in the words of Nick Winkelman “your best speed coach is your nutritionist”. According to Ralph Mann for elite sprinters anything over 7% is hugely detrimental to sprint performance due to the fact it massively increases the vertical force production demands on the athlete.
  3. For novice and weaker athletes – aim to improve strength relative to their body weight. Using basic strength exercises – squats, deadlifts, split squats, push and pull exercises, trunk strength (for effective force transfer)
  4. For strong athletes – aim to improve the rate of force production (power) using loaded jumps (squat jumps, trap bar jumps, Olympic lifts and derivatives), plyometrics (jumping, leaping, hopping, bounding), medicine ball throws.
  5. Bear in mind that the general strength and power exercises outlined above used to optimise total force production have a vertical emphasis. We must include exercises that emphasise horizontal force production as this has been shown to be the separating factor between good and elite sprinters. Some examples include: harness, sled sprints (we use SKLZ Speedsacs indoors), low walking lunges with the sleds, broad jumps (single and double leg), bounding.
  6. Utilise exercises like pogo jumps, ankling, vibration hops to develop stiffness at the ankle and enhance the athlete’s use of elastic energy and force transmission at ground contact.
  7. Use wall drills to set the positions you want for acceleration and maximal veloctiy, it’s a perfect opportunity to manipulate the athlete into the correct positions and establish your external coaching cues. I then use the same cues when they are actually running. For example, “snap the laces up”, “push the ground away”.
  8. Develop the athletes technique in increasingly dynamic situations and challenge co-ordination with marching/skipping drills.
  9. Assess their technique against technical models for sprinting. If it’s not optimal. Check mobility and flexibility at key joints e.g. do they have a good range of dorsi flexion at the ankle to create the a shin angle that will allow for optimal horizontal force production? Do they have the flexibility in the quadriceps to allow the ankle to pass over the knee in the recovery phase? If flexibility is not an issue it could be a strength/power problem or a co-ordination issue and you’ll need to address it accordingly.
  10. If you want to get faster you MUST run fast. Give your athletes an opportunity to sprint (start short and build distances over time). We use competitive sprints & timed sprints. Our timing system is out most weeks and it’s seriously addictive, the athletes get super competitive with themselves and others. Start positions will vary depending on the weeks emphasis e.g. Linear or Multi-directional and the athlete’s sport.

Do you want to become a better coach of speed, agility and change of direction? Join Nick Grantham at this Speed & Agility Clinic Feb 22nd 2015. Limited spaces available.

We also have 8 MEGA Bundles available that give you access to both of Nick’s workshops (Speed Clinic & Physical Preparation for Performance) and Ian Jeffrey’s Future Champions for just £125. Click here to get one of the last tickets!

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