By: Kelly Baggett
Warning: The following is contains profanity that some may find offensive. If you don’t like it, that’s too bad. It is meant to be informative as well as hopefully at least mildly entertaining.
Spend a few minutes listening to people and gurus talk about speed training nowadays and it shouldn't be too hard to understand why the average person can leave a speed training conversation with a billion more questions then they had when they started. With so many gimmicks and all kinds of routines it's no wonder. What should you be doing if you wanna get faster? You can open up a catalog and order special speed training chutes, shoes, vests, rubber bands, ladders, and god knows what else all promising to get you blazing. Chances are there's a local SAQ (speed, agility, and quickness) center somewhere near you that promises to get you blazingly fast for only $xxxx per month with 3 weekly sessions consisting of about 2 hours of running drills, stretches, plyometrics, sprints, and dynamic mobility work. If that doesn't suit your needs you can always go to the other side of town where they have a special high speed treadmill they can hook you up to while they're trained technicians analyze your stride. Of course if your broke you can always enter a school or college track program and take your chances letting a part time marathon runner set you up on a sprint routine to get you blazing. If that won’t work you can always call upon your local “functional" training guru who can get you bouncing down the track on a bosu ball while simultaneously doing the splits and holding a kettlebell.
There certainly aren't a shortage of options for the person interested in getting faster. Whether any of those options are worth a damn is another thing altogether.
So anyway, because of all the apparent confusion and the fact that I'm facing a 3rd consecutive day of being snowed in here in NW Arkansas and have built up a decent amount of aggression, I thought I’d put together this “rant” that summarizes my thoughts on speed training. Before I get into all the details let me attach a couple of qualifications to this material. First of all, this information is set up to meet what I call my “golden rule”. That rule means that when I write this I am taking the approach that I am talking to an average 16 year old teenager and I have about 20 minutes to explain the entire topic to him or her in a way in which he understands. If I can’t do that I am either talking out of my ass or overcomplicating things. Second of all, the information here applies to developing acceleration and top speed for athletes involved mainly in team sports and is less applicable to sprinters. The type of “speed training” I’m talking about here is applicable to distances of up to about 50 or 60 yards. The general concepts apply yet I do not talk about speed endurance or any of the other complexities of competitive sprinting necessary in an event like the 100-meter dash. I will basically give you the complete "big picture" of what I think athletes should be trying to accomplish to get faster and then I'll give you a few specific examples.
Learn Your Game and Be An Athlete
Now the rest of this article might seem to contradict what I'm about to say but I'm gonna say it anyway. I know a lot of people reading this are gonna be football players who want to get faster and there's nothing wrong with that. I'm gonna talk about getting fast. Yet before I begin, I want to say that I believe a lot of people would be better off paying more attention to their game instead of obsessing so much about their "40 times" and all these other "measures" of athletic ability. If you want to be a football player then be a football player. Learn the ins and outs of the game of football and learn to play your position with technique. There are 2 speeds in the game of football. Fast enough and too slow. Either you're fast enough to play or you aren't. Same goes for size and height. Either you're big and tall enough to play at a certain level or you're not. At each level the minimum requirements increase. Yet as long as you meet the minimums for speed, height, and weight, the rest is about football.
There are damn good running backs in the NFL like Priest Holmes who ran 4.75 over 40 yards and other guys that ran 4.2s. That's a pretty wide range. There are "smallish" all pro cornerbacks running "slow" 4.65s. Any improvements you can make in your football playing technique and knowledge will improve your game speed just as much if not more then improving your straight ahead sprinters speed will. That's how a guy like John Lynch can be a fine football player despite being slow as molasses. The 4.8 guy can succeed for the same reason the 75 year old 10th degree black belt can often kick the shit out of the athletic 25 year old first degree black belt. Is he as fast? Nope. Is he as quick? Nope. Is he as strong? Nope. But he's smarter and knows what the hell he's doing. I mention this become I am amazed at the number of people who waste so much time, money, and effort focusing on combines and the like thinking speed by itself will magically get them a call by some recruiter. Most of the time it won't.
40 times - overhyped?? Naaaa
Like Most Other Things - the media creates hype. I've come to the conclusion that the extreme obsession about 40 times and all this is largely a media creation so that people who don't know shit about football will have something to argue about. Scouts wanna see "football" players with physical skills not just guys who are fast. Nobody ever talks about the "football" specific drills at these combines yet they are just if not more-so important as the events themselves. None are as important as game film. If you don't have game film 99% of the time nobody will give you a 2nd look, regardless of how fast you can run. And I'll tell you right now if you're a relatively unknown guy or a guy on the "cusp" and you're looking to advance to the next level, scouts don't wanna spend 18 hours going through all your team game films looking for the plays you're involved in so you better help them out. If you ask me, providing you can meet the minimum requirements for your position, a simple highlight video is 50 times more important then a combine performance. If you don't have a highlight video then you better get one and do whatever it takes to get one.
What Does Science Say?
Alright, now that I've finished that little rant and probably pissed a few people off lets get back to the subject, which is getting faster.
Let's start by taking a look at what science has to say on the subject:
Science says that running Speed consists of 2 very simple things:
A: The rate at which you take steps as you run (stride rate).
B: The amount of ground you cover with each stride (stride length)
It’s really not any more complicated then that. Any improvement brought about to your sprinting speed consists of improving one or both of those factors. Whether you improve them at the saq center, high speed treadmills, soviet secrets training, or whatever is irrelevant. Those are the only 2 ways to improve running speed.
Runners that take more frequent steps should run faster than if they took steps less frequently. If those runners decided to increase the distance between each step (Stride Length), their speed should also increase. A combination of the two, longer distance between steps and more frequent steps would be a third alternative to increasing speed.
Taken a step further, the three components that affect stride rate and stride length are actually this:
1. How often you contact the ground
2. How much muscular force you can deliver during ground contact of each stride
3. How much ground contact time is available to deliver that force.
Force Per Stride Is King
Now, the one thing that really stands out when you analyze the science is that the predominant factor in running faster for teenage and adult athletes is the ability to generate and transmit additional muscular force to the ground. If you take a look out on the playground and watch the kindergardener's run a race, the kids that take steps the fastest win. But that's because none of them are really strong enough to propel their body with much force. For more mature athletes, the speed at which the legs move is not that important rather the amount of force per stride is king. As I’ve said many times, anyone can lie on their back or stand in place and cycle their legs as fast as the fastest men in the world at 5 strides per second. Try it if you don’t believe me. Along the same lines, there are people who can move their legs extremely fast in the absence of resistance such as kicking or shuffling their feet in place, yet they may not run fast. That's because sprinting requires a resistance component in the form of your own bodyweight. With each step you take you also have to move about 90% of your bodyweight.
Therefore, we can say that the speed the legs move is not all that important. Faster running speeds are achieved with greater ground forces in relationship to mass. Greater ground forces in relationship to mass. What the hell does that mean? Well, it's very simple really. Ground force in relationship to mass is the amount of force you put into the ground relative to the weight of your own body. Put more force into the ground and you cover more ground.
When you cover more ground per stride you increase your stride length. Watch how many steps fast guys take over a given distance when they run. Watch how many steps slow guys take. At 5’9 and probably a 32 inch inseam a Steve Smith will cover 10 yards in 3.5 steps. Moonshine Jones ran a 4.3 over 40 yards and probably took about 14 steps the entire race. Does this mean you should "intentionally" try to lengthen your stride as you run? No, if you do you will actually create a braking effect and slow down. Your legs have to stay under your center of gravity. If you overstride you destroy that. Improvements in stride length have to come naturally via increases in lower body strength and explosiveness not through intentionally manipulating your technique by over-striding. Getting more force into the ground also helps optimize your stride rate as you will "react" off the ground and get into your next step more efficiently, - Kind've like the harder you throw a tennis ball against a wall the faster it comes back to you.
Getting Faster - As simple as Putting a More Powerful Motor In a Car
The stronger you are relative to your bodyweight the more force you're gonna put into the ground and the faster you're gonna go. This is so obvious it should be a rule. In one study Olympic weightlifters were damn near as fast as sprinters out to 30 meters. They didn’t get that speed from sprinting they got it from their strength. Having stronger legs in general give you more potential that you can transfer into running. General leg strengthening exercises include exercises like squats, deadlifts, lunges, etc. Anything that strengthens the muscles of the glutes, quads, hamstrings, and spinal erectors is fair game. The squat is probably the most popular exercise as researchers like Mike Stone have found relative strength in the squat to correlate best to performance in the 40 yard dash: How Strong is Strong Enough
So a 150 lb guy squatting 300 lbs will always run faster then a 200 lb guy squatting 300 lbs?
Most of the time but not always. Limb lengths, tendons, bones, neurological differences, and other factors affect how efficiently force gets delivered into the ground and expressed by different individuals. A guy with longer limbs, smaller joints, longer tendons, and better reflexes naturally shares an advantage. Therefore, say you compare Randy Moss and Terrell Owens. Say Moss squats 250 and Owens 400. Owens should blow him away in a sprint right? Not necessarily. Moss has a much more efficient structure for sprinting so what force he can deliver gets delivered and "expressed" much more efficiently. The only way a guy like Owens is gonna beat Moss is if he makes up for that with far superior horsepower. It’s like the difference between a pit bull and a greyhound. If the pit bull is gonna beat a greyhound in a race he has to have a much more powerful motor. He obviously does, but that still is not enough for him to overcome the structural advantages demonstrated by the greyhound. Now, compare Ben Johnson to Carl Lewis. In this instance, the Pit Bull type body structure of Johnson was able to overcome the perfect lines and greyhound type structural characteristics of Lewis, due largely to Johnson's 600 lb squat. Unfavorable leverages can sometimes be overcome with favorable strength levels.
The Very Simple Approach
Now, what's important to note is that, for any given individual, an increase in general strength at a given bodyweight ALMOST ALWAYS transfers into increased speed providing the technique in the sprint remains the same. So, a 150 pound guy squatting 400 lbs will ALWAYS run faster then that same 150 lb guy squatting 200 lbs, with the caveat that his technique in the sprint remains equal. Now I know some of you are thinking, “Well my friend Billy Bob went of to college and he trained like a bodybuilder. He got stronger but also slower.” Yeah, but did he maintain his ability to sprint? If all he did was drink beer and turn into a fat ass and didn’t do a single sprint at all during that same span of time what can you expect?
So for the simplest answer to speed development you will ever hear, "It's just a matter of getting as strong as you can at a given bodyweight while maintaining or improving the efficiency of the sprinting movement itself".
We'll cover the "efficiency of the sprint" part here in a minute but first let's see if you're strong enough to run fast. The Bigger-Faster-Stronger organization isn't perfect and I don't necessarily agree with all their recommendations but they have some very good charts here that illustrate specific strength standards for males and females of different heights and weights:
How is Strength Per Pound of Bodyweight Best Achieved?
Now, let's go back to strength per unit of body weight. How is that best achieved? Hmmm…Does that mean in an effort to optimize your "weight to strength ratio" you need to diet like an anorexic and sit around scared to death of any increases in bodyweight or muscle mass increases? No, because, a muscle can only become so strong until the only way to make it stronger is to make it bigger. A bigger muscle is a potentially stronger muscle. Most importantly, until you are a very advanced trainee, an increase in muscular bodyweight comes with a disproportionate increase in strength. That’s why sprinters like Mo Green, Ben Johnson, Lynford Christie etc. were big and strong and why you don’t see many scrawny 130 pound outfits winning any type of sprint races. Until you’ve been training for a number of years you will tend to gain 30% strength for every 10% increase in muscle mass.
Say you currently weigh 170 and squat 300. Let's say you increase your bodyweight by 17 lbs. Well, your squat should go up to a minimum of 390. That means even though your bodyweight went up your strength per lb or bodyweight, or relative strength, went up as well. That's why on paper you would think the fastest men in the world and the fastest football players would be very, very small guys. There certainly isn't a shortage of people weighing less then 140 lbs in this world. Well, not if you eliminate the US anyway. But in the real world the fastest guys often weigh 190-200 lbs or more.
What about maintaining or improving the efficiency of the sprint itself? How about mechanics, video analysis, running technique, drills, and all that? What do I need to be doing to improve that?
Short answer: Just Run!
With the exception of the sprint start and the ability to maintain top speed over longer distances, accelerating to top speed is easy. Video analysis can be useful to see how a person is moving, yet most of the talk about sprint mechanics, form, and various complicated drills can for the most part all be thrown together into a big heaping pile of bullshit. Let’s talk about why. Neurological and technical improvements in a movement come about from one of 2 factors. These are:
Don't worry you don't have to memorize those terms just understand the concepts. Whenever a skill or movement is first being learned intermuscular coordination dominates as the individual learns how to properly coordinate all the muscles involved in the task. Imagine a baby learning to walk or crawl around. He/she trips, falls down, loses balance, etc. as he/she learns to control her body and all the various muscles involved. This is intramuscular coordination. The same thing happens as kids learn to run. Their legs and feet flop around and they look discombobulated when they run. Yet, as they become more proficient at the skill they eventually reach a point where they get the various muscle groups coordinated together and learn to run with some effectiveness. They continue to get faster as they gain coordination, yet eventually they reach a point where their coordination is about as good as it's gonna get and at that point they won't get faster unless they either get bigger or stronger. It is at this point that intramuscular coordination, or horsepower, begins to dominate.
Use Frequency To Learn, - Use Intensity to Enhance What's Learned
With regards to training, during the initial stages of movement mastery, intermuscular coordination requires more frequency and practice to fully master. That’s why any new skill set whether it’s crawling, walking, running, squatting or even taking a dump initially requires more practice. Even in lifting, beginning lifters make the best progress hitting a given lift 3 times per week because they have to learn the lift. That’s why those SAQ type of centers are in my opinion much more valid options for athletes under the age of around 14 or so. They go and run their ass off 3 times per week and if nothing else they learn how to get coordinated and move correctly.
Now, as an individual becomes proficient at the basic movement pattern and learns how to coordinate the various muscle groups involved in the movement pattern the pattern becomes hardwired in the brain and no longer “forgotten” as easily so frequency becomes less important.
At this point the movement becomes somewhat ingrained. Proper performance of the movement itself no longer becomes such an issue, thus further performance improvements result from increasing the horsepower behind the muscles involved in the particular movement. For that purpose, intensity is more important then frequency. This is why intermediate and advanced strength athletes have been found to get their best strength training gains on a 2 x per week schedule while beginners require at least 3. The “intensity” part of Improving intramuscular coordination is all about improving on previous performances. Endless drills carried out in a low intensity fashion that may have helped to "coordinate" the body when first learning a movement, are no longer as important. In the case of the sprints, neither is sprinting just to sprint. Once a skill is mastered or performed correctly frequency is no longer near as important. That’s why a 15 or 16 year old can for the most part sit on his ass the entire summer and come back in august and test faster in the 40 yard dash. He’s growing a lot thus getting bigger and stronger and the gains he made in those areas over the course of 1 summer make up for any losses in his sprinting technique since the movement was virtually ingrained in him early on.
Easy Movements vs Difficult Movements
It also helps if we talk about gross motor skills and fine motor skills. Gross movements are whole body movements that don't require much skill, technique, or thinking. They're for the most part instinctive and easy. I suppose you could also call these "primal" movement patterns. Imagine you're out walking in the woods and a bear comes out nowhere and jumps your ass. What are you gonna do? Well, if you're like most people you're gonna run. Now, whenever you're running from that bear do you think to yourself, "ok I have to tilt my hips up and cross my right ankle over the knee and extend my hips fully at a 70 degree angle and make sure my torso is in line with my feet and all this bullshit, or are you just gonna run? Well, if you plan on surviving, I hope you just run! Now, there are also fine movement skills. These are more difficult and require more control and skill. Threading a needle is a fine motor skill and so is something like a twisting single leg back flip off a bosu ball that requires much more skill and body control to execute. Moves like sprinting, walking and running are gross motor skills thus shouldn't and don’t require much conscious voluntary input once learned.
The importance of all of this is that technical improvements in gross motor skills are limited because there’s not a whole lot to complicate or screw up in the first place. How complicated is sprinting really? Put one foot in front of the other with as much force and speed as possible. Duh!… It's a natural gross motor pattern that people have been doing since they were kids. Improvements mainly come about via improvements in the muscular horsepower behind the movement. For that reason if you take a random sample of athletes who haven't been doing any sprint work and you do nothing else but take them out and run them on the track a couple of times per week most will quickly progress in their times for all of about 3 sessions but after that little happens because they've made the majority of technical improvements they're gonna make during that time span!
Sprinting Is Not That Hard!
How long have you been running? How long did it take you to run correctly? Assuming you at some point learned how to run as an adolescent and didn’t set on your butt for 12 hours a day playing Nintendo, chances are you already went through the “intermuscular coordination” stage. That’s not a given however (as lazy as kids are today it's not a given that people even know how to run correctly) but assuming it is, How much running do you think it'll take you to maintain your current ability? In general, it takes 1/3 the frequency and volume to maintain a skill as it does to learn a skill, providing the intensity is maintained. So if 3 times per week were necessary to optimize a movement pattern then the proficiency of that movement can be maintained with around 1 exposure per week. For an athlete that exposure can come from any sprinting that you do….sprinting out on a football field to catch a pass, sprinting down the basketball court, or any other athletic endeavor.
Now, what if you’re one of these people who either:
A: Did play Nintendo for 12 hours per day through your adolescent years and thus never learned how to sprint
B: Have some other excuse such as extreme height, extreme growth spurts, or something else that affected your ability to learn how to run properly?
Well, if that describes you, you're gonna need more frequency until you learn how to control your body properly. The general most basic recommendation is get out and run with enough frequency that you become somewhat proficient at it. SAQ places and the like are wonderful for this type of athlete. Basically you just need to get out and run a minimum of 3 times per week or whatever. Now, how can you tell if you fit in this group? Well, if you feel uncoordinated when you run, can't run without tripping over your feet, or if people can your hear coming from a mile away due to the sounds of your feet slapping the surface then you're probably in that group. Spend 3-6 months or so learning how to control your body then follow the rest of my advice.
How About Everybody Else?
Ok now, getting back to the point, with the exception of those who really need to build up coordination in the sprint itself (and the technique for the the start which can be a bit more technical), a persons sprinting speed and their technique in the sprint are more of a "display" of existing horsepower then it a display of their sprinting "skill".
So you’re saying that once a baseline level of technique is learned that there’s nothing that can be done to really change a person’s sprinting technique?
No, I’m saying function follows form. Physical changes drive the technical changes in the sprint.
If there are problems with a sprinters stride (other then performance of the start which does require some technique), it's generally due to problems with his body and not with the technique of the sprint itself. Work on the cause of the problem and not the problem itself. These can be problems such as lack of strength, lack of muscle balance, and in some instances lack of flexibility. It is usually NOT due to lack of exposure to a certain drill or lack of sprint work.
For example, one problem everyone demonstrates until they develop the strength is a lack of hip extension. They never fully straighten and drive off their plant leg because they're not strong enough to do so. This "technical problem" is “cured” by strengthening the hip extensors and naturally improves to a large extent as people get older. Other people have feet that collapse when they run which can be caused by the aforementioned lack of coordination, Bad Feet, weakness in the entire lower body, or a host of foot related problems such as pronation or supination of the feet. Other people have muscle balance issues the most common being there front half of the body overpowers the back half of their body. These people will often be strong but tend to run flat footed with excessive knee bend. Those problems are talked about here: http://www.higher-faster-sports.com/SquatsandSpeed.html
The basic tenet is change the body to change the function. Faulty technique can be made up for by correcting the muscular issues and does not require a bunch of specific drills.
Think of it like this. A boat with a 5 horsepower motor running at full speed doesn't have enough "oomph" to get up on top of the water and glide. Yet, if you put a 150 horsepower motor in that same boat and run it at full speed it'll be up gliding on top of the water almost flying. The boat itself didn't change the only thing that changed was the strength powering it. Technical changes in the sprint tend to be the same way.
What about Flexibility?
The extreme devotion to flexibility hype is in my opinion also overblown as well because the sprint stride really does not challenge the limits of a person's range of motion. Now, let me qualify that statement. Flexibility training is like working on a car. It should be done to fix and/or prevent certain problems. Other then your regularly scheduled maintenance like oil changes, do you send your car to the mechanic for the hell of it?? Probably not. You send the car to the mechanic when something isn't running right. Hardcore stretching is the same way. It's effective to prevent and/or correct identified problems. I’m not against stretching to correct and or prevent certain problems what I mainly want to address is the notion that everybody needs to stretch EVERYTHING ALL the time, that everyone who sprints needs a $200 per week flexibility guru to put them on some elaborate stretching plan that has to be done for 2 hours per day, and the notion that anybody who doesn’t stretch for hours on end is gonna suck as a sprinter.
In a sprint your legs are basically cycling directly under you and pumping up and down like a piston. Stand in place and slowly mimick a sprinting action. Do you feel any tightness or restrictions?? Probably not. Then why all the focus on flexibility for sprinting? Probably because gurus need something to talk about, something to complicate and that’s all they’ve been told from the gurus they learned from.
Put it this way, flexibility is no important then muscular strength or weakness.
For a better understanding of what flexibility training can and can’t do please read this: flexibility
Now, a simple dynamic warm-up is not something I really consider flexibility “training” but more of a warm-up which I’m all for. A cat flexing it’s back after a nap is also a dynamic warm-up as are any other movements that slightly exaggerate the movements encountered in your sport. Whether you warm-up with a dynamic warm-up, lower intensity sprints, or whatever is probably not worth arguing about.
Setting Up a Routine
Alright, now I wanna talk about setting up a routine. There are no secrets in the speed training world that I can see. I’ve looked at most of the types of training plans and most of them are variations of the same thing. Which is usually just go out and do way too much and run tired all the time and hope you either have a natural talent who can survive the training or time your taper/peak correctly. Many training businesses have no choice but to do this because their athletes are paying them good money to be trained. For example, take a look at many of these combine prep places and speed development places. An athlete is gonna have a hard time paying $600-$2000 per week if they’re only training 3-4 hours per week. So the common theme is to bring a guy in and train him 4 hours per day at least 5 days per week for a month and then give him a week off and hope he recovers. Variations of that approach can work particularly for advanced athletes as I alluded to towards the end of this article: http://www.higher-faster-sports.com/PlannedOvertraining.html However, most athletes are not near to the point where they need something so dramatic.
Speed Training Requires Quality
Sprinting is a high intensity event, far more akin to something like powerlifting or shotputting. Quality should take precedence over quantity. Everytime you sprint with the intention of getting faster, you should sprint at a high intensity and rest fully between reps. If you run in a state of fatigue you may improve your conditioning, but you will not improve your speed. A speed training session should be terminated as soon as your performance (speed) on any given rep is slower then the previous, or 300 total yards, whichever comes first. Distances should be kept under 60 yards, unless you're running interval conditioning drills.
Every time you hit the track you should "want" to be out there. The same goes for lifting. If you don't feel like being at the track or in the gym chances are you're not gonna make much progress when you are. Likewise, if you feel like sprinting or lifting chances are you're gonna do pretty good when you do.
Sprinting in the absence of fatigue keeps you much fresher. This is also important for relative beginners, the last thing you want to do is run in a constant state of fatigue and ingrain bad habits.
Many people look at what I recommend and go "That's not enough training" "That's suitable for a punk but not for a high level athlete." Which is probably why most of the people I see training to improve their sprint speed are over-trained and almost always make good progress when they switch to something more along the lines of what I recommend.
The best "general" recommendation I can make is do enough sprinting to maintain efficiency in the act of sprinting itself and spend the majority of the time focusing on getting more power into the ground relative to the size of the body via putting a bigger and more powerful motor in the car (your body particularly your legs).
For some people the training is really important while for others the dinner table is very important. Remember, the key issue is getting more power into the ground relative to bodyweight - That might mean body-fat loss for some, that might mean muscle and strength gain for others, while for others (most) it might mean both body-fat loss as well as muscle and strength gain, while for others it might mean improving the ability to display their existing strength levels (explosiveness). Anybody who sprints once per week should be able to maintain efficiency in the movement itself though.
A Sample Training Schedule
Basically I’ve found that simple strength focused cycles alternated with explosive oriented cycles to give very good results for all but the most advanced athletes. The basic tenet is you really focus on increasing general strength in one phase while you really focus on expressing that strength (or transferring it to the field) in the following phase. In each phase you do enough to maintain the qualities that you're not focusing on. When this quits working then you can try something a little more elaborate. A very basic scheme would involve this:
Get to the gym every Monday and Friday or Monday and Thursday. On one day knock out sets of 3-5 in the squat followed by some Glute Hams for sets of 6-8. On the other day knock out sets of 6-8 in the bulgarian split squat followed by some more glute hams. Maybe do some light squats as well just to keep the feel of the movement. Some people "forget" how to do a movement if they don't hit it at least twice a week. Every time you hit Monday's workout try to put more weight on the bar. Do this until you can throw around at least twice your bodyweight for reps. Prior to your workouts on Monday and Friday do a low volume of some garden variety plyometric drills such as a few sets of lateral jumps, low squat hops and low box depth jumps or whatever else you want. On 1 of those days you might practice some starts out to 10-20 yards. On one of those days, get out and run some sprints out to 40-60 yards for no more then 300 yards total. You might do a few 20's, a few 40's and call it a day.
For volume you’d do sets of 4-5 sets for squats and GHR. 2-3 sets for split squats.
So basically it’d look something like this:
Plyo drills- 2-3 sets of whatever
Starts – 5-10 reps or however many you feel like doing
Squat 4-5 sets of 3-5 reps (try to add weight to the bar each week)
Glute Hams 4-5 sets of 5-10 reps
Sprints 30-50 yards- go until you start to slow down.
Light squats – 3-4 sets x 3-5 reps with 10-20% less weight then Mondays workout
Bulgarian split squat- 3-5 sets of 6-8 reps/leg
Glute hams – 4-5 sets of 5-10 reps
Follow that routine there until your strength gains start to stagnate. If you’re a beginner that might be a year or longer. If you’re more advanced it might be 3-4 weeks. It just depends on you. If you’re less then an advanced trainee you’ll likely find your speed will increase along with your strength on that routine. Regardless, once you have built up your strength you will now have a bigger motor in your car and can then shift to an explosive oriented phase, where you will focus on modifying that now larger motor to get the most out of it.
Now for a sample explosive type phase keep the same basic schedule in place. Monday and Thursday or Monday and Friday etc. On one day do some starts and some shorter sprints out to 40 yards. Follow this up with some explosive oriented weight room work such as wave loaded jump squats for sets of 5-10 reps for about 6-8 sets of squats. The squat weights will vary between 10-40% of your max. Do one set with more weight followed by one set with lighter weight and alternate back and forth until you've done all 8 sets. Either that or you can do something like speed oriented box squats with 50-70% of your max. Any sort've explosive work is fine. In this phase, you could even eliminate weight room work altogether and use a specific strength training method like sled sprints. On the other weekly workout, make it a workout based around sprinting for PRs. Simply go out and get warmed up and try to run PRs at a distance somewhere between 30 and 60 yards. At the very end of your workout you might do a few sets of 2-3 reps working up to 90% of your squat, as well as a few glutehams, just to maintain your strength.
So the explosive phase might look something like this:
Starts- 5-10 reps (or whatever)
20-30 yard sprints (run reps until you start to slow down)
jump squat variation with 30% x 5 (3-4 sets total)
jump squat variation with 15% x 5 (3-4 sets total)
glute ham- 2 sets x 5-8 reps
Starts- 5-10 reps (or whatever)
40 yard sprints (run reps until you start to slow down)
depth jumps- 4 sets x 3 reps
normal squat 3 sets x 3 reps with 85-90% of max
You’d follow this phase for 3-6 weeks and then embark on another strength type phase and maybe make a few adjustments like changing the focus from a squat to a snatch grip deadlift or something similar. Nothing complicated. Those are just a few very basic examples that could be adjusted to fit your needs. The exercises themselves aren't as important as the principles employed. I guarantee you that very simple split right there can take you very far and make you very fast if you follow it over a period of time.
With the sprint starts they do require practice. Get in the right position. Lead foot 1.5 to 2 foot lengths behind the start line. Back foot one foot length behind the lead foot. Get in position and practice. Make sure you're pushing from both legs, extending fully from the start and not taking short choppy steps. In fact it often helps if you concentrate on pushing first with the trail leg. Make sure your heals aren't hitting first. If they are you're over-striding.
Now, let me talk about some of the most common training related errors.
1. Too much –
As I alluded to above the biggest error I see is people that simply do too much running. They think they need to be on their feet out running all the damn time to be effective. There must be something about runners in general that breeds this problem because I notice it in all times of runners at every distance. They sprint and lift one day. The next day they’re out running conditioning. The next day they're lifting and running again. That might be fine for marathon runners but sprinting is more like lifting then it is marathon running. Science has found that improvements in lifting performance occurs best with an average frequency of 2 x per week. Improving lifts requires recovery and maximum focus and so does maximum sprinting.
Sometimes ignorance is bliss. About 12 years ago I made up a routine that I pulled out of my ass that had me sprinting once every 5 days. At the time I knew nothing about training for the sprints I just made this up based on what had given me results with lifting and other endeavors. My basic tenet was to make progress or go home. My feeling was that it’s better to train with 100% intensity less frequently and make progress every session then it is to train half assed in a state of fatigue. I wanted to apply this concept to sprints and see what happened. Therefore, I sprinted once every 5ᵗʰ day always 2 days after a heavy lower body workout. I would simply get out out and attempt to sprint as fast as possible with full recoveries. Honestly, even I didn't expect it to work very well but boy was I wrong. I used that exact routine to improve my speed by over .5 of a second over 40 yards. I thought maybe it was a fluke but since then I’ve noticed other people getting great results from similar routines involving less frequent but maximum effort sprinting. There are some limitations to this type of setup but over short periods of time it is very effective for the reasons I've already described.
2. Too Little-
Don’t be like the guy I mentioned earlier who spends all his time in the weight room and at the dinner table yet never does any other activity or speed work. You don’t have to get out and run sprints all the time but at least engage in some type of sport a minimum of once per week or you risk losing your movement efficiency.
3. Weak as a Kitten-
Guys who can’t handle the dedication and pain it takes to get stronger are also a dime a dozen. These guys will commonly spend all sorts of time and money on every gimmick you can think of like rubber bands, weighted vests, sleds, and all kinds of other gimmicks but won’t spend 5 minutes per week in the squat rack or on the platform. Providing you do get them to actually lift they'll then complain about being sore and feeling slow. Until you’ve come close to equaling at least the minimum standards listed here you’re not even close to being strong enough to sprint:
4. Skinny and afraid to eat-
This guy (or more often, girl) also tends to fall into the "too much" category. This is often the guy who needs to get stronger to improve his performance. The problem is he is addicted to being a skinny GQ looking cat and afraid to let his body-fat creep up out of fear of getting fat. Thus he/she won't gain the weight he needs to get stronger. This is the person who spends all day worrying about his six pack yet is afraid to sit down at the dinner table and do enough serious eating to pack on some muscle and strength. He also tends to do too much conditioning work and won't let his body rest long enough to ever be fresh. Like I said before, you don’t see any 120 lb guys winning any type of sprint races and until you’re an advanced trainee you will gain a 30% increase in strength for every 10% increase in muscle mass. Muscle and strength both require good food intake.
5. Being Fat is not Phat-
This guy has the opposite problem of the aforementioned skinny guy. It’s hard to get down the track or field at a good rate of speed if you’re hauling a 50 lb sack of shit around your midsection. For many people the quickest way to improve their speed is to decrease the load that they’re carrying around. That means less crap in the diet and more activity. Cut down on sugars and increase the protein. Eliminate the cokes, cakes, candy, pizza and ice cream and increase the consumption of anything you can shoot or grow.
6. Trying to do everything at once -
With the popularization of conjugate training there are many athletes who think they need to be addressing everything they can all of the time in any given mesocycle. Therefore they’re always lifting with the volume that would oftentimes kill a powerlifter and sprinting with the volume that would challenge a professional sprinter. What these people need to realize is you can't always focus on everything all of the time. There is often a delayed training effect for a given regime of work. For example, heavy strength work is necessary. It sets the foundation for everything and makes you stronger. But it is also fatiguing on both the nervous and muscular system and thus, it often takes recovery time to really see the benefits of strength work. It's difficult to run your fastest during the middle of a highly intense concentrated strength phase because your neuromuscular system will simple be too fatigued. Along the same lines, a surefire way to kill the effectiveness of a strength phase is to do too much specific work like running. Likewise, one of the quickest ways to kill the effectiveness of an explosive oriented phase is to drain the hell out of yourself with too much strength work. A better approach is to alternate the “focus” of your training. Work on building up your strength for a while while you maintain your speed. Then work on “maintaining” your strength while you focus on your speed.
7. Too much conditioning-
Putting out a very low amount of energy for a prolonged period of time and putting out a whole lot of energy over a short period of time are qualities that reside at 2 opposite ends of the athletic performance spectrum. To put it simpler, if you want to run marathons at a rapid pace don’t expect to be very good at running sprints. If you want to be as fast as possible, don’t expect to be able to run any marathons. If you try to do both, your body would rather sacrifice the ability to run sprints then it would sacrifice the ability to run marathons. You will gain endurance at the expense of speed. That's why marathon runners average about a 12 inch vertical jump. The quickest way to destroy fast twitch muscle fibers is to bathe them in lactic acid for prolonged periods of time. That's what you do with high intensity conditioning training and/or intense cardiovascular activity. What’s funny is the explosiveness of an athlete is directly inverse to the amount of conditioning in their training. For example throwing athletes like shotputters, hammer throwers, as well as Olympic lifters are the most powerful athletes around and you'll have a hard time getting these guys to take a walk around the park much less engage in any type of conditioning. The secret is to have that kind've explosiveness while being relatively strong, lean, AND in condition. Look to your diet and try to get as much of your conditioning through playing sports if possible. Basketball, flag football, tennis, boxing, wrestling etc. are all good activities. Providing you can get enough frequency in, nothing beats playing yourself into shape. If you find it necessary to engage in extra conditioning work I suggest you follow these guidelines:
Guidelines for normal “cardio”
Guidelines for “intervals”
What about agility training?
The development of agility is much like the development of running speed. Learn the movements and then build up the body to carry out those movements with greater power. Agility training does not need to be done year around. Here is a sample of how you might construct a year around split for a football player:
January – Mid-May
Lower Body lifting
Tuesday: Upper Body lifting
Thursday Lower body lifting low volume movement work (sprints, agility) Friday: Upper Body lifting
End of May – End of June
Upper Body lifting
Tuesday: Dynamic Warm-up, Sprint and agility technique
Wednesday: Lower Body lifting
Thursday: Upper body lifting
Friday: Dynamic Warm-up, anaerobic conditioning (using football drills / agility drills)
July – Mid-August
Upper Body lifting, dynamic warm-up, anaerobic conditioning (linear)
Tuesday: Lower Body lifting
Wednesday: anaerobic conditioning (using football drills / agility drills)
Thursday: Upper body lifting
Friday: Dynamic warm-up, anaerobic conditioning
Well I think I surpassed my 20 minutes but hopefully that gives you some helpful information when it comes to getting faster.
If you enjoyed this information and found it informative, a much more detailed analysis on speed development and every other aspect of developing athletes will be available in my upcoming training manual, "No Bull-Crap Sports Training". Keep an eye out.