Important Qualities for Developing Speed

First and foremost, it is common thought that speed is inherent, not trained. That my friends is most certainly a fallacy. Though unweighted speed is inherent, speed against resistance (power) is not and neither is technique. Charlie Francis once said that speed is learned not inherent. The trick is knowing how to learn it in addition to improving power.

Lets start with Power. Power is work times speed. Work is force times distance. Force is mass times acceleration. If you have ever played football and been hit by the 5 foot nothing kid that weighs 100 pounds soaking wet but runs like he was shot out of a canon, you understand this even if you don’t know how to do the math. The equation works something like this: Little guy X runs really fast=hey Jimbo, how many fingers am I holding up? So how is that possible? As it turns out, it’s a leverage thing. Because of the type of levers that the musclse work though, the body is designed to produce much higher forces when performing low weight, high acceleration movements than when performing high weight, low acceleration movements. For example, the force on the knee cap when a 200 pound athlete performs a 500 pound squat is around 3500 newton meters. That same athlete doing a lay-up from a sprint down the court results in a force on the knee cap closer to 35,000 newton meters. Notice that the force is 10 times higher in the lay-up. Soooo, what is the take home message? You know that guy that keeps telling you that if you wan to be better at your sport, you need to gain weight? You should stop asking him for advice. In very, very rare circumstances is that actually the case. Most of the time, you just need to get a lot stronger without gaining much weight and work on exercises that improve power while you are at it. Power is primarily neural,which is fortunately very trainable if you know what you are doing. So the first thing that I would change is removing those body building rep schemes (which aren’t that great for body building either as a note) from your workouts. Gaining relative strength should be your primary goal which means that you do not want to gain weight. Now, you may gain a little weight, but you will also get a lot stronger.  As it turns out there are several types of muscle growth. For the power athlete that is looking to gain more power, only one matters: Sarcomeric hypertrophy. Sarco….what?  The short version is that it is like putting a supercharger on the engine in you car. It adds just a little bit of weight and a lot a bit of strength and power. So that means a lot of really heavy squats and deadlifts. Utilizing neural recruitment schemes in addition is a very good idea as well, as this will improve power and strength as well (and will result no weight gain).  Olympic weightlifting is  a fantastic way to improve the power aspect as it does a fine job of improving neural efficiency (it helps train the nerve to activate the muscle in a way that improves power and strength). It is not the only though, so if you do not have the equipment or training, no big deal. But as a rule of thumb, sets of 10 are not the best way to do this (though useful for lactic acid tolerance, this should be used only occasionally). Personally I like an average rep of about 3.5 for most of my power training, you just have to do a lot of sets to get your volume in. For example, an olympic weightlifting workout may involve 10 sets of 3 clean and jerks followed by 10 sets of 5 on front squats and 5 sets of 5 on heavy clean pulls. It take 90 minutes, but it is worth it in the long run. Besides, why do 30 reps (3 sets of 10) with 190 pounds when I can do 30 reps (10 sets of 3) with 230 pounds. Now, obviously this takes some training to work up to, and no, it is not for the average person. But if you want to crush your opponent, you have to do what you have to do.

Next…technique. Stop running like your running a marathon. This means two thing, your heel should lift up toward your butt when it comes off the ground this is so very important and it should happen fast!) and you should always strike on the ball of the foot directly beneath your hips when sprinting. Notice that I said strike, not land. Landing is passive, striking is active. Every force has an equal but opposite reactive force. Which means that the more aggressively that you strike or “paw” the more that is propels you. Have you ever heard a world class 100 meter runner as he zips by you? Trust me, he is not sneaking up on anyone, it sounds like he is going to destroy the very ground beneath him. Pop-claw, pop-claw, pop-claw, pop-claw!!!!! The sound is from the horizontal force produced by his foot as it strikes the ground. Here are three great drills to help with this. They are certainly not all of them, but they some of the more important ones. Notice the distinctive “pop” each time my foot strikes (and this is on grass).

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Just to demonstrate the effectiveness of this type of work, when I was in high school I weighed 225 pounds and ran a 5.6 sec 40 (I know, I was a linemen) and I had a 22 inch vertical. 2 years ago, before I ruptured my achilles sacking a quarterback, I was running a 4.7 sec 40 at 230 pounds (and about 10 years older) and had a 32″ vertical. I wasn’t going to the NFL, but everyone got out of my way, and I don’t know many people that would complain about dropping their 40 by 9 tenths of a second.  I am not quite back up to those numbers, but my vertical is back up around 28-29 now and I am probably back around 5.1 seconds for my 40 and still not running at full speed (I will be honest, it still freaks me out a little to open up all the way, maybe in another 6 months).

Comments

  • Andrea - June 22, 2010

    This will be great for Adam. Is training for a half marathon and just can not seem to cut down his time no matter how much he builds his endurance.

  • Your headline “ important qualities for developing speed ads…” font size doesn’t display well on my web browser, (I just want to let you know) but possibly it’s my custome configured firefox plugin that is causing a problem otherwise this is a good site.

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