By Coach Hoy, MS, CSCS, SCCC, PES, RPR, TPI1
While there are a plethora of exercises and drills that can be used for speed enhancement, most coaches agree that focusing on training an athlete’s running stride length, stride frequency, or running mechanics, and also on designing programs to improve strike-force are all ways to improve your specific game speed.
First, lets take a look at what some of these mean:
Stride length is the distance an athlete travels between two foot contacts with the ground (ie. Left foot contacts the ground when running then the right foot contacts the ground 6 feet later, giving you a stride length of 6 feet).
Stride frequency is the number of foot contacts in a given time or distance, ie. how many times the foot (or feet) makes contact with the ground over a distance.
Running mechanics typically refer to the specific running techniques of athletes at full speed. Some of the techniques include arm mechanics, posture, breathing, and leg turnover.
Game speed is the most commonly used type of speed in game situations: short bursts of explosive power and strong, quick movements, with frequent changes in direction.
Training for Full-Speed Running
Stride length, stride frequency, and running mechanics are designed to address full-speed running (aka top-end speed), which occurs after an athlete has finished accelerating. In a 40 yard dash, full-speed running typically occurs somewhere after 20 yards and continues through 40 yards. Despite the fact that specific training for these elements occurs AFTER the first 20 yards, most coaches still tend to focus on these as their primary game speed training areas.
Training for Short-Quick Bursts of Speed
The first 20 yards of the 40 yard dash is specific to acceleration. Most expert coaches would agree that acceleration is one of the most important training elements because it requires power—the combination of speed and strength that gives an athlete that ‘1st step quickness’ and helps an athlete ‘pull away’ from his/her opponent in the first few steps of movement. Since most sports require short bursts of powerful game speed followed by quick deceleration, then re-acceleration as the athlete changes direction, specific programming designed for acceleration is paramount to an athlete’s success.
While many training camps and speed training companies promote the latest bells and whistles for speed training, the truth is that most acceleration training is accomplished through effectively designed weight-room training programs, accompanied by specific training protocols for minimizing ground-contact time during powerful movements (pliometric or plyometric training methods).
Creating as much force as possible in as little time as possible is the goal of power or explosive training (used in pliometric training methods). In running, this explosive training is designed for increases in strike-force output—each time the foot contacts the ground, it is the goal to utilize the reactive forces (from the contact) in addition to the forces that are actively generated to produce even greater forces in as little time as possible. Simply put, the athlete is training to generate more force per foot contact, rapidly as possible. This training for strike-force output will directly affect the athletes stride frequency and stride length. Training for acceleration not only improves that athlete’s 1st step quickness, and quicker short bursts, but also helps with increasing full-speed. And, acceleration training only requires 10-20 yards of space and a well-equipped weight training facility.
Strike-Force Output Training for Game Speed
Training for acceleration, or strike-force output, is the key to improving an athlete’s game speed. It helps an athlete beat his/her opponent with a quicker 1st step, and gives the athlete the power to continue to ‘pull away’ from the competition with each stride.
Maintain Power Through-out the Game
Lastly, it is also important that the athlete’s training program addresses the need to be able to maintain maximal power output throughout the entire competitive event. Athletes that are only explosive for the first part of the game will soon be surpassed by athletes or teams that can maintain this power for the duration of the game.
This specific type of training in simple terms is power endurance. Although there are many ways to train specifically for power endurance relative to a given sport, one simple way to address this is to ‘train the time frame’ of the sport. What this means is that if an athlete’s specific position for his/her sport requires 30 bursts of sprinting and each one lasts 10 seconds, then the athlete must be able to produce 30 bursts of all-out effort for 10 second intervals.
Rest intervals (rest between sprints) can also be specific to the rest found in the sport. Start with longer rest intervals (start at 1 part work to 4-6 parts rest, or higher if focusing on specific speed work) and shorten them as the athlete becomes better conditioned to the sprints. For sports with variable rest intervals in sport, vary the rest in the training.
It is best to for the athlete to be training to maximize acceleration and power endurance on an annual basis, with specific programming modifications during the pre-season and in-season periods. In other words, find a training program, plan, or facility and stick to it all year long. As always, train hard, and train with purpose.
If you have specific questions regarding speed training, acceleration, power-endurance, or sports performance, please comment below. If you found this useful, please share with a friend!