Getting Faster

In one way or another speed is important in just about all sports, save bowling and darts.  Everyone knows the old cliché, speed kills.  As a young or amateur athlete, this would beg the question, how do I get faster?  That could be confusing considering the number of people claiming to have the answer and given the various tools available for the job: weight vests, bungee cords, high speed treadmills, mini hurdles, speed camps/classes, power lifts, Olympic lifts.  Where does one begin?  As someone working in the sports performance industry I feel that I should have an answer.  Well, I’m certainly no track coach.  Nor am I some sort of speed guru.  I don’t recommend contacting me to prepare for your Pro Day next spring.  I do however have some thoughts as to where to begin, but potentially just as many questions.

As always, I like to think of things in as simple and logical way as possible.  What is the most basic concept here?  In the case of speed the first thing I think about is the amount of force production into the ground.  I don’t remember high school physics class but I know Newton’s Third Law.  Ground force reactions can be greatly improved by strength.  I don’t think any other tool can replace that.  I have seen athletes who are fast but not strong.  I think it is much more rare to find an athlete that is very strong and not relatively fast over at least a short distance.  Although the in the first example the athlete is already fast it is important to consider their current age and injury history as well. He or she is fast compared to whom, the other 7th graders, the other players on the high school state championship team or all the other players in the MLB draft?  Can all of these athletes benefit from strength training to gain speed or in the very least injury prevention?  I believe so.  That being the case, speaking in broad terms, I think variations of squats, deadlifts, Olympic lifts, and weighted sleds are the most effective way to improve force production. These movements take full body tension, coordination and/or speed.  This kind of training transfers over to the field or court.

Force Production

I mentioned short distances before.  Isn’t that what is required in most team sports?  Certainly in sports like basketball, hockey, and tennis only a short distance is required before a stop or change in direction is required.  Even in sports such as football and soccer, rarely is a perfectly straight line run without a change in speed or direction.  So what does that mean?  To me it means that the ability to decelerate or stop is just as important as ability to accelerate.  Just thinking off the top of my head, of the athletes that I’ve worked with, the guy who is real fast but not strong (mentioned above) potentially needs to work on his ability to decelerate, whereas the athlete who is already strong in the weight room typically doesn’t need as much coaching on how to control their body to slow down and/or change direction.  I think that their strength greatly contributes to the force absorption.  This is the equivalent of breaks for that big engine. 

Good Angles and Body Control

I do believe there is more to it though.  The other important factor I see in developing speed usually just involves some simple coaching cues and repetition.  Such things as landing softly and controlled during jumps, hops, etc., looking at shin angles/body lean, and aggressively applying force are simple concepts that can make a difference in efficiency.

I realize that in working with very high-level athletes it’s not quite this simple, although it can be.  Some athletes are great compensators.  However, when I think of athletes preparing for the NFL combine or trying to make the Olympic team, a lot more needs to be considered.  Video analysis and repetition of specific drills can really make improvements for athletes with an older training age.  The details become more and more important.  The margin for error is much less.  The fact is, I don’t work with this type of athlete.  There are other coaches more qualified to do that.  I work mostly with amateur adult, high school and college aged athletes that are like I once was, trying to work toward getting an edge in their given sport.  The commonality between all of the people that I see is a lack of strength and areas to improve mobility.  That comes down to intelligent training and hard work.  I hate to be too simple minded but I think it’s as easy as move well, get strong and explosive in the weight room, practice some simple sprinting and agility techniques, practice your given sport, eat, rest and repeat.

–  Mike Baltren


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