Improve Your Speed By Looking Under The Hood.

high performance engine

When it comes to improving an athlete’s speed, many trainers just stick to their preferred methods. Maybe they have a bunch of go-to speed and agility drills. Others may mostly use strength training with their athletes. For another, it may be technical track drills.

All of these can be effective and have a place in building better athletes.

However, having just one training solution for every athlete will fail many. It leaves many poorly served because, after the foundation, every athlete doesn’t have the exact same needs.

Coaches, athletes, and parents are often confused about whether they need more speed training or more weight room time. Unfortunately, too many trainers skip the actual analysis to find what’s really needed.

Formula 1 car time trial

Time Trials

To help understand why we need deeper analysis, let’s look at auto racing. I can go out to the race track and do time trials. I can see how fast we can finish a lap, what the top speed is, or how fast we can accelerate.

These are all performance measures.

We’re measuring the performance of both the car and driver.

The car has to produce engine torque, grip the surface of the track, and steer effectively.

Additionally, the driver needs the skill to properly utilize those capabilities. Without those skills, he can’t optimize the performance.

Those performance measures of time, distance, and velocity can give us insight into opportunities to improve. However, they don’t specifically tell us how to improve.

First of all, they were measures of the combined systems of the car and driver.

The times alone can’t tell us if the driver or the car is the limiting factor.

Going further, if it was the car, we still don’t know which components of the system need improvement.

speed skating start sprint
start athlete speed skater sprint race at competition

Performance Testing in Sports

In sports, we do very similar things. We test athletes on how fast they can sprint or do an agility drill. We see how high they can jump or throw an object. It is just like timing the car on the race track.

It requires the driver (like the athlete’s motor control system) to use the race car’s physical performance capabilities (like the athlete’s body) to perform the test well.

Performance testing can help us set goals, see where we can improve, and give us feedback if our training programs are successful.

However, it doesn’t necessarily tell us HOW to improve.

Improving Performance

So what do you do when you want to improve that speed on the race track? Do you jump straight in and upgrade the engine, or maybe the transmission? Maybe change the tires or the cooling system? Maybe you fire the driver and hire a new one.

Any of those may help. But without looking deeper and performing diagnostic tests, you may be wasting time and money on the wrong factor.

If we have a great car, but a poor driver, we won’t get much better by upgrading the engine torque. The driver isn’t good enough to use the existing power on the track right now. Improving the engine and power won’t change that.

On the flip side, the best driver in the world cant take a honda civic and win a professional race. The car just doesn’t have adequate mechanical capabilities to keep up.

In sports, we have to consider whether an athlete needs to improve their speed by upgrading their physical capabilities or their motor control. Coaches do this by analyzing techniques and seeing if they have the basic strength & power qualities needed.

If one of these is the clear limiting factor, then they know where to spend time and energy.

Professional car mechanic working in auto repair service.

Looking Under the Hood

If a race team wants to win they don’t stop at how the car performed on the track. The crew takes it into the garage, looks under the hood, and does diagnostics.

It is not enough to only know WHAT the car can do in terms of power or efficiency. They need to analyze HOW its being accomplished.

That’s what we do when we use Strength Diagnosis with an athlete. We are going beyond the performance tests by looking under the hood at their strength and power capabilities.

After all, there are very different types of strength needed to improve linear sprinting, change of direction, or jumping height. Even within a sprint, different types of strength influence initial acceleration versus maximum velocity sprinting.

athletic strength signature

Strength Signature

The Velocity Strength Signature is a method developed over 20+ years to identify sport-specific strength qualities. By measuring the kinetics in 5 different movements, we can quantify all six types of athletic strength.

An athlete’s unique profile across these six types of strength is what we call a Strength Signature. Just like your written signature, it is unique.

It also tells us a lot about how we can help you improve through training. By considering your specific goals, and evaluating your Strength Signature, coaches can help you target the right type of strength.

Then you can continue to train hard, but now you’re doing it smarter.

Summary

Whether it’s a race car on the track or an athlete in the gym, performance testing shows us what’s possible and how we are doing.

However, in both cases, performance testing doesn’t necessarily tell us why we are performing that way or how to improve it.

So with our race car, we look under the hood and diagnose the limitations of the car.

With athletes, we look under the hood with Strength Diagnosis to find out what types of sport-specific strength they need to improve and stay healthy.

Myth or Fact: Speed Training Is Sport-Specific

Is speed sport specific

There is often confusion about whether speed training is sport-specific. It’s a natural question: does speed training need to be sport specific?

After all, as a parent or coach, the goal is to help your athletes be faster come game time. Does playing faster in the manner their sport or even their position demands call for specific types of speed training.

Below we answer that question, but here’s a preview; if you don’t have sport-specific training, your game speed will suffer.

…and if you only do sport-specific speed training, your game speed will suffer!

Speed In Sports

You already know that coaches want fast players!

Just watch sports, and you can all see that speed has an impact on the game. Faster players have an advantage.

And if you watch really closely and breakdown that speed, you can learn some things about what athletes need.

The basic mechanics are the same.

The key elements of speed look really close across lots of different sports. This isn’t to say they are precisely the same if we get down to measuring exact angles, contact times, stride length, etc…

However, the limbs’ fundamental action, the basic angles, and the alignment are all very similar. Why?

The Science of Speed

The reason that athletic speed is similar across diverse sports is that physics remains the same in all sports (at least those played on the earth.)

Its gravity, body mass, and Newton’s 3 Laws of Motion dictate speed in sport.

That’s why Velocity’s speed formula is so successful. It addresses the fundamental physics of speed.

Athletes are faster when they can produce the right forces into the ground, applied at the proper angles, over the right time frames.

the physics of speed aren't sport specific

Newtons Laws Of Motion for Speed

Newtonian physics doesn’t change based on the game. Whether on a field or court these basic laws of physics remain the same.

curvilinear speed is common in sports
Physics dictate that movement will look similar across sports

One of the biggest reasons why speed mechanics are so similar across sports is that athletes have to generate big forces relative to their body weight. This is called a “mass specific force.”

When a force is generated in a short time you get power. An athlete’s relative power is part of what propels them as they sprint. The power is generated from the actions of the big muscles in the lower body.

That force has to be applied in the proper direction to make them move the direction they intend. Thats why we can see similar joints angles and body alignment across sports. Yes, there are differences, but as a whole they are very similar.

Sports Have Different Speed Requirements

But even though the physics are the same, the game is not. Sports clearly have different requirements for athletic speed.

That’s why we intuitively wonder if speed training needs to be sport specific. The spaces, the opponents, the tactics, and the specific technical skills can be very different.

Sprinting isn’t the same when you are trying to catch a ball over your shoulder or trying to evade defenders and get to the goal.

The context of speed matters. It actually changes the way the brain and body process the movement.

So there is definitely a sport-specific element to speed.

READ MORE: What Is Sport-Specific Speed?

sport speed is context driven

Should Speed Training Be Sport-Specific?

As outlined above, we know there are differences in how speed is applied in different sports. But what about training for it? Is speed training sport-specific?

That’s the real question. What works to help an athlete play faster? What’s the most efficient and effective way to improve athletic speed?

Like a lot of things, it’s not an either/or answer. It’s both general athletic speed and sport-specific practice.

Almost every athlete needs to build their fundamental speed abilities. Acceleration, Max Velocity mechanics, and multi-directional speed & agility are the foundation.

Performance training through movement sessions or in the weight room improves the athlete through fundamental physics.

The sport alone won’t address the fundamental physics enough.

That’s the reason why you need performance training. It’s an opportunity to strip away the complex nature of the sports environment and really hone in on the fundamentals.

All of those contextual elements in sport mean athletes often don’t get to really push their speed limits. They can’t focus on improving the basics because they need to focus on their sport’s other elements.

An athlete’s “speed limit” in a sense is their underlying speed capacity. If their fundamental speed is limited, their sport-specific speed will be limited more.

Context Is King On Game Day

Speed fundamentals without application in a sport-specific context don’t transfer.

That’s why getting faster without also practicing your sport doesn’t translate to game day speed.

The elements of reading the game, decision making, and executing sport-specific skills are too important.

Put the fastest track sprinter into a different sport, and they’ll cover ground quickly, but they might not be in the right place or be able to do anything when they get there.

To reach the fullest potential, athletes need performance training to build the fundamentals and sports practice to learn to apply it.

Sport-specific Speed Training Is AND ot OR.

In the end, general athletic and specific speed training are both required. That is the only way to maximize an athlete’s potential.

Performance training improves the underlying speed capabilities through physics and motor control. Practice translate that speed to be useful in a sport-specific context.

Athletes that want to be faster need to build their speed skills in training and then learn to apply them at practice.

3 Go To Exercises For Improving Lacrosse Speed

Every player and coach knows that speed kills.  It’s an advantage that every player wants.  Unfortunately, there is a lot of confusion when it comes to improving lacrosse speed.

The first thing required to improve lacrosse speed is to understand it will take specific work.  Improving speed is not just practicing.  It’s not running repeat wind-sprints and conditioning.

Speed development is the product of both technical work and improving power.

Sprint Technique

Technical work often looks like track drills to many people.  With good reason.  Track is the expression of pure speed.  And while we don’t need our lacrosse players to have the technical mechanics of a track athlete, there’s still a lot of benefit from this type of drill.

Teaching the athlete how to move efficiently and effectively for speed is the starting point.  After all, speed is the product of Newton’s Laws of Motion and applies to every sport.  Physics doesn’t care whether it’s lacrosse or track.

The fundamentals of acceleration and max velocity sprinting apply to lacrosse.

Lacrosse Speed

Improving Power

Physics tell us that the amount of force applied relative to bodyweight is a key factor in speed.  While sprinting, that force has to be applied to the ground in a very short time.  Ground contacts range from ~ 250 ms accelerating down to less than 100 ms when at full speed.

Generating large forces in a small time is called power. To be fast a lacrosse player needs to be able to generate power in their lower body to project their body. 

DISCOVER THE SPEED FORMULA FOR ATHLETES

This means developing that power through progressive overload.  A developing lacrosse player can apply progressive load through strength training, medicine ball throws, plyometrics, and explosive lifting.

If a lacrosse player doesn’t have much experience with this type of training, the general rule is to use a wide range of methods to develop different types of strength and power needed.

Speed Training Is Not Conditioning

Many players and coaches see speed training as sprinting.  While sprinting is a necessary part of speed training, just doing repeat sprints is not speed training. 

When performing repeated sprints to improve fitness, the player builds fatigue on each one.  In fact that’s the very stimulus that leads to improved conditioning.

However, running fatigued leads to changed coordination and force application.  The speeds end up too slow, and the technique too sloppy to improve a players speed abilities.

Conditioning has a critical place, but it’s not part of improving lacrosse speed.  A player has to maximize that ability first, before they can condition to use it repeatedly.  Otherwise, the player is just conditioning to be able to run slow repeatedly.

Lacrosse Game Speed

So with the understanding that lacrosse players need to take specific action, what should they do?  The answer comes from considering both how we improve seed and whats need for lacrosse.

Speed for a track sprinter is simple.  Run as fast as possible and turn left.  It’s not so simple for a lacrosse player.

Improving lacrosse speed is a process of developing the actual type of speed needed in a game.

When we break down lacrosse, we can identify some priorities;

  • Acceleration
  • Dodging (Agility)
  • Curved runs

Acceleration In Lacrosse

Acceleration is the process of increasing speed.  Whether from standing, our of a dodge, or while already moving, acceleration occurs when the player tries to explosively increase there speed.

Acceleration mechanics are different than full speed mechanics.  It involves longer contact times and more emphasis on horizontal power.  The mechanics are more of a “punch and drive” action than cyclical.

Dodging

Dodges in lacrosse are critical to creating opportunities to attack and score. Dodging is a combination of agility and acceleration.  Agility is the capability to change the direction with body control and balance. 

So when it comes to improving a player’s dodging, we can improve the components so that when it’s practice time, they can improve the skill.  Improving the ability to stop or changing direction fast, and then reaccelerate in a new direction will help a lacrosse player improving their dodges.

Curved Runs

When trying to get toward the goal, lacrosse players rarely have a straight line.  Opposing players block the path necessitating runs that are often curved.  The attacker has to try to get ahead while running on a curve.

Curved running ability relies on the same basics of linear speed, but with some key differences.  The biggest difference is the body lean and the crossover action of the legs.  Using some drills that train this will make players more efficient in their curved runs.

Learn About Curved Runs In Lacrosse

Improving Lacrosse Speed

Drill 1:  Bulgarian Split Squat

This exercise will help build a foundation of strength in the lower body.  Lacrosse players need strength to apply braking forces when dodging and propulsive forces when accelerating.

The kettlebell version of this exercise is a great place to start.  It reinforces proper posture while developing the single leg strength every lacrosse player needs.

Drill 2:  Crossover Bounds

To build power and work on the crossover mechanics needed in curved runs, this drill works well.  Players will develop power by applying a big force to the ground in a small time.  Plus, they work on the trail leg crossing the midline of the body and pushing backwards.

Drill 3:  Sled Bound To Run

A key factor in acceleration is getting the right alignment of the body to apply forces horizontally.  The resistance of the sled requires the athletes to get into the right position to be successful. Using punch and drive mechanics to develop force will transfer to any instance of acceleration on the lacrosse field.

Improving Speed Gives You An Advantage

Every player wants to be fast, but not every player works specifically on improving lacrosse speed.

Use these drills and get focused on improving your athletic speed, so you can be faster in lacrosse.

Curved Running In Sports

Curved Running In Sports

If you aren’t training curvilinear sprinting, you’re missing an important part of game speed.

When you look around, you’ll start to notice there is a lot of curved running in sports. Most of us think of speed as straight-ahead running. We think of agility and see the changes in direction and footwork.

But since it falls somewhere in the middle, curved running gets ignored in most training programs.

Curved running is not turning or changing direction. It’s when an athlete is altering their body lean and mechanics to run on a curvilinear path. It is reasonable to ask if this is important in sports. When we break down the video, do we see curved running in sports?

Curved Runs in Sports

In any track sprint over 100m the athletes are going to have to run the curve. After all, that’s just the shape of the track.

Yet, curvilinear runs occur in a lot of team and court sports as well. The reason is simple, there are often opponents blocking their direct pathway.

A curved path becomes the fastest option. You can maintain or build speed running the curve while working to edge out your opponent and gain a lead.

If you want to see some great curved runs take a look at lacrosse. Because there is a large amount of field behind the goal players use all 360 degrees. This leads to many curved runs attacking the goal.

In many sports we see athletes trying to get around the corner or around the edge set by defenders. Think of a defensive end in football trying to rush the quarterback. Or the running back trying to both get outside around defenders while gaining some positive yards.

You see the same thing in basketball and soccer with offensive players trying to get around a defender to drive on the goal or basket.

Accelerating or Maintaining Speed

In liner sprinting we look at acceleration and upright, maximum velocity mechanics differently. The postures, rhythm, movement pattern, and power requirements are different.

Trying to accelerate around a defender and get to the basket requires curvilinear sprinting.
A baseball player displays upright, cyclical sprinting mechanics.

When we consider curved runs in sports we need to recognize that they occur in both acceleration and max velocity.

The NFL defensive end is starting from complete rest when they start that curved run. An NBA player driving the basket is similar. These are instances where the players are accelerating on a curved pathway

On the other hand, a wide receiver taking the ball on a sweep, or a baseball player rounding the bases are using more cyclical, upright mechanics. Just like linear sprinting, as you get to higher velocities, you have to become more upright.

Bottom line; curved running in sports is common for attacking players. These runs also have differences compared to linear sprinting.

Biomechanics

While its common in sports, its not actually well researched. In part because its just harder when the athlete is moving on a curved line.

However, we do have some information that highlights the different demands during curved running.

One of the most obvious is that the athlete leans their body. The tighter the curve, the greater the lean. This leads to obvious changes in running mechanics.

The body lean means the athlete has to manage and overcome centrifugal forces. They must apply mediolateral forces through the lower body much more than in linear sprinting.

With the athlete’s body leaning, the ankles make contact with the ground in either eversion (angled out) or inversion (angled in). Applying the large forces in sprinting at these angles creates new demands. Athletes need increased mobility and stability in the foot and ankle.

Since the trajectory of the run is curved, and the body leaning, the outside leg of the player must “crossover” the midline of the body to strike the ground. Crossing over requires both increased hip mobility as well as stability and power in different muscles.

While there is limited science, the early research on curved sprinting shows that the body is loaded differently. Training and specific preparation for those forces and ranges of motion just makes sense.

How To Prepare The Body

One of the things to prepare athletes is to make sure they have the requisite range of motion needed. The hips need an appropriate range in internal/external rotation and hip adduction.

This can be developed through various mobility methods. Check out this drill for hip mobility.

The foot and ankle also require a different range of motion and increased stability.

Like linear sprinting, curved runs in sports require generating and transmitting large forces into the ground. Developing the right strength and power qualities in the weight room will contribute to better curved running.

An easy modification to consider is leg strength with some type of lateral movement. This helps prepare for the added medio-lateral forces in the lower body.

Players should also include lateral hops and plyometrics. These will both build power and prepare the foot and ankle structures.

Sprint Training For Curved Runs in Sports

Most athletes have limited training time. Often they can barely spend time on linear sprinting. So how do they fit in something else?

In most cases, small doses added to the existing speed training can work. After all, there are more similarities with linear sprinting than differences.

If an athlete doesn’t have good mechanics in linear sprinting they probably won’t be good in curved runs. At Velocity, we’ve found that developing the basics first in linear sprinting is an effective strategy.

Crossover Running

The crossover and lean are what make curved running possible and create different demands. That’s why we use crossover running to develop curvilinear sprinting speed.

Cross over running covers a continuum from single crossover steps to running laterally for multiple steps.

What we’ve found over the past 20 years and one million plus athletes, is that training the crossover improves curved running.

The trajectory in crossover running is more extreme than a curved run. However, the combination of linear and cross over drills prepare the athletes for effective curved running.

We top this off with small doses of curved running as applied drill in speed sessions. Doing this allows athletes to explore how to effectively apply these mechanics.

These applied drills are fit into both acceleration and max velocity training sessions.

Curved Running When Returning From Injury

When you consider the increased centrifugal forces in curved running, you recognize the extra demands on the body. The athlete encounters demands on their mobility, stability, and strength in the lower extremity.

If a player who makes curved runs is rehabbing from a lower-body injury, they better put some focus on it.

Unfortunately, we find it rarely happens. Curvilinear running should be trained before returning to sport. The player’s body should be specifically prepared for an effective and safe return to sport.

Curved Running In Sports Can Be Improved

Curved runs are critical in many sports situations. Being faster on the curve can give a player an advantage. That makes it something players want to be faster at.

The most important way to improve curvilinear sprinting is to get good at linear sprinting. Most of the mechanics, forces and physical demands are very similar.

Preparing the body through targeted mobility, stability, strength, and power development is the next step. It’s the physical foundation needed. Including crossover running drills and a small dose of curved runs tops off the training.

Improved curvilinear speed allows athletes to be ready come game time.

What Is Sport Specific Speed?

sport specific speed training

Everyone knows speed is an important part of performance, but what is sport specific speed?   As an athlete reaches higher levels of sport, the speed of the game increases.  However, the type of speed can also become more specific.

It doesn’t take a pro coach or biomechanist to see that sport specific speed is more than running in a straight line.

Accelerating, stopping, quickness, agility and change of direction are important parts of game speed.

Depending on the sport and position, athletes will use different speed skills including; linear sprinting, agility and multi-directional speed. How often and how far they go each time varies a lot. Still there are some foundations of speed we can begin with.

Linear Sprinting

Sprinting has two main components; acceleration and max velocity. Acceleration is speeding up rapidly, and maximum velocity is sprinting over ~75% of full speed. Since sprint distance varies from just a few yards to the length of field, athletes typically need both acceleration and max velocity skills. Science tells us that the biomechanics and technique for each are distinctly different.

Two clear differences you can see between acceleration mechanics and max velocity mechanics are; body angle and leg action.

 

Angle

Draw an imaginary line through the foot contact with the ground and the center of mass (a few inches behind your belly button), this is the Powerline. If the power line is efficient there will be a straight line that runs through the shoulders and head as well.

During acceleration the angle is smaller. Somewhere between 45°- 60° from the ground. Compared to max velocity sprinting where the powerline is nearly vertical or 90° from the ground.

Action

It’s also easy for the untrained eye to see a clear difference in the action of the legs. In max velocity mechanics the athlete uses a cyclical action, with a “butt kick” and “step-over the knee”. In acceleration efficient mechanics are more of a “piston” action with the knee punching forward and then driving backward.

Muscles and Strength

The differences in the motion and the body positions affect which muscles contribute most. Although most of the body’s muscles are always used in sprinting, some contribute more to acceleration or max velocity running.

 

Curved Runs

Not all sprinting in sports is purely linear.  Even in track and field they go straight and turn left.  

In many field and court sports you can observe athletes making curvilinear runs.  This is often the result of defenders trying to protect space or a pathway to the goal.  That results in attacking players having to attempt to get around them by accelerating or sprinting along a curved pathway.

RELATED CONTENT: Curved Running In Sports

Agility

While sprinting speed is very important, most sport aren’t a track meet. Team sports aren’t linear and elite players have great agility as well. Agility can be looked at in two key components, Quickness and Change of Direction. Sprinting speed is great, but if you cant change direction, you’re going to get burned.

Quickness

Lightning fast movements in 1-2 steps can make all the difference in reacting to an opponent or leaving one on the ground.

 These are the body fakes and quick re-positioning movements that happen in attacking and defending through-out most sports. Picture and ankle breaking move in basketball or a fast juke by the running back in football.

 Quickness requires the reactive strength to apply force to the ground quickly, and the body control/balance to make it efficient.

Change of Direction

 On the field or court the game constantly changes direction. Athletes are already moving in one direction when the play changes, then they have to slam on the brakes, and get moving a different way. Players need to change direction in fewer steps and faster than the opposition to have an advantage.

 

change of direction

When the opponent changes from going one way to another, the ball changes areas of play after the pass, or a rebound sends players scrambling after the ball. These are all cases where change of direction skill will make a difference.

To be efficient in change of direction you need great eccentric strength abilities to decelerate, power to reaccelerate and the movement mechanics to apply it at the right angles. Stability in the joints and core also ensure efficient transfer of energy, and prevention of injury.

Improving Your Sport Specific Speed

 Now that you have a clearer picture of what it means to be fast, and a little of what each means, it’s important to know how to improve it.  The Ulitmate Guide To Speed Training is a resource where you can learn all about speed training.
 
For all of our movements, we have the formula for speed. Proven by decades with elite athletes across 27 different sports. This is the biomechanics of speed, simplified.

 

The Big 4 are basically the “formula” for speed. No advanced degree in physics or neuroscience necessary.

  • Big Force
  • Small Time
  • Proper Direction
  • Optimal Range of Motion

That’s what we coach. It’s true for building the foundation or for sport specific speed. (You can read more about it here)
 
This formula has all of the complexity underneath, but it‘s simple to apply and understand. It can also save you decades and help you achieve better results with your athletes. That’s why I use it.

“If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself.” ~ Albert Einstein

 

Big Force

 You have to apply force to the ground to go somewhere. The faster you want to go the more force you have to apply.

Observing the difference in muscular development between a sprinter and a marathoner should give you a clue.

This doesn’t mean you need to be just bigger or become a powerlifter, but biomechanics research tells us very large forces have to be applied by the athlete to move fast.

The Big Force you need is developed by sprinting fast, using specific sprint and plyometric drills, and getting in the weight room. There are 6 different strength qualities we train, and focusing on Max strength, Strength-speed, and Speed-strength are keys here.

Small Time

In sports, speed counts so applying that force in a small time, while in contact with the ground, is critical.  You don’t often see the opponent saying, “sure, take all the time you need to generate that force, I’ll wait.”

Yes you need a Big Force, but you have to apply it to the ground in a (very) small time. This requires the right strength and motor control qualities. We develop those through technique drills that reinforce a small ground contact time and through plyometrics and strength training drills that develop Rate of Force Development and reactive strength, instead of Max strength or Power.

Proper Direction

Force is a vector which means it has a direction as well as quantity.  Efficient and effective movement requires not just the right amount of force, but applied in the right direction

Proper direction is achieved through the right motor pattern (technique) and the stability of the body to apply it that way. When the structures of joints, muscles and tendons aren’t up to the task, we have what we call “energy leaks.”

The motor control to create Proper Direction is developed through technical drills which teach athletes to move optimally. The stability to transfer those Big Forces comes through specific training drills, while developing strength with resistance training and in our functional strength components.

Optimal Range of Motion

Goldilocks had it right, not too much, not too little, but just right. We need optimal range of motion in our joints, muscles and tendons. In some movements we need large range of motions, and in others we need smaller. The key is that the athlete can move without restriction or compensations.

Many of our technical exercises and dynamic warm-up drills develop this range of motion. In addition we use mobility work such as self-myofascial (foam rollers, balls, etc..) in conjunction with stretching techniques or working with a tissue specialist.

Sport Specific Speed

To play your best game you need several kinds of speed. The exact mix depends on both your sport and position. However, every player needs to start with speed fundamentals before moving to sports specific speed.

By creating a foundation of speed and agility, athlete have more tools in their toolbox. As their training becomes more sport specific they have more to draw upon. Players all have strengths and weaknesses, but you can’t afford any glaring holes. As an elite player you need:

  • Acceleration
  • Maximum Velocity
  • Quickness
  • Change of Direction

You don’t’ have to leave this to chance. While you may need the right genetics to be the fastest in the world at these, through the right training you can improve. Improve both your physical attributes and your motor control and you’ll be faster.

Speed is a skill, and like any skill it can be taught.

Learn More About Improving Speed

Research Proves How Faster Sprinters Use Strength For Speed

SMU Sprint Research

Research from the world’s leading sports scientists proves that faster sprinters need strength for speed. They are able to apply more force to the ground than slower runners. Studies from institutions including Harvard University and SMU’s Locomotor Performance Laboratory have shown how these forces are the difference between faster and slower sprinters.

They’ve proven that if you want to maximize your speed, you need to apply big forces to the ground quickly. This is one aspect of strength that includes two different types of strength.

The Velocity Speed Formula has 4 main components and two of those are BIG FORCE and SMALL TIME. Now researchers have confirmed that these 2 components of the Speed Formula are a big difference between faster and slower sprinters.

RELATED: Learn Velocity’s Proven Speed Formula

Biomechanics of Sprinting

Sprinting has been studied for decades. However, most of this was done using video to analyze how sprinters moved. Using video gives you a picture of the kinematics. This is how we measure and describe motion through body position, joint angles, and movement velocity.

This kinematic research has given us a lot of useful information. Still, there is another component to the biomechanics that hasn’t been looked at much, and that’s the kinetics.

These are the forces that are used to create that motion and body position. It’s a lot harder because you need a track full of force plates and moving cameras or a specialized research treadmill. Yet, it’s critical to understand the needs of strength for speed.

Kinetics of Speed – Force

To propel your body forward, and to keep you upright, your leg has to produce a lot of force into the ground on each step. That’s what builds your momentum during acceleration phases and keeps it going during your full speed sprinting.

You create that big force, by first getting your leg up into the right position on each stride. Picture a sprinter with their front thigh up high, about parallel with the ground. Then you use the explosive strength in your glutes, quadriceps, and hamstrings to generate power and drive your foot down into the ground.

“The top sprinters have developed a wind-up and delivery mechanism to augment impact forces. Other runners do not do so.” Ken Clark, a researcher in the SMU Locomotor Performance Laboratory

https://blog.smu.edu/research/2017/01/30/new-study-connects-running-motion-to-ground-force-provides-patterns-for-any-runner/

Driving the leg down and back into the ground is going to create a big impact on each step. The peak force during that ground contact is going to be 4-5 times bodyweight when sprinting. Now imagine a 200lbs athlete, that’s 800-1000 lbs. on a single leg, each step.

Kinetics of Speed – Time

Your linear speed dictates why the big force you generated has to be applied in a small-time. The faster you sprint, the faster you need to apply that big force.

Think about it. As you sprint faster, your body is moving over the ground with greater velocity. You’re moving faster over that part of the ground under your foot. The faster you sprint; the less time your foot is in contact with the ground. That’s just simple physics.

When your foot hits the ground, it’s driving down with a lot of power. There are only 90-130 milliseconds of time to get all that force into the ground.

To realize how fast that is, take out your phone. Open the stopwatch. Try to hit “start”, then “stop” as fast as you can.
What did you get?

Most people will get between 00.12 and 00.15. Some may beat that. This should give you some perspective; it is a small-time to apply that force of 4-5 times bodyweight.

Strength For Speed and Stiffness

Now let’s combine that big force with the small time. This is the hard part, and where some athletes fail. You need the explosive strength to get the leg attacking down at the ground as hard as possible.

And you need the reactive strength and kinetic chain “stiffness” to not collapse on contact. Only when you have the reactive strength to provide the stiffness can you fully benefit from those big forces of the leg swing. This is a key part of understanding strength for speed.

Your ankle, knee or hip all have to stay “stiff” enough to apply the force of 4-5 times bodyweight and not bend or absorb it. If they cushion it like a shock absorber, some of the force is wasted.

This doesn’t mean stiff as in lack of flexibility. It means that the muscles and tendons in your lower body can hit the ground and deliver all your power without stretching or relaxing.

The Bouncing Ball Analogy

An analogy to help visualize this is to picture 2 bouncing balls. One is a bouncy, superball made of “stiff” rubber. The other is a beach ball, soft and compliant. Throw them down with as much force as possible. Which one bounces higher off the ground?

The stiffer superball bounces higher. Why? Because it stores elastic energy and applies the force back into the ground. The beach ball absorbs some of the force and doesn’t have the elastic energy to rebound.

That superball is like reactive strength. Your muscles and tendons don’t relax and absorb the force. They store elastic energy and use it to help you go faster.

“We found that the fastest athletes all do the same thing to apply the greater forces needed to attain faster speeds. They cock the knee high before driving the foot into the ground, while maintaining a stiff ankle. These actions elevate ground forces by stopping the lower leg abruptly upon impact.” Peter Weyand, director of the Locomotor Performance Lab

https://blog.smu.edu/research/2017/01/30/new-study-connects-running-motion-to-ground-force-provides-patterns-for-any-runner/

Sprinting Fast Requires Strength

The research on faster sprinters shows why you need strength for speed. And we are not just talking about the weight on a barbell.

To generate a big force with your lower leg you will need explosive strength. To apply it you need reactive strength for stiffness. The good news is that research has also shown that getting stronger generally correlates with getting faster.

You can develop these specific strength qualities by working in the weight room using traditional and Olympic lifts. You do it using plyometrics properly. Especially single leg plyometrics with an emphasis on reactive strength.

You create that stiffness building core and hip stability to transmit and control those forces. And most importantly, you develop it by sprinting with good mechanics.

We know you need strength for speed. The Velocity Speed Formula is built on science and proven in sport. The research is starting to catch up and show why it works and can help you get faster.

Selected References

  • Faster top running speeds are achieved with greater ground forces not more rapid leg movements Weyand, et. al , J Appl Physiol 89: 1991–1999, 2000.
  • Are running speeds maximized with simple-spring stance mechanics?Kenneth P. Clark, Peter G. Weyand, Journal of Applied Physiology Published 31 July 2014
  • Relationships Between Ground Reaction Impulse and Sprint Acceleration Performance in Team Sport Athletes, Kawamori, et. al, The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 27(3), April 2012
  • Increases in lower-body strength transfer positively to sprint performance: a systematic review with meta-analysis, Seitz, et. al., Sports Med. 2014 Dec;44(12):1693-702
  • New study connects running motion to ground force, provides patterns for any runner. SMU Research Blog, January 30, 2017. https://blog.smu.edu/research/2017/01/30/new-study-connects-running-motion-to-ground-force-provides-patterns-for-any-runner/

Youth Speed Training Tips: Technical + Applied Drills

Tips for training speed in youth athletes
The Velocity Speed Formula (read more about it hereuses proven speed training drills to make athletes faster.  However, it’s much more than just drills.  How different drills are combined affects learning.  For youth speed training to carry over to the game you need to learn this tip in the video.

Velocity Speed Formula

Combining technical and applied drills is an important part of youth speed training.  It’s one way we make sure athletes can apply the speed in the game.  This is just one part of the Velocity Speed System.  It’s built on the science of biomechanics and motor learning.  Learn more about the Velocity Speed Formula

RELATED: The Ultimate Guide To Speed Training

Velocity Speed Training Drills: Optimal Range of Motion

Speed training drills: optimal range of motion
The Velocity Speed Formula (read more about it hereuses proven speed training drills to make athletes faster.  Whether its elite speed training or youth speed training, the Formula always has the same 4 parts;
  • Big Force
  • Small Time
  • Proper Direction
  • Optimal Range of Motion

Apply Force in the OPTIMAL RANGE OF MOTION

The range of motion your limbs and joints travel through while sprinting is a Goldilocks scenario; not too big, not too small, but just right.

If the limbs are traveling through too big a range of motion you may be wasting time and energy.

If the range is too small, you wont generate the power you need.

RELATED: Sport Specific Types of Strength

Optimal range of motion is developed by acquiring good motion through stretching and mobility work combined with dynamic mobility drills.  Below we have a few of the speed training drills that help athletes develop the optimal range of motion for sprinting.

Kneeling Arm Action Drill

This drill to reinforce arm action has been around for a long time.  The reason; it still helps athlete work on understanding the arm swing range of motion while running.  One of the keys is that you want athletes using this drill to feel good spinal alignment with relaxed shoulders and neck.

Use this drill through various speeds, push faster until form, coordination or body position start to suffer.  Then back the speed down and regain the form.  Make sure the motion is from the shoulder.  No “karate-chop” actions at the elbows.

Fast Leg Drill

There are many useful variations of the Fast Leg speed drill and multiple benefits.  The one we are focusing on here is the range of motion.  Specifically the range of motion when the leg recovers from behind the body and the thigh lifts in front.  The higher the thigh lift, the more power the drive down and back can be.

This drill breaks up the sprinting motion so athletes can focus on the technical aspects.  As always, great core posture is important.

Velocity Speed Formula

Both of these are important speed training drills to help athletes ability to apply force in the proper direction. These drills reinforce basics physics so athletes can accelerate faster.

RELATED: Velocity Coaches Favorite Speed Drills

Velocity Speed Training Drills: Proper Direction

Speed Training Drill for Proper Direction
The Velocity Speed Formula (read more about it hereuses proven speed training drills to make athletes faster.  Whether its elite speed training or youth speed training, the Formula always has the same 4 parts;
  • Big Force
  • Small Time
  • Proper Direction
  • Optimal Range of Motion

Apply Force in the Proper Direction

Force is a vector which means it has a direction as well as quantity.  Efficient and effective movement requires not just the right amount of force, but applied in the right direction.

Proper direction is achieved through the right motor pattern (technique) and the stability of the body to apply it that way.  When the structures of joints, muscles and tendons aren’t up to the task, we have what we call “energy leaks.”

Below we share 2 useful drills that help you develop your PROPER DIRECTION qualities.  These drills are designed to reinforce and help the athlete self-regulate the direction they apply force to the ground.

RELATED: Sport Specific Types of Strength

Harness Resisted Sprints for Acceleration

To accelerate an athlete need to apply more force horizontally.  Thats how they increase their movement velocity. This drill reinforces horizontal force application.

The harness allows additional horizontal force to be applied to the athlete. Using a belt, it’s applied near the center of mass to be more biomechanically correct.  As the athlete feels that added force, they will tend to automatically apply force in a more horizontal direction

 

Wall Drills

This is a classic speed training drill that has survived the test of time.

Trying to drive the legs backward and push into the wall reinforces the horizontal force direction for acceleration.

To project your center of mass in the air high enough for the rope to go around twice, you need to apply a big enough force.

It’s very effective but has a problem; it get boring quickly.  So make sure you use it as a prep or reinforcement drill.  Don’t do it for a long time.  It’s also bets used in quick contrast with a drill where the athlete gets to apply that force moving and reinforce the proper direction.

Velocity Speed Formula

Both of these are important speed training drills to help athletes ability to apply force in the proper direction. These drills reinforce basics physics so athletes can accelerate faster.

RELATED: Velocity Coaches Favorite Speed Drills

3 Biggest Myths about Soccer Speed

soccer speed

When comes to developing soccer speed in players, we all know why it’s important. Speed wins games.

Coaches want it, players respect it, and spectators cheer for it. Unfortunately, speed training for soccer is often misunderstood.  In years of working with everything from AYSO to National teams, here are the 3 biggest myths we hear about soccer specific speed.

1. Only speed with the ball matters

Of course being quick with the ball in your possession is going to be a huge part of soccer.  That’s skill.  That’s the point.  However, if you don’t recognize what happens without the ball, you’re missing most of the game.

First of, most of the time players don’t have the ball.  Just do the math; 90 minute game, 20 field players, if they had it equal time (which of course they don’t) that’s 4.4 minutes or 5% of the time. So even if you’re a player who gets a lot more possession, you’re going to spend the majority of time without the ball.

Then you have to think about how you get the ball.  Beating an opponent to it and creating an open space with a run both can require speed.

Finally, while moves in small tight spaces, may require more quickness form you, if you’re moving in open space, you cant moving any faster with the ball than your body can go.  Your sprinting speed is your limit.

Bottom line, if you want to be a fast player, develop your speed. Period.

2. Fast players are born that way

Decades ago many coaches would say “you cant teach speed” like there was a simple genetic lottery to have it or not.  Not true.

Not it is true you need some genetic qualities to have world class, 100m gold medal speed.  If you didn’t have the right grandparents, all the training in the world might not get you there.

However speed is a complex motor skill that involves both motor control and force production capabilities.  Both of those can be taught and improved through good coaching and training.  Sped is a skill and can be taught.

If you want to get an advantage over the competition at every level, than you need to maximize your speed.  That means training the movement skills and the force production abilities.

3. Running sprints will make players fast

Too often coaches, players and parents think they are doing speed training.  After all, the players are running as fast as they can doing those sprints at practice.

While running at full effort is an important part of developing speed, its not a winning formula.

The formula to improve speed is The Big 4.  The four factors you can train and teach to improve.  They are;

  1. Generating a big force to propel the body
  2. Applying that force in a very small ground contact time
  3. Applying the force in the Proper Direction
  4. Moving the body through an Optimal Range of Motion

These can all be taught using advanced motor control and neuro-developmental techniques along with proper functional strength training and mobility development

RELATED: See How Velocity Simplifies the Biomechanics of Speed

Do You Want To Be Faster?

If you’ve fallen into one of these traps, you’re not alone.  The good news is that you can get an edge on the competition by breaking free and  taking control of how fast you will be out on the soccer field. To learn more about speed training check out The Ultimate Guide To Speed Training.