Making an athlete faster is a challenging task, but it is not impossible.
There are many pieces that must come together for someone to be fast. They must have great strength in relation to their body weight, they must have excellent technique, and they also need to develop an almost spring-like effect in the muscles of their lower body.
Of those skills, the one that sits at the foundation of it all is how physically powerful you are.
Without this, none of the other skills will make a significant difference.
Here are two tests that correlate best with sprint times.
STANDING BROAD JUMP: This is a 2 foot long jump without a run in. Despite being very simple to administer, this test gives great insight into an athlete’s ability to accelerate.
The broad jump forces the athlete to push back into the ground, so their shins are angled forward, meaning your knee is well in front of the toes at takeoff. This mimics the angle an athlete must have to accelerate in the first 10+ yards of a sprint (and is quite similar in skating).
Since the acceleration phase of sprinting is not only the most important for better overall sprint times, it is also the distance athletes must cover most often in start-and-stop team sports like basketball, hockey, soccer, field hockey and lacrosse, among others.
VERTICAL JUMP: A straight vertical jump without a run in is the other excellent speed predictor, but it correlates much better to an athlete’s ability to run at top speed.
Once again, it has to do with the angle of the shin at takeoff.
Top speed sprinting requires a more upright position, causing your foot to mostly push straight into the ground underneath your body if it is being done correctly.
As the vertical jump measures how much power you can drive straight into the ground, it predicts quite nicely how fast you can be at top speed.
Putting the two tests together, you have a nice and easy way to determine how fast an athlete should be right now in both their starting and top speed phases.
Now, we still get a lot of people who will tell us that you can’t train speed. That it is a skill you are born with and can’t improve.
To that, I would argue the following:
- With proper strength and explosive power training, I think most today would agree you can improve your broad jump and vertical jump.
- Studies on athletes and physical education students have shown that increases in these two tests lead directly to faster sprint times. (see below).
- Without even getting into technique improvements (and what skill can’t be improved with better technique?), simply by gaining more strength and power you can train an athlete to be faster.
Athletes who want to play faster, regardless of sport, should first ensure that they have developed the strength and explosive power necessary to maximize their speed potential.
With that in place, all the sprint technique and other training you do will produce far greater results.