In nearly 20 years of developing athletes, I can tell you there are 3 simple truths to developing speed:
Genetics absolutely play a factor in speed potential. Some people just start at a much better place for playing fast.
It is 100% true that you can improve your speed through training, regardless of how good or bad you are right now.
If you choose to train to develop speed, you better be in it for the long run because it takes a sustained, coordinated effort to make a real change.
The reason why you need to be in it for the long run (no pun intented) is that there are a bunch of different areas you’ll need to enhance to maximize your speed potential. They are delicately intertwined and each will have a positive or negative effect on all the others.
In short, you need it all to be really fast.
So what are those factors?
1. Improve Mobility
This is an easy one to picture. Tight leg muscles shorten your stride, and shorter strides don’t allow you to cover as much ground as longer strides do.
Pretty simple, right?
Most often the restrictive areas are the hip flexors and quads. Tightness here doesn’t allow your push off leg to extend back as far, which limits the amount of force you can put into the ground. Less force = less distance per stride.
Check to see if you are limited in any lower body muscles for tightness, but specifically check the hip flexors and quads. A quality stretching routine, on its own, can actually make you faster if this is a limiting factor for you.
2. Fix Asymmetries
Once we started using video analysis in our speed & agility classes last year, we started to notice a very interesting thing that we were not picking up with the naked eye.
Some athletes run a little differently with their right and left sides.
And if they’re different, it stands to reason that only one can be the more efficient side.
Our recommendation is to use the Functional Movement Screen to assess and isolate differences from the right and left sides first, as the issues are likely to stem from a difference in mobility, strength or stability from one side of the body to the other.
This can often be caused by a previous injury, even if pain no longer persists.
It can also come from using one side of the body for a repetitive task more than another, like cutting by pushing off your right leg far more often than your left. Or kicking a ball endlessly with one leg but not as much with the other.
Regardless of how it’s caused, fixing asymmetries is another way to improve speed because by fixing the error on the slower side, you now cut down on the lost hundredths of seconds that bad side costs you on every other stride.
3. Build Core Stability
A stable midsection allows you to pass maximum power from your arm drive down to your lower body’s interaction with the ground.
Weakness in here can cause you to lose 10-20% or more of the power generated by your upper body in your sprint technique.
And yeah, your legs do most of the work, but your arm drive definitely has a major impact. Have you ever seen someone run at top speed with their arms by their sides?
A stable core resists rotational forces, prevents side sway, and enhances posture. Good core stability in all 3 planes of motion is ideal to maximize your potential in this category.
4. Increase Strength
One of the biggest misconceptions in regards to athletic development is the thought that strength and speed are two totally separate goals.
The reality is they complement each other. And in regards to speed development, gaining strength without adding too much additional weight will absolutely make you faster.
Stronger athletes have a higher speed ceiling. It is just that simple.
5. Develop More Explosive Power
The ability to generate a lot of force in a very, very short period of time is another component of speed development.
This is another area where the athletes who only run to get fast and avoid strength training are missing out on their true potential. Olympic Lifting and truly explosive plyometric drills (not just dot drills) provide a critical link from strength training to speed training.
For a direct correlation, consider this.
Explosive power training is one of, if not the best ways to improve your standing broad jump. And the standing broad jump is highly correlated to improving your 10 yard dash times. So by training to increase your broad jump, you instantly increase your potential to get out in the first 10 yards of your sprint faster.
6. Develop A Rigid Ankle Joint
Not to be overlooked is how your foot contacts the ground. There could be a loss of energy coming from an ankle joint that lands and gets ‘squishy’. By that I mean that upon foot strike the ankle bends and absorbs too much force.
The correct way for your foot to strike the ground would very much resemble a tightly wound spring. It hits but mostly maintains its positioning, absorbing the ground forces but staying in position to rapidly push off and explode into the next stride.
Simple drills like jump roping can develop this trait over time.
7. Fix Sprint Technique Errors
Of course one of the ways to improve speed is to discover where the inefficiencies are in your stride, and do specific drills to correct them.
It could be that your posture is off, or your leg cycling. Arm drive plays a key role, as well.
Whatever the issue, fixing it reduces wasted motion that is slowing down every stride you take.
Today’s athlete has some serious technological advantages on their side here. Our facility leans heavily on video analysis through the Coach’s Eye app, a fantastic tool for slowing down motion to show the athlete exactly what they are doing. Also, the Woodway Curve treadmill has done wonders for our kids in helping them to run better.
8. Get Out And Run!
Getting out and running at top speeds creates an adaptation in your nervous system that cannot be created any other way. You can lift and stretch and do technical drills until you pass out, but if you never run at top speeds you’ll never hit your true speed potential.
Unfortunately many times an athlete who wants to get faster only focuses on this last tip and they avoid most or all of the previous eight.
Developing speed is the most multi-faceted skill for an athlete to develop. But it is also the most coveted.
So if you really, truly want to develop it, start taking a smarter approach to your training.