In the final part of our Speed Training Blueprint, we touch on the four most critical technique areas for a young athlete to master.
For anyone who wants to read Parts 1 - 3, you can go back and check them out here:
A quick Google search of 'speed drills' or 'agility drills' reveals a very wide range of ideas that you could use to do technical work.
How are you to make sense of all this information, or any others in a speed and agility workout?
To determine whether an exercise is useful, or complete B.S., first determine whether it falls within one of the four main areas of real speed technique:
1. Starting Technique/Acceleration
2. Top Speed Sprinting
3. Lateral Movement
4. Change of Direction/Agility
Most sports are a combination of all these skills blended together, with some sports leaning more into one or two categories than the others.
Next, we need to know if the exercise or program is working on each of these in the most efficient way. After all, speed is about getting from Point A to Point B in the shortest time, so the more efficient your movement the better chance the new technique is making you play faster.
Here's what to look for in each category.
Whether standing still, jogging, or coming out of blocks (as in track), your ability to get up to top speed efficiently is all about power. Really, humans are not much different than cars in this respect.
How do you accelerate your car? You hit the gas and power up.
Any acceleration exercise that teaches an athlete to increase power in their start will improve acceleration. Looking out further, this is also the skill that benefits most from proper strength and power training.
Watch any elite sprinter in the first 10 yards and you'll see long arm and leg drive, signifying an effective power up phase.
Young athletes often make the mistake of taking little, tiny steps in their start because it feels fast. After all, more quick steps mean I'm moving faster, right?
No. It means you aren't covering any ground.
Good acceleration training takes the horsepower developed in the weight room and transfers it over to the field, court or ice with programming that teaches how to best transfer that power into speed.
It's critical to understand that how a runner moves their legs during acceleration and how they move during top speed are totally different.
In acceleration, leg action is more like a piston....driving in a straight line.
Yet in top speed the legs cycle as if riding a bike. And it is in that cycling motion, that things can really fly off the handle (bike pun intentional).
Top speed mechanics require a careful blend of power, posture and efficiency. Upright posture and continued power are key elements of great top speed sprinting.
But the leg cycling is where many athletes get lost. For simplicity, let's break the cycle into the top, front, bottom and back locations.
The top of the cycle is the high knee position, which is the one thing you do hear a lot about. Hip height would be nice, although mobility issues and poor posture could limit this.
The front part is where your foot goes, which should swing slightly in front of your knee for a brief second.
The down is where your foot strikes the ground, which should be directly under your body.
The back is the most complex, because first off you want good extension of the entire leg. Then, however, that leg must snap up high and tight to return to the high knee position in the least amount of time.
Most poor runners struggle in literally all areas of leg cycling, which not only slows them down but leads to various lower body aches and pains.
Bottom line, drills that teach proper cycling are the most critical to top speed success.
In many sports an athlete must move side to side through shuffling and crossover movements. These are very different movements from sprinting, and should be addressed as such.
Generally speaking, these are skills used by defenders to keep offensive players in front of them. The shuffle makes it easier to stay squared up in preparation for a change of direction, while the crossover allows you to move faster but requires excellent technique to keep you from being open to a cut back move.
The degree of need with lateral movement varies widely from sport to sport, and even by position within a sport. Basketball players definitely need this, while an attack position in lacrosse likely doesn't have a great need.
Similar to sprinting, though, you want to emphasize power and posture.
Posture being different here in that your concerns are finding the right hip level (i.e. 'Get Low!') and to avoid unwanted swaying of your shoulders side to side.
For certain sports and positions, developing elite lateral movement is the #1 key to pbecoming a high level defender.
Change Of Direction/Agility
Agility is a popular training word used in so many ways today that is seems to not have any meaning. So here's a simple definition:
Agility = Cutting
Any time you are moving in one direction and then abruptly change to move in a different direction, that is an agility exercise.
As with everything else above, power and posture are critical to having great agility technique. Beyond that, it is foot placement on your cut that determines how effective it is.
An elite cutting step combines three elements:
- It pushes off in the exact direction you want to go. Using cardinal directions, if you are going north and want to cut to the northwest, pushing off in the southeast quadrant is optimal.
- Your cutting step must be powerful.
- Your cutting step must be quick off the ground, like a boxer throwing a punch.
True agility training teaches cutting footwork in a variety of ways, preferably specific to the movement of your sport and position. And it should focus on combining the 3 elements listed here.
The higher you go in your sport, the more likely you'll need to have excellent technique to keep up with better players. What you could get away with at lower levels will be exposed against greater competition.
In this four-part series on Speed Training, my hope is that you now realize that the myths surrounding speed development come from an earlier era where there simply wasn't as much coaching information out there.
Today's world is different.
We now live in an era where research has shown that by developing foundational physical skills like core strength, mobility, quick feet, and total-body strength give you the potential to play faster no matter what your sport. Layering great technique on top of that puts the final piece of the puzzle in place, allowing you to realize your true speed potential.