I was at a track meet last week when I struck up a conversation with a parent. We just finished watching the 55 meter dash and he was a little disappointed with where his daughter finished.
Let me get this straight first. He was upset, he wasn’t yelling at her, he wasn’t going to send her straight to bed with no supper, he wasn’t starting a fight in the stands, he was just thought she was going to do better.
He was saying that “she looks so fast” and her friend that beat her “didn’t seem to be running as fast as her “.
I saw the race and it was the classic example of his daughter spinning her wheels.
Right from the start she stood straight up and tried to ‘run fast’. Her legs were moving fast but she wasn’t going anywhere. In her mind she was thinking that if her legs are moving that quick then she must be going as fast as she can.
Imagine you’re driving a Ford Mustang (you can add any car with a lot of horsepower in place of the Mustang but we will use this because I just miss mine) and it’s raining and you are at a stop light. When the light turns green, if you step hard on the gas to try and speed off, what will happen? Right, your wheels will be turning/spinning fast but you won’t be going anywhere.
It’s the same concept with running. You need to work your way through the gears.
You can see this with athletes in every sport. An athlete’s legs that seem to be moving really fast but it takes them forever to get down the field, court or track.
It’s not all about turnover and conversely it’s not all about stride length. You need to find the optimal level of both stride length and frequency.
The saying “you get faster by running fast” is true but we need to clarify it a bit. If you run repeat 100’s at full speed every day, you may get a little bit faster but you are doing yourself a disservice.
You need to focus on the different aspects of speed.
Acceleration, top speed (maximum velocity) and speed endurance all have different techniques that need to be mastered in order to reach your full “speed potential”.
I discussed with the father how his daughter should be driving out at about a 45 degree angle and when she does that she should focus on driving down and back (her knee will be coming up close to her chest and then that leg will be forcefully driven down and back behind her center of gravity). It should be more like a piston action then the cyclical leg action that she was using in her race.
I gave the father some drills since he was adamant about learning more and to find ways for his daughter to improve. I showed him the Wall Drill and the Partner Acceleration Drill (which is pretty much like the wall drill except with a partner holding you instead of the wall being there) so his daughter can learn what the 45 degree angle feels like and so she can get the motion and sensation of driving her leg down and back when accelerating.
Now those are 2 simple drills can help his daughter. She does need to realize that there are different stages to running and there are different techniques to work on. Acceleration, top speed, and speed endurance all require attention if you want to be efficient as possible so you can be as fast as possible. That’s why segmenting and breaking down these separate skills is important in practice.
In fact it’s critical to developing speed in athletes regardless of sport.
If your athletes’ speed isn’t developing the way you think it should it may be as simple as making a few minor changes to the way you teach them. Or it might require wholesale changes to your training program.
I’ll answer your questions about how to teach speed in a future email. Simply scroll to the bottom of this article and ask your biggest question in the comments section.
Yours in speed,
P.S. To get your hands on the exact same speed drills, techniques, training cues, exercises and speed workouts I use to dramatically improve acceleration, top speed and speed endurance in athletes of every age, sport and ability, check out: