Why You Need to Develop Speed Reserve
By: Zach Even-Esh
The Quest for Speeeeeed!
There are many ways to improve the speed of an athlete, but, one of the most overlooked and underrated factors for improving the speed of an athlete is to simply get them stronger! Stronger all around, not just in the lower body!
Every time I have a slow athlete, I automatically know I have a weak athlete – they tend to go hand in hand. The problem is that too many Coaches and athletes feel that to get faster they need to run more. Without a doubt, sprinting technique is critical, but if you have a weak athlete then he / she simply can not produce great amounts of force into the ground.
Greater force = greater reaction.
My pet peeve with training athletes of any level, whether it be high school or college, is to keep the movements very simple when it relates to strength training. A D1 athlete might be considered a high level athlete but this does not qualify them as a high level lifter! This means we will be utilizing very simple movements which still yield a high return in results.
The first thing we do is attack the weak areas, which is always the posterior chain. Every muscle you can NOT see in the mirror is weak, and unfortunately, these muscles are critical in contributing to speed. The back, glutes and hamstrings especially provide the strength and power necessary for speed.
My favorite movements that yield a high return in speed improvements and are very easy to learn are the following:
1. Forwards, backwards and lateral sled dragging
2. 45 degree weighted back extensions
3. truck pushing
4. pull ups / chin ups
5. trap bar deadlift
6. weighted lunges (forwards or reverse)
The sled drag is the easiest movement to perform yet it is priceless when it comes to increasing strength and power in the lower body. The forwards drag is of most importance here because it will strengthen the hamstrings and glutes big time, these are prime movers for sprinters. Do not be afraid to go heavy on these either, in fact, I encourage you to use a heavy sled. Many people have the misconception that sleds are for sprinting but nothing can be further from the truth. Heavy sled work forces the athlete to lean into the movement and push with the balls of his / her feet using a positive shin angle – this is exactly what happens during acceleration!
You can attach the sled to a tow strap and a weight belt or simply hold the tow straps in your hands. Sled work can be performed regularly, even on an almost daily basis. The sled can be dragged for a 3 – 5 sets of 50 – 200 yards per set for most workouts, but variety with your training keeps progress coming so always switch it up.
I recommend using the sled at least twice per week. This can literally take no more than 10 – 12 minutes of training time. Remember, strength has a profound carry over to power and speed endurance. A stronger athlete is much more efficient than a weaker athlete.
If possible, split the speed training up from the sled training. Performing both in the same session is not optimal but sometimes it is the only way. If you must perform both in the same workout, I suggest performing the sled work after the sprint training, or dedicate an entire day to strength training. It’s not necessary to always run to get faster, but it is necessary to become stronger to improve speed!
Notice that my favorite movements for improving speed do not only include lower body movements, instead you see pull ups / chin ups as well. Studies have shown that high school athletes who can perform more pull ups often times have a faster 40 yard dash time than the athlete who can perform less pull ups.
The lats are involved in the arm swing during sprints and the body works as one, so strengthening the lats (the largest muscle in the body) will be of great benefit to improving speed. Once an athlete can perform 10 perfect bodyweight pull ups and chin ups then it’s time to add 10 % of his / her bodyweight and continue in this manner until he / she can perform 8 – 10 perfect reps with added weight. Weighted pull ups / chin ups are a phenomenal upper body movement which will improve speed as well!
Nowhere do you see Olympic lifts, or special exercises that require endless practice to become proficient in. Instead, it’s all about getting stronger at the basics. Pushing a truck, deadlifting with a trap bar, pull ups, sled drags in all directions, lunges of any kind (unilateral lower body movements are excellent for strengthening each leg individually, especially the hamstrings and glutes) and weighted back extensions.
On a final note, make sure you are not performing time wasting movements or drills with your athletes. I have worked with athletes in various sports and have seen Coaches utilizing drills that actually detrain and worsen the performance of the athlete. I’ve seen javelin and shot athletes run 3 miles every day, baseball players jog over 1 mile every day, sprinters performing 1 – 3 mile jogs and no strength work and many more horror stories.
Yes, horror stories I call them because this is a disservice to the athlete! This training is eliminating his / her chances for success! What it boils down to is not neglecting strength training, let me rephrase that, appropriate strength training and appropriate practices in general.
Choose simple movements that are efficient and highly effective, nothing less! If you’re practicing your running enough then start practicing your strength training. Strength is a skill which must be performed regularly. When your running, strength training and recovery are all in harmony you can rest assured that you will be incredibly faster than ever before!
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