So you want to get faster? I guess that is why you clicked on this.
It might seem like a simple question, and it is depending on how you look at it, but it can also be a little complex. Lets first establish what speed is and what part of it you actually want to become better at.
Do you want to be able to run 100m in a straight line faster? Run 20m in a straight line faster? 5m faster? Do you want faster reaction time? Do you want to change direction faster? Do you want to be able to accelerate to top speed faster? Do you want to increase your top speed? As you can see, its not exactly a simple question.
I will assume you will probably say ‘all of the above’, so I’ll do my best to cover all bases.
Firstly, I’m going to get a bit sciencey on you, and try to define exactly what speed is. I’ll try not to go too deep.
Speed is the rate at which an object covers a distance. So essentially the distance divided by the time it takes to get there. Speed is independent of direction though. So are you saying you want to be directionless? If you are a field sport athlete, I’m guessing no.
Now if you add direction to the equation, you get velocity.. ie Velocity = Speed in a defined Direction.
Now acceleration is something we definitely need to talk about. Acceleration (or deceleration) is the change in velocity. Acceleration = (final velocity – initial velocity) divided by (final time – initial time). Are you still with me? Essentially it is your ability to change ‘velocity’ quickly. Hopefully that makes sense.
Now just to throw a spanner in the works, I want to briefly talk about Force, because force is a critical component in all of this. Force = Mass x Acceleration. This means an object with a larger mass (essentially your weight) needs a stronger force to be moved along at the same acceleration as an object with a small mass. This is Newton's Second Law of Motion for you nerds out there.
You have probably heard of people being ‘powerful’ athletes. Well power is another piece of the puzzle worth mentioning. Power = Force X Velocity. So essentially your ability to deliver force quickly in a specific direction.. Hopefully this picture is starting to build in your mind.
Can you see how these are all interlinked, and that in most part ‘Force’ underpins most of what we are talking about? Do you know what you want to improve yet? If I were to guess what you want, its probably to become more powerful. So now that we have established some ‘basics’, we can talk about how to improve a few things.
To get faster, you essentially need to be able to deliver a larger force in the opposite direction to which you want to go. When you run, that’s essentially at an angle into the ground. Sam goes for sideways, backwards and upwards (jumping).
So how do you improve your ability to deliver force? Well essentially you need to improve the structures which deliver that force, and by structures I predominately mean soft tissue (muscles, ligaments and tendons). The major contributors to force production are the obvious ones, glutes, hamstrings, calves, achilles, hip flexors and quads; however the lower back is one which actually significantly contributes to force production. It often gets overlooked, but if you speak with any elite running or strength coach, they will tell you lower back is key.
How do you improve that soft tissue, well you increase the ability of the tissue to contract, increase the ability of the tissue to stretch (within reason) and increase the number of fibres within that group.
Hinging and squatting are the two stables of any good program, and all the different variations, in particular single leg work. But don’t forget the different planes of motion. Up/down, sideways and rotational. The upper body also plays an important role (how often to you see a world class sprinter with a small chest or arms?) so the big strength movements should form part of the program (bench, overhead press, pull-up, row). You can’t forget the core as well. If you have nothing linking the upper and lower body to keep everything strong and stable, you’re no chance.
A key component to all this is tempo. The concentric phase of every rep needs to be attacked with speed (or if I’m getting technical, velocity). Slow reps might get you strong, but you could be using those reps to better effect by performing them faster. Get a good strength program and follow it. This will generally be a good balance between ‘strength’ (1-5 reps) and ‘hypertrophy’ (8-20 reps) work. It can also be done with things like resisted sprints (weighted, hill sprints sleds etc).
If you want to be an athlete who can deliver a lot of force, having a 1.5x BW squat, 2xBW deadlift, 1.2xBW bench and a 0.75xBW Military press will either be a solid base from which to work, or be adequate to take you to a high level depending on your sport.
2. Deliver force FASTER – POWER
I spoke a little about delivering force faster above throughout strength movements. What I want to talk about here is being explosive. Fast guys are explosive. They have a unique ability to deliver force quickly, ie POWER.
To do this, you need to practice thinking, and being explosive. Lightly resisted movements are great to develop this such as ball throws and jumps, as are more complex movements like cleans and snatching. Weightlifting are among the most explosive and powerful athletes in the world. For a 75kg guy to get 170kg+ over his head, he needs to be fast, very fast.
Plyometrics play an important role in this as well. The ability to accelerate and decelerate is something I haven’t touched much on yet, but it is absolutely critical for any field sport athletes. If you ever watched mighty ducks, you will remember the guy who was extremely fast, but he was no use as he couldn’t stop. Then in the last game, he stopped for the first time and essentially won them the game. You can only accelerate as fast as you can decelerate. This is your ability to change direction. You will see guys who are poor at this all the time. Its like watching a Mack truck turning because they can’t slow down.
Plyometrics improve the fast twitch fibres, but can also overload the soft tissue and joints upon landing, and thus help build the strength in the tissue to absorb (stretch) and then contract again to ‘accelerate’ and deliver force. Skipping is a great place to start, and working into different jumping variations will have you on your way. Ladder work also falls a bit into this category, but its certainly not top of the list.
As a measure, we consider having a 30 Inch vertical jump or 1.4xheight standing long jump to put you in the game in terms of explosiveness.
3. Efficiency and Technique
When we say efficiency, I’m talking about efficiency of movement. This includes foot placement and body position. LADDERS DO NOT MAKE YOU FASTER, but what they can do is help you develop patterns and positioning. Everyone wants to do ladder work and ‘fast feet’, but 99% of people don’t do it well. Yes we want to move our feet faster, but for me, I want to move them more efficiently. Ladder help direct your foot placement and develop movement patters which can lead to you taking shorter strides when accelerating or decelerating. Building these patterns into the sub-conscious are the key, and there are heaps of drills out there which can be used to develop this.
Michael Johnson was one of the greatest athletes of all time, and man was he efficient. He was the king of the filthiest race, the 400m. His style to me looked a bit odd, but it was so dam efficient. One of the best things I did before I ran my marathon was to get a running assessment, and I would recommend sprint or running training to anyone. I have learnt some great things over the years and can teach a few basics, but professional help is great. This will help you move with more efficiency and with better form which helps tremendously with improving speed as well as injury prevention.
4. Reaction time, vision and ability to read the game.
Just because you can run fast, doesn’t necessarily mean that will translate to game situations. Being a student of the game is the first step. Play more, watch more, assess more and try more. Confronting a variety of situations will help develop this.
Vision gets spoken about a lot when it comes to particularly playmakers or creative guys. They just see things others don’t see. This comes from an ability to do a task (ie dribble, run, talk) while scanning the field. A big part of this is peripheral vision. (Quick rant – if you spend a lot of time on your phone, computers etc, this is making things worse, but even worse is if you are letting you kids do this. Its killing their eyes and their vision, and probably making them crap at any sport our activity requiring the body and skill). Activities such as juggling can improve this significantly. Vision is also critical for defenders. Ability to watch a player make runs and where other attackers are going to play the ball (as well as doing lazy midfielders jobs).
But the ability for any player to adjust their position in response to an attackers movement or faint, or the ability to an attacker to adjust to incoming defenders. This in the initial stages comes down to reaction time, and secondly builds on point 3, efficiency and body position. Combining any sort of ‘agility’ drill, ladder work, or just about any game or drill with a reaction component will continue to build the players ability to ‘multi-task’ or react to a changing situation. This is a learned skill, and it takes practice, so practice. It can be as simple as jogging on the spot and someone saying left or right and you having to move that direction.
Run faster more often. Seems pretty straight forward. Running fast is a skill in a lot of respects, so you need to practice doing just that. Short sprints, overspeed training, flying sprints and sharp drills involving reaction and change of direction are all going to help you run ‘faster’. Make it a race and you will get the result you want.
Hopefully you made it all the way through and you realise things are simple but complex at the same time. By now, hopefully you know what you want to be specifically, not just ‘faster’ and have an understanding behind the why and how.
The what to do can be highly variable depending on who you talk to, but from my perspective, if you tick off each of these 5 points, you’re not only going to be ‘faster’, but chances are you are going to be a significantly better athlete. It sure helped me, and I know it can help you. Seek out quality professionals who know what they are talking about.