Speed Training for Acceleration

Speed is a product of stride length (the distance your hips travel in a stride) and stride frequency (the number of steps you take in a given time period). However, you will not reach top speed by focusing on increasingly larger steps to increase stride length or taking short, quick steps to increase stride frequency. Instead, top speeds are created by applying ‘optimal’ force to the ground. Both length and frequency are improved by strength so better strength application results in faster speeds. Really, acceleration training is a form of strength training.

Ground contact times (the amount of time each foot spends on the ground) are another important factor to consider during acceleration. During the earliest parts of acceleration, especially the first two steps, you are trying to overcome (inertia) the weight of your body by moving it forward as quickly as possible. This takes a great deal of strength and power. The stronger and more efficient you are, the more you can extend your acceleration phase.

Since high intensity sprint work involves recruiting specific groups of muscle fibers improves the efficiency of neuromuscular firing patterns, sprinting is taxing to the central nervous system. Once the CNS becomes fatigued, workouts quickly lose their effectiveness. Any type of speed work must be done with full recovery. Generally speaking, that means approximately one minute of rest for every 10 yards that you run. Sprinting is a highly technical activity. Without full recovery, both your muscles and your central nervous system will begin to fatigue quickly, reducing the short and long term effectiveness of your training. For this reason, acceleration should not be trained with fatigue present. To optimize your success, full recovery must be adhered to both in your individual workouts as well as your weekly plan. It takes roughly 36-48 hours to fully recover from a speed workout.

Acceleration Cues

  • Drive the lead arm (same as front leg) up as you begin to sprint.
  • Drive out so the body is at a 45 degree angle to the ground.
  • Keep the heel recovery low during the first 6-8 strides.
  • Drive the elbows down and back. Keep the hands loose, but not open. Arms should remain at approximately 90 degrees from the elbow.
  • Step over the opposite knee and drive the foot down into the ground to create maximal force.

Don’t force yourself to ‘stay low’. This will limit the amount of force you can apply to the ground and leads to poor acceleration. Let your upper body unfold naturally. ‘Staying low’ will occur naturally if you are already strong enough.

Speed Training for Acceleration

Speed is a product of stride length (the distance your hips travel in a stride) and stride frequency (the number of steps you take in a given time period). However, you will not reach top speed by focusing on increasingly larger steps to increase stride length or taking short, quick steps to increase stride frequency. Instead, top speeds are created by applying ‘optimal’ force to the ground. Both length and frequency are improved by strength so better strength application results in faster speeds. Really, acceleration training is a form of strength training.
Ground contact times (the amount of time each foot spends on the ground) are another important factor to consider during acceleration. During the earliest parts of acceleration, especially the first two steps, you are trying to overcome (inertia) the weight of your body by moving it forward as quickly as possible. This takes a great deal of strength and power. The stronger and more efficient you are, the more you can extend your acceleration phase.
Since high intensity sprint work involves recruiting specific groups of muscle fibers improves the efficiency of neuromuscular firing patterns, sprinting is taxing to the central nervous system. Once the CNS becomes fatigued, workouts quickly lose their effectiveness. Any type of speed work must be done with full recovery. Generally speaking, that means approximately one minute of rest for every 10 yards that you run. Sprinting is a highly technical activity. Without full recovery, both your muscles and your central nervous system will begin to fatigue quickly, reducing the short and long term effectiveness of your training. For this reason, acceleration should not be trained with fatigue present. To optimize your success, full recovery must be adhered to both in your individual workouts as well as your weekly plan. It takes roughly 36-48 hours to fully recover from a speed workout.

Acceleration Cues

Drive the lead arm (same as front leg) up as you begin to sprint.
Drive out so the body is at a 45 degree angle to the ground.
Keep the heel recovery low during the first 6-8 strides.
Drive the elbows down and back. Keep the hands loose, but not open. Arms should remain at approximately 90 degrees from the elbow.
Step over the opposite knee and drive the foot down into the ground to create maximal force.

Don’t force yourself to ‘stay low’. This will limit the amount of force you can apply to the ground and leads to poor acceleration. Let your upper body unfold naturally. ‘Staying low’ will occur naturally if you are already strong enough.

Speed Training Myths: Top 10 Speed Training Myths Revealed

Each day we receive questions about training speed. So we’ve taken those questions that we hear the most and answered them in a slightly different format.

1. Static stretching prepares you to compete/practice

Static stretching actually reduces power output. Athletes should prepare for practice by doing a dynamic warm up that moves from basic, low intensity movements to faster, more explosive movements as the muscles loosen up. You want to simulate movements that athletes will go through in practice or a game. What happens when you try and stretch a cold rubber band? In a way, you can think about your muscles the same way.

2. Strength training makes females too bulky

This is a popular mindset with many female athletes that we have worked with. Simply look at some elite female athletes like Mia Hamm, Lisa Leslie, etc. These athletes certainly train with weights and no one would accuse them of having manly physiques. Strength training will improve performance and reduce injury if done correctly.

3. You can’t train speed

For some reason it is a popular belief that you are born with a certain amount of ‘speed’ and you can’t improve it. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Most young athletes are so physically weak and mechanically out of tune that significant improvements in speed can be made often just by working on technique and form. Athletes at any age and any level can improve speed when implementing a complete speed training program designed to improve and develop the entire athlete.

4. Training slow makes you fast

I don’t think coaches directly think this way, but their training implies otherwise. This is especially true in sports that involve a higher aerobic element such as soccer, field hockey, lacrosse, etc. I see kids out running mileage and doing long slow intervals of several minutes of continuous running. And this will get them in shape. But in games I see kids jogging, jogging and then sprinting at full speed for 20-30 yards, run, jog, sprint for 20-30 yards. If you want kids to improve their acceleration and top speed so they can get to the ball faster or get back on defense, then you have to train by running at full speed in practice.

5. You can train hard every day

The workout itself is only a piece of the training puzzle. It is the time between intense workouts, the recovery, where athletes make their improvements. And generally it takes 36-48 hours to recover from high intensity training. If athletes are doing too much, too often they become over trained. Coaches can expect to see an increase in injuries, kids complaining that they are sore more often, decreased performance, higher levels of fatigue earlier in games. It’s always better to under train an athlete than over train. Err on the side of caution to get maximal results.

6. Strength training will stunt a young athlete’s growth

This is another myth held over from a different time. On a daily basis, kids as young as 7 years old are playing organized sports year round, tackling, getting tackled, sliding, falling etc.. These loads on the body can have a much greater physical impact than a well designed strength training program. Though we don’t usually begin training with weights with pre pubescent athletes, they can benefit from body weight exercises such as push ups, lunges, sit ups, etc. This will increase muscular efficiency, speed up recovery, improve coordination and overall speed.

7. The harder the workout, the better the result

Some athletes (and coaches) have this mentality that if a workout doesn’t reduce them to complete exhaustion and/or make them vomit, that it wasn’t an effective workout. I can tell you that those who have this mentality probably see a lot of injuries and frustrating performances. The purpose of a workout is to stimulate an adaptation by the body. If the body is forced to do too much work in a given time period, it will break down. The skill in coaching is to stimulate the adaptation in the body, without reaching a point of diminishing returns.

8. Interval training is the same as speed training

Running repeat 100s, 200s, etc will not improve top speeds. Even running repeat 40s with short recovery will not improve acceleration and top speeds. Speed work is defined at 2-8 seconds of maximal intensity running with full recovery. That means at least 2 minutes of light dynamic movement between each effort. This goes against the experience of some coaches, but simply put, is the only way to improve speed. An athlete must be able to focus on proper form and maintain intensity in order to get faster. If they do not recover properly from each interval, they will not be able to replicate proper mechanics with consistency and they can not improve.

9. Flexibility won’t help you get faster

Both coaches and athletes spend so much time on the skills of their sport, speed training and conditioning that they often forget a fundamental component of success: flexibility. After practice or a game, the muscles are warm and loose. Now is the time to work on increasing flexibility. So many athletes suffer injuries or compete below their capacity because poor flexibility inhibits their range of motion and speed. We see this often in the hips and hip flexors where athletes’ stride length appears conspicuously short. Most often we see this in male athletes who will lift weights, train hard and then skip out on their cool down and flexibility work.

10. Lift your knees

I hear so many parents and coaches yelling to their kids when they want them to run faster or when they are beginning to fatigue, “Lift your knees, Get your knees up”. This is one of the most backwards cues we can give to athletes. The way to run faster is to apply more force to the ground. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction, so the more force you apply to the ground, the more the ground will give back. So when we cue athletes to lift their knees we’re doing two things incorrectly. One, we’re telling them to use their hip flexors to lift instead of their glutes and hamstrings to drive down. Just think about the size of your hip flexor versus the size of the glutes and hamstrings. Now which muscles do you think can create more force and therefore more speed?
Second, we’re cueing them to do learn a movement that is in opposition to what generates speed. If an athlete learns at age 7, to lift their knees when they need a burst of speed, that improper cue will be hardwired into their brain. To unlearn that as a teen and try to do the opposite and drive down, that athlete will have a difficult time coordinating an entirely new way of running and will potentially have to take a step or two backwards. That’s why it is critical to learn proper form early and get an advantage over those who still aren’t getting the best instruction. So cue athletes to step over the opposite knee and drive the foot down into the ground, with the foot landing underneath the hip.

How To Develop Explosive Speed

Creating a football speed program is one of the most important things a coach can do for his team.  Football is a game of speed, and I’ve seen it impact a game in more ways than I can count.  I’ve also seen a lot of coaches and athletes struggle with developing speed, so I’m going to explain some of the principles that must be understood. 
 
An effective football speed training program should focus on teaching athletes how to move efficiently and increase the amount of force they are able to put into the ground during this movement.  Unfortunately, most coaches are still wasting a tremendous amount of their athlete’s time and energy focusing on doing drills for the sake of doing drills, without understanding how these drills are supposed to help.  They find a bunch of drills on the internet or at a camp, put them together in whatever order feels good to them, and call it a football speed training program.  Without a thorough understanding of how speed is developed, your football speed training program will never produce optimal results.  Let’s take a look at the important factors involved in an effective football speed training program.football training How To Develop Explosive Speed
 
Four Factors of an Effective Football Speed Training Program
An effective program has to take important pieces from several areas of science: physiology, neurology, biomechanics and motor learning.  Note that “drills” are one of the scientific areas we need to drawn upon.  Drills are simply a way to help develop one of these areas.  Understanding how a particular drill affects the human body is the key to drill selection and football speed training.
 
Biomechanics & Motor Learning – Athletes must learn how to put force into the ground in a way that will help them move more efficiently.  While not everyone needs to run, cut and accelerate the exact same way, there are certainly ways that are more effective than others.  These techniques need to be understood and taught to young athletes so they aren’t making gross errors in their movement. 
 
Drills should be selected that teach athletes the best way to apply force into the ground.  They also need to be taught in a way that creates real movement changes.  I often see football speed programs that look like they address mechanics on the surface, but when you get right down to it, it’s all just fluff.  Things like A-skips, B-skips, ladder drills and mini-hurdle drills do nothing for most football players, yet we see them shoved down their throats all the time. 
 
Rather than including a drill for the sake of including drills, understand what each drill teaches, and only select the ones that are pertinent.  Wall drills, for example, can be used to teach the mechanics of a forward lean, high knees and forceful backward push during acceleration.  If, however, you’re just throwing the drill into your program because you saw someone else do it, the drill is a waste of time.  It’s absolutely vital that you take the time to teach the athletes HOW to do the drills and HOW to move. 
 
Keep in mind that motor learning is very specific to the skill you are practicing.  That means that you are only going to get better at the exact skill you are practicing, and very little transfer will take place from one movement to another.  In other words, practicing skips and ladder drills will get you better at skips and ladder drills.  Practicing sprinting and acceleration will get you better at sprinting and acceleration.  What do you want to get better at?
 
Of course, some movements are difficult to learn and require “lead-up” drills.  The wall or tall & fall drills are examples of drills that help athletes learn how to accelerate.  A drill may work perfectly for one athlete, but not all of them, so you need several ways of teaching the same skill.  Always keep in mind, however, that the goal is to teach athletes how to run faster, not how to perform a drill.  The drill should always be a means to an end.
 
Physiology – Once mechanics are addressed, we need to get athletes stronger so they can produce more force.  If the increased force is put into the ground with good mechanics, the athlete will run faster.  If the mechanics are not efficient, the force will not be used as effectively as possible and your results will be sub-par.
 
Most strength programs today include some version of a squat, which is a great place to start developing strength.  We’re not going to get into the details of squat technique, but correct form should always be used.  A good football speed training program should also include work on the hamstrings, groin and hips through exercises like glute/ham raises, RDL’s, hip extension, hip flexion, glute/hip bridges, leg curls, slideboard inner thigh, side lunges, 3-D lunges and the Nordic hamstring exercise.  I see these exercises omitted from way too many programs, so make sure you are addressing all of the muscles involved in football speed.  You don’t have to do every one of these exercises every day, but the hips, groin and hamstring should be taken as seriously as the squat.
 
Be progressive with every exercise you choose to maximize your strength gains.  Simply working hard is a great start, but carefully documenting your progress is a much more efficient way to develop strength.  Choose a system of progression that works for you, and stick to it for several weeks at a time before you change anything in your program.  The human body takes time to adapt to a stimulus like a strength program, so be patient and stick with your program to develop strength.
 football1 How To Develop Explosive Speed
Neurology – Increasing force through physiological changes is important to increasing football speed, but increasing the speed in which your body produces that force is just as important.  The ability to produce force quickly is often referred to as power.  In speed and agility, power is important because you need to put force into the ground as quickly as possible in order to move fast.  Strength training will help make this happen, but explosive training will make it happen more efficiently.
 
Explosive training is all about optimizing your nervous system so your muscles will contract quickly and in a coordinated fashion that produces maximal power.  This can be accomplished through training methods such as plyometrics, weighted sleds or resisted movement, Olympic lifting, medicine balls and high speed strength exercises.
 
The key to enhancing your neurology is to perform the exercises with precision, maximum speed and maximum effort.  This means that you’ll be performing relatively low reps (less than 10 reps per set) with each exercise having slightly different guidelines.  You’ll also want to perform these exercises when you’re fresh and give yourself long breaks between sets.  This allows you to give maximal effort on every rep, which will train your body more effectively.
 
Combining these important areas of science will help you create the most effective football speed training program possible.  Understand the purpose of each drill or exercise and apply them in the most efficient manner possible.  If you follow the guidelines outlined in this article, you’ll be on your way to developing explosive football speed.

Jim Kielbaso 

To see Coach Jim Kielbaso’s speed training system for football players, go check it out here at Complete Football Speed

Best Youth Speed Game

Coach Dave Gleason shares with you his Best Game for teaching speed and agility for youth athletes.

The beauty of this game is it not only helps lays the foundation of speed & agility but you can use this game to help reinforce mechanics you already covered (while keeping it fun).

 

Coach Dave Gleason is the Co-Creator of ‘Game Play Performance’ a series of fun, but effective games to help improve performance while keeping your athletes engaged. Click here for more info >>