The idea of running fast requires some context. Are we talking about moving 5-yards as typically demanded of an offensive (football) linemen? Are we referring to covering 26.2 miles in less than X hours:minutes? Does the activity also require rapid and frequent changes of direction?
The stage is set: early pre-season among some of the regions best of the best 16-year olds at the Baltimore Armour of the US Soccer Development Academy. [The point is to understand the kind of athletes that Loc is running up against here].
How did Loc get those kind of wheels? Well, from a few YEARS of consistent hard work.
I remember Loc bouncing around the BLC (gym) as a very average 12-year old, mostly shirking my gentle invitation to learn some light movement patterns. With some encouragement, he began hitting the weights while his brother and sister were here. Later he added some mobility and speed and agility work, and”Plyo Friday” almost every week. And, he physically grew over a time of attending (probably) hundreds of soccer practices and games. And there you have it. Well,…someone has to come in first ; )
Do you know what does NOT provide that kind of sprinting ability?
- Long distance running. There is a time for it. But it’s often over-done, and of little benefit for making an athletes sprint and accelerate well.
- Agility Ladder. There is a time for it…little time. It has some rehab (physical therapy) application. But in my opinion, doing the agility ladder will eventually make you a pro at…doing the agility ladder.
- Skills/ball control circuits. These are worthwhile, and can certainly provide a high degree of conditioning. But they’re far less than optimal for actually increasing lower body power, range of motion, and functional core stability (factors involved with peak speed).
- Insanity/P90X style circuit training. Again, these will provide some degree of conditioning, getting “in shape.” But unless the athlete is very out of shape to begin with, they will benefit running speed very little.
- Trendy stuff like running in sand pits, “jump shoes” with no heels, squats on unstable surfaces, and other gimmicky ideas that have limited application. These often fail to acknowledge that speed is about generating 1) ground reaction forces 2) quickly over a 3) broad range of motion!
Okay then, wise guy, what should we be doing to get faster?
- A tune-up. Find and fix any specific muscle imbalances and mobility restrictions due to joint stiffness or faulty movement patterns. These vary widely among athletes, and require just a little time and attention to address.
- “The Weights.” Some athletes need an emphasis on muscle gain while others just need to control their body more efficiently. Do the corrective work (see #1 above) and progressions/regressions to dial in perfect form on the big movements like squat, dead lift, lunge, loaded carries, and other leg/core exercise variations. ** Attention to detail is required, because even with the big and best exercises, athletes will often try to move around their weak areas. “Finish the lift with hip extension and not lower back extension.” “Keep the torso upright and do not twist when you press.” These are the type of cues that initially cause us to cut back on the amount of resistance that can be handled. But they make the exercise far safer and more effective for improving function outside of the gym.
- Sprints of various distance and intensity. Be smart about gradual increases. There is no substitute for a video to provide immediate feedback and attention to running mechanics.
- Plyometrics – are not just for basketballers and high jumpers. All athletes can benefit from getting the most out of gravity. They provide a challenging stimulus for athletes to use the entire body to generate and control ground reaction forces. While plyometrics done well are certainly somewhat fatiguing, do not use them to achieve a conditioning effect. There are safer and better ways to build work capacity.
- “Conditioning” This is also sport- and athlete specific. I readily admit that some lower intensity running to achieve a base level of running economy and fitness does indeed help when it comes time to really fire up the engine in sprinting.
I absolutely concede that speed is at least partially genetically determined. But everyone can improve, and with the right training, to a great extent. Think about what may be holding you (or your athlete) back from being the fastest, most resilient version of themselves, and specifically address those issues.