Is there any athlete who does not want to run faster, jump higher, throw harder, and cut quicker? The internets are loaded with instruction and advice, with thousands of training methods and tens of thousands of exercises promising to deliver the goods. In this day and age, knowing what NOT to do is nearly just as important as knowing what to do. So next time you Google or YouTube what makes a person faster, more powerful, and quicker, it would be good to keep these three things in mind:
The Wet Grass Test
Fatigue is a barrier.
Training for speed, power, and quickness should require focus and effort. Much of the benefit of speed and agility work comes from training the brain, with some degree of motor learning involved. It’s not the kind of thing you can do while watching a phone or TV. Practicing precision with various jumps and landings, running form drills, and relatively short (distance) sprints are all hard work. You should break a sweat. But these should not be exhausting.
There is a time for conditioning; for exercise methods more suited to generally “getting in shape.” This type of energy systems work technically targets the heart, lungs, and muscles. But at least some of the time, athletes should avoid undue fatigue when attempting to target the nervous system attributes critical to speed, power, and quickness. Fatigue directly interferes with motor learning and ability to focus on generating high forces. It increases the chances of injury in moderate- to high-impact activities.
Being burpee’d and box jumped to death is pointless at best. I’m relatively new to soccer, but I still say that high level soccer players should not be required to run a mile in under 5 minutes. Running “lines” until you are blue in the face is okay for conditioning. But this is not speed training.
In practical terms, I’ve found that athletes get the BEST benefit when they spend the majority of an ~hour session on activities that target the nervous system, with ample rest and focus on peak power, and approximately 10 minutes of “grinding” type anaerobic conditioning at the end. Of course, the details of the exercise prescription depend on the current goals and abilities of the athlete, as well as their current team season.
Force Before Agility
Agility is a sport- and even position-specific quality that should be addressed primarily in practices. For athletes that are too weak to generate much force, focusing on agility is like putting high performance tires and a rear spoiler on a tiny two cylinder engine. It drives me crazy to see raily 130-pound athletes spending 20 minutes on an agility ladder. They would be served much better by hitting the weights in order to increase their potential to generate force!
Lifting weights -alone- is not a comprehensive path to speed and quickness. But the majority of athletes benefit tremendously from having some serious squat, dead lift, chin-up, and overhead press goals. Yes, chin-ups and overhead press are keys to developing the real, functional core strength that keeps the spine and pelvis stable when the hips push to change direction and accelerate! With strength comes the potential to generate forces, and THEN training speed and plyometric exercises allows the athlete to apply that strength, generating a high amount of force quickly. This is power, defined!
Stay tuned for more information on training for speed, agility, and power.