Three Basic But Overlooked Points on Speed & Agility Training

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

The Wet Grass Test is performed by looking at an activity or exercises and asking, “Could I do this on wet grass?” If the suggested exercise would be largely unaffected by wet conditions, it’s probably of little benefit.
The far majority of sports involve transferring forces generated from the entire body, through the ball of the foot and into the ground.  This moment in time garners little attention compared to the events that take place shortly thereafter; the 90 mph fastball, the rim-ratting dunk, and the first steImage result for foot ground reaction forcep quickness to the ball. The place where the ball of the foot meets the ground is where it all begins.
But what if the ground is incapable of keeping it’s end of the bargain? Wet grass does not allow for generating ground reaction forces. Of course, competing in wet conditions is an entirely different topic of discussion. What I’m saying is that it’s not optimal to TRAIN in those type of conditions, for the purpose of building power, speed, and quickness.
Linear running/jogging, agility ladder, and jumping in sand are three popular activities that fail the wet grass test. Instead, look for activities that require the ground to reliably “give back” what you put into it. Make sure the exercise passes the Wet Grass Test.

Fatigue is a barrier. 

It’s MOSTLY brain training!

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.

A typical Plyo Friday, out back – focusing mostly on efficiency.

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!

Keystone girls getting after FORCE (hitting the weights).

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.



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