Travis Brown, MS, CSCS, D*

Speed: Definition and How to Develop It

Speed is simply stride length (SL) x stride frequency (SF), or how far you step by how quick you step. No matter what height, weight or size an athlete is, to improve speed one must maximize each step for stride length and stride frequency.  In order to do so, an athlete must be trained with different drills specific to each.

We can accomplish this by working through five different progressions level, what is left we use in the speed to when curriculum five levels of progression are as follows;

  • Pre-Conditioning Aerobic Base
  • Build Sprint Form and Anaerobic Base
  • Develop Stride Length
  • Develop Stride Frequency
  • Addition of Power and Acceleration

In the Pre-Conditioning level, the goal is to get in aerobic shape, or to develop an aerobic base so sprinting can be taught to the athlete.  We can accomplish this by doing specific dynamic warm-up drills such as high-knee grabs, high-knee walks, ankle-quad grabs (Fig 1) butt-kick walks, butt kicks, and more.  We also incorporate long bungee cords while doing backpedals and sprints for about ten yards. The athlete should also developed his/her aerobic base by jogging short distance and distances

In the next level, we focus on building sprint form and anaerobic conditioning. We implement this by increasing flexibility and form is used of speed warm-up and various strides strengthening drills. We also incorporate heavy sled pulls. This forces the athletes to stay low coming out of their stance and to drive the knee high and increase stride length, thus working on sprint form.

During the next level, focus is on developing stride length. We continue to apply the basic dynamic warm-up exercises, with the addition of a high-knee grabs, toe touch-skip, front lunge and press.  This will help to increase flexibility and recruitment of the muscles which will help with the increase in stride length.  And perhaps one of the more important components in increasing stride length is to implement the use of short bungee cords: to work hip flexor (lying on your back) and hamstrings (lying face down).

While developing stride frequency, in next level, we simply learn how to turnover adequate stride length. We incorporate more advanced dynamic warm-up drills such as 1-2-3 skip with a high knee grab and toe touch and flatten (Figure 2-6). A toe and front leg kick (Figure 7-8) would be another ideal warm-up drill to incorporate. This is also where the athlete learns how to increase stride length and stride frequency.

With the addition of power and acceleration, we apply sled pulls, the mule cords and push up starts. It is during this period the athlete learns that in order to accelerate and use power, a forward lean must be created.  Many times coaches focus on this phase, before developing most or any of or any of the other phases the sled pulls were used in previous levels are now much lighter.  This forces the athlete to practice accelerating 0 to 10 yards, transitioning to top speed between 10 and 20 yards, and continuing to sprint at top speeds for another 10 yards. It is a 30 yard sprint working on 40 yard dash technique.  We also concentrate on the mule cords with a partner. As one athlete is pulling against their partner, which is working on deceleration, the other partner is working on acceleration with resistance. Then they switch after 20 yards.

In conclusion, it’s important to remember that all of the levels overlap somewhat. For example a simple high knee drill will and can develop aerobic conditioning, Sprint form, and stride length. A simple butt kick drill can do the same, and if the heel snapped quickly, stride frequency will be improved.

Agility: Definition and How to Develop It

Agility can be simply defined as change in direction. In other words, quickness is controlled deceleration. In order to improve agility, and athlete must increase acceleration, increase deceleration, and then increase change of direction. Too many times we see an increase in acceleration targeted without an additional effort to increase deceleration. This is a major mistake.

Let us think about the heavy/fast athlete.  In sports today, we see a number of non-contact injuries, from torn ACL‘s two sprained ankles and sprain knees. In today’s world, athletes are like a high-performance sports car. Very fast and agile, able to turn corners at high speeds and stop on a dime. However, we are adding more and more muscle and body mass to the same frame that has supreme acceleration. It’s like increasing the horsepower of that same sports car, without improving the brakes and framework of the car. And much like an athlete who tries to stop on a dime after accelerating, and ends up tearing up their ankle/knee, the same would happen to the sports car. When attempted to stop, the body tear right off the frame. We can avoid this by working through five different levels of progression, and ensuring deceleration is stressed as much as acceleration. Five levels of development are as follows:

  • Pre-Conditioning Agility
  • Improve Footwork and Deceleration Strength
  • Footwork Patterns -Learn How to Accelerate and Decelerate
  • Change of Direction and Conditioning Drills
  • Develop Explosive Ability to Change Direction

In the Pre-Conditioning level,  you implement various lateral movement conditioning drills, such as over-under walks, cariocas, side bounding, etc. In this level athletes must learn how to stay low, turn their hips and move laterally. This is the base of agility and must be set as the foundation.

The next level, we focus on improving footwork and deceleration strength. While you’re working on improving agility, were also working on improving speed. Therefore, a lot of agility work beginning is teaching the body to stop. It is during this level that we implement proper footwork and change of direction spots with the ladder. The athlete works on this by doing a series basic ladder drills, such as a straight one foot in every hole, side two feet and every hole, one-two-three cuts (a.k.a. Icky Shuffle, figures 9 through 12)  and one-two-three-four in and outs. We also incorporate the same ladder drills with low hurdles. This forces the athlete to change direction around an obstacle (the hurdle).  And finally, we increase strength and change of direction spots with change of direction strengtheners, which is simply starting from a lunge position sprint forward, stopping at 5 yards and backpedaling back to the beginning and then starting over.

For the next level, we focus on footwork patterns and learning how to accelerate and decelerate. The athlete accomplishes this by implementing straight ahead and lateral stop and go drills. This can be accomplished through five yard sprints and stopping (going forward, as well as moving laterally).  And to work on footwork patterns, we add in more advanced ladder drills, such as two feet in every hole going forward, one foot in every hole moving laterally,  one-two-three spin cuts (Figures 13- 17) and one-two-three-four in and out of the ladder moving laterally. These would be in addition to the other ladder drills in the previous levels, therefore increasing intensity. We also incorporate the same ladder drills with the combination of low and high hurdles, thus increasing intensity

In the fourth level, we work on changing direction of conditioning drills. It is during this level that we implement even more advanced dynamic warm-up drills, such as opposite elbow to ankle lunge and toe touch-hand walk-hurdler stretch (Figure 18-21). Remember, our lateral movement drills, change of direction strengtheners, and learning how to start and stop are what teaching us how to change direction.  We also add cone drills, such as the W drill, outside foot cuts and shuffle-sprint-shuffle. Now athletes are ready to condition themselves but actually changing direction

In the final phase, we develop explosive ability to change direction. Here is where the athlete should be able to put together everything for agility (acceleration, deceleration, and change of direction). This can be done by practicing the five-ten-five pro agility shuttle and the three-cone drill. We also incorporate more advanced cone drills, such as backpedal-sprints and spin cuts.

Keep in mind, just as we just as with the speed levels, the agility levels do sometimes overlap. Many of the base dynamic warm-up drills are key components in the foundation for becoming more athletic. This is thoroughly accomplished in both “Speed to Win” curriculums, by overlapping speed agility, and explosion to become a more explosive athlete that is extremely quick

For the complete file of the drills mentioned above click…

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