Faster Athletes in 3 Steps

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What separates athletes from one another?

Sometimes scoring ability, playmaking, or defensive mindset can give one athlete an edge. Those are difficult skills to train and sometimes they take a long time to develop.

The athlete may also need to be with the right organization, system, and coach. There is something else that is a lot easier to develop and can make a given athlete stand out among their peers.

Sprinting fast is a skill that most athletes would benefit from.

I can’t remember a time where someone has ever said, “that kid is just way too fast, I don’t want him/her on my team.”

Speed is a desirable quality and most athletes have the potential to improve their speed dramatically. Improving sprinting speed is a simple process.

Simple does not mean easy, though. Unlike a lot of other skills, the athlete must consciously and purposefully take on the challenge of running faster.

I can give out tons of drills and exercises but the athlete has to be willing to make those changes. Without the intent to make those changes, nothing will change.

The Conditioning Problem

Today’s athletes are over conditioned and undertrained. This is a term I stole from Dan John that he used to describe the people that hit the cardio equipment every day instead of training.

Our kids have fallen into a similar category.

Most, not all, sport coaches do not have a background in strength and conditioning. That kind of knowledge would greatly help them when they run a practice. Instead, we get kids that get run into the ground way too often with crazy drills.

They lose what it means to sprint fast.

I remember in my old hockey days, coaches always seemed to skate us hard in the middle of practice, before we went into our skill development work. We were all exhausted and fatigued before we even went into the most important part of practice. How are we going to develop skills at a game speed when no one has anything left in the tank?

Sprinting is different than running for a longer distance. The mechanics are different and they use a different energy system.

Athletes that get run too often lose the ability to:

  1. Drive their Knees
  2. Extend their back leg
  3. Keep their torso stable

We lose these qualities due to fatigue since they cannot possibly be maintained over a long distance. Train for long enough without these things and then sprints will become slow and paced.

Driving the knees is the easiest way to increase speed. When an athlete is running, their knees should be flexing up to hip height. Anything lower than that is leaving some speed on the table. Their run should not look like high knees, but the knee should be driving.

bolt knee drive

This is a simple change because an athlete just has to make the effort to do it. Once I explain to our athletes that they have to run with a knee drive, like we do in our skipping drills, they usually feel like they run faster. Weird.

Extending the back leg is a little bit of a harder point to get across. When an athlete is sprinting, the back leg should straighten out and push the athlete forward. Most athletes have no clue how to use their glutes which makes the learning curve a little bit longer on this one. We tell the athletes to push the ground away from them when they run.

hip extension sprint

We try to use skips for height, mini band activation exercises, and box blasts in addition to explanation to teach the kids what full hip extension is.

Keeping the torso stable provides the foundation for the hips to move freely. An athlete should not be bouncing side to side when they sprint. The core should be braced while the arms and legs move.

We can use the wall drill for this. Leaning against the wall with a knee up forces a little bit of core activation. We can then tell the athletes to brace while still being able to breathe. Sometimes a slight bump might be enough to get the muscles firing to avoid being knocked over.

wall drill

This will allow a better knee drive and better hip extension.

Combine these 3 qualities and sprinting speed has no choice but to improve. Remember when training for sprints they should be short (~15 seconds) and they should have a long recovery time (~5x the sprint time). Too long of intervals with short rest time is not sprinting.