Speed Kills Part I

By Dave DiFabio

With the NFL draft coming up, there has been talk about the performances or lack thereof of certain players at the recent combines and Pro Day Workouts. Most of the conversation revolves around the 40 yard dash and the fact that many still believe that "you can't teach speed". Granted, speed, especially top speed is highly genetic but it still can be improved. Speed is a skill and just like any skill it can be practiced and improved. In some sports like track, soccer,and football, speed is very important. However, top speed is not even achieved in many sports. Essentially, top speed requires space (ie 40 yard dash) to be achieved. Sports such as tennis, basketball, and hockey (and sometimes even soccer and football) don't allow for uninterrupted movement over long enough distances in the same direction (straight ahead) for top speed to be achieved.

Therefore, in reality agility and quickness are more crucial to athletic performance than top speed. Both agility and quickness are highly teachable. Agility is the ability to accelerate in one direction, stop on a dime, and re-accelerate (in another direction) with control and balance. Quickness is the ability to react to stimulus and execute a movement quickly, with speed and acceleration.

SAQ (speed, agility, quickness) are three different skills that are all related and interdependent. Because they all require the ability to put force into the ground (strength) they are many times trained simultaneously. However because they are three different skills you also wouldn't train all three of them exactly the same way. So this two part newsletter will first describe simple tips for building a base to start improving all three skills and then specific ways to improve each skill.

Let's start with ground force and Newton's Third Law of Motion, for every action there is an equal but opposite reaction. To propel yourself at high speed in any direction, even backwards and laterally, you need to be able to put force into the ground. When you push into the ground with your feet, the ground pushes back at you with equal force in the opposite direction thus propelling you in the direction you want to go. This doesn't happen as well in sand because sand moves under your feet and absorbs a lot of the force you put into the ground thus it doesn't push back at you with equal force. This requires your muscles to work harder just to pick your feet back out of the sand. This is why sand running can make you really sore for a couple days. However, generally, the more ground reaction force you can generate, the faster you'll move. The faster you can generate this force the faster you'll move. How do you improve this ability? Resistance Training! I'm not talking about bicep curls or bench press. I'm talking about explosive resistance exercises that require you to be on your feet and generate a high amount of force at high speed. Olympic Lifts such as the Snatch, Clean & Jerk are very effective as are various modifications of these lifts. Plyometric exercises such as depth jumps and box jumps can be implemented. Again, many sports require speeds in different directions so multi-directional resistance drills such as lateral hops/jumps, speed skaters, and bounds should be utilized as well.

Getting ready to execute these types of resistance training workouts involves getting warmed up properly; not only for safety but for improved force production (strength) and thus improved athletic performance. Furthermore, warming up consists of two parts and all together it should take from 12 to 20 minutes depending on the length and intensity of your eventual workout.

General warm-up: Low to moderate impact exercises to gradually raise heart rate and body temperature. This could include but is not limited to walking/jogging, cycling, elliptical trainer, etc.

Specific warm-up: (also called dynamic flexibility & mobility drills). Higher Impact and higher intensity exercises to further stimulate the specific joints and muscles you are about use in your eventual workout. This could include but is not limited to body weight squats, walking lunges, push-ups, arm circles and swings, spidermans, tin soldiers, wood choppers, butt kickers, high knees, power skips, side shuffles, cariocas, inch worms, jumping rope, etc. I know, not exactly conventional stuff but that is part of the point. Functional exercises that actually translate to the acquisition of real athletic skill don't always look conventional. To get something you've never had before (speed perhaps), you'll have to do things you've never done before (explosive resistance exercises and mobility drills perhaps).

Stay tuned for more on SAQ training including form drills and resisted and assisted sprinting drills and flexibility training.

If you've missed any of my past newsletters/articles, you can read them all here: teamspeedfitness.com


Dave DiFabio MA, CSCS, USAW

Owner/Strength & Conditioning Coach - Team Speed Fitness LLC