Speed Kills Part II

By Dave DiFabio

In my last newsletter I spoke a little about how explosive resistance training and plyometrics can help make an athlete faster.

Speed is basically a factor of two primary variables, Stride Frequency/Rate vs Stride Length. These variables are generally inversely related. This means that if your stride length increases it is difficult to to produce a high frequency or high rate of strides in a given amount of space or time. Similarly if you are able to increase your stride rate its not likely that the length of those strides are going to be significant. Yet with proper training it is possible to increase both rate and length.

When a coach works on increasing an athletes stride length, the coach is NOT asking the athlete to "over-reach" or "over-stride". That would cause the heel to impact the ground with high force thus causing a braking force which would slow the athlete down. Instead, an athlete would focus on increasing his or her power production with explosive resistance training and plyometrics so that he or she covers more ground within a stride, thus an increase in stride length.

There are a multitude of drills and techniques outside of resistance training for improving speed. Improving sprinting mechanics is important along with making sure the athlete has the proper flexibility and mobility to execute proper technique fluidly. If an athlete struggles to coordinate arm and leg movement with proper balance and body lean, that athlete will not move fast. As I mentioned in Speed Kills Part I, top speed isnt the most important thing in many sports. More important is the concept of agility and quickness. The ability to react quickly, slow down quickly, change direction quickly, and reacelerate quickly can give an athlete a great advantage over the opponent even if said athlete doesnt have world-class top speed. An athlete can improve agility and quickness by working on cornering drills, cutting drills, crossover steps, side steps, and deceleration (eccentric) strength. The ability to slow down is just as important as the ability to speed up and the ability to move through and transition into different directions is also crucial in many sports. Working on these qualities in forward, backward, lateral, and diagonal patterns and drills is a must.

Finally, athletes may incorporate Sprint Resistance Training (SRT) and Sprint Assistance Training (SAT) into their multidirectional drills. SRT involves gravity-resisted running to achieve an overload effect. This could include running up stairs or a hill. It could include running with a sled or parachute dragging behind the athlete. Or the athlete could simply wear a weighted vest. The idea is to provide resistance (to make the athlete stronger in a very sports-specific way) without slowing the athlete down or altering his or her mechanics. However, thats exactly what will happen if too much overload is used thus defeating the purpose. Then agin, if done properly, SRT can help improve explosive strength and stride length. SAT works the opposite end of the spectrum. The idea here is to unload the typical resistance encountered during sprinting. This is accomplished through gravity-assisted drills which could include sprinting down a shallow hill slope or by being "towed" by a faster athlete via stretch cord/sprint band. The assistance will encourage a faster stride rate. However it is also possible to go overboard on this technique as well. If too much assistance is provided the athlete may lean back and over stride and thus provide a braking force in order to protect him or herself. That would defeat the purpose of trying to improve stride rate. Nonetheless SRT and SAT methods can be incorporated with care in an attempt to improve both primary variable that affect speed; Stride Frequency/Rate and Stride Length.

So if you're training for a fall sport, what are you waiting for? You better get cracking. I'd be happy to assist you with this type of training. Its matter of knowing how and when to incorporate it all.

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