How to run faster

Most athletes would give anything to have more speed – but what does it take to get it?

Since this is the number one goal of just about every athlete I have ever trained, it makes for an excellent topic of conversation.  I can’t even begin to guess how many times I am asked by parents how they can improve their child’s foot speed or agility. My go to answer – more horse power. The easiest way to get faster is to have stronger legs, period.  In order to have stronger legs, you have to lift weights; heavy weights and you have to be strong standing on 1 leg.

First, understand if you play a team sport, speed is mostly irrelevant. On very rare occasion does an athlete who competes in team sports ever reach their maximal velocity. I would almost venture to argue that unless you run the 100m, 200m or 400m dash, don’t worry about speed. What most would define as speed, is actually acceleration. 

The easiest way for me to illustrate my point is to use hard facts and numbers.  Numbers never lie correct? In this case we will use the 40 yard dash as our example.  If you examine split times for athletes running the 40 yard dash you will notice that in every 10 yard increment, the split time decreases.  An athlete who runs a 5.0 sec 40 could have splits such as this: 
          1-10 yards – 1.70
          11-20 yards – 1.15
          21-30 yards – 1.10
          31-40 yards – 1.05
In this example, the athlete increased their split time over each segment meaning they accelerated throughout the entire sprint.  In fact, most individuals don’t reach their top speed until around the 60 yard or 60 meter mark. Given that 60 yards is 180 feet – longer than home to first or end to end of a basketball court – it is unlikely the need for speed is ever pertinent to team sports competition.  So this begs the question, speed, acceleration or whatever you call it, how do I get from point A to point B in less time? 

Acceleration as with most sport specific movements is action/reaction physics, Newton’s 3rd law – the harder you drive your foot into the ground with maximal force, the greater reaction you get back from the ground to move you forward. The hard part, is convincing coaches and parents that the best way to develop speed doesn’t involve ladders, rubber bands, treadmills, or any other fancy equipment – it requires strength gains, especially lower body and even more importantly on 1 leg. In a sprint, how many legs are in contact with the ground at one time? When you do a back squat how many legs are in contact with the ground? I think you see the point.

Develop total body strength.  Just as the best way to get a car to move faster is to install a bigger engine, the best way to increase speed is to increase strength. 
This is often a topic of debate with parents of youth athletes because the common misconception is that lifting weights stunts growth. Although we will save the extended explanation for a different blog post, this is quite simply not true.  There is zero compelling evidence published that suggest it is… If you or your child want to run faster, they need more horsepower, not better running mechanics, not faster feet, just more maximal output.

Once we have a stronger motor, we can work on the speed at which they can exert their strength.  These are light and heavy power exercises – a few of my favorites consist of pushing sleds, sprinting, throwing medballs, cleans, snatches, kettlebell swings, jump squats.  What we do know does not work, is the coach that sets up an “obstacle course” consisting of ladders, hurdles, cones, shuffling, etc., and having kids repeatedly work through them until exhaustion.  There is a place for this type of activity with the younger athlete as it will definitely assist with coordination and awareness, however, will not help with the speed component. There is no magic drill, just good old fashion, roll up the sleeves hard work.       

Push off the ground harder – the athletes that jump the highest, run the fastest and the athletes that run the fastest, jump the highest. Remember, running and jumping are essentially the same biomechanical movement. The major difference body angle. Sprinting is nothing more than a series of 1 leg vertical jumps performed at a 45 degree angle.


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