Speed kills - 6 ways to get faster
Speed kills - 6 ways to get faster
Undoubtedly, one of the most desirable qualities in physical performance is speed. There aren't many better feelings than leaving your opponent in dust as you race away to score or win the race. Speed can be an elusive quality and people are constantly trying to find new ways to improve it to get that edge over their opponents. So, the question is - how do we get speed? And once we have it, how do we keep getting faster? Well, there are many ways to skin a cat, however, this passage is going to go through a number of things you should be doing in order to give you the best opportunity to get faster. These are boxes that need to be ticked if you are wanting to gain any noticeable improvements.
First and foremost, the non-negotiable if you want to run faster is to - wait for it - run fast! This is based on the SAID principle: Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands. Put simply, if you practise a certain skill and place certain demands on your body, then your body will adapt to those demands and you will get better at that particular skill. If you want to get better at juggling, you practise juggling. If you want to get better at tennis, play tennis. So what do I do if I want to run faster? You guessed it, you need to run fast. After all, it is a skill/motor pattern and all the gym work in the world may have very little transfer if you aren't running. Therefore, exposure to max velocities is crucial (Marques et al, 2015).
Now, we are not suggesting you go from doing no sprinting at all to doing three sprint sessions a week with 10x100m sprints. Obviously, graded exposure is key to building some resilience and ensuring volume is progressed appropriately - you can't un-tear a hamstring once it's happened! Start off with some 80% efforts and gradually build volume before intensity. Generally, sprints between 20-40m give you a great bang for your buck as they are less taxing neurally than 100m efforts and you can still hit max velocity while being able to recover at a faster rate.
Plyometrics are jumps that involve large muscle forces in short amounts of time, minimising ground contact time (think drop jumps, hurdle jumps/hops, bounding etc). They involve utilising something called the stretch shortening cycle (SSC), which involves a rapid stretch of the muscle followed by a quick contraction, allowing us to use stored elastic energy and propel us back off the ground as quickly as possible (Chelly et al, 2010).
The benefit of plyometrics for running lies in improving our tendon stiffness (Wilson et al, 2008). When we talk about stiffness, we refer to the tendon's ability to resist deformation and transfer that elastic energy like springs. Think of a stiff and compact spring (like in trampolines) as opposed to a loose/wavy one, the stiff one is going to deform less and give you more bounce and be more resilient. This quality is particularly important during max velocity as we want to minimise our time spent on the ground (Sáez de Villarreal, 2012). If you see a kangaroo bouncing at full speed you will see the perfect example of stiff and elastic tendons. Again, this is something that needs graded exposure (check out our previous videos on how to progress jumps).
Move things fast
This is what we mean when we talk about power. Our ability to produce force quickly or our rate of force development is important for running, particularly so in the acceleration phase where we are pushing away from the ground from a stationary position, which requires lots of force to overcome inertia (Ince, 2019). Some great bang for your buck power exercises include olympic lifts (and their derivatives), loaded jumps, medicine ball throws, sleds-resisted sprints, band-resisted exercises etc. If you are consistently lifting weights slow then you are not improving your ability to move quickly, leaving little to no transfer to sprint performance (Young, 2006).
Get stronger (to a point)
This applies more to beginners with a low base level of strength. The stronger you get as a beginner, the more force you can put into the ground and more robust you will be. Generally speaking, this can help improve your acceleration and general athleticism (Lockie, 2018). However, as you get stronger and stronger, there is going to be a point of diminishing returns where the strength doesn't transfer to speed. In fact, too much strength work and no sprinting/power/plyo work may have the opposite effect on your running speed (Lockie et al, 2012). If speed was purely based off of strength, then powerlifters and strongmen would be the fastest people on the planet - hint: they're not. Don't just live in the weight room and lift things slowly if you want to continue getting faster.
There's an old saying: 'fat doesn't fly'. It will come as no surprise that the fastest people in the world are all very lean. Fat tissue is non-contractile tissue, meaning it does not contribute to moving your skeleton in any way, all it does from a performance standpoint is increase your mass, which is not ideal for running. Now we are not suggesting to go out there and crash diet or starve yourself, but you might find that reducing some extra baggage may help towards giving you that extra yard of pace (you can't argue with physics).
Running drills like skip variations, mach drills, wall marches/positional drills, bounding etc. can all be useful tools in helping enhance your running speed. When executed well, these drills can improve things like coordination/timing, tendon stiffness, posture/positions, power and robustness. These exercises are generally great in warm ups as they get the heart rate up, stimulate the CNS and also prepare you for the demands of running at a higher intensity. Another helpful tool is to film yourself - how does it look? How are your frontside mechanics? Is your foot landing too far in front of your body? Are you getting optimal hip extension and arm drive? Slow motion footage is a great way to analyse this. If you don't know much about the technique of sprinting it can always be a good move to get the help of a coach to make sure you know where you can tidy up any weaknesses that might be hindering your running efficiency.
If you still need help getting that extra yard of pace, come and see us!
Chelly, M., Ghenem, M., Abid, K., Hermassi, S., Tabka, Z. and Shephard, R., 2010. Effects of in-Season Short-Term Plyometric Training Program on Leg Power, Jump- and Sprint Performance of Soccer Players. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 24(10), pp.2670-2676.
Hori, N., Newton, R., Andrews, W., Kawamori, N., McGuigan, M. and Nosaka, K., 2008. Does Performance of Hang Power Clean Differentiate Performance of Jumping, Sprinting, and Changing of Direction?. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 22(2), pp.412-418.
İnce, İ., 2019. Effects of Split Style Olympic Weightlifting Training on Leg Stiffness Vertical Jump Change of Direction and Sprint in Collegiate Volleyball Players. Universal Journal of Educational Research, 7(1), pp.24-31.
Kotzamanidis C. Effect of plyometric training on running performance and vertical jumping in prepubertal boys. J Strength Cond Res. 2006;20(2):441‐445.
Lockie, R., 2018. A 6-Week Base Strength Training Program for Sprint Acceleration Development and Foundation for Future Progression in Amateur Athletes. Strength and Conditioning Journal, 40(1), pp.2-12.
Lockie, R., Murphy, A., Schultz, A., Knight, T. and Janse de Jonge, X., 2012. The Effects of Different Speed Training Protocols on Sprint Acceleration Kinematics and Muscle Strength and Power in Field Sport Athletes. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 26(6), pp.1539-1550.
Marques, M., Gabbett, T., Marinho, D., Blazevich, A., Sousa, A., van den Tillaar, R. and Izquierdo, M., 2015. Influence of Strength, Sprint Running, and Combined Strength and Sprint Running Training on Short Sprint Performance in Young Adults. International Journal of Sports Medicine, 36(10), pp.789-795.
Sáez de Villarreal, E., Requena, B. and Cronin, J., 2012. The Effects of Plyometric Training on Sprint Performance: A Meta-Analysis. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 26(2), pp.575-584.
Turner, A., Bellhouse, S., Kilduff, L. and Russell, M., 2015. Postactivation Potentiation of Sprint Acceleration Performance Using Plyometric Exercise. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 29(2), pp.343-350.
Wilson JM Flanagan EP. The role of elastic energy in activities with high force and power requirements: a brief review. J Strength Cond Res. 2008;22(5):1705‐1715.
Young, W., 2006. Transfer of Strength and Power Training to Sports Performance. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, 1(2), pp.74-83.