Speed is the most sought after commodity in the sport world. There is not a single athlete to have ever played sport that did not want to get faster. No matter the sport, they all wanted to increase their speed. I am still waiting for that first athlete that asks me to make them slower, that will be an interesting day. All kidding aside speed makes a huge difference in sport. It can be the difference between making the high school team, getting a college scholarship or signing a multimillion dollar contract. Speed is what separates the good athletes from the great athletes.
It seems that everyone wants to be faster, but there is some confusion about how to get it. So the question remains, how do we improve speed? I’m going to start with some basics physics to start answering that question.
Force=Mass x Acceleration
Force is the ability to accelerate an object.
Power=Force x Velocity
Power is how quickly we can accelerate an object.
Speed is how long it takes you to travel a certain distance.
Athletes that do not develop their ability to produce force and power will never be as fast as they would be otherwise. The greater your ability is to push into the ground (force production), the faster you will be. The faster you can apply that force into the ground (power production), the faster you will be. Developing the ability to produce force and power is what is going to make you a faster athlete.
All of these training qualities can be developed simultaneously to an extent; it is always on a spectrum no matter what the focus is of the training cycle. Force and power output should be developed significantly in relative terms before any large amount of time is spent on speed training.
So how do you as an athlete develop greater force and power production? Your training sessions should focus on multi-joint exercises such as squat, lunge and deadlift variations. It should also include clean and snatch variations, swings, medicine ball work and explosive jump variations. This is taking into account that you have been properly progressed to a point where you can perform these exercises.
Once force and power production is at a point where speed training should be focused on more heavily it is time to bring a more sport specific training protocol to speed development. Most athletes perform both linear and lateral speed specific movements during competition; the only athlete that focuses solely on linear speed would be a sprinter for track and field. Otherwise lateral speed most be developed.
Linear speed is pretty straight forward, run as fast as you can in a straight line. It can also include the ability to stop and start continuously with either a focus on a forward or backward run or both. Lateral speed involves the ability to change direction, make sharp cuts, and stop and start. Sprinters are the only athletes that will use linear speed a 100% of the time during their competitions. Everyone else will need to possess the ability to do both.
Training for linear speed could involve sled pushes, harnessed sled pulls and resisted sprints whereas lateral speed development would include lateral bounds, slideboard lateral sprints and crossover runs. These are just a few examples of what would separate our linear and lateral speed work.
Another interesting topic as far as sport specific speed training is that all speed specific work is done as a unilateral movement. There is never a time when both legs are producing an equal amount of force or power because only one foot is ever in contact with the ground. There is NEVER a moment when both feet are on the ground when we are sprinting, sure there are times when an athlete is making a cut or changing direction where both feet will be in contact with the ground for a split second, but when that happens there is still never a time when an equal amount of force or power is given by both legs.
So if the holy grail of sport training is speed why would we ever train in a bilateral pattern if we are seldom on two feet and never producing an even amount of force or power from both feet? There has been debate over this topic for years and will continue to be for some time. I am not going to dive into that debate today, but I will say I am not against bilateral training by any means. Unilateral and bilateral training are both training tools that should be used when appropriate.
Speed development will always be the first thing that an athlete wishes to improve upon, mainly because that is all they know. They do not understand that increasing their ability to produce force and power will in turn make them faster than any speed specific training program could. Specific speed training should be limited until the athlete develops the ability to produce a relatively significant amount of force and power. At that point a greater amount of time can be focused on speed specific training. Work on getting strong and powerful and your speed will increase!