Contrary to popular belief, speed can be trained just like strength and endurance. While certain things like genetic limit to muscle fiber type and bone anatomy cannot be changed, speed can be improved by increasing relative body strength, power output, conditioning, and most importantly technique. In this article, we will focus on a few easy to apply tips that will improve your 40 yard dash time within a couple of sessions.
The Rule of Speed
The first rule of creating speed is the speed strength paradox: speed and impact force is a function of muscle activation rate and rate of relaxation. Basically what that means is, if you use too much muscle you become slow. Think about a time when you were lifting a very heavy weight. Was the movement smooth and efficient? No, right? It was probably slow and grinding because you were activating muscle without relaxing.
Let me make this picture a little bit more clear. To generate maximum speed we want to alternate between extreme stiffness and momentary relaxation. Both states last for a fraction of a second so to the eye it looks and feels more like a pulse. Think about a large metal coil. When you press it down, that is the state of stiffness. When you release it, that is the state of relaxation. The coil explodes when you allow it to relax, does it not? That's because the state of relaxation allowed the coil to potentiate its stored elastic energy. Same thing goes for the human body.
Make Me Faster
Okay, so now that we have a better idea of what speed actually is, lets talk about developing that speed. Speed is improved by reducing ground contact time. Think of that as the time it takes for your foot to hit the ground and then come up for the next movement. We improve ground contact speed by improving mass specific force which is the amount of force an athlete can generate compared to their body weight. This is done by increasing relative body strength, creating stiffer tendons and building greater core stiffness.
To build speed we need to train strength in a way that is conducive to building speed. You’re not gong to get faster by grinding out a heavy back squat or bench press. You’ll actually get slower! What we want to focus on is EXPLOSIVE strength. When you’re developing speed strength, the concentric motion should be one second or less. The most effective and easy to implement form of speed strength training is speed deadlifting. While training olympic lifts, using bands and chains, or plyometrics are good options, they require far more technique, equipment, and have a much higher rate of injury associated with them. My philosophy is to make things easy and simple for my clients not harder and more complicated. For the deadlifts, take 70% of your 1rm and perform 3-5 sets of 5 reps. What you want to focus on is ripping that bar off the ground as fast and as hard as you possibly can while maintaining form. This will build the requisite speed strength to get faster.
Stiff tendons and core are important to speed because they transfer force more rapidly by preventing any energy leaks. The best way to build tendon stiffness is through plyometrics. I would recommend adding pogo jumps and quick step exercises to your routine because they significantly improve elastic recoil. I really enjoy tabata training for this type of exercise. Working off a clock, do 15 seconds of work with 15 seconds of rest for a period of two to four minutes. The core can be built through tabata work as well. Based on research, the curl up, side plank, and birddog/plank are the most efficient exercises for creating an active and stiff core.
Incorporate these drills and exercises into your routine and you will definitely see your numbers improve. Strengthening and focusing on the stiffness and relaxation pulse will make you faster, more stable, and an overall more explosive athlete. Run like the wind!
Written by: Jagmeet Singh