This winter I took over a new group of high school
Like most athletes in most sports, they came from a
background of minimal speed work.
Again, in case you forgot, true speed work is defined as
2-8 seconds of full speed, full intensity running with full
(minimum of 3 minutes) recovery.
If your ‘speed workouts’ don’t fall under that category, then
you are not training your athletes to improve their ability
to accelerate effectively or develop faster top speeds.
So when I first got this group, they were all over the place.
But yesterday’s practice further solidified in my mind the
critical importance of teaching and consistently emphasizing
certain fundamentals of speed development.
Except it wasn’t my athletes that helped remind me of this
I was talking to my group when the wrestling team came plodding
past us. They were doing some sort of speed workout.
After they ran by I commented to my team that ‘That’s how you
guys looked the first week of the season’.
My group has barely reached a level of proficiency
where they are expected to assess their own mechanical
strengths and weaknesses, as well as their teammates. But
as inexperienced as they are, it was plain as day that these
other (multi-sport) athletes had no idea what they were
Several of my athletes commented that they couldn’t believe
how terrible these wrestlers looked when trying to run. And
they found it hard to believe they could have looked anything
like that just a few weeks ago.
But they did, believe me.
And in witnessing first hand what truly terrible
running form looks like, I believe they further realized
how far they have come in less than a month. But more
importantly how far they need to go.
Most, if not all of my athletes have bought into the system
and into the process. (The fact that most of them ran lifetime
bests in the first meet of the season certainly helped my
Because running fast is, without question, a skill. And there
are certain elements of running that need to be developed
in order to get consistent results.
And those results come from a focus on the following five
areas, in no particular order.
Speed Fundamental #1: TEACH PROPER ARM ACTION
Ultimately the role of the arms is to stabilize the torso.
In doing so, it allows for greater power transfer and force
application, factors critical to speed.
All arm action should take place through the shoulders. Cue
athletes to keep the elbows locked at approximately 90
degrees. In front, the hands should not cross the midline
of the body.
Hands should come to cheek height in front and clear the hip
in the back. Also, focus on driving the elbow or the hand
down and back, keeping the elbows close to the body throughout
the entire range of motion.
You’ll be surprised how difficult this is for many athletes.
Speed Fundamental #2: TRAIN FAST, RUN FAST
I don’t care what sport you coach. If all your training is
at a submaximal pace, then you are not going to develop
faster athletes. It’s just that simple.
This principle is not just for track sprinters. From soccer
to football to lacrosse and everything in between, athletes
need to train fast if they want to be fast.
I’m not saying a soccer player shouldn’t do aerobic work, but
they spend a great deal of time accelerating to a ball and
to/from a defender.
To get where they want to go faster, they must have faster
acceleration speed. And this comes from doing acceleration
work at full speed with full recovery as I mentioned above.
For some people this is difficult to comprehend. 4 second
sprints with 3 minutes rest seems like a waste of time.
Believe me, it isn’t.
But if you’re coaching true speed/power athletes like
sprinters and football players, high intensity sprints with
full recovery *must* be the *foundation* of training.
Aerobic work serves as recovery from speed work, it does not
get them ‘in shape’ specific to the demands of their event or
This is not even a debatable concept.
For more on the right way to train for speed, I recommend:
Speed Fundamental #3: BE PATIENT
I’m not just talking about being patient with your athletes
as you break them down to build them up.
I’m talking about being patient within each repetition of
Speed can’t be forced. Athletes must learn to override the
voice in their head that says ‘try harder, run harder, push,
strain, hurry up’.
Instead they have to let the speed come to them.
During acceleration, ground contact time goes from long to
short. But most athletes are in a big rush to get up and
into their ‘normal’ full speed running technique.
This is the equivalent of shifting the gears of a sports
car as quickly as possible. It will not maximize performance.
Athletes need to be patient. Spend more time on the ground
as they overcome inertia and accelerate. Stride length and
frequency should increase naturally, as a result of efficient
force application, strength and mechanics. They should not
Athletes should reach triple extension with each stride, fully
completing the action of driving down (and back).
Instead I see athletes trying to shift gears too quickly. This
results in reaching a slower top speed earlier in the run.
Since an athlete can only maintain top speed for 1-2 seconds
before deceleration begins, impatience during acceleration
will cost them speed and time with every step they take.
Speed Fundamental # 4: GET STRONGER
If you work with athletes, particularly teenaged athletes, then
time spent developing physical strength in the weight room
should be a fundamental part of your program.
Athletes who do not focus on strength development have a
very low glass ceiling that will prevent them from making
significant gains in speed.
It’s just common sense – the stronger you are, the faster you
can propel your body forward.
But this doesn’t mean going into the weight room and lifting
like a bodybuilder.
When I go in the weightroom I see athletes doing pointless
Here are some examples of lifts that, for our purposes, are
a waste of time:
– anything on a machine such as hamstring curls, leg extensions
calf raises, Smith Machine squats, etc.
– single joint movements such as bicep curls
– chest flies, tricep extensions, etc.
While these are all great movements for looking good at the
beach, I cringe when I see in-season athletes doing these
lifts as part of their training. And I see it more often than
not, sadly enough.
If you want to know exactly how to develop strength in your
athletes (even your pre-teen athletes) that will transfer
to the track, field or court check, I recommend the following
Speed Fundamental #5: STEP OVER, DRIVE DOWN
The ability to apply force to ground and, more specifically,
mass specific force, is the primary mechanical consideration
you must spend your time on during each speed session or
Athletes have a variety of issues adversely affecting their
lower body mechanics.
But the vast majority of them stem from lack of physical
strength and the inability to recover the heel underneath
the hips, step over the opposite knee and drive the foot
down into the ground so that it lands beneath the hips and
not out in front of the center of mass.
If there is one topic of discussion that I get the most
questions about it is the concept of ‘step over, drive down’.
If there is one topic of discussion I get the most emails
from satisfied customers about, it is the positive results
gained from teaching athletes how to ‘step over, drive down’.
And this is the case at every level of sport.
I’ve written about this extensively in the past. So if you’re
interested in reading more, browse our blog archives to
the right for a considerable number of articles on the topic.
But if you want to know the exact drills, cues and concepts
I use to teach the principle of ‘step over, drive down’ you
can learn my exact system (and even watch me perform the
drills!) by getting a copy of our best selling resource: