“How do you increase speed?”
That’s one of the questions I get most often from parents. It’s what they see the most. When a player is on a fast break and the middies are having trouble catching up and the defense can’t get in the hole, it just looks impressive. When a player is able to take two steps and create space to take a shot, most parents think they wish they’re kid can do that. Except for the parents of that kid; they’re just chuckling inside.
But is it that simple?
Obviously not, but what goes into developing speed? Speed has many components. It’s strength, power, agility, balance, acceleration and, more importantly deceleration. Let’s go over these components individually.
Strength – the ability to produce force.
Power – the ability to produce force over time.
Agility – the ability to change body position efficiently.
Balance – the ability to keep your body in positions so you do not fall
Acceleration – the ability to increase velocity over time.
Deceleration – the ability to decrease velocity over time.
Strength is actually the simplest quality to improve. Step 1: Pick something up. Step 2: Put it down. Alright, that may be oversimplifying it, but it’s mostly true. The variables are what you pick up, how heavy, how many times, over how much time, how many sets, etc.
Power is simply adding a speed component. You’re doing exercises as fast as you can, stimulating the central nervous system, and trying to get your muscles to be as reactive and powerful as possible. When you talk power, you start with Olympic lifts, but it doesn’t have to stop there. You can also use med ball throws, dumbbell snatches, box jumps, kettlebell swings and any other exercise that you perform loaded with maximal speed. That load can be bodyweight as well.
Agility is a component that can be trained. I’ve put together an ebook that goes over my favorite agility drills. The more you practice the drills, the more efficient your body will move. That’s not the end of the story though. The drills I went through in the book were closed drills. That means they were repetitive and can be mastered. To improve your agility drills even further, add open drills, which are drills that are not programmed. That means the movements can be queued by visual stimulation (coach pointing to one direction or another), or verbal (hearing which direction to go). According to the Strength & Conditioning Journal, the best method for agility drills would be to include a “perceptual and decision-making component” to agility drills. That would include small-sided games and evasive drills, like tag. One of my favorite drills of tag I learned from Jeremy Boone. Calf tag is a game between two players and the object is to tag the calf of your opponent. I play first guy to 5 wins. It’s an unstructured, elusive game that stresses the agility and coordination of both participants. Getting your team to split up into many pairs and playing calf tag around the field is an awesome experience that your kids will love and they don’t even realize the important training they are getting accomplished.
Balance is one of those qualities that can be trained statically and dynamically. It’s very easy to start out with standing on one leg for time. Advance to one leg with your eyes closed, one leg on an unstable surface like a mini-tramp or an Airex Balance Pad or pillow. You can also statically add having a catch with the athlete while they are standing on one leg. Make sure you throw to upper left, right, and lower left, right, to challenge they’re balance. Dynamically, they could balance on one leg and ask them to bend over and touch the toe with the opposite hand. This movement will stress their balance. They can also try that with their eyes closed. (Very tough) From there you could do single legged hops, single legged speed ladder drills, single legged zig zag cuts. Get creative.
Acceleration is a component of speed that can be enhanced in the weight room as well as on the field. Your strength/power work will translate to increased acceleration. There are also acceleration drills you can do on the field, using bodyweight and using dragging and over speed drills. These drills would include 10 yard sprints, 30 yard sprints, flying 30’s, prone sprints, sprints from a push up position, hill sprints, sled dragging, downhill running, etc. In order to not reinvent the wheel, I’ll just recommend Jim Smith and Joe DeFranco’s product, Speed. It was filmed at my high school and had many different acceleration drills, as well as other drills. It’s an awesome resource to have.
Deceleration is probably the most overlooked aspect of training. Simply put, it’s slowing down as fast as you can. To me, he who slows down the quickest will be the fastest to change direction and the player who will pop out the most on the lacrosse field. Also, as an Athletic Trainer I can tell you most injuries occur during the deceleration phase of an activity. Deceleration must be trained. A study by Lockie, et al in the Strength & Conditioning Journal showed an increase in knee extensor strength, knee flexor strength, unilateral strength, and an increase in dynamic knee stability with and enforced stopping program with traditional speed and agility drills. In order to train those brakes we first need to learn how to land. A simple jump to land on both feet, shoulder width apart, land softly on the balls of your feet (not toes!!), soft knees. Progress from two legged jump/stick to one legged hops, skips, land from a height of 6-12 inches. Once you are proficient at that you can add some weight in the form of weight vests, sand bag or resistance bands. These drills can seamlessly lead to closed agility drills with forced deceleration. Again, get creative!
As you can see many of these components of speed do not have to be trained separately. Many drills and exercises can touch on multiple areas of speed development. The important thing is to recognize these things need to be trained and progressed in a safe manner for the health and improved play of your athlete.
Movement Based Games
Young, Warren PhD., and Farrow, Damien PhD. “The Importance of a Sport-Specific Stimulus for Training Agility” Strength & Conditioning Journal. 35.2 (2013): 39-43. Print.
Lockie, RG, and AB Schultz, SJ Callaghan, MD Jefferiess. “The Effects of Traditional and Enforced Stopping Speed and Agility Training on Multidirectional Speed and Athletic Performance” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research (2013). Print.