By DuMaine Corbin, Village Personal Trainer
At some point, many athletes and fitness enthusiasts want to accelerate their game. Some may be looking to improve their speed, and there are actually specific drills to help them accomplish this goal. Let’s take a look at speed itself — and how you can improve yours with some specific training.
What is Speed?
Speed is the ability to move the body in one direction as fast as possible, commonly thought of as “linear speed.” This is not to be confused with agility, which refers to changing direction quickly and effectively. Quickness, another term often used synonymously with speed, has more to do with the body’s responsiveness to a stimulus, typically measured by your reaction time.
Steps for Improving Speed
To become faster or increase your speed in any direction, you’ll need new workout routines to train in that direction. For example, if your sport or activity of choice requires you to have more lateral speed, then simply performing forward sprints won’t be enough. For optimal speed gains (especially going forward), you’ll want to start with positioning your body correctly. This begins with your stance.
The “Athletic Stance”
Prepare your body for movement in any direction with one universal stance. Your foot placement may vary, but for many speed drills the body position is virtually the same. To transition into the athletic stance:
- Lower your hips, while keeping your chest high and forward-facing
- Bend your arms slightly, keeping them on either side of the body in a “ready to strike” position
- With eyes looking forward, bend at the knees but shift them only slightly over the ankles to balance the load from front to back
- Space the feet hip-width apart with your weight distributed between the three corners of each foot (big toe, pinky toe and heel). Get comfortable with this
position before engaging in any standing exercises.
Now let’s look at a few speed drills with universal application that can be done without equipment.
Take everything you learned about the athletic stance and throw it out! Kidding! But with a slight adjustment, you’ll be in better position to accelerate forward.
- From the athletic stance and with your arms out in front, place yourself about a foot from the wall. Then, while keeping your body in the same position, fall
forward into the wall.
- With glutes engaged, drive one knee up keeping the knee just below a 90-degree angle with the ankle dorsiflexed, meaning toes point up.
- Alternate legs at a marching tempo as fast and clean as possible, while continuing to land on the balls of the feet. As you grow more comfortable with this drill, you can bring your feet back further from the wall to lower your center of mass.
- Repeat five to six times on each leg for two to three sets.
From the wall drill, you grasp the very basic mechanics of sprinting. Now, let’s put it in motion. The A-skip is vital to improving arm-to-leg coordination and maintaining proper posture while running.
- Begin in the universal athletic stance, with the body a bit more upright.
- Raise one leg to hip height while skipping on the ball of your opposite foot. Drop your elevated leg to the ground, landing on the ball of that foot and alternate.
- Arms move opposite of legs with a natural bend at the elbows. Start in place and then progress forward. Repeat for two to four sets of 20 meters.
Half Kneeling Arm Swing
As you’ll soon find out, your legs follow your arms during acceleration. The speed at which your legs propel you in one direction is dependent on your arm speed. For comfort and/or stability work, you may choose to use a towel, foam pad, or balance disc but none of these are required.
- Start by kneeling on the ground or one of the various apparatuses mentioned above.
- With both knees at about 90 degrees, lean forward slightly, engage the glutes and brace the core so that all but your arms remain steady. Now, with your elbows a bit wider than 90 degrees, drive your arms opposite of one another. You’ll move each wrist from the hip to the forehead and back. Swing the arms as fast as possible while maintaining control and a good posture. Repeat for eight to 10 sets, two times on each leg.
Often underrated, hurdle hops can be done in multiple directions. For this application, we’ll focus on forward and lateral hops. If agility hurdles aren’t available, then tape or chalk can be used to make evenly spaced lines.
- Space five to eight hurdles or lines about two foot-lengths apart.
- Begin in the now-obligatory athletic stance.
- Then leaning slightly forward, hop bringing both feet forward simultaneously over the hurdle (or line). Land on the balls of the feet, with knees bent and continue to the next hurdle.
- As you build confidence in your landing, increase your speed and then increase the space between the hurdles.
To move laterally, turn 90 degrees from the row of hurdles with either your left or right side facing them. Turn your head slightly in that direction to see a glimpse of your next obstacle (you’ll want to do this until you gain a good sense of where the hurdles are placed). Hop to that side bringing your feet up and over each obstacle, continuing to land on the balls of the feet with knees bent. Repeat three to five times in each direction.
While these drills are beneficial for improving speed, it’s important to note that strength and power training is another vital piece of the puzzle that should not be overlooked. This, along with mobility and stretching, will ensure essential recovery and reduce the likelihood of severe injury.
If you’re seriously interested in increasing your speed or improving your overall fitness through running and related conditioning, then be sure to keep an eye out for the start of Gainey Village Running Club coming October 2021, led by your Track & Field Specialists — Tray Ashby-Phan and yours truly, DuMaine Corbin.