Speed Training with Limited Space, YES IT CAN BE DONE!

Stop Making Excuses

There is this myth that you have to have fancy equipment or tons of space in order to make athlete’s faster.  To some degree this may be true with professional athletes but with youth athletes speed is 100% trainable.  Now, I am not saying that we can develop everyone into Usain Bolt, what I am saying is if you are willing to put in the time and effort coaches can help you can become faster.  There are plenty of exercises that could have increase RFD (Rate or Force Development) without space, you just need some creativity.

Differences Between Acceleration and Max Velocity

To understand how to train someone to get faster we must first understand the difference between acceleration and max velocity (For the sake of simplicity we will not talk about the start).

Acceleration is the part of the sprint that happens right after the start and is usually maintained for the first 10-30 yards (Depending on the athlete this could be as little as 10 or as long as 60).  This part of the sprint is looked at as the most important skill to learn as an athlete because field/court sports are played in acceleration with rapid changes of direction.  Acceleration is very joint angle specific because if the certain angles are not achieved by the body we can’t project ourselves forward efficiently.  This part of sprinting is taken place at roughly a 45 degree angle (If looking at the body from the side). If angle that is missing, we can’t apply force properly and we start the sprint standing up which is ineffective.

Acceleration could be defined as the horizontal, non-time dependent part of the sprint because you need to spend a little more time on the ground in order to cover distance.  This part of your sprint would involve more of a “pushing” action as we are trying to apply as much force as possible (As quickly as possible)before reaching top end speed.  This is in my opinion the most trainable because there are a lot of principles that apply to strength that help in acceleration.  Most athletes who are slow will have trouble getting out of their own way when they run because they lack strength.  The stronger the athlete the easier it is to get faster when it comes to acceleration.  Some exercises that help are Squats, Deadlifts, Olympic Variations, Lunges, and Jumps.  The most specific exercises we have are heavy or light sled work (Push or drag).  If you remember reading acceleration is very joint angle specific which would mean those two exercises would be considered as “specific” as you can get.

Max velocity would be considered more of the vertical component of speed because of its vertical positioning of the body.  This involves running in an upright, tall position to properly utilize the hips to propel your body forward.  The leg mechanics are cyclical in motion and involves more of an elastic foot contact rather than a push when striking the ground.  Like in acceleration, posture is critical to maintain in order to run fast.  Unlike acceleration, max velocity is more “Time Dependent” because the longer you have contact with the ground the less elastic you are, which results in slower times.  Depending on the athlete ability to accelerate, max velocity can start from 15-40 yards.

To increase top end speed you would want to use exercises that are reactive, ballistic or fast.  Any exercise that would involve multiple responses (One movement quickly followed by another) would be able to simulate muscle contractions that would simulate max velocity.  Pogo jumps for height, Hurdle hops, box jump variations, any movement with timed sets and extremely light loads and exercises that involve intense hamstring recruitment are a couple that would benefit top end speed.  Training elasticity is another simple way to increase joint stiffness qualities and improve max velocity.  Simple drills such as hopping on and off and plate or tiny pogo jumps would help joint stiffness qualities so when you apply force into the ground you have a better chance of an elastic return (Mechanics depending).

Conclusion  

Coaches need to stop making excuses about training top end speed even if they don’t have the room to run.  Would it be ideal, yes it would however there are ways to elicit responses without ever having to run.  Simple doing multiple response jumping or hurdle hops are just some ways to make our athlete faster.  I find at first athletes need to have a foundation of strength and good mechanics which improves speed in the first 20 yards.  We need to understand that youth athletes are novice lifters and just by getting stronger we will improve sprinting potential tremendously.  Don’t over complicate it; work hard and the speed will come.

Do physical sport tests (I.e., 60 time) actually indicate sports performance?

Dilemma

Each sport has its own set of tools for evaluating athletes.  This can range from just a simple measurement of anthropometry, or strength movements like the 225 bench test or a speed test like the 60 yard sprint.  The unfortunate reality is that these tests are indicators for the coaches to see if the athlete has qualities that would lead them to being proficient at playing the sport. However, most, if not all, of these tests for field and court sports have little or nothing to do with the skill of the athlete inside the sporting event. Unfortunately, we have to “play the game” of being great at these tests because they help us get noticed. Baseball players rarely, if ever, have to run 60 yards in a single play, and if they do ever have to run 60 yards in a single play, it definitely wont be in a straight line. Therefore, how could it be an indicator of potential baseball performance? The 225 bench test in football is by definition, a strength endurance test. However, the sport is really based on horizontal power which has little to do with upper body endurance.  Do you see where I’m going here?

Regardless of the reality, you still have to do the test. So now what?

To be better at your sport you need to practice your sport to improve the skill of it, just like anything else.  In the weight room, the more reactive the training the more carry over to the sport (just one example).  Now the tricky part is to become better at certain tests you have to practice the test if you want to improve. This is where we come in… Improving your 60 time is not as simple as just running a 60 yard sprint every day. Rather, as strength coaches we work on force production, single leg strength, running mechanics, acceleration drills, your first 10 yards of the sprint, and so on, breaking the test down into parts that will improve relevant sport related qualities of the athlete, while also providing significant improvement in the actual “test”.

Take Home

We all have to show that we have put in the work for the up and coming season, so performing well at these tests will help you, but if you don’t have a great 60 time or weak numbers for other tests, don’t get discouraged. Nowadays every coach is obsessed with providing some metric or score to quantify the athletes or prospects ability, so all you can do is do your best and if you truly want to be noticed, make sure you put your best foot forward on film or during the actual sport related drill (like fielding, hitting and throwing).  If you hit 10 home runs in batting practice during a showcase but your exit velo was not off the charts, you will still get noticed.