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).
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.