When starting to train for speed and strength, what must come first is strength. Your body is a machine, and that machine must be prepared for the amount of work you will be exposing it to, or it will break down. It is possible to develop a foundation of strength through any number of programs, and for the most part as long as consistency is apart of that program you will succeed. When training myself, or my athletes, I have found great success in following simple programs that cover basic movement patterns repeatedly. Learning how to: squat, hinge, push, pull, rotate, and bend train the entire working system, to improve the qualities of these movements so we can appropriately overload the body and improve performance.
Once we have established a solid foundation to build on, we can than further specify training modalities to attack the goal that we are training for. At this point I would like to introduce unilateral and bilateral training. Unilateral training indicates we are working one side of the body (typically dividing the body in the sagittal plane), and bilateral is both sides of the body. For example, a unilateral exercise would be the reverse lunge, and a traditional back squat is an example of a bilateral exercise.
Bilateral exercises are great for force output. You are obviously stronger on two legs compared to one, however there is also a greater opportunity to compensate a movement and still complete it. This is a problem! Compensation patterns lead to efficient movement, lack of training adaptation, and injury! With unilateral movement, there is also a possibility of movement compensation, but the difference between the two is a unilateral movement compensation is more easily noticed and often leads to failure of movement completion.
Unilateral movements are often more closely related to the movements required in sports. Sprinting is a unilateral plyometric. There is never a moment in time where there is two feet on the ground at the same time after the start! One of the goals of strength training is transferability to the field, and if I can more closely mimic a movement and load it safely, I will. With this principle in mind, let me discuss the back squat and reverse lunge. Neither of these movements are directly transfer to a sprint, but the reverse lunge is primarily completed on one leg (just like sprinting). The squat will work the same muscle group, and sprint performance will improve, but it will only take your improvements so far (the point of diminishing returns). Unless you participate in a barbell sport, there comes a certain point in training where the goal should shift from improving a squat number to improving athletic performance via movement specificity.
I will continue to discuss how to improve training specificity for athletic improvement in the weight room with future posts! Thanks for reading!
Coach Nate Garcia