elitefts™ Sunday Edition

Somehow, it is universally accepted that if you increase your strength and do running specific drills, you'll increase your speed and quickness. However, I haven't seen any results posted after athletes undergo these programs. In other words, how much improvement was there in the speed and quickness of the player?

Results should be based on a year-round program that starts after the season and ends prior to the season. To be objective, each athlete should be tested in the 40-yard dash and, in some cases, longer runs up to 100 yards immediately before starting the strength and conditioning program and then again in the same events after six to nine months of participating in the program.

Instead of seeing the actual results in these programs in regards to improvement in speed and quickness, we instead see a greater proliferation of strength, speed, and quickness programs purporting to improve speed and quickness. Isn’t it time to have the coaches of these programs back up their programs with actual results?

Professional female hurdler in action


In my experiences in working with athletes who have been on some of these programs, there is little if any improvement in the athlete’s speed and quickness. In fact, many of them show a decrease in their speed and quickness. There are several reasons for this that stem from misunderstanding what should be done in a speed and conditioning strength training program. In other words, coaches need to know what types of exercises should be performed and how they should be executed. In addition, it appears that there is little knowledge of what is involved in the joint actions seen in running and quickness and how they can be improved.

Most strength training programs are based on high intensity and, in many cases, a high volume of training. In the high intensity exercises, there are a limited number of exercises, which results in a lack in the development of some of the smaller but very important muscles. For example, there are very few training programs that emphasize strengthening of the calf muscles, which play an extremely important role in the running stride or cutting push off. These training programs also don't include any specific exercises to improve the knee drive and pawback, two actions that generate up to 80 percent of all the force produced in running. In other words, there is little specificity of the training in relation to improving running or cutting speed. Most of the exercises are general and, as a result, don't transfer to performance on the field.

The use of many different drills to improve speed and quickness also leaves much to be desired. For example, in doing hurdle drills, the athlete goes into a severely bent over posture when he drives the leg up and over the hurdle. At this time, the knee almost touches the chest. A drill such as this doesn't even come close to duplicating what the athlete does in a game situation. It teaches the athlete movements that can interfere with his running and cutting. The same applies to many of the ladder and cone drills that teach more high knees rather than driving the thigh forward as needed in speed running.

From science and practical experiences, it is now well known and accepted that continually being on a high intensity program in which you use maximal weights for a few repetitions actually produces slowness of movement, not greater speed or quickness. Understand that for improvement in speed, it is necessary to do more limited work so that the athlete maintains a high level of energy, has adequate rest in between exercises, and is then capable of displaying maximal speed and quickness. This is one of the reasons why I developed the 1 X 20 RM strength training program. It has lower intensity and allows the coach to more fully develop all the muscles of the body that are involved. It also allows the coach to do more specialized exercises that duplicate what occurs in specific joint actions, which are key to improving speed and quickness.

Coaches who have used this program have seen greater increases in speed and quickness than on the typical high intensity programs. They have also seen greater increases in strength and muscle mass at the same time as speed and quickness improves. For more information, see Build a Better Athlete, Explosive Running and Biomechanics and Kinesiology of Exercise.