Speed Training for Young Athletes (Alternate Title : “What do you guys do for speed?”)

Speed and agility training is the pilates and yoga of athletic performance training.  Too much time committed to something that is only a component of a larger system.  Like yoga and pilates, much of this “SAQ” training feels good to do, seems like it helps, but lacks a lot of scientific backing as to its effectiveness.  As with flexible people in yoga, naturally quick athletes love doing “speed” drills because it’s what they are good at.    Certainly there may be some slight coordination benefits to many of these drills, but they are merely details in the larger concept of how to improve speed. Full disclosure, I didn’t exactly dominate high school physics, nor did I go on to write a Noble Prize winning thesis on interplanetary theoretical models of the universe.  I did, however, manage to grasp a basic law that governs the limits of how fast my athletes can sprint, cut, and decelerate.    Acceleration is Force divided by Mass.  This will vary depending on the angle the athlete is moving, which is why learning to accelerate with as low of a body position as possible is paramount. If I lost you with all that science talk, here’s plain English.  The biggest factors in acceleration and thus sport-specific speed are force and mass.  And since I’m not going be able to affect the mass of my athletes very much, that only leaves force as a variable I can significantly alter.  How do I enable my athletes to put more force into the ground and thus create an equal and opposite reaction forward resulting in improved speed?  I get them stronger.  Not leg extension, hamstring curl stronger.  I get them foot (or feet) on the ground, explosive, moving significant weight stronger.  That is the not so sexy, tried and tested, ask any Olympic-level track coach truth to speed development. Let’s try a simple analogy.  Say I’m building a race car.  I devote all my time to developing perfect handling, smooth shifting and a precision suspension.  However, I run out of time and I have to use the only engine I can find, ironically the one from my first car, a 1993 Ford Escort v4.  My first race is against a 600 hp Ford Mustang that isn’t necessarily perfectly tuned and might have to slow down a bit in the corners, which probably won’t be a big deal considering my Escort powered car tops out at 63 mph downwind.  So which car would you rather have?  No matter how much tuning you do or fancy parts you install on my car, it’s still powered by a glorified lawnmower engine.  Wouldn’t it be easier to take the Mustang and tune it a bit?  Which car is ALWAYS going to win, no matter what?  Speed and agility are the exact same thing.  You are limited by physics and thus how much force you can generate.  No amount of cute “speed drills” or even worse, distance running will EVER make as significant an impact on speed as developing strength and power will. Here’s a few of our favorite exercises for developing speed-specific lower body strength: