Ultimate Speed Training Program: Sprint Faster In No Time!

Speed is what separates a good athlete from a mediocre one. The ability to move quickly and forcefully is often the deciding factor when playing such power sports as basketball, football, tennis, and baseball. For track and field athletes, speed is the essence of what they do.

Developing optimum speed, however, can be a confusing topic. In this article, we will bring to bear the latest research and apply it to real training situations, to allow you to follow a speed training program that delivers.

Speed and Power

Speed and power go hand-in-hand. In sports, power is defined as the ability to produce force rapidly. When you are sprinting, peak power occurs during the first 20 to 30 meters. The winner of the race is the person who can sustain their peak power for the longest period of time.

To increase initial speed, an athlete needs to enhance their ability to go from a stationary position to full speed. This is largely a matter of proper technique. Rapid acceleration depends on getting the power leg under the body and on full extension of the legs and hips (source).

The large muscles in the front and back of the thighs and hips need to be used fully when sprinting. Analyzing your running motion by way of videotape and compare what you see to YouTube clips of world-class sprinters. A subtle change in body position can add seconds to your sprint time.

Sprint Start Drills

Sprint start training is an excellent way to develop leg power and acceleration capacity. The key to success here is to get as full an extension as possible during the acceleration.

If you are a track and field runner, you should do the drill with starting blocks. Sports people should begin the sprint from the ready position of their game. For a football player, this would be from a football stance.

Sprint Start Technique (Track & Field):

On Your Marks Position – Stagger the feet 12-14 inches apart. Place the front foot about 20 inches from the start line. Relax.

Set Position – Raise the back and hips. The front leg should be at 90 degrees with the back leg at 120 degrees. The back should be flat and hips slightly higher than the shoulders. Raise the shoulders as high as possible with the fingertips on the ground.

Go – Raise the shoulders to direct force with the front driving leg through the whole of the body. Drive the front leg fully so the body forms a straight line from hip to heel. Push the rear foot hard against the block as your knee drives forward. Drive the front foot arm forward and the rear foot arm backward. Pump the arms forcefully as you drive out of the blocks.

The runner should advance 3 to 5 strides on each repetition.

  • Begin with 3 sprint starts. Progressively increase to 20 starts as your fitness progresses. Have the starts timed and videotaped to allow you to analyze your progress.

Lateral Sprint Training

Lateral speed, also known as agility, is the ability to change direction rapidly when running. It is the most common type of running that we do when playing sports. To develop agility, a runner needs to be able to:

Train for lateral sprint speed by setting up a zigzag course with cones. Run straight for 5 yards, then left at a 45-degree angle for 5 yards, then right at a 45-degree angle. Baseline drills on the basketball court are another very effective way to improve agility.

  • Perform lateral sprints in 30-second bursts with 15-second breaks between them. Work up to doing 10 sets.

Backward Sprinting

Backward sprinting is a very effective way to target the hamstrings and glutes (source). These are often weak links for many athletes. There are also quite a few sports that require the athlete to sprints backward. These include football, basketball, and soccer.

  • Start with a 10-yard backward sprint and progress ladder style to 50 yards as follows:
  • 10-yard backward sprint
  • 20-yard backward sprint
  • 30-yard backward sprint
  • 40-yard backward sprint
  • 50-yard backward sprint

Your rest between sets should be limited to the time it takes you to walk back to the start position.

Downhill Sprinting

Downhill sprinting will place an overload on your fast-twitch muscle fibers. This has been shown to provide rapid acceleration ability (source). In fact, the Dallas Cowboys have recently had a downhill track installed at their training facility in order to make their athletes faster.

  • Find a small hill that has a decline of no more than 2-3 degrees. Sprint 3-10 repetitions at distances ranging from 20 to 40 yards.

Do not sprint down steep hills (more than 5-6 degrees) as there is too much chance of injury.

Speed Parachute

Speed parachute training was introduced by Russian trainers and has now become popular in the US. Using a speed parachute is an effective way to overload fast-twitch muscle fibers while sprinting (source).

  • Attach 1-3 parachutes to the waist belt. Start with 20-yard sprints, increasing progressively to 50 yards as you get fitter. Work up to 15 reps.

A useful technique is to sprint with chutes on for 20 yards and then release the chutes. This will cause the body to surge forward, placing overload on the fast-twitch muscle fibers.

Harness Sprinting

The harness is an alternative to the parachute, which has a similar effect. The waist harness can be attached to a weight sled, a truck tire or even a training partner. Vary speed and resistance to build power and acceleration.

Low Hurdles

Low hurdle training is a great way to develop sprint speed. Set up 4 hurdles on grass 10 yards apart. Start your approach 15 meters from the first hurdle. Your goal is to stride rather than jump over the hurdles. The takeoff distance should be far enough away from the hurdle that the leading leg sweeps forward and upward in a straight line. In this way, your stride across the hurdle will smoothly follow your normal sprinting stride.

Begin the hurdling movement with a quick forward and upward thrust of the leading leg. Now actively press that leg toward the ground. The trailing leg should extend fully when striding toward the hurdle. As you clear the hurdle, bend and stretch the knee away from the body.

Your goal should be to take only three strides between hurdles.

Begin with just one hurdle until you are able to gain confidence with your form. Then add hurdles until you are jumping four in a row.

  • Start with 3 sets of hurdle jumps. Gradually increase speed. Work up to 6-10 sets.

Stadium Stairs

Running stairs at your local football stadium is a great way to overload the legs, building power and increasing speed. The number of reps will vary with the size of the stadium. Add in variations to running every step such as running two steps at a time, hopping up the stairs on one or both feet, and hopping up the stairs laterally.

  • Running stairs for 5 minutes is a good warm-up activity for the sprint work to follow.

High Knees, Fast Arms

The high knees, fast arms drill is very good for improving your sprint power. It will improve your stride frequency. This exercise must be done at maximum intensity to be beneficial.

Simulate a sprint motion in a nearly stationary position. Pump the arms and lift the knees as high as possible. Sprint 10 yards for every repetition. Your goal should be to complete 20 strides over that distance.

  • Perform 6 sets of 10-yard sprints.

Bounding Strides

Bounding strides are the best way to increase your stride length. Your goal here is the opposite of the high knees, fast arms drill, where you were trying to take as many strides as possible. In this case, you want to take as few strides as you can over a large distance.

  • Perform your sprints over a 50-yard course on a grass field or running track. You want to make your strides as long as possible. They should resemble bounding jumps. Work from 2 up to 10 repetitions.

Plyometric Speed Training

To improve your speed on the field, you need to include some form of plyometric training. Plyometrics involves rapid stretching then shortening of a muscle group during highly dynamic exercises. They enhance sports performance by increasing leg power and training the nervous system to activate large muscle groups quickly during movement.

The basic principle of all plyometric movement is to absorb the shock with the arms or legs, followed by an immediate muscle contraction. For example, when doing squat jumps, you want to jump again as quickly as possible after you land from the jump.

Plyometric Sprint Circuit

Standing Long Jump

  • Stand with feet shoulder width apart.
  • Bend the knees and bring the hands just below the waist, then explode forward as far as possible during the jump.
  • Try to extend fully with your ankles, hips and arms before landing.

Standing Triple Jump

  • Stand with feet shoulder width apart.
  • Bend the knees and bring the hands just below the waist, then hop as far as you can on one leg. Extend fully with the ankles, knees, hips and arms.
  • ​Land on the same leg as you took off, then step vigorously with the other leg.
  • In the landing, immediately jump with the leg that you just took off from.

Skiers

  • Stand with feet shoulder width apart.
  • Jump with both feet together forward and to the left.
  • ​Now jump forward and to the right.
  • Jump as quickly as possible for 5-10 reps.

Cone Hops

  • Space 3-6 large cones three feet apart.
  • Stand in front of the first cone with the feet shoulder width apart.
  • Jump over the cones as quickly as you can.

Hurdle Hops

  • Place 3-5 hurdles three feet apart.
  • Keeping the feet shoulder width apart, hop over the hurdles quickly using both legs together.

Box Jumps

  • Stand in front of a 24-inch high box.
  • With feet shoulder width apart, bend the knees and bring the hands just below the waist to initiate a jump with both feet onto the box.
  • Immediately jump back to the ground and repeat.

Putting It all Together

You have now got a powerful toolbox of training techniques to help you to become a faster athlete. Here’s a 3-day per week speed training program to allow you to get the most out of them:

Monday

Stair Sprints (5 min)

Sprints Start Drill (6 reps)

Low Hurdles (6 reps)

Downhill Sprints (6 reps)

High Knee, Fast Arms (6 reps)

Wednesday

Stair Sprints (5 min)

Lateral Sprints (10 reps)

Backward Sprints (10 reps)

Speed parachute (10 reps)

Low Hurdles (10 reps)

Friday

Plyometric Circuit (30 seconds each station):

  • Standing Long Jump
  • Standing Triple Jump
  • Skiers
  • ​Cone Hops
  • ​Hurdle Hops
  • Box Jumps

Bounding Strides (10 reps)

High Knee, Fast Arms (6 reps)

Stair Sprints (5 min)

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