As the Power Athlete Speed Kills Program became an Instagram sensation, I found myself trolling the overused and often misapplied hashtag #speedkills.
After sifting through countless badass car pics and heartbreaking plantar flexion bae pics (Paige, call me. We have to talk…), I stumbled upon a gem from @poliquingroup connecting five movements to speed development. While these movements can develop speed, their transfer into sprinting depends on so much more than simply checking the boxes!
What about limiting factors? Read on.
Pop Quiz, Hotshot!
Before we even train, let’s define speed so we can impose the appropriate adaptation.
Speed is a neural quality, a non-structural adaptation of the nervous system’s effectiveness with activating and deactivating tissue.
As discussed in Power Athlete Methodology, training aims to expand top-end speed through an increase in Neuromuscular Efficiency. Athletes just starting sprint training improve performance largely as a consequence of strength increase, while their ability to relax muscle remains the same (1). Inexperienced coaches will then fall into the trap of more strength = more speed. Remember, their initial improvement is a form of the novice effect, so “more” will not always translate to “better”.
Once an athlete establishes a Base Level of Strength, they must shift focus on speed development. At this stage, the athlete must train to increase their capacity for efficient muscle relaxation to expand speed. Strength training alone will no longer drive speed improvement, so we must balance it with an intelligent speed program that attacks the following limiting factors from two arenas: the weight room, and the field.
The Weight Room: Ain’t Nothin’ But a peanut
Speed development comes down to the nervous system, not the muscular system. We target the nervous system on three fronts:
1. Posture and Position: Detect and Correct
Speed is a product of posture, posture is a product of hours addressing iso-stability in the form of Dead Bug Home Position, Captain Morgans, and cervical loading. This is not typical “core” work. We are stressing the trunk as the athlete maintains long posture and precisely moves their limbs. This not only challenges and develops neuromuscular efficiency; we’ll also see where they’ll fail during the high forces of an all-out sprint.
Position refers to the athlete’s ability to maintain posture and the limb position as they move through space. Do they move well or are they flailing? Training the athlete to detect and correct movement errors in the weight room will increase their capacity for efficient muscle excitation and relaxation, a quality which separates those who test well from those who Game well!
2. Primal Movements
There is no better way to load your athlete than with squats, but they’re just one piece to the Primal puzzle. Sprinting calls upon all ways in which the hips and pelvis move, but emphasizes the Primal lunge and step up. Therefore, strength training for speed development must drive Primal movement proficiency across all three axes.
An athlete’s inability to perform a lunge and/or step up (single action) under stress will have a direct effect in their ability to combine all actions of the pelvis and hips while transferring force at full speed during a sprint!
3. Compensatory Acceleration Training
Sprint speed can be developed in the weight room through CAT, a fundamental piece to the Power Athlete methodology.
This style, developed by Dr. Fred Hatfield, requires the lifter to move the bar at maximum speed, especially when at a mechanical advantage. No coasting to a stop. Applying CAT in the weight room enhances an athlete’s ability to instantaneously achieve maximal contracture. With enough reps, this turns into a learned response. Thus, consciously moving Primals fast transfers directly to consciously sprinting fast.
The Field: Opportunity
Without the opportunity to sprint at top-end speed, the athlete will never increase their top-end speed! This seemingly no-brainer idea is lost on many CrossFit and sport coaches.
Expanding top-end speed requires overcoming two limiting factors: mechanics and efficiency. Power Athlete’s Sprint Program provides plenty of drills that correct common mechanical mistakes (arm swing and foot action), then integrates these actions into intensity sprints to increase top-end speed efficiency. You can’t have one without the other – new skills are not learned until they are practiced.
Important: one size does not fit all. Much like a golf swing, the optimal sprint form varies per individual. Regardless, they all NEED to sprint all-out for their body to coordinate biomechanically and neurologically (2).
A coach can nurture sprinting technique by eliminating basic mechanical errors. When the athlete actively corrects the fundamental mistakes and regulates the movement, the athlete will begin to learn their optimal form (2).
Field Notes: Rest Makes Perfect
Conditioning ≠ Speed Training!
Speed training is a time athletes commit to one thing: accelerating and sprinting at top-end speed. For an athlete to increase their speed, they must run FAST! In our training, we require athletes to run Intensity Sprints within 92.5% of their lifetime fastest, fully recovering between rounds. Anything slower will have a detrimental training effect (3). The key to hitting this threshold: REST.
Performing sprints without enough rest between runs or workouts will slow the sprints, despite the athlete’s attempts otherwise. This is mainly from not allowing the nervous system to recover. A 7-8 second, full-speed sprint yields a lactic component that clears after 7 or 8 min. Nervous system recovery takes much longer – 15 to 20 minutes for trained athletes. Novice athletes can get away with shorter rests (5 to 15 minutes) depending on the intensity.
When programmed and performed properly, Intensity sprints enhance muscle fiber recruitment, rehearse high-speed components, and expand athlete’s alactic envelope. However, intensity sprints tax the nervous system, requiring at least 48 hours of recovery between sessions.
Despite the arena, speed training is a process. To accelerate the returns, the opportunity to run fast must be combined with quality coaching, the latter of which is easier said than done. PA-programming tools like the arm swing and wall drill allow you to coach max velocity in a window, but think about it: the athlete is moving away from you at max velocity, making it hard to coach in real-time than say, a squat or clean.
Coaching is less about improving speed, and more about not fucking up speed. Here are some simple guidelines:
Everything a coach does outside of sprint training MUST support quality sprints. This includes selecting sprint prep movements, strength programming, and identifying individual biomechanical or neurological factors limiting performance.
2. Speed Development First:
Remember, speed is a neural adaptation. Speed training doesn’t change the muscle tissue; it changes the nervous system’s ability to activate muscle tissue. To drive this adaptation, Intensity sprints always precedes weight training (after warm up of course) when the CNS is fresh.
The most coveted of all performance traits takes time to develop. Athletes will be on the speed journey well past establishing a Base Level of Strength. Finding the most biomechanical efficient top-end technique is a process and developing intramuscular coordination never stops, especially when going through growth spurts (puberty or Jacked Street). Sometimes progression means maintaining a speed as the athlete gets bigger.
4. No Gimmicks, No old world thinking:
No bullshit, no fancy tools, no “well, that’s what we’ve always done”. The post-practice gassers did not win @Luke the ‘00 state championship.
God gave you everything you need to develop speed. That means no bands, chutes, or other crazy shit. The coordination required for top-end speed is so finite and delicate, resistance will quickly destroy what took so long to build. But this is old news, since you’ve read about it a few times through already.
Empower Your Performance: Quality, then Quantity
Attacking these limiting factors helps apply solid speed training, but the most important factor is quality of work. It’s not what you do, it’s how you do it.
Speed can be expanded no matter the individual because of one simple fact: it is a neural quality. Those same neural improvements also translate to strength improvements. Two birds with one stone.
This boils down to 3 easy rules:
1) High Intensity
2) Rest to provide high intensity
3) Don’t do too much
How do I do this? When can I start? What kind of prep should I do? How much is too much? Do not attempt to grow a brain. Go all in with Power Athlete’s Speed Kills Program. It does all the thinking for you, and will empower performance with drills that could decide between scholarship or sideline.
Winning is a hell of a lot easier when people are trying to catch you.
EDU: Power Athlete Methodology – Level One Online Course
BLOG: Battle The Bullshit – Conditioning Tests by Tex McQuilkin
BLOG: Get Stubborn Athletes to Sprint w/ Style by Tex McQuilkin
BLOG: Now Your Daughter Does Not Have to Live In Fear of ACL TEAR by Tex McQuilkin
PODCAST: Power Athlete Radio 359 – Your Dream Speed Coach w/ Derrick Hansen
- Baechle, R. & Earle, R. (2008). Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning, 3rd edition. United States: Human Kinetics.
- Bosch, F., & Klomp, R. (2005). Running: Biomechanics and exercise physiology in practice. Edinburgh: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone.
- Verkhoshansky, Y., & Siff, M. (2009). Supertraing: 6th Edition. Rome: Ultimate Athlete Concepts.
John Welbourn is CEO of Power Athlete and Fuse Move. He is also creator of the online training phenomena, Johnnie WOD. He is a 9 year veteran of the NFL. John was drafted with the 97th pick in 1999 NFL Draft and went on to be a starter for the Philadelphia Eagles from 1999-2003, appearing in 3 NFC Championship games, and for starter for the Kansas City Chiefs from 2004-2007. In 2008, he played with the New England Patriots until an injury ended his season early with him retiring in 2009. Over the course of his career, John has started over 100 games and has 10 play-off appearances. He was a four year lettermen while playing football at the University of California at Berkeley. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in Rhetoric in 1998. John has worked with the MLB, NFL, NHL, Olympic athletes and Military. He travels the world lecturing on performance and nutrition for Power Athlete. You can catch up with John as his personal blog on training, food and life, Talk To Me Johnnie and at Power Athlete.
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