THREE MAJOR FACTORS OF SPEED
Many athletes and many coaches, up until recently, have long lived by the idea that speed is something you are just born with. "You either got it or you don't" was pretty much the general thought process for some time. Do genetics play a role in your overall athletic ability? Of course, it does, but that does not mean we cannot or should not look to maximize the genetics you do have.
In more recent years this thought process that you "can't teach speed" has been challenged and even more so has been largely disproven. But like anything, there are better ways than others that you can go about improving your speed. When it comes down to it there are three major factors that factor into how fast you will ultimately be able to run. Those three factors are Peak Power Output, Direction of Force Application, and Ratio of Horizontal to Vertical Force. While these may seem like some scientifically advanced things that you can only work on in a lab, I promise it can be a lot simpler than that.
PEAK POWER OUTPUT
This is the simplest and most straightforward of these three factors, how much power can you create? In this context of speed, we represent that as your Pmax or P = Work/Time. In sprinting this is important as the ability to create power is the basis for everything in sprinting and if you cannot produce tons of power, everything else I am going to talk about will not matter as much.
So, what are the ways we can improve that Pmax, you ask? Part of this answer is answered in my previous article HOW TO LIFT FOR SPEED. For my younger athletes, improving your maximal strength will be the easiest way to improve your Pmax. If we look at the equation for power, we are improving the level of work you are capable of. So all my HS kids, keep lifting bro!
But, there comes a point where you are already capable of doing a lot of work, so we look at the other part of the equation, time. Now we must try to accomplish the same amount of work in less time. This can be accomplished via weighted plyos, olympic lifts, or lifting with bands all things that work to improve RFD (rate of force development).
DIRECTION OF FORCE APPLICATION
This is a pretty straightforward concept, what direction are you applying the force that you create? When sprinting the more force we can apply horizontally, the direction we are trying to go, the better. While it may seem complicated to figure out how to do this, it can be very, very simple it just comes down to technique and intent.
Improving your technical proficiency is going to be the lowest hanging fruit for many to improve the direction they are applying force into the ground. How do upright posture drills translate when you are sprinting horizontally? They allow us to work through the ranges of motions and movements necessary when sprinting while in a balanced position. So when we get into a sprinting position we at least have some reference points for how we should organize and move our body.
Peep my beautiful sketch on the angular and positional similarities in upright posture drills and an acceleration posture.
Some of my favorite technical drills are the most simple, A-Walks, A-Marches, and Exchanges. Each works a different aspect that is important. Walks help establish your frontside positioning at a slow pace as well as allow you to feel and work through the full range of motion. Marches allow us to feel how we need to apply force into the ground and return to that front side lift. Exchanges allow us to be more dynamic and feel how we need to switch at the thigh and be aggressive and reactive in attacking the ground.
RATIO OF FORCE (HORIZONTAL/VERTICAL)
The ratio of force is simply, how much of your force application is horizontal and how much is it vertical? At every point in a sprint, there is some aspect of both, but in each phase of a sprint, one is more predominant than the other. For example, early in acceleration, the ratio is more horizontal in nature, whereas at top speed the ratio is more vertical in nature. But when we look at improving your ability to accelerate (rapidly and consistently increase your speed in all phases), we want to improve how much horizontal force you are creating. As we will never eliminate vertical force and we do not want to eliminate it either, we can improve the ratio in the areas we want them to be more horizontal.
The simplest way to work this? Hills and resisted sprints are the keys! The reason this is true is during a hill or resisted sprint you are forced to stay in your acceleration posture for longer where the ratio is predominately horizontal. As well in these sprints, you are working at or at least close to your Pmax, so we are training your body to produce its maximal force in the right direction. Some of this comes from the technical aspect as well, but the ratio of force really improves due to the combination of working in acceleration for longer and closer to your Pmax. In a flat straight line sprint you are only at your Pmax for a few steps, so adding resistance in one way or another, forces you to work at that Pmax for longer and improves your ratio of force.
Improving your speed can be pretty simple when you can understand the principles that drive that improvement. So lift heavy and fast, improve your technique and run with resistance and I promise your speed will improve. If you have any questions on what you can do feel free to always contact me, my info is at the bottom of the page.