Simple Speed Solution

Written by Jason Ferruggia Topics: Uncategorized

The goal?

To run faster.

Your mission?

To find the most simplistic and efficient way of doing so.

Why?

Because why in the hell would you ever want to overcomplicate things?

Oh, wait. I know why. We live in the age of overcomplicating things. It’s a way of life, a FaceBook status update, a YouTube video, a way for a strength coach to seem smarter than he is.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Improving your running speed can actually be quite simple.

Firstly, you need to get stronger. You run faster by improving the amount of force to which you can apply to the ground. We can discuss tons of other factors and analyze stride rate and stride frequency and all that but I really believe that getting stronger is at the top of the list for most athletes who are not yet at an elite level.

Once you are playing ball at a Division I school or beyond I think it’s safe to say that a variety of other factors should be addressed and we can get pretty intricate and detailed with the speed training. But for everyone else let’s keep it simple and focus on the basics, first and foremost.

How to Get Stronger
To get strong you need to pick an exercise that will give you the most bang for your buck. That will be the back squat. Don’t worry about step ups and glute hams and all that right now. Just focus on the back squat and you’ll see the point I’m trying to make.

No one would argue that the back squat is the best lower body exercise there is.

Right?

Right.

So now you need to get stronger on it. If your squat goes up, meaning you’re getting stronger, you will then be able to apply more force to the ground, and thus run faster. Simple enough.

Let’s start with just the back squat as our only strength training exercise. Do it once every 5-7 days and work up to a top end set of 5 reps. That’s it. That’s your entire strength training workout. When you can no longer make progress with the 5’s take a week off or deload then start back up again with 3’s.

Assistance Exercises
Well, what about assistance exercises? That’s what you’re thinking, right? Fair enough question but humor me for a bit. Try doing just the squats and tell me that you can’t or don’t get stronger. I promise you will.

Now, if you’re getting stronger with just one top end set of squats what would glute hams and split squats do? Honestly. Think about it. Would you get stronger at an even faster rate? Of course not. It’s just more work for you to recover from. So that’s all you’re going to do is your one top end set of squats and one back off set. After you hit a good, hard set of five, reduce the weight by ten percent and do one more set. Then go home.

Think it’s not enough? Charlie Francis had Ben Johnson do something very similar when he was setting world records back in the late 80’s. Following this template Ben squatted 600 for 4 reps weighing 175 pounds. You think a 175 pound guy who can do that isn’t going to be fast? He also benched 365 for 3 at the same weight. Yes, he was on steroids and got caught, but focusing on that is missing the point.

Getting stronger leads to getting faster. That’s the point.

For the sake of simplicity you could do nothing but squat, or you could add in an upper body press with similar loading parameters and a pull up variation. The key is to maximize strength gains while doing as little as possible to impede your recovery.

Speed Work
Now comes the sprinting. You could choose from a million different fancy running schemes or you could simply treat your speed work like your strength work and keep it simple. Make it performance based and focus on a low volume of high quality reps and try to improve at every session. Warm up properly and then work up to running 20-30 yard sprints at nearly 100% intensity. Just like I don’t recommend training to failure and doing a true, death set max in the weight room, I don’t recommend them on the track either. Run hard but try to stay at around 95-98%, always leaving just a little in the tank. Do this twice a week and always try to improve.

As hard as it is to believe in the age of space age clown workouts, that’s all many people will need to do to get faster.

All the Other Stuff
What about plyos? What about med ball throws? What about reverse hypers and split squats and abs?

Good questions and all are useful tools at the right time for the right person. But you always want to start with the least.

Since we know that strength is an important factor in increasing speed let’s just start with squats and take it from there. I know most of you won’t be convinced and will want to add more so we’ll address the possible additions to this ultra basic training program.

Single Leg Exercises- These days a great number of strength coaches include single leg work in an athletes program for a number of different reasons. Strength aint one of them. At least it shouldn’t be. Single leg work will never improve your big lifts, so if you’re already squatting there is nothing to be gained strength wise from adding single leg work. The only benefits of these exercises will be seen by those athletes who have severe imbalances from one leg to the other or have major flexibility/ mobility issues and could benefit from the bottom positions of Cossack and elevated split squat variations.

Posterior Chain Assistance Exercises- Everybody knows that power and speed is primarily generated from the posterior chain. So, of course, it makes sense to train these muscles. Remember, though, if you’re already squatting deep you’re taking care of the glutes and hamstrings and the lower back is getting a workout as well. Therefore you need to think twice before adding in glute ham raises, back extensions, reverse hypers, pull throughs or swings. Like the single leg exercises these will not bring up your big lifts dramatically unless you are a very advanced lifter squatting with the proficiency and strength of Chuck Vogelpohl.

If you suck as squats you need to squat more. There is no such thing as weak point training when you’re squatting under 315. Everything is weak. Just squat.

Maybe you feel you want to focus on the posterior chain just a little bit more so as a compromise you choose the trap bar deadlift as your main strength lift instead of the squat. I have no problem with that whatsoever. Either way, you don’t need to go crazy on assistance work and may not need any at all.

Olympic Lifts- Snatches are one of my all time favorite exercises. I also love a wide variety of pull variations and believe they can be of great benefit to an athlete. However, if you’re already running sprints twice a week you’re doing some form of explosive power/ speed work. So adding more of it right off the bat might not be necessary.

Jumps and Throws- The same thing that goes for the Olympic lifts goes for jumps and throws.

Focus on Minimalism
The point is you always want to keep things as simple and minimalistic as possible if you are after the fastest results. Adding more to the equation doesn’t necessarily improve results; sometimes it’s just more to recover from. Always keep that in mind and start with the least.

In time, and only after a plateau has been reached, your two sets of squats or trap bar deads workout can become this:

1) Power Snatch From Hang- 5 x 3
2) Squat- 2 x 5

And then this:
1) Box Jump- 3 x 5
2) Power Snatch From Hang- 5 x 3
3) Squat- 2 x 5

And then this:
1) Box Jump- 3 x 5
2) Power Snatch From Hang- 5 x 3
3) Squat- 2 x 5
4) Single Leg Exercise- 1-2 x 6-10 (only if deemed absolutely necessary for mobility, prehab reasons)

And then this:
1) Box Jump- 3 x 5
2) Power Snatch From Hang- 5 x 3
3) Squat- 2 x 5
4) Single Leg Exercise- 2 x 6-10
5) Posterior Chain Exercise- 2 x 6-10 (as a prehab move for hamstring health but not necessarily for performance increases)

Milk each progression for all it’s worth and don’t add anything more to the mix unless it’s absolutely necessary. Whatever you do, don’t add more to the workout just for the sake of making it more fun or making yourself look smarter as a coach. I know it’s hard to do but it’s the right thing to do. Results are what matters most in the end.

In one summer I had two college football players put 90 and 110 pounds on their squats respectively and set new PR’s on the 40. They did two sets each of squats, single leg work and glute hams (both done mainly for prehab purposes). That was it for their strength training. Because they weren’t getting tested on cleans and had very little experience with them we opted to go without Olympic lifts for the summer. They did low volume linear speed and change of direction work on two other days with plyos and quickness/ movement efficiency drills at the beginning of each session.

All of the methods and exercises listed above have merit and there is a time and place for each of them. Eventually the programming can get even more complicated and there are other things to consider.

Before adding more to the pot or making things more complex than they need be however, consider the fact that running faster comes down to a few basic things:

– Getting Stronger
Decreasing Your Bodyfat
– Improving or Maintaining Your Mobility
– Increasing Explosiveness
– Improving Movement Efficiency

All of these things can be done quite easily and with less than most people think. Don’t try to do everything at once and take things in steps.

The longer I’m in the game the more simplistic my training gets. And thus the more effective it becomes. As William of Occam said in Occam’s Razor, “It is futile to use more to achieve what can be done with less.”

Please leave your comments below.

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