4 Drills to Enhance Your Sprints

Now that the weather is finally more favorable, it's time to get outside and run around. Whether you're playing in a summer league for high school sports or you're an adult in the real-world and you join up with a grown-up league. Most field and court sports require quick bursts of speed to reach a ball or an opponent with the ball. Today I have some drills you can implement to work on that explosion and subsequent acceleration. 

All of the drills would be best performed for 5-8 yds each for 2-3 sets of 2-4 reps. You'll want to keep the volume low to minimize fatigue. Each rep should be explosive and quick and you can't do that if you're tired.

In each drill you want to focus on a few things:

1. Apply as much force as possible on the first few steps-- think about exploding out of your shoes.

2. Maintain a tight core-- this will minimize any lateral movement thus streamlining your body as much as possible. Plus, you can transfer force from the ground through your legs more effectively through a stiff core than you can through a loosey-goosey one. 

3. Maintain strong knee and elbow drive-- don't run like a limp noodle man

Without further ado... 

Falling Start

If you have a hard time with acceleration, this is a useful drill as it forces you to lean forward (the acceleration phase requires a forward lean of the torso). 

Side Start

Side starts are perfect for working on acceleration in the frontal plane, sideways, as most of the time in a game scenario, you won't start running in the saggital plane (straight forward).

PUPP to Start

It's also not guaranteed that you will always start sprinting after an opponent standing up. This drill teaches you how to drive forward from the ground and pop up quickly.

Barrel Roll to Sprint

Let's say you made a spectacular dive in a game, but you need to get back up on your feet. By practicing rolling, you will teach your vestibular (balance) system how to re-orient so you won't be caught unawares during the heat of the moment. At least two of my athletes reported rolling in a game and I personally witnessed another doing so during his game. I was so proud. 

There you have it! Try those out the next time you find yourself on a field!   

RunFAST - SAPT's Secret Program Development

I’ll be honest, I’ve got a secret... it’s about a new program SAPT is developing. We’ll actually be launching all the info about it next week, but I’ve got to let on about it at least a little! I’m simply way too pumped up and have had a little too much coffee to keep this under my hat any longer.

It’s so exciting and will introduce yet another innovative, high-octane training method to the area via our resident performance coaching geniuses at SAPT.

This is the type of program that is born from those really special places that foster high-levels of both creativity and respect. An incubator for ideas where art and science merge. The type of place that values quality, service, and creativity above all else. That’s where these kinds of innovations come from.

The program is called RunFAST... that’s all I’m going to mention, as I think the name tells enough.

And, I have to also tell you this new innovative approach we’ll launch next week is just the tip of the iceberg. I wish I could let on about all our projects. But, for the moment, I’ll simply leave you with SAPT’s Big 3: Purpose, Vision, and Mission. Read into them as you like...

Our Purpose: Strengthening bodies and minds to support excellence in life.

Our Vision: People of all ages, abilities, and resources will have access to, appreciation for, and engagement in regular physical fitness training that will lead to improvements in all aspects of daily life.

Our Mission: To develop, research, and share our comprehensive approach to physical fitness training that fosters long-term engagement, promotes excellence in life, nurtures human relationships and inspires the lifelong pursuit of health through exercise.

Please stay tuned to next week on the blog... we’ll be devoting the whole week to RunFAST details!

Linear Periodization (Yawn...?)

Grab a cup of coffee and get comfortable. I'm about to talk programming and, more specifically, my personal experiences with linear periodization: My go-to programming style is, and always will be, the conjugate sequence system. The reasons are many, but to simplify, I just plain consider it the most effective and safest way to improve strength, power, and athletic performance in most advanced athletes while ensuring that serious CNS fatigue stays at bay.

Plus, because the BULK of my programming experience has been for sports where the goal, from a S&C perspective, is to allow the athlete to perform close to their best for upwards of 2-months in many competitions that are all equally important. The constant cycling of compound lift variations and set/rep schemes lends itself quite well to these types of sport.

So, when I began working with track and field, who are only interested in peaking twice a year, the seeming simplicity was almost too much to bear. I found myself working with coaches who implemented their own linear periodization on the track and wanted the weight room sessions to mirror in terms of both volume and intensity.

This meant *gasp* that I would have to resort to programming bench pressing and squatting at repetitions that sometimes exceeded sets of 10. I know that sounds kind of silly, but for women who squat in the 300's and men who hover around 450, a 4x8 back squat session can get pretty out of control.

My first year with track and field I spent many painful hours trying to unravel the mysteries of linear periodization (mountain out of a mole-hill? I'd say so). I even went so far as to get a USATF Level 1 coaching certification in an effort to find some solid footing.

Well, fast forward a couple years, and we've won our conference the last three years and had numerous successes on the road to nationals each season.

Despite this success, I still had a problem. I couldn't accurately identify with the athletes as they trudged through what I believed to be an extremely intense training program.

I've always prided myself on personally experiencing virtually components of every program I've ever implemented. This is critically important because it helps me communicate and relate to the athletes better than if I have no experience with what they're going through.

Why had I never done this with the track program? I've actually got a couple good reasons: Baby #1 followed by Baby #2. But, no longer being in the pregnancy cycle, I figured I could probably manage my way through the sprinters and jumpers weight training program. That or I'd hurt myself trying.

In my next post I will dive into the details of this training plan and how I've been progressing.

Here are a couple teasers: 1. I haven't experienced this much muscle soreness in at least 5 years. 2. I'm amazed the team hasn't attempted a full blown mutiny given what they do on the track is followed immediately by my program. Remember, the programs mirror each other in volume and intensity. 3. My lift today really almost made me throw up. Happily, my iron stomach once again proved to have the upper hand. 4. I'm getting much stronger very quickly.

Until next time...

Teaching Triple Extension

Want to work on improving everything from linear sprint speed, power, change of direction, force production, vertical jump, and deceleration strength? I know, who doesn’t, right? These qualities should be included in the very definition of athletic success.

The triple extension is a huge key aspect to unlocking all of these qualities in concert. It is also the component that is common through virtually all the movements that come to mind when thinking about the ideal strong, fast, and powerful athlete. Some good examples are a wrestler shooting, a sprinter coming off the blocks, throwers at the point of release, the vertical jump in a volleyball attack, etc.

What is Triple Extension?

Triple extension is the simultaneous extension of three joints: ankle, knee, and hip. Getting all of these areas to extend powerfully at the perfect moment is a beautiful and natural occurrence. Mess it up and, well, it looks really bad…

Why should Triple Extension be taught, developed, and progressed?

Again, if you’re looking to unlock and develop the athletic potential in yourself or an athlete under your guidance, then triple extension work is a must. Perfection of this movement during training will result in a faster, more powerful athlete on the court, field, or mat. And if you’re faster and more powerful, you WILL be more successful and less injury prone.

Teaching Progressions:

  1. Basic Bodyweight Strength Exercises – pushups, pull-ups, body weight squats, body weight lunges, etc. should all be considered foundational portions of any athletic development program and should NEVER be skipped. Trust me, no one is “too advanced” for this type of work. These movements have their place in any program whether they appear in the warm-up or the body of the training session.
  2. Medicine Ball Overhead Throw – this particular exercise allows triple extension to occur. However, I like using other MB variations to teach a powerful hip extension like a Scoop Throw. I suggest 2-3 sets of 4-6 repetitions for beginners and 3 sets of 2-5 repetitions for more advanced athletes.
  3. Broad Jump and Vertical Jump Variations – these are fantastic because you can add subtle variations almost endlessly to increase or decrease intensity/difficulty for every athlete’s needs. Plus, this is a great opportunity to teach takeoff and landing technique to avoid the dreaded and dangerous knee collapse. Common variations I use regularly include: broad jump, burpee to broad jump, single leg broad jump, vertical jump, hot ground to vertical jump, vertical jump to single leg landing, etc, etc, etc… Sets and reps are the same as med balls at 2-3 sets of 4-6 repetitions for beginners and 3 sets of 2-5 repetitions for more advanced athletes.
  4. Sprint Variations – Numbers 1-3 are progressed over the course of at least 12-weeks for beginners (less for more advanced athletes), sprinting variations can be added to encourage exceptional high quality triple extension repetitions. Generally for this application of sprints the distance should be kept quite short. I find 5-20 yards hits the right spot. At this point we should be dealing with an athlete that can, minimally, be considered “intermediate” in level and with that qualification I suggest 6-20 sets of 1-3 repetitions at a distance of 5-20 yards. The higher the number of sets, the shorter the distance and the lower the number of reps should be. Oh, and be sure to allow for full recovery for achieving power and speed development.
  5. Speed Squats – Hands down my favorite style of lower body exercise. This movement type teaches athletes how to produce force by pushing hard into the ground and accelerating up as fast as possible. These variations include the traditional Speed Squat, Wave Squat, and Jump Squat. Speed squat variations should ONLY be used with ADVANCED athletes. I suggest 6-10 sets of 2-3 reps with about 45-seconds rest between sets. Weight should be kept at 55-65% of the athlete’s 1RM squat.
  6. Olympic Lifting Variations – Please take note that this is the absolute last suggestion of my list of progressions for teaching the Triple Extension, but it is the variation that inexperienced (and in my opinion misguided) coaches frequently jump to first. Olympic lift variations have their place with highly advanced and elite level athletes. However, I rarely use them. Why? Because through my experience I have found that one can elicit faster and greater gains via cycling through numbers 1-5. However, I do use them sparingly with some athletes. I have to admit the athleticism required for Oly lifts can make executing them a lot of fun, but there is a requirement of athleticism!! It makes me sick to my stomach how many coaches are on some kind of auto-inclusion of each and every Olympic variation for each and every athlete. What a mistake! Including these in a program too soon leads to poor form and execution which means you’re not getting that much bang-for your-buck with the movements (i.e., wasting time) and would be better off regressing to something more straightforward. Anyway, some great variations include the jump shrug, high pull, hang clean, etc. Keep the sets moderate and reps LOW.

You really can’t make a mistake if you cool your jets and follow this progression slowly. Remember, untrained athletes will get stronger and faster with very little stimulus. So take your time and learn to enjoy and respect the process!

Fall Your Way to Faster Sprint Times: The Falling Start

Who doesn't want to sprint faster? Whether you're a competitive athlete, a weekend warrior, or simply someone who wants to win the next random "tough guy" challenge at a BBQ, the ability to sprint quickly certainly can't be a negative addition to your toolbox.

It's tough to find a better means of true plyometric training than sprinting, and, on top of that, there are few human movements that simply feel more "freeing" than sprinting. There's no denying that it's just plain fun.

However, most of us find ourselves in a devilish conundrum here: Sprinting faster - and safely - isn't just about going out and sprinting. Why, you ask?

  1. Most people simply lack the strength to efficiently decelerate (and subsequently accelerate) during each stride. The remedy to this lies in ensuring your involvement in a sound strength training regimen. I discussed the "why" behind the importance of strength for increased speed in the Improving My Son's 60-Yard Dash Q & A I wrote last year (see the third point), so I'm not going to bore you here.
  2. The majority of us move like crap. As such, heading out to the track for 100yd repeats for our first "sprint" session is a recipe for pulled adductors, hamstrings, and hip flexors (admittedly, this happened to me in college so I'm allowed to make fun of those that currently do it). Given that most people sit the majority of the day, possess glaring flexibility deficits, and haven't sprinted in a while, going balls-to-the-wall right off the bat is about as intelligent as thinking you can win a cage match against Wolverine.**

This being said, I prefer to ease people into sprinting, utilizing short bouts of 80% intensity to begin with. These will typically be completed at 20-yards OR LESS. This way, the person won't be able to reach full acceleration and reduce the risk of incurring an "ouchie." Not to mention, nearly everyone's sprint times can be lower by working on the first ten yards alone, due to the fact that the start of the sprint is where you lose most of your time.

Here's a drill I like to use to ease into sprinting, on top of helping teach someone how to produce large amounts of force into the ground:

Falling Start

Some of the key points:

  • Fall. Seriously, fall forward as far as possible. You want to lean so far that you would literally fall on your face if your feet don't catch up to you. This is critical to creating the momentum we're looking for in acceleration, as well as nearly (but not completely) approximating the body angle required for acceleration one would experience out of the blocks. This is where Matthew (the one demonstrating) is better at this drill than the majority of people I've seen do it, as most tend to think they've leaned further forward than they actually have.
  • As you lean forward onto the balls of your feet, be sure to keep the hips forward (i.e. body should be stiff as board, like you're a falling plank...no bending at the waist).
  • As you drive out of the fall, maintain that forward lean and be vigorous with your arm action. Drive those elbows "front to back" and keep the palms open/relaxed (again, Matthew does a pretty good job with this).
  • Try your best to keep the chin tucked throughout the acceleration, too. The only main critique I have for Matthew's demo is that he looked up - hyperextending his neck - as he drove out of the start.
  • Keep your sprint distance to 10-20 yards, especially in the early stages of training. In the video, Matthew only accelerates through the eight yard mark before slowing down.

There you have it. While there are countless drills you can use to "improve that first step," I really like this one for people just starting out with their sprint work, as well as mixing in the programs of those toward the "advanced" side of the spectrum, too.

**unless your name is Magneto.

Great Warm-up Movement You've Never Tried

MB Push + StartWhat is it? A great warm-up tool for getting the CNS firing and reminding the body how to produce a lot of force against the ground. The movement approximates the start for a sprint event. You can’t get as low as you do in the blocks, but it helps teach and reinforce how to produce great amounts of force as you are falling forward.

Why use it? See above, plus it’s fun!

Who should use it? Any athlete that is concerned about a “quick first step.”

If I were to coach myself based on my demonstration in the video, I clearly need to work on allowing myself to fall a fraction of a second longer and spend another fraction of a second extending through and taking advantage of the triple extension moment.

Overall, not too bad for a woman who had a baby exactly one-year ago tomorrow!