What is the best exercise to get faster?
This wouldn’t make for a great blog if we ended it with the word “sprinting”; however, it is that simple. If you want to become faster, you simply need to begin sprinting. Think about this: how do you get better at climbing mountains? You don’t get better at climbing them by walking around the mountains, you need to actually climb them.
Everyone wants to hear about a specific weight room exercise to increase speed, the Holy Grail of Speed. They want to do 3 sets of 10 reps of an exercise and in a month their 40 time will be lowered by 1 whole second. Unfortunately, there are some coaches who market their program in such a way. In reality, to get better at a skill, you need to perform the skill.
There was a time when the thought process was “you are born with speed”. While genetics do play a big role in one’s speed ceiling, everyone can get faster than they are currently. We all have the capability to become faster, maybe not Usain Bolt fast, but faster than we are already. You must remember sprinting is a skill and it can be taught and learned. If you become more efficient at this particular skill, you become faster.
So how do you become better at sprinting?
Yes, we need to teach, and athletes need to learn, proper arm action, knee drive, and angular positions, but it is amazing how they pick it up just by doing it and doing it fast. You are born to sprint, it is an innate survival technique that goes back to primal humans. If a saber-toothed tiger was chasing you, you would be sprinting.
It is amazing the self-organizing techniques a person uses when she is performing a full out sprint. I’ve never seen anyone sprint with the same arm, same leg action. The human body is already hard wired to perform the movement. Yes, we need to explain external cueing to athletes for them to perform the skill of sprinting more efficiently, my point is: just let them sprint and you will see their form clean up.
The thought process of teaching sprinting is along the lines of the thought process for periodization: overly complicated. We need to do a better job of simplifying things and not making them more complicated than they are. We are born to do this, just do it.
Athletes get too hung up on strength movements to help them increase their speed. Listen, I believe there is a lot of benefit to a properly designed strength program to help increase a person’s speed and possibly reduce injury, but there is no exercise that will increase a person’s speed like actual sprinting. We can perform explosive movements, such as cleans, snatches and others, but none of them produce the power of sprinting across the ground. For instance, a snatch might move the bar at approximately 2 meters per second, whereas a person sprinting will move at 8-10 meters per second. Think about that! There are movements done in the weight room that can’t compare directly to power production as much as running full speed can.
Just to clear this up, our athletes lift weights as well, but we do it with movement quality in mind by using proper technique and minimal effective dosing. I’m not here to argue one exercise is better than another, or you should be using a specific set and rep scheme. I am just here to give a simple solution to a problem that seems to be made complex in the world of sports.
When it comes to the actual sprinting exercises, dosage has to be done in an intelligent manner. I don’t mean athletes should be out there running 10 forty-yard sprints every day. Because sprinting is such a central nervous system dominated movement, the dosing and distance needs to be prescribed correctly. We like to program 10-yard sprints in the beginning phases with athletes. We do this for two reasons: first, it teaches athletes how to accelerate, which is a key component for our field and court athletes; second reason is injury prevention. We’ve never seen someone pull a hamstring, or any other muscle for that matter, sprinting just 10 yards or 10 meters. If we take a person and have them sprint 40 yards on the first day, there is a good chance he will get hurt. We progress the distance as he/she progresses through our program.
A major component we added to our sprint training is timing sprints. I got this methodology from high school track coach, Tony Holler. We use a Freelap Timing System to time our athletes. If you want athletes to sprint fast, time them, and you will see the competitive nature come out. I always remember a quote from Charlie Francis, a Canadian Sprint Coach, that goes something like this, “sprinting at anything less than 95% of one’s max speed is too slow to get you fast.” Therefore, to get fast, we need to sprint fast. This is why we time every sprint our athletes do. You can hand time, but just know this will not be as accurate or consistent as a device such as Freelap.
We have seen tremendous speed gains with our athletes by simply having them sprint as fast as they can. Trust me, we’ve done the accommodated resistance thing, the heavy squat thing, the ladder thing (not really, I always knew the ladder wouldn’t get you faster) and the tried and true best exercise to increase speed is, drum roll please……………………SPRINTING.
On a side note, I did not get into the volume or distance of our speed training and this is something we will do in future posts, but please be smart with your prescription. Always think less is more when it comes to speed training, and always be fully recovered between sprints or it gets turned into conditioning.