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Speed & Agility Training & Development
What is speed and how can we develop it?
Power is the amount of force that can be applied to the ground. Enhancing power increases both torque, or shortest time to peak velocity, and top end speed. So our objective is to increase linear speed through increased peak power. An athlete with more power has greater torque, leading to a quicker athlete with more top end speed.
Speed is a function of leg turnover and stride length; stride length is a function of leg length (anatomical length) and power. - Mel Siff
What are the current training methods used to improve speed and agility?
Treadmill over-speed training
Band resisted running
1. Hill Running
It has been shown that horizontal plyometrics aid in sprint-specific performance and that plyometrics with weight doesn't benefit the athlete anymore than unweighted plyometrics. “Greater improvement in sprint performance included training volume for 80 combined jumps per session”. For the strength coach, this means that you don't need to have your athletes wearing weighted vests to perform plyometrics. This will save their neurological systems for other useful exercises. It also gives you a rough outline for the amount of training for athletes.
The current plan for developing speed is:
- Focus on the rate of force development using bands or chains.
- Use horizontal plyometrics for less than ten weeks and a high intensity program with more than 80 jumps per session.
- Perform balance training for a de-load week or for the injured athlete who can't squat.
- Use band resisted running as an excellent change during a plyometric cycle.
Jerry Rice was famous for running hills during the off-season to prepare for the season. Appalachian State used to make their players run the mountain behind the stadium. Hill running has been used to improve running, but does it work? And can it fit into a strength and conditioning program?
Stride length is influenced by power. So it does work for the overall goal, which is to decrease sprint time, but it fails at increasing stride length. It’s place is for conditioning only. It helps for increasing stride turnover and is excellent for developing a cardiovascular base but not anything else. Therefore, it should be placed on conditioning days.
Downhill running only (using the over-speed principle) “increased [an] athlete’s maximal speed by 6.5% when performed at a slope of 5.8° compared with flatland running.” The research also covered other angles of slope ranging from two to seven degrees. Using both uphill and downhill running resulted in “an increase of maximal running speed by 3.4% accompanied by an increase of step rate by 3.4%, although the step length did not change”. This means that the decrease in time was related to increasing stride turnover, not stride length.
2. Treadmill over-speed training
This has been an expensive method utilized by some strength and conditioning professionals to decrease sprint time. Studies found that using a treadmill to improve sprint time were successful.
However, the manner in which the improvements were made were the same as before. Stride frequency increased, and as a result, the sprint time decreased. However, stride length didn't increase. It should be excluded as a method to train athletes for three main reasons - it doesn’t work, it's expensive to buy specialized treadmills, and you can't train athletes in bulk.
3. Band resisted running
In the same study, band-resisted running was found to decrease sprint time by increasing stride length and decreasing pelvic vertical displacement. Increased stride length is the goal and decreased vertical pelvic displacement is excellent. This means that more power and energy are expended on horizontal motions than vertical motions, leading to less energy being wasted vertically and more being exerted horizontally. Increased flight time is good as long as it's transferred horizontally.
4. Balance training
Balance training allows the athletes to focus on neural control and forces them to recruit more motor units to stabilize their center of gravity as compared to body weight squats. The increased recruitment simulates heavier weight neurologically, but it isn't as taxing as a one or three rep max lift. Balance training forces the body to use other muscular groups to help stabilize joints on an unstable surface. This greatly aids the athlete because running is never done on both legs. In addition, while changing direction, the joint isn't stable. Balance training is an excellent tool to use on a deload week or with an upper body injury that prevents spinal loading.
5. Accommodating resistance
Another study found that peak power was enhanced with elastic band training and suggested that the more tension utilized, the greater peak power athletes attain. Rhea, Kenn, and Dermody showed that accommodating resistance provided through band training increases the rate of force development and can train the athlete in the concentric phase when the athlete is near the optimal length-tension relationship. What does it all mean? The rate of force development increases or makes the athlete fire his muscles faster. It also means that more power is produced when using band-resisted squats, leading to greater power in the lower body, which ultimately leads to increased stride length. A heavy amount of both band tension and straight weight can be used to accomplish this goal.