Speed development is a complex process. Part science, part art, part riddle, and the answer is different for everyone. Here's what we've learned in the last 6 years of training well over 500 athletes.
Sprint with INTENT
The most important piece of developing speed is consistent sprint work with plenty of rest between sets. For us, we get the most buy in and intent from our athletes when we use the lasers. Using the lasers gives the athlete immediate feedback and when they start to slow down we know it's a sign their central nervous system is shutting down.
"we get the most buy in and intent from our athletes when we use the lasers"
Optimize Mass Specific Strength
The lowest hanging fruit for an athlete of any age looking to develop speed is to maximize their Mass Specific Strength. Mass specific strength is how strong an athlete is in comparison to their own body weight. For example, for our older athletes, a key performance indicator of mass specific strength is pulling 2.5X an athlete's body weight on Trap Bar Dead Lift. This allows an athlete to produce a surplus ground force vectors during acceleration. Yes if an athlete lifts like a body builder and gains lots of mass without increasing strength, they could get slower. But it is a catch 22 because adding some muscle mass will increase mass specific strength. For more advanced athletes, it's really about lifting with greater intensity (heavier) for less repetitions. This will create strength and density without breaking down as much muscle (hypertrophy) and adding volume and muscle size.
"a key performance indicator of mass specific strength is pulling 2.5x an athlete's body weight on Trap Bar Dead Lift"
Decrease Ground Reaction Time
Ground reaction time in sprinting refers to the amount of time the foot spends on the ground during stride. Related to this is ankle stiffness or how much force the ankles can produce without collapsing. If the feet and ankles can't support the forces produced by the rest of the lower half there will be an energy leak downstream. We improve these inputs with plyometrics and specific foot strengthening exercises. Our feet and ankles are determined by our genetics and the millions of steps we take every year; thus changing the structure and function of our feet takes consistent training and sprinting. If there's one benefit of training at any early age, it's this.
"If the feet and ankles can't support the forces produced by the legs, hips and glutes, there will be an energy leak downstream"
Increase Hip Flexor Strength and ROM
This is one of our favorite ways to work speed and increase the strength and range of motion in the hip flexors. This helps with knee drive during acceleration and top end speed. More knee drive (high knees) equates to greater ground forces and longer strides.
Train along the entire force velocity curve.
The force velocity curve is often referenced in our world and refers to applying different levels force/speed variability to a movement. For example a resisted sprint would fall into speed-strength while a heavy sled push might fall into strength-speed.