The two fastest teams in the NFL last season were the San Francisco 49ers and the Kansas City Chiefs. They also happened to be the top two teams in the NFL, meeting each other in the Super Bowl (the author of this article would prefer not to remember the outcome).
Coincidence that the two best teams in the NFL were also the fastest?
I think not.
Speed is arguably the most important trait an athlete can have. Faster athletes have more opportunities to make plays.
It’s also clear that high level athletes are faster than low level ones. On average, D1 athletes are faster than D2 athletes, who are faster than D3 athletes, who are faster than high school athletes.
If you want to play at the next level, you need to be fast enough to keep up.
So how do you get faster? If your answer is “you get faster by running,” you aren’t wrong, but you’re missing the critical details that will make or break your training.
Here are four simple rules plus two sprint workouts to maximize your speed training and get as fast as possible.
Top speed and acceleration are different animals. Technique aside, acceleration relies more on raw power than max speed, while max speed is dependent on, well, the ability to move your legs fast.
These are different systems and are trained differently. Because of this, acceleration and top speed should each have dedicated workouts. Doing both on the same day leads to sub-optimal results.
Acceleration workouts should involve 10-20 sprints between 10-30 meters long. You can play with different types of starts, like three-point starts (one hand on the ground), two-point starts (standing up), on one knee, on the ground in a pushup position, walking or skipping into it, a sport-specific position, etc.
Top speed workouts should involve 4-10 bouts of 10-20m fly runs. A fly run is when you take your time and speed up slowly, hold your max speed for 10-20m, then slowly decelerate out. A common way to do these is over 60 meters: 20 meters to smoothly build up, 20 meters at max speed, 20 meters to smoothly decelerate. You want to avoid explosive starts and hitting the brakes immediately at the end—these cause fatigue and take away from your ability to hit your true top speed with every sprint. The goal is to be as fast as possible in the 20 meter top speed segments. And if you’re on a field instead of a track, you can use yards instead of meters, that works just fine.
Speed training is not conditioning.
Say it with met: speed training is not conditioning.
In order to maximize your speed gains each rep needs to as close to 100% max performance as possible. If you come into the rep tired, even though you’re giving 100% effort, your muscles aren’t fully recovered and you run slightly slower than the previous rep.
To get fast you need to train fast. Slow reps won’t help you as much as fast reps will. So take as much time as needed to ensure you’re fully recovered. That way, each rep is lightning fast.
As a general rule of thumb, 3-5 minutes rest is recommended between fly runs (yes, you read that correctly: 3-5 minutes), and 1-3 minutes is recommended between accelerations. If you absolutely can’t stand the thought of resting for three minutes, this gives you a great opportunity to either practice patience or get some easy core / mobility work in (or post on IG).
Mechanics is the science-y term for technique. If you have a basic understanding of good sprint technique, you can immediately boost your speed and set yourself up for long-term success and speed gains.
Attack angle is the angle between your body and the ground when your foot leaves the ground. It should be pretty steep—45 – 60° depending on how strong you are. Attacking as far forward as you can without stumbling will make your first steps very fast.
Compare the two pictures in the image above. The first shows an inefficient acceleration posture. The athlete is bent over at the waist and her shin is not parallel to her torso. In the second picture, there is a straight line from the ball of her ankle, through her hips, to her ears, and her shin is parallel to her torso. This is the most effective posture for your first step in an acceleration.
Film yourself, or have a friend film you, and try and hit this posture. Slo-mo filming on an iPhone works great.
The shin should remain angled forward when your foot strikes the ground for the first several steps of acceleration. Your shin should act like a piston—moving up and then straight down to strike the ground and propel your body forward. If your shin is near vertical when it touches the ground you are not accelerating as fast as possible.
The foot should remain dorsiflexed, meaning toes pointed up to the sky, and you should strike the ground with the ball of your foot—not your heel—with every step. Heel strikes slow you down dramatically and are an easy fix that instantly improves speed if corrected.
During acceleration you need to push yourself forward. To achieve high max speeds, however, you need to be really good at pushing straight down into the ground and maximizing the amount of time you spend in the air vs. on the ground. The harder you push straight down into the ground the farther up you bounce off of it, meaning longer air times, less time on the ground, and faster speeds. You should feel like your bouncing down the field / track when at top speed.
To best accomplish this, a vertical or nearly vertical shin when your foot touches the ground is best. Your heel should be right under your knee, as seen in the picture below, and the emphasis should be on projecting yourself as far upward as possible, as if a little man in the clouds has a string attached to your head and he is pulling you up.
You need to run peacefully in order to achieve your highest speeds possible.
I know this doesn’t sound like it makes any sense, but it does. Sprinting is a fluid motion. The more tight and tense you are the slower you’ll be.
A lot of people say to “relax” when sprinting. That’s the word that doesn’t make any sense. Sprinting is a high speed, high force movement—there is nothing relaxing about it.
Peaceful, however, reminds you to be present in the moment, not to think about anything else, and encourages you to be fluid and free with your movement.
You should not relax when sprinting…but you should be peaceful.
As mentioned earlier, acceleration is mostly dependent on raw power, and max speed is mostly dependent on your ability to move your legs very fast.
Resisted sprints is running while pulling weight, like a sled or the 1080 Sprint machine that we use. Resisted sprints improve power and acceleration.
Overspeed sprinting is when you use assistance that helps you run faster than you can on your own, like running on a slight decline or using a pulley to pull you in, like our 1080 Sprint machine. Overspeed sprints improve your max speed.
To best use resisted sprints you need to find your sweet spot of resistance. Too much or too little resistance and you won’t get the maximum benefit. The resistance that maximizes your power is the one that cuts your top speed in half.
The same goes for overspeed sprinting. Too much or too little assistance and you aren’t going to get the most benefit. The sweet spot seems to be 5-10% faster than your normal max speed.
The 1080 Sprint machine we have gives you immediate feedback after every sprint, telling you how fast you ran and how powerful you were. Using this data we hone in on exactly what you need and customize our sprint workouts for each athlete.
In this way, every athlete gets as fast as possible.
Check out two of our athletes speed improvements in a 30m sprint below.
This athlete cut 0.3s off her 30m sprint time in a little over 4 weeks. This is a huge improvement.
Can you imagine what a 0.3s decrease in a 40 yard dash would do for a football player?
Here’s another athlete’s results.
This athlete reduced her 30m time by 0.16s in about 7 weeks. Another big improvement.
Resisted and overspeed sprints are fantastic avenues for improving speed.
The best speed programs incorporate all four of the above rules. But if you don’t have access to resisted or overspeed sprints, don’t worry, you can still make speed improvements with the two speed workouts below.
A great acceleration workout is six 10-meter sprints from a half kneeling position (one knee on the ground), five 20-meter sprints from a three-point stance, and three 30-minute sprints from a standing start. Take one minute rest between the 10-meter sprints, 90s rest between the 20-meter sprints, and 2 minutes rest between the 30-meter ones.
Six 20-meter fly runs will push your max speed up. Remember, a fly run is an easy buildup (not an explosive start), 20-meters at top speed, and slowly decelerating from there (not slamming on the breaks). Usually the full run is 60-meters long: 20m build up, 20m top speed, 20m deceleration.
Take 3-5 minutes rest between each sprint. Feel free to add easy core or mobility work if you want to fill the time.