Speed is important in almost every sport and with the right speed training exercises as part of a complete speed training program athletes can make dramatic improvements.
When I was in high school I worked with a speed training coach each summer and got down to the 4.5s range for a hand-timed 40-yard dash, something that helped me tremendously on the football field.
During those summers we worked on acceleration as well as top-end speed with a variety of training methods - Band resisted sprints, various starts, overspeed training, and more.
In this article you’re going to learn about the best speed training exercises and drills that you can include in your program to improve your top-end speed and acceleration, taking your game to the next level.
A successful speed training program includes a few different components - Strength training, plyometrics, and sprints - you’ll learn about all of these.
Strength training is the foundation of your speed training program and we’ll start by going through different strength training exercises that’ll help you get faster.
Strength Training Exercises for Speed
Getting stronger helps you produce more force and therefore run faster. Especially for athletes in middle school and high school, building a base of strength training is the top priority for getting faster.
There are a few different types of strength training exercises you’ll want to include in your speed training program and they each work your body in a different way.
Before you do any of these exercises it’s important to do some type of warm up. A dynamic warm up is usually best and can include exercises such as lunges, high knees, side shuffles, butt kicks, straight leg kicks, and sprints that aren’t at full speed.
Below, you’ll find some of the best strength training exercises to help you get faster.
Squats, considered by many athletes and lifters to be “the king of all exercises,” are effect for developing lower body strength and, with that increased strength, you’ll run faster.
Beginners can start with easier squat variations such as bodyweight squats and goblet squats, progressing to barbell back squats and front squats.
While you can build a base of strength with higher rep ranges of 10-15, to build max strength for getting faster you’ll need to work with low reps, about 1-5 per set. In other words, lift heavy.
Deadlifts, like squats, are extremely effective for developing lower body strength.
While deadlifts target the same muscles as squats, they hit them from a slightly different angle, targeting the posterior chain (Glutes, hamstrings, and lower back) more than squats.
A deadlift variation, the Romanian deadlift, targets the hamstrings and lower back even more so.
Single leg exercises are great for fixing strength deficits between legs. Why is this important?
Well, if one of your legs could run a 4.5s 40-yard dash and the other can only run a 4.7s 40-yard dash, guess how fast you’re going to run? 4.7s. You need BOTH legs to be equally as strong and explosive if you want to run fast.
To get started with lunges you can just use your own bodyweight. As you progress, you can use more advanced versions holding dumbbells or barbells, wearing a weighted vest, or using leg resistance bands.
Split squats are another single leg exercise that’s effective for fixing strength deficits between legs.
Instead of taking a step forward or backward like you do with lunges, for split squats you’ll be in a staggered stance and simply lower your body down, working your glutes and quads tremendously.
You can also load split squats like lunges to progressively get stronger.
Olympic lifts are some of the best exercises you can use to develop more power and therefore run faster.
These lifts include primarily cleans, jerks, snatches, and different variations of each.
Olympic lifts require moving a barbell at high speeds and you need powerful hips to do so. This makes them great for helping athletes run faster.
Form is crucial with Olympic lifts as they’re highly technical, so be sure to work on working with great from first, then progressively adding weight.
Plyometric Exercises for Speed
Plyometrics, defined by Merriam-Webster as “Exercise involving repeated rapid stretching and contracting of muscles (as by jumping and rebounding) to increase muscle power” are a staple in any speed training program.
There are a number of different plyometric exercises you could include in your speed training program, starting with beginner exercises with bodyweight progressing to more advanced versions with weights and bands.
The most important concept to understand with plyometrics is that THEY ARE NOT CONDITIONING.
Plyometrics require an all-out effort with a full recovery in order to get the largest increases in power over time from the training.
Here are some of the best plyometric exercises for speed training:
Broad jumps can be done by athletes of any age, helping them develop explosive power.
For broad jumps you simply start in an athletic position with feet parallel and jump out as far as you can.
While beginners should start with one jump at a time and then gather themselves before doing another jump, more advanced athletes can do successive jumps, doing 3-5 broad jumps in a row trying to go as far as possible.
Another advanced version of broad jumps is resisted broad jump with a bungee resistance band.
As the name implies, squat jumps involve simply going into a quick squat before jumping vertically as high as you can.
While you’ll start by doing one jump at a time with a few seconds of rest between, you’ll progress to consecutive jumps in a row with no rest in each set.
Like many plyometric exercises, squat jumps will not only help you run faster, they’ll also help you jump higher, making you a better overall athlete.
Depth jumps are a more advanced plyometric exercise and they require you to jump off a box, land and jump up as high as you can as quick as you can.
Beginners can start with depth jumps by simply jumping off a box and landing in an athletic position. From there, they can progress to landing of a higher box or landing and then going right into a quick jump.
Skips for Height and Distance
Skips for height and skips for distance, help you work on deficits in power between legs.
Think of them as exaggerated versions of sprinting, working on driving your knee up explosively with each rep as you work on skipping as far or as high as you can.
Jumping rope helps to develop speed endurance and also works the fast twitch muscles of your calves.
Work on jumping as fast as you can, in short bursts of 20-30 seconds to work on those fast-twitch muscles.
Sprint Training for Speed
Last, but certainly not least, we have sprint training for developing speed.
More so than any other method for developing speed, sprint training requires a full dynamic warm up beforehand to avoid injury and prepare the muscles for max output.
Sprint training for speed varies depending on the demands of your sport.
For example, a track and field athlete in the 200m will require much more top-end speed than a basketball player, and therefore need different types of sprint training for speed.
Adjust your speed training according to your sport, making sure to replicate some of the moves you’ll be doing during competition.
Below, you’ll find some of the best sprinting exercises for developing acceleration and top-end speed.
Great for athletes of all ages, sprint starts are short sprints of 5-10 yards that help you develop your acceleration.
There are various kinds you can utilize in your speed training - Waterfall starts, staggered stance starts, block starts, and even resisted starts with a partner or band.
Sprint starts are often included early in a speed training workout, right after the dynamic warm up.
Great for your acceleration, top-end speed, and conditioning, hills have been used by athletes for years.
The San Francisco 49ers even had a hill built just for training purposes. [link to it]
For speed training purposes keep your hill sprints short, picking a hill that takes 5-15 seconds to sprint up and taking a full recovery between each set.
Of course, if you’re a track and field athlete, you’ll want to include some longer sprints as well depending on the events you participate in.
Resisted sprints with a partner or with bands help you develop power in your legs increasing acceleration and speed.
Bungee resistance bands work great for adding resistance to your sprinting, you just need a partner to jog behind you connected to the band as well to help provide the resistance needed.
Sled Pulls or Pushes
Sled pulls or sled pushes can also help you develop power and speed, however you need to keep the load light for maximal sprinting benefits.
Primarily used to develop top-end speed, overspeed training can be done with a resistance bungee band or on a low incline hill.
The main idea with overspeed training is to run faster than you could on your own to get your body to adapt to higher speeds, eventually leading to you running faster.
The Takeaway Message
Speed training will help you get an edge over your competition.
As you move from middle school to high school to college to the pros the biggest change you always here about is the speed of the competition.
As you progress to the next level, everybody is faster, so how do you keep up and excel? Speed training!
You don’t have to do all of the exercises I mentioned, but including a few of them in your training can go a long ways in helping you develop as an athlete.