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Five drills to increase your speed to an NFL level

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Learning the workout secrets of NFL players isn't easy. We asked former Jacksonville Jaguars defensive back Donovin Darius for the inside scoop on how to get game-breaking NFL speed.

The motto "speed is king" is true. In all my 25 plus years of competitive athletics, I've never heard someone get released or cut from a team because they were too fast. It just doesn't happen. One thing that most young athletes don't understand either is that "speed" just doesn't happen either; it's something that must be consistently developed. For some speed training is running harder, balling up their fist, pounding the ground and getting their chin so high in the air that they can take off like a plane by the end of a sprint. However, I'm going to break down the important fundamentals of speed development into two main focuses: Stride Rate and Stride Length. Stride rate is the speed in which you can cycle your arms and legs through a sprinting pattern. Stride Length is the amount of ground you cover between each stride. Put these two together and you'll cover more ground, and as we all know the more ground you cover, the faster you can get to the finish line. The purpose of the simplicity in these drills is that as you increase the ability for an athlete to understand what he/she is doing, why they are doing it and how it directly impacts their performance, the more likely they are to learn it faster and be more productive.

5 Drills To Increase Your Speed

NFL Network analyst Akbar Gbajabiamila demonstrates proper arm form for the running exercises.
NFL Network analyst Akbar Gbajabiamila demonstrates proper arm form for the running exercises. (Ben Liebenberg/)

1. FAST ARMS (Stride Rate Development)

Stand tall in front of a mirror with your feet shoulder width apart. Bend your elbows at 90 degrees with your palms open facing each other. Bring one hand up to your cheek in front of you and the other hand to your rear butt cheek. Remember to keep your arms at 90 degrees through the whole movement. While standing tall on command pump you arms as fast as you can through the sprinting motion for 20 seconds at a time then rest. Your open hands should graze your pockets which means you are not raising your shoulders and tightening up. Keep your legs slightly bent but you are not running in place yet. Younger athletes start out by doing this exercise five times with one-minute rest in between each set. As you get better increase the time to 30 seconds while still keeping good form or add a little two to five pound dumbell weight in your hands.

2. FAST FEET (Stride Rate Development)

Stand in front of a mirror with your feet shoulder width apart. Bend your elbows at 90 degrees with your palms open facing each other. Assume the position with you right hand at your eyes in front of you, the other at your rear butt cheek. On "Go" run as fast as you can in place by bringing your knees up half way. Make sure knees are pointing straight ahead, your heels do not touch the ground and your hands are still grazing your pockets. This is a speed drill that helps teach your muscles and nerves to fire fast while you are working on perfect form running. Perform this exercise starting out five times for 20 seconds with one-minute rest in between. The athlete should count how many times their right foot hits the ground which is an indicator of the stride rate and how in shape they are from one set to the next.

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3. HIGH KNEES (Stride Length Development)

Stand in front of a mirror with your feet shoulder width apart. Bend your elbows at 90 degrees with your palms open facing each other. Assume the position with you right hand at your cheek. On "Go" run as fast as you can in place by bringing your knees the same height as your hips. Make sure knees are pointing straight ahead, your heels do not touch the ground and your hands are still grazing your pockets. This is a speed drill that helps your core and leg muscles develop the strength and endurance needed to maximize and maintain top speed levels over time and distance. Perform this exercise starting out five times for 20 seconds with one minute rest in between. The athlete should count how many times their right foot hits the ground which is an indicator of the stride rate and how in shape they are from one set to the next.

4. SQUATS (Stride Length Development)

The more power an athlete can put into the ground, the more ground he or she can cover between strides. Squats build up those muscle groups that are essential to speed development. To perform a squat, stand with your feet facing forward and shoulder width apart. Squat down by keeping your head up, pushing your buttocks back and lowering your hips. Correct squatting form is when the knees do not cross the toes, the butt is as low as the knees, the shoulders are slightly forward and the athlete maintains a slow motion going down and an explosive motion coming up. Younger athletes can use a chair to maintain good depth during the squat exercise. I recommend athletes understand the mechanics by using their own body weight before adding weight. Perform three to five sets of 20 reps.

Akbar follows Donovin's tips for a picture-perfect squat exercise.
Akbar follows Donovin's tips for a picture-perfect squat exercise.

5. SPRINTING (Stride Rate & Stride Length Development)

Nothing helps you learn how to run faster than running itself. Now that you have the information it takes to improve your form, it is now time to put it all together. For this exercise go to a field or surface where you can run for 30 to 50 yards straight. Your focus is running with perfect form: Hands moving “cheek to cheek,” knees coming up waist high and quick and powerful steps that cover a lot of yards with each stride. Perform this exercise by marking off 30-50 yards and on command sprint from start to finish. Remember to get a good warm up and stretch before performing this all out sprint. Start out running five sprints with three minutes of rest in between reps. Add one more sprint each week until you can perform 10 in one practice session.

-Donovin Darius played defensive back for 10 years in the NFL with the Jacksonville Jaguars and Miami Dolphins, and was a first round pick in the 1998 NFL Draft. He is the founder and CEO of Next Level Training, which is designed to take any athlete to the top of the competitive mountain.

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