Speed is one of the most exciting elements of the current NFL game. Not only do the running backs and wide receivers possess world-class speed, but now the interior linemen are now moving at speeds not previously seen in the history of the game.
Much of one's speed is genetically predetermined at birth. In other words, an athlete is born a certain range of available speed. But hold on. It's all not bad news. With proper training and nutritional habits, mastering correct running mechanics, a proper mental approach and hard work, one can maximize their speed capacity. This article will specifically focus on improving power for increasing running speed. Improving speed relies heavily on leg power development. So let's take a look at four effective exercises to help improve power to increase speed.
1. Modified Single Leg Squats
Without strength, power cannot occur. One cannot be weak and powerful at the same time. Developing leg strength is paramount in developing speed for football. A great exercise to create single-leg strength (running is a series of single leg movements) is the modified single-leg squat. In order to perform this exercise, have the athlete place a knee against a pad that is pinned up against a sturdy and stationary post. Then, while standing on one leg, have the athlete slowly lower their hips while bending their knee to 90 to 100 degrees of knee flexion/bend to a count of four seconds down and then quickly return to the starting position in one second. Perform five repetitions per set. Attempt three sets with a three-minute rest in between sets. This exercise may look easy, but it's harder than you think. If the athlete is not strong enough, or has balance issues, allow them to place a towel around the same post that the knee pad is on to assist them in spotting themselves as they might not be strong enough to handle all five reps properly and/or help them balance throughout the exercise.
The squat is a staple strength and power building exercise. Performing the squat with correct mechanics and intensity can quickly improve strength and power in the thigh, hips and buttock muscles, which are the powerhouse muscles needed for speed. Many times with experienced squatters, adding chains (as pictured) or bands to the bar creates more tension/loading to help facilitate more strength and power. The reps and sets for the squat vary depending on many factors such as the experience of the squatter, phase of training/season and the eventual desired outcome (power, size, pure strength, etc.)
3. Plyo Depth Jumps
Plyo depth jumps help develop speed of muscle contractions along with power, which are critical for sprinting. By descending down from a height, it creates a "quick stretch" to the lower leg muscles and stimulates the neuromuscular system, which in turn allows for a quick and explosive jump back up to another box. This type of high-level training should only be for those athletes who are healthy and fully prepared to handle the stresses that this exercise creates onto the lower leg joints and muscles. Plyo depth jumps can be attempted one to three times a week, keeping the reps relatively low. (10 -25 jumps per session)
4. Alternate Leg Bounding
Alternate leg bounding is a coordinated series of one-legged leaping strides. This drill improves the athlete's ability to quickly create power in a motion that closely mimics proper running mechanics. The athlete attempts to create as much power as possible in the shortest amount of time spent on the ground. Bounding helps keep the muscles "elastic" and promotes proper neuromuscular contractions (quick and coordinated) for the leg muscles.
Yes, much of speed is determined by genetics but there is still much an athlete can do to achieve the speed capacity that they have been given. Incorporate these exercises into your weight room to help your team became faster.
- Brett Fischer is the owner/founder of the Fischer Institute in Phoenix, Ariz. He is a licensed physical therapist, certified athletic trainer, certified strength and conditioning specialist and a certified dry needling provider. He has worked with the University of Florida, New York Jets, PGA & Senior PGA Tour and the Chicago Cubs.