Speed Boost: The phases of speed and agility training

Last week's article, NFL trainer Ryan Capretta walked us through the foundation of a speed and agility program. This week, Capretta takes NFL Up! through the different phases to consider when designing a speed and agility program. Read on and take your speed to the next level.

Overall Physical Improvements

Development of the cardiovascular system helps to ease transition into the next phase while decreasing the chance of injury and delaying the onset of fatigue. The next improvement in this stage is total-body strength training. It is important to correct any imbalances and develop all muscular structures of the body. Finally, the development of flexibility will increase joint mobility. Increased flexibility will provide a more elastic muscle that facilitates more powerful contractions with less friction.

Transition Stage

By now, strength increases should be evident and joint mobility will be extended. This will allow the athlete to begin with sport specific warm-ups and the movement patterns of SIDS (Speed Improvement Drills) along with agility mechanics. A gradual transition into these movements will eliminate injures. After the warm-up, the transition will be into intervals using long speed endurance.


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Training for speed endurance will allow the athlete to sustain a high-power output throughout an entire contest. For instance, the distance in this phase will be closer to 110-yards as opposed to a 40-yard dash.

As the time or length of the sprint decreases, the speed will increase. It's important to be sprinting at a fast pace before the athlete enters the next stage. If this stage of training is neglected, the athlete's performance will quickly diminish over the course of a game. As noted above, this stage is accompanied by continued strength gains, which will allow a safe transition into ballistic movements.

A more untraditional approach that can provide many benefits is sand running. The sand creates an unstable running environment, which forces the muscles and joints of the foot, knee and hip to constantly adjust.

Power Development

Simply explained in the context of this article, we are looking at the ability to produce force in a rapid manner.

The time between the end of the eccentric phase and the beginning of the concentric phase is known as the amortization phase. The athlete can functionally decrease the amortization phase with the developed strength base coupled with skill training. Another key component of plyometric training is the stretch-shortening cycle, which relies on two factors. First is the stored muscle elasticity, which is capable of a higher power output then a concentric contraction. A good visual of this theory is the fast return of a stretched rubber band.

Plyometrics are one component of performance enhancement, which if abused, similar to any other component, can lead to over-training. Plyometric training should only be performed with proper mechanics, approximately one to two times per week if the athlete has a solid strength base. Running mechanics will improve with the progression of each phase. Once mechanics are sound, implementation of assisted and resisted sprinting can be beneficial to speed improvement. Assisted sprinting will enhance stride frequency by artificially increasing the speed of running. This should be accomplished through a slight tow or downhill sprinting. It is crucial that the artificial speed increase is minimal so there is no compensation that will change proper running mechanics.

Overspeed training positively affects both the muscular and possibly more importantly the nervous system. It should be emphasized that overspeed training should take place early in a workout when there is no fatigue. It is not meant for conditioning. While assisted sprinting improves stride frequency, resisted sprinting will increase speed-strength along with stride length. This technique also needs to be used in a conservative matter to ensure no compensation or changes to running mechanics. The two most productive devices for resisted sprinting are towing a sled or partner and incline running.

The base of any running program should be proper mechanics, balanced strength development and skill development. After that is accomplished, secondary methods such as assisted and resisted sprinting will aid in athletic performance.

Specific Skill Development

This phase places athletes in game-like situations with game-like intensity. Although two different exercises may give the appearance of similarity, they almost certainly use totally unique neuromuscular pathways. Practicing a skill in the exact nature it will be performed in the game is the cornerstone of the encoding principle of specificity. Skill development should mimic game-like situations as closely as possible. Increasing an athletes physical attributes can go a long way, but without skill development, it's all for nothing.

Increased coordination for an athlete will decrease their chance of injury while competing. There are two types of agility: predetermined and reactive. The best way to train these two types of agility is through sport specific drills. The predetermined drills can include: cone drills, speed ladder, footwork drills, and countless other ideas. It is important that the athlete is comfortable and can successfully decelerate when changing direction.

A safe environment includes a designed program specific to that particular athlete's needs and time frame. Manipulating the different energy systems and mastering the athletes specific skills are the foundation to the speed improvement.

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