4 Keys to Speed Training

Speed training is important for athletes of all ages and all sports. Speed is also a major focus on athletic assessment, so it can be used to determine whether or not one makes a team or has playing time. This is also one of those subjects that people overcomplicate. With that in mind, here are four keys to speed training that can have a serious impact on your speed.


Being able to run fast has a lot to do with your ability to exert force against the ground. This is why strength is so important for athletes who want to be fast. Not only does strength allow you to exert force against the ground, it also allows you to maintain your posture when your foot hits the ground. Both things combined let you run faster.

To develop this type of strength you need to focus on variations of the Squat, Deadlift, Lunge, Step-Ups and hip extension exercises (like the Good Morning). Train these once or twice a week for 3-5 sets of 1-8 reps at 80% of maximum or more.

Hamstring development

Hamstrings are critical to sprinting. Your hamstrings are the muscles that drive your leg toward the ground at footstrike. They are also frequently injured when sprinting. So to improve your speed and to prevent injuries, it’s important to focus on this muscle group.

Hamstrings need to be strengthened in the lengthened position for the sprinting athlete. This means there needs to be a focus on hip extension exercises. For example, Romanian Deadlifts, Good Mornings, Back Raises, reverse hyperextensions, hamstring exercises on the stability ball, Glute Ham Raises and Nordic Leg Curls. Perform one or two of these exercises once or twice a week. Make sure at least one exercise is trained as a strength exercise (3-5 sets of 1-8 reps at 80% of maximum or more); the other can have higher reps and moderate intensity (3 sets of 8-12 reps at 70-80% of maximum).

Horizontal force

Running fast involves running forward. This means that not only do we have to be able to exert force against the ground to run faster, we also need to do it in the proper direction. The weight room, which does a great job of making us stronger, only trains us in vertical force (i.e., sit down, stand up, that sort of thing). This means we need to train horizontal force production.

There are a number of exercises we can use. We can pull and push sleds, run uphill, run with resistance, perform horizontal plyometrics (like Long Jumps and Triple Jumps), and do bounds at various distances. Pick 1-2 exercises and train them towards the end of your acceleration and maximum velocity training sessions.

Practice running fast

Running fast is a skill. It only gets better if you practice it. If you want to be a faster sprinter, you have to train this two or three times a week almost year round. If I’m putting together a program with two sessions per week, the first session focuses on distances that cover 5-20 meters and the second focuses on 40- to 60-meter sprints. If I have a third day when I can train speed, I’ll focus on 100- to 300-meter sprints. Usually 3-6 sprints per workout. If you are truly trying to run fast in training, you don’t need a big volume to have an effective training session!

Below is a sample week of workouts that incorporates the four keys to speed that I described above. This program assumes that speed days are Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

–John M. Cissik is the president of Human Performance Services, LLC, which helps athletes solve their strength and conditioning problems. He has worked with athletes at all levels, produced four videos, written 10 books and published more than 70 articles on strength and speed training.