5 Ways To Improve "On The Field Speed" by Steve Reid

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Five Ways to Improve ‘On the Field’ Speed

Everyone has heard the saying “Speed kills.” Not only does speed kill, it wins games and wins championships. For the purpose of this article, we aren’t talking about improving one’s 40-yard dash time. We’re talking about improving your ‘on the field’ performance. This isn’t for combine preparation. This is preparation for winning a championship.

I won’t go into specifics on the number of reps or sets or the work to rest ratio. There are too many variables that need to be considered when setting up a training program, and without knowing your specifics, it would be irresponsible and quite possibly detrimental for me to do so. Therefore, it’s your responsibility (I think this is considered a curse word in our society today) to evaluate and adjust your training program.

For the purposes of this article, the definition of speed has real life applications. Speed is when the full back breaks past a tackler, hits the open field, and smokes the secondary into the end zone. Speed is when the runner on first takes a two-step lead and steals second. Speed is when the lacrosse midfielder picks up a ground ball at the midfield line and sprints toward the crease beating two defenders. Speed wins. Period

Body weight to strength ratio

I’ll start off with one of my personal favorite ways to improve speed and that is to improve one’s body weight to strength ratio. What does that mean? It means decreasing one’s fat mass while maintaining or increasing one’s strength. It’s just like having a 200 horsepower motor in a 2500-lb car and then swapping in a 500 horsepower motor while cutting the car’s weight down to 1500 lbs. Guess which is faster? The latter of the two.

If a guy weighs 230 lbs, drops some fat, and now weighs 210 lbs while either maintaining or increasing his strength, it’s practically impossible for him not to get faster. You need to be smart about how you program this though so that you don’t lose a lot of muscle and strength. Be smart and the results will show.

Strength and speed strength

The conjugate method is built off improving max strength and speed strength and for good reason. Strength equals speed plain and simple. Let’s take two twin brothers. They both weigh 200 lbs. Brother one can squat double his body weight (400 lbs), and brother two can squat three times his body weight (600 lbs). Who do you think is faster? Improving max strength carries over to ‘on the field’ speed. Everyone talks about the importance of stride length, but “stride force” is critical. If you’re stronger, you can apply more force to the ground with each stride, thus making you faster.

Improving the rate of force development is another method for improving speed. This can be done by utilizing accommodating resistance (bands and chains) or simply by using sub-maximal weights (typically in the 50–60 percent range) at a very fast rate of speed. Some exercises that athletes use for this are the squat, deadlift, power clean, Olympic lifts, and plyometrics such as box jumps and similar variations. I personally like to incorporate explosive exercises at the beginning of my workout in order to fire up the central nervous system when I’m at my “freshest.” You can’t recruit maximum motor units to fire optimally when you’re fatigued at the end of your workout. How can you tell if an athlete is doing his submaximal speed work? Watch an offensive and defensive lineman shoot off the line of scrimmage at the snap of the ball. The one who is training for speed is standing up and the one who isn’t is probably on his back. Your level of strength and rate of force development are vitally important factors when it comes to your ‘on the field’ speed.

Posterior chain

A big buzz term now is “quad dominant.” Most of your lower body speed and power comes from your posterior chain, so it’s time to build your hamstrings up. you want them looking like they should be hung from a hook in a meat freezer. It should go without saying that the squat and deadlift are staples in most quality strength training programs. However, a vitally important exercise for athletes is the glute ham raise (GHR). The GHR has been discussed all over the EliteFTS site and for good reason. It works. As Dr. Yessis has stated, it’s actually a glute ham gastroc raise, meaning that it will help strengthen the muscles integral to your ability to run fast. This exercise has also been credited with helping to prevent hamstring injuries. Sounds like a great bang for your buck!

No discussion about the posterior chain would be complete without talking about the back. Joe DeFranco has said that one’s ability to perform pull-ups has a very clear correlation to a fast 40-yard time. Why is that? A fat blob can’t do a lot of pull-ups and a fat blob isn’t fast. This goes back to what we said before about body weight to strength ratio. Also, the faster you pump your arms when running, the faster you’ll run. The upper back is responsible for your arm movement when running. If you want to improve your pull-ups, check out Harry Selkow on the EliteFTS Q&A.

Conditioning work

Conditioning work is vitally important for ‘on the field’ speed. If you’re in bad shape and you’re gassed throughout the whole game, you won’t be able to accelerate and perform when you need to. However, if you’re in good shape, you can call upon your speed when you need it. Let’s discuss some different conditioning options. The Prowler is first and foremost. Other options include dragging a sled, hill sprints, and even some Strongman events done in a medley type fashion. These movements are beneficial because they’ll improve your conditioning dramatically and help make you stronger in your running movements. If you can push a 180-lb Prowler or carry a 400-lb yoke and do it quickly, you’ll be even faster once you eliminate the added resistance on the field. This is due in part to the increased stride force and overall strength increase. I’ve personally noticed that by increasing the amount of weight I use on the yoke carry by over 300 lbs, I’ve become faster when running with just my own body weight. One word of caution—when programming in conditioning work, don’t overdo it. Make sure you add it in slowly because it will significantly increase the workload you’re completing per workout.  

Unilateral movements

The last way to help improve ‘on the field’ speed is to train unilaterally. Why? Do you run or change direction with both feet in contact with the ground? No! Running is basically a unilateral movement. Unilateral movements shouldn’t take the place of your core exercises such as the deadlift, squat, or power cleans, but they’re tremendous secondary/accessory exercises done in a higher rep range. Exercises such as lunges, reverse lunges, side lunges, Bulgarian split squats, and others are all viable options. Do some more research for other possibilities, but they are very useful for athletes.

These are just five ways for improving ‘on the field’ speed. Obviously, there are many factors that play into one’s ‘on the field’ performance and each sport has its own set of physical demands, but these are some foundational principles. Now that you’ve read this article, go out and play your sport. You won’t play any better. This article won’t help. You need to take what you read, think about how you can apply these principles to your training program, and then do it. Reading does nothing and thinking does very little, but action creates results.

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About the Author

Steve Reid is a certified strength and conditioning specialist, physical education teacher, and basketball, soccer, and football coach. He has worked in the fitness industry for nearly a decade and has trained in many strength disciplines including powerlifting, Strongman, and bodybuilding. He strives to share his experience and knowledge with others so they can reach their goals and learn from his experience without having to go through the same struggles and mistakes. For questions, please contact Steve at stevenreid@optonline.net.

Submitted by DMorgan on Mon, 10/24/2011 - 9:33pm.

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