Is your athlete as fast as he or she could be? Whether you think that they are fast, or not so fast, the answer to that question is "probably not".
Here are 5 exercises that help maximize human speed.
1) Power Clean
"Wait, I want my kid to be fast. I'm not asking them to be an Olympic Weight Lifter." Bear with me. The Power Clean is an explosive, strength movement. Moving the bar from floor to shoulders under load takes strength yes, but it also takes technique and explosive power.
Additionally, the Power Clean involves core stabilization, and the core is integral to speed achievement.
So am I saying get a bar and start working with your son or daughter? Clearly, the answer is no. Not unless you are a qualified coach in the movement. The Power Clean is a difficult movement to master, and should not be performed under significant load until the proper movement pattern is consistently demonstrated by an athlete. I recommend that you find qualified coaching to develop your athlete safely and properly.
2) Back Squats
Squatting will develop power and power is where speed gets its start. I prefer tempo back squats when working them for speed development. We can work at many tempos, but my preferred "speed builder" is the 4X01 tempo.
Breaking this down, it would be like this:
- 4: From a back racked position, take 4 seconds to descend to the bottom of the squat
- X: Immediately begin coming back up (do not "rest" in the bottom position)
- 0: Explosively drive back to the top of the back racked position - no tempo, go as quickly as you can
- 1: Rest for 1 second before starting over with the 4-count descent
Rep schemes for this really depend on load. At about 50% of an athlete's one-rep-max, they should be able to do a set of 6-7 reps before stopping. At 65-70% of 1RM, it is likely 4-5 reps, and at greater weights, it will be 2-3 reps. Working in that 4-7 rep zone appears to be most impactful.
As for sets, I like to limit youth to 4-5 total sets, with a 90-120 second break between sets. Again, the heavier the weight, the longer the recovery between sets.
3) Sled Push/Pull
When you think of sleds, many think of football and short burst pushes. This makes a lot of sense for football, as the average play is well under 7 seconds. But for youth working on overall speed development, I like to set a distance of 20 yards to be achieved by the athletes.
Vary the load on the sled. Make it heavy, so that they cannot sprint with it at times. They will push hard to get it 20 yards, and it will be slow, but that's ok. Make it light and expect them to push the sled at top speed for 20 yards. The tendency of many will be to let up, but ensure that they are aggressively pushing the full distance.
To add variety, have a heavy and light sled, and run several rounds between the two. Always remember to give adequate time for recovery however so that they give you 100% on each push.
4) Broad Jumps
An easy movement for youth to want to "mail in". They will not try hard unless you make it challenging. I like to get them to give me their best effort in 3 jumps. Then, I take 90% of their average of the 3, and mark on the floor, having them jump further than that line in each of 10 jumps in classes. This ensures that they are focused and working on explosive power with each rep.
This asks muscles to contract, and then explosively leave that contracted position. A perfect exercise for training speed.
5) Bounding Box Jumps
When most of us think of box jumps, we think of standing on the floor, jumping up to the box top, then descending back down quickly. To train speed, we want to do just the opposite.
We want athletes to "rest" on top of the box, then drop to the floor, and immediately bound back up on the box. This is a good plyometric exercise that demands explosive speed to quickly leave the floor. Muscles are asked to perform at maximum output while at the same time, taking on the load of the descent from the box.
Have younger kids in your group? Describe it as a game. The box top is a rock, and the floor is hot coals. Don't hang out on the hot coals, you will get burned! Hang out on the rock!