As athletes we are always trying to get better and make ourselves better than those around us. One area that we always look to to solve this problem is speed. If I can get faster, I will be a better player or a better athlete. Athletes and coaches are always chasing the skills needed to become faster to help improve their chances of being successful. When looking at speed development it is important to look at three main areas; stride length, stride rate, and rate of force development (RFD). Developing each of these areas will help us not only run more efficiently but move at greater speeds.
Running speed is simply the product of stride rate and stride length. Looking at stride length, this is the ability of our legs to cover as much surface space while still maintain optimal body position. Stride length is responsible for increasing speed up to 90% of an individual’s maximum speed [1,2,3]. This makes since, if we want to move faster we need to cover more ground in less time. This does not mean taking ridiculously long strides. We need to develop a movement pattern where we can optimally cover ground while still maintaining control. When we start moving out of control we become off balanced and look uncomfortable. Teaching athletes the proper way to accelerate and move into these movement patterns will not only make them run faster, but will allow us to build on these skills and increase their ability to run with longer strides.
Stride rate or frequency needs to be improved as well if we want to gain faster speeds. How do we this? Stride rate is the ability to decrease the contact time of the foot as it impacts the ground. The longer our foot remains on the ground the more force we are losing into the ground that could potentially be transferred into the next leg drive. Now this does not mean we are staying on our toes and trying to tip toe through the movements. We want our feet to impact the ground and be able to transfer forces through the whole foot as quickly as possible before it cycles through. This can be a little tricky at times because in some cases you have to learn to absorb force before you can learn to redirect it. The athlete needs to know they can handle or support the force that is being applied in this area. Learning to absorb these forces can be done through speed and drills, but also through strength training. Being able to control the eccentric (lowering/absorbing) movements, we can learn to redirect these forces in the direction we wish to go (3). Training these areas will allow us coaches to know they will be in a safer position to handle these forces as we transition to the next movement.
Finally, the last component we will look at is the rate of force development that needs to created and transferred in every aspect of the run. Rate of force development is simply a person’s ability to create force in the muscles and transfer them into the movements we are performing. To get a better idea of this, think of when we are running and what is going on in order to perform this movement. The muscles in the glutes, hamstrings, gastrocnemius(calf) and ankle have to contract and transfer force into the direction the person is wishing to go. This area can be developed by simply strength training. By stimulating these muscles through strength training, we can see an 80% increase in rate of force development (4,5). Though we may not be able to train these muscles in the exact circumstances as sport, we can aid them in how they recruit muscle fibers. Through training we can teach the body to recruit large muscle fibers to activate quicker to aid in the movements we are wanting to perform.
Everyone wants to get faster. It is in our DNA, that one aspect that we all at one time in our lives have strived for. By increasing our stride length, stride rate, and our rate of force development, attaining greater speeds are possible no matter who you are or your sprinting abilities. Combining sprint and strength training are tested and proved ways to increase sprint speed.
- Luhtanen P, Komi PV. Mechanical factors influencing running speed. In: Asmussen E, Jørgensen K (eds). Biomechanics VI-B. Baltimore, USA: University Park Press, 1978: 23 – 29
- Mero A, Komi PV. Forve, EMG-, and elasticity-velocity relationships at submaximal and supramaximal running speeds in sprinters. Eur J Appl Physiol 1986; 55: 553 – 561
- Weyand PG, Sternlight DB, Bellizzi MJ, Wright S. Faster top running speeds are achieved with greater ground reaction forces not more rap- id leg movements. J Appl Physiol 2000; 89: 1991 – 1999
- Cronin, J, and Hansen, K. (2005). Strength and Power Predictors of Sports Speed. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 19(2), p.349
- Nummela, A., Keränen, T. and Mikkelsson, L. (2007). Factors Related to Top Running Speed and Economy. International Journal of Sports Medicine, 28(8), pp.655-661.