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The VERY FIRST Things to do to improve
speed, explosiveness and agility
for any sport!

by: Phil Hueston, NASM - SFS, PES
All-Star Sports Academy

What is Speed?

Traditionally, it's been defined as stride length multiplied by stride rate. This, however, is far too simplistic a definition to represent all the aspects of speed that effect sports activities.

The National Academy of Sports Medicine defines "speed" in the following way:

Speed is the ability to move the components of the kinetic chain through the required range of motion (ROM) in the fastest possible time.

Speed is a biomotor ability that can be learned and improved by achieving proper muscle balance, core strength, neuromuscular control, reactive neuromuscular efficiency and technical proficiency.

Playing Speed is broken down into the following components:

Starting speed

Acceleration speed

Top-end speed

Change-of-direction speed

Stopping speed

Closing speed

Speed development should be focused on three major training aspects, which affect all components of playing speed. They are:

Speed, or straight-ahead speed, defined above.

Agility, or lateral speed, defined as the ability to decelerate, stabilize, accelerate and change direction while maintaining proper posture, speed, strength, balance and body control.

Quickness, or reaction time. It's defined as the ability to have maximum rate of force production in all planes of motion and from all body positions during functional movements.  This involves the ability to react to visual, auditory and kinesthetic feedback without hesitation.

How to get faster, more agile and explosive!

Full-blown, maximal development of sports speed depends on the execution of an integrated training plan built on an integrated sports fitness profile as well as many individual factors. Since that's simply not possible with a general guide like this one, we'll stick to the most universal, basics aspects of developing speed, agility and quickness in athletes.

That means improving the functional movement patterns that go into being fast! We begin by warming up the body to move properly through functional movement patterns.


The warm-ups!

1. ½ Arm swings - Begin by standing up, feet directly under the hip joints, feet straight and knees pointing out over the middle toes. Brace the abs by pulling the bellybutton inward toward the spine. Remember, this is more like what you do when you go into cold water than what you do when you do a sit up or crunch!

Push the chest out slightly by tucking the shoulder blades against the back. Keep the elbows in place next to the rib cage, but not tucked tight to the ribs. Bend one elbow so the hand is pointing toward the ceiling, and the thumb toward your face. The arm should never cross the body, but should point straight ahead as it moves up.

Keeping your body firmly in position, begin to swing the bottom half of your arms smoothly, exchanging their places. Go as fast as you can without losing form.

Do 2 sets of 24 reps.

2. Full arm swings - Use the same stance as the  ½ swing. This time, keep your arms bent at the elbow and swing them from the shoulder. Be sure to keep your shoulder blades tucked in as much as possible!

Do 2 sets of 24 reps.

3. Hip Swings and Circles - Stand as you did in the arm swings. Draw the belly button inward to brace the abs. Roll your hips under you slightly, pushing your pelvis forward just a bit, and letting your lower back flatten out. You will feel your abs tighten as you do this. That's how you know you're doing it right!

Keeping the abs braced, swing your hips gently forward and back, feeling the muscles in your legs stretch and work as you do. After you've done about 12-15 swings, rotate your hips in a circle, still maintaining the flat-back, abs braced position.

Do 2 sets of 12-15 swings and 12-15 circles.

4. Base Rotation - Face a wall, about 3-4 feet away. Stand as you did for numbers 1-3. Brace your abs by pulling your bellybutton inward. Without allowing your upper body to turn away from the wall, rotate your lower body (base) to a 90 degree angle from the wall. Quickly rotate it around to the other 90 degree position, again making sure your upper body is facing the wall.

Do 2 sets of 24 (12 each way.)

Get Actively Flexible

Traditional, or static stretching does not adequately prepare the body for dynamic functional movement. Because static stretches have to be held for very long periods of time to work effectively, the brain actually has to reduce neural drive to target muscles in order to allow the fibers to stretch. As a result, the muscle doesn't respond as fast or as powerfully during movement after these stretches.

To make my athletes more explosive and responsive, I employ active stretching to prepare them for movement. This technique employs activating the muscle opposite the target muscle in order to stabilize the joint it acts on. This signals the brain to allow the target muscle to stretch without reducing neural drive to it.

The result? Safe, stable joints, optimally lengthened muscles and a neural system that's fully functioning! In other words, an athlete's body that's hitting on all cylinders and ready to perform!

The stretches!

1. The kneeling hip flexor stretch - Tight hip flexors, or the muscles that cross the hip joint from top to bottom, result in dysfunctional gluteal muscles. Why does this matter? Well, no muscle group is more responsible for eye-popping speed than the glutes! So here we go:

Kneel on one knee, with the other foot out front on the floor. Be sure both knees are bent to approximately 90 degrees. Keep the front heel pressed into the floor. Gently tilt your hips under you until you feel your abs activate and your lower back flatten and relax. Do not move your shoulders or knees while you do this. Pull your belly button inward as much as you can, and squeeze the glute muscle (butt cheek) on the leg whose knee is down, gently pushing your hip forward about 1 inch.

You should feel a strong stretch down the front of the kneeling leg. That's good! Keep squeezing your glute (butt cheek) and hold the stretch for at least 30 seconds.

Switch legs and repeat. Do 2 reps on each leg.

2. Lying active hamstring stretch - Too many athletes go "out with a hammy." This is the single most preventable injury in sports! Start with this:

Lie on your back with your knees bent only enough to put your feet flat on the ground. Draw your belly button inward and put your low back flat on the floor. Bring one leg up and put your hands around it, just above your knee, on your hamstring. Your upper leg should point at the ceiling through your knee when it's bent.

Without letting your leg move toward or away from your head, fully extend your leg toward the ceiling, squeezing the quads, or muscles in the front of the thigh, hard. Hold that position for 5-7 seconds, then slowly lower your shin by bending your knee. Keep holding your thigh in place.

Repeat 5-6 times per leg.

3. Plank calf stretch - Assume a push up position. Push your weight back onto your toes, until you feel a stretch in your calves (back of the shins.) Then, cross one leg over the other, leaving your weight on one foot.

Push back onto that foot for 10 seconds, then relax, staying on one foot. Perform 5 reps on each leg.

Practice functional movements!

While warm ups and stretches can be performed daily, we recommend you do these drills only 2-3 times per week. Mix them into your regular workout, or do them as a warm up for your practice. They are neuromuscular skill developers that require a great deal of neural energy and focus. Put energy into them and you'll get the results you seek!

The Drills!

1. Power skipping - Skip, just like a little kid, with one exception: you are going to push HARD off the back foot each time, trying to get as much air as possible.

Do 4 - 20 yard skips.

2. The Agility Circuit - Set a 10 yard course. Start at one end line. Sprint don and back, touching the end line at each end. Then, backpedal down and back, shuffle down and back, then carioca down and back. Don't rest in between these, and don't touch the end line, except when sprinting.

When you shuffle and carioca, face the same direction down and back. Also, be sure to keep your toes pointed straight in front of you. During shuffling, it should feel as if you are slightly emphasizing the outside of your foot. Take smaller steps and keep the hips low during both shuffling and carioca.

Do 2 of these circuits, with no rest in between. If you want to track progress, start a timer at the start of the first movement, let it run until you're done, then record your total time. After 4 workouts, if you've improved your time, add a rep!

3. The "X-line" Hop-over - Put a piece of tape down on a firm surface, about 6-8 feet long. Tape an "X" every 4-6 inches along both sides of the line, offset equally. Follow this diagram:

X       X       X       X       X       X       X       X       X       X       X       X       X


X       X       X       X       X        X       X       X       X       X       X        X

Start by standing on one leg with your foot on one "X". Keeping your belly button drawn inward, and your glute on the working leg squeezed, hop from the first "X" one your side of the line to the first "X" on the other, landing softly and firmly. Bend your knee and squeeze your butt to keep from bouncing or hopping off the "X". Hop backwards over the line onto the 2nd "X" on the other side of the line, landing as you did on the first hop.

Repeat the pattern all the way down the line. Rest about 30 seconds, and try again, this time on the other foot. Try the same drill standing perpendicular to the line, and hopping side to side across the line.

Do 1-2 sets on each leg.

Master these relatively simple drills before moving on to the more complex. Too often, athletes try to progress to the really challenging drills before they've gotten a handle on basic functional sports movements.

Coaches, in their pursuit of team excellence and victory, will often insert drills into their practices and workouts that are highly complex and have a significant failure rate for the athlete. Failure rate, in this case, simply means that the athlete fails to perform some portion of the drill with proper neuromuscular alignment and/or stability. This is a condition which will lead to common injury patterns in movement.

Start with the basics, progress to the more challenging and you will master functional sports movement, get faster and become a dangerous player, no matter what your sport!

Need help getting to the next level? We're ready to help, no matter what your age, sport or gender. Call us at 732-597-3725 or click here for more information!