My focus here will be off-season speed building.
Off-season is the most important time to build speed.
My data shows that sprinters stay the same or get slower during the track season. This data is NOT considering their 100, 200, or 400 meter times. Those times get faster. I am talking about raw and pure speed, automated 10-meter fly and 30-meter start times stay the same or get slower.
Yes, race times are super-fast late in May but those times are not due to an increase in pure speed. These times reflect two factors: beautiful warm weather and exciting championship competition.
Why does pure speed stay the same or decrease during the season? Because we grind athletes. We practice too much. Sprinters run too many races (prelims 100, prelims 200, 100, 200, 4×1, 4×2 … all in one meet). Not only do we not allow for rest and growth, we actually train kids when they are sore … we grind them. Even coaches who believe like me that rest is as important as a workout, still fail to provide enough recovery time.
How should we train pure speed in the off-season?
Train on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and take the weekend off.
Start with speed drills. This is NOT a warm-up. I’m a huge believer in sprinting to get ready to run fast. Go hard on sprint drills.
I was once told by Chris Berry, the former Carbondale coach, who left to work with me in 2004, “everyone does speed drills but your kids do them better”. I will never forget that. Chad Lakatos (Edwardsville) and I often talk about seeing track teams (or football teams) doing these drills in a sloppy, slow, warm-up fashion, with coaches using the time to have a discussion among themselves. I am caffeinated during our speed drills. I am teaching and coaching. The quality of these speed drills is the foundation of our sprint training.
The core of our drills include easy skips (A-skips), high knees, butt kicks, B-Skips, 5 box jump, one of three types of lunges (rocket lunge, long lunge, & lunge pop-ups), bounds, retro runs (butt kick & reach) x2, prime times (straight-legged bounds) x2, and one of three types of starts (falling, 3-point, 4-point hop & go). We do a total of 10-20 of these taking less than 10 minutes. Each one lasts about 5 seconds then we easy-sprint another 30 meters. We only need about 60m of track space.
Then we spike up and do 40-yard dashes … usually 3 of them. The 40’s are hand-timed but the final 10 meters is automated by the Summit Timing System. I record two times for every run, the 40 and the 10m fly. One time is an acceleration testing mainly the drive phase, the other is top-end speed. Consider a car … how fast can it go 0-60, that’s analogy to the 40. What is the car’s top speed? That’s the 10m fly. Usain Bolt is the world’s fastest man and consistently runs 0.82 second splits in 10m segments when at top speed. Our school record is 0.96 by Quest Young.
I average the best two 40 times and that is the time I publish. Since the 10m fly is automated, I give them the best time of their three. All times are ranked and published at www.pntrack.com. If you don’t record, rank, & publish, these times will be meaningless to many athletes. I tell the guys that over one billion Chinese people are checking these times every night on the World Wide Web.
My sprinters never forget their spikes. No spikes = slow times.
I’ve had coaches ask me, why do you test speed so often? The answer may surprise you. Yes, the times give me data and I can monitor progress and I am a chemistry-science-math geek. Most important, I love how timing, recording, ranking, and publishing will get your cats to run FAST. The greatest speed drill in the world = max velocity sprinting. It’s so simple. In the 40-yard dash, sprinters go from 0 to 20-something mph in about five seconds. They are working on starts, acceleration (drive phase), and top-end speed. In most sports, practice and games, athletes never reach maximum velocity … it’s always controlled speed.
Only 3 times? Then what? It’s to the weight room to get stronger with our football coach. As an additional bonus, kids are not dragging at the end of their sprint session. In matter of fact, they are juiced up and ready to lift.
What makes this program work? High-intensity low-volume sprinting creates speed. Nothing is done to promote slowness. We train intermediate muscle fibers to become whiter, more fast-twitch. We train the electrical system (nervous system) to fire rapidly. The phosphate system is trained every day we sprint. We don’t create confusion by training the slow-twitch fibers aerobically and we don’t promote sluggishness in the central nervous system.
When Tim Kane got the football job at Plainfield North in the spring of 2007, I showed him a videotape of my speed training in action. He loved it and said, “We are going to make this mandatory for every football player.” I replied, “No, we are going to make the program so good that they will want to come.” And, with a football coach’s mentality, Coach Kane said, “OK, but it they don’t come we will make it mandatory.” Classic.
That first year we set up a Mon-Wed-Fri program for the better half of the kids, Tues-Thurs for the lesser half. We had over 200 kids show up. Typically we had 50 in the weight room and 50 on the track at all times. We’d work about 50-55 minutes before switching groups. We worked two hours after school every day for 10 weeks. I timed 10,000 40-yard dashes. I bragged that kids at PNHS would be more familiar with their 40-time than their GPA, and I was right. Coach Kane was able to lay down his weight room foundation, I was able to create a culture of speed. A track coach and a football coach working together for the common good, and of course both programs have benefited. Neither of us made a dime.
Our program has been tweaked some since those early days. Now we go with every kid Monday-Thursday. I don’t like it as well because the groups are too large but football really wants their kids lifting 4-5 times per week. We all must compromise. Now we speed train on Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday. The baseball coach, John Darlington, does football/baseball running & agility on Tuesdays. (Our baseball program has been super-successful, one of the best in the state.) I only record on Mondays and Thursdays. Our kids love those days. Wednesday is our X-Factor day, a day where we do alternative stuff. We do core work, hurdle mobility, wall swings, short hurdles, and plyometrics. Our program lasts from late November to mid-February. I call the last four weeks of our winter program “Track Tryouts”.
You would be amazed at the kids that come out of nowhere to get timed. Seems like every day I see a kid I’ve never seen before … “who are you?”. This is good.
I love the famous Oprah question, “What do you know for sure?” Well, here’s what I know for sure.
- “RUN TALL” – shoulders back, abs tight, hips forward; if you don’t run tall you can’t drive your knee. I tell kids to walk the hallways tall and concentrate on tight abs.
- “CROSS YOUR HIPS” – sometimes this cue is “hammer back”, sometimes I just yell “HANDS”. See every picture on this page. Every guy has their back hand behind their back pocket. You must be able to see daylight between the hand and the back pocket. BTW, in the weight room, pulls are much more important than pushes. My high school coach had us climb rope. Pull ups are awesome.
- “DRIVE” – my cue for “drive the knee”. Again look at each picture. My sprinters get into this position or they don’t sprint well.
- “HIT IT HARD” – don’t let your foot fall to the ground, you must have active contact, “punch the track”. Fastest sprinters have the least ground contact (0.09 seconds or less). I recently heard a coach teaching their sprinter to “grab the track and throw it behind you” … OMG. He probably also teaches long strides. Total malpractice. Once out of the drive phase, VERTICAL FORCE is what its all about. That’s why we don’t sprint in soft shoes. That’s why plyometerics increase speed. That’s why weight gain makes us slow (longer ground contact). That’s why we drive the knee UP … so we can hit the ground hard. (youtube video)
- “TOE UP” – if your toe points to the track, your landing will be soft. Dorsi-flex the foot. Obviously this goes along with “HIT IT HARD”. Remember, you are trying to punch the track. When you punch with your fist, your hand is clenched and your wrist is firm. Same thing when you punch the track with your foot – toe up and foot firm, not soft, not floppy.
- “GOOD JUMPERS ARE GOOD SPRINTERS” – my 7-2 high jumper back in 1995 was an everyday 10.7 sprinter. My 23-4 long jumper in 2001 was the second fastest tight end in the NFL rookie class of 2007. If jumpers are good sprinters, doesn’t it make sense that sprinters should jump in practice? Plyometrics (landing and jumping simultaneously) is essential to speed training, much more important that lifting weights.
- DO EVERYTHING FAST – WITH ADEQUATE REST – don’t pull sleds, don’t push sleds, don’t wear ankle weights or weighted vests, don’t pull parachutes. Don’t trudge up hills. Always sprint with the wind. I like speed pulleys (in the past I used bungee cords). Slow running, tired running, and jogging teaches the sprinter bad habits.
- HILLS ARE FANTASTIC – too bad Plainfield is flat. This is one of the few sub-max situations that I endorse. At both Harrisburg and Franklin, TN, we found a hill with a gradual ascent, about 180-200 meters in length. We sprinted up and walked very slowly down. 5 hills … that’s the hardest workout of the week. YOU MUST SPRINT THE HILL.
- PRACTICE IS OVER-RATED AND REST IS UNDER-RATED – My top sprinter, sophomore Quintin Hoosman recently missed 32 days with Epstein Barr Virus. When he returned, on the second day of practice he set the 4-year school record in the FAT 30m start, 3.95 … rest did him well. In 1983 I coached a kid named Mark Bittle. He did everything I asked of him, 100% consistent in training. His PR in the 800 going into May was 1:55. Mark was the victim of a recluse spider bite in the quad and missed 10 days of training. It seemed that all hopes for a successful season went up in smoke. Instead, the rest was a a gift from heaven. He ran 1:52 at the SIU Meet of Champions and later won the AA State Championship in the 800. Never underestimate rest. In 1995, Damon Lampley missed 21 practices because he played center field for our baseball team. 13 times Damon high jumped over 7-0, became a state champion and won four medals. Practice is over-rated.
- RECORD, RANK, & PUBLISH – All athletes are motivated by competition. If your athletes don’t compete in practice, they will go through the motions. Chad Lakatos calls this “flipping the switch”. Do competitions and write down times. Tweet practice results. Publish results on the web. Make the competition personal.
“Deep in our soul a quiet ember, knows it’s you against you … it’s the paradox that drives us on.” – from the song “Burning Heart” by Survivor in “Rocky IV”
- THE WEIGHT ROOM IS OVER-RATED – Too many athletes are in the weight room before they can benefit from it. Body weight exercises (pushups, pullups, lunges, and core exercises) are vastly under-rated. Marines change more in 10 weeks than most of our athletes change in one year of weight lifting … and Marines don’t lift weights. Strength is good. Abnormal weight gain is bad. Olympic lifts are best. Body building exercises are bad. Squats make you slow if you aren’t in a sprint program. Pullups are sacred. Core should be every day. But … it’s better to endorse all weight room activity, than to lose your football players. If your football coach loves the bench press, endorse it. Life is a negotiation.
- SUMMIT TIMING SYSTEM WAS BEST $2000 I EVER SPENT – Chris Korfist uses the Summit System, so I bought it in 2010. I now have four years of 10m fly and 30m start times. Besides the scientific value of the data, my kids run fast every day in practice and are motivated by their improvement. See these links for data.
I will end with these thoughts …
“You can not maintain a speed you’ve never achieved.”
“If speed grows like a tree, you better plant it now.”
Follow me on twitter @pntrack and @anthonyholler
Next blog – THE PRACTICE PLAN