Being faster is a desirable quality in almost every sport. Many people mistakenly think speed is completely attributable to genetics and there’s little you can do to fix it. While that’s completely incorrect, we also need to recognize that to make big improvements in the physical, and sometimes the technical, capacities associated with speed is a gradual process that must be continued over time to expect maintenance or improvements. Technical changes are a little less cut and dry. In some cases, you may change an athletes mechanics to what you perceive to be ideal only to find them initially slower as they learn to adjust to new positions, muscle activations, encountered internal and external forces, etc. And I’ve also had the rare case where I’ve changed things and even after a conservative adaptation period the athlete still didn’t improve so we had to revert back to the old ‘less efficient’ model.
But don’t fret. Not all speed enhancement methods are long term processes or trial and error experiments. There are some ‘quick fixes’ that I’ve seen make people faster almost immediately. Here are my top three quick fixes:
- Learn to Relax. Sprinting well is a violent activity. You are attacking the ground, encountering up to 3x body weight loads while in single support, and seeing maximal or near maximal contractions in all of the major muscle groups in your body. But there’s far more to sprinting than effort. Anyone can grit there teeth and try hard. But that’s not going to cut it if you’re looking to maximize your potential. Relaxation allows you to conserve precious energy, more efficiently move your limbs because ‘agonists’ aren’t fighting contracted ‘agonists’, and permits greater storage and release of stored elastic energy in the tendons and fascia which is both metabolically and mechanically more efficient. So how do you relax while performing such a ballistic task? Start by relaxing the hands (‘no kung fu death grips’), face (‘let your eyelids jiggle’) and shoulders (‘shoulders away from the ears’). We are so naturally, upper body dominant that volitionally relaxing these three areas tends to release unnecessary tension elsewhere in the body.
- Fix Postural Alignment.In my opinion, posture is the single most important technical element of sprinting well. If you fix posture many other ‘problems’ fix themselves. This is because those ‘problems’ were really the visible ‘weeds’ and posture was the causal ‘root.’ Movement of the limbs originates from the core of the body so if postural alignment is incorrect, it’s impossible to expect appropriate actions of the limbs. With posture, I start by looking for neutral alignment of the head, neck, spine, and pelvis. Once an athlete can run with neutral alignment I may tweak things slightly to really optimize efficiency at various phases of a sprint.