It's a universal hunger to be faster. From an athletic standpoint, speed gives us a great advantage and puts pressure on our opponents. However, speed training is a phase of training commonly misunderstood. I see too many people forgoing a strength base and jumping right into speed drills to enhance performance. Strength is the force produced in a certain amount of time. Power is how fast you move that force (force x distance) / time. You must be able to apply force into the ground to generate speed (acceleration). In the year 2000, The Journal of Applied Physiology published relevant research in the article, Mechanical Basis of Human Running Speed. The article synopsis begins with the line, "Faster top running speeds are achieved with greater ground forces, not more rapid leg movements." This became known as the Weyland study. This is why we see many athletes who look fast but time slow (take more steps), these are the guys who don't like weight room. Great accelerators on the other hand may look slow but time fast, that's because they produce more force minimizing the amount of steps they take.

A strength program at an early age should be the first priority in developing speed. Without being strong first, you will not have the strength base to run with speed and durability. The forces on the body in sprinting, decelerating, and changing directions are much higher than in lifting. If you cannot master and control the basic movements with a smooth tempo, you definitely cannot with speed. You will rely on your structure and ligaments to decelerate the force instead of your muscles. In the book Training for Speed, legendary speed coach Charlie Francis says, "early strength training also aids in the recruitment of fast twitch muscle fibers, the more fast twitch fibers, the more explosive an athlete is. Since this take time to develop, it's important to start at a young age." Functional strength training develops these muscle fibers.

Strength makes all things possible. Without strength, all other attributes such as power, strength endurance, flexibility and agility are limited. Strength and Conditioning expert, Eric Cressey, makes the great analogy between the strength relationship and a glass of water. In his book, 'The Ultimate Off-season Training Manual', Eric states that maximal strength is the glass and everything else is the liquid inside that glass. The bigger the glass, the more attributes you can fit inside that glass.

Let's say for example, we have athlete A, an 8 oz. glass with 4 oz. of water and athlete B, a 4oz glass with 4 oz. of water. Athlete A has a bigger glass, which enables her more potential for improvement. Athlete A has the strength base to improve on his attributes, while still improving his glass. Athlete A can't work at every attribute at the same time, but year round programming will ensure her optimal performance when she needs it the most. Athlete B has to work on his maximal strength. Without it, he cannot get better. If you add fluid to a full glass, it overflows; in this case, trying to get faster without a strength base (bigger glass) will cause the water to overflow.

How should we go about making our glass larger? Greasing the groove and perfecting technique is the way to go about increasing your maximal strength. Neural control affects the maximal force output of a muscle by determining which and how many motor units are involved in a muscle contraction and the rate at which the motor units are fired. More motor units fire faster. That is why we see the greatest increase in strength between 70 to 90% 1 rm. At lifts above 92%, we start to see a breakdown of neural control. So don't reach by trying to lift heavier (max out) loads to increase power, follow a proven program and be honest with yourself in order to see the best results.

1. Deadlifts

At a minimum, you need to be able to deadlift your body-weight for 5 reps. I'm a firm believer in strength-to-weight- ratio. Strength-to-weight ratio is simply the measurement of one's physical strength divided by their weight. Maintaining an optimal ratio is essential for athletic performance. You want to be able to master your weight for reps, in order to have a reserve when you are fatigued.

I start out training my athletes by having them deadlift with kettlebells and then progress them to the trap-bar deadlift. I like the kettlebell because the center of gravity is constantly changing, but your core is remains essential and acts as your center point in the body for proper functioning throughout. The kettlebell assists with identifying a foundation which causes the body stabilizers and connective tissue to fire harder (core, hip and scapula stabilizers). This is key to pain free deadlifts and it also does wonders for your grip strength. From here, I progress to the trap-bar because it is an easier and safer bar to use when teaching the deadlift. Any style of deadlift is applicable. Speed is about ground force and powerful hip extension, and that's what the dead-lift delivers.

2. Backwards Lunge

We need both two leg and one-legged to increase speed and durability. From my personal experience, two leg exercises such as deadlifts and squats augment one's force output. However, we run with one leg at a time and the ability to apply force with one leg plays a large role in expressing one's strength. If you take a close look at the lunge you will see the same hip/ knee/ shin angle in the lunge. If someone is strong on two legs but can't perform a lunge, they are not going to be able to express their strength while running (this usually a sign that there are energy leaks in their lifts too).

3. One-legged Deadlift

Lead leg stabilization is crucial in keeping healthy knees and hips, as well as carrying over the force from one stride to the next stride. Being able to stabilize your force output is the key to efficient running. One-legged deadlifts challenge the body stabilizers in all three planes of motion. This is of importance because the stabilizers often fail before prime movers and we can't express the true strength of our drivers if they are weak.

4. Swings

The ability to rapidly contract the right muscles and then just as quickly release that energy is the exact skill perfected by the master athlete. The Swing is power- power is about forceful hip extension. The core transmits the power from the hips through to the upper-body and out to the world. The rate of force produced and the speed of this hip-centric movement make The Swing the king of power exercises. The same forceful hip extension takes place in jumping, sprinting, and lifting. It also teaches the students to trust their hips (the float).

5. Pull-up

A stronger pull-up correlates to faster speeds. Not only do we use our upper bodies when we run, but the ability to link the upper-body with lower body is another key for energy transfer. A successful pull-up requires this energy linkage from the legs and core and will aid in your body becoming more organized.

Strength gives us the ability to accelerate. Speed drills and running mechanics still play an important role in programming, however these drills teach us how to harness and use our strength efficiently.

[i] Boyle, Michael, Advances in Functional Training. On Target Publications, 2010 (pg. 171).

About the Author: Chris Carlsen is a former division 1 athlete, Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), SFG (Beast Tamer) and Fitness Therapist (ISSA). He is the owner of Iron Lion Performance, in Astoria, NY . Chris owes a huge part of his athletic and career success to Pavel and Gray Cook. Learning and studying from the pioneers in strength and movement, has filled his life with great knowledge and purpose. This knowledge has given him the ability help a lot of students and indoctrinate many trainers with the skill of strength. He shares over a decade of coaching experiences at his facility's website and blog . You can also follow him on his Iron Lion Performance facebook fan page.

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