Strength and conditioning coach Ted Lambrinides will be the first one to quote for you the oft-repeated adage that “you can’t coach speed,” but that certainly hasn’t stopped him from trying. In fact, Ted coached All Pro running back Shawn Alexander prior to his NFL tryout and helped him improve his 40-yard sprint time to a 4.48.
While Ted maintains that you can’t necessarily improve upon an athlete’s genetic speed ceiling, there are things you can do to help him get the most out of what he’s born with. To that end, the boss of Athletic Strength and Power (ASAP) provided us with a list of things you can do to improve your speed, whether you specialize as a runner, or you play a sport that requires running like football, lacrosse or field hockey.
1. Improve Your Body Composition
You may be naturally fast, but you will never reach your full potential if you’re carrying around body weight that isn’t contributing to the generation of speed. In other words, Ted will tell you to change the way your body is put together and shed the pounds that don’t directly translate into greater speed and performance.
“The best speed program you can ever have is to improve somebody’s body composition,” Ted proclaimed. “Gaining muscle and losing fat will all your body to produce more force against the ground for a greater period of time, which translates into increased speed and endurance.”
2. Train Your Metabolic System
Even if you happen to be blessed with tremendous speed, it won’t do you much good in most sports if it takes you an inordinate amount of time to recover from a quick burst of activity. That’s why Ted says you need to regularly train your metabolic system during your workouts. That way, you’ll be able to demonstrate your swiftness over and over again during the course of a game or event.
“When we do a lot of our skill work, we try to do it in a fashion that stresses the metabolic system. If you’re doing heavy resistance training, your metabolic system should be affected during 70 percent of your workout time. You want to focus on technique when you’re first working on resistance training, but after that, you can up the tempo of the workout.”
3. Do Some Comprehensive Strength Training
When Ted refers to comprehensive strength training, he’s referring to more than simply a well-rounded exercise program. What he’s referencing is preparing the body for the specific sport it’s going to be participating in, and this includes preparing the body to go fast while taking a person’s injury history into account. This means that when Ted puts together a program for one of his guys, he make sure the antagonistic muscle groups are being worked, and that the strength program is structured so that different elements of training are being stressed to different degrees during the season, preseason, and offseason.
“I would have my people to basic movements that are comprehensive where they’re hitting all the muscle groups while working the agonist and antagonist muscles,” Ted explained. “For the upper body, we could be talking about chin-ups, bent over rows, standing presses, bench press and dips. And if the individual has a history of shoulder instability, I might not have them do dips. I might have them grab some plates and do lateral raises, front raises and some posterior deltoid raises along with some barbells squats and modified RDL deadlifts to hit the hamstrings.”
4. Develop Flexibility for Range of Motion
Flexibility is normally thought of in terms of lower body flexibility when speed is being considered. However, a lot of times, limitations to speed can actually be caused by a lack of flexibility in the shoulders. If the arms can’t reach their optimal position during a sprint, the legs won’t be able to do so either. Ted recommends drills and a variety of different stretches to help his athletes develop the ideal level of flexibility.
“For flexibility, you want to do dynamic stretching with strength training, and also some static stretches,” Ted said. “If you’re doing dynamic stretches, this means you’re getting some stretching activity built into the strength training movement. So if you’re doing chin-ups, at the bottom phase of the chin-up you’re getting adequate stretching. This will affect the range of motion of your upper body musculature.”
5. Correct Muscle Imbalances
Your body is a fine-tuned machine, and if things aren’t in the correct proportion, it will negatively influence your athletic performance, and this certainly includes your ability to run. Ted regularly works with athletes to correct these muscle imbalances as part of a holistic approach to strength training, and he encourages you to strengthen weak muscles to see if improving upon these weaknesses will make you faster.
“You typically see kids with hamstrings that aren’t as developed as they should be, and also weaker glutes,” Ted described. “A lot of kids have bad squatting mechanics, and it could be because they have tight Achilles tendons, and if you improve range of motion and basic squatting movements, you’ll see improvements in speed. Also, you can have someone coming off an injury that has a difference in strength between the healthy and injured sides, and this affects the runner’s gait with one side absorbing more force than the other. So, you want strength to be balanced both right to left and front to back.”
6. Use Correct Technique
In some cases, athletes with the potential to exhibit great speed would never know it, because they literally don’t know how to run. If this is your issue, Ted says there are a variety of things you can do to improve your running technique, but just be wary that there is a relation between poor running technique and injury, so you want to correct your technique issues as quickly as you possibly can.
“A lot of times you watch people run and you look at the technique, a lot of their running techniques are altered by their anatomical differences,” Ted stated. “So, that contributes to an altered gait. Or you’ll see people with chronic injuries that have altered gaits and they continue to run through the injury. You don’t know whether the injury caused the bad running technique or the bad technique caused the injury. You don’t know what came first, the chicken or the egg. You just know that there’s probably a relationship there, one way or the other.”
The Meijer State Games of Michigan is a multi-sport, Olympic-style event(s) that welcome athletes regardless of age or ability level. The Games embody the values of participation, sportsmanship and healthy living.