Football is not just about strength.
In fact speed training for football might be just as important as traditional weight lifting…
The highest ranked players are more likely to outperform their peers in tests like the 10 yard and 40 yards sprints than they are in the squat or bench press.
You could say that speed separates the outstanding from the very good.
But you certainly don’t have to be the fastest to perform at your best…
Which do you think is more important? Acceleration or top speed?
Consider this for a moment…
The average distance a football player covers in most plays is 15-20 yards (maybe less for a lineman and more for a receiver). Unlike an Olympic sprinter, football players will rarely, if ever, reach their top speed.
On the whole, the quickest player over 15-20 yards will be the one who can accelerate the most rapidly.
Straight away then, that should tell you something about speed training for football – running lots of 100m sprints is NOT an effective method of training.
Instead, spend your time on drills that increase acceleration and speed off the mark.
How to Increase Your Speed & Acceleration
It’s true – genetics do play a part in how fast you can run. But don’t let that discourage you…
Everyone can get faster. And anyone can improve their speed off the mark.
And just a small improvement with training relates to a significant improvement on the field.
With that said, what does it take to increase your sprinting speed?
1. Increase Your Strength
The more powerful your leg muscles are the more force they can apply to each ground contact.
Power is a product of both strength and speed of contraction. If you make improvements in either of these components you WILL become a faster athlete.
Improve both and you double the effects – and this it what speed training for football is essentially all about.
Assuming strength training already contributes a significant amount to your schedule, lets look at the other side of the equation…
2. Improve Your Speed of Contractions
Any increase in strength will only translate into gains in speed IF you can still contract your muscles as quickly – ideally even quicker.
Sprint training over short distances will help you do that. So will some light plyometrics exercises.
The science behind plyometrics or jump training can get a little complex but the actual training is straightforward.
Be careful with plyometric training…
It’s easy to overtrain without knowing it. Too many of these exercises (particularly the intense types) can cause stress injuries.
3. Improve Your Running Mechanics
Most football players, in fact most sports men and women have never been taught correct sprinting form.
All other things being equal, the more efficiently you can run, the faster you can run.
There are basically two phases to sprinting – the acceleration phase and top speed phase. Remember acceleration is probably more important in speed training for football than top speed. Here are some pointers for good acceleration form…
- Drive off the balls of your feet never the toes or heels.
- The whole body should be leaning forward, not just from the waist.
- Strides are short and powerful, pushing off the ground.
- Pump the arms vigorously throwing the elbow back hard rather than forward
- Keep the head still and square to the shoulders.
After the first 10-15 yards, running mechanics change noticeably as you gain speed…
- Foot strikes should still be from the balls of the feet.
- There is still a slight forward lean from the ground but much less.
- Strides are longer and more relaxed. Don’t try to push away from the ground.
- Arm action is still exaggerated but more relaxed.
- Head remains still.
As part of a season long plan, speed training for football features heavily in late pre-season preparation and gradually increases over the whole of pre-season. It should also follow a period of base strength training for maximum results.
Jacky has a degree in Sports Science and is a Certified Sports and Conditioning Coach. He has also worked with clients around the world as a personal trainer.
He has been fortunate enough to work with a wide range of people from very different ends of the fitness spectrum. Through promoting positive health changes with diet and exercise, he has helped patients recover from aging-related and other otherwise debilitating diseases.
He spends most of his time these days writing fitness-related content of some form or another. He still likes to work with people on a one-to-one basis – he just doesn’t get up at 5am to see clients anymore.