A Speed Training Plan for All Sports

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This excerpt is from SpeedRunner: 4 Weeks to Your Fastest Leg Speed in Any Sport by legendary running coach Pete MagillIn SpeedRunner, Magill reveals his 4-week training plan to make any athlete a faster runner. With Magill’s championship-winning workouts, athletes will focus on strength, agility, and acceleration to find a performance edge in any sport: running, triathlon, football, soccer, tennis, baseball, basketball, and other team sports.

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This Is SpeedRunner

In sports, the difference between a star and an also-ran is tenths of a second.

Athletes who are faster, stronger, and quicker dominate. Athletes who lack these characteristics languish. This is true no matter the sport. In football, 40-yard-dash times can determine who gets playing time and who rides the bench. In soccer, the ability to execute a change-of-direction dribble can make the difference between a shot on goal or the defender clearing the ball. In basketball, there is no fast break on a team with slow feet. In tennis (which averages 3 to 5 changes of direction for 8 to 12 yards of movement per point), a sluggish first step can lead to a win—for your opponent. In baseball, your speed to first base can earn you a hit, while a middle fielder’s speed and lateral quickness can rob you of the same. In volleyball, there’s no spike or block without the vertical explosiveness to rise above the net. And in track & field, athletes who can generate the most horizontal and vertical force go home with the medals. In sport after sport, it’s the speed, strength, and agility you produce with your legs that determines what you can accomplish on the field, court, or track.

Check out these Speed Stats from a few different sports!

There’s an old-school saying in track & field: “God makes sprinters, coaches make milers.” This outdated belief stems from the erroneous assumption that you’re stuck with the speed that God, evolution, and your parents gave you. Maybe you can build a bigger heart and better endurance to become a miler, but improve your speed? No way! Except that modern sprint coaches figured out a way, and in 2016, a total of 23 runners recorded 53 performances at 100 meters that were faster than Carl Lewis (Sports Illustrated’s Olympian of the Century) ran for his 100-meter gold medal at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.

Across all sports, athletes are getting better, and their skill set of speed, strength, and agility is improving. When you consider that, in America, approximately 45 million youth athletes (ages 6 to 17) and 25 percent of the adult population are active in sports, coaches can be forgiven for skipping over athletes who aren’t prepared. Frankly, if your skill set is lacking, you need to improve it. These days, showing up for a team-sports tryout or competition without a developed skill set is like taking on Joey Chestnut at Nathan’s Famous International Hot Dog Eating Contest without an appetite.

Al Davis, the late, outspoken owner of professional football’s Oakland (soon to be Las Vegas) Raiders, famously said, “You can’t teach speed.” Lucky for you, Al Davis was wrong. Speed can be taught. And it can be learned. In fact, not only can speed be learned—along with strength, agility, balance, and proprioception—but it’s essential that any athlete looking to achieve his or her maximum potential do just that.

What’s the SpeedRunner System?

The SpeedRunner system is a 4-week, 12-session program designed to improve your athletic performance. There are also modified schedules for athletes focused solely on speed (e.g., team-sports athletes already enrolled in agility and strength-training programs), endurance athletes looking for a once-a-week combination speed- and injury-prevention workout, and fitness enthusiasts who’d like additional, stand-alone sessions beyond the initial program.

SpeedRunner creates positive training adaptations by teaching your nervous system to better control your muscles and connective tissue (e.g., your bones and tendons). It targets three physical skills that are a requirement for every sport.

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Of course, it all begins with speed. Speed is a dividing line in sports, like height requirements for amusement park rides. Once you have speed—the ability to move from point A to point B faster than others on the field, court, or track—you’re already, literally, a step ahead of the competition. Add strength and agility, and you have a skill set that’s prized in every sport.

The SpeedRunner system grew out of my own five-decade involvement in sports. I was a multisport athlete growing up, but my turning point in workout philosophy dates back 35 years to my time in Eugene, Oregon (America’s track mecca), where I was training as a middle-distance runner. A friend of mine who ran with Nike’s elite Athletics West program would meet me once a week under the bleachers at Hayward Field—rain beating down on the track, our breath like fog in the frigid temps, both of us bundled in sweats—and teach me the technique drills he’d learned with the club. We’d skip, bound, march, and do the Ovett Drill (a variation of Quick Feet named after one of the world’s best milers), alternating reps of each drill with a sprint, for roughly two hours. The workout was designed to create nervous system adaptations that result in a more efficient stride. And, voila, the next day my stride would be smoother and my pace faster.

A few years later, I was training at Brignole Fitness Club in Pasadena, California, which was owned by 1986 weight-class champion in the AAU Mr. America and Mr. Universe competitions, Doug Brignole. One of my workout partners, John, a beefy offensive lineman for a local junior college, a monster who bench-pressed more than 500 pounds, took me aside and said, “Pete, Ohio State’s offered me a scholarship, but only if I can drop three-tenths off my 40.” He knew I was a high school track coach—and that my team had won the league championship due to the domination of my sprinters. “Can you help me?”

I designed a program to get John those three-tenths, one that included the Oregon drills and other exercises. In the end, John signed with a Southern California school. But my interest was piqued: Just how much could a program that targeted nervous system adaptations improve speed in non-track athletes?

Flash forward to the summer of 2015. I put the results of years of training, coaching, and research to the test, finalizing the SpeedRunner system and offering it to 30 local high school student athletes. On Day One, all athletes were evaluated using four metrics tests:

1) 40-yard dash   2) 20-yard shuttle   3) 3-cone drill   4) Standing broad jump

The first test measured speed. The next two measured agility. The fourth measured explosive horizontal and vertical force. After four weeks of training, the student-athletes were tested again. Of those who had completed the entire program, 40-yard dash times improved by an average of 9 percent, with only one athlete failing to improve and all others lowering their times by at least three-tenths of a second. In the other tests, improvement varied between 10 and 15 percent.

There’s nothing magical about the SpeedRunner program. Your nervous system controls your muscles. When you improve your nervous system’s control of your muscles, while strengthening those muscles and their associated connective tissue (the tendons that connect each muscle to bone), you get faster, stronger, and quicker.

In SpeedRunner, celebrated running coach Pete Magill reveals his 4-week training plan to make any athlete a faster runner—no matter the sport, age, gender, experience, or goals. In SpeedRunner, Magill reveals his 4-week training plan to make any athlete a faster runner. With Magill’s championship-winning workouts, athletes will focus on strength, agility, and acceleration to find a performance edge in any sport: running, triathlon, football, soccer, tennis, baseball, basketball, and other team sports.