Dec 9, 2016
Want to Run Fast?
Rich Zawack

Every game where running is a priority requires speed. Speed running is the difference between success and failure in most games. The ability to accelerate rapidly and attain maximum speed allows the basketball player to beat his opponent to the basket. It allows a soccer player to get to the ball first. It gives the football player the ability to catch or escape his opponents.

The question is, what is running speed? There are two key elements that make a person fast: stride length and stride frequency. The more ground you cover with each step determines how quickly you will get to your objective. The person with the fewer steps has an advantage.

Stride frequency refers to how rapidly a person can cycle their steps. The faster you can cycle the stepping process also affects how quickly you will get to your objective.

Technique and flexibility have a bearing on these two factors but primarily it is stride length and stride frequency that will get you where you want to go the fastest.

If you really want to improve an athlete’s ability to move faster you need to focus on these elements. Improving these two areas will do more than anything else to make large gains in speed running.

In order to improve length and frequency the emphasis should be on something called power. Power is the ability to rapidly apply force. The more force you can apply and the faster you can apply it, the more power a person will be able to generate.

The harder and faster a person can push into the ground, the longer their stride will be. The longer the stride, the more ground they cover. The more ground they cover, the fewer strides they need to get to their objective.

At the same time, force rapidly applied creates momentum. Running is really a series of jumps. Each jump is coordinated with the next. The momentum built from a series of hard pushes determines a person’s frequency.

The more rapidly I can push off the ground, the more momentum I get. The more momentum I build, the greater the turnover I generate. When I push harder and faster, I cycle my legs more quickly.

Let me leave you with one more thought. Power can be developed over time. It is something that everyone can do. It must be done in a progression. It takes organization and thought. It is a long-term process. I have had a young man go from a 12.2 100m to a 10.2 100m. It took eight years. He started at 14 and at 22 he was world-class fast.

This is why you build feeder programs based upon proper lifting techniques and skills. This is why you periodize and conjugate workouts. You can take a group of middle school kids and, if you plan, you can make them faster. It is a progression.

If you want to improve a person’s speed you must create a pattern and stick to it. In 40 years I have had 40 male children run 11.0 in the 100m. This progression is not just for males, we also developed a girl who ran 11.4. It took four years.

Power into the ground is the key to building speed.

Rich Zawack, BS, MA, CSCS-D, has served as president of Athletic Development Corporation for the last 10 years. Prior to that he was a high school teacher and coach for 36 years at Strongsville (Ohio) High School. He has coached 17 state champions, one NCAA champion, 18 NFL football players, and one NBA basketball player.

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