What is the Purpose of Speed Drills?


Over the course of your career, you'll see athletes complete thousands and thousands of drills. Have you ever stopped to examine the what and why behind those drills? 

That’s a huge number, so I think it's important to remember why we actually do drills.

I see a ton of stuff on social media that includes drills or progressions completely out of context. 

I'm not saying drills from social media are bad, a lot of times they can be really helpful. I've learned a ton from people on social media myself. However, whenever you pull something into your training I recommend making sure you know the context it’s in so that you apply it correctly. 

So today I'm going to talk about the purpose of speed drills. 

Purpose of Drills

Drills provide a really easy way to implement our training philosophy without having to over-coach athletes while they’re running. 

They provide the ability to slow things down and literally go from walking to running and teaching along the way. This all feeds into improving technical qualities. 

We typically set up drills around the theme of the day. On an acceleration day, acceleration drills are used, and so on. That part’s pretty straightforward. 

Another thing that makes drills effective is it gives us a chance to give athletes context AND it provides us as coaches an opportunity to establish communication. 

It’s a way for me to talk to an athlete and get to know them, but also figure out what’s the best way for me to communicate with the athletes I’m working with. 

Finally, drills can develop specific strength qualities. If an athlete is weak in the hip flexor area, for example, drills could provide specific strength to that area. 

And then as a typical rule of thumb, we go from simple to complex, and from slow to fast. 

A lot of times this literally looks like moving from walking, with fewer variables, and then moving to more complex and eventually faster with faster ground contacts, more velocity, adding weight/stimulus, etc. 

We start easy, and progress as the athlete starts to improve. 

Let's look at how drills apply specifically for acceleration and max velocity. 

Acceleration Drills 

The two biggest outcomes from acceleration drills that I’m looking for are projection and orientation. 

Projection is essentially being able to project yourself horizontally through space. Can you go forward? 

Orientation is similar, but I think of it as “how do we orient ourselves after that initial projection?” 

If an athlete projects well but doesn’t orient their body horizontally, then it’s not good orientation. 

Athletes will not be able to run fast without being able to project themselves forward and throw themselves forward into space. 

Being able to apply forces down and back and creating a horizontal force is a must for accelerating well, and those are two things that our acceleration drills can and should help improve. 

Max Velocity Drills 

There are two things we look at achieving from max velocity drills: Stiffness and reactivity. 

Stiffness is resisting deformation on the ground. It's resisting compressing the body down on contact. So can I hit the ground and be stiff? 

From there, we look to see if the athlete can be reactive off the ground. 

Can they hit the ground and bounce off the ground creating a balance? 

Running fast is not just a concentric strength-based exercise. The reactivity qualities are tendon and elasticity based, where most of the reactive athletes will succeed. 

So being concentrically strong doesn't necessarily mean that you'll be able to run fast if you don't have the necessary reactivity components. 

Max velocity drills are set up to reinforce front-side mechanics. That's leg in front, being able to attack that leg in front from above into the ground and get off the ground as fast as possible (which comes from Ken Clark's research). 

So typically every single drill that we're going to apply on a max velocity day is getting the leg in front and high, attacking from the top down, and being able to spike the ground as hard as we can to get off the ground as fast as possible. 

How to Know When to Progress?  

No matter what type of drills you're applying, knowing how and when to progress your drills is one of the hardest things coaches struggle with. There are really two main factors that go into the determination of when to progress:

  • Length of the training block
  • Achievement of the skill

How Long do you have to Train your Athletes?

The length of the training block is one of the big determining factors of when to progress drills. You have to apply a certain physical stimulus to make sure the athlete is adequately prepared for competition, and this timeline will not wait for the achievement of skill.

In the case of short training blocks, you may have to progress faster than you would like for the sole purpose of making sure you are getting your athlete to the end goal on time.

Achieving mastery

If the athlete progresses quickly, knows the skill, or has a very long time to train in their block then you can take a more specific approach that uses mastery as a form of progression. 

Only progressing when the athlete has mastered the skill is useful in the situations listed above. This will ensure that the more advanced/intense drills to follow can be accomplished with ease knowing that the earlier drills were already mastered successfully.

Today's Takeaway 

My intent today was to give you a simplified framework to decide if the drills you're doing are adding value and making a positive impact. Are your acceleration drills helping to improve projection and orientation? 

Are you max velocity drills reinforcing front side mechanics, focusing on reactivity and stiffness? 

In general, are you using drills to improve strength qualities, establish context and communication, and enforce technical qualities? 

These are the types of questions I'd start asking to ensure you're getting the most out of your training sessions. 

Another Exciting Announcement 

If you missed it, I shared last week that we just added our 100th Speed Lab to the Community which was a huge milestone for the Universal Speed Rating

With the growing number of coaches, we had to ensure every coach that joined was getting the support and attention they needed to be successful. To help provide an additional layer of support, we introduced Speed Lab Directors - basically, they're personal connections assigned to regions of the country responsible for giving each Speed Lab support in terms of using the USR Software, running their business, and implementing speed training. 

I've met and know most of the directors personally and think this will be a super valuable addition to current community members. Learn more about the Speed Lab Directors here, or grab time with our team if you still want to join the Speed Lab Community by scheduling a call here