A while back, I was in Las Vegas with a team. As we were walking back to the hotel, we stopped by the famous Bellagio Fountain. Beautiful! As the fountain cascaded, the lights followed. Those lights triggered another light - the lightbulb in my brain. I had an idea.
Once I was back home, I went to the store and bought a string of "chase lights" that I could line up next to the hurdles or just next to a speed break. The lights featured a cascading blink that looked like the lights at the Bellagio as they tracked the fountain water. Then what? I had the kids “chase the lights” just like I tell them to “catch that jet.” The whole idea was the visual helping the athletes run faster.
It worked because we believed it would work. At the very least, we had fun.
Every coach needs a bag of tricks. That bag isn’t just a metaphor. I have an actual bag, and I think you should also.
I want to talk about the bag of tricks in relation to speed training. This is different from the traditional speed bag(s) with your fundamental pieces of equipment like ladders, cones and hurdles. I’m talking about a bag that has various items that can be integrated with training when the occasion calls for it.
There are a couple reasons to have a bag of tricks.
The BIGGEST reason is because of the intended training benefit. At the end of the day, it’s about speed. The only answer for speed is more speed. Anything we can do - new or different - to help our athletes get faster is worth trying.
The bag of tricks isn’t really about trickery. It’s just orthodox speed training tools you don’t use every day.
There is another reason that I highly value it. It’s about the psychology of training.
I have been fortunate enough to have trained many athletes for many years. Due to the repetitive nature of training, it can be a challenge to keep athletes interested. No matter how dedicated or determined my clients are, I like to make things fun within the scope of what we’re trying to accomplish. It’s also important to keep your coaches interested. That goes for me, too! Imagine doing anything for over 40 years. It helps to change things up every once in a while.
A good example of variation is when using the ladder, we will sometimes have the athletes hold a medicine ball. A variation on that variation is to have as many different weights of medicine ball as possible and have the athletes exchange balls after each rep through the ladder. The athletes have to adjust to lighter and heavier balls each time through. Include the heaviest ball you have that the group can handle so that it makes it even more challenging, yet fun.
I’ve already told you about the lights. That’s an unorthodox one, but there are two other orthodox tools in my bag.
The first are light - and I mean light - hand weights. Hand weights are typically better than dumbbells because they are more compact and ergonomically designed. However, if you want to just use what you’ve got since I know you may not already have hand weights, you can use dumbbells. Either way, you don’t need to go heavier than three pounds, and that’s only for your varsity athletes.
The youngest kids, especially beginners, can just use Expo markers since it accomplishes the same hand posture. I’ve even used Expo markers with older kids who were new to speed training and were starting from scratch. It’s about level, not age.
For kids who can handle the weight, anything that can be reasonably carried correctly, works. Also, the tool needs to be something that could safely be dropped. Dumbbells are often metal, so it’s better if you have some encased in something like neoprene. However, there are hand weights that utilize sand, so they don’t bounce as much if dropped.
The best occasions for using the hand weights are when utilizing the ladder, hurdles and drills with a linear path. They don’t fit in change of direction drills.
The most important speed technique hand weights help reinforce is on the arm swing. The arms are a major source of errors since they are connected to the shoulders. It’s a big influence on the upper body.
With a weighted object, physics will tell you that a shorter lever (hand to elbow to shoulder) moves faster. Therefore, your only option is to bend the elbow. This helps the athlete understand to keep the arms at a 90-degree bend max. At parts of the swing, their arm angle will get more acute.
Don’t worry if it creates a more mechanical movement. That is just temporary. As with all our training devices, always do the contrast with a no-gadget sprint aka a speed break. As you can guess, when sprinting without hand weights, the arms move faster. This helps the legs move faster.
The second, and one of my favorites, is the overspeed cable.
Let’s say I tell the athlete to sprint as fast as they can. (Safely and correctly, of course). Let’s say they do it. Great! If I then say, “Now, run faster.” How do they do it? Once upon a time, they ran downhill!
That’s where somebody in the world of speed development thought of overspeed by using a cable instead. Both of these “tricks” should be tightly regulated. Besides, in my program, I prefer utilizing inclines, not declines. By the way, I’m not here to endorse any one brand or vendor. Wherever you get it, just make sure you test it. I’ve had my share of negative experiences with equipment. Cables with a protective nylon sheath over the rubber are preferable.
An overspeed cable is basically rubber tubing that can hook up to a belt around the athlete while somebody pulls from the other end.
The drill in the King Sports Training program that utilizes overspeed is called Assisted Sprints. Once the cable is stretched to the proper length by the partner or coach, the “anchor” jogs while the athlete runs with the assistance of the cable. The goal is to be able to sprint faster than normal. Some people might even call it hyperspeed. Punch it, Chewy!
This manufactures what I call “artificial” speed. After a couple pulls, always do regular speed breaks (sprints without resistance) to capture the sensation of that speed and make it their own. The key coaching point is that when doing the contrast runs tell the athlete to be ready to take off because they will surge off the line and if they are not ready, they could stumble and lose the benefit because they are recovering, not running. The big point is, with a successful run, have them pay close attention to their new speed. When they do the second sprint, the cable effect will diminish substantially and now they have to work hard to duplicate the first run.
The biggest mistake with overspeed is over-pulling. Especially, if it’s being done as a partner exercise, be sure to instruct the helper that pulling too much can compromise the drill. If the runner is pulled too hard and just stumbles, that is no good.
The breakdown is usually first seen in their arms, which go all over the map. The increased assisted speed can be small to make a big difference. It doesn’t take much. Anything is bigger than zero. Also, you can increase the pull as the real speed increases. Pulling too hard too early can mess up the drill.
This drill relates to an important training principle. The S.A.I.D. Principle stands for Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands. In other words, impose a specific demand to get a specific adaptation by the system.
Overspeed is a type of stress on the system that requires adaptation. It’s up to the athlete to make a cognizant effort to keep the technique so that they can improve from a biomechanical perspective. Cue them to maintain a proper stride pattern by getting that foot up around and down fast enough. If done properly, the neurological connection will be trained to work faster as well.
It’s all a science!