What is speed?
It is a very simple, commonly known formula/definition.
Stride Length × Stride Rate
That is the classic speed formula. Stride length is the distance covered by each stride and stride rate, also known as stride frequency is the number of steps per second. Speed is a product of these two factors.
Improvement in speed can come from focusing on either of these aspects of sprinting (stride Rate is King), but the true athletic edge comes from addressing both.
Why do I choose stride rate?
Storytime. I operated an indoor training facility in Addison, Texas for years. It is located at the south side of the busiest private airport in North Texas and that means lots of twin-engine, Learjets, G4s, or whoever was always taking off and making me stop coaching for a second because of the metal roof and their low takeoff altitude made for a very loud 5 seconds. One day the light finally went on. When those jets are accelerating, the turbine in the engine does not get bigger, it goes fast and faster, creating thrust and ultimately generating a whole lot of speed. We always trained the athletes so that we could work towards increasing both rate and length, but one thing I was convinced on that day was the rate could almost be 100% successfully improved.
How do we create roadrunner feet?
For decades we have used mini-hurdles and we have always referred to them as creating roadrunner feet. -- Wait, what? -- Have you ever seen the Roadrunner cartoon? If so, have you ever seen his feet? No, unless he was standing still.
When the roadrunner was moving his feet were an elliptical blur. We wanted to create roadrunner feet with our athletes, hence, increased stride rate. From there every time a jet took off overhead, the pause was followed by me saying. “Catch that jet”.
Sprint strides are like weight room reps. Every rep in the weight room is performed to develop an improved level of strength. The stride rate is the same. Focusing on proper ground contact, foot strike, and taking off, and consciously thinking about tearing the foot off the ground promotes faster turnover. The last point from the jet came when the principle that your foot touches the ground simply to take off again. In other words, sprinting is a series of takeoffs, not landings.
While stride rate is important stride length can be the more difficult technique to improve. There are a variety of factors that help make it easier to improve. Greater strength can result in a longer stride length through a well-constructed strength program. From the strength point of view, to increase stride length, you may tell the athlete to push more or harder when taking off, but if the strength is not up to speed (love it), then the force needed to increase the stride length will not be there. In addition, plyometric training develops an explosive force of muscular contractions to reduce contact time with the ground, the longer the foot remains in contact with the ground, the slower the speed.
Different plyometric drills, such as double leg or single leg movements, train the neuromuscular system to improve its efficiency and decrease ground contact time. Other important components of speed are muscular flexibility and joint mobility.
Once again, without a substantial strength base, the ability to execute the explosive training will not be there either.