Strength Training: The Foundation of Speed Training for youth athletes

Everyone understands that speed kills, but the foundations of training that skill can be developed in athletes of all ages starting with a good foundation of strength training. There are two types of speed, there is linear speed which is running in a straight line and lateral or what I like to call Multi-directional speed which is transitioning from a linear direction to lateral direction at different angles of movement. Both of these types of speed are developed by increasing the force that is applied to the ground, and the only way to increase the force that is applied to the ground and increase your RFD or Rate of Force Development, (click HERE for a complete definition of RFD)  A complete speed training program should have strength training as the first item on the list to improve, but unfortunately in most cases when you sign your kids up for a weekend (or another short term 4-6 week camp)  speed and agility program the only element to improve speed is the technical aspect and other fancy drills that look good but these drills do not address improving the relative strength and body control components of developing speed and finally improving the absolute strength of the athlete which refers to lifting weight for a set amount of repetitions.

    There is a basic progression of increasing the strength of a youth athlete and it should be based on their conditioning and training experience. For untrained athletes limited or no training experience the focus should be on improving their relative strength attempting to increase their Absolute strength using weights. In doing this the youth athlete will understand the basic movement patterns without the risk of injury and this will also improve their physical awareness and body control which is pivotal long term athletic development especially during growth spurts and pre-adolescence when the body grows are an unbelievable rate.  

    After the athlete can understand and can execute the basic exercises that improve relative strength the natural progression is to increase the intensity within those exercises to increase the absolute strength of the youth athlete. Increasing the absolute strength of the athlete will increase the speed and  force that they can apply to the ground which in turn increase the power generated during running helping them run faster. Increasing the power generated by the athlete is only one element of increasing speed, youth athletes must also learn to run correctly by executing form running drills which improve running mechanics helping them run more efficiently.   

    An 8 week training program can be scheduled out as follows:

    1.  Weeks 1-4- improve conditioning and Full body relative strength
    2.  Weeks 5-6- introduce limited resistance training movements (mentioned later) with weight they can control and balance with their body weight.
    3. Weeks 7-8 - increase the resistance and add more exercises to the training program; ploymetric (box jumps) can be added once the youth athlete can squat 1.5 x there bodyweight to minimize the risk of injury.  

    Examples of movements to improve Relative Strength of the athlete

    • Body Weight Squats
    • Push ups
    • Body weight Lunges
    • Dips  

    Examples of movements to improve the Absolute Strength of the athlete

    • Resisted Squats with dumbbells, a barbell, Bands,or a sand bag
    • Dumbbell or Barbell Bench press
    • Also using medium to high resistance bands    
    • Or machines like the Leg Press, or a Universal resistance machine  

    Remember to -TRAIN WITH A PURPOSE- and start conservatively to limit the risk of injury.