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FITNESS Training for speed 3

Skipping is a great way to prime your toes for speed and agility.

Drilling for speed – from the toes up

Personal Trainer
Paul O'Brien

What is the most effective way to make your players faster? If you are a football coach, rugby coach or the coach of any field sport team, you should be asking yourself this question. Particularly at this time of the year.
Training for speed now allows you to focus on core game drills in the regular season, while still being able to maintain speed. On the flip side, ignore quality speed training at this time and your season could be over before it really gets started. It’s frustrating to end a season knowing there was a lot more left in the tank.
Breaking down speed training into high-quality, manageable drills is not rocket science. You’ve analysed your team’s specific needs (see ‘Speed for Sport’, February 8, available on and you now know what to train. For example, you may notice that a number of your players are slow off the mark. So you need drills to train start-up and accelerating speed. Or that your full-back line is fast in a straight line but loses valuable seconds on the turn.
Drills for speed with change of direction as well as decelerating drills are required here. Multi-directional speed, which is vital in a game situation, can sometimes be overlooked on training grounds. Drills for agility, quickness of feet and body positional drills can be introduced here.
Before any of the above drills are utilised however, there is a fundamental basic drill to master initially. Training this into your players will immediately give them an advantage over most opposition. I call it ‘tip-toe drilling’. Essentially, the fastest athletes are those who are poised for explosive speed. This means being on your toes as opposed to being flat-footed. Playing ‘on your toes’ can give you a split second’s advantage over an opponent. This can mean the difference between intercepting a pass and conceding the match-winning score.
In essence, being on your toes could more accurately be described as playing on the balls of your feet. The following three simple drills will help get your players on their toes. As with all speed training, drills should be introduced gradually, following a systematic training plan. It should also be noted that these drills will initially place extra stress on the lower leg muscles, particularly the calf complex muscles. Therefore, ten minutes of drilling in the initial stages (weeks 1-4) is enough.

Line drills
Have your players line up at the sideline with toes just on the line. On the whistle, players must shuffle over the line and back as quickly as possible. Start with 20 seconds, resting for 40 seconds and repeating three times. Using a 2- to 3-inch-wide plank is very effective with this drill as it helps ensure good foot lift. The emphasis is on staying on the toes and shuffling forward and back as quickly as possible without hitting the line/plank.

Lateral cone drill
Players stand with one foot between two flat marker cones, spaced 9 inches apart. On the whistle, players must move sideways quickly over the flat cones. One foot must remain in the centre at all times. Begin with 20 seconds work, 40 seconds rest and repeat three times.

As well as offering a great cardiovascular workout, skipping is a great drill for training players to get up on their toes. It’s estimated that a movement needs to be repeated about 2,000 times for it to become engrained in your muscular memory. In other words, it becomes habitual after this. Skipping is a great way of achieving this. Begin with 30-second intervals of skipping, followed by 90 seconds of rest and repeat three times.
As mentioned, these drills will initially place extra stress on the lower limbs. Stretches for the lower limb kinetic chain should, therefore be used immediately after the drills or session. These should include stretches for the calf muscles (gastroconemius and soleus), as well as the anterior and lateral muscles of the lower legs..

Next week More speed training drills.

Paul O’Brien
is a certified personal trainer with the American Council on Exercise and a qualified life coach. He runs his own business in Westport and is the creator of Bootcamp West, an exciting and challenging exercise programme in Westport. For details of upcoming classes, visit or e-mail or telephone 086 1674515.

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