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FITNESS Training for speed 4

Dedication to acceleration

Personal trainer
Paul O'Brien

In sports, the quickest player off the mark makes the game-changing plays. The ability to accelerate from a standing position is a key skill for all field-sports players. What’s the use of ‘having a great engine’ (high levels of cardiovascular endurance), if you are burned by your marker in every play that requires short, sharp bursts of speed?

Agility and conditioning

Training acceleration speed is a combination of both mental agility and physical conditioning. The perfect marriage of these two aspects is the only way to be fast off the mark. If your brain is not tuned into what you want your muscles to do, you will simply not be fast – ever!
When I was young, my mother had a small sign in the kitchen that said, ‘Don’t put your mouth in motion before your brain is in gear!’. I can’t remember how effective it was, but in terms of speed for sport, substitute ‘muscles’ for ‘mouth’, and you have a useful mantra. Tune in the brain, then turn on the body.
For this reason, before incorporating drills to improve acceleration speed into your training, you need to mobilise both the body and the brain. Warm-up and mobility drills will prepare your body for a speed-work session and most coaches should have a glut of these drills in the kit bag. Examples would be high-knee walks with arm drills, lunge walks, shoulder circles and bicycle legs, to name but a few.
Follow these drills with co-ordination drills to further engage the brain. These are known as neuromuscular facilitation drills. The purpose of these drills is to give the brain a blueprint of what will be needed in your main speed session. Drills such as hand-to-knee walks and leg swings are very effective for this purpose. Carrying out these warm-up drills is essential in preparing the muscles for more advanced speed work, will help improve the brain-body connection and will certainly help minimise the risk of injury during high-intensity speed drills.
For the main phase of your speed session, I’m going to concentrate on two essential drills only. Both these drills repeated over time will train the movement patterns necessary to develop accelerating speed.

Leg Drive Drill
Stand facing a wall with your palms on the wall at shoulder height. Your body should be angled at 45 degrees to the wall with your weight through the balls of your feet, heels slightly elevated. Raise one leg until the thigh is parallel to the ground and immediately drive it back down. As soon as the toes contact the ground, pull the leg back up to parallel. Do ten repetitions one side, then swap sides. Complete 3-6 sets. Once you are comfortable with the drill you can alternate legs as you go.

The Falling Start
This drill reinforces correct body position for accelerating. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart. Begin to fall forward slowly. Once your body reaches a 45 degree angle, snap one leg forward and up until the thigh is parallel to the ground. Drive the leg down. When the toes make contact with the ground, snap the opposite leg forward and repeat. Start the drill over a 20-metre distance.

With these and all speed drills, begin very slowly. Remember, it’s all about technique and starting the drills slowly will help imprint the correct movement patterns into your muscle memory.

Next week Strength training for speed and power.

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.