Want to Get Faster? Don’t Get Slower

What I’m about to share with you completely goes against the grain when it comes to speed training, but to say it’s overdue is an absolute understatement. In this article you will be provided all the information you need to dismantle the long-held notion you need to practice sprinting technique training to get faster. 

Instead you should focus all of your efforts elsewhere, with very few exceptions.

Without question, athletes and coaches have routinely been told that focus on sprint form and drills that reinforce the ideal sprinting mechanics are essential to getting faster, regardless of the individual. Well folks this advice is in fact false and I’m going to tell you exactly why shortly. 

First though, here is a list of the sub-topics we will be tackling that will be covered in their entirety throughout the remainder of the article, section by section:

  • Law of Specificity/Said Principle
  • Muscle Contraction Speeds during sprinting
  • Sprinting in the Brain
  • Focus Factors
  • Lack of Research
  • Dispelling the Classic Technical drills
  • Rare exceptions to the rule

From here I’ll break down each reason why common speed drills are likely making you or your athletes slower, complete with video breakdowns for comprehension and details. Now, lets start with the all forgotten law of specificity for sprinting…

#1 LAW OF SPECIFICITY/SAID PRINCIPLE FOR SPEED

This irrefutable training law I’m confident nearly everyone will be entirely familiar with and you won’t need to spend too much time learning this one. It’s as simple and straight forward as it gets. 

If you want to get faster you need to train to get faster. That means SPRINTING.

What is absolutely mind boggling to me is that so many people out there still tirelessly search for some absurd magical technique or cure to get faster when the majority of focus should be on sprinting in the right volumes at the right times depending on the time of year/training season, among other things.

#2 MUSCLE CONTRACTION SPEED

This is just a fancy term for how long the muscles have at ground contact to execute all forms of muscular contraction prior to the next step. Logically, this one factor alone is more than enough reason to completely abandon just about any and all technical work except for the very rare exceptions which no one is really doing these days, which I will discuss at the end of the article. 

Think about this for a moment. World class sprinters and team sport speedsters have less than a tenth of a second to get off the damn ground during sprinting.  So snap your fingers and that’s roughly how long they have. Combine that fact with legtimate recent scientific research from extremely credible sources, which has clearly identified that you only have anywhere from 50-300 milliseconds to contract your muscles during a sprint. 

In reality, by the time you sat there and consciously thought about what you had to do your opportunity to move at high speeds would be over. Enough said.  

#3 SPRINTING AND SPEED IN THE BRAIN

And if there is still somehow any little doubt left in your brain at this point on how we have been deceived for decades on the truth of this issue, then let me give you some more to put the nail in the coffin. 

The late and I mean great Charlie Francis (aka speed king) was the pioneer for the idea that conscious focus of sprint technique was a complete and utter waste of time. Why? It’s very simple. Humans have evolved quick access to sprinting through the “hindbrain” center for survival purposes. Actions or movements stimulated here are very natural, instinctual, aggressive, and reactive in nature. You don’t need to think about it, ladies and gentlemen. 

Detractors would argue that the sprinting pattern itself is highly complicated and technical in nature so we must need to practice something so complex in order to get better. It’s not that complex because a damn toddler or cavemen can do it without any prior instruction and very little intellect, plus everything I literally just mentioned. 

Obviously the toddler cannot effectively demonstrate ideal form like an elite athlete because he simply is not strong, powerful, and coordinated enough yet, but the foundation and associated features upon observation are very recognizable even at such an early age, clearly indicating how fundamental sprinting is to us as humans. 

End of story.  

#4 FOCUS FACTORS

There really is no need to go on with the previous information in mind, as it’s more than enough to prove technical training wrong, but we will just keep hammering away so you never have to worry about training 99% of technical work ever again.  

Let me ask you a question; Do you think an athlete getting ready to lift 400-500 lbs, jump 40 inches, or run a 100 meter dash will be even remotely focusing on what specific movement or muscles they need to fire to accomplish the task successfully?

Absolutely not. 

Combine that with the fact that research has clearly shown that an “external” or outer focus of effort is far superior too a conscious well thought out internal focus on motion in improving speed and strength based activities. This fact definitely applies to sprint technical training since technical training involves an internal focus during training. 

The complete opposite of what actually occurs during testing and competition, unfortunately.  For example, if you are competing in the 100 meter dash against your rival in the next lane are you going to be thinking about activating your glutes through each step or ensuring tall posture and hip lift with each stride, or are you going to be dialed in, eyes straight ahead at the finish line wanting to dominate your opponent with a potential focus of them in your peripheral? It’s a no brainer.

Too be fair training information is all about context. Is internal or mind-muscle connection practice useless? 

Absolutely not. 

As you enter the strength side of the spectrum when considering training your power-curve or force-velocity curve, movements will be much longer in duration and there will be sufficient time afforded to concentrate on activating certain muscles and muscle groups, and strengthening those nerve-muscle connections allowing for greater overall fiber recruitment levels and muscle and strength gains in these types of situations. 

Mind-muscle training has been utilized by bodybuilders for decades and has been shown to be very effective in the bodybuilding and strength training culture according to recent  science.  But that’s obviously a whole other ball game, and we are talking only about speed in this article.

#5 LACK OF RESEARCH

Ok. Let me ask you have you ever actually witnessed a specific research study for sprinting speed that discussed technical drills to improve the skill? Yeah, me either. Next topic.

#6 DISPELLING THE CLASSICS

Lets take a few of the classic sprint technical drills we’ve all done at some point and lay those to rest once and for all. First, is the arm drive, or Bongo’s.  

**Note, this exercise is generally performed improperly,and  it won’t do anything in getting you to run faster. 

Too often coaches or parents or whomever will cue the athlete to drive the arms aggressively with the elbows tucked. Unfortunately, this is not what actually occurs during a sprint and can be identified with a video analysis performed from the front of the athlete. Arms tuck back and then flare out (partial-cross) coming forward. Why? Probably because this is undoubtedly a stronger arm action and our anatomy is naturally crossed link as many of you already know. Not to mention the actually sprinting reflex is coined The Crossed Extensor Reflex!  

Next is the infamous A-Skip. 

If you happened to read THIS ARTICLE ON SKIPPING then you are well aware of the supreme value skipping provides any type and level of athlete. However, with that being said skipping will in no way shape or form help you or your athletes build better form in sprinting and speed related activities. Period. 

Again, the body knows how to run instinctually and skipping simply serves as a very slight activation drill that can waken up and fire very specific reflexes and neuromuscular pathways, or express what skill you already have developed in training and sport. I would be willing to bet it’s the aesthetics of the A-Skips that gives its allure for people , but like with so many things in the training industry, it’s completely overhyped and taken out of context, and will always fail to deliver the results you or others ultimately seek.  

And the other common sprint technical drill to put to rest is the posture run, or even tempo runs. These are low intensity, low velocity based running drills that aim to solidify running form. Unfortunately, even though they do carry benefit in terms of aerobic system development, relaxation, and systemic recovery they will not improve your sprinting form and have been taken out of context for coaches and athletes. 

When we look at the past research on what help maintain posture and vertical output, various stiffness levels (vertical, joint, etc.) are the key players in influencing form, especially as speed increases during a sprint. Consider that at higher running speeds the amount of gravity at impact can be upwards of 3-5x your own bodyweight or more according to some sources. Just do the math and it’s beyond obvious that just focusing on staying tall wont do a damn thing for maintain a tall posture during sprinting unless you have the necessary levels of total body strength and power to do so.

BONUS: EXCEPTIONS TO THE RULE

And of course no article or topic could ever be complete without the very rare exceptions to the rule. 

Remember models and systems are based on the majority and norms, not the exceptions.  As you’ve clearly seen up until this point, there is no drill aside from actual sprinting and other select and supportive training methods we haven’t discussed (i.e. general and specific strength training, resisted and assisted runs, programming , etc. ) that will increase your speed and enhance your running and sprinting form. However, there is one gem of a drill that I’ve seen transform sprinting form that you can utilize right away, and it’s called “Wickets.” 

The Wicket Drill involves a very specific arrangement of banana steps or low hurdles set at specific distances depending on the speed of the athlete to help ensure proper stride rate and length.  The two primary components of acceleration and speed.  

For a comprehensive overview of Wickets please check out world class speed coach Latif Thomas. He is the man when it comes to Wickets and many things speed related, and is completely underrated in the field , unfortunately.  

Don’t Get Slower To Get Faster

Well that concludes this article but I really hope this is more than enough to permanently persuade you to never practice another technical drill for getting faster aside from Wickets and other complementary training methods which I alluded to earlier. It’s easy to see how coaches and trainers adopted technical training in hopes of getting faster years ago, but with advancement of credible scientific knowledge over the course of the past couple decade, and loads of real world evidence and metrics that is no long the case. 

Technical training is going to be a complete waste of your time and effort.  I really can’t stress that enough because unfortunately this type of training is still advocated right next to and even above speed, strength, and power training, and it’s only doing athletes and coaches a disservice and creating a lot of frustration and lack of results in the process.

About The Author

travis hansen speed coach

Travis Hansen has been involved in the field of Fitness for 15 years. He graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Fitness and Wellness, and holds 3 different training certifications from the ISSA, NASM, and NCSF. He was the Head Strength and Conditioning Coach for the Reno Bighorns of the NBADL for their 2010 season, and the UNR Golf Team in 2015. He was the former Director of The Reno Speed School, and the Speed Director and continuing educator for the International Sports Sciences Association. He has worked with thousands of athletes from almost all sports, ranging from the youth to professional ranks.  He is an author of five books, and has written for popular fitness publications, such as Mens Journal, Mens Fitness, and Testosterone Nation. He was also selected to train the Chinese Olympic team in 2014.