Athletic Performance Part One:Three Steps to develop Explosive Speed & Power

As published previously on GNC

The outdoor athletics season is about to begin and this year’s schedule is packed with some high quality events such as the European Championships in August, The Commonwealth Games in July and the Diamond League kicking things off on May 9th in Doha. In preparation for the season I will be covering a few aspects of training like an athlete, first up is on how to develop explosive speed and power in three steps.

Eyes are always on the 100m sprint events at major athletics competitions because being fast is exciting, it’s a very natural measure of fitness but doesn’t have to be limited to track and field athletes. Whether you are involved in another sport or simply training for fun, performing sprints can burn fat, trigger muscle growth and improve your VO2 max so why not incorporate it into your week?

Step One – Drills

Having completed a pulse raiser and some dynamic stretches such as leg swings, trunk rotations and scorpions you should always perform a series of running drills. These drills will only last around 15 minutes but will greatly improve your running technique by lengthening your stride, developing explosive foot contact and increasing your agility. Do all of the following drills twice, over 20 metres and back:

Image courtesy of

Brian Metzler

#01 High knee walks to runs, an exaggerated movement drawing knees up to parallel and feet rising onto your toes. After 20 metres, build into a run as explosive as possible driving the knees high whilst not covering too much ground.

Image courtesy of TeachPE

#02 Straight Legs, despite not directly mimicking running technique this exercise is fantastic for getting your springs (hamstrings and calves) firing and ready for some explosive speed. Extend your legs out in front of you and land on your forefoot no heel contact. Try to develop as much explosive speed from every contact with your arms bent and back straight.

#03 Bum Flicks, using a cyclical motion maintain a high knee at the front and as the leg moves round bring your heel up to your bum. It is key that you drive your knees up at the front and don’t replicate that old football park drill by carelessly flinging your heels behind you.

#04 High Knee skips, like a normal skip on adrenaline. You need to drive your knees high and leave the ground with maximum power for maximum height. Second time round try to leave the ground for maximum length and don’t forget to drive your arms too!

Step Two – Sprinting Sets

We’re aiming to get explosively fast so there’s no need to look at longer distances, we are going to have two different sessions with no more than 100 metres covered per sprint.

Session 1

· 6 x 60m sprints, walk back recovery plus 60 second rest. Try to develop a smooth running technique with high knees and don’t shorten your stride length.

10 minutes rest

· 6 - 10 x 30m sprints with two to four minute rest in between every sprint. Near maximal effort on every repetition will develop maximal speed, this is your drive phase of a sprint so eyes focused on your lane. If you’re sprinting for weight loss drop the rest period to walk back recovery but, if you’re after real increases in speed take no less than 2 minutes after each sprint.

Session 2

· 10 x 100m sprints, walk back recovery plus 60 seconds rest. Apply your 30m ‘drive phase’ session with a gradual increase into a tall running position. At this point focus on maintaining your high knee drive and stride length as practiced during your 60m session. We want consistent speed, so look to run every rep at around 85% of your maximum effort.

Step Three – Plyometrics & Weights

Plyometrics are an invaluable asset to any speed programme but they are also high on the risk agenda so don’t start until you’ve got a good block of training behind you and aren’t carrying any injuries or excess weight. Simply drop a couple of plyometric exercises into your training week and you’ll trigger some fast twitch muscle development. Sessions can be short, at around 20 minutes, just pick 3 exercises from the list below with a couple of minutes rest after every set and perform no more than 4 sets. If you feel unusually tired or a little niggle stop, there’s always the next training session.

#01 Jump rope skipping, a great low-plyometric exercise.

#02 Double footed jumps over 10 metres followed by a short sprint

#03 Single leg hops over 10 metres followed by a short sprint

#04 Box Jumps onto a sturdy box in a safe area

#05 Hurdle Rebounds – line up 5 hurdles and jump over each one in succession

Weight training for speed regularly fills a large textbook, but try to think of it in two phases. You lift heavy to develop the strength in the winter and you lift explosively after that to develop the speed and power.

Reps are between 1 and 5 over 4 – 6 sets of the usual suspect lifts. These exercises are the staple of my speed programme depending on period and focus of the season, just select three per training session:

· Front Squat for great quad and core development.

· Back Squat for heavier load, and entire posterior chain.

· Cleans for explosive speed

· Snatch for explosive speed and superior thoracic mobility – this in turn helps you to develop torque.

· Lunges – just look at the similar between this and your running position.

· Deadlift variations in particular the straight-leg for hamstrings and sumo for hip mobility.

Sprint Training is very demanding physically and on your central nervous system, so make sure you eat to train effectively, you take rest days and you don’t try to do too much in a day or even in a week! As with all new programmes we recommend you see your GP before starting to ensure you are fit and safe to participate.

See you soon for Part Two!

Train Hard!

About The Author

Arj Thiruchelvam BSc Honours is a Decathlete striving for Rio 2016 who works as a UK Athletics Sprints & Jumps Coach, Personal Trainer and Nutritional Advisor who previously trained the GNC staff nationwide to deliver industry-leading advice having completed his degree in Sports Science at Loughborough University majoring in Performance Nutrition and S&C. He has worked with both novice and elite athletes and specialises in applying his scientific research background into training design.

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