The phrase "fast woman" was once a derogatory reference to your morals, but today's female athlete has legs that move fast and don't stop. Like a modern-day Atalanta, she might even beat her suitors in a race. That type of speed demands some serious training. First bears, then hunters raised the mythological Atalanta. As such, her daily life required awe-inspiring feats of strength and agility. There's a moral to this fable. If you want speed, you need strength, power and agility training.
Even goddess-like leg strength will never compensate for wimpy lower-leg muscles. Running, jumping and skipping movements initiate in your feet, ankles and calves, so don't neglect these muscle groups. For speed-specific calf strength, do three 30-second sets of rat-ta-tats. Rise up on your toes and sprint in place, while maintaining a dignified facial expression so that nobody looks at you funny. For shin muscle strength, walk quickly around the room on your heels. Do three 30-second sets: one with your toes pointing straight ahead, one with your feet turned out and one with your feet turned in.
Your fast-twitch muscle fibers are responsible for your speed, agility, quickness and power. The squat is one of their favorite exercises. Even better, speed squats serve as an alarm clock for your fast-twitch fibers. The squat technique stays the same, but use the music from the "William Tell Overture," also known as the "Lone Ranger" theme, to set your pacing. Power is also related to speed. Add a power-training element to your squat routine by using a heavy barbell. Top off this dynamic fast-twitch trio with a set of plyometric squat jumps.
Leg Press Variations
The leg press machine also provides efficient leg speed conditioning, especially if you use the same type of workout that coach Tim Grover teaches his client, NBA star Dwyane Wade. Instead of pressing the weight out and bringing it slowly back in, Wade performs the exercise with unilateral leg movements, which involve "jumping" his feet to change legs. The leg press offers special benefits to anyone with one of those pesky upper-body postural alignment issues. Flailing upper torsos waste energy and detract from speed. The seat back support on the leg press teaches you to maintain a quiet upper body.
Tennis champions Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal, along with baseball players Dustin Pedroia of the Boston Red Sox, Justin Morneau of the Minnesota Twins and Evan Longoria of the Tampa Bay Rays have one thing in common: They all use vibration plates in their sport-specific training. When performed with your feet on the vibration plate, exercises such as the squat, the lunge and the hamstring bridge will engage more fast-twitch muscle fibers than they would if they were performing the same workouts on the floor.
In 1999, Lisa Mercer’s fitness, travel and skiing expertise inspired a writing career. Her books include "Open Your Heart with Winter Fitness" and "101 Women's Fitness Tips." Her articles have appeared in "Aspen Magazine," "HerSports," "32 Degrees," "Pregnancy Magazine" and "Wired." Mercer has a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from the City College of New York.