Top Exercises to Build Speed

Carmelita Jeter celebrates relay gold.
i Jamie Squire/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images

If you want to joyfully cruise to the front in an Olympic speed event, like Carmelita Jeter and her teammates in the 4x100 relay, or just become a faster soccer forward or base runner in a summer league, speed exercises are the way to go. Nothing is stopping you from borrowing the top workouts from the top athletes and their trainers, designed to hone your natural gifts to a bright sheen.

Master Trainer's Workout

    The dean of sprint trainers, John Smith, has handled Carmelita “the Jet’s” training, as well as that of Maurice Green and Ato Boldon -- all champions at 100- and 200-meter events. Little hints of the workouts he provides, otherwise kept under wraps, have leaked out at lectures he provides on elite sprinting. Speed and strength coach Mike Young, of the online site Elite Track Sports Training and Conditioning, reports that Smith puts his athletes through sprint workouts including five reps of 10 meters and four reps of 20 meters with three minutes of rest between each, followed by three reps of 30 meters with four to five minutes of rest.

    Additional intervals on separate workout days include six reps of 60 meters with five minutes of recovery, followed by 300 to 400 meters of all-out running. Smith also gets his runners to perform flying sprints, consisting of 20 meters of running that segue into 60 meters of sprinting, repeated for three reps, with four minutes of rest between each.

Character Builders

    Following Smith’s template provides plenty of challenge, but you can up the ante with character builders -- a final tough run that follows on all of your day’s challenging training. Trainers call these runs CBs for either character builders or confidence builders. Smith has his sprinters perform 300 meters at the end of the workout, while other trainers ask their runners for 250 meters. This exercise teaches you to find endurance and additional force to combat fatigue during your sprints.

Sport Specific

    The top exercises to build speed may depend on what sport you prefer or specialize in. For baseball or softball players, the curve run, also called the banana curve, develops your ability to sprint from first to third. You undertake a timed sprint through cones set up on the outfield to simulate the curved run along the base paths, looking for an average time of 7.5 seconds or an excellent time of 7 seconds. Soccer players may similarly want to work on curved running, as well as side shuffles and backpedaling, particularly for defenders.

Off the Track

    Serious speedsters make their way to the weight room to create the explosive power needed for starts and acceleration as well as the endurance to avoid fading at the end of a run. Your coach or strength trainer may provide you with an off-season workout consisting of eight to 12 exercises. Expect to see exercises including Olympic-style lifts such as the snatch and clean and jerk, plyometric work including box jumps, squats and glute ham raises.

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