This summer, I am fortunate enough to work with some local high school football teams to coach their speed and agility training. After meeting with these coaches and discussing how to plan for the summer goals they set, I realized that many struggle with designing a field workout. Or maybe they don’t think they struggle with it, but I just disagree with how they go about it.
In these cases, it’s the strength coach I meet with—the one who can properly plan a weight room workout with an overarching long-term goal that is built with daily weight room objectives (upper body strength focus, lower body power focus, etc.). These workouts individually make sense and seem to build toward their longer-term goals, but when it comes to speed and agility, the programs aren’t as well designed. These coaches understand they want their football players to get stronger at squats—so they program squats. Then afterward, they program other exercises that help build a stronger squat—lunges, RDLs, and hip bridges.
Perfect. Programming for a field workout is the same process.
Start with a Focus for the Day
As a coach, what are you looking to improve that day? What is the desired adaptation? Charles Poliquin was the first person I heard say: “You only have one ass; you can’t sit on two horses.”You can’t improve every athletic quality and movement in one training session—pick a focus, says @steve20haggerty. Click To Tweet
You can’t improve every athletic quality and movement in one training session—pick a focus.
Whether you are looking to improve linear acceleration, max velocity, backpedaling, changing direction, curvilinear running, lateral shuffling, or whatever movement you choose, just pick one for the day. All of these movements are utilized in football and are important to work on, but for simplicity, I will focus on max velocity sprinting here.
Planning the Field Session
- Choose the focus for the day (again, there are a number of different movement options here, but for this article, I will stick to top end speed/max velocity sprinting).
- Pick a way to train that focus. I refer to this as the application—the drill that will carry over most to the desired adaptation for the day. Max velocity is pretty straightforward (I feel like there is a pun here); you can do full-speed sprints, flys, or sprint-float-sprint variations. In the early off-season, I like spending more time working on flying sprints, really looking to improve top end speed and keeping the total volume at max effort lower. As we get into the pre-season, it is good to transition more into full-speed sprints—putting everything together, getting more volume at max effort, and more specific to their sport.
- Sprint-float-sprints are a good bridge between the other two: more distance at full effort but not yet a full-speed sprint. Of course, all these methods can be done with different distances and resistance or assistance to keep the stimulus new and engaging. With those three variables alone, you can create quite a few workouts.
- Select a drill or two that will improve your application from a strength, elastic, or mechanical standpoint. I refer to these as the technical drills. For max velocity, you can work on the strength aspect with resisted sprints or marches—applying more force into the ground, you can program plyometrics for the elastic component, or you can use different A- and B-skip drills to improve the technical model.
Pick a drill or two for the day and bounce back and forth between your application and your technical exercises. This does not have to look like a conditioning circuit—not only is recovery necessary for the demands of max velocity sprinting, but fatigue is the enemy of motor learning for all of your different movement focuses. Although I am a fan of the Feed the Cats idea, I have also witnessed speed improvements in a training session with technical drills used between sprint reps. Using drills to improve the components of a sprint will improve the sprint.
Now, with that being said, doing 100 yards of heavy sled pushes or even 10 yards of heavy sled pushes will most likely result in a decrease in sprint performance. I think that’s okay. I think we are allowed to take a day to improve a specific quality in the hopes of a big improvement in the future. Especially in the early off-season, performing a higher volume of A-skips, B-skips, moving claw, ankling butt kick, or any type of sprint drill to build up the tissues involved can be more beneficial for the long term. These are more extensive plyometrics and help strengthen the hip flexors, hamstrings, and ankle for the more intense sprints to come in the future.Pick a drill or two you think will improve the movement focus for the day and utilize both the technical drill and application as a superset, says @steve20haggerty. Click To Tweet
In the late off-season/pre-season, I would use fewer drills and focus on more volume of sprints, which is what football players need to be prepared for in their sport. So, pick a drill or two you think will improve the movement focus for the day and utilize both the technical drill and application as a superset.
Field Session Examples
1. Full-Speed Sprints Paired with an Ankling Drill
Depending on the time of year and position, the sprint work could work up to 60 yards or could stay as low as 20-30 yards. Most of the time, I stay around 30 yards for high school football players—they hit top speed sooner than an Olympic sprinter and therefore do not need 80 yards to work on top speed. I typically keep the ankling drill at 10 yards in length. Sometimes, it is just as simple as 10 yards of ankling, and sometimes with a 10-yard jog into the 10-yard ankling—this leads to an even faster ground contact time.
I use this drill as more of a neurological prep or stimulus, focusing on quickly recovering the foot off the ground. If the players perform the ankling drill well, as a coach, you should see less backside swing with their leg dangling behind them. This drill should teach them to quickly flex the hip and bring their leg back in front of them as soon as their foot leaves the ground. I like this drill for football players because they tend to have a more forward lean with excessive backside swing.
I don’t think many high school coaches think of pairing a drill with a sprint to improve the sprint, but rather just sprint and cue athletes how to run better. The drill can allow for less cueing from the coach, an actual physiological adaptation, and enabling the player to think less while sprinting—it’s difficult to swing your limbs as fast as you can while thinking about head position, arm swing, high knees, heel to butt, toe up, and getting off the ground quickly.I don’t think many high school coaches think of pairing a drill with a sprint to improve the sprint, but rather just sprint and cue athletes how to run better, says @steve20haggerty. Click To Tweet
This workout would look like:
- 2×20 yards sprints
- 2×10 yards ankling
- 1×30 yards sprint
- 2×10 yards ankling
- 1×30 yards sprint
Video 1. During the ankling drill, I look for quick hip flexion. The purpose of the drill is to recover the foot immediately after leaving the ground.
2. Flying Sprints
Build up 20 yards gaining speed and run full speed for 10 yards—with butt-kick skips. Most of the time I keep the sprint zone at 10 yards with a 20-yard run-in for football players. Butt-kick skips get progressed from 10 yards up to 60 yards. I think the butt-kick skip drill is good for building up the tissues involved in the recovery phase of a sprint cycle, basically getting the hamstring to pull the heel to the butt as soon as the foot leaves the ground.
The more you can dynamically strengthen the athlete’s hamstring and hip flexor to quickly recover the foot, the less backside motion you should see and the more efficient the sprint cycle should look. Again, excessive backside swing seems to be something football players typically struggle with, and this is one of the drills I like to correct it. You want to use the drill to improve the sprint. A typical workout would look like:
- 2×10 yards flying sprint (20-yard build-up)
- 2×20 yards butt-kick skips
- 1×10 yards flying sprint (20-yard build-up)
- 2×30 yards butt-kick skips
Video 2. With butt-kick skips, I really only look for knee up, toe up, and heel to butt. Groove that motion you see in the sprint cycle and strengthen up the tissues involved.
3. Sprint-Float-Sprint Paired with Hurdle Hops
My last example would pair together sprint-float-sprint (sprint 10 yards, stride or jog 10 yards, sprint 10 yards) and hurdle hops. Hopefully, we are all aware of the need for a stiff/elastic ankle to transfer force into the ground for sprinting: if not, check out this article. The unrivaled way to improve these qualities in the ankle is with plyometrics.
Hurdle hops, albeit an advanced plyometric, are a good way to do this. I would start with the sprint-float-sprint, 10 yards each zone, two reps of this. Then go to the hurdle hops, four track hurdles, one time through. Back to the sprint-float-sprint, I would either increase the distance of the sprint zones or add more sprint zones—sprint-float-sprint-float-sprint.
For this example, I would increase the distance of the sprint zone to 20 yards and only do one rep, then back to the hurdle hops. Then, finish with one more sprint-float-sprint.
I think it is good to mention that, as the coach, you dictate the rest between drills and exercises. Rest could be a water break or deliberate rest (telling the athletes they have three minutes before their next sprint). It could also be giving the athletes a quick coaching cue while taking your time to walk to the group, giving the cue on what to think about, and then taking your time to walk back to where you watch the sprints.
Use the Drill to Improve the Sprint
As a coach, you should expect to see improvements in the athlete’s movement by using this method. If you improve the athlete’s ability to have a stiff ankle, their hamstring’s ability to bring their heel to their butt, or whatever you think a drill does, then of course you should see that improvement in their sprint.
The improvements I really look to make with football players are to improve ankle stiffness, strengthen the hamstrings and hip flexors (not just with slower weight room movements, but more sprint-specific speeds), force production into the ground, and better overall running shapes. Football players notoriously struggle with hamstring injuries—improving sprint-specific hamstring strength and getting them into better sprinting positions should not only help to minimize that but also improve speed. Again, this is not solely for sprinting but for any movement you want to focus on for that field session.
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