It’s springtime and getting close to the summer, which you and every coach knows is the prime time for speed training to help your teams roll into camp this fall looking and feeling faster than ever. You scour this website looking for the best sprint program, read all the articles you can on speed and how to make athletes faster, dive into the research, and even chat with your local school’s track coach to get as much info as you can before designing the perfect periodized sprint program.
You sit down with all your notes on drills, technique points, and progressions only to stare blankly at your computer, whiteboard, or paper (whatever you program with), lost in all the information. Paralysis by analysis might describe this situation, but I think the best description is simply information overload.
“So, sprint technique drills must be done before any specific sprint drills…but also are useless?”
“Never run after taxing your hamstrings maximally, like doing Nordics…but also do them as part of your warm-up?”
“Do a short-to-long approach…unless your athlete is better suited to a long-to-short approach, of course.”
Yes, there is a lot of information on sprinting these days. One thing we can all agree upon is that all athletes—team or individual—need to do it to maximize their weight room transfer to sport. But that is about all we seem to agree upon.
If you are like me and work at a small school (which includes a small-school budget and limited access to a track or field), then this article is for you.
Keep It Simple
I will do my best to cut through the info and give you some basic tips on writing out a whole summer of sprint work for your team sport athletes, especially if you are new and don’t know where to start.
First, my disclaimer: I am not a track coach. I work with T&F athletes, but I do not program their sprint or drill work. That is for their sport coaches. I am not a speed expert. I have not developed multiple Olympians from the time they were 12 to becoming world champions. I am simply a university strength and conditioning coach who has learned how to keep it simple and get results.First off, simplicity wins. Always, says @chergott94. Click To Tweet
First off, simplicity wins. Always. Never been defeated in my realm. At the university level, most athletes want to get faster. Unfortunately, most athletes are already close to their peak levels of speed—especially in the team sport realm. Now, I am not saying athletes can’t get faster, because they all can. To what degree depends on many factors, such as their training age, genetic potential, work ethic, genetic potential, lifestyle factor, and even their genetic potential. Did I mention their genetics? Those play kind of a large role too.
All kidding aside, too often I meet with coaches who want their athletes to be faster (which is what I want too), but more often than not, the answer to their problem is: “Well, then you should have recruited faster athletes.” Obviously, I do not say that, believing that I am the one who can impact these kids and make them into speedsters. Of course, some do become much better. Some get a little better. And some don’t improve at all. That is just the nature of the game. Heartbreaking, really, but the uncertainty of the pursuit of athletic gains is what makes the job so fun (and frustrating).
Anyway, back to the nitty gritty. You have a team of athletes looking to get faster this summer. You have 12+ weeks to get the job done (May–August, depending on how your semesters are structured) and are looking for where to start.
Do we just sprint? Yes.
As fast as we can? Yes.
All summer? Yes.
You can’t get faster if you don’t practice the skill of getting faster, and the only true way to do that in any form that translates to sport is actually to put the boots to the ground and pound. So how do you do it?
Start simple and progress.
If you think of a team sport athlete, what do they need? They need to sprint fast over a short distance, usually 10–20 meters. They need to be able to decelerate, change direction, transition from back to front, front to back, crossover to sprint, sprint to shuffle, and everything in between. To fit it all in, it would take a lot of time and effort to plan out each progression and pattern. Believe me, it does, and it did.
For the first few years in my role as Head Strength & Conditioning Coach, I used to craft each sprint progression for the whole summer carefully. Start with a good field-based warm-up, and move to 5–10 minutes of plyos and bounding drills. Then, work my way into their speed drills so that each week we would progress volume by 10%, change patterns every 3–4 weeks, drop volume to have deloads, and then ramp up again. Linear day would be Tuesday, lateral/change of direction on Thursday. Crafted to perfection. Two days of speed training to ensure their strength gains transferred to the field/court/ice.
My reward for such time and dedication? About 20% of our athletes even did the sessions, and only 50% of those did it correctly. (“Wait, you did all 15 sprints in three minutes?? Okay, here’s the thing about speed training….”)
Needless to say, we did not get much faster.At the university level, almost ¾ of our athletes aren’t local. The other ¼ must work to afford school, which means they may not be able to make our training times, no matter how flexible I am. Click To Tweet
Why so much mess? At the university level, almost three-quarters of our athletes aren’t local. And the ones that are around must work to afford school, which means they may not be able to make our training times, no matter how flexible I try to be. Going back to my original research on this website and others like it (and this is not knocking it), most of the info or tips I got resulted in me saying, “Yeah, but….”
- Yeah, but what if athletes only do one session per week?
- Yeah, but what if they don’t do it at all?
- Yeah, but what if they are short on time?
- Yeah, but what if we don’t have the space to sprint 60 meters?
- Yeah, but what if all we have is a gymnasium?
- Yeah, but what if athletes go home and supervise themselves?
- Yeah, but what if unsupervised athletes do sprint drills incorrectly all summer long?
Sound familiar? These were the issues I kept running up against. So, I finally decided to make a change. I decided to reread the words that are my laptop background (“Keep It Simple, Stupid”) and apply them for real. No more confusing progressions people weren’t ready for. No more complicated drills. Time to get down to the basics. Here they are.
Instead of having separate speed days that lasted 30+ minutes and no one wanted to do, I stuck the sprint work at the beginning of each lifting session and made it 5–10 minutes, tops. That way, we hit it 2–3 times a week—and if athletes lifted (which most did), they would at least see the sprint stuff, increasing the chances that they would do it.
The following prep work was done each session (2–4 times a week; see later in this article for weekly breakdown) after a thorough general/dynamic warm-up.
- Double leg pogos x 10 in each direction
- Double leg line hops x 5 front/back and side to side
- T hops (Hop front, back to middle, side, back to middle, other side, back to middle, back, back to middle—that’s one.) x 3
- Hop to tuck jump x 3
Following this prep work, we had either a linear or a lateral/agility focus for the session (one of the few structures I kept from before).
- Phase 1: Half kneel start 2 x 5 meters, 2 x 10 meters (2 = once on each leg) = 4 sprints, 30 meters total
- Phase 2: 2-point starts 2–3 x 5 meters, 2–3 x 10 meters = 4–6 sprints, 30–45 meters total
- Phase 3: Drop-in sprints 2-3 x 10 meters, 2–3 x 15 meters = 4–6 sprints, 50–75 meters total
- Phase 4: Flying sprints (10m fly-in) 2–3 x 5 meters, 2–3 x 10 meters, 2–3 x 15 meters = 6–9 sprints, 45–90 meters total
This linear progression allows you to start with the basics on the half kneel of working on a good setup, giving them lots of time to get into position and learn to drive out of a low position.
Moving to a two-point stance allows them to have an easier start, still using the same technique points you wanted in the half kneel but now at higher speeds, faster.
Drop-ins allow for the athlete to start moving, which generates greater speeds, especially right off the start.
Fly-ins start to cover more max velocity work, especially as you hit longer sprint zones of 15 meters.
Why only progress to a total of 25 meters? Our gymnasium is only 35 meters long, so we can’t physically do anything further without going outside into the parking lot or busy roads (which isn’t a great idea, trust me).
This is a little more complex and will vary depending on the sport, but to give you some examples, it might look like:
- Phase 1: Shuffle shuttle (shuffle 5 meters and back as fast as you can) x 2–3 each way, 40–60 meters total
- Phase 2: Shuffle to sprint (shuffle 5 meters, sprint 5–10 meters) x 2–3 each way, 40–90 meters total
- Phase 3: Shuffle to sprint to shuffle (shuffle 5, sprint 5–10, shuffle 5) x 2–3 each way, 60–120 meters total
- Phase 4: Shuffle to sprint to backpedal (shuffle 5, sprint 5–10, backpedal 5–10) x 2–3 each way, 60–150 meters total
Once again, simple. Start with a basic concept: shuffling with a stop and start. (You could even break it down and just shuffle 5–10 meters as fast as possible for phase 1, depending on your athlete’s quality of movement.) Then we add in a transition to a sprint. Afterward, we get them to decelerate and transition back (like playing D in basketball). Finally, they go from lateral movement to forward, decelerate and go backward.
Nothing fancy, but something that teaches important movement qualities (transition, deceleration, acceleration, hip flip, etc.), is fun, and breaks up the monotony of just sprinting forward all the time. These are even better if you have sessions with multiple athletes and can get them to race while doing it. Competition is the best coach.
Structuring a Program for the Entire Off-Season
Breaking this down even more, if you used each phase for 3–4 weeks, slightly progressing the volume of each exercise within the phase itself (from 2–3 sets or 5–10 meters, as mentioned for each drill), you would have a 12–16 weeks off-season speed program all ready to roll.
And if this doesn’t seem like enough or your athletes want more, just repeat each session, depending on your weekly framework. For example, here are some sample weekly layouts you could use:
Three-Day Training Program:
Day 1: Linear speed & full-body lift (squats are main movement)
Day 2: Full body (bench press main)
Day 3: Lateral speed & full body (RDL main)
Day 1: Linear speed & full-body lift (squats main movement)
Day 2: Lateral speed & full body (bench press main)
Day 3: Linear speed & full body (RDL main)
Four-Day Training Program
Day 1: Linear speed & lower (squat emphasis)
Day 2: Upper body
Day 3: Lateral speed & power (hinge emphasis)
Day 4: Upper body
Day 1: Linear speed & lower (squat emphasis)
Day 2: Lateral speed & upper body
Day 3: Linear speed & power (hinge emphasis)
Day 4: Lateral speed & upper body
There are plenty of ways to structure the program each week to adjust the amount of exposure your athletes get. I have played around with each, depending on the sport and the time of year (early summer, only twice a week while we hammer a strength or hypertrophy block in the weight room, and then shift to 3–4 times throughout the summer to increase exposures and volume). All of them work; the main thing is that your athletes do it.There are plenty of ways to structure the program each week to adjust the amount of exposure your athletes get. I have played around with each, depending on the sport and the time of year. Click To Tweet
Now, some of you track coaches or more experienced practitioners might be thinking this is too simple and will never get the results needed for athletes at the university level. All I can say to that is that, after only a few years in my role (heading into year five), I have seen quite a bit. I know this may be simple, it might not have every drill necessary to elicit the perfect response from my athletes, and it might be undercooking them.
But this program has:
- A higher chance of getting done by everyone (because the keen ones will do everything anyway, and I am not worried about them).
- A higher chance of getting done well. (The volume is low, so they can focus on max effort for one drill, rest long enough without “wasting time,” and then move on to pumping the iron).
- A good chance of being enjoyable (which increases the other two).
And at the end of the day, getting athletes to buy in, enjoy training, and get at least some results is about all you can ask for in this job (until those coaches recruit better!)
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