6 Amazing Exercises that Improve Athletic Speed

Exercise #1 Medicine Ball Side Throw Progression

One of the exercises that I use with my athletes to improve athletic speed is the medicine ball side throw. Medicine ball side throws can be performed using the following progression:

Standing Side Throw

The athlete will face sideways to the wall in an athletic stance with the ball at chest height and elbows out (stand roughly 10-12 feet away depending on the bounce of the ball).

  1. Using the backside leg to drive the hips forward and taking a small step toward the wall with the lead leg.
  2. Explosively drive the ball, keeping the back elbow up so the shoulder doesn’t become injured, into the wall.
    • The focus of the exercise isn’t so much on throwing, as it is on understanding being in the best stance to drive the off the back leg like a lateral shuffle.
    • If the athlete is too narrow in stance or standing too tall the power production will be limited.
    • This exercise needs to be performed on both sides

Forward Shuffle Side Throw

The athlete will back away from the wall roughly 6-8 feet further. The exercise will be performed the same as the standing side throw but the emphasis changes to lateral speed.

  1. The athlete will shuffle one to two times staying in a good stance and then driving off the back foot and transferring the speed into the throw.
  2. The athlete must use the back foot to push down and away to generate more speed on the throw.
    • If the athlete does not have a good athletic stance (foundation) they will not generate enough force to gain benefits.

Backward Shuffle Side Throw

Same exercise but now the athlete will shuffle away from the wall. Start the athlete only 6-8 feet from the wall.

  1. The athlete will shuffle aggressively one to two times away from the wall and plant aggressively to throw the ball.
  2. This is the most important exercise of all to reinforce the athletic stance and the importance of plant leg angles.
  3. If the plant leg of the back leg is too narrow when attempting to stop the throw will be weak.
  4. The athlete wants to still have forward movement when throwing. I suggest 2-4 sets of 3-5 reps on each side. The exercise must be intense. The weight of the ball, experience of the athlete, and skill level determines the sets and reps.

This is the stationary version of the Side Medicine Ball Throw. The forward shuffle throw and backward shuffle throw would still get the athlete back to this position. The backward throw is crucial for teaching deceleration angles. If the plant is poorly performed, then the throw will show it. This is a great feedback drill.

Exercise #2 One Arm One Leg Tubing Row

This is one of the great speed exercises. It focuses on and helps to improve both deceleration, which is what most quick athletes do better than other athletes in athletic speed, and acceleration

  1. The initial position is having the athlete squat/bend on one leg and resist the pulling action of the tubing. The decelerators are kicked on.
  2. Next, the athlete quickly stands and pulls on the tubing while driving the knee up. This recruits the accelerators.
  3. The extra benefits of this exercise are the balance and stability training.

Perform 2-4 sets of 5-8 reps per side. Go down slow into the squat/bend and be explosive coming up.

Exercise #3 Reactive Shuffles and Crossovers

In this picture the athlete is ready to react and shuffle or crossover in the direction the coach points. This is a real live setting for athletes to develop their skill and for coaches to use great feedback.

  1. The athlete will get into a loaded athletic stance and be prepared to shuffle or crossover, already determined by the coach, and react to the coach’s point.
  2. This type of exercise is great for athletic speed development because the athlete must randomly react. The athlete will use his or her innate abilities. If a mistake is made the coach can easily correct and have the athlete reproduce a better pattern for many reps.

Perform 2-3 sets of 3-5 reps. The athlete will react to the cone and get back as quick as possible for one rep. Because the goal is speed, I will allow decent rest so the athlete isn’t completely pooped out.

Exercise #4 Resisted Power Skips

I like resisted power skips for speed because it increases force production and extension of the hips.

  1. The athlete must learn to drive hard to move the resistance of the tubing yet maintain good posture for acceleration.
  2. The athlete will learn to coordinate the arms and the legs during this exercise. It isn’t easy at first.
  3. The biggest benefit is that more muscle fiber gets recruited when attempting to power skip. The goal to generate more acceleration speed.

Perform 3-6 reps for 20 meters. This is enough distance to get enough quality push offs, yet not too far to become overly fatigued and change mechanics.

Exercise #5 Pure Acceleration Starts

To increase the mechanics and efficiency of accelerating from various starts you must practice them.

  1. I will use falling starts, get ups, box starts, parallel stance starts, and many other variations with my athletes so I can coach the proper technique.
  2. The goal is to be consistent with leg and arm action, as well as, acceleration posture.
  3. If the athlete has breaks in his or her form they can be addressed quickly.

I like doing 2-3 different stances and 3-4 reps of each. Plenty of time is available to teach the form well.

Exercise #6 Cutting Skills

Teaching cutting is a great way to improve the efficiency of the athlete in athletic speed. Most court and field sport require so much in regard to change of direction it is important to address it.

  1. The first thing the athlete must understand about cutting is the reactive nature of it. There is not enough time to think about the cut. Just do what comes naturally and we can correct mistakes if they present themselves.
  2. The athlete must learn to make the cut by re-directing the cutting foot outside the width of the body that meets the angle they cut will be made at. I do not want the athlete to purposely drop low with the hips if the cut must be quick and not real sharp.
  3. If the cut is sharp and the athlete must come back, then the hips may lower slightly but only enough to control the center of mass.
  4. The key to cutting is to create separation if an offensive player and to close the gap if a defender. The better body position you have and foot placement the better the results.

I like to have athletes perform 3-6 reps of 2-3 different variations of cutting:

  • Speed Cuts
  • Sharp Cuts
  • Rehearsed Cuts
  • Random Cuts
  • Jump Stop Cuts
  • Spin Cuts
  • More…

When implemented into a comprehensive speed training program, these exercises will improve athletic speed.

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