You would be amazed at how often I get asked about Speed and Quickness training. It is literally an almost daily occurrence. This despite the name of this site being verticaljumping.com and me only ever really talking about vertical jump improvement. However, I am about giving the people what they want so here is: speed and quickness training 101.
Before I can really get into the nuts and bolts (no pun intended - see picture above) about how to improve your speed and quickness it would seem prudent to first clarify what it is. For the purpose of this article when I referring to speed and quickness I am going to be talking about acceleration and agility which is far more commonly used in team sports, and not top speed which is more often the domain of track and field.
With that in mind let's look at what athletic qualities contribute to speed and quickness. First up you need high levels of relative strength to more easily overcome your own body weight and get moving, you will need to have the ability to apply that strength quickly in order to accelerate rapidly, and in order to be agile you also need high levels of eccentric strength to quickly stop yourself and change direction quickly.
Does this all sound familiar? If you have read enough of the articles on this site you will of course recognize that the traits I have described are pretty much exactly the same as those required to jump high. This shouldn't come as too much of a surprise though. Both activities involve overcoming your own body weight as quickly as possible in some form.
A vertical jump is overcoming your own body weight and propelling it upward. Acceleration is overcoming your own body weight and propelling to forward. And last of all, agility is your ability to overcome your own body weight and momentum in one direction and propelling it another.
Given the similarities between jumping and speed and quickness development it should also come as no surprise that the training methods are also going to be similar.
Relative strength is best developed in the weight room using compound exercises such as squat and deadlift variations mixed in with some unilateral exercises for stability such as lunges, step ups, and split squats.
As a general rule rep's should be kept low and loads relatively heavy to maximize strength gains and minimize unnecessary hypertrophy. This is of course general advice. There will be times when an athlete can benefit from extra muscle and lighter weights and more rep's is a great way to build it (along with extra calories).
To apply your strength quickly and improve acceleration some of the best types of exercises and drills are those that have you moving rapidly from a dead stop position. This would primarily be short burst sprints of up between 5 and 40 meters (depending on the nature of your sport), but you could also use an exercise like band resisted sprints which are also highly effective.
Agility is as mentioned very dependent on your ability to absorb force in one direction and rapidly exert it in another direction. Just as reactive strength in jumping is developed via plyometrics, so to is agility! However, unlike the plyometric exercises in jumping that are up and down, plyometric exercises for agility are more side to side or back and forth.
So instead of depth jumps and hurdle jumps you would perform exercises such as lateral cone hops. Of course before you start adding in any sort of drill you would want to prioritize actually practicing the change of direction requirements of your sport.
Reaction time is what I consider to be the missing link in speed and quickness training. In my discussions with elite level coaches it always comes up that the difference between great players and the rest isn't so much that they are quicker or more agile, but their reaction times are better.
Now I am sure there are many moments in a game where an athlete's ability to evade a defender and accelerate away will allow them to score more easily, but what really allows the great players to consistently perform at elite levels is their ability to take what a defender gives them and adjust accordingly.
In short, great players aren't always the quickest or most agile, but what makes them great is their ability to read the game (which when you really think about could possibly mean that it isn't reaction time that is the difference, but anticipation time).
Larry Bird is a great example of this. He wasn't the most athletic player by any stretch, but no one would suggest he isn't one of the ALL TIME greats. He played a sport where speed and quickness, and vertical jump can provide a big advantage to players. But he wasn't fast, couldn't jump super high, wasn't even that strong, and yet he was an above average rebounder, and often got into passing lanes for steals.
I am sure you have seen this a few times before?
These are examples of reaction time and being able to read the game as much as they are about raw speed and quickness.
So how do you improve your reaction times? By practicing and playing. A lot. The more you practice and play, obviously the more likely you will know how to respond in various situations. Of course it certainly doesn't hurt to develop your athleticism, whether that is by increasing your vertical jump, or becoming quicker off the mark.
The key is finding the right balance between athletic development and sports mastery.
Speed and quickness training really is a topic that deserves its own website and this article really just touches on the surface of what is involved. However if you are familiar with the concepts of vertical jump development you are already ahead of the curve because with a few tweaks of your training you can easily incorporate exercises into your workouts that will help you to not just jump higher, but also to run faster and change direction more quickly.
Although I don't specifically write speed and quickness training programs, the similarities between the training methods used for jumping higher and getting faster are such that nearly everyone who trains for one sees improvements in the other.
The feedback I get from my vertical jump coaching customers is nearly always about how they are not only jumping higher but are much more explosive off the mark. AS mentioned this is because they are training the same muscles in a similarly explosive manner.
If you are interested in improving your game speed and vertical jump then you should really check out our vertical jump coaching program.