Why You’re Slow… and How To Fix It

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In the sports world (and thus the performance training world) speed is king. If all other qualities are equal, speed is going to win out, and to be honest, speed can make up for a lot of other deficiencies on the playing field. I’ve seen athletes and teams that were far less technically sound beat better teams just through out-quicking them. Becoming faster will make you a better athlete, period.

And what if you’re not a competitive athlete? Who cares how fast you are if you’re riding a desk and the only competitive thing you’ve got going on is your Fantasy Baseball draft? If you’re smart, you do! Being fast will make you more athletic in your own workouts or rec league, help improve your physique, establish that confidence that comes from knowing you’re the burner in the room, and plus it’s damn cool. How many times have you heard someone say: “Yeah, he’d be that much more awesome if only he was a bit slower“? Right.

So being able to move fast is cool. How fast are you? If you’re anything like most guys wandering around out there, schlepping their way through life, you’re about as fast as an arthritic moped. Back in the day everyone was pretty fast because they had to run away from sabertooth tigers and other bigger, nastier creatures or chase down deer and other smaller, tastier creatures. Nowadays the most fearsome thing we run from is a working weekend and America’s favorite prey, the donut, doesn’t tend to move to awful fast so our speed skills as a culture have degraded over the generations.

It used to be that speed was thought of as an innate skill. Either you were born fast or you weren’t, and that’s all there was to it. However, we’ve learned that’s simply is not the case. Speed is a learned skill. Sure, some people are born faster than others, but even if you’re naturally the slowest guy out there you can be trained to make the ground move underneath you. Chances are your training hasn’t been moving you in that direction, though.

Here’s the four biggest issues I’ve seen that, if resolved, will make you faster, period.

1. You’re weak. Speed occurs because of the force you put into the ground. Every time you drive off of your plant leg you are creating force that will either move the Earth, or you. Since you’ve got far less mass than the average planet, you’re going to be the one moving. The more force you can put into the ground the farther and faster you’ll move.

Get stronger and you’ll run faster.

Lean? Yep. Jacked? Yep. Fast as hell? Oh yeah.

2. You’re fat. Here’s what I want you to do. Time yourself in a 40 yard dash. Now go get a backpack and put 50 pounds in it. Now run the 40 again. It’s a lot harder with the extra weight, huh?

Well, tubs, guess what you’re walking around with every day? It may not be 50 pounds, but if you’re in fairly good shape for the average guy you’re probably still carrying about 20 pounds of flab that you could drop. If you drop that useless baggage and maintain your strength or get stronger (see point #1) then you’ll be faster.

I’m not saying you have to turn into some waif. Far from it, actually. I train primarily power athletes and most sprinters you see are built like brick shithouses, but they’re not carrying any extra fat. There’s a difference between being lean and being thin. Learn it.

3. You’re stiff. Speed and agility requires a fair amount of flexibility. If you’re too stiff then you aren’t able to load and stretch your muscles to their maximum potential. This limits the amount of force developed which in turn reduces your power output.

Guys have a tendency to neglect flexibility/mobility work all the time and it shows in their movement. Yes, I know, stretching sucks. I’m just as guilty of trying to skip it as the next guy, but you’ll feel better, move faster, and be stronger if you pay attention to your mobility training. Fix it by performing soft tissue work like foam rolling while incorporating a stretching (both dynamic AND static) component into your training program.

4. You run heavy. Watch a good athlete run and compare that your average dude in the gym. What do you see? The athlete bounds across the pitch, barely touching the ground, and eating up yardage. Joe Average? He sounds like a herd of Clydesdales thundering across the field and looks even worse. If this is you, then you have some work to do.

First of all, focus on running on the balls of your feet. This takes some getting used to, but when you get the hang of it you’ll be amazed at how much faster you are. Keep your footsteps light and quick.

Next, when you’re in a safe area (hepatitis is bad, mmkay?) work out barefoot. Part of the reason that we have such stiff feet now is because our shoes keep our feet squashed in and constrained while reducing our sense of touch through our soles. Realization of this by the industry and marketing people has led to all sorts of “barefoot” running options like the Vibram FiveFinger shoes, Nike Frees, and all sorts of other things. I’m not saying you have to walk around barefoot on nettles and crap like some of the nutbars out there, but it wouldn’t hurt you to free the dogs a little bit.

Number three: Learn to step off of your big toe. Another side effect of the shoe thing is that people tend to get lazy and just sort of roll their foot forward when they step, usually off your last two toes. The big toe, on the other hand, is pretty well designed to create a “spring” effect and drive you forward. Take a few steps forward off the big toe and you’ll see what I mean.

If you’re trying to be the fittest, strongest, most athletic man you can be then you’ve got to sprint. Not only do you have to sprint, but you need to do it and do it well. Sprinting technique and training is a deep subject at the elite level, but if you master the four above elements then you’ll be leaving the world in your dust before you know it.





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What’s your favorite speed development drill or method?

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