Three keys to improving foot speed

By Mike Salwei, CSCS, USA-WSPC, CF-L1

“Mike, I talked to coach last night and he said I need to improve my foot speed!”

I have been very fortunate to spend my entire working career in the strength and conditioning field. During this time I have had the pleasure working with extremely motivated athletes who are trying to better themselves on the court, field, or ice.

One question that always gets asked by both parents and athletes is “what drill, or drills can I do to improve my foot speed.” Currently, I think most parents and athletes would think the obvious answer would be to find some turf, lay out a speed ladder and hammer out as many footwork variations as possible.

The speed ladder has received a lot of negative press lately in the strength and conditioning field, so I want to give athletes and parents 3 simple tips that might be more advantageous for improving foot speed.

Get stronger

I know this sounds awfully simple, but in all reality it is the truth in most cases. Improving foot speed takes time because changes are occurring through the athlete’s central nervous system and these adaptations take time. Athletes should make sure they are participating in a well-rounded strength program that consists of squats, lunges, and hinge-based movements. These movements can vary in intensity and velocity, but most research indicates Salwei_Michael_WEB160x200using a mixed method approach will yield the most transfer to sport. Athletes often sign up for training to improve speed or agility and find it odd to start in the gym working on body weight lunges, squats, and pull-ups. Athletes need to start with basic strength movements taught by a certified strength coach in order to improve relative strength through a full range of motion. By starting here, I can promise you will improve foot speed.

How to apply

You need to learn to apply force in the right plane of motion. How many times have we heard of an athlete having a quick first step? This first quick step is actually a powerful first push, and athletes need to learn how to develop a rapid amount of force in the right direction to increase foot speed. Athletes will benefit immensely from pushing and pulling sleds or prowlers and learning to apply horizontal forces into the earth. This will then translate to more force being applied to the turf, ice, or court resulting in a more explosive first push and quicker foot speed.

Sprint

Athletes must incorporate short sprints to increase foot speed. This seems logical but you would be surprised how many athletes would rather work on drills than sprinting. Most team sports are played using short bursts to get to a puck, ball, or another person. Once an athlete arrives at this destination they need to control this energy, decelerate, change direction, and reapply all that energy to win another short sprint to new destination. Strength coaches mimic these actions using change of direction drills with cones. These drills are taught in a controlled environment where athletes are shown proper acceleration and deceleration techniques. More advanced agility drills can be created using visual stimuli to make the drills more realistic to an individual sport.

These three simple tips can help athletes begin to improve foot speed. Just remember these changes are not going to happen overnight, and there is not one single drill that will increase foot speed. It is a combination of multiple training disciplines that, over time, will lead to a more explosive first push.

If you have any questions about training foot speed please contact your regional POWER center and speak to a certified strength and conditioning specialist.