Every athlete has a need for greater speed and explosive power, but how to develop explosive power begins with a well-rounded, detailed approach to their training. Let’s take a closer look.
Dr.’s George Dintiman and Robert Ward, experts with decades of research and experience in the field of speed and explosion, developed a 5-step model training program.
In the past there has been much emphasis on form and technique. While this is very important, an MMA fighter, for example, is not going to learn how to be explosive by only working on their form and technique. Nor is an NFL lineman going to get off of the line faster by only focusing on this aspect of training. It is now widely accepted that athletes do not reach their potential unless a complete approach is followed. We will take a more in-depth look at each step in subsequent posts, however, here is an overview of each step of the 5-step model
1. FOUNDATIONAL TRAINING
Step 1 of the 5-step model is foundational training. Foundational training is the base system that reinforces and supports every play in any sport. Situations present themselves in every sport that reveal an athlete’s weaknesses. Any weaknesses an athlete may have will be revealed when taking a closer look at these situations. The goal is to increase all of the body’s resources to the most optimal degree before starting a program to improve playing speed.
Foundation training prepares the athlete to move forward to steps 2-5 for advanced speed training. Foundation training includes warm-up, stretching and flexibility; body composition and speed; combat breathing; training the brain; body control and power; and dominant and recessive movement patterns in sports.
2. Power Output Training (speed-strength)
The capacity to move a body from stationary to very quick movement and utilize maximum force requires both strength and power (speed-strength). A primary objective of speed-strength training is to increase the force applied against the ground during the pushing action of each step during the starting, accelerating and maximum speed phases of sprinting and to increase the speed-strength of the muscles involved. Ground contact forces are the most important factor to work on to improve each of these phases. Ground contact forces is determined by the speed-strength of the muscles involved in the pushing action away from the ground with each step while sprinting. Research has found that ground contact forces determine the maximum speed an athlete can reach. Increasing this force by strength-power gains will directly improve speed. Before a detailed, individualized speed-strength program can be implemented necessary testing must occur.
One common aspect of step 2 in this 5-step model is the triple extension. Triple extension exercises activate the joints and muscles of the hip, knee, and ankle. Sprinting is a classic example of triple extension that occurs with a forward (sprinting) or lateral (faking and cutting) movement on one leg. The three joints move from a flexed position to an extended position. This creates the thrust to begin and carry out the sprinting action. Triple extension exercises include olympic lifts, plyometrics and sport loading exercises to name a few categories. The power output training step is a very detailed process. A professional speed coach must consider individual needs, sport-specific needs as well as answer various questions such as, what muscle groups should be targeted, how fast are repetitions performed, how many sets are completed and how much rest is needed between sets, exercises and workouts. We will explore this stage more closely, along with the others, in part three of this series.
3. Sustained Power Output Training (speed-endurance)
An important factor for any power sport athlete is a high level of anaerobic endurance (speed endurance). Speed endurance is important to make sure repeated short sprints take place at the same rate of high speed throughout an entire game without slowing due to fatigue. In step 4 of this 5-step model, coaches should keep accurate records to make certain athletes progress and do more work each training session. Several important factors to consider in this step are, frequency of training sessions. length and intensity of the work interval, length and intensity of the rest interval and the speed of each repetition. To increase speed-endurance, pick up sprints, hollow sprints, interval sprints and jogging can be incorporated. With these variations, sprint distances and rest periods should be altered to imitate game conditions in any sport. Also, further adaptation may be needed depending on a player’s position. Equally important in step 4 is testing the current level of speed-endurance of each athlete throughout season. As with each step, this step is detailed and takes time to implement properly to yield the most improvement.
4. Neuromuscular Training
The main aspect of step 4 is sprint-assisted training. This includes activities like downhill sprinting, high-speed cycling, towing variations and high-speed treadmill training. According to research, the towing procedure “lights up the nervous system” by bringing a large number of neurons into play. With sprint-assisted training, the primary purpose is to reset the speed clock. This is one of the most demanding phases of a sport speed improvement program. In this step of training the goal is to force faster steps than ever before, applying the concept “work fast to be fast.” A couple of things must be considered before applying sprint-assisted training. 1) An athlete must first have a solid foundation of conditioning in speed endurance and speed-strength. 2) Neuromuscular training takes time. It is recommended to expect 8-12 weeks to see results. Once gains are made a maintenance program can be implemented of one to two days per week of sprint-assisted training. 
5. Form and Technique Training
While form and technique vary somewhat from sport to sport in the start, acceleration and maximum speed phase of sprinting, basic mechanics are used in all sports. With training correct sprinting form and technique, athletes can perform sport-specific tasks such as backpedaling footwork for a defensive back at higher speeds. In step 5, a whole host of sprinting drills can be implemented. Not only does forma and technique training include sprinting drills, it also includes relaxation in sprinting drills, stopping, faking and cutting. High repetitions should be performed of these drills over several months and then they should be maintained as part of regular training.
Obviously, from this overview, this 5-step model is detailed and takes time to properly assess athletes, plan each aspect of training accordingly, implement each step and then reassess along the way.
- Dintiman, G. B., & Ward, R. D. (2009). Encyclopedia of Sports Speed: Improving Playing Speed for Sports Competition. National Association of Speed and Explosion.
- Jakalski, K (2000). Parachutes, tubing, and towing. In Jarver, J. (Ed). Sprints and Relays (5th Edition). Los Altos, CA: Tafnews Press, pp. 71-73.