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No Practices? Go Get Faster Anyway (A Four-Week Speed Training Plan)


Well, your track and field season just took an unexpected turn, didn’t it? Many states (including mine) have closed K-12 schools for the next several weeks or more, the NCAA has shut down its spring sports season, and as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread, it certainly isn’t going to get any easier for your track and field team to train. It’s entirely possible that high school athletics associations could follow suit behind the NCAA and cancel spring sports entirely. Not what you had in mind, is it?

If your coaches are in a situation like mine, they’re not allowed to have any face-to-face contact with athletes during the school closures—which is why they’ve forwarded you a link to this article. We are not allowed to encourage our athletes to meet on their own in groups. We cannot be a party to any sort of organized gathering of the young humans we coach to do the sports things we coach them to do. Speaking as a coach: I get it, but I don’t like it.

In Michigan, we are currently operating under the assumption our track and field season will resume on April 13. That means that for the next month, if our athletes are going to train at all, it has to be entirely on their own. From a training perspective, it’s not like this situation is totally unprecedented. Whether it’s the state-mandated dead period before your season begins, a vacation with your family, or your lack of reliable transportation during the summer months, there are periods throughout the year where many of you have had to train independently outside of a normal practice.

For all you speed-focused athletes, this can get tricky. Your teammates who run distance events or cross country can just hit the streets and log some miles, but on your own, it’s more challenging for you sprinters to get the level of high-intensity training needed to continue making speed gains. Nevertheless, I have some ideas.

Coaches—these ideas aren’t for you. Remember, most of us can’t coach our kids right now. But we can post articles on our Twitter accounts, right? This article is for the athletes. Here is a four-week plan to train speed when track practice is out of the question.

Sprint Drills

I don’t like to call anything “warm-ups.” Some of you—you know who you are—don’t always take warm-ups seriously. You go through the motions. These are sprint drills to practice proper sprinting technique and posture. They need to be done at a high intensity with attention to detail. You most likely do some of these drills in practice already. Lots of coaches teach them to their athletes. I have two different sets of sprint drills that I use in practice so that my athletes don’t do the exact same thing every single day. Variety is the spice of life, or whatever. Here they are, with links to videos so you can see what proper technique looks like.

A-marches walk-over knees
A-skips A-skips
B-skips B-skips
high knees backwards high knees
lunge walkovers skip for height
butt kicks pogo jumps for height
five box jumps backward runs (butt kick and reach)
straight-leg bounds boom-booms
wall drills 3×30 meter accelerations

Finding Your Space

An old coach once told me: “All you need to run track is two feet and a heart.” As cute as that might be, you also need some space if you’re going to train speed effectively. Get creative and explore your surroundings. You need to find a space that has between 60 and 80 meters of open space. A city sidewalk, an empty parking lot, your neighborhood cul-de-sac, a dirt road in the country, the soccer field at the middle school down the street, your backyard, the track at the school you’ve been banished from for the foreseeable future. The world is your oyster. The main thing here is that you need enough room to be able to sprint at or near your top speed.

Other things that could come in handy would be another person, a stopwatch or a smartphone, and some circle cones or mini-hurdles. None of these are necessary, per se, but they’re nice to have. Be resourceful. You can make mini-hurdles out of PVC pipe for under $25 dollars.

The Workouts

Let’s make this simple. You’re going to train three times a week for the next month. You might think you need to do more than that, and it’s likely that you would if you were at practice. But we need to be conscious of a few things here. First, you’re training speed and not endurance. Second, you need to prioritize rest and recovery when you do high-intensity training. And third, there is literally a pandemic happening, and you need to limit your exposure to other humans as much as possible. Don’t be a tough guy: There’s no prize being handed out for the person who is least worried about COVID-19.

Be smart, stay safe, and take care of yourself.

Week 1, Monday

Sprint Drills (A Day)

3x 40-Yard Dash

If you can get on a track, this will be easy for you to measure: boys’ hurdle marks are 10 yards apart. If you can’t, just ballpark it. We have to improvise here. Throw down a marker for the starting line, walk off a distance that’s about 40 yards, and throw down a marker for the finish line.

If you have a friend, they can help in one of two ways: they can time you, or they can race you. As long as you run the same distance for each rep, your times will give you relevant information even if it doesn’t provide NFL Combine accuracy. Maximum intent and top speed are the goal, so make sure you take plenty of rest between each sprint—at least five minutes. This feels like an eternity when you’re on your own, but you have to do it. Sorry, kid.

Week 1, Wednesday

Sprint Drills (B Day)

Plyometric Training

There are lots of great plyometric drills you can do with limited space and no equipment. Two feet and a heart! You could even do some of these in your living room, as long as you don’t knock your mom’s favorite vase off the mantle. Choose three or four of these that look interesting to you.

Week 1, Friday

Sprint Drills (A Day)

10x 30-Yard Fly, EMOTM

EMOTM means “every minute, on the minute.” A friend with a stopwatch is great, but a smartphone works just as well and will never betray you (except for autocorrect). Mark off a distance that’s around 30 yards. You can start another 5–10 yards behind the line for these, since they’re flying starts instead of stationary. Sprint 30 yards and start the stopwatch as soon as you take off. Your sprint should only last a little more than three seconds. That means you have another 57 to rest before you run again. Start your next sprint every minute, on the minute, until you’ve done all 10. Maximum intent and top speed are always the goal. The faster you sprint, the longer you get to rest.

You’re not done. Over the weekend you’re going to watch so much Netflix that your brain is going to turn into mashed potatoes—and not the good kind that your grandma makes, but the sad pasty kind from the school cafeteria. Save this link and set a reminder in your phone, because come Monday you’ll forget where you found these workouts. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

You good? Cool.

Week 2, Monday

Sprint Drills (B Day)

2x 60-Yard Dash

Most of your fellow high school athletes take around 40 yards to reach top speed, and most can only maintain that top speed for a couple seconds before they begin decelerating. By that logic, then, anything from 40 yards on down is more focused on acceleration than it is on maximum velocity. In order to get to maximum velocity training, you have to use a distance that allows you to reach it and maintain it. Enter the 60-yard dash.

Again, a track would be great, but you probably don’t have access to one unless you like climbing fences, which I would never encourage you to do.

Find a big space and mark off 60(ish) yards like we talked about before, and sprint. If you have someone to time you or race you, that would be great, because we tend to run faster when a clock or a competitor is involved. If you’re on your own, that’s okay too. Make sure you rest 8–10 minutes before sprinting a second time.

Week 2, Wednesday

Sprint Drills (A Day)

Myrtl Hip Routine

5x Wickets

10x Depth Jumps

10x Box Jumps

Today you’re going to spice it up a bit. The Myrtl hip routine will help you with your hip strength and mobility. I coach hurdlers, so I like mixing this in every now and again. For wickets, use your resources. Did you build those mini-hurdles I told you about? Why not? Bruh. You have nothing but time on your hands this month. Okay, well, do you have some circle cones? No? Go in the yard and pick up some sticks, then. All you need is something you can a) put on the ground, and b) see reasonably well.

Whatever you decide to use as your visual marker, put 10 of them on the ground about six feet apart from one another. Then back up about 15 yards or so and sprint, stepping between each wicket (or cone, or stick…sticket?) that you put down. The key is to sprint fast and to maintain an upright sprinting posture during the drill.

Next, you’re going to do a series of jumps. You might not have access to a box, but lots of things will work for this. You could use a park bench, the steps of your front porch, an upside-down milk crate, the edge of the fountain outside the library, or any other surface that is a couple feet high and sturdy enough to hold you. You’ll do your depth jumps first, then take a break and do your box jumps. The goal is not to get tired here, nor to do them all in succession as fast as you can. Take your time between reps, focusing on being explosive off the ground and landing under control.

Week 2, Friday

Sprint Drills (B Day)

3x 20-Yard Dash

2x 30-Yard Dash

1x 40-Yard Dash

You know what to do. Mark off your distances and sprint. Find a friend to time you or race you. As a general rule, rest for one minute for each 10 yards you sprint. That means rest for two minutes after each 20-yard dash and three minutes after each 30. You don’t have to rest for four minutes after your 40, because you’re done. You can rest the remainder of the weekend, right after you put that reminder in your phone for Monday.

Week 3, Monday

Sprint Drills (A Day)

3x 40-Yard Dash

You already did this. Do I need to explain it again? Scroll back up to the very first workout if you forgot

Week 3, Wednesday

Sprint Drills (B Day)

2x 5 Single-Leg Hops

3x 30-Yard Speed Bounds

3x Stair Sprints

For your single-leg hops you can use equipment or your imagination. Those mini-hurdles that you didn’t build last week but definitely built over the weekend would be handy, as would the cones or the sticks. If you don’t have any of those things, pretend that you do. Imagine that you have five mini-hurdles lined up in front of you, spaced a few feet apart, and you’re going to hop on one foot over each of them. When you hop, you have to cycle your hopping leg up and through so it clears the hurdle, whether it be real or imaginary. Land and immediately hop again—bouncy is fast! You don’t want to spend a lot of time on the ground between hops. Do five on each leg, then rest and do five more.

Next, you’ll do some speed bounds. When you do these, make sure to focus on pushing off the ground on contact, driving your opposite knee, and keeping your toe in a dorsiflexed position (that means your toe should be flexed up, toward your shin, instead of hanging down).

Any stairs will work for the final piece of today’s workout, so long as there are about 10–15 of them. You could run up the basement stairs like you did when you were little and thought there was a monster inside the furnace. If you’re reading in Philadelphia, you could recreate the iconic scene from Rocky, only a lot faster. What? You haven’t seen Rocky? Kids these days.

Start at the bottom of the stairs and sprint to the top as fast as you can. Walk back down. Rest a couple minutes. There’s no drill-sergeant-turned-football-coach here for you to impress. Walk means walk. Rest means rest. Do it, and then sprint again. The goal is to be as fast as you can each time you go up the stairs, not make yourself so tired that you’re in danger of falling down them.

Week 3, Friday

Sprint Drills (A Day)

4x 7-Second Drill

You’ll probably need 80 yards for this one. Another person would be good, too. Throw down a marker for a starting line and set a timer (or have your friend set one) for seven seconds. Start the timer, and sprint as far as you can in seven seconds. Make a note of how far you made it—your friend can throw down a second marker to indicate your total distance. Then, after three minutes of rest, do the same thing again, trying to get as close to your total distance on the first sprint as you can. You’ll do this four times in total. Set a reminder in your phone for Monday, go take a shower (you smell v bad), and find Rocky on your favourite streaming service so you can watch it this weekend.

Week 4, Monday

Sprint Drills (A Day)

3x 30-Yard Fly

Mark off your start and finish areas somewhere in the ballpark of 30 yards apart. Start another 10–15 yards behind the cones. Your goal is to be as fast as you can possibly be between the cones. If you have a person who can time you, that’s great. If not, you’re going to have to push yourself. Rest for somewhere between three and five minutes before sprinting again.

Week 4, Wednesday

Sprint Drills (B Day)

5x Wickets

5x Star Jumps

10x Step-Ups (Each Leg)

5x Standing Broad Jump for Distance

I’m extremely proud of you for building those mini-hurdles. Strong work.

Star jumps are an explosive movement, and you should aim to jump as high as you can each time. If we are trying to be explosive, there’s no point in doing anything but aiming for maximum height. It’s only five, so go all out.

All you need is one stair for this. Even the curb on the side of the street will work. When you do your step-ups, make sure that you maintain appropriate sprinting posture, and that you push down hard onto the step. You’re looking to generate vertical force onto the surface while driving your knee and keeping your toe in a dorsiflexed position. Do 10 of these on each leg.

Finally, test yourself on some standing broad jumps. Start from the same spot each time and see how far you can go. Then try to go farther the next time. You won’t feel tired after each attempt, but you still need to rest a minute or two before you go again.

Week 4, Friday

Sprint Drills (A Day)

8x 40-Yard Dash EMOTM

Set your start and finish areas as close to 40 yards apart as you can manage. Get your stopwatch or smartphone ready, start the clock, and sprint 40 yards as fast as you can. If it takes you 5 seconds, you now have 55 seconds to rest. Line it up and go again. Do this eight times. You will have done 320 yards of sprint work, so you’ll be a little bit winded at the end of this one, but probably not as bad as if you’d done all 320 yards at once. You should sprint as fast as you can each time, because you don’t get faster by running slow.

The Return

If all goes according to plan, you should be back in action with your team after these four weeks. If not, it’s likely the entire spring season has been cancelled. Only time will tell. But one thing is for sure: If track and field starts back up in a month and you haven’t worked on your speed, you’re going to be starting from scratch when you return to practice. Are you willing to bet that your biggest rival has been sitting on the couch eating chips for that entire time? If it were me, I’d want to be ready for action when the time comes.

Be smart, be safe, and be fast. And for goodness sake, wash your hands.