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“Make My Kid Run Faster”

Written on October 13, 2010 at 6:14 am, by Eric Cressey

Since we work with quite a few young athletes, it’s the question I get a few times every week:

“Will you be doing speed training with my son/daughter?  He/she needs to get faster.”

In my head, I am always thinking, “No, all our programs are geared toward making athletes slower.  It’s really what we do best.”

Kidding aside, what comes out of my mouth is markedly different, as I have to explain how our training approach is going to be dictated by where that young athlete is developmentally – and each kid really is unique.

On one hand, you’ll have young athletes who have very poor mobility and stability – which equates to terrible body control.  Sadly, this has become the majority of 13-16 year-old athletes in the U.S. today thanks to a tendency toward early sports specialization and excessive computer time.

Given the crazy ground reaction forces (roughly 4-6 times body weight on one leg in each stride; or 600-900lbs for a 150lb kid) an athlete experiences during sprinting, you could make the argument that taking these untrained, physically incapable kids and throwing them into aggressive sprinting and change-of-direction drills could actually be considered very dangerous.  They simply don’t have the eccentric strength to decelerate this pounding, let alone create optimal subsequent concentric actions.  These athletes need time to develop a good foundation of strength and mobility – upon which good landing mechanics can be taught later in shorter, simpler drills.  Eventually, once they’ve developed some body control, they can make better use of true sprint training and agility work.

Or can they?

While these young athletes probably aren’t ready for being thrown into the fire in their training (closed-loop, or predictable, drills), what do they do outside of the gym?  They participate year-round in sports (open-loop, unpredictable/chaotic).

This is like recognizing that the engine on your 1979 Pinto is a ticking time-bomb and bringing it in to a mechanic for an hour a week for an oil change – only to take it out and drive it in the Daytona 500…every other day.  You’re swimming upstream.

So, the question becomes: do today’s “always in-season” high school athletes EVER get to the point that they really need much dedicated agility and sprint work?  Based on the preceding few paragraphs, for some athletes, I’d say no; they don’t need much.  Some foam rolling, a good dynamic warm-up, followed by some quick and to-the-point movement drills, and then solid resistance training should get the job done as long as they’re out there competing in their sports.  This is one of the reasons I so wholeheartedly endorse Kelly Baggett’s approach in The Truth about Quickness; the reactive/movement work that he programs between warm-ups and strength exercises is to-the-point and effective – and doesn’t go so high in volume that it compromises one’s ability to get more out of the other areas of the program that may afford greater benefits.

On the other hand, while it is not a common circumstance nowadays, you do actually have advanced athletes (those with a decent foundation of strength) who may have periods of the year when they aren’t actively involved in organized sports.  These athletes absolutely do need to train with specific sprinting and change of direction work during these “off” periods of the year.  We generally program this work for days completely separate from lifting, although it can also be worked in between the warm-ups and resistance training components.  It’s of vital importance to recognize that these athletes can only make the most of these inclusions because they’ve put in the leg work (no pun intended) to make these high-stress reactive drills really beneficial and safe.

You know what’s funny, though?

The athletes who get to this more advanced stage have already gotten faster – because along the way, they’ve learned to put more force into the ground, and have improved their ankle and hip mobility.  They’ve become faster without ever spending much, if any, time at all on sprinting and agility drills.  And, once they have that foundation of strength, these supplemental movement drills actually work a lot better.

It’s like a big circle.  They build a foundation of strength, which helps them develop reactive ability.  They train that reactive ability further, and it brings them further to the “absolute speed” end of the continuum.  So, they lift heavier weights – which brings them back toward the center of that continuum, and, in turn, allows them to train reactive ability even harder because they’re running faster, jumping higher, and turning on a dime better than ever.

If you don’t understand what I mean, check this old video I did out:

The entry level kids I mentioned earlier aren’t even on a continuum.  They are on the “exerciser/non-exerciser” seesaw.  Make them regular exercisers and build up some strength, and they wind up starting on the absolute speed end of the continuum because all they’ve ever known is running around.  They won’t run faster until you get ‘em strong and shift them over to the absolute strength end of the continuum – and that simply won’t happen if you’re just spending 90 minutes of each session with them running agility ladders and doing skipping drills.

Why then, if the amount of movement training needed is grossly overestimated, do we have so many coaches and facilities in this industry who spend hours per week on movement training?  Very simply, money makes the world go round.  In other words, you can “safely” train a lot more kids in large groups and make it less coaching-intensive on yourself if you just set up cones, hurdles, and agility ladders and tell them to go to town. Actually getting a kid strong takes more individualized cues and variety in exercise programming.  And, because strength exercises are more high-risk/high-reward, they take more one-on-one coaching – which is tough to do when you have twenty 13-year-olds and only one coach.  This is one reason why I have always said that I will never let our business model dictate our training model at Cressey Performance.

So, to wrap it all up: some kids need movement training, and some kids aren’t quite ready for it.  And, 99% of the time – while it might fly in the face of logic – if the parent comments on how slow a kid is, just having that young athlete go out and run more is the least effective, most dangerous way to address the issue.

For more information on how to get the absolute most out of the speed/agility/quickness drills that you do use – and how they interact with an effective resistance training program – I highly recommend you check out The International Youth Conditioning Association High School Strength and Conditioning Coach Certification, a thorough resource that'll cover what you need to know to point young athletes in the right direction with their training.

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  • Matt Green

    Eric –

    You hit the nail on the head with this one. I have been shifting my programming more towards strength in the past year (CP has had a heavy influence on this decision)and have gotten some great results with the same multi-sport kids you mention. About once a month, I will get a kid from the corporate “big box” performance center in town who isn’t getting faster because all they do is SAQ work. I haven’t lost one of the kids yet – thanks for helping me in developing a subtle competitive advantage.

  • http://www.BoddickerPerformance.com Carson Boddicker

    Eric,

    Are you still using an NCM and a CM/Drop jump to identify these needs?

    Regards,
    Carson Boddicker

  • http://www.dannymclarty.com Danny McLarty

    Well said Eric. I have the basketball team that I train, do very little agility work, speed work, and plyo work. All they do, year-round, is play in tounrneys, camps, open gyms, and more tourneys. My 3 hours per week spent with them is mostly geared to strength work (along w/ soft-tissue and mobility of course).

  • http://www.richstoner.com Rich

    Great post! I could not have said it better myself. I run a strength traininig facility in N.J. It is located within a large multi-sport facility with a turf field that is rented by a guy that does strictly speed and agility. I get so frustrated when people come in and chose his program over mine which is based exactly on this post. Basically, “Speed and Agility” is a sexy phrase in the eyes of the public and in my opinion leads to this choice. With articles like this though, they will hopefully learn real soon.

  • Jon

    Eric,
    Would you say it’s more of a problem with the coaches vs. a problem with the choice of skills they are working on? Specifically with younger kids, or kids with less experience in a given sport, there seems to be a lot of “uneducated” movers that really don’t understand the best way to use what they have (i.e. athletic position, lateral movements, decelerating in proper position, etc.). Some of these issues can be resolved with strength work, but I think for these athletes, learning how to move and position themselves is just as important as learning how to move properly in the weight-room.

    Also, I’ve seen coaches geared towards more strength work who are also lazy with cues and correcting incorrect/unsafe movement patterns, and it seems this is the issue more so than the program. I think it’s the difference between throwing a bunch of drills out with no apparent goal in mind, vs. deciding on what skill needs to be improved in a given athlete or group of athlete, then picking a drill or exercise to effectively work on that skill.

    Thoughts?

  • Rich T.

    Any thoughts on lack of end range strength in the psoas and it’s effects on the development of speed?

  • http://thetheoryoffatloss.blogspot.com Tim

    I plan on running into these kinds of parents all the time once I get my Athletic Revolution off the ground.

  • http://www.sportspeedaustin.com Nate Turner

    In my program, we talk with parents about the need for their kids to 1) gain functional strength (add horsepower) and 2) learn how best to use it in an athletic setting.

    I think they are both essential, though if forced to choose, I agree with Eric that well-coached strength training is more important.

    It pays off in the short term with increased performance and injury resistance. In the long run, the benefit is that these athletes have an improved chance of making it through their relatively unsupervised middle or high school weight room knowing enough to lift safely, perhaps even mentor a peer or two.

    What’s tough to reconcile is that often in the sales process, the “good old days when we were kids” are often referenced. You know, those golden days when we rode our bikes across town, swung from trees, and played many different sports.

    I was an average athlete surrounded by many just like me who did no strength training that I can remember before high school. And yet we managed to play and contribute, even excel on some teams, and that with minimal to no time lost to injury.

    If simple volume and diversity of activity, not strength training per se, prepared us for the rigors of sports, it seems to me that the novel stimulus of speed and agility training along with a good dynamic warm-up and body weight strength training might no be so bad for today’s over-specialized kids.

  • http://www.facebook.com/combatstrength Matt Carlin

    Eric,
    I had the pleasure of getting some one-on-one time with a well known S&C coach, Ian Jeffreys, at the Australian Strength & Conditioning Conference in Nov last year. He has a book called “Developing Gamespeed” which explains the need for movement based drills to enable an athlete to develop gamespeed. I derived a great deal of information from him on how to train speed into athletes in game sports (Rugby, Soccer, Hockey, Tennis, etc.). He doesn’t believe in using agility drills such as ladders, etc, because they teach a foot pattern to run over a ladder and not adapt to a game. Developing the correct body position to move quickly (feet, torso and head/eyes) is of utmost importance. His lecture was an interactive one (of which I volunteered to participate in) and learned stacks from a 1 hour lecture.
    Strength is key in any athletic progress, but learning how to move your body to react to ANY action will provide you with a definitive advantage.
    Agility teaches speed of muscle movement to a defined set drill.
    Gamespeed activities develop the neural reaction required to position the body to act effectively/efficiently to a random stimulus.

    To put a spin on things, one of the 12 year olds I train at Rugby League is the fastest in his team (fast team too!) in a straight line or amongst players in a game. However he is the most uncoordinated and has the lowest strength ability – can’t master the squat, pushup or anything that requires focus and technique. Interesting to note is that his running is like an octopus over first 10 metres but straightens up the faster he gets.

    Love your work Eric.
    Keep it up!!
    Matt

  • http://www.HocevarPerformance.com Luka Hocevar

    This question constantly keeps popping up for me too and I have lost some athletes to it just because parents would not see us doing at least “xyz” time on speed drills.

    I’m with you on never changing what is right for what will sell them yet hurt them in the long run.

    Good article Eric.

    Luka

  • PJ Striet

    I couldn’t agree more Eric. Great post.

  • k

    Eric,
    YOU ROCK!

  • http://www.leanerstrongerfaster.com Michael

    Great points. It’s between training a volume of kids vs a smaller group. Making more $$ up front vs more $$$ on the back end. Ideally, a program would balance both while maintaining the integrity of giving the kids the type of training they need. Ultimately, I agree with the point made. I believe it is possible to train a large group, but have a spin off program or set up an internal system that filters the kids that need strength to more strength with the one’s that need more movement towards that. It would obviously take sometime to properly systematize (if it already hasn’t). Anyways, good read.

  • http://advancedtrainingsi.blogspot.com/ George Mahoney

    To me, the sentence below shows you are a true professional.

    “This is one reason why I have always said that I will never let our business model dictate our training model at Cressey Performance.”

    Excellent article.

  • http://www,professionalbaseballtraining.com Josh Kauten

    great post!! one question though….in a previous article you had discredited weighted balls unless it was a dire situation with a player at the tail end of his career; desperate for velocity gains. You cited the inability to repeat throwing motions and altering release points in order to perform the new task.

    could you please clarify?

  • http://ericcressey.com Eric Cressey

    Josh, thanks for the kind words.

    I am actually a big believer in weighted balls. Check out this post: http://ericcressey.com/weighted-baseballs-safe-and-effective-or-stupid-and-dangerous

  • http://dazeclan.hostei.com/member.php?action=profile&uid=116 Garland Reichmann

    Good coaching quotes …. fancy sharing

  • Michael

    I’m coming a bit late to this party, but I have to agree with George Mahoney. Your line “This is one reason why I have always said that I will never let our business model dictate our training model at Cressey Performance,” shows so much integrity and professionalism. So many in the industry would just at the chance to turn a bigger profit, regardless of how it affects their initially planned training model. Your unwillingness to compromise on quality for the sake of quantity is commendable and serves as an example that you can, and should, do things The Right Way, even when it means rejecting short term gains.

  • G. Wagner

    Very interesting indeed.

  • http://starfactoryfitness.com Conor

    Love the post Eric,
    Again, every time I read your posts I learn something. I’m just starting out as a trainer and am able to take your advice and use it in my programming. I have a highly ranked hockey team that I’m training and thought about agility drills but they’re in-season right now and get plenty of that type of conditioning. I’ll know for this coming week to focus more on strength training. Thanks,
    Conor

  • http://adamrees.blogspot.com Rees

    This is a great post. Great

  • http://www.PrimalATC.com Matt Ellis

    Man this was an awesome article.

    So many athletes I talk to think because I don’t have turf and mini hurdles scattered all over my facility that I don’t “teach speed.” In reality my athletes add more speed in a shorter amount of time because I focus on getting their absolute strength higher.

    One athlete in particular, a 200 and 400 meter runner had poor flexibility and low absolute strength. He plays football in the summer (captains practices) and the fall (coach makes them run sprints all practice) and runs indoor and outdoor track during the winter and spring seasons. Constantly running and changing directions. Once he started training with me at my facility and focused 2 hours a week on pure strength training and flexibility, he got faster and landed a starting role on a very talented varsity track team as a junior.

    Think about it. You run and run and run all day for your sport. Why would you run some more as extra practice and think that will do anything?

  • james

    Hello Eric.
    Your information is very interesting to me. I grew up in a large city with families that had children close to my age and most a bit older. I also grew up on a hill street. To play any kind of “street ball” or get to the park it had to be done by going up the hill or down the hill (where the park was). And being a young kid my brother and I ran up and ran down to get the game started. Knowing what I know now , I was getting the best strength training I could get (concentrically and eccentrically). We would run up as fast as we could (our house was about midway down/up the street)and run down even faster. Having to stop with the “break down” we never feared for joint damage. Being careful to explain my point here…We did it (ran)as we felt safe (as safe as a 10-14 yr. old could feel, I guess). The games we played; “strike-outs”, football, tag, dodge ball developed the reactive nature. I recently read ATHLETIC BODY IN BALANCE by: Gray Cook. Along with a referance to Barry Sanders (one of my favorite athletes)in his “Analyzing Movement”(Chapter 3 pp.11-16)Cook also talks about functional movement. I like your video on absolute strength to absolute speed. And it’s true (as it was for me) that young pitchers rely on the absolute speed and seldom work on the whole “circle” until their college years or beyond. It’s hard to find those hills or have that many kids in a nieghborhood. My high school quater back and now head coach at Boise State put it best for me in my coaching career when he said. Have them “compete”. In short, if they can’t compete it is because they won’t compete. Bring a 13 yr. old that wants to get faster…has to WANT to get faster. I can show him all the technical aspects of training but, what it comes down to is simple. He has to compete for it and I mean more internally. I was coached up and I hated losing. So, I had a choice. You and CP are the best and that’s why I’m here following you. Thanks for your continued resources and knowledge.

  • http://-- Dalibor

    Bravo Eric,
    I’m 100% with you… We follow you even in Croatia!

  • John

    Hey guys, I’m a dad with two sports kids. While I believe in your approaches and theories, your solutions are not cost effective for me. I’m not rich and I can’t be spending $100 for personal training or $400 a month for strength training. I need a viable option that is cost effective. In the meantime, my ex keeps sending the kids to speed camps.

  • http://ericcressey.com Eric Cressey

    John,

    I’m just going to throw it out there; do your kids have summer jobs to help pay for the training?  It’s a great way for them to become more “invested” in and accountable to the process.  Make them earn the right to participate.

    At CP, we offer a lower-priced once a week plan for athletes.  It gives them an evaluation and four training sessions per month, and they have programming they can do on their own at other gyms.  We walk them through everything they need to be successful on those days on their own.

  • Claire

    Hi Eric,
    Really love all your information – thanks so much for sharing!
    What age do you start kids with weights?

  • http://ericcressey.com Eric Cressey

    Thanks, Claire.  I think this would be a good read along those lines:

    http://www.ericcressey.com/the-truth-about-kids-and-resistance-training

  • Bill Fleming

    Great article!! I have seen so many parents waste money on “speed and agility” training.

    We have a new facility in our town, all they are marketing is speed and agility to parents. Generally these classes are full of 20 kids, run by a basketball coach with no clue on how to train young kids.

    As someone who has coached young kids, I always tell the parents, your kid can be strong and slow….but he will never be weak and fast. Strength will always win out!

    Thanks for a great read!

  • http://ericcressey.com Eric Cressey

    That’s a great line, Bill! Love it!


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