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New York Red Bulls player Thierry Henry runs past a defender at speed

5 Keys To Improving Your Speed and How To Do Them

5 keys to improved speed in soccerThere is an old adage that “speed kills”.

No doubt every soccer coach would benefit from faster players, but how can something like speed that is widely considered a natural gift be coached?

The answer: there are five keys which will allow a player to improve his speed.

1. Improved First Step – This refers to the explosive first step you take when you go from a slow speed to running speed, and it’s important in almost every sport. We see it in basketball when a ball handler dribbles to beat his opponent; offensive linemen in football need it to get into position before being over-run by a rusher; baseball players need it to get out of the batters box quickly; and soccer players utilize it when making changes of direction, breaking on balls toward the goal while remaining onside, and catching up if an attacker gets passed them. The more explosive your first step is, the more of a threat you are as an offensive player and the less of a risk you are as a defensive player.

Here are two exercises to help you with first step explosiveness:

Falling Start

  • See video for instruction
  • You do not need speed rings as you see in the video for this exercise. Just remember that your first step should be close to the body.

The Standing Start (courtesy of John M Cissik)

Benefits: Trains the body’s fast-twitch muscle fibers to explode from a resting position to maximum capacity.

How It’s Done
To begin, stand with feet hip-width apart. Slide one foot back so toes line up with the heel of the front foot. From there, bend the knees slightly and push the hips back, keeping a flat back. Allow both arms to hang down comfortably.

Now it’s time to take the first step: drive the back knee forward while pulling the corresponding elbow back as hard as possible, and sprint. Throughout the sprint, concentrate on driving each knee forward and pushing each elbow back.

Sets/Distance: 3-5 sets of 5-10 yards

Key Points

  • Punch the knee forward
  • Drive the arm back hard
  • Stay off the heels
2. Increased Stride Length – Stride length is how much ground each step you take covers. If you have longer legs, your stride length will be greater than someone with shorter legs. This is why taller people are often faster than shorter people in straight-away speed, even when the shorter person is generally quicker and more athletic. While you can’t change your height, you can change your stride length by improving your strength and flexibility.

Try these three exercises to help increase you stride length:

Step Ups

  • See video for instruction

Bulgarian Squat (also known as Single Leg Split Squat or Single Leg Elevated Squat)

  • Begin with feet about hip width apart.
  • Stand on one foot and move the other back on a block, step, or bench.
    • Both the knee of the weight bearing leg and the elevated knee should be slightly bent.
  • Most of the weight should be on the heel of your weight bearing leg.
  • Bend the weight bearing knee and your lower body until your weight bearing leg is parallel to the ground.
  • Return to starting position, keeping your back upright and your arms relaxed by your sides through the entire exercise.
  • Repeat several times on each leg
  • As your strength increases, hold small weights while performing the exercise (as pictured in the video) for added difficulty.

Single Leg Hops in Place

  • Caution: These should be done on a surface with some “give” like grass or a rubberized track. Do NOT perform these on concrete or asphalt as you will greatly increase your risk of foot, ankle, and shin injury.
  • Start from a position similar to the Bulgarian Squat.
  • Simply hop in place on one leg landing on approximately the middle of your foot and springing up as soon as your foot touches the ground.
  • Repeat several times on each leg.
3. Increased Stride Frequency – To put it simply, stride frequency is how often your feet touch the ground when running. You’ve no doubt seen track stars that look like they are stepping much faster than a normal person even if they are just jogging in place. This is a result of increased stride frequency.

The best way to train stride frequency is “overspeed training” (not to be confused with “over striding” which is a bad thing for speed). Here are two great exercises that you can do to increase your stride frequency:

Downhill Sprints

  • Be sure to use only a gentle slope for your sprints, as using a a greater slope will actually cause you to slow your stride.

Resisted Run

  • If you have a slingshot trainer, by all means, make use of that. However, resisted runs can also be done without any training devices.
  • Begin with a partner facing you. He should be leaning slightly into you at about arms length with his hands between your shoulders and collarbone.
    • The goal is for him to slow your forward movement.
  • Begin running as normal using good form with your partner resisting your forward progress but not stopping you completely.
    • You should be attempting to run at full speed.
  • At a given point, your partner should quickly “release” you and you should continue running with proper form at full speed.

4. More Powerful “Drive” – Your “drive” is the amount of force you put into each step. When someone is running and they are leaning forward, that is a result of them “driving”. In soccer, this is most commonly seen when an attacker is sprinting to be the first to a ball in front of them or a defender is racing to catch up to an attacker who has broken away.

Here are some key points to improve your “drive”:

5. Improved Running Form – Your running form is “how you run”. It includes things like your posture which can slow you down and cause injuries if it’s bad; your cadence – running with a steady rhythm is a sign of even striding and helps speed; the part of the foot you land on which affects both speed and the strain you put on your body; and other aspects like your running efficiency.

There are several aspects of good running form however, to begin improving your running form, start with arm swings and butt kickers.

For additional exercises to help you increase your speed, check out Training for Speed, Agility, and Quickness.

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  1. I thought these were all great tips for increasing soccer speed. I thought it was interesting how you mentioned that an increased stride frequency is helpful when increasing speed in soccer. My son has expressed interest in entering a soccer academy, so maybe it would be helpful for him to practice some of these drills before entering into an actual academy.

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