I often get asked by parents and athletes alike to work on foot speed and quickness. I find this question so dumb since my livelihood depends on the athlete’s performance increasing (I do not find the people asking these questions actually dumb). And, I have never actually had someone give me a good, adequate definition of quickness. Think quick, can you? It is a topic that is often spoken of with coaches and athletes, yet many don’t understand what it really is.
So, as always, I had to come up with an adequate explanation. Quickness is nothing more than being able to move rapidly from one spot to the next. Hmm, sounds an awful lot like speed, power and strength in there. I remember seeing Al Vermeil give a talk 5 years ago and he said that quickness and agility cannot be directly trained for. Think about it, those skill sets happen so rapidly and are a function of applying force to the ground. You can do all the speed latter work and foot work you want, but you won’t get any faster unless you develop higher levels of strength and then work on putting that strength to use through power and dynamic days. If you only train for strength, you will not be training for speed. This will not affect the novice or beginner as much, but once you have laid a good foundation and have been training for some time, you must incorporate some power movements.
These power movements can be as complex as power cleans and snatches and as simple as jumping (such as box jumps, counter-movement jumps, medicine ball slam and jumps). Some of the best exercises to increase lower body strength are the squat, deadlift, rear foot elevated squat variations, and sled dragging. Anything that gets the posterior chain stronger will eventually lead to more speed. The posterior chain includes the “explosive” muscles, contributing up to 70% of your vertical jumping power. This means that they are also about 70% of your top speed, since they are both functions (and very similar I might add) of applying force to the ground. The overlooked factor is that the posterior chain also contributes greatly to “braking” and changing directions (agility). Agility is a form of quickness which is a form and expression of strength and power. Let’s not overcomplicate things here. And, we didn’t even mention dynamic lower body moves, so lets save that for another article. In the meantime, stop asking to work on foot speed!