Speed, Quickness & Agility Training

Components of Speed

Speed incorperates three elements:

  • Reaction time
  • Movement time (ability to move limb quickly)
  • Speed of running (includes stride rate and stride length)

Also see Fitness Components.

Speed Training

Speed Training and Recovery

An athlete cannot be fast or agile if they are not strong and powerful (Bompa & Carrera 2015). Beyond strength training, athletic speed can be further improved by the following ways:

  • Starting ability (acceleration)
  • Stride length (increase after initial acceleration)
  • Stride rate (number of steps per time)
  • Speed endurance
  • Sprint form and technique

Bompa T, Carrera M (2015). Conditioning for Young Athletes. Human Kinetics.

Recovery Periods

Short recovery period between sprint intervals for the purpose of phosphagen energy system adaptation do not appear to be effective and enhancing motor skill development. Rest period lasting in excess of 6 minutes may improve speed more effectively (Merlau 2005). Also see Short Sprint Interval Training.

Merlau S (2005). Recovery time optimization to facilitate motor learning during sprint intervals. Strength and Conditioning Journal, 27(2), 68-74.

Speed Exercise

Weighted Pull

Exercises to improve stride length and frequency include:

  • high knee kicks
  • glute kickers
  • resisted running
  • high speed sprints

Craig BW (2004) What is the scientific basis of speed and agility. Strength and Conditioning Journal, 26(3), 13-14.

Average Sprint Distances and Rest Intervals

Sport Sprint distance [yards (meters)] Intervals between sprints [seconds]
Baseball, softball 30 (27) 30 - 60
Basketball 20 (18) 10 - 15
Football 10 - 40 (9 - 37) 25 - 30
Soccer, lacrosse, rugby, field hockey 10 - 40 (9 - 37) 5 - 15
Tennis 5 - 10 (5 - 9) 3 - 5 (same point)
20 - 30 (between points)
60 (between games)

Dintiman G, Ward B (2003), Sports Speed, (3), pg 14, 152.

Speed Analysis

Percent of maximum speed
Meters 10 20 30 40 50-60
% 45 84 93 97 100

Speed Training

Subjects: 22 male 100 m sprint finalists and semifinalists at the 1988 Olympic Games. (mean = 11.49 m/s)

Bruggemann GF, Glad B: Time analysis of the sprint events. Scientific research project at the games of the XXXIV Olympiad-Seoul 1988-final report. New Studies in Athletics, suppl., 1990.

100-meter men's world record: 9.72 seconds (2008).

Running Step Phases

  • Propulsion:
    • The foot pushes against ground with power to push the body forward.
  • Drive:
    • Opposite leg is pulled forward with thigh horizontal.
    • Opposite arm bent 90° is pulled forward along the body with hand at shoulder height.
    • Ankle is kept locked until the landing phase.
  • Landing:
    • Foot strikes the ground and is quickly pulled underbody.
  • Recovery:
    • Heel of propelling leg is quickly pulled toward the buttock.
    • Opposite arm quickly moves forward.

Bompa T, Carrera M (2015) Conditioning Young Athletes. Human Kinetics.


Sandblasting, or running in the sand was advocated by following athletes:

  • Walter Payton, considered by many to be the best blocking backs in NFL history;
  • Ben Tabacknik, Ph.D. head coach of the 1988 U.S.S.R. Olympic Sprinting team;
  • and the late Steve Prefontaine, one of the greatest runners of all time including records in the mile, two-mile, three-mile, and the 5000 meter race.

Benefits include:

  • Improved hamstring conditioning
  • Exaggerated stride length, height, and rate
  • Improved adaption for ankle stability

Sandblasting. National Strength and Conditioning Association Journal, Vol. 13, Num. 4, 1991

Agility Training

Agility is the ability to rapidly change directions without the loss of speed, balance, or body control. As with other fitness components, agility is specific to a particular movement pattern. One problem with agility training is that an athlete can learn to anticipate the next movement. Therefore, the athlete should be required to respond to a directional order.

Craig BW (2004) What is the scientific basis of speed and agility. Strength and Conditioning Journal, 26(3), 13-14.

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