by Kenneth P. Clark, PhD, CSCS
NSCA Coach April 2019
Vol 5, Issue 4
It has been said many times that "football is a game of inches," and now more than ever, football is a game of speed. With recent rule changes that favor wide open offensive attacks, such as increased protection of quarterbacks and wide receivers, and the proliferation of spread offenses and nickel defenses from the high school level through the professional ranks, fast athletes are more valuable than ever. Therefore, coaches are increasingly searching for the best methods to improve the speed of their individual athletes and their entire team. This article will review several aspects of sprint mechanics and training to enhance linear (straight-ahead) speed for football players.
First, a needs analysis of football game speed will be covered, to serve as the foundation for speed training protocols. Second, an examination of both acceleration and maximal velocity sprinting will be reviewed, including a review of the underlying biomechanical factors, and effective methods to increase performance. Finally, strategies for implementing speed training will be discussed, so that the reader can apply the concepts being presented in this article (agility and fitness/conditioning will not be discussed, as those topics are outside the scope of this article).
This article originally appeared in NSCA Coach, a quarterly publication for NSCA Members that provides valuable takeaways for every level of strength and conditioning coach. You can find scientifically based articles specific to a wide variety of your athletes’ needs with Nutrition, Programming, and Youth columns. Read more articles from NSCA Coach »
1. Al Attar, WS, Soomro, N, Sinclair, PJ, Pappas, E, and Sanders, RH. Effect of injury prevention programs that include the Nordic hamstring exercise on hamstring injury rates in soccer players: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Sports Medicine 47(5): 907-916, 2017.
2. Balsom, PD, Seger, JY, Sjödin, B, and Ekblom, B. Maximalintensity intermittent exercise: Effect of recovery duration. International Journal of Sports Medicine 13(7): 528-528, 1992.
3. Behrens, MJ, and Simonson, SR. A comparison of the various methods used to enhance sprint speed. Strength and Conditioning Journal 33(2): 64-71, 2011.
4. Bosch, F, and Klomp, R. Running: Biomechanics and Exercise Physiology Applied in Practice. Edinburgh, UK: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2005.
5. Clark, KP, Stearne, DJ, Walts, CT, and Miller AD. The longitudinal effects of resisted sprint training using weighted sleds vs. weighted vests. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 24(12): 3287-3295, 2010.
6. Clark, KP, and Weyand PG. Are running speeds maximized with simple-spring stance mechanics? Journal of Applied Physiology 117(6): 604-615, 2014.
7. Clark, KP, and Weyand, PG. Sprint running research speeds up: A first look at the mechanics of elite acceleration. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports 25(5): 581-582, 2015.
8. Clark, KP, Ryan, LJ, and Weyand PG. A general relationship links gait mechanics and running ground reaction forces. Journal of Experimental Biology 220(2): 247-258, 2017.
9. Clark, KP, Rieger, R, Bruno, R, and Stearne, DJ. The NFL Combine 40-yard dash: How important is maximum velocity? Published ahead of print. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2017.
10. Cross, MR, Brughelli, M, Samozino, P, Brown, SR, and Morin JB. Optimal loading for maximizing power during sled-resisted sprinting. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance 12(8): 1069-1077, 2017.
11. Di Prampero, PE, Fusi, S, Sepulcri, L, Morin, JB, Belli, A, and Antonutto, G. Sprint running: A new energetic approach. Journal of Experimental Biology 208(14): 2809-2816, 2005.
12. Dorn, TW, Schache, AG, and Pandy, MG. Muscular strategy shift in human running: Dependence of running speed on hip and ankle muscle performance. Journal of Experimental Biology 215(11): 1944-1956, 2012.
13. Hoffman, JR. The applied physiology of American football. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance 3(3): 387-392, 2008.
14. Kawamori, N, Nosaka, K, and Newton, RU. Relationships between ground reaction impulse and sprint acceleration performance in team sport athletes. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 27(3): 568-573, 2013.
15. Loturco, I, Pereira, LA, Kobal, R, Zanetti, V, Kitamura, K, Abad, CC, and Nakamura, FY. Transference effect of vertical and horizontal plyometrics on sprint performance of high-level U-20 soccer players. Journal of Sports Sciences 33(20): 2182-2191, 2015.
16. Mann, RV, and Murphy, A. The Mechanics of Sprinting and Hurdling. CreateSpace; 2015.
17. Morin, JB, Bourdin, M, Edouard, P, Peyrot, N, Samozino, P, and Lacour, JR. Mechanical determinants of 100-m sprint running performance. European Journal of Applied Physiology 112(11): 3921-3930, 2012.
18. Myer, GD, Ford, KR, Brent, JL, Divine, JG, and Hewett, TE. Predictors of sprint start speed: The effects of resistive groundbased vs. inclined treadmill training. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 21(3): 831-836, 2007.
19. Petrakos, G, Morin, JB, and Egan, B. Resisted sled sprint training to improve sprint performance: A systematic review. Sports Medicine 46(3): 381-400, 2016.
20. Rabita, G, Dorel, S, Slawinski, J, Sàez-de-Villarreal, E, Couturier, A, Samozino, P, and Morin, JB. Sprint mechanics in world-class athletes: A new insight into the limits of human locomotion. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports 25(5): 583-594, 2015.
21. Rhea, MR, Hunter, RL, and Hunter, TJ. Competition modeling of American football: Observational data and implications for high school, collegiate, and professional player conditioning. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 20(1): 58-61, 2006.
22. Rumpf, MC, Lockie RG, Cronin JB, and Jalilvand F. Effect of different sprint training methods on sprint performance over various distances: A brief review. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 30(6): 1767-1785, 2016.
23. Seitz, LB, Reyes, A, Tran, TT, de Villarreal, ES, and Haff, GG. Increases in lower-body strength transfer positively to sprint performance: A systematic review with meta-analysis. Sports Medicine 44 (12): 1693-702, 2014.
24. Suchomel, TJ, Nimphius, S, and Stone, MH. The importance of muscular strength in athletic performance. Sports Medicine 46 (10): 1419-1449, 2016.
25. Suchomel, TJ, Comfort, P, and Lake, JP. Enhancing the forcevelocity profile of athletes using weightlifting derivatives. Strength and Conditioning Journal 39(1): 10-20, 2017.
26. Top plays: Fastest ball carriers. NFL next gen stats. Retrieved from https://nextgenstats.nfl.com/stats/top-plays/ fastest-ball-carriers.
27. de Villarreal, ES, Requena, B, and Cronin JB. The effects of plyometric training on sprint performance: A metaanalysis. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 26(2): 575-584, 2012.
28. Wellman, AD, Coad, SC, Goulet, GC, and McLellan, CP. Quantification of competitive game demands of NCAA division I college football players using global positioning systems. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 30(1): 11-19, 2016.
29. Weyand, PG, Sternlight, DB, Bellizzi, MJ, and Wright, S. Faster top running speeds are achieved with greater ground forces not more rapid leg movements. Journal of Applied Physiology 89(5): 1991-1999, 2000.
30. Weyand, PG, Sandell, RF, Prime, DN, and Bundle, MW. The biological limits to running speed are imposed from the ground up. Journal of Applied Physiology 108(4): 950-961, 2010.
31. Yoshimoto, T, Takai, Y, and Kanehisa H. Acute effects of different conditioning activities on running performance of sprinters. SpringerPlus 5(1): 1203, 2016.10): 1419-1449, 2016.