To kick off the week in style, I have a special interview with fellow strength and conditioning coach, Travis Hansen.
You may have read his speed training book, or come across his training articles in Men's Fitness and on Stack and T-Nation.
Today I'm gonna grill have a chat with him about how to make athletes faster.
Let's dive right in...
YB: Travis, first of all thanks for doing this, and let's get started with you telling everyone a bit about yourself.
What’s your educational and athletic background? Experience in the strength and conditioning industry? What types of athletes do you work with?
TH: Well Yunus, I have been in the training game for about 12 years now.
I have a few different recognizable training certifications, a college degree, and I played sports since the age of 5. Initially I participated in Tae Kwon Do when I was younger and then migrated into the conventional sports scene, playing basketball, baseball, and football every year until I graduated high school.
I've worked as the Head Strength and Conditioning Coach for the NBA development team here in Reno, been a strength coach for a collegiate golf team, and now work with an array of mostly team sport athletes at the collegiate, high school, and youth levels, and write on a near daily basis.
YB: In your book The Speed Encyclopedia, you explain how team sport athletes should train for improved speed.
Without giving the whole book away, what are some of the most important concepts for getting faster on the field or pitch?
TH: The obvious key factors are going to be a combination of agility and quickness, first step performance, and acceleration capacity.
If any athlete in pretty much any sport setting can demonstrate this skill set effectively and better than their opponents, they are going to make their life much easier and improve their chances of success on the field or court.
YB: Much of what we know about speed training comes from track and field coaches - like the late Canadian sprint coach, Charlie Francis.
How should a team sport athlete, say, a football or hockey player, modify his speed training compared to a sprinter? Or are there any differences?
TH: One of the key differences is going to be an adjustment in conditioning. Track and Field sprinters require higher amounts of specialized conditioning (i.e. special endurance) types to ensure that they are improving top speed at the end of a race, and also attempting to limit deceleration across the finish. These involve extra long sprinting distance sessions that aren't going to have a lot of carryover into the team sport training realm for various reasons unfortunately.
Running longer distances for beginners who partake in track and field is no doubt one of the quickest ways to make progress, since conditioning improvements in the body are some of the fastest adjustments the body can make and newcomers will fatigue easy as they approach 100 or 200 meters.
However, team sport athletes, although they definitely need to train for top speed contrary to popular belief, primarily need the 3 skills that I previously mentioned. This means more of a focus in their program design with improving linear acceleration levels (5-20 meters).
Also, sport displays constant reaction and agility ability and there are numerous principles, techniques, and specific drills to help physically prepare the athlete for how to perform these skills properly.
From here you can even get a little more customized with not only sport specific conditioning because this certainly differs across each team sport, but also the ratio of sport specific movements that need to be trained in addition to your standard athletic training program.
We elect to use a general approach with all of our athletes to make them all more athletic, but you have to treat each athlete who comes in from a different sport uniquely and take into consideration all that will come into play in practice and competition.
For example, overhead athletes will need much more supervision and focus on establishing proper shoulder mechanics (aka scapulohumeral rhythm) and all that it entails, compared to a football player or soccer player who rarely drives their arms overhead.
Things can get somewhat predictable as you work with each type of athlete more and more over time, but there always needs to be a constant evaluation process and system set in place for each sport type.
YB: You’ve worked with athletes in multiple sports. What are some common speed training misconceptions among athletes?
TH: This issue seems to vary a bit across each sport, but there are certainly some common ones.
First, would be the repetitive practice of faulty arm drive when trying to improve speed. I have a section dedicated to this topic in my speed book.
First, athletes are generally taught to "tuck" the elbows when they practice their arm drive. Unfortunately this approach has been proven false, as this technique negatively alters the force vector function of the arm drive. Meaning the direction and quantity of force output will be diminished leaving the athlete slower with their arm drive and this only feeds down into the legs as well.
Last but certainly not least, would be the emphasis placed on chronic stretching.
Bottomline is that athletes will be more explosive and faster training movements that are shorter in length or range of motion, or involve smaller joint angles according to recent research. Not trying to get too geeky here but this scientific training concept is known as the angle of peak torque. Or the particular moment in a movement where the athlete is going to be most explosive and powerful.
There is limited time during sprinting, especially at higher speed to generate high amounts of strength and power during each step or stride cycle. If we were too flexible with sprinting motions we would be much slower because it would take far too long to move and we lose that natural sweet spot with our running posture where we have the potential to be most powerful and explosive.
This is not to say that stretching does not have its place in a training program, because it absolutely does. Especially when you are talking about recovery and perhaps even injury prevention.
It's just that the area's of anatomy that people focus on stretching when the goal is to get faster is counterproductive, and stretching itself doesn't show a lot of promise for making athletes directly faster.
YB: Alright, that's a wrap for today!
Stay tuned for Part 2 where Travis reveals his TOP 5 lower body exercises and what other methods apart from lifting weights he uses to develop blazing speed with his athletes.
If you enjoyed this article, please do a brother a favor by liking, commenting and sharing it with others who might dig it as well.
Yunus Barisik, CSCS, is the Head Strength and Conditioning Coach for an elite junior hockey organization based in Espoo, Finland. He has trained hundreds of hockey players at the junior, college and pro levels, including NHL Draft picks and World Champions. An accomplished author, Yunus has had articles published on top fitness and performance sites, including STACK and Muscle & Strength. He also wrote Next Level Hockey Training, a comprehensive resource for ice hockey players on building athletic strength, size and power, while staying injury-free.