This is the second part of my interview with strength and conditioning coach Travis Hansen.
It's kinda like Rambo: First Blood Part II... only more violent.
So with the mandatory disclaimer out of the way, let's pick up right where we left off...
YB: You and I share a similar training philosophy in that we both advocate heavy strength training for making guys faster. Why is maximal strength so important for developing speed?
TH: The first reason is just simple physics.
The more force you create in your neuromuscular system the faster you run, period.
Of course there is time and directional factors here that you have to consider, but there is as much real world evidence to support more strength for faster running as just about anything training related from what I have seen so far. There is about a half dozen studies in my book to support this relationship, and I've located quite a few more since publication.
If you aren't strong enough to overcome the weight of your body you can't get any momentum going and move faster, and since athletes are constantly required to initiate movement from very low speeds or still positions the need for strength becomes absolutely critical to perform and compete at a higher level.
YB: What would be your TOP 5 lower body strength exercises for speed development? And why did you choose those?
TH: #1 - The Hex Bar Deadlift
This exercise is incredibly easy to teach and learn, and as a bonus it supplies more power output relative to other types of deadlifts which is the key regulator to speed, and is safer on the lower back.
#2 - The Box Squat
Much like #1, there was a study that showed RFD (Rate of Force Development) was 3-4 times faster with this squat compared to traditional powerlifting and bodybuilding squat styles.
#3 - Front Squats
Of course this exercise carries physical value with it and builds super strong shoulders, quads, and your anterior core. But this squat variation is hard as hell to do correctly, and builds more toughness and pain tolerance in athletes.
#4 - Rear Foot Elevated Split Squats
These are also called Bulgarian Squats and they are my go to for testing single leg strength in my athletes. Sprinting obviously involves transferring your weight from one leg to the other and the stronger you are here the faster you can potentially run.
#5 - The Reverse Hyper or Modified Reverse Hyper
Here is an article I recently wrote which covers the drill:
The reason I like this one so much is because it combines both strength and movement specificity which is important for speed outcomes. The hyper has athletes exhibit strength in target muscles in a pattern this is very similar to the act of sprinting, and can help clear up some weak points.
YB: You’ve pored over the research on how maximal strength affects sprinting speed. Are there any hard numbers that jump out as milestones athletes should aim for when lifting weights?
Something like X pounds on the squat or Y times your own bodyweight on deadlifts. Numbers where, as a coach, you think: ”Yup, he’s definitely where I want him to be strength-wise.”
TH: Box Squat - 2-2.5x bodyweight
Bench Press and Chin-up - 1.5-2x bodyweight
Hex Deadlift - 2.5-3x bodyweight
Hang Clean - 1-1.5x bodyweight
These are good "standard" benchmarks I've identified with fast athletes that are very attainable if someone stays highly motivated and consistent with their training week in and week out.
YB: While lifting weights is an important part of speed training, it’s not the only part. What other methods should athletes use to develop blazing speed?
TH: First Step Training - Plyo-Steps, Lean Fall Sprint Series, Block work, Starting Strength Exercises, Assisted Speed work, etc.
Acceleration - 20 and 40 yard dashes, and resisted sled work.
An abundance of single leg and double leg plyometrics, rehearsed and reactive agility sessions, and knowing how to program everything together so that it all interacts appropriately so the athlete makes progress.
Programming for speed is very detailed and this is a make or break topic for sure. Programming is just as important as the actual drills themselves and perhaps even more so. If you don't understand how to structure workouts for each individual athlete and all that is involved in the total equation, then you are working off of a system that is designed to fail, and eventually that is exactly what will happen.
YB: Word up!
Be sure to check out the final part of this interview where Travis and I cover the relationship between genetics and speed, why and how sleds can help you become faster, and common nutritional mistakes athletes make that hamper performance.
While you're eagerly waiting for Part 3 to be published, sprint your way over to:
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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.