How to increase running . foot speed?
October 26, 2006 6:09 AM   Subscribe

How does one increase foot speed? My 12 year old son inherited his lack of foot speed from me. He's thin, skinny and a little below average height. This is not a weight issue, he is just slow. (All of which is subject to change when puberty kicks in full gear) In the meantime, are there exercises or drills he could do to increase his speed? He plays baseball and he fences - being a bit quicker would be a benefit in both.
posted by COD to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (31 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Nothing makes your feet move faster than tap dance. And, in case this makes a difference, there are a lot of prominent male tap dancers.

Seriously - it's all about fast, precise feet. And you get that aural feedback. And it's really fun for some people.
posted by amtho at 6:14 AM on October 26, 2006

Do you mean foot speed in the sense of flat out sprinting speed, or foot speed in the sense of dodging and quick reactions (which I imagine is what you need in basketball and fencing)?
posted by EndsOfInvention at 6:15 AM on October 26, 2006

Tell him to walk on his toes. I used to do it as a child and never even noticed it but I was also very fast. I think foot speed comes from well developed calves.
posted by any major dude at 6:25 AM on October 26, 2006

Funny you bring up tap. I used to give my father a hard time because he wouldn't let my mother put me in tap when I was a kid. I definitely see the benefit. However, given that he is pretty busy with fencing, baseball (in season), and all the other usual 12 year old stuff, I don't think another organized class or activity is realistic. I don't want to be one of those parents scheduling his every waking moment!

I think 40 year sprint speed and quickness and dodging speed are closely related. Anything that improves one will help the other, and he like to improve both.
posted by COD at 6:29 AM on October 26, 2006

I can't believe I'm linking to About, but this article on fast twitch and slow twitch muscles is a good, albeit general, one. It links to another, The Principles of Sports Conditioning, which has some decent recommended reading links at the bottom.
posted by iconomy at 6:32 AM on October 26, 2006

Given that muscle is so closely linked with hormone regulation and the strength of the immune system, you are wise to be taking an interest in your son's development.

1. He needs to eat more protein. Get him to drink a protein shake once a day. Whey protein, absolutely not soy.

2. Play basketball with him.

3. After each game, run some lines with him. This is where you start at the baseline, run to the key, run back, run to the top of the key, run back, run to half court, run back, run to the end of the court, run back.

The additional self confidence and the increase in muscle will provide life long benefits.
posted by ewkpates at 6:55 AM on October 26, 2006

Been there. Unsuccessfully done that. When I was growing up, I was always the slow one, and I tried a variety of methods to try and speed up:

1) Sprint Drills (very unsuccessful)
2) Building Leg Muscle (lots of squats, but I'm not sure you want to do this during puberty...I've always believed the urban legend that doing squats during puberty will make you shorter)
3) Jump Shoes. These were like shoes that force you to walk on your toes, so you build your calves. These really improved my hops.

Nothing really worked. I even shelled out money for a special, hi-tech, interval training program. I came to realize that there were two types of people in this world: the sprinters and the long-distance runners. I was definitely more of the latter.

Though you can give him the appearance of being faster, by improving his anticipation and decision making skills. (i.e, in baseball, when you're playing outfield, ask yourself, is this guy right or left-handed. Where's the ball most likely to go, what kind of pitch does he like to hit) or in basketball (what's his go to move, is he a good 3-pt shooter, can he dribble with his other hand?). I've found alot more success that way.
posted by unexpected at 8:21 AM on October 26, 2006

One tip I picked up recently that's helped my acceleration from a standing (or slow jogging) start to a sprint, is to take lots of small steps when accelerating rather than big strides. I'm not an especially fast sprinter but it surprised me how much faster it seemed I could accelerate when doing this.

And another good tip for improving your play is, like unexpected says above, "run smarter, not harder". Improve your read of the game and you can anticipate where you'll need to be and where your marker is going to be, meaning your running becomes more efficient as you only move when you need to.

(for reference, I don't play basketball, but I do play a lot of competitive Ultimate Frisbee)
posted by EndsOfInvention at 8:32 AM on October 26, 2006

I read recently that stretching helps - the article described stretching as well as general flexibility enhancement as "free speed." You might want to Google some triathlete info and see what comes back...
posted by Carnage Asada at 8:43 AM on October 26, 2006

Tell him to walk on his toes. I used to do it as a child and never even noticed it but I was also very fast. I think foot speed comes from well developed calves.

Anecdotal evidence: I've always been a toe walker and I am slow as molasses.

Though you can give him the appearance of being faster, by improving his anticipation and decision making skills.

Exactly. For basketball, specifically, if you can go left and right with equal facility you can beat your man, even if he's quicker than you. More generally, in few things are you running straight ahead at a dead sprint. So if you work on your balance and so forth you can make up in the corners what you lose in the flats.
posted by rogue haggis landing at 8:50 AM on October 26, 2006

disagree with unexpected - In my experience, powerlifting, sprinting, or marathons - you have to train the muscle to do the job and feed the muscle so it can.
posted by ewkpates at 8:51 AM on October 26, 2006

Google the Dot Drill. Haven't tried it myself, but I've heard about it some.

Sprinting of course is good, as is various jumping and mobility drills.
posted by Durin's Bane at 9:05 AM on October 26, 2006

As a fencer...
How long has he been at it? I know all the kids want to go fast right away, however it is most importaint that he do footwork drills. I've seen many a novice 'fast' fencer fall on their ass because they had lousy footwork.
If he is new to the sport, he should be doing simple drills moving forward and back, doing lines across the gym, progressively making them more complicated and faster. It is importaint to realize the connection between speed and practice... fencing footwork is -not- like walking. The fencing movement is unnatural, and the best way for him to get faster at it is to practice precise footwork. He should be doing it with an experienced friend in the club with assistance from the coach to make sure he isn't learning bad habits. If the club does footwork as a group before practice, he should do more on his own and challange himself. Footwork is often the bane of every good fencer, but you bet their FIE breeches they do it. As his legs get stronger his footwork and direction changing will be faster.
Furthermore, speed is not everything in fencing. You need it for sure, but what I love about fencing is the opportunities it holds for the tall, short, fast, and precise. If he is very upset about his lack of speed then he needs to develop another aspect of himself, like fantastic bladework, or perfect point control. Someone can fast but not hit the broad side of a barn.

I would also make sure he does some cross-training. If he -really- religiously starts doing his footwork and gaining power and speed in his legs, he's gonna develop the fencers "one big leg", which of course is a result of the position fencers move and lunge in. Make sure that gets balanced out. You have no idea how hard it is to buy pants sometimes.
posted by billy_the_punk at 9:12 AM on October 26, 2006

Buy him a hacky-sack.
posted by Four Flavors at 9:14 AM on October 26, 2006

ewkplates: marathon running and sprinting involve two vastly different muscle fibers. sprinting involves all of your fast-twitch muscle fibers, and marathon running involves all of your slow-twitch muscle fibers.

My point is that the distribution between the muscle fibers is simply genetics. Each type requires it's own specific training.

If what you're saying is true, Justin Gatlin and Michael Johnson would be the fastest marathoners in the world. I'm not arguing that they can't complete one, but I'm pretty sure that there are a ton of people that'd beat their pants off. Conversely, if those same guys tried to sprint, they'd be dead last.
posted by unexpected at 9:20 AM on October 26, 2006

This is by no means a permanent solution, but here is tip from a Wired article that might be worth looking at:

"To help him sprint faster, put a rubber band around your kid's ankle and then loop it over his toe in a figure eight.

How it works: When you run, the arch of your foot expands and contracts with every stride. The rubber band augments this movement, making you go faster. (In an informal experiment, this method improved the speed of seven out of 10 Japanese elementary school kids.)"

posted by catburger at 9:47 AM on October 26, 2006

Genetics play a relatively small role in the outcome of training to improve performance. Anyone can be good at anything, they just need to build the right muscles for the job.

"The right training will positively develop more of the fibres needed for either dynamic or endurance activity...em>
posted by ewkpates at 9:54 AM on October 26, 2006

Someone asked a similar question of my Dad at his web site. (self-link warning)
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 10:33 AM on October 26, 2006

My brothers and I are both into soccer and when we trained for quickness our dad got us an agility ladder. It helped us repeat quick movements (like side-to-side stepping) and kept us on our toes. I'm not sure if it was a huge help, but I don't think it hurt us at all.
posted by shoseph at 10:38 AM on October 26, 2006

He's been fencing about 18 months. He does work on his advances and retreats - probably could do it more though. I also have plastic golf balls hanging from the ceiling for him so he can work on thrust lunges and advance thrust lunges between club practices. And I agree, technique and strategy, particularly in fencing, can offset a lot of physical shortcomings. His point control definitely could be better. But that is true of just about every 12 year old fencer.

There is great info in these answers. Thanks for the help.
posted by COD at 10:53 AM on October 26, 2006

I disagree with much of the above. To improve foot speedthe best thing to do is simply practice sprinting. Especially for a 12-year old - weight lifting and protein shakes are not going to make any difference. Also, he's playing baseball, not basketball. Have him do sprints of different distances - 20 yards, 50 yards, 100 yards. Instruct him to run as fast as he can, then jog slowly back and repeat. The only way to really get faster is to practice running fast - it's that simple.
posted by btkuhn at 11:02 AM on October 26, 2006

Some sort of pyramid workout is probably what you're after. Start out with something like 4x40, then 2x100, then 1x200 (max speed), then back down. Increase rest times going up, decrease going down. Your max speed should be on the 200, and then slack off again on the 100 & 40. They're a killer.
posted by devilsbrigade at 11:16 AM on October 26, 2006

Foot speed can be learned. The more likely heritable traits are posture and form. You do need to train faster to be faster in competition, but you need to eliminate problems with form in order to train faster. I became more of an athlete as an adult and therefore had to painstakingly learn stuff my friends knew instinctively from childhood. I play ice hockey but only improved my foot speed—both in a straight line and for agility –by improving my form and posture.

From Chi-running, a low-impact kind of running recommended by my physical therapist, I learned about high foot speed, short steps, and above all posture. The idea is to build form that does not interfere with fast foot movement. Most people carry themselves in a way that increases mechanical resistance to fast foot movements. The back is too arched, the tailbone sticks out, the body needs to use muscle power instead of its “suspension” system to lift each foot. To remedy this:

1) Take short steps. This is against your instinct when you want to speed up. You can go a lot faster with short steps, and react more quickly to obstacles—but you must learn to fight the impulse to lengthen your stride.

2) Proper posture: A lot of people run bending over too far forward at the waist, or with their pelvis rotated too far down--so the tailbone sticks out. This increases the mechanical resistance to lifting your foot for each step. More resistance=slower feet. The Chi-running drill for this is as follows: bend forward at the waist and walk in place for thirty seconds. Then stand straight, with the lower stomach muscles engaged, tucking your tailbone under your body. Ideally, you should have the feeling that your hipbones are higher than they were—that your belt buckle is higher than your back belt loop. Try walking in place again. You will notice that it’s a lot easier to pick up your feet. This feeling is the key to moving them more quickly. (To increase forward running speed, lean forward from the ankles, keeping the body fairly straight.) The hips relax a bit, too, as they’re not under so heavy a load—which means they stop resisting you when you lift your foot.

3) Light steps: the impulse to run with heavy feet and a “solid” foot strike will slow you down. Rather, keep in mind the image—also from chirunning—of the Roadrunner from the cartoons. Your feet move in a small tight circle, your body is straight and leans forward from the ankles, not the waist.

To speed up, I first shorten my stride, then tuck my tailbone under and draw in my lower abdominals to keep it in place. I concentrate on not tightening my hips. This posture, with the lower core engaged and head and shoulders up—being careful not to bend forward too far at the waist—has made all the difference for my foot speed. It keeps your body from working against you. My agility has improved because my foot strikes are lighter and quicker. Abdominal and lower back strength is important here. Once this centered, balanced, low-resistance posture is achieved, he will find himself much more agile and quick on his feet. As long as he can keep the pelvic tilt and relaxed hips, he can then step on the gas an improve his sprinting speed, lengthen his stride, etc.

One more observation from my adult sports career that helps explain why I didn’t have much of a youth career:

Stress and tension tighten the hip muscles even before the back and neck muscles; interfere with coordination; and slow reaction times. When you’re learning how to compete, you need to practice getting out of your head and into your body. The best way is a proper warmup—into a light sweat at minimum. Most youth coaches skimp on this. Not only does it prepare your body, but it enables your mind to relax its grip a bit. Your body goes through familiar motions, increasing your confidence.
posted by Phred182 at 12:13 PM on October 26, 2006 [1 favorite]

For fencing, running fast needs to be combined with being able to control your body and shift direction without losing speed or balance. Try this :

Runner's World 2005 -
Improving agility by Catherine Reddick, Soccer Player

The Star Drill: Set up five cones in a pattern like the points of a star with a sixth cone in the middle. Each cone should be about 10 feet from the center cone. Start at the center and sprint to one cone, make a quick tight circle around that cone and return to the center. Circle the center cone and continue to the next cone in a clockwise direction until you finish all points of the star. Rest for 30-60 seconds and repeat the sequence counterclockwise. Keep working at it until you can go at top speed.
posted by hindmost at 12:43 PM on October 26, 2006

I think he ought to work on his vertical jump.

Find a place at home or at the schoolyard where he can mark the point of his highest reach standing flat-footed. Then have him put some chalk on the fingers of his dominant hand and jump as high as he can and mark that point above the original mark.

As the distance between the two marks increases, as he does this again and again as much as he can tolerate, so will his speed in baseball and fencing, I believe.

When he reaches a plateau (no improvement for two weeks, say), have him find a staircase where he can run up the stairs two at a time to the point of exhaustion twice a week, but no more than that, and only in the off season in baseball.

Make sure he has a good, well-fitting pair of basketball shoes in order to minimize the chances of injury from this regimen.
posted by jamjam at 12:44 PM on October 26, 2006

take his shoes off him and make him run, seriously makes you faster.

[think it was nike who researched this and was their reasoning behind the free range of shoes]
posted by moochoo at 3:07 PM on October 26, 2006

moochoo, great one.
posted by Phred182 at 3:29 PM on October 26, 2006

Regarding fencing: I agree with billy_the_punk that practicing footwork is the key to quickness. In fact it is the foundation of fencing itself. Whenever I introduce spectators to the sport, I tell them to watch the footwork to understand the bout. I used to do a half-hour to an hour of footwork as a warmup before any lesson or bouting. Make sure that your son is receiving quality instruction, and that, esp. in practice his movements are graceful. Pounding and thumping should be minimized, both to prevent overuse injuries, and increase stealth. For the most part practice should involve classical footwork with both heel and toe contacting the ground. Modern, dancing footwork on only the ball of the foot should be added only when this foundation is firmly ingrained.

Another key to quickness is relaxation. When muscles are in a relaxed state they provide less resistance when beginning a movement. A relaxed attack also increases your perceived speed. When a body is stiff, it gives away your intentions on the attack much earlier. A relaxed lunge that begins with an extension, and leg movement that do not transmit their movement to the torso will not be perceived by the opponent until it is already well underway.

All that said, I suspect you are really asking about sprinting speed which was actually my forte in fencing. Having a quick "first step" is a huge advantage in a variety of sports. In fencing, it makes the fleche (running attack) a significant threat, which opens up a variety of tactics and can be used to defeat more highly skilled opponents that lack this dimension to their game.

I used a variety of training methods to cultivate this speed: Mountainbiking in steep terrain, sprints up stairs/bleachers/stair climbing machines, sprints on sand at the beach, and resistance training (squats, leg press, and calf machines). Of all of these I think that mountainbiking and resistance training were the most effective. Mountainbikes because they are fun, and lay a good foundation, weight training because it was so efficient and effective. Note that high weights are neither necessary, nor desireable, esp. for a twelve year old. In fact, it would be prudent to avoid weights altogether until his body has matured, or at least require close, expert supervision.

Plyometrics are exercises which are specifically designed to produce this kind of explosive speed. They are, however, known for producing overuse injuries due to the increased forces involved. I don't recommend them at all for a twelve-year old, but definitely something to add years later, when results from a well-rounded conditioning program have begun to taper off.
posted by Manjusri at 4:43 PM on October 26, 2006

The comment regarding tap dancing is interesting. I did tap as a kid, and never connected it with my aptitude for fencing footwork, but that actually makes a kind of sense. Esp. for a 12 year old, getting him involved in a variety of activities is good for expanding his horizons, and keeping him from overdoing any one activity. Fencing especially, is an asymmetrical sport, and many of the adaptations it causes in your body are not ideal.

Another tip that may help: When practicing footwork, he should spend some time making his movements as small as possible. Go up and down the room several times taking steps as small as a few inches, and shaking out as necessary. It is counterintuitive, but several small steps will get you to the right spot quicker then committing to a large clunky step, because of the potential to change course between each step. For a demonstration, watch the footwork of professional tennis players.

For the opposite technique, when deliberately taking up large amounts of ground with several advances, the rear foot can be brought up close to the heel of the forward foot to steal extra distance, similar to a crossover step, but without the cross. This results in long loping strides which take up ground quickly, but are more vulnerable to counterattack. This also means they can be used as an invitation, and they function particularly well in conjunction with a fleche, as they disguise the buildup of momentum.
posted by Manjusri at 6:34 PM on October 26, 2006

Nobody mentioned overspeed training; five days later, I remembered it.
posted by Phred182 at 2:47 PM on October 30, 2006

Surfing through old posts, it just occurred to me that noone gave the most obvious answer: Jumprope
posted by Manjusri at 3:47 PM on January 13, 2007

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