Those drills don’t actually teach speed

Posted by Latif Thomas

I remember it like it was yesterday.

It was 2011 and I was attending the first USTFCCCA Event Specialist Certification school (sprints, hurdles, and relays).

We were getting deep into the max velocity / top end speed curriculum when it happened.

You have to understand…

…this topic impacts me greatly because my high school and collegiate careers were greatly limited by chronic injuries I experienced due, in scientific terms, crap sprinting technique…


Torn L hamstring? ✅

Chronic L/R hamstring pulls? ✅

Chronic L/R soleus strains? ✅

Plantaar fasciitis? ✅

Popliteal tendonitis? ✅


So when Vince Anderson started talking about and showing video of athletes sprinting over an extended layout of 6” banana hurdles, I was fascinated on multiple levels, not the least of which being I couldn’t understand how I had gone my entire life without EVER seeing or hearing about this…activity / drill / teaching tool.

To add insult to injury, he was talking about how traditional speed drills don’t work.

He was adamant about the fact that if it’s not teaching the ability to strike the ground at optimal angles (neutral ankle and vertical shin) with great force then it’s not specifically addressing the problems currently knee capping your sprinters’ ability to achieve and maintain higher top speeds.

Well, that’s a problem.

Because my primary method of teaching sprint mechanics was being a traditional speed/ Mach drill ninja.

Man,  I learned all the quote unquote speed drills.

And I spent a lot of time teaching all the skips and marches and fast legs.

And I got really good at them. My sprinters did too.

But something wasn’t right.

When we went from drills to Max V runs on the track…well…nothing really changed.

The reachers/brakers/toe pointers still casted their lower leg and struck the ground with the ankle plantar-flexed and the foot in front of the knee…

The kids with the big looping backside/poor recovery mechanics still spun their wheels behind them and didn’t go anywhere.

So I learned and taught more drills.

And man were my kids good at them.

If there was an event where you could combinate fricken fast leg variations into the track and field equivalent of a gymnastics floor routine, we would have been state champs every year.

But when we got up tall it was slap and flop, tap dance or stomp, flailing down the track like they wanted to hurt my feelings and self-esteem on purpose.

As an athlete I was talented enough to ran respectable times despite being technically incompetent…and frequently hurt or injured due to the exact same problems.

As a coach, I don’t coach kids like me who ran 48s at 16 years old.

(That’s not so fast in 2020, but in the pre-internet era of Massachusetts in 1995…not terrible.)

If your situation is anything like mine, you can’t bank on letting talent mask technical deficiencies.

The 4 suburban schools I’ve coached at range in population from 750 all the way up to 1100. (I can’t bank on pulling from a large talent pool.)

I coach in the cold ass Northeast. (I’ve never had an indoor track and it’s cold outside until late April.)

I don’t coach football or have access to those types of naturally “fast-twitchy, Type II B” athletes.

And we don’t have, cough, “voluntary off-season strength and conditioning” running throughout the fall.

But here’s what matters more than anything:


We have Championship Performances or we don’t. But, we’re not getting spotted a few seconds because I don’t have state of the art equipment or facilities.

That said…

Did we get faster? We sure did.

Did we have Championship Performances? Yup. Lots of them.

But it wasn’t to the level I knew was possible. And I am not very good at reacting to losing or failing.

This went on for years.

Then I went to USTFCCCA Event Specialist school where I learned what I was doing wrong and the revelation hit me like a ton of bricks.

I was using the drills ass backwards.

I thought my teaching progressions were on point, but nah.

If you’ve used the classic “speed” drills to teach top speed technique and they didn’t end up developing the mechanics or consistent performance improvement you had hoped for…tomorrow’s email will explain why…and show you how to fix it.

You can already be using the standard drills for acceleration or top end speed…

Your demonstrations can be on point…

Your cues can be stolen from the greatest flexers in the history of YouTube and Instagram…

You feedback system can alternate smoothly between knowledge-of-performance and knowledge-of-result information…

But if you’re not “Exposing” your sprinters, you literally have ZERO CHANCE of them learning how to achieve and MAINTAIN faster top speeds.

When you consider the fact your athletes get into top speed/Vmax mechanics within the first 3-8 steps, that’s a lot of time to leave on the track.

I had to learn that the hard way…and it cost kids a lot of hardware.

On Tuesday, I’ll show you how to avoid that same infuriating mistake.

“BUT LATIF”… (you might be thinking)

“You’re talking about using wicket drills, right? Well, we’re already doing them. So that’s not telling me anything I don’t already know!”

Maybe you’re running over low barriers of progressing distance with a 6 step acceleration and you’re calling that doing wicket drills.

But there are rules to doing them effectively and most coaches break those rules.

And that says nothing about progressing/regressing how you use them based on primary event and training phase.

If you want to decrease injuries and generate faster top running speeds, check for my email on Tuesday.

Until then…






Latif Thomas - Latif Thomas owns and operates Complete Track and Field and serves as the Co-Director of the Complete Track and Field Clinic at Harvard University, the largest track and field clinic in the United States. A popular speaker and presenter at some of the largest coaching clinics across the country, Latif has true passion for the sport and it definitely shows. Over the past 19 years, he has coached more combined League, Division, All-State, and New England Champions in sprints, hurdles, and jumps than he can count. Follow @latif_thomas on Twitter.

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