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We Are All Athletes

In many ways, we are all athletes. We want to be challenged, we need feedback and coaching to get to the next level, and we love to feel like we have accomplished our  goals.  As personal trainers and strength & conditioning coaches, we have the wonderful opportunity to positively influence “athletes” everyday of our lives.  Whether our athletes are young athletes or professional athletes or whether they are corporate desk jockeys or normal, everyday people looking to lose weight, get in-shape, and feel great again, we as trainers have the ability to teach, coach, motivate, and inspire these people to greatness in life.  Whether your goal is to run faster, become stronger, hit harder, and improve the efficiency of your game or to lose weight, improve posture, and become more flexible, systematically structuring a properly designed sports performance enhancement program is critical to reach success.  The purpose of this article is to expose you to the methodology used in many progressive sports performance enhancement programs to improve overall athleticism.

When it comes to programming, there are several areas of emphasis within one’s fitness routine to assist them get to the next level of performance.  For all clients, the 7 components I incorporate for all my clients include:

  1. The dynamic warm-up
  2. Joint integrity (balance, stabilization, and small muscle training)
  3. Core Strength
  4. Functional strength
  5. Power
  6. Speed, Agility, & Quickness
  7. Flexibility

Regardless of one’s level, in some way shape or form, most healthy clients that are looking to improve their performance in life are going to have some dimension of these 7 major areas in their routine.  Dependent on their goals, this may dictate as to exactly how much time is spent in each area.  But if you were to watch me train a 65 year old healthy senior that is looking to stay fit, improve her tennis game a bit, and have some fun, you can bet your bottom dollar you will see all of these areas represented in a workout.

Let’s take a look at a few of these areas more specifically and share some drills that I would do to challenge my athletes and clients to improve their overall athleticism.

After your client is warmed-up thoroughly, one area you need to emphasize is  speed, agility, and quickness training.  If you want to focus on speed training and get a client faster, there are several major areas that you need to emphasize in your teach of speed:

  1. Form and technique
  2. Strength training
  3. Power training
  4. Specific speed training to affect stride frequency and stride length
  5. Flexibility

When it comes to speed, there are different components of speed training to understand. These are:

  1. Acceleration
  2. Top-end Speed
  3. Deceleration
  4. Change of direction

It is important to understand this because it should affect your choice of drills and way you teach your clients proper form and techniques for each area.  Here are a couple key points to each of these areas:


  • Defined from the time it takes to go from the start to top-end-speed
  • Stay low out of the start and explode powerfully backwards off the ground
  • Foot contact is  behind the hips during acceleration
  • Body lean comes from the ground and your body should be in a straight line from heels to neck (approximately 45 degree body angle).
  • The first 10-20 yards of a sprint may be acceleration.
  • Power training (plyometrics and/or Olympic lifting) and strength training will greatly enhance your acceleration
  • The quicker you get to top end speed, the faster you will be.

Top-end speed

  • Mechanics change with top-end-speed
  • Foot Contact is underneath the hip; still explode powerfully backward
  • Whipping action of hip flexor to maximize leg turnover (stride frequency/rate)·     Drive your elbows backwards as your hands swing from approximately waist to chin.


  • Agility is defined as the ability to accelerate, decelerate, or change directions in the shortest amount of time possible.  Therefore, the faster you can decelerate, the quicker you will be able to change directions.
  • Two areas of importance in deceleration are balance and center of gravity.  If you can bend your knees quickly when decelerating to drop your center of gravity and maintain good balance, that will allow for a rapid response in change of direction.  Therefore, be sure to include balance training as part of your programming.
  • It is extremely important to focus on the back side of the body in order to decelerate a moving body quickly and not get injured.  These areas include, but not limited to the hamstrings, glutes, calves, low back, and core.
  • Include eccentric training as part of your programming.  Tremendous forces occur at your joints and in your muscles during deceleration.  Incorporate deceleration exercises as part of your repertoire and you will be better prepared for the forces of deceleration.

In designing a program for speed training and athleticism, let me share a few drills broken down by category for you:

Technique Drills:

  1. Arm Swing Drill
  2. Skipping (A skips, B skips, power skips–get them skipping!)
  3. Pogo Hops

Acceleration Drills:

  1. Wall Runs
  2. 3,5,7 Step Wall Runs3.  Partner Let go’s4.  Resisted Speed Work (TD Speed Cords)

Top End Speed Drills:

  1. Fast claw Drill
  2. Bungee Runs (with contrast)
  3. Woodway Overspeed Treadmill runs

Deceleration Drills:

  1. Sprint & Stops
  2. Sprint, Stop, & Go’s
  3. 1 legged hops with pause between each hop (forward, backwards, and sideways)
  4. Zig-Zag Cone Drills (6 cones; sprint to one cone, hop over it 3 times on one leg, sprint to the next cone, repeat five times, sprint, and catch ball at end)

Change of Direction Drills:

  1. Lateral shuffles and react upon command
  2. partner mirror drills
  3. Box drill (4 cones; set up the 4 cones in a box with five yards between each cone; stand behind back right cone; sprint to the first cone, decelerate, slide or carioca left, back shuffle to cone and slide right to next cone, touch cone and immediately reverse the direction repeating the drill)

These drills will all directly affect your speed, agility, and quickness.  They should be worked at least 2-3 times per week. If a client is slow of foot and needs more emphasis on speed and foot work, you want to devote 2 days per week of just speed training and 2 days per week of strength training.  If time is a factor and you only see a client two or three days per week, you may want to include SAQ drills as part of your overall program for the day.  In this scenario, your SAQ section may only last 15-20 minutes.  If you devoted a complete day solely to SAQ and plyometrics, you would spend about 45 minutes on the SAQ section.

The bottom line is this.  You must focus on movement regardless of your client.  As human beings, we are designed to move, coordinate motion, react to stimuli in our environment, etc.  Your expertise is defined as how much you can match one’s individual needs to their movement drills.  It is absolutely imperative that clients learn how to move.  Speed training is going to teach the client’s about movement and get them faster.  If you want to be fast, you must train fast.

Training movement is essential when working with all clients.  Ideally, these athletes are also getting in strength training and plyometrics.  Strength training is critical to improve one’s athletic performance and overall athleticism.  Additionally, strength training is the single, most effective means of affecting overall stride length in speed.  As you become stronger and more powerful, you are able to bound off the ground more explosively.  Coupled with a sound flexibility program, this will maximize your speed and athleticism.

A few of my favorite lower-body exercises for strength training to affect speed include:

  1. 1 legged Balance Straight-Legged Deadlifts    [3 x 10 per leg]
  2. Lunges with weighted vest (variable angles)    [3 x 20]
  3. Sled Drags    [3 x 30 yards]
  4. Reverse Sled Drags    [3 x 30 yards]
  5. Calf Raises    [3 x 20-30 (weighted)]
  6. Core Exercises    [10-15 minutes]

(Hyperextensions, BOSU core work, X-ercise ball, Keiser functional trainer, X-   ertube rotational exercises, X-erball, etc; Diversify these exercises and continually challenge your clients in different ways. It is important to also include rotation and diagonal work in your core training.)

Power training is also an important component to improve one’s athletic potential.  Power is defined as strength + speed.  One of the best ways to maximize power is through plyometrics.  Plyometrics will maximize fast-twitch muscle fiber recruitment and this is important in sports.  20% of your genetic make-up can be trained to take on characteristics of more fast-twitch or slow-twitch fibers dependent on your training program.  Training fast twitch muscle fibers through plyos will make you a better athlete.  If incorporating strength & power on the same day, I love to immediately follow a strength exercise with a plyometric activity.  An example would be following up a set of lunges with a set of lunge hops.  To maximize time and put ultimate challenges to your client, try combining a strength exercise with a power-type movement.

Some examples of lower-body plyometrics include:

  1. Leap Frogs    [2 x 10 jumps]
  2. Lunge hops with a twist    [2 x 20 total]
  3. Bulgarian lunge hops    [2 x 10 p/leg]
  4. Skater Plyos    [2  x 20 seconds]

Power training should be included in your program 2 times per week.  Power training will maximize your athletic potential by optimizing your fast-twitch muscle fiber development.

Lastly, flexibility is a critical area to achieve success in sports.  I was recently working with a professional football player who came to me to improve his speed.  Although he was extremely strong, there was no emphasis on power and there was no emphasis on flexibility.  Flexibility will improve your range of motion to help with stride length, power, and to reduce your chance of injuries. Your flexibility program should emphasize the entire body to include the following areas:

  1. Psoas/Hip flexor region
  2. Glutes
  3. Hamstrings
  4. Lower Shank (foot, ankle, calf, peroneal complex)
  5. Lower Back
  6. Chest/shoulders

By focusing on flexibility of these areas, you will help someone become faster and more flexible.  This particular pro football player I was working with improved his 40 yard dash close to .3 of a second in 6 weeks.  I attribute this to an improvement of technique, the implementation of plyometrics into his routine, and an emphasis on flexibility.  We don’t spend enough time stretching our clients.  Personally, all of our clients at Fitness Quest 10 get manually stretched on tables for 10-15 minutes after their programs.  The program we incorporate is part of my Optimal Performance Bodywork & Stretching routine.  Get your hands on people and be sure to give them a great, thorough stretch when done with their workout.  Additionally, provide them with a  10-15 minute stretch routine they can do on their own everyday.  Like anything in life, if you want to be great at something, you need to do it more than 2 times per week for 10-15 minutes.  If you want to get more flexible, it will take daily effort to see the improvement you hope for.  Frequency and consistency is key.  By incorporating flexibility though, you will not only feel great and experience more freedom from pain, you will see much improved results in your athletic performance.

When it comes to training and improving a client’s overall athleticism, I believe you must look at the 7 components of training and design one’s program based upon their goals, weaknesses, and respective sport in which they play.  Regardless of your clientele, I train all our clients similarly.  Although the intensity may be different and the duration may be different, the choice of exercises and protocol we use is the same for all of our clients.  Keep the tempo up, emphasize movement, challenge your folks, and have fun.

Todd Durkin is a 2 Time Personal Trainer of the Year and Founder of Fitness Quest 10 & Todd Durkin Enterprises in San Diego, CA. He trains people from all walks of life, but is best known for the work he does with over 25 NFL Superstars. He trains the likes of LaDainian Tomlinson, Drew Brees, Carson Palmer, Reggie Bush, Alex Smith, and Donnie Edwards amongst others. His expert staff of 30 trainers, coaches, and massage therapist/bodyworkers perform over 400 weekly sessions and help educate, motivate, and inspire the world to greater levels of health & fitness. Todd has 17 DVD’s on fitness & sports performance and has been featured in many national magazines and media outlets. His ezine newsletter “TD Times” is his way of connecting clients, trainers, coaches, colleagues, and friends from all over the world. He can best be reached via his websites,, or by using the contact form below: [easy-contact]

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