Fundamental speed training for athletes: speed drills and exercises

By Lucas Keating, 18 July 2021

Though strength training has its advantages for the athletes, we recommend combining it with a well-thought-out speed training. Instead of repeating the same exercise, doing a variety of different speed drills would improve your athletic performance. For that purpose, some athletes train on their own or with local coaches, be it sports schools, academies, or professional clubs. Other ones take part in sports camps to speed up the preparation process. 

Though many athletes have different workout routines, most of them approach fundamental speed training similarly. That being said, all interested athletes can use the following speed exercises and implement them into the daily schedules.

General speed training advice 

One of the most important aspects of a speed training program is to make your legs strong for all exercises. Making your feet more durable should be an everyday activity regardless of the training routine that you have set up for today. 

According to Marv Marinovich, who spent years in conditioning training, an athlete benefits more while doing the exercises barefooted than with comfortable shoes on. As Marinovich claims in his book, ProBodX, “Working out barefooted will improve your abilities in sports, such as running faster, jumping higher…or changing direction.” 

We would not advise doing all the exercises with your shoes off, but you could pick a few speed and agility drills during warm-up, and enjoy them. To practice your balance, ankle stiffness, and to minimize ground contact, you could do distinct types of hopping drills,

slant-board holds

or roll (on your feet) on a PVC pipe.

A PVC pipe workout is fantastic because it includes all elements that make your ankle stronger and more agile for running and jumping. Smaller ground contact means that you will produce a greater force on a smaller area, thus leaping and running higher and quicker. Also, your heel will not move towards the ground as much, and you will achieve better results. 

Position your body correctly 

It is of utmost importance to do speed and agility drills properly. Educate yourself on how every exercise affects your body, and which muscles are involved before you do that exercise. 

If you understand what elements are engaged in an activity, you will execute it with no problems, and the goal will be clear. Be careful how you use equipment like a shoulder or waist harness because it can lead to lousy posture and incorrect positioning of the hips, knees, and ankles. When speed and agility training coaches refer to “having an athletic stance”, they mean low position of the hips, correct shin angle, and minimal ground contact with the ball of the foot. Some drills are not efficient or even harmful if done wrong. 

During speed training always pay attention to mechanics because that separates average from elite athletes. Make sure you have the correct posture and position at all times. If an athlete is doing acceleration speed drills, the correct body posture will dictate the effectiveness of the training. To achieve efficient acceleration, an athlete should not be too upright because the shin would be too vertical that prevents proper acceleration. 

You can do yourself a favor if you will add agility ladder drills or cone drills to your practice sessions. The reasons is simple, speed and agility training benefit to each other, i.e. by doing speed exercises athlete improves agility, and by doing agility drills - improves his speed and explosivness. 

Pace yourself

Another way of helping athletes achieve significant results is to address the deficiencies and improve RSA (repeated sprint ability). If you do not have a personal coach or someone to look after your speed and agility workout, do it on your own. You could set up a mirror and pay attention to the positions and mechanics while doing an exercise. 

Start with easier drills and move onto more challenging ones. Hard exercises are the ones of higher intensity, and they usually last longer. Other than that, speed training programs might include more changes of direction, resistance and a higher-frequency of acceleration and deceleration. RSA or repeated sprint ability is the ability of a sports player to recover and maintain maximal effort during sprints of different difficulty and duration. 

Athletes are never under constant physical pressure because they have the time to slow down, speed up, change direction, and even stop. By improving RSA, an athlete will be better prepared for the demands of the modern game.

For instance, an athlete used to sprint for fifty yards without changing direction in one of the speed drills during the off-season. Before the start of the season, an athlete should cover the same distance, but differently. Instead of doing a sprint, an athlete could do a multi-directional drill that corresponds to the particular sport. That way, a sports player would get used to match conditions. An example is in the video below:

Always have your goal in mind. If you want to improve your athletic performance, you need to have enough time to rest between the drills. Otherwise, your speed workout will turn into conditioning. Quality is the focal point of any speed training. By allowing adenosine triphosphate and creatine phosphate to be restored because of more rest between the drills, one will improve both speed and agility. Not every exercise requires maximum resting time, especially drills done at a lower speed. However, if you sense that you have to stop, or your mechanics get worse, stop doing the exercise and rest. You could get back to the basics of the particular drill while you are resting, so you could do it once you are ready to go again.

Combine rehearsed with reactive speed drills

We should distinguish between rehearsed and reactive speed drills. All training sessions should include both types of drills, and reactive drills are becoming more and more popular. Rehearsed drills are all about learning the basics before you step into the game. A sports player needs to understand and learn the technique and mechanics of the game before playing it. However, make sure that the speed training always includes reactive drills. 

As Paul Gamble Ph.D., one of the leading experts in speed and agility training, states, “Alongside the acquisition of component movement skills there is a need for the athlete to be progressively exposed to an unpredictable environment to allow them to develop the ability to execute these movement skills under reactive conditions.” 

Your coach or your partner could command you where to go, or you could react to a football being thrown in one direction, and so on. Reactive drills provide an athlete with the uncertainty that rehearsed drills do not have. In any game, an athlete needs to react as fast as possible to the change of the elements that are beyond his or her control. Reactive drills improve cognitive functions.

Introduce SAQ drills

Even though many people think speed and quickness are the same things, these are distinct terms. Speed is the ability to move your body in one direction, while quickness refers to the ability to react fast, and position your body differently. Almost every professional athlete base their training program on Speed, Agility, and Quickness, also known as SAQ. If you want to succeed and get better results, think about introducing quickness drills to your speed and agility training program even though agility drills (for example, agility ladder drills, agility cone drills, etc.) and speed drills might be enough. The general recommendation here is to prepare a speed and agility workout plan that meets the specific needs of the athlete based on his/her age, weight, height, physical condition, sport, etc.                                  

Please, be noted, that you can improve your physical condition faster through participation in the relevant sports camps be it soccer (football) camps, basketball camps, triathlon camps and etc. On SportlaneⓇ you can search and book a fit-for-purpose sports camp that would cater to your budget, skill set, and location preferences.

Specific speed drills 

Building up your speed will make you a better sports player, regardless of the sport. Strength and conditioning experts divide speed drills into multidirectional, acceleration, and max speed exercises because athletes have to be capable to move fast in all directions. All three categories of speed exercises should be done monthly. It is important to understand that one does not exclude the other two. Combine them for maximum results. Start your practice with multidirectional speed drills, then move onto acceleration and max speed. 

Multidirectional exercises include lateral movements, a swift change of direction, backpedaling, and so on. Acceleration includes static starts, jogging and going into a sprint, walking and going into a sprint, and so on. A non-motorized treadmill is an effective tool that helps athletes improve their max speed. We will present you with some drills specific to each type of exercise.

Before engaging in a serious workout, all athletes need to do a series of warm-up exercises. Warm-up exercises are important because they activate your muscles, tendons, and ligaments, thus prevent injuries from occurring. Plus, you will get better results. General warm-up exercises are universal, and their goal is to make you fit for harder drills that come next. Specific warm-up drills prepare you for whatever you want to improve that day. If you want to enhance your speed, the focus would be on corresponding warm-up drills, and the same goes for agility and strength training (for this purpose see our guide on developing a soccer workout plan).

A general warm-up within any speed and agility training program should engage your entire body. You can start by moving your arms in a circular motion with or without weights for ten reps, which is otherwise known as Banded shoulder dislocate 

After that, walk ten yards on your heels and walk back on your toes. To activate your thigh area, put your feet together, and do ten squats. Adductors are the muscles on the inside of your thigh area, and you can activate them by doing lateral lunge

and crossover lunge

If you own a fitness rubber band, you can tie it around your ankle and start moving your feet in small steps to one side and then the other.

Multidirectional warm-up drills

If you want to do multidirectional speed exercises, you can do the general followed by specific warm-up drills. Specific drills include side to side line hops and jumps, lateral skip, crossover skip, and many others. 

Side to side line hops are really easy, and they activate your legs significantly. Stand on one side of the line and hop to the other in a continuous rhythm. You could do this exercise facing the line and standing by it

Lateral skip is running laterally while lifting your knees as high as possible 

Crossover skip is similar to the last exercise, except you should move forward instead of going left or right 

Rapid-fire is intense and it activates both your thighs and core muscles 

Acceleration warm-up drills

Acceleration warm-up comprises speed drills such as front-to-back line hops, A-skip, falling start, and fast feet. 

Front to back line hops are almost the same as a side-to-side line hops with the key difference in the position of your body. You should face the line rather than being on the side of it. Jump to the other side of the line and bounce back as soon as your feet touch the ground. This drill can be done with both feet or with one foot. It is important to do an equal amount of reps with your left and right foot 

A-skip is a great exercise that engages your core muscles and the lower part of your body. Start walking and keep your foot at dorsiflex on a drive up. Once you land, push off on the front third of your foot and repeat the process with your other foot. Your knees should be as close to your chest as possible 

To execute a falling start drill, lean forward until you sense your body falling. Once you reach that position, start running forward for five yards 

Stay in one place to do the quick feet exercise. Slightly lift one leg off the ground and put it down. Do this with your other leg and combine both feet to create a continuous rapid rhythm for five seconds. 

Max speed warm-up

If you want to achieve max speed, you will need to warm up first. Some specific speed drills related to max speed are snap skips, high knees, and single-leg butt-kicker. 

Snap skips are like A-skip with the major difference in the position of your feet. While in A-skip both feet are on the ground at one point in time, snap skips do not allow that. As soon as one foot touches the ground, the other one goes up, and so on.

High knees are a basic exercise and almost everyone has encountered it. Lift one foot at the time and make sure that your knees are close to your chest. Pay attention to your body position because you need to keep your back straight and do not move forward 

Just like high knees, butt-kicker is an exercise most people are familiar with. Start running without moving from the spot and make sure that each foot touches gluteal muscles. 

Best universal speed ladder drills

As it follows from the name of the exercises, speed ladder drills improve speed and are exploited in different sports (soccer, football, running, boxing, etc.). They can be used simply as a warm-up workout or a separate exercise within the speed training plan. Let’s review the best speed ladder drills many athletes and physical conditioning coaches recommend. 

Ladder Linear Run

Actually, this is one of the basic speed ladder drills. Stand behind the ladder and run forward to the center of the ladder with each foot coming in-and-out of the ladder boxes. Please see the video for a better understanding. Once you have finished the run in one direction, turn back and repeat the exercise. Try to do these drills as quickly as you can to minimize the contact of your feet with the ladder. 

Lateral High-knees. Step inside the ladder with your body turned a bit of 45’ angle, and then run forward with high knees, raising them to the waist level. Run through and till the end of the ladder. Use your bend arms to increase the intensity of the exercise. Do this drill for two sets as part of the speed ladder drills bundle. 

Similar to the Lateral High-knees drill, Forward running is a simple self-explanatory exercise within the speed ladder drills category that requires you to lift your knees as high as possible but to move directly through the ladder (not laterally as in Lateral High-knees). As a reward, your feet will be faster and better coordinated. Start running and make sure that your feet land in every single ladder space. Pay attention to your rhythm, form, and your body position. Drive forward with your arms, and land on the balls of the feet. Just like with forward running, try maintaining proper form while moving laterally. Be sure to position your body so your center of gravity is low and dart from one ladder space to the other. Put your feet in each ladder space, one at a time. You should drive your arms forward and make sure that you land on the balls of your feet.

Two-footed Forward/Backward Jumps.  

First, stand in front of the long side of the ladder. Then jump with both feet into the second box, jump back outside the ladder, jump forward to the third box, then jump backward outside the ladder, and go on to the fourth space, and continue jumping this way to the end of the ladder. Then turn back and repeat the exercise just in the opposite direction.

If you think you need to focus more on agility rather than speed (e.g. you play basketball), feel free to use our agility drills practice plans and exercises. 


Evidently, speed and agility training is not a fixed, fit-for-all set of exercises as speed drills or agility drills may vary tremendously. It especially on point when one needs to cater to the workout plan for young athletes or semi- and professional athletes. Yet this kind of sports practice helps increase not only speed or agility but also power, explosiveness, strength, quickness.

Given that, SportlaneⓇ offers a variety of high-performance sports camps and sports academies all over the world for different levels of skill, budget, and location preferences.

For instance, once can search great soccer (football) camps, basketball camps, cycling camps, triathlon camps, etc.