Speed training: bounding to improve performance

Bounding to increase your running speed

Whenever I give a workshop on ‘neural training’ and speed training development, one of the hardest exercises to demonstrate is speed bounding, which I define as taking slightly longer strides while keeping footstrike times as short as possible. Part of the difficulty is that I’m not very fast when I demonstrate the activity, so people tend to wonder why I call it ‘speed’ bounding.

However, the key problem is that most people are unable to carry out the routine with good form. In order to increase their stride lengths, some speed-bound initiates vault into the air like novice ballerinas, expending huge amounts of time in the airborne state and then plopping onto the ground with the lightness and elasticity of elephants. Other first-time speed bounders keep their legs straight and overflex their hips like Russian dancers in order to reach out to cover more ground. And a pervasive problem is that even when someone bounds correctly from one foot, the other foot can’t handle the resulting – more forceful than usual – impact very well, so the follow-up bound is of poor quality in terms of both speed and length. I seldom leave a conference confident that participants know how to speed bound properly.

It would be easy to leave speed bounding out of the workshops, but it is a terrific exercise for all athletes who want to run faster during their sporting activities because it develops the ability to generate more power during the footstrike portion of the gait cycle. To overcome the problems described above and get people speed bounding skillfully, I’ve developed a ‘bridge’ between normal bounding (bouncing along with long but rather ponderous strides, which almost everyone can do) and speed bounding. This technique is known as ‘Chester bounding’ (after a character from TV’s cult 1960’s serial ‘Gunsmoke’) or, alternatively, ‘scooter running’.

With Chester bounding, one of your legs is fairly inactive, as though its foot is planted on the platform of a scooter (thus ‘scooter running’). This ‘scooter foot’ doesn’t do much except provide support for your body and stop you falling down; it’s the other foot and leg which are working quite explosively. In effect, when you practice Chester bounding, you are learning to bound with one leg at a time.

Chester bounding: how to do it
* Run along at a comfortable pace, but suddenly begin to make each footstrike with your right foot as explosive as possible. As your right foot hits the ground, exert extra force with your right leg and foot while minimising the time your right foot is in contact with the ground;

* Naturally, you will have to land on your left foot after you have ‘toed off’ from your right, but your left leg should behave as though you are just cruising along comfortably; your left foot will simply touch down and then toe off without anything unusual happening (almost as though it were resting lightly on a scooter platform);
* When the right foot hits the ground again, shoot for maximal force production in the shortest-possible time. Repeat this pattern for about a minute;
* Shift over to the left foot for another minute;
* Jog normally for a minute or so to recover, then repeat the routine a couple of times.

If you have trouble making this work, keep trying: many runners gradually pick up the technique over a period of several workouts. If you can’t seem to get it, think of Chester bounding as a little like limping: in effect, you have a good (explosive) leg and a bad (weak-acting) leg, and as you carry out the routine you are trying to generate almost all of your forward momentum from the good leg’s activities.

Why not just bound explosively on one foot at a time, while keeping the other foot totally uninvolved? Such ‘sprint hopping’ is beneficial in its own right, especially since it forces each leg to muster up force at high rates in the face of ever-growing fatigue. However, Chester bounds are more like real running, since both legs are involved, and should help the nervous system ‘programme’ the explosive footstrikes in a more running-specific manner. Chester bounds also provide for more recovery time than sprint hopping, since the explosive leg has to wait for the other leg to ‘do its thing’ before explosive force can be created again. This recovery period (very close to the amount of time allotted for single-leg recovery during intense workouts and races) should permit the involved, Chester-bounding leg to sustain higher power outputs during a workout than a sprint-hopping leg.

Why not use a real scooter to work on explosiveness instead of merely simulating a scooter ride with Chester bounds? In fact, some runners do scoot around the track with the currently fashionable metal contraptions, hitting 200s and 400s at high speeds while alternating between feet. There are two drawbacks, however: 1. In neural terms, the scooter rides are further removed from real running than Chester bounding, which makes them less useful;
2. People with low-back, S-I-joint, and/or hip problems may experience increased duress because of the increased lateral ‘pelvic tilt’ which scooter riding necessitates.

Alternative techniques for speed bounding
Veteran coach Ken Jakulski of Lisle Senior High School in Illinois has found another useful way to develop speed-bounding ability, called ‘Skip Run 1-2-3’. As Ken points out: ‘One problem is that speed bounds require great negative vertical velocity – and most clinicians cannot grasp this – because speed bounds require them to know how to accelerate the thigh back to the ground after it has been thrust ahead during forward leg swing. This downward acceleration helps facilitate a faster and more powerful footstrike, but it is very difficult for many athletes to understand and carry out. So, as a transition to speed bounding, I like to use the Skip Run 1-2-3 routine.’

Here’s how to do Skip Run 1-2-3:
* Begin with a high knee skip, so that your right thigh comes up to a position parallel with the ground as you skip (with two quick steps) on your left foot;
* As soon as your right foot comes down, break into a very quick three-step – right, left, right (R-L-R) – in which the last right step becomes the first step of the new skip;
* As you skip on your right foot, bring your left thigh quickly up as before;
* As your left foot comes down, break into another three-step ‘blast’ (L-R-L), with the third step initiating a new skip; * Continue in this way for 60-80 metres.

If you struggle with this drill at first, don’t worry: it does take a while for many athletes to ‘programme’ themselves to do it correctly. Once you have perfected it, you can move on to a more advanced exercise called Skip Run 1-2-3 Bound-Bound, with the bounds qualifying as true speed bounds, since the momentum of the Skip Run 1-2-3 makes them very, very fast.

Skip Run 1-2-3 Bound-Bound:
* Skip Run 1-2-3 for 5-10 metres without the bound-bound component;
* Then, instead of skipping off your right foot, bound explosively forward;
* When your left foot hits the ground, bound dramatically ahead off that foot, too;
* Decelerate for a moment before repeating the whole exercise, always ensuring that each bound-bound is preceded by about 5-10 metres of skip running;
* Try the overall routine for 60-80 metres at a time, taking short breaks between each effort. Eventually, as your bounding prowess improves, you will be able to speed-bound for most or all of the 60-80 metres without including any skips or three-stride runs.

Achieving a fine workout with Chester bounds
Chester bounds, Skip Run 1-2-3s, and – eventually – speed bounding are key components of a workout designed to dramatically enhance your speed and power. This training session is most useful after you have built up a strong foundation of general and special strength, coordination, agility, and cardiovascular fitness. For soccer, cricket, tennis, and basketball players, it works well during the training that comes before the most important part of the competitive season. For endurance runners, it should be a focal point, especially during the 6-8 week lead-up to the most important competition of the year. The workout proceeds as follows:

A. Warm up by jogging easily for 10 minutes or so, until you feel ‘loose’ and ready to run hard.

B. Spring-hops
* Jog along for one minute with very springy, short steps, landing on the mid-foot area with each contact and springing upward after impact. As you move along, your ankles should act like coiled springs, compressing slightly with each mid-foot landing and then recoiling quickly – causing you to bound upwards and forwards;
* Jog in your usual way for about 10 seconds;
* ‘Spring-jog’ for about 20 metres, alternating three consecutive spring-like hops with your right foot with three contacts with the left, and so on until you have travelled about 20 metres;
* Jog again for 10 seconds;
* Spring-hop for 20 metres on your right foot only, before shifting over to the left foot for another 20 metres (making sure you land in the mid-foot area with each ground contact).

C. Run at a strong intensity (if you’re a runner, this should feel like 5k race tempo) for one minute while counting the number of times your right (or left) foot hits the ground. If this amounts to 90 or more, move on to step D. If it is less than 90, repeat the first stage of B above while trying to increase your stride rate. If you hit 90 or more, move on to step D; otherwise, repeat once more before moving on.

D. Bounding
* Chester bound for 60 metres, using your right foot as the explosive foot;
* Rest for a few seconds;
* CB off your left foot for 60 metres;
* Rest and repeat at least once.

Alternative 1:
* Skip run 1-2-3 bound-bound for about 60 metres;
* Rest for a few seconds;
* Repeat twice more.

Alternative 2:
* If you are skilled at speed bounding, speed- bound 4 x 60 metres, with 20-30-second rests between reps.

E. Greyhound runs
On a playing field or track with 100 metres of unobstructed surface:
* Accelerate for the first 20 metres, attempting to reach close to top speed;
* Maintain close-to-max speed for 60 metres;
* Decelerate for 20 metres;
* Turn around, rest for a second or two, and repeat in the opposite direction; * Complete a total of 8 100-metre segments (four in each direction).

F. One-Leg hops on the spot
* Start from the same position you use for a one- leg squat, with the toes of your right foot supported by a 6-8 inch block or aerobics step;
* Hop rapidly on your left foot at a cadence of 2.5-3 hops per second (25 to 30 foot contacts per 10 seconds) for 40 seconds. As you do so, your left knee should rise by about 4-6 inches with each upward hop, while your right leg and foot should remain stationary. Your left foot should strike the ground in the area of the mid-foot and spring upwards rapidly, as if you were running on hot coals! Your hips should remain level and virtually motionless throughout the exercise, with very little vertical displacement;
* Repeat on the right foot;
* Repeat the whole exercise once more.

G. Drop jumps
Be very careful with this exercise as it has been known to produce injury in a number of athletes:
* Stand at the edge of a sturdy bench or box about 6-12 inches high, with the front portions of your feet over the edge so that your toes are angled slightly downwards. Keep your knees slightly bent and your arms relaxed at your sides;
* Drop – don’t jump or step – from the elevated surface to the ground, by letting your feet slide off the edge of the platform. As you descend towards the ground, prepare for landing by flexing your legs at the knees and hips, and cocking your elbows back;
* As your feet hit the ground, instantaneously jump forward as far as possible. You’re trying for maximal intensity and effort – and the shortest possible ground-contact time;
* Repeat three or four time for your first few workouts, then progress to more repetitions over time, eventually carrying out the exercise on one foot at a time.

H. Indian hopping
* Jog for a few seconds;
* Then jog diagonally to the right with your right foot;
* When your right foot makes contact with the ground, hop on the spot on your right foot;
* When your right foot comes down to earth from the hop, hop explosively diagonally to the left with your left foot;
* When your left foot strikes terra firma, hop once and then explode diagonally to the right;
* Repeat for 45 seconds, staying relaxed and smooth;
* Rest for 15 seconds, then repeat.

I. One-leg squats
* Stand with your left foot forward and your right foot back, with your feet about one shin-length apart from front to back and hip-width apart from side to side. If possible, place the toes of your right foot on a block or step 6-8 inches high. Most of your weight should be directed through the heel of your left foot;
* Now bend your left leg and lower your body until your left knee creates an angle of 90 degrees between the thigh and lower leg;
* Then hop laterally (with your left foot, keeping the right in place) about 6-10 inches;
* Hop back to ‘centre’;
* Then hop medially (to the right when your left leg is forward) for 6-10 inches;
* Come back to centre, then return to the starting position, maintaining upright posture with your trunk and holding your hands at your sides;
* Complete 2 x 12 one-leg squats with lateral hops on each leg, with a one-minute break between sets.

J. High-knee explosions
* Stand erect but relaxed, feet in line with your shoulders;
* Jump very lightly on the spot for a few moments;
* Still keeping a fairly erect posture, jump vertically while swinging both knees up toward your chest, then land back on your feet in a relaxed and resilient manner;
* Jump lightly for a few moments, and repeat;
* Rest for a few seconds, and repeat 15 times.

K. Shane’s In-Place Accelerations (‘IPAs’)
Each of the following for 3 x 20 seconds:
* Stand erect but relaxed, as above;
* Begin by simply jogging on the spot (in place);
* When you feel ready, begin to dramatically increase your in-place ‘stride rate’, building up fairly quickly to as rapid a rate as you can sustain while not moving forward. Keep your feet close to the ground as you do this; you’re not aiming for high knee lift but rather for dramatically minimised foot-contact times. Maintain erect but relaxed posture. As you ‘accelerate up to top speed’, it sometimes helps to turn your legs slightly outward at the hips.

L. Run at high speed downhill for 3 x 100 metres, jogging lightly back up the hill each time to recover. A negative 2-4 per cent inclination seems to work best; the idea is to relax and develop coordination in the context of very explosive footstrikes. Let the hill do much of the work for you and don’t stiffen up too much; instead try to develop the kind of resilience which allows you to bounce extremely quickly off each foot as it makes contact.

M. Run rhythmically at close to all-out intensity for 1600 metres, while staying relaxed.

N. Cool down with 2-3 miles of light running.

In combination with your usual quality training, this workout will have you running faster than you ever thought possible!

Owen Anderson