The Best 7 Running Back Speed Drills – Garage Strength

The Best 7 Running Back Speed Drills

The Best 7 Running Back Speed Drills

One of the worst feelings as a running back is being able to see the edge and not being able to get there. Failure to make the play and outpace the scraping linebacker is a horrible feeling. Having the capability to get to the sideline, turn the corner, and scamper up the sideline to take it to the house is paramount to being an elite running back.

Elite running backs know how to utilize acceleration and the drive phase of sprinting, hitting the next gear to accelerate through and beyond the line of scrimmage. Blowing by interior defensive lineman and sneaking underneath rush ends are skill sets running backs need to possess. In addition to having acceleration, running backs need to value top-end speed. They also need to be able to handle big-time collisions when colliding with juggernaut sized linebackers and gap filling safeties. Bringing the wood to decimate linebackers and safeties is legit, but it is also tantamount to be successful as a running back to outpace cornerbacks and handle big hosses from the interior tugging on their jerseys.

Let’s not forget, when we think of the best running backs of all time, they can cut on a dime, juke like a joystick, explode out of a jump cut, and accelerate very rapidly.

Thinking about speed for running backs, we need to also acknowledge that running back athletes need to be able to hit the hole quickly and be able to break tackles. The contact and collisions running backs deliver and receive contribute to not only yards after contact, but letting defenders know they’re in for a hurting as the game continues.

Put all of those skill sets together, and you get a picture of what it takes to develop the speed needed to be the best running back possible for the sport of football.

Lower Body Training

Developing speed requires lower body strength. It sounds obvious, right? But it needs to be said. Stronger legs make for a greater ability to put force into the ground. The legs need to be trained using a variety of exercises.

Garage Strength Performance Design has athletes training legs 3 days a week

  • Lower Body Power Day
  • Athlete Day
  • Impulse Day

These days are not performed back-to-back. Typically, they are broken up by an Upper Body Power Day between the Lower Body Power Day and the Athlete Day, a rest day between the Athlete Day and Impulse Day, and an upper body Hypertrophy Day after the Impulse day.

All of which is laid out for football running backs in the premier strength training app for sports performance,Peak Strength.

Each day has a specific goal in mind. The Lower Body Power Day is primarily meant to increase strength and power. The day will begin with a technical coordination movement–think Olympic weightlifting movements–followed by an absolute strength movement–going to be a squat or a variation of a squat. The day will then end with accessory movements used for structural bodybuilding–targeting lower body muscles that need to increase in size or isolation movements used to pre-hab and improve joint stability.

That is the first day of lower body training in the week.

Athlete Day

Athlete Day is another lower body focused day. However, though it isn’t always the case, Athlete Day is nearly devoid of resistance-based training. No need for running backs to lift on Athlete Day.

The focus of athlete day centers on plyometric movements and reflexive strength exercises. Plyometric movements, in the most simplest form, are jumps. Jumping on boxes, jumping over hurdles, and jumping up stairs are all prime examples of plyometric movements. The plyometric movements can, and should, be done bilaterally–on two legs–and unilaterally–on one leg. It is wise to pair a bilateral plyometric movement with a unilateral plyometric movement.

Reflexive strength exercises are unique exercises. They train balance, stability, and speed. They are done with light loads at breakneck speeds. Reflexive strength exercises are meant to make sport moves turn into natural reflexes.

Think of reflexive strength exercises as a way to break down on the field movements into component parts so that the running back athlete can develop the kinesthetic move sets. For instance, think of Marshawn Lynch juking Ray Lewis. To perform a juke like that a running back needs to plant, sink their hips, and accelerate out of the position. Reflexive strength exercises can help develop that skill set.

Athlete day leads into a rest day, and the rest day leads into Impulse Day.

Impulse Day

Impulse day can be a full body workout day. However, it is ideal for it to be a lower body day. Running backs will train on this day similar to the Lower Body Power Day. The day starts with a technical coordination movement, followed by an absolute strength movement.

However, where the lower body power day’s focus is developing raw strength, the impulse day’s focus is to develop impulse.

Impulse is FORCE x TIME. It is how much force an athlete can execute in a short amount of time. Essentially, the higher the impulse, the more powerful a movement will be.

One of the easiest ways of thinking of impulse involves watching a running back sprint in the open field. Every time their foot strikes the ground, that is a moment of impulse. Short, rhythmic bursts of putting force into the ground.

Impulse is not only reserved for the lower body though. It is important to develop impulse expression in the upper body as well. Think of rapid elbow extension as a demarcation of impulse from the upper body.

For instance, training the bench press is a way to utilize the idea of dynamic correspondence to prep running backs to throw stiff arms. In our strength training app, Peak Strength, the upper body power day and Hypertrophy Day make this a large focus for running backs in the football track.

Remember, impulse is key.

The Drills 

With the preamble out of the way, let’s dive into the 7 speed drills running backs can do to improve their speed. 

7. Banded Single-Leg Start

To do the banded single-leg start, you want to get into a unilateral position. Have the single leg in a near quarter squat position. With the band anchored to an immovable object, use an auditory command to single the start. 

The whole factor here is to improve the first step. Loaded with the band forces the athlete to be more engaged with the trunk. The athlete needs to have dynamic trunk control triggered right off the bat.

Lead with the first step onto the box and squeeze isometrically to control the feeling. 

When doing the banded single-leg start, athletes will learn how to utilize their first step, similar to running a dive or counter or zone. ALl of a sudden running backs can hit the hole quicker because the body understands how to engage the trunk on the initial step.

The banded single-leg start exercise forces the body to get forward onto the box. Running back athletes are often in the acceleration phase and the drive phase in an open skill sport like football. The banded single-leg start exercise demands and teaches a positive shin angle during the drive. Holding the band increases the feeling of every single muscular action being engaged to train to hit the hole faster. 

You can do this movement two days a week, specifically on the impulse day or athlete day. 

6. Bent Knee Glute Ham Raise

I love this movement. It is similar to the nordic curl (another great exercise). The bent knee glute ham raise targets the lower back a little bit more, engaging the trunk. The hamstrings will also get smashed. Actually, the hamstrings will get annihilated.

You can use a dumbbell or a barbell on the back to create more tension at the top position. The bent knee is done on purpose to create a greater range of motion.

Also, a lot of the time when sprinting and accelerating, running backs, in regards to hip extension, are in a bent knee position. The bent knee glute ham raise is a really good exercise to engage and train the hamstrings how to operate and get out of cuts quicker. The hamstrings, quads, and glutes will fire together and create a rapid rate of acceleration.

You can do this movement once or twice a week for three to four sets of twelve to fifteen reps on the lower body power day or the impulse day.

5. Two-Block Clean

When you think of really quick running backs, you will notice that they are tightly wound with pretty solid mobility. They are able to get into deep squats and operate through a full range of motion. 

Running backs need to be mobile. Being mobile and explosive helps running backs to be able to cut. However, with greater mobility, running backs can put their bodies in better cutting positions to be faster and more agile.

Two-block cleans are great because the technical coordination exercise puts athletes in a position where they have to accelerate a large amount of weight very quickly. The athlete has to catch the bar deep in the hole in a very mobile position, absorb the energy, and rapidly get out of the hole. 

The first pull is very similar to the first two to three steps a running back takes hitting the hole. The catching of the bar and absorbing the energy is very similar to getting hit by a defender. Standing up and controlling the weight from a very mobile position illustrates the speed and power upon impact.

You need to take the weight room and apply it directly to the field. You can take exercises in the weight room that directly apply to the field through mobility acceleration, and strength work.

Do this movement once or twice a week. Slowly build up and add weight and make sure to make solid hip contact. You can do this movement on the lower body power day and the impulse day.

4. Single-Leg Squat

Ideally, you do the single-leg squat using a single leg roller for safety and the ability to up the intensity of the movement. Technological advances are valuable for enhancing performance capabilities.

It is important when performing the single-leg squat to focus on stability and a good, positive rhythm. It does not need to be absurdly heavy (but it can help).

The reason the single-leg squat is so effective is that the athlete is in a unilateral position. Running backs are almost always in a unilateral position. The movement smashes the posterior chain: the hamstrings, the glutes, and even the quads (I know, it is anterior sequence muscle). All of these muscle groups are key and are involved in acceleration in the drive phase, on being fast, and cutting rapidly out of different positions.

A single leg position also demands tremendous dynamic trunk control. Dynamic trunk control is key to maximizing the juke stick capabilities. The athlete will learn how to control their trunk and recruit their trunk in conjunction with the hamstrings and glutes, and how to optimize performance on the football field. It is a key exercise to developing speed for running backs.

Do this once a week for five sets of five unbroken reps on each leg. You can do this movement on impulse day as an absolute strength exercise.

3. Gwiz Jump To Single Leg Mini Hurdle Hops

The Gwiz jump to single leg mini hurdle hops looks like an easy exercise. It isn’t.

Start in a Gwiz position–back knee on a pad with the back foot up. The back foot has to be up; it can’t be touching the ground at all. Lead with the front foot, which is in a very deep position.

The movement will emulate the drive phase, emulate cutting, and emulate acceleration. The athlete will pull from the hamstrings and glutes, jump and drive over the first hurdle and then cycle nice and fluidly and in rhythm over subsequent mini hurdles. 

The exercise carries really well to top-end speed. In addition, the depth of the Gwiz jump carries over to cutting extremely well. This exercise can be utilized to develop top-end speed, cutting ability, and unilateral stability (it also is an exercise prescribed in the premier strength training app, Peak Strength).

It is important to train the weak leg first. Training the weak leg over and over again will iron out the inefficiency. The ironing out will create the skill for the running back athlete to hit the cut from both sides. Only hitting a jump cut on a specific side will be found out by solid linebackers studying film. Being able to be explosive from both sides is a must to ascend the ranks.

Do this movement once a week on athlete day for about six to seven sets on each leg. 

2. Jan Jump Series

The Jan Jump series is a plyometric exercise that is tremendous for running backs because it forces them to combine unilateral explosiveness with bilateral tenacity. 

The Jan Jump Series has athletes going side to side over mini-hurdles before making a big bilateral leap to finish it off. You want to think of the bilateral hurdle hop at the end of the series like making contact with a defender.

Initiate the hit stick! 

And no lowering the head.

How To Perform The Jan Jump Series

  1. You will need 4-6 mini hurdles, a high hurdle, and a 12” box
  2. Setup the mini hurdles that they are diagonally spaced apart in a zig zag pattern
  3. Place the high hurdle at the end of the mini-hurdles, oriented to the center
  4. Place the 12” box at the beginning, oriented to the center of the mini-hurdles
  5. Star on the 12” box by performing a single leg depth drop
  6. If you land on the left foot, diagonally jump to the right over the mini-hurdle and land on the right foot
  7. Landing on the right foot, now jump diagonally forward over the next mini-hurdle and land on the left foot
  8. Repeat until the last mini-hurdle approaches the high hurdle
  9. From the final mini-hurdle, unilaterally jump to in front of the high hurdle and land bilaterally (on two feet)
  10. With two feet, leap over the high hurdle and land

Plyometrics are great for making running backs more athletic, especially plyometric jump series movements. The running back’s muscles learn how to be elastic, coordinate, and fire rapidly. Your muscles also learn how to decelerate, a very underrated skill when it comes to athleticism and speed drills.  

1. RB 1 Jump Series

 The RB 1 Jump series is a very advanced jump series. Athletes are asked to move laterally and vertically in an alternating bilateral to unilateral manner. The most difficult part of the RB 1 jump series is the unilateral landing after each hurdle hop.

The drill starts with jumping unilaterally over a mini hurdle. You land bilaterally and jump over a hurdle. Here is the difficult part–after jumping off two feet to clear the hurdle, you have to land unilaterally on a single leg!

From the unilateral landing, you go in the opposite direction of the leg you just landed on, clearing a mini hurdle. Again you land bilaterally and clear a high hurdle. And again, you land unilaterally and repeat what you just did.

The jump series concludes by jumping on a box.

Then you need to do it all again, but land on the opposite leg for the unilateral work.

You can do this once a week on your athlete day for six to eight sets.

Sample RB Athlete Day Workout

The Bottom Line

These 7 drills will help athletes become more powerful running backs, specifically in the speed department. The exercises will create greater stability, superior force production, and expedite the field speed.

Better yet, the exercise targets multiple aspects of being fast on the field. Top-end speed is great, but the ability to accelerate in and out of the hole, in and out of cuts, and deliver a blow to tackling defenders provide much more net positive yards from the line of scrimmage.

If you are interested in stepping up your game and having access to programming and periodization designed specifically for football running backs, it benefits you immensely to download our strength training app, Peak Strength, to up your performance. 


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Welcome to the Garage Strength Blog, where it is my goal to provide you with the experience and knowledge I've gained in the strength and conditioning world over many years of learning from both successes and failures. I train elite-level athletes in a multitude of sports from the high school to professional levels, already producing 5 Olympics and 30+ National Champions. If you want to be the next champion I train, check out my strength programs below!

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