The BEST 5 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. Not being able to make the play and get to the edge, beating the linebacker, is a horrible feeling. Getting to the sideline and taking 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 the different positions. Another key factor is that running backs with top-end speed and are elite in their performance can handle big-time collisions. They can handle heavier opponents pulling on them. Not only can they outpace the secondary when breaking loose, but they can also still bring the wood and decimate linebackers and big defensive tackles.
Finally, when we think of the best running backs of all time, they can cut on a dime, juke an individual, get out of the cut, and accelerate very rapidly.
Trying to build speed for running backs we need to acknowledge that the athlete needs to be able to hit the hole quickly and is able to get out of the contact collision once it is made to achieve those all-important yards after contact. They also need to be able to get the edge, having the speed from a lateral position and are able to cut on a dime as well. These are key to developing the speed needed to be the best running back possible for the sport of football.
Let’s take a look at five exercises that will assist in doing just that!
5. Banded Single-Leg Start
Get into a unilateral position at about a quarter squat. Have a band and use an auditory command to signal 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 single-leg banded starts athletes will learn how to utilize their first step, similar to running a dive or counter. All of a sudden athletes can hit the hole quicker because the body understands how to engage the trunk on the first step.
The banded single-leg start exercise forces the body to get forward onto the box. The athlete is in the acceleration phase, the drive phase, and has a positive shin angle during the drive. Holding the band increases the feeling of every single muscular action engaging to train to hit the hole faster.
We recommend doing this movement two to three days a week, specifically on leg days or explosive plyometric days.
4. Bent Knee Glute Ham Raise
We love this movement. It is similar to the nordic curl (another great exercise). This movement targets the lower back a little bit more, engaging the trunk. The hamstrings will also get smashed. They will get annihilated. Using a dumbbell or a barbell on the back there will be more tension at the top position. The bent knee will create a greater range of motion.
Also, a lot of the time when sprinting and accelerating running backs, in regards to hip extension, athletes are in a bent knee position. This 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.
We recommend doing this movement once or twice a week for three to four sets of twelve to fifteen reps.
3. Two-Block Clean
When we think of really quick running backs, we 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, but greater mobility allows for better cutting positions.
We like two-block cleans because it puts athletes in a position where they have to accelerate a large amount of weight very quickly. Then the athlete has to catch the bar deep in the hole from 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 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.
We take the weight room and apply it directly to the field. We 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.
2. Single-Leg Squat
It is important when performing this movement to focus on stability and a good, positive rhythm. It does not need to be absurdly heavy.
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 (we know it is anterior). The key muscle groups that 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. 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 it once a week for five sets of five reps on each leg.
1. Gwiz Jump To Single Leg Mini Hurdle Hops
This is an easy exercise. Start in a Gwiz start--back knee on a pad with the back foot up. The back foot has to be up. Lead with the front foot in a very deep position. The movement will emulate the drive phase, emulate cutting, 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.
This movement 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 is important to train the weak leg first. Training the weak leg over and over again will iron out the inefficiency. This will create the skill for the running back athlete to hit the cut from both sides. Only hitting a jump cut to one 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 for about six to seven sets on each leg.
These five exercises will help athletes become more powerful running back, specifically in the speed department. The exercises will create greater stability, superior force production, and expedite the field speed. Better yet, the exercises target 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 a tackling defender provide much more net positive yards from the line of scrimmage. After trying these exercises out, stop back and give a comment telling us which one works the best and why. We looked forward to reading what was said!
Dane Miller is the owner and founder of Garage Strength Sports Performance. He works with a select handful of clients on building comprehensive programs for fitness and nutrition. Several times a year he leads a workshop for coaches, trainers, and fitness enthusiasts.