How to Become a Faster Running Back

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Running back speed is a tricky concept. Olympic sprinters may be the fastest human beings on earth when running on an unimpeded line, but football speed is influenced by other factors, such as the need to protect the ball, hitting gaps and avoiding tacklers.


The following are four areas a running back should focus on in order to improve his football speed.

Things You'll Need

  • Weights
  • Stationary bicycle
  • Small cones
  • Jump rope
  • Swimming pool
  • Stairs

Become a Faster Running Back

  • Shape Your Body

    Since we're trying to maximize speed, we won't talk too much about power. However, to play football, a certain amount of muscle mass is an absolute necessity. You're probably looking to get cut, not bulky. Running backs need to take the standard doctor's recommendation--diet and exercise--to a very high level.

    To keep the athletic metabolism in high gear, nutritionists recommend five or six small meals a day with balanced amounts of protein, vegetables and fruit in each. Fish is a great source of protein and beneficial fat. Eat whole grains, especially in the morning, and drink plenty of water throughout the day.

    Your nutrition program will provide the fuel. Choosing the right workout program will put that energy to good use. An effective lean-muscle workout is generally a six-day program focusing on different parts of the body for around 90 minutes each day. A good baseline program should resemble the so-called Herschel Walker Plan, which looks something like this:

    • Day 1: abdominals (crunches, side bends), lower body (squats, calf raises), plyometrics (jumping rope, balancing on exercise ball)
    • Day 2: biceps (curls), cardio (shuttle run, racquetball), chest (presses, flys, pushups)
    • Day 3: abdominals, back (dead lift, pulldowns, rowing), plyometrics, triceps (dips, pulldowns)
    • Day 4: neck (shrugs, trapezius row), shoulders (presses, raises), cardio (swimming)
    • Day 5: abdominals and plyometrics
    • Day 6: cardio (bike)

    You might not want to rest on the seventh day, but you should. Your body will need time to recover.

  • Accelerate to the Hole

    Also called burst or quickness, acceleration is the key factor in hitting a hole in the offensive line or juking a tackler. As such, it is one of the most important aspects of your speed training. Watch old footage of Marcus Allen running outside the tackles. Quite often, Allen would glide at half speed, reading his blocks until the hole appeared, then he'd hit that hole with a vengeance. That's the burst.

    The leg-strength exercises described above should increase the amount of force your body exerts against the ground, and the plyometrics should help your muscles react quickly when a change of direction is called for.

    The other key element of acceleration is technique. You will need to learn the proper mechanics to make your running motion more efficient. Practice that first five or ten yards, using these guidelines:

    • Hit the ground with the balls of your feet, instead of the heels or toes.
    • Lean forward with your entire body. Coaches will want you to do this to cover up the ball, anyway, and it will help your quickness as well.
    • Take short, powerful steps that drive your body forward quickly and allow you to make a cut if necessary.
    • Pump your elbows back instead of throwing them forward.

    You may choose to run a few 10- or 15-yard sets to observe how your body transitions into the more upright sprint to the goal line.

  • Change Direction

    As noted, straight-line speed is nice to have once you've broken through to the secondary, but before that, you'll usually need to make at least one cut in order to break into the open.

    This is where cone drills come in. There are simple drills, like running figure eights around a pair of cones, weaving in and out of a line of cones or following an "L" shape. More complicated drills use the same concept, with more changes of direction or more difficult patterns of movement. Practicing changes of direction not only acclimates your muscles to the task but also teaches you how to maintain proper balance during change of direction.

  • See the Field

    Natural talent can sometimes account for the first three categories of running back speed skills. Vision is a more esoteric concept, but it certainly gives any running back an advantage on the field.

    Being able to read blocks and react on the fly is a skill that must be learned through experience, coaching and practice. But in a literal sense, it can't hurt to make sure that your literal field of vision is up to snuff. Your optometrist can test depth of field, peripheral vision and other aspects of clear sight and suggest remedies if any irregularities are found.

    Some coaches and trainers have created exercises that they claim will improve visual acuity, but no proven formal eye training regime exists at this time.

Tips & Warnings

  • Changes in exercise and diet should be made under physician supervision.

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References

  • Photo Credit fotosearch.com, webstockpro.com, clipart.com
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