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Speed Development: Warm Up and Drills for Starting

Speed, a term that is used by all of us is actually a rather complex ability to define. Level 2 literature in the Jumps curriculum (USA Track & Field) defines speed as the ability to move the body or parts of the body through a given range of motion in the least amount of time. As trainers you have probably had your share of questions about speed and its improvement. In track and field, there are volumes written about the 100meter event, with detailed breakdowns of each step taken during the race. Since most of your clients will not need to race this distance, this article will actually detail a workout geared toward a common element in many activities.

“The Start” is an aspect of speed that has carryover to many areas including first step quickness and reaction time. To prepare for work of this nature, a proper warm up sequence leading to the main portion of the workout is necessary. Observe the linking of the kinetic chain; many of these activities will require deceleration, dynamic stabilization, acceleration, balance, postural control, plus joint and core stability. Done daily, warm ups like the one below are opportunities for you to improve movement patterns, increase dynamic flexibility and integrate new skills into your client’s workouts. It is a great chance for you as a trainer to “coach”, cueing and emphasizing different aspects of the drills to meet your client’s goals. Below is a warm up (general and specific) to prepare for a session with an emphasis on starting.


The goal of this portion is to create heat within the body and link all parts that act together as a chain for moving the body. This is accomplished by using variations of walking, lunging, bending, rotating, crawling and squatting. If room is available, a start and finish should be set up about 15 to 20 meters apart. Exercises can be done at the beginning, end and while moving between these points. This workout is very flexible and can be modified with other drills based on your client’s needs and abilities.



Repeat facing left and stepping with right, jog back

  1. Perform five lunges forward then backward jog remaining distance. Repeat from other side, jog remaining distance.
  2. Perform five crossover lunges (face right, with right foot step over left, landing about one to two feet beyond your left). Repeat with other foot, jog remaining distance and jog back.
  3. On all fours (knees and hands) do 10 to 20 reps each: lateral bent leg raises, knee to arm pit, straight leg forward and backward swings, jog 20m and back.
  4. In push up position, repeat same exercises (six to 12 reps), jog over and back.
  5. In push up position, walk in place with hands (feet don’t move) for two to four sets of 20 to 45 seconds, moving one or both arms and doing some stabilization with three and two contact points, jog over and back.
  6. Hurdle flexibility (three to five hurdles, two to four times each exercise) Hurdles or barriers set up at about 30 inches or 75cm, about two and a half feet apart. Cue drawing in position and squeezing of butt, start with hands by side working towards hands behind head (prisoner position).
    1. Walk over alternating legs for clearance (one step between each hurdle) attempting to put knee in arm pit before moving forward.
    2. Same as #1 with two count hold of trail leg before next hurdle clearance.
    3. Over Two, Back One - Alternate leg walk over two hurdles (like #1) walk backwards over one. Repeat.
    4. Hurdling Walk – clear hurdle in two step pattern (ex right, left) then next hurdle in same pattern.


In this portion of the warm up, the nature of the exercises and speed of movement will change. More emphasis on dynamic flexibility, coordination and plyometric or plyometric-like exercises will be used to fully activate the nervous system.

  1. Skip forward no arms, jog back.
  2. Do 10 prone eagles (lie on your stomach with arms stretched out at shoulder level so you look like a T), try to bring your right foot to your left hand, leaving the left leg and right arm/torso on ground, your right hip will leave the ground as you roll onto the side of your left hip).
  3. Skip backwards no arms, jog back.
  4. 10 supine eagles (same as above only on your back, legs can be slightly bent or straight).
  5. Skip laterally (shuffle) with no arms.
  6. 10 leg swings, hold onto wall or partner with one arm, swing the inside leg (closest to support) up and down, let the leg bend at the knee in the back swing stretching the hip flexors, maintain an upright drawn in glute-tight position, repeat with other leg.
  7. Skip laterally (other side).
  8. 10 adductor swings (same as above except face the support, balance on the ball of the foot that is not swinging), repeat with other leg.
  9. Power skip forward (skip higher on takeoff) with normal arm action, jog back.
  10. 10 to 20 mountain climbers (in push up position, alternately bring one knee towards chest, essentially run with your arms on the ground).
  11. Power skip forward with normal arm action, jog back.
  12. 10 high mountain climbers (push up position, bring your heel to your hand, same running like action as above).
  13. Power skip forward with normal arm action, jog back.
  14. Three to five unders with medicine ball (start with ball overhead, quickly bring it down between knees and throw it forward, ball flight should have parabolic look to it, attempt to chase the ball, cue extension at the knee, hip and ankle).
  15. Power skip forward with normal arm action, jog back.
  16. Three to five staggered (one foot in front of other) unders with medicine ball, attempt to chase the ball.


These drills are progressive and some include a variation. Once the drills are mastered, earlier progressions (i.e., the wall start) can be done as warm up, remedial work or dropped altogether. Ultimately, this kind of session will be rather demanding. It will require full effort with each repetition. Volume will vary depending on the number of drills selected, progression used, time of year and other work being done. A guideline for program design would be to pick two to four drills doing four to six repetitions of each, emphasizing quality of movement.

Wall Start

Have your client place their hands at shoulder height on a wall or fence. Next, move their feet so that they are about three to five feet away from the wall. This should create an angle of about 50 degrees with their body. Take time to explain the line formed from their head to heel. It is important to remind them to keep this position intact throughout the drill. Have them lift one knee up. First part of this drill is to take three high knee steps ending in the same position as the start (one knee in the air). Increase this to five steps. Then have them take the same number of steps (five) but move their feet closer to the wall on each ground contact, thus standing them up.

Partner Starts

Same body alignment as the above drill (start with two legs on the ground working towards just one), with you or a partner applying resistance at the shoulder with both hands. Have them lean and trust that you will not let them go. Begin by taking three to five marching steps with high knee action while you resist. Cue ground contact behind them. Once they have accomplished this pattern increase the speed of the movements. The last piece of this drill is to release them after five steps.

Partner Chases

Same as above except you or the partner will release the client encouraging them to chase and tag you. No lunging or reaching allowed! This is work on the transition from starting to pure acceleration.

Rear Resisted Starts

Using a towel or other resistance device around the client’s waist resist the start for five steps then release.

Staggered Falling Start

Have the client stagger their feet with arms in opposition to the legs. Lean forward until on the edge of falling, then begin accelerating like the other drills.

Much of this work can be done in a small area. Virtually all the warm up activities can be done in place instead of the 15 to 20 meter area suggested. The number of exercises, repetitions and sequence can easily be modified. To properly address this skill it should be done twice a week, early in the workout and in a somewhat rested state (after a recovery, easy day or active rest). A good compliment to this kind of work would be to follow with strength training or plyometrics/medicine balls. It will be crucial to constantly cue alignment of all joints for development of force in the correct direction. Use the warm up and drills to improve your client’s efficiency and speed of movement in their activities.