Speed/Power/Agility – 2 Exercises for Each


By Chris Ullom, O2X Strength & Conditioning Specialist


In my travels around the country speaking with O2X athletes, there is an overarching theme I try to impress upon them – there is a difference in training for performance versus training for fitness.  Most regular gym-goers you might encounter in the real world, from Planet Fitness to Crossfit, are on a mission to improve their “fitness”.  How one defines fitness can vary greatly from person to person: weight loss, improved body composition, lower blood pressure or simply to look better naked. In a country where over 70% of the population is classified as overweight or obese, this is a perfectly admirable pursuit.

The tactical athlete, on the other hand, should have a different vision.  Their training goal should be to maximize their performance, and how we define performance depends on the job that they do because, ultimately, performance is job specific. Generally, we can say that the tactical athlete needs to be powerful, fast, agile, strong, and fit. This requires us to accept a different training paradigm.  Fitness training programs tend to be muscle-focused (does the classic bodybuilding routine of chest and triceps on Monday ring a bell?).  Conversely, comprehensive performance training should be movement-focused, placing emphasis on optimal movement patterns while developing the athletic qualities of speed, power, agility, strength, and endurance.  

Getting tactical athletes to lift and run is typically not a difficult thing to do so strength and endurance can be simple, but why should the tactical athlete worry about training speed, power, and agility (SPA) and how does one go about improving these skills?  I’ll start with the why.  The absolute worst time to pull a hamstring because you don’t train is when you find yourself in a life and death situation.  If you need to sprint or jump to save yourself or someone else, you better hope you have that tool in the toolbox.  As for the how, Olympic lifting is hands-down the best tool for improving explosive power but it requires technical skill to be performed correctly and access to the right equipment.  Fortunately, there are a variety of simple but effective exercises and drills for SPA development that require little in the way of equipment and technical expertise.  The best news is that many examples can be found in the O2X App.



There’s an old adage in sports – Speed Kills.  All other qualities being equal, the faster athlete will always win.  For tactical athletes, this could literally be the difference between life and death.  For years we were told, “you can’t train speed”.  We now know that couldn’t be further from the truth.  While we cannot turn everyone into Usain Bolt, we can maximize everyone’s speed potential.  Speed is the product of stride length and stride frequency; let’s look at a drill to improve each of these.


Quick Feet Drill – This is a great drill to reduce ground contact time.  Fast people don’t spend a lot of time on the ground – they apply a big force to the ground in an extremely short period of time.  By getting our foot off the ground quickly, we can recover our leg more rapidly and thus increase our stride frequency.  To perform this drill, stand tall with your shoulders down and back, core braced, eyes gazing straight ahead, and a slight bend in the elbows with the hands by the hips – the classic “gunfighter” position.  Focus on keeping your toes pulled up to the shin while you step one foot to the height of the opposite ankle.  Using an opposite arm/opposite leg pattern, alternate your feet as quickly as possible while trying to minimize time on the ground.  Drive your elbows back so that your hands graze the hips.  This drill can be done in place or by taking small, overlapping steps for a prescribed distance (no more than 5 yards).  Use a 1 to 5 or 6 work-to-rest ratio (e.g. 5 seconds of quick feet followed by a 30-second rest) for 4 to 5 sets.  This is a great drill to use prior to a sprinting session.


Split Squat Jump – While Quick Feet is a great drill to improve stride frequency, the Split Squat Jump is a great way to increase stride length.  During acceleration, your stride length is primarily determined by the amount of force you put into the ground through a triple extension of the lower body (extension of the hip, knee, and ankle).  That’s exactly what you get with this drill, an explosive triple extension of one leg.  This drill can be done two ways: With a countermovement (i.e. starting tall followed by a rapid drop and then jumping) to increase the utilization and development of the stretch reflex or without a countermovement (i.e. starting at the bottom and exploding up) to improve starting strength.  For the non-countermovement jump, start at the bottom of a split squat stance (one foot forward, one foot back, knees bent to ninety degrees) and explode up as high as possible, emphasizing triple extension of the front leg.  Land softly, reset, and repeat the rep.  Perform around five sets of 5-6 reps per leg, allowing adequate recovery between sets.



Power lies in the middle of the force-velocity curve.  On one end of the curve, you have absolute strength; on the other, you have absolute speed.  With Power development, we have training that is closer to the strength end of the curve, called strength-speed, involving moving heavy loads as fast as possible.  This type of training includes the Olympic lifts and their variants.  We also have training closer to the speed end of the curve, called speed-strength, that involves moving lighter objects with great speed (like throwing a baseball). Let’s look at two exercises to develop speed-strength power.


Medicine Ball Granny Toss – Start in a tall standing position with a medicine ball fully extended over your head.  Rapidly swing the ball down between your knees, keeping your torso upright and bending your hips and knees, and then explosively change directions to toss the ball either straight up as high as you can or behind you as far as you can.  Once again, focusing on triple extension of the lower body.


Medicine Ball Overhead Slam – Once again, start in a tall standing position, but this time with a slam ball fully extended overhead (DO NOT USE A MEDICINE BALL THAT BOUNCES!!!).  Aggressively throw the slam ball straight down into the ground, as hard as you possibly can, just in front of your feet.  Use your entire body to make the throw by pushing your hips back, bending your knees, and letting your hands swing behind you (your finishing position should look like the starting position of a jump).  For both drills, perform 4-5 sets of 5-6 reps.



Agility can be thought of in a few different ways: 1) change of direction – your ability to accelerate, decelerate and re-accelerate in a different direction while maintaining stability and balance and 2) level changes – your ability to change levels with minimal loss of speed and balance (think about what you do on an obstacle course).  Let’s look at a couple of drills for change of direction.


Side Shuffle Drill – Place two cones five yards apart.  Starting at one cone while keeping a low center of gravity, a wide base of support, and a strong back, push yourself from cone to cone using as few steps as possible.  You can also use a crossover step instead of a shuffle.  Focus on pushing from the inside edge of the cutting foot and staying as low as possible.  Perform for reps or time utilizing a 1 to 5 or 6 work to rest ratio.


T Drill – For this drill, place a starting cone on the ground with a second cone exactly ten yards away.  Place a third and forth cone five yards on either side and perpendicular to the second cone.  Begin by sprinting to the second cone and then, staying low, shuffle five yards to a perpendicular cone and then shuffle ten yards to the other perpendicular cone and finally back to the second cone.  Once back at the second cone, backpeddle to the starting cone.  On your subsequent rep make sure your first shuffle is in the opposite direction of your first rep.  You can also use a crossover run instead of a shuffle.


The drills I have listed here don’t even begin to scratch the surface of what can be accomplished when trying to maximize speed, power, and agility.  And all with minimal equipment.  What’s important is that we try do something to improve these fitness qualities.  Doing so gives the tactical athlete more tools to help ensure improved performance, injury resilience and a safe return to their family after a long day on the job.