By Nick Palazzo and Chad Zimmerman
Champ Bailey, Brian Urlacher, Garrison Hearst, Antwaan Randle El, Kendrell Bell, Terence Newman and Ashley Lelie. The names read like the guest list at the most recent NFL superstars convention, and each is a client of Chip Smith, founder and president of Competitive Edge Sports in Duluth, Georgia, and widely recognized as one of the foremost speed and strength coaches in the nation.
Smith has not only sent more than 200 players into the NFL-he has transformed the bodies and lives of the best NFL players, creating a new class of athlete-players who are bigger, faster and stronger.
Among the most impressive of his success stories is Denver Broncos' cornerback Champ Bailey.
When Bailey showed up at the doorstep of Competitive Edge Sports, he was already a great athlete with tremendous speed. But after just a few weeks of training, Smith had transformed him into a speed freak. As a result of his time at Competitive Edge Sports, Bailey was taken as the seventh overall pick in the NFL draft.
"After a week with Chip Smith, I felt I was a better athlete. I felt like I could run for days. Because of my training with Chip, my forty dropped from 4.4 to 4.27," Bailey said.
The Secrets to Coach Smith's Training Success
Smith first learned how to take natural God-given speed and develop it into God-like ability back in the late 1980s while performing post-graduate work at the world-renowned Soviet Sports Institute.
Although the prevailing belief was that speed was simply hereditary-either you had it or you didn't-the Russians proved this theory wrong by developing a unique training philosophy that combined resistive, over-speed and reaction training. This training combination made slow people fast and fast people even faster. Smith brought the Russian training philosophy back to the United States and has used it ever since to transform the face of speed training.
Resistive, Over-Speed and Reaction Training
Simply put, the use of these three training principles "recruit" more fast-twitch "explosive" muscle fiber. Fast-twitch muscle fiber is what makes athletes fast and explosive. The more fast-twitch muscle fiber you have, the faster you will be.
Resistive Training consists of drills that literally resist you as you run, such as pulling a weight sled when running a 40-yard dash or running against band resistance. The extra effort used to run tricks your muscles into believing they have to work much harder at all times. Once the resistance is removed, your muscles still think they have to work as hard as they had been, producing an immediate surge in running speed.
Over-speed Training is almost the exact opposite of resistive training. Rather than performing drills that make it harder to sprint, over-speed drills make sprinting easier. In other words, over-speed training reduces resistance, thus, allowing you to run faster than normally possible.
Reaction Training, the final component of Smith's philosophy, takes advantage of the body's natural reflexes and develops them into learned responses, allowing an athlete to move faster in competition.
"When you were a kid and you put your hand on a hot stove, what did you do? You yanked your hands back as fast as possible. Well, that's the same principle we use in training," Smith says. "We force your hands and feet to work faster than you can conceivably work them, by doing explosive drills, combinations of plyometrics and explosive movements to recruit important fast-twitch fibers."
This final principle is possibly the most important for an athlete, as its sole purpose is to improve actual game-speed through faster and more effective reactions.
Smith explains that over-speed training is similar to running down a hill. You may feel out of control, but you don't fall down. You are able to run faster than normal and exert less effort. Drills that mimic experiences such as these actually train your muscles to move, flex and contract faster. As an end result, you actually become faster.
A Sample Speed-Training Program For You
After learning about Smith's innovative training philosophy, we asked for a sample speed workout that all athletes, regardless of sport, could perform. Because not all STACK readers are able to train at a facility of the caliber of Competitive Edge Sports, we made sure to get a program that doesn't require anything but hard work.
For resistive training, run up stadium stairs. This training improves your stride frequency by forcing you to take shorter and quicker steps as compared to running on level ground. Additionally, running stairs forces you to generate a lot of power with each step because you have to work against gravity as you run. The end result of this drill will be quicker and more explosive strides.
For over-speed training, run down a hill with a 1 to 2 percent grade. This exercise increases stride length because gravity pulls you down the hill as you run, causing you to run faster than you could run on level ground. In combination, resistive and over-speed drills will produce longer, quicker and more powerful strides, which equals greater overall speed.
Follow this specific drill for reaction training that improves quickness and reaction speed. Only a partner and a tennis ball are needed for the ball drop drill. To complete the drill, stand approximately 10 yards from your partner who holds a tennis ball. Face your partner. When your partner drops the ball, sprint to the ball and catch it before it bounces twice. There are many variations of the drill, so be creative. You can line up to the side of or diagonally from your partner, as well as just increase the distance between the two of you.
For another variation of the drill, stand with your back towards your partner. In this situation, your partner says, "ball" when he or she drops the ball. When you hear "ball," you must turn around and catch the ball before it bounces twice. To enhance the drill, your partner should move a few yards back or to one side while your back is to him or her. By doing ball drops, you will increase your quickness and reaction time.
What would a speed workout look like using these drills?
As for the reps, sets and weekly frequency to perform these drills, Smith advises two days each of resistive training (stadium steps), over-speed training (hill work) and reaction training (ball drops) per week.
In week one, Smith recommends 1 set of 5 to 8 reps per training day. In the second week, increase to 2 sets of 5 to 8 reps per training day. In the third week, 3 sets of 5 to 8 reps should be done once per week. Smith believes that once an athlete reaches 3 sets of 5 to 8 reps, the athlete should only do 1 set of 5 to 8 reps on the other day in the training week. Additionally, Smith stresses the importance of never following an over-speed day with another over-speed or a resistive day with another resistive due to the intense stress on the quads and hamstring muscles. The intense stress can lead to increased risk of injury without the proper rest.
Final Message from Coach Smith
Smith's final point concerns how to train properly. "The biggest word of advice I can give young athletes is to not over-train. Most athletes think that if a little bit of training is good, a whole lot has to be better-but that is really not the case when you are training. You have to train efficiently and you have to train smart. You don't want to constantly tear down your body and not give it time to recover."
To Smith, your recovery time is every bit as important as your training time. This means 8 hours of sleep every night, leaving at least 24 hours of rest time between workouts and sticking to the sets and reps prescribed in a workout.
There may only be one Champ Bailey, but athletes who take Chip Smith's training advice to heart may soon be on their way to a Bailey-type transformation.
Originally published in STACK Magazine and on STACKMAG.com, February, 2005.