The Big 4 Speed Formula

Big 4 “the speed formula” World renowned track coach Loren Seagrave was teaching me his system of training some of the world’s most elite speed athletes. Over 50 track medalists at world and Olympic events.

And this was it? “That’s too simple,” I thought. As a coach who was working with elite and professional athletes in the weight room and on the field, had a graduate education in biomechanics and motor control, and undergrad education in engineering, I just thought; The Big 4 was simplistic.

Fortunately I kept looking at it, applying it and learning. I was wrong. It wasn’t simplistic, it was actually incredibly complex and elegant underneath. Yes, The Big 4 was simple, and the best tool to organize speed training I have ever seen.

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” ~ Leonardo da Vinci

The Components of Speed

To coach movement effectively, you need understand the movements’ biomechanics, you need to understand motor control, and you need to understand the types of movement occurring in sport. It takes years (decades) to truly gain this knowledge. How to analyze a movement, the athlete’s movement skill, and then determine what training methods and drills will improve performance. That’s a lot.

The Big 4 are basically the “formula” for speed. No advanced degree in physics or neuroscience necessary.

  • Big Force
  • Small Time
  • Proper Direction
  • Optimal Range of Motion

That’s what we coach. This formula has all of the complexity underneath, but it‘s simple to apply and understand. It can also save you decades and help you achieve better results with your athletes. That’s why I use it.

“If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself.” ~ Albert Einstein

Big Force

You have to apply force to the ground to go somewhere. The faster you want to go the more force you have to apply. Observing the difference in muscular development between a sprinter and a marathoner should give you a clue. This doesn’t mean you need to be just bigger or become a powerlifter, but biomechanics research tells us very large forces have to be applied by the athlete to move fast.

The Big Force you need is developed by sprinting fast, using specific sprint and plyometric drills, and getting in the weight room. There are 6 different strength qualities we train, and focusing on Max strength, Strength-speed, and Speed-strength are keys here. Below is an example of an exercise we coach to improve an athlete’s Big Force.

Small Time

In sports, speed counts so applying that force in a small time, while in contact with the ground, is critical. You don’t often see the opponent saying, “sure, take all the time you need to generate that force, I’ll wait.”

Yes you need a Big Force, but you have to apply it to the ground in a (very) small time. This requires the right strength and motor control qualities. We develop those through technique drills that reinforce a small ground contact time and through plyometrics and strength training drills that develop Rate of Force Development and reactive strength, instead of Max strength or Power.

Proper Direction

Force is a vector which means it has a direction as well as quantity. Efficient and effective movement requires not just the right amount of force, but applied in the right direction. Proper direction is achieved through the right motor pattern (technique) and the stability of the body to apply it that way. When the structures of joints, muscles and tendons aren’t up to the task, we have what we call “energy leaks.”

The motor control to create Proper Direction is developed through technical drills which teach athletes to move optimally. The stability to transfer those Big Forces comes through specific training drills, while developing strength with resistance training and in our functional strength components.

Optimal Range of Motion

Goldilocks had it right, not too much, not too little, but just right. We need optimal range of motion in our joints, muscles and tendons. In some movements we need large range of motions, and in others we need smaller. The key is that the athlete can move without restriction or compensations.

Many of our technical exercises and dynamic warm-up drills develop this range of motion. In addition we use mobility work such as self-myofascial (foam rollers, balls, etc..) in conjunction with stretching techniques or working with a tissue specialist.

Training “Game Speed” Big 4

One of the strengths of this “formula” is that it doesn’t just apply to the track or linear speed, but all aspects of multi-directional speed and agility as well. That’s what puts it above so many speed training systems that are only designed for running straight.

There are lots of ways this becomes useful in training. From analyzing our athletes’ movement, to selecting training methods, it acts as a guide. In a group setting it allows us to improve different parts of the formula for individuals using the same or similar drill.

Same drill, different focus. Different focus, different training effect.

That’s why the Big4 is such a powerful tool for individualizing training. Even in a group setting.

Training Programs

Often athletes come in to get faster and when we introduce them to the weight-room, or stretching, they may ask “Why? I want speed training.” I get it. It’s common sense, to get faster just do sprint training. Although it appears logical, it’s NOT the most effective and efficient method.

The Big 4 explains why:

We have different components to our overall program to comprehensively develop each of the Big4. Yes, the “speed training” component can be used to address all four components of the speed formula. However, we can achieve better results and faster results by adding other things.

“It is not a daily increase, but a daily decrease. Hack away at the inessentials.” ~ Bruce Lee

Simple vs. Simplistic

I once thought it was too simplistic to train something as complex as human movement using a formula like the Big4. It isn’t simplistic, it’s simple. Underneath this clear, concise training method is the incredible complexity of biomechanics and motor control. Organizing it into this 4 piece formula and removing the confusion on so many aspects of speed training, is the genius of the Big4.

Thanks Coach Seagrave.

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