Episode 4 – Lee Taft – Teaching Speed For Runners & Triathletes

Lee Taft

Most triathletes and runners focus on endurance, and perhaps a little bit of speed work at the track…but what if I told you that agility, jumping abilities, and strength training can significantly boost your performance?

Lee Taft is known as “The Speed guy”, and has been coaching amateur to professional athletes how to be faster, quicker, and more agile since the 90’s. While he is commonly sought out to help baseball, basketball, and other field sports athletes, Lee actually has a deep background in Cross Country and Track.

In this episode Lee talks about how, why, and how much triathletes and runners should be working on their jumping and agility, as well as shares with us some very important insights into how your body works when dealing with the forces out on the road.



In this Episode:

  • Lee Taft
  • Speed and Agility
  • Importance of Foot and Ankle Joints
  • Exercises
  • Using Time vs. Distance
  • Priorities of a Triathlete
  • Proper Strength Training
    • Why are we posterior-chain focused?
  • The Need for Speed
  • Program Design for Runners
  • Strength Baselines
    • Expectations for arm carriage
  • Safe Drills for Cyclists and Triathletes
  • Ideal Session
  • Key Points for Listeners
  • Conclusion

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Show Notes:

0:47 – 

Lee Taft

  • Nicknamed “The Speed Guy”
  • He has a certified speed and agility course on the NSPA, athletes’ acceleration sports performance training, and a CEU course on speed and agility coaching: Speed Insiders 6-month course

3:19 – 

Speed and Agility

  • A lot of the runners and triathletes that Menachem has worked with are surprised when they get speed and agility work
  • There is so much value in training the human system to have variability because it gives us greater potential
  • Lee always tries to do multi-planar movements with his linear athletes
    • Even in just one direction (not including change of direction yet), gives the system/structure more capacity to be able to joint load and handle force absorption and production
  • Feet are the critical component; they are what touch the ground and give us sensory feedback
    • If we can train movements to strengthen those patterns, in our feet, ankles, and lower leg, it makes us a more efficient mover in a linear pattern
    • Deceleration/agility training (change of direction) then adds element of strengthening tissues to be able to manage mass and momentum
    • The ability to change our pace or momentum gets built up through basic agility training
  • So much value that hasn’t been tapped into yet

6:46 –

Importance of Foot and Ankle Joints

  • Great impact of big toe
    • It is very important to be able to spread the toes and lift the big toe on its own
  • Subtalar and calcaneal joints make up the ankle and take on so much pressure and force when things are out of alignment
  • There is great support in making sure we have multi-planar movement
  • The more the feet are involved, the more efficient and economical you’ll be in running
  • “We have to always control the transverse plane” – Lee
  • Important for injury prevention

10:04 –


  • Jumping rope
  • Low-box exercises or weight plate
    • Have them jump on and off and videotape from the back, front, and side to show how the body is managing this weight
    • The low box also provides a little bit of a projection forward, which running is
  • “The person that it capable of running the furthest does not win, necessarily. It’s the person who runs the fastest for the distance being set” – Lee
  • Lee wants to make sure that they have the endurance to maintain their speed
    • Then: 60s, 80s, and 100s, which gets speed at a much higher level
    • Then: repeat miles
    • Then: sequence again
    • The value of doing the repeats is that it allows runners to run the mile while still having energy reserves
  • “Always gave them that ability to feel speed, while they were still at their race distance” – Lee

15:00 –

Using Time vs. Distance

  • Lee uses time more than distance honestly
  • “I try to get them to have a watch” – Lee
    • So they can know where they’re at and be able to push if he’s not with them
  • To get them to buffer they have to hit certain time thresholds
  • Best way is to use both a time and a distance
  • But distances are most likely easier to understand for runners
  • IMG tennis court in Arizona without any lines
    • One of the top players in the world when she would practice, she wouldn’t continue if she estimated the ball would go out
    • They wanted her to continue for the speed and agility side of things, so they erased the lines

19:26 –

Priorities of a Triathlete

  • Strength: because of the rate of force development and being able to get off the ground quicker
  • But, if we weren’t going that route, then sprint training and pure plyometric training
    • The ability to develop the resiliency – that elastic and stiffness quality – to get off the ground
    • Having this tissue quality adds a bonus to triathletes’ event
  • Joint position dictates muscle function, so we need to get you in a better body position

22:31 –

Proper Strength Training

  • Strength training can really help with proprioception and provide understanding that force creates motion, but stiffness controls that motion – Menachem
  • If we properly strength train and create balance and symmetry within a joint, then athletes will have the ability to use that strength for force loading and producing, isometric movements, etc.
    • “The muscle being strong enough to hold its position gives the tendon the chance to have elastic quality vs. a weak muscle which won’t let that happen as much… good fundamental strength allows us to do so many more quality things with our movement” – Lee
  • Good balance with pushing and pulling pattern – both vertically and horizontally
    • Cyclists spend more time on pulling because they’re so used to falling forward in the pushing posture
      • It depends!
  • Make sure athletes squat with adequate dorsi-flexion 
    • Greater knee flexion (forward) and keep heel down
    • Power-lifters tend to be more posterior-dominant
  • Every time a runner puts their foot on the ground that’s a form of deceleration
    • Make sure they can do it with adequate range of motion from the ankle, knee, hip, cervical spine, and pelvis
  • General → specific type patterns
    • More sport-force specific
    • We want to eccentrically and concentrically produce force, while also having variability

29:55 –

Why are we posterior-chain focused?

  • Sedentary lifestyle leads to poor posture
  • You still need to focus on the explosive part – concentric speeds and rate of force development
  • The best programs have a mix and progression

31:30 –

The Need for Speed

  • Pace zone indexes
    • Aerobic, tempo, and threshold zones
      • 35-45 second gap between tempo and threshold
  • The best milers and 5k runners are highly inefficient at any speed other than their race speed
  • The ability to have capacity – to be able to push yourself – to get the tissues to be able to manage greater speeds and intensities is really important
    • When you learn to change gears/speed, everything from pelvic position to T-spine, ability to control rotation, arm action (will get bigger), foot action, where you land on your foot will change
      • Athletes must be exposed to this to help prevent injury

35:50 –

Program Design for Runners

  • First, work on biomechanical efficiencies, any changes that you might have to make, running technique, and sprint mechanical technique to improve tissue quality and joint loading mechanics
    • Try to buffer their ability to have greater speed and manage good plyometric and jump training
  • Then, less volume of pure distance, which will increase over time
    • “It is harder to gain speed, if you don’t have it, than it is to gain endurance capacity” – Lee
  • Quality warm-ups that give multi-directional movement
  • Lateral movement
    • Karaoke for joint loading in feet and hips
    • Resistant lateral stuff
    • Lateral bounding and skipping
  • Go into different forms of power and speed/plyometric concept, which leads into easier type movements, such as stride-outs
  • Typically, have the athlete moving more quickly toward the beginning of the week, when they tend to be more fresh mentally and physically, and toward the end, taper the intensity down
  • Lee: make sure they get between that range of 80-100 miles because that’s what they’re gonna have to do/manage (for iron man)
  • Menachem: max. 50-55 miles a week, but very high quality
    • Galloway method: doing their efforts and then walking and using HRV and teaching breathing and maintaining posture
      • “I would definitely defer to your expertise in that area; that’s without a doubt” – Lee
    • Progressive runs teach explosiveness, and as you’re getting tired you get tissue strain, a higher metabolic impact, and a greater hormonal response in recovery because you’re ramping up as you go through

47:43 –

Strength Baselines

  • Big on single-leg
    • Especially for runners
    • Box squat where they’re standing on box and lower down so free leg drops below the side of the box, and they’re getting to at least parallel, hopefully more
      • At least 5 times with 45-60 pounds
  • Hinge pattern
    • Somewhere between 65-75 pound (raw numbers) dumbbell single-leg RDL
      • Know they are developing really good stability in that posture
      • Hip flexion and extension control
        • It also depends!

52:22 –

Expectations for arm carriage

  • It’s really important that they have the ability to have really good scapular movement form various arm positions
    • Looking for really good scapular rhythm around the ribs and the ability to maintain positions functionally and easily
  • Ability to go unilateral, and have extension and rotation – or flexion and rotation – through the thoracic and have the arm move through its range of motion from an abduction position to adducted – internally and externally rotated position
    • Waiters’ carry or PNF pattern across the body
    • Wants to see good symmetry and range of motion and pain-free with various tasks of the shoulder
  • Rotary stability/transverse control
    • One-armed and one-legged exercises

55:28 –

Safe Drills for Cyclists and Triathletes

  • Jump rope builds foot quality and ankle stiffness and focuses on how our thorax and cervical spine manage quick loading
  • Transfer into a gait pattern of simple A-drills
  • Gradually starting to add a baseline plyometric and elastic type reflex activities
  • Sprinting teaches them to open up and the greater arm action creates rotary stability and elastic energy that is wanted

58:59 –

Ideal Session

  • Tissue quality work to get blood flow, heat, and extensibility within the tissue
    • Roller
  • Multiplanar movement
    • Lunge series or matrix
  • Medicine ball throws (still warm-up)
    • ~4-6 pound ball with different releases works on internal and external rotation from shoulder and joint, and thorax movement, and dorsi-flex → plantar-flex release pattern
  • Power
    • Upper body
      • Medicine ball throw or tubing, explosive movement
    • Lower body
      • Jump
  • Speed
  • Strength
  • Energy system training
    • Different from metabolic

1:02:41 –

Key Points for Listeners

  • Strength is SO important
    • Making athletes stronger is the foundation of movement
    • Also for injury prevention
  • Backpedal work from walking → squatting → running → skipping (all backwards) because it creates a natural subconscious to drive great dorsi-flexion through the great toe and the ankle and challenges the quadriceps to work with the lower part of the ankle
    • Do backpedalling when they’re extended and taller, which gets the front of the hip to communicate really well with gastrocnemius
    • Helps athletes feel really good in range of motion and control, as well as with injury prevention and overall performance

1:06:31 –


  • Where can listeners find you?
    • Speed Insiders: 6-month course
    • Leetaft.com (most recommended)
      • New video almost every day
    • Social media: @LeeTaft


Picture of Menachem Brodie

Menachem Brodie

Coaching since 2000, Menachem Brodie has been working with athletes in a number of settings, and a broad variety of sports.


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