Speed & Agility Workouts for Running Backs

American football running back crouching with ball in scrimmage

Good running backs who carry the ball forward and receive short passes from the quarterback are key to any football team’s success. Speed, strength and agility are critical for eluding defenders and gaining yards. In fact, fancy footwork often helps running backs fool defenders. Boost your running back performance with speed and agility workouts.


The toss/sweep drill is used to simulate a throw from the quarterback and improve change of direction, speed, footwork and ball handling. Set up five cones, spaced five yards apart, just past the point where the ball will be thrown. Line up in the basic I-formation and receive a toss. Run to the outside and weave between the cones when you reach them. Switch the ball so you are holding it to the outside after passing each cone.

Catch Repeats

During a repeated catch drill, position yourself 10 yards from the quarterback with your back turned. When there’s a “ball” call, turn and catch the ball. Repeat this three times. On the third catch turn and run with the ball. For another catching drill variation, line up with the team’s other running backs 15 yards from the quarterback or coach. Run when coach says “go.” Catch the thrown ball without stopping. Hand the ball off to the coach or quarterback as you pass him and sprint back to the line. This is most effective when the ball is thrown using many variations, including wobbly throws, balls thrown off to the left or right and catching the ball as it reaches its highest point, according to Erwin Klempner, running back coach for the University of Regina Rams in Canada.

Off-Season Sprints

Build speed during the offseason with a series of running drills to improve speed. Perform five-, 10-, 20- and 40-yard sprints in sets of 10. Focus on your start for the shorter distances. Perform shuttle runs in which you sprint 10 yards, touch a line and return, then do the same for 15- and 20-yard distances. Do three sets. Stair running can also increase your speed and agility. Run up stairs or the bleachers, doing 60 to 70 steps in each run. Walk back down for recovery. Start with 10 sets and work up to 20.


Plyometrics also help improve your speed and agility as a running back. These include power skips for distance or for height, single-leg hops and jumping laterally. Plyometrics boost explosive power by improving muscle strength along with speed, notes Brian Mackenzie, performance coach and assessor for United Kingdom Athletics.

Agility Ladder

A standard agility ladder is 10 yards long and contains 18-inch squares. Use tape to create your own ladder if you do not have one. For the most basic drill, run through the ladder putting one foot in the center each square. Then run through the ladder and touch both your right and left foot in each square. For a more advanced drill, start standing to one side of the ladder. You are facing it and at the end square. Step into the first square with your right foot, then with your left foot. Step out with the right foot followed by the left foot. Repeat this sequence as quickly as you can along all the squares of the ladder.