Fundamentals Of Speed Development

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Credit to: www.athletesacceleration.com

Speed is a skill that can be taught to any athlete who desires to excel in their particular sport/s. While there is a limitation to the degree of improvement that can be made to an athlete’s ability to accelerate and reach new top speeds, all athletes can refine their current training in order to take advantage of abilities that are simply lying dormant due to improper and/or ineffective training strategies.

In developing the speed of any young athlete, our goal, ultimately, is to develop their overall athletic ability. The path we take in focusing on certain skills over others is going to be dependent on a number of factors, including, but not limited to sport, gender, training age, chronological age, etc. Often times, coaches and trainers will micromanage program design and implementation, resulting in an overly complicated training plan that is difficult to execute with consistency. Young athletes, in large part, have similar strengths and weaknesses. Because they have likely never been taught the correct way to think and move when running, making significant gains to speed and technique is simply a matter of repetition and instruction.

So where does the coach or trainer begin in designing an effective speed training program?

As was previously discussed, we must develop the overall athlete in order to maximize speed. Therefore, any speed training program must be built around developing the five biomotor abilities. They are: speed, strength, coordination, mobility and endurance. By building an athlete’s proficiency in these five categories of development, we cab prescribe the appropriate training protocols facilitating maximal speed gains. Additionally, within these parameters, we can layer the appropriate verbal and physical cues that will teach athletes the skill of running. It is important that athletes understand that in order to achieve their speed goals, they must develop a rhythm and technique that requires focus and consistency.

Let’s take a brief look at the five biomotor abilities in order to get a better understanding as to why these skills play such a pivotal role in overall speed development.

SPEED

In order to develop faster acceleration and top speeds, one must practice running at top speed. While this sounds straight forward and obvious, many athletes have never run true speed workouts. Speed work, for our purposes, is defined as 2 – 8 seconds of full intensity sprinting that is performed while an athlete in not in a state of fatigue. Therefore, athletes must allow full ATP recovery between bouts of running in order to ensure that speed is actually being developed. Generally speaking it takes approximately 3 minutes of rest to recover. This level of rest is a physiological and psychological necessity in order to elicit maximal results. I find that many athletes come from training environments still based in a ‘more is better’ mindset. ‘Speed workouts’ are almost always done with short recover. Thus athletes are always running in a state of fatigue. While developing lactic tolerance and speed endurance is a necessary training component for most sports, running repeats with short rest will not improve acceleration or top speeds. The specific volumes and distances of speed workouts are going to be dependent on the aforementioned sport, gender, training age, chronological age, etc.

STRENGTH

Many coaches will argue that strength (outside of the speed work itself) is the most important factor in improving speed and I would agree. Quite simply, one can not get significantly faster without improving the ability to apply greater levels of force to the ground. There are many ways to improve the strength of athletes, such as weight training, plyometrics, medicine ball throws, etc, though the use of certain multi-joint strength training exercises is ideal. The foundation of an athlete’s strength training program should be through the use of the squat, deadlift and hang clean. These exercises facilitate the development of the ‘sprinting muscles’, the hamstrings, glutes and quads.

First and foremost, strength training is only effective once athletes have mastered the technique of the lift. Assuming this has been developed appropriately, the primary goal of strength training is to recruit the largest number of motor units possible. The way to do this is through lifting heavy weights, while keeping the rep scheme within a range of 1-6 reps per set. Like with speed work, appropriate rest between sets is critical. This type of training will elicit maximal strength gains without developing excess mass that will serve to slow the athlete down. For sports such as American football, where gaining mass is often a requirement, coaches must prescribe the appropriate degree of hypertophe work while still addressing strength gains when designing the overall training program.

COORDINATION

Even talented young athletes often have a difficult time coordinating the movements required for getting the most out of their ability. In fact, the vast majority of coordinative ability is developed during pre-pubescence so developing this skill in younger athletes, before they reach puberty, will have a significant impact on their later development. A primary problem with many athletes’ running speed is their running mechanics. Having never been taught to run properly or think about running properly, athletes must unlearn years of repeated mechanical errors and reprogram their neuromuscular systems to move in a way that is conducive to running faster. Many avoidable running injuries occur due to mechanical errors that result in overuse injuries that spring up over time. By teaching athletes proper movements patterns, injuries will decrease while speed and performance increases.

MOBILITY

Also called ‘flexbility’, this is often the most overlooked component of speed and athletic development. From overuse of static stretching as a warm up mechanism to a complete lack of emphasis on post workout flexibility and recovery, athletes are limited by poor range of motion. As a preface to the importance of this ability, too much flexibility can also be a detriment. An elastic band that has been stretched too far, too often, loses much of its spring. The same is true with athletes who are too flexible, especially considering the significant role that elastic response plays in running fast.

Athletes must incorporate dynamic movements, progressing from slow to fast, into their practice and competition warmup in order to recruit maximal muscle fibers and motor units, as well as decrease the likelihood of suffering an acute injury. In addition, post workout/competition warm downs and stretching is critical for helping to flush metabolic waste and promote recovery.

Athletes who ignore this component of their training will produce less power, have shorter stride lengths and lesser stride frequency that an opponent of equal skill. Consider how much impact the loss of one inch per stride would have over 100 meters.

ENDURANCE

Endurance is one of those concepts whose definition changes based on the lens that you are looking at it through. ‘In shape’ for the athletes of one sport may be wildly different from another. Simple proof of this is the differing levels of conditioning that athletes have when they change sports between seasons. The endurance requirements for a soccer player and a 100 meter sprinter are considerably different. One sport is almost entirely anaerobic, the other requires significant aerobic development. While this won’t affect pure speed workouts in general, the way that the rest of the training program is administered will be considerably different. This is why, as we periodize an athlete’s speed training program, it is of critical importance that we understand the energy system requirements of the particular sport that said athlete is training for. I still know of track and field coaches sending their sprinters out for 2-3 mile runs, yet the aerobic requirements for the event don’t dictate such training. Tempo runs and circuit training will more the suffice for the majority of the sprinters ‘endurance’ training. At the same time, I know of many soccer athletes who never do speed work, instead focusing on long, slow endurance runs and intervals as the totality of their training. Yet in the sport of soccer, full sprints of 10 – 30 yards comprise a large part of an athlete’s activity in the game.

While there are many variables that go into deciding where to place endurance emphasis, a great deal of harm can be done when prescribing general terms to a topic that has a significant impact on the overall ability of an athlete to meet their full potential.

Within the parameters of developing the five biomotor abilities, the speed coach must also develop an ‘eye’ for mechanical problems and inconsistencies. By learning to spot and effectively address common running errors, the coach is able to make changes to the program, workouts and drills that will result in the fastest possible development of the athlete.


Submitted by DMorgan on Sun, 08/19/2007 - 1:10pm.

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