I’ve written all these nice blog posts about speed training drills, athletes speed training workouts, and other sports information that I don’t know if I’ve quite explained what speed training is. For some people, it might be a little self explanatory, but just in case I thought I would describe in a little more detail what speed training is. That way we are all on the same page as you continue to read my posts.

Speed training can mean different things for different sports, so let’s clarify how I utilize it for you.

For most of my athletes, speed training is getting an athlete faster in a short distance. Most of our athletes have to learn to accelerate quickly and run fast for 10 – 20 yards before either slowing down or changing direction. I have athletes that play baseball, football, soccer, basketball, tennis, field hockey, and gymnastics to name a few. All of those sports fall in this criteria. Now depending on what position you play in some of those sports, yes, you might have to run further than 20 yards at top speed, but during the course of a game that happens minimally.

We also have the obvious sports of track and cross country. These are running sports that improving an athlete’s speed for these sports depends on the length of the event. Being that I train my athletes inside, I have to work on a specific part of speed development for these particular athletes. We’ll talk about this a little later, so let’s address the first point I made on what I try to improve with the majority of my athletes.

Speed training for most athletes is how quickly can you accelerate to a top speed in a short area of space.

You can manipulate those words around a little bit, but that is essentially what we are looking at. Even on a big playing field like soccer or football, most of those players have to sprint 10 or 20 yards fast, but eventually will pass the ball, get it stolen, change direction, or get tackled. A running back might run full speed into the hole the offensive line developed and get tackled two yards past it. Not exactly the 40 yard dash we time these athletes in all the time.

What are the components of speed training?

Well, it boils down to these several items:

  • Running Mechanics – With an athlete who is older (say college or above, maybe an old high schooler), if there are little flaws that are prevalent, but they aren’t hindering the speed, then we probably don’t change them. The athlete is what he/she is and you might screw the speed up by messing with the mechanics at this stage of the athlete’s career. But, if you deal with younger athletes like I do, we want to get the running mechanics fixed. Even in short distances, we want those mechanics sound so the athlete is running as efficiently as possible and not making the run harder by increasing wind resistance with inefficient movements.
  • Strength Development – Getting the athlete stronger will correct a lot of the areas in running form that we look at including stride length and stride rate. The athlete can generate the necessary power that will enable him/her to accelerate quickly. Also, for change of direction the athlete has the power to stop quick and change the direction faster than an athlete who is weak. The weaker athlete takes too much time to slow the momentum down and try to speed back up the opposite way.
  • Plyometrics – This can be considered in the strength development phase, but I want to emphasize it because I think it can really prep the athlete better for his/her sport than just weight training alone. The jumping that you do with plyos allows the body to feel the type of high impact stress it can feel on the playing field. Thus, when you play, your body can handle it a lot easier because the joints have felt those high impact movements in your training. Makes cutting easier, plus develops the right fast twitch fibers for speed bursts needed in acceleration.
  • Recovery – This is huge in my opinion and separates us from your average coach buying speed drills and using them for a team. In order to develop speed properly, you need to have adequate rest inbetween each set and drills. We are not trying to condition the athlete. That is another component and for another time. We are trying to develop speed and each drill we want at an appropriate intensity. If we aren’t allowing for the proper recovery, then the mechanics start to falter, the strength starts to slip, and we can’t continue to develop the speed at a high level. We just start working on the slower twitch muscles and the aerobic conditioning. Expect to be tired after a speed session, but you won’t be dragging your knuckles on the ground. Getting you in game shape for your sport is another topic and for another time.

This general strategy also helps the track and cross country athlete as well. Ultimately, when the season starts these athletes will have to move their training outside and get the adequate runs in to prep them for their races. Running inside for 20 yards isn’t going to cut it. But, doing the above, especially the strength and the plyometrics, will really help develop their power for the speed workouts they need to do outside. This will also benefit the runners who are running out of the blocks by getting stronger to explode out and making their reaction time quicker.

There are very few sports where speed training isn’t necessary. But, this is essentially what we are talking about with speed training. Not everyone can be made to be a world class sprinter, you have to have the genetics. But, everyone can be faster than what they previously were if they implement the above items.