Speed is a skill. Speed is a skill that can be taught. Throwing the football is also a skill. That is why you have quarterback coaches out there making crazy money because they are teaching you the finer points of throwing the football.
Speed is a skill that can be taught IF you have someone who knows about the proper biomechanics, motor learning, and energy demands of sprinting. They can help re-program the athlete’s nervous system so they can be faster athletes.
If you do not have the right person teaching you speed, you might become faster through repetition and your own perseverance, but you won’t be as fast as you could be.
Because of misinformation out there and misconceptions of how speed is taught, I’ve heard 3 speed mistakes that need to be addressed. If you hear these concepts being used for your athlete, run the opposite way as fast as you can.
- This first one isn’t a super critical mistake, because there is some truth to it. Train fast to be fast. Yes, at some point you do have to train fast to be fast, but initially you might have to train slow to be fast. In order to get the right mechanical positioning, you might have to do drills that break the running form down and these drills could be done at a slow speed. Also strength training to develop the strength which will lead to the power you need for speed might have to be done at a slower speed. BUT, by putting the end results of those drills together (the sum of the parts per se), you then can create an athlete that can start to train fast.
- Get faster by running repeat sprints at high speed. Did you know that not a single world record was broken during an athlete’s practice? Look it up. It’s true! Pushing the body to run its fastest takes a lot out of the body. Sometimes that’s where injuries occur because the body has never been to that level before. A lot of speed coaches will do drills/workouts at varying speeds for the athlete depending on the day and where they are in their training program. If your athlete is told to be sprinting at close to maximum velocity, it will probably end up being at 90-95% and there should be a long rest inbetween reps. Depending on the distance it could be 2-3 minutes (for 10-20M) to 8-12 minutes (for 100M). If you do not have that type of rest to recharge your energy system, then your sprints might just be a conditioning drill for you and not speed work.
- Run on your toes. This is told to a lot of athletes and I cringe when I hear it. I know it is said by well-meaning individuals, but you need to understand the biomechanics. If an athlete is running on their toes, it could put them in a higher risk position for an injury. Things just don’t line up right and imbalances can be exposed. It also makes for a longer limb, thus it slows the leg down during its turnover. Look at it yourself. Stand on one leg and with the other one point the toes down (plantarflex) and then pull the toes to your shin (dorsiflex). Which position makes your legs longer? What you should be doing is making your ankle dorsiflexed so it can act like a springboard. Pull the toes up and land on that ball of the foot in that dorsiflexed position. You will generate much higher speeds that way and because the leg is in a shorter lever position, it can turnover much quicker.
There are plenty more critical mistakes I hear about speed development, but these are three biggies. Change your mindset about those three first and give your athlete an opportunity to maximize his/her speed potential.