May 2, 2017
Up To Speed

Speed is one of the most important assets for many athletes. Yet, many strength and conditioning programs fail to adequately incorporate speed training. This often stems from misconceptions that speed can’t be improved. In fact, there are a number of strategies to help athletes get faster in everything they do, which will give them the edge over their competition.

Even the programs that do focus on speed development can easily fall victim to ineffective methods of training. Boo Schexnayder of Complete Track and Field, provides advice and some common mistakes and misconceptions:

Train fast – much of an athlete’s training program should involve movements done at high speed. This goes beyond just running fast. For certain lifting exercises the bar should travel fast, and jumping exercises and medicine ball work should done explosively.

Sprints aren’t enough – wind sprints help improve fitness but not speed. Running at maximal velocity is key to speed development. Once fatigue sets in, athletes are unable to run at full velocity.

Know your types – acceleration and absolute velocity are both part of overall speed, but can be improved in different ways. While acceleration refers to an athlete’s ability to move from rest, absolute speed is an athlete’s top velocity.

Incorporate speed in everything – look for ways to develop speed in every area of your strength and conditioning program. From weight training, plyometrics, and mobility work, you should consistently incorporate the principles of speed development.

Don’t overdo endurance work – training endurance is definitely important but does not help with speed development because it is slow and not done at maximal velocity. Programs often overemphasize endurance training, which makes speed development suffer.

Rest is key – effective speed training is intense. Athletes need to be working at maximal intensity and exerting tremendous power in order to improve their speed. Therefore, make sure to incorporate adequate rest between sets and repetitions so that your athletes can get the most out of their training.

Keep runs short and volumes low – when athletes are fatigued, they are much less able to develop speed. Runs should be short, such as 10-30 meters to train acceleration, and 40-60 meters to train absolute speed. Similarly, volumes of reps should be low, typically around 3-4. It’s better to focus on quality over quantity.

Focus on power – an athlete’s power output should remain high throughout the workout. As a coach, it’s important to observe and pay close attention to the fatigue of your athletes. If they are unable to perform the exercise with full power, it’s better to shorten the exercise and do more reps.

While keeping all of these guidelines in mind, consider incorporating a variety of exercises and competitions into your training program to keeps things fresh and fun for your athletes. Brian Lebo, owner and director of Athletic Performance Training Center in North Royalton, Ohio, and contributor to suggests using the following exercises to help your athletes develop speed.

Speed training drills:

  • Arm action drills
  • Mountain climbers
  • High knees
  • Acceleration drills (moving quickly from a still position; starting and stopping)
  • Resisted running (parachute, weighted sled)
  • Uphill running
  • Speed ladders

Strength and power development:

  • Prisoner squats
  • Power (high) skipping
  • Power (long) skipping
  • Lateral skaters
  • Split squat (alternating lunge) jumps
  • Squat jumps
  • Ankle hops
  • Standing long jumps/bounding

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