Improving the speed of individual athletes or a total team requires a scientifically and experientially sound system that covers the entire range of the speed spectrum. It’s not enough to keep giving your athletes the same workouts and routines you did back in the day. If you truly want your athletes to have dominant speed and reach their full speed potentials, then you must incorporate a total training program. Let's take a brief look at some of the major components that should be in every athlete's speed training workout.
Pre Competition – Warming Up
If you want to be ready to perform speed work or compete at full speed, you must have a proper warm up. For example, many coaches are still using static stretching as a way to get athletes loose during the warm up. Unfortunately, this outdated method actually reduces speed and power. Studies show that certain types of stretching prior to activity reduces power output, therefore reducing sprint speed. Think about it: How often during a practice or competition does an athlete hold a stretch position as part of their sport? I can't think of any either. This is why, during the warm up, it is important to put athletes through exercises that are similar to the types of movements they'll be performing during practice and competitions. Otherwise, not only will athletes be slower and less powerful, but the likelihood of injury is increased greatly.
The warm up exercises should be structured from the most basic, low intensity exercises and should progress through to more complex movements that simulate the speeds athletes will be moving at during practice and competition. You want to take advantage of the hard work you put into your practices, not start out at an immediate disadvantage because of tight, cold muscles that just won't produce. Giving your athletes the tools they need to succeed starts by getting them ready to compete the right way.
If you are performing 100 meter runs or repeat 40 yard sprints with little rest, you are not doing real speed work! Speed work is performed in the Anaerobic Phosphagen Energy System. This means if you are performing anything longer than seven to eight seconds, you are training outside this energy system. In order to become more efficient and challenge this energy system, speed work must stay within two to eight seconds, which is approximately 20 to 80 yards.
Please also note that one of the most important elements of speed training that many coaches still don't realize is that speed work requires full recovery. Because it is so demanding on the body, if athletes don't recover fully between every repetition, they can not develop the coordination to continue to make improvements. That means athletes must rest between a minimum of two to three minutes between every repetition of speed work. It also takes roughly 36 to 48 hours to fully recover from a speed workout since it places so much stress on your central nervous system (CNS). This basically means you can not perform speed work everyday or on back-to-back days!
Power Training - Plyometrics
Plyometrics are an excellent supplement to your speed, strength and power training program. They can greatly improve your power levels and help increase body control since they deal with moving your own bodyweight. I'm sure you have done bounding exercises, box jumps or medicine ball throws before. The question is, how do you know whether athletes are actually benefiting from these activities instead of putting themselves at risk for injury?
Athletes always want to do the most advanced, most technical movements that they see the professional athletes doing in their training. However, because these exercises require so much power and coordination, there needs to be progression in the structure of plyometric training (like all other aspects of training). It may not be glamorous and exciting, but in the short and long term, learning to evolve from basic to complex movements will always reap the greatest rewards.
Your athletes must learn how to stabilize and absorb forces appropriately. The key is to land softly and absorb the forces created with the muscles (not the joints!). If you are landing quietly, then you are probably on the right path. If we jump right into single leg bounds or depth jumps without the proper progression, then we are putting our bodies at risk for avoidable injury.
The problem with most strength training programs is that they focus too much on hypertrophy work (getting big). Uninformed athletes go into the weight room with the idea that the bigger they get, the better they will perform. I don't know many athletes who want to be bodybuilders since they can't move very well with that useless bulk. Size may matter at the beach but not necessarily on the playing field. That is why we focus on power in the weight room.
Weight training is supposed to be a supplement to our overall speed training. Since speed and power go hand in hand, when in the weight room, we must focus on the same elements of training that will help us to be faster on the field or track. If you are lifting for power (neural adaptation), repetitions should be around one to five reps, and your intensity shouldn't drop below 80% (80-100%). Exercises will center around squatting, deadlifts and Olympic lifting. Also, because of such high intensity per set, rest periods will be a lot longer since you are looking for efficiency, and you need to be fully recovered.
Before we get into agility training, we have to remember that the 40 yard dash (or 30 meter sprint) is not the only way to assess an athlete's speed. There is a difference between quick and fast. Someone who is considered fast may not necessarily be quick and vice versa. The best athletes have a combination of both quick and fast characteristics, and they must train both. Lateral speed and agility work lays the foundation for any athlete in any sport.
Lack of coordination is a big problem for many athletes. How many times have you seen a good athlete stumble when making a simple cut, performing a new skill or, better yet, trying to dance? It happens far too often, and it is all due to lack of coordination. The inability to easily coordinate movement affects their footwork and their ability to quickly make the moves that top athletes seem to do naturally. Therefore, no matter what sport you coach, agility training will help develop the balance, coordination and timing that will allow athletes to get to the ball or away from the defender when the game is on the line.
You know that agility training is used to improve foot speed, quickness, acceleration, changing speeds, cutting, starting/stopping, change of direction and reaction, right? Great! But did you know that agility training aids in preventing injuries by improving body control through proper movement mechanics? The benefits of this training are universal.
In the end, it doesn't matter how fast you are if you aren't in good enough shape to finish strong at the end of your competitions. Everyone wants to be doing pure speed work all the time, and nobody seems to be building the proper base needed for your body to be able to handle that force and power.
Traditionally, coaches use running workouts to improve aerobic conditioning, and many of those conditioning types of runs are being spent with the athlete going out and running mileage. You have heard "train slow, play slow," so besides the inefficient and detrimental effects of slow distance running, you don’t want your 300 pound lineman out on the roads taking all of that pounding to his joints. There needs to be a better way for athletes to get the conditioning they need without taking away from their power development.
This is where general strength circuit training comes in. General strength circuits are usually bodyweight exercises that involve no external loading that we add to tempo (recovery) training. Tempo training is used in this sense as short running intervals in between each GS exercise. General strength work will help maintain healthy joint and soft tissue strength, provide some aerobic capacity work, aid in recovery, build core strength, help with balance/coordination/proprioception and enhance gross motor performance.
General strength circuits are great because they can be used all year round and by any sport! GS work is used more heavily in the off-season or pre-season but can also be added to the competitive season.
The day after a speed/power workout is the ideal time to add a general strength day. A speed/power day places extreme stress to your CNS, and it takes 24 to 48 hours to recover from it. This is why you can't perform speed/power workouts day after day (well you can, but you would be asking for an injury!). So the GS circuit is used as a recovery workout to help your body recoup and get ready for another speed/power workout the following day. The GS work stimulates hormones to aid in recovery and also to flush out the system. The circuits will increase your heart rate, but they are low enough in intensity to have such positive effects on your body restoration abilities.
Here is a structured speed/power day workout. You can apply this to almost all power sports.
I. Dynamic Warm-Up
- 5-10 minute warm-up
- Loose skip
- Hi Knee Walk
- Lunge w/twist
- Backwards loose skip
- Double leg plow
- Lateral Lunge
- Side shuffle
- Leg circles
- Side shuffle
- Leg swings (front and lateral)
- Skips for height
II. Speed Drills
- Backwards run
- Fast leg
- Accelerations 4x30m
III. Speed Workout: Acceleration Workout
- 3x 25 meters – push up (down position) start
- 3x 25 meters – push up (up position) start
- 3x 25 meters – seated facing "forward" start
- 3x 25 meters – seated facing "backwards" start
- 5 Double leg hops w/stabilization forward 4x6
- 5 Double leg hops w/stabilization lateral 4x6
- 1 Leg alternating hops forward w/stabilization 3x8
V. Weight Training
- Hang Cleans 5x3
- Deadlifts 4x4
- Step-ups 4x4
- Push Press 5x3
VI. Core Training
- Reverse Crunches
- Single leg slide
VII. Active Warm Down
- All 2x 20 meters
- High knee walk
- Lunge w/hamstring
- Lateral lunge
- Inch worm
Exercises can be added or subtracted depending on what the goal of the workout is, but all of our speed/power days will be in this outlined form. If we were doing a maximum velocity day (pure speed), our plyos would change because we would want to perform vertical plyos. Our core workouts change daily depending on what types of exercises we used the day before.
Here is an example of a recovery day
I. Active Warm-up
- High Knee Walk
- Lunge w/inner thigh
- 1-Leg SLDL - backwards
- Lateral Lunge w/squat
- Backwards Lunge w/twist
II. Agility Ladder
- Ali Shuffle
- Icky Shuffle
- Icky Shuffle – high knee
- Brake Run
- In/Out backward
- Carioca (4 times or 2 starting with each leg)
III. General Strength Circuit (or Tempo Run)
Perform on soccer field. Jogging 65% on the sidelines each corner. Do one exercise in each corner.
- Prisoner Squats x 20
- Military Push-ups x 12
- Squat Jumps x 12
- Rotational Push-ups x 8 each
- Burpees x 12
- Lunges x 12 each
- Staggered Push-ups x 12 each
- Mountain Climbers x 15 each
- Rest 4 minutes then repeat circuit
IV. Core Conditioning
- Russian twist
- Side L-raise
- Diagonal Wood Chops – Medicine ball
- Rotation – Medicine ball
- Straight Leg
- Fire Hydrants
- Lead Leg Pick-up
- Side Leg Raise
- Hip "L"
- Up and back
VI. Foam Roller (or Active Isolated Stretching)
- IT Band
- Low Back
- (1-2 minutes each)
Exercises can be added or subtracted depending on what the goal of the workout is, but our conditioning/recovery days will be in this outlined form. General strength circuit exercises, volume and even the way we perform the jogs and the rest will be also be dependant upon the phase or season we are in.
This was just a glimpse of what your athletes' speed training program should look like in order for them to develop full speed potential. If your training workouts look similar, then you are a step ahead of the game. If not, and you have left out any aspect of this complete speed training system, your competition is going to leave you in the dust!
- Functional Training for Sports by Mike Boyle
- Essentials of Integrated Training by Mike Clark
- Training for Speed by Charlie Francis