Speed isn’t just about running fast. It requires a high level of physical and mental discipline which can be challenging for most athletes who aim to get a better athletic performance. An integral component of many competitive sports, it refers to the rate at which an athlete can perform their specialized task.
Effective speed training involves striking an optimum balance between strength, endurance, and agility to achieve the best results. If you want to achieve all of them, then the guide below should help you out.
What Is Speed Training?
The definition of speed from a sports perspective is “the ability to move quickly across the ground or move limbs rapidly to grab or throw.” It is dependent on multiple factors, including acceleration, maximal speed levels reached, and speed maintenance over time or distance.
In essence, speed training is a type of physical training designed to improve speed and quickness in a chosen activity or sport. It typically involves performing exercises and drills that focus on increasing an athlete’s explosive power, acceleration, and highest velocity.
The Benefits of Speed Training
If you decide to incorporate speed training into your running workout or sprint training, you may experience the following benefits:
Increased cardiovascular fitness
Speed training can improve your cardiovascular fitness by increasing your heart rate and oxygen uptake during exercise. As a result, you’ll experience improved endurance and overall cardiovascular health.
Increased muscle strength
Speed training isn’t just about getting explosive speed. It can also help build and tone muscle, particularly in the lower body. If you are aiming to improve your overall strength and physical appearance, you should consider adding speed workouts to your training session.
Speed training can increase your metabolism, allowing you to burn more calories throughout the day. You get an enhanced metabolism even after your workout has ended.
If you don’t have a lot of free time to spend exercising, you should try starting a speed workout session. Compared with traditional cardio workouts, speed training sessions are much shorter.
Incorporating workouts such as lactate threshold training, dot drills, high knees, stride frequency drills, and muscle mass-building exercises can help you achieve faster running times, increased endurance, and overall better physical performance.
High-intensity workouts like these help to build cardiovascular fitness, improve oxygen uptake, and increase the efficiency of your body’s metabolic systems.
Different Types of Speed Training
This type of training focuses on improving an individual’s ability to change direction quickly, react to stimuli, and move laterally even when building speed.
It involves exercises such as ladder drills, cone drills, dot drills, and shuttle runs that challenge an individual’s balance, coordination, and speed of movement.
Strength training is an essential component of training to increase speed, as it helps to build muscles, improve lactate threshold, and increase overall power output.
Exercises such as squats, deadlifts, lunges, and leg presses can help to build lower body strength so you can cover longer distances without getting easily tired even when using maximum effort.
Fartlek (or “speed play” in Swedish) is a type of interval training method that combines short bursts of high-intensity exercise with longer periods of moderate-intensity exercise for speed increase. It involves alternating between different paces and intensities of running, such as sprinting for 30 seconds and then jogging for 2 minutes.
Interval running involves alternating periods of high-intensity running with periods of rest or lower-intensity running. For example, running at a high intensity for 30 seconds followed by a 60-second rest period in a speed workout.
Plyometric workouts are explosive movements that involve jumping, hopping, and bounding. They are designed to improve an individual’s power output and explosiveness.
Plyometric exercises can include exercises such as jump squats, box jumps, and single-leg jumps.
Running drills are specific exercises designed to improve running technique, form, and efficiency. They can include exercises such as high knees, butt kicks, and strides. These drills help to improve an individual’s running economy, which can translate to a faster pace when running.
Types of Speed
There are four types of speed that an athlete must work on if they want to improve their overall performance and become a really efficient runner. Below is an overview of each one:
Acceleration refers to the speed at which you can move from a stationary position to a moving position.
Drills can include wall leg drives, alternate wall leg drives, sticky strides, and prone position starts.
Deceleration is stopping. Effective deceleration techniques are often overlooked in speed training. Deceleration drills focus on bounds, jumps, and landings to condition the body to perform soft landings and sudden stops without causing any injury.
Single-leg jumps, multi-directional jumps, and landings from different heights will all contribute to effective training.
This refers to the speed at which you can move from side to side. The training will develop your skills in deceleration, stabilization, and acceleration in another direction. It’s vital to be able to perform agile footwork such as this at a good speed to remain competitive in many sports.
This is your ability to maintain speed while moving in a straight line. It includes marching, skipping, sled drills, and interval sprinting.
In the past, the bulk of speed training focused on linear training and stop-start drills. These days, however, speed training takes on a more multi-focused approach to incorporate all elements of speed.
How To Safely Do Speed Training
Speed training can be a highly effective way to improve your athletic performance, but it’s important to approach it with caution to avoid injury. Here are some tips for safely doing speed training as part of your training method:
Warm-up: Like most exercises, such as high-intensity interval training, your speed work should start with a thorough warm-up to get your body ready for the demands of speed training. This may include some light jogging, dynamic stretching, and/or foam rolling.
Start slow: Begin with low-intensity drills, such as strides or running drills, to gradually increase your speed. As you become more comfortable with these drills, you can start to increase the intensity.
Progress gradually: Avoid the temptation to push yourself too hard and too fast. Gradually increase your speed and distance over time, to allow your body to adapt and avoid overuse injuries.
Pay attention to form: Good form is critical for safe speed training. Focus on maintaining proper posture, arm swing, and foot placement as you run.
Use proper footwear: Choose shoes that are designed for your specific activity and provide adequate support and cushioning.
Rest and recover: Allow your body time to rest and recover between speed training sessions. This will help prevent injury and allow your body to adapt to the demands of the training.
Competitive levels of speed need to be built using a multi-pronged approach to training. A cornerstone of any speed training program is strength training. The stronger you are, the more control you have over your body and movements.
Strength training needs to start with the most basic strength exercises, including squats, deadlifts, and pull-ups with proper form. These compound movements teach the different muscle groups of your body to work together to perform complex movements under strain without injury.
Once you have the basics down, you can incorporate more complex compound exercises into your program. Your glutes and hamstrings are the primary players when it comes to running at a fast pace and speed endurance.
Targeting these muscles for strength through exercises, such as the single-leg Romanian deadlift, can build up strength in these areas.
As always, the correct technique and proper sprinting form are vital to protect your joints from strain and achieve optimum results. You should observe the correct running form even before your foot hits the ground.
Once an effective strength training routine is established, developing plyometrics can be useful. Focusing on plyometrics develops power. It includes actions such as jumping and bounding.
Power is the combination of strength with speed. It’s vital not only for initial pace, but also to be able to maintain speed over long distances. There is little benefit to achieving great acceleration briefly before losing all speed rapidly.
Likewise, if your acceleration is poor, you will find it challenging to catch up with opponents — even if they have a similar speed to you — if their initial acceleration was faster.
Plyometric training will teach your body to react quickly and efficiently even at maximum speed and under stress. Your body’s ability to maintain movement patterns under stress while moving quickly will significantly reduce the risk of injury to vulnerable areas such as your knees and ankles.
Depth jumps are an excellent example of efficient plyometrics training. You can do this by following the steps below:
- Start by standing on a bench and stepping off the edge.
- As you make contact with the floor, explode upwards with as much power as you can.
- Repeated training will increase power and height in your jumps.
Other examples are the standing broad jump to enhance overall strength, and single-leg exercises, such as mini hurdle hops, to encourage independent agility in each leg.
Resisted Speed Training
Your body will adapt to meet new challenges — that’s why continually upping the ante matters. Another way of making your speed training routine more challenging is to incorporate resisted sprint training. You can use bungee cords, sleds, or any external force you can pull without adversely affecting your movement pattern too much.
The purpose of resisted sprint training is to condition your body to perform the same movement pattern but under stress. If the resistance is too much, you will need to alter your movement pattern to pull, tug, or drag the resistance.
Although still useful for building strength, this will ultimately render the exercise less useful as a speed training tool.
Common Mistakes in Speed Training
When it comes to training for maximum speed, you shouldn’t just focus on the different types of speed training. You also need to be familiar with the common mistakes and how to avoid them.
Mistake #1: Neglecting Slower Pace Training
Many athletes believe that the key to maximum speed is simply training at a high intensity all the time. However, neglecting slower pace training can actually hinder your progress.
Running at a slow and easy pace can help to develop your aerobic capacity, which is essential for improving your endurance and maintaining your top speed for longer periods of time.
Also, don’t forget to take proper rest before and after your speed workouts. Your running coach should be able to guide you with that.
Mistake #2: Focusing Too Much on Maximum Speed
While it’s important to work on developing your maximum speed so you can run at an all-out pace, it’s also essential to work on developing your running speed.
Your running pace is the speed at which you can maintain for extended periods of time, and it’s what you’ll need to rely on during races and competitions. Neglecting it can leave you unable to maintain your highest speed for long periods of time.
Mistake #3: Overspeed Training
This training is aimed towards training your neuromuscular system. It involves the use of various methods to run faster than your highest speed and to build endurance.
One good example is downhill running, an exercise that falls under assisted speed training. While it can be effective in improving your sprint speed, it can also be dangerous as it increases the risk of injury.
Mistake #4: Ignoring Different Muscle Fibers
Your muscles are made up of different types of fibers, including slow-twitch and fast-twitch fibers:
- Slow-twitch fibers are used for endurance activities.
- Fast-twitch fibers are used for explosive activities, such as sprinting.
Neglecting to train both types can hinder your overall performance. It’s important to include a variety of training methods, including high-intensity interval training and interval workouts, to target both slow-twitch and fast-twitch muscle fibers.
Mistake #5: Not Using Interval Workouts
Interval workouts are an essential component of training to improve speed. These workouts involve alternating between high-intensity sprints and periods of recovery to build speed.
Interval workouts can help to improve speed, running pace, and overall endurance. Neglecting to include interval workouts in your training can leave you unable to maintain your explosive speed for long periods of time.
We’d love to hear how your speed training improves with this guide!