Everything You Need to Know About Speed Training
Speed is about much more running fast. It’s an integral component of many competitive sports and 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.
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.
Types of Speed Training
There are four types of speed training that need to be considered to improve your overall performance—acceleration, deceleration, lateral speed, and linear speed. While it’s tempting to concentrate on the area you feel you need to improve the most, it’s essential to maintain a balanced regime.
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.
Lateral speed is the speed at which you can move from side to side. Lateral speed 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.
Linear speed is maintaining speed while moving in a straight line. Linear speed drills include marching, skipping, or 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.
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 exercises, including squats, deadlifts, and pull-ups with proper form. These compound movements activate multiple muscle groups at once and teach the 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 training program. Your glutes and hamstrings are the primary players when it comes to speed. 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 form is vital to protect your joints from strain and to achieve optimum results.
Once an effective strength training program is established, developing plyometrics can be useful. Plyometrics include actions such as jumping and bounding. Focusing on plyometrics develops power.
Power is the combination of strength with speed. It’s vital not only for initial acceleration 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 and put them ahead.
Plyometric training will teach your body to react quickly and efficiently at 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. Multi-directional movements need to be incorporated into any effective plyometrics training plan to condition your body to react to twists, turns, and rapid changes of direction. This type of training is particularly relevant to athletes such as soccer players or tennis players.
Depth jumps are an excellent example of efficient plyometrics training. 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 adding a challenge to speed training is to introduce resistance through the use of bungee cords, sleds, or anything you can pull without adversely affecting your movement pattern too much.
The purpose of resistance speed 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.
A good speed training program will focus on a combination of strength, explosive power, and endurance to effectively build the skills needed to meet the four elements of speed: acceleration, deceleration, liner speed, and lateral speed.