“Can speed be coached?” This refrain is heard over and over in the strength and conditioning realm, and it is time we took a look at whether it is true. Speed can be defined as the ability to cover a certain distance in the shortest time possible. Every athlete wants to be fast and every coach is looking for fast athletes. There are few things more intimidating to an opponent than aggressive, fast, scrappy team. Speed allows you to beat your opponent to the goal. Speed can demolish your opponent. SPEED KILLS!
So let’s dive a little deeper…
Genetics are a major factor in the development of speed; they determine muscle properties and fiber type, limb length and mechanical advantage, and energy system capabilities. However, genetics is not the only factor that plays a role in developing speed, and in fact there are many more, if coached correctly.
Strength & Power
Be it the foot applying force into the ground or the hip flexor driving the swing leg forward, violent actions must happen blindingly fast when running. In order to accelerate your bodyweight in a positive direction, you must be strong enough to exert the force needed to do so — this is where strength training plays a huge role. The ability to move the body and all of its segments through space quickly is directly controlled by coordination and strength. Running fast is all about applying force as quickly as possible (power).
Functional training will help improve posture (how we hold our body’s weight in order to maintain our positioning) and dynamic balance (maintaining equilibrium while changing direction rapidly while on one foot). This includes any sport that involves running, jumping, or kicking. Stabilization of the joints, tendons, and ligaments are very important when trying to prevent injury. Functional training challenges a joint’s ability to withstand shocks and movements without becoming displaced. Mobility is key in all movements of functional training because it focuses on full range of motion about every joint in our body, and especially around the core of the body. It is very important to make sure full range of motion is being covered through all movements and directions.
Before heading out the door to start running to develop your speed, do yourself a favor and read “Getting Ready to Run: The Warm-Up.”
Speed training is extremely technical and involves the use and coordination of your entire body. Olympic sprinters finely tune the biomechanics of their sprint running form for years to reduce their times by fractions of a second. There are several phases involved with a sprint that the athlete must concentrate on in order to reach his/her full maximal potential. Speed is the product of a comprehensive system. The bones, ligaments, muscles, and tendons must all be working together to produce movement.
If you want to be fast, you have to train fast. But also as a coach, you must have knowledge of what energy systems to train. ATP-PC (Anaerobic System) provides most of the energy that it takes for speed training and is used only for very short durations of up to 10 seconds. The ATP-PC system neither uses oxygen nor produces lactic acid; thus it is said to be alactic anaerobic.
Change of Direction/Deceleration
This is obviously a very important skill, as most sports consist of repeated starts and stops rather than one long continuous sprint. An agile athlete will be able to change directions without loss of speed and control. Training for and improving agility is a complicated task, as there are many factors that contribute to an athlete’s ability to change directions. Balance, joint mobility, joint integrity, eccentric strength, explosive power, coordination, and reaction/response time must all be addressed. This type of training will yield benefits that include improved quickness, improved body control and a reduction in injuries. An often-overlooked part of agility is deceleration or the ability to slow down/stop. Think of it as a very fast car with no brake — an out-of-control athlete is useless. Eccentric strength, in addition to balance & body control, is what allows an athlete to stop on a dime.
Just because an athlete can run 100m at a blazing speed doesn’t necessarily mean s/he can quickly swivel their hips and accelerate in the opposite direction. These skills must be trained accordingly , based on the demands of the sport. I often use the term “train the skill, not the drill.” Coaches often forget about the variety of physical demands of their sport, each of which requires specific training and practice. One must concentrate on body positioning, hip movement, shin angle, deceleration mechanics, etc.
Central Nervous System/Recovery
Your CNS fatigue is based on the following: Emotion>Breathing>Nutrition>Hydration>Exercise>Sleep. When speed training, athletes should be working at 95% to 100%. When doing this, it fatigues your CNS in such a way that most athletes require at least 48 hours of full rest in order for max recovery. All of the key aspects mentioned above must be a priority because if not, chances of injury are high and speed gains are low.
For more on CNS fatigue, read “When To Say When: Overtraining Syndrome and CNS Fatigue” and “Goodbye Overtraining Syndrome and CNS Fatigue.” Follow Coach Stevens on Twitter & Facebook.