Blog Post June 1st
The Importance of Year-Round Speed Training
Speed training is the single most beneficial thing that any developing athlete can take part in. Forget the laundry list of reasons why it’s the one thing all kids need more of, I thought I would simplify things down to why it should be trained year-round in order to get the most out of your athletic development.
Speed always seems to be this exclusive quality that everyone wants, but no one knows how to get more of it. The way I see it, to get stronger you lift weights, to get better at your sport you practice, so it only makes sense that to get faster, you run fast. Too simple? Absolutely. But don’t confuse simplicity for lack of effect. Speed training is nothing more than common sense applied to human movement. Just like there is a proper way to kick a soccer ball, dribble a basketball, or swing a golf club, there is a proper way to sprint that will maximize performance. You wouldn’t attempt to lift a 1 rep max without the proper foundation in technical training (I hope). Using that same logical approach, you also wouldn’t try to get faster without the proper instruction in the technique and application of principles.
To start, I think it's important to address the idea of year-round training for a few reasons:
- Learning the skill of sprinting is a process
- Balancing skill-specific work with general preparation and preparedness
- Training residuals
- Stress inoculation
- Resiliency/injury prevention
- Sprinting is a skill, and like all skills, it requires weekly if not daily attention or practice. Just like it takes time for an athlete to learn proper fundamental movement patterns, it also takes time to develop the qualities that make somebody a fast runner. The proper foundation must be built on posture, mechanics, and most importantly strength. To set aside 1-3 months to intensely focus on speed development would pale in comparison to a more moderate, consistent approach over the long haul. Training then should focus on long term improvement with short term goals and objectives. A little and often over the long haul is good advice for just about anything so let’s start there.
- While learning the skill of sprinting, there also must be considerations for what competing adaptations or stress load an athlete might simultaneously be under. Prior to the current pandemic, it would not be uncommon to get an athlete in our facility twice a week in conjunction with 3+ sports practices, private skill lessons, and competitions on the weekends. That’s a significant amount of competing stress that is very specific and skill-oriented. The beauty of sprint training is that speed is general in nature. If you can’t run, you can’t play therefore getting faster is guaranteed to improve performance. Rather than add to the mountain of sport-specific stress/training, simply apply the basic qualities to build a better overall athlete, rather than a specific 1-dimensional player.
- Training residuals refer to the window of time a certain trainable quality lasts before the training effect/adaptation begins to diminish. For speed training, this is usually 5 days + or – 2 meaning that after only about a week speed gains will start to deteriorate if gone untrained. This is of the utmost importance when it comes to long term development. You can do the best speed training program all offseason long, but if focused speed training falls by the wayside as soon as the season starts, that athlete will be the faster player there… for a week. In order to maintain speed and even improve upon it, it has to be addressed weekly. We want our athletes to be at their best when it matters most, which is why our athletes do max-effort sprints year-round almost verbatim. I believe this to be true especially for in-season athletes. So much of their week is spent in this moderate speed zone (practice/conditioning) that is too fast to develop work capacity and too slow to develop speed. True speed work might just be the saving grace they need to save performance and drive further improvements over the course of a long season.
- Sprint training also serves as the vaccine of the training world. It aids in stress inoculation due to its high central nervous system (CNS) demand. The more you do it, the more you get used to it. Properly dosing speed training throughout the year allows an athlete to build up a tremendous ability to fight stress and stave off fatigue because the actual game itself will be nowhere near as taxing as maximal effort sprinting. When it comes to high-intensity work it cannot be topped. Maximal effort sprinting is the highest form or physical stress we can place on the human body. The communication between the brain and the musculoskeletal system is so quick that it requires all motor units to be activated at the highest speed possible, thus the taxing nature.
- In addition to the inoculation of stress, sprint training also builds up resiliency and injury prevention for the same reason. The soft tissues and joint structures of legs, trunk, and upper body are trained at such high speeds with such high force that the impact of sport is so much more tolerable even in high volumes. You’re essentially killing multiple birds with one stone. You are improving the speed at which the limbs move (i.e. getting faster) while simultaneously making them stronger and less prone to injury.
Each of these 5 points could be a blog post in and of themselves, but I think it’s important to see the big picture before zooming in on the details. Taking a full assessment of all the factors that contribute to an athlete’s success is the most effective way to come up with a sustainable plan. There are two ways to kill a fly, you can use a fly swatter or shoot it with a tank. Call me old fashion but I’m going the route of fly swatter (minimal effective dose) every time. It’s not flashy and it might not go viral on social media, but the basics are the basics for a reason… they work. Don’t get bored with the basics. Master the mundane and you’ll be shocked at how successful you’ll be.