Here’s what you need to know:
- Most speed training that is being marketed is NOT actually true speed development but conditioning drills masked as speed
- To truly increase speed you must respect the nervous system more than the muscular system
- There are three key principles to speed development: intensity, rest and volume
- If these principles are followed, athletes get faster. If they are not, athletes stay the same or see minimal progress
- Speed development done properly is not sexy and conditioning is an easier sell.
It is no secret that speed is king when it comes to sports. Just ask any athlete, coach, or parent and they will tell you that they want to see improvements in speed. As a former college athlete I vividly remember the jump from High School to College basketball. The biggest difference in the game was how fast it had gotten in an instant!
Fast forward to being the Founder and Head Coach of Driven Fitness and Performance and I feel so blessed to be in the position to efficiently and ethically enhance each athletes’ speed across many sports and to help them make their dreams become a reality. However, in a world of instant information, speed & agility everything, and folks all looking to cash-in on this market, it is equally important to educate on what true speed development is. Without this understanding athletes can get stuck wasting their time, energy and their parents money on things that are marketed as “speed” but are in actuality far from it.
I do not say any of this to criticize, or to say that I have all the answers, but the TRUTH is that what the status quo demonstrates with regards to “speed” is flat out incorrect. While I love the fact that kids are passionately pursuing better, this article is about encouraging and educating their efforts in the right direction. Nothing is more frustrating than working hard and not seeing the results you so desire.
The status quo is that athletes go into a training session with a bunch of different kids and the coach puts them through a workout. This workout is normally made up on the spot or has been designed that day. The athlete then goes through that workout, becomes exhausted in the process doing various “speed” drills, and then goes home. So, what’s the problem you may be wondering?
These “speed” sessions fall short on true development because they do not adhere to the three principles of speed development.
Now I must warn you, this isn’t the sexy stuff that you see in the movie montages. And to be honest, it is easier to convince a parent or coach that you are getting their athlete better when you pound them into the ground with exhausting drills. But in actuality, true speed development is a very succinct process and if you do not adhere to these principles you are not getting your athletes to the pinnacle of their athletic ability. That is the bottom line and the cold hard facts.
You cannot get tired and fast at the same time!
Before we dive into the principles it is important to set the stage between the relationship between the nervous system and muscular system. Muscle contraction is stimulated by the nervous system, the “electrical firing” of muscles to produce force. The nerves, you know the tingly sensations you get sometimes, are therefore the key driver and component of true speed development. If we do not respect, understand and appreciate that fact, athletes will continue to do conditioning drills instead of speed drills, coaches will continue to waste time and energy and parents potentially money.
Now let’s dive into the three principles that are at the cornerstone of true speed development.
Intensity is associated with how much of your absolute 100 % effort you are using on each repetition. In order to get faster an athlete must be willing and able to train at 100% effort for a very short period of time per repetition. The nervous system is a very delicate but powerful system of the body and only responds to intense bouts of energy, focus and intensity. In order to enhance the capabilities and connection between the nervous system and the muscular system the athlete must go all out on each rep of their speed work.
For example, consider an athlete who is being told that they are working on their “speed.” They start off by running 40-yard dashes, they jog back, reset for a minute or so and then they do another. Maybe the first or second sprint was fast but each subsequent one after the athlete became more and more fatigued.
How can an athlete enhance the properties that create optimal speed when they are essentially moving at 70 % of their capacity???? It does not make sense yet we see it all the time as coaches, players and parents.
The concept of intensity really is simple though. The athlete needs to push themselves to their physical limits each and every repetition. By doing so you create high-tension in the muscle by expanding the connection between the muscle and nervous system.
The ability of the muscular tissue to be activated by the nervous system is why intensity is so important. If you are not going 100% than your electrical impulses are not firing at the intensity they need to fully optimize the muscular tissue. As the athlete wears down by poor training principles it becomes more and more the job of the muscles to move the body without the input of the nervous system to activate the muscles.
The bottom line is that nerves ignite the muscles, but they only become fully ignited when the athlete is at 100% capacity.
What makes training with such intensity effective is that the principle of REST must be properly applied. Here’s the problem with rest if you are a coach… it goes against everything you were ever taught.
What do all good coaches hate? Down time. So if we are telling our athletes to rest we must be doing something wrong then? Incorrect.
Here is the key concept of rest; in order to continually train at that high intensity, in order to enhance the connection between the nerves and the muscles, then you need to give the body plenty of time to rest between repetitions.
For example, the athlete who was running the 40-yard dashes to work on their speed development should then walk back to the starting point and WAIT THERE. That athlete needs to spend 3-5 minutes to allow their nerves system “battery” to become recharged and then when it is time to sprint again they need to attack it with everything that they have.
In order to increase the athletes 100 % speed capability you need to continue to knock on the door of their 100% and beyond. The only way to consistently bring this type of effort and intensity is by applying the principle of rest.
Lastly, athletes need to remember that when it is time to get faster that is their sole focus. When it is time to get in better conditioning focus on that. Do not mix the two because if you do you come away with an athlete who isn’t very fast and not in peak shape.
The last principle is the fact that if we are going to be training at such a high intensity than we need to control HOW MUCH of it we are doing. This is where volume comes in.
Volume is the concept that we cannot and should not train at such a high level, with such high intensity, for as many reps as we traditionally think.
Coaches and parents across America love to see their kids and athletes smoked with fatigue after running dozens of sprints across courts, fields and facilities. They all think that if some is good, more most be great!
That is just not the case. In order to optimize the neuro-muscular connection we cannot endlessly train. Instead, that athlete who is running 40-yard sprints should focus on running 6-10 reps, with 3-5 minutes in between, with a proper warm-up and cool down. If you are keeping track at home this training session can take you between 40-60 minutes if done properly!
Volume is the principle that keeps the athlete safe during the training process by not over stimulating them. If the athlete follows the first two principles and then knows when to shut it down (after 6-10 reps) than they will have gotten everything out of their body that they possibly could have in their quest to become faster.
But with all that said, why do parents, coaches and players continue to fall for the same tricks? Why don’t parents spot the phony “speed sessions” and start turning away from this types of training?
Here are a few key points to understand if you are parent as to why this “speed” model is still so prevalent today and what we really should be looking for in our speed training:
- Traditional “speed” sessions get athletes tired thus burning out their nervous system. Developing speed is about enhancing neuromuscular efficiency, a delicate process, which requires specific rest and patience. By getting athletes tired you are simply having them train at their same speed or less more often, thus preparing them to play at that same speed longer.
- Conditioning is more rapidly attained then neuromuscular efficiency. For novice athletes, anything works because they are so untrained. So, if you want to impress a parent, coach, or athlete, you can get them faster in a short period of time (4-8) weeks, but these gains are short lived and will plateau.
- Neuromuscular efficiency and adaptations take time, but once the foundation is set it provides for the opportunity for continuing improvements throughout their career. By taking the initial stages to build a foundation of quality movement, enhanced relative (to their body weight) strength, and fast motor recruitment you are setting up the athlete for future success.
- Neuromuscular efficiency allows the body to break through previous barriers because they are fine-tuning the ability of their nerves to rapidly fire their muscles at new speeds. These breakthroughs are only occurred after deliberate practice, rest, and 100 % effort on the specific speed task.
- Conditioning sessions are an easier “sell” to parents, coaches and athletes. Athletes are used to being put to exhaustion when it comes to running and parents want to make sure their kids are working hard and they are getting their moneys worth. What tells the story easier than having a kid walk out of a session dripping sweat and exhausted?
If you want your athlete to achieve new levels of speed and reach their athletic and genetic potential than they must be willing to follow the instructions when it comes to speed training. I encourage parents to appreciate, recognize and speak up when you see athletes going through conditioning sessions but calling them “speed” training. If you are not following those three principles than you are not getting athletes faster for the long haul.
For us, it all boils down to providing smart, strategic and scientific training protocols to the athletes. If you apply principles and stay true to yourself than you can take athletes to levels that they have never been before. If you want to get kids exhausted and build “toughness” than you can be the next coach to put them to exhaustion. But trust us, you won’t be the first coach and we are pretty sure you won’t be the last either.