Speed was once seen as largely a genetic trait greatly unaffected by training, but the world of sports today recognises that a well-structured and scientifically sound training programme can, in fact, improve speed.
According to the US National Strength and Conditioning Association’s Ian Jeffreys, coaches and athletes alike must develop a fundamental knowledge of the factors that contribute to speed in order to maximise the benefits of training.
In Developing Speed, Jeffreys details how speed relies on both motor skill development and the development of physical capabilities to produce effective ground-reaction forces.
He believes any speed development programme should include three key elements:
Three key elements of speed
1. Development of physical capacities
Jeffreys says that an effective speed development programme must develop an athlete’s force production capacity in the musculature involved in sprinting. Maximal force capacity, rate of force development and stretch-shortening cycle ability all likely play important roles in determining running speed.
2. Technical development
“Development of sound running technique helps ensure that athletes can use their physical capacities to enhance their speed,” explains Jeffreys. “Technical training targets areas of deficiency in the running action.” This form of training starts with an analysis of performance and then addresses areas of deficiency such as arm action and leg action.
3. Application of speed
Unless running speed is enhanced in a sport-specific context, the development of technique and the development of physical capacities are of no benefit. “The critical question is how to effectively transfer them to enhance game speed,” Jeffreys stresses. “This transfer requires an athlete to perform high-quality, sport-specific bursts of speed. While this may seem obvious, much field sport training neglects frequent high-speed running.” It’s for this reason that a speed improvement programme must involve speed application and address all of the elements that affect performance in a particular sport, such as initial acceleration, transition acceleration and maximum speed.
Jeffreys warns that the omission of any of these elements will produce less than optimal results. “These elements also should be tailored to the individual athlete’s characteristics,” he says. “Some athletes use great technique but lack the physical capacities to maximise this technique.
Others may possess excellent physical capacities but lack the required technique to optimise them. Therefore, the focus of specific elements is different for each athlete.”
Since no speed development programme will be universally optimal, coaches need to adjust programmes in response to these differences. “Undoubtedly, the more knowledge a coach or athlete has regarding the scientific principles of programme design, the more effectively they will be able to adapt programmes to their specific needs,” Jeffreys concludes.
Written by eight of the NSCA’s top experts and edited by Jeffreys, Developing Speed is the definitive resource for developing speed training programmes that optimise athletic performance.
Offering assessments and the application of speed training to eight specific sports, this authoritative guide is the latest entry in the NSCA’s Sport Performance Series and provides all the tools needed for maximising speed.