Speed Training

Speed Training

Having the experience of having worked hard to go from 4.6 yard dash to a 4.4 40 yard dash changed my athletic career.  As the saying goes, “Speed Kills”.

At Umberger Performance, our philosophy centers around the basic principle that speed is a skill.  Some athletes are born with a tremendous amount of fast twitch muscle fiber.  So what?  They must master the techniques of sprinting if they are to reach their potential.

Speed is one of the dominant factors of sports.  If training for speed was easy, everyone would be fast.  The annual NFL combine in Indianapolis is where the most elite of the elite NCAA football players show off their skills to NFL personnel.  In prior 3 years(’09-’11), 1005 players have participated in the invite only show case.  Of the players competing in the 40 yard dash in Indy:
1 player ran a 4.2  overall =.01%
10 players ran 4.3’s overall = .1%
97 players ran 4.4’s overall =  9.75%

These are athletes that have trained 4-6 years(most trained year round) under a strength and conditioning coach.  They are not wet behind the ears high school athletes that did some pretend squats and some curls in the high school weight room while the football coach read the newspaper.  Just under 12% of the ALL of the most elite NCAA football players ran 4.4 sec and under in 40 yd dash.

Speed is a skill that is developed through complex means.  To maximize the speed potential of the athlete, various drills derived from track sprinters must be incorporated to teach proper techniques which results in the athlete becoming more efficient in their movement as well as help develop rhythm of movement which is essential for peak performance.  Fast and explosive athletes appear extremely smooth and relaxed in their movement not choppy and robotic.

Speed qualities are also specific to the individual athlete largely based on their genetics. Limb length, muscle fiber make up(fast vs slow twitch), bio energetic development, and training age are a few of the many factors that determine how an individuals speed development should be approached.

The amount of volume that the athlete is experiencing with their sports team is also a factor.  Local football teams are having ALL of their players doing 1200-1800 yards of speed work per session, multiple times a week.  Meanwhile, the ideal range is 300-400 yards 1-3 times per week.  These football coaches are exceeded weekly numbers in one session.  That volume must be accounted for not mindlessly added to.  Volume and specific training protocols that world class sprinters follow are not the parameter that a high school athlete with terrible mechanics should follow.

Speed Training or Gimmicks?

Speed ladders and other gimmicks do not have a place in speed development.  Their ability to teach proper “change of direction” mechanics is weak at best.  Check out a "speed ladder workout" and ask yourself if ANYTHING that is being done mimics what you have seen in ANY real sport?  Sports teams don't recruit dancers.  This dancing through speed ladders in an attempt to improve agility has actually caused some of out athletes sprint mechanics to deteriorate.  The "chop chop" arm motion performed while speed ladder dancing is 40-50% of the arm drive while sprinting.

Over Speed Treadmills are an overpriced gimmick.  If they so great why aren’t they used by track athletes who are the fastest straight line athletes in the world?  Would these companies not pay Usain Bolt to use one of the treadmills and promote it if it worked?  Or maybe the Jamaican Sprint Team which is the best in the world.   How about the lack of knowledge of the coach who is running the training session?  Having zero knowledge of GAIT and the biomechanics of running won't make an athlete faster in the long run.  If the Over Speed Treadmill does yield some positive results it's because the athlete is actually doing some sprint work(for the first time?).  This speed training effect wears off within 7-10 days once the athlete is away from the stimulus(treadmill).  This is fact based science from the world renowned Sports Scientist Dr. Vladimir Issurin in which he wrote about these finding in his book "Block Periodization." Another point in these "false gains" are that the improve has not come from improving mechanics.  If the athlete is not doing power speed drills (which EVERY track sprinter in and beyond college performs multiple times per week, if not everyday) to improve mechanics and mechanical efficiency then the gains are not true gains in performance.  Additionally, the lack of mechanical improvement will not results in change of direction speed because acceleration and deceleration mechanics are similar to the acceleration phase of a straight line sprint.

"Training parameters associated with sprint speed development cover intensity, volume, and frequency. They have been established over time and in relation to the training of world class athletes. In order to develop world class speed every sprinter must work to maximize their movement efficiency which then reduces mechanical stress to the body while enhancing power outputs. Through intelligently structured and individualized training schedules sprinters are able to develop these qualities while minimizing injuries."

-Jame Smith- Senior National Physical Preparation Coach for the Portuguese Rugby Federation.