5 Speed Training Secrets!
Fed up of coming in last every race you compete in? Tired of not seeing those sprint times improve despite how much running you do? Curious as to how you can go from being the slowest in your team, to the fastest? Well here are a few easy-to-implement tips just for YOU!
The old adage that “speed kills” (I can’t attribute the original author) remains true for all athletic endeavours. Nothing quite sets the internet ablaze like Usain Bolt breaking World Records, Christiano Ronaldo finishing off unbelievable breaks down the wing or watching Carlin Isles make opposition players look like they are running in treacle!
In almost all team and individual sports, the most desired physical attribute is speed. Because it doesn’t matter how strong or fit you are if you can’t catch your opponent!
But if you are reading this there’s a good chance you haven’t really improved your speed in a while, at least not recognizably. And there is a good reason for that; once you reach a certain age and maturity, it becomes very challenging to do so. Insert another favourite quote of mine (courtesy of James “The Thinker” Smith) that goes:
“Getting strong is like falling out of a boat and hitting water….speed is a far harder ability to develop”
Which of course immediately offended the inner-meathead in me (and maybe it triggered you too?). After all, I have spent years in the gym slowly adding weight to the bar and trying my damn-tooting hardest! Which actually proves his point entirely. Getting strong is pretty simple (notice I didn’t say easy):
Gradually increase volume, gradually increase weight on the bar, turn up consistently and sleep/eat enough. Simple!
So what about speed?
Well there is just so much more going on, so many more variables to consider when it comes to sprinting. Do a few too many sets of deadlifts and you can expect slightly sore hamstrings or maybe a tired grip the next day….so what? Put some lifting straps on and go again! Do a few too many maximal sprints and you can expect a pulled hamstring or shin splints…try putting something on that and training again!
So what are the key things to consider when trying to improve your speed? Well, considering YOU, the reader, probably are not a World-class 100m champion, or a professional athlete (if you are then fantastic – I’m happy this has reached such a ranging audience), but are more than likely a recreational athlete playing at a reasonable standard…here’s what I recommend:
1) PAY ATTENTION TO REST INTERVALS
The biggest mistake most people make when trying to perform sprint training is not taking long enough rest intervals. We all try to cram as much work in as possible and have a “more is better” attitude. This works with many things, including
Montezuma’s chocolate buttons push-ups, not so much with speed. Remember, to get faster you must, at least some of the time, run REALLY REALLY FAST! You can only do that if you rest between sprints. Here are my guidelines:
Rest 60s (seconds) for the first 10m (metres) and 30s for every 10m thereafter. 40m distance? Rest 2.5 minutes (60s + 30s + 30s + 30s). Feel free to adjust this; if you are light/very fit then you can rest less, and vice versa if you are heavy/unfit. But too much rest is better than too little in this case.
2) BALANCE YOUR STRENGTH WORK
The arguments of deadlifts vs squats vs hip thrusts vs single leg work for speed development can be found all over the internet. Which is best for speed? Well there is an argument for everything. There is research to support EVERYTHING. But the most important aspect of improving your sprinting, is undoubtedly sprinting. So what should you do in the gym? Maintain a balanced approach:
Perform some sort of squat, deadlift, single leg work and hip extension exercises. Add in core work, medicine ball throws and you are good to go. Just remember; what you do in the gym should not take away from what you do on the track/field. 3-5 sets of 3-5 reps performed at 60%-80% of your 1RM should be adequate for most. Do that 1-2x per week, throw in some upper body work here and there, and keep it simple!
3) QUALITY OVER QUANTITY
This echoes some of the arguments made for point 1, but in most cases less is more. 4 truly max effort sprints done with excellent form and speed will always trump 20 shitty reps done with sloppy technique and stopwatch times your Grandma would be embarrassed to run. You want your body to adapt? Provide it with the proper stimulus. You wouldn’t expect to get stronger with lifting heavy weights, and you shouldn’t expect to get faster with running REALLY REALLY (really) FAST! So here’s an idea:
Rather than performing 12 sprints once per week, aim to do those 12 over 3 different days. Chances are that by repetition 8 you will be slowing down slightly, fatigue is setting in, and those completion times are creeping up. Reps 9 through 12 are just pointless and increase risk of you getting injured. Do 4 good ones, end on a high note, and cut it there. Go back a few days later and repeat!
4) BUILD THOSE TENDONS
Ever looked at a Kangaroo and noticed their lower limb is literally one big Achilles tendon? No? Thought so….that’s because you have better things to do than study animal anatomy and physiology (and why are Zebras camouflaged in white & black even though their environment is green and brown?). Well I noticed. Tendon strength plays a huge role in our ability to absorb & re-apply force into the ground (not to mention they play a great role in preventing issues like shin splints and tendonopathy). Unfortunately most of us focus upon muscles and not our connective tissues! If that’s you, then try this:
Perform lots of little hops & jumps, focusing on minimal ground contact time and stiffness through out the entire body. By a skipping rope, play hopscotch, or just perform lots of little hops. A few minutes every day keeps the shin splits away (I’m going to trademark that)!
5) DRILLS & SKILLS
For many of us it isn’t simply a case of “go out and run” when it comes to improving those stopwatch times. Years of bad habits have led to less-than-stellar technique, and (unlike in the gym) it is never a case of being able to “muscle” your way through a rep. We’ve all seen those grinding reps on a deadlift as the lifter battles with the barbell, pulls with all his might, and somehow stands upright after what seems like an eternity.
Well, sorry to say, but when it comes to sprinting, your body does NOT GIVE A FUCK how hard you try! No points here for effort, or ribbons for “doing your best”. Bad form is bad form, and eventually that will be the limiting factor to you getting better. So you have to include some drills and skill work to improve this. A good place to start is working on the following:
- Shoulder & Hip Mobility: can you move your arms/legs & hips through a complete ROM?
- A & B Skips: posture, force production, foot placement & ground contact!
- Horizontal Bounding & Skipping: can you produce enough force to move explosively bounding/skipping from leg to the other? Can you create enough ankle/hip stiffness to “bounce” off the floor?
- Static Position Work: can you even get into a good position to start with? Look at the photo above, Sam does a great job of getting close to a good start position. Could you hold these angle for 30 seconds using a wall to support you?
- Tempo Running: 60%-70% speed, practicing good form and building aerobic fitness.
- Anterior Core Exercises w/ Limb Movement: want to be fast? Ditch the crunches and sit-ups and start cracking on with dead-bugs, planks and similar exercises.
Each of those bullet points is a detailed subject within itself, so here is what I’m going to do. I am going to link a great YouTube resource from UK based sprint coach Jonas Dodoo (take the time to watch it). And over the next week I will be posting on these specific topics ONE AT A TIME. This should give you and I enough time to go into each one with enough detail to make sense of them.
In the mean time you’ve got points 1 through 4 to crack on with. You could research all the points in 5, but remember; it’s QUALITY over QUANTITY, when it comes to sprinting at least. It’s a different matter entirely when it comes to…
All you twisted readers who scrolled down and expected something else; shame on you!
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