Need for Speed

Most sports require an element of speed and it can often be the difference between winning and losing. Speed is a broad term although it can be broken into a few categories – acceleration and maximum velocity. It’s important to define the difference between acceleration and maximum velocity sprinting.

Most sports actually require more acceleration, as a lot of the game is played in the 0 to 20 meters takeoff zone. That doesn’t mean maximum velocity isn’t important, as every now and again you are going to need to get up to your maximum velocity in a game or in a training situation. Therefore when it comes to training it’s important to develop both qualities. Acceleration, is your ability to change speeds, either from a stand start, or a slower running speed, then up-gearing, heading towards your maximum velocity. You might only have to accelerate for 5 or 10 meters, which means that you’re not going to get near your maximum velocity, but you have to significantly increase your current speed.

Maximum velocity, on the other hand, may not require you to accelerate very hard to get to top speed, you might kind of roll into it, build, build, build, until you’re topping out at your absolute maximum speed. Have a think about it for your sport, which quality do you need more of? In general, most field-based sports need a lot more acceleration training. Although it’s still important to incorporate maximum velocity training as well. By increasing your maximum velocity, you can pull up your ability to accelerate as well. Not to mention, it also has some injury preventative qualities. Hamstring strains generally happen at a high speed, therefore, it’s important to train your hamstrings to be able to tolerate high speeds.


Why is speed/acceleration training important for your sport?

1) Beat your opponent –  Think about it in a practical sense of just being able to get to the ball or the implement ahead of your opponent. Being the first person to get to the ball or implement allows you to get into an attacking position quicker than your opposition.

2) Out-run/chase – It allows you to either outrun or chase down an opponent. Whether you’re offensively trying to get away, or you’re defensively trying to stop your opponent. If you are faster, it is going to be easier for you to come out on top.

3) More time – It gives you the perception of more time. If you are faster, especially than your opponents, you feel like you have more time. If you have more time, you can make better decisions (that’s not always the case sometimes, really fast athletes can get a little bit out of control because they’re thinking too fast). Having the ability to be quicker than other people around you does buy you a little bit more time, because now you don’t need to rush, because you know you can either get away or catch up.


How to implement speed/acceleration training into your program?

It’s important whenever you implement speed training, you do it when you’re fresh. There’s some really high-level neuromuscular requirements for speed and acceleration training. Sprinting after a hard training session is probably the worst thing that you can do, because there’s a high-level fatigue which will reduce your ability to move as fast as possible. You’re also running the risk of being injured because now your tired and moving at high speed which is a recipe for injury.

The best place to do it, is at the start of your sessions. Now this can be the start of your sports training sessions after a thorough warm up. You can do it as a single session, if you want to specifically just work on speed and acceleration (you can also do agility and conditioning in the same sesssion just make speed/acceleration training the priority). The other place, if you’re really short on time or low on available sessions, is in gym workouts. Same as the others sessions warm up thoroughly and do some sprints before you lift. It’s actually a great way to prime the nervous system and gets your body firing and ready to go.


How much speed/acceleration training do you need?

When programming for accelerations you want to keep the distance between 5 and 20 meters, at 90 to 100% intensity, with long rest periods. 6-1 is the absolute minimum from a rest-to-work ratio. So if it takes you three seconds to do a sprint, you should at least be having an 18 second rest, although longer is better but it does also have to be practical for you. A time efficient way is to repeat your sprints on the minute. So if you run a 3-4 second, 20 meters sprint you would be resting for 57 seconds which is more like a 19-1 rest-to-work ratio. The idea is to have a longer rest, so you can recover and then be able to repeat that at your absolute best.

When programming for speed training, the distances will be longer – 30 to 60 meters, which can also include a flying start (instead of a hard acceleration at the start, you might slowly build into it e.g. you might spend 10 meters slowly building, building, building, and then you go). It doesn’t really matter how fast you get to your maximum velocity, it’s just that you need to get to your maximum velocity. Same rest rules apply, longer the better but keep it practical.

For both qualities you want to complete between 4 to 10 reps per session (this may include warm up runs). Speed/acceleration training is more about quality than quantity so you don’t need a lot of sets and reps to get the benfits. You can add up the total distance covered (meters), which should be around 50 to 300 meters per session. You should adjust how much you do depending on the time of year, because you can definitely overdo it. A good way to know whether you’ve done enough, is if you start to feel yourself getting slower, STOP! There’s no point doing slow speed reps, because then your not training speed anymore.

You only need to train speed/acceleration once to twice per week and try and separate each session by 48 hours. It may not seem like much, especially the training itself, (short sessions, low reps/sets, long rests, and it seems like you’re not working that hard), but it is very, very fatiguing on the body. The central nervous system, (your brain and your nerves), need to work really hard because you’re moving so fast, there’s so many things going on in such a short period of time, that they need the time to recover from this training. Also, if you’re new to this type of training expect to be sore (especially in the hamstrings). Therefore, you need to make sure to give yourself more than enough rest in between bouts.

Speed/acceleration training can be a game changer for many athletes, it can make slow athletes fast and fast athletes faster! So, if your currently not doing any speed/acceleration training you may be leaving some un-tapped potential on the table. To be fast you need to train fast!