The plan for developing the most-desired bio motor ability is no easy task. It has to be well thought out, well organized, and numerous variables are to be considered. Speed differs from other traits as it requires a certain level of maturity and awareness by both coach and athlete, as even a 1% increase in performance in significant, whereas strength may regularly evoke personal bests monthly or even weekly. Having said that, it is imperative that egos be checked at the door, and aim for small victories. If you have improved your athlete by even 1%, you have done your job as a coach.
The first step in the speed periodization model must address the facility in which the athlete(s) shall be training. What’s more, the weather or climate in which the facility resides is often an overlooked variable. Climate serves an important role because in order to develop fast individuals, one needs to have a higher environmental temperature. Warm weather will guarantee a higher speed of metabolic processes in the muscle and of muscular contractions due to a higher activity of the relevant enzymes. Henk Kraaijenhof believes this to be the reason why the world’s best sprinters come from tropical or subtropical countries or areas. If a coach does not have the outdoor temperature in his favor, the only option is to have an adequately heated indoor facility, or feel free to move to Jamaica.
The second step considered in the plan needs to ask the question, “What is the desired training frequency?” Are you going to train five times per week or four? Are you going to use a split routine a la Westside Barbell or address the total body each session? There are a number of different avenues one can pursue as far as which template to use. “All roads lead to Rome, nothing is set in stone” as Buddy Morris once told me. It should be no surprise that time between workouts, or recovery, ties into this variable. Typically, 22 hours is enough time for all physiological systems to recover. With that said, knowing how and when to apply high levels of stress is crucial to the development of the athlete as well as their success. Now, with that said, there is no need to glorify recovery, I am concerned with only two objectives when it comes to regeneration of the athlete:
- Recovery before next session.
- Recovery before important competition or game.
In recovery before next session, my primary goal is to extract the max training effect for the long term adaptation with as much recovery as needed for the subsequent high quality workout. I’ll say that again, I am interested in as much recovery as needed, not how much the athlete feels he or she would prefer. I do not care about a little soreness here and there, we have bigger fish to fry.
In recovery before important competition or game, the max training effect is no longer my captivation. The product, not the process, now has my heart. I am extremely interested in providing the means to ensure optimal conditions for the ideal performance of the individual(s). In other words, I do care about soreness and fatigue, therefore I will administer any and all recovery means available.
The third and final step on our quest for speed is the meat and potatoes, the programming, right? Well yes and no. The program itself is important, no question. However, what is more valuable is the combination of training effects and contents, as well as the possibility of negative interference of those effects and contents (the order of effects or training). Again, if only if were as easy as simply getting stronger. Want an athlete to get stronger? Simple, put more weight on the bar. Speed is a whole other animal, lets talk programming.
We shall take a “bottoms up” approach to the speed puzzle, taking a close look at each phase of sprinting and how it all culminates into one beautiful display of fight or flight.
Reaction Time: The time between the start of the drill and the first response of the sprinter. Means that I have utilized time and time again are stationary arm action and wall drills with auditory cues and responses emphasizing front side arm and knee mechanics.
Block/Static Starts: This may be the most difficult phase to address as it becomes highly individualized. How high should the hips be? What does the shin angle look like? Does the athlete like to chase or be chased? Are internal or external cues more appropriate? There are a number of factors to be taken into consideration. If I had to choose one variable over the others when building this phase of the race, explosive strength i.e. jumping would take the cake. Being able to generate a high power output to propel the body from the start will ensure a great time.
Acceleration: While the previous phase may be the most difficult to enhance, acceleration is most definitely the most important phase of speed. A quality acceleration phase sets up the athlete for a high level of maximum speed. Take note, a high maximal speed cannot be achieved with a suboptimal acceleration phase. What is acceleration? It is the period of time where every stride is faster than the one before. In this phase, adequate strength training can have a huge impact. Sled drags are a phenomenal tool for the athlete during this phase:
- gross motor pattern stays intact despite resistance.
- resistance can be easily adjusted by simply adding more weight.
- easy to perform.
- easy to transport.
Absolute Speed: The phase in which the athlete achieves the highest running velocity. How long does this phase last? That depends on your definition. Henk Kraaijenhof and many other experts have said absolute speed is generally reached in one 10m segment, or even in one single stride, singe, if accurately measured, all other strides are slower than that one. Have fun wrapping your brain around that. To enhance this quality, I again defer to a sled, much lighter during this phase though. Optimal weight for sled sprints to enhance absolute speed should result in <10% loss in time compared to running without sled. One simple training mean to bring on positive adaptation in this phase would be to have your athletes sprint with a tailwind. There are two substantial benefits to this method:
- the athlete produces a 95% effort but actually runs 100% speed. This has the advantage that the motor unit pattern of running 100% speed is repeated and then stored in the brain. Sprint training is brain training.
- the athlete produces a 100% effort and actually runs at 105-108% speed. Yikes.
Strength Training for Speed
I could spend another 1000+ words dissecting my weights program with you, (believe me, I would love to) but I would rather give you the tools to learn than simply give you the answers. Having said that, lets just stick to some basic guidelines when you enter the weight room.
- Train as much as necessary. Optimal>Maximal a la Louie Simmons.
- Look for the optimal strength level, this is NOT a linear process. The “stronger is faster” mindset is wrong.
- When developing speed, enhance recruitment methods, not bodybuilder or hypertrophy methods.
- Strength training does not make you slower, unless, of course, it is the only thing your athlete does. It is the combination of strength and speed along with technical skills that will make the athlete fast.
- Prescribe 3 to 5 exercises per session. The body has a limited capacity for adaptation and recovery.
- Train muscle groups with different exercises.
- Increase quality of fast-twitch fibers selectively a la myofibrillar hypertrophy.
- Max Strength should be trained 1-3x per week using loads of 80-100% 1RM. 1-8 reps per set. 3-5 sets. 2-3 min rest.
- Power should be trained 1-3x/week using loads of 30-60% 1RM. Perform as many sets as possible achieving 90% of greater velocity with given load. 2 min rest.
- Don’t be an idiot.
Speed is linear with knowledge and the level of the athletes you work with. The faster and more experienced the athlete, the more advanced the means shall be, which in turn requires the coach to continue his or her education. When we stop learning, we stop growing, when we stop growing, we limit the potential of the athletes that put their faith and trust in us. If this plan brought value to your system, great, if not, great, as long as you are achieving a 1% or greater improvement, know that you are doing a phenomenal job. Nothing is more elusive than an obvious fact, a 1% improvement is still an improvement.