More Effective Workout Options for the Day After Speed Development

How To Improve Speed

There are two easy ways to improve speed. The first is improving your running mechanics. Most of us run like we’re drunk, with hands swinging all over the place, and our feet pounding the ground like we are 600 pound behemoths. So, if you can improve your running technique then you will increase your speed.

The next best way, to improve speed, is to make your legs stronger. Yes, that’s right. Crank it up by lifting that iron. The more force you can apply against the ground the faster your legs will run. Trust me, it works. If you work on your parallel squat and hamstring strength you will develop leg power, and that dictates into more speed.

How do I know? Well, from personal experience of course, I acquired a serious leg injury while competing in a powerlifting meet (I tore all four quads and the patella). Approximately six months after the accident, I was able to begin squatting again. My strength increased slowly.

During this time, I was training a young man to get ready for his freshman year of college football, and we had a little race to see who was faster. The 40 yards was counted off and the start given. I ran a 5.1 at 270 pounds. I accomplished this with no running at all, just stretching and performing heavy squats!

Now, if I started developing my running technique, stride length, and stride frequency, I could have possibly dropped my time four tenths of a second, running a 4.8 second 40 yard dash. Oh yeah, I beat that young man by two tenths of a second!

Mass plus acceleration equals power, right? How many times have you seen a game where one team just overpowers the other team for three quarters and then the team you thought was beat turns the game around by driving their opponent into the ground?

It happens alot doesn’t it? Perennial powerhouse Nebraska does it all the time. It doesn’t matter how big and strong your team is; you will surely loose unless you know how to utilize your speed.

You cannot reach your full speed potential by just running sprints or just working on leg strength either. You must work on both, with a number of other speed training techniques to achieve your top speed development.

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Types Of Strength Training

There are 3 types of strength training that can help increase your speed development. Here I will go over the different methods and explain how and when to implement them into your training.

Note: Be aware that it is important to assess athletes based on their individual needs. Everything written here is only to be used as guidelines to help you organise your strength training more efficiently. Specific exercises can be used during any part of the season if there is a requirement for it!

Maximum Strength Training

Maximum strength training increases relative strength and is what I like to call the athletes ‘base strength’. This type of training is usually carried out preseason or during the early stages of a season. I use it as my athlete’s first strength training phase during the preseason.

Note: Those new to resistance training should start with a maximum strength training program. This is regardless of what stage you are at in your annual season. You should be able to perform technically sound max strength exercises such as the Squat and Deadlift before moving forward. 

Max strength training involves working at submaximal efforts. This helps prepare the body for higher intensity training later on in the season by developing muscle and connective tissue tolerance.

The length of this period of training will vary de

The length of this period of training will vary depending on your training age (see table above). Advanced athletes are unlikely to spend a long period of time performing maximum strength exercises. They will already have a good level of strength, so will transfer their focus sooner to exercises with more sport specific transfer.

If you are a beginner, then this stage is often longer as you need more time to develop your base strength.

Maximum strength training has no specific sport carryover, with the focus being on neural adaptations. It’s highly associated with hypertrophic gains and will prepare an athlete for more explosive work.

The advantageous effect of this may depend on your sport. For example, a rugby player may wish to increase their mass, however, a 200m sprinter will want to stay lean. (If a sprinter comes in a bit heavy after this stage, we usually spend some time adjusting this in the next phase).

The type of exercise that you need to include during this phase is multi-joint, compound movements. When performing an exercise, you should focus on keeping the eccentric phase of the lift slow and controlled.

The concentric phase of the lift should be performed quicker and with force! This is the most favourable to the rate of force development. As you begin to improve and develop good structural balance, look to increase the weight used for each exercise.

It’s also important to make sure you perform all exercises with a good technique and in a safe manner. Never compensate form so that you can increase the weight!

Examples of Maximum Strength Training Exercises:

  • Back Squat
  • Front Squat
  • Deadlift
  • Nordic Curls
  • Lunge
  • SB Hamstring Curls

Explosive Strength Training

To improve your sprinting ability or speed, it’s important to focus on applying force rapidly, rather than focusing on the maximum amount of force that you can apply.

During this stage, athletes are able to improve their power production by using explosive movements under heavy loads. Due to the heavy loads moved at high speed, this type of training facilitates a higher threshold of motor units.

Sprinters often use explosive training as it requires the athlete to perform accelerated actions. These types of exercises require the athlete to continue accelerating throughout the movement until the point of release or take off.

Explosive exercises have a higher degree of muscle

Explosive exercises have a higher degree of muscle activation, concentric velocity, force and power than maximum strength exercises.

They are also technically more demanding, so it’s even more important that you’re able to perform them correctly to avoid injury. I recommend getting a coach to evaluate your technique or filming yourself so that you can check your form.

Examples of Explosive Strength Training Exercises:

  • Power Clean
  • Snatch
  • Squat Jump
  • Med Ball Toss
  • Box Jump
  • Standing Long Jump

Reactive Strength Training

Reactive strength sessions emphasise movements and exercises that most closely resemble sprinting. Here the focus is on minimal ground contact time whilst exerting the maximum amount of force in the minimum amount of time. These exercises will have the highest carryover into your sprinting performances on the track, field or court.

The goal here is to try and mimic the force-velocity and movement pattern characteristics of sprinting. We can achieve this by using training aids such as weighted vests, sleds and medicine balls.

Strength training for sprinters may have some variation to other sports regarding when this type of training is introduced. We introduce reactive strength into our training sessions later in the season (closer to competition). It actually crosses over with our explosive training. At this point, we’ll be performing very few, if any, maximum strength training sessions.

Here’s a look at what that may look like over a week.

Mon: Explosive strength training, Tue: Speed endurance, Thurs: Reactive strength training, Sat: Tempo runs.

Plyometric Training

One great way to utilise reactive strength training is through the use of plyometric drills. Plyometrics are a fantastic way to increase your power and reactiveness.  The drills we do mostly involve performing explosive bodyweight jumping and bounding exercises.

However, plyometric training is usually performed

However, plyometric training is usually performed at high intensities and is not always suitable for an athlete. Suitability may depend on training age, ability and fitness levels. There are of course lower intensity exercises that can be performed as an introduction to plyometrics for beginners.

Some plyometric exercises can be extremely stressful on the nervous and skeletal system. Such exercises should only be performed by well-conditioned athletes. It’s important that you select the correct type of exercises for your ability level and strength.

When performing plyometric exercises:

  • You only want to produce high-quality reps, performed with maximal effort. If the quality of the reps diminishes then stop with the sets.
  • Perform maximal effort/explosive movements.
  • Make sure exercises are performed to allow for minimum contact time with the ground.
  • Be aware that these exercises can be highly demanding. Bounding and jumping exercises can be especially stressful for your shins.
  • Make sure you perform plyometric exercises on a soft surface (a spring floor or grass work well). Just make sure the ground is not too hard.

Examples Of Reactive Strength Training Exercises:

  • Ankiling
  • Low hurdle jumps with bounce
  • Hops
  • Sprint bounding
  • Vest sprints
  • Sled sprints

Speed Workout Demonstration

I think it’s important to have a visual demonstration of a speed training session – to show you the recovery, effort, and distances used.

So I went to the track and recorded a sprint workout: 4 x 20m at maximum effort with a 1:30 – 2:00 walk recovery.

Check out the video below:

A few important reminders about speed training and this workout in particular:

  • Not sure how to use a track? Use our outdoor track infographic.
  • There’s a good chance I was off a little bit with the track markings. Don’t be a slave to perfection!
  • Err on the cautious side when it comes to the recovery interval. If you think you need the full two minutes, then take it.
  • I used a 3-4 stride run-up to the start/finish line since endurance runners will never begin a race in starting blocks

What you won’t see in this video is the extensive warm-up that I did before I started sprinting:

I recently shared this photo on Instagram about the structure of a workout. You’ll see that you have to work up to a hard effort by gradually warming up through a variety of strategies.

Speed training is no different! In fact, it’s even more important to warm up thoroughly before sprinting at maximum effort.

For best results (and the least injury risk possible), make sure you don’t skip the critical warm-up phase of the workout.

How does speed development benefit you?

Now that you understand the difference between speed work and speed development, how does speed development make you a better marathoner? After all, you won’t be racing Usain Bolt anytime soon.

It all boils down to being able to improve your running economy and efficiency.

In layman’s terms, you can run faster and farther with less effort and while expending less energy. For a marathoner or half marathon, this means race pace will require less effort (making it feel easier, especially in the latter miles) and conserve precious carbohydrates.

As discussed earlier, speed development workouts train the body to activate a greater percentage of muscle fibers with each stride. In doing so, you’re able to make each stride more explosive and generate more power without increasing effort. This increased power is what makes your stride more fluid and allows you to propel yourself farther with each stride – basically making you faster.

In addition, speed development improves the efficiency of the neuromuscular system, which is the communication system between your brain and your muscles.

Improving the neuromuscular system allows your body to increase the speed at which it sends signals to the muscles and, more importantly, contributes to the activation of a greater percentage of muscle fibers.

Who is Ready For Speed Workouts?

A post shared by Jason Fitzgerald (@jasonfitz1) on Sep 27, 2017 at 10:50am PDT

If you’re thinking about attempting a speed training session (like the one I demonstrate below), it’s important to make sure you’re ready so you don’t hurt yourself.

First, ensure you hav a basic level of strength before you start a formal speed training session. If you haven’t been getting strong for 2-3 months, you’re simply not ready for these sprints just yet.

Start here but ideally, you’ll also have spent some time lifting at the gym to ensure your connective tissues are ready for the impact forces of sprinting at this effort.

You should also be comfortable running strides, which are accelerations that work up to about 95-98% of maximum speed:

Once you’re comfortable running strides and lifting weights, you’re ready to run as fast as possible during a speed development workout.

But is it still appropriate for the event you’re training for?

Sprints like these are more important for events like the 10,000m or shorter, though you will get benefits no matter what race distance you’ll be racing.

Example speed development workouts

The most important thing to remember about speed development workouts is that they will not feel hard in the traditional sense of training. You won’t be gasping for breath or throwing up after you’re finished. Mainly, the rest you take between each repeat must allow you to fully recover. This is where most runners get the concept of speed development wrong. It takes 2-3 minutes to fully recover from a 30-50m sprint. Don’t try to shorten it – if anything err on the side of caution and take a longer break than you think you made need. While I have many speed development workouts, here are two to show you an example of how to run them:

Workout 1

Full, lengthy warm-up (suggested 2-3 miles), 3 x 150m at 90% effort, 6 x 50m at 100%, 3 x 200 at 85% effort with full recovery (2-3 minutes) between each, 90 second recovery, 2 miles at 10k pace, 2 mile cool down

This is a session that works well if we’re doing speed development throughout your training cycle in place of another workout.

While the 150m and 200m repeats aren’t technically alactic, they will help you improve your ability to relax while running fast. The 50m repeats are definitely alactic and are the real speed development portion of this workout. I’ve added the 2 miles at 10k pace at the end to add a little tempo effort and keep the workout at a reasonable mileage level.

This session is definitely a fun change of pace in the middle of marathon training if done once every two weeks.

Workout 2

Full, lengthy warm-up (suggested 2-3 miles), 8 x 150m (first 50m – accelerate to 90% effort, 2nd 50m as fast as can, last 50m cruise to stop). Full recovery (2-3mins jog between each), 5 x 8 seconds at fast as you can, with 3 min WALK rest,  2 mile c/d

This workout structure was popularized by Jay Johnson and is a true speed development session. The first part of the 150m is to get you up to speed and helps prevent injuries. The later half of the workout maximizes muscle fiber recruitment and explosive speed.

Hopefully, this article provided insight into why you’re doing speed development training and how it will eventually help your training in the long-term. Remember, don’t skimp on the rest and developing top end speed takes time, especially if  you’ve never done it before. Be patient!

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