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The Essentials of Speed Training

What you need to know:
  • Training for speed is not the same as conditioning. Speed is an entirely separate physical trait than being "in shape".
  • Sport-specific speed requires an understanding of the sport and the individual athlete to help maximize their speed potential.
In our opinion, the most misunderstood and poorly implemented aspect of training athletes is definitely speed. Athletes are in need of practical and proven speed training methods. After all, if a player can't keep up with the speed at their current level, they run the risk of being cut or not playing much. Every athlete has the ability to improve their speed if they train the correct way. Below are some simple tips to help take your speed to the next level.

# 1 - Train Powerful Legs NOT Quick Feet

This can be said for any athlete. The world’s fastest athletes don’t have "quick feet". They have powerful legs. Unfortunately, many athletes have been coached to "move their feet quickly" and they now equate quick feet with speed. Ultimately, this creates an athlete who moves their feet quick, but they don't move very fast. It's important to understand the difference between speed/acceleration and quick feet because it will have tremendous implications in your training.

For example, many trainers and players automatically default to using agility ladders as a means of developing quick feet. This is nothing more than a gimmick when it comes to developing true speed and we discussed that here.

Want quick feet? Take up tap dancing. Athletes need powerful legs.

Toss the quick feet exercises in favor of some explosive strength training. As your strength and lower body power development improves, your speed will thank you.

# 2 - Focus on Short Distance Accelerations (10-20 yards)
Most sports are a game of quick, repeated bursts of speed coupled with changes of direction. Outside of track & field, most sports favor acceleration and deceleration over top-end speed. It is important to have top-end speed to stay competitive at any level, but if you aren't able to win the small area battles on the court, field, or ice, the chances of playing regularly are not in your favor.

This means athletes must be explosive and capable of reproducing the same explosiveness during the course of a game. Short distance sprints are an excellent tool to develop acceleration.  This allows for a higher level of transfer to athletics due to higher degree of specificity. Short hill sprints, sled drags, sled pushes, and a variety of acceleration drills will also be highly effective because they will reinforce ideal acceleration mechanics.

# 3 - Speed Work and Conditioning Are Not the Same

"Explosive, not tired." At GP, that is a concept we communicate to all our athletes. Nowadays, young athletes assume conditioning and speed are the same thing or that by improving their conditioning, they will get faster. For many athletes, suicides and gassers come to mind. Players are instructed to sprint with minimal rest, pushed to exhaustion. Sure you want your athletes to last an entire game and not get out worked, but this will not get them faster. Actually, it is counter-productive if speed is the objective since it is physiologically impossible to perform at your maximal effort without adequate rest.

There is a such thing as training parameters and workload capability. These concepts demand consideration when training athletes. Sadly, if you asked the majority of trainers and coaches what those two terms mean, you will get a blank stare in return. True speed is only develop at near maximal effort. Maximal effort depletes energy systems and strains the nervous system. All these need adequate time to recover between sprints. This must be monitored closely to ensure that a speed training session does not become a conditioning workout.

# 4 - Make Lateral Starts and Transition Drills a Priority

Sport, namely team sports, requires movement proficiency in all directions. Most may seem like a linear sport to the observing eye, but watch closely and you will see otherwise. That said, speed training cannot be simply performed in a linear fashion. To make your speed training more specific, use lateral starts and bounds to reinforce explosive leg drive in lateral or diagonal directions. There are a number of lateral start variations that can be effective, such as lateral standing, lateral standing on outside leg, and side lunge position.

Building on the idea of multi-directional movement and explosive direction changes, you can progress your speed training to include transition drill exercises. These will allow you to replicate body positions and transitional movements that will directly impact your speed on the field or ice.

Seal the Deal
Following these tips will help you make more progress in less time and ensure that your training has the best chance to transfer into true speed development.

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to post them below.

Gallagher Performance has a proven track record of improving speed time and time again. There is a reason why so many athletes come to us for speed development. If you’re interested in learning more about GP's approach to training athletes, our contact information can be found at
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