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Designing an effective speed-training program - Part I

Patrick Beith explains why it is essential to understand the needs of your sport or event before you start planning your training.

At the collegiate level, most coaches/athletes have every aspect of their seasons planned out in advance. The idea of running, to quote my friend John Doherty, 'Junction Boys' style training would never occur to them. In case you do not know what 'Junction Boys' training is, watch the end of most football practices. It is when coaches run athletes into the ground just because it is what they did when they were in high school. It consists of running wind sprints until you cannot run anymore. This, of course, is an inferior way to develop athletes.

I am sure that you have heard of or even know coaches/athletes that decide what they are doing for practice that day, on their drive over to the practice facility. Weather can cause problems with your ideal practice for that day, so you need to be able to adjust. Even the way you feel on that given day is going to change what you can do for practice. You can adapt your training plan, but you must know what the goal or theme of the workouts is and what you want to get accomplished for you to reach your end and desired result.

The key is to have a plan set up in advance. Volumes, intensities and the entire program should be set up and in place before you ever set foot on the practice field. For this series of articles, you will understand precisely how to do that. However, before you can begin creating a program for yourself or your athletes, there are specific questions you have to answer.

Let us examine a few of those questions

What are the demands of your sport and, thus, the speed, strength, and conditioning requirements? Without having a clear understanding of this foundational question, you cannot design an effective program for anyone. Let us break this question down a little bit further so that there is no confusion. The following questions will help you understand the mindset you must bring to planning and organizing your sport's practice and training activities.

1. How long does a game/competition take?

The training plan for a 55-meter sprinter and a soccer player cannot be the same. One athlete may be competing for up to 90 minutes, the other for less than 7 seconds.

2. What is the rest period between plays/events?

Would the rest intervals for a track sprinter, who may have an hour or more off between events, be the same as a football player who only has 30-40 seconds between plays?

3. What is the ratio between sprinting, jogging, and walking during a competition?

Soccer and field hockey players need to be able to sprint at short bursts and then go into a jog, repeatedly, for an extended period. Would interval training be more useful for these athletes or continuous slow distance training? Acceleration is critical to the success of these athletes, but how often do they specifically build this necessary skill into their programs?

4. What type of 'speed' do you need to succeed in your sport?

There is a difference between just doing some speed work and actual speed development. The former is what is occasionally done in some programs. The latter is specifically designed to foster adaptations that improve the skill of sprinting over time. This is why I advocate a 'short to long' program with speed development. This topic will be discussed in a future article.

Back to the question: Do the demands of your sport focus on acceleration like soccer, football, lacrosse, and basketball, or does the ability to maintain near top speeds determine success, like for a 200-meter sprinter?

Acceleration development and maximum velocity training must be addressed differently. What about speed versus speed endurance? Faster top speeds can only be developed when there is no presence of fatigue. While both skills need to be trained, some sports require athletes to be able to accelerate or change directions while under a state of fatigue.

There is a world of difference between these two similar workouts: 1. 10x30m @ 100% intensity with 3 minutes rest 2. 10x30m @ 100% intensity with 30 seconds rest One will improve an athlete's ability to get from point A to Point B in the shortest time possible. The other will improve an athlete's ability to get from Point A to Point B in the shortest average time possible, decreasing the difference between the fastest and slowest times.

5. What sport-specific and speed-specific skills must be factored into your training plan?

We will go into this in much more detail when discussing training inventories, but it is worth mentioning here. How many times in a game do your basketball players or volleyball players have to jump? How many times in a row will they have to jump in most situations? Many athletes will do sustained vertical jumps for periods of 30+ seconds as the sole means of improving specific 'jumping' or 'vertical leaping' ability. How many times do these athletes have to jump in a row? Would they not make better improvements to their maximum vertical leap height by practicing a few jumps at full intensity, then resting? How does jumping endurance help an athlete out rebound their opponent or spike the ball in a single effort situation? If my team does Workout A and yours does Workout B, whose athletes are going to succeed in getting more rebounds, blocks, or kills over time?

  • 4 sets of five jump squats with 3-4 minutes of rest
  • 3 sets of 30 seconds sustained jump squats with one-minute rest

From here, we can keep adding details to the training demands such as looking at the energy system and metabolic demands (we will get into all of that later). However, when you use common sense, it is not that complicated. Now that you are beginning to understand the specific demands of your sport, we have to look at two things to identify why this process is so important to athletic success:

  • Why do we train in the first place
  • What organized training does for the body

While conclusions made during a discussion of these two issues may seem painfully obvious once explained, one only has to look at the lack of organization and forethought behind most strength and conditioning programs to understand that such issues are hardly being taken into consideration when most plans are being created. That is why when in doubt, we go back to the basics.

So, why do we train? At its most basic level, we train to overcome fatigue. During any competition, athletes are going to get tired. By using certain specific training modalities, athletes can learn to overcome that fatigue, or at least delay it long enough to succeed. Many people think (or are taught) that you will experience the greatest success in this race by running the entire distance as hard and as fast as humanly possible.

However, that is not possible. (You will understand why when we discuss energy systems in a future article). A sprinter must 'rest' or 'float' during the race to conserve energy. This subtle skill takes patience and experience but is nonetheless true. By the midpoint of the race, most athletes are slowing down. When you step back and look at the entire picture, the 100-meter dash, like most competitions, is won by the athlete who decelerates the slowest.

By using certain specific training modalities, the 100-meter runner can learn to overcome some of the fatigue that sets in by training themself to decelerate slower than the competition. Now, it is the job of the 100-meter athlete to factor this fact into their training by understanding the demands of the event.

Of course, slowing down is just one of many elements of the 100-meter dash, but without specifically addressing this fact, athletes cannot reach their potential. Therefore, the coach/athlete must consider what methods he/she can use to address this issue, one of many limiting factors that must be understood and dealt with to develop the fastest possible athletes.

Another reason we train is to perfect technique.

Repetition of a properly executed skill will train the athlete to perform automatically, a critical skill when considering the amount of information athletes must process during any competitive situation. This too must be addressed in a specific fashion and worked into the framework of the overall training plan. The main reason we train, above all else, is to improve performance. Often, to improve so that we are competing at our best at the end of the season for the state championship, playoff tournament, Super Bowl, etc.

At other times, especially in team-based sports like football and basketball, athletes must be in top shape at the start of the regular season. The season is all about maintaining all the improvements that were made in the preseason. This difference, however, in no way changes the approach that should be taken to creating the speed development program. Regardless of the sport, many factors go into a season. Your job is to ensure that your training program allows you to be at your best when the time comes. The best way to maximize the likelihood of this occurring is to organize your training by carefully following the framework that is being laid out in this series.

The next issue of importance deals with what organized training techniques do to the body, especially in comparison to the unorganized training that most coaches employ. This will go far in helping to understand just how significant the level of improvement can be when incorporating organized skill development into each microcycle, mesocycle, and macrocycle. In the next article, we will explore this issue and look more specifically at the most important principles and components of designing an effective training program.

Article Reference

This article first appeared in:

  • BETH, P. (2007) Designing an effective speed-training program - Part I. Brian Mackenzie's Successful Coaching, (ISSN 1745-7513/ 39/ February), p. 9-11

Page Reference

If you quote information from this page in your work, then the reference for this page is:

  • BETH, P. (2007) Designing an effective speed-training program - Part I [WWW] Available from: [Accessed

About the Author

Patrick Beth is a co-owner of Athletes' Acceleration, Inc, a company devoted to performance enhancement whose mission is to improve the knowledge base of motivated coaches and athletes to improve athletic performance. He is a Performance Consultant certified by the National Strength and Conditioning Association (CSCS), and the American Council of Sports Medicine (HFI), the National Academy of Sports Medicine (PES). He is a USA Track and Field Level II Coach in the Sprints, Hurdles, and Jumps.