Designing an effective speed-training program - Part 6
Patrick Beith continues his series of articles on designing an effective speed training programme with a review of the ten key points
In this part I want to cover 10 Key Points that you must consider and apply when designing your speed training program. As you read these points, think about the athletes you will be working with and how to apply these with the specific training protocols you will need to use.
Identify your athletes' weaknesses
You have to know where your athletes are weak if you expect to be able to effectively and consistently help them improve their speed and performance. In large part, this means establishing a baseline of proper posture and efficiency in the movement patterns used in their sport and training. Common weaknesses I see in athletes running mechanics are always due to lack of coordination, strength, flexibility and proper instruction.
Be consistent in your training
I often see coaches who will do core work for the first two weeks of the season and never specifically do it again. Or, they will work on speed drills until the first competition and then assume athletes do not need further work. Any element of training that is not consistently addressed will regress and become ineffective. Do not let your athletes become detrained in areas that are required for success. A poorly designed speed training program is better than no speed training program at all.
Use training activities that complement those movements that are going to be required in your particular sport. This means using similar movement speeds, intensities and energy systems to those required in competition. A USA football player does not need to go for a 3-mile run on his recovery day, but a soccer player does. A 100m sprinter does not need to focus on change of direction drills, but a tennis player does. And of course, no athlete can improve their speed by running at less than full speed.
Sweat the technique
You must be a stickler for perfect technique in practice. I always tell athletes that it is likely we will have to take a step back to go two steps forward. If that means you have to move a little bit slower in order to get things right, then so be it. Unlearning bad habits is the only way to improve. If athletes focus on form and technique in practice, the correct movement patterns will soon become automated and this will carry over to competitions. It is easy to ignore mistakes in technique that take a little more time and effort to fix. But in the long run everyone will be much better off taking the time to work out the kinks in practice.
Remember, practice is the time to work on mechanical problems. Even when the problem is not fixed, do not address it during a competition. Just let the athlete be an athlete.
Use ground based, closed chain activities
In short this means, train on your feet. With most sports, the majority of competition takes place on the feet. To further emphasize the third topic, your athletes should do the same if you want to maximize their results. A couple of examples are: squats instead of leg press and medicine ball work instead of crunches.
Strengthen the core
When running, most of your power is transferred through the core. This means the strength and conditioning of your abdominals, lower back, hips and glutes will dictate how much of your leg strength can be used to drive you forward. We often neglect to train this area consistently, which is a significant mistake. Slow down some video tape of an athlete with poor core strength and you will see the blatant postural deficiencies that result. Of course, this has a considerable impact on performance.
No gain with pain
Do not have athletes perform or continue to perform any activities that cause pain. This will either cause an acute or long-term injury or develop a faulty movement pattern. If squatting or a certain plyometric exercise causes pain in the knee, stop doing it. Find a different exercise or diagnose the cause of the knee pain. Often times with some basic evaluation, we can determine the reasons behind the pain and prescribe corrective measures that will allow for gradually resuming the movements.
Mental Strength People
I say this to my groups all the time and they often mock me for saying it. But the funny thing is I hear them using the same line to motivate their team mates. Whether it is a physically demanding set of dead lifts, a brutal speed endurance workout or simply focusing on our speed drills, mental focus and toughness will separate your athletes from their competition. I will take an athlete of lesser talent who is mentally strong any day. It is your responsibility to never allow your athletes off the hook when performing any activity with less than 100% effort and focus.
When working with large groups and teams, I find the best way to get the whole group to buy into the training plan is to focus on the captains and the stars of the team. When they have to be accountable for every step of their workout, the younger athletes will follow suit.
Build them up before you break them down
Before you correct a mistake or instruct an athlete on improving a particular skill, it is critical that you pay them a compliment first. Athletes will often get frustrated at how difficult it can be to apply new movement patterns. If I keep telling them what they are doing wrong, they will start to shut down. But when I lead with a positive comment, they are willing to make many more efforts before reaching the point of diminishing returns.
So, I will always say something like 'Nice job Billy. You are really starting to recover the heel quickly and you are keeping your toe up. Remember how tough that was for you last week? Now all I want you to do now is....'
The first thing they hear is the compliment, so the correction is taken as constructive instead of yet another failure.
Periodise your training
I should have led with this one. However, I wanted it to be the last point that you read. To get the best results from your speed program, you have to be able to measure the progress. That means periodising your season plan by following all the principles that we have discussed so far in this series.
First it means looking at the end goal and working back from the beginning. It means creating an organized, well-structured and flexible plan that will guide both you and your athletes to their goals.
Remember, a poorly designed program is better than one with no structure at all. Consistency is the key at a foundational level.
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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 in order to improve athletic performance. He is a Performance Consultant certified by the National Strength and Conditioning Association (CSCS), the American Council of Sports Medicine (HFI), the National Academy of Sports Medicine (PES) and is a USA track and Field Level II Coach in the Sprints, Hurdles and Jumps.
The following Sports Coach pages provide additional information on this topic: