The top 10 speed training myths
Patrick Beth explains some of the myths that surround speed development
Static stretching prepares you to compete/practice
Static stretching actually reduces power output. Athletes should prepare for practice by undertaking a dynamic warm up that moves from basic, low intensity movements to faster, more explosive movements as the muscles loosen up. You want to simulate movements that athletes will go through in practice or a game.
Strength training makes females too bulky
This is a popular attitude with many female athletes that we have worked with. Simply look at some elite female athletes like Mia Hamm, Lisa Leslie, etc. These athletes certainly train with weights and no one would accuse them of having manly physiques. Strength training will improve performance and reduce injury if performed correctly.
You cannot train speed
For some reason it is a popular belief that you are born with a certain amount of 'speed' and you cannot improve it. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Most young athletes are so physically weak and mechanically out of tune that significant improvements in speed can be made often just by working on technique and form. Athletes at any age and any level can improve speed when implementing a complete speed training program designed to improve and develop the entire athlete.
Training slowly makes you fast
I do not think athletes and coaches directly think this way, but their training implies otherwise. This is especially true in sports that involve a higher aerobic element such as soccer, field hockey, lacrosse, etc. I see kids out running mileage and doing long slow intervals of several minutes of continuous running. But in games I see kids jogging, jogging and then sprinting at full speed for 20-30 yards, run, jog, and sprint for 20-30 yards. If you want kids to improve their acceleration and top speed so they can get to the ball faster or get back on defence, then you have to train by running at full speed in practice.
You can train hard every day
The workout itself is only one piece of the training puzzle. It is the time between intense workouts, the recovery, where athletes make their improvements. And it takes 36-48 hours to recover from high intensity training. If athletes are doing too much, too often they become over trained. Coaches can expect to see an increase in injuries, kids complaining that they are sore more often, decreased performance, higher levels of fatigue earlier in games. It is always better to under train an athlete than over train. Err on the side of caution to get maximal results.
Strength training will stunt a young athlete's growth
This is another myth held over from a different time. On a daily basis, kids as young as 7 years old are playing organized sports year-round, tackling, getting tackled, sliding, falling etc. These loads on the body can have a much greater physical impact than a well-designed strength training program. Though we do not usually begin training with weights with pre-pubescent athletes, they can benefit from body weight exercises such as push ups, lunges, sit ups, etc. This will increase muscular efficiency, speed up recovery, improve coordination and overall speed
The harder the workout, the better the result
Some athletes (and coaches) have this mentality that if a workout does not reduce them to complete exhaustion and/or make them vomit, that it was not an effective workout. I can tell you that those who have this mentality see a lot of injuries and frustrating performances. The purpose of a workout is to stimulate an adaptation by the body. If the body is forced to do too much work in a given time period, it will break down. The skill in coaching is to stimulate the adaptation in the body, without reaching a point of diminishing returns.
Interval training is the same as speed training
Running repeat 100s, 200s, etc will not improve top speeds. Even running repeat 40s with short recovery will not improve acceleration and top speeds. Speed work is defined at 2-8 seconds of maximal intensity running with full recovery. That means at least 3 minutes of light dynamic movement between each effort. This goes against the experience of some coaches, but simply put, is the only way to improve speed. An athlete must be able to focus on proper form and maintain intensity in order to get faster. If they do not recover properly from each interval, they will not be able to replicate proper mechanics with consistency and they cannot improve.
Flexibility will not help you get faster
Both coaches and athletes spend so much time on the skills of their sport, speed training and conditioning that they often forget a fundamental component of success: flexibility. After practice or a game, the muscles are warm and loose. Now is the time to work on increasing flexibility. So many athletes suffer injuries or compete below their capacity because poor flexibility inhibits their range of motion and speed. We see this often in the hips and hip flexors where athletes' stride length appears conspicuously short. Most often we see this in male athletes who will lift weights, train hard and then skip out on their cool down and flexibility work.
Lift your knees
I hear so many parents and coaches yelling to their kids when they want them to run faster or when they are beginning to fatigue, 'Lift your knees - Get your knees up'. This is one of the most backwards cues we can give to athletes. The way to run faster is to apply more force to the ground. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction, so the more force you apply to the ground, the more the ground will give back. So, when we cue athletes to lift their knees we are doing two things incorrectly. One, we are telling them to use their hip flexors to lift instead of their glutes and hamstrings to drive down. Just think about the size of your hip flexor versus the size of the glutes and hamstrings. Now which muscles do you think can create more force and therefore more speed?
Second, we are teaching a movement that is in opposition to what generates speed. If an athlete learns at age 7, to lift their knees when they need a burst of speed, that improper cue will be hardwired into their brain. To unlearn that as a teenager and try to do the opposite and drive down, that athlete will have a difficult time coordinating an entirely new way of running and will potentially have to take a step or two backwards. That is why it is critical to learn correct technique early and get an advantage over those who still are not getting the best instruction. So, cue athletes to step over the opposite knee and drive the foot down into the ground, with the foot landing underneath the hip.
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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: