What is speed?
Speed is the quickness of movement of a limb, whether this is the legs of a runner or the arm of the shot putter. Speed is an integral part of every sport and can be expressed as any one of, or combination of, the following: maximum speed, elastic strength (power) and speed endurance.
How is speed influenced?
Energy system for speed
Energy for absolute speed is supplied by the anaerobic alactic pathway. The anaerobic (without oxygen) alactic (without lactate) energy system is best challenged as an athlete approaches top speed between 30 and 60 metres while running at 95% to 100% of maximum. This speed component of anaerobic metabolism lasts for approximately eight seconds and should be trained when no muscle fatigue is present (usually after 24 to 36 hours of rest)
How do we develop Speed?
The technique of sprinting must be rehearsed at slow speeds and then transferred to runs at maximum speed. The stimulation, excitation and correct firing order of the motor units, composed of a motor nerve (Neuron) and the group of muscles that it supplies, makes it possible for high-frequency movements to occur. The whole process is not very clear, but the complex coordination and timing of the motor units and muscles most certainly must be rehearsed at high speeds to implant the correct patterns.
Flexibility and a correct warm-up will affect stride length and frequency (strike rate). Stride length can be improved by developing muscular strength, power, strength endurance and running technique. The development of speed is highly specific and to achieve it we should ensure that:
When should speed work be conducted?
It is important to remember that the improvement of running speed is a complex process that is controlled by the brain and nervous system. In order for a runner to move more quickly, the leg muscles have to contract more quickly, but the brain and nervous systems have to learn to control these faster movements efficiently. If you maintain some form of speed training throughout the year, your muscles and nervous system do not lose the feel of moving fast and the brain will not have to re-learn the proper control patterns at a later date.
In the training week, speed work should be carried out after a period of rest or light training. In a training session, speed work should be conducted after the warm-up and any other training should be of a low-intensity.
The following are sample speed workouts for competitive runners (Dr Karp 2012)
All speed workouts should include an appropriate warm-up and cool down.
Reaction Speed Drill
The athletes start in a variety of different positions - lying face down, lying on their backs, in a push-up or sit up position, kneeling or seated. The coach standing some 30 metres from the group then gives a signal for everyone to jump up and run towards him/her at slightly faster than race pace. Repeat using various starting positions and with the coach standing in different places so that the athletes have to change directions quickly once they begin to run. Speed reaction drills can also be conducted whilst controlling an item (e.g. football, basketball, hockey ball) with an implement (e.g. feet, hands, hockey stick).
Murray (2005) looked at weighted sledge training and their effect on sprint acceleration and they concluded that training with a weighted sledge will help improve the athlete's acceleration phase. The session used in the research was 4 x 20m and 4 x 50m maximal effort runs.
Lockie et al. (2003) investigated the effects of various loadings and concluded that when using a sledge a light weight of approx. 10-15% of body weight should be used so that the dynamics of the acceleration technique are not negatively affected.
Starts over 10-20 metres performed on a slight incline of around five degrees have an important conditioning effect on the calf, thigh and hip muscles (they have to work harder because of the incline to produce movement) that will improve sprint acceleration.
Downhill sprinting is a method of developing sprinting speed following the acceleration phase. A hill with a maximum of a 15° decline is most suitable. Use 40 metres to 60 metres to build up to full speed and then maintain the speed for a further 30 metres. A session could comprise of 2 to 3 sets of 3 to 6 repetitions. The difficulty with this method is to find a suitable hill with a safe surface.
Over speed work could be carried out when there are prevailing strong winds - run with the wind behind you.
The general principles for improved speed are as follows:
Seven Step Model
The following is a seven-step model for developing playing speed.
For a number of sports acceleration and speed over a short distance (10 to 50 metres) is very important e.g. American Football, Basket Ball, Baseball, Cricket, Field Hockey, Rugby, Soccer etc. An explanation on how to develop a program to meet this need can be found on the 40-yard Dash page.
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