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Speed Training

What is speed?

Speed is the quickness of a limb's movement, whether the legs of a runner or the shot putter's arm. Speed is an integral part of every sport and can be expressed as any of, or combination of, the following: maximum speed, elastic strength (power) and speed endurance.

How is speed influenced?

Speed is influenced by the athlete's mobility, special strength, strength endurance and technique.

Energy system for speed

The anaerobic alactic pathway supplies energy for absolute speed. The anaerobic (without oxygen) and alactic (without lactate) energy system are best challenged as athletes approach top speed between 30 and 60 metres while running at 95% to 100% of the 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 sprint technique must be rehearsed at slow speeds and 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 muscles it supplies, make it possible for high-frequency movements to occur. The process is not very clear, but the complex coordination and timing of the motor units and muscles 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:

  • Flexibility is developed and maintained all year round
  • Strength and speed are developed in parallel
  • Skill development (technique) is pre-learned, rehearsed and perfected before it is done at high-speed levels
  • Speed training is performed by using high velocity for brief intervals. It will ultimately bring into play the correct neuromuscular pathways and energy sources used

When should speed work be conducted?

It is important to remember that running speed is a complex process controlled by the brain and nervous system. For a runner to move more quickly, the leg muscles must contract more quickly, but the brain and nervous systems must learn to control these faster movements efficiently. If you maintain speed training throughout the year, your muscles and nervous system do not lose the feeling of moving fast, and the brain will not have to re-learn the proper control patterns later.

Speed work should be done during the training week after rest or light training. Speed work should be conducted after the warm-up in a training session, and any other activity should be low-intensity.

Speed Workouts

Event Speed Session
100 metres a) 10 × 30 metres at race pace from blocks with full recovery
b) 3 to 4 × 80 metres at race pace with full recovery
800 metres a) 5 × 200 metres at goal race pace with 10 seconds recovery
b) 4 × 400 metres at 2 to 3 seconds faster than the current race pace with 2 minutes recovery
1.5 km a) 4 × 400 metres at goal race pace with 15 to 10 seconds recovery
b) 4 to 5 × 800 metres at 5 to 6 seconds per 800 metres faster than the goal race pace with 6 minutes recovery
5 km a) 4 to 5 × 800 metres at 4 seconds per 800 metres faster than the goal race pace with 60 seconds recovery
b) 3 × 1 mile at 6 seconds per mile faster than goal race pace with 2 minutes recovery
10 km a) 3 × 2000 metres at 3 seconds per 200 metres faster than goal race pace with 2 minutes recovery
b) 5 x 5 min intervals at current 5km race pace with 3 minutes recovery
Marathon a) 6 x 1-mile repeats at 15 seconds per mile faster than goal race pace with 1-minute recovery
b) 3 × 3000 metres at 10km race pace with 6 minutes recovery

The following are sample speed workouts for competitive runners (Dr Karp 2012)[3]

Event Session
1 Mile a) 8 x 400m - mile pace - recovery 2 mins
b) 2 x 6 x 200m - mile pace - recovery 30 secs/rep 2 mins/set
5 km a) 5 x 800m - 3-5k pace - recovery 2 mins
b) 3 x 1 mile - 5k pace - recovery 3 mins
Marathon a) 4 x 2k - 10k pace - recovery 3 mins
b) 5 miles tempo pace

All speed workouts should include an appropriate warm-up and cool down.

Reaction Speed Drill

The athletes start in various positions - lying face down, 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 everyone a signal to jump up and run towards them slightly faster than the 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 while controlling an item (e.g. football, basketball, hockey ball) with an implement (e.g. feet, hands, hockey stick).

Acceleration Training

Murray (2005)[1] looked at weighted sledge training and its effect on sprint acceleration, and they concluded that training with a weighted sledge would 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)[2] investigated the effects of various loadings and concluded that using a sledge of approx. 10-15% of body weight should be used so that the acceleration technique dynamics are not negatively affected.

Starts over 10-20 metres performed on a slight incline of around five degrees have a significant conditioning effect on the calf, thigh and hip muscles (they have to work harder because of the incline to move) that will improve sprint acceleration.

Sprinting Speed

Downhill sprinting is a method of developing running speed following the acceleration phase. Use 40 to 60 metres to build up to full speed and then maintain the speed for 30 metres. A session could comprise 2 to 3 sets of 3 to 6 repetitions. This method's difficulty is to finding a suitable hill with a safe surface. A hill with a maximum of a 15° decline is most suitable.

Over-speed work could be carried out when there are prevailing strong winds - run with the wind behind you.

Speed Principles

The general principles for improved speed are as follows:

  • Choose a reasonable goal for your event, and then work on running at velocities which are faster than your goal over short work intervals
  • Train at the goal pace to enhance your neuromuscular coordination, confidence and stamina at your desired speed
  • At first, utilise long recoveries, but as you get fitter and faster, shorten the recovery periods between work intervals to make your training more specific and realistic to racing. Also, move on to longer work intervals, as you are able
  • Work on your aerobic capacity and lactate threshold, conduct some easy pace runs to burn calories and permit recovery from the speed sessions
  • Work on your mobility to develop a range of movement (range of motion at your hips will affect speed) and assist in the prevention of injury

Seven Step Model

The following is a seven-step model for developing playing speed.

  1. Basic training to develop all movement qualities to a level that will provide a solid base on which to build each successive step. It includes programs to increase body control, strength, muscle endurance, and sustained effort (muscular and cardiovascular, anaerobic and aerobic)
  2. Functional strength and explosive movements against medium to heavy resistance. Maximum power is trained by working in an intensity range of 55 to 85% of your maximum intensity (1 RM)
  3. Ballistics to develop high-speed sending and receiving movements
  4. Plyometrics to develop explosive hopping, jumping, bounding, hitting, and kicking
  5. Sprinting form and speed endurance to develop sprinting technique and improve the length of time you can maintain your speed
  6. Sports loading to develop a specific speed. The intensity is 85 to 100% of the maximum speed
  7. Over-speed training. It involves a systematic application of sporting speed that exceeds maximum speed by 5 to 10% through the use of various over-speed training techniques

Speed Program

For several 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.


  1. MURRAY, A. (2005) The effects of resisted sledge-pulling sprint training on acceleration and maximum speed performance. J Sports Med Phys Fitness, 45 (3), p. 284-90
  2. LOCKIE, R.G. et al. (2003) Effects of resisted sled towing on sprint kinematics in field-sport athletes. Strength Cond Res., 17 (4), p. 760-767
  3. KARP, J. (2012) The power to succeed, Athletics Weekly, November 29, 2012, p.42-43

Page Reference

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

  • MACKENZIE, B. (1997) Speed training [WWW] Available from: [Accessed