What is the goal of your training? Does what you’re having your athletes do actually accomplish that goal?
You can get in shape trying to get fast, but you don’t get fast trying to get in shape.
The science of it deals with the anaerobic energy systems versus the aerobic energy system. Speed requires a high functioning anaerobic system while endurance relies on the aerobic system. The anaerobic system functions when oxygen is not in enough supply to provide your muscles with the energy they need. In speed training the goal is to increase the anaerobic threshold allowing the muscles to stay anaerobic longer. The higher the threshold the longer you can go fast. The aerobic system is used when you’re working at a level that your body can keep up with sufficient oxygen delivery. This includes longer, slower efforts. Think about the difference between running 2 miles (aerobic) and running a 30 yard sprint (anaerobic).
We must train both systems, but in that training we have to ensure we are training specifically for each. We have observed over the years that many coaches confuse speed training with conditioning. They run their athletes up and down and all around and they expect them to get faster. Conditioning trains the aerobic system and can inadvertently make athletes slower in the absences of separate speed training.
Soccer players are a great case study. We all know that soccer players have to be in great shape. Unfortunately being in great shape doesn’t mean you are fast. Soccer players are often instructed to “jog back” in speed training. A result of this is a training mentality to pace oneself when you know you aren’t going to get time to rest.
Regardless of sport, athletes who go into survival mode just to make it to the end of a speed workout are not usually going game-speed, which compromises the integrity of speed training. Are your athletes really giving maximum effort when you are doing speed training? Are they holding something back hoping to make it to the end? Do you give them adequate rest to allow them to give you optimal effort?
So how do you speed train? At DX3 we encourage walking back instead of jogging back and we want our athletes to recover from previous bouts before continuing. Athletes love this and tend to give more effort each bout if they know they have time to recover. Coaches HATE this because it is hard to be patient and wait. We want go, go, go. However, by allowing for rest time your athletes will perform better and get more out of the bouts of effort.
There are times when you work on conditioning, work on speed, or do a combo of both. Make sure your training matches your goal. Does running a mile really make your basketball players faster in a 15 meter space? Does running eight 400 meter sprints really prepare your softball player to run the bases?
Know your goal and train for it!
Speed can most definitely be taught and improved with proper mechanics instruction and training. The caveat to speed will always and forever be control. Be sure to take time to teach. Communicate to your athletes to train fast so they can play fast and that you’re giving them time to recover so that they go game-speed for all reps.
Remember, the only answer for speed is more speed.