Speed training tips to ensure maximum speed performance

How to improve your speed in three simple steps

by James Marshall

A lot of “speed” training at sports clubs is just “work”. It has the appearance of speed training, but may actually be making you slower. As Bruce Lee once said “it is organised despair”.

The key things to check are:

  • Are you fresh?
  • Is the drill relevant to your sport?
  • Are the cues realistic?

Are you fresh?

Speed training works best when you are not tired. So, if getting faster is your number one priority it should be done at the beginning of the training week, and at the beginning of your training sessions.

Unless you are working on speed endurance, then rest in between speed drills is also important. If your recovery is just “walk back and go again”, you are probably going to get diminishing returns.

One drill I use with field sports players is to see how far they can run in 7 seconds- they carry a small cone or marker and drop it at the 7 second point. We then repeat those runs after 90 seconds of rest.

At about 7-8 repetitions the athletes can not reach the marker in 7 seconds- that is time to stop and move onto something else.

Is the drill relevant to your sport?

The 7 second drill mentioned above is relevant for a lot of team sports players, who might have to run occasional distances of 50-80 metres. But it is not relevant for volleyball or squash players, and probably not rugby props.  Have a look at what the speed requirements of your sport and more specifically your position are, and then reproduce the drill that matches it.

It might be that you have to put a change of direction into your speed drill, or that that you have to run backwards at speed, or for tennis (where 40% of the movement is sideways) you have to work on moving sideways.

Are the cues realistic?

Working on pure speed mechanics is good, and sound fundamentals will help you move more efficiently and faster, but unless you can react or instigate action to the relevant cue for your sport, then it will be irrelevant. For example, the distance between opponents in tennis is much larger than in a combat sport, so the reaction to the opponent has to take place at different times. In tennis you can’t wait until the ball is coming in range to react- you have to look at what your opponent is doing before they even hit the ball to get yourself in position.
Your speed drills must use cues that help you visualise your opponent and get you moving immediately, not after the event. One drill I use with ball players is to have two players line up in front of me, facing away, I then kick, or pass the ball between them and they have to race to the ball- that way they are reacting to the cue of the ball movement.

One final point, speed training is something that should be done throughout the year- unless there are some points of the season where you don’t have to move fast- so little and often is better. Constantly reinforce the quality of execution of your speed.

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