This post is the start of a 5 part series on developing elite speed for sports.
It is a skill that is highly coveted by coaches and scouts. We've all seen that more playing time, better scholarships and bigger contracts are given to players who are faster than their peers.
And yet you see so few people focusing on it with their training. Athletes either just play their sport, lift, stretch, go for distance runs, or some combination of the above.
I believe a big reason it isn't worked on often enough is because there are a series of myths surrounding speed development that cause most people to think it's a waste of time.
Let's briefly look at each to understand why they may not be a great reason to avoid speed development.
Myth #1 - "You Can't Train Speed"
This is the big one, the belief that you are either born fast or slow and there is nothing you can do to change it.
It is true that certain genetic factors - like having a higher percentage of fast-twitch muscle fibers or longer arms & legs - give you greater speed potential. But just like choosing not to go to school because you think you were born with no intelligence, this mindset closes the door on a great opportunity to improve your athletic future.
In fact, probably 70% or a bit more of your ultimate speed potential is genetically driven.
But Olympic sprinters train with speed coaches, doing technical exercises all the time. They do other workouts like strength and mobility training too. Pro athletes in every sport you can think of seek out training like this, as well.
Why would they bother if it all was all predetermined?
Quite simply, because they know it gives them an edge.
Yeah, 70% of it is out of your control, but that other 30% represents a pretty big opportunity to become a far better athlete than you would have been otherwise.
Myth #2 - "I Tried Speed Training Before And It Doesn't Work."
If you watched two athletes run a 40 yard dash at separate times, and their scores were 0.1 seconds apart, would you be able to tell who ran faster by just watching?
It is easy to see and feel improvements in mobility and strength, where improvements can be dramatic. Yet speed development is all incremental, and it takes longer to make those gains permanent.
When someone improves by 100 pounds on a bench press it is clearly visible and impressive looking, but a 0.2 second gain on a 40 yard dash is just as big of a training improvement. It is just not as easy to spot.
Maybe it was working, but the results just didn't pop out as clearly as it does with other types of training.
Other reasons why someone would not find success in speed training are:
- You weren't focused enough during your workouts. There are so many finer points to it and without those the benefits are minimal.
- You didn't stick to it long enough. They say you can improve mobility in a day, strength in a week, and speed in a month. Whether that is exactly accurate is less important than the understanding that speed gains take much longer to work. A one day or one week commitment to speed development is a nice start, but likely isn't enough.
- You weren't doing the right training. YouTube and other online resources have flooded our world, and there are endless speed exercises and programs out there. Perhaps the workout itself was not that valuable and no amount of focus or commitment will get you any better.
Myth #3 - 'I Can Just Do (Distance Running/Strength Training/Sprints) To Get Faster'
Admittedly, there is some potential truth to some of these options as being a path to playing faster.
Sprinting helps for sure, because you need to move fast to get fast.
Strength training develops the horsepower necessary to move faster, which we'll dig into a bit more in Part 2 of this series.
Distance running does not make you faster, and if you're interested in knowing why we have a whole separate article dedicated to that topic which you can find here.
The problem with this approach is that it ignores how multi-faceted true speed training actually is.
Sprinting is a key piece of the puzzle, but if you run too many your mechanics break down and you don't crystallize the most optimal technique for your nervous system to remember later on.
Strength training in and of itself does not make you faster. It is a piece of the puzzle and for many athletes an excuse to avoid the movement exercises they may not like as much as their weight room drills.
Distance running leads to poor sprint technique, however the big picture idea of getting leaner to get faster is definitely a way to play faster. A better approach to this would be to fix any nutrition gaps you have in your diet.
In Part 2 we'll get into all the elements that actually do build speed, showing you how a comprehensive approach to speed development can drive real results over time.