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Designing Speed Programs - Part 2

In Designing Speed Programs - Part 1, I talked about identifying the demands of your sport in order to effectively design a training plan that will help your athletes achieve those goals.

As far as the demands of a speed training program, I think it is important to first look at your sport and determine where the focus is during the pre and regular season. This can be broken down into two categories: team sports and "individual" sports.

Team sports like football, basketball and soccer are going to have to focus the majority of speed and conditioning development in the pre season. Once the season starts, the focus is likely going to be more on maintenance of the improvements made during the off season and pre season as opposed to specifically trying to make significant speed gains during the competitive season. Don’t get me wrong. The longer the regular season is for a particular sport, the less likely "maintenance" of gains can be held, so some work has to be done on improving certain training elements. Don't forget to factor competitions into the overall conditioning plan as well.

The problem with most coaches of team sports is that there is no organized periodization or progression of conditioning in the pre or regular season. This is why there is often a rash of burnout, mid season performance regression (due to overtraining) and late season injuries. Even worse, I can't count the number of times I've gotten athletes from other sports in their next season who needed excessive rest and modified training to help them recover from the beatings their unorganized coaches gave them during the previous season. The techniques you'll learn here should prevent that from ever happening again.

On the flip side, you have "individual" sports, which we'll basically consider track and field. Here we often train through early season competitions with the goal being to have athletes run their fastest at the end of the season instead of at the beginning like in team sports. The training principles for both categories are the same. It is just the structure that is going to be different.

Now, before you can begin creating a specific training plan, you have to get organized. Here is a list of seven steps that must be followed before you sit down to write out the specific details of your overall plan. Some of you will groan at the amount of time and thought that goes into a well crafted speed program, but if you take the time to learn this process, it gets faster and easier.

I also suggest you start taking notes on the answers to these questions as it will make your life much easier as we break them down further as we progress through this series.

  1. Establish a clear, specific goal for the training plan. This is the same whether designing a plan for an individual person or a team. Is the goal to improve your 40 by point-three seconds by the start of the season or improve the team's average 40 times by point-two before the first game? Do you want to win a state title in the 100 or place three athletes in the finals at the League Championship this spring? If you set generic goals like "make the team faster," then you won't accomplish them. You have to set your intention on a specific goal by focusing on the end result and then working backwards. As you'll see later, this is one of the most overlooked and also most difficult components of the training plan. But if you don't start with the end goal and end date and work backwards, you can't get a true understanding of how to progress your training.
  2. Make a detailed analysis of the demands of your sport. A football player and a soccer player aren't going to be on the same speed training program. Is there a significant aerobic demand to your sport? How about agility and change of direction skills? Does your sport focus on acceleration or top end speed? Do your athletes hold, swing or carry an implement in their sport?
  3. Establish a list of qualities and abilities needed to succeed in the specific speed applications of your sport. This should be based upon your analysis of demands. For example:
    • Absorb impact and then accelerate
    • Accelerate while in a state of extreme fatigue
    • Develop consistent acceleration pattern out of blocks
    • Hit a moving ball while running at top speed
  4. Create a list of specific training activities. This list should be designed to address and develop the identified list of qualities and abilities. For example:
    • Specific drills teaching athletes how to take a hit and effectively accelerate
    • Fartlek runs and whistle workouts where athletes simulate the types of starting and stopping while fatigued that they'll experience in a game
    • Drive phase development and block work session to teach a consistent, explosive sprint start
    • Drills teaching athletes techniques for striking, kicking or dribbling the ball while running at full speed
  5. Create a list of general training activities. These should be designed to prepare the body to undertake more specific training, when specific training is considered too advanced for the learning athlete. For example:
    • An athlete must learn how to separately absorb contact and learn to accelerate before the actions can effectively be combined.
    • Athletes must develop their aerobic power, lactic capacity and acceleration ability before they can succeed at combining those three elements successfully.
    • Athletes must develop a consistent acceleration pattern, understand the drive phase and perfect running mechanics before successfully developing a fast start.
    • Athletes must learn how to kick, strike or dribble the ball. They must also learn acceleration and top speed mechanics before they can combine these skills.
  6. The list of both general and specific training activities must be organized in a logical fashion into a valid training program. With any speed program, skills must go from general to specific, basic to complex. Athletes must establish general conditioning before doing complex lactic acid workouts. They must develop the ability to accelerate before doing speed endurance. And beyond that, these skills must be broken down further as well as addressing other biomotor abilities that we will get into shortly.
  7. The training program must actually be administered and should undergo constant evaluation. Even the best plans must be modified. Weather, injuries and a myriad of other situations and circumstances will arise that force you to change what you are doing. Sometimes something you plan just plain doesn't work. That is why a detailed plan, as well as note taking and testing, will give you a good idea if your plan is progressing as expected.

So start going through these seven steps and think about how they can be specifically applied to your team, sport or training. Even these seven topics are just a general overview of the pre-planning behind the training plan. Once you've established your lists and have gotten more focused on the general areas that must be developed, you can start to get more specific. But first you must understand where the specificity comes from and why it is applied.

In the last article of this three part series, I will go over the five biomotor abilities that must be developed, regardless of the perceived differences between the sport(s) being trained.