The Trainable Elements of Speed

You hear the phrase time and time again, “Speed Kills.”

Well, what exactly is speed?  Classically, speed is defined as the change in distance over time, or more specifically in sports, the ability of an athlete to move as fast as possible in a deliberate and intentional manner, in a specific direction.  Within this context, you have starting speed, which is the ability of the athlete to move from a static position, and you have acceleration, the ability to cover the greatest amount of ground in the shortest amount of time.  Other parts of speed include speed efficiency (relying on the decision making abilities and optimal ranges of motion), speed endurance (performing repeated high speeds over long time periods without fatigue), deceleration (slowing the body down), and agility (changing of direction in response to a stimulus, requiring proper body control).

So what is the normal way of training these things?

Most often, building the engine through Olympic lifts, plyometrics, possibly through some technique work for sprinting.  More recently, deceleration work has become a bit more popular.  These things definitely help.  They do play a part in improving overall power and speed production.

But have you ever noticed those athletes that are absolute beasts in the weight room have seemingly zero performance carryover to the competitive arena?  Why is that??

Well, much of that can be do to poor change of direction biomechanics and poor in-game ‘reads.’  Have you ever noticed that those players that just play a ton but have never really been in the weight room just move and react really well on the court?  Why is that??

To answer, let’s take a look at what agility actually consists of: perceptual factors, decision making factors, and change of direction speed.  Perceptual and decision making factors include visual scanning, anticipation, pattern recognition, and knowledge of situations among other variables related to vision and decision making.  Changes of direction speed involves technique (deceleration into acceleration, aka cutting), straight ahead sprinting speed, and reactive muscle strength.

How do athletes typically train agility?

Oftentimes, trainers make them run through ladders and run through different obstacle courses (as I did, 10 years ago).  But how often do you see that those that are the absolute fastest in those areas are nowhere near on the court?  And, unfortunately, how often do you hear ”you just can’t teach those reads.”  Yes, you can.

So let me ask you, when is the last time you trained your vision?  When is the last time you trained sport specific anticipation and sport specific pattern recognition?  What about your change of direction technique looking at foot placements, body posture and body lean?

If you are not training these things, then you are literally missing out on some of the most important elements of speed training.

As always, if this type of article interests you, let me know, and I will follow up with more in depth analysis of these topics.


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