In athletics there are always a variety of factors that will contribute to success, but for most sports there are few qualities that are as important as speed. All other things being equal, the faster an athlete is the more successful they will be. For many sports a fast athlete can overcome other limitations of skill and conditioning by being faster than their opponent. In this series of articles I’m going to go over a survey of training to develop playing speed.
What Is Speed?
Depending on your sport, speed can have a variety of definitions. For race-type athletes this is pretty simple. Regardless of whether you’re biking, sprinting, swimming, running, or whatever, the bulk of the competition boils down to how fast you are. Sure, there’s probably some strategy involved in your race, but if you’re slow then you’re screwed.
For reactive running sports such as football, soccer, and basketball then speed has some other qualities. Acceleration, quickness, reaction, and speed all play an important role. Top end speed, while it should still be trained, is a bit less important as it’s rare for an athlete to actually get up to full speed in these sports.
For racquet and combat sports there’s little if any actual running. Speed in these sports is much more a quality of quickness, agility, hand speed, and reactive ability.
Speed is basically the amount of time it takes a body to travel through a certain space. That’s it. There are a ton of coaches out there (myself included) that make their living teaching people how to move farther in less time.
What Is Running Speed?
Running speed is simply the speed by which an athlete runs. Elite level sprinters, on a track, are able to hit speeds of 26mph or more. Get in your car and try that and you’ll realize how fast that is. Then consider that alligators can get about 10mph above that and think twice about your Everglades vacation.
Your running speed is a function of two qualities: Stride Frequency
Stride length is the other side of the running speed coin. The distance an athlete covers per stride is the stride length. This can be improved with flexibility training, power and strength training, and adjusting mechanics.
How Do Stride Frequency and Stride Length Interact?
Fast, efficient running speed is a function of the interaction of stride frequency and stride length, not simply one overpowering the other. It’s very easy for an athlete to either under or over stride (too little or too much stride length) and this will throw off their stride frequency. Sure, they might be traveling an extra inch or two per stride, but if they’re losing an entire stride per second they’re still slowed down.
On the other hand, if the athlete is focusing entirely on fast foot turnover to produce a higher stride frequency then they may find themselves with too short a stride length. This creates a “spinning their wheels” effect and will also slow them down. Athletes need to train for proper mechanics and continue that technique training throughout their athletic careers as their strength, power, and anatomy changes.
Stay tuned for future Speed Training 101 articles where I will go over some specifics on training different speed qualities!