Speed Training 101

Are you looking to cut time off your latest race or build resiliency for your next ½ marathon? Whether you are looking to improve your 100-meter dash or wanting to learn how to incorporate speed into your endurance training, this article is for you. In this three-part series, we are going to cover the fundamentals of speed training.

Top end speed is important for many athletes. For athletes who compete in burst type activities such as football or track the reason is obvious. However, for endurance athletes, the idea of sprinting may seem peculiar at best. Why should endurance runners incorporate sprint training?

  1. Running Economy– One of the cruxes of being able to sprint quickly is having proper form. It is difficult to run fast and be sloppy at the same time. While working on sprinting, you’ll also be practicing coordination and running posture while building strength.
  2. Muscle recruitment– Sprinting helps you train the often-neglected type II muscle fibers. This allows for larger pools of muscle fibers to be recruited when running hills or making it through the finish line with a strong final push.
  3. Improved VO2max– VO2max is the maximal amount of oxygen a person can utilize during intense work. Sedentary people have VO2 maxes typically between 30-40ml/kg/min, while highly trained athletes can have values of 60ml/kg/min and above. This value is highly correlated with long distance running. Studies have shown that sprinting can increase a person’s VO2max.

Now that we have established why it is important that all athletes do sprint training, let’s discuss what it takes to be quick. How quickly someone can sprint can be broken into 3 main categories: acceleration, top end speed, and speed endurance. The acceleration phase to reach top end speed is largely influenced by fitness level, and it may last as up to the first 50 meters. Similarly, top end speed varies largely among people. Usain Bolt was clocked at the incredible speed of 27.8mph. Lastly, speed endurance is simply how long a person can maintain their top end speed for. Most people can only hold their quickest pace for 5-7 seconds before physiology puts the breaks on.

To break it down further, we can consider the two main factors that influence running speed. These factors are stride length and stride frequency. Stride length is typically measured as the distance between when the right foot first strikes the ground to the point at which the right foot strikes the ground again. Stride frequency is simply how often this is happening in a given time. To run faster, you must increase stride length, stride frequency, or a combination of the two. For a few ideas on drills that can improve these factors click on the video below.

Josh Munter, is a physical therapist intern at Colorado In Motion






Be sure to stay tuned for the next two parts of this introductory series where we will cover ideas on how to incorporate speed work into your routine and exercises that every runner/sprinter should be working on.

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