Speed Training 101- Part 2
In part 2 of this 3-part series, we are going to cover ideas on how to incorporate speed
training into your routine. In case you missed the previous post, click here to read about why all
athletes should train speed and learn 3-speed drills to start your training.
One of the biggest mistakes made in speed work is making the exercises too difficult!
Speed training is about going fast, not about burning your lungs! To understand the reason for
this, we need to briefly review the three primary energy systems used during exercise.
Anaerobic A-Lactic: Utilizes the creatine phosphate system for energy production and enables people to perform powerful activities. Energy stores from this system will deplete
within 10 seconds and take 3-5 minutes to regenerate stores. It does not create a build-up of lactic
Anaerobic Lactic: Utilizes glycolysis for energy production and allows for moderate power
with activities. Energy stores will deplete from this system typically within 2 minutes. It will
create a build-up of some lactic acid.
Aerobic: Utilizes primarily oxidative phosphorylation for energy (the system we typically
think of with cardio) and allows for limited power generation. It is the primary energy system used for
activities that last for more than 3 minutes.
It is important to remember that these systems are always working concurrently. The
time frames are only a reference to which system is predominating in each situation. This is
what allows you to sprint the home stretch of a long race.
Using the three energy systems, we are going to create a general strategy on how to
properly develop speed. Speed training is a power type of exercise. That means that we are
going to focus on training the anaerobic systems, which means your distances need to be short!
For traditional sprinters, or burst type athletes such as football, baseball, volleyball, etc. start
with distances as short as 10 yards. For longer distance runners, keep your speed training to
less than ½ mile at most! The next part of the equation is the time it takes for these systems to
fully recover. You should be taking at least 3-5 minutes of rest between bursts of speed for
“longer distances.” A general rule to consider for shorter sprints is 30-60 seconds of rest per 10
yards. Running 100 meters multiple times with 30 seconds of rest isn’t going to make you any
To make the exercise ideas more relevant to you, following are several options for different
athletes. Prior to initiating any speed training, I suggest conducting a warm up. A typical warm-
up consists of jogging between half a mile to one mile, followed by dynamic drills. For ideas on
dynamic drills, refer to Part 1 of the series or ask your physical therapist for more ideas!
Ideas for non-track sprinters (Acceleration and Top End Speed from Part 1)
1) 6-10 reps of 10-yard sprints. 2) 6-10 reps of 20-yard sprints 3) 6-10 reps of 40-yard sprints.
Ideas for track sprinters (All three phases from Part 1)
1) 5-10 reps of 100-meter efforts. 2) 5-10 reps of 50 meter build up followed by 100 meters at
max effort. 3) 5- 10 reps of 25-meter dashes with emphasis on getting out of the blocks quickly.
Ideas for distance runners (Speed Endurance from Part 1)
1) 3-6 reps of 400-meter dashes (1/4 mile). 2) 3-5 reps of 800-meter dashes. (1/2 mile) 3) Timed
sprints: sprint for 20-120 seconds for 3-5 reps. With this strategy aim to cover the same
distance with each attempt.
- Ease into it: If you are new to sprinting or haven’t done any in years, start with only a few
efforts at 70-80% effort. Build into higher training volumes and faster speeds over a series of
weeks. I also suggest taking a 10-minute break once you are halfway through your goal reps.
- Use a stopwatch- Establish the baseline time that it takes you to cover your target distance.
- Maintain approximately the same time with each attempt. If you start to slow significantly then it means you should either take longer breaks between efforts or that your body is too fatigued to continue with sprint training.
- Avoid copious intervals- quality is much more important than quantity.
- Avoid overly resisted runs- Running with a mini parachute tied to you, a buddy resisting you with elastic bands, or sprinting with a weighted sled complicates speed training. In general, these are advanced training techniques that are best performed when supervised by a speed coach.
For athletes who often need to sprint, work on speed two to three days per week. For
distance runners, one day per week is typically adequate. If your training schedule doesn’t
allow for a separate day of speed training, incorporate it into a moderate training day. For that
day, sprint first and finish with your typical jog a few miles earlier than normal. After 4-6 weeks
of speed training, you should notice yourself running faster and being better prepared to sprint
to the finish line! Stay tuned for the conclusion of Speed Training 101 where we will cover
essential exercises that every runner/sprinter should be working on.
Josh Munter is a physical therapist intern at Colorado In Motion