What I’ve Learned from 30 Years of Speed Training

I just turned 52 in February which means that I have been a Strength and Conditioning Coach for almost 30 years.  In fact, calling myself a strength coach may date me because this title has also  evolved to performance coach.  One of the things that has also changed over time is the emphasis on proper speed development.  In my early years as a volunteer at the University of Maryland under the direction of Frank Costello, a pioneer in track and field as well as in strength and conditioning, I began to understand the importance of teaching the basics of speed mechanics.  Frank’s approach was broad because he knew what proper speed mechanics involved.  I don’t ever remember him pulling me aside and saying” this is the way it should be done”.  I did on the other hand assist and watch many training sessions over the course of the next 13 years with The Washington Capitals.  In many of these sessions I put the pieces together to form my philosophy of speed mechanics which also involved hours of personal research to back up my experiential learning.  Paramount in this research is that speed can be improved.  Research conducted by Harvard University (Weyand et al. 2000) concludes that human runners reach faster top speeds NOT by repositioning their limbs more rapidly in the air, but by applying greater support forces to the ground.

What have I learned over 30 years when it comes to teaching proper speed mechanics:

  • Fancy drills and devices will never replace the fact that in order to get faster you simply have to run a lot and with proper mechanics
  • Don’t get caught up in fads
  • Place the teaching of proper mechanics in the beginning of a session when athletes are not fatigued
  • Conditioning is not speed work
  • Introduce speed training at the appropriate developmental level
  • Only introduce speed devices when proper form has been mastered consistently
  • Use hills of appropriate grade and repetitions.  Hills build strength while maintaining form

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