Pure speed training

Written by jeffrey nichols
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Pure speed training
Runners and other athletes can use sprinting drills to increase their overall speed. (running image by Byron Moore from Fotolia.com)

Whilst many people understand the concept of training for endurance and overall conditioning, fewer know about training to improve pure speed. But techniques and workout routines for getting faster have become more popular and in greater demand, giving rise to "speed camps" that help athletes improve their sprinting prowess. Enhancing strength and agility, as well as running technique, are among the keys to improving overall speed.


Speed training can pay off for athletes in many sports, not just obvious examples such as track and field. Speed is crucial in sports such as football, basketball, soccer, lacrosse and rugby, for example. Speed training helps athletes by improving their running form, acceleration, explosiveness and agility. The result, according to some proponents, can be a decrease of 0.2 seconds in an athlete's 36-metre (40-yard) dash time. That reduction could make the difference in the outcome of a play or sequence in any game.


Improving strength in the core muscles and the lower body bolsters speed because strength in these areas helps acceleration ability. In the weight room, speed trainers recommend full-body workouts with an emphasis on exercises such as squats, lunges and explosive movements such as cleans. When performing runs, according to the authors of the book "Training for Speed, Agility and Quickness," the focus should be on brief, intense sprints with ample rest that allows the runner's heart rate to return almost to its normal level between repetitions.


An important part of speed training is learning the most efficient way to run. The National Association of Speed and Explosion in America, which originated in 1986 and has headquarters in North Carolina, runs the NASE Youth Speed Training Center for young athletes. The camp coaches kids, in part, on the length of their stride and on maximising the number of steps they take per second. The ideal running technique is to touch the heel of the foot before the toes with every step. Another point of emphasis is keeping the elbows tucked close to, but not pinned against, the body.


Speed training affects more than pure sprinting ability. Speed camps say they can improve leaping ability, cardiovascular capacity, agility and overall athleticism in the process of coaching speed. A 2004 article on speed training by the Associated Press mentioned a part-time marathon runner who wanted to lower his time to qualify for the Boston Marathon. The runner decided adding more miles to his workload was not the answer. Instead, he hired a speed coach to correct his stride and improve his efficiency, which can lower marathon times by four to six minutes.


Unless they are under the guidance of a coach with established credentials, athletes or recreational runners should limit their speed training to once or twice a week at the start. Speed training taxes the leg muscles and central nervous system in a more acute way than distance running or general conditioning. Before participating in speed-training drills, athletes must warm up properly with a low-intensity exercise such as light jogging to reduce the risk of a muscle pull or other serious injury.

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