Every day someone asks me a question about training speed. So here are those questions heard most frequently as well as the answers to them.

1. Static stretching prepares you for competition/practice.

Static stretching actually reduces power output. Athletes should prepare for practice by doing a dynamic warm up that progresses from basic, low intensity movements to faster, more explosive movements as the muscles loosen up. The goal is to simulate movements that athletes will be using in practice or a game. What happens when you try to stretch a cold rubber band? You can think about your muscles the same way.

2. Strength training makes females too bulky

Many of the female athletes we train have this popular mindset. However, look at some elite female athletes like Mia Hamm or Lisa Leslie. They certainly train with weights, but no one would accuse them of having manly physiques. Strength training will improve performance and reduce injury if done correctly.

3. You can’t train speed.

For some reason, the popular belief is that you’re born with a certain amount of “speed” and you can’t improve it. Nothing could be further from the truth. Most young athletes are so physically weak and mechanically out of tune that significant improvements in speed can be made often just by working on technique and form. Athletes at any age and any level can improve speed when implementing a complete speed training program designed to improve and develop the entire athlete. {Use the link # for the words “speed training” in the last sentence.}

4. Training slow makes you fast.

I don’t think coaches directly think this way but their training techniques imply otherwise. This is especially true in sports that involve a higher aerobic element such as soccer, field hockey, or lacrosse. I see kids out running mileage and doing long, slow intervals of several minutes of continuous running. This will get them in shape. However, in games, I see kids jogging, jogging and then sprinting at full speed for 20–30 yards. Then they run, jog, and sprint for 20–30 more yards. If you want kids to improve their acceleration and top speed so that they can get to the ball faster or get back on defense, you have to train by running at full speed in practice.

5. You must train hard every day.

The workout itself is only a piece of the training puzzle. It’s the time between intense workouts—the recovery—where athletes make their improvements. Generally, it takes 36–48 hours to recover from high intensity training. If athletes are doing too much too often, they become overtrained. Coaches can expect to see an increase in injuries, complaints about being sore more often, decreased performance, and higher levels of fatigue earlier in games. It’s always better to under train an athlete than overtrain. Err on the side of caution to get maximal results.

6. Strength training will stunt a young athlete’s growth.

This is another myth held over from a different time. On a daily basis, kids as young as seven years old are playing organized sports year round. They’re tackling, getting tackled, sliding, and falling. These loads on the body can have a much greater physical impact than a well-designed strength training program. Though we don’t usually begin training with weights with prepubescent athletes, they can benefit from body weight exercises such as push-ups, lunges, and sit-ups. This will increase muscular efficiency, speed up recovery, and improve coordination and overall speed.

7. The harder the workout, the better the result.

Some athletes (and coaches) have this mentality that if a workout doesn’t reduce them to complete exhaustion and/or make them vomit, it wasn’t an effective workout. I can tell you that those who have this mentality probably see many injuries and frustrating performances. The purpose of a workout is to stimulate an adaptation by the body. If the body is forced to do too much work in a given time period, it will break down. The skill in coaching is to stimulate the adaptation in the body without reaching a point of diminishing returns.

8. Interval training is the same as speed training.

Repeatedly running 100s, 200s, etc. won’t improve top speeds. Even running repeat 40s with short recovery periods won’t improve acceleration and top speed. Speed work is defined as 2–8 seconds of maximal intensity running with full recovery. That means there should be at least two minutes of light dynamic movement between each effort. This goes against the experience of some coaches but is the only way to improve speed. An athlete must be able to focus on proper form and maintain intensity in order to get faster. If they don’t recover properly from each interval, they won’t be able to replicate proper mechanics with consistency and they can’t improve.

9. Flexibility won’t help you get faster.

Both coaches and athletes spend so much time on the skills of their sport, speed training, and conditioning, they often forget a fundamental component of success—flexibility. After practice or a game, the muscles are warm and loose. This is the time to work on increasing flexibility. So many athletes suffer injuries or compete below their capacity because poor flexibility inhibits their range of motion and speed. We see this in the hips and hip flexors where the stride lengths of athletes appear conspicuously short. Most often we see this in male athletes who will lift weights, train hard, and then skip out on their cool down and flexibility work.

10. Lift your knees.

When parents and coaches want their kids to run faster or when the kids are beginning to fatigue, I hear many yell at the kids, “Lift your knees. Get your knees up.” This is one of the most backward cues that we can give to athletes. The way to run faster is to apply more force to the ground. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction so the more force that you apply to the ground, the more the ground will give back. So when we cue athletes to lift their knees, we’re doing two things incorrectly. One, we’re telling them to use their hip flexors to lift instead of their glutes and hamstrings to drive down. Just think about the size of your hip flexor versus the size of your glutes and hamstrings. Now which muscles do you think can create more force and therefore more speed?

Second, we’re cueing them to do a movement that is in opposition to what generates speed. If an athlete learns at age seven to lift his knees when he needs a burst of speed, the improper cue will be hardwired into his brain. To unlearn that as a teenager and to do the opposite and drive down will delay the athlete’s progress. He or she will have a difficult time coordinating an entirely new way of running and will potentially have to take a step or two backward. That’s why it’s critical to learn proper form early and get an advantage over those who still aren’t getting the best instruction. So cue athletes to step over the opposite knee and drive the foot down into the ground with the foot landing underneath the hip.

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