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The three key elements of any speed development program

It is often said that “speed kills”—speed having long been recognized as a major component of superior performance in many sports. But whereas speed was once seen as largely a genetic trait greatly unaffected by training, the world of sports today recognizes that a well-structured and scientifically sound training program can, in fact, improve speed. According to the National Strength and Conditioning Association's Ian Jeffreys, coaches and athletes alike must develop a fundamental knowledge of the factors that contribute to speed in order to maximize the benefits of training.


In Developing Speed, Jeffreys, the first coach working outside the United States to be honored as the NSCA's High School Professional of the Year, details how speed relies on both motor skill development and the development of physical capabilities to produce effective ground-reaction forces. He believes any speed development program should include three key elements:


  1. Development of physical capacities. Jeffreys says that an effective speed development program must develop an athlete's force production capacity in the musculature involved in sprinting. Maximal force capacity, rate of force development, and stretch-shortening cycle ability all likely play important roles in determining running speed.
  1. Technical development. “Development of sound running technique helps ensure that athletes can use their physical capacities to enhance their speed,” explains Jeffreys. “Technical training targets areas of deficiency in the running action.” This form of training starts with an analysis of performance and then addresses areas of deficiency such as arm action and leg action.
  1. Application of speed. Unless running speed is enhanced in a sport-specific context, the development of technique and the development of physical capacities are of no benefit. “The critical question is how to effectively transfer them to enhance game speed,” Jeffreys stresses. “This transfer requires an athlete to perform high-quality, sport-specific bursts of speed. While this may seem obvious, much field sport training neglects frequent high-speed running.” It's for this reason that a speed improvement program must involve speed application and address all of the elements that affect performance in a particular sport, such as initial acceleration, transition acceleration, and maximum speed.


Jeffreys warns that the omission of any of these elements will produce less than optimal results. “These elements also should be tailored to the individual athlete's characteristics,” he says. “Some athletes use great technique but lack the physical capacities to maximize this technique. Others may possess excellent physical capacities but lack the required technique to optimize them. Therefore, the focus of specific elements is different for each athlete.”


Since no speed development program will be universally optimal, coaches need to adjust programs in response to these differences. “Undoubtedly, the more knowledge a coach or athlete has regarding the scientific principles of program design, the more effectively they will be able to adapt programs to their specific needs,” Jeffreys concludes.


Written by eight of the NSCA's top experts and edited by Jeffreys, Developing Speed is the definitive resource for developing speed training programs that optimize athletic performance. Offering assessments and the application of speed training to eight specific sports, this authoritative guide is the third entry in the NSCA's Sport Performance Series and provides all the tools needed for maximizing speed.