We’ve come a long way with speed training. 30 or 40 years ago, it was kind of thought that either you have speed or you don’t. Only the top level Olympic coaches realized that you can improve speed. Then it started trickling down the pipeline. First, college kids were doing speed training and then it went to the high school ranks. I would say nowadays, most people think you can get faster because there are all these speed coaches around. Why would they have a job if they couldn’t get you faster? But, they don’t necessarily know for sure. And there are still people who firmly believe they can never get faster.
I’m here to tell you that no matter how slow you are, you can get faster.
How much faster is debatable, but definitely faster than what you are currently. As speed coaches, we analyze everything about your running: stride length, stride rate, strength, flexibility, how the arms are swinging, is your head moving, everything. If there is a little bit of an improvement in each area, then you add all those improvements together and you get a faster individual.
But, how long does that take?
I wish I had a solid answer for you, but I don’t. When people come to train with us, I tell them that we have a two month program and in that time we should be able to get you faster. And most of the time we are right. Honestly, our speed program should probably be a six month program, but not many of you could afford that. Plus, with today’s athletes, they are constantly involved in something (most of them), even if they are only in one sport.
Let’s take your soccer player. He starts fall practice in August and the season usually goes through until late October to mid-November. You might have a little break there, but then indoor training starts. Depending on the club team you are on, that could involve actual soccer training or indoor games. Normally, this is the best time for speed training for the soccer athletes I’ve worked with. Even if there is indoor activities, they aren’t too demanding.
But, that lasts about 2, 2.5 months, then they are off to spring soccer. This will go to mid-May to early June. That leaves about 7 weeks (if they don’t go on summer vacation or camps) for speed training and then they’re back at fall practice again.
2 months is about all they have and that is all I get, so I got to try and get them faster then.
Unfortunately, for some athletes, it can take more time than that. Depending on what needs to be corrected, that can affect the time needed to improve speed. For a lot of our athletes, we can make improvements in all the speed tests we do (linear and lateral speed). For some, we can make improvements in one area, but the other area needed more work. And this might be fine because the area improved is the area most applicable for their sport. Rarely do we have an athlete where there weren’t any improvements anywhere.
For example, I had one athlete who was in sixth grade. He trained with me for awhile and made minimal improvements and he was having a hard time applying the mechanical changes I made. We trained off and on for 2 years before he finally showed dramatic improvements. It took that long for his body to adapt to the mechanical changes needed, plus the strength improvements necessary for speed to change. When it did take shape for him, he looked like a completely different runner and everything I had been teaching him fit together smoothly.
So, why did it take him so long to get faster?
First, if there are flexibility issues, those don’t correct themselves over a two week period of stretching. You have to do this consistently to improve the area that is affected. Which means you have to implement the appropriate stretching drills outside of the 2 or 3 times you see me throughout the week. You have to go above and beyond what we are asking you to do and do this on your own.
Second, once those flexibility issues are taken care of, then you can correct some of the mechanical issues a little easier. Allowing your body parts to go in proper positioning is key.
Third, and probably most important, you have to improve the strength and if the athlete in question is a younger, less mature athlete, then that strength will be improved at a much slower rate. Plus, if there are strength imbalances, then those need to be corrected as well. With our younger athletes, I will only do so many different strength exercises because I feel that their bodies can handle just a little stimulation. You give them too much, then the form is compromised and you could potentially hurt them. Older athletes who have more mature physiques, once taught how to do exercises properly, can handle a much higher workload and can improve their strength faster.
To get back to the question, I don’t want to say it depends, but honestly it does depend. I will say we have a good success rate with our athletes that come to us for their initial 2 month speed training program. We try to discuss realistic goals and then go out and achieve them. If those goals aren’t met, then we try to analyze what we did and how we can improve upon them in the future, but I would say be patient. At some point, the athlete will get faster, will look better, and all this hard work will be worthwhile.