Speed Training

Ricky Igbani sprinting.

There is something about speed that gets athletes and coaches excited! The idea of hitting explosive speeds on the field makes almost everyone involved in athletics want to get their hands on a speed training program.


But speed is more than just sprinting as fast as you can! Speed, especially within the context of athletics, is a multifaceted skill that needs to be developed and practiced.


We first break down the benefits of a comprehensive strength and conditioning program to speed development and then look at what we can do on the field to help develop our speed training. From there, we break down, define, and give examples of 5 key elements of speed training: 1) Technique, 2) Acceleration and Power, 3) Deceleration, 4) Max Velocity, and 5) Change Of Direction.

Speed Training Podcast 

Sam Breslin and Doug Curtin break down speed training for high school coaches and athletes on an episode of Chalk Talk. Check out the video podcast and scroll through the rest of the blog find a written materials and video samples of the different elements of a speed training program. 


What is Speed Training? Big Picture


When coaches picture speed training, they might immediately jump to sprint and speed drills on the field. And while intentional speed work is a crucial element to developing top speed for athletes, comprehensive speed training should be discussed within the larger context of total athletic development. There is no singular solution to effective speed training, but rather a multi-faceted approach,


“The greatest improvements in sprint performance following training interventions have been shown to come from combined/mixed method training programs that include sprints, plyometric exercises and weights training with both heavy loads (maximal strength training) and moderate loads at high movement velocities (ballistic training)” (de Villarreal et al. 2012)


Therefore, speed training can be broken down into two major categories:


1) In The Gym – Strength, Power, and Plyometrics

2) On The Field – Technique, Acceleration, Deceleration, Maximum Velocity, & Change of Direction


Combined, this approach can improve athletic performance and garner the best results for sports and competition.

In The Gym – Strength, Power & Plyometric Training


Strength training in the weight room plays an integral role in overall speed training.


At PLT4M, we like to think of strength as your muscles’ ability to apply force into/against the physical world.


“This is especially evident in speed-related activities because as your velocity grows higher, your muscles have to be able to sustain nearly three times your own weight while maintaining an efficient sprinting technique. Therefore, your muscles have to be strong enough if you want to be able to perform at your best and not get injured in the process.” – Daniel Kiikka – The Sports EDU


But beyond maximum strength, athletes need to be able to reached relatively quickly. Power training focused on producing as much force in as little time as possible. (Power = Force x Velocity (Strength and Speed).


In addition, while traditional strength and power development in the weight room is beneficial, many coaches also implore the use of plyometric and ballistic activities.


“One of the most effective power training methods for speed is plyometric training, which consists of different explosive jumps, leaps, and hops performed at high intensity. This teaches your body to be explosive and produce as much force in as little time as possible.”– Daniel Kiikka – The Sports EDU


All of the elements above can be achieved through a comprehensive strength and conditioning program in the weight room. Learn more about PLT4M’s approach to complete athletic development in the weight room.

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Speed Training – Field Work


With a strong foundation built through resistance training, it is important to develop the necessary components of speed training on the field. Components of speed training include:


  1. Technique

  2. Acceleration/Power

  3. Deceleration

  4. Maximum Velocity

  5. Change of Direction


Next, let’s take a look at each of the 5 elements and sample videos from PLT4M’s own speed training program.

5 Free Speed Training Videos From PLT4M 



Speed training isn’t just about how fast you are, but about how quickly you can get where you need to be. Stride length, stride frequency, arm action, torso lean, and foot strike can all be broken down through technique work. If we can be slow and smooth, we can eventually be smooth and fast.

Speed is about power and control. If you want to be fast, you must master the basics of efficient running technique. In this simple drill, we are combining proper foot strike and knee drive with effective arm swing. Our focus here is precise movement, not speed.


With a slow forward speed, the athlete will proceed to “March” by exaggerating the knee drive of every step to a full 90 degrees – while keeping the foot dorsiflexed, or toes pulled to the sky.


Each step will also be brought back to the ground properly, directly inside the framework of his or her body. Keep the foot strike limited to the mid – to forefoot area and let the heel’s just kiss the ground. Add a proper arm swing to each step by utilizing the “pockets to chins” target of our arm swing drills, elbows at 90 degrees.


March for the prescribed distance with a focus on every single step, don’t rush to cover ground!



While much of this is achieved in the weight room through power and plyometric exercises, it should also be worked on in speed workouts. For example, power skips, bounding, and sprint starts are all examples of high intensity acceleration/power work.

Here we are drilling full-speed sprint mechanics in a controlled environment. We achieve the forward lean and torso position by leaning up against a wall with arms outstretched. This also allows us to isolate foot-strikes without falling over.


Have the athlete find a proper position against the wall – not too far away, not too close. Weight should be balanced between the mid-foot and the hands up against the wall. Then, the athlete will raise one leg into a full knee drive position – high knee, toes pointed up. One a cue, the athlete will rapidly switch legs, bring the down knee up into the same position as the lead leg fires down to the ground.


In this instance, we are working “singles” – meaning we are only performing one rep at a time, focusing on individual leg drives. You may rest and reset between reps, or between “sides” as desired in your speed training workout.



Although the goal of speed training often circulates around maximum speed, at some point athletes need to be able to stop efficiently, effectively, and safely. Again, it is important to master coordination, and then add in intensity.

Complete agility and athleticism requires the ability to stop quickly and efficiently just as it does the ability to initiate movement. The key to effective stopping is mechanics and efficient transfer of energy.


Here we have a simple drill that reinforces proper body position and application of force for effective “stopping” in the linear plane. When moving forward, the most efficient way to decelerate is by driving your momentum into the ground. We do this by dropping hip level and aiming the torso into the ground through our legs.


The athlete begins standing tall, feet at hip width. The athlete then rises onto his or her toes and leans forward. As the athlete falls, he or she braces and absorbs the force through a lunge position. Knee should be stacked over the toe with a forward lean of the torso. We’re thinking about driving our bodyweight over that lead leg into the ground. Focus on a controlled stop – hold at the bottom for a full 2 seconds before resetting and repeating.

Maximum Velocity


This is athletes ability to operate in a set window of top speeds. An example of maximum velocity training is flying sprints or build ups. At first, this might be done at a short distance and gradually increased over a speed development program.

Flys allow for a controlled environment in which each athlete works at maximal velocity for the same distance.


To set up, we must first designate the intended Fly Zone. We can do so by simply placing cones at the appropriate distance from one another, or by using lines already marked on a track or competition field. This Fly Zone can be almost any distance, though it is most frequently confined to 10, 20, or 30 meters (or yards).


This Fly Zone can be considered the window during which the athlete should be operating at TOP SPEED, from start to finish.


We achieve such speed by allowing for a gradual build up prior. We begin each rep by working up from a stationary position to a full speed run with proper mechanics.


This lead-in distance can really be whatever each individual athlete needs in order to reach maximum velocity by the first marker.


On the other end, we must remember to slow down gradually as well. If we apply the breaks too aggressively, we unnecessarily risk strain or other injury.

Change of Direction


A fun combination of all the elements outlined above in sprint training that expressed overall athletic application. In a game or competition, athletes will be challenged to combine technique, acceleration, deceleration, max velocity and change of direction all within a game or sports competition.

Just as an athlete must be able to accelerate in multiple planes of movement, so must they be able to stop & and then efficiently change direction.


Here we have a simple drill that turns our lateral stopping into a full speed sprint in the opposite direction.


The initial shuffle and settle portion will be performed just like in our introductory lateral deceleration drill.


Once we’ve settled, we are practicing the lateral turn and drive we employ in our sprint starts. Drive through the ground with the near leg while bringing the back leg up and through. The goal is to get into proper leg drive and torso lean as quickly as possible.


Begin with slow, deliberate reps to drill the mechanics and efficiency of movement. Wasted steps make you slow.


Smooth is fast!

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Differentiating Speed and Conditioning Training


While we have spent a lot of time looking at speed training, we do want to address it within the context of speed and conditioning training.


Speed work is NOT CONDITIONING. You should think of it more like weightlifting. We are operating at intensities close to or at our maximal ability, like lifting a heavy % in the back squat. That means a few things:


  1. Form, technique, and control are hugely important. You can only maximize your output if you move with INTENT.

  2. It does not take many reps to yield gains

  3. Each rep MUST be done while relative FRESH. Just like lifting, we need appropriate rest times. You can only operate at 100% if you are fully recovered from the previous set or rep. Being tired, or fatigued, is NOT THE GOAL!


Often, speed and conditioning training start to melt together. Make sure athletes get proper recovery time between sets and reps to maximize your speed training program results!

Key Takeaways on Speed Training 


Speed training is a beast of a topic to unpack. And while this blog just scratches the surface, it is important to remember the key takeaways of proper speed training for high school athletic development. 

First and foremost, speed training happens in the weight room and on the field. Combined, coaches can support athletes to develop the complete picture of athletic performance that will help them succeed on the field, court, or track. 


Next, when on the field it is crucial to hit all 5 elements of a speed training program (technique, acceleration, deceleration, maximum velocity, and change of direction). It isn’t just about sprinting as fast as you can, but how you can develop that into actual athletic skills. 


Finally, don’t go at planning your athletic programs alone! Reach out to PLT4M for help with program delivery, training program templates, and more! 


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