One day, I went out to the track to work with one of my athletes. He was an elite wide receiver who had just finished high school and just needed a little polish before heading off to play collegiately – one of the best athletes I ever worked with. It was a windy day, but we were doing standard stuff. I warmed him up with the same warm up and lead up protocols I wrote about recently and we proceeded with 110s, making sure to run with the wind.
On the opposite curve of the track was another trainer. He was working with a young girl who might have been in high school. She was harnessed to not one but two training parachutes and he was having her backpedal against the wind. Needless to say she could have walked forward faster than she was doing her “speed training” sets. I looked over to my client and joked, “Man, we’ve been doing it all wrong this entire time.” He laughed, knowing full well that wasn’t my style. Without missing a beat, he said, “I wonder if he’s a master trainer.” All jokes aside, I want to take the time to go over some things I never do in speed training.
The first thing I never do in speed training applies only to track work. I never run against the wind if I can help it. This obviously doesn’t apply to doing change of direction drills and things of that nature. Cone drills outside are going to deal with this minor element but it’s negligible when it’s in that context.
There are very few instances when you don’t have a choice. Since most track work is done in a public setting, you may have to share the space. Always be courteous of others. Still, I have confidence you can find a way. The main reason I don’t run against the wind is because of how it affects biomechanics. You’ve heard me say that mechanics produce efficiency and efficiency produces speed. When you run against the wind, you make small adjustments that you may not even realize. The effort and energy it takes to resist the wind isn’t what we’re going for.
The wind doesn’t have to be that strong for it to make a difference, but I am not referring to light breezes just destroying your technique. This obviously refers to days where it’s stronger than normal and would feel even stronger if you ran against it. If the wind is strong enough to make you change your posture or fight to keep your arm swing in line, that is what we are trying to avoid.
Besides, running with the wind gives you assistance that I like as a training effect. It plays into what I call “overspeed.” This is similar to if you have ever used a cable to pull an athlete for a sprint drill. There’s also something cool about running with the wind and the sensation that the wind disappears during the sprint.
The second thing I never do in speed training is use cardio equipment. This mainly applies to treadmills. Let me give you a little context to this.
I’ve always been a big believer in giving things a chance. I wouldn’t say I’ve tried everything, but I’ve definitely tried everything I think would work. So there was a time when I tried incorporating treadmills into my speed training. I tried it and decided I didn’t prefer it. No harm, no foul. So I want to be careful when I say this because I’m not saying you should never do this. I’m saying I no longer do it because I think there is a better way. I know many people do this and trust they are getting the results they want. That really is great and I defer to you to decide for yourself.
The main reason I don’t use them goes back to biomechanics. The first thing is the blowback that a treadmill creates on the foot strike. I noticed it changes the stride pattern which doesn’t properly translate to regular running on a flat surface.I did see the difference when an athlete who loved to overspeed on the treadmill did run over ground. His heel kick (aka, heel runner) looked just like the treadmill leg cycle, way more heel kick with minimal knee lift. I also observed that the arms had to adjust for reps of sprints on treadmills. If constantly observed and coached it can be done correctly, but I prefer to save that for a rainy day, literally.
So I left well enough alone and stayed the course on modernizing old school training concepts that were tried and true. Track and turf can get the job done.
While I’m here, I’ll share another funny story. One time I walked into the gym getting ready to train a group. One of the athletes was on the elliptical. I figured he was just warming up but we were about to do that anyway so I asked him what he was doing. He said, fully serious, “I’m working on my speed.” Now, he wasn’t working on perfecting his elliptical pace. He was convinced he was speed training.
Treadmills and ellipticals are very different pieces of equipment, obviously. I’m sure this one makes more sense to you and that I don’t really have to explain it. Just don’t be surprised when a kid thinks that is the way. Take the time to teach and educate.
The third thing I never do in speed training is use a med ball in the hurdles. The reasons why I think this is worth covering are two-fold: I’ve seen it done before and we do use med balls on the ladder. You may be asking yourself, what’s the difference?
The simple answer is the apparatus is just different. A high obstacle requires better vision. I don’t want a med ball obstructing an athlete’s vision on the hurdles. It’s not safe. In case of a trip or fall, the ball now becomes even more compromising. So safety is the primary reason.
When you’re running with a med ball outside of an apparatus, even if you have a belt and strap with a partner helping you do a double resistive, there is nothing to trip over besides your own feet. Also, ladders require a smaller step. A smaller step requires smaller arms. Holding a ball on the ladder essentially doesn’t limit your arms much more than the ladder already does. We don’t want to take away your arms on the hurdles anyways. We are focusing on turnover and so I want your arms to help you increase turnover.
The fourth thing I never do in speed training is more general. I never have my LGs “train like the pros.” What are LGs? That’s the term I use for my Little Guys and Little Gals. LGs are the younger kids. It’s why way way back I created my “junior” program. We would always segregate the older kids from the younger kids.
Where the older athletes were doing a full course of hurdles or a full ladder, the LGs were separated doing a short course of hurdles or a half ladder nearby. Whatever other adjustments were necessary, I made them. It often means reducing volume and simplifying the training menu. Less sets or reps of whatever drills you have scheduled. The biggest mistake I see is having young kids who are prepubescent train like athletes who are more mature physically.
The other issue is you don’t want them to become a distraction for your big kids. There may be a time when you think it’s appropriate to introduce a younger athlete to a certain training environment, maybe to give them that experience. There is definitely a time and a place. You make that call.
You definitely don’t want to have a younger, smaller, weaker kid holding the strap for a resistance run for an athlete who is older, bigger, and stronger. I have seen this before and it is a problem. Don’t allow levels to compromise the training.
The fifth (and not necessarily final, since there are surely others) thing I never do in speed training is risk injury more than you have to. Training is inherently risky. Muscle pulls happen. Slips, trips or falls happen. Equipment breaks. I get it.
This rule mainly applies to situations where the athlete communicates something, so it takes cooperation. Therefore, you have to create a culture where kids are comfortable communicating things. If a kid says something is tight or even more specifically that it’s hurting, listen to them. Pain, however small, is a warning sign. It’s not the time to test their mental toughness. If I have a kid come up to me and tell me their achilles or knee or anything else doesn’t feel right, I have them step out. There is no point in continuing until you know what you’re dealing with.
Most kids are smart enough to know if they’re done or not, even if it’s just for the day. Plenty of times I’ve had an athlete stop training for a moment just for them to “walk it off” whatever it was and resume training. However, there are kids that may think they have to train through pain when it’s actually smarter to live to fight another day.
I tell athletes that there is a difference between feedback and complaining. I need to know when something is a problem.
Another way I try to reduce the risk of injury is by the 95% cap rule. Just like lifting 95% of your max is heavy, running at 95% is still fast. Even when I call for “game speed” maybe after a jog practice or a drill, my athletes know it’s a 95% cap. That might be a fine line but it’s the principle that training fast doesn’t mean as fast as possible.
Very rarely do I ever compete in training. Even when I do, it’s a controlled setting with something like the hurdle races and ladder races. In that instance, I’m not worried about a hamstring pull. However, when we get on a track it’s a very strict rule of no racing.
I know there are more things that I never do but that might not come to mind because out of sight out of mind. The most important takeaway is knowing why you don’t do things just as much as knowing why you do do things.
Are there things you don’t do in speed training for any particular reason? Comment below.