Designing your speed program

"You get what you train for"

We know a standard basketball court is 94 feet long and the nature of play is centralized either around the basket or around the arc. Change of direction is imminent, though fast breaks allow for fast movement of the ball in a short amount of time to the opposite side of the court.

A soccer pitch can exceed 100 yards, yet the nature of play is condensed in the box. Again, change of direction is imminent. Counterattacks can assist by using quick movement in a short amount of time to go the distance.

Football’s nature of play is also centralized around a box (the end zone), though any number of plays can take place on the open field requiring a player to be quick. Even tennis requires quick movement.

You’ve probably determined this week’s theme focuses on quickness, which by definition, is the quality of moving fast or doing something in a short period of time. With relation to the examples above, quickness within sports can simply be thought of as speed in a small space. That’s not all. Athletes need breakaway speed, closing speed, and the ability to start and stop – fast! Now, we just need to decide how far, how much, and how often we should train.


For each program component, I want to discuss some of the challenges that I know you deal with. When I was traveling the great state of Texas consulting with coaches and parents, I heard the same three things: “I don’t have a lot of time. I don’t have a lot of space. I don’t have a lot of equipment.” Let’s address those common concerns by delving into how one might design a speed program to increase speed.

To start, let’s not focus on what you don’t have. You can only control what you do have. Like Stevie Wonder said, “You gots to work with what you gots to work with.” I will present the best-case scenario and you can adapt from there. After all, those who survive are those who most readily adapt to change.


One of the easiest things to do when designing any training program is to simply be aware of relevant conflicts. This could be competition days, reporting days, and even holidays. Once you know which days can be training days, you can schedule accordingly. Obviously, your off-season will allot for more training time, but don’t neglect training when you’re in-season.


Speed training doesn’t demand the same resources as strength training. Everybody has access to the great outdoors and there is likely a track, field or hill close enough to utilize for training, weather permitting. As for indoor space, you may have to get more creative, but you can still be efficient with just a small space.

Adding easily accessible items you most likely already have such as belts, bands, and cables are nice, but all speed training requires is space. An example of how you can develop more speed with no equipment is to make time to run high-speed 110’s on a track, or the fastest surface available to you. No matter what sport you play, this is one of the best drills you can do to accelerate (pun intended) your speed development.


In summary, a program for speed training should be on its own schedule; any conditioning tied to the speed training should be relevant to each training session. You should plan for two days (in a calendar week during the off-season) of true speed training. This can be increased to four days, but remember we want the body to absorb the training. In-season should have at least one day of speed training to stay consistent.


Once your body is exposed to a stressor, it remembers what it feels. This makes it necessary to revisit the same stressor no more than once per week. It is also very important to understand that sprint strides are like weight room reps. You put more weight on the bar to get stronger; your sprint strides need to be fast to get faster. If you fatigue during the run, it becomes conditioning, not speed training. Compromising speed training by turning it into conditioning is one of the biggest mistakes I see.


That leaves us with the need to alternate stressors. In the context of a speed program, that means an anaerobic day followed by an aerobic day followed by more anaerobic running the next day (if you are training three consecutive days). Rest between anaerobic days is most important when the intensity is heavy or the athletes haven’t developed the capacity yet.

Of your anaerobic days, I recommend a combination of short distances and medium-length distances. I qualify short as 40 yards and below. Medium-length distance I qualify as 50 to 120 yards, though the age of the athlete will dictate what’s appropriate. Aerobic days – at least with youth athletes – will comprise anything beyond 120 yards or longer than 30 seconds.

For warm-ups, the ladders and/or hurdles act as an extended warmup on the way to full speed–most days. The hurdles can even be a stand-alone workout, but we will talk more about how the ladder and hurdles “teach the feet” another day.


Now that we’ve covered the basic principles of a speed program design, let’s review some drill examples in relation to specific sports.


Within the game of football, a play lasts about five seconds. It would be impractical to run five-second sprints 60 times daily during practice as a drill. Furthermore, we cannot replicate the exact movements that will take place during a play. The 5-10-5 Shuttle drill, a 20-yard drill that takes about five seconds to complete, is a good drill selection. It is also tested at combines, so every athlete needs to be familiar with it.


Basketball has moving components during plays, such as ‘pick-and-roll’ and defensive switches. The three-cone “L” drill, a 30-yard drill, fits the angles and rotation of basketball gameplay. Also, back-and-forth fast breaks or run-and-gun style offenses may need to utilize the giant shuttle in training which doubles the distance of a regular shuttle.

Other Sports

Since conditioning is a by-product of training for speed, I encourage you to prioritize the speed element. In order to get fast, you have to run fast. Allow your sport to influence your distance and volume. For example, softball and baseball are similar, however there is a distance variation between the base plates and a different amount of innings. As you can see, even similar sports will require variations in the training programs.

"There's no answer for speed, except more speed." -Coach King

The caveat to sport-specific speed training? Neglecting the fundamentals, such as starting and braking. The goal of training is to not only improve performance, but to help limit injuries. Your sport will often have a natural effect with what you don’t do just as much as you should do. At the end of the day, you get what you train for. Just ask Maverick and Goose in Top Gun, “I feel the need, the need for speed!”

Next week we are going to go deeper into strength training.



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