Speed Training Themes

They Drive Everything

Last week, I talked about High Speed 110’s; it’s one of my favorite speed workouts. That workout is born out of the speed training themes. Our program lives and dies by training themes. Training themes dominate everything.

From the start of a training day, the theme will impact drill selection for dynamic warm up and speed lead up. This can direct whether it's a ladder day or a hurdle day for whichever impulse training may be more relevant. Then, when you ramp up the training into whatever theme you’re focusing on, you have particular drills that serve the goals of your training program.

I want to take the time to lay out what the themes are and how you can use them to form a template for program design.

    The speed themes are:

  • •0-10

  • •Change of Direction (COD)

  • •0-30

  • •As-sport-specific-as-possible COD

Quick reminder, this is about speed training themes and you may wonder where conditioning fits in. Well, that's a bonus to this style of training. Everything is high speed, so conditioning is built in. Specific conditioning is modified to account for the speed of training.


This is a focus on starts and short, explosive takeoffs.

I talked about Step One for the 40 Start, but this goes beyond the combine test and the sport of football. It’s the theme that cares about being fast early no matter what your sport.

The objective is to improve acceleration. I remind my athletes if steps one and two are good, then steps three-four-five-six and so forth, will be fine.

However, this doesn’t mean you can’t do anything longer than 10 yards. Aside from speed breaks, which are typically 20-30 yards, you can do drills like speed ladders which can be adapted. I’ll mention them in a bit, but the point is the theme doesn’t restrict you.

In sports, like track, with events, like the 400 meters, if you have a sloppy start, you have room to recover. That is a particular event, though. In most sports, you don’t have much room to recover.

The 0-10 theme feature drills that train athletes to be fast in a small space when their sport, like many court sports, for example, doesn’t afford them time or space to make up for getting beat.

A very important point about training distances for 0-10 training: Your body adapts wonderfully to what you do. In this case, if you are convinced that your athletic world would change if you were faster in the first 10 yards and you constantly trained at 10-20 yards, chances are you would improve at that distance. The problem is if (and I had one guy who came in and had been doing just that) you load up on 10 and 20 yard starts, your body will shut it down at 21 yards. That one guy is enough to prove the point, so don’t be that guy. Great at 10, nothing at 40. Our training range lives from 0-110 yards.


The goal of this theme is improving top-end speed. The objective is about getting high-speed sprint strides. Sprint strides are like weight room reps. You put more weight on the bar to get stronger; you get faster by getting good quality sprint strides.

Just like the 0-10 theme doesn’t relegate you to ten yards, this theme does not relegate you to 30-yard sprints. Distance is something I talked about last week. Different distances during speed training is about keeping the body guessing.

As a reminder, it is important to run distances where you can maintain speed at 90-95% effort. The longer you run, the more ground contacts each foot makes which translates to reps. Still, you don’t have to run 110 yards for it to count. When training indoors, you might be maxed out at 30 yards anyway.

I care about quality over quantity. With speed training, if you start to fatigue, you’re compromising the integrity of the speed training.

As for quantity and volume, it is important to log total training distance over the time of a training cycle. You want to make it compatible with other training done so as to not overtrain or be unnecessarily redundant.

Change of Direction

Change of direction (COD) is the development of agility and quickness and the overall ability to change quickly.

It also is another way conditioning is built into the program. Change of direction is the hardest thing on the legs. Having to start, stop, and start over at full speed is high intensity running.

This theme has two subsets: general and sport-specific.

1. General COD

This covers the fundamental movement patterns of forward, backpedal, shuffle, and crossover. It also covers the basic angles you change direction. At the very least I want my athletes to train turns at 180º and 90º. Many drills will feature more acute or more obtuse angles but this is what you see in standard drills like the pro shuttle and the three-cone “L” drill.

2. Sport-Specific COD

This subset itself has different categories. Change of direction looks a little different for field sports and court sports. Court sports typically operate in a shorter space while field sports have more space. I allow that to influence angles and distances of the drills. The drills themselves can mimic as specific of a situation as the athlete may face in his or her sport.

One thing that is important to note about the change of direction theme is that drills can be easily adapted to your resources. I call it “shrink-to-fit.” This is typically due to scenarios where your space is limited. For example a 5-10-5 pro shuttle can be condensed to a 4-8-4 shuttle.


Themes can overlap and so conditioning is built in. As you know, I focus on speed first. So the conditioning element of high-speed drills is how it primarily gets covered.

If you can run all day but can’t catch anybody, or if you can’t escape from anybody, it doesn’t matter. I’m not concerned with how fit you are if you’re slow. It reminds me of how soccer players are often encouraged to run cross country.


Soccer players already can run all day. They need to be able to separate and close.

So focus on speed first. After the athletes have fatigued on the front-end of a workout from training fast, you start getting more of the conditioning element in the back half of a workout anyways.

Then there are stand-alone conditioning workouts. The drill I talked about last week, the High Speed 110’s, is just one form of doing that distance. The traditional 110 strides aren’t high speed. Give your athletes a time to make them in like 17-23 seconds and give them a shorter rest. So instead of a 3-5 minute range like with the High Speed 110’s, they have 45-90 seconds instead. (A minute and a half of rest would result from a walk-back-and-go at that distance.) Those reps can be increased in time from eight to 16 as they get in better shape.

It has long been a popular conditioning test in football, though recently I’ve noticed more creativity in how football coaches approach the conditioning test. Some do different distances for different positions. Some do longer shuttles. Whatever works.

In a couple weeks, I’m going to touch more on conditioning tests. So be on the lookout for that.

Active Recovery

This is an aerobic element of the program. This could simply be a one mile jog, tempo runs or a fartlek that has some degree of interval for jog and walk. This is also a good day to polish technique.

The goal of active recovery is like it sounds. Loosen up the body, stimulate some blood flow, get the heart rate going and benefit from some light cardiovascular work.

Speed Ladders

Now that I’ve covered the basic themes, let’s give an example of it in action. I’m going to do this by referring to another one of my favorite drills, the speed ladder.

Speed ladders are a good example of a versatile drill that can adapt to different days. They are a good way to combine speed and conditioning and make it relevant to the sport being trained. It is not a pure conditioning mode, though. Like I just said, high speed is the top priority.

For a speed ladder you assign a series of distances to sprint in ascending order, e.g., 40-60-80. You may also choose to occasionally do it pyramid style by descending after the furthest distance is complete, so for example, 40-60-80-60-40.

I consider a “short” speed ladder one where the distances are all shorter than 100 meters (the aforementioned 40-60-80). However on a 0-10 day, you may be looking at condensing to a 10-15-20-25-30 speed ladder.

A “long” speed ladder would include reps longer than 100 meters. So that could look like 80-100-120. This would work on a 0-30 day.

As with all of my work, it is important to quantify the total distance in a session. A long speed ladder doesn’t necessarily equate to more volume. How many sets you do matters. Two sets of 80-100-120 is less volume (40 meters of total distance) than three sets of 40-60-80 (540 meters of total distance).

The sport matters, too. Track and field may use distances like 300-400-500. Court sports may prefer short speed ladders. Take the 10-15-20-25-30 one that I alluded to. Field sports may use long speed ladders more frequently, but they still can’t neglect training 0-10.

In case you’re wondering, execution is simple. Each distance is sprinted with a walk-back recovery. The athlete immediately goes when they return to the start.


The last thing I want to cover is how I like to use those themes to start building a program.

When programming, we start with Day 1. Day 1 can be a Monday, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s simply the first day of the training week, which can be a Tuesday coming off a holiday. Which is one way that Thursday becomes the Third Day.

I like to start a week with the 0-10 theme. I then like to alternate linear days with change of direction.

So a basic schedule might look something like this for a five-day training week:

  • Day 1 : 0-10

  • Day 2 : COD

  • Day 3 : 0-30

  • Day 4 : Sport COD

  • Day 5 : Active Recovery

I’m aware that many schools have gone to 4-day weeks for off-season, so just adjust accordingly. If athletes are getting rest, the four consecutive days of pure speed training is perfectly fine.

“Every day”



Recent Posts