Speed training complex: how to improve your speed!

Speed training is of very great importance not only in ball sports. Training variations to improve speed also play a very important role in other sports such as track and field. Become nimbler and more efficient – we tell you how!

Is rapidity trainable?

The use of speed training is very broad: Studies have even examined the effect of speed training in seniors on everyday performance and come to positive evaluations.(1) Learn the basics of speed training and the best exercises for your training sessions!

Just a few years ago, speed training was highly questioned in terms of its adaptability. This is because speed ability was essentially reduced to the energetic component and viewed in conjunction with muscle fiber distribution. A large number of fast type-IIx fibers was seen as a basic requirement for speed performance, often combined with the assumption that changing muscle fiber composition was not possible.

Currently, the view prevails that an adapted, goal-oriented training program can indeed massively improve speed.(2)

Which muscles are needed for sprinting, and why are there fast and slow muscle fibers??

Depending on the enzyme content and contraction properties, slow muscle fibers (type I) are distinguished from fast muscle fibers (type II). Among the fast muscle fiber types, a mixed type (type IIa) is still distinguished from the fastest fibers (type IIx). The muscle fiber types differ both in the motor neurons they supply and in the stimulus response they give to a signal, as well as in the energy they provide.

The slower muscle fibers produce maximally lower tension values, but have a higher number of cellular power plants and can thus provide energy for a very long time. The lack of anaerobic capacity is due to a poorer supply of the appropriate enzyme systems, so that lower amounts of energy are generated anaerobically.

However, this is important in order to be able to generate as much energy as possible quickly. Fast muscle fibers are innervated by large motor neurons and can deliver a lot of energy, very quickly, due to the enzyme content. Overall, they are thus also able to generate greater tensions.

How important is the proportion of fast muscle fibers in speed training??

With every contraction, no matter how strong it is, the muscles first activate slow type I muscle fibers. With increasing strength more and more fast muscle fibers are added. The greater the proportion of fast muscle fibers, the faster a contraction can occur and the greater the maximum tension states that can be achieved. Based on these physiological principles, the muscle fiber distribution is seen as the most important influencing factor for speed training. In addition to the 3 muscle fiber types mentioned above, there appear to be other mixed types whose differences at the sarcomere level lie in the proteins involved.

Can muscle fibers be transformed?

From the point of view of training practice, it is important whether muscle fibers are changeable or whether one is really "born" to be a sprinter. However, this question cannot be answered conclusively. Experiments have shown that type IIx fibers are transformed into type IIa fibers by appropriate training. Apparently, strength training can result in a conversion of fast muscle fibers to medium-fast muscle fibers. In addition, there is evidence that high-intensity training with weights in combination with anaerobic interval training sessions can lead to a conversion of type I muscle fibers into medium-fast muscle fibers.

If this is true, improvements in speed are not only conceivable by training the neuronal control or the muscular interaction, but also with regard to the muscle structure. However, it seems that changes can only be triggered in specially predisposed muscle fibers. It is assumed that only approx. 20% of all muscle fibers are modifiable. Thus, the distribution of muscle fibers plays an important role, although at least partial changes can be triggered by training. However, the transformation through training only remains stable as long as training is carried out accordingly. Without appropriate stimuli, the fibers regress again.

What is the best way to train my speed??

Speed training is often equated with various strength training techniques that are suboptimal for developing a fast-twitch performance. Thus, for a long time, training with moderate weights in strength training at a high output speed has been called a fast strength method. However, when looking at a force-time curve, it can be assumed that this method is inferior to training with maximum loads.

When considering strength training, it is necessary to differentiate between the speed of movement and the speed of contraction. With maximum loads, the goal must be to work against the load with an explosive contraction. Although from the outside the movement will look slow, if the trainee explosively tenses against it, a large number of motor units will be recruited at once and the increase in force, the so-called explosive force, will take a steeper course. The maximum number of motor units that can be recruited depends on the maximum force.

If you accelerate only small loads, you will generate a fast movement motorically, but the measured force values will be lower compared to a maximum contraction! Training with maximum loads thus forms the basis of speed training, but can also be supplemented by methods that focus on speed of movement! The basis of high-speed strength training is therefore the maximum force method, in which very high loads are moved around 95-100% of the 1 repetition maximum (RM). 4-5 sets of 1-3 repetitions are recommended.

Hypertrophy for the slow type!

Since muscle fiber distribution has a lasting effect on speed performance, there is another effect of strength training that needs to be discussed in the context of speed training. Fast type II muscle fibers respond more strongly to a training stimulus aimed at muscle growth, so hypertrophy training may result in increased muscle growth of fast muscle fibers.

Thus, although the number of fast muscle fibers does not increase, the proportion of the total muscle cross-section does. Thus, strength training with the goal of increasing the muscle cross-section can also lead to increased speed. This happens against the background that you increase the volume of the fast muscle fibers. Given the mechanisms of adaptation at the morphological level and also at the neural level, it appears that strength training can be associated with improved fast strength and thus increased speed due to different adaptive responses.

Both the hypertrophy method, which aims to increase muscle mass, and maximum strength training, which is less likely to increase muscle mass, lead to corresponding adaptations. The myth, still widespread among coaches, that strength training makes athletes slow is in any case ripe for the realm of fables! Strength increases movement speed. This applies to top athletes in various sports. The same is true for seniors, for whom speed in everyday actions can be optimized, for example, to enable crossing a traffic light within the green phase.

How to train your speed?

In many sports, linear running distances are limited. Especially in ball sports, longer linear sprints are a rarity. And if they occur once, then rarely so long that the possible maximum speed is attainable at all.(2) Most athletes reach their individual maximum speed at ca. 40-60 meters.

How to get faster in soccer?

However, most sprints in soccer end at an average of 25 meters, in basketball and handball the approaches are even shorter. (2) For this reason, especially in specific speed training, special focus is placed on the acceleration phase. Train specifically kicking off from different positions, in connection with special tasks, such as receiving the ball. These exercises should take up a large volume in speed training.

Speed training: consider the complexity of the movement

In many training contents, the focus of the muscles used is on the front of the leg. It is important that the back muscles are also adequately loaded. It must also always be taken into account that the leg flexors, in addition to their function as flexors, primarily act as "extensors" in the hip. The hip-extending ischiocrural muscles on the back of the thigh in particular are a very important part of the acceleration-related musculature.

The same applies to the gluteal muscles. However, classic exercises in the coordination ladder focus on the muscles of the front side due to the foot position and the leg position.(2) The hip-extending muscles are adequately and time-effectively trained, for example, with the "rip" or "reposition" exercises. However, these exercises do not replace isolated leg bending, especially when the focus is on the ischiocruciate muscles.

Complementary training equipment in speed training

Particularly when it comes to sprinting and quickness skills, a wide range of aids have developed in recent years, the primary aim of which is to create increased resistance during the usual quickness performances. In these so-called "pull resistance" runs, the athlete is simply slowed down during a "normal" sprint run. This is done, for example, with rubber bands, where the coach and the athlete each wear a "harness" around the torso and a rubber rope has a braking effect.

But also train sleds loaded with weight discs, are widely used. Just like brake parachutes or simply car tires that you have to pull. Disadvantage of such methods is that running economy can be influenced. In top-class sports, when it is a matter of tickling every performance reserve out of the highly trained body, exercises with resistance can be a possibility to work on the absolute top form – but only after the basis has been laid in the strength training or. other forms of speed training have been extensively integrated into the training process.

Our conclusion on speed training

If you look at the training practice in speed training in recent years, the training has developed significantly. Whereas for a long time the focus of training efforts was on fast movement execution, the view of speed training is clearly influenced by insights into physiology and the dimensions of speed.

On the one hand, specific training plays an important role – you train sprinting by sprinting. As another foundation, strength skills training should be the focus of both athlete and coach. The realization that maximum strength is closely related to speed and quickness is fundamental. The speed of movement during strength training is less important, but the speed of contraction is very!

Important tips for your speed training

  • maximal strength training improves your speed.
  • Periodize your strength training. and maximal strength training must be tailored to specific sports.
  • Speed training with braking elements can be performed as a complementary exercise.

Author: Dennis Sandig


  1. Journal of Aging Physical Activity, 2009, vol. 17, S. 257-271
  2. NSCA’s Performance Training Journal, 2011, vol. 10 (4), S. 6

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About the author

Dennis Sandig worked as a sports scientist at the Institute of Sports Science at the Julius-Maximilians University in Wurzburg, Germany. Currently, he is the science coordinator and education officer at the German Triathlon Union, as well as responsible for the comprehensive education and training program for coaches in triathlon.

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