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Designing an effective speed-training program - Part 4

Patrick Beith continues his series of articles designing an effective speed training programme by providing an overview of the six fundamental training principles.

One of the main problems that many coaches and athletes have in training speed is looking at the topic through a very narrow lens. Maximal speed development is far more than just running some 40s. With bio-motor development, every single microcycle should address all five bio-motor abilities. But where you are in your training plan will determine the degree of emphasis placed there. Everything you do in your training must be done for a reason. We live in a universe based on the order. Everything that happens for a reason that, given enough time, can be specifically identified. That is why each element of an effective speed training program must be based on sound scientific and physiological principles. There are six fundamental training principles that I think should be addressed so far as building a foundation for understanding how you should approach designing a speed training program.

1. Adaptation

Adaptation is the adjustment or enhancement of fitness ('fitness' being a very general term for the sum of the entire training process) that comes from your specific speed training protocols. Proper adaptation is the effect of stable changes caused by the training sessions you implement. Examples are the reduced resting heart rate seen following an endurance training program and increased muscle fibre diameter after a period of strength training (Lamb 1978). As I said before, everything happens for a reason. The effectiveness of your adaptation stems from the effectiveness of your training. However, keep in mind that the transformation rate depends on such factors as sex, genetics, biological age, training age, level of fitness, and motivation. Such factors (called 'bio-variability') must be considered when establishing your speed training program's goals.

2. Individualisation

This is where you adjust your training methods to the particular adaptive ability and response of one specific athlete. This has to be done as much as possible to get the best results. Biodiversity is a very real, very obvious factor. Giving all your athletes the same generic program to follow will result in the same generic results. It cannot be emphasized enough that you must individualize your athlete's program. If you are working 1:1 or with small groups, the program is easily tailored to the individual needs. I understand firsthand, however, the difficulties presented in training the speed of a team of 30, 40 even 50+ athletes and still individualizing the program. There are solutions to this that I will get into later, but such things as testing, goal setting meetings, and organization are the first steps toward getting the most out of your athletes. Breaking goals and expectations down based on training age, fastest times, strength levels, etc. will produce far greater results than the 'one size fits all' ideology employed in most programs.

3. Overload

Overload can be termed as any training stimulus significant enough to elicit an adaptive response. For athletes to continue to adapt, the stimulus has to be increased along specific lines. The degree of this increased load can be measured by:

  • Volume
  • Intensity
  • Density
  • Duration

Volume can be measured by the number of repetitions performed, the total distance run, or the total weight lifted. For example 10x30m = a volume of 300 meters 5 sets of 5 squats at 225 pounds = a volume of 5625 pounds.

Intensity is the percent of maximum performance that a particular exercise is performed. An athlete with a personal best in the 100m dash of 11.0 seconds who performs one run at 11.55 seconds equals an intensity of 95%.

Density is the amount of recovery between bouts of exercise, but about the amount of time said exercise takes to complete. An interval workout where an athlete runs for 45 seconds and jogs for 90 seconds is less dense than a workout where the athlete runs for 45 seconds and rests for 45 seconds.

Duration relates to the amount of time the athlete is exercising as opposed to recovering from that exercise. A sprinter's interval workout of 10x200m may have a duration of 5 minutes even though the workout lasts 30+ minutes while a speed workout of 6x50m lasting the same length of time may have a duration of only 30 - 40 seconds. It is important to consider all these factors and their impact on general adaptation when designing your speed training program.

4. Restoration

Restoration, or recovery, is the athlete's aid to return to their normal state through massage, nutrition, hydration, recovery work, rest, and relaxation. The term also refers to the amount of time required to go from the fatigued post-workout state to the point of super adaptation. For example, it may take 48-72 hours to fully recover from an intense neuromuscular training session. Adaptation takes place, not from the workout itself, but from the effectiveness of the recovery mechanisms employed between (in the case of speed development) neuromuscular training days.

5. Reversibility

Also known as 'detraining', this is the loss of adaptation due to either lack of or inadequate training stimulus. How long it takes to start to 'get out of shape' depends on many variables and is of particular concern in track and field athletes during the peaking phase. For example, aerobic enzyme production begins to decrease after just 24 hours. Yet strength may be maintained for several weeks of inactivity, though muscle fibre size will decrease fairly quickly.

6. Specificity

Once you lay a foundation of general fitness in the preparation phases, your training must evolve toward your athletes and the sport's specific speed requirements. While general conditioning will positively affect other systems, maximal training response comes from training designed to stress the systems specific to that sport or event, at the intensity of and duration of the event. This is why you cannot run slow all the time and get fast. An example would be improved reaction time and acceleration following a series of starting practice sessions. By considering how these factors will affect your athletes, you are better positioned to design a specific, individualized and effective speed training program for your athletes, regardless of the degree of bio-variability within the group. In the next issue, we look at the energy and body systems that we are training when trying to develop our athletes' speed.

Article Reference

This article first appeared in:

  • BETH, P. (2007) Designing an effective speed-training program - Part 4. Brian Mackenzie's Successful Coaching, (ISSN 1745-7513/ 42/ May), p. 10-11

Page Reference

If you quote information from this page in your work, then the reference for this page is:

  • BETH, P. (2007) Designing an effective speed-training program - Part 4 [WWW] Available from: [Accessed

About the Author

Patrick Beth is a co-owner of Athletes' Acceleration, Inc, a company devoted to performance enhancement whose mission is to improve motivated coaches and athletes' knowledge base to enhance athletic performance. He is a Performance Consultant certified by the National Strength and Conditioning Association (CSCS), the American Council of Sports Medicine (HFI), and the National Academy of Sports Medicine (PES). He is a USA Track and Field Level II Coach in the Sprints, Hurdles, and Jumps.