When do you start speed work? This is the question that I am asked most often. The answer is quite simple… We start speed work on the very first day of track practice.
There are two ways that I look at the word speed. The word speed as a noun– makes me think of top end speed or velocity with regards to running. And then the word speed as a verb, which reminds me of accelerating to top end velocity.
Speed as a noun:
1. Physics: The rate or a measure of the rate of motion, especially:
a. Distance traveled divided by the time of travel.
b. The limit of this quotient as the time of travel becomes vanishingly small; the first derivative of distance with respect to time.
c. The magnitude of a velocity.
2. Swiftness of action.
a. The act of moving rapidly.
b. The state of being in rapid motion; rapidity.
Speed as a verb:
1. To cause to go, move, or proceed quickly; hasten.
2. To increase the speed or rate of; accelerate
3. To move, work, or happen at a faster rate; accelerate
On the first day of track practice each year, the athletes and I work on proper acceleration. This action is the first part of every sprint race. If the acceleration goes wrong, so does the rest of the race. It’s literally like a domino effect.
Working on acceleration is not top end speed, however it is the execution of moving up to top end speed properly. Race car drivers need to go through their gears in an appropriate manner and so do sprinters. Most young sprinters try to go from 1st to 6th gear in 2 steps out of the blocks. This does not work!
Acceleration is also neurological in nature because the workouts and movements are done at 100% effort. Therefore, I can confidently say that we work on speed on the first day of practice.
Harvard Track & Field
Sprints, Hurdles, Relays
Teach a warm up that prepares the body for acceleration. The warm up may include things like:
1. Barefoot Preparation: multiple barefoot walks on the grass (prepare the feet for ground contact)
2. Joint Mobility: Ankle, knee, hips, trunk, elbow, and wrist circles (make sure the joints are prepared for a full range of motion)
3. Various skipping exercises for 30m down and back (60m total). The skipping exercises are not only a light plyometric effect that will help warm the body up, but also work on coordination.
4. Dynamic Mobility: the body is warm from the skipping so it is time open things up even more with exercises such as forward and backwards hips circles, fire hydrants, iron cross, inverted splits and scissors, linear and lateral leg swings, etc…
5. Acceleration drills: the body should be fully prepared at this point for acceleration movements. Drills may include the wall drills and bullet belt drills (walking, skipping, marching, march & release, and run & release).
6. Acceleration movements: The body is completely warm and ready to go full steam ahead. These acceleration movements will have a heavy emphasis on neuromuscular coordination. Movements may include:
A) Jumper Start (2 pushes)
B) Crouch Start (3 pushes)
C) Bow-Touch-Go Start (4 pushes)
D) 3 Point Start (5 pushes)
E) 4 Point Start (6 Pushes)
F) Push Up Start (7 pushes)
G) Various Starts with a Light Sled (8-10 pushes)
H) Block Starts (various pushes)
In section 6, the acceleration movements go in order from shortest to longest, easiest to hardest, as well as getting closer and closer to the ground. As the athlete moves closer to the ground it is harder to push long into a good acceleration position. If an athlete can’t do the first two movements correctly then the athlete probably will fail epically with the rest of the movements.
Another note in section 6, I make all of the athletes do each exercise an even number of times. So…if the athlete does 2x Jumper Start the first time the right leg may be forward so the second time the left leg should be forward. Ask the athletes to alternate the front leg with each repetition during these movements. This teaches the athlete to push and extend with each leg. I can’t tell you how many times I see young athletes extend off the front block looking like a million bucks then forget to keep pushing on the next step. Alternating front legs helps coordinate the body and create a little more symmetry.
Truth be told, on day one I probably won’t teach all 8 acceleration movements. I’ll have the athletes do a lot of repetitions of A & B. If the athletes look good, the following week I will introduce C and D. I will keep adding an acceleration movement or two each week until we have covered all 8 movements.
After completing 6-8 repetitions of A & B on Day 1, I will teach the athletes how to do SLJ (standing long jump) correctly. SLJ reinforces driving the body into a straight stick with a tremendous amount of force (a la pushing out of the blocks) then landing in the sand pit.
The next explosive movement I will teach is the UHF (underhand forward throw). Again…this movement reinforces driving the body into a straight stick with a tremendous amount of force (a la pushing out of the blocks) then throwing a medicine ball or shot put.
After we finish UHF the athletes will move to the weight room where the focus will be on explosive lifts (clean or snatch). It is day one so we will be far more concerned with technique than the amount of weight that is being moved.
It is only Day 1 and the athletes are already working on speed. Neuromuscular coordination takes weeks if not months to improve and years to perfect. Speed is not something you can throw into workouts late in the season and expect great results. Speed work starts on Day 1.
I post daily workouts during the season. You can see all of them by following me on Twitter:
Marc Mangiacotti is an assistant track coach at Harvard University in Cambridge, MA.