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Jamie Martin-Grace Dec 15, 2019 12:00:00 PM 11 min read

An Argument for Training Speed

Speed is a Rising Tide

Today, I’m making the argument for speed.

No, not that speed.

I’m talking about human speed. Sprinting. Accelerating. Striding full tilt, covering spans in the blink of an eye. That’s the kind of speed I’m talking about.

What happened to speed? When did zumba, ab-attacks, and dark rooms filled with people riding bikes (with the brakes on) listening to the latest pop remixes overtake it? And why? Training for speed is one of the most under-utilised training methods out there, yet it has arguably the largest performance enhancing potential!

You may have heard of the saying;

“A rising tide lifts all boats”

I believe speed is a rising tide, and here are my reasons why.

Getting there first! - Speed & Acceleration

Let’s address the obvious one first: Getting there first matters! Whether you’re chasing a through pass in hockey, making that cover tackle after a line-break in rugby, or getting onto that loose ball in football, being the first person there matters. It wins you possession. Space. Time. All premium resources in these sports. Having speed presents you with options, and the more options you have, the more of a threat you are. If you have speed, you’re in control. You decide when the tackle happens, where it happens, or even if it happens. You being a threat means your opposition has to respect you! No-one is too worried about making sure the slowest player on the pitch is well marked, but the fastest? Better double mark them, just in case.

If you’re still not convinced, think of the 5 most prolific players in your sport, and I guarantee you they are some of the fastest players in their position (yes, even the props).

Moving Swiftly On - Speed & Agility

Maybe your sport is less linear than these sports. Maybe your sport is characterised by agility! The ability to step around someone in a space the size of a phone booth. To make sudden explosive movements. Well, let’s stop and dissect, what is agility? You can argue that truly agile players are able to maintain a high speed during changes of direction, holding their top speed as they swerve into that gap in the defence, no defender able to react in time to even get a hand on them. Or you might define it as player’s ability to reduce speed, change direction and accelerate back to a high speed in a heartbeat, leaving only defenders snapped ankles in their wake. Both of these require speed; top speed, and acceleration respectively. You may know a few slow players that you might classify as agile, but I would be amazed if you knew any truly fast players that weren’t agile at all.

Gas in the tank - Speed Reserve

“But Jamie, I’m a (corner-back / second row / marathon runner / any other sport that thinks endurance is more important than speed)! How could I possibly benefit from training speed over endurance?”

It’s a good question, and listen, I understand where you’re coming from. You’re probably thinking about how in your sport, or your position, how rare it is that you ever even get up to top speed. Am I right? It’s true! Most efforts within any given sport are submaximal. You’re not running at your top speed, so why train it?

Let me introduce you to a little thing called “Speed Reserve”.

Imagine the following. We have a player whose top speed is currently 10 metres per second (m/s). They play a sport, where the average pace of the game is 6m/s. So to keep up with the pace of the game, this player works at an effort that’s 60% of their max (some of you already see where I’m going with this). Now, let’s take the same player, put them through a sprint training block, and after some inhuman improvements (for the sake of easy math), they improve their top speed to 12m/s. The pace of the game hasn’t changed. It’s still 6m/s. But now, to keep up with the pace of the game, the player only has to work at 50% of their maximum effort! They have an extra 10% in the tank! That’s huge. They can either continue at the pace of the game for longer, or work at their new 60% (7.2m/s), and their opposition won’t be able to keep up! Boom! We just improved your fitness without having to do a single suicide run!

Source: John R. Grace Twitter Account

Learning to fly - Contact Time

This isn’t exclusive to field or court sports either. Yes, I see you marathon runners lurking back there. The above principle applies to you too! The faster you are at top speed, the easier it will be to maintain your race pace! You’ll be more efficient. Less sore. FASTER! And I have the math to prove it! But first, let me explain “Ground contact time”.

One thing that elite endurance runners appear to have in common, across all disciplines, is short ground contact time (GCT) during their strides. GCT is the amount of time your foot is in contact with the ground during a stride. Every time our foot strikes the ground, it acts as a brake, and we have to put more energy into the following stride to overcome this braking force and maintain our speed. It stands to reason then that the more time we spend in the air, the easier it will be to maintain our speed. So shorter GCT will lead to faster times, right? Time for the math.

The average GCT of a sub elite runner is 0.3 seconds, or 300 milliseconds.

The average number of strides to complete a marathon is somewhere between 55,000, and 65,000. Let’s call it 60,000 for convenience. If you can decrease your GCT by 1/100th of a second (yes, just 1 millisecond), and sustain that over your 60,000 strides, you will improve your marathon time by 10 minutes! If you can reduce it by 2/100ths of a second you could be looking at up to 20 minutes off your marathon time! Suddenly 30 minutes spent on your running mechanics is looking a lot more appealing than your 2 hour race pace runs at the weekend right?

Stay Tuned!

Listen, I can go on (and in the future I will), but if you’re not convinced at this point, I don’t have anything more to offer you. If, on the other hand, you want to become the nimble cheetah, instead of the dying wildebeest, then stay tuned for my future installments, where I’ll be writing about all things sprint and speed training.

Find Out More

If you are interested in finding out more about Speed Training with Coach Jamie, then email him at jamie@ffs.ie.

If you would like to register your interest in Jamie's upcoming Speed Training Course, fill out this Google form.

Jamie is also a Personal Trainer and Coach with FFS in both Leeson Street and Ivy Exchange Locations. If you would like to find out more about 1:1 training with Jamie, then email him at jamie@ffs.ie.

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Jamie Martin-Grace

Jamie is a Personal Trainer working with FFS, coaching classes, and helping clients become the strongest version of themselves. Jamie also specializes in running, whether you need to master the mechanics of 100m sprint, plan and prepare for a marathon, or complete your first 5km. He is current captain of DSDAC track and field, and is training to return to competitive events following a ruptured ACL.