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FITNESS Training for speed

The need for speed

Paul O’Brien

A good start is half the battle. A well know quip that speaks of a deeper truth. When it comes to competitive sport, the importance of a good pre-season is paramount. It can be the determining factor in a championship-winning season or a podium finish in the regional or even national athletics meetings.
There are many facets to pre-season training. In this and forthcoming articles, I will focus on one particular aspect – speed.
Developing speed is vital in many team and individual sports. Speed development training also differs depending on the sport you are involved in. For example, the type of speed required by a 100-meter sprinter is very different to that required by a wing-forward or back-row athlete in team sports. Our focus here will be on team sports.
Speed development translates to the playing arena in a number of ways – outpacing an opponent, catching an opponent and making a challenge, bursts of speed over varying distances of up to about 40m, speed with directional change and accelerating speed among others. In the end, we’re talking about those split seconds or inches that separate champions from also-rans.

Pre-season programme
In developing a pre-season speed development programme for teams, a number of preliminary questions need to be asked:

1    What is the goal for the season ahead – win a championship? Gain promotion? This is the cornerstone of your plan. It’s the driving motivator you will fall back on, when training is tough or setbacks occur. In short, it gives your training a focus.

2    What are the specific demands for the sport? These can be determined by close analysis of games and will include aerobic and anaerobic conditioning, aspects of speed (accelerating, agility, directional change speed etc), strength, power (strength and speed).
3    What training drills are necessary to develop the areas identified in Question 2? Examples of these will be looked at in a future article. A key point to consider is the players’ current ability and/or fitness level. For example, training anaerobic endurance is not possible without a good base of aerobic conditioning, so this will need to be addressed first. You will also need to look at other components of fitness that are vital in the development of speed – strength, co-ordination and flexibility).

4 Does a programme of rehabilitation need to be prescribed for any player before moving onto game-specific speed development?

Once these questions are addressed, the next step is to build a progressive speed-training programme for your pre-season. This will detail a week-by-week progressive training programme, building from general to specific conditioning.
In next weeks’ article, we will look in more detail at identifying the specific demands of your sport. What are you looking for? How do you break a game down into its component parts? How do you identify training needs and use this as the basis to build a training programme? Doing this will help you hit the ground running when the season begins. Preparing for the battle is the key to winning the war…