This training program is primarily designed to improve out-and-out linear speed, ie 40m performance.
The program is suitable for all sportsmen and sportswomen who have been training consistently for a sport or in the gym for at least a year. You will need to have some basic strength levels and fitness before commencing the program. Speed training is very demanding and it places considerable strain on the body – in particular its soft tissue (ligaments, tendons and muscles). Although the program is progressive and develops speed and condition gradually, it is advantageous to have a base of fitness on which to build more specific and (positively) stressful speed specific fitness.
Footballers, rugby players, hockey players, tennis players and other racquet sport athletes as well as, more obviously, sprinters and track and field horizontal and vertical jump athletes will also benefit from the program.
Distance runners can also benefit, perhaps as a break from their normal steady-state aerobic based workouts and also as way to boost their running economy and speed. This is because the faster runner – whatever their distance – will be the winning athlete. Note: combining the speed program with high mileage will be counter-productive to the program’s desired outcome.
Do you need any specific equipment?
All the workouts use equipment that should easily be available. For the majority of the sprint work a running track is ideal, but dry flat grass will also be suitable. Do not train regularly on concrete because of the heavy impact forces involved. However, the occasional hill sprint session is acceptable on this surface – although these sessions should preferably be performed on suitable grassy terrain. You’ll also need a stopwatch – and ideally a training partner/coach so that you can record your times accurately. Note also: for some of the very heavy weight training sessions it is also advisable to have a training partner on hand to spot for you.
Depending on the time of the year you’ll need gear that keeps you warm or cool and dry. However, whatever the climatic conditions you should wear kit that enables you to move freely. Long or short sports tights are a good investment – these may or may not offer compression (compression garments are designed to support the muscles and research indicates that they can boost performance). (If you want to try compression gear, here is a LINK)
Ordinary training shoes will suffice initially for most of the workout, but if you are really serious about developing your speed then purchasing some speed training shoes/racing flats or even spikes will be advantageous. However, if you are not used to the latter you should progress carefully, perhaps only wearing them initially for a couple of runs in a session before wearing them consistently. They offer much less cushioning than training shoes and will place greater strain on your body due to the greater speeds achievable and forces that your body will be subject to. Pay particular attention to your Achilles tendons as they can be subject to soreness/injury even in the best conditioned athletes, when sprint training. Calf raises are included in the PP speed training program not only to power up these key sprint muscles but also to promote Achilles tendon resilience.
How often will I need to train?
The program involves 4-6 weekly sessions. These are designed to gradually progress your speed capability and develop your body’s resilience to them over time to avoid potential injury. The program is designed to bring you to a speed peak toward the end of the program.
Warm-up : Warming up for speed
You should use this workout prior to all your speed sessions. Note in the specific workouts that follow the number of sprint drills – also described as ‘dynamic mobility drills’ – are denoted. You should select the drills from the following and vary them from workout to workout when training – the number of repetitions and the intensities at which they should be performed (where relevant) is given in each workout program.
Go slow to go fast
If you have not trained regularly for speed and power then you will need to spend some time getting your body ready before you go flat out. This cautious approach will reduce injury risk and condition you to withstand the forces that your body will be subject to. Even if you are specifically well conditioned you should always approach a new drill or skill with appropriate caution. Just because you are fast in a straight line for example, will not make your body necessarily adept or conditioned to withstand fast changes of direction. Always underestimate what you think you can achieve and learn the technique of each drill before performing them at 100% effort. Over-speed work is particularly stressful and caution should be applied – see our section on speed types.
Keep hydrated – as workouts will last around an hour, water should be sufficient, although you can use sports drink containing carbs and electrolytes. Energy drinks (with their carb content) are best for activities in excess of an hour. If used the hydration and energy replenishment process should start straightaway, ie by drinking every 20 minutes or so, after commencing exercise. In any case you should also be hydrated prior to the workout. After the workout a recovery drink/bar should be consumed to kick-start the refuelling process of muscle carbohydrate (glycogen) and protein re-synthesis in your muscles. Sprint and weights workouts can create microscopic tears in muscles and it is the repair of these in training downtime that builds stronger and more powerful muscles.
1) To warm up safely, effectively and specifically for straight line speed and heighten your neuromuscular system (this will get you mentally ready to move as fast as you can).
2) To take you to the point when you are ready to perform the main part of your speed/power session
Estimated time to complete: 20-25 min.
Part A: Raise body temperature
by jogging/jumping rope/rowing and performing light intensity calisthenics for 3-5 minutes. Because this is a running program, jogging is most appropriate.
Part B: Dynamic mobility drills (sprint drills)
These drills take your muscles through the range of movement required for sprinting.
A) High knee lift, with clawing action of lower leg
Objective: to improve balance and sprint posture and warm up the calf and hamstring muscles
Stand tall and lift one thigh to a parallel to the ground position and extend your lower leg forward. Then sweep it (and all your leg) down toward the ground, beneath and up behind your body, pulling your heel up toward your butt, whilst stepping forward with your other leg as you do so. Repeat this cycling movement. Basically you are performing the running action at walking pace.
- Keep chest elevated
- Make foot contacts on the balls of your feet
- Coordinate your arms with your legs – that’s opposite arm to leg
- Do: 3 x 20m
B) Lunge walk
Objective: to warm up the hips and hamstrings
Stand tall and take a large step forward, to place your foot flat on the ground. Lift from your front leg and step into another lunge. As you pull your rear leg through to the front, take its heel up toward your butt (this makes the drill even more running specific).
- Keep your chest elevated
- Coordinate your arms with your legs
- Do: 3 x 10 lunges
C) Arm circles
Objective: to dynamically warm up the shoulders
Begin slowly jogging and cycle your arms around your head, brushing them past your ears, whilst keeping them long.
- Keep your chest elevated
- Do single and double arm swings, taking your arms forwards and backwards
- Do: 4 x 20m, with a walk back recovery
D) Leg cycling
Objective: to warm up the hamstrings for sprinting
Stand tall, side-on to a wall or rail on tip-toes and place your inside hand on it for balance. Lift your thigh closest to the rail to a position parallel to the ground, extend its foot away from your the body and then sweep it down, round and under your body, before pulling it through to the start position (this completes one leg cycle). Complete designated number of cycles and repeat on other leg.
- Keep your chest elevated
- Don’t allow your body to hinge excessively as you cycle your legs beneath you. If this happens a lot, then slow the movement down. This movement indicates a lack of relevant core stability (and technical proficiency)
- Do: 4 x 10 (L&R) with 30 sec. recovery between sets
E) ‘T’ stretch
Objective: to warm up the back, legs and shoulders
Lie on your back with your arms outstretched in line with your shoulders. Keep your palms on the ground. Your legs should be straight out in front, with heels shoulder-width apart. This forms the ‘T’ shape. Next, lift one leg straight up toward your head. At the sticking point (the point when you can’t pull the leg back further) rotate your leg across your body in an attempt to touch the outstretched hand to the opposite side. When your shoulders lift from the floor, pause and bring your leg back to the center, before slowly lowering it to the ground. Keep your other leg pressed into the ground. Complete your designated number of reps and repeat to other side.
- Keep the movement smooth
- Hold the stretch for 5 seconds on each side
- Do: 6 to the left and to the right
F) Leg swings
Objective: to dynamically stretch the hip flexors (muscles at the top of the thighs) and hamstrings
Walk forwards, swinging one leg up in front of your body (with control) at a time. Try to touch the palm of your other hand (this should be held approximately parallel to the ground and coordinated with your leg actions). Alternate limb positions as you walk forward (it’s opposite foot to opposite hand).
- Perform slowly and with control
- Maintain a slight bend at the knee joint of the swinging leg
- Keep your chest elevated
- Think about swinging your leg back behind your hips as well as forwards – but without letting your torso bend forward in response
- Do: 4 x 20m
Objective: to improve knee lift and drive
Begin walking forward – lift each knee in turn to a thigh parallel to the ground position and then quickly drive the leg back down. Contact the ground with the ball of the foot and immediately lift the other leg to a thigh parallel to the position and then drive its foot back down. Repeat as described for required distance.
- Keep chest elevated
- Coordinate arms with legs
- Each step should be snappy and dynamic
- Do: 4 x 20m
H) Straight leg bounds
Objective: to improve foot-to-ground speed of contact
Begin jogging and then, keeping your legs straight, lift each in turn in a sort of goose stepping action, to strike the ground powerfully just in front of you as you pull your legs toward the ground – strike the ground with your forefeet. Keep your toes up.
- Keep your chest up
- Gradually increase your speed over your reps and as you become more familiar with the drill
- Do: 4 x 20m
Part C: Neuromuscular enhancement drills
After you have performed the specific warm up drills you move onto further stimulating your neuromuscular system, so that you’ll be in optimum speed shape when it’s time to sprint flat out, for example, in the main part of your workout. You’ll see from the workouts that these drills are not performed for all the sprint workouts; this is because they are intense and tax the central nervous system (CNS). Their inclusion, therefore, needs to be balanced against the need to maintain the CNS at 100% efficiency and the overall needs of the training program.
These drills will engage body and mind and recruit your speed and power producing fast twitch fiber – they’ll ‘hype’ you up and stimulate your physiology for the quick reactions necessary for optimum speed.
A) Hand to knee drill
Assume a medium lunge position. Hold the palm of one hand approximately parallel to the ground and in front of the leg that is behind your body (you will have to angle your arm down slightly).
When you are ready, drive your knee toward the palm of your extended hand as fast as possible to make contact with it. Take the leg back, pause and repeat. Complete your designated number of reps and repeat with the other leg.
- Don’t take your hand to your knee
- Initiate the movement from your hip flexor (the muscle at the top of your thigh)
- Think ‘sharp and snappy’
- Do: 5 reps on each leg
B) Leg cycle from leg swing
Assume the same start position as for the leg cycling drill (drill D above). This time swing the leg backwards and forwards of your body. Maintain a slight bend at the knee joint. Perform two swings like this and then when the leg reaches a near to parallel to the ground position to the front of your body, sweep it, down and round, underneath your body and back to the front as fast as you can. Perform another two swings and repeat.
- Start slowly to build up relevant exercise confidence (and in particular hamstring strength) – although ultimately the drill should be performed as fast as possible to derive its neuromuscular benefits.
- Do: 5 cycles on each leg
Strides are gradually increasing speed runs. They emphasize fluid and relaxed running with the focus firmly placed on smooth technical execution. If using spikes you should put these on for the last 3-4 runs.
The repetitions suggested for the above drills are a guideline only. You’ll also see from the program that the numbers of drills for each of the running sessions are specified.
You should always cool down after your workouts in order to reduce potential muscle soreness and return your body to steady state. Perform 5 minutes of gentle CV work and perform some held stretches – focusing on your hamstrings, hip, calf muscles and Achilles tendons. You’ll see in the actual program that there are some slightly different formats – these are included to boost your recovery for subsequent workouts.
Speed can be developed with various conditioning components, such as weight training and plyometric exercises. You’ll find speed conditioning sessions including these training ingredients in the program. As with the speed program it is assumed that you will have basic familiarity with the exercises used. If you don’t then it is suggested that you spend time getting used to them for 4 - 6 weeks as independent workouts in their own right before tackling them and the speed elements. And even then you should not underestimate what you think that you can achieve. It will take time for your body to get used to the dynamic nature of the program and it is better to progress slowly to avoid potential injury. For example, it would not be advisable to lift near to maximum weights as fast as possible in your first workout, if you have never done any similarly intense sessions in the past.
Plyometric drills and weight training form a specific part of the Peak Performance speed program – these are designed to compliment the sprint sessions and enhance the capacity of your fast twitch muscle fiber. These training ingredients are covered in more detail in the sections that follow.
a. Plyometric exercises for speed conditioning
Plyometric exercises are a great speed conditioner. Basically any exercise that involves a dynamic shift from absorption of force to the expression of force is a plyometric exercise. So if you hopped on the spot you’d be performing a plyometric exercise. To get a little more technical, and using the hopping exercise to further explain, on landing from the hop your hips, thigh and calf muscles would be ‘put on stretch’ (this is technically known as an ‘eccentric’ muscular contraction), they then transfer power by way of an immediate shortening muscular contraction (technically known as a ‘concentric’ muscular contraction). This pattern of muscular contraction is also known as the ‘stretch shortening cycle’. Muscles are able to generate huge amounts of force during a plyometric activity. Training with plyometric exercises is therefore a great way to develop/increase speed, power and agility.
Plyometric training tips
- Always warm up specifically – see section 6 (warm up)
- Wear well cushioned trainers
- Perform on dry flat grass, a running track or sprung sports hall floor
- Remain focused and in the zone throughout your workout – think ‘quick’ to be ‘quick’
- Always underestimate the training load that you think you’ll be able to handle when starting plyometric training
- Make your ground contacts as quick as possible; don’t spend time on the ground. Emphasise reaction over attempting to achieve height or distance
Table 1: Plyometric drills and level of intensity
Standing based jumps performed on the spot
Tuck-jumps, split-jumps, squat-jumps, line bounce
Jumps from standing
Standing long jump,
Standing jump for height
Multiple jumps from standing
5 consecutive bounds
2 x 6 bunny jumps
Double footed jumps over 4 hurdles
Double footed jumps up steps
Multiple jumps with run up
3 x 2 hops and jump into sand pit with 11-stride approach
2 x 10 bounds with a 7-stride run up
Depth jumping (Recommended drop height 40-100cm). The higher the height the greater the strength component, the lower, the greater the speed component
2 x 6 jumps – down and up
Run to hop off low box onto one-leg landing followed by three subsequent hops
Bounding up hill
Descriptions of plyometric exercises:
Stand in front of a line on a running track (or suitable surface). Using a double-foot take-off, jump over the line using a low short trajectory. Land on your forefeet and immediately jump back over the line. Land and jump forward and then back again. Swing your arms by your hips to assist your speed. The aim is to perform the line bounce as fast as possible.
Stand facing an intersection of straight lines on a running track (or suitable surface). From the right bottom of the ‘cross’, hop forward from your right foot, using a low, short trajectory. On landing, hop over the vertical line to the left – again using a short, low trajectory, land and then hop back diagonally to the start position to complete one rep. Continue hopping this path for the designated number of repetitions and then swap legs.
Straight leg jumps
Predominately using your calf muscles, jump up into the air, land, and keeping your legs virtually straight, react as quickly as you can to transfer into another jump. Land on your forefeet. Use your arms to add to your speed by swinging them backwards and forwards past your hips, in time with your jumps.
b. Weight training
Weight training is a key ingredient of virtually all sports conditioning programs. However, it is imperative that the ‘right’ weight training is done. The Peak Performance speed training program uses a weight training approach highly complimentary to speed development.
This is comprised of specific exercises, such as the squat and calf raise, but perhaps more importantly, uses loadings (ie the weight on the bar) that will bring about the greatest speed returns. To increase the speed and power generating capacity of your muscles – as with sprinting – you have to target your fast twitch muscle fibers and in particular the ones that can generate the most power. These are your type IIb fibers. These are specifically targeted by heavy weights (in excess of 80% of your 1 rep maximum) and also by attempting to perform the lift as quickly but as safely as possible.
Although you won’t be able to move the weight as fast and achieve the same rate of muscle firing as you would when sprinting, it is the neural contribution to the exercise in attempting to do so that is key. The idea is that by being able to switch on your type IIb fast twitch muscle fibers in the weights room you will be able to utilize them to a much greater extent when sprinting.
You should be familiar with most of the lifts in the speed training program – if not, spend some time learning the techniques with lighter weights before using the heavy weights indicated in the programs.
To be continued...