What Speed Training Really Is

When it comes to sprinting, there are 3 phases that matter:

  • Acceleration

  • Max Velocity

  • Speed Endurance

For sprinters in track and field, these all matter a lot.  For athletes that play football, basketball, ultimate frisbee, etc, acceleration is of the utmost importance in most scenarios. 

What are these?

Acceleration is defined as the change in velocity over time.  Acceleration is going from not running to getting to top speed, ideally covering as much ground as fast as you can speeding up.  In track, this is coming out of the blocks and encompasses the “drive phase” people talk about all of the time.

In other sports, this is usually going from walking, jogging, shuffling, and then into a fast sprint to reposition on the field/court or to make a play.  

There is a specific postural style of running to have effective acceleration that is slightly different from regular running.  

Max velocity is simply you running at full speed.  The higher this is, the faster & ideally better endurance you can have running at slightly lesser speeds.  That’s why really fast ultimate players are so dangerous, they have more gears to change, and when a huck goes up, they seem to run even faster! Did you know, athletes can only maintain MAX velocity for 3-5 seconds before slowing down?


When you see people “pull away” at the end of a 100-400m sprint race, they just slowed down less than the other runners.  It’s like hitting your max squat over and over.  You can’t.

Speed endurance is how long you can hold your 90% pace before the muscles become fatigued & acidic.  In short sprints, this is reflected in the end of the 100-200m races by being able to maintain your less than 100% at the end better than the other runners.  

Younger & less fit runners “run out of gas” at the end of 200m while Noah Lyles seems to be running faster.  

In the 400m race, most of it is run in the 90-95% range and so really good 400m runners can maintain their 90-95% speed for nearly a minute (something that is VERY hard).  And the faster you are, the higher this “speed reserve” is.  

We’ll spend the next few weeks learning more about these components of sprint speed and how to train them.  

This summer for our trackside program, I’ve had this conversation with many athletes and parents in understanding the difference between these and how we have our training set up for the sprinters and field sport athletes.  

We have a day for acceleration, a day for max velocity, and 2 tempo run days to build endurance.  One of these tempo days will become a speed endurance day.  

True speed endurance is done at +90% speed and it takes a lot of fitness and strength to do this training well.  Tempo runs help the leg muscles gain endurance to run a lot and clear out lactate, acid, and overall manage fatigue better.  This sets you up to handle speed endurance work.

Oh yeah, and you have to actually improve your speed to get more speed endurance!

Global Human Performance
Global Human Performance

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