Games aren't just for the kids

We spend many hours in our youth practicing and training for athletic performance. Suddenly we are forced to “grow up” and in order to stay active and capture some of our youth, we join recreational kickball, softball, ultimate frisbee, or similar leagues. However, as an adult, there are greater demands on our time and energy that can take away from our performance in these sports. The one thing that remains the same is speed kills. As an adult playing “kids” games what can you do to maintain a slight edge on your competition? The first step is to understand what speed is, and what it isn’t.

It may be tough to admit but the truth is many of our coaches growing up did not have a strong foundation in exercise science. Even for those who did, many didn’t fully understand the truths of speed. How many coaches told you you were doing a “speed workout” while 300, 400, or 500 meters? How many said “we are getting faster” while doing suicides in the gym? How many said doing this running drill was going to magically make you fast? None of those things develop speed. Yes, you have to run fast while doing speed work. However, running fast is not automatically speed work. Many of our coaches failed to understand this principle, and often we got faster in spite of our coaches not because of them. That means we may be ill-equipped to understand how to achieve our performance goals. A developing kid can do almost anything and improve because your body is a sponge at that point. But as an adult it’s not as easy, we are no longer in the best shape. Therefore, in order to see improvements, the desired adaptations must be carefully understood and trained.

So how do you maximize your speed as an adult athlete? Train speed, not running fast. Usain Bolt the world record holder in the 100m dash begins to decelerate after about 60m. He also then needs a couple of hours of recovery in order to repeat that performance again. So if the fastest man in the world is slowing down after 60m what do we think is happening to recreational athletes when they run 100m or more to “get faster”? They aren’t working on their ability to reach a high rate of speed, they are working on their ability to maintain a given speed over a set distance. This is known as speed endurance. While it is important to train in specific circumstances most adult sports don’t need this skill. In order to target speed, individuals should sprint a distance that allows them to stay close to the fastest speed they can run over ~30m. Most recreational adult athletes don't need to run over 50m to develop speed, and they need to rest enough to be able to repeat that performance. If those things are not maintained the individual begins to train other qualities outside of pure speed.

Speed itself can be broken into a couple of distinct areas. The start is how we initiate our movement. Often it’s from a standing or squatted position but can also start from walking or jogging start. The second is acceleration. This is our ability to continuously increase in speed till we reach optimal or maximum speed. Next, we have maximum or optimal speed or velocity. This is the speed at which we run at our fastest or at least the fastest that still allows us to perform any required sports movements. This generally can only be held for about 10-20 meters or less than 3 seconds. Piecing these areas together in a single run is what makes up a speed workout. Training those areas in isolation supports and develops the foundation of speed. In order to develop speed, these areas must be trained in a manner that appropriately targets the desired improvement.

Understanding what you want to achieve is the key to improving speed skills as an adult. If you are slow from home to 1st base 60ft (~18m) away, why waste valuable time running further when training? You should also work on developing supportive skills like the start and acceleration. This will give you more bang for your time. While running longer has benefits, if developing speed is your main goal, then you are wasting your time. Ensuring proper distance, technique, and recovery are utilized in a training program will help you achieve greater success in your sport. Even as adults we like to win and being an attribute to the team has been shown to be psychologically rewarding. Reach out to us at Top Sprint Speed to see how we can help you achieve your performance goals even if you’re a recreational athlete.

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