What is the key ingredient missing from this speed training session? REST! When any athlete is being trained to develop pure speed, the most common element needs to be rest. All the great speed coaches out there emphasize letting their athletes get thoroughly recovered after a sprint before another sprint is executed. A common rule of thumb used by the top of the line speed coaches is one minute of rest for every 10 yards sprinted. As an example, an athlete doing a series of 40 yard sprints who truly wants to improve speed should have 4 minutes of rest between sprints. To many people, that may seem excessive, but the body needs to be extremely close to 100% recovered to make any meaningful gains in pure speed development. In most sessions I witness, rest periods are much shorter than this and endurance is brought into the equation too much to make speed development possible. There is nothing wrong with a coach having athletes run sprints with short rest periods as a form of higher intensity endurance training, but if pure speed acquisition is the desired goal: think REST!
For four years, I had the opportunity to work with a collegiate baseball team during their off season program. I got to be on the inside and see the inner workings of what the coaching staff had in mind when it comes to developing their program. I know I played an important role in getting the athletes faster, quicker, and stronger, and ready for the rigors ahead that they will go through.
As important as the physical development is to these players, the head coach made it very clear to me what my number 1 role is: to do everything possible to maintain the health of the players and keep them injury-free! This goal doesn’t just consist of making sure they are healthy when they are training with me. This goal goes much deeper than that. It is to build up their bodies to stay healthy throughout the course of their season. This isn’t an easy task. It takes careful planning and a complete regimen to get the job done. I want to outline the important points that every athlete needs to take into consideration to make staying healthy and injury-free a priority:
1) Thorough Warmup: Before any practice or exercise regimen takes place, all athletes should complete a dynamic warmup. This is roughly 10 to 15 minutes in duration and goes through the phases of increasing blood flow, putting the musculature through movement stretches, and slowly progressing the intensity of these movements to eventually transition into the workout itself. This, by far, is a neglected area by many coaches and athletes and probably the number 1 cause for injuries to occur.
2) Progressive Athletic Training: There are many different types of speed and agility regimens that are plenty effective enough to get the job done, but progressing the athlete from simple to complex in both the short term (practice session) and the long term (entire season) is extremely important. Doing too much too soon or being too intense too soon will most likely lead to injury. The coach needs to give detailed thought on not only what drills to do, but the proper order and intensity with which to do them.
3) Consistent Recovery Modalities: This area encompasses many things such as getting at least 7 hours of sleep every night, eating regular meals and taking in good calories, living a successful and stress free life. These are very difficult barriers to achieve with many athletes, but making them aware of their importance is something every coach should do with the hope that the athletes will internalize their importance and bring them to life.
Playing sports at an intense, competitive level is a challenging endeavor to partake in and many times will lead to injury and poor health. If warmup, progressive training, and proper recovery are emphasized and executed, it will do wonders for keeping athletes healthy, injury-free, and keep these athletes where they belong: on the sports fields playing ball!