Chasing Greatness

The Science of Speed Training

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The Science of Speed Training


When it comes to training in general and for speed, we must look broadly at three energy systems.

They are:

1. ATP – CP System
2. Anaerobic Glycolytic System
3. Aerobic System

From the standpoint of pure speed development, we must train within the first energy system, the ATP-CP system.

Here is an article that we posted a while back that covers the important physiology behind developing this system.


There seems to be a bit of confusion concerning the difference between aerobic and anaerobic training. Simply put, aerobic means 'with oxygen' and anaerobic means 'without oxygen'. So, running a 40 at full speed would be an example of an anaerobic activity. Going out for a 3 mile run would be an aerobic activity. In order to understand which energy systems should be emphasized for specific sports and activities, let's
take a look at the energy source our muscles use and the energy systems that support it. This article will focus on ATP and the first of the three energy systems, the ATP-CP Energy System.
ATP – The source of muscular energy

Adenosine Triphosphate, or ATP, is the immediate usable form of chemical energy for muscular activity. Any forms of chemical energy that the body gets from food must be converted into ATP before being used by muscle cells. ATP stores in muscle is limited and will deplete in 1 to 2 seconds unless restored. Resynthesis of ATP must occur immediately for muscular activity to continue. There are three systems available within the body to replace concentrations of ATP.

Anaerobic Phosphagen (ATP – CP) Energy System

Creatine Phosphate (CP) is an energy rich compound found in muscle cells. After high intensity exercise, creatine phosphate immediately restores ATP in the muscle without forming waste products (lactic acid). The amount of ATP that can be resynthesized from CP can
last for 4 to 5 seconds. So, add that to the 1 to 2 seconds of original ATP stores within the muscle and you have about 5 to 7 seconds of ATP production from the ATP-CP Energy System.

According to the USA Track and Field Level II Sport Science manual, to really challenge this system, you need workouts of 7 to 10 seconds of high intensity (sprint) work. This means running at full speed or near full speed, but with no fatigue present.

Therefore, any sport that involves running at full speed (track, football, soccer, field hockey, baseball, basketball, lacrosse, etc) needs to place regular emphasis on working and challenging this system.

Why? The best way to improve top speed is to run at top speed. High intensity sprint work (moving the limbs at near peak velocity) involves recruiting specific groups of muscle fibers and improving the efficiency and firing patterns of those muscle fiber groups. This type of motor learning must be done at high speeds to properly develop the complex recruitment of muscle fiber needed to fire in a synchronized pattern. This process is also referred to as neuromuscular conditioning.

The need for such conditioning helps explain why coordination and agility work is essential to developing speed. If you are highly coordinated, your brain does not have to spend as much time 'thinking' about where your limbs are in relation to the objects in your immediate environment. Instead, muscle fibers will be able to fire in a coordinated pattern, resulting in higher top speed and quicker reaction times. This is essential when considering the amount of fine motor skill and coordination required in the routine movements of sports like soccer, field hockey and basketball.

Let's look at some examples of how and when to train this system in a way that will maximize our results.

As was mentioned before, the speed component should be trained with no fatigue present. Most athletes require between 36-48 hours of rest with low intensity (<75% intensity, Heart rate 120-140) training before doing speed work again. So if you're doing speed work on Monday, wait until Wednesday before you do it again. When looking at rest within a single workout, you have to understand the amount of time necessary for proper ATP and CP resynthesis.

The following time examples explain how much time is required for the given percentage of ATP restoration, as stated by the USATF Level II manual:

30 seconds – 50% (in 30 seconds, 50% of ATP stores are recovered)

1 minute – 75%
90 seconds – 80%
3 minutes – 98%

From these examples, it is clear that 2 to 3 minutes is the minimum time required between reps for the ATP-CP system to sufficiently recover.

Speed training- Guidelines for high school athletes:

Intensity – 95-100%
Distance of run – 20-60 meters
Number of reps/set – 2-4
Number of sets – 2-4

Total distance in set – 80-160 meters
Total distance in session – 300 – 500 meters

In general, we follow the rule of one minute of rest per 10 meters run. For example, a set of 4 x 40m would consist of 4 minutes rest between each 40 meter sprint.

Now let's look at a couple sample workout sessions to get an idea of how these workouts could be structured. Rest between sets is slightly longer than rest between reps in order to allow full recovery.
Workout #1

4 x 40m – 4 min rest
6 minutes rest between sets
3 x 50m – 5 min rest

TOTAL: 310 meters
Workout #2

4 x 30m – 3 min rest
4 minutes rest between sets
4 x 40m – 4 min rest
5 minutes rest between sets
4 x 50m – 5 min rest

TOTAL: 480 meters
Structuring your workouts in a similar manner will maximize all the qualities desired from working the ATP-CP energy system. Remember, working hard with minimal rest will not make you faster. Either will running slow. Energy stores must be replenished to gain the benefits of speed work. Without true speed development, you are simply falling behind your competitors.


One Comment

  • Clifton says:

    I just learned more of how the ATP system works in this article then i did in a semester or AP1, lol..Thank, keep the knowledge coming!

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