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Increasing Your Athletic Speed

Updated: Jan 20

Written By Jayme Pantekoek | Published Feb 26th 2022


 

How long does it take to improve your athletic speed?


The amount of time it takes to get faster is a question I get asked all the time.


Typically, this question is followed up with a question about genetics. Can I get faster, or am I just born with the speed I was given?


While there are some genetic constraints to athletic speed, I’ve been working with athletes for more than two decades and have consistently seen them improve their speed—youth, teens, adults alike.


In this post, I’ll break down a few answers to these questions, parameters for improving athletic speed, and the training components that go into getting faster.


Periodization and Supercompensation

So, there is a short answer to the first question about how long it takes to improve athletic speed. Typically, getting faster takes around eight weeks.


In those eight weeks, you will see supercompensation. Supercompensation is the adaptive response of our bodies to a training program. In short, it’s the period of time our bodies take to get used to different types of training and volume. As we first begin a speed training program, the novelty of the new movements and volume causes us to feel sore.


Supercompensation is pretty similar to the common cold. When you have a cold, you start noticing some changes. Then, you begin to feel run down. But as your body fights through it and adapts, you begin to slowly feel better.


As you start speed training you will likely become sore and broken down. But, there comes a period where you feel a little bit normal again—even while you are still under the stress of training. Finally, things begin to return to a normal, healthy state.


Periodization


We create this “break down and build back up” concept using a method called periodization. Periodization is the manipulation of training variables to optimize performance, prevent overtraining, and progress performance.


Over the eight-to-ten weeks it takes your body to adapt, we provide different phases of training to stimulate that adaptation. We start by adding things that will break your body down and end on a taper—which reduces the amount of volume, weight, etc. to get your body feeling and performing as best as it can.


So, this is a quick look at how the body compensates and supercompensates for training and why it takes eight weeks of proper training for our bodies to adapt and become faster.


Genetics and Muscle Types

For the most part genetically, we are going to have a certain amount of muscle fibers that are predetermined to be fast-twitch. Fast-twitch muscles fibers are responsible in large part for your overall athletic speed.


Fast-twitch muscle fibers are considered type II muscle fibers. We can break these down into subgroups of type IIa and type IIb.


Type IIa vs. Type IIb Muscle Fibers


The contraction rate of your muscle fibers is important when we consider athletic speed. Slow-twitch muscle fibers are fatigue resistant. They are the ones that help you run long distances, for example.


But, to be fast, you want to create powerful forces. The faster your muscle fibers contract, the more power and force they can produce. The IIa fibers have a fast contraction rate, and our type IIb fibers have the highest contraction rate.


Genetically speaking, we are pretty much predetermined to have a set amount of IIb. So, genetics do play a hand in your athletic speed.


Fooling Our Genetics

However, there is evidence out there that some of the IIa fibers can be persuaded into changing structures.


As we train, we can lower the myoglobulin (aerobic blood supply) levels in IIa fibers to the point that they’ll actually act as IIb fibers—holding much more glycogen (muscle energy).

To do this, we need proper training of the muscle tissue—sprinting at extremely high rates and lifting weights in the 70-90% maximal range.


 

The Role of Lysl Oxidase on Tendon Muscle Matrix

All muscles types aside, when you train under the right protocols, you can have an effect that directly correlates to athletic speed. Proper speed training creates elasticity in the tendon muscle matrix. Our tendon muscle matrix is like a spider web of collagen (or tissue) that binds different cells together. During this binding, the cells have more of a trampoline bounce to them. This requires very little muscle energy to stretch and recoil.


To help this occur, we need to create and increase Lysl oxidase areas being trained. Lysl oxidase is what signals collagen to lay down this elastic web that connects the cells of the tendon to the cells of the muscle. This elasticity, stretching, and recoliI has a direct impact on how much force we can continuously produce through those parts of your body.


Meaning, the more you include training that helps create that elasticity into your sessions, the more power and force you will be able to create. Ultimately, you’ll be faster and can jump higher.


Technique

Everything we’ve talked about so far is assuming that you have had consistent speed and strength training in the past—and that your form and technique have been optimized.

You can actually get faster in just one session if you have never trained before or if your technique needs a lot of work.


Your sprint mechanics play an incredibly impactful role in how fast you can become.

When your sprint mechanics are not fine-tuned, working to change and optimize them can have an immediate impact on your speed.


This is especially true during the start of the sprint or movement. Bringing your body up to top-end speed and accelerating for a longer period of time requires strength, speed, and great positioning.


When you identify and tweak specific components of the start of your sprint, and the mechanics when you're mid-sprint, you can actually become instantly faster just by your nervous system’s response to the new movement.


People often mistake this as muscle strength, though. They think because the nervous system became better in the pattern of movement they just worked on, they are now instantly stronger. While this is partially true, your technique improvement really affects the nervous system adaptation on muscle—not muscle-gaining contractile strength.


In reality, we need a combination of all of this to gain more athletic speed.


Most Effective Way to Increase Your Athletic Speed

Maximizing your speed development requires a focus on the combination of strength, technique, nervous system adaptation, and volume adaptation (sprint repeatability).

So how do you build this into your training regimen?


Vladamir Issurin’s Block Model is something to consider. This model, simply put, suggests simultaneously developing several athletic systems and abilities within a single training cycle.


Why?


Through this model, it is suggested that maximal strength (meaning a one-rep max of a specific movement) and aerobic conditioning have the longest residual training effects. In short, this means that your strength and conditioning take the longest to go away if you were to stop training. If you are strong and in shape, it would take you nearly 30 days to lose your max strength and aerobic endurance.


When we compare that to sprint training, the time ranges drop immensely. The repeatability of a 90% sprint effort or multiple sets of maximum repetition efforts in a strength training session declines after five to seven days. Left untrained, the quickest decline is our top speed—three to five days.


What does this mean?


Ideally, athletes should be touching on characteristics of speed the most of anything given their rapid deterioration. Sprint and strength performance (repeat power) need to be trained the second most frequently. Conditioning and max strength training can be implemented in the least amount of days.


To maximize athletic speed, we’d suggest a 30-week period of training that lasts up until the beginning of the season. Speed training should be still touched on as recently as the week leading up to your athletic season given how quickly it can detriorate.


This 30-week model ensures that every characteristic of strength, speed, repeatability, elasticity, and technique is fully developed—and enough additional measures have been taken to prevent injury.

 

Conclusions

While genetics do play a role in your athletic speed, it is possible to optimize your performance with both an understanding of the science of speed and proper training that takes these anatomical components into account.


Maximizing your speed requires a focus on the combination of strength, technique, nervous system adaptation, and volume adaptation (sprint repeatability).


To get faster, ensure your training program builds all of these in—and that athletic speed a primary focus throughout.


FAST Athletics builds athletic speed training into all of our programming, using 10, 20, and 30-week models. If you’d like a tailored training program that will help you or your athlete improve their athletic speed, reach out to us today.




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