TNL Speed Pillars: Top Speed
Following up from the first installment of our Speed Pillars, acceleration, top speed is what follows when you finish acceleration. Acceleration can be defined for a field sport athlete as 0-20yd. After we hit the 20yd mark is when we are now in “top speed” aka max velocity. This is when sprinting becomes upright. In my opinion, top speed is what separates athletes that are labeled “fast” vs those that are labeled “quick”.
Now, in field sports do we spend higher frequency performing acceleration or top speed? The answer is acceleration. However, top speed shows it’s colors with those game changing plays that happen only once or twice a game. Example, if you remember the play with DK Metcalf this past NFL season where he chased down a defensive back from the Cardinals 90+yd to prevent a pick-6 touchdown from being scored.
We can also use the term break away speed to describe top-end speed. Other instances an athlete will be in their max sprinting velocity can happen during a breakaway in soccer or lacrosse, legging out a double in baseball or softball, or also maintaining top speed during a 60yd dash in a baseball showcase.
Why is training top-end speed important? Lower body injury mitigation and the obvious - improving speed. For starters, training 30+yd sprints at top speed for a field sport athlete can be the remedy for hamstring strains. Hamstring strains typically happen due to a few factors: poor sprinting technique, and not enough accumulation or volume progression to both the longer distances & higher movement velocities. Training this quality appropriately will give an athlete a higher capacity for their speed and also improve their acceleration. Speed Biomechanist PhD at West Chest University, Ken Clarke, uses an example: Athlete A & B have identical initial acceleration (strides 0-4), but Athlete A has a top speed of 9.5 m/s while Athlete B has a top speed of 10.0 m/s…only 0.5 m/s difference. Athlete A will run a 3.02 sec 20yd time vs Athlete B will run a 2.95 sec 20yd time; 0.07 sec faster, almost 1/10. The research shows 0.5 m/s equals a 2-foot difference in a 20yd race! Field sports are a game of inches.
How do we train top-end speed? From March to November, we’re golden at TNL: the garage door is open & we have ~40-45yd lane to work, along with our backlot being 100yd of total length. However, from November to March it’s tough since we are limited to 20yd of turf, and as we already know, top-end speed happens after 20yd. Regardless of weather, technique is crucial in developing great top-end speed. For starters, this is where we put the body in positions so that we’re not compromising the hamstring via compensations due to poor mechanics where they take the brunt of the impact of the leg. We accomplish this with our B-Series and scissor series, which train slightly more cyclical motion compared to the piston-like motion during acceleration.
Once we’ve honed in great technique, we integrate that into slower speeds over longer durations to build up that accumulation. For example, we’ll use tempo runs and build ups. Tempo runs are a constant output (ie 75-80%) where technique is the primary focus, not speed. Build ups are like an airplane taking off: the athlete gradually build ups speed from 0-90% over the first 40yd or so and then maintains 90% for the last 20yd of a 60yd build up. Technique & volume have now been built up, so it’s time to sprint & sprint FAST! When we do our longer sprints we will either track the total sprint time, but in most cases we’ll do flying 10s. A flying 10 is when we track a 10yd portion of the spring, typically the final 10yd, of a 30-60yd sprint. These are a great indication of what kind of velocity an athlete can get up to top speed, along with how well they maintain their top speed.
Have you registered for the FREE, TNL Speed Clinic this Saturday at 9:30am? Register here to learn about how we integrate and apply the principles to the TNL Speed Pillars.
The third and final part is next - Change of Direction Speed! How we teach change of direction.