Speed Development Guidelines

It is beyond the scope of this site and the book The Masters Athlete to give a specific formula for developing speed in every athlete of every age and gender for every sport. The competitive aging athlete should make every effort to obtain some of the excellent books available that outline specific programs for speed development in specific sports.  I recommend the publishers Human Kinetics as the best source (www.humankinetics.com). However, there are a number of guidelines that should be adhered to develop speed in any athlete of any age or ability.  These include:

Be fresh

All speed training must be performed when the body is fully recovered from a previous event or training session. A tired, sore or overtrained aging athlete cannot improve their speed when fatigued from previous training or work.

Master correct technique

Correct sprinting technique through many repetitions to reinforce skill development. Initially this should be done at slower speeds but then the sped is gradually increased while correct form is held. Sport-specific drills are an excellent means of developing correct sprint technique (www.humankinetics.com).

Warm-up with intensity

Too few aging athletes warm-up correctly. A warm-up should include low intensity work that develops a light sweat, stretching the specific joints and muscles being used in the sport or event, and then some technique-specific drills followed by gradually increases in intensity to event-specific intensity.

Rest between efforts

All sets and repetitions of a speed training session must be followed by adequate recovery so the next effort is high quality. The shorter the effort in time, the shorter the rest. As a general rule, a 1:4-6 work-to-rest ratio is recommended.

Vary the training

Speed training sessions should be varied between light, medium and heavy days. For example, back-to-back hard days would not benefit speed development.

Monitor training volume

Aging athletes should track the total distance covered during each maximum speed training session to see that there is a gradual progression in distance.

Speed endurance is developed with longer intervals

Doing longer intervals (e.g. 150-400m runs, 50-100m swims, 30-60 second bike efforts) or decreasing the rest between shorter intervals (10-20m runs, 12.5-25m swims, or 5-10 second bike efforts) develops speed endurance. The aim should be sport-specificity. Obviously a team player needs to do short sprints up and back with short recoveries, but after say 6 x 10m efforts, a long rest of 2-3 minutes might be taken so the quality of the next set of 6 x 10m is high.

Strength and power development in the gym

The aging sprint athlete MUST focus on developing muscle mass, strength and power in the gym. To do this, use the guidelines given in the previous chapter of this book but then enlist the help of a strength specialist at a local gym, through connections you may have in your sport, or through the National Strength and Conditioning Association (http://www.nsca-lift.org/trainers/locator/). The money will be well spent. The older the competitive aging athlete, the more important this becomes.

Include flexibility training

Apart from an age-related loss of muscle mass, strength and thus the need for strength training, one of the other major declines that occur with age is a decreased range of motion about a joint. This loss of flexibility will obviously mean that speed will decrease due to the stride or stroke length decreasing. While may aging athletes stretch before and after training sessions, too few do flexibility training using the principles outlined in Chapter 9 of this book and stretch at home 2-3 times per week.