• Introduction
  • Basics of acceleration training and exercises
  • Best methods to train for acceleration
  • Strength training
  • Power training
  • Plyometric training
  • Ballistic training
  • Sprint training & resisted sprint training
  • Physiological effects of acceleration training
  • Acceleration training routine samples
  • Suitability for developing athletes and physical education
  • Final thoughts
  • Sources

Introduction

Acceleration describes how fast you can increase your velocity towards maximum speed. From a scientific standpoint, this means that an athlete must fight against inertia (an object’s tendency to remain at a certain velocity) to accelerate. Thus, acceleration training focuses on improving your ability to apply more force (especially horizontal force due to crouching starting position) on the ground. This makes it easier for you to gain momentum.

In most sports, acceleration can have an even bigger impact on performance than your top speed. This is due to the fact that on average, it takes 6-7s or up to 60m to reach maximum velocity. On the other hand, most accelerations in field sports are only 10-20m long and last a mere 2-3s. While maximum speed is only beneficial in sports where you have enough time to reach it, acceleration is useful in nearly every sport imaginable.  

This article explains the basics of acceleration training. We’ve even added a few free sample routines for you to try out. If you’re looking to learning more about the scientific theory behind acceleration in a sports context, check out this article. 

Basics of acceleration training and exercises

Acceleration training can be divided into three core training factors; strength, power, and sprinting. Often times, a well-rounded acceleration training program combines all of these components into a balanced program that slowly builds in intensity.

Strength and power training is usually performed 2-3 times a week during the preparation period of the season. In a weekly training routine, strength training is often scheduled after a high-velocity acceleration training to prevent soreness when running. 

Most coaches structure acceleration training into consecutive 4-6-week cycles. The first cycle focuses on muscle mass (hypertrophy), the second one on muscular strength, and the third one on power, plyometric training, and ballistic training. Thus, the closer you get to the competitive season, the more emphasis you should put on high-velocity sprinting and explosiveness. This method helps you adapt your strength gains into functional power for the ultimate performance. 

For the best results, athletes should perform a variety of explosive accelerations lasting under 10s along with powerlifting exercises like snatches, deadlifts, and clean-and-jerks. Of course, more advanced athletes can take this even further with more sprint-specific exercises such as split-squats, one-leg deadlifts, and lunges. 

One thing to remember is that your body and its neuromuscular system (muscles and their connecting nerves) also adapt to working at a certain intensity. Thus, all the aforementioned acceleration training methods should be performed at an intensity and speed similar to your sport, and utilizing the same movement patterns and skills. 

Acceleration Training


Strength trainingPower trainingSprints & resisted sprintsPlyometric trainingBallistic training

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Best methods to train for acceleration

The most effective way to improve your acceleration is through short (<10s) high-intensity spurts, power training, as well as ballistic and plyometric exercises. These training methods focus on creating as much force in an as short amount of time as possible, ensuring that you will be able to accelerate faster and reach a higher top speed.

Strength training

Strength training consists of heavy loads of 60-100% of your maximum, with 1-12 repetitions in each set. The amount of sets varies from 3 to 6, with 1-4min breaks in between. However, this also depends on whether you want to improve your maximum strength or increase muscle mass. A seasonal strength training program usually starts with a focus on muscular hypertrophy before moving on to maximum strength. The aim here is to develop strength without adding too much muscle mass, which can potentially increase energy cost and aerodynamic drag during acceleration.

The goal of strength training is to produce as much tension in the muscle as possible, leading to increased force production. This can help your acceleration in two ways; increasing the amount of force you put on the ground and improving your ability to apply this force as quickly as possible. As a result of consistent strength training, your muscles go through neurological and structural changes, allowing you to apply more force on the ground as you accelerate.

However, by itself, traditional strength training may not the optimal way to improve acceleration. After all, strength is not the same as explosiveness, and most sports benefit from more explosive movements. However, strength training can be seen as a building block that helps other training methods become more effective. Because developing strength increases the amount of tension in the muscles, you are also less likely to suffer serious injuries due to sudden changes in muscular tension. 

The best exercises for this are full-body movements like deadlifts, squats, cleans, clean-and-jerks, and snatches. Naturally, you can also perform isolated strength exercises to focus on specific muscle groups needed in your sport. For example, sprinters and speed skaters may want to concentrate on leg strength for optimal performance.

Power training

Power training utilizes somewhat heavy loads of 50-90% of your maximum, with 1-5 very fast repetition in each set. The duration of each set ranges from 4 to 10 depending on which muscle groups you are working with. In addition to the explosive nature of power training, each movement is often performed acyclically, or one repetition at a time. In practice, this means taking a 20-40s break between each repetition and 2-5mins between sets. This further separates it from muscular strength training that aims to improve your maximum strength. 

The reason why power training is so effective in training explosiveness and acceleration is that it adapts your body to recruit more fast motor units while also improving muscle coordination and firing rate (how fast the muscles contract). This results in better force production with less effort. Naturally, this can significantly improve your acceleration as well as your power capability. 

Some of the best power training methods include power lifts and contrast training, where the resistance constantly changes throughout a single workout. Plyometric and ballistic training are also essential in translating your strength into sports-specific movement patterns. 

Plyometric training

Plyometric training refers to explosive bodyweight exercises such as jumps, leaps, and hops that utilize the muscle’s stretch-shortening cycle to produce more force than a regular contraction. During plyometric exercises, or plyos, your muscle fibers go through a quick eccentric (muscle lengthening) phase followed by a concentric (muscle shortening) phase. This utilizes the muscles’ elastic energy, providing vastly higher force production for athletic performance. 

Because plyometric exercises rely so heavily on elastic energy, consistent training has proven to enhance the way muscle contractile units (muscle fibers) and elastic components (muscle membranes and tendons) work together. More importantly, it improves the reactive ability of your neuromuscular system, providing more power at a faster rate. As a result, you will be able to accelerate quicker and to a higher maximum speed. 

While plyometric training is often used to train power in the lower body, the same principles may also be used for upper body exercises too. However, this still requires a ground contact to utilize the elastic components of your muscles. For example, different swings, medicine ball throws, and clap pushups are very effective in challenging the explosiveness of whole body. In a way, plyometric exercises help you transfer your strength into sports-specific movement patterns, which is also the reason they are used by nearly every athlete imaginable regardless of their sport. 

Ballistic training

Ballistic training refers to exercises that involve throwing or swinging a weighted object, or jumping with additional weight. While this may sound similar to plyometric training that takes advantage of the muscles’ elastic energy, ballistic training aims to improve power production in a sports-specific movement via concentric (muscle shortening) movement. 

During regular weight training, you have to slow down the movement for nearly half of the exercise during the concentric phase. However, ballistic exercises are intended to minimize the deceleration phase while maximizing the acceleration of any given movement. To put it in simple terms, ballistic exercises skip the lowering phase and only utilize the acceleration portion of a movement.

Studies state that ballistic exercises with a load up to 60% are very effective in improving maximal power. On the other hand, even heavier loads may be used to improve the force component in an athlete’s power capability. These exercises result in neural adaptations that improve motor unit recruitment, firing rate, coordination between muscles, and rate of force development – all of which are essential in boosting your acceleration and power capability.

Sprint training & resisted sprint training

Sprint training is at the core of every acceleration training program. And, the best way to do this is by sprinting regularly and with optimal technique. Sprint training usually consists of 10-50m dashes from a crouched or three-point starting position at a near-maximal (>98%) intensity with 2-7mins between repetitions. The recommended overall volume of an acceleration training routine is 100-300m with at least 48h between sessions. This allows athletes to train without a drop in performance both between sets as well as between training sessions.

Resisted sprints are performed during preparatory training before the season with a sled, a parachute or even a weighted vest. The theory behind this is that resisted sprinting overloads the muscles more than regular sprint training, causing a larger neural activation and recruiting more fast-twitch muscle fibers. Multiple studies have also shown that resisted sprinting is more effective in improving horizontal power during sprinting than traditional strength training. Of course, resisted sprinting also closely resembles the movement patterns of running, providing a better transfer for sprint performance.

"Resisted sprints are performed during preparatory training before the competitive season."

Resisted sprints are usually divided into four categories based on how much the sprint speed is decreased; 

  • Light (<10% velocity decrease).
  • Moderate (<10-15% velocity decrease).
  • Heavy (<15-30% velocity decrease).
  • Very heavy (>30% velocity decrease).

However, there is still plenty of debate over this, and sports science is yet to determine the optimal load for resisted sprinting where the stimulus is large enough without compromising optimal running mechanics.

The duration of each sprint may also be varied to either focus on the acceleration phase (first few seconds of acceleration) or transition phase (stage between acceleration and maximum speed) of acceleration. To have a beneficial impact on both phases, some coaches tend to gradually increase sprinting distance throughout a weekly running program. Consecutive sprints with little rest periods in between can also be useful in sports like soccer, rugby, and basketball, which require repeated sprint ability. 

Interestingly, some studies have shown that while resisted sprint training can significantly improve acceleration during the first 20m, it has little effect in increasing maximum speed when compared to regular sprint training. Thus, it seems that each phase of a sprint requires its own training method. 

Resisted sprints significantly improve acceleration but have little effect on maximum speed.

Physiological effects of acceleration training

There are several physiological adaptations that occur as a result of regular acceleration and sprint training. These include:

  • Neurological adaptations: increased motor unit recruitment, better coordination between muscles, enhanced rate coding (frequency of nerve impulses).
  • Structural adaptations/changes: muscle fibers contract faster and with more force, tendons increase in stiffness providing more elastic power.
  • Improved technique: better mechanics help you apply force to the ground more effectively and efficiently.
  • Energy production changes: improved anaerobic capacity (ability to produce as much energy as possible without oxygen).

In short, your muscles and tendons are able to apply more force on the ground and utilize elastic energy better, whereas your nervous system adapts to recruit more muscle fibers at a faster rate. 

Higher ground reaction force also improves stride length and decreases ground contact time. This means that you’ll spend less time on the ground while sprinting, which significantly reduces ground friction. 

Acceleration training can be divided into three components; sprinting, strength training, and power development.

Acceleration training routine samples

Looking to improve your acceleration? Lucky for you, we’ve created just the page for you. Take a look at our list of free training samples that will surely take your acceleration to the next level.

Advanced 3-day push/pull/legs strength training routine

Monday (push)

1. Warmup

– 15mins on a treadmill

2. Bench press
  • Weight at 85% of maximum
  • 3 repetitions
  • 3 sets
  • 2min rest between sets
3. Incline dumbbell press
  • Weight at 85% of maximum
  • 3 repetitions
  • 3 sets
  • 2min rest between sets
4. Triceps pressdown
  • Weight at 85% of maximum
  • 3 repetitions
  • 3 sets
  • 2min rest between sets
5. Side lateral raises
  • Weight at 85% of maximum
  • 3 repetitions
  • 3 sets
  • 2min rest between sets
6. Chest fly 
  • Weight at 85% of maximum
  • 3 repetitions
  • 3 sets
  • 2min rest between sets

Tuesday

Rest day

Wednesday (pull)

1. Warmup
  • Various rope skipping techniques for 15mins
2. Cable row
  • Weight at 85% of maximum
  • 3 repetitions
  • 3 sets
  • 2min rest between sets
3. Weighted wide-grip pull-up
  • Weight at 85% of maximum
  • 3 repetitions
  • 3 sets
  • 2min rest between sets
4. Barbell curls
  • Weight at 85% of maximum
  • 3 repetitions
  • 3 sets
  • 2min rest between sets
5. Bent over row
  • Weight at 85% of maximum
  • 3 repetitions
  • 3 sets
  • 2min rest between sets
6. Barbell shrugs
  • Weight at 85% of maximum
  • 3 repetitions
  • 3 sets
  • 2min rest between sets

Thursday

Rest day

Friday (Legs)

1. Warmup
  • Rowing for 15mins
2. Front squat
  • Weight at 85% of maximum
  • 3-5 repetitions
  • 3 sets
  • 2min rest between sets
3. Leg extension
  • Weight at 70% of maximum
  • 8-12 repetitions
  • 3 sets
  • 2min rest between sets
4. Leg curl
  • Weight at 70% of maximum
  • 8-12 repetitions
  • 3 sets
  • 2min rest between sets
5. Romanian deadlift
  • Weight at 85% of maximum
  • 3-5 repetitions
  • 3 sets
  • 2min rest between sets

Saturday

Rest day

Sunday

Rest day

Intermediate strength training routine 1

1. Warmup

  • Rowing 15min

2. Lunge squats

  • Weight at 85% of your maximum
  • 1-3 repetitions
  • 3 sets
  • 2min rest between sets

3. Front squats

  • Weight at 85% of your maximum
  • 1-3 repetitions
  • 3 sets
  • 2min rest between sets

4. Deadlifts

  • Weight at 85% of your maximum
  • 1-3 repetitions
  • 3 sets
  • 2min rest between sets

5. Push Press

  • Weight at 85% of your maximum
  • 1-3 repetitions
  • 3 sets
  • 2min rest between sets

Intermediate powerlifting routine 1

1. Warmup 

  • Rowing for 15mins

2. Front squat

  • Weight at 85% of maximum
  • 3-5 repetitions
  • 3 sets
  • 2min rest between sets

3. Bench press

  • Weight at 85% of maximum
  • 3-5 repetitions
  • 3 sets
  • 2min rest between sets

4. Romanian deadlift

  • Weight at 85% of maximum
  • 3-5 repetitions
  • 3 sets
  • 2min rest between sets

5. Standing overhead press

  • Weight at 85% of maximum
  • 3-5 repetitions
  • 3 sets
  • 2min rest between sets

6. Power clean

  • Weight at 85% of maximum
  • 3-5 repetitions
  • 3 sets
  • 2min rest between sets

Block starts routine

1st set

  • Speed at >98% of maximum
  • Sprint for 40m
  • 3 min rest
  • Sprint for 40m
  • 3 min rest
  • Sprint for 40m
  • 6 min rest

2nd set

  • Speed at >98% of maximum
  • Sprint for 50m
  • 3 min rest
  • Sprint for 50m
  • 3 min rest
  • Sprint for 50m
  • 6 min rest

Total running distance: 270m

Resisted sprint routine

1st set

  • Resistance at -10% of maximum speed
  • Sprint for 30m
  • 3 min rest
  • Sprint for 30m
  • 3 min rest
  • Sprint for 30m
  • 6 min rest

2nd set

  • Resistance at -10% of maximum speed
  • Sprint for 20m
  • 3 min rest
  • Sprint for 30m
  • 3 min rest
  • Sprint for 40m
  • 6 min rest

3rd set

  • Resistance at -10% of maximum speed
  • Sprint for 40m
  • 3 min rest
  • Sprint for 40m
  • 3 min rest
  • Sprint for 40m
  • 6 min rest

Total running distance: 300m

Plyometric training routine

1. Box jump

  • Bodyweight, no additional resistance
  • 10 repetitions
  • 2 sets
  • 2min rest between sets

2. Jump step up

  • Bodyweight, no additional resistance
  • 10 repetitions
  • 2 sets
  • 2min rest between sets

3. Clap push-up

  • Bodyweight, no additional resistance
  • 10 repetitions
  • 2 sets
  • 2min rest between sets

4. Single leg deadlift hops

  • Bodyweight, no additional resistance
  • 10 repetitions on both legs
  • 2 sets
  • 2min rest between sets

5. Elevated push-ups

  • Bodyweight, no additional resistance
  • 10 repetitions
  • 2 sets
  • 2min rest between sets

6. hurdle hops

  • Bodyweight, no additional resistance
  • 10 repetitions
  • 2 sets
  • 2min rest between sets

Note that we are not responsible for any injuries that may occur during these drills or practices. Always remember to train within your own limits and at the guidance of a professional instructor.

Acceleration training is especially beneficial in sports that rely on repeated sprint ability.

Suitability for developing athletes and physical education

Acceleration training is generally considered both safe and effective for developing athletes. However, because it can be trained in several ways, some methods may be more suitable for younger athletes than others. For example, sprints, resisted sprints, ballistic training, and even strength training are safe ways to improve acceleration if the athlete has a good strength foundation and proper technique. However, more advanced training methods like high-resistance power training and intense plyometrics should generally be performed after the athlete has fully matured. 

The benefit of different sprints and ballistic training is that they can be used to improve power and even endurance in sports-specific movement patterns. What’s even better, they can be used to teach you the correct technique while providing slightly higher resistance to overload the muscle. This also helps build a sports-specific strength foundation for more advanced training methods. Thus, both of these methods are considered safe regardless of your age. 

While strength training is often regarded as unsafe for growing athletes due to higher resistance, there’s little scientific evidence to back up this claim. In fact, strength training can be a safe and effective training method even for younger athletes. However, this requires special attention to proper technique and good core strength. With this in mind, it is not recommended to test out your one-repetition maximums during your strength training days or PE class. Instead, your focus should be on performing more repetitions with less weight – and under professional guidance. 

Final thoughts

Acceleration training is essential for sprinters and athletes that require quick (<6s) consecutive sprints. In fact, athletes of all ages could benefit from improved acceleration and agility regardless of their sport. And, the good thing is that acceleration can be improved with smart and individualized training. 

As we already stated above, a balanced acceleration training program consists strength training, power development, and sprint exercises. Combining these three factors into a well-balanced training program that caters to your personal needs is essential if you want to reach the elite-level. Therefore, coaches should pay special attention to find a balance between each training method, and when to train them. 

But remember, while smart and consistent training is essential for acceleration and overall performance, it is not the only thing you need to keep in mind if you want to become an athlete. In fact, maintaining a well-balanced diet and taking enough time to recover are just as important for your athletic development. Once all of these factors are in balance, you have a solid foundation to build upon. 

Did you learn anything new about acceleration training? Let us know in the comments.

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