• Introduction
  • The basics of maximum speed training
  • Best methods to train for maximum speed
  • Strength training
  • Power training
  • Plyometric training
  • Ballistic training
  • Sprint training & assisted sprint training
  • Physiological effects of maximum speed training
  • Sample routines for maximum speed training
  • Suitability for developing athletes and physical education
  • Final thoughts
  • Sources

Introduction

Maximum speed refers to the highest possible velocity you can attain. While this may sound like a crucial aspect in sports performance, pure top speed is only needed in activities where you have enough time to reach it (6-7s). However, if you participate in a sport that relies on this skill, you need to ensure you incorporate the correct maximum speed training methods into your workout program. 

Speed is also heavily dependent on genetic traits. However, which genetic profiles (body type, muscle fiber proportions, capacity to adapt to training, etc.) contribute the most to sprint performance is still under debate. Whatever the case, no athlete is able to reach their maximum potential without utilizing the correct training methods into their program.  

This post explains the basic mechanics of maximum speed training. You can even find a few free sample routines to try out. If you’re looking to learning more about the scientific theory behind maximum speed in an athletic context, feel free to check out this article. 

Also note that while this article focuses on maximum speed training in a running context, similar training methods can be used for rowing, swimming, speed-skating, cycling, and even cross-country skiing.

The basics of maximum speed training

Maximum speed training can be divided into three training principles; strength development, power training, and sprinting. In most cases, a balanced maximum speed training program combines these factors and slowly builds in intensity as you get closer to the competitive season. 

During the preparation period of the season, athletes are advised to perform strength training 2-3 times a week. These high-resistance exercises are usually done after sprint training to make sure you can make the most of your sprinting. This also prevents delayed onset muscle soreness which can hinder your high-velocity training. 

Maximum speed training programs are often divided into 4-6 week cycles. The first cycle consists of muscular hypertrophy exercises, the second one on maximum strength, and the third one on explosive sports-specific exercises like power training, plyometrics, ballistic exercises. Thus, the closer you get to the competitive season, the more emphasis you should put on explosiveness and maximal sprinting. This helps transfer your strength into functional sports-specific power.

"Maximum speed training aims to increase the amount of horizontal force you can apply to the ground."

Another thing to remember is that the neuromuscular system (muscles and their connecting nerves) adapts to working at a certain intensity. Therefore, sprint exercises also need to be speed-specific. In simple terms, if you want to train your maximum speed, you must train it at maximum intensity and utilizing the same muscle groups and movement patterns you face in your sport.

One of the best ways to improve maximum speed is via maximum velocity sprints with flying starts and relatively long recovery periods. Since this also requires you to produce as much force in as little time as possible, athletes often include powerlifting into their training program. For example, snatches, deadlifts, cleans, and clean-and-jerks are great ways to improve power in a horizontal direction.

Maximum Speed Training


Strength trainingPower trainingSprints & assisted sprintsPlyometric trainingBallistic training

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Best methods to train for maximum speed

Maximal speed training can be divided into three main factors; strength development, power development, and sports-specific sprinting. The focus of these training methods is to increase both your strength and the rate of force development, more commonly known as power capability. 

These factors, combined with sports-specific technique, are the most effective ways to improve your maximum speed performance. Here are the basics of how to improve each of these factors.

Strength training

Strength training consists of heavy resistance training with 1-12 repetitions at around 60-100% of your maximum. The amount of sets ranges from 3 to 6 with 1-4min breaks in between. However, the training volume also depends on whether you want to improve maximum strength or muscle mass (hypertrophy). A training season often starts with lighter strength training that focuses on increasing muscle mass. As the season progresses, athletes turn to heavier weights to increase their maximum strength. For maximum speed purposes, athletes aim for strength without too much added muscle mass. After all, this also increases energy cost and aerodynamic drag during acceleration and sprinting. 

Strength training aims to increase the tension that a muscle can produce, leading to enhanced force production. This can help your maximum speed in two ways; increasing the amount of force you put on the ground as well as how fast you are able to do so. Regular strength training causes neurological and structural changes that improve both of these components, significantly improving your maximum speed capacity. 

Interestingly, strength training by itself is not the optimal way to train your maximum speed. This is due to the fact that it only trains the strength and not the speed of the movement, both of which are present explosive power training exercises. However, strength can be considered an important building block that paves the way for more advanced sports-specific training methods. Since strength training improves the tension in the muscles, you are also less prone to injuries caused by sudden changes in muscle tension. 

The best training methods for this are compound exercises that utilize multiple muscle groups and segments simultaneously. For example, squats, deadlifts, cleans, clean-and-jerks, and snatches are essential for increasing your muscular strength. Of course, you can still perform isolated exercises if you want to focus on a specific muscle group. The most important thing is to figure out your personal needs and develop your skills for the ultimate sports-specific performance. 

Power training

Power training consists of explosive exercises with a load of 50-90% of your maximum. Each set usually comprises of 1-5 repetitions and repeated 4-10 times depending on the muscle groups you are working with. Power training exercises are also often performed one repetition at a time (acyclically), meaning that you should take a 20-40s break between repetitions. Apart from that, you should also rest 2-5mins between each set.

The reason why power training is so crucial for athletic development is that it causes neural adaptations in the body that help recruit more fast motor units, while also improving firing rate (how fast muscles contract) and muscular coordination. As a result, your body is able to produce more power with less effort, which translates to a higher maximum speed. 

The best power training exercises often utilize the same muscles and movement patterns needed in your sport. For example, a sprinter can greatly benefit from sprint-specific exercises such as snatches, clean-and-jerks, split-squats, step-ups, lunges, and one-legged deadlifts. Most athletes also perform various plyometric and ballistic exercises to increase explosiveness and the rate of force production. 

Plyometric training

Plyometric training, also known as plyos, refers to explosive bodyweight exercises such as jumps, leaps, and hops that take advantage of the body’s elastic energy via the stretch-shortening cycle. This means that muscles undergo an eccentric (muscle lengthening) phase before contracting (concentric phase). Thus, plyometrics help provide more force than regular exercises. 

Since plyometrics are heavily reliant on the stretch-shortening cycle, they have proven to improve the way the elastic components (tendons and muscle membranes) and muscle contractile units (muscle fibers) work together. Additionally, consistent plyometric training boosts the reactive ability of the neuromuscular system (muscles and their connecting nerves), resulting in faster response and contraction times. 

Another thing to remember is that plyometric training requires ground contact to utilize the elastic energy of the stretch-shortening cycle. With this in mind, plyometrics always involve some sort of impact and may therefore be unsafe for untrained athletes. However, it is still hailed as one of the most effective methods to increase power and explosiveness. In fact, it is often considered to bridge the gap between strength and sports-specific movement. 

Ballistic training

Ballistic training refers to exercises that involve swinging or throwing a weighted object, or jumping with additional resistance. While this might sound similar to plyometric training, their key difference is that ballistic training does not take advantage of the muscles’ stretch-shortening cycle. Conversely, ballistic training focuses on improving power production via concentric (muscle shortening) movement. 

During traditional weight training, nearly half of the concentric phase consists of slowing down. Ballistic exercises, however, are designed to minimize the deceleration phase while maximizing the acceleration a movement. Simply put, they skip the lowering phase of a movement and focus on the explosive acceleration part of the movement. 

Studies also state that ballistic exercises with a load of up to 60% are very effective in improving maximal power. Even heavier loads may also be used to improve the force component in your power capability. Consistent explosive exercises with high resistance cause neural adaptations that enhance firing rate, motor unit recruitment, coordination between muscles, and even rate of force development – all of which make ballistic training an excellent maximum speed training method.

Sprint training & assisted sprint training

The most common way to develop maximal velocity is via flying sprints. The purpose of these exercises is to slowly accelerate from a jog to maximum speed and maintain it for as long as possible without a decrease in velocity. Thus, reducing the amount of energy needed for acceleration and ensuring you can maintain maximum speed for as long as possible. 

Athletes are usually able to maintain maximum speed for around 10-30m (33-100ft) depending on their level. On the other hand, the run-up distance usually varies between 20-60m (66-197ft) and depending on how long it takes for the athlete to reach maximum speed. For example, elite athletes often use a 40m (130ft) run-up for a 30m (100ft) sprint. Because sprinting at maximal velocity is incredibly straining for the body, top-tier sprinters may use up to 15min recovery periods between sprints. Conversely, younger and untrained athletes often use 20m (66ft) build-ups for a 10m (33ft) sprint with around 4mins between runs. 

”As a general rule, every second spent sprinting requires a 1-2min recovery.”

Sprint exercises can also be done to improve sprint-specific endurance. After all, you need to maintain your velocity if you want to be faster than your competition. Sprint-specific endurance typically consists of 7-15s runs at 95-100% intensity with full recovery in between. Generally speaking, this means that the higher the intensity, the longer you need to recover. For elite athletes, sprint-specific endurance training often consists of 4-6 repetitions of 150m sprints with a 20-30min recovery. For untrained and developing individuals, this may consist of 2-3 repetitions of 100m sprints with a 10mins rest. 

Assisted sprinting, also known as overspeed training or supramaximal sprinting, is occasionally used to develop maximal speed. This refers to sprints that are performed above the maximum velocity that you can normally attain. The most common methods are downhill running, tailwind sprinting, being pulled by an elastic cord, and sprinting on a treadmill. In theory, assisted sprinting should result in a higher step rate and reduced ground contact times, both of which can translate to better performance. However, there is little research of whether assisted sprinting is actually beneficial for athletes, and most athletic trainers rarely use this method due to injury risk. If supramaximal velocity training is used, the towing force should be individualized to avoid bad sprinting mechanics. 

Overspeed training can be very effective in improving your maximal speed.

Physiological effects of maximum speed training

As a result of consistent maximum speed training, your body experiences several adaptations that have an impact on your performance. These include neurological and structural changes, adaptations in energy production, as well as enhanced technique. 

Neurological adaptations refer to changes your body’s ability to recruit muscles via the central nervous system. For example, maximum speed training increases motor unit recruitment and coordination between muscles. It even enhances the frequency of nerve impulses sent from the brain to the muscles. This is known as rate coding.

Structural changes are another benefit of maximum speed training. Regular training teaches your muscle fibers to contract faster and with more force. Additionally, your tendon stiffness increases, providing more elastic power and better mechanics during movement. 

Energy production mechanisms also experience changes after high-intensity training. This improves your anaerobic capacity (ability to produce energy without oxygen). Shorter 6-7s sprints are considered alactic (does not produce lactic acid) whereas longer speed-endurance focused sprints are lactic (produces lactic acid).

Enhanced technique is another beneficial effect of maximum speed training. Regular training has proven to improve running mechanics, helping you apply more force on the ground. Higher ground reaction force also improves stride length, running cadence (step rate) while reducing ground contact time. This means you’ll spend less time on the ground, which reduces possible ground friction. 

Maximum speed training aims to increase the amount of forward force you can apply to the ground.

Sample routines for maximum speed training

Looking to become a stronger, faster athlete? Well, you’re in luck! Check out these free maximum speed training samples and take your sprint performance to the next level.

Beginner flying starts

  • 20m build-up
  • 10m sprint at >98% of your maximum speed
  • 5-15 Repetitions
  • ~4min rest between sprints

Total sprint distance without build-up: 50-150m.

Intermediate flying starts

  • 40m build-up
  • 30m sprint at >98% of your maximum speed
  • 2-5 Repetitions
  • ~15min rest between sprints

Total sprint distance without build-up: 60-150m.

Beginner sprint-specific endurance drill

  • Standing start
  • 80m sprint at >95% of your maximum speed
  • 4 repetitions
  • 8mins between sets

Total running distance: 320m

Advanced sprint-specific endurance drill

  • Standing start
  • 150m sprint at >95% of your maximum speed
  • 6 repetitions
  • 15-30mins between sets

Total running distance: 900m

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

Monday (push)

1. Warmup

– 15mins of rowing

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
  • 15mins on treadmill
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
  • 15mins of various rope skipping techniques
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

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.

Childhood is the most opportune time to learn fundamental motor skills and correct running mechanics.

Suitability for developing athletes and physical education

Maximum speed training is usually considered safe and effective for growing athletes. However, due to the fact that it consists of both intense and high-resistance exercises, some methods may be suitable for younger athletes. For example, sprints, ballistic training, and even strength training can be safe as long as you have a solid strength foundation and the right technique. However, most sports scientists agree that advanced training methods like intense plyometrics and high-resistance power training should only be performed once the athlete has physically matured.

To ensure the correct training load for sprinting, younger and untrained athletes are generally advised to perform shorter maximum speed drills with a flying start and a longer run-up. Childhood is also considered the most opportune time to learn fundamental motor skills and correct running mechanics. In addition to sprinting (which always develops technique) coaches often include hurdle drills, skips, straight leg bounding, and walking/running high knees exercises in a single training session. These drills focus on technical aspects like posture, core control, high hips, forefoot landing, and lift-off. Thus, they are typically performed slowly as a warmup routine. 

Strength training is often considered an unsafe training method for developing athletes due to its high resistance. However, there’s very little scientific proof behind this claim. On the contrary, strength training can be perfectly safe and effective for growing athletes as long as they have a good foundation and the correct technique. Beginners should always start under professional guidance with less weight and more repetitions. 

Final thoughts

Maximum speed training is crucial for sprinters and athletes that require the highest maximal velocity possible. However, it is also important to remember that pure maximum speed is only useful in sports where you have enough time to attain it (~6-7s). Much like any other training method, maximum speed training also follows the same key principles; progression, specificity, variation, periodization, and individualization. 

Progressive overload means that you must constantly increase training volume to offer the same stimulus for your strengthening muscles. However, you must also gradually increase the volume and avoid excessive increases in training load. Your training should also be specific and utilize the same movement patterns, muscle groups, range of motion, training load, energy systems, and force-velocity profiles that you experience in your sport. It should also be individualized to fit your personal needs as well as taking your training background, age, sex, recovery, and injury status into consideration.

The optimal maximum speed training routine should also be varied and periodized. This refers to a systematic approach to forming a seasonal training plan. Often times the plan starts with an emphasis on high volume training with lower intensity, which gradually shifts to high-intensity training with less volume. However, there is a lot of debate on the ”perfect” training volume and what periodization model yields the best results when it comes to maximum speed training. Optimal training volume also seems to be highly dependent on sprint distance, performance level, as well as the time of the season. 

While training is at the heart of every well-built training program, you must also maintain the correct diet and have sufficient rest in order to have any meaningful results in your performance. Once these key factors are in perfect harmony, you can improve your results and stay healthy in the process. 

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

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