• Introduction
  • What is speed endurance in sports?
  • Physiological factors of speed endurance in sports
  • Mechanical factors of speed endurance in sports
  • Benefits of speed endurance in sports
  • Here’s how you train for speed endurance
  • Final thoughts
  • Sources

Introduction

Speed is one of the biggest factors that set athletes apart in modern sports. But, while maximum speed is important, it’s of no use if you are unable to maintain it long enough to take advantage of it. What’s more important is the ability to maintain speed at the intensity needed in your sport without getting fatigued. And that’s where speed endurance comes into play.

This article analyzes the basic mechanics of speed endurance in sports and why it is so vital for athletes as well as active individuals alike. You can also head straight to our speed endurance training post if you want to learn how to create your own training program. You’ll even find a few free samples to get you started.

What is speed endurance in sports?

Speed endurance, or anaerobic endurance, describes your ability to maintain a near-maximal speed for an extended amount of time. So, whereas maximum speed and acceleration describe how high of a velocity you can ultimately produce and how fast you get there, speed endurance relies on your body’s ability to fight against fatigue during longer intense performances. That is why your anaerobic (without oxygen) efficiency is extremely important if you want to resist lactate build-up and resist fatigue more effectively.

The physical fatigue of speed endurance training can also be used for mental performance as well. You see, the more tired you get the worse your technique will also become. Additionally, this often results in bad decision-making during competitive scenarios. Thus, your ability to stay focused even through intense physical activity can also make you a better athlete. So, try to stay focused during every workout that you do!

Speed endurance is useful sports that rely on longer or continuous intense muscle work that lasts anywhere between 30s to 3-4 minutes. Therefore speed endurance is the most important physical attribute in events such as a 400m sprint.

However, speed endurance is also important in some field-based team sports. For example, the average soccer player performs 150-250 short (under 5s) spurts during a single match – and often back-to-back. This means that your ability to recover quickly and tolerate lactate becomes essential for repetitive sprints. This athletic component is also crucial in a variety of different field, court, and track-based sports, such as ice hockey, rowing, and athletics. Luckily it can be improved with a well-planned workout program!

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Speed endurance describes your ability to maintain a near-maximal speed for an extended amount of time.

Physiological factors of speed endurance in sports

There are a few physiological factors that have an impact on your speed endurance including age, sex, genetics, hemoglobin levelstraining background, maximum force productionanaerobic capacitymaximum oxygen uptake (VO₂max)  and running technique.

Age can have a significant effect on speed endurance in sports. This is due to the fact that aging causes stiffness in the muscles, lowers maximum oxygen uptake (VO₂max), slows down recovery, reduces both muscular strength and muscle mass as well as slows down lactate clearance. In fact, some studies have stated that runners slow around 7% per decade after the age of 40.

Sex also has an effect on your speed endurance capability. This is because on average, females tend to have 20% lower maximum oxygen uptake (VO₂max) than males. However, since women are also physically smaller and have less muscle mass, they also don’t need as much oxygen to maintain the same level of performance. Thus, the gender-effect may not be as drastic as one might think.

Genetics refers to the physical traits inherited from your biological parents. This includes physical characteristics such as height, weight, body composition and muscle mass. However, for speed endurance, one of the most important factors is the muscle fiber type and their proportions in the body. This is due to the fact that slow-twitch muscle fibers (type I) are specialized in producing force efficiently whereas fast-twitch muscle fibers (type IIa & type IIb/IIx) produce more power while fatiguing faster.

Training background refers to the intensity of the exercise you are used to. In a speed endurance context, this can mean anything from 30s to 3-4 minutes of high-intensity exercise at a time. Therefore athletes that often perform at this level are already at an advantage when it comes to improving it further.

"Speed endurance relies heavily on your anaerobic capacity and ability to buffer lactate."

Maximum force production describes the biggest amount of force you can ultimately produce. For example, in a running context, this means the top speed you can reach. This, on the other hand also has an effect on speed endurance due to the fact that athletes are able to maintain a higher submaximal (below their maximum) velocity with less effort if their maximum speed is higher.

Anaerobic capacity describes how much energy you can produce anaerobically (without oxygen). You see, all sprints under 6s rely solely on the phosphagen system while all sprints beyond that start producing lactate. Thus, during a near-maximal high-intensity performance your body also needs to be able to fight against fatigue by buffering lactate and reusing it for energy production. Speed endurance training develops these systems and improves lactate tolerance, boosts anaerobic energy storages and improves energy production speed.

Maximum oxygen uptake (VO₂max) is the maximum rate in which the body can use oxygen during physical performance. Additionally, it is also directly related to how much blood your heart can deliver to the muscles. And since muscles need oxygen to function properly, maximum oxygen uptake is one of the most important factors in speed endurance.

Hemoglobin is a protein molecule responsible for delivering oxygen from the bloodstream to muscle tissue. Therefore, a higher amount of hemoglobin in the blood will ensure your muscles receive all the oxygen they need even during intense exercise. It can even be increased through endurance exercises, high-altitude training and eating iron-rich foods.

Speed endurance helps you tolerate lactate better and fight against fatigue.

Mechanical factors of speed endurance in sports

Physiological factors are not the only determinants of speed endurance in sports. In fact, mechanical factors such as technique can have almost as big of an impact as your physical shape. This includes factors like running economy and ground contact times.

Running economy describes your ability to use as little effort and energy in relation to your workload. For example, your running technique must be good enough to utilize the right muscles at the right time and avoid using excess energy for things like overstriding, understriding, excess body lean and unwanted arm sway. Therefore, the better your technique is, the less oxygen you need to perform at a certain intensity.

Ground contact time refers to the time your feet spend on the ground during a sprint. While this is incredibly short in a sports context (~0.14s), every step still adds to the traction that an athlete has to fight against. Therefore an athlete has to minimize the time it takes to propel themselves forward for the best efficiency during high speeds.

Benefits of speed endurance in sports

Speed endurance is especially beneficial in sports where athletes need to perform maximum-effort sprints for an extended amount of time or back-to-back with little breaks in between. In fact, you don’t even need to be the fastest athlete out there to compete with others. You just need to be able to sustain a maximum speed for longer than a naturally faster athlete. Thus, speed endurance is one of the main components for athletes of most field and court-based sports.

For short sprinting events, the best method is an all-out effort, even if it means that your speed reduces significantly towards the end. On the other hand, pacing strategies almost always come in handy when the event lasts longer than 80-100s. What’s even better is that speed endurance training can also be effectively used to enhance performance in longer endurance events such as a 10km run or a 40km cycling.

High-intensity training also has other benefits as well. It strengthens your bones and muscles, reduces injury risk,  boosts fat burning as well as improves coordination, agility and running economy.

Speed endurance training requires a good foundation of endurance and speed.

Here’s how you train for speed endurance

Speed endurance is directly related to your speed and endurance capabilities, which is why athletes need to build a solid foundation for both of them when getting ready for the competitive season.

The best way to build up your speed endurance is through strength and power training (to improve overall force production) as well as sprints at various duration and intensities. These sprints should be performed relatively close to your maximal aerobic speed (the lowest velocity where maximum oxygen uptake (V02 max) occurs). This means that a significant amount of energy is produced anaerobically (without oxygen).

Since the anaerobic energy system produces lactate as a side-product, the athlete must learn to buffer it in order to fight against fatigue. That is why speed endurance exercises need to be done at the right intensity, meaning that blood lactate levels should be high enough to provide an adequate challenge but low enough to not cause extreme fatigue. Otherwise, you end up training at a lower intensity which doesn’t serve the goal you are after.

Because the intensity of sports varies from one activity to another, speed endurance is typically trained via 15-180s sprints with an intensity of around 70-100% of your maximum. The more intense your sport is, the more intensely you should train. Speed endurance training also requires somewhat shorter recovery periods of 2-4mins between sprints and 8-15mins between sets. The overall sprinting distance of a single high-intensity training session should be 600-2000m.

”The only way to train speed endurance is to do intense exercises for a long time."

While power, strength, and interval training are often the most common and effective methods to improve speed endurance, it can still be trained with plyometric training, ballistic exercisesaltitude traininghill runs, threshold & tempo runs, lactic acid training, fartlek training and Paarlauf intervals. Whichever style of training you prefer, you must always remember the basic rule of speed endurance training – intense and long exercises.

If you are interested in learning how to train for speed endurance, we’ve created a whole article tackling this issue. Just click the button below and you’ll also find a few free sample routines to try out.  

Final thoughts

What makes speed endurance interesting is the fact that it is always related to a certain activity. By definition, it describes your endurance abilities at a certain speed that is optimal for your sport. This, however, can vary greatly according to the activity that you are doing.

Since speed endurance includes such a wide range of activities at varying intensities, there is no “best way” to train for it. Moreso than with other athletic attributes, speed endurance requires training at the same intensity needed in your sport. This is also the reason why it is nearly impossible to pinpoint exactly what kind of energy production is needed in speed endurance activities – short and intense activities require good anaerobic endurance and lactate buffering whereas longer exercises need better aerobic endurance.

It is important to remember that training is not the only thing you need to consider if you want to become a better athlete. In fact, it can do more harm than good if you don’t remember to take some time off to rest and take care of proper nutrition. Balance these three and you’re well on your way to a successful and healthy athletic career.

But before you go, here’s a quick recap of speed endurance training:

  • Improves neuromuscular connection between nerves and muscles
  • Maintaining the highest possible velocity as long as possible
  • Focuses mostly on fast-twitch muscle fibers
  • Improves efficiency of sports-specific movements
  • Enhances anaerobic energy production
  • Longer intense exercises
  • Needed in sports with long bursts of intense exercise

Did you learn anything new about speed endurance in sports? Let us know in the comments!

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