Nick Cooper: Programming for Speed

Strength and conditioning coach for the English Institute of Sport and head of S&C for TASS Nick Cooper provides a succinct overview of the components needed to enhance an athlete’s speed. He covers general and specific preparatory exercises, the components of actual running training, a brief discussion of why weightlifting and plyometrics transfer to running speed, as well as a few extra tips such as markers to progress to running drills.

General and specific preparatory exercises are the two distinct categories of strength training for speed. General preparatory exercises are those that build an ability to tolerate the forces of running, but can also utilise movement patterns similar to running to benefit speed. They include olympic lifts and their variations, as well as dynamic lower body exercises such as jump squats and loaded single leg landings.

Specific preparatory exercises much more closely relate to the specific movement patterns of running, as well as the neuromuscular coordination and loading characteristics. This category includes technical acceleration work, resisted sprinting and plyometrics. Cooper argues that such specific exercises would be appreciated for their force application benefits and not just technical drills. Quite simply, as acceleration = force/mass, the athlete’s ability to produce force in relation to their bodyweight will affect their acceleration.

Concentric barbell exercises (though I would also argue isometric and eccentric exercises, too) therefore can have a role in priding the body with the appropriate muscular and neural adaptations to develop power. Plyometric training on the other hand is focused on improving the rate of force development. With these respective benefits, Cooper endorses a concurrent training programme as opposed to periodisation where a strength development phase would precede a phase of power development, followed by a speed phase.

Actual running training can be divided into technical running and tempo running. Technical running would include walking, skipping and running drills focused on improving foot contact and posture, as straight line running (acceleration and absolute speed) is considered a skill that must be learned.

Tempo running is aimed at improving tissue conditioning and learning a skill from the high repetition and foot contact volume, as well as improving mechanical and coordination qualities. Cooper thus does not distinguish hugely between technical and tempo running in their definition or benefits. In fact, there is a crossover in their theoretical benefits (mechanics, motor learning of running as a skill, and even tissue conditioning to an extent). The key difference for me is technical running drills is a form of part practice, whereas tempo running is whole practice. Tempo running will also be used for energy systems development, though this may have been excluded due to the article considering programming only for speed benefits in the acceleration phase and top speed phase in their pure terms (short distance, maximal sprint).

Cooper finishes with a few practical tips as well as two case studies and their respective programmes.

Tip 1: Limit velocity and distance of running drills. Progress velocity when skill can be performed properly, and then progress distance when 80-90% of max velocity is reached with no compromise to technique.

Tip 2: Run on surfaces other than a track now and again. It can still be used to develop technique. Overly soft/wet grass would not benefit technique though, but soft/dry surfaces can benefit joint stiffness and reduce the overall stress of a high volume session with lots of impact.

(Follow up on tip 2: technical sessions on a track once every 7-10 days and tempo sessions once every 3-4 weeks should help an athlete transfer surfaces at any point and remain injury-free.)


The original article can be found here.

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