By: Travis Hansen
Now I’m well aware that many will be skeptical when first seeing the title of this article, but please hear me out. I have no doubt that there are still several aspects of speed development that are not fully disclosed or understood based on science. This will be the first article of hopefully several that address some of these gaps, so that coaches, trainers, and athletes can get the most out of their efforts in training.
Right now I’m going to discuss an extremely underrated training factor which heavily impacts various speed related adaptations in the body, and that is “Fatigue.” By definition, fatigue refers to a temporary loss in function in some area of the human movement system (central, local, muscular, etc.). If you really want to get faster quickly then you must learn how to manage fatigue through proper programming. Period.
Below I will introduce then briefly discuss some reasons why fatigue impairs performance.
#5-Real world evidence!
Brad Schoenfeld published a great article on T-Nation awhile back that mentioned how different genes express based on specific training approaches. Quite simply, genes associated with strength and speed development may be inhibited when endurance training and conditioning are high, and vice versa. How many speed programs for athletes have you seen that limited conditioning? Not very many. Adaptations related to improved speed and power (increased motor unit recruitment, excitability, rate coding, etc.) take weeks and weeks to develop, whereas conditioning levels and energy system changes can occur within days. So why are so many still wrapped up on running athletes into the ground and basing their programs almost exclusively on being in optimal condition year round? I don’t know.
Phosphagen pools help regenerate broken down or independent ADP within muscle cells so we can perform high intensity based training methods such as max effort strength training, sprinting, cutting, jumping, etc. When these pools run out we are sapped. The key is to allow enough of a rest interval between actual sprints so that these pools can replenish. One study I found showed that depletion of creatine stores and ATP after max effort sprints resulted in a substantial decrease in power output. 1 Make sure to rest 2-5 minutes depending on the athletes level of speed when performing 20-60 yard sprints.
Neural fatigue is next on the list and this is a big one. Unfortunately, our body’s nervous system takes several days to complete recovery and regenerate so that we are able to operate at full capacity again. “Research suggests athletes are unable to maintain maximal firing frequencies for the full duration of, for example, a 100m sprint. Fatigue after a single training session may also have a neural manifestation with some athletes unable to voluntarily fully activate muscle or experiencing stretch reflex inhibition after heavy training. 2” Famous researchers and coaches such as Bompa and Francis have also discussed the impact high intensity training has on the body’s nervous system and the need to lay low and relax till the time is right. The motor cortex was an area that was mentioned which gets fatigued along with other neural structures throughout the body.
I’ve found at least 2 studies which support “quality over quantity” when it comes to sprinting and any other high intensity based method. 3 4 This is still a very underrated concept in my experience. Basically, specific changes in the muscle which can promote greater speed such as increased cross sectional area, fast twitch fiber conversion, and an increased sarcoplasmic reticulum volume will not occur if sprinting volume and frequencies are too high. 2-3 days per week of speed and change of direction work is more than enough to generate the changes I just mentioned and more so that you can become faster over both the short and long-term.
Lastly, I’m proud to say that the program we are using with our athletes has help over 2 dozen athletes cut 3-5 tenths of a second off of their 40 or 60 yard dash. As verified by a Brower TC fully electronic timing system. There are many other areas of emphasis for building speed (technique, maximal strength, single leg strength, plyometric variations, warm-up/preparation, nutrition, supplementation, supplemental lifts, hypertrophy, etc.) but proper recovery for the purpose of managing cumulative fatigue levels is absolutely imperative if the goal is to get faster.
#2-Ross, A. Neural influences on sprint running. Sports Medicine, 31: 409-425, 2012.
#3-Villarreal, ES. Low and moderate plyometric training frequency produces greater jumping and sprinting gains compared with high frequency. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 3: 715-725, 2008.
#4-Ross, A. Long-term metabolic and skeletal muscle adaptations to short sprint training: implications of sprint training and tapering. Sports Medicine, 15: 1063-1082, 2001.
About the Author
Coach Travis Hansen is Director of the Reno Speed School and author of the speed development book 'The Speed Encyclopedia'.
**If you're a speed training nerd like us, you should definitely check out this resource – The Speed Encyclopedia.