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    Ask Me Anything: Speed



    Okeyyyy.

    It's time again to sit in the hot seat for a while. Speed is a bugbear. Just like with strength it has a poor definition, several different ways of expressing it (and testing for it). An as yet to be defined way to develop it. All of which brings us to the point where I will bring what little science we have on the subject to bear on what you want to achieve. So, ask away. I will try, as always, to be really detailed in what I say. Stay awesome, safe and (since we are in a heat wave virtually everywhere) extra-cool.

    #2
    Ohh yes, I'd love to ask your stance on something speed related. In running there seem to be two main "strategies" to getting faster: 1) specific speed work (intervals, tempo runs, etc.) and 2) run more and longer distances. Most training plans use a combination of both. What's your opinion on where the balance between those two training elements lies?

    I realize that this is probably a bit of a broad question, so I apologize if it's too unspecific.

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      #3
      Are the fundamentals of developing speed somewhat constant among most exercises? In other words could a person trying to become a faster swimmer or climber use a similar strategy as a person training for running in terms of distance and interval training?

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        #4
        Is training for better acceleration different from training for top speed?

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          #5
          Yay, another D-AMA-er (name needs a lot of work)
          So anyway, I will pose the big question here, probably pointing the elephant in the room:
          what exactly is "speed" in terms of biology? I mean, what are the functions the body uses to accelerate faster and for longer periods (reduced fatigue)?
          If for instance I want to run my fastest 1500m, what workout regimen should I follow? I've heard people say use have to focus purely on bettering your running time, while others state lower body strength training is the key...
          Also, what exercises should we focus at? For example, I am running consistently for 6 years now, and I have developed low tiredness of my leg muscles... To give you an idea, I stop running because I have to, and not because I can't go on... When I can't run and jump rope, I can maintain a steady pace of 180-190 jumps per minute for 45-60'. But this morning, I tried the "Slam Dunk" strength workout, and by set 6, it had me begging to end!!!
          I hope I didn't confuse you, and waiting for your response!!!
          Great to have you back!!!

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            #6
            Not sure if my question matches the theme here, but let's see: does it make a difference if one does a strength exercise like for example bicep curls very fast and with a low weight vs very slowly and with a high weight?

            Thanks!

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              #7
              Hi! I wanna know if trainning for speed can be combined with trainning for streght

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                #8
                Okay, my question is: how can I lift my leg up to my chest faster (bent leg, prior to kick extension)? Is this just a matter of increasing muscle, and, if so, which ones, and, if not, then what?

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                  #9
                  Rissa an excellent question to begin with. There is a lot to unpack here so I shall try to not write too long an essay on it. ‚Äč

                  Let's start with the obvious: What is speed? In all sports it is the ability to move a certain mass, over a certain distance as fast as possible. This makes speed a measure of how fast an object is moving which tallies with how Physics defines it. When it comes to running however the mathematics that determine speed are made up of two distinct variables both of which need to be taken into account. The first is stride cadence (or pace) is the number of strides is the number of strides taken per second. The second variable is stride length and it refers to the length of each stride. All things being equal then, in running, higher stride cadence will give you greater speed if the stride length is the same and vice versa.

                  Of course, things are never equal. A longer limbed sprinter, for instance, can still lose to a shorter opponent if the latter's cadence is higher. Cadence is, also, one of the primary causes of injury in occasional runners (there's a cool study on this here). With this introduction you'd be forgiven in thinking that speed in running is either a matter of a longer stride (which is somewhat limited by genetics) or the number of times you can pump your legs and arms per second (which you can train for and improve but which is limited by our biomechanics.) To explain the second point a bit more consider that the fastest man on Earth, Usain Bolt, has only 2 or three strides difference than an average sprinter, over 100m. Even a relatively fit, average, person can, over that short distance, come very close to the number of strides. So, speed, when running is not really the result of the number of strides per second or the stride length. It is down to how much power is generated each time the foot strikes the ground.

                  Here, marathon runners and sprinters are significantly different from the average person and different again, from each other. As this analytical piece on Usain Bolt makes clear, his ability to generate an enormous amount of force when his foot strikes the ground is what makes him the exceptional sprinter he is. So speed in running then is a relatively 'simple' question of just how much power can you generate with each foot strike. This relatively 'simple' question then becomes the complexity of the training protocols you posed in your question.

                  Obviously the amount of power a sprinter needs to generate with each foot strike on the ground is going to be different to what a 200m runner needs and different again to what a 10,000m runner needs. But in their specific distance they all need to make sure they can consistently generate the highest amount of power each time their foot strikes the ground. That consistency is only created by form. So tempo runs, mock runs, intervals and so on are designed to focus on form by breaking the distance down into parts. Even the 100m race is broken down into three stages: Take-off, Acceleration, Deceleration. That last one is not learning to slow down muscle fatigue does that to the body naturally. But all sprinters learn how to fight fatigue so they slow down less than their competitors. "Run more and longer distances" is designed to battle fatigue and improve aerobic efficiency. If you're a runner who runs specific distances i.e. sprints then you already know what your focus is. You will need explosiveness, acceleration and resistance to mechanical fatigue. If you're a long distance runner on the other hand you need endurance and the ability to accelerate over short distances and then recover as you run. This is where adding frequency and distance comes in.

                  Now, when it comes to using running as a training aid most people and even some coaches get lost between these two poles. They try to go down the middle because they're not always sure what they need to accomplish. Speed, as a goal, is different for a sprinter who is trying to use all the chemical energy (ATP) stored in his muscles, as fast as possible, than it is for a long distance runner where speed, essentially comes down to the ability to resist fatigue and maintain muscle output.

                  This confusion clears up once we take a step back in order to understand what we are trying to achieve. Then we can truly look at the required components and begin to synthesize a proper speed-training strategy that is actually goal-specific.

                  I am not sure if this answers everything you wanted to know but please get back to me if it doesn't and I will be happy to add further clarification,

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                    #10
                    CaptainCanuck what a can of worms you've opened up. In theory the cross-transference of attributes in physical activity is a given. So, if you need strong legs to do the long jump, the muscular strength those legs have should be sufficient to power a 100m sprint. Indeed, we see that in cases like the legendary Jesse Owens and more recently Carl Lewis. In a more anecdotal way in boxing and martial arts. But, like strength, speed needs to be worked for in sports-specific or goal-specific ways to truly develop. So if you are, for example, looking to build up punching speed, you need to work on your punching technique in order to improve not just exercises that develop fast-twitch action muscle fibers in your arms. The reason for this goal-specific training (and both Owens and Lewis trained for the long jump as well as sprinting) lies in two additional components to speed that need to be developed on top of particular muscle fiber type composition. These are kinetic chain coordination (which requires fine tuning of the enervation that takes place in the body's neurone as a result of training) and the development and fine-tuning of the central nervous system in conjunction with the internal modelling that occurs within the brain itself. The latter, in particular, is hugely important. It is the basis of our Think Yourself Fit article. (You can think yourself fast and this study on kinesthetic function is quite an eye-opener). And, there are additional studies which show how effective it is, one of them is here. The study talks about strength training because strength is easier to measure but the principle applies equally well to speed.

                    So, to now answer your question a little more directly. To a certain extend speed carries over from one physical activity to another but only as long as the muscle groups used in one are identical or similar to those used in the other. To improve further however there is no avoiding the need for task-specific or activity-specific training.

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                      #11
                      Haidare thank you for bringing this up and the answer is yes. Acceleration is the body's ability to overcome inertia and move its mass from rest to speed quickly or from steady speed to a higher speed faster. Top speed is the body's ability to sustain, for a while, a specific output. Acceleration requires explosiveness and explosiveness is really the ability of muscles to engage as many sarcomeres as possible, as quickly as possible. Top-speed on the other hand is endurance. Endurance is the result of sarcomeric organization in muscle fibers. This study explains a little about this. The length of sarcomeres creates fast-twitch action fiber or slow-action fiber. This explains it a little more.

                      I hope I answered your question fully. If not please let me know.

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                        #12
                        GiorgosD great questions. I think my answers above pretty much cover what you asked but if not, after you've read them, please get back to me and I will add more.

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                          #13
                          Anek excellent question and yes! There is a real difference. Fast moves with low weights lead to quick engagement of sarcomeres which then helps build up speed. (This is why boxers will shadow-box holding a 2kg or a 3kg weight). Slow moves with a big weight leads to strength. But strength is not speed.

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                            #14
                            facuzayas this is a question that comes up often. You don't have to sacrifice strength for speed. Sprinters are very strong. But if by strength you mean having muscles bulkier than needed for speed then no. You either have one or the other. As an example, bodybuilders can be very strong but they are never fast.

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                              #15
                              TopNotch a brilliant question every martial artist struggles with. I am going to use an analogy here that you will like. Suppose we equate the power of your kick to gun you hold in your hand. You want a harder kick? 'Easy'. Get a bigger gun. But if you want to be able to raise your arm fast and shoot quickly (the fast-draw issue) a bigger gun won't help. You need to have arms that can lift it quickly. So, really, a gunfighter would need to worry more about the strength in his arm than the caliber of his gun. Now, let's take that analogy to kicking. The muscles of your leg are the caliber of the gun. Stronger legs means stronger kicks. But faster kicks require the ability to raise the leg quickly and deliver it where you need it to go and for that you need tendons. Thankfully DAREBEE has a lot of tendon strength exercises. Also if you practice doing the kicks as slowly as possible so that you are executing them in slow mo, that will help you get faster, more accurate kicks. I really hope this helps.

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