Considerations when Creating a Speed Development Program
Let’s be frank. If you go for long slow runs or long slow bike rides, then you will not get faster running or faster on the bike. You may get stronger, and you may get fitter. But you won’t get noticeably faster. In order to get fast you have to train fast. To some this means doing lots of high intensity workouts. To the more informed athlete or coach, this means you have to work on improving your form (skills), your ability to accelerate (strength and power), and avoiding the collapse of your endurance ability. Note: you need to have endurance ability before you try to tackle speed.
Before writing this blog post I enjoyed reading the following two online articles:
- Speed Training: How a Treadmill Can Help Athletes Run Faster
- Speed and Skill Optimization with Cal Dietz
What these two articles confirmed for me was that it is pointless to try to get faster at running or biking by just pushing hard doing a somewhat long workout. You need to focus on building strength by lifting weights and pushing big gears riding a bike. For running you need to develop an ability to feel comfortable lifting your feet off the ground at a high cadence, but it is not so helpful to try to develop this while actually running miles outside. And for cycling you need to develop an ability to spin the pedals on the bike, but you don’t need to (nor should you) focus on spinning large gears.
The first stage in your speed development program (“SDP”) should involve overload aspects, progressive resistance aspects, and some endurance aspects. Basically split your training into different focuses. The overloading will come in the form of weight training and overgearing on the bike. The progressive resistance aspects will come from HiiT (high intensity interval training) on the treadmill (for running) and on a power meter enabled bike on an indoor trainer (for cycling). These workouts are short but the key to getting faster. They should be between 20 and 30 minutes only. The endurance aspects will come from doing 45-60 minute trail runs outside, 75-90 minute bike rides on an indoor trainer at a constant watt output that is not very difficult, and very high cadence pool running for 60 minutes.
The first stage of your SDP should last quite a while. But there will come a time when you will want to refine the speed that you have created. You will want to start doing more and harder sport specific workouts. Runners will start doing runs outside that somewhat closely approximate the distances they will run in competition. And cyclists will start doing bike rides outside that will somewhat approximate the distances they will ride in competition. Of course, there is only so much training time in a week. The weight training will have to be cut back to make time for more runs and bike rides. The HiiT workouts will have to be cut back or eliminated so the competitor will have the time AND ENERGY to do quality runs and bike rides outside. And interestingly, there might not be a need for the one run or bike ride for endurance since the new focus on training is endurance related.
The third stage is a short taper period. You’ll compete in your competition, and then start over again with Stage One as described above. This is, of course, if you want to continue to get faster.
It cannot be stressed enough that the HiiT workouts need to be very high intensity and should not last more than 20 to 30 minutes. They must be done well above your lactate threshold mark. They should not be particularly comfortable to perform regardless of how tolerant to pain you are. This is where the saying “No pain gets no gain” comes from. Threshold runs on the treadmill for 30 minutes will do a wonderful job of maintaining your speed, but they won’t get you speed gains. A 60-minute bike ride at or near threshold will do a wonderful job maintaining your fitness level, but it won’t get you speed gains. To run fast you have to run faster in training than you are used to. The same goes for biking.