Developing Maximal Speed- Specific Track Methodology


One of the big questions is how to improve maximal speed or increase max velocity. I have made a huge amount of errors with this because I took what was perceived as world class advise and found myself dealing with the stagnation because max speed has some paradoxical laws and rules that are rather unwritten. The most common problem with developing max speed is the part by part approach by tweaking a few things in order to improve speed, such as specific flexibility or strength work. For years people have tried things but not much improvement has come to developing maximal speed since the early 80s. What has happened is that everyone now tends to be a more complete sprinter, making better performances as a whole, resulting to more 9.7s and 9.8s. I have no secret methods of improving max speed or claim to know why things are working for some sprint groups and not others. I do have some rather good questions.

Max Fly Sprints- I see two main options with doing the conventional fly sprints of 10-30m. First is just trying to go top speed through the timing gates and hope that the nervous system self assembles some adaptations to handling the gross forces. Second is the threshold of maximal speed achieved with perfect posture and stride mechanics. I call it max technique speed.Coaches instinctually prescribe submax speeds to ensure technique degration doesn’t occur, but we should explore this more as it’s likely to be good enough to imprint better physiological adaptations without long lasting fatigue of pure maximal efforts. Often this is not as slow as athlete’s think but the performances are slower than pure all out testing. Many fly tests require a bit of artificial cueing to ensure the late transition places the hips nice and high. While this doesn’t seem to create transition errors in real races, coaches must be aware of this. The every common transition problems we see is because we work on many parts in isolation. I find long acceleration runs done sub maximally help here as you can do more reps. In fact, I think we need to forget about intensities and compare practice times to actual meet data and see how athletes are actually performing in practice with regards to mechanic and prescribed speed.

Tempo Running- Tempo running is not evil and I think too much alternate means or circuits create good fitness or Energy System Development but transfers poorly. Restoration is not just recovery drinks or lasers, it’s teaching the body to rest and relax physiologically and motor skill wise. Coaches should shut up and maximize using tasks to get athletes to change, without long winded explanations. This isn’t easy and every 2-3 years I realize how ineffective I was earlier. We all have eyes and brains, but athletes are not limited by our knowledge over the years, but by the challenge the athlete is experiencing can’t absorb everything and need small doses of motor skill demand.

Rhythm Endurance- Several athletes and coaches think that speed endurance does more than work on energy systems. The 100m dash has each 10m segment rather unique in frequency and posture, making it very difficult to have execution because a true rhythm is not created. In fact each 10 leading up to 60m is a different animal, even if it’s gradual. Getting athletes comfortable at top speed is not easy, but the body starts to imprint adaptations when it doesn’t perceive danger or threat, and protective mechanisms start allowing adaptive mechanisms to improve neuromuscular output. While hurdle hops develop great power qualities, we tend to look at relaxation rates as nothing more than reminding to stay loose. Relaxation rates need specific protocols and challenging this change requires very precise velocities and a focus on maintaining the same beat over an extended time period. 150m repeats with focus on sustaining a specific rhythm seems to be very helpful in many camps. Going 11 meters per second longer may establish a rhythm and ability to turn off muscles earlier (as well as synchronization patterns) than trying to to go 11.8 meters per second and spin your wheels. One silver medalist from the OG games showed me at his house the classic example how to fill up a glass the fastest. He showed how blasting water into a cup and the water slashing out and wasn’t ideal. When he turned down the the faucet just a little bit the water flowed fast but efficiently, and the water line traveled up to the rim quicker. That image is burned into my brain.

Physiotherapy and Specific Strength- Structural balance is obvious, but no clear relationship exists with magic muscles. Let’s be real, sprinting is a total body effort, not the result of magic achilles or super hamstrings. Obviously the adductor brevis strength will not make freaks, but even gluteals and quads are not going to get people to the olympics with a Top Ten list of best exercises. Those that focus a lot of energy on specific exercises in the weight room for performance enchainment are just one step removed from flex magazine body part suggestions. I do think some postural changes can work, provided it’s not trying to change architectural issues from bone structure. Sometimes the body can’t be changed by core training or therapy, but at least try to see if it’s modifiable. Muscle timing and ergogenic limb placement often trumps strength, as tapping into power with a wider pipe is better than looking for a bigger oil well with a closed valve.

Volumes, Intensities, and Sequence- Too much nonsense of magical drop-off periods of percentages occur with pundits. How many of us really advocate a quarter of a second slow down in a 30m run? Also the athlete and coach must communicate their observations, feelings, and measurements. I tend to see with my own eyes with a drop of stiffness, something more specific and earlier than a power outage. I predict that uses of TMG, Vibromyography, and pressure mapping will clue us in to what specific sub qualities of max sprinting are fatiguing. In addition to fatigue I look at characteristics like hip strength, elasticity, ankle stiffness, and joint function. My chart is rather limited because I rarely have access to equipment, but it does confirm the brilliant coaches who have prescribed specific solutions in the past. I encourage more coaches to get force plate analysis and video breakdown to see relationships between global fatigue (HRV) and local fatigue (TMG). I have no general guidelines because I am not confident that the earlier education I received is detailed enough to give valid information.
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Carl Valle

Carl Valle

Track & Field Coach
Carl is an expert coach who has produced champions in swimming, track and numerous other sports. He is one of the foremost experts in the fields of nutrition and restoration.
Carl Valle

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