By Chuck Burt
Assistant Sports Performance Director

There is a common misconception as to what speed and agility training really is and what exactly that type of training entails. Many individuals; kids, parents, athletes and often times position coaches, think that if they’re heart is beating hard, their out of breath and they’re hot and sweaty they must be getting faster. This thinking is flawed…..quantity doesn’t necessarily mean quality! These individuals may be running around and active, which often times is better than nothing; however it is not teaching them better, more efficient running mechanics. That type of training is more clearly defined as conditioning, or more precisely cardio respiratory conditioning, and in no way should be confused with speed training.

Cardio respiratory conditioning is defined as any form of aerobic exercise that elevates your heart rate and causes your breathing to become somewhat labored for an extended period of time. Cardio training is usually done at a lower intensity level (submaximal speed) and with a higher level of volume (multiple sets). Speed and agility training on the other hand must be done at a higher intensity level (maximal speed) and at a lower work volume, so that the volume of the movements does not interfere with the athlete/individual’s ability to put forth a quality effort due to fatigue. A longer or ample rest period is required for speed and agility training which allows the body to resynthesize glycogen. Glycogen is the fuel that your body uses to drive itself to perform work. If glycogen stores are depleted and not allowed to recover, then the intensity of the work will drop no matter how hard the athlete tries.

Any qualified track coach knows that at the beginning of the season the initial training process should first consist of more conditioning protocols, and progress towards more speed work as the season nears the more important meets and qualifiers. The season starts with higher volume, shorter rest breaks, and as the season progresses the work load and volume drops while the recovery time increases. This allows the ATP-Phosphocreatine and fast twitch glycolytic energy systems (utilized in sprinting) to fully recover.

Speed is a skill, and like any skill, it can be taught – but it must be done with proper progression. The skill must first be taught slowly and in a controlled manner. Before attempting to perform any sort of speed and agility (or explosive) training, you first need to teach the athlete to control their own body. By not doing so runs the risk of the athlete possibly getting injured. The old adage “crawl before you walk; walk before you run” holds true to speed and agility training. First you must learn to control your bodyweight, then learn the skill slowly and finally focus on speed and power. This also holds true about strength development; an athlete cannot be expected to do a squat jump if they cannot squat with good technique. The more control an athlete has over their body, the more efficient they will be in applying force into the ground (Sprinting and Jumping).

A quality program must entail a few things. First, it must incorporate a proper warm up that includes injury prevention. Second, the skill that will be focused on must be broken down into parts that can be understood by the athletes. Next, those parts must then be put back together and coached as a whole. Finally there must be some sort of application that teaches the athlete how this applies to the field or court. This can be a game or a drill, but it must teach them how to use the skill on the field or court.

The skill being taught must be done with a small enough class size that allows the Coach to interact with each individual. Often times many of the Speed & Agility clinics that are offered have 30+ athletes (some of them have hundreds of athletes) and the majority of the time training is focused on conditioning. In that style of clinic, where there’s a large group of athletes, the only ones that get coached are the best athletes. While part of our job is to make good athletes great; I believe the biggest part is to make the below average athlete great. A smaller coach to athlete ratio (10:1) is more beneficial. This will lead to athletes having more success on the field and will help build their confidence; ultimately leading to success off the field (and in all other aspects of their life).

Summers are without a doubt filled with offerings for Speed & Agility clinics. I urge parents and coaches to research Speed & Agility clinics before signing their young athlete up. Ask yourself these questions:

  • What are this person’s qualifications?
  • Do they have a degree which shows they understand the biomechanics and physiology/kinesiology of my son/daughter and do they know how to apply that knowledge?
  • Is there any injury prevention in this program? If so what specifically are they going to do to help prevent my son/daughter from tearing their ACL or helping to prevent my son/daughter from getting a concussion while they play?

IF you get the answers you are looking for from these questions, you found a quality clinic; if not, you should continue your search…….