Speed Training

Speed Training

Speed Training

Sport Australia (formerly Australian Sports Commission), 14034-16

Prepared by: Janina Strauts, Strength and Conditioning Coach, Australia Institute of Sport  
Evaluated by: Ross Smith, Manager Strength and Conditioning Operations, Australian Institute of Sport
Last Updated: January 2017

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From power based sports to endurance based sports the ability to produce quick movements is advantageous. Whether it be to improve your tactical position in a team sport, accelerate out of the blocks in an individual race or run down your competitor at the end of a marathon, the ability to produce, maintain and redirect speed will lead to a better sporting performance. It is for this reason that speed training is an integral and essential part of every athlete’s training plan.

Speed training is often synonymously used with sprint training due to the prevalence of sprinting as the main form of locomotion in many sports.  Taking the time to teach basic sprint mechanics can pay dividends in the future as it can assist your athletes in becoming more mechanically efficient and quicker in the field of play. Obviously there are sports such as swimming, water polo, cycling and a variety of combat sports which use different methods of locomotion and therefore speed would need to be trained specifically in this particular sporting movement. For the purposes of this article the focus of speed will be on land based sports and sprint mechanics. Don’t forget that the basic principles of speed development can be applied to any sport training environment regardless of the type of locomotion primarily used in that sport.

Speed training can be dissected into many different variants. This article will focus on the four main components of speed training; acceleration, maximum velocity, change of direction and agility. Every sport contains these components to a greater or lesser extent depending on the requirements of the sport. By analysing the needs of the sport the pertinent speed training components can be identified, targeted and developed through appropriate training leading to improved performance outcomes.  


Acceleration is the rate at which velocity is increased, i.e. how long it takes to reach a particular speed. Acceleration training focuses on the first 5-20m of a sprint depending on the sport.  Sports such as gymnastics, long/triple jump and baseball/softball require a large amount of straight line acceleration. Team sports require athletes to be able to accelerate quickly over the first 10m to either make a break or defend an attack from the opposition. Track sprinters will take longer to accelerate not reaching full speed until  approximately 60-70m in a 100m race.

Acceleration can be improved through training focused on:

  • i.e. Free sprinting  [1]
  • i.e. Resisted sprinting [1, 2]
  • i.e. Hill sprints
  • i.e. Weights training [1]
Increased musculotendinous stiffness
  • i.e. Plyometric training [1]
  • i.e. Concentric jumps
  • i.e. Olympic lifts

Maximum velocity

Maximum velocity is commonly referred to as ‘top speed’. For track sprinters the ability to attain and retain maximum velocity is an essential component of their event. However for most team sport athletes maximum velocity is less important. There are less moments in team sports that an athlete will need to reach and hold maximum velocity.  The length of the field, number of players and game tactics would all influence the degree to which maximum velocity should be included in the training plan.

Maximum velocity can be improved through training focused on:

  • Teaching sprint mechanics will improve both acceleration and maximum velocity
Improving leg turn over
  • i.e. Over-speed training: i.e. downhill sprints
Active foot contact: muscle contractions at maximum velocity are elastic
  • i.e. Elastic power
Increased musculotendinous stiffness
  • i.e. Plyometric training [1]

Change direction speed

Change of direction speed is the ability to make planned changes in both speed and direction quickly. These types of movements are limited in sport due to the dynamic and reactive nature of most sports. They can include accelerations and decelerations in multiple directions. Research has suggested that the transfer of change of direction speed to sporting performance is limited due to the omission of the cognitive decision making component essential to sporting performance[3]. An example of a change of direction speed drill is shown below:


This drill is a classic “T” drill. In this drill the athlete begins on the purple cone. When instructed the athlete runs forwards to the blue, turns to sprint to the red, then to the green, back to the blue and finally returns to the purple cone. This drill could be timed to measure improvements in change of direction speed.


Agility is defined as “a rapid whole body movement with change of velocity or direction in response to a stimulus” [4]. It is different from change of direction speed as agility training always requires a cognitive stimulus to be present. Research suggests that the decision making and cognitive abilities of the athletes at an elite level are more important than the movement itself, as many elite athletes will already have good fundamental movement patterns[3]. Higher level players are able to dissociate and make decisions about opposition movements significantly quicker than sub-elite players. [3]. However it should be noted that  the stimulus must be sport specific. When non –sport specific cues are used, i.e. reacting to a flashing light, the elite group was not significantly better than the sub elite [5]. This suggests that elite athletes are able to better read the cues of their opponents to predict their next move. Elite athletes are also less likely to fall for the deceptive actions of their opponents[3].

Agility can be trained by performing scenarios or tasks in a sport specific environment which involve reacting to an external stimulus which commonly used in that specific sport.


Initially teaching correct sprint mechanics will improve all the speed components discussed in this article. This will ensure your athlete has a strong fundamental movement base which can transfer into their sport performance. Then by completing a needs analysis for the sport a specific speed training program can be developed to target the appropriate speed components.

Further resources and reading 


  1. Lockie, R.G., et al., The effects of different speed training protocols on sprint acceleration kinematics and muscle strength and power in field sport athletes. J Strength Cond Res, 2012. 26(6): p. 1539-50.
  2. Lockie, R.G., A.J. Murphy, and C.D. Spinks, Effects of resisted sled towing on sprint kinematics in field-sport athletes. J Strength Cond Res, 2003. 17(4): p. 760-7.
  3. Young, W.B., B. Dawson, and G.J. Henry, Agility and Change-of-Direction Speed are Independent Skills: Implications for Training for Agility in Invasion Sports. International journal of Sports Science & Coaching, 2015. 10(1): p. 159-169.
  4. Sheppard, J.M. and W.B. Young, Agility literature review: classifications, training and testing. J Sports Sci, 2006. 24(9): p. 919-32.
  5. Henry, G., et al., Validity of a reactive agility test for Australian football. Int J Sports Physiol Perform, 2011. 6(4): p. 534-45.



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