Speed Kills! One of the greatest performance indicators for any sport is speed – pure and simple.

Whether you’re a team, sprint, field, or endurance, the faster athlete will always have the advantage. However, that isn’t to say that speed is the only characteristic you should care about. Still, it should never be relegated to the sideline – quite the opposite, the other characteristics should be targeted to not take away from an athlete’s speed.

There are different types of speed, all with their own utility. For example, just because an athlete has a blazing 40-yards dash does not equate to a fast 100m, nor does it imply a fast 1500m time – there is a sliding scale of how different speed affects different sports/events.

To keep it simple, though, I will only discuss four different aspects of speed and recommendations for training them– as an aside, there is a lot more hair-splitting regarding this topic; this is simply an introduction to the idea of the variable qualities.

For training guidelines, see Table 1 for the nitty gritty.

Acceleration (Getting up to speed)

The first component of any type of locomotion, you need to first begin from static to moving; thus, acceleration needs to occur. Depending on the duration of the activity, acceleration will either play a big role (the shorter the event, the more acceleration plays a crucial role) or smaller/none (Ultramarathons). For team sports and sprints up to 800m, acceleration play can play an important role in determining placement for the ball, position off the bend, or when top speed is achieved.

How to Train for Acceleration

IMPORTANT! – If you want to run fast, you need to train fast!

Sounds simple enough but can be hard to gauge when to stop. The 3 biggest caveats for training to get faster are intensity, rest times, and drop-off.

Intensity – Each rep needs to be at the highest possible intensity and intent. Suppose you’re not moving at or over 98% of your fastest speed. In that case, you are in danger of not attaining the ideal stimulus (both physiological and motor learning).

Rest Times – You need to be fully recovered! If you are partially recovered, you risk dropping the intensity and thus not getting the training effect you are after SPEED! The general rule of thumb is 1 minute for every 10m of distance, or a 1:60 work-to rest-ratio

Drop-off – Poison is in the dosage. Ideally, you need to cut the workout before you cannot produce adequate intensity. It’s always better to do one set less than one too many. Too many reps past the drop-off point will lead to slower accelerations.

Example Workout:

3-4 x 20m – 2-minutes rest

2-3 x 30m – 3-minute rest

1-2 40m – 4-minute rest

Maximal Velocity (The fastest of your fast!)

The fastest of the fast. Maximal velocity is the fastest you can run over a given distance following the acceleration phase (10-30m). It is essential for all athletes because of the higher your peak velocity, the greater potential for your average velocity. There will never be a point where the average is above your max (I don’t think mathematicians would appreciate it if you broke maths). Thus, developing maximum velocity is applicable across all disciplines – in team sports having a high-speed reserve allows for greater capacity for change of direction and endurance; the athlete with the highest average velocity will win any race (distance/time = velocity).

How to train Maximal Velocity

The guidelines are nearly identical to acceleration but with a few differences.

Intensity – >98%. If you want to be fast, you need to train fast!

Rest Times – Full recovery. Like acceleration, you can use the 1 minute per meter / 1:60s rest time; however, you must also account for the approach to the top speed. As maximum velocity is typically trained in a “Flying start” style with a set approach distance into the max velocity portion. The recommendations are 1 minute per meter of “fly” distance plus 2-3 minutes.

SIDE NOTE – more advanced athletes will need more recovery time as they can attain greater velocities than novices and thus a greater relative demand on their nervous system.

Drop-off – Stop the workout before you lose intensity. Relatively slow training = relatively slow performance.

Example Workout:

4 x 20m build + 10m “Fly” – 3-4 minute rest

3 x 20m build + 20m “Fly” – 5-7 minute rest

Speed Endurance (Hold long can you stay on the bubble?)

Now that you’ve hit the max, how long can you keep it before you begin to decelerate? The longer the distance, the more crucial this characteristic is. The duration of top speed will become a larger component of the duration. For Team sports, the importance of this quality can be argued. Still, the greater the potential room for running at max speed – as in rugby 7s – the more time should be spent training this quality.

How to train Speed Endurance?

Intensity – 90-95%. Unlike other qualities, speed endurance has shown to be trainable at submaximal speeds without the interference of motor execution of running (Haugen et al. (2019). An important note is that intensity and volume change as a program progresses.

Rest Times – Times can vary depending on if they are within a repetition or between sets of sprints. Between repetitions, partial recovery is recommended: 2-4 minutes, and between sets, full recovery: 8-15 minutes. The partial between repetitions stresses the body to attain greater capacity for top speed. Still, the full recovery between sets ensures that the following set is not compromised (Ensures that the sets start off with the highest intensity).

Drop-off – As the repetitions are at a submaximal level, trainees must ensure that form and technique are not compromised. Lower intensities can lead to alterations in motor execution, impeding the transferability of the training.

Example Workout

Week 1: 2x2x50m @90%

Week 2: 3x2x50m @95%

Week 3 3x2x60m @95%

Week 4: 3x3x60m @95%

Specific Endurance (How hard and how long can you go?)

S.A.I.D. – Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands

The name gives it away; the goal of specific endurance is to develop the ability to run for a specific distance at a given intensity. The important note is that this applies to all distances, not merely the sprints. Repetitions should be within 95% of the goal intensity/speed and as close to the race distance as possible (the closer the race distance, the less volume available in the session).

How to Train Specific Endurance?

Intensity – >95%. Trainees need to keep it as close to the goal speed as possible to ensure appropriate adaptation. If you want to run at a specific speed in a race or game situation, you need to expose the body to the imposed demands.

Rest Times – Full recovery between repetitions: ~8-30 minutes (1:1-2 work to rest). This has the widest range for recovery times because of the widest array of distances to train. Just as in acceleration and maximal velocity, we want full recovery to ensure intensity does not drop.

Drop-off – Same as the other high-intensity characteristics, stop before technique and intensity are impacted.

Example workout:

100m – 6-10 x 80m

400m – 3-4 x 350m

800m – 3-4 x 500m


Characteristic Rep Distance (meters) Intensity (% of fastest time for distance) Rest (min) Total Volume (m)
Acceleration 10 – 50 >98% 2-7 (Full recovery) 100-300
Maximal Velocity 10-30 >98% 4-15 (Full Recovery) 50-150
Speed Endurance 60-80 90-95% Reps – 2-4 (Incomplete)

Sets – 8-15 (Complete)

Specific Endurance Sprints: 80-350+

Other: Specific Distance


Other: Goal intensity/speed

Sprints: 1:120s+

Other: Variable, but long enough to maintain goal intensity.

Sprints: 300-900

Other: Quality of quantity

Table 1 – Modified summary of best practices from Haugen et al. (2019)

Haugen, T., Seiler, S., Sandbakk, Ø. et al. The Training and Development of Elite Sprint Performance: an Integration of Scientific and Best Practice Literature. Sports Med – Open 5, 44 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40798-019-0221-0 https://rdcu.be/cNQjT

 by Troy Wilson

Wilson Kinetic Health

MScKin, PKin
Team Canada Athlete