How To Plan Speed Training Around Your Competitive Season

   

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Without question - speed, agility, and change of direction capabilities are three characteristics all ground-based athletes need in order to compete at higher levels.

The examples are endless: athletes who are faster and more agile are higher performers than those with lesser capabilities. The athletes who are proficient more quickly score the points, make spectacular plays, tackle the breakaway ball carrier, and are often the team leaders.  

The NFL screens college players specifically in the 40-yard dash, Pro Agility, and the “L” drill for speed, agility, and change of direction capability. Those tests are designed to predict football competency. Interestingly, many athletes will spend a disproportionate amount of time strength training and not get any faster on the field or court.

DOWNLOAD: 3-Day Speed & Agility Template

The purpose of this guide is to give coaches and athletes a definitive guide on training for speed, agility, and change of direction for ground-based athletes.  

There will be:

  • A definition of speed, agility, and change of direction as it pertains to ground-based sport activities
  • An explanation of how these programs fit into other training methods like strength and power training
  • An overview on how to program seasonally for speed and agility
  • Sample programs, exercises, and progressions

All of this information will give you the tools to implement a speed and agility program that improves performance.

Let's Define It: What is Speed and Agility?

Definitions of speed and agility are warranted because over the years there has been a wide range of interpretations. The scientific community has done a great job helping coaches and athletes train more efficiently and effectively by giving us applied information.   

The National Strength and Conditioning Association defines speed, agility, and change of direction like this:

  • Speed: The skill and abilities needed to achieve high movement velocities
  • Agility: The skill and abilities needed to change direction, velocity, or mode in response to a stimulus
  • Change of direction: The skill and abilities needed to explosively change movement direction, velocities, or mode

These definitions are somewhat self-evident; however, I’d like to add some context.

  • Speed can be thought of running in a straight line
  • Agility can be thought of as change of direction - but adding a reaction component like a defender or ball
  • Change of direction can be thought of as running through a sequence of cones in a predetermined pattern or order

You will need to keep these definitions in mind when designing and implementing training programs.

Fitting This Type Of Training Into Your Program

Speed, agility and change of direction training are designed to create time and space for a competitive advantage on the field.

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If you look at yearly seasonal plans, there are times with a focus on sport skills, physical development, and competition. Understandably, the off season is a time where physical development is optimized - like agility, balance, strength, power, speed, endurance and body composition.

Once these physical attitudes or characteristics have been developed, there is a shift to the preseason followed by the in-season. Training for improved physical development is reduced to place, effort, time, and energy on sport-specific training and tactics. Yet an in-season training for speed, agility and change of direction should not be omitted.  

An applied in-season speed, agility, and change of direction program would be well worth the time and effort... it will pay dividends in competition.   

During the competitive season, there is a shift away from high volumes of training for developing physical characteristics (like speed, agility, and change of direction). The same goes for strength and power training.

When designing in-season speed, agility, and change of direction programs, the question that must be asked is, “How little can I do and not compromise the gains of the off-season training?”  

The answer is 2 times per week for no more than 15 to 20 minutes of focused training for change of direction and agility. I would say you can incorporate speed training drills every day in a manner that will elicit a meaningful response but accumulate little or no fatigue.  

Let’s take a closer look at a seasonal training plan focused on speed, agility, and change of direction.

 

Speed

Agility

Change of Direction

Early Off-Season

2-3 times per week

Low intensity

2 times per week

Low intensity

2 times per week

Low intensity

Off-Season

3-6 times per week

Moderate to High intensity

2-3 times per week

Moderate to High intensity

2-3 times per week

Moderate to High intensity

Pre-Season

3-4 times per week High intensity

2-3 times per week High intensity

2-3 times per week High intensity

In-Season

Incorporated during warm ups prior to practice daily

2 times per week at the end of practice

High intensity

2 times per week at the end of practice

High intensity


**I’ll address the specific exercises, intensity, and reps in the example program to follow.

The fundamental model this table follows is decreasing volume and increasing intensity during the in-season and vice versa during the off-season. This model, if applied correctly, will progress appropriately over time to allow maximum gains while minimizing the risk of overuse injuries and fatigue.

Change It Up

Changing up the speed, agility, and change of direction training should be done periodically for various reasons. More precisely, it should be done as needed on a daily, monthly, and/or seasonal basis. There are a number of different factors that would warrant a change.

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One factor is age. Here's an example: if you are working with prepubescent children, there is an opportunity based on their developmental age to optimize motor skills like speed, agility, and change of direction. During this prepubescent period, a variety of skills and drills could be introduced in off-season. Of course it would be wise to start out with fundamentals and progress to more challenging drills. 

As athletes develop beyond puberty, a more selective approach on skill and drill selection could be implemented, and they could be more sport specific. A volleyball player would cover a much shorter distance when choosing change of direction drills verses a soccer player. This would be reflective based on distance covered in the respective sport's field of play.  

Another factor is adaptation. When training for coordinative abilities like speed, agility, and change of direction, it is understandable that the body adapts to the skills and drills. Typically a significant adaptation can take place at about 3 weeks. At this point, there should be a change in training stimulus.

This is typically done by altering the biomechanics of the drills. Moving the distance and placement of cones for a drill may be sufficient enough to add the desired biomechanical variation to keep the body from stagnation and plateau. Many coaches use the fourth week of training to recover and regenerate from the three prior weeks of training. A reduction in training volume is the most common method. The graphic below depicts a 4-week model: increase volume the first three weeks then reduce the fourth.

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Sample Plan

A sample warm up for speed, agility and change of direction follows:

Exercise

Sets

Reps

Distance or Time

A. General Warm Up

   

5 minutes of jogging

B. Dynamic Warm Up*

  1. Knee Pull
  2. Figure 4 Pull
  3. Lateral Lunge
  4. Toe Touch
  5. Forward Lunge with Twist
  6. Quad Pull
  7. Arm Circles; walking

1

N/A

20 Yards and Return 20 Yards

C. Speed Drills*

  • A Skips
  • B Skips
  • One Legged A Skip
  • One Legged B Skip
  • Reverse Skips
  • Reverse Skip with External Hip Rotation
  • Butt Kickers
  • High Knees
  • Carioca
  • Lateral Skips

1

N/A

20 Yards and Return 20 Yards

D. Agility/ Change of Direction Drills*

  • Accelerations
  • Decelerations
  • Back Pedal
  • Rounding Cone
  • Side Shuffle
  • Open Step
  • Cross Over Step

1

N/A

20 Yards and Return 20 Yards

 

* Videos and points of performance for all of these exercises can be found inside my Speed and Agility 101 program. Click here to learn more.

Once an athlete is fatigued, regardless of their fitness, speed, agility, and change of direction drills should be terminated.

Make It A Progression

This comprehensive warm up progression for speed, agility, and change of direction would be executed at sub-maximal speed with an emphasis on technique. Once completed, selected sport-specific drills would be incorporated.  

Speed, agility, and change of direction drills can be thought of as a progression from fundamental to intermediate to advanced.

Mastering the fundamental drills is essential and should never be omitted from training, even for the most advanced athlete. The aforementioned warm up drills have application for every ground-based sport, and I would recommend every athlete to train these drills on a consistent basis. Once fundamental movement abilities have been mastered, you can introduce sport-specific drills, followed by advanced sport-specific abilities.

Progressions for speed, agility, and change of direction drills is a function of at least two values: mastery of movement and volume of training.

  • Mastery of movement means the drill can be performed meeting a movement criteria efficiently, with little mental attention and little to no biomechanical errors
  • Volume can most easily be manipulated by counting the number of reps per drill

A simple but effective approach to manipulation of increasing training volume could be adding one repetition per drill for the week. Over three weeks, there is a linear increase in volume with a single rep per drill. When a reduction in training volume is desired, eliminate repetitions.

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Adding Speed, Agility, And Change Of Direction Training Into Your Program

Athletes and coaches can easily incorporate speed, agility, and change of direction training into any strength and conditioning program. But keep this in mind:

  1. No matter how big and strong you may get, if you don’t have these fundamental sport skills and abilities, it doesn’t matter. Prioritize speed, agility, and change of direction training by placing it at the beginning of the workout while the nervous system is fresh and fatigue is minimal.
  2. Humans have a limited amount of energy to spend training. So placing a speed, agility, and change of direction program metaphorically “on top of” the strength and conditioning training will not elicit optimal results. Most times there will be a proportionate amount of reduction in all training methods to balance an optimal training program.
A speed, agility, and change of direction program is essential to develop a complete, well-prepared athlete. Integrating quality movement abilities with appropriate progressions will complement any sport-specific training program. 

About The Author

Michael Barnes brings over 20 years of experience to the strength and conditioning/ fitness industry. His previous experience includes working in Division I athletics at the most successful collegiate programs, several years in the National Football League with the San Francisco Forty Niners, and the Director of Education with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Michael is an author, speaker, subject matter expert, industry consultant and practitioner.

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