Is Sprint Training Worth It?
No matter what the sport, being fast is a massive asset. Whether it is beating defenders or finishing off scoring the points, speed is needed. No one will argue with you about this. Where it gets tricky is when people ask “what is the best way to increase speed?” Many people say I need to see a sprint coach, but do you really?
I had the pleasure of attending a seminar hosted by two mates Dan O’Neill and Brad Soper on this topic recently. Roger Fabri spoke about straight line speed and optimal technique and Tevin Allen taught us how to improve agility. Both men agreed that each component is needed and complements the other. Many questions then arise such as “what should you improve first, running mechanics and top end speed or agility?” For me, I’d rather improve agility first and then worry about top end speed. This is against Roger’s way of thinking but I will explain why.
As a field sport athlete I would much rather improve agility first because if you can’t evade a defender and accelerate away from him you won’t get to display your top end speed anyway. I would rather be fast over the first 5m. In a sport like rugby league it is even more important as you have less than 3 seconds before you reach a defender once you catch the ball.
To improve agility I don’t perform ladder drills or cone drills whereas Tevin does. I would rather my athlete’s train eccentric and single leg strength in the gym and react to external cues as part of their agility training incorporating the ball in our skill drills. Tevin spoke well about this and said that he uses the ladder and agility cone drills as a warm up and to teach correct positioning and then hopes to transfer this across to more specific drills later on. He also sends them to a strength coach to get stronger because of the same reasons I spoke about in the How to Train Agility article. Tevin was great at teaching body positioning.
You can watch him here:
He also has many videos of his drills on Instagram. I don’t have this but I like these highlights more as it shows the outcome of his hard work. To me there is nothing better than seeing the gains in training displayed on the field. If you can’t do that then training wasn’t successful.
Roger taught us about running mechanics and for me highlighted the importance of arm drive. The thing about arm drive is that as much as it helps improve speed, and I do believe you need it, I don’t believe it is used enough in a game to spend excessive amounts of time on it. Now I know you don’t have the ball very often in a game but it is rare that you get enough time to use arm drive to its full potential unless you are running someone down or have made a break. The rest of the time your arms are in front of your body preparing to make a tackle or catch a ball. I would still definitely try to improve and incorporate it as much as possible but I would go and learn optimal technique in a session or two and try to convert it into drills and on the field to save on training time.
So if you asked me is sprint training worth it? My short answer would be no. The reason I say this is that the amount of time it takes to gain speed through optimizing technique outweighs the benefit in my opinion. If you have terrible technique then it would be beneficial to go and do some work with a sprint coach as Roger said he can improve someone’s time in this case in 4-6 weeks. If you are more advanced, to see improvement’s you are looking more at 8 months.
Now if you look at it from a part time athlete’s point of view, someone who works all day and then goes to training, in that 8 months you could be in the gym getting stronger and doing your skill work with the team. By doing this not only can you improve your running speed, you could also reduce your chance of injury by correcting muscle imbalances and improve other areas of your game such as hitting harder in defence. Unloaded speed is trained by the sport itself in this case.
If you wanted to incorporate sprint training I would suggest learning how to run efficiently early in your career so you don’t develop bad habits and if you have already missed that opportunity I would say to do it in the offseason when you are away from team training and your volume is lower. If you are a professional and you don’t have to hold down a job, then going to perform sprint training sessions could be incorporated into your plan.
Again it is about prioritizing what your biggest limitation is. I like to find the biggest bang for your buck in regards to training time. I don’t have all day with my athletes. With many of the athletes I asses strength is a bigger limiting factor than actual running mechanics. As Charles Poliquin taught me, strength is 300-500% improvable over 7 years whereas pure speed is only 10-20% improvable in the same amount of time. Also the more external resistance you have to overcome in your sport then the more important strength is.
This is just my opinion Roger and Tevin have great results to show for their work. Doing sprint training will definitely help you. With the athletes I train though time is limited.
“Training is efficient if the highest sports result is achieved with the least expense of time and energy.” – Thomas Kurz