Speed is a physical ability. In many cases, it determines the success or failure of sports performance of young athletes. Speed is essential for countless sports from the famous football to tennis to track and field . Speed usually determines performance results of young athletes. For example, in swimming, your swimming velocity will determine your victory or defeat in the competition. In golf, the hitting velocity of the ball determines the force printed on each shot, and therefore the final result, because if I go further with fewer shots, I will reduce my torque. Similarly, the velocity of the javelin throw is also shifted in the throw itself. Therefore, when analyzing sports performance, velocity is the key. In addition, it has been shown that in a football match, there is an average sprint every 90 seconds (1).
In this Vitruve blog, we will analyze the different methods used to increase movement velocity and see which method is more useful. To this end, we will use a systematic review of more than 100 articles conducted by Behm, D. and their collaborators (2). Among the methods we can use to increase velocity, we emphasize strength training and explosive power training. Before we start using them, we must distinguish their respective concerns. For example, velocity based training in strength training is based on applying loads at high execution velocities in order to apply strength faster. An example of improving strength is to increase the throwing velocity of a baseball. Therefore, the increase in power will be able to move more weight in the same repetition range and the same execution velocity really valuable for young athletes.
First of all, we want to emphasize that the velocity depends on the stretch-shortening cycle that occurs in the muscle. The ability to effectively and quickly lengthen and shorten muscles makes any exercise much faster (3). In this way, no matter how we exercise, we will be faster.
In the first place, we will analyze the scientific literature on strength training and velocity improvement. It is important to remember that running velocity usually depends on muscle strength. Getting stronger may be related to faster running velocity, so getting stronger could be interesting for young athletes. In this case, we will focus on the results of the study conducted by Chelly et al. (4) A two-month intervention in a football team, one group of which had two days of strength training. Weekly (experimental group) compared with the control group without resistance exercise. In addition to measuring power variables, such as counter-movement jump (CMJ) or the maximum wattage that can be moved on a cycle ergometer, the velocity of a 40-meter sprint is also measured. The sprint velocity is measured by 3 variables: the velocity of the first step, the velocity of the first 5 meters, and the maximum velocity. The training that was carried out was oriented towards the strength gains in the knee extensor. The exercise performed was a squat, and its structure made it gradually overloaded within 8 weeks. MRI calculations were performed at the beginning of the study and at 4 weeks. Training for 17-year-olds includes:
- 7 repetitions at 70% of the maximum repetition (RM)
- 4 repetitions at 80% of the RM
- 3 repetitions at 85% of the RM
- 2 repetitions at 90% of the RM
After the resistance exercise intervention, the velocity parameters of the exercise training group improved significantly. The age of these participants corresponds to the young age, so we can confirm that the strength training proposed in this study helps to improve the sprint velocity.
However, depending on the training plan and exercise type, the results may not be so positive. Therefore, the study of Contreras, B. et al. (5) did not seem to find an effect of strength training on sprint velocity. On this occasion, the age group of the population was similar since the participants were between 14-17 years old and underwent strength training. In this case, apart from another series of measurements, a 20-meter sprint test was performed in which they took the running velocity of 10 meters and 20 meters. Unlike the previous studies, the type of exercise and group formation was different. In this case, they were divided into 2 groups; the first performed strength training with front squat movements, and the second performed the same training only with the hip-thrust movement. The total duration of the study was 6 weeks, in which they had an exercise program two days a week. Next, we introduce the training structure conducted by the participants:
Table 1. Training plan conducted by Contreras B. et al. in the study. (5)
Each group performed the same structure, but used different exercises within 6 weeks. The author emphasizes that in the first week, 60% of the 3 RMs calculated in the previous test were used. Similarly, the author pointed out that participants also performed upper body strength training in all training sessions.
The results of this study are completely contrary to those of Chelly et al. So much so that the research team did not find any significant difference in sprints after applying these resistance training programs. When it comes to whether strength training can improve velocity performance, it seems that the type of exercise and management methods used are the key.
Next, we will analyze another type of training that affects velocity: plyometric training. Plyometrics is based on the cascade of jumps in a specific time period. There are many combinations of jumps in enhanced training; you can start from slowing down, catching the ball, multiple jumps, big jumps, small jumps, and even rope exercises. In this case, we will start with the research conducted by Chaouachi, A. et al. (6) in which they measured, among other variables, the velocity of 20 meters at maximum velocity. As with the exercises performed in the above study, exercises were performed twice a week for 12 weeks. Similarly, the participants are children aged 10 to 12, divided into 4 different groups for 4 types of training: i) Olympic sports, ii) strength training, iii) reinforcement training, and iv) control group.
This intervention followed the same training volume for all groups. The strange thing is that when the load for each exercise or each training method is different, they use the same training volume. Next, we detail the types of plans that participant follow:
The exercises selected for each group include:
- Olympic movements:
- Strength training:
The results of this study are not encouraging for plyometrics training, as it does not seem to be conducive to increasing velocity when performing a 20-meter sprint. None of the three training methods seem to improve the efficiency of the 20-meter sprint in a clear way. However, strength training with one’s own bodyweight seems to improve this variable the most. What we should emphasize is that since each exercise or each type of training has no particularity, there are still many shortcomings in the training plan carried out. In addition, the training volume is indeed the same, but if we consider the intensity, the training volume will change.
As a conclusion, we initially wanted to suggest that if an young athletes is considering a sports intervention aimed at improving velocity scores, first assess the importance of velocity in their exercise style. Secondly, we would like to comment that from what we have seen, apart from the velocity training itself, there is no specific type of training that can help improve velocity.
Finally, we want to emphasize that the current strength training for young athletes is in the first place for any physical improvement. In the final analysis, velocity is to apply force in the shortest time possible. That’s why starting from here, we encourage everyone to find strength training that can maximize velocity and make the most of it. We have already seen whether the velocity will increase depending on the type of structure we follow. Depending on the sport, the velocity must be straight, carrying an object, with changes of direction or with a mobile medium. Speed and its improvement largely depend on the sport we practice and its training of young athletes.
As a main conclusion we must advise that although the current studies are based on traditional training programs (3×10, 3×12…) this methodology has been demonstrated in the traditional athlete population that it is not the best solution. Current research has named velocity-based training as the best methodology to achieve maximum performance. Therefore we advise to focus the planning of intensity and repetitions in an objective and individual way based on the velocity of execution.
- Reilly T. A motion analysis of work-rate in different positional roles in professional football match-play. J Human Movement Studies. 1976;2:87-97.
- Behm DG, Young JD, Whitten JH, Reid JC, Quigley PJ, Low J, et al. Effectiveness of traditional strength vs. power training on muscle strength, power and velocity with youth: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Frontiers in physiology. 2017;8:423.
- Komi P. The stretch-shortening cycle and human power output. Human muscle power. 1986:27-39.
- Chelly MS, Fathloun M, Cherif N, Amar MB, Tabka Z, Van Praagh E. Effects of a back squat training program on leg power, jump, and sprint performances in junior soccer players. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. 2009;23(8):2241-9.
- Contreras B, Vigotsky AD, Schoenfeld BJ, Beardsley C, McMaster DT, Reyneke JH, et al. Effects of a six-week hip thrust vs. front squat resistance training program on performance in adolescent males: a randomized controlled trial. Journal of strength and conditioning research. 2017;31(4):999-1008.
- Chaouachi A, Hammami R, Kaabi S, Chamari K, Drinkwater EJ, Behm DG. Olympic weightlifting and plyometric training with children provides similar or greater performance young athletes improvements than traditional resistance training. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. 2014;28(6):1483-96.
Graduado en Ciencias de la Actividad Física y del Deporte.
Investigador en el grupo PROFITH-ACTIBATE.
Máster en investigación de la Actividad Física y el Deporte (UGR).
Doctorando en el programa de Biomedicina por la Universidad de Granada (UGR).
Colaborador del "The Voice of Science".