SPEED VS. "CONDITIONING"
Is there a difference? Absolutely! You will see why shortly. There will always be some slight degree of overlap between these qualities since they function along a continuum, but for the most part each is vastly different and needs to be treated as such through training. Moreover, all of this encompasses the second thing you need to do to get faster immediately, if you happened to read my sales page. Let’s quickly define each.
Speed= The ability to perform a movement or activity faster. Conditioning= The ability to perform a movement or activity longer.
There are at least 2 reasons why traditional philosophy fails in this department and it is always at the expense of the athlete. First, coaches, athletes, parents, etc. are unwilling to cut out any conditioning whatsoever. There is an actual reason why we have what is called an “OFF‐Season” although it’s never followed these days. Athletes continue to train 6‐7 days per week at high intensities in their sport, and wonder why they do not get faster or more athletic. The idea of prolonged recovery periods during sprint workouts and between workouts in an attempt to let athletes refresh so that they can become faster is unspeakable. I can hear it now, the old school coaches shouting obscenities, calling me an idiot, and refusing to give rest because it’s wasted time that could be spent conditioning and building mental toughness. They would ask, “How can an athlete become fast if they are not in great condition?” It’s this overreaction and ignorance that prevents the athlete from getting faster. Often times, conditioning too much is unintentional and people do not even realize that they or their athletes are doing too much. Regardless, it does not matter and it’s easy to commit this very common mistake. Specifics on how to prevent over‐conditioning will be provided in the “Program Design” section, or you could just follow the program as it’s written.
Second, most people feel that athleticism, and thus speed, is a God‐given skill that cannot be improved. So, if all else fails then just condition more! The reason is simple. Conditioning does not require elaborate education and knowledge and it’s mainly an issue of who can work the hardest, so it’s an easy go‐to outlet in programming. As you’ve clearly already seen, though, speed can be taught, learned, and improved by anyone to a considerable degree who is not already of elite status. Below is a diagram that explains the relationship between training for speed or conditioning. It’s based off a single factor, which is “Fatigue Level.”
This relationship should make great sense, especially if you have trained before. Think back to when you were tired and fatigued. Could you run relatively fast? No. Then what about the first few plays of a game? You were flying around and you were at your peak for a brief period right? Your speed was high, and it’s because your high intensity energy pools and neuromuscular system was fresh, untapped still, and very active and ready to deliver. Unfortunately, this is how the body does and always will operate no matter what. There is a limited amount of energy to support this type of effort in our central nervous system and we have to make the most of it if we want to get better. This just reiterates the 2 speed principles (overspeed and specificity) that I discussed in the sprinting section. The rebuttal to this is always, “But I don’t have time to recover energy during a game and run faster.” True, but this is why you condition. This brings up the next point and principle which is the “Speed Reserve.” I adopted this term from Charlie Francis.
Basically, the faster or stronger you are, the more work you can do at lower intensities. When you are fatigued and tired during a game, you naturally operate at a lower operational output, but the person who is faster overall will still be able to do more work and act faster if they are in great condition. Can the NFL’s fastest athlete probably still run faster when he is just as tired as a high school football player? Absolutely. It’s not because he is in better condition. Remember they are both in an equal fatigued state. It’s because he is faster and his 60‐70% is going to be higher than the high school kid. You have to raise your peak. And you can only do this by getting faster, and this requires you to be FRESH. There is a famous saying in the industry that speed improves endurance, but endurance has no bearing on speed. I think it’s a bit of an overstatement and both are important, but speed will definitely help endurance levels. There was a study in 1995 from Johnston to support increased speed for better endurance. 109 This study showed a lowered metabolic energy expenditure at faster speeds than slower speeds resulting in greater running efficiency or economy. Speed reserve works.
Athlete A 40 yard dash: 100% effort=4.8 seconds 75%=6 seconds 50%=7.2 seconds
Here is a numerical example of how the Athlete B 40 yard dash: 100 % effort= 4.2 seconds 75%=5.3 seconds 50%=6.3 seconds.
Look at the discrepancy between the faster and slower runner at various levels of effort of their maximum. You could choose any distance and any intensity and you would see the same type of outcome. The “faster” athlete is way faster when tired at lower intensities because they have a great speed reserve they can utilize when tired. The take‐home message here is definitely raise your peak and get as fast as you can! We could apply the “90 percent rule” here. Basically, according to my years of data tracking, athletes can maintain 90 percent of their peak or best performance. 90% of a higher speed is going to be better than a poorer speed. You must do everything you can to improve and reset your peak so that you operate at a higher level or output in games, practice, and training.
I feel I’ve spent an ample amount of time and effort conveying to you what speed is, and now I want to change direction and dedicated some time to conditioning.
Conditioning, as I mentioned earlier is the ability to operate an activity longer. It could also be viewed as our individual work capacity, or how much work we can do. The more work you can do, the longer you will last and the better conditioned you are. More specifically, it’s the ability of body structures to be able to deliver more energy and fuel to target areas so that we can train harder and longer. The key for any type of athlete is to identify what type or types of conditioning they need perform to best prepare their body and support activity in competition. There are 3 different types of conditioning or Energy Systems. Energy Systems is the big new trend to explain conditioning. It’s more confusing, so I’m just going to stick with conditioning, because everyone is familiar with the term. Here is a table that represents the 3 types below:
Conditioning Type/ Energy System/ Duration/ Recovery/ Muscle Fiber Type/sport examples
High Intensity : Alactic-CP / 10-30 sec./ 2-5 min./ fast twitch-white(Type IIx)/ Sprinting, Powerlifting, Olympic Lifting, Football, Basketball, Volleyball, Baseball, Softball, Martial Arts, Golf, Hockey, etc.
Moderate Intensity: Lactic / 30-180 sec/ 1-3 min./ Intermediate-pink (Type IIa)/ 400 and 800 meter dash, Triathlons, Swimming
Low Intensity: Aerobic-Oxidative / 180 sec + / 0-90 sec./ slow twitch-red (Type 1)/ 1 mile run, Ironman, and Marathons
This book is a team sport‐, or field‐ and court sport‐based speed system. This is not to say that the moderate and low intensity sport types could not benefit, since you increase speed reserve, however a majority of methods are designed to optimize performance in the high intensity category of sports. These sports involve a blend of high intensity and low intensity conditioning and energy support upon observation. There are periods of all‐out effort followed by intermittent bouts of light activity and recovery for the next surge of effort. Pretty simple. The conclusion? High‐intensity interval training! This is well understood in contemporary training for the most part, and conditioning is not in need of special attention near as much as speed and other essential training skills. The two common mistakes that I do see committed as far as developing conditioning is the development and focus on the wrong energy system or conditioning type when also trying to improve speed, and just too much total conditioning. Both have similar effects on speed performance. Unfortunately, if we do not follow the guidelines in this book for conditioning, then our body will adapt unfavorably causing us to become slower. More specifically, far too many athletes, coaches, and trainers focus their efforts on the “Lactic Acid System,” whether they realize it or not when trying to get faster. More than a little concentration on the “burn” for the purpose of teaching the body to tolerate this type of energy product when training, known as Lactic Acid Tolerance Training, will inevitably inhibit our neuromuscular system from becoming faster. First of all, the accumulation of acid can inhibit specific enzymes responsible for transferring energy to contract our muscles, and our muscles cannot contract as well. What happens when your muscles burn in a bench press? Speed slows and eventually you cannot even lift the weight. World‐class track and field coaches have supported this statement for years and there is quite a bit of evidence to support it as well. A study from Majumdar, A. and R. Robergs in 2011 called "The Science of Speed: Determinants of Performance in the 100m Sprint” showed that any training utilizing the lactic acid system was shown to decrease speed. 78 The researchers also noted that aerobic pathways only supply 5% of energy needs during a sprint and that performance is highly reliant upon the Alactic‐Cp System I introduced just prior. Moreover, we can lose fast twitch (Type IIx) fibers if we train at moderate intensities utilizing the lactic acid system, among other things unfortunately. It sucks because you literally get punished for working harder in this case, and hit a point of diminishing returns. It’s due to our natural physiology and because you are not moving at your absolute fastest. I will discuss the different types of muscle fiber in more depth in the program design section, but for now you know that this type of middle of the road intensity training will make us slower, and it should make up a very small percentage of a speed training program.
As you can clearly see, the “burn” is not a desired effect that we want in our training if we are serious about becoming faster. It’s just a natural by‐product of energy production in the body. The kicker is that a large majority of sports are conducted in this conditioning zone, so why are coaches, trainers, and athletes still so adamant about it? I have no clue.
Finally, there is no reason for this type of conditioning to be the primary type in many team sport athletes’ programs, especially those who are looking to get faster. Would you or an athlete want to train and teach your body to move at a moderate speed in competition? Absolutely not, but that is what most conditioning approaches advocate. An athlete wants to teach and program his body to operate as fast as possible for as long as it can repeatedly. The benefit of this is that it improves our “Alactic” or high speed and power conditioning capacity. Not only is it sport‐ specific but it reinforces getting faster. According to Ross and Leveritt 110, it appears that the ability of elite sprinters to better utilize myokinase and creatine phosphokinase enzymes gives them an edge in competition. These are two enzymes that help with the breakdown and production of energy from the Alactic‐CP system.
The second issue surrounding conditioning is just the sheer volumes of conditioning. I am going to remove this myth completely in the program design section when I discuss sprint frequencies and volumes, as it applies here, but for now too much conditioning, whether it be through increased volumes or frequency, can limit speed performance dramatically. Just follow the sample workout guidelines at the end and you will be fine. Many reports have shown that high levels of neuromuscular fatigue can impair sprint performance. One study from Bundle and Weyand, 2012, reported that neuromuscular fatigue and the amount of force production (aka power) are the primary regulators of running speed, NOT conditioning. 24 111 They also stated that unlike long distance endurance training, speed is not limited in the body by the supply of energy, but the demand of it, and the ability of the body to use more muscles and use them faster. Anecdotally, I have seen super‐fast athletes perform at their fastest speed in poor shape. This is definitely counterintuitive but absolutely true. Keep in mind that I’m referring to one or two maximum effort runs specific to testing maximum speed before endurance starts to become an issue. Here is one more from Wilson in 2012 from The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research that showed interference effects from conditioning on power, strength, and hypertrophy. 112 Conditioning was shown to hamper these skills and the study acknowledged the fact that it does occur, so we just need to manage volumes, efforts, and be careful and not do too much. Conditioning is still definitely important, it is just that we can run fast without it contrary to popular belief. Conditioning comes in when we try to “repeat” our highest level of speed or improve our ability to perform at a high level longer or more often.
Copyright, 2013, Travis Hansen, All rights reserved.
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