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Why your fitness depends on speed training

The world's top athletes add to their fitness levels by training on improving their speed. You should too

You need to do speed training for optimal fitness.
You need to do speed training for optimal fitness. (Istockphoto)

One of the toughest things to do while working out a fitness routine is making sure it works on every aspect of the body’s capabilities. This includes strength, flexibility, functionality, muscle size, stability, agility, mobility and balance. Many of these can be achieved by cleverly choosing the right exercises for optimal benefits. But something that gets left out, especially if you don’t play a sport, is speed. Speed and reaction time are more important than one might think. And that is why, even if it is occasionally, one should aim to train for speed. Doing so will automatically help maintain reaction time.

The workouts of the month of May are, therefore, all based on helping you increase your speed. The best part about speed training is that it will also add to many other aforementioned areas of fitness, including increasing your VO2 max.

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Sprint interval training: The easiest way to start working on your speed is interval training—and this can be done outdoors or indoors on a treadmill. The biggest advantage of sprint interval training is that the ‘speed’ of your workout will be relative to your fitness levels. You can read our detailed piece on sprint interval training, but this is what a beginner’s workout will look like:

-5 to 7 minutes of warmup which can include some walking and jogging.

-Run for either distance (100-200m) or time (30 seconds-one minute) at a speed where you are applying about 75-85 percent of your effort for the run. Follow it up for the same distance or time at a relaxed stride or a walk (I have been doing sprint intervals for time, with 50 seconds at 14.5 on the treadmill, and 50 seconds on 3).

-Repeat these intervals a few times depending on where you stand. I started with 5 intervals two months ago and can do an average of 8 of these.

-Cool down, stretch, and hydrate.

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Hops, jumps, and switches: Clubbing these three moves in a quick set which does not need any equipment can give you the perfect blend of power, speed, and body coordination. For beginners, try doing ‘wall drills’. As demonstrated in the video below, start slow and then gather speed as you get better.

Hopping or bounding forward and laterally are excellent starters before moving onto the jumping exercises. The exercise is literally this: hopping and bounding, but make sure you get your landing right, especially if you have dodgy knees. Make sure you speak with your physiotherapist if your legs are strong enough to do side-to-side bounds. You can also hop forward and/or laterally with both feet if you are not ready for single-legged exercises. Just place a dumbbell or a plate on the floor and hop in all directions around it.

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The other traditional favourite is the knees-to-chest jump on the same spot. This trains explosive power as well, and helps your landing abilities. The video below has a progressive set of jumps before you attempt a full knees-to-chest. Doing even parts of it or all of it with just one rep at the end is also progress.

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Switching exercises are the ones in which you change your leg in every rep. The simplest example is jumping split lunges. In this exercise, you switch your dominant leg midway through a jumping lunge. This is for those at an intermediate to advanced level.

Fast feet drills: Fast feet drills will make your reaction time significantly better. This is good for long term functionality as well—how quickly you can reach out and latch onto something in case you tumble, is based on reaction time and awareness. In any sport, your acceleration and dribbling or dodging and footwork will get better.

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You can do these with minimal equipment and burn calories fast, apart from improving the capabilities of your twitch muscles. The two videos below are excellent starting points for fast-feet drills which will fire up your legs. The first one is by 7mlc who has more than a million subscribers:

The below workout might need cones or items to place in a pattern so you can move around them. It uses simpler exercises like high knees and quick turns, but also adds some floor exercise like a bear-crawl.

Try these and get better at your speed. Even adding it to one day will see an incremental change and these are some of the most fun exercises as well.

Pulasta Dhar is a football commentator and writer.

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