Speed training can be one of the most complex programs to design and follow. And it’s likely that if you have the desire to become faster, you've tried a mix of every drill and technique under the sun with, at best, incremental progress. Although speed training requires a wealth of knowledge, you may be overthinking it and missing one minor detail that can make a world of difference. More on that later.
If you consider yourself an athlete—no matter to what capacity—you’re likely familiar with the terms slow twitch and fast twitch muscle fibers. They are the two forms of muscles our body is comprised of; each bear vastly different functions. From recovery, to performance, to biomechanical function, to maximum work capacity and, of course, how to train, both muscle forms are equally significant.
Slow twitch muscle fibers are referred to as type I while fast twitch are type II. Type II are broken down additionally into two separate classifications: type IIa and type IIx. Although there is much to be said about each one, type IIx is one of the most important, yet often overlooked, principles to follow while training for increased speed and explosion. These muscle fibers are responsible for executing our most explosive and powerful movements, such as take-offs, jumping, sprinting, and lifts that involve dynamic power. Due to its abilities and type IIx fibers’ anatomy, they fatigue the quickest. They also require the most rest between reps/sets in order for them to do what they do best when called upon—work at maximum effort.
Often times, in the fitness world, with so much science and broscience* being tossed around, some of the easiest and simplest details that can have the biggest impact on progress get brushed aside. In this case, there is one thing that is no different. In fact, it’s likely far more straightforward than most of you think, and I’d venture to say it’s potentially the most critical truth to implement while training fast twitch fibers—specifically type IIx. You ready? Drum roll, please…
Ample rest in between reps and sets is vital not only for optimal performance during that particular workout but, also to see your gains moving forward. If you just “GET ON THE LINE AND RUN” like I’m sure many of you have also been told by a former coach, then type IIx fibers begin shutting down and your body naturally begins recruiting type IIa and then type I—neither of which will help you with power. In order to strengthen a muscle, you must engage it, and it must fire! Mixing endurance training with speed training (i.e. not allowing adequate rest) hinders the chances of your type IIx muscle fibers to fire, which in turn puts a clamp on any progress for your speed goals. In short, if your goal is to become the most dynamically explosive athlete you can be, then converge primarily on the following two points:
1. Short, powerful bursts that require maximum output every repetition.
2. Rest for—at the bare minimum (but not much more)—double the amount of time it takes you to complete each set, so that the aforementioned required maximum output can be met.
*According to Urban Dictionary, broscience is the predominant brand of reasoning in bodybuilding circles where the anecdotal reports of jacked dudes are considered more credible than scientific research.