Legend has it that Kobe Bryant made upward of 1,000 shots per day during his offseason.
There are NFL receivers who brag about how many balls they catch on a daily basis, just like there are MLB hitters who take a monstrous number of swings each day.
The lasting impression left by these stories is that if you want to be great, more is better. Whatever skill you want to be great at, you need to find a way to practice hundreds of times a day. The more reps you do in a day, the better you get at the skill, and the better athlete you ultimately become. Sounds logical enough, right?
Well, this philosophy can’t be applied to everything in the world of sports performance. Case in point—getting faster.
Speed training is a skill that requires maximum effort. To train for speed, you must give maximal effort, and that max effort is taxing on your nervous system and body. Shooting a basketball or catching a football does not require maximal effort. You can do it over and over again, because the action simply doesn’t take all that much out of you.
If you go to practice with the intention of running the 40-Yard Dash 100 times, it will not work out well. You will either get hurt, or you will tax your nervous system so severely that you will need an extended recovery period to feel great again, likely leaving you in a worst place than you started.
As a former Olympic sprinter, I’ve noticed that many sprinters hurt themselves shortly after recording a record run in practice. The reason people get hurt after running their fastest is that their body has never been to that place before, so your muscles and nervous system have to do more than they ever have. But it’s not the record run where people actually get hurt, it’s when people are so excited about setting that record that they want to run again. In trying to run even faster, your body breaks down, and you suffer a considerable setback to your season.
It would be weird for a basketball player to hit 10 shots and then shut it down because they feel so good. But for a sprinter, this is the type of mindset you need to get comfortable with.
When you watch an athlete sprint, it may not look all that painful. An endurance race certainly looks more taxing and grueling than a sprint. But the reality is that an athlete running as fast as they can is taxing their body in ways the eye cannot see. Knowing when to end your practice is a critical factor when it comes to quality over quantity.
Less is more. Your goal for getting faster should be to do as many high-quality reps as possible as quickly as possible. You never want to be stuck to what a piece of paper says. You know your body better than that piece of paper. If your workout calls for three sets of 5×30-meter sprints, and in the middle of the session, you hit a run that’s blazing fast, it’s time to think about shutting it down. It is hard for most athletes to do this, which is why so many people struggle to get faster.
Most athletes believe that more is always better. Being told that your practice is over halfway through because you’re having an amazing practice is very counterintuitive for most athletes. It goes against everything you believe you should do. You see other people finishing the workout and you feel like they are getting better because they are doing more. More is not always better! Sometimes more means that it’s going to be nearly impossible for you to adequately recover in time for your next workout.
Think of speed training like eating food. Eating more food is not always a good thing. You’re looking for the right balance of quality and quantity. There is a sweet point to how much food you need. Speed training is the same way. The truth is, most athletes think way too much about the quantity of their reps and overlook how important quality truly is. Here are four ways you can focus on quality over quantity in your speed training.
1. Remember There Are Others Way to Get More Work In
Speed training is the most important thing you do to get faster, but it’s not the only thing you can do. Cutting your runs short does not mean that you cannot do more in the weight room or do some more plyometrics to finish practice. Speed training is where quality matters most. To be successful with it, you need to respect that fact. There are other forms of work, however, where the volume is more important.
2. Time Your Runs
The only way to know the true quality of your runs is if you time them. If you’re not timing your runs, you’re going to have a very hard time knowing when to call it a day. Let’s say you are running 100s in practice, and the fastest you have ever gone is 11.00. All of a sudden, you do a series and come in at 10.85. That means you just cut a big chunk off your best time. The worst thing you can do is go and try and do it again.
The goal is to get faster, and you accomplished it that run. Shut it down and live to fight another day. If you do not time your runs, you will never know for sure if you’re actually getting faster, leaving you more likely to hammer a ton of volume during your workouts.
3. Remember the Goal
Whenever you doubt what you’re doing during training, think back to your overall goal. Do you want to be faster or do you want to be hurt? Do you want to turn heads because of your speed or do you want to look overtrained and tired? The answer is easy! Focus on whatever will make you faster, not what will make you a champion in practice. There are no rewards in sports for practice champions.
4. Everyone Needs Something Different
No matter how great something is going in your life, the best way to ruin it is to compare it to what someone else has. You can make $10 million in a year and be sad because you don’t have what the guy with $50 million has. Comparison continually robs us of our joy.
If you see other people doing more reps or more work than you, simply focus on your lane. Everyone needs something different in their training to succeed. No two athletes are made the same. Some people may be able to do more volume and still feel good, while others may be particularly sensitive to high practice volume. Some athletes will need to do less than you. Some will need to do more. The thing that matters most is that you’re continuously seeing improvements in your speed.