The Myth of Speed Training

treadmill

 

 

So a great question was asked on the message board over at www.IYCAMembers.com a couple of days ago.

 

"Why are high speed running treadmills NOT recommended for training young athletes?"

 

I’ve been talking about this issue for as long as I can remember.

 

So naturally… I offered my two cents.

 

Here are my thoughts:

 

One of the experts interviewed in the link Ryan provided (great read by the way… Thanks Ryan) is Matt Nichol.

 

** NOTE ** the link to the article is here: http://www.elitefts.com/documents/gimmick.htm

 

Matt is a great friend of mine and we started out in this industry together. Both fresh out of college, Matt and I worked at the High Performance Specialists in Toronto for a few years.

 

HPS had both a high speed treadmill as well as a skating treadmill.

 

Neither Matt nor I used them with our athletes and both received our fair share of reprimands from our boss because of it.

 

In fact, reading what Matt had to say in this article reminded me of the stuff we used to argue to our boss as to why we weren’t using them!

 

Gimmick from top to bottom.

 

Flashy

 

Exciting looking

 

‘Sells’ to parents and athletes well

 

Wonderful marketing platform

 

But that’s it.

 

1) Force production of the athlete into the ground is substantially different than the ground rolling at you and you merely ‘skimming’ over it

 

2) Developmental athletes AND elite athletes must ‘link’ movement skill. Meaning… there is little point to creating linear speed if a deceleration or change of direction effort isn’t applied secondarily – as opposed to ‘jumping off’ a belt

 

3) You only have ‘x’ number of contact hours per week with your young athletes. How much, largely un-applicable time, do you want to spend on linear speed?

The only argument I have ever heard as to the benefits of this type of training is ‘my athlete got faster’.

 

If you are familiar with IYCA philosophy, than you know my stance on this.

 

If not, here is a brief summary:

 

1) Improvements in a bio-motor cannot function as an isolated factor to prove anything with young athletes. Due to several hormonal, biological (etc) issues, virtually ANY training system applied to young athletes will have a training effect.

 

2) ‘Improvement’s are typically considered under "test, re-test" situations. Taking a rather un-trained organism through any stimulus will garner an effect/improvement. That doesn’t show anything concrete in relation to the specific stimulus you applied. For example, the return argument here could be "yes, your young athlete improved, but how much MORE COULD they have improved if you had applied better stimulus?" – it’s an impossible argument, which is why "my athlete got faster/stronger" (etc) lends little credibility in actuality.

 

3) Specific bio-motor improvements that are not technically based are temporary. Training effects happen. Training effects also ‘un-happen’ when stimulus is removed. Training young athletes is a matter of athletic DEVELOPMENT – not how fast/strong we can get kids in a short period of time by using stimulus intended to create a training effect and nothing more.

What say you, my friend?

 

Also… How about an EDUCATION and WORLD-CLASS CREDENTIALS in Speed & Agility training that works AND makes sense?

 

—-> Have a look at our new Youth Speed & Agility Specialist Certification

 

– Brian

 

27 Responses

  1. Dr. Kwame M Brown says:

    BG will remember that I used to work in a facility that used these. I have used them, seen the benefits. It is not even close to worth it. IMO, when all the factors are considered (especially look at his point about contact hours and efficient use of time) + cost. The debate is pretty much dead in the water.

    USE THE GROUND. TEACH! GUIDE! EXPERIENCE!

  2. Derek Smith says:

    Great article, my boss was asking me about purchasing high speed treadmills. After reading this, I will tell him would be a bad purchase.
    See you at the Summit!!

    Thanks,
    Derek

  3. Paul says:

    I agree with Brian and Kwame’s position here. More pointedly, I haven’t seen much compelling evidence that overspeed training leads to significant outcomes. The neuro-muscular system has a limited capacity to control stride length and rate, beyond that, it is unclear how moving the ground faster underneath the runner helps to increase either of those. Downhill running is also used in a similar way. From my perspective, runners expend more energy trying not to fall forward while running downhill than they do developing any significant component of their gait.

    I will say something in defense of treadmill running, however. The runner still has to create ground reaction forces in the area of 2.5 times body weight in order to elevate the center of gravity. We’ve conducted kinematic and kinetic analyses of treadmill running, and the GRF component is very consistent, so there is a significant force generation requirement. Interestingly, from our research, we’ve seen a strict temporal regularity to elements of the gait cycle when treadmill runners go anywhere from 6 to 10 mph. In other words, the time from initial contact (heel strike) to mid stance remains constant, regardless of the speed (between 6 and 10 mph). This is accomplished by increasing the stride length to adapt to the faster belt speed (this is something we should pay attention to in our training practices; ie, how do we support increases in stride length?). Once the treadmill exceeds 10 mph, then the runners increase turnover in addition to stride length.

    That said, however, speeds in excess of 15 mph do little to improve any of the aforementioned characteristics, so once again, I agree with the position that it’s more hype than substance. From my perspective, sleds, chutes, and breakaway lines work more effectively if increased force production and leg power are the goals.

  4. Garrett Arndt says:

    Amazing article that echoes my own personal stance on speed training. I run a ground based sports performance facility and our major competitor in town offers high speed treadmill training. Unfortunately it is flashy and marketable to parents/athletes, but it is largely a gimmick. I am constantly explaining the difference between our programs to clients and prospective clients. Additional points that we make is that, to our knowledge, there is not one collegiate or professional strength and conditioning program that uses the high speed treadmill, nor is there one accredited certifying body that supports the use of a high speed treadmills (please correct me if I am wrong, I don’t want to mis-inform our clients). I was wondering if I could give this article to parents to reinforce what we have been saying all along?

  5. Andrew Eaton says:

    I wrote a blog post in August on this topic.
    Read it here: http://www.dorsiflexion.blogspot.com.
    Scroll down to ‘Treadmill Training for Speed is Stupid.’

  6. Coach Phil says:

    I have not used tread mill training for athletes but have used some simple overspeed training very effectively. Your premise that overspeed training is useless because it only creates a temporary gain also applies to all forms of athletic training. I worked as a strength coach at a D1 school for several years and tested hundreds of athletes. Each athlete has a “inherent” amount of strength , jumping ability, quickness which all can be significantly improved through proper training. However if that training stops the athlete will show significant regression in each area. Ironically given enough of a lay off the athlete will even regress from their inherant natural athletic ability so in some ways your assessment that a specific type of training is worthless due to it’s temporary nature may not be the most excellent approach either.

  7. Brian Grasso says:

    Garrett – Yes… By all means! Paul – Nice insight. Wait until you guys read what Tony Reynolds has added to this discussion tomorrow…..

  8. Paul says:

    Well, to address the post on Andrew’s blogspot, I think it may be helpful to develop a better understanding of the biomechanics. Keep in mind that I am not refuting the prevailing sentiment here; I agree that overspeed training on treadmills may have little value, but some of the arguments would benefit from some scientific clarification.

    First of all, we’re really looking at relative motion between the body and the support surface. It’s true that a treadmill involves a moving surface under a stationary center of gravity, but that is not altogether different from a moving center of gravity over a stationary surface. In either case, one is moving relative to the other. In fact, in overground running, there is a good amount of horizontal momentum at the center of gravity, which propels the body forward over the stance foot, and thus, contributes to hip extension. That’s the whole point about running, the kinematics are facilitated by the phases of gait.

    The real issue here is not kinematic, but kinetic. What are the respective force requirements of overground and treadmill running? Force is necessary in running in order to create a vertical component. If there is no vertical component, then the body will have a very difficult time executing the swing phase of gait. Stride lengths would be reduced and speed would diminish. If you need an example, compare race walking to running. The former is significantly slower than the latter.

    So, the question is, what are the differences in ground reaction forces between treadmill and overground running? The answer is, very little. For instance, Kram et al. (Journal of Applied Physiology, 85(2): 764-769, 1998) compared running over a forceplate embedded in the ground to running on a treadmill with an embedded force platform. The authors found the average active peak ground reaction force for the treadmill to be 2.44 x body weight , and 2.47 x body weight for running over ground at the same speed. There’s no difference.

    The issue here is not that treadmills are bad, but that attempting to run at high velocites over extremely fast moving belts has little additional value. On that point I completely agree.

  9. Dean Jolly says:

    Can you understand that treadmill running teaches a passive neuro feedback loop. NOT active, so as the overall question is – is it there to progress the athlete?= NOooooo.
    How can it.
    They just aren’t really needed, unless you live in a bubble.

  10. Jason Blackburn says:

    I have been using a high speed TM for years and have compiled the test scores of pro-agility and 40 yd dash times using a non TM and TM enviroment with the same athletes just for my own sanity, to keep the testing valid, we used a controlled enviroment with a 9 week program for both test groups with an equal unloading or taper and the results were non even close the TM group outperformed in both categories, so until you experience it for yourself no-one will convice me otherwise.

  11. Brian Grasso says:

    This conversation has ventured back into the world of science — which I have absolutely no fundamental issue with whatsoever. Having said that, it speaks to my original point – have a look at Jason’s post. When we simply compare ‘results’ sometimes the arguments on either side become nulified. That is one of the largest falldowns of always reaching towards science for conclusions. This post is intended to be tempered and not any sort of ‘smack’ against the use of science or clinical research for the purpose of ‘proof’. Re-read some of the comments I made. Linear speed is not the only issue. What about transitional speed? Ability to decelerate? The function of ‘game speed’ is much more than assessing stride length, frequency and if my athletes got ‘faster’. Science plays a tremendous role in this industry — but so does common sense and the art of coaching. Refer back to my thoughts on ‘contact hours’ as an example of what I mean. I has been my firm belief that our industry is far too split — those who only seem to reach for clinical proof and those who only reach to the world of practical experience. There is room for both. More over, there is a NEED to see, understand and use both in any conclusions drawn.

  12. Paul says:

    Dean, If you have evidence that treadmill running teaches a passive neuro feedback loop, please bring it forward, as I am unaware of any such empirical science.

    If hip extension were passive, as you are suggesting, then the contribution of hip extension to the ground reaction force would be reduced, and thus, the ground reaction force vector would also be reduced. If you do the research, you’ll find that the ground reaction forces of treadmill running are the same as over ground running. So how can that be if there is no active hip extension?

    Let’s dispense with opinions and stick to evidence-based information.

  13. Paul says:

    Brian,

    You make some interesting points regarding change in direction and speed variability. Certainly, those are critical components of athletic performance. But let’s not cloud the issues here. I don’t think anyone is claiming that treadmills are useful tools in developing change in direction capabilities. Your argument is analogous to stating that since a hammer can’t insert a screw, the hammer has no value. It has value, as a hammer, not a screwdriver.

    Regarding looking at results and not science, I have to argue that results are science. Not all science is conducted in a clinical laboratory. Timing athletes on the field involves data collection, of one form or another, and that constitutes science. If we claim that something works, or doesn’t work, then the effects of that practice will be borne out in some form of measurement, even if the measurement is based in simple common sense. Without the ability to measure, we have no means by which we can deem anything effective or ineffective.

    There are forms of scientific investigation that help to explain the reasons for the results that we get. And those things are often done in laboratories. But that doesn’t make any practitioner of human performance any less a scientist. We need to hold ourselves to higher standards, not more relaxed standards. Otherwise we can simply manufacture results for our own selfish purposes. How does that help us to advance our knowledge?

    It’s very convenient to hide behind “common sense” at the expense of scientific credibility. That way, no one has to support anything. We can just make our case, based on our own opinions. As a result, we get stuck in a never ending cycle of populist dogma.

    Thanks, but no thanks.

  14. Brian Grasso says:

    Paul. Well said as always. I am a tad confused, however. I read and re-read your post and then mine as well. I feel we are saying very similar things. At what point did I say or imply that one should “hide behind common sense”? Truly — where do you feel I made that ascertion? I have found your posts on this blog to be incredibly insightful and a wonderful catalyst to raising the level of debate, however I find objection with your implication, especially given my last point above —> “There is room for both. More over, there is a NEED to see, understand and use both in any conclusions drawn”. My statement is that all factors must be considered. At no point did I suggest that a Coach who records and tracks progress isn’t applying scientific principle. My views on training and developing young athletes have evolved tremendously during my career – most often because I realized what I had thought, was in reality, quite wrong. But one standing point has never changed in the original philosophy I started out with in the industry — training and programmatic structure, at large, is conceptual and requires Coaches to apply what makes sense given there specific situations. Yes, I suppose data has been collected to show the scientific relevancy of treadmill usage in enhancing linear speed. But for the purpose of what? More over, at what cost (i.e. change of direction, speed variability, first-step quickness). Contact hours are a tremendous issue and prohibitive concern with respect to working with developing athletes. In that, I don’t see the practical relevancy of spending any of that time enhancing linear speed (in such a myopic manner) when so many other factors of movement/speed are much more important and crucial to performance. I think I understand your ‘hammer/screwdriver’ comment, but can change the scope and nature of the point, also — yes, just because a screwdriver isn’t practical for hammering in a nail, that alone doesn’t render it a useless tool. Unless that is what you’re using it for. At which point, it’s not unfair to call into question its considerable limitations in performing that task from a practical standpoint. Thanks as always for your intelligent and well thought out contributions.

  15. Paul says:

    Brian,

    I certainly appreciate your passion and zeal. My apologies, I directed at you what I meant as a general statement. I should have said that I too often see others hiding behind claims that science and research have no place in our industry. It is not meant to imply that you have done so here. Please keep in mind my own perspective here – and note; it is only one perspective, not the only perspective – that I am a scientist, and have found tremendous value in seeking evidence.

    I think you raise a very valid question. How are we using our time as practitioners? If a client needs to improve lateral change in direction, can I accomplish that by running linearly on a treadmill? Most likely not, so in that case, I would not use a treadmill. Thus, if someone needs something other than a treadmill to improve their performance, then using a treadmill would have questionable value. I wholeheartedly concur. That, by the way, can be said about any exercise. Would you agree?

    My concern is that people reading that statement would surmise that treadmills have no value at all. And I don’t think that’s the case.

    What I saw happen in this forum was a transformation of the original question, (does overspeed training on treadmills work?) to a completely new question (can linear treadmill running improve cutting?), and then to the ultimate question (do treadmills have any value at all?). Somehow, the original question was lost in the discussion.

    Here’s an interesting exercise, one which I’ve done with my students for years; for all those who think treadmills are a complete waste of time, make an argument for why they are beneficial. It’s surprising how a simple exercise like that can lead to improved critical thinking.

    Brian, thanks again for allowing me to contribute to your forum.

  16. Brian Grasso says:

    Forgive me, Paul… These following points were intended for my post above. I didn’t mean to create two entries. I hope you can sift through what has now become a rather long diatribe….. Pursuant to common sense and science as mutually inclusive (again, a point you either misunderstood or I failed to make clear). My issue is that ‘science and result’ cannot be looked upon as defacto gospels when addressing worth. Take TV shows like “The Biggest Loser” or “Celebrity Fit Camp”. There is no question that the participants on those shows see results. The producers and marketers behind those productions celebrate how many tons of weight are lost every year or in each episode. So looking exclusively at that, one could make the ascertation that the field-tested and in-the-trenches data collected proves the worth of the programmatic structure and dietary intervention those shows use. However, there are severe limitations to that. Mental and emotional health of the participants (which is a tremendous factor in the obesity epidemic). Alterations in lifestyle habits. Actual fat loss versus water loss. Ongoing injury considerations with 400+ pound people being asked to run up and down the trail of a mountain. These factors amount to ‘common sense’. And although the public at large may view these shows as defacto gospel (“of course it works – just look at the proof”) any professional in our industry should easily see the incredible limitations in place with such short-term, incredibly intensive and calorie restrictive fitness plan that do not account for the factors I mentioned above. You have raised fantastic points with respect to GRF, COG and kinematics, but those who champion HSTM do so, almost every time, under the guise of ‘results’. I have already cited my points on contact hours, deceleration/speed variance issues, but here is one more ——- Training age. Young athletes are limited in training age and yet experiencing human growth and development changes that amount to them getting taller, stronger and more powerful as a natural recourse. You could argue that virtually any training stimulus would have a considerable impact on the biomotor profiency of a young athlete (in fact, I do argue that). One would also be hard-pressed to clearly and definably show how much of the biomotor improvements were due to the training program or to natural growth factors. That issue is not restricted to adolescents, either. An untrained organism will receive a training effect upon stimulus being applied. Period. The reality is that it all works — we must differentiate what works best. And that is accomplished by combining what science (field or clinical) tells us with the common sense of the matter – which typically isn’t quantifiable or at least wasn’t part of the data collection used in creating the conclusion. You made a strong point that “It’s very convenient to hide behind “common sense” at the expense of scientific credibility. That way, no one has to support anything. We can just make our case, based on our own opinions” — Agreed 100%. But the opposite is also true. It is just as easy and just as dangerous to hide behind science and let ‘the results/proof speak for itself’ in the absence of applying common sense to the matter and equating factors that the data itself is unable to speak to.

  17. Kurt says:

    I have really enjoyed reading all the comments/replys. I have never used a HSTM nor have I ever trained an athlete on one. It would seem to me though that learning and improving movement mechanics (ie; arm swing, head position, relaxed shoulders, torso position, foot strike etc) for linear speed would be more difficult for young athletes (ages 14-17) on a fast moving TM, than on the ground. I believe kids of this age need to focus on movement mechanics first, before moving on to HSTM, chutes, overspeed training, and resisted runs.

  18. Paul says:

    Brian,

    That was a very thoughtful response, and I appreciate your efforts. In essence, I agree with you, on every point.

    I learned a long time ago that, contrary to popular belief, everything works, depending on the context, to some degree or another. In fact, I’ve made it a personal mission to try to find utility, even in those things which I vehemently opposed (just a zen thing). The key, as you’ve stated, is in understanding what it is exactly, that’s working, and perhaps, why it works. That gives us tremendous insight into what we’re doing with our clients.

    What I’ve been responding to, however, are comments and explanations – not from you, but from others on this and the accompanying blog – that have been positioned as “common sense,” but have absolutely no basis in scientific fact. So here is the dilemma. How do we convert what is perceived as common sense into a real understanding of movement science?

    How do we blend common sense with real science, so that we can select the best methods for the best outcomes, even if they involve practices which we may not typically employ?

  19. Brian Grasso says:

    Paul,

    You are a credit to this industry in every way and I am feeling very blessed that you contribute to our form. The questions you raise are extraordinarily important. I am leaving for our IYCA International Summit in the morning and upon return, will be able to continue this fantastic dialogue. You are teaching me a great deal, my friend. Thank you. BG

  20. Mike says:

    I hosted a seminar at my facility in 2007 and our key speaker was none other than Charlie Francis! I’ll have to look through my notes, but one point that I recall Charlie making was with regards to multi-directional speed. He felt that too many coaches were actually putting an inordinate amount of emphasis on agility and change of direction and that “elasticity” in the soft tissues, especially around the ankles, could be gained from proper “linear” sprinting. He sited an example in which he had helped a young tennis player whose tennis coach was making all of her teammates do agility drills that she felt was the cause of many sprained ankles and laxity in her own ankles.

    After training with Charlie, this athlete went back to her tennis coach and proceeded to beat all of the other athletes in the coaches pre-season tests. I know this may not constitute the most evidence- based stories, but I found Charlies’ point about elasticity interesting. I believe he went on to describe that he felt that specific skill work or sports practice was enough in terms of agility work and that over-emphasizing it during workouts was “overkill” in his professional opinion.

    Comments?

  21. Paul says:

    Mike,

    You raise a very interesting point with your comments regarding Charlie Francis. There is, according to some research, a valid question in whether strength and power training ought to be combined with skill training, or whether they’re at all synonomous. Very often, too much emphasis is placed on the skill component while in the training environment.

    There is a growing body of evidence which indicates that the best results come from velocity-specific strength and power training, in the training environment, combined with practice of the sport skill of interest. In other words, “training” should be reserved for giving the neuro-muscular system the tools it needs to perform (ie, rate of tension development), which translates to performance when athletes are given a chance to practice.

  22. Dr. Kwame M Brown says:

    Paul and Mike:

    Best short term evidence? Best long term evidence?

    Where is this “evidence” coming from? Comparative studies? Longitudinal studies?

    How do you separate in reality the contribution of strength and power from skill? Does strength and power not have a skill component?

    These are questions that must be answered moving forward.

    Paul, would you care to cite the research calling into question the validity of skill training? How long a period was the research conducted over? This, in my mind, is an essential factor.

  23. Paul says:

    Berger, R.A. and Coppedge, N.G. (1973). Effects of strength improvement on accuracy in a gross motor task. American Corrective Therapy Journal. 27(2): 57 – 58.

    Hasson, C.J., Doan, B.K., Robertson, K.M., Dugan, E.L., Shim, J., Newton, R.U., and Kraemer, W.J. (2002). Relationship of 1RM squat and vertical jump performance in NCAA male volleyball players. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 34(5): S33.

    Jullien, H., Bisch, C., Largouet, N., Manouvrier, C., Carling, C.J., and Amiard, V. (2008). Does a short period of lower limb strength training improve performance in field-based tests or running and agility in young professional soccer players? Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 22(2): 404 – 411.

    Marques MC, van den Tilaar R, Vescovi JD, Gonzalez-Badillo JJ. (2007). Relationship between throwing velocity, muscle power, and bar velocity during bench press in elite handball players. Int J Sports Physiol Perform. 2(4):414-22.

    The studies cited above all look at the relationship between strength training exercises which relate to movements associated with specific sports skills, and the improvements in those skills. Their consistent findings were that improvements in skill were unrelated to the movements inherent in the exercises, but correlated highly with the velocity of motion. In other words, it was not the movements which induced performance gains, but the velocity specificity which evoked a training effect.

    A case in point is the following study: Schwendel, P. and Thorland, W. (1992). Effect of traditional vs power resistance training on improvement of baseball batting velocity. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 24(5): s137.

    In this study, the authors examined the effects of strength training with machines on baseball bat velocity, a skill that requires muscle power along with correct sequential application of body segments. Their subjects, using exercises that admittedly had little resemblance to the motor task, showed significant increases in bat speed. The implication, therefore, is that skill improved as a result of the increase in power, not an improvement in movement capabilities.

    Thus, the conclusion, train for strength and power in the training room, and then practice the specific skill of interest.

  24. Dr. Kwame M Brown says:

    How long term were these results? Were the effects (for lack of a better term) chronic? In other words, did it last?

    Your last sentence would certainly seem to argue against treadmill sprinting for overspeed training, and maybe only leave some justification for incline training on a treadmill if no other training methods were available.

    But your logic and references in this last post would seem to advocate for lunges / deadlifts rather than treadmill sprints.

    Thoughts?

  25. Dr. Kwame M Brown says:

    I will also add that correlation does not equal cause and effect. But you know that. I am just adding that for the benefit of anyone coming back to read this.

  26. Paul says:

    Those are really good questions. The authors, to my knowledge, did not conduct follow-up studies at later dates. What I found interesting, however, was in what actually did induce training effects. It wasn’t the movement patterns, it was the velocity of motion.

    This is very consistent with research looking at how the CNS solves complex movement problems – studies that I’m sure you’re familiar with. For example, Kelso has shown that when we simultaneously reach for multiple targets at various distances, total movement time is normalized across the two moving limbs, so that they reach their targets at the same time.

    The same is true when doing a dumbbell military press with significantly different loads. Despite one being heavier than the other, both hands reach their endpoints at the same time.

    So, velocity becomes the variable under the most control by the CNS. This is also consistent with those studies indicating specificity of velocity, such as Moffroid and Whipple, and many others.

    I think the CNS is capable of resolving movement problems. All we need to do is practice the skill in question. Great support for that is in studies examining mental practice. Skills improve without any movement at all.

    But, the CNS cannot simply improve rate of tension development, velocity and power without a proper training stimulus. That’s where I think we come in. Let the skill coaches handle the rest.

    As for overspeed training, please see my original post on the matter: I have seen little evidence in support of it, so I see it as a dubious practice at best. All of my contentions were in regard to treadmills in general, not overspeed training on treadmills. On that front, I agree with you.

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