Acceleration vs. Max Speed

There are several notable differences in the stride pattern and muscular contributions of acceleration and max speed – both in running and skating.

I shared some of the differences in skating characteristics in previous posts that you can find by clicking on the #SpeedTraining highlight on my instagram account.

The images above are taken from a terrific research paper written by @kenclarkspeed and his colleagues exploring the relationship between acceleration and max speed at the 40-yard dash at the NFL combine.

The top graph shows the acceleration profiles of athletes ranging from the slowest to the fastest. Notice that the shapes of the curves are very similar, just shifted up or down for faster or slower max speeds, respectively.

When the acceleration curves are displayed as a percentage of the max speed reached, they are almost identical (bottom graph).

This was one of the key findings of the study – that max speed could very well be a primary limiting factor for acceleration.

In other words – if your goal is to improve acceleration (i.e. “first step quickness”), there is still a place in your program for maximum speed work.

In implementing max speed work, it’s important to recognize both the characteristics of max speed you’re training to improve, and the characteristics of the athlete. For example, many hockey players are not efficient runners. As a result, increasing sprinting distance or speed is likely to also increase injury risk. Running extended sprints (e.g. 40-60 yards) or extended flying sprints (e.g. 10-20 yard build, 15-20 yard flying sprint) may be effective at increasing maximum speed, but the risk isn’t worth the reward.

Two alternatives:

  • Emphasize maximum speed work on the ice, where the patterns are both more specific to the end-goal, and safer for the athlete
  • Perform max speed work on an Assault bike, where the required movement skill is low, and the athlete can focus entirely on maximizing the output.

In both cases, it’s appropriate to use similar methods as sprinting (e.g. longer duration maximum output efforts (4-6s), and flying sprints to allow players to reach and sustain max speeds).

Feel free to post any comments/questions below. If you found this helpful, please share/re-post it so others can benefit.

To your success,

Kevin Neeld

P.S. For comprehensive hockey training programs to improve your speed AND repeat sprint ability, check out: Speed Training for Hockey

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