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Speed ​​is one of the most important physical abilities from the point of view of performance, being decisive in most sports, especially in team sports. The ability to execute movements at maximum speed is essential in most sports disciplines, since the effectiveness depends, to a large extent, on the speed with which they are carried out. A simple way to define it is as the physical ability to perform motor actions in the shortest possible time. Although, as we will see, it is much more complex than that.

In general, we can say that the speed increases as the force increases. At approximately 23 years of age, we will have reached 100% of our performance possibilities. Speed ​​develops, at a very early age, due to the quick maturation of the nervous system. However, as happens with flexibility, it is a capacity that regresses very fast, producing a progressive loss from the age of 25.

Speed ​​is not a pure ability, but complex and inherent to the development of the human neuromuscular system. In fact, there are several factors that affect the speed of an individual, among them we highlight the muscular, the nervous, the genetic, as well as the temperature of the muscle.

For example, the speed with which a movement is performed depends on:

  • The speed of contraction of the muscles involved in the movement.
  • The speed at which the nerve impulse is transmitted.
  • The intensity of the electrical impulse sent by the nervous system.
  • Some physical factors, such as height, weight, or stride length


Speed ​​can be manifested in several ways: as the distance traveled in a given time (displacement speed), as the reaction to a stimulus (reaction speed) or as the performance of a gesture (gestural speed). It should also be taken into account if the movement covers the whole body, as in the speed of displacement, or only a part, as in the speed of gestures. The reaction rate can involve both a part and the whole body.

Speed ​​is a very important factor in explosive physical activity: sprints, jumps… and fundamental in team sports such as football, basketball or volleyball, in which the most decisive actions depend directly on this quality. For example, in football there are differences in the 10 meter speed tests between 2nd division, 1st division and international players. However, its importance declines as the distance to be covered increases, and in endurance sports it hardly counts. In those activities in which speed is a determining factor, it can be directly or indirectly.

  • It is a direct factor when looking for maximum speed, as it happens in relation to the starting gun shot in a 100-meter start.
  • It is an indirect factor when looking for the optimal speed that allows the use of the maximum possible force, as, for example, in the long jump. In this case, an increase in speed does not necessarily lead to an improvement in performance.


Speed is affected by several factors, which could be divided into two large groups:

PHYSIOLOGICAL FACTORS: fundamentally two would determine the level of speed:

The muscular factor: It is directly related to the speed of muscle contraction, and is determined by factors that cannot be improved, such as:

  • The length of the muscle fiber and its resistance.
  • The intramuscular viscosity.
  • The percentage of muscle fibers. There are two main types, the red or type I, capable of staying active for long periods of time, and the white or type II, which are fast and only withstand short efforts. Fast people have a higher percentage of the latter.

The nervous factor: For muscle contraction to take place, the transmission of the nerve impulse is necessary, from the peripheral receptors of the brain to the muscle fibers. The intensity and speed are determined mainly by the type of motor neurons that are innervated.

PHYSICAL FACTORS: There are several factors, we highlight:

  • The width of the stride, which determines the speed of movement and depends fundamentally on the driving power and the width of the stride.
  • The frequency, or speed of movement of the limbs, which depends on strength, flexibility and coordination.
  • The neuromuscular coordination between agonist and antagonist muscles.
  • The height, since an excess of it is an impediment to develop the maximum speed.
  • The weight, since an excess is negative to achieve the maximum speed.
  • The nutrition, since in explosive efforts, muscle glycogen plays a fundamental role due to muscular fibers obtain energy fundamentally by the anaerobic route.
  • Age, since it evolves throughout life:
    • Between the ages of 8 and 12 there is a gradual improvement in the reaction speed, movement and gestures.
    • Between the ages of 13 and 19, the speed of movement increases and the speed of reaction is maintained.
    • From the age of 20 the reaction speed begins to decrease.
    • Between 20 and 24 the movement speed remains more or less stable.
    • From the age of 25 speed decreases constantly in untrained people.
    • Around the age of 50, the loss of speed affects all people and is progressive.


We are going to divide the different manifestations of speed into two large groups: pure and complex. Within the manifestations of pure speed we distinguish: reaction speed, movement speed and gestural speed. While within the manifestations of complex speed we distinguish: speed-strength or explosive force and speed-resistance or resistance to speed.

For a better understanding on how the different manifestations of speed interrelate, we are going to analyze the different phases of a 100-meter race:

  • Start: at the beginning the athlete uses the reaction speed to respond to the starting pistol shot.
  • Acceleration: This is followed by speed-force to increase your speed.
  • Maximum speed: between 30 and 60-80 meters you will try to maintain the maximum speed.
  • Endurance: In the last meters it is not possible to maintain the maximum speed and the speed-endurance is exploited to continue at the maximum possible speed.


It is the ability to respond to a given stimulus in the shortest time possible, such as a goalkeeper’s save or the starting pistol shot of a 100-meter race. It is also called reaction time, since it is equivalent to the time that the person takes to react to a certain stimulus, that is, the interval that elapses from when the stimulus is received until the response appears. It is a very short period of time that usually lasts between 0.10 and 0.15 seconds.

This type of speed is characterized by hereditary aspects and is not easily influenced by training. The rate of reaction depends on various factors, including the following:

  • The type of stimulus: visual, auditory, tactile…
  • The number of stimulated sensory organs and receptors.
  • The intensity and duration of the stimulus.
  • The transmission speed of the nerve impulse.
  • The age and sex.
  • The level of concentration.
  • The degree of training.

Finally, it should be noted that two types of reaction speed are distinguished:

  • Simple reaction speed: only one response occurs to a pre-established stimulus.
  • Complex reaction speed, where the stimulus and the response are uncertain, and a quick response must be given to an unexpected stimulus, such as, for example, in the reaction of a tennis serve.


It is the ability to cover a distance in the shortest possible time, such as the 100-meter dash. It can be called in other ways, such as translation speed, cyclic speed…

In this type of speed, there is a displacement of the whole body through the continuous repetition of the motor actions that intervene in the technical gestures. It is determined by several factors, mainly physical:

  • The width of the stride.
  • The frequency of segmental movements.
  • The speed resistance.
  • The relaxation and neuromuscular coordination.

Normally, the speed of movement is the one that prolongs the action for the longest time, hence another important factor to take into account is the energy supply.

Depending on the duration of the effort, the travel speed is divided into short, medium or long:

  • Short displacement speed, when the motor actions have a duration of less than 6 seconds.
  • Average displacement speed, in efforts whose duration ranges between 6 and 12 seconds.
  • Long displacement speed, in which the duration is greater than 12 seconds and is characterized by the need for speed resistance. This causes some modifications in the movement patterns, such as the decrease in the frequency and amplitude of the stride.


It is the ability to perform a movement with a part of the body in the shortest time possible, such as a shot on goal in handball or a backhand shot in tennis. It is also called segmental speed, execution speed… It is characterized by being an isolated gesture that is only repeated once. The factors that influence gestural speed are of both physical and physiological origin:

  • The ability of muscular coordination to carry out the movement.
  • The lever arm.
  • The learning level of the gesture.
  • Location and spatial orientation.
  • The member used: upper or lower, dominant or non-dominant.
  • The time spent in decision making.


Although the different types of speed mentioned are rarely given separately, when training speed, work is carried out according to the three classes mentioned above: reaction speed, movement speed and gestural speed. Speed ​​training is based on several general principles:

  • The only way to work on speed is with maximum intensities.
  • The distances to be covered will be short, so the duration of the task will also be short, seconds.
  • The recovery will be maximum to allow a complete regeneration of the energy sources used.
  • It works through repetitions.
  • A good warm-up is necessary to prepare the body for maximum performance and to prevent intense efforts from causing muscle injuries.
  • To achieve 100% you need a high level of concentration.



Reaction speed training is based on the fact that the more mechanized a gesture is, the shorter the reaction time. The aim is to automate the technical gesture by repeating it, starting from varied and different positions and using different stimuli: visual, auditory, tactile… To improve reaction speed there are several work systems:

  • Simple reactions or repetitions, in which one always responds in the same way to a stimulus.
  • Partial or analytical system, in which the global movement is broken down and different parts are worked on separately.
  • Sensory system, in which you respond to a stimulus and take the time, then you have to repeat it trying to lower the previous time.
  • Complex reactions, whose objective is to acquire a wide repertoire of movements to respond in different ways to a given stimulus.
  • Repeated action with variation of the stimulus, which consists of performing a movement at maximum speed but in the face of different stimuli.

Other specific work formulas, some designed especially for working with children, are:

  • Starting and putting into action in different positions: standing, grouped, sitting facing forward, sitting on the back, lying supine… The distance will be 5-10 meters, with a total recovery.
  • Reaction and chase games.
  • Reduced sports situations.
  • Muscle potentiation.
  • Relays.



The basic objective is to improve the coordination of movements in order to overcome the speed barrier. The work systems to develop the displacement speed are diverse:

  • Facilitated speed, in which a situation that increases the stride frequency is sought, such as running downhill, running dragged by a bicycle… The resulting speed is above 100%.
  • Running against opposition, such as running uphill, with opposition from a partner or parachute…
  • Short series, which consists of running at maximum speed for a certain distance, usually between 20 and 60 meters. It is done between 3 and 7 series.
  • Decomposition of factors, where the frequency and the stride width are worked on separately.
  • Progressive series, where series of races are carried out increasing the speed progressively from less to more.
  • Series with maximum frequency, which are performed over short distances (10-15 meters), with exercises such as skipping (elevating the knees), raising the heels to the buttocks…
  • Accelerations and decelerations, in which changes in amplitude and frequency of the stride are made during the journey.
  • Multi-jumps, to improve the impulse capacity.

All movement speed training systems work by repeating series, with total recovery between series and series, it is important to make this pause active to maintain muscle tone.



Any system of gestural speed work must be associated with the technical gesture, therefore, it is necessary that it be carried out with sufficient technical correction before attempting to develop speed, which implies an improvement in coordination and the specific motor pattern. . Some systems are:

  • Facilitated gesture system, where the performance of the gesture is facilitated in some way, for example, using tennis balls for throwing in handball or using a lower weight in shot put.
  • Repetition of the gesture, where the technical gesture is worked repeatedly within the usual training of the individual or collective sport that is practiced.


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