Keys to Planning, Managing, and Improving Speed Over Time

Adam Menner, CSCS, RSCC, Ms. |

Expert from the VH Health and Performance Model

Because nothing in life is perfect, daily stressors inevitably will inhibit our ability to train optimally. I knew I couldn’t manage the external stressors that my athletes experienced, but I decided I could create something that would account for their level of readiness on any given day.

The Stress Scale for Athletes dramatically changed the way I train athletes. The scale allows me to apply the appropriate training load for a session based on an athlete’s readiness that day despite any stresses they’re dealing with outside the gym. I’ve used it for the past eight months, and it has served us surprisingly well with significant results.

The information I present is a culmination of existing concepts, including the Prilepin’s Chart, the rate of perceived exertion (RPE) scale, and fatigue management concepts I’ve put together based on “in the trenches” empirical data. I’ve recorded hundreds, if not thousands, of different numbers in my ten notebooks that I carry with me daily. I hope this information helps you well in your training and coaching.

Recognizing the Stress Problem

We all experience stress. Stress manifests itself in many ways, both acutely and chronically. Furthermore, all stressors are not created equal—to an extent. However, both types of stress have a large effect on our training and the ability to recover from each training session.

A training session consisting of 4×10 volume squats puts significant stress on the body and will cause fatigue in most of us. Emotional pain is a stressor as well, for example a break up with a significant other. One physical, one physiological, both cause systemic stress on the body that will inhibit optimal subsequent training sessions.

When thinking about stress, it’s useful to start with the General Adaptation Syndrome. Very small amounts of stress won’t provoke a very robust adaptive response, while more stress increases adaptation. Too much stress—to the point where we can’t cope physically or psychologically— decreases the rate of adaptation.

Keep in mind that, while our bodies don’t differentiate types of stress to a great degree, the specific adaptations to various stressors (lifting weights, a car crash, and tight work deadlines, for example) will differ. Also, the body’s general response to any stressor is very similar regardless of the specific stressor we encounter.

This means that all the stressors in life pool together and dip into the same reservoir of “adaptive reserves” available for recovering from those stressors. This allows us to adapt so we’ll be better equipped to handle them next time. With strength training, this means bigger and stronger muscles, more resilient tendons and connective tissue, and bones that can handle heavier loading.

Our bodies need a certain amount of stress to function normally. If we remove all the stressors from our lives, our bodies begin to deteriorate. For example, if we were to win the lottery and spend a year lying on the couch watching reality TV, facing no stressors that challenge us physically or mentally, we’d be much weaker and in much worse health than we are now with some baseline level of physical and psychological stress.

My Challenge as a Coach

It’s nearly impossible to monitor an athlete’s stress levels since we have little control over the external things that happen to them outside the weight room. In most cases, we see our athletes no more than 8-10 hours a week. There are 168 hours in the week. That leaves athletes with at least 158 hours experiencing other external and internal stressors.

As coaches, our job is to ensure our athletes feel good, are ready to perform, and can sustain a healthy lifestyle that is conducive to sport success. Because we cannot control everything that happens outside the gym, we must create training programs that will most benefit our athletes no matter what’s going on in their lives.

My professional athletes are always ready to go because they’ve dedicated their entire lives to training. They take the necessary steps to put themselves in the best position to succeed. I don’t train many professional athletes at a time, however, because of their busy schedules.

Like most coaches, the bulk of my athletes consist of high school and collegiate athletes, ranging from 14-22 years old. This Is where things get tricky. We all know what amazing things happen during those years: partying, late nights, relationships, breakups, school work, and the daily stress of home life. These may seem small to us now, but we all remember how much they influenced us at that age and how we felt on a daily basis.

One week my athletes came in, and the weights were moving. They were hitting numbers 25-30lbs over what we prescribed for the day. The problem with this happened during the following weeks of training. They did not even come close to the numbers they were supposed to hit based on their performances the previous week. As always, I asked them how they felt, what they ate, how they slept, and how their weekends were. The answers always changed. “I didn’t sleep well” or “I had a rough weekend” or “I didn’t have time to eat.”

This was when I knew I couldn’t keep prescribing the same thing week after week with minor tweaks here and there. I needed a holistic training program overhaul.

Taking a step back to see the big picture might provide some invaluable insight as to why an athlete is the way he or she is. If we see someone struggling, it might be time to pare down the stimuli so we can get a less miserable looking elephant.

As stated above, there are significant figures in each athlete’s life helping prioritize different goals. These people must view stress holistically in order to avoid competing demands and extreme chronic stress. Coaches, parents and teachers cannot view their respective training tools in a vacuum separate from all other stressors. They must also empower athletes to learn how to choose what stressors are most beneficial. Both parties operating in good faith can certainly influence decision-making for the better.

Viewing training in a narrow lense is something I think S&C coaches fall victim to frequently. We fixate on physiology yet fail to acknowledge there are numerous components factoring into the makeup of an athlete.

Coordinative factors relate to movements that support technical skill/sport development; conditional factors deal with general biological motor capabilities; socio/affective factors concern themselves with relationships and identifying one’s role on a team; emotive/volitional factors determine feelings or mood; the creative/expressive structure relates to a sense of fun or style of play that is very personal; and then of course the mental component works to tie all these structures together, forming the human sports person.

Why are these important?

Well, a holistic outlook helps remind coaches that it is nearly impossible to pinpoint any one thing as the deciding factor for success.

Different athletes will be more attuned to different factors and we cannot let our biases dictate our messaging or our training. This is not to say that we can’t establish a framework for our teams to work under, but it cannot be so rigid as to deprive an athlete from self-discovery and decision-making.

We need a program and a framework that allows for fluidity and the ability to adapt on the fly given the circumstances before us.

What is Our Main Role as Sport Performance Coaches?

In essence, all coaches and teachers have become stress managers. If a culture embraces a holistic view of stress and is aware of all the facets that comprise a human athlete, conversations can be had between disciplines that focus on creating an environment that regulates stressors from all sources based on the needs of the athlete and the demands of the sport. This facilitates a positive perception of the environment for the athlete, which leads to a belief in the process being utilized.

Sports Performance in modern team sports is often low on the totem pole of priorities so an airtight plan with intricate sets and reps is not typically feasible. Our belief system likely needs to shift in order to maximize our impact and help athletes. Essentially, we must be flexible in our programming, and for myself utilizing the Stress Scale for Speed Development. Below, are 4 critical components of the Stress Scale for Long-Term Speed Development.

My objective with this piece is to ensure that I provide you with a simply framework and reasoning for how to allocate your speed training for better long term development. I have created four pillars of controllable inputs that will distacte the outcomes we are looking for.

#1 Managing of All Stress

Athletes will have days in practice or competition where loads will be high and days where they will be low. General stressors in the weight room should match sport specific stressors. This way the same intensities and volumes are addressed on the same day. Mixing different stressors on the same day is a failure to acknowledge the universal response of the body to stress. The body does not account for modalities such as practice or lifting – it only knows intensity/neural stress and volume/tissue stress. Low load days must be low both on and off the court or field. Through this, the body will be ready to express maximum output on high load days.

#2 Microdosing Speed Sessions

Given the level of competing stressors throughout the day – and that time is generally the most prominent constraint for S&C coaches – training is best when a “less is more” approach is utilized. So rather than indiscriminately pile on stress in general training when the demands of sport are already high, employ the minimal effective dose to get the adaptation we are chasing. I would rather be able to have an athlete produce high levels of output overtime. Random spikes of performance are a byproduct of poor programming.

#3 Training Multiple Qualities in Varying Efforts

Sports Culture will always prioritize competition and saturated skill sessions over quality training. This leaves limited time for strength coaches to work with athletes. Blocks of concentrated training aren’t feasible in many cases and some qualities such as sprinting have technical aspects that must be addressed more consistently throughout training. Our athletes have to essentially, be ready, all the time. This means improving multiple speed qualities at once.

#4 Undulating Periodization:

Not only are we training multiple qualities at once, we are also going to undulate volume and intensity throughout the week. The Stress Scale for Speed Development will allow us to properly dose volume and intensity and ensure that any qualities developed through more concentrated blocks of training are maintained. All volumes and intensities can be achieved in a given week by consolidating stressors and microdosing.

I want to make it clear that when there is time to develop specific qualities that require more attention, every effort must be made to achieve that goal. However, ask athletes in almost any setting and those periods are few and far between. High school athletes typically play multiple sports or play a sport that require the whole year with multiple seasons, travel play, etc.

The average teenage athlete has a more structured schedule than many adults with classes, practice, games, homework, college preparation, social engagements, etc. All this alone leads to many 12-hour days and abnormal levels of stressor.

College athletes typically have the best opportunity as they generally play their sport for a semester and have the summer and another semester to train. What I've found, they also become the most detrained. They take extensive breaks and lose specific qualities extremely fast.

Intensity or neurological stress can be quantified as rate of perceived exertion (RPE) or a percentage of max output such as a 1RM or max velocity. Our central nervous system (CNS) is depleted by higher intensities of training. In speed training, every sprint must be "max effort" or RPE 10. This must be taken into account when planning for long term speed development.

In essence, tissue preparedness and cns prep work together under the umbrella of health and performance. Tissues need to be trained to adapt and the nervous system will be taxed when we impose such demands on the body especially at higher intensities. Maintaining robust tissues and a highly functioning nervous system all while imposing stress and regulating the perception of that stress can be difficult.

Here is the Breakdown of Each Component of a Sprint

Speed Endurance (Lactic)| High Volume/Low Intensity

For Aerobic Capacity: Extensive tempo runs, bodyweight circuit training

Tempo runs for the sake of running is where coaches fall short.

On these days we are trying to improve O2 delivery, tissue prep for sprinting and limit occlusion of blood flow in muscles. These act as great "primer days" for higher output days to follow.

Continuous steady state training could result in athletes operating in a hypoxic environment making the stressors much higher than anticipated. We do not want to prevent fresh blood from going to the muscles for extended periods of time on a high volume/low intensity day.

Absolute Speed (MV - A lactic) | High Volume/High Intensity

These are the moneymaker sessions. Outputs and volume will be high. This is where the most adaptation will occur and all other training must be set up to facilitate success on these days. Target adaptations can be almost anything, but primarily focus on max strength and acceleration/speed.

For Acceleration/Speed: Sprinting at Various Distances

Sprinting will increase alactic power/capacity and if ample rest is taken between sets it can aid in overdelivery of O2 to the tissue as well. There is also the technical learning curve for sprinting. We must sprint to build up resiliency to it, but we must also determine what style of sprinting is best for us and what tweaks will make each of us more efficient and faster.

Speed Reserve (A Lactic - Lactic)| Low Volume/High Intensity

This is general where games or live competition occurs. This is what we refer to as game operating speeds. These sessions are always short in duration and microdose either force or velocity. Output will be high, but volume limited. These sessions typically involve high velocity movements that stimulate the CNS and can further improve power development. This can improve readiness for subsequent training days.

For Speed: Sprinting at various distances

Sprinting will increase alactic power/capacity and if ample rest is taken between sets it can aid in overdelivery of O2 to the tissue as well. Typically, an acceleration focus OR longer distances at slightly lower intensities to prepare the tissues for higher velocity based days at longer distances.

Aerobic (Oxidative) Speed)|Low Volume/Low Intensity

Longer distance - tempo based intervals are great here.

These are generally our weekend recovery days.


It is imperative that we understand when we take a holistic view of stress - it will help us more adequately dose exercise.

Know when to work for an adaptation and when to back off. This can only come from knowing your athletes and in turn the athletes knowing their bodies. Plan, Freestyle, & Record.

The game itself is what draws athletes and sport coaches. It will reign supreme. Luckily for a strength coach, stress exists in their realm just as it does ours. The Stress Scale for Speed can therefore be used to quantify stressors in practice or competition.

GAME APPLICATION for The Stress Scale for Speed

The game itself is what draws athletes and sport coaches. It will reign supreme. Luckily for a strength coach, stress exists in their realm just as it does ours. The Stress Scale for Speed can therefore be used to quantify stressors in practice or competition.

A longer practice with a low RPE would fit into the Aerobic Work.

A game or lengthy, high-intensity practice would be Max Velocity & Speed Reserve

Speed Endurance would be a moderate to short practice, but intense burst of practice while maintaining relatively similar outputs throughout.

Complete Aerobic Work would be a complete off day of practice or game.

As coaches, it’s extremely important that we can match daily training demands with daily sport demands so that mixed signals are not being sent to the body and stress is streamlined.

If you want to learn more about how we implement speed with our VH Health and Performance Model, you should register for our FREE Speed Seminar, this saturday August 29th, 12-3pm EST.


I look forward to seeing a lot of you there!

Adam Menner