Should You Be Training at “Game Speed”?

Constantly I hear parents, coaches, and trainers mistakenly use the term “game speed” as a must for practicing or training for a certain sport. However, this style of practicing and training is far from reality.

In order to get your athletes in peak condition mentally and physically, game speed during a practice or training session should be at 20% or less. When I say game speed, I am referring to the highest intensity in which you play during a live sport’s game. 

Intensity is distributed between three zones.

For athletes looking to improve speed, power, conditioning, and performance, studies have shown that world-class athletes in multiple sports use three zones for training.

  • Spending approximately 70-80% of their training time at or below VT1 (Zone 1: an intensity where the athlete can still talk normally)
  • Less than 10% of training between VT1 and VT2 (Zone 2: this intensity cannot be sustained for long due to an accumulation of lactate)
  • Lastly, 10-20% above VT2 (Zone 3: very high intensity that taxing on the body, challenges the phosphagen system). 

Interval training is the way to go.

Coaches and trainers should divide up their practice time and training sessions into intervals based on these three zones. For example, when I am training clients for basketball, I have my clients warm up first for 10-15 minutes with something not too taxing on the body, such as running stairs or doing push-ups (VT1); After that, I’d increase the intensity for ball handling drills or full court lay-up drills (at or below VT2); then, I will have my client shoot free throws. This an opportunity for the client to work on a skill (free throws/shooting) while in active recovery.

For zone three, I would have my clients perform wall jumps/followed by full-court suicides or something else with very high intensity for 5-10 minutes (above VT2), then we’re right back to free throws. So during the course of a training session we may go from VT1 to above VT2 a few times, yet we slow it down for active recovery so the client will be rested and able to continue at the intensity the zone calls for.

Training is an art.

Don’t get caught up focusing on “game speed” or practicing and training at full intensity. Training is all about manipulating the body both physically and mentally while perfecting your skill at the same time. I truly believe coaching and training are arts and are the difference between winning and losing, or being an athlete vs. being an elite athlete.

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