Train For Speed

Using Agility and Momentum to Maximize Your Training


When we talk about training for speed, we’re not just talking quick kicks.  Speed—as Black Belts know it—is multi-dimensional, and each dimension is key to self-defense and martial artistry.  Let’s get real about getting fast!

Imagine it:  You strike and kick so fast during your sparring match, it’s like your opponent is standing still.  Your weapons are a blur of precise, quick movements.  During drills, your moves are like lightning and you recover between rounds in seconds instead of minutes.

The attribute that lets you accomplish all those feats is SPEED! 

 We all want to blow everyone away with our speed in martial arts, but many of us think of speed as merely the time it takes to move from point A to point B.  We focus our training on running and sprinting. 

 While that aspect (technically “execution time”) is a part of speed, there are other elements to consider and train for.


Perceptual Speed:  The time it takes for you to perceive the need to take action.  For example, if you are sparring, you must recognize the need to strike when your opponent leaves and opening—and not realize it only once the opening has closed up.


Reaction Time:  The ability to take action before the window of opportunity expires.  For example, once you’ve perceived an opening, you need to make your body react. 


Execution Time:  What we think of as going from point A to point B as quickly as possible.  This is how long it takes you to actually chamber your leg, perform a kick, and bring the leg back in, ready for the next one.


Recovery Time:  How long it takes you to recover your strength and stamina enough to repeat a movement or exercise with full force.  You want it to be as short as possible, but it’s important not to skimp.  You need to take the time to fully recover between exercises to keep your performance from deteriorating over time, and to prevent injury. 


The Genetic Connection

Some of speed is genetic and depends on the makeup of your muscles.  Slow twitch muscle fibers are, well, slow, but are good for continuous muscle contractions over a long period of time, meaning they can go a while without fatiguing. Fast twitch muscle fibers are the opposite.  They fatigue quickly but are good for short bursts of movement. 

 Faster athletes boast more fast twitch muscle fibers.  According to some sources, Olympic sprinters have about 80 percent slow twitch fibers, while marathoners tend to have 80 percent slow twitch fibers.

You’re probably asking yourself:

“Can I change the makeup of my muscles by training?”  No one knows for sure exactly, but what you can do is build more speed, no matter what your genes say.


Tuning Your Body for Speed

Developing the attributes of speed takes hard work:  speed drills, strength workouts, flexibility training and overall good care of the body.  “It’s kind of like a supercharger or turbocharger on a car,” says Chief Master Todd Droege, 8th Degree Black Belt from Marietta, Ga.  “If you press it all the way down and expect that supercharger to kick in, you’d better have good maintenance on your car, or you’re just going to blow the engine.  It’s the same thing with your body.”

 In addition to cardio, strength and power, flexibility is also an important part of speed training that is often overlooked.  Working on your flexibility can improve your performance, and it also lowers your risk of injury when you’re working fast and furious on speed drills.

Here’s a surprise:  Studies show that doing static stretching before a workout—that’s where you get into a stretch position and hold the stretch for 30 seconds or longer—can actually reduce your reaction time, balance and overall performance in the workout that follows. 

But dynamic stretching, where your body is in motion the whole time, can improve your performance, safety and speed.  In a study by researchers at the Department of Physical Therapy at Wichita State University, subjects who did dynamic stretching before performing vertical jumps showed a significant boost in performance compared to those who did static stretching or who didn’t stretch at all.

So after your warmup and before your main workout, try some dynamic stretches and save the static stretches for after the workout.



Speed Building Workout

Blast off your speed drills by doing this workout from Chief Master Droege.  Done twice per week, these exercises will help boost your perceptual speed, reaction time, execution time and recovery time. 

To up your improvements in speed, perform each movement as powerfully and quickly as you can.  At the same time, keep your movements relaxed and don’t forget to breathe; being overly frigid can actually slow you down.  Be sure to recover completely between sets so you can perform at your best and fastest each time. 


Warm Up

1. Mirror, Mirror

Face your partner.  Your partner moves unpredictably from side to side and front to back and you mirror him or her while keeping your distance the same.  Do this for two to three minutes and then switch places.

2. Stance Drill

Jump from one sparring stance to another as fast as you can for two to three minutes.



1. Target Drill

Your partner holds a target in each hand.  Then they randomly shout “left” or “right.”  This can also work with colors such as red or black.  Your job is to throw a strike at the proper target.  Switch places after 2 to 3 minutes.


2. Wall Ball

Throw a tennis ball repeatedly against a wall and try to catch it.  The faster you throw, the faster you’ll need to react.  Do this for 2 to 3 minutes.


3. Time Your Reaction

Perform five kicks while a partner times you with a stopwatch, then he or she does the same.  For the next rounds, try to beat one another’s (and your own) time.  You can also do this without a partner and concentrate on beating your own time.




The trick to building speed and effectiveness with weapons is not only to move fast, but to start and stop the weapon without a windup or rebound, says Chief Master Droege.  Those extra movements cost precious seconds that will slow your execution time. 

To train for weapons speed, pick any move using any weapon—straight strike with a jahng bong, figure eights with a ssahng jeol bong for example—and practice doing them one after the other as quickly as you can without winding up before the move.  Stop the weapon as crisply as you can at the end of each move. 



Author: Linda Formichelli

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