Working Hard to Achieve Speed

Photo: Robert Daly/iStock


We’re continuing our series on the fundamentals of fitness by addressing speed.

There’s a great scene at the end of C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia when, as the characters enter Aslan’s domain (heaven), they continue to run faster and faster “further up and further in.” They run as fast as can be but do not grow weary; they simply experience pure freedom and exhilaration.

And it’s true, there is something exhilarating and freeing about running very fast … unfortunately, though, we do grow weary, and pretty quickly at that. But the ability to exert yourself at a high level for a short period of time can totally transform not only your health, but also the way you approach the world. Training speed encourages your lungs, heart, bones, and muscles to work in ways that no other training can.


This rapidly changes your body composition, fat levels, and cardiovascular function, to name a few benefits. It also can help you fight concupiscence and fear by changing how you deal with those issues … which, truth be told, is one of the big reasons most people don’t train their speed, or don’t train it correctly.

You see, when you’re speed training, you give your absolute maximum effort for a very short duration (10-15 seconds), then rest for two to four times that duration (20 seconds to one minute), and then you repeat that process a number of times. The challenge is, most of us don’t want to give our maximum effort even once, let alone multiple times in a row! Maximum effort? That’s scary, and hard, and it goes against our desire for easy pleasure and the fear of hard work we’ve inherited from our original parents.

So even when we can get on board for working out, we frequently try to workout just hard enough and long enough to convince ourselves that we’re doing something, rather than actually doing anything that will call us or cause us to change. I honestly do still experience fear and resistance in myself when I know I’m going to be doing sets of deadmills (see definition in sidebar), because I know how difficult and exhausting they are.

I also still experience fear and resistance in myself when I’m presented with the choice between the easy way and the right way, because I know how difficult the right way can be. But as G.K.Chesterton points out:

In this world heaven is rebelling against hell. For the orthodox there can always be a revolution; for a revolution is a restoration. At any instant you may strike a blow for the perfection which no man has seen since Adam.

Difficult things which take courage are things worth doing … and when we train ourselves in small ways, we train ourselves for big things. That way, when we are presented with our concupiscence and fear, we know how to deal with those shortcomings: We approach them head on, because “the God of all grace who called you to his eternal glory through Christ [Jesus] will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you after you have suffered a little” (1 Peter 5:10).


To reiterate, when we’re training speed, our goal is to give our maximum effort for a very short duration (10-15 seconds), then rest for two to four times that duration (20 seconds to one minute). And when I say “rest,” I mean total rest, not just “easier exercise.”

What do I mean when I say “maximum effort?” I mean the most you can do … period. Not the most you can do comfortably, but the most you can do. It won’t be easy, but remember Pope Benedict XVI’s words: “The ways of the Lord are not easy, but we were not created for an easy life, but for great things, for goodness” (address to German pilgrims, April 25, 2005).

In a scene in the 2006 Christian film Facing the Giants, a football coach effectively reminds his team captain to use all of what God has graced him with, to lift up those around him, and give his “very best.” I highly recommend that scene; you can find it on YouTube by searching “Facing the Giants death crawl.”

Let’s have our prayer be to offer our very best to God in all things, and before beginning our day and before beginning our workouts, let’s pray the following prayer (based on 1 Peter 5:10):

Lord, grant me courage in small matters, that I may act faithfully in large ones. Let me trust that after I have suffered a little while, you who have called me to eternal glory in Christ will restore, establish, and strengthen me. Amen.

This workout will run a little differently than the last few I’ve had you do. Now that you’re getting used to the other kinds of training we’re doing, speed training serves as a supplement to your other training rather than a replacement. So, beginners will incorporate a “sprinting” workout once a week (either on what would have been a rest day, or to begin or finish a strength workout), intermediates will do it twice a week, and experts will do it three times.


Pick an exercise to perform at maximum effort for 10-15 seconds. For beginners, I highly recommend a stationary bike, but you could also use a rowing machine, sprint on a track (please be sure you know how to sprint properly), or do deadmills (definition below). Honestly, a stationary bike (particularly a spin-style bike) is really great — very challenging, but also very safe.

Put it on a fairly low level of resistance, warm up for three to five minutes, then begin the “sprinting” portion: pedal as fast and hard as you possibly can for 10-15 seconds. Then relax and stop pedaling for three times as long as you exerted maximum effort. If you pedal hard for 10 seconds, rest for 30. If you pedal hard for 15 seconds, rest for 45. Repeat this interval 3-6 times. Once you’ve finished, set the resistance so that it’s very easy to bike at 80-90 rpm, and do that for 3 minutes to cool down.

What are deadmills?

Deadmills mimic a sled push (the kind you might see athletes doing on a football field). They’re easier on your joints than using a treadmill for traditional running, easier to learn (if you’re having any trouble understanding it, watch a video on YouTube about how to do them), and safer to start with than regular running if you happen to be carrying extra body weight.

  • Get on a treadmill
  • Warm up for two to five minutes at an easy effort, then turn the treadmill off so the belt stops moving.
  • Lean forward, brace your upper body against the treadmill and get a good grip.
  • Start a timer.
  • Push the belt using your feet for 10-15 seconds, as fast as you can.
  • Stop (the belt will also stop moving pretty quickly since it is turned off). Rest for the prescribed duration, and then repeat for as many times as you are doing.
  • Cool down and stretch.


Same as beginner workout (I still highly recommend a stationary bike, but now I also highly recommend deadmills), except that after warming up, definitely do no less than 15 seconds at maximum effort, followed by 45 seconds of rest. Perform six to nine intervals. Cool down for three minutes, either with an easy bike or easy walk.


Same as above, keeping the intervals at 15 and 45, but you’ll perform nine to 12 intervals before the cooldown. Since you’ll be doing this up to three times a week, I would cycle between different exercises each day. My favorites remain stationary bike and deadmills, but sprints are great on a track, and if you want to give the lower body a rest for a day or two, you might choose rowing, as well.


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