Speed Training: how to introduce the chaos theory to develop your sports speed

In the world of sport, the ability to effectively accelerate, decelerate and change direction is crucial – chaos training can help develop these vital attributes

In the world of sport, the ability to effectively accelerate, decelerate and change direction is crucial and in many sports, the most successful athletes are typically the most explosive and efficient movers. Nick Grantham explains how CHAOS training can help develop multidimensional speed

Speed is defined as the distance travelled per unit of time while multidimensional speed can be defined as a series of complex movements in the shortest time possible. More particularly, it’s the ability to change direction or orientation of the body based on internal and external information without significant loss of speed(1).

To some extent, it can be argued that an individual’s ability to develop speed is largely predetermined. The dominant influences on speed include inherited traits, childhood movement experiences and exposure to training. However, it is possible to optimise an athlete’s multidimensional speed and agility with a well-structured training programme(1).

A to B

As we can see from figure 1 (below), trying to get from point A to point B as quickly as possible calls upon a number of qualities including explosive strength, acceleration, development and maintenance of maximum movement speed, and resistance to fatigue(2).

Traditionally, multidimensional speed development for sport has relied heavily on highly programmed (closed) speed and agility drills. Some coaches even go down the route of using track-orientated drills and workouts to improve speed for athletes competing in multidimensional sports. However, there’s a fundamental flaw with this highly structured approach to training. Sport is chaotic – it’s not programmed! The last time I watched a football match I didn’t see any ladders on the pitch or lots of cones to determine the direction in which a player ran. What I saw was chaos (albeit it controlled chaos).

We can see in figure 1 that factors such as quickness, reactive ability, and motor coordination can all be improved during a closed drill. These are all important components and training must adequately address each area. The problem is that many coaches and athletes only use this form of speed and agility training, resulting in athletes who can perform drills but can’t transfer that into the sports arena. Athletes quickly master the drill and whilst they will appear to be improving their multidimensional speed and agility, the ‘trainability’ of these types of drills does not adequately address the processing that needs to occur (very quickly!) in unforeseen situations(3). What’s needed are drills that present a stimulus, allow for a decision to be made and then produce the appropriate movement. We don’t need ladders, hurdles and cones… we need CHAOS!

CHAOS training

American collegiate strength and conditioning coach Robert Dos Remedios has developed the CHAOS sport speed training system that targets the development of ‘real life’ sports speed. Dos  Remedios has set out a simple framework that shows coaches how to progress from basic ‘closed’ drills to more open and challenging drills. By using ‘open’ drills he provides outside stimulus for athletes to recognise, process, and react to, and makes sure that training is as close to the actual speed demands of sport as possible.

One of the key aspects of CHAOS training is developing the decision making/reaction time process in a chaotic environment to ensure that the trainable patterns that often come with traditional ‘closed’ agility drills are broken. During the early stages of CHAOS training, the fundamental skills contributing to speed (figure 1) are developed. In the later stages however, the drills become more complex in nature, developing the all important detection, reaction and decision making skills.

CHAOS training is a progressive system – not just a set of drills (see figure 2). You can’t just throw athletes in at the deep end and demand that they process and react to chaotic patterns with lightning fast speed. You need to progress your athlete through the system.

Progress to CHAOS

It’s beyond the scope of this article to list the huge range of drills and progressions that can be used to develop multidimensional speed and agility, but once you understand the progressions the only limit you have is your imagination.

Stage 1 – strength training

One of the fundamental components of speed development is establishing a good strength base to get maximal gains. You can’t be fast unless you are strong! It’s important that you develop strength through a wide range of movements (bilateral, unilateral, multiplanar). Traditional exercises such as squats, lunges, split squats and stiff leg deadlifts are all great for establishing a solid strength base (see figures 3-5).

To complement the above strength drills, it’s also worth incorporate some simple ‘jump and stick’ or ‘hop and stop’ drills, which are fantastic for developing movement specific strength. These involve jumping (or hopping) from a static position and then upon landing, sticking and holding the landing position, ensuring the ankle, knee and hip joints are all flexed and the position is held constant for a count of two. Both the jumps and hops can be performed forwards, sideways and backwards. You can even add a rotational component by adding a turn before landing (90 degree or 180 degree).

Stage 2 – closed drills

Closed drills are not bad per se and closed drills actually have an important role to play in speed development using the CHAOS system. The problem can be that the use of closed drills in training is where multidimensional speed and agility training stops, when it should only be the second stage! If you look again at figure 1, you can see how simple closed drills can provide a great training stimulus for the key components influencing speed of movement. When using closed drills, work on movement in a familiar pattern first, using standard cone drills (box drills, zigzags, shuttle runs, etc).

Out and back drill – this is a regular in my speed and agility training sessions and I’ve used it with athletes competing in a range of sports, from rugby and football to Taekwondo and tennis. It’s a great drill for establishing short acceleration bursts (the first 3-5 steps). It also develops, deceleration and change of direction.

The drill is as simple as it sounds. The athlete simply accelerates forward for three steps, slams on the brakes and then backpedals for three steps. What I love about this drill is you don’t need any equipment (your athletes just need the ability to count!) and you can have a whole squad training in a very small space. Complexity can be added to the drill by changing the start and finish position to a sport specific movement, and altering the number and pattern of the changes in direction.

Stage 3 – basic reaction training

This is the first real step toward CHAOS, where the goal is to develop the ability of the athlete to detect and react to a stimulus. Using basic movement patterns, the key is to work on first step quickness and covering ground as quickly as possible from a range of start positions (lying on floor, kneeling, etc). You can use a range of cues (visual/auditory or physical) depending on the nature of the sport and the skill that you want to develop.

An example of basic reaction training is ‘ball drops’. The coach stands 5-10 metres away from the athlete with a ball in hand (I like tennis balls but basically, if it bounces you can use it). The coach drops the ball so that the athlete has to react and sprint out and pick the ball up. If you want to really make life tricky, you can use specially designed ‘agility-balls’ that bounce off all over the place and add some unpredictability into the drill. You can also increase the difficulty by controlling the number of bounces allowed before the player can pick the ball up.

Stage 4 – verbal/visual/physical simple patterns

The closed drills that you used at stages 2 and 3 can still be used as the basis for the drills in stage 4. This stage uses multiple level, multiple cue drills using simple movement patterns such as a box drill. The main change is that there is an increase in complexity provided by verbal/visual and physical cues to change direction. The athlete is familiar with the pattern but not how they will be expected to execute it.

Box drill – Level 1: You can easily train a large group of athletes using this drill; I’ve used this drill at tennis summer camps with a large grid and 20 players all facing me. This adds an element of competition to the mix, which is another important consideration for CHAOS training drills.
Create a box between 5-8 metres on each side (the exact distance will vary according to the demands of your sport). Have your player stand in the middle and then set to work on their speed and agility! There’s a huge amount of complexity that can be added to this drill but I like to start things off with a simple verbal cue. Give each corner of the box a number or letter and then call out the letter/number that you want the player to run towards (see figure 6). You can control how they get there (sprint, side shuffle, etc) and if you want them to return back to the centre spot to complete the drill.

Stage 5 – verbal/visual/physical advanced patterns

This stage uses multiple level, multiple cue drills using simple movement patterns such as a box drill. Life starts to get pretty interesting at stage 5 and the complexity of the drill starts to increase as multiple cues can be used during any one drill. The athlete not only has to complete the drill, he or she also has to process a wide range of information (verbal/visual/physical), react and then move. This is not just a physical workout, the brain gets a pounding as well!
Box drill – Level 2 To take the box drill up a level, you can work on opposites. Using the same configuration as above, make the player run to the opposite number (if you call 1, they run to 3, if you call 3 they run to 1, etc). You can move it on another step by working on diagonals (ie if you call 2 they run to 3; if you call 1 they run to 4). This all sounds very simple but trust me when I tell you that just getting athletes to make these simple decisions with a bit of pressure on them dramatically increases the difficulty of a very basic drill. Don’t be surprised when they appear to be rooted to the spot as they try to process the information they are receiving!

Stage 6 – visual/physical/rabbit drills

The final progression is where we really start to work on CHAOS. Rabbit drills can be used to take pretty much any closed drill and turn it into a demanding CHAOS drill full of multiple-level cues. Once your players start training at stage 6 they will really be training in a manner that will have maximum transfer to their chosen sport.

Box drill –Level 3 In the final stage we increase the difficulty by introducing ‘rabbit’ drills. Let’s take the same box shown in figure 6 and add an extra cone (if you have access to poles this works really well, as your athletes have to physically get round the pole and therefore can’t cheat – an alternative is to use a fifth athlete as a marker).

In this drill athlete ‘A’ sets the pace and is the ‘rabbit’. Athlete ‘B’ has to get after ‘A’ and chase them down (see figure 7). Athlete ‘B’ has to follow the exact path that athlete ‘A’ takes, even down the way they turn. This drill is great; it’s unpredictable and it also has the benefit of added competition.

Conclusion

To effectively train multidimensional speed and agility, effective drills need to develop balance and spatial awareness, must develop the reaction to signals and response to a variety of cues, and utilise movements appropriate to the task. Many coaches have been good at producing athletes and players who are great at performing running patterns and drills but who can’t actually detect and react to a stimulus and then effectively replicate speed of movement in a chaotic environment – ie sport! What we need is to practice CHAOS.

References

1. Gambetta, V ‘Athletic Development: The Art and Science of Functional Sports Conditioning’ Human Kinetics Europe Ltd (2007)
2. Siff, M ‘Supertraining’; Supertraining Institute; 6th ed (2003)
3. Remedios, R CHAOS Sport-Speed Training (DVD)

Nick Grantham is a strength and conditioning coach who has worked with elite athletes for the past 10 years. He has trained many of the country’s elite athletes including Olympic and Paralympic finalists, and professionals in a multitude of sports. He now heads up the strength and conditioning team at GENR8 Fitness

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