Relative Speed


A training variable often overlooked by Performance Coaches is Relative Speed. Relative Speed considers an athletes ability to accelerate in a specific plane of movement and is most often measured in Seconds, Meters per Second (M/S) or Miles per Hour (MPH). For an athlete doing a 40 yard sprint, most coaches will use a timing system to accurately portray this form of speed (sagittal plane). In contrast, Performance Coaches who need to measure an athletes speed in the rotational plane of movement (transverse) often look to a something as simple as a pocket radar. Regardless of HOW you’re measuring speed, the end goal is to determine if an athlete is moving fast or slow relative to their size.

Sure, anyone can see a 90 MPH pitch or a 4.4 second 40 yard sprint and know the athlete is fast. However, are they fast relative to their SIZE. Looking at how fast an athlete is relative to size is synonymous to how strong an athlete is relative to their size. A good way to measure Relative speed is to simply divide the athletes body weight (in pounds or kilos) by the given speed metric used.

For example, many NFL scouts have openly said if a certain athlete doesn’t have a certain 40 time, they won’t bother looking at him. The problem is they’re only looking at an ABSOLUTE measure, not a relative one. Hypothetically, if a 210lb defensive back runs a 4.65 40 time and his counterpart who is vying for the same draft spot runs a 4.59 at 190lbs, which athlete is more desirable? The 210lb DB has a relative speed of 45.16 (210lb/4.65 seconds) were the 190lb DB has less Relative Speed at 41.39 (190lb/4.59). Chances are the scout will favor the athlete who ran a 4.59. Little do they realize that the heavier defensive back not only has a higher relative speed, but the potential to acquire more speed if the proper training and weight loss interventions are used.

Think about former MLB Pitcher Tim Lincecum, who thrived in majors at the modest size of 170lbs. Not only did he deal out some good stuff, but he also had velocity in the 90’s, making him a great pitcher relative to his size. The rule of relative speed certainly applies in this case, so it is much easier to make an argument that his athleticism far outweighed his counter parts due to his impressive relative speed.

In closing, it can be very helpful for Performance coaches to use the metric of Relative Speed. Whether its determining the type of program an athlete may need or figuring out how athletic they are relative to their peers, it is a variable that deserves a little more attention in the training process.