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  • Writer's pictureJo Clubb

Timing Gates for Speed Testing: The Ultimate Guide

Updated: May 21

Speed is a critical component of performance in many sports, and accurately measuring it is essential for assessing athlete progress.

Timing gates, a staple in sports science tech, offer a reliable method for capturing speed data during sprints and change of direction tests. In this blog post, we’ll explore how speed gates work, discuss testing protocols, and delve into research findings that underscore their importance.

How Timing Gates Work

Timing gates operate by setting up a laser beam between two gates. When an athlete runs through the beam, it is broken, and the system records the time. By setting up multiple gates along a course, you can capture split times to analyse performance over various segments. This data allows coaches to calculate average speed and, with additional tools, peak speed.

Testing Protocols for Linear Speed

Consistency in Testing

Consistency is paramount when conducting speed tests to ensure data reliability. Factors such as warm-up routines, testing surfaces, and environmental conditions (as realistically as possible) should remain constant. Additionally, the height of the timing gates should be standardised. Research by Cronin and Templeton (2008) in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research (JSCR) highlighted that varying gate heights can influence test results, recommending a height of one meter for consistency.

Starting Position

The athlete’s starting position can significantly impact sprint times. For instance, using a three-point stance, as seen in the NFL Combine, requires technical proficiency. If using VALD’s SmartSpeed system, the test starts when the athlete breaks the laser beam, making the distance behind the first gate crucial for consistent results.

When setting up tests, the distance from the start line to the first gate should be consistent. Flying sprints, which allow for a build-up phase before timing starts, should also adhere to consistent setup protocols.

Measuring Change of Direction

Testing Change of Direction vs. Agility

Change of direction tests, like the 5-10-5 test, are pre-planned and non-reactive, differentiating them from true agility tests, which involve reacting to a stimulus. Consistency in test setup, such as starting stance and turn techniques, is essential for reliable data.

The 5-10-5 Test

In the 5-10-5 test, the athlete starts at a central line, sprints to one side, turns, sprints across to the other side, turns again, and finishes back at the start line. Key factors include:

  • Consistent starting position and direction

  • Specific rules for turns (e.g., foot or hand touch)

  • Multiple trials with adequate rest

A figure of the 5-10-5 test, previously known as Pro Agility Test. The athlete starts on a middle line, sprints 5m to the right line, turns 180 degrees and sprints to the following line, before turning 180 degrees and back through the start line. A SmartSpeed timing gate is displayed along the start and finish line.

Change of direction tests, like the 5-10-5 test, are pre-planned and non-reactive, differentiating them from true agility tests, which involve reacting to a stimulus.

Research Insights

Combining Timing Gates with Other Technologies

Timing gates alone do not measure maximum velocity. Combining them with GPS, GNSS tracking, or radar guns can provide a more comprehensive speed profile. Research by Ken Clark on NFL Combine data, titled 'The National Football League Combine 40-yd Dash: How Important is Maximum Velocity?', emphasised the importance of maximum velocity and acceleration patterns.

Force-Velocity-Power Profiling

Sprint performance can be analysed through force-velocity-power profiles. Methods from Samozino et al. (2016) allow for the assessment of:

  • Maximum theoretical horizontal force

  • Velocity at zero force

  • Power associated with horizontal force

  • Maximal ratio of forces (RF max)

  • Decrease in the ratio of forces (DRF)

This profiling helps tailor training to individual athlete needs.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on Speed Testing

What are timing gates and how do they work?

Timing gates use laser beams set between two gates. When an athlete runs through the beam, the system records the time taken, allowing for accurate measurement of sprint performance.

Can timing gates measure peak speed?

Timing gates measure split times, which can be used to calculate average speed. To measure peak speed, additional tools like GPS, GNSS, or radar guns are required. Alternatively, research has suggested modelling approach that can be used to determine peak speed from timing gate data.

What is the difference between change of direction tests and agility tests?

Change of direction tests are pre-planned and non-reactive, focusing on the athlete’s ability to change direction quickly. Agility tests involve reacting to a stimulus, adding a cognitive component to the physical movement.

Stay tuned for more insights on strength testing in our series sponsored by VALD Performance. Subscribe to our blog to stay updated!

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This article is support by VALD Performance. For more information, about their technology, visit their website.


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