"I feel the need...the need for speed."
While this line from the movie TOP GUN is appropriate for jet pilots, is faster really better when it comes to your fitness program?
If your goal is to run a faster 5K, then yeah, speed training would be appropriate. This is called Specificity of Training and means that your training needs to be specific for your goal, i.e., if you want to lift heavier weights, you need to weight train rather than surf. If you want to become a better dancer, you want to take dance lessons rather than play hockey.
In a general fitness program where the goal is to improve health and fitness and maintain or reduce body fat, then speed should be added to your program AFTER you've mastered a move, exercise or dance step at a slower pace with a full range of motion (abbreviated as ROM.) Going faster doesn't necessarily equate to burning more calories because you start using more momentum rather than muscular force to execute a move. And using your own muscles to move is what burns calories.
Too often participants think faster is better, even if they can't execute the moves properly with good form at a higher speed. There seems to be an erroneous assumption that if their instructor is moving at 90 mph, then somehow (by osmosis?) they're moving 90 mph, even if they're not.
Ask anyone who has ever taught water aerobics from the pool deck if slow with full ROM is challenging and they will resoundingly say, "YES!"
People who attend my Zumba Gold classes are often surprised that they're sweaty at the end. "But it's so much slower than basic ZUMBA," they say. "I can't believe I worked up a sweat."
I tell them, "Yes, but you were performing the dance steps with a full range of motion, which actually works you more than going fast with a small range of motion."
My advice as a degreed Exercise Specialist and certified Personal Trainer, Group Fitness Instructor and Health Coach is to walk before you run. Master the moves of whatever activity you enjoy at a slower pace with a full range of motion before adding speed and acceleration. This is not only more effective, but will also reduce the chance of injury. It also gets momentum out of the picture and allows you to really feel your body moving through space (which is called kinesthetic awareness.)
And if you're a beginner, an older adult, have medical issues, or are returning to movement after a hiatus, then "walking before you run" gives your body time to adapt to the physical stresses of exercise before you place greater demands on yourself. After all, you wouldn't build a house starting with the roof because without a good foundation, a house will collapse. The same is true of the human body.
So be kind to yourself and focus on proper execution, form, and range of motion. Add speed only after these are mastered.
Lover of dance, dance-fitness and aquatic fitness.