JC Moreau, Founder and Director, Strength U
"Perhaps the most common question I get from coaches and parents is “how do I get my son or daughter faster/quicker/jump higher?” They are often surprised by my response, as well as what I am about to discuss in today’s article. My answer is typically “get them stronger” and that is usually met with a look of confusion, so I elaborate. In the past, I’ve written about the values of squatting through a larger range of motion than simply to 90 degrees, I explained in greater detail how strength is undeniably effective at developing speed, quickness and vertical jump height in athletes, especially young ones. What I did not discuss was the next part of my answer to that question."
"I typically answer that my primary concern is typically more about developing the athlete’s ability to accelerate and decelerate and that this is largely accomplished with strength work in addition to drills that focus specifically on these skills, rather than top end speed. The reason for this is quite simple. Nearly every sport requires quick bursts of speed over 1 to 15 yards or the ability to stop on a dime and then change direction and accelerate again. In other words, the world’s greatest 400-meter sprinter will be quite average at soccer, football, baseball, basketball, volleyball, lacrosse, or any other running sport if he or she cannot stop quickly, change direction, and quickly accelerate. If you are having a difficult time envisioning this, simply think of the great running backs in the NFL or point guards in the NBA. Many of them do not run a 4.4 40 yard dash (VERY few do). However, most can hit top speed in a few steps, stop, cut, and hit top speed again very quickly and efficiently.
So how do you develop these things? By training acceleration and deceleration mechanics, and strengthening the movements and positions that maximize the athlete’s ability to perform these skills.
Strength is a big part of this for a couple of reasons. First, acceleration and top-end speed are both a result of how much force can be produced through the foot at foot strike and how efficiently the body can utilize that force. There are many factors that play into this, but strength, posture, and body position are the most critical. What I want to focus on in this article are the acceleration drills we like to work on in order to maximize the force that is created and ideally learn how to create more and/or waste less. Assuming two athletes are the same size and exhibit similar strength and muscle fiber composition (ratio of fast to slow twitch), there are a few mechanical and structural factors that will impact the ability to accelerate and/or decelerate. Those we tend to focus on are body position/posture, knee drive, foot position, and arm swing."
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