In evaluating and teaching high-speed running mechanics, the coach must give the athletes key points on which to concentrate and consciously focus as they learn to re-program their motor patterns. It is useful to break down the
movement in a way that is consistent with a systematic teaching progression. We use six reference points or foci for developing the conceptual technical model, in the teaching progression employed, during video analysis to show faults and causes, and in making corrections. These six foci are:
1. Body Position – This is the most central focus for changes in the technical model and thus for improving performance. If the athlete cannot execute the correct body position with a high degree of skill, it is nearly impossible to optimize the other five foci. Conscious competence in this area must quickly give way to unconscious competence.
2. Recovery Mechanics – This is the first phase of the high-speed running cycle movement. Often thought of as a passive movement and traditionally called the “swing phase”, the mechanically efficient recovery of the limb sets up the other phases of the running stride for higher levels of mechanical efficiency.
3. Transition Phase – This is the phase of the running cycle where an abrupt change of direction of a limb must take place. Faults are often easily recognized in this phase, but they are almost always a product of a cause that is 180° on the other side of the stride cycle.
4. Ground Preparation Phase – This is the phase where the athlete must actively prepare the foot and the leg to strike the ground. From the point of view of determining the performance outcome, this is the second most important phase in the running cycle.
5. Ground Phase – This is the most important phase in the running cycle. Once the athlete leaves the ground, the flight path of the center of mass is unalterable until the next ground force application. Therefore, getting the Ground Phase right is essential.
6. Arm Action – This is the focus that has provoked some of the greatest disagreements between biomechanics and coaches. Biomechanics have contended that the arms balance the forces of the legs to support the body in the proper alignment. Coaches however have promoted that the arms “control the legs” and thus can positively impact performance.
At SPG we believe both are correct ! Schedule your evaluation to get Faster Stronger Better!
Typical body building style weightlifting falls short of sport performance for three key reasons:
It’s too Isolated: The goal of bodybuilding is simply and succinctly to make muscles bigger. Bodybuilders implore specific days to train chest and triceps back and biceps and every now and then, legs. In performance, muscle specific exercises are usually done for rehab and performance care means. Remember, those simply having big muscles won’t make a better athlete, and if done incorrectly, could decrease your athleticism.
It’s not heavy enough. To get stronger (not including beginners) you need to stimulate the brain to use large amounts of muscle fibers, quickly. This happens from lifting heavy weights, especially in sagittal plane movements (forward/back/up and down) as they can usually be loaded heavier due to how the body is built. Typical body builder style lifting actually causes endurance adaptations in muscles because they typically are 10-20 repetitions and are purposely slow to break muscle down. Much of the “bulk” in the guys at the gym is largely water due to increased aerobic nutrients. Along with bigger muscles the only time an athlete needs to lift in such high volume for isolated exercises is during rehabilitation, or certain injury prone areas.
It’s not functional. When in the world is a rugby player doing anything remotely like a mere cable triceps extension, or anything that doing that contributes to? Conversely, when would a quidditch athlete (you tube it-no time to explain) need to be explosive off of one leg? Often, if you watched the video, just like every other field sport. Most body building programs (and arguably a number of strength and fitness programs) don’t include ANY rotational training, meanwhile nearly all sports put athletes in position to rotate and move in combinations of left, up, and around all at the same time. In football (soccer) points are scored on max intensity efforts, parts of training needs to reflect that. Athletes simply have different needs for sport, which means the training must be different. Doing curls in the squat rack doesn’t equate to this. Nor does the leg extension machine.
Having said all that, I will highlight a few points about what is best for gaining strength. I will refer to athletes no younger than their late teens who have some prior weightlifting experience and have more of a developed body.
Compound movements. Compound movements (uses more than one joint) give more bang for your buck. Competing in sports consists of movements, not flexing muscles. Therefore an athlete should train movements forward, sideways, and rotationally. Squats, rotational cable or medicine ball lifts, lunges, pull ups, step ups, cable presses, etc. are examples of compound movements that target large muscle groups in particular, and require varying amounts of total body stability, very important for sport.
Make the exercises heavy. Flat out, with movements like squats, presses, deadlifts, etc. where an athlete is using both legs/arms, the load should be a weight that can’t be lifted more than 6 times. Studies show that strength gains are increased best with heavy weights and less repetitions, due to the strength of the neuromuscular signals coming from the brain. Sets like 5×5, 6×4, 6×2, 8×1 are often used with heavy exercises throughout training cycles, although the timing and decision about when to do those must be very intentional and understood. Rotational movements typically do not fall under this rule as it is hard to get too heavy under such conditions. These and supplemental exercises that are usually smaller movements (such as shoulder press, lateral lunge) will be effective to do in the 7-10 repetition range. There are appropriate times for lifting beyond 6 reps with “main lifts” but rarely is it ever beyond 12.
Rest and recover. With neuromuscular challenging sessions, there is a central nervous fatigue that’s induced due to repeatedly using large amounts of muscle in short efforts (think a 100m sprinter racing four times in a competition). There generally isn’t too much soreness that happens with this in training, just a likely decrease in performance the next day or two if an athlete were to try to lift it again. Such training sessions takes 2-3 days to recover from and if an athlete is elite, this can be four days and beyond (they expend more effort). It must be stressed that appropriate rest is a part of training. One only actually gets better when you are resting. “The grind” is only as effective as its recovery techniques. Mobility stretches, foam rolling, and sleep are imperative to recovery with proper nutrition. An intentionally planned training program gets the most gains with the least effort possible, of course while still going hard.
In sports, it’s imperative that athletes are trained to be athletes, not body builders. There are many other factors at play in regards to weight training for athletes, especially rotationally, but that’s outside the scope of this article. Also understand, that this information can be privy to YOU who may not be an athlete but wants to achieve high levels of strength.
Eating For EXCELLENCE
1) Avoid binging. People often binge because their body is nutrient deficient. This can be solved through:
a) Avoiding empty calorie foods. These are foods high in refined sugars and/or fat, and low in nutritional value. Foods like cookies, juice or soda pop, chips, snack foods, fast foods, baked goods, etc. Your body knows you haven’t given it anything it can nutritionally use so it demands you eat again. If you feed it nutrient deficient foods again it will get you to binge later in an attempt to get the vitamins and minerals it needs. This leads to stored fat as the body can’t convert the “empty” calories as efficiently to useable energy. Empty calorie foods also cause a strong insulin response which may lead to an energy crash 1-2 hours later. Not to mention contributing to heart disease, diabetes and chronic degenerative diseases of aging.
You say you don’t eat that much? Oh, you may be surprised! It is well hidden by food manufacturers. They know that we are addicted to sugar, so they hide it in our foods to make us want to buy more of their products, so they can make more $$$$$. Learn to read labels. Sugar is often disguised under the following names usually ending in -ose: glucose, dextrose, sucrose, lactose, maltose, fructose, corn syrup, trubidino.
b) Avoiding things that interfere with digestion, assimilation and ultimately cell deprivation of nutrients:
-Drinking excess liquids with your meals. Don’t. When you drink lots of liquid this dilutes….. Don’t drink icey cold liquids with food either. Cold shrinks the blood vessels in the stomach, reducing the stomach’s ability to produce the acid chemicals that you need to effectively digest food so your body can benefit from it to the fullest extent possible.
-Not chewing food enough. Chew food until it has the consistency of baby food.
-Taking antacids. This prevents stomach acid from breaking down protein into amino acids to be absorbed.
2) Drink a high quality whey protein drink as your first nutrition in the morning. This provides a quick source of amino acids as fuel to jump start your body’s metabolic processes.
3) Eat fruit 30 minutes later. Two pieces should be adequate. This speeds up your metabolism by giving your body some fuel after a 12 hour fast, (break-fast). In doing so, you will burn more calories and have more energy. Approximately 1 1/2 hours later eat some complex carbs with some protein like lean meats such as chicken, turkey or better yet, fish.
4) Eat live, colorful, high water content foods. Examples would be fruits and vegetables, those that are as fresh as possible. They were recently alive, (until picked). Most are very colorful and have a high water content. The longer fresh picked produce sits, the lower it’s nutrient, fiber and enzymatic value. Avoid processed, dead, bleached, dry non-foods. The first thing I cut out when I begin to diet is starches, especially refined ones, (breads, pastas, etc.).
5) Look at the fat content/serving of the foods you eat. Don’t eat any with >2g/ serving. The only exception would be with essential fatty acids like flax oil, cold water fish like salmon, cod, halibut, and nuts.
6) To get lean, lift weights. Increasing your muscle density will help you lose and keep weight off. Muscle burns more calories at rest, so having more muscle helps to keep you lean. Muscle also acts as a storage depot for calories that can be called on later for energy. If your muscles are small or flabby they can’t store as much energy, so guess where that energy (calories) are stored? Right, exactly where you don’t want it, on your hips or your waist line!
7) Never eat closer than three hours before bed. Eating before bed affects your body’s ability to rest and recover, as digestion requires an enormous amount of energy. Food also stimulates insulin release. Insulin is antagonistic to the release of growth hormone. Growth hormone is released when you reach deep sleep. If your insulin levels rise, it suppresses growth hormone release and prevents your body from stimulating growth, healing and repair
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My Kid Loves Sports, But Has No Speed: What Should I Do to Get my kid Faster?
Believe it or not, I am asked this question at least once per week. Being in the business of making people run fast, you would figure that it would be the only question I would hear. Thankfully, some of my clients are already pretty fast, they just want to get faster. However, I’ve spoken with a long list of parents, listening to sad stories about how their son or daughter feels left out because they are not fast enough to “make the team” in which their friends currently participate . Other kids tease them because they are slow on the field or court. The slow kid may be the hardest worker, the best decision maker or the best team player. But, they will never make it to the next level because they just don’t have the speed to compete. It is essentially an affliction of slow-twitch muscle fiber composition.
So what is a parent to do? Unfortunately, you can’t do anything to change the genetic make-up of your child (well, not quite yet at least). So, in the meantime, if you and your spouse were slow, it is a pretty good bet your offspring are trailing behind their friends. While good training may not make them into the team speedster, there are many things that can be done to improve your child’s speed abilities and maximize the genetic potential with which they were born. Provided below are a list of recommendations that will give your developing athlete a fighting chance when it comes to running speed.
1. Have them Run at their Fastest on a Regular Basis
Many parents wonder why their child isn’t getting any faster. They send their child off to soccer practice several times per week, and watch them play in games week after week, but don’t see significant differences in their speed over time. The simple truth is that children need to run at top speed on a regular basis. This does not happen at sport training sessions, where kids are inundated with drills and general conditioning. The drills are performed with a ball or other equipment and can impede the athletes from running at maximum effort and velocity. Conditioning and general fitness work typically emphasizes endurance aspects of training, and not speed related activities. Actual games such as soccer, basketball and football do not even involve maximum velocity efforts, as shown by studies. Hence, athletes do not experience the positive speed stress and adaptation required for faster running. Specific training sessions must be implemented to allow kids to run at or very near top speed, with appropriate recoveries between runs. My most common advice to parents is to have their kids “run fast to get faster.”
2. Provide Good Instruction on Sprinting Technique
Obviously, running fast is a necessity for improving your speed. If there is only one thing you do to make your kids faster, it should be to allow them to run fast. However, if you can provide your kids with simple, foundational techniques for sprinting, they will be much better off in the long run. Running fast and efficiently is a complex motor learning challenge for most people. At the highest level of competition, the Olympic 100m final, sprinting looks effortless. Turning on the right muscles and turning off the unwanted muscles at the highest velocity or movement is a skill that must be taught, refined and maintained by a skilled coach. Kids must be taught the proper limb movements, body posture and level of effort to maximize their speed potential. If they are simply instructed to “push hard” or “go as fast as you can,” they will most likely run into trouble at some point in their development and develop poor habits that will be very difficult to break later on in their athletic career. Seek out a qualified, proven sprint coach to help out your children. Watch the workouts determine if the coach is working on fundamentals. If they break out the speed ladders, parachutes, and other gimmicks, sprint as fast as you can in the opposite direction. A good coach will have some cones, a stopwatch and a proven plan for teaching the fundamentals of running fast.
3. Avoid Unnecessary Endurance Running
Many coaches associate good training with long bouts of aerobic exercise. If the kids are breathing hard, sweating and even on the verge of vomiting, they believe that they have appropriately improved their conditioning. These types of workouts, however, do nothing to improve the speed abilities of athletes. Not only are the wrong muscle fibers being worked, excessive endurance work will result in poor posture, inefficient biomechanics, and low motivation to continue training. Any chance for transitional muscle fibers to move into the fast-twitch category will be dashed by long-distance running workouts. And, even if your child wants to become a marathon, triathlon or Tour de France star, doing speed work at a younger age will only help develop speed qualities that will help them later on in their careers. Remember, the top marathoners in the world can run under five minutes per mile numerous times during a race. Over 99% of the adult population are not fast enough to run even one 5-minute mile. General conditioning is fine, but do not allow it to become excessive. Spend more time building skill and motor coordination with young athletes.
4. Introduce Basic Strength Training Protocols
Young athletes can improve their speed abilities by improving their overall strength. One of the big myths of athlete development is that lifting weights can be harmful to the health and development of young kids. While dropping a weight on your foot can be quite harmful, performing weightlifting exercises with low to moderate loads can be useful in developing general strength and improving movement mechanics. Some kids have problems initiating movement because they do not have the strength to move their own body weight quickly. This is exacerbated when kids go through a growth spurt and their limbs have lengthened, but muscular strength has not improved to handle the new lever lengths. Movements such as squatting and lunging, as well as Olympic weightlifting movements, can build strength and power for accelerating. Simple jumping movements can also improve power and start strength. Jumping up onto a box or running up stairs can be performed easily, without the heavy eccentric impacts that often occur with plyometric movements such as hurdle jumps or depth jumps. These types of activities can be introduced gradually and performed at low volumes one to two times per week.
5. Emphasize Relaxation, Ease of Effort and Patience
Running is a complex activity that requires good control and muscular relaxation to be performed effectively. When teaching young athletes proper running mechanics, the initial phase of training must include only sub-maximal efforts to ensure that optimal technique is maintained throughout the workout. Working at a perceived level of effort of 80-85% is optimal for mastering sprinting mechanics. Such effort may translate into 90-95% of top velocity, which is fast enough to effect a positive speed adaptation in the body. Sprinting is a “feel” sport, which means you need to get a feel for proper technique at higher velocities and work on maintaining this feeling. Young athletes that spend a good deal of time perfecting these qualities will benefit from this investment over the long run.
One of the most important reasons for parents and young athletes facing the question, “Am I destined to be slow all of my life?,” to continue to work on improving their speed is that all young athletes are developing at different rates. An athlete who is slow now may develop into an athlete with great speed abilities later in their career. This is why it is important for young athletes to try to stay in the game and not give up based on their current performance. One of the biggest problems in youth sports these days is that potentially good athletes are being cut from teams at very early ages. Early specialization is narrowing the potential pool of athletes for various sports. The longer we can keep athletes in the development pool, the greater chance we will have to find the best athletes for the elite level. Following the recommendations above can give an athlete a fighting chance to not only maintain their career, but perhaps vault them into a new level of performance. If we can prevent young athletes from getting discouraged by providing them with good training guidelines, we will go a long way to improving sports and maintaining larger participation rates in active lifestyles for our youth.
Each day I receive questions about training speed. So we’ve taken those
questions that we hear the most and answered them in a slightly different
(1) Static stretching prepares you to compete/practice
Static stretching actually reduces power output. Athletes should prepare for
practice by doing a dynamic warm-up that moves from basic, low-intensity
movements to faster, more explosive movements as the muscles loosen up.
You want to simulate movements that athletes will go through in practice or a
game. What happens when you try and stretch a cold rubber band? In a way,
you can think about your muscles the same way.
(2) Strength training makes females too bulky
This is a popular mindset with many female athletes that we have worked
with. Simply look at some elite female athletes like Mia Hamm, Lisa Leslie,
etc. These athletes certainly train with weights and no one would accuse them
of having manly physiques. Strength training will improve performance and
reduce injury if done correctly.
(3) You can’t train speed
For some reason, it is a popular belief that you are born with a certain amount
of ‘speed’ and you can’t improve it. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
Most young athletes are so physically weak and mechanically out of tune that
significant improvements in speed can be made often just by working on
technique and form. Athletes at any age and any level can improve speed
when implementing a complete speed training program designed to improve
and develop the entire athlete.
(4) Training slow makes you fast
I don’t think coaches directly think this way, but their training implies
otherwise. This is especially true in sports that involve a higher aerobic
element such as soccer, field hockey, lacrosse, etc. I see kids out running
mileage and doing long slow intervals of several minutes of continuous
running. And this will get them in shape. But in games, I see kids jogging,
jogging and then sprinting at full speed for 20-30 yards, run, jog, sprint for 20-
30 yards. If you want kids to improve their acceleration and top speed so they
can get to the ball faster or get back on defense, then you have to train by
running at full speed in practice.
(5) You can train hard every day
The workout itself is only a piece of the training puzzle. It is the time between
intense workouts, the recovery, where athletes make their improvements.
Generally, it takes 36-48 hours to recover from high-intensity training. When
athletes are doing too much, too often they become over trained.
Leading to an increase in injuries, decreased performance,higher levels of fatigue earlier in games and
Frequent complaints of soreness It’s always better to under train an athlete than over train.
Err on the side of caution to get maximal results.
(6) Strength training will stunt a young athlete’s growth
This is another myth held over from a different time. On a daily basis, kids as
young as 7 years old are playing organized sports year round, tackling,
getting tackled, sliding, falling etc. These loads on the body can have a much
greater physical impact than a well-designed strength training program.
Though we don’t usually begin training with weights with pre-pubescent
athletes, they can benefit from body weight exercises such as push-ups,
lunges, sit-ups, etc. This will increase muscular efficiency, speed up recovery,
improve coordination and overall speed.
(7) The harder the workout, the better the result
Some athletes (and coaches) have this mentality that if a workout doesn’t
reduce them to complete exhaustion and/or make them vomit, that it wasn’t
an effective workout. I can tell you that those who have this mentality probably
see a lot of injuries and frustrating performances. The purpose of a workout is
to stimulate an adaptation by the body. If the body is forced to do too much
work in a given time period, it will break down. The skill in coaching is to
stimulate the adaptation in the body, without reaching a point of diminishing
(8) Interval training is the same as speed training
Running repeat 100s, 200s, etc will not improve top speeds. Even running
repeat 40s with short recovery will not improve acceleration and top speeds.
Speed work is defined at 2-8 seconds of maximal intensity running with full
recovery. That means at least 2 minutes of light dynamic movement between
each effort. This goes against the experience of some coaches, but simply
put, is the only way to improve speed. An athlete must be able to focus on
proper form and maintain intensity in order to get faster. If they do not recover
properly from each interval, they will not be able to replicate proper mechanics
with consistency and they can not improve.
(9) Flexibility won’t help you get faster
Both coaches and athletes spend so much time on the skills of their sport,
speed training and conditioning that they often forget a fundamental
component of success: flexibility. After practice or a game, the muscles are
warm and loose. Now is the time to work on increasing flexibility. So many
athletes suffer injuries or compete below their capacity because poor flexibility
inhibits their range of motion and speed. We see this often in the hips and hip
flexors where athletes’ stride length appears conspicuously short. Most often
we see this in male athletes who will lift weights, train hard and then skip out
on their cool down and flexibility work.
(10) Lift your knees
I hear so many parents and coaches yelling at their kids when they want them
to run faster or when they are beginning to fatigue, “Lift your knees, Get your
knees up”. This is one of the most backward cues we can give to athletes.
The way to run faster is to apply more force to the ground. Every action has
an equal and opposite reaction, so the more force you apply to the ground,
the more the ground will give back. So when we cue athletes to lift their knees
we’re doing two things incorrectly. One, we’re telling them to use their hip
flexors to lift instead of their glutes and hamstrings to drive down. Just think
about the size of your hip flexor versus the size of the glutes and hamstrings.
Now which muscles do you think can create more force and therefore more
speed? Second, we’re cueing them to do learn a movement that is in
opposition to what generates speed. If an athlete learns at age 7, to lift their
knees when they need a burst of speed, that improper cue will be hardwired
into their brain. To unlearn that as a teen and try to do the opposite and drive
down, that athlete will have a difficult time coordinating an entirely new way of
running and will potentially have to take a step or two backwards. That’s why
it is critical to learn proper form early and get an advantage over those who
still aren’t getting the best instruction. So cue athletes to step over the
opposite knee and drive the foot down into the ground, with the foot landing
underneath the hip.
The Sports Performance group is designed for the athletes who want the complete training experience (speed-strength and skills training, nutrition, mental skills) and starts with athletes from ages 8 yrs and up. To be at the top of your sport you need to have a complete training program that has your body and mind operating at their highest possible level of performance .
The Sports Performance Group
40 Maple Avenue. Rockville Centre, NY 11570
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