Velocity Speed Formula: Big Force

Strength training for speed
Velocity Big 4 Speed Formula
The Speed Formula is the science of speed biomechanics simplified.

Understanding strength training for speed is important for coaches and athletes.  Previously I’ve covered why the Big 4 is such an effective “formula” for speed (read it here). It’s how we analyze movement, teach and come up with drills and programs. No advanced degree in physics or neuroscience necessary. The formula is:

  • Big Force
  • Small Time
  • Proper Direction
  • Optimal Range of Motion
Let’s delve deeper and take a look at the first element; Big Force. It has driven why and how we incorporate certain drills and resistance exercises. It is basic Newtonian physics; you push the ground one way and it pushes you the opposite direction.

How Much Strength Do You Need?

It’s a good question. How much strength do you really need?
 
Observing the difference in muscular development between a sprinter and a marathoner should give you a clue. Sprinter’s have way more muscle mass. This doesn’t mean you need to just be bigger or become a powerlifter. But biomechanics research does tell us very large forces have to be applied by the athlete to move fast.
 
You need to produce a Big Force. The strength you need is developed by:
  • sprinting fast,
  • using specific sprint and plyometric drills,
  • and getting in the weight room.

What Is Strength?

For an athlete, strength means a lot more than just how much weight you can lift. There are 6 different strength qualities we train. Focusing on specific strength qualities is how we improve speed.
 
Strength is how much you can lift, right?
 
Nope.
 
How much you can lift is a great expression of some strength or power qualities. As an Olympic weightlifting coach, I’ve helped athletes go from starting the sport to be on the US National team. I love the strength and power (Strength x Speed) expressed through weightlifting.
 
Then there’s powerlifting. Squat, deadlift, bench. Many of the coaches on our staff have been competitive powerlifters as well as my friends. These feats of strength are really impressive and it’s a great expression of Max Strength.
 
Neither is the definition of strength though. They are just great examples of 2 of our 6 specific qualities. Going in-depth is beyond the scope of this writing but here are our 6 types of strength:
  1. Maximum Strength: think powerlifting and even sub max weights. It’s about force and speed is not important.
  2. Eccentric Strength: Think shock absorbers and brakes. When you land, stop, cut, etc… your muscles contract while lengthening. This is an eccentric strength action.
  3. Power (Strength-Speed): Moving fast against a larger load. Think weightlifting or football lineman pushing each other.
  4. Power (Speed- Strength): Moving fast against a light load. Throwing a baseball, jumping, throwing a punch. Moving it fast matters.
  5. Rate of Force Development: How fast you can turn on the muscles. Think of a drag racer analogy. It’s how fast they can go from 0 to speed that matters.
  6. Reactive Strength: Combine a fast & short eccentric stretch, immediately followed by RFD and you have reactive. This is the springy quick step you see in fast footwork.

What Type of Strength Do You Need?

If there are different types of strength, which help you apply a BIG FORCE into the ground? Which will help you get faster?
 
The answer lies in part on what you are trying to improve. The answer may be different if we are talking about acceleration compared to maximum velocity sprinting. And those may be different than a change of direction.

Acceleration

This is the phase where you are starting and gaining speed. During this phase, the mechanics lead to slightly longer ground contact times. This added time in contact with the ground lets you build up force to push harder. You still have only between 200 – 400 milliseconds, so Max Strength will help, but Speed-Strength is key.
 
This phase is also characterized by large horizontal and vertical forces. This means that when training strength, you need strength exercises for both pushing backward and down. A good dose of weight room basics like lunges, power cleans help. Combined with vertical and horizontal plyometrics, along with sled work, the results get better.

Maximum Velocity Mechanics

During this phase, you are upright and moving fast. Your foot needs to hit the ground with high forces but it’s not there for long. Elite sprinters are in contact less than 100 milliseconds. You need Max Strength enough to handle the high loads 1.5 – 2.5 times body weight on each leg. You also need to be able to absorb the impact and reapply force quickly. That’s Reactive Strength.
 
Since you’ve already accelerated, in this phase the forces are mostly vertical. They keep you from falling into the ground. Therefore, weight and plyometric exercises like squats, reactive hurdle jumps, and even jump rope double-unders all contribute.

Change of Direction

When changing direction, the type of strength can depend on how sharp of a cut you make. One situation is a major change of direction where you slow down and re-accelerate. This requires a lot of Eccentric Strength and Strength-Speed. On the other hand, if it’s a quick cut without slowing down or a big range of motion, then it’s more about Reactive Strength and Speed-Strength.
 
Both these are going to benefit from a mix of weight room and plyometrics. The weight room will include strength exercises and Olympic lifts for power. The plyometrics are going to need to focus on developing horizontal and lateral forces.

Technical Sprint Drills for Strength Development

There is a big misunderstanding of technical speed drills. Most people see a technical drill and naturally believe it’s to develop technique. It makes sense after all, but there is so much more.
 
Many “technique” drills in speed training are just as important to developing Big Force as the weight room. By refining an athlete’s technique, they become more efficient with the strength they have. They learn to apply it better.
 
Often many speed drills are really a plyometric exercise themselves. They require putting a lot of force into the ground, in the proper direction. They are in fact the most speed specific form of strength training there is.

Strength Training for Speed

Having good technique and good power output is key to being fast. It’s not an either/or situation, it’s an AND sitution. You need technique AND strength. In every athlete’s development, they go through stages. Sometimes their technique gets ahead of their strength, and vice versa. Make sure you stay on track by developing both and working with a knowledgeable coach who can determine if you need one or the other more.

TRAINING: 3 drills to help you stop on a dime

Better Agility: Stop on a dime

Almost every sport is about more than just running fast or a huge vertical. Pick one, and we’ll bet that most of the action happens around changing direction. For the majority of the athletes with whom we work at Velocity around the country, this means they have to be just as good at stopping as they are at starting. Without good brakes, they simply can’t control their speed.

RELATED: Do Athletes Need A Bigger Engine or Better Brakes?

Three of our coaches have chosen their favorite drill to help their athletes have strong, fast brakes so that they can stop on a dime.

Level Lowering Ladder

One of the most basic skills an athlete needs to change direction is the ability to maintain proper position during deceleration. One of the tools we like to use at Velocity is the agility ladder because it helps focus the athlete on foot position and accuracy in addition to whatever skills we choose to address that day.

To do these drills, athletes first need to have the coordination to perform basic ladder drills well, such as swizzle, scissor switches, and the icky shuffle. Once the athlete can perform each of these without difficulty, they can modify the drill and pause as they drop their center of mass, stopping themselves in the proper position. The most basic, and therefore most important, positions in sports are the square, staggered, and single leg stance. A mini-band can be placed around the athlete’s knees to create awareness of proper knee position.  If the athlete adds a medicine ball into the drill, they can work on more ballistic/dynamic eccentric movement with a different stimulus.

The athlete needs to lower his/her center of mass to create “triple flexion” in lower extremity joints: hip, knee, and ankle. The center of mass, knee, and ground contact must be in a good alignment to keep the movement safe and efficient.

Most importantly, the athlete must achieve proper hip hinge and dorsiflexion of the ankle. The vast majority of non-contact injuries occur during deceleration, often at knees or ankles. Learning how to absorb (load) force with proper body position (hip hinge, stable knee, and dorsiflexed ankle) will help prevent these injuries.

Springs and Shocks Ladder

The agility ladder is a great tool to help our athletes develop their shocks and springs.

When it comes to speed, athletes need to be springy and quick off the ground. When we talk about “springs,” we mean our athletes’ ability to be faster by using the elastic properties of their muscles.

“Shocks” means having the ability to absorb impact and force so our athletes can stop safely and quickly. This drill emphasizes both abilities and applies to any sport.

How to do the drill:

through the ladder try to be a quick as you can off of the ground. This is where we focus on our springs. When we land we want to land and be under control. The more control we have when decelerating the safer our body will be when changing direction. Most important part of the landing is keeping the body in proper position and not allowing a valgus knee.

Important details to watch are: position and control. We want an athlete to be able to develop the strength and control through the proper range of motion. This is especially important as we begin to add not speed or distance. Do not let athletes progress unless they can properly and effectively let control their landing for at least 2 seconds.

Resisted Deceleration March Series

Slowing down is often the most challenging aspect of changing direction and requires the athlete to absorb more force than at any other phase of the movement. This series of drills teaches athletes to keep good posture and body-alignment during deceleration. When we add a concentric movement (explosiveness) immediately followed by a deceleration phase the drill also develops reactive strength and power in the athlete.

How to do the drills:

  1. Position the athlete in a good athletic base with a resistance band or bungee cord around their waist. The partner holding the band increases resistance by pulling toward the direction where deceleration needs to occur.
  2. The athlete controls their posture while moving toward “the direction of pull”. Their shin is a very important detail and must point away from the direction of pull. This helps their foot dig into the ground and resist the momentum that is trying to keep them moving in their original direction.
  3. The ground contact, knee, and athlete’s center of mass should be in alignment and proper posture maintained.
  4. If you want to incorporate an explosive moment, have the athlete perform any form of change-of-direction movement, such as a lateral push, crossover step, or jump.

Important details to watch are:

  1. Make sure the athlete understand the basic athletic base position. Hip-hinge and dorsiflexion of the ankles are very important.
  2. The level resistance needs to be appropriate to their strength and ability. You may adjust this by using a different size resistance band or the distance between the athlete and partner.
  3. Ground contact, shin angle, knee position, and the athlete’s center of mass stay aligned (away from the direction of pull).
  4. Make sure the athlete is not leaning on the band.
  5. Eccentric control first, then concentric! Make sure your athletes understand how to use the brakes before they hit the gas pedal.

4 Myths about Muscle Pliability You Need to Know

Trainer performing graston technique

The term “muscle pliability” has been in the news around the NFL quite a bit. Tom Brady and his trainer, Alex Guerrero, claim that making muscles pliable is the best way to sustain health and performance. How true is that claim? While it’s a great descriptive term, we are going to shed some light on what it really means and how to create muscle pliability.

Defining Words

Our performance coaches, sports medicine specialists, and tissue therapists all find it to be a useful term.  Pliable expresses some of the important qualities of muscle. According to Miriam-Webster Dictionary here’s what pliable means:

Pliable

a: supple enough to bend freely or repeatedly without breaking

b: yielding readily to others

c: adjustable to varying conditions

That’s a pretty good description for many of the qualities we want in the tissue of an athlete (or any human for that matter). The problem is that it’s being mixed up with a lot of inaccurate and confusing statements.

Our Sports Medicine Specialist, Misao Tanioka, says that “the word pliability, in my opinion, depicts the ideal muscle tissue quality. It is similar to suppleness, elasticity, or resilience. Unfortunately, I believe some of the explanations offered by Mr. Brady and Mr. Guerrero have created some misunderstanding of what ‘muscle pliability’ really is.”

Let’s try and separate some of the myths from what is true.

Myth 1: Muscles that are “soft” are better than dense

That depends on what qualifies as “soft” muscle.  Tissue Specialist Cindy Vick has worked on hundreds of elite athletes, including NFL players and Olympians across many sports. “Soft isn’t a word I would use for an athlete. When I’m working on an elderly client, I often feel muscles that could be called soft; they’re not dense. That’s not what I feel when working on elite athletes. Athletes who are healthy and performing well have muscles that have density without being overly tense and move freely. The tissue is still smooth and supple.”

This muscle quality is affected by many factors, ranging from stress, competition, nutrition, training, and recovery. At Velocity, maintaining optimal tissue quality is a constant endeavor.  Proper self myo-fascial release, various stretching techniques, and manual therapy are all part of the equation.

Myth 2: Dense muscles = stiff muscles = easily injured athletes

Relating these terms in this way grossly over-simplifies the reality and is in some ways completely wrong.

You have to start with the operative word: “dense.” Tanioka says, “Dense tissue can be elastic; elastic tissue is resilient to injury. What we have to look for is inelastic tissue.” Cindy Vick adds that “if you mean ‘dense’ to refer to a muscle with adhesions, or that doesn’t move evenly and smoothly, then yes, that’s a problem.”

Scientifically, stiffness refers to how much a muscle resists stretch under tension. It’s like thinking about the elastic qualities of a rubber band. The harder it is to pull, the stiffer it is. If a muscle can’t give and stretch when it needs to, that’s bad.

Imagine a rubber band that protects your joint. When a muscle exerts force against the impact of an opponent or gravity, stiffness can help resist the joint and ligaments from being overloaded and consequently injured.

“I agree with Mr. Brady’s statement about the importance of a muscle’s ability to lengthen, relax and disperse high-velocity, heavy incoming force to avoid injury.” says Tanioka. “However, I think that athletes also must be able to exert maximum power whether actively generating force or passively resisting an incoming stress, which requires the ability to shorten and be taut and firm as well as well as lengthen. The ability of tissue to be durable and contractile is just as important as to elongate and soften when it comes to performance and injury prevention.”

In the view of our experts, it’s not about dense, soft, stiff, or other qualitative words. Instead, they emphasize developing function through different types of strength qualities athletes need.   Athletes must prepare for the intense stress and strain their muscles will face in their sport.  They need to blend the right strength training with mobility and flexibility.

 

Myth 3: Strength training makes muscles short

“It’s an old wives’ tale that took hold when body building techniques had a big influence on strength and conditioning. A muscle can be incredibly strong without sacrificing any range of motion” according international expert and President of Velocity Sports Performance, Ken Vick, who has worked with athletes in 10 Olympic Games and helped lead the Chinese Olympic Committee’s preparation efforts for 2016 Rio Olympic Games.

“I’ll give you two great examples: Gymnasts are, pound-for-pound, very strong and incredibly explosive, yet they are known to be some of the most flexible athletes. Olympic weightlifters are clearly some of the strongest athletes in the world and are also generally very flexible. They spend practically every day doing strength training and their muscles aren’t ‘short’.”

RELATED: Why Athletic Strength Is More Than Just How Much Weight Is on The Barbell. 

In fact, proper lifting technique demands excellent flexibility and mobility. For example, poor hip flexor flexibility or limited ankle mobility results in an athlete who probably cannot reach the lowest point of a back squat. Our proven methods combine strength training with dynamic mobility, movement training, and state of the art recovery technology to help our athletes gain and maintain the flexibility and mobility required for strength training and optimal performance on the field of competition.

 

Myth 4: Plyometrics and band training are better for pliability

We hear these types of claims time and again from coaches, trainers, and others who are quoting something they’ve read without much knowledge of the actual training science. Our muscles and brain don’t care if the resistance is provided by bodyweight, bands, weights, cables, or medicine balls. They can all be effective or detrimental, depending on how they are used.

Sport science has shown that manipulating different variables influences both the physiological and neurological effects of strength training. Rate of motion, movement patterns, environment, and type of resistance all influence the results.

Truth: Muscle Pliability is a good thing

Like so many ideas, muscle pliability is very good concept. The challenge lies in discerning and then conveying what is true and what is not. An experienced therapist can, within just a few moments of touching a person, tell whether that tissue is healthy. A good coach can tell whether an athlete has flexibility or mobility problems, or both, simply by watching them move.

In either case, it takes years of experience and understanding of the human body and training science, like that which is possessed by the performance and sports medicine staff at Velocity, to correctly apply a concept like muscle pliability to an athlete’s training program.