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:
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 needis developed by:
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?
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:
Maximum Strength: think powerlifting and even sub max weights. It’s about force and speed is not important.
Eccentric Strength: Think shock absorbers and brakes. When you land, stop, cut, etc… your muscles contract while lengthening. This is an eccentric strength action.
Power (Strength-Speed): Moving fast against a larger load. Think weightlifting or football lineman pushing each other.
Power (Speed- Strength): Moving fast against a light load. Throwing a baseball, jumping, throwing a punch. Moving it fast matters.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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’.”
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.
Discover the Secret Used by Olympic Committees and Elite Sports to Develop Elite Athletes…
The world’s leading sports organizations have spent decades and millions of dollars to discover the formula to build great athletes.
We’ve been in the sports profession for decades, and have helped over a million athletes. We’ve examined athlete development systems around the world. And most importantly, many of us are parents as well.
We know the awesome, positive aspects of youth sports participation. It can help athletes develop a fit lifestyle, learn to work hard and build a growth mindset.
Like you, we believe in the work ethic, attitudes and character developed through sports training and competition. We help young athletes strive to pursue their goals. That’s everything from making the team, getting more playing time, or even becoming a professional.
We are inspired when we see an athlete or team striving to be their best. Operating at elite levels, we see the stage of international sport as a showcase for the human spirit. Our love of sport includes the process of building great athletes.
This why we love what we do! Some days though, it is hard to see good people, with the best of intentions, making mistakes developing young athletes.
We understand it is hard to know what’s best for your young athlete. What’s best for them to have success now and in the long term. There is so much conflicting information.
There’s so much pressure to win now. There are the demands of sport, life and school that make it hard sometimes.
What does it take to create GREAT athletes?
Organizations like the US Olympic Committees, US Soccer, USA Hockey and others have a mission to develop great athletes. The world’s best. They’ve spent decades researching and testing these different methods. In international sport, it’s a race to build the best.
In youth sports today, we all know that there is tremendous pressure for an athlete to “win now” so they can make the elite team. The coach and the club is under pressure to “win now” or they risk losing their players to another team or club. Parents feel like if they don’t get their young athletes in the right place early the future opportunities will be gone.
All of this “win now” leaves little time for actually developing. Don’t get it wrong, we want the young kids to compete and there to be winners and losers in games. Yet, if we sacrifice developing a well rounded athlete for winning at 10 years old, we are mortgaging their athletic future for a win today.
A great athlete in most sports starts with athleticism. Without question there are also different key sports skills you must start early. For example; dribbling in basketball, ground strokes in tennis, and ball touch in soccer. You need to play the sport at a young enough age to start developing this.
In an athletes’ earliest years, they might rely on this skill to stand out. It’s the sport after all! Looming underneath is a need for athleticism. It becomes important more and more as they move up in levels and competition get tougher. As the other players also have high level skill, then athleticism becomes another route to gain an advantage.
If you’re not sold on it yet, let’s look at a few examples of this playing out in the real world.
Urban Meyer, famous football coach at The Ohio State University, recruits multi-sport athletes. In fact, some reports show that a whopping 89% of his football recruits are multi-sport athletes.
image from @ohiovarsity
Let’s go wider than only football and look across all Olympic Sports. The United States Olympic Committee has done extensive research for decades on what builds a champion. They’ve looked at hundreds of Olympians and medalists to see when they specialized.
Many would expect to be an Olympian you had to specialize early and give up other sports and some times that’s true. But the data shows a different story. Olympians are arguably some of the most elite athletes on the planet. Yet, the USOC study shows they play multiple sports through their high school years!
But it’s not just about specializing in one sport; it’s about the training that often goes along with it. Developing only “sport specific” skill, without a route to increase overall athleticism does them much more harm than good!
Our job as a Sports Performance organization is to create a better athlete, which means a well-rounded athlete.
Skipping Well Rounded Athletic Development Can Have Harmful Effects…
As coaches, we hope to create great athletes who have a chance at being successful for the long haul. To support this, our programs are based on the concepts of Long Term Athletic Development.
Just like a baby needs to follow steps in development, so does a young athlete. A baby must learn to roll over before crawling, crawl before fore walking, and walk before running. Athletes need to build a solid foundation for elite athletic performance before they can reach their full potential.
When athletes skip critical steps in building this athletic foundation, they are at a much higher risk for injury and burnout. We’ve seen it in our centers across the country and we’ve seen it in Olympic development systems around the world. Olympic Committees have contracted with us to help solve the problem of injury due in large part to over specialization.
• In a Loyola University study of 1200 youth athletes, researchers found that early specialization was one of the strongest predictors of injury. Athletes who specialized were 70-93% more likely to be injured compared to multi-sport athletes.
Without a well rounded athletic base, missed pieces act like cracks in the foundation. They might not be a problem now, but they can lead to future problems down the line. Small cracks have a tendency to grow over time and under pressure.
The trouble is building the foundation early isn’t always sexy. And its really hard for parents and young athletes to find the time.
Your Long Term Athlete Development System
The Long Term Athletic Development model has been developed over several decades. It’s been adopted by many successful elite organizations. The best know expert might be Dr. Istvan Balyi, a coach and sport scientist. He helped implement this model in professional tennis, with USA Hockey, in the UK to prepare for the 2012 London Olympics and through Sport Canada.
The concept is simple. There should be a long term view of developing an athlete with the highest chance of success at the elite level. To do this we need to have some outline of what they should be doing from the youngest ages all thr way through their pro and Olympic career.
Now don’t misunderstand, this isn’t some fluffy “they all win and there is no competition” model. It comes from elite sport and supports competition. It doesn’t support winning at the earliest ages at the expense of being a great athlete later. This document from LTAD.ca is a great summary:
From the start to finish, we progressively build an athletes foundation, skills and mindset so they can reach their full potential. But we know every athlete doesn’t have the potential to succeed to a Gold Medal in every sport.
So doesn’t that make this a waste for most athetes?
NO. Because it helps athletes reach their best potential. Because an athetic foundation of fundamental movement and sports skills, improves the likelihood and opportunity to participate in sports and fitness life long.
This balance of elite development and sports participation is why so many sports organizations have adopted this model. These examples help show how Sport Canada and USA Hockey are applying it to their systems;
Since 1999 the Velocity model has incorporated the LTAD concepts and has evolved with continued research and experience with over 1 million athletes. We think about athletic development as a pyramid and if we are going to build this pyramid to great heights we need a broad and comprehensive base.
By building a broad base of athletic skill and movement we create a foundation. An athletic movement foundation that they can build on and without wide cracks. This way a young athlete has more movement skill and physical resources to draw from. Then they have more opportunity to find their best position or sport as they get older.
Just go back to that USOC graphic about how many sports Olympic athletes played. They had the athleticism to pick the one that they could excel at, in part because they had a broad athletic base.
How Can a Parent Help a Young Athlete in Todays Sports Environment?
As we know, the demands of time, year round participation and advancing technical level make it hard on young athletes and their parents. You don’t want your kids to fall behind because they took time to play another sport or training. You fear they wont be on the right team or have the opportunity later.
It’s a real concern and as parents, one many of us have felt as well.
Sport coaches can be as frustrated. They fell pressure to focus on skill development. So often they cant incorporate the overall athletic development they might want as well. They only have a few hours a week and parents bring a lot of pressure to succeed now.
But we have insider knowledge. You can do both. While our young athletes in the US are playing club and school sports they can develop as athletes.
Through the year they can just continue to develop athleticism. Not just sport skill. Not only sport training, just general, all around athleticism. For our youngest athletes, this means as little as 2 hours a week that builds fundamentals.
Then as they enter middle school and high school training becomes more focused on strength, speed, power and fitness. An hour 2 times a week adds to their athletic foundation and develops movement patterns beyond their specific sport.
During some parts of the year they can increase the time spent on developing these qualities. If they want to be their best and can spare 2-4 days a week, they can do more to reach their full athletic potential.
We hope parents understand; its not a question of sport specific skill OR overall athleticism. It’s a matter of AND. You can develop your sports skills, compete AND keep becoming a well rounded athlete.
Our experience in elite sports and youth sports confirms this view. We’ve seen what works and building better athletes in key in our belief.
Research from the worlds leading sport scientists at places like Harvard University and SMU’s Locomotor Performance Laboratory have shown that faster sprinters are able to apply more force to the ground. They’ve proven that if you want to maximize your speed, you need the strength to apply big forces to the ground quickly.
The Velocity Speed Formula has 4 main components and two of those are BIG FORCE and SMALL TIME. In multiple studies over the last decade, researchers have confirmed that these 2 components of the Speed Formula are a big difference between faster and slower sprinters.
To propel your body forward, and to keep you upright, your leg has to produce a lot of force into the ground on each step. That’s what builds your momentum during acceleration phases and keeps it going during your full speed sprinting.
You create that big force, by first getting your leg up into the right position on each stride. Picture a sprinter with their front thigh up high, about parallel with the ground. Then you use the explosive strength in your glutes, quadriceps and hamstrings to generate power and drive your foot down into the ground.
Your speed dictates why the big force you generated has to be applied in a small time. Think about. As you sprint faster, your body is moving over that piece of ground your foot hit faster. The faster you sprint; the less time your foot is in contact with the ground. That’s just simple physics.
Now let’s combine that big force with the small time. This is the hard part, and where some athletes fail. You need the explosive strength to get the leg attacking down at the ground as hard as possible AND you need the reactive strength to apply it efficiently and quickly.
When your foot hits the ground, it’s driving down with a lot of power. There’s only 90-150 milliseconds of time to get all that force into the ground. Your ankle, knee or hip all have to stay “stiff” enough to apply the force and not bend or absorb it.
This doesn’t mean stiff as in lack of flexibility. It means that the muscles and tendons in your lower body can hit the ground and deliver all your power without stretching or relaxing. An analogy to help visualize this is to picture 2 bouncing balls. One is a bouncy, superball made of a “stiff” rubber. The other is more like a beach ball and soft. Which one bounces higher when it hits the ground?
The stiffer superball does because it applies the force to the ground and stores elastic energy. The beach ball absorbs some of the force and doesn’t have the eastic energy to rebound. That’s like reactive strength. Your muscles and tendons don’t relax and absorb the force. They store elastic energy and use it to help you go faster.
To generate a big force with your lower leg you will need explosive strength and to apply it you need reactive strength. The good news is that research has also shown that getting stronger correlates with getting faster. You can develop these specific strength qualities by working in the weightroom using Olympic lifts, doing plyometrics properly, and learning the optimum mechanics for sprinting.
The Velocity Speed Formula is built on science and proven in sport. The research is starting to catch up and show why we can help you get faster.
Selected References Faster top running speeds are achieved with greater ground forces not more rapid leg movements Weyand, et. al , J Appl Physiol 89: 1991–1999, 2000.
Are running speeds maximized with simple-spring stance mechanics? Kenneth P. Clark, Peter G. Weyand, Journal of Applied Physiology Published 31 July 2014
Relationships Between Ground Reaction Impulse and Sprint Acceleration Performance in Team Sport Athletes, Kawamori, et. al, The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 27(3), April 2012
Increases in lower-body strength transfer positively to sprint performance: a systematic review with meta-analysis, Seitz, et. al., Sports Med. 2014 Dec;44(12):1693-702
Time is short we don’t have a lot of it, and most parents want to know something their athlete can be doing every day to help them get faster. To be a faster athlete, you have to focus on one of Velocity’s speed formula principles: short time. The longer an athlete is on the ground the slower they will be. What is the best way an athlete can practice this at home to help them get faster and improve their coordination?
We have our athletes jump rope in our warm-ups all of the time. We love this exercise because it teaches our athletes about ground contact time and coordination. When it comes to running faster you need to have both coordination and quick feet. The jump rope helps us to practice how our feet strike the ground, how we absorb and push off the ground. What forces are involved and what muscles are used. It also forces us to pay attention and focus.
The most important thing when starting to jump rope is to make sure that you have the right size jump rope. If it is too short then you will have to jump really high or have a large arm swing making it inefficient. If it is too long it drags on the ground longer and usually whips you in the legs, which is also inefficient and painful. We never want that. We want a rope that when we stand in the middle of it we are able to pull it up between our armpits and our sternum. Once you have the right size jump rope we can start. I tell my athletes to pretend they are a popsicle, they can only move their wrists to spin the rope and feet to jump up in the air. Everything else needs to stay tight. Doing this creates tension throughout the body making it spring like. This spring like effect is what we want. We want to keep the body as straight as possible to be efficient.
Start with the rope behind you. Don’t jump rope. Rope jump. Spin the rope with the wrists over your head and jump over it as it passes. Try to keep the feet together when you start to teach your body how to be one strong piece. If you mess up trying its ok. You won’t be perfect the first time this is part of the learning process. Spend at least 10 minutes a day practicing jumping rope. Here are some goals for you to work towards start with the first one and see how many you can do. Remember start at the top and work your way down. Master the basics first. Just like with running you have to walk before you can sprint. 100 jumps in a row 25 single foot jumps each 20 yards Jump rope 2 feet together (no misses) 20 yards Jump rope single leg (no misses) each leg Double-Unders Single Leg Double Unders
Flexibility: the ability to flex bend and move through a full range of motion. As humans, all of our bodies are designed for the most part the same. With a few differences between men and women obviously. Why then if all bodies are the same can some bodies move better than others?
Let’s ask Aristotle. “We, are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act but a habit?”
If all our bodies are the same, then the difference between flexible people and inflexible people are their habits! I imagine during Aristotle’s day there were not many issues with flexibility because back then people moved around more. Today in our society we sit. When we sit down for hours at a time we are constantly telling our body that this is the position we want to be in. Then gravity takes its toll on us. We round our shoulders, and hunch forward making us less mobile in the t-spine. Sitting tells us to shorten the hip flexors, and turns off the glutes because we are sitting on them.
Sitting is human nature now, and is a bad habit that has consequences. We don’t make this connection that sitting is making us immobile. We just assume that our bodies don’t move through full ranges of motion anymore as we age! Or when we move it hurts because we have created muscle imbalances from all that sitting!
We wake up one day and everything hurts when we move because we are not movers anymore we are sitters. We want to get up and move because we know it is good for our health, but our limited range of motion makes it hard. So what do we do to help restore our flexibility? Well we need to move! We need get up out of our chair and relearn how to move our body through a full range of motion. We have been inactive so long that a full range of motion is no longer achievable and some muscle groups are then forced to work harder than normal to compensate! How can we fix this limitation we have placed on ourselves?
Everyone knows the answer to how to get more flexible, and that is to STRETCH! We pick an area that is tight and we stretch it painstakingly for 2 min a side and viola! We are magically fixed. WRONG! Stretching for 2 minutes never helped anyone get more flexible. Think about it how many times have you reached down and tried to touch your toes hoping that they would come closer? It just doesn’t happen. The 2 minutes you spend on each side stretching, even if it is daily, will never add up to counteract the hours of sitting we do each day!
So then how do we become more flexible? By moving. By getting up and taking your body through a full range of motion! You need to move everyday through a full range of motion. Now be warned it is going to take time to get back to where your body used to be just as it took years of sitting to get you where you are now! But, by moving and doing something every day you can start the good habit of getting back to being flexible.
What should I do then to help improve my flexibility? I really suggest everyone learn how to squat properly. Dr. Kelly Starett says everyone should try to spend 10 min in the bottom of a squat every day. Your body knows how to do this it has just forgotten! You need to reteach it how to be mobile and move through a pain free full range of motion. You can use some assistance with weight to help you get all the way down there or hold on to a chair to get into a good position.
So you’re saying I shouldn’t stretch at all? Now, stretching can facilitate moving better, and there are plenty of good stretches that can help you relearn how to squat by bringing awareness to a certain muscle group by stretching it for a bit. But, if we never actually squat and move, all the stretching in the world won’t help us understand how to move better because we are not moving.
If you want to be more flexible try to sit less and move more. Re-teach yourself how to squat properly and use stretching to help this endeavor. It will take time but it is time you are investing into yourself to make you a healthier more mobile you!
We all do it as kids. We imagine it is the bottom of the ninth, we are down by 1 run, bases are loaded, and we are up to bat. We imagine ourselves blasting a home run clear out of the park. We can see it so clearly its almost real.
We don’t realize the power in this visualization until we make it happen! Visualization is a very powerful tool to help athletes learn and refine their skills, as well as mentally rehearse for a performance. What it is going to feel like, smell like, taste like to be there? Who is there cheering them on? What time of day is it? What color jersey is the opponent wearing? The more real an athlete can make it feel in their heads the better the positive outward effect.
Positive visualization can help an athlete be mentally ready for a big competition because they have gone through scenarios in their heads already. This means the athlete will know exactly what to do in each situation, and will know what to expect, feel, and they will have no surprises. Your brain doesn’t know the difference if you are doing an action or if you are thinking about doing the same action. Meaning the same areas in the brain that are active when you think about the movement, are also active when you actually do the movement. Visualization helps athletes learn faster by having them just imagine in their mind doing the movement. Again, the more the athlete can really “see” themselves doing an action the more likely they will perform that action better because they have already done it in their head.
Here is an example from one of our Velocity coaches.
“When I was younger and playing baseball I had some bad hitting days. My dad suggested I try to close my eyes and imagine myself seeing the ball leaving the pitchers hand. Then follow it all the way to the bat, and visualize where it was going to land. So before my next game, I did exactly what my dad had taught me. I imagined watching the ball, and how far I was going to hit it. I was mentally rehearsing all of this in my head before my next game. When my next game rolled around I had two hits, and each hit landed close to where I had imagined hitting the ball.”
Visualization isn’t a quick fix magic pill, and that will be the only thing you will need to do. However, visualization is a powerful tool that all athletes need to add into their toolbox to help improve performance or learn new complex skills!