As we reopen, we need to make sure we are doing so safely. After all, it does no good to be strong, fit, and fast if you’re sitting out of the game sick. Even worse, if we don’t control the spread the games won’t be back or continue.
Our goals are to;
Be leaders in our communities by helping to stop the spread of COVID-19
Protect our clients by providing the safest environment we can
Protect our staff by providing a safe working environment
The first step is to create and maintain a virus-free environment to the best of our ability.
Daily deep cleaning by the staff will include:
Turf disinfectant spraying
Floors mopped with disinfecting cleaner
Handles and contacted surfaces cleaned with disinfecting cleaner
Deep cleaning will be done daily and repeated for each time interval over 6 hours of operation
All disinfecting products will be approved to kill viruses and used according to directions
Equipment cleaning during sessions
Cleaning equipment protocols will be put in place to limit potential virus spread by contact
Health authorities at all levels across the country have recommended or required screening of staff for symptoms and members for symptoms Covid-19.
Screening for Covid-19 will include:
Employees will be screened when reporting for each work shift
Members will be screened upon entering the facility or attendance to a training location
Anyone failing the screening will be asked to leave the facility. For unattended youth, they will be separated from others while waiting for a pick-up.
Our locations have outlined procedures if positive screenings occur, including a return to the facility clearance, and billing adjustments.
Maintaining distance between people is a critical strategy to limit the spread of any infectious disease.
Space & Capacity
Classes will be limited in size to allow for 6-10′ of separation between athletes based on local requirements.
In the phases 2 and 3 of reopening a limit on the total member capacity indoors will be 20, and in later phases 50. This is will be adjusted to match local regulations.
Staff will wear face coverings while coaching to prevent inadvertent spread of undetected contagion.
Members may be asked to wear face coverings outside of the time they are vigorously exercising based on local conditions.
Water fountains will be closed and all members are required to bring their own individual hydration or purchase on-site.
Coaches will not physically contact athletes, and athletes should not have one to one contact either. This includes no handshakes or high fives, and manual positioning of athletes. Exercises requiring partner contact will also be eliminated.
Personal disinfecting is a key in preventing people from catching the virus
Personal disinfecting is a key in preventing people from catching the virus
Hand sanitizer will be in place at the entrance of the facility
Hand sanitation will be required upon entering and before exiting the facility.
Additional signage will be put in restrooms and visible locations reinforcing hand sanitizing and washing
Anyone coughing or sneezing should cover it with their elbows and immediately proceed to wash or sanitize their hands
Additional hand cleaning/sanitizing breaks will be built into sessions around water breaks
Band resisted vertical jumping is one of my favorite plyometric exercises to get faster and more explosive. Here is an alternative to perform the same movement while getting the same benefits and reducing the risk of injury
Two weeks ago we looked at the half kneeling open hip sprint in hopes of increasing your push off when sprinting laterally. This week, we go over the lateral lean fall run to further help you increase your explosiveness, as well as challenging your core and coordination
From ‘Bench Warmer to Star Performer’ – Installment Six: The Three Big Lifts Guaranteed to Improve First-Step Speed and Quickness! – Coach Tim Hanway
In my past three installments on speed, I have written extensively about all the benefits that speed and by extension, speed training have upon sports performance. Described in no uncertain terms as the number one determining factor of athletic success, speed truly is the ‘One Thing’ every athlete needs to focus on in order to take their game to the next level. Given that fast kids always get more playing time than their slower peers, and that 40yd sprint times continue to have such an impact upon draft status and overall NFL contract values, it makes perfect sense then that dedicating specific time to un-locking speed potential reaps so many benefits towards enhancing sports performance for athletes of all ages and competitive backgrounds.
In re-capping the main message from my most recent installments of my “Bench Warmer to Star Performer” series, speed enhancement was painted entirely as one’s ability to demonstrate and maximize “the formula”: The four-part equation we hold near and dear at Velocity Sports Performance, which consists of the following:
In keeping with the above theme, “Big Force” is always listed as the first element within “the Formula” and for good reason: As described in Installment 3, the application of “Big Force” is what allows maximum speed application to occur in the first place.
Namely, in returning to high school physics and Newton’s Laws of Motion, we remember that for every physical action to occur, there needs to be an “equal and opposite reaction”. As described in detail in Installment 4 and 5 of this series, the combination of a double-leg drive and aggressive, contra-lateral arm action, is what allows an athlete to push off the ground effectively in the first place while accelerating, which leads to the force potential necessary to overcome the laws of inertia and initiate movement from a classic 2-point stance.
However, as described in my previous articles, power (or more specifically rate-of-force development), is directly related to maximal strength levels. So just as a V8 engine can generate more horsepower than a V4 engine, stronger athletes (by their very definition) are able to produce greater ground reaction forces than their weaker counter-parts, leading to enhanced speed in the process!
Strength Training for Speed: An Overview of What to Look For-
So now that we have re-visited how important strength and power are for speed, a common question I often get asked by parents and athletes at all levels is “What are the best exercises for speed enhancement?” My initial answer to this is almost entirely the same: “The ones you are not doing!”
The truth of the matter is that there is no perfect program or perfect exercise. Rather, in echoing the sentiments of some of the industry leaders that have directly influenced my own career and development, including Charles Poliquin, Eric Cressey, Robert Coach Dos Remedios, Al Vermil and Ron McKeefrey (just to name a few), there are so many different methods of enhancing sprint performance through resistance training. However, in adopting a “principles-based approach” to training (a concept that Former NFL and DI Strength Coach Ron McKeefrey first relayed to me in one of his “Iron Board Chalk Talk” podcasts) there are a few ‘non-negotiables’ when it comes to maximizing speed through strength training.
First, compound movements in the weight room are what ultimately provide the most “bang for your buck”. In echoing this shared sentiment from world renown strength coach Robert “Coach Dos” Remedios, compound movements allow an athlete to train and recruit the most muscle mass at any given time. Such examples include classic exercises as squats, deadlifts, the bench press and chin-ups (just to name a few). These examples recruit the upper and lower extremities including the arms and legs, as well as the core. With respect to the “core” I often like to tell my athletes to think of the core as being more akin to an “apple core”. In other words, I am not just talking about the classic superficial abs or “6-pack”; rather when I talk about training the core with my athletes, I am referencing all the deep muscles of the neck, back and abdominal cavity that effectively tie the extremities together to perform coordinated, whole-body movements. After all, sprinting has already been described as a total-body activity that incorporates a double-leg drive, coupled with an aggressive, contra-lateral arm action. The core is what effectively ties these movements together, so naturally it makes sense to heavily incorporate weight room exercises and training activities that tie these muscles together!
Secondly, in addition to relying upon predominantly compound exercises to maximize sprint performance in the weight room, I am a huge fan of movements that are ground-based. Head Performance Coach Al Vermil, the only strength coach in the world to boast championship teams in the NFL and NBA is fond of asking the same probing question when debating the merit of an exercise within an athlete’s program: “Is he or she putting force into the ground?” Just as our “formula” states, speed is all about putting a “Big Force” into the ground. If an exercise does not provide a direct stimulus towards enhancing this aspect of “the formula” Coach Vermil has often gone on record as questioning whether it really is the best choice to help improve an athlete’s sprint performance?
In sharing his sentiments, when picking the best exercises in the weight room to enhance speed, I too believe that ground-based, compound movements will always trump their single-joint, non-ground based counterpoints. However, the latter does have a place in a well-rounded strength and conditioning program, which I do reference in one of my “Director’s Cut” podcast looking at “Compound and Isolation Lifts for Competitive Female Athletes”.
Third, the main “go to” strength training exercises for speed enhancment should always have lie within different positions upon the “Force-Velocity Curve”: One of the main tenants of strength and power training and a concept that baseball strength & conditioning “guru” Eric Cressey references frequently in many of his online presentations.
In a nutshell, the ‘force-velocity curve’ describes the mathematical relationship between maximal force and maximal velocity in relation to sporting movements. One of the biggest misconceptions in the realm of strength and conditioning is that all forms of speed, strength and power are created equal. This is simply not true however! Just as you have different breeds of cats and dogs, there are in fact different types of strength and power.
For example, in discussing the concept of power and its various types, the distinction often lies within whether there is a ‘speed’ or a ‘force’ emphasis. To illustrate, I once heard a coach ask a group of college athletes “Which would you rather: Get hit by a semi-truck traveling 10 mph or instead get shot with a bullet in the leg at close range?” As you can imagine, the coach in this instance was greeted with looks of abject shock, horror and confusion from his athletes. Nevertheless, this rhetorical question does in fact illustrate a key difference in power: Namely that in the instance of the truck and bullet, both objects represent extremely high instances of power output! To help understand this concept, we need to re-familiarize ourselves briefly with the mathematical formula that describes power:
Power = Force x Distance/time
In applying this formula to the coach’s rhetorical question, in the case of the truck, the truck itself is not traveling particularly fast. However, it’s sheer weight or mass (even when traveling at a relatively slow speed) makes it quite powerful by extension. The bullet on the other hand, which is extremely small and light, more than makes up for its small mass by traveling at incredibly high speeds, making it too an equally power (and equally dangerous) proposition! Hence, in both instances of power, either the force (truck) or velocity (bullet) component of the equation is emphasized to maximize power output.
Figure 1: An illustration of the “Force-Velocity Curve” where the ‘Y’ Axis represents maximum force and the “X” axis represents maximal velocity.
To this end, the best strength training for speed programs incorporate exercises that effectively “surf the curve”, meaning they target strength and power attributes at both ends of the curve. As such, some exercises in a successful strength training for speed program focus more upon force production, while other exercises instead focus more upon the speed of muscle contraction. A successful athlete therefore trains more like a “truck” during some instances of their program, and more like a “bullet” during other of their program to fully realize power potential!
The Top 3 Strength Training Exercises for Speed.
Now that a basic overview of ‘what to look for’ in a strength training for speed program has been identified, please let me share with you my “Top 3” exercises for speed enhancement:
Power Snatch: The Snatch is an exercise regarded by famed British Strength & Conditioning Coach Clive Brewer, as the “single-most powerful” exercise an athlete can perform in the weight room. For this reason, it is my number one resistance training exercise for speed enhancement. In addition to ticking all the boxes in my above points (i.e. being a ground-based, compound movement that is often classified as a “speed-strength” exercise on the force-velocity curve), the Power Snatch is regarded as one of the main staples of Olympic lifting: A classification of weight room exercises that I have written extensively about in previous blog posts.
The biggest benefit from a speed standpoint is the Power Snatch incorporates the rapid ‘triple-extension’ of the ankle, knee and hip complex, which is the same observed phenomenon in acceleration mechanics (see below)!
Figure 2: An illustration of the “triple-extension” phenomenon which occurs in both sprint/acceleration mechanics, as well as in the execution of the Snatch (the two images on the right)
In addition to its triple-extension qualities, the Snatch also requires a significant amount of core strength and stiffness, as well as shoulder mobility and stability. This combination of high degrees of coordination and balance, coupled with the speed and power of its successful execution, most closely mimics the rapid force-production observed when sprinting. Hence, for these reasons alone, the Power Snatch continues to be my number one exercise for improving sprint performance!
Front Squat– Let’s get something clear. I LOVE SQUATS! Squats, when performed correctly and with a full range-of-motion (I am talking butt to grass depth), activate a lot of muscle. In citing such renown Sports Science researchers as Dr. Mike Stone and Dr. Gregory Haff, there have been numerous studies directly correlating squat ability with maximal sprint speed. As Dr. Haff once remarked during a National Strength & Conditioning Conference I was fortunate enough to attend, the best piece of advice you can give an athlete looking to improve on-field performance is to “squat often, and squat frequently.”
I admit, squatting is not necessarily for everyone, especially those with shallow hip sockets and other anatomical anomalies (a topic my friend and colleague Tony Gentilcore has written about extensively within his many blog posts). However, when performed safely and effectively, there really is no better way to activate the prime-movers of the legs, as well as core musculature. The effects of squats on glute activation (a phenomenon that is only fully observed when the hip axis travels below the knee access when squatting at depth) is truly unrivaled.
In terms of variations, the Front Squat gets my nod when compared to other squat forms, as unlike other squat variations, it recruits the most anterior core and leg musculature. Some coaches like world renown Strength Coach Charles Poliquin, have even used the Front Squat as a key predictor of athletic success within certain Olympic Sports. For example, I remember learning how Charles worked with the Canadian men’s national Bobsleigh team and surmised that any athlete who was not able to front squat in excess of 400lbs, would severely limit the success of the team, as he would not be able to effectively overcome the inertia of the sled during the commencement of a race!
Figure 3: An athlete performing the Front Squat. Notice how the hips are below the knees to maximize depth and glute recruitment.
What I like in particular about Charles’ description of the Front Squat is that it is in his opinion a one of the most “honest” lifts you can perform. In other words, given that the bar is in a rack position (i.e. the front of the shoulders, or anterior deltoids for my fellow strength coaches – see the above image) it is nearly impossible to cheat with when attempting to perform the lift. Basically, if the weight is too heavy or a young athlete performs the technique incorrectly, he or she will invariably drop the bar! This built-in safety feature makes the Front Squat a great choice for youth athletes (like our athlete depicted in the title image), as it also serves as foundational movement for more advanced squat types, such as the Back and Overhead Squat alluded to briefly. Given that the Front Squat is yet another compound, ground-based movement that in this case, focuses more upon either sub-max or max-strength qualities within the force-velocity curve (see Figure 1), the Front Squat gets the nod as one of my ‘go to’ strength training exercises for enhancing speed development.
Sled Push– The final exercise in my “top 3” is the sled push. Sleds are a great tool, especially with respect to their training versatility. In again referencing Coach Poliquin, sleds apparently can be traced loosely back to the Scandinavian forest industry, where successful Scandinavian powerlifters claimed that their professional background in dragging trees (apparently, many of them were in fact lumberjacks and loggers!) provided them with a solid base of posterior chain development that translated into numerous titles over the years. As a result, powerlifters here in the U.S. looking to emulate the success of their Swedish and Norwegian competitors (including world renown coach and powerlifting guru, Louie Simmons), took notice of the effects of sled work and readily adopted its use within the Westside Barbell gym; arguably the most successful powerlifting gym in the world. Given the fact that myself and Head Velocity Sports Performance Coach, Chris Rice, have repeatedly gone on record as describing the importance of posterior-chain musculature, it makes sense then that such an effective training tool that targets the glutes and hamstrings would feature so prominently in a strength training program aimed at improving speed.
Figure 3: An athlete performing a sled push/march. Notice how the athlete is able to adopt a body position similar to the classic 45’ body lean associated with optimal sprint and acceleration mechanics. In the second image, a creative coach has become a ‘sled’ by simply squatting down into val-slides. Although this is considered more of a sled drag, both athletes can achieve the piston-like action of the hips, maximizing posterior-chain recruitment of the lower-limb muscles including the glutes and hamstrings.
Specifically, what I personally like about sleds the most is that they are not only a ground-based, compound movement training tool, but unlike the Power Snatch and Front Squat, they are a tool that is as easy to modify they are to implement. Basically, all you have to do is get low and push! As such, there is little to no risk posed to the athlete, as even the youngest, most inexperienced athlete can successfully incorporate sled work into their programs. You really cannot mess it up!
There are in fact variations of sled pushing which I do prefer, such as variations of “Sled Marches”, where an athlete effectively adopts the class 45° angular body lean most often associated with acceleration mechanics. The beauty of such an exercise is that not only does it adhere to the ground-based, compound movement principles alluded to in this article, but also most closely mimics the joint angles, and biomechanics associated with acceleration mechanics. To this end, having an athlete get into a 45° body lean and drive with the hips and knees while pushing the sled, allows the athlete to most effectively mimic the piston-like action of acceleration mechanics, which I referenced extensively in my article about the double-leg drive.
In summary, strength training for speed is all about picking exercises and weight training movements that are both ground-based and compound in nature. By focusing upon various points within the ‘force-velocity curve’, an athlete can successfully train the various speed and strength qualities seen to have the greatest degree of carry-over to maximum sprint performance. The Power Snatch is an Olympic lift that requires great degrees of strength, power and coordination. Specifically, the ‘triple-extension’ qualities of the Power Snatch directly translate to the double-leg drive associated with optimal acceleration mechanics. The Front Squat and Sled-Push, when combined within a program, target all the prime-movers of the legs as well as the core. Such enhanced muscle recruitment allows an athlete to directly improve the strength and force-producing qualities of the muscles most responsible for speed. The sled takes this even one step further, by allowing athletes to even more closely mimic the body angles associated with acceleration mechanics.
In the end, there really is no substitute for strength training. Any young athlete that regularly incorporates these three exercises will simply be amazed at how fast they ultimately become!
From ‘Bench Warmer to Star Performer’ – Installment Five: Why Your Arm Action May be Ruining Not Only Your Acceleration Efforts, but Your Chance of Making the Team! – Coach Tim Hanway
In my most recent articles series about speed and sports performance, speed was described as the single-most important determining factor of athletic performance. In particular, speed was described as an athletic attribute that contains both physical as well as skill components: A fact best encapsulated in what we here at Velocity Sports Performance term “the formula”. To re-cap, the following four features of “the formula” are proven to un-lock the true speed potential of every young athlete!
Figure 1: An illustration of ‘the formula’ which describes speed as being a combination of the ‘Big 4’: Big Force, Small Time, Proper-Direction and Optimal Range-of-Motion.
In my my most recent article on speed, the issue of the ‘Double-Leg Take-Off’ was introduced, which states rather simply that the fastest athletes are those that can push-off both feet when attempting to accelerate; especially when performing an acceleration effort from a two-point stance like the athlete being depicted in the image below.
Figure 2: An athlete is a two-point stance. Notice the crouched, low body position and narrow base-of-support under the hips to maximize the three ‘A’s of ‘Alignment, Activation and Alignment’
Just as the above image describes, it is specifically in the ability of an athlete to simultaneously push forwards and backwards with the lead leg and trail leg respectively that the first 3 parts of our 4 point ‘formula’ can be realized (i.e. “Big Force, Short-Time, Proper Direction”). After all, as stated in the preceding article centered upon the double-leg take-off, given that an athlete can always jump higher off two legs compared to one, the same logic (and laws of physics for that matter) apply to sprint performance: Namely, those athletes that can push-off two legs will always go further than those that only use one.
However, in continuing to focus upon sprint performance and technique, even the best double-leg take-off can easily be undermined with poor arm mechanics! Specifically arm-action, when combined with proper leg action while sprinting, is the proverbial “one-two knock-out punch” that allows athletes to fully realize their sprint potential. It is for this reason alone that some of the most accomplished track and field coaches in the world, including Margo Wells (wife and coach of Allan Wells, Olympic Gold-medalist in the 100m sprint at the 1980 Moscow Games) teach arm mechanics first when working with athletes looking to unlock their speed potential. Coach Wells even goes so far as to have her athletes borrow from the boxing world by having them utilize a speed bag in training to improve not only the rapidness, but accuracy of their arm action as well. Arms really are that important when it comes to speed!
When it comes to analyzing the sprint performance of young athletes however, one of the most apparent areas of opportunity lie arm mechanics, as it is evident to myself and numerous other coaches in the sports performance field that many young athletes simply do not know how to use their arms when sprinting!
Arm-Action 101: Combining Proper Arm-Action with the ‘Double Leg Drive’:
After initiating our double-leg drive (i.e. pushing off the ground simultaneously with both legs), it is important to get an understanding of what happens next? To answer this question, we can look to the most recent video on speed development published by Velocity Head Performance Coach Chris Rice, which documents one of my favorite drills “Wall Reverse Pistons”. As you will see in the video, Coach Rice starts off in a crouched, staggered-stance position identical to our athlete in Figure 2, although in this case, Coach Rice purposely adopts a more exaggerated 2-point stance by creating more space between his front and back leg (while also leaning against the wall).
In the video Coach Rice initiates movement by aggressively driving his trail-leg forwards towards the wall by leading/punching with the right knee, which results in him ending with the original trail leg now forwards, with his right knee and hip bent as well as with the toes of his right foot pointed up in a position known as ‘dorsi-flexion’ (Frame 3 in the below image).
Figure 3: Still images of Coach Chris Rice Performing the “Wall Reverse Piston”. Notice the ‘power-line’ in Frame 1 where you could draw a line from Coach Rice’s right ear down to his right ankle, where his right leg is effectively his trail leg. Upon cueing he then aggressively ‘punches’ his trail leg forwards towards the wall, ending with his right leg now forwards in the “blocked” position, where his right hip, knee and ankle are now flexed or ‘bent’, with the left leg being fully extended/straight.
What the above drill simulates is how our athlete in Figure 2 (if brought to life) would effectively push-off both legs to initiate his acceleration effort, as well as the next step in the process, which is how the athlete’s trail-leg would effectively punch forwards so that he ends up in a position similar to Coach Rice in Frame 3 which we term the “blocked position”.
The reason we like to describe acceleration as a “piston-like” action, is for all the reasons mentioned in the original Wall Drill Acceleration video by Coach Rice, where he takes the same above “Wall Reverse-Piston” drill a step further by having the athlete instead aggressively transition from one leg being in the “blocked” position (i.e. right leg in Frame 3) to this same leg aggressively extending/“pushing” into the ground (“extended position”).
To put it rather simply, in the first 5 to 8 steps of an acceleration effort, the legs basically transition rapidly between the “block” and “extended” positions, as this aggressive change-over between the legs is how an athlete best realizes “the formula”, by putting maximal force into the ground in the shortest amount of time possible.
Arms as a Counter-Balance:
Now that a very basic overview of the lower-limb mechanics relating to acceleration have been presented, the role of the arms can now be fully introduced and appreciated. The arms effectively serve to counter-balance the legs, by effectively acting as a counter-weight to the aggressive leg actions described above ! In describing acceleration as a uniform, total-body movement that includes the upper and lower-body, coaches refer to the concept of a “contra-lateral” arm and leg action, where the opposite arm is always positioned forwards compared to whichever leg is momentarily in the “blocked” position.
To illustrate, depicted below is Olympic athlete and world record holder, Usain Bolt, who can be seen exhibiting this type of contra-lateral arm and leg action, as his left arm is forwards to off-set his right leg being forwards in the “blocked” position. This contra-lateral arm and leg action allows an athlete to achieve the classic 45’ angular body lean also expressed by Bolt in the image below, as it is this body position that is so often associated with optimal acceleration mechanics. Effectively an aggressive arm-action, which complements an aggressive leg action, is seen to help prevent our young athletes from stumbling off the line, or worse yet, experiencing a not-so glamorous face-plant when accelerating over the first 5-8 steps!
Figure 4: World-record holder Usain Bolt exhibiting perfect acceleration mechanics. Note the classic 45’ body lean and contra-lateral arm and leg action, where his left arm is forwards compared to his right leg, which in this case is in the “blocked” position. If this still image was to be brought to life, we would see Bolt transition in his next step so that the other sides of his body would aggressively and effectively switch place (i.e. right arm aggressively swings forwards as the left leg punches forwards into the “block” position). Such a rapid change-over results in the ‘piston action’ of acceleration that Coach Rice references in his two videos.
Arm Action While Accelerating:
The actions of the arms serve to balance, stabilize, and coordinate movements of the upper body in conjunction with the lower body. More specifically, the quality of arm movement determines the direction of force, spine and hip stabilization, as well as proper synchronization of the trunk and legs in general. This again is captured perfectly in the “Big 4” of our “formula”!
In initiating movement from a 2-point stance, the athlete simultaneously throws the front arm back aggressively towards the ceiling, while the trail arm ‘rips’ forwards. Note however that all arm movement should be initiated with a driving action in a backward direction. Specifically, by emphasizing a quick backward drive of the front elbow, the muscles of the shoulder along with the biceps can respond elastically with added force in a forward direction. Furthermore, arm position should approximately be a 90-degree angle at the elbow with the forward arm, with the fingers relaxed, palms facing in, and thumbs pointing up, while the trail arm should be closer to 110’ in full extension – a fact captured rather nicely with Bolt’s right shoulder and elbow in the above image.
To illustrate this aggressive arm in real-time, here is a video of NFL and Velocity athlete David Fluellen performing a “Sled March”, as well as David performing a full-on acceleration effort. Note the aggressive contra-lateral arm and leg action in both videos, where the arm being ripped backwards is always opposite to the leg “punching” forwards. The result is again this “piston-like” action of the arms and legs, which allows the athlete to realize each of the “Big 4” elements referenced in “the formula”.
Videos 1 & 2: NFL and Velocity athlete David Fluellen performing a “Sled March” and 20yd acceleration effort. Note the aggressive, contra-lateral arm and leg action, which is “piston-like” in nature!
In summary, acceleration and sprinting is all about an athlete’s ability to realize ‘the formula’ by being able to synchronize both their arm and leg actions. The ability to drive off both legs in a “double-leg” action allows an athlete to express as much horizontal force into the ground as possible – the first element of the “Big 4”! However, it is the ability to sync and marry up such an aggressive leg action with an effective, contra-lateral arm action that allows an athlete to realize the rest of the “Big 4” described in the “formula”, as well as attain the classic 45’ angular lean most associated with optimal acceleration mechanics.
Arm-action, when accelerating, effectively creates balance, stability and overall coordination that again allows an athlete to maximize force potential in the shortest possible time. As a result, the absence of correct arm mechanics prevent the proper “piston-like” action of acceleration mechanics from occurring, which severely limits acceleration ability in the process. A fast athlete knows that their arm actions are crucial when it comes to exploding out of the blocks. Unfortunately, many coaches do not focus on this, which is why here at Velocity we make it a point to teach our athletes how to use their arm and legs effectively. Their place on the team may count on it!
I find that a lot of athletes, especially younger athletes, have trouble getting an effective push off from their outside leg when changing direction. This week we go over the half kneeling open hip sprint to help solve with this issue.
From ‘Bench Warmer to Star Performer’ – Installment Four: The Double-Leg Take-Off & How to Always Out-Sprint Your Opponent.
Coach Tim Hanway
In my most recent article about speed, I stated that sport speed was in fact that single-most important determining factor of athletic success at all levels of competition. Whether an NFL prospect performing at the Combine, or a freshman Junior Varsity athlete looking to make the starting team, fast athletes play more and are afforded more playing opportunities than slower athletes…PERIOD! Specifically, speed was described in my latest article as both a skill and a physical quality best developed through the proper combination of technical instruction and weight room activity.
Specifically, it is in combining strength and power training with technical sprint work that allows athletes to best achieve what we here at Velocity Sports Performance refer to as “the formula”: Our world-renowned model of speed training, which states that maximum speed is the end-product of producing “big force in the shortest possible time, in the proper direction, with optimal range-of-motion.” To this end, in achieving these four things an athlete, much like a V8 car engine with incredible horse-power, has no choice but to be run fast and perform at the highest level!
Figure 1: An illustration of ‘the formula’ which describes speed as being a combination of the ‘Big 4’: Big Force, Small Time, Proper-Direction and Optimal Range-of-Motion.
However, although my most recent article provides a gross overview of not only the importance of speed, but how it is best be achieved, this article is all about providing practical tips and tools that will help any young athlete explode off the mark, so that they too can beat their opponents to the loose ball or puck, as well as ensure that their name is one of the first on the team sheet when their head coach is faced with selection decisions. After all, fast athletes play more and maximizing “the formula” is the best way to ensure no speed is lost or left on the table!
The Double-Leg Take-Off: Fast Athletes Know How to ‘Rev’ their Engines!
In keeping with the car analogies from my previous article, fast athletes are said to have not only bigger ‘engines’ than slower athletes, but also utilize and achieve top speed much quicker than their opponents. Given that speed is both a physical quality as well as a motor skill, the truth remains that neither of these two factors are mutually exclusive and that even the strongest, most powerful athletes cannot out-run poor technique!
When it comes to acceleration (i.e. the ability to explode off the mark), technique is often one of the biggest areas of opportunity for many young athletes. Specifically, in spending years analyzing and breaking down the technique of hundreds of young athletes, I have identified a handful of common errors that are so often the main culprit when it comes to poor acceleration capability. For example, even when an athlete can utilize “the formula” (i.e. produce ‘big force in a short-time, with proper range-of-motion in the proper direction), each of these variables can easily be un-done if acceleration technique is not spot-on. The biggest mistake I often see as a coach however is that all too often, so many young athletes attempt to push off just one-leg when accelerating. As a result, like a jet-engine or rocket that only utilizes one of its thrusters, the inability to push-off of two legs invariably handicaps an athlete by severely limiting their ability and all but negating “the formula” in the process!
In a recent video blog post by my colleague and Velocity Coach, Chris Rice, Chris describes in detail some of the main issues encountered in Acceleration: Namely that athletes often tend to ‘pop up’ when accelerating, leaving lots of speed potential on the proverbial table in the process.
In addition to the excellent points Chris mentions in the video, in dissecting both errors further (i.e. pushing off of just one leg and ‘popping up’ after the first step), optimal acceleration mechanics come down to having the following three areas in place:
When these three ‘A’s are present in an athlete’s mechanics, he/she is best able to maximize ‘the formula’ by utilizing technique that is not only the most effective, but also the most efficient in the process. For example, poor technique not only limits acceleration speed, but also burns a lot of extra ‘gas from the tank’, which in turn brings upon fatigue levels at a much quicker rate! To this end, the three ‘A’s allow an athlete to not only maximize the initial driving action of acceleration, but also conserve the fuel and energy necessary to go as hard in the second half as they do in the first half.
The double-leg drive, as the name implies, is all about the ability of an athlete to push off both legs, as opposed to simply one-leg when accelerating. The problem though, is that all too-often, whether performing a three-point stance (like Coach Danny illustrates in Coach Chris Rice’s Video) or more commonly, a two-point stance, young athletes tend to favor the front leg by pushing nearly exclusively off it while simply bringing the trail leg along for the ride!
Need a demonstration as to the effectiveness of pushing off one leg versus two? Well simply try getting up from your seat and standing up before jumping as high as you can off both of one leg then two. Now ask yourself “in which instance were you able to jump higher?” I guarantee you were able to jump higher off two legs, as opposed to one, for the simple reason that two legs allow you to recruit more muscle and generate more force compared to one-leg.
Nevertheless, despite such a basic experiment in physics, too often athletes get into the habit of pushing almost exclusively off the front leg, as opposed to both legs, again limiting the effectiveness of ‘the formula’ in the process.
As such, now that the problem of pushing off one leg (compared to two) has been identified when accelerating, the question beckons as to how does an athlete self-diagnosis, as well as fix this problem in the first place? The answer comes back to our three ‘A’s, which we here at Velocity describe in detail within our Velocity Methodology Manual:
Figure 2: An athlete is a two-point stance. Notice the crouched, low body position and narrow base-of-support under the hips to maximize the three ‘A’s of ‘Alignment, Activation and Alignment’
In using our three A’s, an athlete is best able to physically position them self so that they are set-up in the optimal position to realize ‘the formula’ of producing maximal force in the shortest possible time, in the proper direction using optimal ranges of motion. Although the 3-point stance described in Coach Chris Rice’s video are relevant for general speed testing, and specifically in sports like football (i.e. lineman) and track & field athletes, many acceleration and maximal speed efforts instead are performed from a two-point stance. As such, understanding how to accelerate from a two-point stance is paramount to sporting success, which is why the following bullet-points are all about how to set-up in a proper two-point stance in order to achieve maximal results – like our athlete depicted above in Figure 2.
Alignment: Put simply, body alignment is determined by optimal positions of the core and limbs in order to apply force in the proper direction and begin acceleration mechanics. Characteristics of our two-point stance include placing the body-weight on the balls of the feet, creating positive shin angles, and setting the arms for proper synchronization (see Figure 2). A key factor in body alignment for any staggered start however is deciding which foot will be placed forward. A simple method of determining the quick leg, or back leg, for individual athletes, is to ask them to cross their arms across their body. The arm closest to the body will be the same side as their quick leg. This easy exercise determines which side of the body neurologically moves first. Thus, if an athlete places their right arm against their body when crossing arms, the right foot should be placed back and the left foot placed forward in a start position!
Activation: As stated acceleration should be initiated by a “double-leg drive” method from all starts. An athlete that executes an explosive push off with both legs will produce a greater force than an athlete that uses only a single-leg push off. During a double-leg drive, the rear leg should produce a greater initial force, while the front leg produces force over a longer amount of time. An easy way to think of this is that when accelerating, the front foot should “push forwards”, while the rear or trail-leg simultaneously “pushes backwards”.
In producing ‘big force in the shortest possible time,’ it is again imperative that this force is directed in the proper direction. Borrowing again from Newton’s ‘Second Law of Motion’, in order to travel forwards, force must be directed in the opposite direction (i.e. back and down into the ground) which is best achieved by adopting the classic 45’ body-lean (Figure 3 below). Specifically, by positioning the foot behind the hips during each ground-contact, the body can be propelled forwards! Because of such optimal alignment, the big powerful muscles of the lower-body, including the glutes, quadriceps and hamstrings, are best able to be recruited, resulting in optimal activation of these large, powerful muscle groups.
Figure 3: In the above image, the athlete is leaning slightly forwards close to 45 degrees: Providing optimal body alignment to produce max forces in the proper direction.
Arrangement: Finally, to achieve the above two points, optimal arrangement of muscle actions and sequences needs to be present when accelerating. This is again the whole premise behind optimal sprint mechanics, both during the first initial steps of acceleration, as well as each subsequent step whilst sprinting. If the actions or sequencing is wrong, mechanics are thrown off and speed ability goes way down! The initial step from a start should involve the rear leg driving, or “punching” forward with the accompanying ankle point up towards the sky (i.e. dorsi-flexion). The front leg will support and continue producing force while the ankle, knee, and hip are fully extended (triple extension). As a result, Proper arm action (opposite arm forward, same-side arm backward) is utilized, which provides additional balance as well as added force production with each step during acceleration.
In summary, maximal acceleration and speed ability are best achieved through the optimal combination of both technique and physical strength and power qualities. As a result, the fastest athletes are those that are best able to utilize and maximize ‘the formula’. However, to do so, the three ‘A’s of ‘alignment, activation and arrangement’ must be achieved in order to maximize both force production and technical acceleration ability.
One of the easiest ways to ensure that the three A’s are being achieved is by setting up correctly in a two-point start position. To do this, first you must figure out which side of your body you neurologically favor, which can be achieved by the simple act of hugging yourself! Second, after placing your preferred foot forwards, the two-point stance is initiated by crouching down and bringing your opposite arm forwards (as illustrated by the athlete in Figure 2). Then when ready, push forwards with the lead leg and simultaneously backwards with the trail-leg, while simultaneously throwing your front arm backwards and up towards the ceiling as aggressively as you can!
In utilizing such an efficient and effective technique, you’ll be amazed at how much quicker and faster you are off the mark!
Stay tuned for even more hacks and tips as to how you can maximize your sprint ability, so that you too can move from a bench warmer to a star performer by unlocking the speed you never knew you had!
Building off of last week with the snapdown, we now move into applying it with the box jump. You will find videos upon videos on YouTube or Instagram of athletes trying to hit big numbers on their jumps, but unfortunately, they just butcher the movement and don’t get the maximum benefit out of this exercise. This week, we go over how to clean up your box jump to get the most out of the movement.
Did February Break mess up your training schedule? Do you have a vacation coming up and you don’t know if you can make it to the gym? Try this bodyweight circuit (That you can do anywhere) to stay on track! Let us know what you think! with Coach Steve Calarco