Does your athlete need Speed and Agility training?
Updated: Dec 9, 2019
-ISSA Certified Strength Coach
-Certified Speed and Agility coach
-Driveline Baseball Foundations of Pitching Certification in process
-Owner Elite Athletic Performance LLC
-18 years of experience training athletes
Your Student Athlete; Should Do, Must Do, and Don’t
While it may be true your kid needs to get speedier and/or more agile or “run better”. The culprit for causing this and the path to achieving it may look different than expected.
Why is the athlete slow??
This is the big question where people get a little off track.
Does the athlete need top-end speed? Or quickness?
Before we get into speed, I want to lay out how the athlete gets quicker, because it’s much simpler.
There are two main steps really but before that let’s quickly get on the same page. Quickness, change of direction, and agility, are (just like every other endeavor in physical movement) just simple equations of physics.
-Quickness, is being able to overpower the force that is keeping you still(static, not moving).
-Change Of Direction, is being able to RESIST the force that is carrying you one way, then overpower it by applying new force in the desired direction.
-Agility, is pretty much the exact same thing as Change Of Direction ability.
Did you notice a theme in those descriptions? “Overpower” “Resist” “Apply Force”. The athlete, in order to gain ability in any of those endeavors, MUST build MORE ability to OVERPOWER gravity, inertia and momentum, RESIST the existing forces of momentum , and APPLY FORCE into the ground to create NEW momentum.
You accomplish this by building strength in the athletes ENTIRE body, why the entire body? Remember in the cartoons when they’d take Off running and their legs would be gone but their upper body lagged behind? That’s literally what is happening, in a much less hilarious fashion. Strong legs under a week upper body stop the lower body but the upper body is still traveling the wrong way. Why???
Because you weren’t strong enough to stop it from doing so.
Once the builds enough strength to resist forces, we then (AND ONLY THEN, this is where a lot of people get their money wasted by ”Speed Gurus”) begin building the athlete‘s ability to create force MORE RAPIDLY. To move their body faster. You CANNOT do that until the baseline strength is there.
You create RAPID force by teaching your current level of force to move faster.
if ya ain’t got no force, how you gonna teach it to move faster/quicker??
Ok, where were we??
oh yeah, speed.
There are two ways to get faster.
A) Increase mechanical efficiency.
B) Increase ability to apply force into the ground.
Let’s tackle A first.
How do you increase mechanical efficiency?
A few examples of this are:
Learning to run in a straight line,I know that sounds simple but you would be surprised. Proper range of motion and speed of hip flexion in respective legs(Hip Flexion is the movement that raises your Knee up towards your nipple) and shoulder/elbow flexion/extension (Arm swing)
Is self explanatory so we will move on.
Using the proper amount of range of these mechanics, really we could just say “Increasing the” amount of range and speed of these mechanics, because I’ve never met an athlete wanting to get faster that raised their knees TOO high or swung their arms too fast when sprinting. 999 out of 1000 times the athlete is running with some variation of stiff legs and their elbows either don’t move, or flail out to the side. The movement IS something that can be taught to get better in the proper setting, but it is time consuming and it will consume large amounts of the athletes “Training Dollar” (more on that shortly). This is where you and your kid need to very honest about what their ultimate goal is. Now, Speed of these movements can’t really be taught. It is trained. I can ask my 9 year old daughter to dunk a basketball on a 10 foot goal in any number of ways but she is not physically capable of doing it. If that is a goal of hers she wants to obtain, then she needs to continue growing and training her body to move more explosively. We will cover this in the next section.
There are three instances in which I can think of, that spending a majority of time on sprint mechanics is a good investment of time.
You are a track athlete. You are training for a Football Combine in which your 40 yard dash time will weigh heavily on your overall score or future career. You love baseball/Softball, you want to play baseball/Softball in college, but you don’t hit or throw hard. If this is the case, your 60 time could help you get a spot on a roster. It alone has a not going to get a bunch of school paid for.
Now that I’ve laid that out, please, please hear what I’m about to say....type...whatever, because it is the most important point of this entire blog.
Learning better sprint mechanics is only a good investment of time,energy and money as a method to “shave” off those last fractions of a second in a track and field or testing environment.
It is the FINAL step in an athlete’s quest for more speed. Not the first. Or second, or even third for that matter.
In contrast, below is a list of things that would make sprint mechanic training a poor investment of those precious resources, time, energy, and money.
If any of these are a yes, it is not time for the athlete to train for better better sprint mechanics. There are other things that will be much more productive at this point in time.
The more “yes’s”, the more of a “hard no” it is.
Is the athlete a “Hardgainer”? Meaning do they struggle to put on and maintain bodyweight.Only competes in field/court sports. No real interest in track. When the athlete runs, does something just look...off, or goofy?Is overall not physically developed yet, like, not shaving yet.
Sooooooo how do we do that?? How do we train to get faster?
B) Increase ability to apply force into the ground
Speed is PROPULSION.
How many times have you said, or heard a coach tell an athlete to “Take bigger strides”, “gain ground”, or something to that effect when coaching the athlete to run faster?
Problem is, unfortunately, not many are aware how that is properly done. This cue is detrimental to the majority of athletes because they end up reaching their feet in front of their knees, attempting to “gain” ground as well as the approval of the coach, by taking a longer stride. This will eventually lead to a hamstring pull.
Stick your foot out in front of you right now and place your heel on the ground, now apply pressure into the ground kind of like there is a piece of paper with a bug on top of it waaaaay under your desk and you’re trying to slide it back to you and mash the living crap out of that bug at the same time.
If you did this you may have noticed a little cramping sensation in the back side of your leg.
Now think about that movement in a dynamic (fast moving) environment over and over again. This is how a lot of hamstring pulls occur.
So why do we tell athletes to stride farther? It’s a simple misconception. Athletes do not create more speed by striding farther, they do it by TRAVELING FARTHER with each stride.
How is that done? One word. PROPULSION.
Proper sprinting technique, in a simplified way of describing it, is the rear leg PROPELS the body(Pushes), while the front leg stays off the ground as long as possible, in order to allow the body to travel over as much ground as possible with each stride.
You don’t GAIN ground, you PUSH ground.
I know right.
That’s exactly what happened when I learned this.
So, now that we’ve laid out WHAT makes athletes faster. Let’s talk about HOW we do it.......in part 2 of this blog. It will be out next Sunday so stay tuned.
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Your Student Athlete; Must Do, Should Do, and Don’t
The “Owner’s Manual” for parents to maximize their kid’s time, help them perform better, and avoid injury