Friday, April 25, 2008

Train To Improve Your Acceleration Speed

During intense sports competition, getting to the spot quicker is often more important than being faster than your opponent. Maximum speed is rarely reached in many sports, so your acceleration speed becomes crucial to your success.

A sprinter can win a race without being the fastest runner in the race by attaining his or her maximum speed before the other sprinters. That's acceleration speed. You can apply this principle to any sport. Researchers from New Zealand found that athletes with quicker ground contacts produced better acceleration.

Acceleration techniques are different for the various sports. The track and field sprinter accelerates out of the blocks with low body lean and legs behind the body. The arms are pumped as fast as possible to gain momentum. The sprinter won't "run tall" until the 4-5 second mark (it takes about that long to reach maximum velocity).

In other sports, it is not that easy to accelerate because the athlete is often off balance. Some sports, such as football and basketball require running with or bouncing a ball.

And, other sports, such as soccer require moving a ball with the feet. Acceleration techniques used by track sprinters can be used, namely body lean and arm movement. The best running backs, tennis players, basketball players, shortstops, etc. all have great dynamic balance.

Having great dynamic balance means that the athlete is able to maintain her or his center of gravity over a constantly changing base of support. Thus, quickness and agility drills help the athlete to improve dynamic balance and acceleration while not wasting motion. It is important for the athlete to train on different surfaces (grass, soft, etc.) to prepare for game-like situations.

While sport-specific plyometric training improves power, non-specific power training should not be ignored. Researchers from Canada found that athletes who performed better with weighted squat jumps were the best accelerators at 10 meters.

Therefore, concentric force development (jumping power) is critical to improve sprint acceleration. The first step from a stand-still (or near stand-still) position requires concentric muscle power.

What about training with weighted sleds and the like? First, this is an advanced training method that should be used after the athlete has obtained foundational core/body strength and foundational power training.

I have seen young athletes beginning training with sleds and other resistance apparatus. This is definitely a no-no and will lead the young athlete to certain injuries and postural problems.

Using sleds, car tires, etc. will force the athlete keep a low body position, drive hard through their legs and pump the arms with great force. Two-point, three point, standing and sprinters stances can be used to train for the various sports.

Greek researchers found that athletes training with towing methods (sleds, tires, etc.) improved their running velocity over the first 20 meters (i.e. acceleration) but that overall maximum speed did not improve.

The researchers found that unresisted sprint training techniques improved maximum speed velocity more. So, resisted and unresisted training has a place in the overall speed training program. Finally, the researchers found that towing sleds that were too heavy forced the athletes to use bad running mechanics.

What about over-speed training as it relates to improving speed acceleration? Over-speed training can be done with downhill runs and with elastic pulling cords. California researchers found that over-speed training had no significant impact on speed acceleration.

Improving sprint acceleration requires a structured sport-specific program of agility drills, quickness/reaction drills, weight training, plyometric (power) training and speed training.

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Mark Dilworth, BA, PES
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