The ability to accelerate with speed and power is perhaps the most important skill that an athlete can possess. Athletes in most sports need to be able to run as fast as possible, and reach their maximum speed as quickly as possible.
From blasting off the line in football, to winning the ball in soccer, to launching out of the blocks in track; each of these athletic movements need to be performed as efficiently as possible to generate speed as quickly as possible.
With this in mind, drills for running fast should form a major part of any training regime. However, too many coaches and athletes embark upon their training without a complete understanding of the mechanics of acceleration. In this short article I'd like to help remedy this by covering the six elements of acceleration mechanics.
This will give you a good base of knowledge on which to perform or design your acceleration training and give your athletes an edge their competitors may lack.
1. Stride length (short to long).
When accelerating off the line (or from any position), an athletes stride should progress from short to long. Speed can be improved my increasing stride length or stride frequency (most experts on speed training agree that increasing stride length is the best way to do it).
2. Ground contact time (long to short).
Ground Contact Time describes the amount of time each foot spends on the ground. It is longest at the beginning of the exertion as the body overcomes inertia (the weight of the body working against gravity). It's shortest when the body is in full flight and the feet are moving at maximum speed.
3. Shin-to-ground angle (small to large).
The angle of the shin will determine how much force is applied to the ground and the projection angle the athlete will launch from (an approx 45 degree angle is ideal). As the athlete accelerates, the shin angle opens up and increases as he / she reaches maximum velocity.
4. Velocity (slow to fast).
Velocity describes both the speed and direction in which the body is moving. As the athlete accelerates, the rate and distance increases with the duration of the movement.
5. Stride frequency (slow to fast).
As with ground contact time, stride frequency starts off 'slower' and increases until it reaches its optimum level at maximum speed.
6. Heel recovery (low to high).
Heels should recover quickly, with backside mechanisms (movements behind the center of mass) and large variations of motion kept to a minimum.
These six elements of acceleration mechanics will give you and your athletes the proper foundation of knowledge on which to base your speed training. Proper execution of technique is everything; you will now have a better idea of where to spot and correct faults in your athlete's technique. This will have them performing their training drills better with a consequent improvement in speed.