You’re standing there on the starting line ready to run a max effort sprint for time…for football players, it’s the 40 yard dash. For baseball guys, the 60. And for soccer, it’s the 30 m sprint. No matter what your sport, the day is going to come when you get tested–on the field and off.
Ever wonder how Tony Parker runs down the court so fast, or how Rinaldo frees himself up for goals so easily? The answer is they both know how to accelerate better than just about anyone. And the crazy thing is that it can be taught!
So the question is, “How do you overcome your body’s inertia and accelerate?” Or to put it another way, “How do you create big force in a short time?”
1. Correct Body Positioning
With the main goal being to reach maximum speed in the shortest time, the body must be in a 45 degree angle during acceleration. It’s called the “power position.” From there, you have to bring the thigh almost waist high. Striking under the hip is key. That way, you’re striking under your center of mass and creating triple extension at the hip, knee and ankle. Triple extension creates that big force in the intended (linear) direction.
Once the proper acceleration phase is reached, the body is primed to move into the maximal velocity phase. Or in most sports, the body would have to decelerate and move into a different plane of motion or re-accelerate.
2. Starting Right
Whether you’re using a 2, 3 or 4 point start, or even a lateral position, there needs to be a double leg push into the ground. We all know two legs are stronger than one…so it just makes sense to use both legs to push from. From there, the leg that drives out first would be considered the ‘quick side’ leg and would need to acquire the acceleration leg position I talked about earlier. Once that double leg push is established and maximum force production is achieved, the body should enter the pure acceleration phase.
3. Optimal Stride Length
When an athlete starts there is minimum momentum, so stride length is critical. You must push off the ball of the foot–not the toe or heel. And cover a length of 1.5 or 2x your leg length. If you do all that, great! Optimal stride length will be achieved during the acceleration phase.
Unfortunately, many athletes don’t have the proper technique or force generation to create the necessary stride length during their start and drive phase. It is imperative for you to develop leg strength from a unilateral standpoint. And minimize ground contact time. Doing plyometric and bounding movements that replicate sprinting will get you there.
4. Correct Arm Positions
The arm should work like a lever and be in sync with the legs to maintain force production throughout the sprint. If the arms slow down, the legs will slow down. It’s important to keep an aggressive arm action throughout the sprint, especially upon take-off. Splitting or “cutting” the arms when you start will help initiate movement and help propel you.
During the acceleration phase, the arm should come up at least shoulder height and swing back past the hip. Note that the arm should maintain a 90 degree angle and not ever fully straighten out. Correct arm action is usually an underappreciated piece to running efficiently and fast.
5. Pulling or Pushing
During acceleration it’s important for the athlete to feel like she/he is pushing back into the ground, creating a drive phase. “Pulling” or reaching can be from overstriding which results in lack of power. The pulling action would be used when we talk about maximal velocity or top-end speed mechanics.
Overstriding is probably one of the most common faults I see when working with novice athletes. If the leg reaches out in front and not under the hip, it’s like putting on the brakes immediately after hitting the gas…. The analogy I like to use is a basketball player going up for a lay up or dunk. Picture where the player strikes the ground upon initiating the jump…does he land under the hip or out in front of his body? Of course he lands under his hip to push upward toward the goal. What would happen if they tried to take off with the leg way out in front? The jump wouldn’t be nearly as high or explosive. Sprinting needs to have the same concept applied.
Ultimate Athletes Use All 5
Acceleration is a skill that an athlete will use multiple times in a game or match–maybe even over 100. If you’re relying on something over 100 times, don’t you think you should spend more time on that skill? More time learning the proper technique and power output for it? Your performance in your sport depends on it.