Speed kills. It’s a very useful weapon on the baseball field, and it’s a great way to get recruited. It’s a very rare thing to be really strong, really fast, and really talented. This is why players like Mike Trout only come along every so often. However, the old adage “you can’t teach speed“, is not a useful way to approach training. Speed is highly related to genetics and body type, but it certainly CAN be improved with intelligent training. These improvements take time, and come in small increments, which is why you shouldn’t expect to become a track star. BUT, becoming stronger and more technically efficient is one sure-fire way to improve your game and put you a step ahead.
Speed requires strength because of the incredibly high demand of sprinting. Remember that Newton guy from physics 101? Something about equal and opposite reactions? When the athlete strikes the ground, the ground doesn’t just stand there and take it. The ground holds firm! Your muscular effort propels you forward, and is why being strong matters. The more force I can put into the ground, the harder the ground pushes back, and the faster I can run. Additionally, the positions and appropriate angles require tremendous strength. You can’t expect to accelerate well if you can’t control your body effectively.
This is also the reason that cute ladder routines and arbitrary agility drills may train footwork and elevate the heart rate, but they have no bearing on speed improvements. Today’s social media has abundant videos of people moving through agility ladders at the speed of light or mindlessly running around cones. But what is that really doing? Is the drill really driving physiological change? Ladder drills absolutely have value and can teach people rhythm and control. Sometimes, though, looks can be deceiving.
In addition to force application, technical proficiency plays a critical role in running, especially during acceleration. The athlete must learn how to strike the ground in a manner that allows the ground’s reaction force to project them in the right direction. We are looking for horizontal displacement during acceleration, which is why you often hear, “don’t stand up when you run.” Additionally, the athlete must possess adequate levels of hip mobility in order to achieve the correct positions. One hip must be flexed (knee drive), while the other extends (force into the ground).
With all this in mind, here are some of the drills we most commonly use to teach acceleration mechanics. These drills are designed to help create context so that the athlete can apply them to their sprinting development.
Wall drills teach position and allow the athlete to be aware of where his or her limbs are in space. The wall allows the athlete to get into the lean that creates appropriate angles. And lastly, the athlete must be coached to strike the ground with the mid foot, and to achieve a proper shin angle. Finding a good shin angle can be a game changer for improving an athlete’s ability to accelerate. Be sure to emphasize the hip separation I mentioned earlier (knee drive/hip flexion and full extension of the rear leg).
The Sled March builds on all of the same concepts as the posture holds, but now the athlete is able to build strength in the right positions. The beauty of prowler (sled) pushing is that athletes HAVE to apply force into the ground in order to move the sled. They should not be performed with poor technique when acceleration development is the goal, so be conservative with the load initially. Be sure to emphasize rear leg extension and an active, tight core position.
Drag sleds are great tools for speed development, and they’re generally fun for athletes to use. They should however be used with caution, as people often butcher these. These runs are effective for the same reason the above drills are, but are obviously a bit more advanced from a technical standpoint. Its not just “load up a sled and run to get faster.” I like to think of sled runs as more of a strength/power modality, as opposed to simply a speed drill. This is because the added weight will not allow the athlete to run at full speed, but encourages force output at appropriate angles in order to move the sled. This is what leads to increases in acceleration!
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