Aug 19, 2016Putting Pedal to the Medal
Training acceleration in athletes is a critical component to their on-field success. Alex Harrison at Volt Performance Training believes there are three key components to focus on if you want to ensure that your athletes can get to top speed quickly.
Acceleration is about applying a high level of force to mass over time. So athletes who can generate force are going to be able to maximize their acceleration. In order to help your athletes do this, strength training is critical. “The importance of this absolutely cannot be understated,” Harrison writes. “If you want to run faster, you must get stronger while gaining minimal weight. End of story.”
But acceleration won’t be maximized unless that force is properly applied. Athletes need to ensure they are spending most of their time pushing off in long, forceful strides, and getting their feet down as quickly as possible. That’s why, Harrison writes, you should stress to your athletes the importance of practicing their technique. Here are the key components:
Forward lean: Although the amount of lean can vary based on the strength of the athlete, Harrison writes that a “strong athlete with good technique will have a lean of about 45 degrees or slightly less during the initial two or three steps,” and that most sprinters “should have lean angles of 45-55 degrees, depending on their strength-to-weight and power-to-weight ratio.” However, for athletes with limited strength training experience, that number should be between 55 and 70 degrees.
Limb action: When it comes to the legs, low heel action is critical. This can be achieved by swinging forward at the hip and keeping the foot as low to the ground as possible. Also, because athletes should be trying to generate force backwards as hard and fast as possible, their leg action on the ground “should not be a patient one,” writes Harrison.
Arm action: In terms of the arms, they should swing forcefully backwards and forwards, in opposition to the leg action. “The arm action in acceleration should be more dramatic than in upright sprinting,” writes Harrison, “with each arm approaching the midline in front of the body during each swing, but not crossing it.”
Additionally, proper arm action results in the elbows opening and closing rapidly as the arms go backwards and forwards. However, Harrison cautions that the common coaching cue instructing athletes to keep their elbows at 90 degrees should not be taught when coaching acceleration. “Short arm actions like this encourage shorter ground contacts, which is very bad for accelerating,” he writes.
Finally, remember that regardless of the amount of force you generate, the less mass you’re trying to accelerate, the faster you’ll move. Therefore, Harrison writes, it’s critical to stress that “unless a sport requires the athlete to have excess mass for the purpose of competing against other athletes or heavy implements, chances are it’s better for your acceleration ability not to be heavy.”