Fitness Corner: Speed, Speed, Speed

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Speed seems to be a popular word used to describe an important attribute which can aid an athlete in beating an infield hit on a softball/baseball diamond, running by his/her opponent on a lacrosse field, or crossing the finish line first in a 100-meter dash.

If the question, "Can you develop speed or is it something with which you are born," was asked to ten people ten years ago, eight out of the ten would have responded, "No you can not develop speed." However, over the last 10 years there has been an explosion in the amount of research-based information that indicates that given the right approach, athletes CAN increase their speed.

Speed is a skill just as hitting a baseball is a skill, or cradling a lacrosse ball. So just like any other skill that an athlete wants to improve, speed requires practice. In order for an athlete to improve his/her speed, he/she must participate in an effective and consistent training regimen.

Contrary to popular belief, speed training is much more than running. A solid speed development program includes various running mechanic drills targeted toward improving arm action, leg action, and improving the body's ability to exert maximum force against the ground in the shortest amount of time. An effective program also helps an athlete work on factors that directly impact his/her game speed such as reaction time, starting ability, and acceleration.

The most successful approach to implementing an effective speed development program is for an athlete to first focus on improving and mastering running techniques. Once this is accomplished, then, and only then, should the athlete turn his/her focus to improving game speed.

Guidelines for an Effective Running Mechanics Program
An athlete's speed development depends upon mastery of the three basic phases of generating speed : 1.Drive Phase; 2.Recovery Phase; and 3.Arm Action. There are
important coaching points which should be emphasized when striving to improve running mechanics.

  1. Drive Phase of the Running Motion: When running, drive the lead knee forward while keeping the toe cocked-up toward the chin, and the thigh parallel to the ground.
    Coaching Points:
    •    Explode off the ground
    •    Maintain tall hips
    •    Project hips forward
    •    Do not bend at the waist
    •    Focus on pushing off the back leg
  1. Recovery Phase of the Running Motion: Once the foot strikes the ground when running, quickly lift the heel directly underneath the buttock creating a whipping like action of the leg.
    Coaching Points:
    •    Stay tall
    •    Explode off the ball of the foot
    •    Maintain proper arm swing
    •    Bring the heel toward the butt as quickly as possible
  1. Arm Action: When running, the shoulders and hands should be relaxed, drive the hand from slightly above shoulder position past the hip.
    Coaching Points:
    • Think hip pocket, eye socket with the arms
    •    Swing from the shoulder
    •    Keep the chin level and eyes focused straight ahead
    •    Fast arms equal fast legs

The earlier in an athlete's career that he/she can learn how to run properly, the more ingrained the proper action of running becomes thus allowing the athlete to maximize his/her game speed to optimize performance.

Featured Question for Coach Parker: I'm 26 years old and all my life I have always had the most unstretchable muscles. How important is it to be flexible when performing athletic activities and are there any stretches that you recommend more than others?
A: If you are not very flexible, that problem will not only limit you athletically, but it will also manifest itself in later life. My suggestion would be to enroll in a yoga class. Yoga is the best flexibility system known and it is over a 1,000 years old and is time tested. This will help you remain flexible for life. You have to continue it, but if you do, it will help you not just in athletic activities but in life.

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