By Garga Caserta, BA, CSCS, USAW
There is so much more to speed and agility than quick feet over cones and ladders! In fact, those commonly highlighted drills on social media actually amount to little to no results on the field.
All too often; in this era of Instagram and Twitter Gurus and Experts, information is gathered in the form of 30-second video highlights of sessions featuring the outliers in pros of all types of sports. The misleading message that these sexy, dramatic drills, are actually what got these athletes to become pros in the first place has led coaches at all levels to copy and paste exercises with barely any context of what is being trained. Let me break it to you: these athletes made it to the highest levels despite these worthless drills. They made it because along with tremendous drive and focus, they were given physical attributes that once analysed, can give us normal humans some insights on how to improve our own performance in sports.
What Have We Found?
The greatest athletes make the most of their elastic strength. Elasticity is a term we use to describe the effectiveness in the use of the Stretch-Shortening Cycle. Simply put; the Stretch-Shortening Cycle occurs when a muscle is stretched rapidly, followed by a forceful contraction to generate movement. When the stretched muscle contracts, its tendon is stretched as well, then shortened rapidly generating an efficient burst of force. Like pulling an elastic band back and letting it go; this contractile property of our muscles, when used in good alignment, provides us with free power!
Another key to how athletes maximize their speed and agility is in how they interact with the ground. When it comes to movement in sports, the only thing athletes have to work with in generating power is the ground beneath their feet. No wonder why ground contact is so important for sprinters. Agile movers punch through the ground rather than slowly stepping into it then pushing off. This aggressive bounce generates a larger Stretch-Shortening Cycle rebound launching the body in whatever direction it was aligned to go towards.
Don't take alignment lightly either. Speed and agility are both very dependent on the direction in which athletes apply force onto the ground. It is key that the body itself is in good alignment to minimize energy leaks. All force produced should be applied in the desired direction and transferred through the body efficiently.
How to train it?
Notice none of the insight above involves physiological adaptations or changes in the body. For the most part; all of the components listed above are skill based, so they can be coached and improved with any athlete. Youth athletes; especially those who have not yet gone through maturation and may not yet be benefiting from the hormonal changes that allow for physiological gains from lifting, will also benefit greatly from improving their alignment, ground contact, elasticity. In fact, these type of training should be a focus at these ages.
Training Methods, GC Strength Team Methodology:
Plyos allows for all three components above to be taught, practiced, and reinforced. It is important to manage volume of work here however; since plyometric exercises are all about impact and maximizing the stretch-shortening cycle, too much of it can lead to injuries. The key here is to follow progressions; from movement type, to number of reps, to 1 or 2 leg variation. Progress everything, one step at a time.
Medicine Ball Throws
Throwing things is another great way for athletes to express power. The force is still generated from the ground up, but since the ball is in the athletes hands, they must learn to transfer energy efficiently throughout the body. This will lead them to discover the best alignment necessary to transfer energy from their action against the ground, through the trunk, and onto whatever object their throwing.
Sprinting is the culmination of all the power work listed above. Add rhythm and timing to these components and you have quality sprinting mechanics.
GC Strength Team training methodology accounts for all of the above in Performance and Strength & Conditioning sessions. We've been successful applying these concepts with youth and professional athletes at the highest levels, and will continue to study the best ways to do so. There are other methods, more advanced ones, an athlete can progress as they become more skilled in training, but the ones listed above are a great starting point.
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