In today’s sporting atmosphere, speed is the name of the game. Whether you are an Olympic track runner, NFL football player, professional soccer player, MLB, NCAA, high school, or even middle school athlete…all anybody wants to know is “How can I get faster?” Unfortunately, much of this is limited by the genetic predisposition that all of us have; to put it simply, if your mom and dad were fast, you have the potential to be fast. A lot of coaches believe that by running and doing agility drills the body can convert its slow twitch muscle fibers to fast twitch muscle fibers. This is a myth, however, and the proportions of the different types of muscle fiber you are born with is what you have. [Note: there is a mild capactiy of type IIx to convert to type IIa; however, this gives the muscle longer endurance capabilites, which would have the opposite effect of gaining more type II fibers.]
Because so many parents and coaches want their kids to work as much as they can to get faster, the advice of Steve Leo may come as a surprise. Coach Leo is a specialist in speed and he advises that patience is possibly the most important aspect of speed. Rather than doing speed ladders, explosive drills and more running, he recommends spending ample time on proper running mechanics. Speed gains can actually be made through improving someone’s biomechanical movement patterns; and on the contrary, practicing an improper movement pattern over and over (i.e. running with poor form) can slow an athlete down, and even have injury implications.
Running is very much a neurological skill, and this means it does need to be practiced. However, this does not mean running for miles and miles or doing countless sprints after every practice. Rather, strength coaches (and coaches) should break down the skill of running properly and teach each piece of it to athletes, especially youngesters…practice those pieces and then put it all together. For example, the direction that the toe of the ground contact foot points is very important; if 2 people race 100 yards and person A’s foot is pointing straight while person B’s is so much as 1 degree off…person B may be 1 yard behind in the same amount of steps. This is a small detail, but many young athletes (and even top level athletes) have many more deficiencies in their running form. Taking time to teach proper foot placement and all the other body part movements could be the key to helping an athlete cover ground more quickly, instead of wasting time doing speed ladder drills and sprints over and over, hoping that this will magically make someone faster.
It is important to not jump the gun when training athletes, and not start them pushing too hard at such a young age. This is the perfect time to teach them proper mechanics, whether running, jumping, landing, etc. However, when they do move into and past puberty and are ready for a bit more stress on their body, strength training is another fantastic option to help someone improve speed. If a muscle is stronger and can fire more efficiently, then one can run faster (again – these are small gains; no 5.5 will become a 4.4, but a 4.8 can become a 4.65). Running will help athletes get faster, as long as their mechanics are good. Some are incapable of proper mechanics because of muscle weakness or imbalance. Therefore, strength training and proper mechanics are of the utmost importance with athletes, in an addition to running and conditioning. The combination of these three will set an athlete up for success.
Watch the video below with Steve Leo from the Parisi Speed School as he talks about having patience in your speed development program.
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