By Tommy Christian, founder and director of training of TC Boost
One point rarely discussed when talking about athletics is that speed and movement are skills that can be learned and improved. In fact, movement and speed are outcomes of the athlete’s power producing abilities and their skill in executing ideal movement mechanics. Learning and perfecting these skills can significantly boost your performance.
But if speed and movement are skills, how does one develop them? The answer lies in changing the mechanics of how one moves. And to change these mechanics, athletes need to learn the skills of acceleration, of changing directions, and of running at top speed. An important component of changing directions is the skill of deceleration, which is also a key component in reducing non-contact knee injuries.
Just think: sprinting well is actually a complex set of proper mechanical movements, making it a difficult skill to learn and optimally maintain. But learning it can mean the difference between making the team and being cut or between becoming the star and warming the bench.
To understand the complexity, look at the five sub-skills within the skill of acceleration:
- The push off
- Swing leg hip flexion
- Low heel recovery
- Body angle
- Arm action
The two most common flaws among athletes during acceleration are rushing the push off portion of the stride, leading to lower velocity gains and not having sufficient swing leg hip flexion, which is a key component in setting the athlete up for each powerful push.
Also consider the skill of changing direction, which requires deceleration, an explosive redirection step, and then acceleration in the new direction. And each of these has additional sub-skills. For instance, proper deceleration requires, in part, that you shorten your stride while maintaining proper posture.
Or consider the skill of running at top speed. To do it well, athletes need to learn five sub-components:
- Upright neutral posture
- Rhythm of recruitment and relaxation
- Arm mechanics
- Maximizing vertical forces
- Front side mechanics
But while training these skills are so important because athletes use them all the time and proper execution improves speed and prevents injuries, most execute them poorly.
Why? Because while most athletes train to improve their strength and occasionally improve power, they rarely train for speed and movement. But this is the bridge between weight room power development and performance on the field.
To learn the skills of speed and movement, it takes a coach trained in the mechanics of optimal athletic movement, someone who can compare what we know about the ideal to the movements of the athlete and identify the deficiencies as well as the exercises and drills needed to acquire a better pattern and rate of movement.
At TCBOOST, we’ve been able improve the speed of virtually every athlete we’ve trained, even elite professionals. But these skills can be learned as young as elementary school. The earlier one starts, the longer one can benefit from them through enhanced sports performance and injury prevention. Ask yourself: If we could teach a five-year-old to shoot a basketball, why should we wait to teach him or her the skills of sprinting and of multi-directional speed? The answer should drive you to start your student athlete with speed and movement “skill” training today.
Tommy Christian is the Founder of TCBOOST Sports Performance and its Director of Training. TCBOOST’s core mission is to transform the lives of athletes through highly effective training and mentoring.