Speed is built in the gym but technique is perfected on the field. The one thing that sticks out is that the majority of the coaches I observe during the off-season, that are having athletes do speed and agility drills are using the drills more for conditioning than actual mechanics and footwork. There is a time and place for that but the off-season shouldn’t be that time. Off-season, when it comes to speed, be it lineal speed or lateral (change of direction) is the time to begin teaching, re-enforcing, breaking bad technical habits and learning motor patterns that make the athlete more efficient in his/her running abilities.
Teaching your body how to train with high intensity and control is a skill that takes focus, repetition, commitment and patience to master. Our nervous and muscular systems does not adapt and change that easily, our body doesn’t want to change because it’s easier to just stay the same. Patience and commitment are huge part of teaching speed, it’s just not a matter running. There should be constant cue’s given by the coach’s, if there is any technical breakdown in a particular drill, then make the necessary corrections and start the drill over. Like I said, it’s all about repetition and getting it right.
It’s going to take some time to get it right, on average about 6-10 weeks give or take and depending on athleticism to turn new movement patterns into what’s called “Neurograms”. Basically a Neurogram (or Engrams as some people call it) is a neurological kinetic pathway involving specific neurons and muscle fibers that can be coordinated to perform certain activity patterns, This where the patience part of it comes in because it could take thousands of repetitions to learn a particular movement.
Now, with all of this being said, recovery between a set of drills is important. As an example, when teaching a linear drill, we recover approximately one minute for every ten yards ran if the athlete is sprinting at 100%. Another thing to take note of when it comes to the recovery phase of any drill when teaching it, is that we are dealing with POWER and with power there must be a full recovery between reps or the athlete will have technical failure and the drill becomes less efficient, and if the drill becomes less efficient then we’re wasting our time in a sense. Remember, this is not conditioning. Power, for the sake of this article, is a violent, explosive burst that reeks havoc on your CNS (Central Nervous System).
Deceleration just might be one of the most over looked aspects of speed in High School and some college programs and probably one of the most important when it comes to agility. Learning correct deceleration will help athletes change direction faster while maintaining speed. After our dynamic-warm ups, one of the first drills we teach are deceleration drills. Accelerate, break down into an athletic position (deceleration) then accelerate out of the drill. During the breakdown part of this drill, we are cuing to not over stride (fall forward) and sink the hips to center of gravity (hips low, athletic stance). It’s important that athletes be placed in the proper position in order to improve in this skill. This is where posterior chain strength comes in and the need for it as a weight room priority when it comes to High School power sports. But I digress and will save that for another time!
There are few of my respected colleagues who really don’t think teaching mechanics is necessary as long as the athlete is strong. While I’ll be one of the first one’s to tell you that speed starts in the gym with a solid strength program, it’s just as important to teach the technical aspect of speed as well. When we coach speed mechanics, we’re coaching efficiency. I also believe to be a complete strength and performance coach, these are skills that should be addressed and learned. But one of the keys, I believe to better an athlete IS to address this. Not all athletes are going to be perfect as you might see it, so I believe you make that particular athlete more efficient in his or her own mechanics. In other words, just clean up the mess!
More on this in my upcoming articles.