Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Acceleration and Absolute Speed

Some thoughts on acceleration and speed training:
Some may feel acceleration is a much more important component for team sports than absolute speed. The idea is that most sports only consist of short 5, 10, 15, and 20 yard bursts of acceleration. I don't argue this fact one bit, but I do believe neglecting absolute speed, or stating that not much can be benefited from it is very short-sighted.

Question: What is the purpose of acceleration?

Answer: To get to top speed as fast as possible.

Question #2: What if you have an athlete who's absolute speed sucks, but is great at accelerating because he or she has done a ton of acceleration work?

Answer: You have an athlete that can get to a tortoise speed very quickly... awesome.
What I question is the logic of only working on acceleration or thinking that acceleration is so much more important than absolute speed.

Again it comes back to, what is the athlete accelerating to? To get to TOP SPEED. If getting to top speed quickly is the goal of acceleration, wouldn't it be of great benefit to improve top speed to increase the ceiling height of acceleration potential? Isn't a very fast top speed a window to great acceleration potential?

Absolute speed consists of and requires great leg turn-over (stride frequency). If an athlete can improve their absolute speed, then their ability to move and coordinate their legs quickly will be enhanced. Translating this into the acceleration component, the ability to accelerate quickly should be enhanced as well, in a well rounded program including power and strength work.

A lot of this comes back to lack of high intensity posterior chain training. Most acceleration is very quad (or knee dominant) in nature and a program lacking absolute speed work and true posterior chain work can appear to be effective, but I think in game action this may not transfer as favorably. (read: injury prevention)

Let me be clear: Absolute speed and acceleration training go hand-in-hand. Both are extremely important components to athletic development.

Some benefits of absolute speed work:

-Hip mobility: Great hip seperation work that will transfer to the sports speed (specificity).

-Motor unit recruitment by means of velocity requirements.

-Injury prevention: not many injuries occur during the acceleration phase: many do occur at higher or top speeds.

-Coordination over full ranges-of-motion. Charlie Francis: "...what you can say for sure is that better tone is influenced by higher speeds. As more fibers within muscle contract together (recruitment), more fibers subsequently relax together." (again, read: injury prevention)

-Potential improvement in muscle fiber lengths. Kumagai et al. (2000) hypothesizes, based on their research, that muscle fascicle lengthening may be a potential adaptation to sprint training. ...theory, but interesting nonetheless.

-True "core" work. Equal and opposite reactions being transfered through the torso at high velocities.

-Improved function of the posterior chain, which doesn't get maximum work in acceleration training.

(Lieberman et al. 2006, and Kyrolainen et al. 2005)(starting to sound like a broken record here. read: injury prevention)

-Improved elasticity throughout the entire body. Improved ground reaction control out of the foot, ankle, and knee. At top speeds the knee becomes more of a dynamic stabilizer for the forces generated at the hip to be transfered to the ground, whereas during acceleration, the knee is the primary force generator.

Something else to ponder:

Take an athlete who has asymmetries (movement assesments). Does the athlete need corrective exercise before sprint training, or is sprint training a corrective exercise?

The motor pattern of sprinting is coordinated through the cerebellum. Being more primitive than other parts of the brain, the cerebellum, controls and coordinates many locomotive functions.

Speaking of asymmetries,

Any asymmetry in movement is an asymmetry in the nervous system and it's body maps. The nervous system needs to be fixed first, muscles and fascia will follow suit.



Mike T Nelson said...

"Take an athlete who has asymmetries (movement assesments). Does the athlete need corrective exercise before sprint training, or is sprint training a corrective exercise?"

Good question! I would want to know what his sprint mechanics look like. If they are great and spot on, then he should sprint!

Rock on
Mike N

Aaron Schwenzfeier said...

So does sprint training become an equalizer just like the idea of doing single-leg work to iron out imbalances?

I would agree that sprint mechanics need to be assessed. But might sprint work with a consistent, gradual progression of building up speed, correct some stuff itself?

Practice with good coaching?

Mike T Nelson said...

CORRECT Exercise can fix all sorts of stuff! Dr. Cobb has said that lifting cements you posture also--SAID principal and higher tension.

My simpleton view is to get the right muscles to fire and then start a progression with basic exercises.

I use Z Health to optimize the athlete's gait/movement and then do deadlifts, bench, KB presses, KB swings/snatch, TGUs, etc. Many times I've found that once you get the right muscles to fire, they have not done that in a long time and they are weak! This will drastically decrease your use of rehab type corrective exercises and allow you to start sooner on your "big bang for your buck" exercises. Plus most athletes don't enjoy foo foo rehab work (although at times it is needed). Movement efficiency is key!

Of course some good oversight during the process is virtually required since the athlete will want to compensate due to SMA (sensorimotor amnesia) and that will need to be address if it shows up.

Further more, if they do NOT have any form issues sprinting you can add more sprint work and test to see if it transfers to other movements. My guess is that it probably would, but I am interested in what you find.

Rock on
Mike N

Aaron Schwenzfeier said...

Absolutely agree.

Speed is a skill and the more practice you have with it the better you become.

I've seen olympic lifts and basic strength lifts improve static postures tremendously. The fact that many of these lifts require good posture to move heavy loads, lends them to being basically "corrective" in nature.

I believe the same is true for sprinting. Good coaching and lots of practice creates ballistic mobility (sports user-friendly) and intra- and intermuscular coordination and all the other benefits that come from speed work.

Of course optimal joint mobility is a must, and should be of high consideration. Lots of joint mobility work...

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jleeger said...

Aaron, do you use R/Z-Phase with your athletes? If so, how do you implement it?

I purchased the R-Phase DVD and accompanying book and was completely unimpressed. There wasn't even a single thing that I thought I could use.

Having people move through minute joint ROMs might be helpful? I'm not sure. Your thoughts are appreciated!

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