Speed Thrills, Acceleration Kills


When we are initially training or treating athletes, we will hopefully all make a list of goals. What are some common goals we encounter.

  • Stronger
  • Bigger
  • Faster
  • Squat more
  • Decrease my pain

This post is going to be about numero three; speed, sort of. I rarely encounter someone that says they want to accelerate faster, but this is what I think most athletes need to be focusing their training on when it comes to “speed”.

Simply put, speed is a certain distance travelled over a certain time. This is very important in any running event, but also sports like football where you need to beat a man to the outside, or baseball when trying to beat out a throw. But considering the nature of most sports, which are non-linear, and consist of primarily starting and stopping, I think that ultimately athletes should be more concerned with acceleration and deceleration than true top speed, because true top speed is so rarely achieved. How fast can you achieve a certain speed, or your top speed, may be more important than your actual top speed.

Let’s take a look. If you get to your top speed, say 6.6m/sec (a 5.4 second 40 yard dash), and your opponent’s is 7.5 m/sec (4.8 second 40 yard dash) but you get to your top speed in 3 seconds and they take 4, this is a 2.2m/second2 acceleration vs. a 1.875m/second2 acceleration respectively. Meaning that, in most sports, you will get to where you need to be before your opponent. If you can accelerate and then decelerate faster than your opponent you have a better chance at beating them to the spot than if your top speed is better but it takes you longer to reach that speed.

Yes, speed is VERY important, but there needs to either be a significant difference in top speeds, or a long period of time where the top speed is maintained for the difference to be made up, think 100 meter dash, or deep routes in football. But if you play soccer, basketball, running back (for the most part), field hockey, or another sport in which you have a defender and there is a change of direction, the need to reach your top speed faster may be higher up on the hierarchy of training importance than true speed. Think of acceleration and deceleration as 1a and 1b, and speed as 1c/2a.

Acceleration can be improved through either increasing the amount of force you can create (measured in Newtons, one Newton is equal to the amount of force it takes to move one kG one meter per second squared), or decreasing the mass you have to move (your body mass). Increasing your force production is done through gaining strength/power (ex: squats, box jumps, snatches) not through moving your feet faster or doing “speed” drills. As Mike Boyle says, “if I believed there was a magic drill we would do it every day. The reality is it comes down to horsepower and the nervous system, two areas that change slowly over time”. There is something called ground reaction force, that is basically the opposite and equal reaction to the action of pushing your foot into the floor. The harder you push into the floor, the harder the floor pushes back and propels you forwards. As acceleration and deceleration improve, it is then time to work on agility, or as I put it, the ability to coordinate the changing of direction.

Speed thrills but acceleration kills. There’s no way around it, but acceleration gets you there faster.

Always evolve (faster),

Mike

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2 responses to “Speed Thrills, Acceleration Kills

    • David,

      As I know you know, the glutes are of most importance here for acceleration. The glutes are the powerhouse of the legs pushing the body forward with each contraction; they generate the horsepower needed to accelerate. The hamstrings are the breaks of the legs when sprinting, slowing re legs down, and the quads also assist eccentrically with the deceleration.

      If you’re moving yourself forward with your quads and hams you’re pulling yourself forward, which is less efficient than pushing yourself toward with your glutes.

      Hope this help, enjoy Europe David.

      Always evolve,

      Mike

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