How to Increase Your Speed - Acceleration
In the last of this issue's articles on speed development, Patrick Beith explains how to accelerate effectively and efficiently.
Speed is a product of stride length (the distance your feet travel in a stride) and stride frequency (the number of steps you take in a given time). However, you will not reach top speed by focusing on increasingly larger steps to increase stride length or taking short, quick steps to increase stride frequency. Instead, top speeds are created by applying 'optimal' force to the ground. Both length and frequency are improved by strength, so better strength application results in faster speeds. Acceleration training is a form of strength training.
Ground contact times (the amount of time each foot spends on the ground) are another important factor to consider during acceleration. During the earliest parts of acceleration, especially the first two steps, you are trying to overcome (inertia) the weight of your body by moving it forward as quickly as possible. This takes a great deal of strength and power. The stronger and more efficient you are, the more you can extend your acceleration phase.
High-intensity sprint work involves recruiting specific groups of muscle fibres and improves the efficiency of neuromuscular firing patterns. Sprinting is taxing to the central nervous system (CNS), and once the CNS becomes fatigued, workouts quickly lose their effectiveness. Any speed work must be done with full recovery - one minute of rest for every 10 metres that you run. Sprinting is a highly technical activity.
Without full recovery, both your muscles and your CNS will begin to fatigue quickly, reducing the short and long-term effects of your training. For this reason, acceleration should not be trained with fatigue present. To optimize your success, full recovery must be adhered to both in your workouts as well as your weekly plan. It takes 36-48 hours to recover from a speed workout.
During acceleration, the foot should strike directly below or slightly behind the hips. You must be able to drive out, so your body is at a 45° angle to the ground, step over the opposite knee, and drive the foot down into the ground to create maximal force.
Acceleration work should be used at the beginning of your training season. You cannot be efficient in running longer distances without getting the proper strength levels and neuromuscular efficiency off the shorter intervals. You want to be driving out as far as possible so the stronger you are, the further the acceleration phase will be which in turn will improve your top speed.
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About the Author
Patrick Beth is a co-owner of Athletes' Acceleration, Inc, a company devoted to performance enhancement whose mission is to improve the knowledge base of motivated coaches and athletes to improve athletic performance. He is a Performance Consultant certified by the National Strength and Conditioning Association (CSCS), the American Council of Sports Medicine (HFI), the National Academy of Sports Medicine (PES). He is a USA Track and Field Level II Coach in the Sprints, Hurdles and Jumps.