Your Guide to Speed Training For Acceleration
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Acceleration refers to an athlete’s ability to change speed quickly. It is often defined as the rate of change of velocity. Imagine a sprinter in a 3-point start stance. The athlete’s ability to explode or accelerate at the start shows their rate of change of velocity.
The faster an athlete can accelerate from a resting position, the quicker they can change direction. The rate at which they go from rest to maximal speed will translate to their ability to stop and go.
This phase of speed is required in all sports. Let’s take a closer look at what acceleration training should encompass for all athletes.
What Type of Training Improves Power?
Power is one of the most important components of acceleration. Acceleration continues throughout a run until top-end speed is achieved. Once an athlete can no longer increase speed, they cannot accelerate anymore.
Newton’s third law tells us that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. When an athlete is in motion it takes an external force to change their velocity. The pace at which they are running can only be changed through acceleration or deceleration of the body. In this case that is the external force.
Being able to produce large amounts of power helps athletes generate force into the ground. More ground force leads to achieving max speed much quicker. The acceleration phase usually lasts 1-5 seconds. This depends on the athlete and circumstance. This is an extremely small window to conquer.
As a strength coach, prescribe explosive or plyometric training to help clients increase their speed in this short time frame. Here are a few exercises to consider.
Vertical or Broad Jumps
Box jumps are a popular vertical jump exercise. When performed correctly they help develop lower body power. There are three phases to a box jump:
- The preparatory phase primes the body for the actual jump. This starts by lowering the body and arms to decrease the potential energy.
- Flexing at the knees and hips progresses an athlete to the propulsive phase. Then force must be driven into the ground to start increasing potential energy.
- Flexion at the knees and hips occurs to allow the body to move into the flight phase. This is where the body leaves the ground and the athlete is in the air.
A broad jump or long jump follows the same protocol. The biggest difference is that for the broad jump you jump out for distance instead of up. The vertical jump promotes jumping as high as possible. Both exercises address explosiveness, improving power and acceleration.
Low repetitions and long rest periods are necessary for all sets. Assign 5 sets of 2-4 repetitions of all-out effort. Include rest periods for 3 minutes between each set.
Flying Sprints (10’s, 20’s, 30’s)
If you haven’t realized by now, it takes more than regular sprints to get faster. Don’t over-complicate training, but flying sprints are a great way to train force production. They help address multiple running points. Gradually build up speed for the desired distance, then run at maximum speed for a set distance.
Starting with 6 sets of flying 10’s and progressively increasing the distance is effective. Rest should be 3-5 minutes based on the distance of sprint training.
Resisted sprinting can be an additional program segment to increase sprint performance.
Cleans or Snatches
Olympic weightlifting exercises help develop total body power. They contribute to improving running speed, jump height, and overall strength. The rate at which these are performed teaches the body to move quickly. They recruit fast-twitch muscle fibers, which allows the body to produce large amounts of force. This is why you also shouldn’t underestimate strength training to complement an acceleration program.
There are many benefits to strength training. Don’t miss out on implementing these in any athlete program. Strength training 3x per week with compound lifts will complement this type of speed training program.
For the Olympic weightlifting, assign 1-3 repetitions of 3-5 sets. Encourage athletes to move quickly throughout the exercise using 65-80% of their 1RM. Increase accordingly while maintaining power. Rest should consist of up to 5 minutes between sets.
For more plyometric exercises, check out this ISSA blog: Using Plyometrics for Power Development
We have reviewed some of the best exercises to improve power for acceleration. Now let’s consider what mechanics are important to increasing acceleration.
Proper sprint mechanics begin with driving the lead arm forward. From a 3-point stance, the leg that is in front should be the same side arm that drives forward at the start. As your client execute this, cue them to imagine their arm trying to break glass. Ensure they extend it with force all the way forward. This cues the body in the direction they need to travel.
Ensure they maintain a 45-degree angle to the ground with their body. Once they begin taking strides, the heel shouldn’t touch the ground completely for the first couple of stride lengths. As sprint acceleration and forward movement occur, they’ll drive the elbows down and back. Remind sprinters to avoid clenching hands. Instead, teach your clients to keep them loose.
Their arms should be at 90 degrees from the elbow. Allow the body to gradually come upright throughout sprint training. Avoid any form of immediate popup—think of a plane gradually taking off on a runway. Their body should mimic the same motion.
Mechanics are important because they determine the body's ability to produce force. The more force that is driven into the ground over a shorter period determines how fast top-end speed can be attained.
Contrary to popular belief, deceleration and acceleration go hand in hand. Deceleration refers to the body’s ability to reduce speed prior to a change in direction.
During the start phase, mechanics are crucial for acceleration. Once maximum velocity is reached, it is physically impossible to move any faster. The deceleration phase comes next and requires a gradual or immediate stop. The rate at which an athlete can slow down or stop determines how fast they can accelerate again.
This is a vital aspect of all sports. The constant stop and go combined with changing direction are a part of every athlete's job. This is a major component of speed and agility. Consider a wide receiver in football working to create space between themselves and a defender. They must rapidly change direction to get away from the defender.
Force absorption is required to decelerate quickly in these instances. This requires flexion at the ankles, knees, and hips. The opposite of acceleration. Acceleration demands concentric muscle actions while deceleration training requires eccentric training or loading.
For example, instead of performing a box jump, an athlete might perform a depth drop. This exercise loads the body eccentrically forcing an athlete to absorb force through landing. You can implement acceleration or multidirectional training by combining a depth drop with a broad jump.
Opposing lower body movement helps the body absorb all the force built through acceleration. Multi-directional training is similar to speed and agility workouts. It can be attained through different agility exercises, speed drills, and cone drills.
- Icky Shuffle
- Ali Shuffle
- Skater Jumps
- 4 Cone Drills
These build great reactive strength, leading to improved acceleration. The training protocol should revolve around both force application and kinematics of sprint speed.
If you have a passion for helping athletes achieve optimal performance, check out ISSA’s Strength and Conditioning course. Learn how to help athletes across all areas of sports development.
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