Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Q & A:60-Yard Dash Improvement

Question: My son has excellent speed stealing bases, but only has a 7.56 60-yard dash speed. Looking for training specific to increasing that speed. Tips on start/end of run, running technique, etc., not just strength training. Thanks

While the answer to this question is definitely multifaceted, I'll do my best to summarize some of the main points:

1) Don't do steady state cardio. This one should be obvious, but I continue to be astounded at the number of coaches who require their athletes to perform steady state cardio, even when the training goal is increased speed and power. Apart from the fact that distance running will negatively affect the stretch-shortening cycle (a key component in sprinting) and decrease strength and power output (again, critical to sprint acceleration and top speed), you also have mobility concerns to think about. Distance running doesn't allow sufficient hip flexion to truly activate all of the hip flexors (especially the psoas, which is responsible for hip flexion above 90 degrees). You also receive little to no hip extension during steady state cardio. By using a repetitive motion (like jogging) over a long period of time, where you're not bringing your lower extremity through a full range of motion, you're losing mobility at the hip joint - the very same mobility depended upon to generate stride length, and, in turn, velocity!
The Psoas

2) Train the first 10 yards of the sprint. When we evaluate a test like the 60 yard dash, we are really measuring a test of acceleration as much as we are a test of speed. Now, this will depend largely on the training age of the athlete, as world-class sprinters accelerate for up to sixty meters (each ten-yard split continues to get lower up to sixty meters). Novice sprinters will reach peak velocity much earlier than an advanced sprinter. Anyway, whether you are an advanced or a novice athlete, it is going to improve your 60 yard dash if you learn to accelerate faster. Work on increasing power and decreasing steps for those first ten yards. The first ten-yard increment takes the longest to complete and thus is the easiest to impact in training. Shoot for three steps during the first five-yard segment, and about five steps for ten yards. Do this by teaching PUSHING, not overreaching (don't tell the athlete to cut down steps, either; telling an athlete you're counting steps may cause over-striding). Tell the athlete to push the ground as hard as possible! Push the ground away from you as hard as you can, and minimize stutter steps. Here's a good indicator of a powerful start: the foot taking the second step does not touch the ground while the front foot is still on the line (after step one you shouldn't see two feet in contact with the ground).

Another bonus for training the first ten yards: the chance of injury is greatly decreased! Heading out to the track and running 60-yard repeats, especially if the athlete does not have good mechanics for sprinting AND hasn't had much running training prior, is a recipe for injury. How well do you think the athlete will perform in a timed 60-yard dash if he or she has a pulled hamstring, hip flexor, or adductor from training? You can train ten yard increments (focusing on increasing power and decreasing steps) with little to no risk of injury.

3) Improve Conditioning. More specifically, improve efficiency of the anaerobic alactic energy system ("the first 10 seconds") and the anaerobic lactic energy system (the "feel the burn" energy system). This will help the athlete maintain peak velocity for as long as possible during the sprint. Remember that, depending on the race distance, the winner will be the one who slows down the least at the end. There are many ways to improve conditioning for this, but one would be to begin with linear drills (ex. 110-yard dash at 80% intensity), and progress to 150-yard shuttle runs (divided into 25-yard increments). I'm a huge fan of shuttle runs as they also play a great role in injury prevention by incorporating acceleration, deceleration, and direction change. As Mike Boyle says, injuries are most often associated with the muscular stresses caused by speeding up, slowing down, or changing direction. Shuttle runs add a muscular component to the energy system program. Some heavy sled pushing/pulling will work well in a conditioning program, too. Keep the "work" duration to 30 seconds and below during the aforementioned drills.

4) Get Stronger. This should really be at the top of the list. I hate to break it to you, but your child just isn't strong enough. I know that the answer to your question was to include techniques "besides just strength training," but honestly this (resistance training) will be one of the greatest additions to your son's training. Proper strength training, utilizing progressive overload on both bilateral and unilateral lower body lifts, will help your athlete run faster. Quite simply, the stronger the athlete is, the more force he or she will be able to exert into the ground.

This is nothing more than physics. Those who can produce the greatest force into the ground (the action), will yield the greatest benefit from the ground (the reaction). In fact, The Journal of Applied Physiology published research in the year 2000 in an article called Mechanical Basis of Human Running Speed. The article synopsis begins with the line, "Faster top running speeds are achieved with greater ground forces, not more rapid leg movements." Without boring you with further writing on this matter, I highly encourage you to watch this short video in which Eric Cressey explains the continuum between absolute speed and absolute strength. Granted, he is speaking mainly with regards to throwing velocity, but the principles are the same:

(I apologize, I know the video is cut off a bit on my blog. Double click on the video to open it up in youtube)

5. Improve Sprint Technique.
Keep in mind that attaining perfect sprint technique is much more in depth than many think and it takes years to master. I am by no means an expert sprint coach, but here are a few tips to get you started:
  • Keep the hands relaxed and open, with the arms bent at 90 degrees.
  • NEVER let the arms cross the midline of the body! Arm motion should be front to back, not side to side (think about the hands passing the pants pockets on each stride). "Pump" the hands front to back as you sprint. As Jason Ferruggia says, little kids run with their arms side to side. Don't do that or we will all make fun of you.
  • Keep the shoulders, torso, and pelvis facing forward at all times. Side to side rotation at these regions is off limits.
  • Remain on the balls of the feet; the heels should never experience ground contact.
  • Think of yourself as an animal pawing at the ground when the balls of the feet make contact (rapidly pull the foot behind you as you push the ground away from you).
  • Shoulders should be down and relaxed, with the eyes down the track and the chin tucked in slightly.
  • Don't "muscle it" as you sprint. As Charlie Francis said, running takes place on the ground, sprinting takes place above it. If you do it right, you should feel minimal impact or stress and should feel like you are flying effortlessly. If you're taking a lot of pounding and and it feels like a lot of work, you're doing something wrong and should consider having someone watch or video tape you for feedback.

6. "Count Your Blessings." Recognize that your son possesses a great sport-specific skill!! If he is proficient at stealing bases, that will go a long way! Technique in base-stealing is a completely different skill set from a timed 60-yard dash in front of recruiters (not to mention the mental acuity needed during live gameplay to successfully steal a base). While improving his 60-yard dash time will certainly aid his baseball career, don't overlook the techniques he already possesses that will make him a valuable asset to a team.

One last note: remember that training for sprint speed is not a "get your sweat on" session. A proper understanding of the energy systems utilized in a max-effort sprint will go a long way in ensuring effective training sessions. If your athlete is breaking a sweat, or breathing heavily, during his sprint sessions (unless it's hot outside or he's finishing up a dynamic warm-up), this is a decent indicator he isn't resting enough between sets.

I hope this was helpful!


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