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There is one skill, regardless of sport, that sets certain athletes above the rest.
That skill is SPEED!
Think of speed as how fast an athlete can get from point A to point B.
It determines how quickly a soccer or basketball player can get to the ball.
It determines whether or not a lacrosse or football player can accelerate by past a defender.
It separates which hockey player will get to the puck first or if the baseball player will be safe at first on a close play.
Possessing great speed gives an athlete such an advantage on the field, court, or ice and coaches of all levels are in search of it.
Some athletes are naturally gifted in this area, where some need more work at it.
The good news is, speed can be DRASTICALLY improved with the right training.
You see, speed really comes down to a couple key components that we focus on at DSC.
Yes, to be fast you need to be strong and explosive.
Speed is about how much force you can produce into the ground, in the shortest amount of time possible.
This is why our Athletic Development Training focuses on getting our athletes strong (strength exercises) and explosives (jumping and sprinting exercises).
It is NOT just about moving your feet quickly, you need to be STRONG to push into the ground, overcome inertria, and get yourself moving in the right direction.
And the research agrees.
The Journal of Applied Physiology found that “faster top running speeds are achieved with greater ground forces, not more rapid leg movements.”
When it comes to sprinting, think Sir Isaac Newton and his Third Law: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
It is our push into the ground with our feet that determines how fast we are going to move. The stronger we are, the harder we can push.
The harder we push, the faster we go!
World class sprinters and some of the fastest athletes in the world have incredibly strong lower-bodies.
This strength allows them to drive into the ground with extreme amounts of force to drive themselves forward when they sprint.
The sprinters and lacrosse players above are working hard to push back in the ground as hard and fast as they can to sprint forward.
This is why most young athletes do not possess high-levels of speed. They just aren't quite mature or strong enough.
They also struggle to understand the concept of pushing themselves to where the want to go, not just moving fast.
This is why getting stronger pays huge dividends in improving their speed.
This is where the #1 exercise for speed comes in.
Welcome to the sled push, a must for all athletes.
It is the best exercise for improving athletic speed for a variety of reasons.
1| Sprint specific lower-body strength
Take a look at the two images above.
The picture on the left is an athlete starting their sprint, also known as accelerating.
This is the basis of almost all team sports - short sprints in the 3-20 yard range. So to be good at sports like baseball, soccer, lacrosse, hockey, and football, you need to be good at accelerating.
Now take a look at the picture of the athlete pushing the sled.
How similar do they look?
You got it. Very similar.
In fact, just about identical!
This is the #1 reason why we love the sled and why it gets our athletes faster.
It gets their lower-bodies stronger in the exact position our athletes will be sprinting in.
The added resistance of the sled and its weight builds tremendous amounts of strength through the sprinting muscles like the athlete's calves, quads, hamstrings, and core.
This drastically increases the amount of force they can put into the ground next time they sprint.
This is the type of strength needed to be fast!
2| Teaches athletes to push into the ground
As we have talked about, pushing is they key to more speed and better cuts.
For most athletes, this is a difficult concept to grasp.
The sled takes the thinking out of it.
To overcome inertia and get the sled moving, you need to push into the ground.
It's that simple.
Once they feel this, it is easily transferred over to their sprints and their speed increases drastically.
When they get back to their sprints, you can always see when they have that "ah-ha" moment and grasp what it feels like to "push" yourself out of your sprints.
3| Teaches proper sprinting technique and posture
One area that we work very heavily on is sprint posture and mechanics.
You can have the most athletic athlete on the planet but if their sprint mechanics, alignment, and/or posture are off, they are not going to be tapping into their full speed potential.
On the other side, we have seen kids drastically improve their speed by getting into and holding the right positions when sprinting.
Not only do athletes need to learn how to aggressively create force into the ground to increase their speed, the need to create force in the right direction.
To do so, we coach our athletes to come out of their sprint with great head to heel posture and great core control, while maintaining their 45 degree lean.
This allows them to get the knee drive they need in the front to be able to drive their foot down and back when striking the ground.
Most athletes we see round their posture, and rotate too much side to side, not allowing them to get the correct drive out of their sprints.
This not only slows them down but also wastes energy.
The sled forces athletes into the right positions of:
- 45 degree lean
- Straight line posture head to back heal
- Knee up toe up in the front
- Strong, braced core
- Back leg extended straight, pushing into the ground
4| Safe and easy to grasp
The final reason we love the sled for sprint development is due to it's safety.
There are a few exercises (like the barbell squat, trap bar deadlift), that when done correctly and with a good amount of weight, transfer over to the sprint.
The issue is, we do not want our younger athletes really cranking up the weights on those exercises until they are mature enough physically and have spent dedicated time improving their technique with lighter weights.
The sled is a different story.
Because the sled is out front and the athlete's body is locked in place, the heavy sled push is great for all ages and is very safe.
Here's how to execute the sled push:
- Keep arms straight and maintain a straight line posture from head to back heel
- Keep body leaning at 45 degree angle
- March forward (drive knee up and push back) one step at a time keeping head and upper body still
- Start with 3-5 rounds of 15-25yd march