Acceleration – It’s not just the legs

Posted: June 30, 2014 in GAA, Guest Blogs, sportsbant, Strength, Uncategorized
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Acceleration – It’s not just the legs

When athletes think of acceleration they immediately think leg strength, but that is only a part of the Acceleration equation. Acceleration requires huge force production over a longer ground contact than at top speed, making maximal strength for bodyweight is critical. Stride frequency and stride length are slower and shorter in acceleration than at top speed. Upper body strength is also essential to great acceleration because improved arm strength and mechanics are more important to driving the athlete forward during the acceleration phase than at top speed.

 

Many athletes only think of acceleration in terms of running straight ahead for a short distance. In reality, acceleration can take place in any direction. In actual play, athletes accelerate forward, backward, sideways, and diagonally. Many think acceleration occurs only from a static start. On the contrary, acceleration can also take place from a moving start at any number of speeds. For instance, a player in motion may have to accelerate quickly or decelerate quickly on the field. Both of these are forms of acceleration, and both can be improved with proper training.

Here we are using forward acceleration from a static start as a common way to describe the muscles and biomechanics of the Acceleration.

There are a number of physical and technical characteristics that can lead to poor acceleration. The first and most important characteristic is relative body strength. How strong an athlete is for how much they weigh is directly proportional to how well they can accelerate. Since acceleration is an athlete overcoming their own inertia with the force they produce, the leaner (less body fat) and the stronger they are at that weight are predictors of how well they will accelerate.

To look at the situation generally, the major muscle difference between acceleration and top speed is that the quads are used more in acceleration, and the hamstrings and hip flexors are utilized more during top speed. The most important areas to strengthen for acceleration are the gluteal and quadriceps muscles, the calves and muscles of the upper body, especially the anterior deltoid. Maximal strength is important here because ground contact times are much longer during acceleration than at top speed. Since there is a greater amount of time to produce force, the more absolutely strong a muscle is, coupled with greater relative body strength, the better the acceleration. For acceleration training, more maximal weights can be used in exercises such as the squat, lunge walks, chin ups, pulls ups, calf raises, and step ups.

We know that acceleration has a longer ground contact, smaller stride length, less stride frequency, different technique and teaching cues and relies differently on the muscles of the body when compared to top speed. Since there are different muscle actions during acceleration and top speed, it is logical that there will be different cues used when teaching technique. For instance, for force production at foot contact, acceleration should be taught as a “pushing” motion.

 

For good acceleration, keep the center of gravity low and forward while trying to push out as long strides as possible. As a vast generalization, a forward body lean of 45 degrees is recommended. However, it is difficult for any athlete to learn to “lean forward”; genetically we’re programmed to keep our bodies from leaning forward and falling. (You fell, a large ferocious animal ate you – we learned!) Continuous practice of “falling starts” helps to overcome what we’re hard wired to not do, breaking those bad habits.

Falling start video

Driving arm action is also critical to proper acceleration. Your arms not only add power and speed but they are related to your legs and force propulsion. The faster your arms move, the faster your legs move.

When running, the elbow should generally be at a 90 degree angle, with the motion taking place in the shoulder, which drives the arms. The action is not at the elbow or the wrist, meaning that the 90 degree angle at the elbow joint remains constant throughout. Shoulders are forward facing in forward acceleration and face the direction you want to go in sideways acceleration. Hands are not clenched, but open with the palm facing inward and sideways. As your arm goes back your thumb should be parallel to where your back pocket would be, not much further (or you’re wasting energy and motion). The opposite arm should simultaneously be coming up so that you can see your thumb in front of your chin or nose. If the athlete can’t see the hand, the hand is in the wrong place; we don’t want the hand to cross midline – that misaligns the body.

The angle of your arm to your body (humerous to torso) is critical to the angle of the height of the knee on the opposite leg – and we want the knee to drive up. With your arms in the wrong position your hip will be out of position for maximum movement.

acceleration

 

Common mistakes with Arm Action video:

 

 

Finally, the athlete should draw in breath right before the acceleration and hold it for the first few steps. This will allow for a Valsavla maneuver and a subsequent better opportunity for your nervous system to produce force.

Coach Dominic Casciato CSCS

Parisi Speed School Port Washington

Coach Dominic Casciato CSCS   Coach Dominic was NCAA Soccer All American, an Academic All American and a Strength and Conditioning All American as well as playing professional soccer in England. He has helped coach one of the most successful Men’s Soccer development programs in the United States and in late December 2013 his U16 team became the US Youth Soccer National League Champions and was the first team in tournament history to play 7 consecutive games without conceding a single goal. He is a Parisi Speed School Coach in Port Washington and a TFW Instructor.

 

We have some online coaching places coming up for anyone looking for a specific training program to maximise their performance.

Contact us @ ire_sca@yahoo.ie

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