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Acceleration vs Maximal Velocity Sprinting

Linear speed can be separated into two phases: acceleration and maximal velocity. These two forms of sprinting should be trained in isolation where possible, in order to emphasize and potentially overload the running mechanics relevant to the type of sprint adaptation you are seeking. Dependant on the sport, some athletes may spend the majority of their running time in solely one of these forms of sprinting. For example, a tennis player will never reach a maximal velocity sprint, and their movement patterns will never require them to replicate the running mechanics of a maximal velocity sprint, such is the size of the court. A tennis players movement will consist of constant accelerations, decelerations and cuts, performed at various angles from their base position. Furthermore, they will usually begin from a standing, walking or shuffling position, and will rarely acceleration over distances longer than 10-15 meters. In contrast, a Gaelic Football player who plays in any of the half-back, midfield or half-forward positions, will cover as high as 8,000m - 10,000m per game, with approximately 1,500m considered high-speed meters (faster than 17km/hr). Running at these speeds will require the athlete to replicate the running mechanics of a maximal velocity sprint, in order to be as efficient and productive with their energy as possible. Given the opposing running mechanics of each phase, it addition to the differing game and positional demands of various athletes, it makes sense to train both acceleration and maximal velocity sprinting in isolation in order to maximise adaptation to either one. Below are some examples of the running mechanics of each phase, along with some drills which will emphasize, isolate and overload these particular mechanics.

Acceleration - Key Technical Points

  • Forward body lean to facilitate a positive shin angle.

  • Torso angle parallel to shin angle.

  • Triple extension through the stance leg - cue the athlete to push the ground away from them.

  • Low heel recovery - should stay close to the ground in the initial steps to facilitate horizontal force production. If the foot attacks the ground from too high of a position, too much vertical force is applied in place of horizontal force. A higher foot position also causes a delayed repositioning of the shin for the next stride.

Acceleration Drills

  • Acceleration Ladder Drill - tape or lines on the ground, each one approximately 10% further distance than the previous line. The athlete must touch each line with each stride. The drill forces the athlete to push back and triple extend - failure to do so will likely mean they cannot reach the next line with their next stride.

  • Alternating Bounds/Single-Leg Bounds/Banded Bounds - bounding is a useful drill to cue the athlete to 'attack' the ground and push as much force as possible into the ground. Banded bounds assist in replicating a forward lean and a horizontal shin angle.

  • Falling forward/4-Point/3-Point/Half-Kneeling Starts - each respective starting position forces the athlete into increased forward lean which facilitates a more horizontal shin angle. The more horizontal the shin angle, the more horizontal force is put through the ground, the more displacement of the body.

  • Hill Sprints - again they force the athlete into a forward body lean (the degree of which is dependent on the incline of the hill), which creates a horizontal shin angle - horizontal force production - greater displacement of the body.

  • Sled Sprinting/Band Resisted Sprinting - again they force the athlete into a forward body lean, which leads to a horizontal shin angle - horizontal force production - greater body displacement.

Maximal Velocity Sprinting - Key Technical Points

  • Upright body position.

  • High, cyclical knee motion - heel to bum is encouraged during the recovery phase.

  • Shorter ground contacts than those seen during acceleration.

  • Muscle action during the ground contact phase is predominantly isometric.

Maximal Velocity Drills

  • Ankling - requires the athlete to plantarflex and dorsiflex in order to propel themselves upwards. A useful drill to encourage the athlete to attack the ground through the ankle.

  • Straight-Leg Bounding/Primetimes - cue the athlete to attack the ground with the ball of the foot/front foot, again this encourages a forceful ground contact in order to maximise distance per stride. Also a useful drill to encourage a faster 'switching' of the legs during stance phase.

  • B-Walk/Skip - useful for working front side mechanics - high knee position - toes higher than the heel, circular/grabbing motion of the foot.

  • Ankle, Shin, Knee Dribbles - three progressions which focus on the cyclical motion of maximal velocity running mechanics. The higher the dribble, the faster the run. These drills can be performed without equipment, but when starting off it may be advantageous to use small cones or hurdles to create an environment where the athlete has to 'dribble' to complete the run. Simply set up a line of cones/hurdles, spaced evenly apart and get the athlete to run through them, cueing them to contact the ground evenly between each cone/hurdle. Otherwise, cue the athlete to 'pass' either their ankle, shin or knee with their opposite foot. Progress the height of the cones/hurdles to progress the cyclical motion of the knee.

  • Egg Crack - useful for working backside mechanics. Encourages a heel-to-bum motion in the recovery phase after ground contact. Cue the athlete to crack the egg (on their bum) using their heel. By performing a high heel recovery, the leg is then positioned (or has no other option) to follow through in a high circular motion in order to reposition itself for another ground contact. By doing so, this creates the high circular motion that we want.

  • Wickets - a very effective drill which forces the athlete to self-organise and produce optimal maximal velocity mechanics. A high heel recovery is essential to avoid hitting the large cones or hurdles. A high, circular motion of the knee is essential in order to reposition the foot for the next ground contact. Rapid ground contacts are also essential in order to reposition for the next stride and avoid over-striding or missing the next cone or hurdle.

  • Flying 10s, 20s, 30s - encourages the athlete to adopt a more upright running position, as opposed to starting from a standing position where a forward lean will naturally occur.


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