Have you ever wondered why we do so much strength training classes with our athletes? After all we are a “Speed School”. The question is a good one, as understanding how speed is developed and what factors influence getting faster can be tricky waters to navigate.
When looking at speed, we need to understand that sprinting and changing directions are primarily power movements. Power, described by the laws of physics, is Force multiplied by velocity. Force, by those same laws, is Mass multiplied by acceleration.
Strength is merely the body’s ability to produce force, so the stronger the body the more mass it can move. When a body can repeatedly produce the force needed to move mass, it can start to produce high amounts of force at a faster rate (velocity). To make more sense of that, consider the following example:
If a 65 pound athlete can deadlift 120 pounds safely and with good form (yes, we have seen this from one of our Total Performance athletes), then they will have an easier time moving 65 pounds repeatedly. When they can move a lighter weight repeatedly, they can begin to move that lighter weight faster. Since Power is the product Force and Velocity, higher power outputs are produced when the force is lower and speed is higher. For a 65 pound athlete who can deadlift double bodyweight, this means their ability to move their body weight faster increases.
As the ability to produce force increases, the ability to produce power increases. The greater the ability to produce power, the faster an athlete will get as a whole.
But, can an athlete be strong and still be slow? Yes, this actually happens all of the time. This is where technique and instruction comes into play. There are plenty of athletes who are strong but not fast (just look at NFL lineman). There is an optimal way to sprint for every athlete, with many things being similar across the board. Individual body proportions will change how each athlete looks to some degree, but speed in itself has some standard principles that guide performance.
But when looking at the common principles for speed, it is important to note that some of these have a prerequisite level of strength needed to get into the correct positions. For example, when an athlete is accelerating they need to be in forward lean towards the direction they are going. A good lean requires adequate levels of hip, knee, and core strength to achieve and maintain posture.
If we are looking at young athletes, developing speed is usually going to involve a combination of both of the above considerations. For some athletes, strength is a big limiter in how fast they can get. A lack of strength translates into having an inability to maintain the proper positions and posture for sprinting form. For some athletes, technique is a limiter in speed development. Primarily, speed development is more of a combination of both lack of speed or lack of technique.
While speed is in our name, we have to know what factors go into speed development and how it applies to athletes. We must also consider that there are also a slew of others factors that can influence speed, but these are usually secondary to the strength component and the technical component of sprinting that holds athletes back.