In my last blog post I gave my opinion (Which was somewhat negative...) on agility ladders. This was based upon their inability to actually improve speed and acceleration. If you haven’t read it yet you can have a look here.
Whilst this is all well and good, I didn’t really provide any in depth recommendations on how to improve change of direction speed and agility, and considering that these are directly related to acceleration speed, I thought a post addressing how to improve acceleration would be appropriate.
Sooooo. Acceleration. The reason I have chosen acceleration rather than ‘speed’ is I feel it is much more indicative of athletic performance.
Field based sports are characterised by short, repeat efforts, rarely longer than 20 metres (and most often less than that). So it can be argued that the ability to accelerate rapidly is much more important than top end speed.
*The exception here would be sprinters, as they need a good max speed and they need to maintain it for as long as possible.
So someone’s ability to accelerate can be broken down into two components. The amount of force they can put into the ground, and how quickly they can apply that force into the ground.
So, if a person is not particularly strong (can’t apply much force), they are going to be limited, no matter how quickly they can apply the force they do have.
This leads us into the first recommendation to improve acceleration.
By improving strength we improve the maximal amount of force we can produce. By increasing the amount of force we can apply into the ground we improve our capacity to accelerate.
My recommendations would be compound lower body strength exercises such as squats, deadlifts and split squats (and variations of), working within a basic strength sets and reps scheme (5x5, 6x4 etc) 2-3 times per week. This ensures we are not only training the muscles involved in accelerating and sprinting, but also using exercises that have immediate carryover to performance as they somewhat replicate the joint actions that occur during these movements.
Now, what if someone is strong (can apply lots of force), but not very powerful (slow applying that force)?
That leads us into the second component.
So, now that we have built a solid foundation of lower body strength (force production capacity), we need to learn how to apply that force rapidly (improve our ‘rate of force development’, or RFD).
This can be done by adding explosive lower body movements into our lower body program. These would be jump variations (such as box jumps, broad jumps etc.), plyometric exercises (lateral bounds, tuck jumps etc.) and Olympic lifting variations (clean, hang snatch etc.). These exercises use either bodyweight or lower relative loads to train explosive movements, whilst the plyometric activities also improve our capacity to use the stretch shortening cycle (SSC).
The inclusion of short sprints are also recommended, as we are trying to get faster/better at accelerating.
These exercises should not be performed to failure as the intent is to move as FAST and as EXPLOSIVE as possible. As fatigue inhibits our ability to produce force rapidly, it would inhibit the training effect we are looking for. So these exercises should be performed before the strength component of the session, and not until failure.
I understand that this is by no means a comprehensive guide on improving acceleration, but i hope i have provided a brief explanation on some of the ways we can improve acceleration. These recommendations are fairly broad and provide more of a brief overview, for more detailed information feel free to contact me.