Principles of Linear Speed
by Scott M. Phelps | Feb 2010
As in all sport skills, speed training should start with the basics and expand from there. Mastery of basic skills can often be the difference between success and failure, and I believe that linear speed is the basis for all movement skills.
Dorsiflex - To load the ankle before contact with the ground by pulling the toes up toward the shin to a maximal flexed position.
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There are several components to linear speed, depending upon the sport. These components are Acceleration, Maximum Velocity, and Speed Maintenance. We will cover these in more detail in subsequent articles. Now, we are going to examine the key ingredients to these three components, including arm mechanics, leg mechanics, ankle mechanics, and hip mechanics. All these should be taught as individual working parts to the whole movement.
Arm mechanics are essential to everything aspect of linear speed. The arms must work in sync with the hips and ankles to combine the summation of forces contacting the ground. The focus of the arms is the backward thrust of the elbow. In other words, drive the arms back to help generate greater force to the ground and move the body faster.
Leg mechanics is associated with riding a bike. The leg cycles in a motion that involves loading and applying force. Critical to leg mechanics is the ability of the hip to pull the leg through the full range of motion. Furthermore, the heel must collapse tightly up under the hamstring. This will shorten the leg for faster movement. On the downward stroke, contact the ground with a down and back motion.
Ankle mechanics are best described as loading a gun. The action of dorsiflexion (a toe-up position) is vital to the explosive athlete. While the foot is in the air, the ankle must be “loaded” (dorsiflexed) in preparation for ground contact. Simply focus on pulling the toes up toward the shin, which in turn flexes the ankle joint. Upon ground contact, the athlete’s body weight is more quickly accepted, initiating a stretch reflex telling the ankle to push and extend.
Hip mechanics are of utmost importance. The hips are the hub that drive the human machine. One primary action of the hips is the generation and transfer of all the force to the ground, propelling the body. Emphasis here is on flexion and extension principles to generate maximal force. It is at this point that the posture is locked in and aids in the force line.
All these principles (and many more!) help us to understand how to create faster, quicker, and more explosive athletes. Here are some drills to use for development of each area:
1. Arm Drill--Hand Weight Drops: Using approximately 1 lb. to 2.5 lb. hand weights, do 25 yard sprints. Sprint the first 10 yards holding one weight in each hand, dropping them as you sprint. Sprint with no weights the last 15 yards. This should look like a perfect 25 yard sprint, with the drop not affecting sprint technique. Do 2 sets of 3 sprints per session.
2. Leg Mechanics--2 Step Obstacle Run: Set up 6 to 10-12” obstacles four feet apart, such as cones or hurdles. Down the middle of the obstacles, run taking two steps between each object. The same leg will step over first each time, so switch the lead leg on each side. The motion should be a bouncing run; not a gallop like a horse. Run as if the objects do not exist. You may need to space the objects further apart for more stride length.
3. Ankle Mechanics--Ankle Skips, Bounces: Lock your knees and hips, and use just your ankles to skip or bounce (a bounce is right, left, right...). These drills should be done extremely quick, at a height of no more than 12”. Do 2-3 sets of two or three 10 yard repetitions.
4. Hip Drill--1-2-3 Lift: This is a relaxed run with an explosive up-down action with one leg as you run. Trot forward and on every fourth step lift your leg up to full recovery position. It is right-left-right-EXPLODE-up-down. Repeat as you continue to move forward. Working both legs equally, do three 15-20 yards reps with each leg.