Maximizing your athletes' acceleration.In the November issue of Scholastic Coach & Athletic Director, I covered the topic of proper linear acceleration technique. This article will elaborate on acceleration and delve deeper into how to enhance this skill from a strength training perspective.
To review, relative body strength is a very important characteristic of athletes that accelerate well. This characteristic is defined as how strong an athlete is at their current body weight. That being said, we will examine the most important muscles that are used for an athlete's "drive phase" of acceleration.
There are a number of specific hip extensor and knee flexor muscles that are critical for maximizing the drive phase for acceleration. The more powerful these muscles become, the greater in length those initial strides can be when accelerating. That is critical for every athlete to understand.
Acceleration is not about short little strides, but long powerful ones. No one cares how many steps it takes to get somewhere on the field, they care about who gets there first.
To ensure your athlete is making the big play, let's take a more in-depth look at identifying some of the muscles critical to great acceleration.
The gluteal muscles, the quadriceps, calves, anterior deltoids of the shoulders, and erector spinae are the most important drive phase muscles for acceleration. They are some of the largest and most powerful muscle groups in the human body. By understanding where these muscles are, and how to best train them, you will have an advantage over your competition.
The gluteal muscles are made up of three individual muscles: The gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and the gluteus minimus. The gluteus maximus is the largest muscle in the body and is the primary hip extensor muscle for the drive phase of acceleration (hip extension). This muscle lies in the back of the hip, under your back pocket.
The gluteus medius and gluteus minimus are two smaller muscles that lie on the side of your hip. These muscles are more responsible for abduction and external rotation of the hip. While this article will focus on the prime mover muscles for acceleration it is important to mention the importance of these smaller muscles at the hip.
Two other small posterior muscles at the hip worth mentioning include the piriformis and quadratus femoris. These two muscles laterally rotate and abduct the hip and are important to help stabilize the hip. These four muscles combine to form what we call the "rotator cuff" of the hip.
Together these muscles act to stabilize the hip while the large glutes and quads create the major motions for acceleration. We will focus on how to address and train the smaller muscles in a future article.
The next large muscle group that assists in the drive phase of acceleration are the quadriceps. This muscle lies on the front of your thigh up over your knee. When your knee is in a flexed position, as in a drive phase of acceleration, you need great extension power at the knee and hip to produce forward movement of the body.
This power originates from the quadriceps and gluteus maximus and plays a significant role in the drive phase for acceleration. Interestingly, the hamstring muscle group plays less of a role in the initial drive phase in acceleration compared to the knee extensors. The hamstring muscle group becomes much more active for hip extension as the leg straightens during maximal velocity.
When striding out in acceleration the hip and knee start in a flexed position and then extend as the athlete propels forward. Since the hamstring is in a shortened position and never fully lengthens during acceleration, it is not a primary contributor during this phase. As the athlete comes out of acceleration and is sprinting more upright, more power then comes from the hamstring to propel the body forward.
Calves and deltoids are two other muscles that are commonly overlooked in training programs that are essential for acceleration. The calves are the muscles in the back of the leg, just over the ankle, and the deltoids are the muscles on the side and top of the shoulders.
The calves are comprised primarily of the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles and are responsible for powerful plantar flexion at the ankle. This allows for strong push-off from the ground when the athlete accelerates.
In addition to the ankle, the shoulder is also very important in acceleration. Powerful arm movements are critical to work in concert with the legs to accelerate properly. The deltoid muscles help to "pump" the arms at the shoulders and increase leg turnover.
The erector spinae is the last muscle group that plays a significant role in the drive phase of acceleration. Although by definition the primary function of this muscle is to extend the spine and trunk back, the erector spinae plays an important role in maintaining proper body alignment of the spine throughout the drive phase process.
The goal is to keep the athlete at a 45-degree angle when accelerating while maintaining a flat back. Many athletes do not have the strength of the lower and upper back to maintain this position during acceleration which can commonly lead to a rounded back. This rounded back position will lead to a waste of energy during the acceleration phase. By keeping these muscles very strong, acceleration will be much more efficient.
The primary muscles mentioned above: Gluteus maximus, quadriceps, calves, anterior deltoids, and the erector spinae are the key muscles for strengthening to maximize the drive phase for acceleration. These muscles are usually trained at different times with different exercises and rarely trained in a way that is specific to the technical skill required for optimal acceleration.
There is one machine I have found very effective to be able to train all of these muscles simultaneously. This unique tool is called the PowerRunner, which places the athlete in the proper acceleration position and maximizes the recruitment of the primary muscles for the drive phase of acceleration. I like this machine because of it versatility and function.
You can perform an exercise with two athletes at one time or have one athlete perform the exercise alone. In any event, this is a primary exercise to maximize acceleration.
By Bill Parisi, Founder/Managing Partner, Parisi Speed School, Fair Lawn, NJ