Faster athletes get more scholarships and win more games. The key to getting faster is optimizing stride length and building explosive strength. These two reign supreme in speed training. For reference, look no further than Usian Bolts 9.63 time in the 100m race at the London Olympics. He finished the race in 41 steps. Everyone else? 44-46 steps.
At Pulse we take an indirect approach to improving speed...meaning we don't practice striding out to get a longer stride, or starts to get a faster out of the blocks. Instead we break it down by increasing the power output and take-off force of each step. To do this, our athletes must be explosive. The most efficient way to do this? JUMPING. Every jump variation we use at Pulse has a purpose. Usain Bolt didn't necessarily have the longest stride - he had the most powerful and forceful ones. Four of the most common variations found in our athlete's programming are:
Kneeling Jumps are one of the first variations we have our athletes do - its simple (not easy) and has huge carryover to other athletic movements. To execute these, start in kneeling position on the ground with the hips relaxing on your heels, sit back on you glutes, and jump onto your feet. After an athlete mastering the basics of this, we increase difficulty by adding resistance, or by jumping onto a higher box from the ground. This helps athletes learn how to fully extend their hips and build explosive and maximal strength in their lower body. See below for an example:
Bounding Hurdle Jumps
These are multiple consecutive jumps, performed with either a single or double leg takeoff. Done correctly, these improve reactive ability, maximal anaerobic power, and local muscular endurance. They also strengthen the musculature of the trunk and improve coordination. We assess the development of the athlete with these jumps by their ability to maintain a "springy" takeoff with each jump. As the athlete develops, we increase the difficulty of this movement and shift the focus to two more precise objectives: improve speed by decreasing ground contact time, and/or improve takeoff power by raising the height of the hurdles.
Seated Box Jumps
These are performed by sitting on a box slightly above parallel, lifting the feet off the ground, slamming them down, and jumping onto a box. Sitting on a box and slamming the feet create a collision which transfers the body's kinetic energy both into the box and the floor. Overcoming the resistance (either bodyweight or weighted) improves starting and explosive strength by forcing the athlete to go from a relaxed state to overcoming a load through the dynamic action of a jump. This both mimics and builds the relaxed and explosive steps sought after in great sprinting technique.
The depth jump, or shock method jump, sits at the top of the jumping food chain. We've found it very effective for developing explosive strength and reactive ability in our athletes (these also can build absolute strength when performed off of a box height of 36" or more, but those are used exclusively for the very advanced athlete) The depth jump allows us to duplicate explosive activity in a controlled, measurable environment. As awesome as the depth jump is, it must be executed correctly to reap all the benefits..which is more complex than it seems. There are four phases to correctly performed depth jump:
Drop Phase: Take a step forward with one leg, bring other leg forward at the beginning of the fall. Both legs must be straight with no knee bend. The most common mistake we have to correct is that athletes instinctively want to jump down off the box; what they must do is drop forward with their trajectory perpendicular to the ground. I like to use "step off the cliff" as the cue for this phase. (A to C in above figure)
Landing Phase: The athlete must land on both legs, on the balls of the feet, then quickly lean back on the heels. This phase is more natural to coach, but remember that the landing should be soft and cushioned before the violent takeoff. (C to D in above figure)
Cushioning/Takeoff Phase: The transfer from soft landing to violent takeoff is very quick. Both arms should be put behind the body before landing, and then powerfully thrust forward at takeoff. These phases are executed as a single, powerful, and intentional effort. (D to E in above figure)
Flight Phase: The work is done by the time you get to this phase. To measure this we always have a point of reference for the athlete to reach for, either a rung on the vertical jump tester, a higher box, etc.
By increasing the power output and take-off force of each step into the ground, we increase the length, frequency, and efficiency of that stride. Employing a jumping/plyometric program like this will reduce injuries and increase nimbleness/lightness/loosness of the coordinated movements found in team sports.
Get explosive, get a more forceful, powerful stride, and get closer to being like Mr. Bolt here!