Acceleration. The one word which is never detested in any context. Everyone wants more of it. Be it cars, rocket ships, airplanes, or athletes. The quest for achieving greater acceleration never stops. But what is acceleration? What is this phenomenon which is so passionately pursued by human beings in every domain, right from the track and field to outer space?
Simply put, it is the change in velocity with respect to time. In terms of practical application, it is the change in speed of an athlete (more relevant to us) to achieve top speed with respect to time taken.
Therefore, the optimisation of acceleration involves the athlete to achieve top speed in the shortest time. This makes it all the more clear as to why athletes and coaches alike want to get better at acceleration.
In terms of track events, it means gaining the lead and achieving top speed earlier in short and middle distance running events. In terms of jumping and vaulting events, it means achieving greater and faster muscular contractions to achieve greater vertical distance from the ground in a shorter time.
Acceleration is more important in sports involving speed and directional changes such as soccer and basketball, sports involving short bursts of speed, such as cricket and lawn tennis.
Having discussed what acceleration really is, let’s have a look at what all goes into improving acceleration in athletes :
Considering everything involved, acceleration boils down to these fundamental factors: strength and power. In terms of muscle fibres, a better acceleration would involve greater activation of the Type II muscle fibres, those which are associated with short term, high power output.
From the perspective of training, the focus should be more on gaining strength in the initial phase of training and then moving on to plyometric exercises to enhance the explosive power in the weeks leading up to the event.
Following exercises are tested and proven ways of improving acceleration in the program :
1. Sled Pulls: Sled Pulls require the athlete to tie a belt around their waist which is attached to a weighted sled. It needs to be pulled by the athlete for a specific distance (mostly 20 yards) at full power. Sled Pulls help the muscles adapt to a heavier load while running which leads to greater exertion of power during the actual event.
2. Sled Pushes: This is the exact opposite of the sled pulls. In this exercise, the athlete aims to push a weighted sled for a specific distance as quickly as possible. This exercise also helps in adapting and training muscles in the legs to increase force production on ground contact. A good drill to include in the sled push training would be to add interval training, wherein the athlete focuses on delivering maximum power output for a specific time frame and 50 percent power output for the rest of the time before going back to maximum effort.
3. Two Point Starts: This drill is very beneficial for developing explosiveness from the starting position. The athlete should be in a comfortable position, feet shoulder width apart and knees softly bent. The aim is to explode out of this starting position into an all out, max effort short sprint of near about 20 yards. Adequate recovery time should be taken to be able to deliver maximum effort in each rep.
4. Wall Drill: A very effective drill which works on improving the mobility as well as strength in the calves and the hip flexors. It involves the athlete placing both hands on the wall and maintaining a distance from the wall where his/her elbows are locked out. The athlete should start with one leg bent in the air at 90 degrees. A quick call/whistle count will need the athlete to switch legs as quickly as they can. Gradually, the number of counts can be increased. However, the counts should not exceed 4 per leg to maintain the aim of the exercises, which is, to increase acceleration by improving explosiveness.
5. Falling Sprints: A great and fun way of improving acceleration as well as coordination in the body. The athlete starts in a regular stance and leans forward to push the centre of gravity out of the base of support. Once the athlete begins to fall, after a point, the body automatically takes a step to prevent the fall. The athlete starts sprinting right after this step hits the ground. The distance of the sprint should be restricted to under 50 yards.
These are a few exercises which can be included in the program to help an athlete improve their acceleration. However, it must be noted that acceleration drills are suitable and safe to be performed by athletes who are already at a competitive level. The athletes who are just beginning or coming out of rehab should focus on building general strength and coordination in the body and move towards plyometrics and specialized drills later in the program.
Acceleration has, is and always will be a skill that is held in high regard in the field of sports and fitness. So the time spent improving acceleration is surely time well spent.
To getting faster!
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About the Author
Kushmaan is a ACE-certified Personal Trainer and a Crossfit L1 trainer. He has been working in the field of fitness for 5 years now. He has experience in training clients from different walks of life, be it in group sessions or in Personal Training sessions.
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