Written by: Thomas Willoughby
When focusing on increasing an athlete’s speed, there are three main areas I focus on:
- Mobility– increasing stride length, so they need to take fewer steps to travel the same distance.
- Strength– increasing the force applied into the ground
- Decreasing excess Body Fat– ensuring there is no extra “non functional” mass being carried around.
All 3 of these components have much larger roles for athletic performance than just sprinting speed. However, for the sake of this blog, my primary focus will be how each component will help increase the speed of your child.
Before going into detail about the benefits of mobility for speed, I will touch on other important aspects of mobility. As a parent, you will thank me for this!
When a teenager or child first begins at SHSC, the first thing they do is a very basic mobility/movement assessment.
I do this so I can appropriately determine what areas are tight and causing movement restriction. It also helps me to quickly identify what areas are weak. Once analysed, I am then able to create a thorough program addressing these issues.
Every teenager that I have assessed in the last year has had a minimum of three issues that need addressing. Each issue is largely due to that fact that most of the teenagers in SHSC are students and spend a majority of their time sitting. Being in a seated position for long periods of time shortens the hip flexors, hamstrings and “switches off” their glutes (all 3 areas that are vital for sprinting!).
Once we know what areas need improving, we build the necessary drills into their warm ups. Just by improving mobility we see a dramatic increase in running speed. Not only will improved mobility help to increase your child’s speed, but it will also decrease their chances of injury.
A good test for you to do at home to determine whether your child has the appropriate mobility for the athletic field is to get them to perform a single bodyweight squat. Below is an example of a correct squat technique performed by Coach Jake.
I find that it is rare for a child or teenager to perform a bodyweight squat with correct technique when we first assess their mobility. Key things to look for when your child performs a squat are:
- if their heels come off the ground and their weight is shifted into their toes
- Knees come forward first
- They struggle to get their hips in line with their knees
- Chest drops down, they might appear to be folding in half
If your child is presenting any of these movements (or look like any of the below photos) when performing a squat, they need to work on their mobility.
The old, and frustratingly accepted belief of, ‘weights will make you bulky and slow’ couldn’t be further from the truth.
When working with field based athletes, we focus of four main aspects that can be improved via appropriate strength training:
- Acceleration (0 – 10 metres)
- Top end speed (10m +)
- Changing direction (ability to absorb force and transfer it in another direction)
- Deceleration (ability to safely slow down as fast as possible)
Strength training is paramount in improving an athlete’s acceleration. It allows the athlete to develop a stronger drive of force into ground, therefore propelling them forward at a faster rate.
To prevent injuries, athletes’ need to be strong enough to absorb force, transfer it for rapid changes of direction and come to a complete stop quickly. Most junior ACL injuries are from non-contact experiences and occur from changing direction as they don’t’ have a strong strength foundation.
Excess body fat inhibits an athlete from moving fast and with efficient technique. Unfortunately, this will always be a ‘touchy’ subject with teenagers, as both females and males may be effected negatively by the topic if it isn’t approached the right way.
Exercise will always help in decreasing body fat, but nutrition also plays a large role. The last thing I want to do is create the idea of a negative relationship with food, so I approach nutrition as a way to improve performance, rather than body composition.
The main areas I like to cover when I discuss nutrition are:
- Importance of eating
- Making better choices
- Examples of foods to eat, and when to eat them.
- Importance of hydration
Marrying exercise and nutrition in a healthy and sustainable way will help melt off extra body fat so that we can continue to improve your child’s speed and athletic performance.
Making improvements in all three components will ensure your child becomes lightning fast, with the added benefit of a decreased chance of injury. To emphasise the importance of this blog, Southern Highlands Strength and Conditioning will be offering a free six week mobility program for children and teenagers online within the coming weeks.
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