Guest post by Sven Knipphals
What does it actually mean to be fast?
Most laypeople think it's important to move as fast as possible, but that's a fallacy because it's all about moving as fast as you can with a purpose. For example, Usain Bolt took 42 steps to cross the 100m in his world record, while Christian Coleman took 52 steps in his personal best. Even though Bolt was faster when comparing the races (9.58 seconds vs. 9.82 seconds), Coleman's cadence is significantly higher than Bolt's, meaning Coleman is moving significantly faster than Usain Bolt.
This example illustrates that sprinting is not about getting your legs to wriggle as fast as possible, as can be seen in many YouTube videos of "training" with the speed ladder. But that a well-coordinated sequence of steps in combination with maximum power transfer to the ground is crucial to be faster. There is no blueprint for this coordinated sequence of steps, since the individual anatomy is decisive here. Primary strength, jumping and sprint training are responsible for optimizing the power transfer.
The other side of the same coin is the difference between acceleration and top speed. In athletics, the person who has the best top speed usually wins the 100m, but it's different in other sports, because top speed is only reached from around 30m. In comparison, the average sprint distance in football in the English Premiere League is 17m. In all other team sports, except rugby 7s, the sprint distance is even shorter, mainly due to the smaller pitch. So the top speed is not decisive here. Acceleration is what makes the player faster in the game.
The difference between acceleration and top speed
When accelerating, the body’s center of gravity is low and the upper body is further forward, whether it’s a block start or a standing start. The strength of the lower back plays a major role here from the strength training perspective, as does the ability to accelerate the knees as quickly as possible. Furthermore, a stiff ankle is extremely important.
Top speed is less about power production and more about efficiently using speed and efficiently transferring power. This means that top speed is about losing as little energy as possible. The greatest loss of energy occurs when the foot strikes the ground. However, not directly through the foot but through the so-called amortization in the knee joint. In other words, how much does the sprinter's knee give when he touches the ground. A knee that is as “stiff” and therefore more stable as possible is one of the most important factors in being faster. Optimizing knee stability is crucial to becoming faster.
And this is just one important point for acceleration training.
Acceleration and top speed visually at a glance
Both acceleration and top speed depend on various other points, if you want to learn more about this, the YPSI Sprint seminar with Sven Knipphals is an excellent opportunity to do so.
Image: 100m sprinter Sven Knipphals at the start, the primary phase of acceleration.