8 things to avoid if you want to be a faster athlete

by | September 18, 2018 | Fitness, Sport performance

When looking to get back into the game you love, you never imagine slowly coasting down the court or field. 

You picture yourself hauling ass down that field. 

Flying up and down the court, 

No one can catch you because of your speed. 

But getting the speed back you had as a young pup can be a battle. 

Especially since you’ve likely acquired some bad running habits since your glory days. 

Your muscles may have become weak due to a lack of use,

Your muscles may have tightened up from your 10+ hours of sitting every day, 

Your speed may have decreased having never had to run faster than the speed at which your daughter can ride a bike. 

So, what happens when your speed drops? 

What bad habits have you likely picked up?

What has become weak and tight?

And most importantly what can you do about it? 

Here are the pitfalls to avoid when getting your speed back. 

 

1. Bad arm action

Often times we’ll see athletes and former athletes not sufficiently using their arms to run and also allowing their hands to cross over the midline of the body. 

Now hear me out…

If there was one thing that you could do at your next game to make yourself faster, without a ton of training, it would be to use your arms more effectively when you run. 
 
It seems ultra obvious but, smooth, coordinated arm action that opposes the action of the legs can really take your speed to the next level.  
 
If your legs are the engine, your arms are the gas pedals. 
 
Essentially, your arms counteract the movement of the legs and ensure optimal force transmission into the ground. 
 
You can start to fix this issue with the half-kneeling arm action drill:
 
Get down on one knee
 
Abs tight and ribs down
 
Chin tucked
 
Your left hand in line with your left cheek of your face
 
Your right hand at the level of the cheek on your butt
 
Quickly switch the hands so that your right comes up
 
And your left goes down
 
The path of the arms will be from cheek-to-cheek. 
 
Don’t let the arms cross the midline of the body and keep your core steady. 
 

 

 

2. Choppy steps / under-striding

 Back in my track days, there was this kid that was super fast but did these dumb-ass twinkle steps at the beginning of the race…
 

 

The problem with this is that you are unable to apply maximal impulse to overcome inertia. 

All that means is that in order to apply as much force as possible to get started in your run, you need to take longer steps. 

The way you lengthen your stride is not by placing cones on the ground and trying to reach for each cone on each step, that can be problematic (see #5 below). 

You can increase your stride length by pushing off harder at ground contact and fully extending the hip, knee and ankle by “leaving the foot” on the ground.  

Or you can just get your legs stronger with squats,deadlifts, split squats and jumps

The other issue is that your hips may be tight. 

If that’s the case, opt for  some hip mobilty work like the couch mob or wall hip flexor mob

 

3. Low knees

Getting the knees up when you run is necessary to optimize the “down and back” push of the leg when putting force into the ground. 

So, less knee drive = less force into the ground.

Less force into the ground = slower running. 

If the issue is just a bad habit, you can fix this by cueing yourself with the phrase “knees up”. 

The other potential issue is weak muscles in the hips and in the core. 

You may need to strengthen the hip flexors with a move like the glute wall march iso hold or you may need to strengthen the front of the abs and thus better stabilize the hips with a deadbug

 

4. Pointing your toes / ankles not rigid at ground contact 

Ankle dropping is poison at certain times of the running stride. 

Two of those times are foot strike and right after toe off (note: the toe will be pointed at toe off, the key is to transition quickly to a “toe-up” position). 

Keeping the toe up (dorsiflexion = “toe-up” position) and ankle rigid allows for a rigid spring to transfer force into the ground. If the ankle is loose, force will be lost and thus not applied into the ground. 

And again, less force into he ground = less speed. 

Ankle rigidity and ankle dorsiflexion also allows for optimal recruitment of lower leg muscles. These muscles can further increase your speed.  

You can fix “ankle drop” by emphasizing the “toe-up” position and rigid ankle concept in exercises like the knee grab, skip, march, wall drills

 

5. Over-striding 

Like we mentioned above, allowing the foot to get too far in front can slow you down. 

This is often seen in the classic B drills. 

That is actually not how we run effectively. 

The foot should land 0-6 inches in front of your centre of mass (which is around your belly button). 

Getting the foot out too far in front of body’s centre of mass causes a braking effect that can slow down the body and it can even cause injuries. 

You can fix the overstriding effect and even the impact of too may B drills using the fast claw

 

6. Back arching

Arching the back when running is problematic on many levels. The main issue is that it can ruin your back, the second is that it does not allow for effective force transmission into the ground. 

Again, poor force transmission into the ground = decreased speed. 

In this situation, the abs are “letting go” and are no longer keeping a rigid structure for transferring force form the upper body to the lower body. 

This results in a loss of force as the core is not stable enough to transfer those forces. 

It’s like shooting a canon off a canoe. 

In terms of injury risk, when the back arches and extends on every stride, that will eventually cause all shorts of issues with not only the muscles in the back, but the vertebrae in your spine. 

Yikes!

So, how do we fix this? 

Like most things, it’s not complicated, but it’s not easy either. 

Use the dead bug to strengthen the abs, use the couch mob to loosen up the hips and use the glute bridge to strengthen the glutes. 

And use that new found strength and mobility and practice not arching the back with with the wall drill.

 

7. Bouncing up and down

A sure sign that you are not producing force in the right direction (down and back) is bouncing up and down when your run. 

Force should be directed backward when you run so the resultant force can propel you forward. 

If you are bouncing up and down, it’s likely that you are not leaning enough and that you are producing force straight down, not back. 

This is a pretty easy fix as you can simply cue yourself to “push down and back” when your run. 

And also use the wall drills to work on your lean. 

 

8. Emphasizing quantity over quality

Sprinting fast is a process that requires lots of focus, intensity and gas in the tank. 

Any fatigue accumulated over the course of a workout will decrease the ability to express speed effectively. 

When training speed under conditions of fatigue, poor mechanics become the norm and then that becomes engrained.

This then starts to come out when you get into unpredictable situations ie. a game. 

Those poor mechanics not only decrease your ability to perform, but also increase your injury risk. 

Don’t turn running training into conditioning.

Keep work periods short (1-10s). 

Keep rest periods long (12-15s rest for every 1s of running)

Focus on fast, explosive movement and when your focus, intensity or speed go down, just stop. 

 

Wrap-up

Again, no one wants to be the slowpoke on their team. 

I don’t think I’ve ever talked to an athlete that didn’t want to be faster. 

Speed is useful in nearly every situation on the court, field, track or ice. 

The quicker you can execute a play, the less likely your opponent is to counteract it. 

Use the tips in this article to make yourself the speed demon you know you can be. 

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