We take for granted the skill of movement, specifically athletic movement. We too often assume we or the athletes we coach know how to properly sprint forward, backpedal, shuffle side to side or change direction. We too often forget these movements are skills that need to be trained like anything else for top athletic performance. But what makes these skills so important is that together, these fundamental movements form the foundation of just about every sport we train for. Neglect this foundation and talent, as well as hard work, will only take you so far.
Strengthen Your Springs
If you play on a field or court, then chances are your sports performance is heavily influenced by your ability to move and cut in four directions. But before we focus on how to move, we must ensure our suspension is ready to handle the load. Specifically, we address any imbalances between each leg and ensure our lower body and core strength are up to the task.
Preseason training is the right time to strengthen this foundation. Start with basic bodyweight movements and eventually integrate plyometrics into your training. Most importantly, include plenty of unilateral work, since one leg is usually responsible for initiating or slowing the movement, and don’t assume it will always be the dominant leg.
Develop Proper Technique
We shouldn’t assume we know how to run with proper technique. Before focusing on speed, make some time to learn or reinforce proper running technique. When it comes to sprinting, maintain a straight line from your head to your ankle as you lean forward, keep a 90-degree bend in your elbows and pump them up and down and not across your body, land on the balls of your feet and drive the knee.
When it comes to backpedaling, the key is to not tilt the head back, which will cause you to lose balance. You still want that straight line from the ears to the ankles even as your drive backward.
As you train, the ability to shuffle side to side, not only is it important to not cross your feet but also maintain an athletic stance and improve your ability to decelerate.
The goal should be to perform drills as closely aligned with your sport as possible. The drills for a running back will differ from a tennis player, who performs more stop and start movements.
In terms of form, it also varies depending on the goal. If a full stop is required, then your shoulders will settle vertically over the hips to maintain balance and your hips will sink lower. If cutting, then your shoulders would stay on the inside of the hips in line with the planted leg toward the desired direction and the hips would not sink as low.
Focus on staying in an athletic stance (knees bent, back straight, shoulders down), with a wider stance if the focus is on cutting.
Start at first by supplementing a day of deceleration drills into your agility and speed training, eventually increasing to two sessions a week. What you’ll find is that this type of athletic training may cause more muscle soreness at first, as soreness is usually caused by the eccentric contraction.