Get Faster by Improving Your Ability to Slow Down
You read it right the first time – one way to get faster is to improve your ability to slow down or stop altogether. Unless you’re strictly a track and field athlete, chances are you play or coach a sport that involves some form of cutting and juking. The faster you can cut or juke, the faster you’ll get to where you need to be, and that often involves slowing down or stopping to change direction.
Why Deceleration Should be Part of Your Program
While it might sound counterintuitive to train to slow down in sports like football and hockey, which encourage max acceleration, speed and endurance, deceleration drills trains athletes to effectively and safely move from top speeds to stopping, changing directions or landing.
The key takeaway is that it’s a skill that must be trained like any other form of agility training. What happens to your muscles when you decelerate from a sprint or land from a jump is an eccentric contraction. In other words, the prime movers lengthen under load to control movements, such as your glutes and quads. It’s a skill like any other, and it only improves through repetition of movement.
Another important factor is that most muscle strains or tears occur during the eccentric phase and decelerate training (eccentric training) can reduce the risk of those injuries, according to multiple studies.*
How to Improve Deceleration
Keep in mind not all deceleration drills are the same as the type of deceleration varies. The goal may be to stop completely or change direction while maintaining speed.
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.
But let’s not focus too much on form, as it should come naturally the more you perform the drills. Instead, 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.
Below are some drills you can perform in just about any environment, depending on the type of deceleration that applies to your sport. Perform the drills without any external load at first. Later, you can add resistance, like speed bands, to increase athletic performance.
*Askling, C., Karlsson, J., & Thorstensson, A. (2003). Hamstring injury occurrence in elite soccer players after preseason strength training with eccentric overload. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 13(4), 244-250.
Brughelli, M., & Cronin, J. (2008). Preventing hamstring injuries in sport. Strength & Conditioning Journal, 30(1), 55-64.
De Hoyo, M., Sañudo, B., Carrasco, L., Mateo-Cortes, J., Domínguez-Cobo, S., Fernandes, O. & Gonzalo-Skok, O. (2016). Effects of 10-week eccentric overload training on kinetic parameters during a change of direction in football players. Journal of Sports Sciences, 1-8.
Gabbe, B. J., Branson, R., & Bennell, K. L. (2006). A pilot randomized controlled trial of eccentric exercise to prevent hamstring injuries in community-level Australian Football. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 9(1), 103-109.
Gao, Y., Wineman, A. S., & Waas, A. M. (2008). Mechanics of muscle injury induced by lengthening contraction. Annals of Biomedical Engineering, 36(10), 1615-1623.
Timmins, R. G., Bourne, M. N., Shield, A. J., Williams, M. D., Lorenzen, C., & Opar, D. A. (2015a). Short biceps femoris fascicles and eccentric knee flexor weakness increase the risk of a hamstring injury in elite football (soccer): a prospective cohort study. British Journal of Sports Medicine.