Speed is one of the most desirable traits in an athlete, no matter the sport or position in that sport. If given the choice, an athlete will always want to be just a little bit faster. Unfortunately, there is no secret formula to make athletes faster, and most of speed is based upon genetics. It is a safe bet that if an athlete has two parents who were both slow, chances are that person will not be an All-American track star. However, we do recognize that sometimes anomalies do present themselves. Small gains can be made in speed by improving mechanics and form, and strengthening the muscles of the body can always help an athlete run faster. Jim Kielbaso, President of the IYCA, works with athletes of all levels to improve their speed. In the video below, he gives some insight into the intricacies of running mechanics and their importance.

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The NSCA (National Strength & Conditioning Association) defines running as “a form of locomotion characterized by alternating single leg support and a flight phase.” This means that only one foot will ever be on the ground, and, as Coach Kielbaso explains, when one foot touches the ground, the other has done its job as far as propulsion. Maximum speed can only be achieved when ideal stride frequency and length are achieved. Kielbaso points out that if the toe is not loaded (pointed up – dorsiflexion) and the hip is not in full flexion, then the time that the opposite foot is on the ground and actively pushing into the ground is decreased. An important piece of running mechanics is to load the toe and hip, for two reasons. First, the calcaneal tendon acts as a spring and can store energy of loaded prior to strining the ground – therefore producing a shorter ground contact time and a more powerful step. Secondly, this keeps the foot off of the ground longer and allows the foot that is still on the ground to push just a fraction of a second longer, which maximzes propulsion going into the fight phase and subsequent ground contact phase.

The flight phase (time when neither foot is in contact with the ground) amongst individuals of various stride lengths and leg lengths is relatively similar; i.e. it is not that longer legs are in the air longer, but rather each stride covers more ground in longer legged individuals. This goes along with what Coach Kielbaso says in the video quite well – it is not necessarily the flight phase of running that is the most important – the ground contact phase is what determines speed, etc. If the foot and knee that are in the air are not loaded fully (pulled up as high as possible) then the foot on the ground has less time to push and therefore less power can be produced. Coaching athletes, especially young athletes, to keep drive their knees hard and keep their toes in the dorsiflexed position is crucial to learning good runnign mechanics and maximizing speed.

Watch this video with Jim Kielbaso, CEO of the IYCA, as he expands on this topic.:

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