ACCELERATION, Is it just running fast? Or can we train to be faster athletes?
Acceleration can seem like a bit of a headache to many athletes as they try to conceptualise how to incrementally improve without getting lost in biomechanics and mathematics. Acceleration is simply the change in velocity with respect to time. I find the best ways to explain acceleration is by using a car analogy. Take my trusty Honda Civic, it can go from 0-100km/hr in 5 seconds. For ease of explanation, we’re going to assume that the acceleration from 0-100 is linear (when in reality this won’t be the case). Now we take the change in velocity(0-100) and look at the elapsed time (5 seconds), meaning the average acceleration is 20km/hr PER second. So, at 3 seconds, the car will have a velocity of 60km/hr and will accelerate 20km/hr every second, up to 80km/hr.
So how can we use this theoretical information and actually apply it to improve performance? Practice. But more importantly, SPECIFIC practice. Take our Honda for instance, if I know that it accelerates the fastest in 3rd gear, I want to utilise that to my advantage and spend more time in 3 rd gear. This principle of specificity can be applied to almost any sport when trying to improve acceleration or any other fundamental skill. If we’re training generally, we will see general improvements (there’s nothing wrong with this by the way). But if we’re looking to optimise performance, specificity is key. This requires a deeper understanding of a selected sports physical requirements which in turn allows the coach to achieve the athletes goals. For instance, if maximal torque is required to hit a baseball out of the park, practicing maximal efforts in a given zone is warranted. If an athlete wants to improve a take-off on a long jump run up, one might for instance choose to examine vertical and horizontal ground forces, as well as ground contact time, and train according to what values need improvement. Training specificity at maximal efforts over time will allow neuromuscular adaptations to occur, such as motor unit recruitment and firing, as well as motor pattern learning for given sports.
In the gym, the intensity and speed at which exercise is performed also play a factor in
the development of acceleration. Focusing on maximal, explosive, resistance exercises can also lead to improvements in the rate of force development and maximal voluntary contractions. Strength training over time also leads to the ability to produce greater forces, thereby increasing acceleration if trained at speed. Although a point of contention due to conflicting research, some evidence also suggests the possibility of alterations in muscle fiber type I, type IIA and type 2X percentages (slow & fast-twitch muscle fibers) with specific exercises. Type IIA and type 2X cross conversions are well-founded, meaning that we can alter fast-twitch fiber types depending on exercise stimulus. This means we can train our acceleration specifically for what type of sport we are competing in, whether it be one maximal effort of acceleration like Javelin or more regular bursts of acceleration like Rugby. If we are able to accommodate maximising velocity and/or reduce the time the task takes to occur in our training, we will improve our acceleration according to our formula.
The topic of acceleration cannot be covered without involving plyometric training and
sprinting. This is relevant for a wide variety of athletes where maximising skills like speed,
acceleration and agility. When considering acceleration, minimising ground contact time is arguably one of the most important components. This has a strong carry over with the
aforementioned skills. Plyometric exercises such as depth jumps and rapid hopping
exercises are great to advance acceleration; external tools like throwing balls can be utilised at the top of jumps to further simulate game-based scenarios, like a contest in AFL. Effective sprinting and plyometrics programming can not only have positive effects on acceleration but also have strong correlations with reduced injury risk. A word of warning, too much, without consideration toward tolerance to load and overall load management and an athlete may suffer overuse injuries.
A great tactic to ensure maximum success when trying to optimise acceleration, or
any other skill for that matter, is to surround oneself with people who know what they’re
doing. Seek the assistance and knowledge of coaches and health professionals that will
provide you with the right tools to maximise performance and achieve your goals. Doing so will give you the greatest chance of success.