Student-athletes have returned from summer break, are settled into classes and are anxious about getting back on the track. Freshmen athletes are especially eager to begin their first collegiate season. The other day, one of the freshman athletes asked me, “When we will start doing speed work?” I responded, “Speed workouts start the very first day of practice.” His shocked expression is a familiar one. In fact most of my new athletes are usually surprised to hear that you have to accelerate daily — acceleration is incorporated in each workout on a daily basis.
Acceleration is an essential part of sprinting– it is the first phase of every sprint race. For this reason, it is my job as a coach to ingrain proper acceleration mechanics into the brains of my athletes and help them understand the importance of executing this portion of the race correctly. If athletes perform this part of the race incorrectly then the rest of the race will be compromised. In this sense, I believe the basis of acceleration has the power to create a domino effect that negatively affects a lot of sprinters. If the first part of a sprint event is wrong then the rest of the race will also be wrong. And…that’s not good!
I’ve had the pleasure of watching Vince Anderson the women’s sprints and hurdles coach at Texas A&M speak on two occasions. One of the objectives he emphasized in each of his talks was that athletes need to accelerate on a daily basis. His assessment of acceleration resonated with me when he created a timetable to measure the amount of times his athletes practice acceleration. He told us that he usually coaches about 12 athletes per year who accelerate at least 8 times per day for 5.5 days per week for about 39 weeks. Vince calculated that his athletes combine to accelerate well over 20,000 times per year. Vince also added that in his 26 years of coaching and watching young athletes accelerate, “Not once have I EVER seen an athlete push too hard or too long.”
After hearing Vince, I realized that my athletes NEED to have acceleration in their everyday lives. It is my opinion that doing some sort of acceleration on a daily basis will increase the chances of correctly performing acceleration mechanics in races. Therefore, the athletes I coach do some sort of acceleration every day. Monday’s are typically my “acceleration” day of the week. After a few weeks of acceleration I start to allow my athletes to use blocks. I typically reserve block work for athletes that have earned the right to use them. However, most of the acceleration work we do on the other days of the week is without blocks.
For more coaching advice from Coach Mangiacotti, read: Why Do Kids Point Fingers?
If an athlete cannot accelerate properly without blocks then adding blocks will only make matters worse. When the athletes can successfully perform acceleration drills and activities without using blocks then it is probably time to add them into their acceleration days.
Below are some of the ways that you can sprinkle acceleration into your athlete’s practices on a daily basis. Again, most of this work is done without blocks.
I have a specific acceleration warm up that we use on Mondays. This warm up prepares the athletes for the theme of the day. Various parts include:
1) Joint mobility exercises to prepare joints for a full range of motion. This type of mobility may include ankle, knee, hip, and wrist circles.
2) Movement exercises that include quadricep and glute movements followed by skipping to promote pushing mechanics. An example would be 10 x forward lunge with 30-50m of skipping with arm circles.
3) Dynamic mobility to really focus on preparing the body for violent movements that will happen during accelerating at 100% effort. Typically, the athletes do 10 different dynamic mobility exercises that may include fire hydrants, iron cross, and linear & lateral leg swings.
4) Acceleration movements have to be mastered before getting into a set of blocks. All of these movements promote proper body position and foot placement during acceleration. These drills also challenge the athlete to push their hips up as they run. The drills also teach patience. It takes patience to run fast. Too many athletes come out of the blocks quickly rather than powerfully. Most athletes have done soccer, basketball, baseball, football, or some other ball sport that promotes quickness.
Examples of a few acceleration drills may include:
- Wall Run – This is done by keeping the body in a straight line (standing tall) and leaning from the ankles into the wall. Try to have the athlete’s body at a 45 degree angle with the ground. Then ask the athlete to raise one leg so that they are in the same position when they drive off of the front block. Ask them to exchange legs by pushing the opposite leg up by driving the raised leg/foot downward. Then ask them to exchange legs 2 times, 3 times, 4 times, etc… Make sure the athletes maintain good body position throughout this entire drill. Most young athletes will either start to let their hips drop, stick their buttocks out, or fail to go through a full range of motion with their legs.
- Bullet Belt Drills – These can include an acceleration walk, acceleration skip (A-skip), acceleration run, and acceleration run and release. Obviously, you would need some bullet belts to do these drills.
- Push Up Starts – The athlete gets into a push up position then raises one foot under their hip area and drives off of that front foot like they are coming out of the blocks. Ask the athletes to split the arms apart and cover as much ground as possible with each step they take. I always tell the athletes to make every step count. Remember, the further you push away from the starting line the closer you are to the finish line. The athletes should be pushing hard (power) in acceleration, not small (quickness).
Acceleration Workouts may include:
1) Repetitions of 10-20m of straight leg bound into 20-40m build up with 3’ recovery.
2) 4 x 10m, 20m, 30m with 2-3’ recovery between repetitions and 5-6’ between sets.
3) 4 x 10m, 20m or 30m (odd reps without resistance and even reps with resistance (light sled or tire). The athlete should follow the same rest parameters as the workout above.
4) Repetitions of a low hurdles hop followed by a 15-30m acceleration with 2-3’ recovery.
As coaches, we should give constant feedback between drills and repetitions. This will give you an opportunity to teach and give the athletes time to recover. Take advantage of down time so the athletes learn more and don’t get bored because they are just standing around. Hopefully, this article gave you a few ideas of how to add acceleration to your daily activities with your athletes. Keep accelerating!
I post workouts on my Twitter page. As the season gets into full swing I will post more often. Feel free to follow me on Twitter @MarcMangiacotti
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Marc Mangiacotti is an assistant track coach at Harvard University in Cambridge, MA.