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VELOCITY AND SPORTS PERFORMANCE
June 21, 2014
Hi,

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Lets talk about velocity. What is it? Why do you need it? How will it improve your sports performance?

Definition – velocity is the speed of something in a given direction. For example; 100mph north.

Given this definition, velocity is essentially just speed that is expressed in a single direction.

In this issue of the Unleashed Training Journal we will look at velocity as it relates to human performance in sports. For our purposes there are two kinds of velocity:

1. The speed at which a person gets from A to B. This can be expressed as a sprint over any distance from one metre to 100 metres or more. This is a result of initial force during take-off from a static position and then the rate of acceleration, being the rate at which speed increases.

2. The speed at which a muscle or group of muscles is able to contract against a force. For instance, how fast the gluteus maximus is able to contract against the resistance of your body during the performance of a vertical jump. This is the result of a single contraction, not the rate at which subsequent contractions are performed.

Velocity is essential in sports performance. Without a high level of development of velocity, an athlete has a limited ability to perform almost all tasks involved in the widest range of sports. Velocity is what allows an athlete to sprint faster, such as making a break in a game of rugby. Velocity, combined with force, is defined as power. This allows an athlete to contract a muscle or group of muscles against a given resistance. Without high level velocity athletes are less able to sprint faster, jump higher, deliver effective tackles, throw a javelin, throw a shot put, swing a golf club or snatch a barbell.

Strength and conditioning for athletes is a rather broad process. In the modern age of training there are a lot of coaches and athletes speaking about specificity, meaning that training is to be specific to the athlete and the tasks they need to perform. As a result, we see athletes trying to imitate their sports movements in the gym and during other conditioning work. However, what is not understood here is that strength and conditioning is a means to an end, it is not the end in itself. Training does indeed need to be specific, but it does not need to identically replicate the movements performed in the sport. For this reason, velocity and the development of overall speed and power are a general process that applies to a broad range of athletes. The speed and power component of a rugby player might not look too entirely different from that of a soccer player, when it pertains to sprint speed and muscular velocity.

I have always stressed the importance of velocity in an athlete’s range of skills and abilities. So much so that I believe velocity could be the most important component of athletic performance. But to clarify, velocity on its own is not the goal, velocity is the most important sub-components when combined with other abilities, primarily force, but also acceleration and deceleration. When combined, each of these other components combined with velocity allow an athlete to perform superior to other athletes that have developed these other components, but have a lesser development of velocity.

VELOCITY, FORCE, SPEED AND POWER OUTPUT – BEING SUPERHUMAN

Lets look at how you can become a superior athlete by developing velocity in combination with other components of physical development. Have you ever seen displays of speed, strength and power in sports that made the athlete seem superhuman to you? Maybe you have seen the video of the 113kg NFL player that can jump from a seated position onto a box that is as high as his nose. Or maybe it’s Asafa Powell competing in the 100m, where his start is so powerful that he has actually snapped a set of steel starting blocks right in half. Or rugby legend Jonah Lomu, weighing 118kg, sprinting 100m in 10.80 seconds. He was able to virtually throw other players away from him as they tried to tackle him, all while sprinting at a speed exceeding 30kph. Just about every display of superhuman athletic performance is the result of combining velocity with another component of fitness at the highest level. Even endurance athletes benefit from greater velocity.

As A Raw Skill

Velocity in itself is not a complete skill or ability, it is a raw skill, a building block. It forms a pivotal role when combined with others. It’s impossible to develop velocity on its own, it is always combined with something else. So here we will look at how to go about developing velocity for greater sports performance. This will fall into two areas…

Force and Velocity = Power

Power is the most important element of sports performance. Strength on its own is of little use in most circumstances. That strength, or generation of force, must be developed in combination with velocity.

1. The first step is to first develop a foundational level of strength. Without strength you cannot produce muscular force. That’s what strength is, the application of muscular force. However strength, especially for sports performance, should be should be performed with an element of velocity. This means accelerating into the concentric portion of the movement, or put simply lifting fast. When you lift weights or any other form of strength training, the goal should be to perform the lift at speed while maintaining good form. This may be contrary to what you have learned, but you need to train fast to get fast.

2. Train at the end range of speed. What this means is that you need to express the very end of your speed curve, the maximum amount of speed you can possibly demonstrate against a given resistance. This can be trained through maximum speed sprint training, plyometrics and speed lifts such as cleans and snatch pulls.

3. At the highest level, once strength and speed development have both slowed down, you will notice further improvements are harder to come by. At this end your training with need to be broken into phases, where strength is the main focus for a given period of time, switching to speed of movement for the next phase and back again etc. During speed development, lifting more weight is of less importance, where the speed at which you move a weight is the main focus. Instead of squatting more weight, aim to move your max weight faster. Combine this with other speed work such as sprinting and plyometrics. During the strength phase the main focus is on increasing the amount of weight lifted, which is essentially the amount of force your muscles produce. Keep in mind that, even during a strength phase, you should still place some emphasis on speed of movement.

Power output and power development is the most important component of sports performance. This is the demonstration of the maximum amount of speed applied to the maximum amount of force. This is training your end-range power.

Acceleration and Deceleration

In the first point we covered power, being the development of end-range speed and force output. But this end-range output is best utilised when you are able to access it in the shortest possible time. The ability to accelerate allows an athlete to reach this end-range power output as fast as possible, in the shortest time. Instead of reaching top speed after 50m of sprinting, an athlete is able to reach their maximum speed at 20m or less. This is most important in team sports, where an athlete does not have the luxury of a long build-up to top speed, they need that speed sooner than that.

Deceleration is the other piece to this puzzle. In sports such as track sprinting, deceleration is not at all important. A sprinter wants to reach a high speed and stay there as long as possible. However in just about every other high speed sport, such as tennis, rugby, American football, basketball etc, the ability to decelerate in just as important. Deceleration allows an athlete to go from high speed to low speed, or even stop, which then allows he/she to change direction at a rapid pace.

Put acceleration and deceleration together and you have a winning combination. Accelerate fast so that max speed (developed through power) is reached as early as possible, decelerate rapidly, change direction and then accelerate again. Rinse and repeat. This allows an athlete to move around the field or court faster and more efficiently. So how do we do it?

1. First, power must be developed. We covered that in the first point. Without power you won’t have a top gear to move into.

2. Power will help with this part, but it must also be trained. Acceleration is developed through power that is expressed quickly, overcoming inertia. There are two types of acceleration; the first the acceleration of a muscle contraction. Basically a muscle contracting at a fast pace and increasing speed throughout that contraction. This results in a higher vertical jump and a more forceful foot strike during a sprint. The second form of acceleration is that of the body as a whole, specifically during a sprint. It’s fine to be able to sprint at 35kph, but if it takes 50m to get there then it will not serve you well over shorter distances. How can we train both of these things? The first can be trained through strength training with variable resistance. This can be done using chains and bands during weight training movements. Lifts should be performed at maximum pace, specifically in the concentric portion of the lift. The second can be trained through contrast training. There are two drills that can be used; first start running at a slow pace and gradually increase speed until you reach max pace over a given distance. Over time, the distance should be shortened so that you get used to acceleration over shorter distances. The second drill is simply a short speed drill. Practice sprinting at max pace over short distances of 5-20m. the goal is getting off the mark powerfully and aiming to hit top speed as soon as possible. “Think” fast.

3. Deceleration is just as important as acceleration in many high speed sports. Drill one: sprint at maximum pace until you reach a top speed and then aim to slow down to a stop. The distance it takes you to stop should be short. Aim to shorten it as time goes on. Drill two: sprint at maximum pace over a distance of 10-20m to a given line or mark. At that mark turn around and sprint back. The goal is to complete the up and back sprint as fast as you can. Drill three: this can be any agility drills, such as the Illinois agility test, the three-cone drill etc.

Summary

Velocity is a key component of sports performance. Without a good level of velocity of movement an athlete is unable to move at high speeds. Strength without velocity becomes a less useful component of performance and overall an athlete will have less “gears”. Developing high velocity movement in multiple ways, such as during the exertion of force, will increase athletic performance in almost every single sport.

I can help you develop the maximum level of velocity combined with other relevant components of physical performance. Whether you are local to the Parramatta/Granville area in Sydney, Australia, or you are on the other side of the world, Unleashed Training can take care of your performance development.

We offer online personal training – this includes strength and conditioning programs and thorough coaching.

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We offer one on one strength and conditioning in a face to face format in Merrylands in Sydney’s south-west.

My area of specialty is sprint coaching – In Merrylands and Sydney CBD, I offer sprint coaching in a one on one and small group environment.

Whichever option you choose, you will get the best quality coaching and program design. Contact us via email on unleashed.training.fitness@gmail.com or call 0412 602 746.

Unleash Your Physical Potential,

Chris Lyons

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