In the sporting arena being able to get from one position to the next faster than the opposition will usually lead your team to success. Sport can come down to centimeters; a tennis player that can get to the sharp cross court smash with those extra centimeters can meant the difference in returning the ball and completely missing the ball. This is why speed kills and the sportsmen and women who can translate this to their sport and skills will go a long way to being successful.
So how do you develop this speed? With a lot of hard work! Speed, for a lot of athletes, is something that is worked on. For the lucky few out their though it can also be through genetics. So what if you don’t have the genetic makeup to be quick? Does this make it impossible for you to be fast? The answer is no. But in saying that, the possibilities of you becoming the next Usain Bolt are slim. Like I mentioned before you need to put in a lot of hard work to improve your speed. What we are looking to improve is 3 areas. We need to convert as many of our muscle fibres to fast twitch (Type IIa) fibres. Fast twitch fibres are the explosive fibers that contract quickly and generate maximum force. There is a way to help improve this in the gym and it is a philosophy that we follow with every athlete that comes in. We want to make the movement as explosive as possible, or the cue is move the bar/weight with intent! Take the squat for example; we eccentrically load the body in the down phase of the exercise (I like to call this the injury prevention phase) when we get to the point where we start the concentric phase (athletic phase) we move the bar/weight from the bottom of the squat back to the start position as quickly as possible. This does some magical things for our nervous system and how we contract a muscle. Firstly, since we want to move faster, the message from our brain to our muscles is heightened, meaning it will send the message as fast as possible. The more we practice this, the faster the message can be sent thus is the recruitment of fast twitch fibres increases and the transformation of slow twitch fibres to fast can start to occur. Moving this fast also hits our third area to becoming faster, muscle strength and force production. Since we want to move the weight as fast as we can as quickly as possible the nervous system will recruit more muscle spindles to help move the load. This increases the cross sectional area of the muscle, thus creating more size and increasing the amount of force that muscle can generate.
There were a lot of words used before so let me quickly run over the three areas that I just covered that can help you increase your speed.
- Increase fast twitch fibres (Type IIa)
- Increase the speed of nervous system messages (neuromuscular)
- Increase force production (muscle cross section)
We are able to do this by what is called velocity based training, where during the concentric phase of the exercise we want to move the load with intent (as fast as possible). Now this is just a quick look at velocity based training there is a lot more to this as we look at rate of force development and the loads you are lifting. If you would like to read more on velocity based training here is a great link. Or comment on our Facebook page and we can answer any questions you may have.
Sport and Exercise Scientist
Vision Exercise Physiology – Sports Performance