Speed, Agility and Quickness
All of the top experts in Strength and Conditioning across the World are meticulous with the programming that they do for their Elite customers. They leave no stone unturned in the pursuit for excellence. Which is where that extra 1% of performance comes from. Areas such as biomechanics and injury prevention, as well as the more "mainstream" areas like diet, conditioning, strength and power are extremely important in the preparation of athletes.
Athleat has attempted to put many areas of physical preparation under the microscope including:
We have also had a brief look into The NFL and what it takes to become a star both mentally and physically. And with the NFL Combine having taken place in February and the NFL Draft completed last week, that is where we are going to focus our attentions.
The NFL Scouting Combine is a series of physically demanding tests on promising young players, at a event run by the organisers of the NFL, where these players compete against the clock and each other in events that test their physical abilty, their mental aptitude and in various skill and position based events. The players compete across a range of different physical tests, skill tests that are position specific, formal interviews and even psychological profiling to see if they have what it takes to make it. A wide selection of the NFL's teams attended this event to put each player completely under the microscope, there is no hiding in this event, if you have a weak area....then you are definitely getting found out! Not only that but it is broadcast live across America to fans wanting to see their favourite collegiate player performing well. Click here to see a video of each event...but we have listed the events for you below....
The Combine consists of the following physical aptitude tests:
40-yard Sprint (36.5 meters)
Bench Press for Maximum Repetitions (100 kgs)
3 Cone Drill
5-10-5 Shuttle Run
As you can see the NFL hopefuls are really tested to see if they have what it takes, both physically and mentally, now there are many people (including some high profile strength and conditioners) who think that the Scouting Combine is outdated and that it is not a true test of a players ability, as athletes can have an "off day" and will not perform to the best of their ability (how do you think George Best would have got on with a situation like this after a big night out?) but it is well organised, fair, measurable and the information coming from it is helpful to coaches to assess players across different positions, levels and even compare players against the all time records...which counts for much when a team is willing to spend millions of dollars on one player!
One area that can often be overlooked by weekend warriors and serious trainers is footwork, explosive power and quickness. And that is exactly what we are going to look at....SPEED, AGILITY AND QUICKNESS.
Without going to the dictionary to look up its definition, speed is pretty simple, how quickly you can cover distances. There are many aspects of speed and biologically, the make up of your muscles and genetics is the key area as to what your maximum speed will be (muscles can be made up of different fibres which effect how explosive you are). Although you can train your muscle to recruit faster fibres, there will always be a ceiling pace you can achieve, so if you are a believer of the big man in the sky then you can thank him for your "fast twitch" muscle fibres, or if you are non plussed by religion then a vote of thanks goes to your parents!
Obviously it is a bit more complicated than genetics and trying hard to run fast to make you into a fast bloke who "eats lightening and craps thunder"...(shameless Rocky quote!). Your technique plays an enormous part in biomechanic efficiency and getting the whole of your body working in synchronisation to get your body moving forward as quickly as possible with the least amount of effort. If you watch Usain Bolt it quickly becomes clear that he is a genetically talented athlete, and his technique is absolutely spot on because he looks completely effortless when setting World records (along with the associated chest pounding across the line!)
Body composition also has a big part to play, because muscle is much more useful than fat, so improving your body composition by becoming leaner not only is "healthy", but there are many athletic benefits as well. And any conditioner, nutritionist or dietician will tell you that what you put in your body is key to athletic performance. So get lean and get fast!
To give you an idea of the sort of times players of the NFL (in various positions) and with widely varying body types are running please click here...
We could not talk about speed without introducing one of our Athleat's Craig Pickering, Great British sprinter and Olympic athlete. (with a PB of 10.14 secs for the 100 meters) We have an great video of him in super slow motion, which will hopefully show that technique is all important in speed, and you would do well to keep this video in mind during your next speed session or even running for the bus...
As discussed above, speed is important, but unless you are always running in a straight line, what good is it if you have the turning circle of a tanker? Whatever sport you play, change of direction and doing it quickly is important to how you perform in a team sport environment. Which is where your agility comes in. This is especially evident in the NFL where you have to be quick on your feet whatever your position. The agility test for the NFL (The 3-Cone Drill) is highly regarded as a marker for many of the positions. And this is highlighted with the following example of the position of Cornerbacks (One of the Defensive Backs):
"The three-cone drill seems to be a much better measuring stick for this position than any other drill at the combine (even the 40-yard dash). To illustrate this point, let’s take a look at two similar cornerback prospects from 2007's draft. The first is Virginia Tech product Brandon Flowers, a 5-foot 10, 189-pound corner who clocked in with a very average 4.55secs on the 40 yard dash, but impressed scouts with a 6.72 second three-cone drill. The second prospect is Justin King from Penn State. King, a 5-11, 192-pounder ran a blistering 4.31secs for the 40 yard. However, he also ran one of the slower three-cone drills at the combine among cornerbacks at 7.14 seconds. The significant difference (0.42 seconds) of the two times displays a dramatic advantage in body control, balance and change-of-direction skills for Flowers, a trait far more valuable to the CB position than straight-line speed."
All of this information fed into the coaches meant a great draft pick for Flowers, who has enjoyed 4 good seasons with his NFL side (the Kansas City Chiefs), and obscurity for King, who is struggling for game time at the St Louis Rams.
The above example shows you that agility and the ability to move your feet, change direction, avoid obstacles (like a 400 lb lineman) and powerfully pick up pace is all important in the NFL. So how can you make yourself more agile? Well the first place to start is your feet! If your feet are in the wrong position then you are pretty much useless. You also need to be aware of your ankle, knee and core flexability (with an emphasis on ankle flexion) to be able to make the required movements at maximal efforts, otherwise your chances of inury are extremely high.
A great place to start is by using ladder drills, and by starting simply, slowly building up the intensity of the drills as you go. But it is all important to think quick to be quick!
Training for quickness is the first phase in getting quicker, its all about reactions and ask almost any strength and conditioner and they will tell you that it is one of the most important factors in team sports and explosive individual events. The science behind quickness is all about neural pathways.
Training the nervous system is very important in the development of quickness. Proper neural training offers the following:
Multiple rehearsal of movements result in stored memories in the brain called engrams. Development of engrams are one of the reasons it is so important to practice movements perfectly. If you practice with flawed technique your technique will be flawed when competing. Training quickness in short intervals results in utilization of the Phosphagen energy system, and therefore an increase in your "quickness".
In summary, quickness can be enhanced with proper training. Training the nervous system is the main emphasis in quickness training. Drills should last 6-8 seconds to improve quickness. This motor quality is very important in most sports. It is time we learn to maximize athlete's ability to react and move quickly. So whether you are an Olympic athlete who rely's on reactions, a serious Crossfitter who wants to improve whole bunch of movement patterns, or you just enjoy flipping a few tyres in your back garden, these pathways need to be trained, just like all the other aspects...
So whole body reactionary drills are extremely useful for this, equipment such as multi-directional reaction balls or even the humble tennis ball can help. Click here to see this in action.
Speed, Agility and Quickness come hand in hand with each other, there is no use training one aspect without training the others. If you work hard (and sensibly) at these aspects of your training, you will see good gains in explosive power and your reaction times will be dramatically reduced...
That should come in pretty handily in the search for personal improvements in many aspects of your training.
Click Here to see our article on the NFL
Or Click here to challenge the Stig at the 3-Cone Challenge, the most important drill in the NFL combine