The definition of accelerate is unclear if it means from a dead stop or a moving state. The fact is it is up for interpretation. Whether we focus on the dead stop position or from a moving position the same principles hold true from a physical standpoint. What differs is how quickly and to what power we need for the acceleration to happen. From a dead stop position we need more power and force then that of a moving position since we are already in motion. For the purpose of this, we will focus on the dead stop position.
According to Mike Boyle, my first strength coach and mentor, the most potential to affect change in speed is the first 10 yards. It is a fact that once in motion it is easier to stay in motion, so it is important to study the keys of the first 10 yards. Boyle uses the image of the roadrunner in cartoons; wheels spinning but going nowhere. The key is ground force and what type of power you are generating. The more force the more ground you are covering which translates into more speed. So it has nothing to do with how many steps one takes, it has everything to do with the quality of those steps and how much force they are producing. There is a big difference between telling someone to take more steps versus telling someone to push the ground harder.
Like deceleration, how do we do it? Part of what will be addressed is the muscle groups that are recruited to gain the stability and strength to accelerate properly. The two major strength groups are the quadriceps and gluteul group with the hip joint needed for the driving force through the ankle. The other part that will be looked at will be the drills that help us learn or re-learn how to start. It is one thing to practice the drills but if there is no strength or stability to reinforce the drills they are of no use.
The quadriceps are the main drivers of the leg. They are around the largest bone in the body and can produce the greatest force. Their main function is the flexion or bending of the leg. As they flex it acts like a coiled spring. Once it is let go or starts to extend to the ground to produce the force need for speed, the force distributes from the gluteus to the quadriceps, down the kinetic chain through your calf muscles and out your ankle and ultimately your feet.
Since our joints play a large role it is important to closely examine the determining factors. Your hip joint must have sufficient mobility to not only flex and extend you leg but also keep it in the “groove.” If there is too much external rotation as you flex your hip it is the equivalent of drawing a curved line from point A to B. the goal is to bring the leg up in-line so it drives downward in the same line. The other main joint to focus on is the ankle. In the picture below, if he did not have sufficient flexion of his ankle the angle in which he was able to lean forward to propel him would be compromised with each step.
We too often think we can out train flexibility, mobility or range of motion with strength. It doesn’t happen that way. In the next section we will focus on stretching.