This article is guest blogged by Travis Hansen. It is an excerpt from his book The Speed Encyclopedia.
THE NEED FOR ACCELERATION MORE THAN TOP SPEED IN MOST SPORTS
Just like the title states, most circumstances in athletics involve a greater need for acceleration versus top speed. What’s the difference, you might ask? Mark Rippetoe in his book “Starting Strength” states that acceleration is “the increase in speed.”1 In other words, acceleration is how quickly we can create speed or move faster. Top speed is how fast we can move, and does not necessarily factor in the time it takes to get there. We can have great speed or have the capacity to move fast, and not produce it immediately if our acceleration is poor or less than optimal. The main thing I would like to point out here is that a majority of field and court sports and other activities are functions of acceleration first and speed and top speed second, if at all.
“In sports where average sprint distances range from 10 to 30m, it would appear that the ability to achieve maximum velocity within the shortest time frame is more important than the maximum velocity itself. That is, acceleration rather than maximum velocity would seem to be of greater importance to many sportsmen and women.”2
Of course there is greater speed when you have faster acceleration because you are increasing speed, but the main issue is one of how quickly an athlete can accelerate and increase speed in a given direction, and not how fast an athlete is capable of sprinting if allowed more time.
Think about this example for a second. John has great speed and top speed, and can move faster than anyone. Unfortunately, it takes John awhile to accelerate and increase his speed appreciably (40-100 yards). Consequently, John seems slow and suffers in his sport because a majority of the activity occurs very quickly across really short distances (5-40 yards) and requires rapid acceleration. In order for John to be successful he has to increase speed and reach his speed potential much sooner, and the only way he can do this is by increasing his acceleration (0-40) and training as such. Not only is this the case for John, but the vast majority of athletes in society need to perform great and focus their training on very short distances, and it’s rarely the case in my experience.
So the next time you hear a mom, dad, or coach say they want to improve their son, daughter, or athlete’s speed or “game speed,” what they really are looking for is faster acceleration from their kid. Being able to move faster as soon as possible is absolutely key! As an interesting side note, the body actually does not reach top speed until the 40-80 yard mark, depending on the level of the athlete, so top speed does not even occur in most cases.
“Deceleration only becomes a factor after a sprinter passes his point of maximum speed. For the top sprinter, this might be at sixty meters, and he would not decelerate appreciably for another twenty. The intermediate sprinter reaches maximum speed at about 45 meters, and thus has a much greater deceleration potential. And the beginner begins decelerating fairly rapidly after he hits his maximum speed at 35 meters.”3
According to this scientific fact, many athletes generally never come close to reaching top speed in competition, but they constantly have to accelerate, decelerate, and re?accelerate as fast as possible in multiple directions. I just feel it is important to clarify terms and define the actual needs of an athlete, so that we are better able to design a program and prescribe the right type of training for our athletes to afford them the best chance to excel in competition.
And now that we know more about the value of acceleration and speed, how do we go about obtaining these abilities in our training??
The answer is to develop more POWER, since it will be the make or break skill in this department.
About the Author
Travis Hansen was the Head Strength and Conditioning Coach for the Reno Bighorns of the NBADL for their 2010 season, and he is currently the Director of The Reno Speed School inside the South Reno Athletic Club.
He is the author of The Speed Encyclopedia.
1- Rippetoe, Mark. Starting Strength. Wichita Falls, TX: The Aasgaard Company, 2000.
2? Young, W. B. (2006) ‘Transfer of strength and power training to sports performance. International journal of Sports
Performance and Physiology, 1: 74— 83
3 ?Francis, Charlie. Key Concepts Elite. CharlieFrancis.com, 2008.