The arm swing is extremely important when working on speed development, because it has a direct effect on what the legs will be doing. A dialed in arm swing will set the legs up for success. While the arms are important, the legs are doing most of the work. Proper mechanics is crucial to make sure that maximal force is being applied to the ground.
Working on these two pieces of low hanging fruit independently is a great way to set your athletes up for success. Now, it’s time to start tying the two together. Before we set those future D1 all-stars free to go sprint as fast as they can, we have to give them an opportunity to pattern these two components together in a controlled format.
At this stage, it’s helpful to use patterning drills that have a broken rhythm to them to ease into coordinating the upper and lower extremities. While these drills are slower than sprinting all out, we’re not concerned with breaking the sound barrier at this point. Right now, our goal is to teach in a low stress environment where the athletes can make mistakes and learn how to coordinate the arms and legs together. As an added bonus, this will provide us the opportunity to coach within a window and simultaneously analyze posture and position.
Before we get into the drills, we first need to talk about the positioning of the trunk. Speed is a product of posture, and to effectively connect the arms to the legs we need a rigid trunk to allow for efficient transfer of forces. Without this, the result will be a bleeding of forces. Our best tool to reinforce proper posture is through our favorite warm up, the Dead Bug, and all of its variants.
Broken Rhythm Purpose
Skip variants are a great place to start assessing an athlete's ability to connect the upper and lower body as well as improve coordination. These drills involve all the positions and landmarks that I addressed earlier.
Also, these broken rhythm movements occur in a confined space at a slower pace when compared to an all out sprint; this allows us to observe and give real time, actionable feedback.
We are going to begin with some lower-height skips in the form of our A-Skips. This is a great place to start due to its low power output and manageable rhythm. This lower stress movement is going to lay the groundwork for everything to come.
Once the athlete has established competency in the A-Skips, it’s time to move onto the High Skip. The High Skip is a great chance to work on seeing how well posture and position can be maintained while increasing the force output from the leg drive.
Single Leg A-Skip
Although in this drill we are only going to be focusing on executing one leg at a time, this is likely going to be more challenging because of the change in rhythm. This is a great chance to circle back to a task they have mastered in the alternating form, and put the sole focus on a single pairing of the arms and legs.
Out of all of the drills in this article, this is the one that is going to catch everyone's attention. It’s novel and looks cool and fun (trust me, it is). However, this drill carries its risk mainly in the calf and Achilles and is not something that you should just throw at an athlete. This drill isn’t just about the load of the band. Instead, think of the band simply as a tool to challenge the positioning and patterning of the limbs. When used correctly it will allow the athlete to spend more time in a forward lean preparing them for acceleration and more time patterning their limbs. Used incorrectly it will negatively alter technique and in the worse case, seriously injure your athlete.
Before getting to this drill, you need to have laid the foundation through Bedrock which has plenty of opportunity to pattern what the action of the arms and legs should look like. Allowing at least one reset on the program before introducing this drill will ensure there has been time invested in perfecting these patterning drills and the strength to reduce the increased forces of this movement. If you’re working speed alone it isn't unusual for you to have worked 6-9 months on this foundation before getting to this drill.
Assuming you have laid the groundwork, this can be a very effective drill. The external stimulus is going to challenge the athlete’s ability to maintain their patterning. It can also be effective at helping athletes develop increased force production. What goes up must come back down, and with the band wanting to return to its resting state, this is going to happen at a greater rate. When properly prepared, this can help the muscles and tendons learn to take on greater loads. The band is also a great way for the athlete to get comfortable and spend time in a forward lean which will come in handy when working on the acceleration phase.
This should feel much like the Power Skips. However, whereas Power Skips are more about vertical force, the band will allow more of a forward lean and the ability for force to be applied in more of a horizontal fashion. At the top of each leg drive, the athlete should focus on bringing the ankle, knee and hip in flexion with 90 degrees of flexion in each joint. As they go to attack the ground keeping the ankle rigid, they should make contact with the ball of the foot. The arms should be aggressively punching up and hammering back.
The trampoline sprint is going to be the ultimate test of our patterning work. We are going to remove the broken rhythm and have our athletes get after it. The trampoline is going to apply forces greater than the athlete will experience; the harder the athlete drives into the ground the greater force that leg is going to return up with. This is going to test athletes’ coordination of the full body movement in response to the external stimulus of the trampoline. The athlete also constantly has to modulate their form as the forces are ever changing based on their input. We can still observe all of this while coaching within a window.
Upper Body Faults
There are a number of things we are looking for as we run our athletes through these drills. For this article, I’m going to address the global faults we are going to see throughout all of the drills that we have covered.
One of the first things we will want to check is that they are maintaining a contralateral movement pattern, where the arm that is up is the opposite of the knee that is up. You will be surprised how many will initially be moving in an ipsilateral pattern, meaning the same arm and leg are moving (think a Super Mario jump).
The next place we want to check is the action of the arms. Things like shortened swing, elevated shoulders, crossbody movement and clenched hands all have a high likelihood of showing up. All of these are going to affect the ROM of the arm swing and by association, the ROM of the legs as well. Spoiler alert: if you saw these faults during your arm swing drill, there is a good chance they will pop up here as well, even if you have fixed them in those drills. New stresses are going to bring old faults back to the surface.
Moving down the body, we get to the all important trunk. As I mentioned earlier, a Dead Bug posture needs to be maintained. Be on the lookout for any torso rotation as well as any flexion or extension beyond the neutral spine position that we are looking for.
Lower Body Faults
At the top of the movement, we want to make sure that the knee is bent enough to bring it into alignment with the toe; this will help ensure that when contact is made with the ground it will be under to slightly behind.
From there, the hip should be flexed enough so that knee is just below its crease. With the toe, knee and hip flexed, we want to make sure that everything is aligned. A common fault you will see is the knee crossing over the midline of the body. Remember, any misalignment will lead to inefficiencies or injury potentials when it is time to go full speed.
Don’t forget: ankle positioning is crucial since it is responsible for the transfer of so much force when sprinting. Any time the foot is off the ground, we want to make sure it’s being pulled into dorsiflexion with a neutral foot position. This isn’t going to be natural for a lot of athletes in the beginning, so be sure to keep an eye out for it.
The last place to give attention to is how the foot is making contact with the ground. There is a good chance that, while athletes are still trying to figure things out, they will make contact with their toes instead of the ball of their foot. This is going to allow for forces to dissipate instead of being productively redirected. Striking at the toes also puts the ankle in a weak position to take on the magnitude of forces being developed; be sure to watch this carefully.
It’s important to note the order of operations I’ve laid out throughout this article; it wasn’t just a happy accident but rather a clear linear thought process. We started with skips at a low height, then progressed through the skips at varying heights, speeds, patterns and resistances. The overarching goal of these drills was to challenge the athlete’s ability to maintain posture and position, further preparing the muscles and joints for the coordination and execution that will be needed come game day. After all, we need to stress to progress.
However, it is imperative that you first lay the foundation before moving on to a more advanced skill. Don’t fall into the trap of, “those banded skips look really cool. I’m going to have my athletes do those!” You wouldn’t try to learn calculus before you even understand algebra, so don’t make your athletes try to either. What you were able to read in a couple minutes represent months and months of progressive work for your athletes.
Carl Case has been an athlete his whole life, playing both football and rugby in high school. After high school, he directed his focus to rugby where he went on to become a collegiate Midwest All Star. Carl continues to play rugby on a mens team near South Bend, and was part of a National Runner Up team. He found CrossFit and then Power Athlete as a way to fuel his rugby performance. He has been following the Power Athlete methodology since it’s launch in 2009 and attended his first CrossFit Football seminar in August of 2009.
After an introduction to CrossFit in 2007, Carl became a certified coach in 2009 and co-owner of CrossFit South Bend in 2011. In addition to coaching CrossFit and Power Athlete inspired classes at the gym, Carl has been coaching high school rugby since 2009. He uses the CrossFit Football and Power Athlete concepts to help his young athletes identify their goals and provides pointed instruction to help achieve those goals.
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