Speed is often the factor that separates the elite from the average athlete. But there's more to speed than running fast in a straight line. For most sports, you need to be able to cut and change direction. (Find more ways to get faster.)
The faster you can slow down, the quicker you can change direction and re-accelerate to your top speed. Yet, deceleration—the ability to slow down and control force production—is often ignored during training, which usually focuses primarily on acceleration and top speed. In fact, many athletes only work on the first of the three ways we move:
Improving deceleration technique is critical for most sports since players rarely run in a straight line. With over 200,00 ACL injuries a year—not to mention MCL and LCL injuries—due to deceleration, this technique must be taught to keep you healthy and strong. (Learn more about knee injuries.)
To improve your ability to decelerate and teach your muscles to absorb force, you have to work on the eccentric phase of any exercise. This typically means the lowering portion of the movement, such as lowering the bar to your chest during a Bench Press, or lowering into a Squat. (Learn more about the eccentric phase.)
The key is to focus on tempo, or the time it takes to complete a portion of the rep. Next time you are in the weight room, try lowering for three seconds, pausing for one second and exploding upwards. You can do this on both your main and accessory lifts.
Field work is all about learning to stabilize and move with proper joint angles to improve change of direction efficiency and safety. You must master movement patterns and technique before performing a movement at full speed. Try these drills to improve your deceleration technique:
Co-authored with Zach Lush, owner of Delucas Sports Performance.