Power, speed and strength are over-glorified skills in the world of sports. These skills are highly valued and athletes strive to improve them, but they are not the only pieces of the puzzle. (Learn about the principles of agility training.)
Deceleration is often ignored. When do you ever hear someone comment about an athlete's ability to decelerate? Likely never.
Training to slow down may sound counterintuitive to your goal to be fast, but this skill is just as important as the three mentioned above. To be effective at your sport, you need the ability to quickly decelerate before changing pace or direction.
Straight-away speed gets a lot of attention, and rightfully so. Millions of dollars are up for grabs depending on how fast an athlete can sprint 40 yards. However, there are very few times when you can actually use top-end speed during live-game action. (See How to Improve Quickness.)
For example, say athlete A is substantially faster than athlete B in a straight sprint. People marvel at athlete A's speed; however, athlete B appears quicker and faster than athlete A on the field. This is due to B's ability to decelerate, change pace and change direction.
Wes Welker is a prime example. He may not be lightning fast in a straight line, but he certainly appears fast on the field.
Injuries often occur during stop-and-go athletic movements. Athletes move at high speed, and as speed increases so does momentum. As momentum builds up, it becomes more difficult to decelerate. (Learn how to prevent hamstring injuries.) Joints and tendons absorb this momentum. If momentum is too great, they can tear or buckle under the pressure. Deceleration training conditions your body to absorb these forces to help prevent an injury.
Imbalances often occur from repetitive movements. Specific muscles become stronger and more powerful during tasks such as jumping and sprinting. Over time, they begin to produce far more power than surrounding muscles can support or absorb. You might be able to jump 40 inches, but can you absorb and decelerate the force of a 40-inch jump when landing? Probably not—if you ignore your deceleration imbalance.
You might not recognize these imbalances; however, your central nervous system (CNS) does. Your CNS wants to keep you safe at all costs. So it will compensate by shifting movements to stronger muscles, causing you to further neglect weaker muscles.
Training deceleration allows you to redress imbalances instead of continuing to reinforce them. You work the muscles that are opposed to jumping up or accelerating, which are commonly engaged during any athletic event.
Sprint for 10-30 yards, then quickly decelerate to a slow jog or walk. Accelerate to full speed and repeat 3-5 times.
Incorporate a reactive aspect to this drill by having a partner tell you when to accelerate and decelerate.
It's important to work the lowering phase of a movement. A great way to do this is with the Squat. Rather than lower to the bottom of a squat at a normal pace, lower the weight over a 4-6-second count. This will train your muscles and tendons to absorb the forces experienced when sprinting and jumping. Do 4-5x3-4.
As your front foot lunges forward and makes contact with the ground, the weight of your body (and any additional weight) creates forward momentum. You leg muscles must absorb this forward momentum and transfer it through the ground to push off and back to the starting position. Do 3-4x6-8 each leg.