Short-range sprint speed is probably the most important athletic quality for field sport athletes. The difference between getting past your opponent and being able to score is often determined by hundredths of a second. For sports like soccer, football, basketball, lacrosse, hockey, and many others, gaining a quicker step is often the difference between scoring and being shut down or even winning and losing. Especially when athletics get very competitive at high levels, being one step faster can be a huge milestone.
So what if there was a way to instantly attain a quicker step? As you can tell by the title of this article, there is a claim that sleds can provide just that. A recent research paper proved this for a group of high school soccer players.
Everyone knows that warmups are an effective tool for several reasons. The first, obviously, is to warm the body up. Increasing body temperature allows us to move faster and increases the range of motion to the joints. Plus, being warm naturally helps us feel better and more mentally prepared to perform. The next and equally important reason is to reduce the risk of injury. Warm bodies can better react to and evade danger. Warmed-up muscles and joints are also less likely to get hurt from a strain or pull.
Warmups are universal for all ages, and their methods are usually the same. The young athletes typically perform a few bouts of jogging, quickly followed by sport-specific drills such as basketball layups, throwing the ball, kicking the ball between teammates, etc. At the higher levels, such as high school, you’ll likely see some stretching and some dynamic movements like lunges, RDLs, and sprints as well. The complexity of warmups generally increases as the competition also rises.
As you can imagine, professional organizations are always looking for ways to improve athletic performance of their athletes. The National Strength and Conditioning Association recently tested a method using sleds to improve short burst running speeds. Their findings produced fantastic results.
The researchers used a methodology called post-activation potentiation (PAP). PAP is an exercise science term that refers to a method of performance enhancement. The idea behind PAP is to lift or move something heavy and see if that makes the athlete faster at the activity without the weight. Think of a baseball batter warming up with a weighted bat, then using a lighter bat in the game. That’s PAP.
This same methodology was applied using a weighted sled. The researchers measured the athletes’ 15-meter speed first. Then they had the athletes push a sled at top speed. After resting, they retested their 15-meter speed without the sled. All in all, 13 out of the 15 soccer players instantly recorded a faster speed, by an average of .10 seconds. Remember, this is only 15 meters, a distance the athletes averaged 2.7 seconds to cover. On a soccer field, covering 15 meters in 2.6 seconds against a defender’s 2.7 seconds can often mean the difference in scoring. Improving short burst speed by even a tenth of a second can literally be a game-changer.
How To Use a Sled To Instantly Boost Speed
The study and other pieces of research agree that using a sled weighing roughly 65-70% of the athlete’s body weight is best for results. The athlete should run with the sled at top speed for 15 meters. The study performed three reps for each athlete, with ample rest time between reps.
Before you begin implementing sleds into your warmups, some thoughts first. First, this study was performed on artificial turf. Using this on natural grass isn’t going to work as well. Athletes and coaches need to consider the surface and the amount of friction on it compared to the smoother artificial turf.
Next, just because this worked well for a group of high school soccer players doesn’t mean this is the best methodology for you and your team. Certain athletes may respond better to lighter or heavier weights.
Then there are pregame nerves. Some athletes are already fired up and won’t need the three reps to turn on the nervous system to max levels. Other athletes may need more reps on a colder day.
Every athlete and coach needs to find what works best for them. This study only provided guidelines in a pre-determined environment. Surface, weather, and game-day climates should all affect how an athlete warms up. However, using the principles of PAP, particularly sled sprints, is a proven and effective method for increasing short burst speeds. Use this to your advantage!
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