At first glance, the basic mechanics of running seem relatively simple. Right, left, right, left—right? But viewed through the eyes of a veteran strength and conditioning coach, the movements become much more complex and elaborated.
Follow along. Lower-body motions are executed in a three-phase stride sequence: supporting the weight of the body, driving off the ground in one direction, and recovering by bringing the leg up with the hip in order for the opposite leg to alternate positioning. As the upper-body arm action pushes and pulls in the direction chosen by the brain, it sends a message to the body through the central nervous system. Got that?
The key, according to Mark McKown, strength and conditioning coach for the Utah Jazz, is to drive your leg off the ground as quickly as possible, with a large amount of force and with proper arm action.
One drill that helps monitor your speed is the Dowel Jump Test. “Dorsiflexion [keeping toes pointed up] is such a key element of sprinting or jumping,” McKown says. “[The drill] forces dorsal flexion if you are going to perform it correctly.”
From a health standpoint, the drill improves joint angles with the lower body, teaching athletes to keep their knees from drifting out past their toes. That kind of drifting forces more pressure on the patella tendon and can lead to injury if not corrected.
Using a dowel, instead of just a line on the ground, is a vital part of performing the drill properly. McKown says, “The dowel is a good teaching tool. It forces athletes to think about dorsal flexion, which after awhile becomes a habit. You want the athlete to think about lifting his toes, keeping his chest up, moving as rapidly as possible across the dowel and back.”
Performing the Dowel Jump Test has helped the Jazz dance past their opponents on both ends of the court.
Dowel Jump Test
• Start on either side of the dowel with feet together
• Jump side to side over dowel as quickly as possible
• Touch both feet every time
Sets/Reps: 1×8 seconds (as many reps as possible)
Coaching Points: Do not hit the dowel // Avoid separating your feet to slow you down // Keep toes pointed up // Keep good posture with chest and head up // Use peripheral vision to see dowel
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