Since sprints in soccer are typically under 40 yards, do you really need to bother with developing your max velocity mechanics? After all, the research from track says most 100-meter sprinters don’t reach full speed until around 60 yards.
The key to remember is that you need to use more upright mechanics when you hit 75 percent of your top speed. For most soccer players (and most non-track athletes), this happens somewhere between 12 and 22 yards, depending on your age and top speed.
It’s a big field and at times you need to open the throttle and increase your speed to cover a longer distance and get to a space before your opponent. As a soccer player, typically by the time you have accelerated to about 75 percent of your full speed, the mechanics of sprinting become more “upright.” In the track world, upright mechanics are also known as Maximum Velocity mechanics.
Put another way, most athletes achieve that 75 percent in 7 to 12 steps. That means if players have to take 7 to 12 steps in a full sprint (which they do), they need effective maximum velocity mechanics.
When playing soccer, you may be sprinting with a ball at your feet. You also likely need your head and eyes up to see opportunities on the field. These two factors combine to make upright running mechanics even more important to soccer athletes.
As we discussed in our article on acceleration, the scientifically-based and field-tested Speed Formula still applies. There are 4 key factors in faster play, and can each can be manipulated, applied differently and trained to make you a faster athlete.
Compared to the “punch & drive” piston-like action of acceleration, the leg action of max velocity sprinting is quite different. When looked at from the side, it’s more of a circular leg action.
The foot recovers much higher, with the typical “butt kick” action, then steps over the knee and finishes with the thigh nearly parallel to the ground. This is the recovery phase. Doing this as fast as possible helps with stride frequency and positions the legs for the next phase.
From that thigh block, the next part is the Ground Prep phase, as the leg drives down and back. This is a key element in efficient technique to apply maximum force into the ground. We often find if an athlete doesn’t have the OPTIMAL RANGE OF MOTION for these positions, his or her technique efficiency suffers.
RELATED: 3 Biggest Myths About Soccer Speed
Ground Contact Force
One of the most important technical issues in max velocity sprinting is where your foot hits the ground. It’s all about Newton’s 3rd Law of Motion: equal and opposite.
If your foot strikes the ground in front of your body, the only type of force it can apply is backwards, or what we call a “braking” force. This slows you down. This is over-striding.
What we want to happen is for your foot to strike the ground nearly underneath your body, while the foot is already traveling backwards. This allows you to apply your force in the PROPER DIRECTION, as noted in the speed formula.
Research has demonstrated that the faster the runner, the more force they apply to the ground. Fast players cannot be weak. The ground reaction forces are anywhere from 3x to 6x body weight for elite sprinters. This means you need to be capable of producing a BIG FORCE.
Ground Contact Time
During max velocity sprinting, you’re traveling faster. Your foot should be landing under your body, then recovering quickly, so it has contact with the ground for only a limited time. This means you have to apply BIG FORCE in a SMAL TIME.
Large forces producing work in a short time is the definition of Power. To be fast, you have to be powerful. We call this type of strength quality Speed-Strength—the ability to apply force against body weight quickly.
Improving Maximum Velocity
The STACK Velocity Sports Performance Speed Formula applies here. The two biggest areas that will help are motor control for efficient full speed sprint mechanics and the ability of your muscles to apply Speed-Strength power.
Efficient mechanics are developed through a variety of technical drills and exercises designed to facilitate motor learning and skill acquisition. This is definitely a skill, and developing the right technique is helped by working with a knowledgeable coach.
One of the elements of good technique is efficient recovery and step-over action, as in these two recommended exercises:
Recommended Exercises: Step-Over Run-Jump Rope, Butt Kick to Step Over
Along with a fast and full range-of-motion recovery, you need to have good front side mechanics to apply the right force to the ground. The next exercises help develop that, but usually take some help to master:
Recommended Exercises: Straight-Leg Shuffle to Fast Leg
Training the lower body to develop the strength qualities to apply a BIG FORCE in a SMALL TIME and deliver it in the PROPER DIRECTION can be enhanced with sprinting as well as other training methods. Better power capabilities, combined with developing efficient motor control technique will produce a faster athlete.
Recommended Exercises: Straight-Leg Bounding, Double Unders, Kettlebell Swings
Full Speed Ahead
In soccer, there are lots of key moments when sprinting your fastest beyond 8 to 12 steps makes an impact on the game. Thus, you need to develop your maximum velocity sprinting mechanics by applying the Speed Formula. Speed is a skill, and like any other skill, it can be trained.