Developing your speed (part 6) - Flexibility
In the sixth of seven articles on speed development, Patrick Beith reviews a much-neglected topic regarding not only speed training but overall athletic development - flexibility.
Most athletes (mostly male athletes) will give their best effort for 95% of practice. But when it comes to stretching out after a workout or competition, they are nowhere to be found. In the first article, I went over why static stretching before your workout makes you slower and why dynamic activities provide more benefits. Remember? Good! Let us talk about stretching after training or competition. The best time to stretch is after intense activity when the body is warm, and the muscles have good blood flow. It is during this time that you can expect to make your biggest gains in the range of motion and muscle flexibility.
Practice does not end until after flexibility work is completed
Too often, post-practice flexibility work consists of athletes sitting together in a group with outstretched legs, not stretching but having a conversation! These athletes have just worked hard to become better, and instead of finishing the session the right way, they are only adding to low flexibility by allowing themselves to get tight. Remember, low flexibility leads to a reduced range of motion which means you reduce your stride length. Additionally, chronically tight muscles lead to a greater frequency of muscle spasms, strains and pulls, most of which can be avoided by taking 5 to 10 minutes to stretch. In this article, we will focus on one of the four proven techniques that many athletes use to increase their flexibility - hurdle drills.
Hurdle Mobility Drills
Hurdle drills will help you increase the range of motion in your hips. Many athletes are extremely limited in their range of motion in this area which means they are going to be running slower than they are capable of. Line up five hurdles and set them to the lowest height. The spacing between each hurdle will depend on the height and/or flexibility of the athlete. Start with 3 feet between each hurdle and adjust from there. Repeat each exercise 4 times.
Stand up tall and step over each hurdle, keeping your knee up when stepping over and make sure you are not swinging the foot around the hurdle. Focus on driving the knee up so that the shin stays perpendicular to the ground at all times. As a variation to Walkovers (and to test your team's balance) have them walk backwards over the hurdles.
Starting with the hips perpendicular to the hurdle, drive your knee up to step over the middle of the hurdle. Lead with the right leg twice and the left leg twice.
Over & Under
Step over the first hurdle like you did in the walkovers. As you pull the trail leg over, pivot with your first foot so that the hips are perpendicular to the hurdle and step under hurdle number 2 with your second foot. Drop your hips so you can get low enough to be able to step and make it through underneath the second hurdle. Repeat until you have completed the five hurdles. This is a phenomenal exercise for opening up your hips and a great way to end your practices!
I highly recommend trying these hurdle mobility exercises on your own. You will be amazed at how effective they are at increasing the range of motion in your hips and increasing your running stride length.
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About the Author
Patrick Beth is a co-owner of Athletes' Acceleration, Inc, a company devoted to performance enhancement whose mission is to improve the knowledge base of motivated coaches and athletes to improve athletic performance. He is a Performance Consultant certified by the National Strength and Conditioning Association (CSCS), the American Council of Sports Medicine (HFI), the National Academy of Sports Medicine (PES). He is a USA Track and Field Level II Coach in the Sprints, Hurdles and Jumps.