Speed & Agility Training Zone!

Increased Stride Frequency Can Enhance Game Speed

By: Bill Parisi, Founder & CEO Parisi Speed Schools

When someone utters the name Usain Bolt, one word comes to my mind…FAST!!!  In case you need a refresher on track & field history, Bolt won a total of six gold medals during the 2008 and 2012 Olympic games, three in Beijing and three in London.  Along the way, he broke world records in both the 100 and 200 meters.  Remarkably, Bolt had only been running the 100-meter dash for one year before his first gold medal!

These feats put Bolt in a class all to himself.  There have been some phenomenal sprinters over the years but what Bolt accomplished had never been done before in the history of track & field.  The only other men to win gold medals in the 100, 200 and the sprint relay at one Olympics were Carl Lewis in 1984, Bobby Morrow in 1956 and Jesse Owens in 1936.  Amazingly, none of those greats set individual world records in any of the events at the Olympics.  These accomplishments put Bolt in rarified air, earning him the title of “Worlds Fastest Man.” 

Now, how does this apply to you and the students that you train?  Most athletes and coaches do not realize that linear speed on the track plays a significant role in improving overall gamespeed.  Any athlete or coach can learn a great deal from Bolt’s technique, even if they are not trying to break records.

One of the areas that Bolt excels at is his stride length.  At 6’4, his stride is remarkably long.  Supplement that with his tremendous turnover ability and you have the makings of the best sprinter of all time. We know we cannot do anything about a person’s height or leg length, but we can do things in training that will improve stride length and stride frequency.  For this article however, we will only be looking at stride frequency. 

Stride frequency is defined as the number of strides per second an athlete can take.  The ability to “turnover” is linked to an athlete’s gamespeed and overall performance.  Stride frequency is determined by three physical attributes: technique, strength and the ability to recruit/contract and relax muscles quickly.  The control you have over your nervous system is a primary factor in determining stride frequency.  The training and development of an athlete’s nervous system is something that most coaches tend to overlook in training. 

The nervous system has two primary areas, the Central Nervous System (CNS) and the Peripheral Nervous System (PNS).  The CNS represents the largest part of the nervous system, which includes the brain and the spinal cord. The PNS consists of all the other nerves that extend out from the CNS.  Understand that both the CNS and PNS are taxed with training and competition.  They both need time to recover, just like the muscular system needs time to recover after training.  In many cases, the nervous system may need even more time to recover based on the type of training you are performing. 

This is critical for a coach to understand if interested in improving speed.  The nervous system helps determine how fast an athlete can turnover his strides.  When sprinting, you are asking the body to recruit/contract and relax muscles quickly. In other words, with every stride, an athlete contracts certain muscles (agonist, prime movers) while relaxing the opposing (antagonist) set of muscles.  This is the essence of fast turnover or stride frequency. As each stride is taken, the hip flexors (Rectus Femoris, Iliopsoas) of one lower limb are firing, while the hip extensors (hamstring, gluteals) should be relaxed.  The exact opposite takes place with the other limb.  Then, the process is quickly reversed on both limbs.

The quality of neural recruitment and biomotor control plays an important role in enhancing stride frequency.  Usain Bolt has high biomotor control, especially for his height.  Most tall athletes tend to have less biomotor control because of the awkwardness of their limbs.  However, Bolt has defied this assumption with his performances over the past seven years. 

The ability to increase biomotor control and more specifically, stride frequency, can be accomplished with specific drills that have a high level of focus.  One of the easiest drills I teach young athletes is called Quick Steps.  This drill is designed to maximize an athlete’s turnover by taking very short, quick strides.  The athlete starts off standing tall with their elbows at 90 degrees.  The athlete should focus on keeping both feet dorsiflexed (toes up) and act as if they were running on hot coals.  They should be concentrating on lifting their feet about 3-4 inches off the ground and turning over as fast as possible, while taking extremely short strides. 

During this exercise, it is critical to keep the body erect the whole time.  Keeping your feet low to the ground on each stride allows for greater turnover.  Short, low strides equates to greater turnover.  Remember, this is strictly a turnover drill. It is also important not to stomp your feet.  Your feet should hit the ground softly and then explode off the ground quickly. This drill should be performed for about five yards and should take five seconds, which would comprise one “set.”  After one set you should take a five second rest and walk five yards and then perform the drill immediately again. The goal is to perform three sets for 30 yards.  Repeat these three sets again for a total of six sets.  This is a great drill to increase turnover. 

The biomotor skills you hone when working on increasing stride frequency provide a carry over effect to enhancing fast lower body athletic movements.  It is similar to an athlete trying to increase their bench press strength.  To maximize your bench press you do not just bench.  You perform different exercises to develop your triceps, deltoids, rotator cuff and posterior shoulder. Stronger muscles all around the shoulder will increase the ability to generate greater force quickly which is required for a big bench press.  The ability to retract and relax muscles quickly is a skill that enhances turnover and is a necessity to excel at any athletic event. 

Lastly, it is important to understand that Bolt has unbelievable genetics and that blessing was simply the luck of the draw.  Everyone is born with certain genetic potential and it is the training that helps an athlete reach that potential.  Imagine if you were Usain Bolt’s coach.  It would be an honor, but would come with great responsibility.  Now you have to make the fastest guy in the world, even faster. 

Now take a look at your situation. The expectations of working with a high school, middle school or grade school athlete are much more reasonable.  The important thing for a coach to remember is that the slower someone is, the more potential improvement he or she can make.  Have your athletes focus on stride frequency drills and they will be sure to improve their Gamespeed.

To learn more about speed training and the business of sports performance check out www.parisischool.com/businessopportunity 

(April 2015)