Updated: Jul 2, 2020
Training acceleration is not as complicated as people love to make it. Succeed with basic principles, create simple session structures and do it consistently, you will improve.
I was cycling at this time so I'm actually pretty pleased with my shapes here!
That’s not to say you shouldn’t read more about it and absorb as much credible information as you can on the subject (see Altis, James Wild etc), but be careful about immersing yourself in the unending world of ‘credible training content’. There is a lot of misleading information, even in the journals. Find some credible sources like the examples given and keep your eyes peeled for the commonalities, that should generally tell you you’re on the right track.
Now a bit like people in their cars who complain about sitting in traffic seemingly unaware that THEY are a part of the problem, allow me to contribute to said content saturation.
You’ve heard it before, you’ll hear it again and we’ll also say it: speed kills.
The ability to accelerate has an essential application for most sports. Especially in bobsleigh which is basically an acceleration sport. If you’re fast, you’re at a huge advantage. Because of this, insta-coaches love to talk about speed like it’s a mystical, scientific beast available to those with the required God-given genetics and high level coaching.
Here at The Brake we like to take the elite thing and make it the digestible thing so you can actually use it. Greek economist Yanis Varoufakis inspired this line of thinking with his view that if you are an ‘expert’ on a subject then you should be able to explain it in simple terms.
So How Do We Accelerate?
Principally, from a mechanically-optimal start position (i.e. all your joints and limbs are positioned in forward-leaning shapes that will allow you to express force), you explode into a straight line sprint with maximum intent and aggression on every step. You want to hold a forward lean position for as long as is effective (within your strength/technical capabilities), drive your elbows hard, punch your knees forward, push the ground, DORSI FLEX and focus on progressively raising yourself with every stride.
Picturing yourself as a ‘plane taking off’ is the old coaching cue.
The difference between the rapid ground contact achieved in sprinting at maximum velocity when you’re upright and in full flight is that as you accelerate, you’re actually in contact with the ground for longer. Therefore you should encourage longer and stronger push cues in your first few strides and allow the body to naturally take those shorter contacts and stride length increases as you move forward with each progressively more aggressive step.
Like any skill, holding this longer-pushing forward-leaning accelerative position takes patience and repetition. You need to do this over and over and over. You also need to include some resisted sprint variations to help you achieve these positions. The sled’s resistance slows you down enough that you can focus on pushing the ground away without feeling like you’re going to fall on your face.
Call yourselves Buzz Lightyear, because accelerating is essentially ‘falling with style’.
You can manipulate sled weight for different outcomes. Don’t go too heavy because, whilst it might be good for getting stronger, there’s a lot of research saying it doesn’t get you faster. Personally I only ever used around 20% of my bodyweight for any distance MAX, and I developed a reputation as a fast starter. Loading up a sled anywhere from 10% to 75% of your bodyweight should yield results.
Additionally, consider how you harness yourself to the sled. I’ve always used Raptor Weight Vests as they’re a durable bit of kit that also let you load up the torso which I have found very effective. You can also harness from the lower back which helps you focus on getting your hips through with a better fulcrum point. Harnessing around your hips is ok but tends to pull you down a bit. Don’t opt for a connection point any higher up your back than the lumbar portion.
Should I Think About My Shins?
‘Shin angles’ also cause a lot of confusion for the layperson when first learning to sprint. The only reason I mention them here is because with a lot of the beginners I’ve worked with, they tend to kick the shin out, causing them to use their hamstrings more to ‘pull’ them from stride to stride (a common cause of tendinopathy in the hamstring insertions behind the knee). Keep the shin bone at an angle that will create forward momentum.
Think of it like this, if you were holding a missile and you wanted to fire it as far as you could, would you hold it vertically or angled behind you? No, of course you wouldn’t, you’d aim it up and forward. Think of your shins like loaded missiles, the harder you push back into the floor with them angled correctly (parallel with torso), the more effectively you will launch forward.
What The Hell Is Dorsi Flexion?
Dorsi flexion at the ankle just means to point your feet and toes up.
Essentially ‘pulling toes up to the sky with every ground contact’ helps create the stiffness and spring-like effect we want in the ankles. Consider your calf and achilles as a system with enormous power potential and your feet and ankles as the switch.
Toe down, the switch is off and therefore the system.
Toe up, the system is switched on and ready to load and explode.
Try it now, feel the back of your calf with toes passively down then pointed actively up. Feel the difference? So keep drilling that element too.
Simple, Repeatable Session Structures
Once you’ve got your basic cues lined up (forward lean, push the ground for longer, rise progressively and aggressively) you can set up simple sessions to work these elements as often as you can.
Note that accelerations require maximal output, so you need adequate recovery. But again, keep it simple and logical. As volume and intensity increases, rest and recovery should rise concurrently.
X4 10m sprints with around 2 min recovery between each
X4 20m sprints with around 4 min recovery between each
X4 30m sprints with around 5 min recovery between each
If you’re doing sled pulls, the same principles apply.