More skill or strength?

By Sparta Science

October 13, 2010

Speed is the most coveted athletic feat, ranging from the current obsession over the throwing velocity of a baseball pitcher to a football player’s 40 yard sprint time. Perhaps, none more publicized than the 100 meter sprint event and its current world record. All of these impressive performances are generally fueled by 2 main factors, physical ability and skill.

A 2010 French study examined 12 sprinters, half of which were elite level and the other half were well trained. The researchers looked for the major differences between the two groups and their performance on the first 10yards of a sprint. This first 10 yards, or the acceleration period, was studied because it is the most important determinant of final sprint times (see Sparta Point 1/6/10).

The authors concluded that the muscular strength and arm coordination characterized the efficiency of these start times. In other words, the biggest factors were a combination of physical ability (strength) and skill (arm coordination). Specifically this physical ability, or strength, was measured by a Force Plate (see SpartaPoint 1/27/10) that displayed a larger impulse and rate of force development in elite sprinters. So these athletes not only produced force more quickly, as measured by the rate of force production, but they also were able to maintain this force production for a long period of time, a value known as impulse.

So as we pursue speed, whether it is running speed or throwing velocity, we have to find a balance between skill development and the ability to produce force, both quickly and subsequently sustained. Every individual is different; some need to spend more time in their sport’s environment to refine movements, while others are better served spending their time building strength through resistance training. Regardless of your sport or age, neither aspect should be ignored.

So if you’re only squatting heavy or only refining sprint mechanics on the track, you are half as fast as you could be.

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