By Dan Hutchison, MS, ATC, CSCS
The training applications for running speed development have taken on a number of different concepts for optimal enhancement. Some concepts have shown to be highly effective but coach dependent, others just as effective but equipment dependent. Another words, there are good coaches out there, as well as good pieces of equipment. Good coaches, just like good equipment, can be limited by budget, location and sometimes luck. By understanding some basic principles of running speed development, coaches can be highly effective with minimal equipment and a limited budget. Resistance cord devices fall into the ‘minimal equipment/limited budget’ category in that they are typically less expensive than traditional weight training equipment, i.e., dumbbells, barbells, racks, machines, etc., but provide a unique, minimalistic stimulus to improving running velocity, both at top-end speed and during the acceleration phase.
One common misconception of utilizing resistance cords for running speed improvement is that cords don’t provide enough of an overload to the muscle groups associated. Whether we are dealing with top-end speed or acceleration, the fact is ‘less is more’. We want the athlete to be able to maintain a minimum of 90% of their top-end velocity when utilizing resistance cords, especially during over-speed applications. Commonly, 4-6% of the individual’s bodyweight is factored into the stretch of the cord device. The main culprit of too much resistance is developing poor running mechanics, or compensating in such a way that different motor units are firing to perform the task. Our goal is to stimulate the correct muscle groups in an efficient manner, to enhance muscle firing capacity at the most economical level.
Anchoring points have also been a topic of consideration when utilizing resistance cords for running speed improvement. Typically, loading points occur at the waist, the upper torso, and below the waist with attachment points at the mid-thigh and upper calf. The waist anchoring point is the most common for both over-speed and acceleration training, where upper torso and distal hip attachments are more common with starts and acceleration training. Attention to cord tension needs to be addressed in the waist loaded situation as too much load may cause movement in the pelvis, which can change running mechanics and promote insufficient muscle stimulation. Another words, if the tension on the cords is too high, the pelvis is essentially ‘pulled out’ as the athlete is running, and instead of simply overcoming a small tension on the cord and focusing on leg turn-over, the athlete is performing additional work to stay balanced, upright and safe, i.e., trying to minimize a ‘face-plant’! As mentioned earlier, if the load is kept at a minimum these factors can be reduced and training can be successful. Acceleration training will allow for a slightly higher degree of tension (10-15% of bodyweight) due to the short duration of the drill and the ‘power’ position the athlete is in to overcome gravity. Still, technique needs to be analyzed via the ‘trained eye’ or video, to make sure specific positions are not hindered due to the resistance.
Another factor often overlooked during resistance cord applications for running speed improvement, is performing the drill without resistance immediately following the cord-loaded bout. This idea supports the concept of post-activation potentiation (PAP). PAP involves the performance of a skill at maximal or near-maximal conditions, followed by a short recovery (i.e., anywhere from 2-8 minutes), to elicit enhanced performance gains in that particular skill/exercise. In this case, the stimulus is low in comparison to a max effort squat or deadlift, which would allow less recovery time between bouts, but provides a near-maximal stimulus based on the velocity of the movement. The speculated mechanism for this enhancement could be found in the recruitment of higher order motor units within the muscles involved with forward propulsion. The stimulus is low, the application is fast, and the recovery is short, but the benefits can be very impressive.
- Proper running mechanics should be established and practiced prior to adding resistance cords to either over-speed or acceleration movements.
- Lower cord tension is optimal for over-speed applications and to prevent poor running mechanics during the training.
- Athletes should be able to maintain 90% of their running velocity during cord-loaded training.
- Anchoring points can be utilized at the waist, upper torso, and distal hip (mid-thigh/upper calf), with waist anchoring being optimal for early stage speed development.
- Acceleration drills can utilize most anchoring conditions with strict attention to technique.
- Acceleration drills can offer a slightly higher cord tension due to the short duration of the drill and the athlete’s body position.
- All cord-loaded applications should be followed by non-cord-loaded repetitions to elicit an enhanced training experience through the concept of PAP.
In conclusion, resistance cord training applications can be added to all performance programs with minimal equipment and limited budgets, and a working knowledge of fundamental running mechanics. Velocity based movements with minimal loading, can maximize athlete performance in the areas of top-end speed and initial acceleration.
Dintiman, G. and Ward, B. (2003). Sports Speed. Human Kinetics 1.
Healy, R., and Comyns, T.M. (2017). The Application of Postactivation Potentiation Methods to Improve Sprint Speed. Strength and Conditioning Journal, 39(1): 1-9.
Hrysomallis, C. (2012). The effectiveness of resisted movement training on sprinting and jumping performance. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 26(1), 299-306.