I know that this title may strike and rub many in the wrong way, but I’m sure that by article’s end you will have a stronger appreciation and understanding for why power is primary to speed and technique is second, and I just ask that you please hear me out and strongly consider what I have to say. I guarantee that it will make a difference and take your athlete or clients speed to the next level! Literally, everywhere you turn this day and age every coach, trainer, parent, or athlete is promoting technique time and time again in hopes of increasing speed. This approach reigns supreme over anything else. Quite honestly, I don’t think anyone has ever questioned or even potentially considered that power and other contributing skills are superior to technical matters associated with sprinting capacity. Unlike almost everything in the field of human performance at this point, this notion may be revolutionary to the field of speed development. Nearly everyone I’ve heard or read on the topic advocated technique first and foremost. Unfortunately, their results did not support their philosophy to say the least, and they themselves were always slow. On the other hand, the few people residing across the states that elected the stance of power first and technique second generated the best results, but were deemed wrong in speed culture for a host of reasons. Thankfully these people were absolutely correct, and will always be right and you will soon see why. I’m also sure that it will make perfect sense to you why this approach works better, after I share with you my insight and research into the subject. Below I will hammer out 5 reasons why power is what you really want if you want to run faster, while the technical work should take a permanent backseat.
#1-Power is essential to learning proper sprinting technique
#2-Power helps you better express specific sprinting techniques
#3-Power offsets any temporary technical deficiency you need to fix and still enables great speed
#4-The research supports power over technique
#5- Real world evidence supports it
Sooner rather than later I will list an article that discloses the 12 techniques that have been identified through research that you will need to master in order to maximize your speed potential. This is not to say you cannot become remarkably fast, it’s just that you will not reach your ceiling without these. Back to the original topic. Power is the essential precursor to being able to demonstrate these various techniques (e.i. front and backside mechanics, lift, core strength, forefoot dominance, etc.). Often parents or coaches will insist that there son, daughter, or athlete needs better running technique. My immediate response is that there son or daughter needs more POWER (strength x speed) before they can even consider optimizing their technique and fun faster. The simple explanation is that explosiveness unlocks and enables the techniques and specific body position’s which creates greater acceleration and speed. In the absence of power these just simply cannot be attained. I think it’s critical to show just how important power is for speed. Here is a chart from a study 1 conducted by Mcbride and his team in 1999 from the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research that shows the superior power levels of sprinters! Sprinters recorded the highest vertical jump performances along with the greatest power to bodyweight ratio out of the 4 groups. These groups were sprinters, powerlifters, Olympic lifters, and a control group. What’s interesting is that all groups, especially sprinters, absolutely trumped the control group in power output. Indicating the major need of power for increased speed!
By definition, Power is the product of Strength x Speed. The more of each of these you have the more total power output you will have. This means the weightroom is a must as well as various forms of plyometrics (sprinting, jumping, and agility work), along with specific power development means (e.i. Olympic lifting). This synergy or collective effort between each type of training will yield the greatest power expression from the body, and thus speed!
Now that you have seen the discrepancy in power between elite sprinters and the average joe or jane, its easy to see that the more power you have flowing through your extremities the better you will be able to express each technique and the faster you will be. Just remember that power regulates technique, not the other way around. For example, being able to run on the balls of your feet, which is referred to as “Forefoot Dominance” in sprinting literature is essential to maximizing the use of your hips, calves, stride length, and more. We are faster when we run this way versus running on our heel or rearfoot. To be able to achieve this body position and technique requires a high level of power, since our mass is out in front of us making it easier to lose balance and fall. You could literally examine every technique there is for sprinting and draw a direct correlation between its success and power. The more power we have the easier a technique is to perform, and vice versa. It’s really that simple.
Next, I’m not condoning, nor advocating that someone does not run with absolutely flawless form, but it does happen. The beauty of being powerful is that you can absolutely counter that fact with your power and still attain very elite speed in the meantime. There are so many real world examples of this. For instance, check out Trindon Holliday’s 40 yard dash from the 2010 NFL Scouting Combine.
No offense, but Trindon’s technique is horrible!!! He does not demonstrate proper arm drive since his elbow angles are too small. This means that his arm is much longer making his backswing and forward swing much more taxing and inefficient during the sprint. Furthermore, he “leaks” energy through his core or torso through rotation during each stride. The core’s function during sprinting is “anti-rotation,”not rotation. This causes motion in unintended directions as the core is unable to prevent the torso from rotating due to aggressive arm and leg torque action. Last but not least, Trindon’s neck is not packed which will automatically create potential shifts in alignment at the upper body, hips, knees, and on down the ankles, reducing leg drive and power potential. With all of this you would presume that Trindon would score miserably in the 40 yard dash, yet he actually recorded the fastest electronic time in the history of the combine at 4.21 seconds!! 3 Undeniable evidence that technique is not essential to running extremely fast.
I’m in the final stages of finishing my speed manual, and in this manual I provided several studies that verified the need for power in attempting to develop speed. Here is the most famous of those studies from Peter Weyand back in 2000. 2 It is known as the “Weyand Study.” The study found that individuals who ran faster; 11m per second versus 6m per second, applied 1.26 times greater force into the ground. This means that these individuals possessed much more power. 3 other studies that I’ll include in the book, along with a personal case study of over 20 of the fastest sprinters and NFL athletes indicated the need for MUCH higher levels of strength and power to run faster. Speed training in itself is also an important task, but this is more obvious and over-promoted in our culture. I wanted to slightly overreact and place more of an emphasis on the strength side of the power equation to help balance things out, and both will be equal in our quest for greater power!
I already provided you with some real world evidence to show that power is the most important factor to running faster along with solid research to confirm it. Lastly, I often use an analogy too illustrate this point and send the message. Often times, you will witness a highly coordinated and athletic young individual. He portrays near perfect technique when he runs and it’s a beauty to watch. Predictably though he is not very fast, due to the fact that he is young and has not developed any horsepower. He may look better operating movement than even a pro athlete, but the reason he is not as fast is because he is simply not that powerful. You can have great speed in the absence of good technique with good power, but not the other way around.
Hopefully this is enough proof to convince you that power should be our primary focus to getting faster, and technique second. I’m going to bash on traditional philosophy and many of the over-popularized coaches out there for a moment. I’m highly competitive and these individuals always attack weightlifting and its risk unfairly. Along with so much more, I included several studies that refute the notion that weightlifting is dangerous in the manual. In fact, weightlifting showed the lowest incidence of injury in many cases. The reason why I think it receives so much ridicule is because these coaches and others have never REALLY lifted weights either out of fear, laziness, or ignorance to science and they carried that on to the next generation. Many of these guys are not fast and have never trained anyone to become fast, so why do we listen to their advice? The fact is that strength is 50% of power. If we neglect to implement maximal strength training with our athletes they will be 50% less likely to succeed in speed. Moreover, speed can be taught, learned, and developed just like any other skill with the right methods. This is the main problem, in that the conventional models of speed development are destined to fail. It’s time we start focusing on the techniques and types of training that will really impact running speed and ditch all of the fancy technical running drills that simply don’t work outside of initial recognition, understanding, and execution.