4.8: Maximum Speed

All athletes in the Parisi program experience a robust speed training program. As a part of the Parisi program, we focus heavily on maximum velocity, or top-end speed abilities. Acceleration training focuses on the rate of change of velocity, or how quickly an athlete can increase their speed in the shortest amount of time. Whereas maximum or top-end speed, is the highest rate of speed an athlete can attain. Both require linear sprint mechanics, as most sports movements are derivative of linear sprinting. In fact, research has shown that maximum velocity training will also have a positive impact on an athlete’s acceleration profile, even at short distances. Furthermore, when maximum speed mechanics become part of an athlete’s regular training regiment it can also serve to help reduce soft tissue injuries.

The Parisi curriculum is decisive in teaching athletes both acceleration and top-speed mechanics. The Parisi system distinguishes very clearly between these by emphasizing different focal points and postures when teaching acceleration and the maximum speed phases of sprinting. The easiest delineation for Parisi Coaches is that we need to help our athlete’s improve on their ability to apply force, which carries over to both acceleration as well as the athlete’s ability to maintain top end speed.

When working with younger athletes the lesson of applying more force to the ground might be broken down more often with lessons on acceleration, exposing the average 8-12 year old to drills like the wall drive. This drill showcases the 45 degree shin angle and piston like drive into the ground; whereas older athletes will receive a more refined lesson that blends upright acceleration training like fly sprints with the fast claw, a classic maximum speed mechanical drill. The age and maturity of the athlete will dictate how a Parisi coach will lead a speed class, all with the goal of force application.

According to Dr. Peter Weyland, a Professor of Applied Physiology & Biomechanics and the Director of the Locomotor Performance Laboratory, at SMU, mass-specific force is critical for improving speed. Mass-specific force is how much force an athlete can generate relative to their body weight. Training that promotes force application must be welded with decreasing ground contact time and angle of the force being applied. In other words, an athlete’s speed training program must enhance their ability to apply more force off the ground while shortening the amount of time on the ground (or ground contact time GCT). But an athlete must apply this force in the right direction. For example, it is great for an athlete to be able to properly extend at their hips and apply tremendous force off the ground, but if their hips do not project their body in the right direction their movement is inefficient.

Top-speed mechanics or maximum velocity training plays an important role in sports because athletes can still reach a high proportion of their maximal speed in a relatively short distance. Usain Bolt is an amazing model athlete when discussing maximum velocity. According to the International Associations of Athletics Federations, during Bolt’s 100 meter final in the Beijing Olympics, he achieved 73% of his maximum velocity at 10 meters, 85% at 20 meters, 93% at 30 meters, and 96% at 40 meters. He finally attained maximum speed at 60 meters! Clearly, Bolt was accelerating for 60 meters. However, his posture and shin angle was indicative of an upright sprinting position. So while the Parisi system will continue to teach and breakdown acceleration mechanics, varsity and collegiate level athletes must advance their speed training to include upright sprinting. The upright sprinting position at maximum speed allows the athlete to drive maximum vertical force into the ground which propels their body forward on each stride. In order to accomplish this, Parisi coaches will emphasize maximum speed mechanics, stiffness in the lower leg and in the core.

Advanced speed training will address an athlete’s ability to transition from the optimal body angle of 45 degrees, which is experienced during the initial phase of acceleration, through the transition phase and ultimately into the correct upright sprinting posture and mechanics. The value of maximum speed mechanics and linear sprinting becomes highly relevant to multidirectional and court athletes as their sports require them to transition through these phases quite often. In the initial phase of acceleration, an athlete’s velocity is low, but the capacity to increase velocity is great. This is the purest example of the acceleration phase and referred to in track sprinting as the drive phase. However, soccer and football athletes who cover longer distances may approach their maximum speed several times throughout their game. This is the transition acceleration phase. But as the distance increases, the capacity for further acceleration decreases. When the athlete can no longer accelerate they have reached their maximum velocity. Right before their maximum speed is achieved, the athlete’s positive or forward horizontal force is larger than the negative or opposing force. The opposing force is the combination of braking forces and literally air resistance. However, when the athlete finally reaches maximum velocity, the positive and negative forces cancel each other out and the athletes can not get any faster. When athletes reach this brilliant moment in their sprinting, they are essentially flying. They spend more time in the air than touching the ground.

When an athlete is flying, they have the lowest number of ground contacts. Despite making contact with the ground less , they must produce their ground force quicker than during the acceleration and transition phases. While most athletes are not accelerating for 60 meters like an Olympic sprinter, they must train maximum speed mechanics. Advanced Parisi speed training focuses on the amount of force an athlete applies into the ground on each foot strike compared to their relative body weight or their called mass-specific force.