Acceleration is going from stop to go or increasing speed while already moving. This is how you get ahead of your competition. "Getting a step on the competition" is not just a cute expression; it's the goal in soccer when it comes to speed.
Over 20 yards, if you can accelerate and be 0.2 seconds faster than your opponent, you will be about 2 yards ahead of him or her. That means breaking away for a shot on goal or getting to the ball first to win possession.
Physics of Acceleration
In physics, Newton's Laws of Motion are the cornerstone for movement. Laws 2 and 3 have such a big impact on acceleration, Sir Isaac Newton could have been a speed coach.
Newton's 2nd Law of Motion
F = m x a
Force is equal to mass multiplied by acceleration. Biomechanics applies that to your acceleration in sprinting. Your body mass stays the same during a game or practice, so the equation is F = m. This means the more force you apply to the ground, the faster you sprint. Sports biomechanics research confirms this as we see a strong correlation between leg strength and acceleration speed.
Newton's 3rd Law of Motion
Newton's 3rd Law of Motion is a little harder to write, but just as important.
When one body exerts a force on a second body, the second body simultaneously exerts a force equal in magnitude but opposite in direction on the first body.
Acceleration is all about increasing horizontal speed. If you push one way, the ground will push you back in the opposite direction. That's why there is more lean in the powerline (body angle) when accelerating—it makes the force application more horizontal.
Where the foot strikes the ground is also important. The angle of the applied force through the middle of the body determines the angle of the ground reaction force.
Acceleration can be improved through training. It is a skill that will improve if you focus on the right areas. The two general areas to improve are:
- Efficient acceleration mechanics
- Good strength & power to bodyweight ratios (speed-strength)
Those piston-like "punch & drive" mechanics can be developed through a number of speed drills that teach the motor program, and flexibility exercises that allow fluid movement through key muscles and joints.
Recommended Exercises: A-Skip Series, Harness Runs, Quad/Hip Flexor Mobility
Good Power to Bodyweight Ratios
The best mechanics in the world won't get you very far if your strength and power are not big enough compared to your body weight. This is your strength/bodyweight ratio or your power/bodyweight ratio. Good acceleration relies on this type of functional strength.
Recommended Exercises: Kettlebell/Dumbbell Goblet Squat, Kettlebell/Dumbbell Swing, Kettlebell/Barbell Bulgarian Split Squat
You can improve your acceleration. It's just basic Newtonian physics.
To apply the laws of physics to your sport, concentrate on improving:
- Motor Control: Acceleration Mechanics
- Force Capacity: Strength & Speed-Strength Power
This is a trainable skill that you can improve to be a faster player on the field. Make Sir Isaac Newton proud!
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