Getting your athletes faster is the golden goose in the world of Strength and Conditioning, very few coaches will complain if you make your athletes even 1% faster. How do I improve my speed? It’s a question we get asked at Functional Training Ireland all the time, but it isn’t a one sentence answer. Firstly there is a holistic approach to getting faster, by this I mean certain things you need to do to have any hope of getting faster before you get into the actual physical programming.
Eamonn Coughlan was famous for saying worry about the minutes before you worry about the seconds so below we will outline the basics.
The next article will actually focus on the fancy exercises you need to do and will contain a sample program for a theoretical injury free GAA player.
1. Lose body fat
If you are carrying extra body fat you will not move as quickly as your genetics allow, get yourself regularly body fat tested and become a mini scholar on sound nutrition practices. In many cases we find GAA players just eat extremely poorly and have no post workout nutrition strategies. You will never see a true speedster carry much extra body fat so let’s start here.
2. Resistance Train
Recently I read the Donegal footballer Paddy McBrearty doesn’t “lift weights” and reckons it will “slow him down”. This ridiculous outdated opinion is usually the premise of the lazy athlete (or misinformed). Consider Cristiano Ronaldo, Paul Galvin, Usain Bolt, Jessica Ennis, Andy Murray the list goes on, they are the top athletes in their chosen sport and they all resistance train. Certain tools like ladder drills, plyometrics, running mechanics are all beneficial but pale into significance compared to actually making your body stronger. Start a progressive and up to date program if you want to maximise your potential.
3. Don’t do beach weights
This is where I actually agree with Paddy McBrearty, if your program contains tonnes of bicep curls, bench presses and leg press you are doomed. When we talk about making someone faster we mean to make them function better not look better, now obviously both go hand in hand but the point remains. I will add to this list heavy back squats or front squats, as an Olympic lifter I love them but for the vast majority of GAA players they just lack the fundamental mobility to pull them off properly. I also see too many GAA players perform back squats poorly, wreck their back and hence tighten up makes them lose that yard of pace.
At Functional Training Ireland we are a massive fan of 1 leg weight training for our GAA populations, we may do some double leg stuff with our county players however as we have the time and resources to coach them properly.
4. Train in different planes of motion
Every GAA player needs to move in several different planes of motion, we can simply break these down into forwards and back, twist type movements and left to right shuffle type movements. One of the best things you can do is to simply be aware of this. If we look at a typical GAA pitch or gym session it nearly always exists in the forwards and back plane (sagittal plane). Integrating some speed drills where you have to twist and turn and use some agility really helps your “match day speed”. In the gym doing some side lunges, rotation drills, chop patterns or balance work can really help you too. Remember we aren’t training 100m runners, true speed on a GAA pitch is really agility and acceleration.
5. If you train slow you become slow
This is where you can sabotage yourself as an athlete, the coach gives you a drill, but you did it at 65%! You are not pushing yourself. Speed training is simply making yourself go quicker than you normally do. We find the introduction of the ball adds a competition element that really forces the lazy players to shift, laser gates if you have the budget are brilliant too.
On the pitch do speed work first; coaches identify sprints as a way of punishing teams or making them fit. I identify sprints as way of making my athletes faster, I’ll use different tools to condition a team. At the start of a session your central nervous system is more receptive and fresh (obviously after a great warm up) so utilise that.
6. Get a really good physio and fix those niggles
Very simply if you are ignoring certain injuries, you will move slower as a result and hence overtime make yourself slower! Of course if championship beckons take one for the team but don’t be silly with challenge games etc. Take some time out; really work on your core, movements and soft tissue. This will have you flying when the team really needs you. The best physios have strength and conditioning backgrounds so seek them out. Don’t be tempted to go to the nearest or cheapest physio.
We hope these tips help you – stay tuned for part 2.
By David Hare CSCS
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