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Push-off versus Landing Strength...
and how they Relate to Speed

In order to move your body forward during sprinting, most athletes realize that they need to explosively push down and back into the ground.  Therefore, they’ll train for hours in the weight room working towards improving their push-off strength (another term for push-off strength is concentric strength).  Most will use traditional exercises such as leg presses and squats in hopes of accomplishing this goal, often only paying attention to the part of the movement in which they “push” or straighten out their legs from a bent position.  While I’m not denying that push-off strength is extremely useful in order to run fast, many athletes usually under appreciate another form of strength called “landing” or “eccentric” strength.  This type of strength is responsible for absorbing the large amount of gravitational and bodyweight forces that occur every time a foot hits the running surface.

When sprinting, athletes often strike the ground with force much greater than four times of what they weigh.  Meaning an athlete weighing 205 lb will be required to absorb well over 800 lbs of force upon every stride taken during the top speed phase of the sprint.  This makes sense because if their muscles did not turn on during the landing phase of each stride their body would collapse due to gravity.

When training my athletes I always start by teaching eccentric, landing techniques before teaching concentric, jumping/push-off techniques.  Many of them feel like I’m starting them out too slow, but the only way to maximize explosive, push-off strength is to be sure that they are first able to control and absorb all landing forces.

Traditional weight room exercises usually require both an eccentric and concentric portion.  In other words, if you are lifting weights you are probably already doing a form of eccentric (landing strength) training.  As stated earlier, when doing a squat, athletes usually key in on the phase of the lift in which they push into the ground in order to return to a tall position.  This is because this concentric/push portion is usually recognized as the difficult part of the lift.  On the other hand, when lowering the weight back down for the next rep many athletes appear to be taking a break.  While this part may seem easier, they must understand that this eccentric/lowering is just as (if not more) important than the push phase that follows.  Instead of simply lowering without focus, the athlete should concentrate on their form and center of balance.  When done correctly, they will end up in an advantageous position in which to transition into the concentric/push phase.  Remember, if your muscles were not working during the “down” part of the movement, your body would collapse!

An example of a drill that stresses the eccentric component is a depth jump.  This is an exercise in which the athlete steps down from a prescribed distance, lands, and then jumps back up in the air as high as possible.  While this exercise may seem simple, it places great demands on many systems of the body.  Like many exercises, it can reap great rewards when done correctly.  Therefore, when first incorporating technical exercises it is recommended that you seek the advice of a qualified professional.

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