I’ve written in the past about the difficulty in altering speed mechanics and how changing technique 1% is a major accomplishment. When pushing the body to it’s absolute limits the brain is going to default to whatever motor pattern it feels most comfortable with, be that good or bad. So the challenge at hand is convincing the brain while hurling forward at maximal speeds to do something different.
Repetition without repetition
This concept was pioneered by Nikolai Bernstein, an expert in movement sciences. The idea is simple, training the exact same movement repeatedly would not adequately prepare the body for the constant variability we undergo in the real world, or in our case sports. More importantly, repetitive, familiar movements don’t excite the brain and give it a reason to learn.
To achieve adaptation, especially in something as fine tuned as sprinting technique, we need to introduce a new stimulus, something outside of the ordinary. This slight disruption to the norm will catch the brain’s attention, which is key to learning something new.
What we’ve found is cueing the athlete and using video feedback can be powerful in adjusting technique. But to engrain a new motor pattern means an athlete has to shift their attention to a technical element and away from simply running fast. This almost always results in having to slow down to do so. Then when we reintroduce max speed, the mechanics often revert back to the less optimal form.
Enter constraint training
This technique is powerful in forcing the body (and brain) to feel and deal with novel positions at speed. In doing so, we’re introducing new motor patterns, myelinating new neural pathways, making the athlete more robust, and potentially triggering a technical change that’ll result in more speed. The best part is the athlete doesn’t have to think about technical pieces and can maintain their attention on simply running fast (albeit with a constraint).
Constraints run the gambit, and can be used to challenge athletes in any number of ways. On the left we see Kelsey with a med ball on her hip, which will alter her foot placement to counterbalance the extra weight on one side. Top right we see Jayden running through wickets which are great at enforcing front side mechanics and flight time. Bottom right we see Sara sprinting on turf. The change of surface can be enough in itself to force a change. If you look close enough you can see she’s holding a small water bottle in her right hand as well. This can’t be more than 100 grams, but that extra weight at high speeds is capable of creating major changes.
Resistance, or assistance is another way we can create repetition without repetition. With resistance sprinting against a band encourages hip drive and forceful extension into the ground, like Drew above. Assistance can come in the form of downhill running. This favorable change in gradient allows the athlete to run faster than their flat-track best, creating a stimulus that they can’t otherwise achieve. Both allow the athletes to focus solely on running their fastest, yet create far different demands when examining the force, contact time, flight time, and timing needed in different environments. These variations will ultimately lead to adaptation and the end goal, getting faster!
We’ve found a great deal of success with this method. It allows athletes to simply be athletes while still creating the desired technical changes. Most importantly, it’s continuing to improve their objective measures such as speed, acceleration, and agility!
As we continue to use these, we plan to become even more targeted with the constraints. That way we can implement the right constraint for the individual athlete based on their exact needs. Stay tuned for future results!