Strength is the missing component in many young athlete’s movement qualities. The most requested topic we get from parents about their children’s athleticism is to make them faster. It usually goes something like this “if you could make little Tommy faster he would get more playing time.”
Our next step is to do our FAST athlete assessment, where we look at some performance tests such as the 10-yard dash, pro-agility test, and vertical test, as well as some body weight strength tests for kids in elementary and middle school. We’ll do barbell strength tests for athletes who are older and more experienced with a barbell.
After doing the tests, we have consistently found that the athletes who are in desperate need of getting faster are also usually the weakest. They can do 25-35 squats in a minute compared to our faster athletes who do 50+ squats in a minute. The most squats I’ve ever had done in a minute is 84 by a kid who went on to play D1 soccer and guess what—he was one of the fastest kids on his teams.
Why is strength so important to running fast? It’s so important because strength is a huge component of force. The force you can put into the ground is what propels you forward. More importantly, the greater the strength-to-weight ratio a kid has the faster he’ll be.
One study done at SMU demonstrated that elite sprinters (Olympic level sprinters) put 5 times their body weight into the ground on each stride. Compare that to elite soccer players (D1 college level) who put 3 times their body weight into the ground on each stride. So, to run fast you have to be strong enough to be able to put LARGE amounts of force into the ground.
A lot of youth athletes don’t have the strength to be able to withstand those large forces into the ground. If a weaker kid tried to put that much force into the ground, their body wouldn’t be able to withstand it after some time.
If you’re a parent of a kid or a youth coach, take a look at the fastest kid. 9 times out of 10 that kid is usually the kid who is stronger and leaner than the rest of them. Of course, there are exceptions but majority of the time this is the truth.
So, one of the best ways to help your young athlete get faster is to get him stronger first. Once he has sufficient strength than the next steps would be to make sure he’s using his strength as efficiently as possible. This is where teaching him the proper running mechanics will come in as well as plyometrics to increase his power or rate of force development.
Luckily at FAST we do the assessment first, so we know what aspect of their athleticism is missing and from there design our programs to help the youth athlete get ahead of the competition.
PS – I just talked about speed, but strength is just as important for jumping high. You can read more about that in this article here.