Strength is the missing component in many young athletes’ movement qualities. The most requested topic we get from parents about their children’s athleticism is to make them faster. “If you could make my child faster, he would get more playing time” is commonly expressed to our coaches.
Our first step is to do our FAST athlete assessment, where we look at performance tests such as the 10-yard dash, pro-agility test, vertical test, and some bodyweight strength tests for elementary and middle school kids. Finally, 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 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 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 Important?
Why is strength so critical to running fast? It’s so crucial because strength is a massive component of force. The force you can put into the ground is what propels you forward. But, more importantly, the greater a kid’s strength-to-weight ratio, the faster he’ll be.
One study at SMU demonstrated that elite sprinters (Olympic-level sprinters) put five times their body weight into the ground on each stride. Compare that to elite soccer players (D1 college level) who put three times their body weight into the ground on each stride. So, to run fast, you must be strong enough to put a LARGE 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, look at the fastest kid. 9 times out of 10, that kid is usually the kid who is stronger and leaner than the others. But of course, there are exceptions, but most 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, the next step would be to ensure he’s using his strength as efficiently as possible. This is where he will be taught the proper running mechanics and 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 design our programs to help the youth athlete get ahead of the competition.
This article is mainly about speed, but strength is just as crucial for jumping high. You can read more about that in this article here.