How Big Is Your Engine?

I have written about the topic of speed and agility in the past but it bears repeating.  There are many tools available, including high speed treadmills, bungee cords, parachutes, JumpSoles, etc. that claim to be the key to improving agility, running that fast 40 yd. dash time or improving your vertical jump so that you’ll be dunking in no time at all.  While some of these tools might have their place in an advanced trainees program from the implementation of an experienced coach, I believe most are unnecessary.  What I recommend is looking at your athlete, or yourself as the case may be, and ask, how big is the engine?  Look at the ladies pictured above.  Look at the 5’6” 190 lb. Darren Sproles below.  Their lower bodies, the backside, that’s the engine.  Clearly strong in these examples.  These are not bodybuilders trying hard to look a certain way.  They’re just trying to go fast.

Coach Tony Gentilcore came up with a great example in one of his blog posts recently:

“In terms of any plyometric and/or jump training – it comes down to strength.  Simply put:  you can’t have things like agility, power, endurance, strength endurance, and the like without first having a base of strength to pull those other qualities from.  Strength is the basis of everything.  Without it, you can perform all the ladder drills, sprinting drills, jumping drills, and agility training you want, it’s really not going to amount to much.  It’s akin to giving your 1994 Honda Civic (as an example) a sweet paint job, some spoilers, Mag tires, and a sound system that makes your ears bleed in the hopes that, by doing so, it will win the Daytona 500.   Unless you actually do something about increasing the horsepower of the car, you can add all the bells and whistles you want, it probably ain’t gonna happen.”

Sproles is a great example of someone who has got really quick feet.  He moves like a tap dancer sometimes they are so quick and choppy.  I don’t know much about dancing but tap dancers seem to move their feet awfully fast yet aren’t required to cover a lot of ground.  Sproles has to move his body from from point A to point B quickly.  That’s where those legs and glutes (aka tree trunks) come into play.  They’re the engine.

Watch the video below of Legarrette Blount.  At 6’0” 247 lbs the guy is an absolute freight train running the ball and can clearly hurdle over defenders at the same time.  How does he do it?  Well, he appears to be quite strong as that 247 lbs. doesn’t seem to be much flab.  But just because some elite athletes in a few pictures and videos have strong lower bodies that doesn’t mean I’m right.  But as always, let’s keep this simple.  I am an expert in physics about as much as I am in dancing, but Newton’s 2nd Law talks about forces acting on bodies, F=MA, all of that good stuff.  I’m going to say it like this, Blount is massive, he is accelerating and there’s a lot of force behind it.  The best way that I know to produce that force, aka run faster, jump higher and change direction, is to train explosively and build some real basic strength.  That’s the basis.  Nothing fancy.  If you are a athlete that is looking to improve your speed, agility and quickness, regardless of age, ask yourself honestly, “Am I strong?  Do I have any horsepower?  How big is this engine?”  Coach Mike Boyle has worked with countless athletes including those preparing for the NFL combine each year and he had this to say recently:

“One of the things I love is the magic drill idea. This is the theory that developing foot speed and agility is not a process of gaining strength and power, but rather the lack of a specific drill. I tell everyone I know that if I believed there was a magic drill we would do it every day. The reality is it comes down to horsepower and the nervous system, two areas that change slowly over time.”

– Mike Baltren

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4 Responses to How Big Is Your Engine?

  1. TC says:

    Hey Max thanks for sharing your views on the impact of strength on sports performance. Totally agreed with you on the value of having adequate strength is important and love the way how you describe strength as the engine.

  2. Pingback: Strong Fixes Everything « Ambition Athletics

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  4. Pingback: Butts | Movement Quality. Strength. Education.

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