By West Bromwich Albion FC, in collaboration with Liverpool John Moores University and supported by Catapult Sports.
Dr. Paul Brice presented alongside Prof. David Bishop at the second of a two-part masterclass series entitled Speed Development for Team Sports. The events were organised and hosted by West Bromwich Albion FC of the English Premier League, in collaboration with Liverpool John Moores University and supported by Catapult Sports. The aim of the two masterclasses was to provide attendees with expert speakers within speed development, from both a research and practical perspective.
The next event will focus on strength and power development in team sports, with Eamonn Flanagan, Lead Strength and Conditioning Coach at the Irish Institute of Sport and Michael Johnston, Senior Strength Scientist at British Athletics. This will take place on April 12th 2017 at The Hawthorns Stadium; details on tickets will be made available shortly.
Paul Brice is the former Head Biomechanist at the London 2012 Olympic Games for Track and Field. He previously worked for the English Institute of Sport across multi Olympic and Paralympic sports as a Senior Biomechanist, specifically working directly within the British Athletics Olympic program as Lead Biomechanist from 2006 to 2012. He is now a consultant Biomechanist to a number of professional and other Olympic sports.
Lessons from the Olympic Track
Paul began his presentation by describing his own working practice in elite sport, stressing that he is an applied practitioner and not a researcher; he works at the coal face and is not based in a laboratory.
He firstly set the scene by describing how seeing Usain Bolt run the 100 metres in 9.58s in 2009 was a game changer for him. Before that event people thought the boundaries had been set at 9.71-75s and that sprinting was plateauing. Bolt smashed this, but how? He claims the science is clear cut and that we can learn by examining how an elite sprinter achieves these speeds.
Dr. Brice presented data from the race. Bolt reached a max velocity of 12.35 at 65m, 90% of which was achieved at the 30m point of the race. He attained this through a massive step length of over 2.65m and a high frequency of above 4.5hz; this allowed him to average 12.16m/s during the final 40m, a crucial factor that sets Bolt apart. He excels by accelerating later in to the race, pushing his speed further, with the final 40m taking only 3.29s. Paul claims these are the key take home messages and what differentiates Bolt from previous world record holders.
What Does Running Fast Look Like?
Paul credits a lot of his information to Ralph Mann (as did Jonas Dodoo in the first masterclass here). He presented data from Dr. Mann showing what separates elite sprinters from average and non-sprinters. The best are able to attain maximal velocities of 12m/s+, he claims the much improved GB sprinters are now getting close to this but are still behind the very elite. Paul showed that this is achieved by large step lengths of over 2.55m and frequencies of greater than 4.5hz; this is underpinned by extremely short ground contact times of less than 0.09s, which is crucial to running very fast. Flight time however, has been shown to have no correlation with sprinting ability. Therefore, the elite spend a short amount of time on the ground, take huge steps and do this with massive frequency.
By step 10 (around 20m) elite sprinters achieve 90% of their maximum step length and frequency is achieved after the first step. By step 7 (10m) 80% of maximal Velocity is reached. They will then take another 50m to achieve the final 0.3-0.4m/s. Thigh speed is crucial to this, not only to the floor, but also on touchdown and whilst on the ground. Elite sprinters are front side dominant, they hit the ground hard all the way through ground contact and get off the floor quickly. Paul claims there are many who can hit the ground hard (high Force), but not many who can apply this effectively. The foot should contact as close to underneath the body as possible; even elite sprinters will contact slightly in front, but this is a lot less than their slower counterparts.
Next Paul described research performed by Peter Weyand’s group on force application. He claims that there is no getting away from it, to run faster an athlete must apply more force to the ground. Moderate level sprinters (10.2-10.4s) average force outputs of between 1.8 and 2 times bodyweight, whereas the elite will be much higher, averaging 2.3-2.5. However, not only do faster sprinters apply more force, the way they apply it is markedly different. It has been shown that the best sprinters have a steeper ‘rising edge’ to the force – time curve upon application; thus applying significantly greater force in the first 50% of ground contact.
Paul concluded his presentation by discussing how these theories are applicable to team sport athletes. He presented a paper by Barnes et al. that showed the evolution of football to a game defined by sprinting actions, where over a 7-year period the number, and distance, of sprints increased significantly. Consequently, it is crucial that players can run faster to be able to compete. He noted that not everybody can be fast, but everybody can be faster. Using video examples Paul showed how, when asked to run as fast as possible, professional footballers used very different methods of getting there.
To convey this point he used a case study of two Premier League footballers he had assessed, both of which achieved similar velocities at 10m; however, they achieved this very differently. Player A was a ‘frequency monster’ who could ‘spin his wheels’, getting up to around 4.93hz (elite sprinter would be around 5), he also had short contact times which he was able to achieve early but not maintain. However, he had a very short step length. Player 2 conversely, had a low frequency of around 3.5hz. He did take big steps, yet these required long, wasteful ground contact times, and were frequently asymmetrical. He produced a good amount of force, but took far too long to do this. These two players cannot therefore be given the same program to get faster; and without this kind of assessment how are we to know what our athletes require.
To summarise, Paul stressed the importance of front side mechanics, the athlete must have a fast thigh speed into and during ground contact. They must hit the ground hard, with stiff ankles and spend little time on the floor. This will allow them to produce high levels of force in the initial part of ground contact which is deterministic of fast sprinting. They must produce the right force, in the right direction, at the right time.
Paul gave a fantastic insight into his work with elite sprinters and gave very good practical examples of how this can be applied with team sport athletes. His knowledge of what constitutes a good sprinter is first class and his ability to give insightful, actionable information is what makes him the quality practitioner he is.
The second part of this masterclass, by Prof. David Bishop, will be covered in part two, which can be found here.
Further details on tickets to the next event hosted by West Bromwich Albion FC, entitled Strength and Power Development for Team Sports, will be released shortly through @StrengthWBA. The evening masterclass will again consist of two speakers. Lead Strength and Conditioning Coach at the Irish Institute of Sport Eamonn Flanagan will be presenting alongside Michael Johnston, Senior Strength Scientist with British Athletics. The event will be held on April 12th 2017.