Squatting Improves Speed
Modern strength training programs for athletes spend an inordinate amount of time focusing on using unstable surfaces, single leg exercises and balance training to improve speed, strength and power. There is currently no research that shows that these types of training improves athletic performance (1) but it has been well established that training on unstable training results in significantly less force development and loads that will limit strength gains (2). All this balance and stability training has come at the cost of building strength in traditional exercises like the squat, bench press, deadlift, and power clean yet these exercise have time and again been shown to be key to athletic performance. A recent study at Applalachian State University examined the relationship between squat strength and sprint speed(3). The subjects were a group of 17 football players with an average height of 1.78m and an average weight of 85.9 kg. 1RM squat was assessed on the first day of the study. All subjects were required to squat to a 70o knee angle, making it a deeper squat than the 90o knee angle that many people use in training. A deeper squat will normally decrease the amount of weight lifted. The average 1RM squat was 166.5 kg. Later in the week the subjects performed electronically timed 5, 10, and 40m sprints on a standard outdoor track surface. When they analyzed the data they found significant correlations between squat strength to body weight ratio and the 10m and 40m sprints. When the group was divided into those with a squat to bodyweight ratio of greater than 2.1 and those with a ratio of less than 1.9 those with the higher strength to weight ratio were significantly faster than those with a squat to bodyweight ratio less than 1.9. This study adds to the growing body of evidence that shows the importance of traditional strength training exercises for improving athletic performance.
So why does improved strength improve speed and acceleration? Think back to your high school physics class and you might remember the formula F=ma; force is equal to mass times acceleration. Transforming the formula to solve for acceleration we get a=F/m; acceleration is equal to force divided by mass. When we are speaking of running or jumping activities the mass is your body weight. If you increase your strength to body weight ratio you will increase your speed and acceleration; it is simple physics.
Unstable surface, single leg and balance training may be fine during a warm up but they are no replacement for good old fashioned deep squats when it comes to increasing strength and improving speed and power that translates to athletic ability. So if you want to get faster stop using circus tricks and lift some real weights.
- Wilardson, J. (2004). The effectiveness of resistance exercise performed on unstable equipment. JSCR. 26(5) 70-74.
- Behm et al (2002). Muscle force and activation under stable and unstable conditions. JSCR 16(3) 416-422
- McBride et al (2009). Relationship between maximal squat strength and five, ten, and forty yard sprint times. JSCR. 23(6) 1633-1636.