Sean Van Staden
Columnist
3 minute read
7 Jun 2014
9:00 am

Bigger and faster is not always the answer

Sean Van Staden

I had the privilege and honour of speaking at the Golden Institute for Research where they put together a unique workshop where coaches, professionals and sports administrators could be inspired about the latest research in sports performance.

Sean van Staden

My topic was on the Art of a Sports Science Assessment and I took my audience on a journey of our assessment processes and what happens to an athlete before and after completing a 24-session junior high performance programme.

At Advanced Sports Performance we always start with an assessment because we look to identify weaknesses, energy leaks, risk of injury and biomechanical inefficiencies associated with the athletes’ sports speed sprinting style.

One of the most important aspects and the reason why we always perform a video analysis on an athlete is to find out what is happening to the athlete in the drive-down phase and rise-up phase.

In most cases athletes land on their heels, move through the mid-section of their feet and then onto the balls of the feet to project their mass forward. This is marked as an instant red flag and a big cause for concern especially if the athlete is 14 and older. Here’s why:

Athletes typically come in and say they want to be bigger and faster and let’s face it, which athlete on the planet wouldn’t want these additional attributes? The problem with this request is if they come in and start working on becoming bigger and faster, they are guaranteed to get injured.

All that is happening is that the athlete is building more muscle and projecting the additional mass and force onto their incorrect heel strike landing.

The simple analogy I use is that it is like trying to build a supercar where you have a Ford Cortina and replace the internals with a Ferrari engine, you pack on low- profile tyres for grip and throw on a fin on the boot for airflow!

Blue lights under the car are optional. The Ford Cortina is now pimped out with a bigger engine and more horsepower.

Do you think for one minute the framework or chassis can support the mass and speed piled onto the car?

For the first few drag races I am sure it will be interesting to watch, but ultimately the car is going to break down. Athletes wanting to be bigger and faster, with a heel strike, are no different. They can still run and I have seen some athletes run incredibly fast in their pre-assessments, but if we don’t address their running mechanics needs first, the athlete will ultimately get injured and the bigger and faster the athlete gets, the more intense the severity of the injury will become.

Rockets face upwards for a reason, the energy of the thrusters face downwards in order to launch the mass of the rocket into orbit. Weak thrusters will mean a slow acceleration and the rocket possibly not making it into outer space. Athletes lean forward and project their energy backwards in order to accelerate forward. Every time you land with a heel strike, you disrupt the natural flow of energy and your tendons end up taking the brunt of absorbing all your project mass with speed. If you have sore knees, ankles or lower back pain, you are probably running with a heel strike and must get it seen to.

Sport is not always about being bigger, stronger or faster.

It is about having the correct technique and knowing what you need by taking an assessment in order to take your sport to the next level.