By Mike Caza
Sensory Feedback is one of the key elements in helping athletes run faster because it is the unifying quality that that enables athlete’s to “feel” proper body position, rhythm, timing, coordination, fluid motion, and force application which are essential parts to improving an athlete’s speed. From a coaching standpoint, sensory feedback is what bridges the gap between what the coach says and how the athlete interprets it so they can execute the speed training more effectively. Improving speed requires the athlete to understand what is being taught but more importantly, it requires that athlete to feel the technique so they can replicate it through their training.
High quality speed training done with proper sprinting mechanics is dependent on neurological information being fed from the receptors in the muscles and joints to the higher brain centers. This information passes through the Central Nervous System and includes data concerning proper body position, fluidity, joint angles, ground contact, tension etc. The nervous system is the feedback mechanism that enables the athlete to feel proper sprinting mechanics and understand what we are teaching them. Breaking down the sprinting motion into specific drills that focus on ingraining efficient motion makes the training more purposeful and generates better results. For example, common sprinting cues like “pick you knees up,” pump your arms,” or drive through the ground can be replaced with more sensory based cues like “run over the high grass,” see your hands when your arms swing through,” or “imagine your running through a skinny hallway” to fix common sprinting faults like the arms swinging across the body and a low swing leg phase.
Sensory Feedback is a component of training that is non-existent in most traditional speed programs. Athletes are routinely doing wind sprints, parachute sprints,40 yard dashes, high speed treadmill sprints and suicides with no regard for form and application which leads to less carryover on the playing field. For example, sprinting on a high speed treadmill “tricks” the athlete’s neuromuscular system” because the feedback they are receiving is fake. When an athlete runs on the playing field, the ground does not move like the treadmill belt so the neural firing patterns, ground reaction forces and overall feel of movement are different. This can give the athlete a false sense of accomplishment to what is really required in “real time” sprinting on the playing field.
Teaching the athlete proper speed training drills through the use of sensory feedback encourages “purposeful training” since the athlete has to concentrate more deeply to execute the drill correctly. Adding the intensity to the drill or sprint is the easy part. Reinforcing body position, fluid movement, ground reaction and proper timing are all essential elements in PSC’s speed training methods. The combination of doing proper speed drills combined with proper sprint training will result in an athlete that can run faster with better running mechanics and confidence at a reduced risk of injury on the playing field.