Today I read a topical article by a very well respected guy about speed over the first five metres being crucial to footballers and how to improve this quality.



Football being something close to my heart, I had to give you my different take on the matter.

Firstly, let's look at the first five yards.

While it is beneficial to be quick off the mark in football, it is not a necessity. France's Olivier Giroud, Italy's Andrea Pirlo and Germany's Per Mertesacker have made standout performances and/or played for standout teams at the current World Cup and none are the quickest. Mertesacker, perhaps the slowest player in the tournament, has over 100 caps for Germany. Running like you're towing a truck can be offset by keen positioning and reading of the game.

That's not all.

Five metres with a ball and without it are very different things. Raw speed doesn't always carryover to dribbling speed. Dribbling speed is such a specific skill that there are actually players who are quicker with a ball than without it.

Next, we get to the means of improving the (not as necessary) five metre speed - strengthening the posterior chain (your calves, hamstrings, ass and back) especially the lower back. The article is also accompanied by a picture of a footballer with the physique of a Greek statue next to one with a fairly average looking bod.

Strong posterior chains equal strong acceleration capabilities - but do they?

I work with many people with strong, stiff lower backs. They often have stiff hips. These people can always be quicker, as a hip that can move more freely can produce more force and move more quickly given the same force.

Bodybuilders and powerlifters have strong posterior chains - most of them aren't so quick.

Some scrawny footballers have flat asses and no great lower back strength and can be rapid off the mark.

Weightlifters have strong posterior chains AND great movement capabilities and are very quick over five metres.

I have trained for speed and acceleration improvements in my own athletic days and I can tell you that where strengthening my posterior chain helped me a little, it was only a little given all the time and effort I put in. I will admit that there's something seductive about this training that I'll write about soon.

I got greater improvements, however, from moving better and more freely (using some techniques that form the basis of the Athletic Upgrading I do with clients) than I ever did strengthening.

If I were to advise a footballer now on how to improve their speed, I would work with them on their movement capabilities and their game intelligence primarily. 

Strength is a simple addition if also needed.

I mentioned the picture of the Adonis next to the average looking guy. They both play international football and domestically in top leagues for top teams. How they, look although worlds apart, means nothing. There are quicker, less impressive looking players than the Adonis.

Am I rubbishing what the author of the other article wrote? No. I'm presenting easily summoned counterexamples that show that, as with most things, it's just not that simple.

Having a body that looks capable of playing in the World Cup and can lift heavy and run fast is not the same as being capable of playing in the World Cup.

Have you fell into a similar thought-trap for your sport?

Arton "This is what happens when somebody oversimplifies my beloved sport" Baleci