Every athlete knows muscles power sports performance—they’re the source of strength, speed and overall movement. But although lots of buzz words are tossed around in training rooms—like “muscle contractions,” “fast-twitch fibers,” “agonist and antagonist,” etc.—how muscles actually function remains a mystery to many. And the fact is that understanding how muscles really work can help athletes make improvements in the weight room. Fibers and Fascia Muscles are composed of individual muscle fibers, which are customized cells designed to contract. The fibers form bundles, which in turn form an entire muscle. Each fiber has the ability to shorten to produce a contraction. As more muscle fibers are signaled to contract, the contraction gets stronger.
If the first rep of an exercise feels like the most difficult of the entire set, you’re not alone. However, there’s good news: you can preload your muscles to avoid this phenomenon. Preloading occurs when a muscle is stimulated to contract in order to resist or control a weight before the actual exercise begins. For example, consider a Bicep Curl. When holding the dumbbell in a start position, your biceps are firing and prepared to lift the weight, and you are able to apply near maximal force when beginning the Curl. To feel how neglecting to preload your muscles limits your strength, try performing a Bicep Curl by lifting a dumbbell directly off a bench. When a muscle must work against weight—whether it’s contracting or immobile—the nervous system fires to activate the muscle. This causes cross-bridges within each muscle fiber to form, pre-setting to shorten the fiber when called upon…
By now, you’re probably aware of the tremendous benefits of barefoot training—including increased foot, ankle and calf strength, which result in improved speed and change-of-direction ability. Sprinting or performing drills sole-less allows your feet to function the way they were meant to. But finding an ideal environment for this type of training often poses a problem for athletes. Those lucky enough to be living along a soft, sandy coast enjoy an ideal location for barefoot training. For the rest of us, however, concrete walkways, rubber tracks and most grass fields provide insufficient cushioning. If you’re in a cold weather climate or have no access to sand, find a vacant wrestling room and ditch the shoes for some leg-strengthening training on the wrestling mat. The mat’s softness forces the small muscles of your feet, ankles and knees to activate and stabilize as your legs produce and absorb force throughout the drills.
In the video below, Speed Strength Systems owner Tim Robertson Jr. shares tips and tricks on how to sprint properly.