Strength Performance Network

Acceleration- It Starts at the Beginning

By: Anthony Passamonte CSCS USAW & Ben Butterfield, CSCS USAW

The athletes that we see during a session range in ages and athletic abilities. Ages of the athletes range from 12 to 18 in any given 60 or 90 minute session. In a given session, we may work with an elite high school athlete and next to him or her we have someone who sits on the bench for most of the season. With these drills we are trying to raise the athletic abilities of all the athletes to give them better movement skills in their sports, whether that is acceleration, multi-direction, or top-end speed.

Speed and becoming faster is the absolute number one goal for most athletes. For most athletes first walking into our facility we usually have to answer the question. How can I become faster in my
40 yard dash? To address this, I first take the time to explain that nothing comes without hard work and dedication to the physical and mental preparation of their athleticism. After the stares of wonderment from my athletes of what mental preparation could honestly be about, they usually answer with a strong “yes, I know…I will, I will work hard.” I then explain that to get faster whether it is a 40- yard, 10- yard, or even a pro-agility test, it all comes down to the beginning.

The beginning, I want to point out, is the Start: the first steps of movement. Regardless if it is the start of a linear sprint or a change of direction (COD), it is the first steps out of a static start or from a deceleration phase that will make them faster throughout the acceleration phase. When I see them sprint for the first time I look for four major points; their angle, arms, ankle and the action in

which they produce their force. These four points are what we teach during a session to increase technique and alignment. I will address each of these four points in detail below. These four factors are the guidelines we will bring our athletes through in a typical acceleration phase training session

This is where the rubber meets the road. Body position is hard to teach an athlete who has a weak core, poor hip mobility, and posterior muscle insufficiencies. However, as strength and mobility will come with further training, the force that can be created in the acceleration phase needs to be taught. Newton’s third law states, For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” For acceleration purposes I like to think what we put into the ground is what we get out of the ground. The action needs to be aggressive, powerful and explosive. The action needs to be generated at the hips, working the hip flexors and driving the knee forward. In the fully flexed up position the lower tibia should have the same angle to the extended back leg, foot should be dorsi-flexed and hips drawn in with the back flat. The back leg should strike down and behind the hips, fully extended hitting the ground on the ball of the foot with the heel just above the ground.

In continuing the action, it needs to be simultaneous with the opposite side of the body. With driving the flexed leg down into the ground while at the same time, driving the extended leg forward with power the first step will be complete.

As a coach, we always need to focus on a strong powerful action, and separation between the flexed and extended leg, avoiding a “tucked” leg. We also watch for a double bounce before driving the leg. This double bounce proves poor elasticity in the muscles, hip strength and mobility, and will lack in
power production with the driving leg.

Coaches need to notice the body position and action of the lower body. Always stay aggressive and strong with the driving leg. This movement is the engine in the car. Once the angle and driving action has been discussed, the ankle position is another major component of acceleration which needs to be looked at.


Angle refers to the body’s alignment at take off. After a successful push-off, the angle and the athlete need to be committed, to the direction in which they are sprinting. Next to learning how to walk, allowing the athletes body to fully commit is going to be the hardest thing they do. This is why acceleration is difficult to teach, because without a committed acceleration phase power production is lost and the body mechanics are typically incorrect. Ideally, the body’s position should be at most a 45 degree and at least a 60 degree lean. The range is in part due to the nature in which they are sprinting. I tell my athletes of all ages, the acceleration start phase is a controlled fall; you want to be as close to falling on your face without actually doing so. This typically gets my athletes in a controlled falling position as they try to push themselves to the limit of falling, but they soon
get the point and understand the angle that we are trying to teach.

You want to see the athlete’s body while doing wall drills in an optimal body lean: their hips are drawn in, eyes forward, and a ultimately fully- committed position.

One great statement I make while doing wall drills, is to ask the athletes what would happen if the wall was not there, while they were in this “powerline” position. They all answer, “we would fall coach,” I then ask, “what then would save you from falling?” Some say their hands, which is always funny to hear, but most say their legs. I say “yes,” with a large knee drive and movement from the hips.

Generally, working with a large group of athletes from all backgrounds, wall drills can appear to go a number of different ways. In context to the ankle and knee movement of the drill, you will see three things with the athletes the right way, the wrong way, and the worst way. Let’s start at the worst way possible.

First, you will notice the ankle is extended past alignment with the knee. Why is this bad you may ask? With an extended ankle an athlete will be over- striding during their acceleration and with that comes heel strike during the movement. Heel strike and over- striding produce unbalanced acceleration. Each over- exaggerated step creates instability and thus the body has to compensate for each step. If the body is over-striding, acceleration patterns will be compromised due to the imbalances of each step.

Now the wrong way. If the knee and ankle joints are aligned during the drill you will start to see improper body angle. With this alignment you will notice the athlete during the drill have their power output going vertical rather than the optimal horizontal while accelerating. If the ankle and knee are parallel the force generating each step will go up rather than forward. If the force the athlete generates goes vertical then the body position will likely go vertical during the acceleration. When the athlete starts to straighten their body positions during the acceleration it could end the acceleration prematurely.

Finally, the correct way, with this alignment you will have the force production of each step drive the athlete forward. With the ankle slightly behind the knee when the athlete touches the ground with the ball of their foot this action will optimally propel them forward. This technique allows for the athlete to propel greater force under their center of mass driving them forward.


In terms of arm movement, we like to keep things simple using two cues: Stay relaxed and drive with the shoulder. If an athlete becomes too tense while accelerating the position can get too restricted thus taking away movement from the upper body. The next cue is drive with the shoulder, meaning all the movement from the arms originates from the shoulder. If the shoulder is the key point of movement the elbow will fall into the correct alignment while accelerating. The elbow to shoulder position we like to see is a 90 degree angle relatively. Relatively meaning if there is no bend at the elbow joint then the shoulder is not creating the movement. We tell the athletes it should not look like you are beating the drums while running. The elbow should not be going into flexion and extension while accelerating; if it does the athlete is wasting force production that could be better used to propel the body.

With these techniques the overall athleticism of the athlete will increase. We are looking to make better athletes through increasing the ability for them to move during sport. The better the technique, the better the movement pattern, with better movement patterns it give the athletes the tools to perform in their sport.


Anthony Passamonte is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist through the NSCA and a Certified USAW Sports Performance Coach. He is the Director of Sports Performance at the Fieldhouse Sudbury, Massachusetts ( Anthony has trained athletes at all levels and has sparked a performance revolution in the Northeast area. Anthony's knowledge of the sports performance industry has brought success to thousands of athletes – including Division 1 scholarship and professional athletes –and is certain to get his athletes mentally and physically prepared to achieve their athletic goals.

Ben Butterfield is in his 3rd season at Northeastern University as Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach for the men’s ice hockey team. He is currently the Sports Performance Director of Dan Boothby Sports Performance located in North Andover. Ben is currently a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (NSCA), Sports Performance Coach(USAW), and Certified Personal Trainer(ACSM). Please don’t hesitate to contact Ben Butterfield at



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Comment by Jim Kielbaso on November 11, 2010 at 10:23am
Great stuff, guys. I just recently posted a video about this that goes right along with your article -

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