Setting up for Speed: Base, Balance and Angles

Over the past five years, I’ve made a concerted effort to become a better coach of speed and agility exercises.

I’ve read books, purchased products, and actively sought out some of the best speed coaches in the world.

Just looking back at our own seminars here at IFAST, we’ve brought in Boo Schexnayder, Lee Taft, Nick Winkelman, Loren Landow, and a host of other great coaches to help us improve our speed game.

But one idea that I feel constantly gets glossed over is also where it all begins:

How do you teach the most basic element of speed to your athletes?

And if you’re wondering, it’s not a drill, skill or exercise.

It’s the most basic thing an athlete does – getting into their athletic stance.

So here’s my three step process for teaching my athletes about their base, balance and angles (BBA).

Step #1 – Base

The first element we have to teach our athletes is what their base should look like.

Needless to say, numerous athletes don’t even know what an athletic position looks like – let alone feels like!

In my opinion, a good athletic stance is a blend of flexion at the ankles, knees and hips. This loads all the various muscles and joints in the lower body, and allows the athlete to move in virtually any direction.

To teach an athlete about their base, I often start by showing them how they rest when they get tired.

The knees are slightly forward, the butt is back, and the hands are resting on the thighs.*

(*And contrary to what every coach you’ve ever had has taught you, this is not a bad position to be in. It’s actually a great position to help you catch your breath and recover. But that’s another article for another day…)

This is what I consider to be a great starting point for our athletic base. The biggest differentiator will now become how wide we take their base.

For example, a wide receiver in football my offset their stance from front-to-back, so they can move seamlessly into acceleration.

A defender in basketball may simply move their feet out at a bit wider than shoulder width, which allows them to move more easily from side-to-side.

Teaching your athletes about their athletic base is Step #1.

But chances are, they’ve heard this part before. Which is why we have to also touch on Step #2…

Step #2 – Balance

Often, I find that athletes are at least somewhat familiar with the athletic position.

You may have to change little things – like getting their feet a bit wider, or allowing for a bit more flexion at the ankle.

But at least they know what you’re going for!

When it comes to balance, this can be a lot trickier, because there are more preconceived notions as to what “balance” is.

I think of balance in two ways:

  1. Balance with regards to their center of gravity, and
  2. Balance through their feet.

The center of gravity piece should be easily explained. After all, if you’re falling forward or backward, most athletes intuitively understand that this is disadvantageous.

But I find that many athletes struggle to understand balance with regards to their feet.

Many have heard 1,087 times that they need to “be on their toes.” And what happens is that eventually, they lose heel contact, and by extension, balance!

If you’re thinking front to back, my center of gravity may be shifted slightly forward, but I still want my heels in contact with the ground.

This “whole foot” concept doesn’t just apply in the weight room, but on the field/court/pitch as well!

When an athlete can feel their whole foot, they’re immediately more balanced. Furthermore, athletes that struggle with anterior knee pain should see an immediate reduction in symptoms, just by finding a more optimal starting position.

So front-to-back, we’re looking at weight shifted slightly forward, but the heel still in contact with the ground. What about side-to-side?

Again, I like the idea of balance. If an athlete is going purely forward and backward, then you may not worry about this.

But in athletes that most side-to-side, I tend to widen the base a little bit (as noted above) and get them to find the inside of their feet.

When an athlete finds the inside of their foot, they have the ability to load the hip joint and push. 

This push sets the stage for everything. It could be in the form of a lateral shuffle/defensive slide, it could be into a crossover step, or into a full blown turn and run.

But finding the inside of that foot is really critical.

So far we’ve done two things:

  1. Set our athletic stance. Hips, knees and ankles flexed, with a base that’s wide enough for our sport needs. And
  2. Found our balance. The weight if shifted forward slightly (with the heels still down), and for multi-directional athletes we’ve found the inside of the foot as well.

Which leads me to my last piece…

Step #3 – Angles

The last piece of the puzzle is angles.

For many athletes, they’ve never been taught (or even thought about) angles in the past.

However, even a rudimentary explanation often gives them a ton of insight into the value of finding good angles.

If we’re teaching acceleration, I will describe how the angle of push needs to be down and back. Down and back will naturally drive us up and forward.

However, if our angle is more down than back, or if we get upright too soon, that changes our angles – and where our body moves!

And while this works great for acceleration, I find it works even better for multi-directional speed.

For instance, many basketball players know that if they play with a narrow base, it’s easier for them to get beat.

But what they don’t realize is that the narrow base also forces them to play more upright as well!

So I teach them to get a bit wider with feet and their angles. This does the following:

  • Drops their hips,
  • Lowers their center of gravity,
  • Produces the angles through the lower leg which allows them to cover maximal ground in a lateral direction.

Once an athlete feels the difference, not only in how their body moves, but in the ground they cover with each step, you will immediately have a believer on your hands.

Summary

There’s nothing ground breaking about how I coach the set-up for speed and agility drills. In fact, you can find a lot of this stuff if you simply research the work of Lee Taft.

But taking the time to work on and address an athlete’s base, balance and angles will go a long way to helping your athlete be as fast as possible on the field, court or pitch.

All the best

MR

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