First Step Quickness for Athletes

First step quickness is where an athlete or team can win or lose a game.  Most advance into plyometrics without teaching 3 basic things that will set them up for an injury free program.  Non contact ACL injuries are preventable with proper training on technique and enhancing strength and power without compromising the form we are about to review.

Step 1: Teaching Proper Body Mechanics

  1. Efficient posture and movement patterns will set up the body to utilize the most explosive combinations of angles and muscle actions to produce power in any direction. A muscle on stretch acts as a rubber band and the further you stretch it, the more force it will produce. Adding two rubber bands, representing multiple joints, will increase an athlete’s ability to produce force at an exponential level.  Ensuring perfect form in a base position is a critical first step to ensuring we are maximizing every angle, the muscle spindle’s stretch shorten cycle and it’s ability to respond both reflexively and voluntarily to maximize power production.
    1. Neutral Neck
    2. Shoulders down and back
    3. Neutral Pelvis
    4. Hips back
    5. Heels slightly off the ground


Step 2: Teaching Deceleration

  1. Landing into the base position with the above mechanics can be difficult for a youth athlete to coordinate.  Most athletes land with their knees sliding forward and relying on quad dominance to decelerate and reaccelerate.  This can lead to condromalacia (irritation under the patella) and tendonitis (overuse injury typically at the bottom of the patella).  Landing technique into the base position mentioned above needs to incorporate the hips, knees and ankles.  It is critical to use all three joints to decelerate and absorb all of that potential energy into the muscle spindle that senses “stretch” and responds immediately by reflexively contracting the muscle.  A great verbal cue to use is “try to land like a silent ninja.” Absorbing the energy, pulling back the rubber bands across three joints puts the body in a perfect position to re-explode to enhance first step quickness.


Step 3: Teaching Upper Body Mechanics

  1. Upper body mechanics play a huge role in first step Quickness.  If the upper body is the ignition, the lower body is the engine.  The engine will not turn over without turning that key.  Longer arms + fast explosive arm swing = Increased torque and force production that will transfer down the body and ultimately through the ground. The athlete must have a strong pillar in the shoulders, trunk and hips to ensure energy is transferred minimizing any leaks along the kinetic chain.

Taking this calculated approach beginning with efficient posture and movement patterns, teaching proper landing technique to absorb potential energy and finally proper upper body mechanics can enhance the first step quickness in any athlete.  These principals are technique driven.  Once your technique is perfect and you can squat 1.5 times your body weight, (NSCA guideline before beginning a plyometric program) you can then carefully incorporate the use of plyometric drills to enhance explosiveness and reduce coupling time (the brief moment where there is no concentric or eccentric movement as the athlete transitions from decelerating to accelerating.)

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Author: Kevin Dunn, CEO CSCS TEST Football Academy

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