As a high school football coach, I work with young people with a wide range of athletic abilities and body types. With all types of athletes, wickets are a fantastic tool to create elite sprint shapes. My work is inspired and influenced by the brilliance of Tony Holler, Chris Korfist, Barry Ross, Jimmy Radcliffe, Brian Kula, Dr. Ken Clark, Brad Dixon, JT Ayers, Joey Guarascio, and others. I did not invent the wheel—all credit goes to those who have come before.
I love wickets for building sprint mechanics. I love wickets for training proper sprint technique. I love wickets for enforcing sprint mechanics at or near maximum speed. While I love wickets for all these reasons, most of all:
I love wickets for creating beautiful sprint shapes.
I am always struck by the beauty of speed. Seeing athletes sprint with proper form is a joy to behold. Seeing that speed translate to the playing field is fulfilling. As a lifelong sprinter, I can also confirm that sprinting through wickets is a beautiful feeling.Seeing athletes sprint with proper form is a joy to behold, says @ErikBecker42. Click To Tweet
Video 1. Snow? I still get in my own wicket training.
I believe that speed is the most important attribute for all athletes. In any sport, at any position, being faster makes you better. In any athletic contest, being faster creates two essential elements: space and time. Speed gives an athlete the ability to create or close space while also enabling the athlete to read and process longer before reacting.
Speed is the most important metric to develop in all athletes—you could fill an entire library with the benefits of training speed. Sprinting increases top speed, increases sub-max speed, builds muscle, burns fat, activates fast twitch muscle fibers, increases explosive power output, builds anaerobic endurance, reduces injury risk, boosts metabolism, improves cardiovascular health, improves body composition, improves glucose control, increases acceleration, improves VO2 Max, improves mitochondrial density, improves insulin resistance, lowers blood pressure, increases human growth hormone, increases protein synthesis, boosts testosterone levels, has anti-aging benefits, and is the ultimate abdominal workout.
Back to Wickets
As we know, we run faster when we run more efficiently. Elite sprinters share the same mechanics: they run tall. As Tony Holler says, “you should look two inches taller when sprinting.” Along with that, elite sprinters run stiff: when their plant foot touches the ground, they do not collapse into their leg, but bounce off the ground with a rigid quality (as a former lacrosse player, the example I give is bouncing a D-pole off the ground). They are big in the front: the front knee is high and the foot is dorsiflexed in preparation for the next ground strike. They are short in the back: their back foot cycles through as quickly as possible.We run faster when we run more efficiently, says @ErikBecker42. Click To Tweet
That cycle must be efficient for an athlete to reach their maximum speed. Dr. Ken Clark has done invaluable research in this area.
While the efficient sprint cycle is key for running faster, we know that speed comes primarily from the ability to put more force into the ground with each ground strike. This is the research of Barry Ross and highlights the importance of mass-specific force (force generated in proportion to an athlete’s body weight). Brian Kula and JT Ayers have done incredible work in this area based on the groundbreaking book Underground Secrets of Faster Running by Barry Ross.
In his work with Olympic-level sprinters, Ross found the concentric phase of the hex-bar deadlift had the greatest impact on increasing maximum sprint speed. He called this Mass-Specific Force and developed the Force Number metric to measure power output.
Force Number = Max Hex-Bar Deadlift / Weight
1.5=Good, 2=Great, 2.5= Elite, 3=World Class
Increasing mass-specific force, coupled with an efficient sprint cycle, is essential for developing speed. Check out JT Ayers and Brian Kula’s excellent video on lifting for speed.
Video 2. Concentric phase of the hex-bar deadlift.
Wickets are an especially valuable tool for creating an efficient sprint cycle. They force athletes to maximize their front-side mechanics, while diminishing back-side mechanics.
Video 3. I cue my football players to “run big and tall” with their front knee high.
Again, as Tony Holler says, “Sprinters are big in the front and short in the back.” Wickets also develop an effective cadence for max or near-max-speed sprinting, forcing athletes to run tall and strike the ground under their bodies.Wickets also develop an effective cadence for max or near-max-speed sprinting, says @ErikBecker42. Click To Tweet
How I Do It
The way I program wickets comes directly from Tony Holler. The athletes must be warmed up first: I prefer Reflexive Performance Reset and the Atomic Warm Up by Tony Holler.
I do some quick cueing where I demonstrate and explain the sprint shapes we are looking to create: high knee, high toe, back elbow to the sky, big arms.
Video 4. Using the yard markers on the football field to space the wickets six feet apart.
I use the hash marks on a football field. This is a helpful way to ensure athletes run in a straight line and provides a set distance to space the wickets.
I give the athletes a 20- to 25-yard build-up with an emphasis on increasing speed consistently up to the wickets. I want them to be at 90% or better of their maximum speed while running through the wickets. This should feel similar to a build-up or a flying 10.
I set the wickets every other hash—this six-foot distance works well for high school-age athletes. I instruct the athletes to focus on their mechanics and building speed through the wickets.
Video 5. For the athletes running the wickets, I want it to feel fast and smooth.
We decelerate gradually and walk back to the line to recover.
I commonly give them three to five reps with a three- to five-minute recovery to ensure quality output.
I like to use wickets with our athletes every week or two as a part of a complete speed and power training program.I like to use wickets with our athletes every week or two as a part of a complete speed and power training program, says @ErikBecker42. Click To Tweet
Since I began using wickets as a training tool, I have noticed a few things:
- I find that the more natural athletic ability a young person has, the more comfortable they look running wickets from their first attempt. These are often kids who naturally run well, are highly coordinated, or have a track background.
- I love watching these athletes run wickets. It creates and reinforces beautiful sprint shapes: high knee, high toe, big in the front, big and tall, stiffness through ground contact; strong bounce and cadence. Watching gifted athletes run through wickets is a coach’s dream. It’s beautiful. But obviously, I did not do much.
- I might love wickets even more for the guys who are not naturally as gifted, because it forces them to run with proper sprint mechanics. I love watching kids who do not have natural sprint mechanics and bigger kids run through wickets because it creates those elite sprint shapes.
Video 5. Watching big guys sprint with great mechanics is awesome to behold.
I have found that, over time, using wickets as a training tool will increase the sprint mechanics of every athlete. I believe that no matter what sport or position you play, running faster makes you better. I believe wickets can be a great way to help you get there.
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