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Step Back for Speed

groveb / iStockphoto

Dynamic movements require immediate and efficient action, which is why the following finding may catch you a bit off-guard: Taking a step backwards will actually help you sprint forward—faster.

When Australian scientists had athletes use this “false step” technique to trigger a sprinting motion, the men covered almost six yards of ground significantly quicker than when they took off by initially stepping towards the finish line.

The Mechanics

An athlete’s center of gravity should be positioned slightly ahead of his base (think split-squat stance) in order to maximize his first step, according to Nick Winkelman, a performance specialist at Athletes' Performance. “You can simply allow your bodyweight to fall forward, but is it more efficient to just take a quick step backwards? It has been the eternal argument,” he says. Fortunately, this recent study, published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, sheds some definitive light on the matter.

The Payoff

The researchers state that the back-steppers were six percent faster over their first few yards of sprinting than those who relied on gravity at the starting line. “And a six percent reduction in the time to cover a short distance may have a considerable impact on athletic performance,” write the study’s authors, who add that the benefit over longer distances remains unclear.

The Take-Home Message

“Making a step backwards will boost your body’s natural shift forward, helping you generate more power and energy production,” says Winkelman.

It’s a perfect tip for shooting guards looking to quicken their cuts on the hardwood or outfielders who need help covering the gaps. Winkelman suggests taking the back-step with your dominant foot, having it land between 6- and 18-inches behind you. “For lateral movements, if you’re standing in an athletic stance, you can simply rotate your ankles in the direction you want to travel. Since your feet are parallel to begin with, that rotation will mimic the effect of stepping backwards.”

About The Author

David Schipper – David began writing for CorePerformance.com in 2008, after spending six years at Men's Health magazine digging up the newest scientific research in health, weight loss, nutrition, muscle and cardiovascular fitness.

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Tags: Speed, Sports Performance, Tennis, Baseball, Basketball, Running, Acceleration