A single second can mean the difference between a win or a loss. The world’s best athletes know this and continually seek to improve their first step explosiveness. No matter the sport or level of play, a good first step will take your opponent by surprise and put you in position to score or pass.
So what makes a first step explosive?
It’s a combination of balance, agility, quickness, and strength. By practicing a few simple skills and knowing the mechanics of a great first step, athletes all over the Baltimore area and beyond can improve their explosiveness and take their sports performance to the next level.
Strength is key
It should come as no surprise that a first step is only as explosive as the muscles that power it. It doesn’t matter how tall you are or how much you weigh– the simple truth is that your body wants to stay in a resting state once it is at rest. It takes momentum and power to launch it into action.
Lower body strength is crucial for first step explosiveness. In the gym, focus on leg exercises like squats, calf raises, and deadlifts to build power in your legs, along with plyometrics to aid in endurance. On the field or court, work on sprint drills with added resistance to train your fast-twitch muscles to spring into action when you need them.
Your arms aren’t off the hook either– strong arms help propel the rest of your body into motion. Make sure you work your biceps, triceps, forearms, and shoulders. It will improve your form and give you the upper body strength to hang on to the ball when you’re under pressure and need that explosive first step to avoid a defender.
Stay flexible to stay fast
Just like inflexibility leads to injury, it also leads to a slower first step. If your muscle groups aren’t nimble enough to give you the power you need, your first step will be slow and short.
Some of the most overlooked muscles that aid in strength and speed are the hip muscles. Hip flexibility influences nearly every muscle group in the lower body. Tight hips lead to injury and sluggish movement. Keep your hips loose and flexible by practicing drills like leg swings, fire hydrants, and lunges. A foam roller can also help loosen tight hip flexors and piriformis muscles.
Don’t neglect the rest of your body as you stretch. Keep your upper body, including your back, neck and arm muscles loose and flexible to support the range of motion in your legs.
Along with flexibility, stability in your core and gluteal muscles is vital to first step explosiveness. This stability not only supports your back muscles to prevent injury, but it also transfers power from your upper and lower body and turns it into the “explosion” that will power you past a defender.
It’s all in the angle
If you play sports and condition your body to respond to coaching, drills, and the perfection of your technique over time, then you understand that the smallest detail can often make the biggest impact.
When it comes to first step explosiveness, the angle of your foot when it hits the ground can make the difference between an explosive step and a faltering one. The standard shin angle for the optimal first step is less than 45 degrees. It keeps your center of gravity lower and more stable and allows you to spring forward faster and further than if your leg was straight. Practice in a mirror or on video until you’ve memorized the feel of the proper shin angle and foot strike.
Practice makes perfect
As is the case with any aspect of sports, first step explosiveness will become easier and more effective with practice. If you incorporate the key elements of strength, flexibility, stability, and technique, you’ll be driving past your opponents in no time.