Explosive and reactive on field movements require immediate and efficient action, which is why the following statement is one of the biggest controversies in sports training.

Taking a step backwards will actually help you sprint forward—faster.

When some Australian scientists at Edith Cowan University had athletes use this “false step” technique to trigger a sprinting motion, the men covered five metres significantly quicker than when they took off by initially stepping forwards.

The Mechanics

In order for an athlete to initiate forward movement of the body, their driving foot needs to be behind their centre of gravity in order to maximize the first step.

There are two ways to achieve this:

  • allow your bodyweight to fall in front of the feet
  • rapidly and explosively step one foot backwards (plyo step)

It has been the eternal argument in speed and agility training. A few years ago,  this study, published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, appeared to shed some definitive light on the matter.

The Payoff

The researchers state that the plyo-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.

Why I Advocate The Plyo-Step

I prefer the term plyo-step as I think false step and backwards step give the wrong impression. A false or backwards step implies that the hips or centre of gravity shift backwards. This is not the case. The term plyo step was coined by USA’s leading sports speed expert Lee Taft.

If you put anybody into a good athletic base position where they are fully loaded, then get them to react to a stimulus, every time they will make a plyo step. Not 9 out of 10, but every time.

It is an instinctive reaction, especially when you’re bouncing on the balls of your feet. I want to work with instinct rather than against it. 

The reason the Plyo Step occurs at all is because the body realizes it cannot manage the weight of the body effectively from its current position. In other words, the body doesn’t have an optimal angle to efficiently drive the body into its intended direction.

Certain people can appear slower and clumsy using the false step initially. This is because they don’t prctise the movement and aren’t strong enough or proficient in it. This is especially the case in tall people and those who don’t adopt a good athletic position. Regular practice and strength training quickly clears this up and the plyo step makes these athletes much quicker.

The Take-Home Message

Making a step backwards will boost your body’s natural shift forward, helping you generate more power in any direction. By getting the body moving forward instantly, the next step will be a much more powerful push as the body is already travelling over your base.

Practise the false step off either foot because you won’t always want to go straight forward. Landing about 6 inches behind you should be enough to create the force needed. 

Put it to the test and tell me how you get on.

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