Why Deceleration is an Essential Skill (Plus Drills to Work on It)

Oct 24, 2022 | Speed & Agility, Sports Performance

Man working on deceleration skills by doing speed and agility cone drills workout session outdoors.

When it comes to athletic performance, learning how to pump the brakes with body control is an often undertrained skill set. Being fast is worthless without a durable, long-lasting set of brakes.

Matthew Ibrahim is an experienced S&C coach, college professor of exercise science, and a Ph.D. student in human and sports performance. He’s presented in over 20 U.S. states and several international events. Start training to stop on a dime and blow past your competition with the knowledge and drills he shares in this article.

Check out his latest program Building the Breaks 2.0 to start building elite athleticism and deceleration skills ASAP!

Matthew Ibrahim
Matthew Ibrahim

Make More Progress in the Gym

Deceleration Training: Building The Brakes for Athletic Performance

Scroll through your Instagram feed under current fitness trends and you’re likely ooh-ing and ahh-ing over your favorite athletes performing ridiculously high box jumps, leaping out of a building to hit a slam dunk, or exploding past the defender in football.

All of these explosive feats of power and force production have one thing in common: they’re grounded in the athlete’s ability to pump the brakes, stop on a dime, and absorb force. But nobody seems to care about training to stop on a dime, decelerate, or land with control until they get hurt.

Injuries, whether we like it or not, are simply part of the territory in sports. However, you can do yourself (and your body) a favor by preparing the right way in your training to reduce the chance of getting hurt when playing your sport.

Elon Musk once said, “Brake pads on Tesla cars would literally never need to be replaced.” Pretty bold statement for such an expensive car. The good thing is he can back it up since the Tesla is a high-quality car built for speed and performance.

Your body, when trained the right way, is designed to be fast, explosive, and powerful. Becoming the Tesla of athletic performance means that you also have a durable pair of brakes to help you decelerate and stop quickly.

Building your brakes will not only increase your athletic performance but also reduce your risk of injury, keeping you on the field or the court longer.

The Best Athletes Are Durable Athletes

A basic key to athletic performance is being available to play your sport and help your team win. The best to do this is to stay strong and durable by reducing the risk of injury. A durable athlete is one that can recover quickly and withstand the constant demands of sport.

The highest rate of lower body injuries in athletics take place in five key areas:

  • Calves
  • Hamstrings
  • Groin
  • Knees
  • Hip flexors

Keeping these five lower-body regions strong will go a long way in making sure that your body is physically prepared to consistently perform at a high level without any setbacks.

Strengthen Your Knees

How often do you strengthen your knees in your training program (besides the typical squatting and lunging exercises)? I’m guessing probably not a lot. Don’t worry, you’re not alone.

The hands-supported kneeler is a great exercise that you can easily add into your training to strengthen your knees.

When performing this movement, I recommend 2-3 sets of 6-8 reps with a big emphasis on a 3-to-5 second eccentric (lowering) component.

Get Stronger Calves

How often do you work on your calves in your training programs? Unless you’re a super-committed bodybuilder, I’ll assume you likely spend little to no time building strong calves. Again, you’re not alone here.

Keep in mind, your feet are the first thing to touch the floor when landing and absorbing force, which demands a lot from the calf muscles and Achilles tendons. Build strength and durability in this area if you want to be a beast in your sport with heels-up single-leg bridge iso holds.

It might look like a boring exercise, but don’t knock it until you try it. Lock in and perform 2-3 sets of 10-15-second holds per side.

Deceleration Drills for Explosive Athletes

Let’s jump back to the trend of being fast, explosive, and powerful. These qualities are often sexy and amazing to watch when an athlete displays them at a high level.

But just remember — athletes who can produce power efficiently can also stop on a dime efficiently. These two athletic development traits go hand in hand.

Sports take place in a variety of directions at varying speeds requiring quick reaction times. It’s in your best interest as an athlete to turn over every stone in your training. Don’t leave anything up to question, especially if you plan on playing your sport for a long time.

Deceleration skills come down to harnessing all of these athletic qualities to boost your overall performance while keeping you both strong and healthy. Whether you’re moving forward and reverse, side-to-side, or in multiple directions, decelerating efficiently means that you can stop on a dime and absorb force at any time.

Drop Reverse Lunge to Stick

Agility is a necessary skill for nearly all field and court-based sports. How often in a basketball game do athletes sprint, quickly stop, change direction, then sprint again in a completely different direction?

It’s crucial for you as an athlete to incorporate multi-directional deceleration drills in your training. Adding the drop reverse lunge to stick to your workouts helps you decelerate in the sagittal (forward and reverse) plane of motion.

Be sure to stick your landing and control your body. Aim for 2-3 sets of 3-5 reps per side in your training for best results.

Forward Alternating Close-Out

Use this exercise to build multi-directional deceleration skills.

Take your time building up a good rhythm here. This exercise isn’t about speed quite yet. First, work on feeling coordinated with the movement at roughly 75-80% effort.

Once you’ve built up some good mechanics, you can bump up into the 85-90% effort range. I recommend performing 2-3 sets of 3-5 reps per side.

Achieve Total Body Control

Controlling your body is a prime focus when defining athleticism. Think of Odell Beckham Jr.’s crazy one-handed catch with the Giants back in 2015. Masterful body control.

How about when Vince Carter jumped out of the building in the 2000 Sydney Olympics to dunk over a 7-footer? Insane. Talk about an athlete controlling his body.

I could go on and on with examples, but you get the point.

Tempo

Full-body control starts by building a base level of strength. A simple way to achieve this is by using exercises that focus on specific tempo work.

Two key areas in tempo work are eccentrics and isometrics. Eccentrics focus on the lowering aspect of an exercise to force you to slow down and take your time. Isometrics focus on owning specific body positions and building strength in them.

Why are eccentrics and isometrics important? They increase the overall time your body spends under tension. An increased time under tension equates to building strength and body control. Controlling your body boosts your athletic performance.

Coach’s Tip: For a detailed guide on how to use tempo in your training, check out Understanding Tempo Training For Maximum Strength Gains.

Heels-Up Split Squat Iso

Do this lower-body isometric exercise to increase strength and control specifically in your calves and knees.

I suggest performing these at the following clip: 2-3 sets of 20-25 second holds per side.

Plank Body Saw

This simple eccentric-focused upper body exercise improves strength and control in your shoulders, upper back, and core.

Perform this for 2-3 sets of 8-10 reps.

If you prepare for these skills in your training, you can call upon them in your sport. For example, a basketball player should think of deceleration skills in the same light as dribbling and shooting. Build them into your practice and they’ll be ready for you to use when the lights are on and the game is fierce!

You Work too Hard to Not See Progress

Find Your Perfect Training Plan

Sometimes all you need to reach your destination on your fitness journey is an expert guide. We've got you covered.

Browse from thousands of programs for any goal and every type of athlete.

Try any programming subscription free for 7 days.

Want Training Tips, Exercise Guides & Knowledge Bombs Sent to Your Inbox?

Sign up for the FitNerd newsletter from TrainHeroic

Related articles

5 Lacrosse Exercises Every Player Should Do

5 Lacrosse Exercises Every Player Should Do

Don't get me wrong, a strong back and chest are important, but a quick first step and an explosive split dodge can change the face of a game. For anyone looking to improve their lacrosse skills, lower-body strength is key. Focus on these five exercises this off-season...

read more
How to Balance Fitness & Fun During the Holidays

How to Balance Fitness & Fun During the Holidays

No, you’re not going to lose all of your hard-earned progress in the gym if you take a week or two off to travel, see family, and eat holiday treats. But for many people, slipping out of their fitness routine for a while makes it easier to do it again and again. This...

read more
6 Landmine Exercises for Total Body Strength

6 Landmine Exercises for Total Body Strength

Although typically used for simple core and functional-type movements, the landmine is actually an amazingly versatile tool that can be used as a primary exercise for many muscle groups. If you’re looking for a new way to build overall strength and power, give these 6...

read more

Join the community

Sign up for the latest training news and updates from TrainHeroic

Made with love, sweat, protein isolate and hard work in Denver, CO

© 2022 TrainHeroic, Inc. All rights reserved.

Looking for the perfect gift for the athletes in your life? Give the the gift of TrainHeroic swag. Use the code GIFT25 for 25% off your entire order.
powered by bulletin