A Guide On How To Use Skipping
Coaches need to stop and think before they speak!
People often say things because we’ve heard them told before. We regurgitate words as we’ve listened to them—an all too common strategy in coaching.
How many times have you heard your coach say, “Well, that’s the way my coach did it, and I didn’t die”!
For me, skipping falls into this category.
I hear coaches all the time say, “If you can’t skip well, you won’t be able to run well.” If this is true, do kids go from crawling, walking, running, and then learning to skip somewhere down the road after learning to gallop?
Skipping well doesn’t mean you will learn to run well. Does it support skipping- yes! But it isn’t predeterminate of how well you will run- by any means!
What skipping has in common with running is the opposition of arms and legs. The posture that occurs in running is similar. The positions the arms and legs reach during a sprint and skip can be the same, but not always.
What Does Skipping Do That’s Different From Running?
Skipping requires a hop before the gait cycle continues. If I take off on my right leg, I will land on my right before the left leg strikes down. This never occurs in running. Also, in skipping, I have a delayed action of arm and leg switching to allow the hop to occur, which negates the arm and leg’s stretch-shortening effect in opposition through gait.
Skipping is not a survival skill. It isn’t called on when in sympathetic response to danger. Skipping doesn’t sit on the top of the hierarchy of skills to be called upon by the CNS to escape or attack an opponent.
Skipping is a support skill. It is a skill used to accentuate certain areas of sprinting or accelerating, which needs attention. At no time in sprinting will both feet be directly next to one another and in contact with the ground, however in an A-skip, this will occur.
Coaches often say to our athletes, “How are you going to sprint properly if you can’t skip properly.” They are two different skills and don’t have as much in common as we like to think. Sure, skipping can support certain aspects of sprinting – but it’s not sprinting. If we look deeper into the motor learning of a sprint and a skip, we can see different motor pathways created for each.
The skip needs excellent coordination and timing of arms and legs for it to become fluid. This is because it doesn’t have an innate “cross-crawl” family tree to extend from. There is a crossing pattern of arms and legs, but it’s delayed and not reliant on limb momentum and functional end range loading like sprinting is. You see, sprinting strides build off one another. When one side of the body loads in a range of motion during the gait cycle, it propels itself in the opposite direction, this cues the other side to do the same.
Skipping, and the reason you see many kids when learning to skip using the same arm same leg pattern, is that skipping is not built from the cross-crawl, to walking, to jogging, to running to sprinting family.
Skipping’s ancestry comes more from the LEAPING and HOPPING movement tree. As compared to sprinting, Leaping creates a delayed holding pattern of the extension hip, leg, and ankle. The flexion hip, leg, and ankle- momentarily float before switching.
Hopping has a similar delayed action. The push-off occurs while the limbs are kept in a similar holding pattern until the same foot contacts the ground again. Very different from sprinting.
A skip has its finger-print it takes from the locomotive cyclical gait family, the non-cyclical hop family, and created its skill-set. Here is where the skip, like the cyclical running pattern, has variations that check different boxes.
A typical A-Skip lives primarily in the Vertical Axis. It likes to strike down from up above. The foot gets lifted up and aggressively reversed to strike the ground beneath the hips to receive high energy levels, reaction, from the ground. The skip uses this energy to “bounce” and coordinate limb exchange after the hop- so the opposite arm and leg control the force equation portion of the skip. It is a skill that adds gracefulness and synchronicity to the variation of human locomotion.
Unlike the A-Skip, the snap skip has a more common oppositional relationship between arms and legs. The top leg and support leg will coordinate to switch precisely simultaneously, versus the coordinated double foot strike seen in the A-Skip. What keeps the snap and A-skip in the same family, although just cousins, is the HOP phase. This singular hop is the primary distinguishing difference between the steady-state cyclical gait cycle and the non-steady-state delayed cyclical gait cycle.
The power skip bears the A-Skip’s similar characteristics from its delayed cyclical action and its double foot contact moment. What separates the two is the amount of time spent on the ground to produce a more horizontal and vertical lift.
The consistent characteristic is the hop phase. This distinguishes skipping from sprinting. Another difference in the power skip is the penultimate hop to lower the athlete’s center of mass to create a longer ground contact time for the step phase of the skip. In the A-Skip, the opposite foot will strike at the same time right next to the hopping foot. There is a “1-2” step-step action to go from the hop landing foot to the other foot’s rolling action in the power skip.
If the left leg is the hopping leg, upon contact from the hop, the ankle dorsiflexion significantly increases the forward shin angle compared to the A-Skip. The transition from the left leg, in this case, to the right leg is further out in front of the center of mass- not to mention the hips are much lower as the right leg bears the weight.
This process is much like going up for a lay-up in basketball or a high jumper preparing to take off. The take-off leg has more incredible time on the ground to change take-off trajectories and create more power- due to its lower center of mass and longer contact time.
The power skip supports heel contact to create a “rolling” action from the rearfoot to the forefoot to the launch. The A-Skip discourages heel contact before forefoot contact due to its reliance on vertical forces and quick capturing and releasing energy (reactive).
Indeed, there are many other forms of skipping from sideways to backward. In each case, the hop is the singular characteristic that defines the skipping patterning.
In an athlete’s brain, unless exposed to skipping at an early age during physical education or recess (modeling their friends), skipping is not a hardwired locomotive tool. To a degree, neither is sprinting.
Sprinting does have the foundation of the cross-crawl non-delayed cyclical gait to build off of, though. As a task needs to be solved (chasing, escaping, racing) becomes an option or necessity, the brain can use the blueprint already established from the cross-crawl and increase the speeds at which it is performed. The hardware known as soft-tissues/fascia, along with the bones and joints, can create energy storage and release unit throughout the body to help this cross-crawl pattern, now known as sprinting, to be more efficient and effective.
Skipping is very important on many levels. It teaches coordination and rhythm, posture and position, and how to utilize loads differently based on the type of skip used.
I believe the skip can support acceleration and max velocity sprinting, just like strength training and ballistic work. I also think skipping is not a prerequisite to sprinting well. It has way too many differences to capture the economy sprinting offers.
Skipping requires a delay in the cyclical gait. It increases ground contact time and often resorts to more power expression, as seen in the power skip. Based on the variation of skip being used, the arm action and leg action become shortened due to skill execution. Sprinting requires full functional excursion of arm and leg action to execute the skill correctly.
We have to respect the requirements to sprint efficiently and utilize a training skill such as the skipping family to improve sprinting’s various characteristics. We also must keep skipping in its place because it is a skill with a different motor pathway from sprinting. If we give the skip too much power, we potentially rob time from the more critical sprinting skill to improve sprinting.
It is essential to be careful not to fall into the trap of listening to advice that has been handed down from generate to generate without a solid assessment of the meaning. This is why I created www.SpeedToolbox.com. I have taken years of paying attention to the science of movement and multidirectional speed and debunked so many falsehoods. I want to help move you to the front of the line by learning methods and concepts proven through safe and effective results. Being a member of this community is a game-changer!