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Getting Athletes to Perform at Their Best

29 Jun

-678325aa59aad8ba[1]Twelve years ago — after a 20-year career in the pharmaceutical industry — I began pursuit of a dream.  My dream was fueled by my four children, all capable student-athletes.  I wanted to help them train for their sports, improve their performance, and reduce their risk of injury; teach them the value of working toward a goal; and help them develop a competitive edge.  I expanded my reach to their friends and teammates; interacted and learned from other trainers, coaches, and administrators; and got to work providing evidence-based Strength and Conditioning for anyone interested, willing, and committed to improving their athletic performance.  That was the beginning of what has now become my passion; working with athletes in pursuit of stronger, faster, and better.  That was the birth of Athletic Performance Training Center (APTC).

As we expand and grow, the APTC dream continues to grow.  We work (and have worked) with thousands of athletes – scholastic athletes (as young as age 5), collegiate athletes, and professional athletes.  We are fortunate to have the opportunity to work with so many dedicated clients.

Over the past 12+ years, APTC has helped prepare athletes for the “next level” whether that is high school, college, or the pros.  We have been called upon to prepare athletes for college and professional pro days and combines.  If you are an aspiring athlete, and looking to go to the next level, here is some advice  — stuff that I’ve learned over the past dozen years in the industry.  There’s more to athletic performance than you think.

It’s More Than Just Hard Work

It’s important to work hard, but you’ve also got to work smart.  Most athletes believe if they work hard — in the weight room and on the court or field — they can be successful.  Unfortunately, this antiquated way of thinking is probably not going to get athletes to the top of their game.  Working hard in the weight room won’t get you far if your plan — including exercise selection, intensity, sets, reps, rest intervals, etc. — is not aligned with your goal.  Likewise, you can practice your ball-handling and shooting in the gym all day; but if you’re practicing with flawed form, mechanics, and technique, your improvement will be limited, at best.  And, of course, in addition to physical training, factors like nutrition, rest, and mental preparation will have a considerable effect on your performance.  This is where a knowledgeable strength and/or skills coach can be an asset by providing quality guidance and direction.

It’s More Than Just Off-Season Training

Training is not a “sometime” thing; it is an “all the time” thing — it’s year-round.  You need to train during the off-season, pre-season, and in-season (with appropriate intensity, frequency, volume, and rest along the way); and it’s important to have a periodized, progressive plan to address each stage of training.  This can become somewhat complicated when athletes play multiple sports throughout the year (and claim not to have the time), but a knowledgeable trainer can develop an effective plan to address each cycle to ensure optimal performance.  If athletes are not training, they are not improving.  And if they are not improving, they are compromising their potential.  During the season, it’s important to incorporate one or two lifting sessions per week to maintain the gains they made in the off-season.  In-season training helps athletes enhance recovery from their sport practices and games; protects against getting “worn down” over the course of the season; and helps keep muscles and joints strong to reduce the risk of injury.

It’s More Than Just the Bench Press and Biceps Curl

Don’t get me wrong, the bench press is a great upper body exercise, but your training shouldn’t revolve around your chest and arms.  Strength and power — for any sport — emanate from the core, specifically the lower core.  The hips, quadriceps, and posterior chain — lower-back, glutes, and hamstrings —  are crucial to your performance.  If you are strong throughout your core, you have the potential to be a strong, fast, and powerful athlete.  If you are not strong throughout this area, there’s nothing you can do to compensate for it.  Weakness in the muscles of your core and posterior chain also puts you at a greater risk for injury.  Squats, deadlifts, glute-ham raises, and Romanian deadlifts are excellent exercises for the core and posterior chain musculature.

Warmup is More Than Just Stretching

Prior to every strength and/or speed training session, make sure you warmup properly.  That means more than just a quick lap around the track or a few quick stretches.  The best, knowledgeable athletes, trainers, and coaches know that performing a dynamic (movement-based) warmup — before training, practices, or games — is the way to go.  Dynamic warmup involves movements that reflect and support the demands and movement patterns of your workout or sport-specific activity.  It increases temperature of and blood flow to working muscles; improves mobility and range-of-motion; and decreases the chance of injury.  Static stretching is an outdated mode of warmup that has been found to reduce strength and power production in the short-term; relax and elongate working muscles (thus not preparing them for force production); and it does not reduce the incidence of injury, nor does it help minimize post-workout soreness.  If you absolutely insist on static stretching, do it after practice and training.

Speed is More Than Just Running

Speed is a skill, and speed development starts in the weight room.  Speed requires strength and power training.  The stronger and more powerful you are throughout your core and lower extremities, the more force you can generate against the ground, which translates to speed, agility, and vertical jump ability.  Additionally, technique is a vital component of speed.  When speed training, athletes need to perform exercises and drills with perfect form and mechanics.  Head position, arm action, leg drive, stride frequency, and stride length are all factors that influence running speed.  Without an understanding of the right way to approach speed and agility training, it will be difficult to achieve your potential as an athlete.

It’s More Than Just You

Finally, if you are committed to being the best you can be, you won’t be able to do it without some help.  In addition to the support of your family and friends, you should look to find competent, qualified individuals with experience and expertise in the areas of strength and conditioning, and sport-specific skill development.  It’s important to have a plan, and equally important for your plan to be aligned with your goals.  There’s a big difference between activity and productivity; all movement is not progress.

Your thoughts?

WE WILL HELP YOU BECOME A BETTER ATHLETE!

We provide motivated athletes with a simple, customized training plan to help them improve performance and reduce injury risk.

How to Improve Force Production

9 Mar

revwads18cut-1[1]There are many factors that affect force production (the amount of force produced in a muscle, or muscles).  Improvements in force production can optimize sport-specific skill performance, including running, jumping, throwing, and hitting/striking.

Lift Heavy

Lifting heavy weight (e.g, 65-80% 1RM) produces greater tension in the muscle which, in turn, leads to greater motor unit (neuromuscular) recruitment, which affects force production.  The number of active motor units is directly proportional to the amount of force production.  (It should also be noted that heavy lifting and explosive concentric training [see below] have the potential to activate more fast-twitch muscle fibers)

Preloading

Preloading is the tension developed in the muscle before you move the weight.  When you bench press, deadlift, or squat, you can’t move the bar off the rack or floor until sufficient force is developed in the muscle to overcome the inertia of the barbell.

Overload Eccentric Training

Use very heavy resistance (≥ 100% 1RM) to perform “negatives,” which emphasize the lowering phase/movement of a lift.  For safety reasons, it may be advisable to use a spotter (or spotters) for certain exercises, such as the bench press, to assist in returning the weight to the original (up) position.

Explosive Concentric Training

When training for explosive concentric movements — where the goal is generating velocity — use relatively light resistance.

Plyometrics

Plyometric exercises exploit the stretch-shortening cycle to generate maximum force in minimum time.  This involves “prestretching” a muscle immediately before a concentric action to enhance force production during the subsequent muscle action.

Rest

It’s important to incorporate rest days into your training regimen in order to allow muscles time to recover and repair.

Your thoughts?

WE WILL HELP YOU BECOME A BETTER ATHLETE!

We provide motivated athletes with a simple, customized training plan to help them improve performance and reduce injury risk.

Aerobic/Anaerobic Combination Training Implications

24 Feb

Tire%20flipping[1]When aerobic training is added to the training of anaerobic athletes (those who participate in sports whose demands are primarily anaerobic), the resulting process can be termed combination training.

And, although lots of athletes who participate in strength and power sports also engage in some type of aerobic training, they may want to reconsider (please refer to, Why Are You Still Jogging?).

Certainly, some sports have more of an aerobic component than others, but virtually all sports integrate alternating intervals — short bursts — of high-intensity and (relatively) lower-intensity activity.  Characteristics of anaerobic training include:

  • Absence of oxygen
  • High intensity
  • Short duration
  • Develops force
  • Burns calories even when the body is at rest

Aerobic training may reduce anaerobic performance capabilities, particularly high-strength, high-power performance (Hickson, R.C. Interference of strength development by simultaneously training for strength and endurance. Eur. J. Appl. Physiol. 215:255-263. 1980).  High-strength, high-power performance incorporates explosive, “all-or-nothing” movements, including sprinting, jumping, hitting, throwing, kicking, blocking, and tackling.

Not only has aerobic training been shown to reduce anaerobic energy production capabilities; combined anaerobic and aerobic training can reduce the gain in muscle girth, maximum strength, and especially speed- and power-related performance (Dudley, G.A., and R. Djamil. Incompatibility of endurance- and strength-training modes of exercise. J. Appl. Physiol. 59(5); 1446-1451. 1985).

Apparently, it does not appear that the opposite holds true; several studies and reviews suggest that anaerobic training (strength training) can improve low-intensity exercise endurance (Hickson, R.C., et.al. Potential for strength and endurance training to amplify endurance performance. J. Appl. Physiol. 65(5):2285-2290. 1988. Strength training effects on aerobic power and short-term endurance. Med.Sci. Sports. Exerc. 12:336-339, 1980. Stone, M.H., et.al. Health and performance related adaptations to resistive training. Sports Med. 11(4):210-231. 1991).  In other words, endurance athletes can benefit from and improve performance by strength training.

As strength and conditioning professionals, we should be careful about prescribing aerobic training for anaerobic athletes/sports.  An athlete’s training should be designed to reflect and support the demands and movement patterns of his or her sport.  Aerobic training may be counterproductive in most strength and power sports.

Your thoughts?

WE WILL HELP YOU BECOME A BETTER ATHLETE!

We provide motivated athletes with a simple, customized training plan to help them improve performance and reduce injury risk.

Improve Foot Speed With This Agility Drill

25 Nov

mqdefault[1]Ideally, the purpose of an agility drill should be to develop the athlete’s proficiency in as many of the following skill areas as possible:

  • Acceleration
  • Deceleration
  • Change of Direction
  • Reaction
  • Foot Speed

Here are two of our student-athletes — both high school sophomore football players — demonstrating an agility cone drill, performed both laterally and linearly.

Lateral Shuffle Agility Cone Drill

Linear (forward/backward) Agility Cone Drill

The following coaching tips should be emphasized:

  • Fast feet — short, quick steps — NO long strides
  • Maintain arm action/pump — don’t leave them down at your sides
  • Stay in a low, athletic stance
  • Chin up, chest up; don’t look down at your feet

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

Your thoughts?

Get Stronger, Faster with Triple Extension Training

7 Oct

squat-jump2[1]“Triple extension” refers to a type of exercise training movement used to develop lower-extremity explosive power and force production. Triple extension training involves the hips, the knees, and the ankles. When executing a triple extension movement, all three sets of joints move from a flexed (bent) position to an extended (straight) position.  Thus, triple extension movements involve the flexion and subsequent forceful extension of the hip, knee, and ankle joints.

I am an advocate of triple extension training for the development of lower-body strength, speed, and explosive power, for virtually all athletes. Triple extension training is important for all athletes, as this movement is executed when running, jumping, kicking, swimming, throwing, hitting, blocking, and tackling.  Specifically, jumping in basketball and volleyball: pushing off the back leg to throw in baseball and football; driving through a block or tackle in football; even pushing off during swimming and diving are examples of how this movement applies to sports. Because of its broad application, triple extension training is a great way to prepare and develop the body for such explosive movements by conditioning the muscles and ligaments for these types of movements.

Ultimately, triple extension exercises build lower-extremity strength and power, increasing the amount of force you are able to generate against the ground, providing the means to run faster; jump higher; and accelerate, decelerate, and change direction more quickly, effectively, and efficiently.

The following exercises are a few examples of movements that employ triple extension:

  • Olympic lifts, such as cleans and snatches
  • Plyometrics, such as squat jumps and box jumps
  • Traditional strength training exercises such as squats and deadlifts
  • Non-traditional strength training exercises, such as  kettlebell swings and tire flips

Because these exercises are higher intensity and require greater energy expenditure, they should be performed at the beginning of your workout, after an appropriate warm-up.  Don’t go overboard with the amount of weight you use to perform these exercises. The benefits of triple extension exercises can be realized with relatively light weight. The key is to employ a full range of motion and try to execute each rep under control. Any of the exercises (above) performed with light-to-moderate weight can improve your strength and power.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

Your thoughts?

Post-Workout Recovery — The Right Way

26 Aug

TruMoo-Choc_Protein-Plus-350[1]Whether you’ve just finished strength training, speed training, or a rigorous sport practice, recovering smart should be part of your plan.

Since high-intensity training tends to break down muscle, the recovery process is important to ensure that you come back stronger next time.  Here are some tips for a productive post-workout recovery:

REFUEL

Avoid junk food and opt instead for whole foods and drinks.  We like low-fat chocolate milk.  It boasts high-quality protein, several important nutrients, and an ideal 3:1 carb to protein ratio.

REST

Give your body — and your mind — some time off to rest before your next bout of exercise.  Keep in mind rest phase = growth phase.

BEGIN GRADUALLY

Don’t jump into a high-intensity workout right away.  An appropriate and effective warm-up can improve your odds of staying injury-free.  Build your volume and intensity, gradually.

PAY ATTENTION TO YOUR BODY

When you’re training, listen to the feedback your body gives you.  If you feel like you’re getting sick, run down, or injured, reduce your training load or take the day off.

HAVE A GOAL

Don’t just train to train.  Give yourself something to train for.  Develop a plan that is aligned with your goal and stay on track.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

Your thoughts?

Is Flexibility Overrated?

12 Aug

USA Basketball Senior National Team Training Day 1Is there a relationship between flexibility and athletic performance?  And, if there is a relationship, is more necessarily better?

Flexibility and Performance

There’s a difference between movement quantity and movement quality.  Speed, strength, power, balance, and stability are qualitative aspects of movement.  For functional movements, i.e., sports performance, quality of movement is more important than quantity.

Most elite athletes have extraordinary levels of strength, power, endurance, or balance.  And, while there are elite athletes with exceptional flexibility, there are others with only average flexibility.  Ultimately, it’s less about the extent of your range of motion (ROM) and more about how you use (what you do with) what you have.

The average person probably has the necessary range of motion to execute most sports movements.  Their deficiencies usually have little to do with range of motion.  The issue is typically attributable to strength, power, mobility, or coordination, not flexibility.

Iashvili (1983) found that active (dynamic, movement-based) ROM and not passive (static) ROM was more highly correlated with sports performance.  Arguably, any further passive static ROM developed through passive static stretching will not provide any extra benefit.

There is a considerable body of research that discourages pre-activity static stretching — due to its potential to reduce strength and power output — in favor of dynamic warmup.  Studies show that flexibility in the muscles of the posterior chain (glutes, hamstrings) is related to slower running and diminished running economy.  Interestingly, it has been shown that stiffer leg muscles in endurance athletes may make them more economical in terms of oxygen consumption at sub-max speeds.

Flexibility and Injury Prevention

The relationship between flexibility and injury prevention is mixed, at best.  Two studies involving soccer and hockey players revealed that players with more flexible groins do not suffer fewer groin injuries, while players with stronger adductors had less strains.  There is actually more evidence to support that lateral imbalances in strength and stability are a better predictor of injury than lack of flexibility.

There are some studies suggesting that musculoskeletal tightness may be associated with an increased likelihood of muscle strain injury.  Other studies, including Knapik, J.J. et al. 1992, found that subjects in the least flexible and most flexible quintiles were equally likely to get injured — 2.2-2.5 times more than subjects in the middle quintile (average flexibility).

The reality is that sports injuries are produced by a lot of different factors, and flexibility (or lack thereof) is only one of them.  It would be inappropriate to assign a level to the importance of flexibility as it relates to injury prevention.

For most athletes in most sports, there is probably little to be gained by increasing flexibility or range of motion.  Athletes are better off developing additional strength and stability within a particular range of motion.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

Your thoughts?

Improve Speed and Power with Posterior Chain Exercises

15 Jul

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Glute-Ham Raise, with Spotter

Improvements in athletic performance begin with lower-body strength and power development.  Hip/quad exercises, like squats and leg presses, are great but, if you’re not working the muscles of your posterior chain, you’re only doing half the job.  (please refer to, Don’t Neglect Your Glutes and Hamstrings)

Your posterior chain includes the muscles of the glutes and hamstrings.  Your glutes are responsible for hip extension, while knee flexion is a function of the hamstrings.

Why is it so important for athletes to perform exercises that focus on the glutes and hamstrings? Here’s the deal: The glutes are a primary muscle group involved in virtually every sports movement — including sprinting, jumping, throwing, kicking, and swinging. The hamstrings are important for eccentric muscle movements, like decelerating when you slow down, stop, or change direction; or land after jumping.

Glute-ham exercises should be incorporated into your training regimen, every time you workout.  Working these two important muscle groups can help athletes improve speed and power; enhance balance and stability; and reduce the risk of injury.

Two of our favorite glute-hamstring exercises are the Glute-Ham Raise and Romanian Deadlift (RDL).  We like our athletes to perform them as an agonist-antagonist paired set (superset), combining them with a hip/quad focused exercise like a squat or deadlift.

A typical superset might look something like this:

  • Barbell Back Squat, 6 reps at about 80% 1RM
  • Body-weight squat jump, 6 reps (more advanced athletes can hold dumbbells at their sides when doing this exercise)
  • Body-weight Glute-Ham Raise, 6 reps (focus on lowering movement; lower body to a 4-second count; assist to upright position; this exercise can also be weighted, for more proficient athletes)

All three exercises should be performed consecutively, with little or no rest between them.  Rest for 10-15 seconds between sets (after Glute-Ham raise).  Perform 3-4 sets.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

Your thoughts?

Up-Tempo Training is Best

1 Apr

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Seated Cable Row

One of our preferred strategies when training athletes (and virtually every other client) involves minimizing rest intervals among and between sets.  Maintaining an “up-tempo” pace  — keeping the heart rate up during a workout — results in continuous improvement, regardless of fitness level.

There’s no need to be in the weight room all day.  Most of our clients’ sessions are about 45-50 minutes in duration, and there’s very little “down” time.  They get in, get their work done, and get out (and recover).

We’ve found that agonist-antagonist paired sets (working opposing muscle groups — pushing and pulling — e.g., the bench press and row) are a great way to maintain an aggressive workout tempo, improve workout efficiency, and reduce training time, while not compromising workout quality.  In addition to strengthening muscles, this strategy strengthens and stabilizes joints and helps prevent injury.  Our athletes and clients perform the paired exercises, back-to-back, completing all sets with as little rest as they can manage, then rest for one minute before proceeding to the next pair of exercises.

We also vary our training programs, changing exercises weekly, while ensuring that each session is a total-body workout.  Performing different exercises for similar muscle movements is important to keep workouts challenging.

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is another terrific way to maintain an efficient, up-tempo workout.  HIIT involves alternating high- and low-intensity exercise over a pre-determined period of time.  We like a ratio of 1:3, high-intensity to low-intensity, as a benchmark, depending on the athlete’s/client’s fitness level.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

Your thoughts?

It’s (almost) All About Speed

11 Mar

STFSpeed is a (insert cliché) difference maker/game changer/game breaker in virtually every sport.  It can be the difference between starting and sitting; winning and losing.

And agility, or “quickness” (which is basically the speed at which an athlete is able to accelerate, decelerate, change direction, and react), may be even more important than “straight-line” speed (and certainly more relevant in most sports).

I hear a lot of people talk about sport aptitude/IQ and sport-specific skills (e.g., ball-handling and shooting, in basketball), and both are important.

But, as you ascend through higher levels of sport participation — middle school, high school JV, varsity, college, one thing is certain: If your opponent can outrun you, you’re at a competitive disadvantage.  Conversely, if you can outrun your opponent, the advantage becomes yours.

Not everyone has the potential to be fast, but everyone has the potential to be faster.

If you’re serious about improving and developing your speed, you’ll need to incorporate these three components into your training plan:

  1. Strength training
  2. Plyometrics
  3. Technical training (running form, mechanics)

It’s also a smart idea to consult with an experienced, qualified Strength and Conditioning Professional, to ensure that your plan is well-designed and -supervised.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

Your thoughts?

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