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Agility Training Improves Cognitive Performance

8 May

The influence of agility training on athletic performance and general fitness is well-documented.  A recent study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research suggests that agility training is more effective than traditional physical training for improving cognitive performance, including reaction time, dichotic listening, and memory.

In the study, traditional physical training consisted of calisthenics and running.  Agility training included non-linear exercises and drills that focused on foot-speed, acceleration, deceleration, change of direction, and reaction.

Agility training seems to have the ability to positively affect several regions of the brain, resulting in improvements in cognitive function and performance.

The study authors suggest that agility training be incorporated into existing physical training programs as a way to improve physical and cognitive performance. The benefits of agility training are likely to occur in various populations, and are not limited to any one specific demographic.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

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Caffeine Reduces Post-Exercise Muscle Soreness

10 Apr

There is considerable documentation touting the beneficial effects of caffeine on aerobic activity and resistance training performance.  Less, however, is known about caffeine’s effect on post-exercise muscle soreness.

A recent study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research examined the effects of caffeine on delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).  In the study, individuals who ingested caffeine one hour before resistance training reported that this strategy “resulted in significantly lower levels of soreness on day 2 and day 3,” compared with individuals who did not ingest caffeine prior to working out.  (Hurley, et.al.)

The study corroborated previous findings that caffeine ingestion immediately before resistance training enhances performance.  “A further beneficial effect of sustained caffeine ingestion in the days after the exercise bout is an attenuation of DOMS.  This decreased perception of soreness in the days after a strenuous resistance training workout may allow individuals to increase the number of training sessions in a given time period.”

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Dynamic Warmup is the Most Effective Pre-Activity Strategy

5 Apr

You can add another study to the overwhelming and growing mountain of research supporting dynamic (movement-based) warm-up — and not static stretching — before engaging in competitive power sports.

This study, published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, sought to compare and quantify the effects of static stretching and dynamic warm-up on jump performance in NCAA DI female college volleyball players.

As expected, dynamic warm-up was found to result in a significantly higher level of jump performance than static stretching, especially when performed closer to the time of competition.  Athletes’ subsequent jump performance was better when the dynamic warm-up was done within 5-10 minutes preceding competition compared to 25-30 minutes prior to competition.

Hundreds of studies corroborate dynamic warm-up’s similar impact on strength, power, speed, and agility performance.  Athletes, coaches, trainers… get with the program.  Improve performance by eliminating pre-activity static stretching and implementing a dynamic warm-up that reflects the demands and movement patterns of the activity – before workouts, practices, and games.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

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You’ve Got to Practice at Game Speed

6 Mar

12307967-standard[1]As the AAU basketball season is upon us, I am reminded of watching our high school girls team — including my daughter — play their first tournament games of the season.  They did some things well and, of course, there were some areas that required improvement.

Invariably, the areas for improvement must start at practice.  At times, much of what the players did, especially offensively, looked hurried to the point that it adversely affected their execution.  It looked like the speed of the game made the players (think they had to) rush their shooting — jump shots and layups — as well as their offense in general.

My point is this: Finishing a layup, when you’re moving at full-speed, in “traffic,” is a tough thing to do.  If, when you practice layups, your drives to the basket are done at about 75% speed and uncontested, it’s unlikely you’ll develop the focus and muscle memory to control your body and shoot with the proper “touch” when you’re driving to the basket, full-speed, in a game situation.  It’s essential to practice like you play… at game speed.

The same principle applies to your speed and agility training.  When you perform your exercises and drills, it’s important to get yourself moving at full speed.  If you practice and train at less than full speed, what do you expect to happen in game situations?

If you’re a coach or trainer, here’s a speed and agility training tip:  You must allow adequate time for full recovery between exercises and drills.  If we want athletes to perform these drills at 100% effort, allowing for full recovery is necessary.  Otherwise, what we’re doing is conditioning.  There’s nothing wrong with conditioning, if that’s your goal, but it’s different from speed and agility training.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

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Speed is Good, Quickness is Better

3 Mar

072613Athletes1_t670[1]Speed is a difference maker in virtually every sport. For an athlete, it can mean a competitive advantage. For a team, it can mean the difference between winning and losing.

But, as important as speed is (and it is important), very few sports require only straight-line speed. Change of speed and direction, and the ability to react quickly, are critical to athletic performance, and as important as — if not more important than — linear speed.

Quickness (agility) is the ability to react and change speed — accelerate (speed-up) and decelerate (slow-down) — and change direction quickly and effectively. Agility is a skill that can be developed through a variety of drills, which should reflect the demands and movement patterns of the sport. Since most sports require reaction and agility, an athlete’s training plan should incorporate some type of agility training.

  • Agility training should involve movement in all directions, and require the athlete to alternate among forward running, backpedaling, and lateral movement.
  • Drills that require the athlete to alternate between acceleration and deceleration should be a component part of agility training.
  • Agility training should also incorporate an element of reaction, with the athlete being required to react to a verbal or visual command, or mimic/mirror the movement patterns of a training partner (reflective drills).

There are lots of great resources for agility training. I like Developing Agility and Quickness, part of the NSCA’s Sport Performance Series, by Dawes and Roozen.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

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The 5 Worst Things to Do After Your Workout

24 Feb

Here’s an article by Susan Paul for Runner’s World, via Men’s Health.  In her article, Paul advises readers not to “sabotage your sweat sessions with these post-workout mistakes.”

It’s a pretty good resource, and applies equally well to strength or speed training.

While going to the gym can become routine after a certain amount of time, there are definitely ways you can mess up your fitness efforts if you engage in bad habits immediately afterwards.  From my experience of working with athletes over the years as an exercise physiologist, here are the top 5 worst things you could do post-workout.

1-workout-clothes1

POST-WORKOUT MISTAKE #1: YOU STAY IN YOUR GYM CLOTHES

Get out of damp gear immediately.

Even if you didn’t sweat that much, worn or soggy clothing is an environment bacteria love to cling to, and it can also give you a deep chill that is hard to recover from.

Regardless of whether you can shower right away or not, change your clothes, socks, and shoes immediately to keep your muscles warm and loose.

This promotes good circulation, which aids the recovery process after a workout.

It always feels good to get out of sneakers after a tough workout, but be sure to put on a supportive pair of shoes or sandals if your legs or feet are feeling especially spent.

The muscles in your feet also get tired, so your post-workout shoes need to have adequate support.

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POST-WORKOUT MISTAKE #2: YOU BECOME A COUCH POTATO

It’s easy to feel like you’ve earned a day on the sofa binge-watching Netflix when you’ve spent the last two hours at the gym.

Don’t succumb to this.

Light activity is a great recovery tool because it keeps blood moving, aiding your recovery by repairing and refueling your body.

Plan some light activity throughout the day, even if you are headed to work. Get up, walk around, do some gentle stretches while standing, and breathe deeply.

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POST-WORKOUT MISTAKE #3: YOU DON’T REFUEL RIGHT

Plan to drink and eat after your workouts, preferably within 20 to 30 minutes of finishing.

If you are headed right to work, or have other commitments immediately after a workout, pack a cooler with some healthy snacks beforehand so you can grab and go—possibly even eating in the car.

Be sure your snacks include protein, a little fat, and some complex carbohydrates for replenishing energy needs. Good options include low-fat chocolate milk, a turkey sandwich on whole wheat bread, almonds, fruit, or yogurt.

Keep plenty of water on hand, too, so you can rehydrate throughout the day.

And as easy as it is to do, avoid the other extreme of pigging out after a hard workout.

Don’t rationalize that you can eat anything you want because you exercised today.

Replacing the calories that you burned during your workout is all too easy, so don’t undo all your gym time by overeating.

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POST-WORKOUT MISTAKE #4: YOU DO HEAVY CHORES

It sounds good at first: While sweaty, why not do the yard work when you get home before getting cleaned up?

You could mow the lawn, pull weeds, shovel snow, or do other heavy chores.

But this can be very tough on tired muscles, especially when you are partially dehydrated and/or undernourished from your workout.

Doing things like bending over, stooping, climbing ladders, or picking up heavy equipment when your muscles are already tired can be a recipe for injury.

If at all possible, put these chores off just one day or give yourself several solid hours of recovery time.

While all this sounds like the perfect excuse to get out of getting those leaves out of the gutter, it’s much better to do these tasks when you are at full strength.

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POST-WORKOUT MISTAKE #5: YOU SHORTCHANGE EASY DAY RECOVERY

Don’t minimize your accomplishments.

Thinking that you don’t need recovery because your workout was “too short” or “too easy” is misguided thinking.

Treat your body with respect—just like the elite athletes do—regardless of how long or hard you worked out.

You will reap the rewards of your training and your body will thank you if you take care of it and recover properly.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

Your thoughts?

Maximize the Effectiveness of Your Plyometrics

3 Feb

Power-Plyo%20Box%20Starter%20Set%20-%20Plyometric%20Training%20Equipment%20for%20Football[1]Want to run faster and jump higher? Virtually all athletes can benefit from improvements in — and development of — explosive muscular force.

Plyometric training has a positive effect on neuromuscular performance, increasing explosive performance and, subsequently, athletic performance.

A new study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research suggests that two factors are especially impactful and should be considered when designing or participating in a plyometric training program:

  • Training volume
  • Training surface

Plyometric training volume is usually measured in touches (for example, when you jump up on a box and then back down, that counts as two touches).  In this study, it was determined that “a high plyometric training volume (i.e., 120 jumps per session or 240 jumps per week) would be necessary to induce an increase in acceleration sprint.” (Ramirez-Campillo, et.al.)

Plyometric training surface (hard or soft landing surface) was also relevant in the study, with a harder surface — such as a wood gymnasium floor — doubling the efficiency of adaptations in reactive strength.  As a result, “a high volume of training would not be necessary to induce reactive strength adaptations when a hard landing surface is used.”

Study data indicate that “when moderate volume is used during plyometric training, a hard training surface would be needed if fast SSC (stretch-shortening cycle) muscle actions, or reactive strength, are an important objective of training.”

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

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Can Stretching Help Postexercise Recovery?

1 Feb

429_2[1]Stretching has been a part of most athletes’ training — as a warm-up activity — for as long as I can remember, and certainly well before that.  As stated in previous blog posts, current research does not support a rationale for pre-activity (workout, practice, game) stretching, as it loosens and elongates muscles and does not adequately or effectively prepare them for force generation (in fact, pre-activity stretching reduces strength and power output in the short-term).

Studies have shown that pre-exercise stretching is not effective in reducing postexercise soreness, but what about postexercise stretching?  Can it be considered a valid recovery strategy?

In short, maybe not.  A new study in the Strength and Conditioning Journal concluded that “The emphasis on dynamic movements rather than static stretch positions is important for recovery…”  The authors also determined that “Stretching before or after exercising does not confer protection from muscle soreness.”

Light, low-intensity activity that assimilates the movements of the activity, itself — a gradual, dynamic, movement-oriented cool-down — may be preferable for postexercise recovery.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

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Does Postexercise Muscle Soreness Indicate Training Effectiveness?

30 Jan

How%20to%20prevent%20this%20post-workout%20pain[1]Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) is a common side effect of exercise, especially with unfamiliar, vigorous, high-intensity training.  Many athletes consider DOMS to be a valid indicator of training quality and effectiveness.

DOMS is probably caused by inflammation resulting from micro-tears in muscle and connective tissue that occur during exercise.  Usually, soreness begins about 6-8 hours after exercise, and can last 2-3 days.  There is no significant documentation supporting a gender-related difference in DOMS.

Since we know that these micro-tears are the stimulus for muscle growth — provided adequate time for rest, recovery, and regeneration — there is probably some theoretical basis to support such damage resulting in subsequent muscle growth.

Although postexercise soreness (stiffness) may be a valid indicator of  — and stimulus for — muscle growth, it is important to differentiate between DOMS and Exercise-Induced Muscle Damage (EIMD)Sharp muscle and/or joint pain may be an indicator of a more serious problem, especially if it is accompanied by considerable edema and swelling, and persists for more than a few days.

Challenge yourself in the weight room (court, field, track, etc.), but your workout should be gradually (and realistically) progressive.  Keep your increases in intensity incremental, consistent, and steady.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

Your thoughts?

What Are You Doing Outside the Gym?

27 Jan

M_Id_122832_Walking_the_dog[1]OK, so you’ve hit the gym a few times this week, and you’re feeling pretty good about it (as well you should).  And, since the effects of your workout are both cumulative and residual (studies show that the metabolic impact of resistance training persists in your musculature for up to 48 hours), you’re getting a good return on your exercise investment.

Keep doing what you’re doing and, additionally, consider this:  There are 168 hours in a week.  If you’re working out 2-3 days a week, for an hour each day, that leaves a lot of time spent outside the gym or weight room.  Are your efforts outside the gym complementing your time spent exercising?

Diet & Nutrition

There’s no need to be extreme or fanatical about what you eat, but your diet may be the single-most important aspect of your strength and fitness regimen.  You can drive a Ferrari but it won’t perform optimally on crappy fuel.  Same goes for your body.  The quantity of your dietary intake is important — you need an adequate and appropriate number of calories to consistently be at your best.  The quality of the foods you eat is equally important.  Your meals and snacks should be well-balanced, each incorporating clean carbs, healthy fats, and lean protein.  Check out my blog posts on pre- and post-workout nutrition.

Rest & Sleep

If you’re working hard in the weight room, your muscles need time to adequately recover and regenerate.  Always allow a day of rest between workouts, especially if the workouts involve similar muscle groups and movements.  And get a good night’s sleep on a consistent basis.  For most of us, 7-8 hours a night should help to ensure that we are ready to face the challenges of the day — mentally and physically.

Stay Active

Engage in outside activities and interests that require you to move around.  Cut the grass, work in your garden, walk the dog, take a hike or bike ride, go bowling.  Avoid excessive periods of inactivity.  Limit your time in front of the television and/or computer.  Don’t allow yourself to be sedentary.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

Your thoughts?

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