Home Posts tagged "agility training"

The Best of 2016: Product Reviews

To wrap up my “Best of 2016″ series, I’ll highlight the top product reviews I did at this site in the last year. Here they are: 

1. Certified Speed and Agility Specialist (CSAS) Course - Lee Taft is a go-to guy when it comes to speed and agility education, and this awesome certification demonstrates why. It was filmed at Cressey Sports Performance and was mandatory viewing for our entire staff. I wrote up an article about why it's so great: When Do Strength and Conditioning and Fitness Certifications Really Matter?

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2. The Complete Shoulder and Hip Blueprint - I was proud of my longtime friend Tony Gentilcore for releasing this, which was his first product. The content was top notch from both Tony and Dean Somerset, his co-creator. Tony covered the shoulder and Dean covered the hips, and I put out some solid takeaways from the resource; see Shoulder Strategies and Hip Helpers: Part 1 and Part 2 for my review.

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3. Elite Athletic Development 3.0 - Unlike most sequels and trilogies, this third installment from Mike Robertson and Joe Kenn didn't disappoint, as there were loads of great coaching strategies introduced. Cressey Sports Performance coach Nancy Newell and I shared some of these insights in our review: 12 Elite Athletic Development Coaching and Programming Lessons.

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There were certainly some other great products I encountered this year, but these three proved to be the most popular with my readers.

In 2016, I personally released Functional Stability Training: Optimizing Movement with Mike Reinold, and will have two new products out in the first six months of 2017, so stay tuned!

We're back to the regular EricCressey.com content this week. Thanks for all your support in 2016!

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Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training – Installment 15

This is my first installment of this series since October, so hopefully I can atone for that with a solid January performance. Here goes!

1. On several occasions, I've written that if you are going to include an exercise in a program, you absolutely have to be able to justify how it's going to create the training effect you want. In particularly, this is a question that should be asked constantly during sprinting and agility progressions. The end goal is obviously to (safely) put a lot of force into the ground as quickly as possible to create powerful athletic movements in all three planes of motion. Sometimes, I feel like we get very caught up in just programming drills for the sake of programming drills. There are a million different types of skipping drills, for instance, and we use a lot of them. Athletes certainly ought to be able to skip, but at the end of the day, we have to ask ourselves if making a skip more advanced and elaborate is really going to make an athlete move better. Or, would we be better off devoting that training volume to actual sprint work? There isn't really a "correct" answer to these questions, but I do think it's important to critically analyze our programs to see if the carryover from drills to actual athletic performance is really that good.

2. Earlier today, I was discussing outfield "jumps" with a few of our Cressey Sports Performance clients, including Sam Fuld, an Oakland A's outfielder who is well known for making some pretty crazy plays in center field. We were talking about lower-body movement (hip turn, crossover run, etc.) during the initial break as he reads a ball off a bat, but as we went to actually find some video online, my attention went elsewhere. Check out this play where Sam traveled 58 feet to make a diving catch:

What I noticed was the fact that he never actually got upright. He stayed in acceleration mode the entire time. If you replay the video from above, watch the :08 through :11 second interval. You'll rarely see a player cover more ground in the field.

This is yet another reason why I think a 30-yd (or home-to-first) time is more appropriate for assessing baseball-specific speed than a 60-time. Baseball players rarely get to top speed, whether it's in running the bases or playing the field. And, more importantly, they'd never do it in a straight line. I'm beginning to think that a 60-time is about as useful for a baseball evaluation as the 225lb bench press test is for NFL players...

3. Remember that not all your anterior core work has to be slower tempo drills like rollouts and fallouts, or low-level isometrics like prone bridges. Rather, remember that any time you go overhead while maintaining a neutral spine, you're working to resist excessive extension at your lumbar spine. In other words, overhead med ball drills can be great anterior core progressions - and here's a way to take them to the next level:

4. Resistance bands are awesome on a number of training fronts. They can be used to accommodate the strength curve, making the movements more challenging at the points in the range of motion where we are strongest. They can also be used to deload certain movements at positions where we are weakest.

In sports performance training, though, I'd say that their biggest value is in teaching direction - and subsequently loading it. As an example, I like band-resisted broad jumps because they allow us to produce force in a path that would be challenging to load in any other way. And, we need to produce force in this path during everyday athletic endeavors:

This is an area where Lee Taft really excels. When I watch experienced coaches teaching and coaching, I look for patterns that stand out: strategies that they return to frequently. In his new Certified Speed and Agility Coach course, Lee uses a band a ton to teach direction of force application and create appropriate angles for acceleration. It made me realize that we can get more efficient in some of our coaching strategies by busting out the band a bit more.

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Speaking of Lee, the early-bird $100 discount on his new certification wraps up this Friday at midnight. I'm finishing it up myself and really benefited on a number of fronts - and our entire Cressey Sports Performance staff will be going through the resource as well. You can learn more about the course HERE.

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4 Strategies to Improve Athletes’ Innate Acceleration

Today's guest post comes from Lee Taft, who just released his Certified Speed and Agility Coach (CSAC) course.

We often hear or read about coaches and athletes bragging about the “40” time. To be honest, it is an impressive event to see an athlete rip off a 4.3 or better time in the 40. Sensationalism aside, though, a 40-time is probably a lot less important than the ability to travel 10 feet to make a game play.

You see, most court and field sports require athletes to move in such an extreme array of directions in such a short time that training for the 40 needs to have a specific reason (i.e., the combine) for doing so. With that said, I want to share with you my four top strategies for improving an athlete’s innate acceleration. What is so cool about these strategies is they will make a baseball player better at getting an incredible jump when stealing. These techniques will make an infielder snag more broken bat bloopers over their head. Basketball players, soccer athletes, football players, and tennis athletes will also increase their acceleration with the strategies.

So what do I mean by innate acceleration? Well, the body was built with a pretty smart design. It has the ability to feel fear and either attack it or escape from it: the Fight or Flight response. I have learned to tap into this to make my athlete faster. Because this response is innate, all we have to do as coaches is put our athletes in situations that bring out this attack and escape approach. Here are my top four strategies.

#1: Directional Step

The directional step is an “action” more than a strategy by a coach or athlete. It would, however, be considered a strategy the body uses to become more effective at acceleration. Let me explain…

Imagine a baseball player in his “athletic position” that makes up the base stealing stance; he needs to accelerate quickly to the right. The legs each have an important job. The backside leg has the job of pushing the center of mass of the body in the direction of travel (laterally). While this pushing of the body is occurring, the front side has an awesome opportunity to take advantage of the moving mass. It knows the best way to keep the mass moving (accelerating) is to push down and back under the body. By doing so, the front leg can continue to accelerate the mass of the body. This is where the “Directional Step” comes into play.

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If the body wants to push down and back, it makes sense to the neuromuscular system to use the posterior chain muscles (glutes, hamstrings, calves) to do so. The creative strategy devised by the body is to have the lead foot turn out so that it is facing the direction of travel. This, in essence, allows the athlete to be like a sprinter coming out of the blocks: pushing down and back with that powerful lead leg. What a great strategy!

To take it a bit deeper so that you understand the reason the Directional Step matters, let’s consider what the action really is. When the body wants to accelerate from a lateral stance to a linear run (base stealing jump) the external rotation of the lead leg to turn the foot toward second base actually aids in the pushing action by the back leg; it is called “action-reaction.” So, when the lead leg turns out (an action) there is a force that goes back into the back leg while it is still on the ground (reaction). To make a long story short, the Directional Step is a really great innate strategy by the body to become quicker.

Try this:

Have a partner stand in front of you prepared to point either to your right or left. When they do point, you are going to turn and accelerate for 10 yards in that direction. Do this 6-8 times so you can build on your ability to accelerate, using a Directional Step, out of an athletic stance to your right or left.

#2: Hip Turn

The Hip Turn is a great strategy the body has given athletes. That said, some athletes aren’t very proficient or smooth with it. Fortunately, with some corrective approaches and drills we can fix that. The Hip Turn is a way for the athlete to get out of an athletic stance (a parallel stance, like an infielder or tennis player) quickly and retreat or move away from the direction they were facing.

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In basketball, coaches often teach pivoting. The problem with pivoting is that it requires friction as the foot turns while in contact with the ground; this is not good for quickness. Luckily, the body once again has this innate ability to make the athlete perform escape or attack movements quicker. During the Hip Turn, the feet lift ever-so-slightly off the ground and the hips and legs turn quickly in the air in order to allow the backside leg to push down and away into the surface. It’s important to recognize that the athlete does not elevate his or her body; rather, the hips and legs simply rotate as they clear the ground contact. Imagine a tennis player turning quickly to chase down a lob over their head. The action they use is a Hip Turn to get into acceleration after the ball.

Basically, the Hip Turn is a way for the athlete to get their legs and feet into a better acceleration angle. This is a great built-in strategy by the body, as when the hips and leg whip around, the back leg actually starts the extension “pushing” just before it hits the ground. There is a resulting impulse or stretch reflex of the muscles that allows the athlete to start accelerating quicker. Again, the rear leg/foot is actively driving into the ground; this causes a “plyometric” response and greater starting speed.

Try this:

Have your partner stand roughly 12 feet behind you, holding a tennis ball out to the side at shoulder height. You will be standing in an athletic stance, but facing away from your partner. Your partner will yell “GO” and drop the ball at the same time. You must react and accelerate after the ball and catch it before it bounces twice. This drill is a great drill for refining and improving the Hip Turn and acceleration. Perform it 5-6 times turning to the right and left.

#3: Crossover Run

As a kid, did you ever hear your coach yell; “Don’t cross your feet when you move laterally!” If so, they were pretty much wrong in telling you that. Athletes don’t actually cross their feet; they simply turn their hips and run with the lower body and shuffle with the upper body.

What does this mean? Let’s consider a basketball player or a baseball infielder having to shuffle to the right to make a defensive play. If the ball is moving at a speed where the defender can use the shuffle to make the play, it should be used. However, if the ball is moving at a speed and distance that won’t allow the athlete to use a shuffle, the Crossover Run will naturally be used. This techniques is so much faster, yet allows the athlete to keep the head and shoulders somewhat oriented to the ball or the play in front of them. This is why I say the Crossover Run is a run with the lower body and a shuffle with the upper.

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The reason I say this is an innate movement is because athletes instinctively perform the crossover action immediately upon the perception of the speed of the play and the distance that must be traveled.

Try this:

Have a partner stand 10-15 feet in front of you with a tennis ball in hand. You are facing your partner and in an athletic stance. The partner is going to toss the ball up in the air, but to the right or left of you so that you have to move to catch it. The rule is you must shuffle when at all possible to catch the ball. However, if you perceive the ball is out of range for a shuffle to get the job done, then a Crossover Run is allowed. You’ll likely be amazed at how you will naturally do it anyway when it is out of reach. Perform 10-15 times, mixing up the direction to which you move.

#4: Linear Repositioning Step (Plyo Step)

I can still hear my high school football coach yelling at us for taking what he called a “False Step.” A False Step by most people is when an athlete takes a step backwards before moving forward. This action occurs in virtually all sports where the athletes have to react and move in a straight forward or angled movement. What has boggled my mind over the years is in spite of the fact that athletes very commonly take this step, very few coaches have bothered to ask, “why are they taking this step?” Let me explain…

Going back to our fight or flight survival response we are designed to move quickly to attack or escape. In order for this response to be realized into fast acceleration, the body must have proper alignment to do so. In order to accelerate, we must push the ground away from the direction of travel. When an athlete is in an athletic stance, the feet are directly under the center of mass – which, unfortunately, is not a great position from which to accelerate. We need the push-off foot to be behind the body. Well, when a stimulus occurs and the athlete reacts and now knows the direction of travel, one foot will instinctively reposition in order to create a proper angle of force application into the ground. I call this a Plyo Step.

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The Plyo Step or Repositioning Step occurs not only to have a better and immediate angle with which to push, but also to give an impulse or stretch reflex to the neuromuscular system. This makes the ground contact time quicker and more explosive.

This directly competes with the idea of a false step being problematic. There is a reason the body repositions the feet upon a quick recognition to accelerate: it needs a more efficient acceleration angle and quicker ground reaction time once the foot strikes the ground.

Try this:

Stand side-by-side in an athletic parallel stance with your partner. Your partner and you are going to race for 10 yards to see who wins. Your partner is the one who says “GO.” When he or she says “GO,” you both are taking off and racing. Because you don’t know exactly when you are moving, you will most likely take a Plyo Step – and so will your partner. Perform this 6-8 times.

Wrap-up

Because athletes are designed to move quickly, I use drills to bring out the innate abilities they already have. This strategy has allowed me to polish the mechanics and postures they use while making them accelerate quicker.

Note from EC: If you're looking to learn more about Lee's approach to programming and coaching speed and agility work, I highly recommend his Certified Speed and Agility Coach course. I'm finishing it up now myself, and the information has been top notch. It's on sale at an introductory $100 off price through Friday, January 29. You can learn more HERE

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When Do Strength and Conditioning and Fitness Certifications Really Matter?

It's a question I get all the time:

Is this certification worth it?

Unfortunately, while it is a seemingly simple question, the answer is far from simple. Not all certifications are created equal, and not all trainers, rehabilitation specialists, and strength and conditioning coaches have similar educational needs, certification requirements, and target populations.

Given that each scenario is unique, I'll do my best to give you multiple perspectives in the paragraphs that follow.

First, I'll speak from an employer's perspective. You absolutely, positively need a certification to get your foot in the door in this industry. It's a baseline requirement. Sure, some are better than others, but I would never consider actually hiring someone who didn't have a certification. That's not to say, however, that having multiple certifications makes you a more qualified candidate. Nobody likes that person who have 14 certifications and the resulting "alphabet soup" after his/her name. One certification might very well be enough.

Second, putting myself in potential clients' shoes, they really don't know the differences among NSCA-CSCS, NASM-CPT, QRSTUV, ASAP, and R2-D2. There isn't a certifying body out there who spends enough money and time marketing to the masses to educate them that one certification makes for a better personal trainer than others. It's like me trying to figure out what makes one architect better than another if you just throw a bunch of initials after their names; I'd have no clue. Potential clients turn into actual clients because they've perceived your expertise in some fashion - e.g., word-of-mouth from another client, reading an article, chatting with you, observing a training session, etc. - but it rarely has to do with them becoming familiar with what certification you have.

Third, and most importantly, I'll speak from my own experience. When it comes to certifications, the only questions I ask are:

1. Will this experience provide me with specific information I wouldn't otherwise have?

2. Will this experience provide information I can immediately apply in my interaction with my clients and staff?

3. Is the experience delivered by one of the best in the experience? Can these individuals speak from perspective? Or, are they academics who haven't worked with an actual human in years?

In other words, I'll do a certification for the knowledge, not for the resume building. And, I want to make sure there are practical strategies that have been implemented in the trenches, not in a magical theoretical paradigm.

This is what Dr. John Berardi and his team delivers with the Precision Nutrition Certification. It's what we've worked hard to deliver with our Elite Baseball Mentorships (even though it's not a certification).

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And, most recently, it's what Lee Taft has done with his Certified Speed and Agility Coach (CSAC) offering. I'm actually going through the course myself right now, as Lee actually filmed it at Cressey Sports Performance and I got a sneak preview. To say that it's excellent would be an understatement, and we're actually implementing it as part of our staff training curriculum; all CSP coaches will be CSAC by the end of the spring. I really couldn't care less about the initials, though; it's about getting quality information from a guy who has dedicated the last 25 years of his life to teaching speed and agility to athletes from all different sporting disciplines. This program "correctly" answers all three of my questions from above, and that's why it's a go in my eyes.

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Registration for Lee's new certification actually opens today, and it'll only stay open for 12 days. If you're looking for top notch direction in coaching movement training with your athletes, look no further. You can check it out HERE.

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7 Thoughts on Speed, Agility, and Quickness Training

A huge majority of sporting outcomes are heavily dependent on speed, agility, and quickness. The fact that these athletic qualities are such "game changers" also makes them a fun topic to cover in lectures and writing. To that end, I thought I'd pay specific attention to speed, agility, and quickness in today's post. It's especially timely, given the great introductory sale on Complete Speed Training that's going on this week.

1. Footwear matters.

To me, all speed, agility, and quickness training discussions need to begin with footwear, as it directly impacts how you produce and reduce force with respect to the ground.

If you're in heavier sneakers, good luck trying to "feel" fast.

If you're in shoes with huge heel lifts, just try recruiting your posterior chain effectively during your movement training.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, if you're in sneakers without the right amount of lateral support, have fun trying to change directions. This has been a huge issue with some of the minimalist sneakers on the market; athletes will actually roll out of the shoes during changes of direction in spite of the fact that they have sufficient neuromuscular control to execute the exercise perfectly. It's one reason why I was so glad to contribute to the discussion when New Balance was designing the newest versions of the Minimus.

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Before you worry about cutting-edge training programs and meticulous coaching cues, make sure you've got the right stuff on your feet.

2. Don't overlook individual differences.

It's incorrect to assume that all athletes need to be coached the same with respect to movement training drills. Different athletes have different builds, and there will be subtle deviations from "the ideal" positions we envision in our minds. Obviously, limb and torso lengths play into this, but joint structure may impact things as well. As an example, someone who lacks hip internal rotation - whether it's because of a bony block, capsular changes, or hip retroversion - might need to work from a more "open" (toes slightly out) athletic stance.

Understanding what "normal" looks like is important, but don't think "abnormal" is necessarily always inappropriate.

3. It's easier to make a fast guy strong than it is to make a strong guy fast.

I heard this line so long ago that I honestly don't even remember where it originated. Still, I wish I'd really appreciated just how true it really was back then!

Many athletes are blessed with natural reactive ability. They're really proficient at using the stretch-shortening cycle to create awesome athletic movement - even in the absence of what one might consider "good strength." These athletes thrive when you simply get them stronger.

At the other end of the spectrum, you'll find athletes who are very strong but completely unable to display that force quickly. They need to spend more time training speed than they do working on continuing to build (or maintain strength).

If you compare these two scenarios, though, the former (fast guy getting stronger) takes place much quicker than the latter (strong guy getting fast). There are a lot of different reasons this is the case, but at the end of the day, I think the biggest one is that it's difficult to teach an athlete to relax.

Guys who are naturally fast seem to "accidentally" know how to turn off unwanted muscular tension. Guys who are naturally strong usually resort to brute force to try to solve every problem. If you need further proof, just watch me (or any other powerlifter) play golf!

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4. Movement quality falls off with a growth spurt - but good training can help attenuate that drop-off.

When kids hit puberty and their adolescent growth spurt, it's not uncommon to see some seriously uncoordinated athletes on the field, ice, or court. Beyond just the range of motion limitations that may have emerged overnight as bone growth has outpaced that of muscles and tendons, we also have to appreciate that the center of mass has moved further up away from the base of support - and that creates a more unstable environment.

This dramatic shift in the 12-15 age range explains why kids who dominated the youth ranks often don't pan out as high-level high school or collegiate ranks. Just being a Little League all-star doesn't really predict being a Major League Baseball all-star very well at all.

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The good news is that we can attenuate - or minimize - the drop-off in athleticism that takes place with the adolescent growth spurt by incorporating effective training principles. As always, playing multiple sports and engaging in activities that provide a wide range of movements is essential. Moreover, we can integrate mobility drills and coach athletes on proper movement quality. And, finally, not to be overlooked is the role of strength training. Put 10-15 pounds of muscle mass on a young athlete's lower body, and his center of mass will definitely be much closer to the base of support, creating a more stable environment. Of course, the strength that also emerges from that training will also go a long way in improving movement quality. This is why I think ages 11-12 are some of the best times to get involved in entry-level strength training programs, even if it's just 1-2 times per week.

5. Moving well is as much about "reads" as it is about speed.

If you talk to most up-and-coming baseball players, they're generally concerned with their "60 times." If a player runs below a 6.5, he'd be considered elite caliber speed. Running between 6.6 and 6.7 would be excellent speed, 6.8-6.9 average speed, and 7.0 and below would be sub-par. These numbers are testing pretty regularly at various events in the high school ranks, but not much thereafter.

As a result, we don't really have a true frame of reference for how "fast" guys are in the big leagues. Well, I'm here to tell you that you'd be sorely disappointed if you tested 60s of all MLB players. There would be a lot of 6.8-7.1 speed among position players, and you might only find 2-3 sub-6.7 guys on each roster. Game-changing speed really isn't as common as you might think, and for every Billy Hamilton or Jacoby Ellsbury, there are a lot of guys who have become good baserunners more because they have learned how to run the bases, get good jumps, and understand situational baseball.

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Baserunning is very much an art as much as it is an athletic endeavor, so you can do all the speed, agility, and quickness drills you want, but they won't have nearly the effect you desire if guys simply don't understand how to read and react to the game around them. This is surely the case in every other sport you'll encounter short of track and field, too.

6. Good movement training programs need a mix of coaching and competition.

If you want to get faster, I think it's crucial to have both coaching and competition elements in your training. With respect to coaching, you obviously have to cue athletes into higher quality movements; otherwise, you're just further ingraining faulty patterns. This is analogous to driving an out-of-alignment car as fast as you can.

Conversely, I think there is something to be said about shutting up and just letting athletes run fast and compete with each other. Most elite sprinters train as part of groups, not individually. The same can be said of the best NFL combine preparation set-ups; guys push each other to get better. Timing and mirror drills are great ways to cultivate this competitive spirit in the training environment.

Ideally, you get a little bit of both competition and coaching in every movement training session. As I look at our typical week with our pro guys, our heaviest speed, agility, and quickness days are Wednesday and Saturday. Wednesdays tend to be less coaching intensive and more competition as the athletes sprint together. On Saturdays, things are more coaching intensive as we work indoors with everything 30 yards or less in distance. I'll do more video work, and rarely have more than one guy sprinting at a time. As the season approaches, we'll integrate more of the coaching intensive work prior to strength training on Mondays as well.

7. Video has changed the game.

Video - and more specifically, slow-motion video - has changed how we coach movement training dramatically. We spend a lot of time coaching proper angles - whether it's torso lean or shin positioning - and being able to freeze-frame videos and show athletes where they are at various points in time can help an athlete to acquire or hone new skills much quicker than in previous years. If you're not videoing speed, agility, and quickness work, start!

One word of caution, though: don't let video interrupt the "flow" of the session. If you're not careful, you can wind up watching and discussing video for 5-10 minutes between each set. It's important to use the video as a resource, but not rely on it so heavily that it interrupts quality work. 

Wrap-up

Speed, agility, and quickness training are incredible broad topics, so I'm really just scratching the surface with these seven observations. If you're looking for a more exhaustive resource from one of the best coaches and teachers in the strength and conditioning field, I highly recommend Complete Speed Training from Lee Taft. This excellent product is on sale for $100 through this Friday at midnight.

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The 5 Biggest Speed and Agility Coaching Mistakes

Today's guest post comes from speed and agility expert, Lee Taft, who is the creator of the awesome new resource, Complete Speed Training.

One of the benefits of being in a profession for over two decades is that I’ve made all sorts of mistakes and continue to learn from them. I want to share what I see as the top five mistakes coaches make when coaching speed and agility.

Mistake #1: Training Conditioning Instead of Speed!

It still amazes me how often coaches say they are going to work on speed, quickness, and agility, but fail to recognize the importance of recovery and duration. If an athlete is going to increase overall speed and quickness, at some point, they need to train at high speeds. In order to this repeatedly to achieve sufficient volume for a training effect, the energy system demands need to be appreciated. I typically stay in the 3-7 second range so I can get massive speed and quickness while the ATP-CP system can still pump lots of energy. Plus, I know most athletic plays only takes a few seconds to occur before lower intense movement or a stoppage takes over. My goal is to master movement efficiency with as much speed, agility, and quickness as possible.

The other issue of which I have to be cognizant is recovery between bouts. My goal in a typical training session is to not to get 100% recovery, although that would be nice! Unfortunately, full recovery on every single rep or set just isn’t practical in most settings (when it is practical, then I go for it!). My goal is to allow the athletes be in roughly an 8:1 to 12:1 rest to work ratio. I know I am getting enough ATP recovery so my athletes can go hard the next rep or set.

Coaches need to realize that when their athletes are performing the next bout and are still breathing heavy, they are not recovered enough to achieve maximum speeds. This simply becomes a conditioning session and not a speed session.

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Mistake #2: Just Doing Drills Instead of Developing Skills!

Far too often, coaches make the mistake of designing their program around various drills. These drills frequently come from a quick search on YouTube for drills for speed and agility. The problem is the drill may have very little to do with what the athlete actually needs. I like to call it “Drill Surfing.” Coaches’ Google drills and when they find cool and exciting ones, they think their athletes might like they implement them.

Coaching is about executing a plan. The plan for coaching a speed and agility session needs to revolve around the skills the athlete needs developed. Once these skills are identified, then the coach can search for drills that will help improve the skills.

Always remember that drills are a conduit to skills and only serve the purpose of fulfilling a need.

Another way coaches like to use drills instead of skills is to use tools like speed ladders, dot drills, agility rings, etc. There is absolutely nothing wrong with these tools, but what often occurs is that the coach gets more concerned with making sure the athlete flies through the drill and misses the opportunity to teach or reinforce proper mechanics of athletic movement.

Mistake #3: Not Getting Strong!

You won’t find many coaches in the world of sports performance who find it more essential to teach multi-directional speed skills to athletes more than me. If athletes are not schooled in proper mechanics, they may never reach their true movement potential. Having said that, I know where the true gold can be found for speed and quickness. It is in the weight room!

Fortunately for me, I was exposed to many forms of strength training as a kid. My dad was big into fitness and taught me how to lift when I was young. I started working out with a guy who was a bodybuilder and power athlete and he taught me the bare-knuckles approach to hard lifting when I was 18 years old. I also learned over the years from studying strength training methods from around the world. I gained strength by training hard and the result was an improvement in my speed.

If you really want to increase speed potential, the weight room is a must. Get your athletes’ horsepower up and you will see the benefits in their speed.

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Mistake #4: Not Paying Attention To What The Athletes Are Telling You!

I don’t really mean what the athletes are saying verbally; I mean what they are saying with their bodies when they move. Far to often, we coach based solely on what we were taught by our coach. We never question if it is right or wrong; rather, we just do it. The problem is many of the techniques and coaching strategies we were taught years ago don’t actually match up with pure human reactive movement.

The truest of multi-directional speed and quickness can be seen when athletes play their sport and react to the situation. They don’t think about how to move; they just react and do it. The sympathetic nervous system kicks in its “fight or flight” response, and athletes act based on perceived threats. When this occurs, the athlete tends to quickly position the body in an acceleration posture to escape or chase the opponent. Stored energy is released in the muscles via the stretch-shortening-cycle during the quick force production applied by the push-off leg going into the ground.

None of this is coachable, but it can be cleaned up with proper mechanics. I encourage coaches to realize the body has protective, effective, and efficient innate actions that should not be messed with just because your former coach said something like; “That’s a false step.” Educate yourself on pure human reactive movement and you will be surprised what the athletes are telling you…

Mistake #5: Thinking Short is Better Than Long!

I still remember my high school football coach yelling at us to take short choppy steps when we take off during sprints at the end of practice. I also remember many of my teammates stumbling in the first few steps due to the cleats getting caught in the grass because of these short choppy steps. This still rings true today. I hear youth coaches all the time encouraging the kids to take short steps when accelerating.

Remember in Mistake #4 when I talked about how the body has innate abilities? Well this is one of them. When an athlete goes through acceleration, the ability to push hard into the ground so the body can move forward quickly is vital. Well, when the push-off leg drives down and back hard, the front leg has to match the intensity (this is called “action-reaction”). The front leg will drive forward powerfully to allow the back leg to stay grounded longer; this helps to push the mass of the body forward further.

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The other area we need to focus on is the arm action. The arm swing during acceleration is very long, especially in the back swing. This is, again, due to the fact we want longer foot contact so more force can be applied. The arm swing must match the leg action so coordination can exist. The process of accelerating is based on long powerful leg actions that never become over-strides, but more piston-like leg actions. The piston-like action always allows a down-and-back shin angle, so pushing is in order and pulling is not.

Closing Thoughts

We all have to remember that, as coaches, we took a silent oath to help our athletes become the best they can be. In order to do this, we must understand performance qualities like speed, agility, and quickness – and how the body needs to harness those abilities. By understanding these athletic traits better, we can avoid common mistakes that might be slowing your athletes down.

If you’re looking to take your knowledge of speed, agility, and quickness training to the next level, I’d highly recommend Lee’s new product, Complete Speed Training. In addition to being an extremely bright guy, he’s also an excellent teacher and coach. To sweeten the deal, this resource is on sale for $100 off through this Friday, February 13. Check it out HERE.

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Kelly Baggett: Lose Tension to Get Quick

Kelly Baggett has done some outstanding guest posts here in the past, and I figured it was time for another one, so I reached out to him and got this insightful piece back a day later.   As I've stated many times in the past, based on my experience and observations, real world displays of athleticism and quickness are often more similar to dancing than they are something like measurable speed and power. Unfortunately, most training methods target tension application, but they don't really target the release of tension. Watch high level athletes performing high level moves at extreme speed and you'll usually find the moves are trademarked by total and complete phases of relaxation. Dwayne Wade is an excellent example - he literally looks like he's gliding along the court, toying and dancing with his opponent.

The ability to RELAX physically in the face of stress is often the key variable that separates the men from the boys.  In fact, the best sprinters in the world are more physiologically identifiable not by how much force they can produce with a sprint stride, but how quickly and completely they can relax their muscles between strides! This is even more obvious if you pay attention to a sport like boxing.  As powerful and fast as a guy like Mike Tyson was in his prime, the key variable that allowed him to dominate was his ability to completely relax and outmaneuver his opponent and setup his mind-boggling punching power.  Think of a cat: powerful, explosive, extremely quick, and RELAXED between bursts of attack to the point of almost apathy.  Check out The Truth About Quickness highlight video below and pay attention huge relaxation component to the split-squat landing at the 8-10s mark; in order to stabilize those eccentric forces at the snap of a finger, you have to be relaxed, as it's just not possible to stick that landing with the lower-body all locked up:

You'll notice similar relaxation in the paused drop into sprint (12s mark), and around the 36s mark when Alex performs lateral hops onto the bench with pauses at the top and bottom.

If you want to be quick and are not naturally rhythmic, you must work on being relaxed. A relaxed and open mind is ultra-important.  Think of what Bruce Lee said: “Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless - like water. Now you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup, you put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle, you put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.”  And, “notice that the stiffest tree is most easily cracked, while the bamboo or willow survives by bending with the wind.” One mark of athletic quickness is the ability to move like water. Apply this to your sport:  whatever sport you play, whatever moves you want to perfect, whatever it is you want to focus on – whether it's basketball, tennis, infielding, football – work on your moves in the mirror and/or video and watch yourself.  Imagine your body a cat and grade yourself similar to how you'd grade a dance: not by speed of movement but by efficiency of movement. What you will find as you work on this a bit is that your movement doesn’t just become more efficient, but it also becomes much quicker and faster - all the things you DO want.  However, you don't get there initially by trying to go faster; you get there by eliminating resistance, which is tension in your antagonistic muscles. Here's a simple little drill you can try that illustrates this perfectly.  Take your index finger and simply tap it on the desk as quickly as you can. What you'll probably find is that the faster you try to go, the more tense you get and the slower you actually go. The more you concentrate on relaxation, the faster you can go. Now, try to apply that same principle to anything else you do requiring quickness/speed throughout your entire body.  It's simple but effective and drives home an important concept that many people neglect completely! Kelly Baggett is the co-creator (alongside Alex Maroko) of the "Reloaded" Truth About Quickness 2.0 System.  Note from EC: I'm a big fan of Kelly's work and have endorsed this resource previously; Kelly and Alex did a great job with it.  I'd encourage you to check out The Truth About Quickness, if you haven't already.

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Strength and Conditioning Programs: Open vs. Closed Loop Exercises

A few months ago, I decided that 2011 was going to be the year for me to learn to play golf.  Considering that my grandmother actually beat me on nine holes last year, and that I have a world record in the deadlift, yet didn't really use my hips when I golfed, I had a big window of adaptation ahead of me. To that end, I've been taking golf lessons with a great pro around here every Wednesday morning for the past six weeks.  I'm a very type A personality and ultra-competitive, so you can bet that I've been practicing a ton and thinking about it a lot. This past weekend, I had my re-match with Gram in our first golf outing of the year.  While I narrowly edged her this time around, I shot a 59 over 9 holes - including a 10 on the 4th and a 12 on the 8th - so I didn't exactly end up with bragging rights. In fact, if a trophy had been awarded, I would have still received this one:

The funny thing is that my swing is dramatically improved and I can easily identify what I've done incorrectly when it doesn't come off the club the way that it should.  About 80% of the time, I'm putting them straight-ahead.  The only problem with that 80% statistic is that it's based on nice, flat, turf tees at driving ranges, and not what really happens in golf when you're on the side of a hill with leaves, divots, and a tree directly between you and the hole. In other words, all my golf practice thus far has been closed loop, while the nature of golf is much more open loop in nature.  What do I mean with these terms?  Rather than reinvent the wheel, he's an excerpt from my e-book, The Ultimate Off-Season Training Manual, that describes open and closed-loop drills: The overwhelming majority of agility drills fall into the category of closed-loop drills; very simply, they’re predictable tasks.  Closed-loop drills are extremely valuable for teaching proper technique in sprinting, changes of direction, and other sport mechanics, and should therefore comprise the overwhelming majority of the drills utilized in the general off-season period. These “conscious” efforts in the general off-season give rise to integration of appropriate mechanics subconsciously in the late off-season and in-season phases.  By these phases, the athlete has become conditioned to act efficiently without thinking about how to react to a given stimulus.  Ideally, this occurs completely prior to the integration of open-loop drills that challenge the athlete’s ability to accommodate unpredictable external stimuli.

Eventually, both open- and closed-loop drills can be integrated into metabolic conditioning schemes to enhance sport-specific conditioning.  We encounter both planned and unplanned movement challenges in athletics, so it is logical to prepare for both.  Examples of open-loop movement training are mirror drills, 5-10-5 drills where the athlete moves in the direction that the coach points, and tennis ball drills (where the athlete races to retrieve a tennis ball a coach has thrown in an unannounced direction). Resistance training has traditionally been comprised of closed-loop challenges; this underscores the need for significant variety in exercise selection when programming for athletes.  For this reason – especially in the general off-season – coaches should use different bars, dumbbells, kettlebells, cables, medicine balls, body weight exercises, grip widths, ranges of motion, points of stability (e.g., lunges vs. squats), and other varying stimuli to expand athletes’ overall motor pools through rich sensory environments.

Such variety is especially important when it comes to dealing with young athletes.  The richer their proprioceptive environments, the better their overall development, and the easier they’ll pick up complex challenges down the road. Coaches should allow for enough repetition and frequency of a given drill to allow for adaptation, but at the same time look to insert variety to programming as often as possible.  Beyond simply improving overall afferent (sensory) function, variety in exercise selection will also markedly reduce the risk of injury due to pattern overload, muscular imbalance, and movement dysfunction. What’s the take-home message from this length quote?  Never expect true carryover from your strength and conditioning programs to the “randomness” of your daily life unless you implement more unpredictable challenges in those strength and conditioning programs.  Conservatively, that might mean doing more strongman style training and utilizing more asymmetrical loading.

More assertively, it might mean getting out to play in a soccer, softball, or ultimate frisbee game to make sure you aren’t getting stagnant because of the predictability of your “workout routine.” In other words, I'll be getting out to simply golf more, as it'll teach me how to swing under predictable conditions and make good decisions in those scenarios.  Likewise, in my practice sessions, I'll be getting off the mats a bit more to golf on less-than-optimal terrain. Maybe it'll get me to a 58 next time. To learn more about how open- and closed-loop drills are integrated in a comprehensive program, check out The Ultimate Off-Season Training Manual. Sign-up Today for our FREE Newsletter and receive a deadlift technique tutorial!
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The Truth About “Quick Feet” and Agility Ladder Drills

Michael Boyle published this Q&A newsletter about quick feet and agility ladder drills last week, and I enjoyed it so much that I asked him if I could repost it here.  Suffice it to say that I am not a fan of "agility ladder" drills, and while Mike does use them in moderation, he makes a great case for why we don't want to go overboard - or expect too much of them. Q: A couple of threads on the Strength Coach forum got me thinking about the question of foot speed and athletes. I can't tell you how often I hear a parent or a coach ask, "How can I improve my son's/daughter's/athlete's foot speed or agility?" A: It seems everyone always wants the shortcut and the quick fix. The better question might be "Do you think you can improve foot speed?" or maybe even the larger question, "Does foot speed even matter?" That begs the larger question, "Does foot speed have anything to do with agility?" I know coaches or parents reading this are asking, "Is this guy crazy?" How many times have we heard that "speed kills?" I think the problem is that coaches and parents equate fast feet with fast and quick feet with agile. However, fast feet don't equal fast any more than quick feet equal agile. In some cases, fast feet might actually make an athlete slow--often I see fast feet as a detriment to speed. In fact, some of our quick turnover guys, those who would be described as having fast feet, are very slow off the start.

The problem is fast feet don't use the ground well to produce force. Fast feet might be good on hot coals, but not on hard ground. Think of the ground as the well from which we draw speed. It is not how fast the feet move, but rather how much force goes into the ground. This is basic action-reaction physics. Force into the ground equals forward motion. This is why the athletes with the best vertical jumps are most often the fastest. It comes down to force production. Often coaches will argue the vertical vs. horizontal argument and say the vertical jump doesn't correspond to horizontal speed, but years of data from the NFL Combine begs to differ. Force into the ground is force into the ground. In spite of what Brett Contreras may say, vectors don't seem to matter here. The truth is parents should be asking about vertical jump improvement, not about fast feet. My standard line is "Michael Flatley has fast feet, but he doesn't really go anywhere. If you move your feet fast and don't go anywhere, does it matter? It's the old "tree falling in the woods" thing.

The best solution to slow feet is to get stronger legs. Feet don't matter. Legs matter. Think about it this way: If you stand at the starting line and take a quick first step but fail to push with the back leg, you don't go anywhere. The reality is that a quick first step is actually the result of a powerful first push. We should change the buzzwords and start to say "that kid has a great first push." Lower body strength is the real cure for slow feet and the real key to speed and to agility. The essence of developing quick feet lies in single-leg strength and single-leg stability work… landing skills. If you cannot decelerate, you cannot accelerate - at least not more than once.

One of the things I love is the magic drill idea. This is the theory that developing foot speed and agility is not a process of gaining strength and power, but rather the lack of a specific drill. I tell everyone I know that if I believed there was a magic drill we would do it every day. The reality is it comes down to horsepower and the nervous system, two areas that change slowly over time. How do we develop speed, quickness and agility? Unfortunately, we need to do it the slow, old-fashioned way. You can play with ladders and bungee cords all you want, but that is like putting mag wheels on an Escort. The key is to increase the horsepower, the brakes, and the accelerator. I think the answer for me is always the same. I wrote an article last year called "Is ACL Prevention Just Good Training?" In much the same way, development of speed, agility and quickness simply comes down to good training. We need to work on lower body strength and lower body power - and we need to do it on one leg. I also love "agility" ladder drills. They provide excellent multi-planar dynamic warm-up. They develop brain-to-muscle connection and are excellent for eccentric strength and stability. We do less than five minutes of ladder drills, one or two times a week. I don't believe for a minute that the ladder is a magic tool that will make anyone faster or more agile, however I do believe it is a piece of the puzzle from the neural perspective. People waste more than five minutes on biceps curls, but we have long debates about ladder drills. These are also a great tool to show to coaches who want "foot speed." Sometime it's easier to "yes" them than to argue with them. Give a guy with "bad feet" a jump rope and you get a guy with bad feet and patella tendonitis. For more information on Michael Boyle, check out StrengthCoach.com or the Functional Strength Coach 3.0 DVD set.

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Baggett of Tricks Part II: An Interview with “The Truth About Quickness” Author Kelly Baggett

In Part I, The Truth About Quickness Author Kelly Baggett and I discussed his unique background, the importance of perspective, and common mistakes performance enhancement specialists (not to be confused with "strength and conditioning specialists") make. We began to touch on the topic of testing athletes, so let's pick up where we left off.

EC: With optimal testing frequency down, let's cover the tests themselves. Which tests are good? Which ones are outdated? KB: Any test that gets an athlete injured is obviously no good. For this reason there are times (e.g. inexperienced athlete) when it can be counterproductive to perform certain tests like low-rep squats, bench presses, etc. Any test can be improved with practice and I really like tests that don't require much if any practice. Now, for specific tests I really don't like the 225 max reps test for obvious reasons. There is also too much emphasis on a 40-yard dash. I like the test itself but don't like how coaches give so many points based on a player's "40." Agility tests are useful but they can also be improved dramatically with practice and are pre-rehearsed, so they aren't always accurate. Statistical data shows the only test the NFL uses that has much reliable correlation to playing ability is the vertical jump test. Interestingly, it would also seem to be the least "football specific" of all these tests. I'm also all for certain postural tests, length-tension assessments, and the like because these will go a long way in eliminating injuries, optimizing movement efficiency, and helping everything run smoother from the ground up.

EC: New tests that you have to introduce? I know you and I are both are big proponents of the vertical jump vs. counter movement jump comparison. Any others? KB: When it comes to using tests to determine training focus, the vertical jump with and without counter movement is useful to determine strength functions. As an extension of the one you mentioned, try this: sit back on a chair in a ¼ squat and jump up and then compare this to your regular down-and-up jump. If the difference is less than 10%, it indicates that you rely on more pure muscular explosive strength and need plyometric/reactive work. If the difference is greater than 30%, it indicates you need more muscular/explosive strength because you rely largely on the reflexive/plyometric effect. This test is okay, but I still prefer a reactive jump test. The chair version will often give false results because people simply aren't used to jumping from a pure standstill. If I was only able to use one test to indicate ones optimal training focus, strengths, and weaknesses, I'd use the reactive jump test because it tells so much. Not only are the results important in terms of jumping, but they can also be carried over to sprinting, agility, and multiple sports movements. I ran across it in some writings by Schmidbleicher and am surprised that it hasn?t been used more. I've been using it for a year and a half now, and it is very effective; DB Hammer is a true master of testing and finding athletes' weaknesses and he also uses a version of this test but with a specialized reactive jump pad that measures the amortization phase. It's a nice addition, but most aren't going to have access to it and it's not really necessary anyway. The test enables you to gradually increase plyometric contribution and see how the body responds. EC: For our readers who aren't familiar with the VJ vs. CMJ test, how about tossing out a brief outline? KB: No problem. Generally, when reactive ability is good, the amount of energy that you put out in a movement will be directly proportional to the energy you take in. So, if you absorb more force, you develop more force. What you do on the reactive jump test is measure how much force you take in and compare this to how much power you put out. First, measure a regular down-and-up jump. Then, you use boxes and starting from around 12-inches perform a depth jump. Step off the box, jump as high as possible when you hit the ground and measure the height you jump. If it's less than your regular VJ, you can stop there because it's obvious you are lacking in reactive ability. Your ability to absorb negative force and transfer it into positive power is lacking. You'll want to start using reactive and power training immediately; altitude landings would also be good for training your system to better absorb force. Once you become proficient, you then just follow the altitude landings up with reactive jumps.

Now, if your 12-inch reactive jump was better than your VJ, you keep increasing the height of the box in 6-inch increments until you find where your reactive jump drops below your vertical jump. The greater the height of the box when you reach that point, the greater the reactive ability. For some, there will be a gradual increase with each increase in box height. They may find their best jump comes off a 30 -inch box or better. These people are very plyometrically efficient so they need to emphasize muscular strength and hypertrophy to create more resources they can draw from in a plyometric movement - and nearly all sports movements are plyometric dominant. The test also will establish the optimal height of the box one should use for depth jumps; simply use the box that gives you the best reactive jump height. EC: This test also underscores the importance of postural assessments and seeking connections between different tests. If someone has dysfunction at the subtalar joint, it won't matter if they have potential for excellent plyometric abilities at the plantarflexors, knee extensors, and hip extensors. If they're excessively pronating, they'll cushion the shock too well, spending a lot of time on the ground because they can't switch over to supination, which provides a firm base for propulsion. They'll probably wind up with plantar fasciitis, an ACL tear, patellofemoral dysfunction, hip or lower back pain, or sacroiliac dysfunction. You can do power and explosive training until you're blue in the face, but unless you correct the underlying problem with orthotics or specific stretching and strengthening interventions, the exercises to make an athlete proficient will really only make them deficient: injured. Likewise, if someone has excessive supination, they'll be fine with the propulsion aspect, but won't be able to cushion landings well at all. These individuals will wind up with lots of lateral ankle sprains, iliotibial band friction syndrome, pain deep to the kneecap, or problems in the lower back and hip. They're easily spotted, as they don't get immediate knee flexion when upon landing. Again, corrective exercise initiatives have to precede corrective initiatives! Just my little aside; I couldn't keep my mouth shut for this entire interview! Where were we? Oh yeah - any more tests? KB: Let's see...another test that I like to use is the speed rep test; this can easily be implemented for the squat and bench press. You want to be able to explosively and quickly move a load that is fairly close to your limit strength so that you stay to the left on the force/time curve. Instead of basing your explosive training off of percentages you base it on the time it takes you to complete your reps. You simply try to get one rep for every second. You can go two reps in two seconds, three reps in three seconds, or five reps in five seconds. The percentages will vary among athletes, but I like to see bench press numbers up around 65-70%, achieving five reps in five seconds. The squat should be up around 55-60%.

The higher the percentage weight you use relative to your 1RM, the faster you are and the more of your max strength you'll be able to use in a short sports movement.

The converse is also true; the lower the percentage relative to your 1RM, the slower you are. You want to gradually push up your max numbers while maintaining or improving the % of your maximum you can move quickly. If you're up around 70% for bench press, it's time to focus more on pure strength. If you're down around 50%, you need more speed. I should also note that it's not absolutely necessary to know your 1RMs for these tests. Very simply, the more you increase the weight you can use for this one rep per second explosive training protocol, the more explosive you will be in your sport. EC: Good stuff. I know you've got some excellent points on 1RMs; care to enlighten our readers? KB: Sure. For 1RMs, one thing I've picked up from Buchenholz is to look at the time it takes to complete the lift instead of just analyzing the weight lifted. There is a reason why so many people are divided on whether a maximal squat will transfer to added speed or power. It's because the time it takes you to complete a maximal squat is much more relevant to sport transfer; those who achieve their 1RMs with great speed tend to have greater carryover of pure strength into sport than those who lift slower. Watch the guys who naturally lift a max load fast and compare their athletic abilities to those who lift slowly and you'll see what I mean.

To give you an idea, Fred Hatfield completed his former world record 1014 lb. squat from start to finish in under 3 seconds! That's what you call being explosive with a high percentage of your limit strength. I'm not saying that the squat is the best activity to directly transfer to a jump, but it's no wonder that he (at one time) had a vertical jump around 40 inches without any specific training for it! A guy who can complete a true 1RM bench or squat in around four seconds or less from start to finish will often be able to train with more heavy strength training and hypertrophy work and get a good sport carryover. A guy who takes seven seconds or more to complete a 1RM attempt is too slow when applying his maximal strength to get much carryover. Even though he may be very strong, it doesn't matter - nearly all sports movements are quick. He'll need to back off on the heavy stuff and work on rate of force development (RFD) and reactive ability so that he can use a given percentage of his absolute force capabilities quicker. The test to which I just alluded is also useful because it will automatically encourage athletes psychologically to explode more in any of their lifts because they'll realize how important rep speed is. You just have to be careful people aren't going to try to go too fast, increasing the likelihood of injury. EC: Any norms for these tests? What do you typically find? KB: What is interesting about this is that the majority of genetically gifted professional and upper level collegiate athletes are going to fit into the first - naturally more explosive - group. In other words, basic heavy training will work for them - which is what most programs are focused on. What about the guys who are in the other group, though? What if they have to be thrown in on the same program with all the other guys? Unfortunately, they probably won't make optimal progress on the same plan. They need something designed to optimize their attributes and overcome their deficiencies. This is what I meant when I said that we'll see better athletes in all sports as the body of knowledge on training increases. Instead of arguing about basic heavy weights vs. Olympic lifts etc., more strength and conditioning coaches will understand what the best plan is for any given individual or group and train them accordingly. Toss preconceived notions and prejudices out the window and let the athlete be your guide. EC: Optimize attributes and overcome deficiencies? Ubiquitous intelligent strength coaches? You're a glass-is-half-full kind of guy, aren't you Kelly? I mean, honestly, no arguments in the field of strength and conditioning? I can't decide if it would be a good thing because it'll quiet down all the HIT Jedis, or a bad thing because it means we won't be able to torture on them any more. While I search for answers, feel free to tell our audience about any other tests you use. KB: When it comes to speed and finding the right training focus, it's useful is to look at split times. During the start of a sprint - especially for the first 20-30 yards - relative body strength is key. After the initial acceleration period, reactivity becomes dominant, so it's important to find where in the race the athlete is weak. Someone who has a strong start but weak finish is likely strong, but is trying to muscle his sprinting stride. His hips may drop and he'll be unable to run smoothly, allowing his hips and hamstrings to contract reflexively. It could be that his heavy training is getting in the way of relaxation and messing up his reflexive ability. For example, if someone has a 1.4 second 10 yard-dash, but only a 4.9 40, it's pretty obvious that he's explosive and strong. However, when reactive ability takes over, he suffers. He needs more speed work - either through flying runs, longer sprints, or quick action plyometric drills - where relaxation and reflexive action is key. If a guy is fast over the second half of a timed split but has a slow start and acceleration, he just needs to emphasize basic relative strength and explosiveness. EC: As a kinesiology and biomechanics dork, I have to ask: how about actual movement analysis? KB: Instead of evaluating posterior chain strength in the weight room and flexibility with static stretches, just watch how an athlete runs and moves. Is he getting triple extension of the ankles, knees, and hips with each stride, or is he chopping his stride short? This can indicate weak hamstrings or a flexibility or postural issue. Often, there is also a poor correlation between posterior chain strength demonstrated in the weight room and function of the posterior chain during a sprint, so you have to look at function instead of just numbers. If the function isn't there but the strength is, you?ll need to cut back on the weight work and focus more on things closely related to the specific activity. EC: Let's talk about the future of sports training. What do you think are the biggest issues on this front, and what can we expect to see in the years to come? KB: I think that the controversy over manufacturing athletes vs. letting nature do all the work will become even more of an issue than it already is. It's obvious that the U.S. is falling behind and it's readily evident by the number of what one could call naturally physically inferior European NBA players in the NBA now. It's getting to a point where the athletes born with the ability aren't the only ones who succeed, although that's pretty much the way it's always been.

EC: You gotta' love the Larry Birds of the world; they do a great job of throwing wrenches in the model for the perfect athlete on paper. That's not to say that we can't make every athlete better with proper training, though. KB: I agree; with improved training methods, you'll see a lot more athletes with inferior physiques and skills (at least initially) make it to the top. The level of training will rise up so that someone who is born without any great physical abilities will be able to improve his abilities above and beyond someone who is born with them but doesn't work at it. Now, we have all these sports performance centers popping up across the US. I feel that's a good thing but they, of course, require money. The people who are able to take advantage of places like these will be well ahead of the guys who just have a school program. This will become even more apparent in the coming years, especially as the people running these places get even better at their jobs. I think Shaq said it best a few years ago; he may have been joking, but I don't know. When asked how he saw the NBA in ten years, he responded, "They'll be a bunch of white guys who can run and dunk as well as shoot!" We'll just have to wait and see? EC: Definitely. Okay, time for a little change of pace. We've focused on performance-based training exclusively thus far, but I know you have some insights regarding how to effecting positive changes in body composition and even bodybuilding-oriented training and nutrition tactics. The floor is yours... KB: Bodybuilders and those interested in physique enhancement need to learn how to better work from the inside out rather than the outside in. Hormones are always going to be at least, if not more important than external initiatives with exercise and diet when it comes to determining what happens with our body composition (muscle gain and fat loss). Any male will put on a good 40 lbs of muscle without doing anything when he goes through puberty. The reverse will also gradually occur with age; that's just how powerful the hormonal effect is. True, we can influence our hormonal state and internal chemistry by what we do, but people interested in the best gains of their life need to learn exactly what is going on inside them and how to best influence everything through diet and exercise to mimic as close as possible that natural hormonal growth surge. In other words, they must learn to optimize their internal chemistry so that fat will melt off or muscle will go on in slabs. Contributors from science and real world-based information sources are really advancing what we know about physical change related internal chemistry: how hormones affect us, what we can do to change certain signals, etc. Up until now, the only approach was to do a few things right and hope everything fell into place. Simply stated: eat like a horse and train heavy, or starve and eat a low calorie diet to lose fat - or load yourself up on steroids and a host of other drugs. Those approaches definitely work and will always work, but I feel they're getting outdated. For example, when it comes to fat loss and stress, leptin has been touted as the major controller of all things related to bodyfat and bodyfat setpoint over the past few years. I believe that the function of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and the stress response is as important, if not more important than leptin. The HPA axis and related central controls will largely dictate partitioning of nutrients, thyroid levels, androgen levels, and overall anabolism/catabolism. We know about too much stress and its effects on cortisol, but it's important to remember that having a lowered response to stress can be just as problematic as having too much. There's no doubt in my mind that methods to more optimally manipulate all these central controls will become very popular in the next couple of years EC: It speaks volumes for knowing something about everything. It's not enough to be a strength coach that only understands training; you have to be up-to-date on nutrition, endocrinology, anatomy, biomechanics, rehabilitation, supplementation, motivation, equipment, and how they all are interrelated. There aren't many coaches out there that are that good, but you're definitely one of them, Kelly. Thanks for your time. KB: No problem; thanks for having me! EC: For more information on Kelly, check out the outstanding product he and Alex Maroko created, The Truth About Quickness.

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