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.
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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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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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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.
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.
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.
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.
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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While sprinting has been around since the dawn of man, only in the past few years has it really taken off as true fitness trend. In other words, it was either what we did to kill our dinner in prehistoric times, or it was a modern athletic competition. Only recently have we realized that doing sprint work for our interval training is a tremendously effective way to get/stay lean, enhance mobility, improve athleticism, and prepare ourselves for the demands that life throws our way.
Heading out to sprint full-tilt when you haven’t been doing any running work in recent months is, however, analogous to signing up for calculus when you haven’t brushed up on basic math of late. The main difference is that you can’t rip your hamstrings off your pelvis doing calculus!
Sprint work requires tremendous mobility, good tissue quality, and adequate strength to tolerate significant ground reaction forces and a wide variety of joint angles. You don’t prepare for this with your “typical” gym workouts, so before I have some specific modifications in place that you’ll want to follow. To that end, below, I’ve provided you with seven tips you can apply to ease into sprint work so that you can get the benefits of it with less of the risk.
1. Do these foam rolling drills and four mobility exercises every day for a month.
These drills are like summer reading before a tough English class. You have to do them so that you can hit the ground running (pun intended).
2. Sprint uphill first.
People often get hurt when they overstride; they’ll pull the hamstrings on the front leg. Sprinting uphill doesn’t really allow you to overstride, though, and it’s also good because you go up with each step, but don’t come down quite as much. Ground reaction forces are much lower, so this is a great option for easing into top-speed sprinting. (great studies here and here, for those interested).
While it’s more ideal to do uphill sprinting outside, it is okay to do this on a treadmill. After all, you’re just trying to lose your spare tire or be a little better in beer league softball, not go to the Olympics.
I like to see a month of 2x/week uphill sprint work before folks start testing the waters on flat terrain.
3. Don’t sprint at 100% intensity right away.
Contrary to what you may have heard, you don’t have to run at 100% intensity to derive benefits from sprint work. In fact, a lot of the most elite sprinters in the world spend a considerable amount of time running at submaximal intensities, and they are still lean and fast.
The bulk of your sprint work should be in the 70-90% of top speed range. You might work up to some stuff in the 90-100% zone as you’re fully warmed up, but living in this top 10% all the time is a recipe for injury, especially if you’re over the age of 35-40 and degenerative changes are starting to kick in.
When you first start out, sprinting is new and exciting, and it's very easy to get overzealous and push the volume and frequency side of the equation just as you would the intensity side. Don't do it. For most folks, twice a week is a sufficient complement to a comprehensive strength training program, and the session shouldn't last for more than 30-45 minutes - most of which will be you resting between bouts of sprinting. If you find that they're 90-120 minute sessions, you're either doing too much volume or not working hard enough. The speed and quality of your work will fall off pretty quickly as you fatigue, so be careful about forcing things too quickly. Beyond just injury prevention benefits, taking it slower on the progressions side of things allows you to test out your footwear of a few weeks to make sure that they're the right shoes for you.
5. Don't sprint on pavement.
I can't think of a more unforgiving surface than pavement, especially since it means that you're more likely to get hit by a car. Unfortunately, it's also the more easy accessible surface for most people. In an ideal world, I like to see folks sprint on grass, artificial turf, or a track surface. Broken glass and hot coals would also be preferable to pavement (for the record, that was a joke, people; don't be that schmuck who goes out to try it).
6. Don't sprint through fatigue early on.
This is a "go by feel" kind of recommendation. On one hand, you have to sprint through some fatigue to get in the volume it takes to derive the training effects you want: namely, fat loss. However, we also have to appreciate that states of fatigue drive injury rates sky-high in the athletic world. With that trend in mind, I encourage people to run conservatively in the first few months of their sprint training programs; in other words, don't allow a lot of fatigue to accumulate. Instead, take a little extra time between sprints. Then, as your sprinting mechanics and fitness improves (and you've gotten rid of the initial soreness), you can push through some fatigue.
7. Generally speaking, sprint before your lower body strength training work, not after.
People often ask me when the best point in one's training split is to sprint. As a general rule of thumb, I prefer to have people sprint before they do their lower body strength training sessions. We might have athletes that will combine the two into one session (sprinting first, of course), but most fitness oriented sprinters would sprint the day or two prior to a lower body session. A training schedule I like to use for many athletes and non-athletes alike is:
Mo: Lower Body Strength Training (with athletes, we may do some sprint work before this as well)
Tu: Upper Body Strength Training
We: Sprint Work
Th: Lower Body Strength Training
Fr: Upper Body Strength Training
Sa: Sprint Work
In this case, the intensive lower body work is consolidated into three 24-36-hour blocks (Mo, We-Th, Sa).
Conversely, I've also met lifters who like to sprint at 70-80% effort the day after a lower body strength training session, as they feel like it helps with promoting recovery.
As you can tell, while there are definitely some tried and true strategies for avoiding injury when you undertake a sprinting program, there are also some areas that are open to a bit of interpretation. The value of incorporating sprinting into one's program is undeniable, though, so I'd encourage you to test the waters to see how it fits in with your strength and conditioning programs. At the very least, it'll give you some variety and help get you outdoors for some fresh air.
If you're looking for ideas on how to incorporate sprinting in a comprehensive strength and conditioning program, I'd encourage you to check out my latest resource, The High Performance Handbook.
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Here are some random tips from CP coach Greg Robins to help you improve health, get strong, lose fat, gain muscle, and move better.
1. Consider mixing protein powder with something other than water or milk.
I hardly ever recommend protein powder as the best choice for a quality protein source. However, a quality product (with minimal garbage thrown in the mix) is an easy way to get more protein into someone's diet. For some, a scoop with water or milk is fine; they even enjoy the taste. For others, myself included, the novelty of protein shakes has diminished greatly. Enter other viable options to mix in a scoop or two of your favorite protein supplement.
Option 1: Ice Coffee
This is a game changer. Adding a scoop of vanilla or chocolate protein powder to black coffee is a delicious alternative to milk, cream, and sugar. It not only tastes great, but also fuels your body and gives you a little boost. Furthermore, I find it to be a fantastic option for people looking to shed some weight. The protein powder will satiate you, while the caffeine can work to curb your appetite and stimulate your metabolism.
WARNING: don't try this with hot coffee. The protein powder will not mix well and tends to curdle at the top.
Option 2: Oatmeal
After you cook up a cup or two of raw oats, throw in a scoop or two of your favorite flavor. Make sure the protein goes in after the oatmeal is cooked, and before it cools down and solidifies.
Option 3: Plain Greek Yogurt
Greek yogurt is delicious on its own, but sometimes it needs some variety. I would much rather get some flavor from a scoop of protein than the sugar filled "fruit" you find at the bottom of most other varieties. One of my favorite concoctions looks like this: 1 cup of plain greek yogurt, 1 scoop of chocolate whey, 4tbsp of oat bran, 4tbsp of shredded coconut flakes. Mix it all together, place it in the fridge over night, and you’ve got a delicious breakfast or snack for the next day.
2. Keep things fresh to keep people motivated.
Last week, I touched upon the importance of sticking to exercise selections long enough for them to have value/transfer in a strength training program. That said, I have spent some quality time inside the walls of commercial gyms, and run a number of different boot camps. You have to keep it fresh, I GET IT! So, how does a coach or trainer get the best of both worlds? First and foremost, educate your clients. You don't need a fancy explanation; just give them a little insight. Show them the "why" that backs up the "how" that gets them the "what."
Look to your assistance exercises as the first place to add variety. Monitoring the progress in (most) assistance work is not as important as just doing it. With that in mind, this is the first place where exercises can be altered more often. There is no point in choosing variations without a purpose. Luckily there are a lot of different exercises that accomplish similar, or the same thing. Resources, such as this blog, are full of different ideas.
Likewise, coaches such as Ben BrunoandNick Tumminello have made it a point to offer up tons of innovative exercise variations, so check them out!
Lastly, "finishers" (circuit/medley training) at the end of a strength session is a logical place to add in something creative and fun. Keep the intensity high, the duration short, and mix it up. I know many people utilize these, so if you have a “go-to” option, please drop a comment below.
3. If you can’t do full push-ups, stop doing them on your knees.
The push up is a fantastic exercise. It will forever remain a staple for building the pecs, shoulders and triceps. However, let's not forget to appreciate its most redeeming quality: The push up is an ultimate test in torso stability, and the ability to coordinate movement around a stable midsection. While this function of the push up makes it such a great choice for gym goers, it also provides us the reason that push-ups from a kneeling stance will have little transfer to performing them on your feet. Instead, elevate the hands as necessary, and train the push up in the position you ultimately desire to do them from in the future. Doing so will not only help you to train the muscles responsible for pushing, but also those responsible for keeping the spine in a neutral position.
4. Get outside!
5. Remind parents and team coaches that gaining good weight is still a good thing!
Without fail, I will hear at least one young athlete each week ask one of our CP coaches if putting on weight will make them slower. We all know "speed" is what separates the good from the great, as the faster we can move, react, throw, etc., the better we’ll perform. We need to appreciate that speed is dependent on force, and stronger people have more force potential.
In a recent study, published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, investigators looked at the off-ice fitness profiles of elite female ice hockey players relative to team success. The study found that, "Athletes from countries with the best international records weighed more, yet had less body fat, had greater lower body muscular power and upper body strength, and higher aerobic capacity compared to their less successful counterparts."
To those of us in the field, this is obvious. As with many topics, we as strength coaches or trainers tend to forget the popular opinions of those less involved with what we do. Many parents and coaches still argue that "lighter" means faster, and muscle is "bulky”. Gaining 25lbs of muscle over the course of year will make a 16 year-old athlete who weighs 165lb. into a 190-lb., faster, bigger, stronger athlete. Moreover, 25lbs dispersed evenly over the frame of a 6' athlete will not transform him into the next Lou Ferrigno. Be mindful of this, and again, educate your clients, athletes, and parents!
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Since we work with quite a few young athletes, it’s the question I get a few times every week:
“Will you be doing speed training with my son/daughter? He/she needs to get faster.”
In my head, I am always thinking, “No, all our programs are geared toward making athletes slower. It’s really what we do best.”
Kidding aside, what comes out of my mouth is markedly different, as I have to explain how our training approach is going to be dictated by where that young athlete is developmentally – and each kid really is unique.
On one hand, you’ll have young athletes who have very poor mobility and stability – which equates to terrible body control. Sadly, this has become the majority of 13-16 year-old athletes in the U.S. today thanks to a tendency toward early sports specialization and excessive computer time.
Given the crazy ground reaction forces (roughly 4-6 times body weight on one leg in each stride; or 600-900lbs for a 150lb kid) an athlete experiences during sprinting, you could make the argument that taking these untrained, physically incapable kids and throwing them into aggressive sprinting and change-of-direction drills could actually be considered very dangerous. They simply don’t have the eccentric strength to decelerate this pounding, let alone create optimal subsequent concentric actions. These athletes need time to develop a good foundation of strength and mobility – upon which good landing mechanics can be taught later in shorter, simpler drills. Eventually, once they’ve developed some body control, they can make better use of true sprint training and agility work.
Or can they?
While these young athletes probably aren’t ready for being thrown into the fire in their training (closed-loop, or predictable, drills), what do they do outside of the gym? They participate year-round in sports (open-loop, unpredictable/chaotic).
This is like recognizing that the engine on your 1979 Pinto is a ticking time-bomb and bringing it in to a mechanic for an hour a week for an oil change – only to take it out and drive it in the Daytona 500…every other day. You’re swimming upstream.
So, the question becomes: do today’s “always in-season” high school athletes EVER get to the point that they really need much dedicated agility and sprint work? Based on the preceding few paragraphs, for some athletes, I’d say no; they don’t need much. Some foam rolling, a good dynamic warm-up, followed by some quick and to-the-point movement drills, and then solid resistance training should get the job done as long as they’re out there competing in their sports. This is one of the reasons I so wholeheartedly endorse Kelly Baggett’s approach in The Truth about Quickness; the reactive/movement work that he programs between warm-ups and strength exercises is to-the-point and effective – and doesn’t go so high in volume that it compromises one’s ability to get more out of the other areas of the program that may afford greater benefits.
On the other hand, while it is not a common circumstance nowadays, you do actually have advanced athletes (those with a decent foundation of strength) who may have periods of the year when they aren’t actively involved in organized sports. These athletes absolutely do need to train with specific sprinting and change of direction work during these “off” periods of the year. We generally program this work for days completely separate from lifting, although it can also be worked in between the warm-ups and resistance training components. It’s of vital importance to recognize that these athletes can only make the most of these inclusions because they’ve put in the leg work (no pun intended) to make these high-stress reactive drills really beneficial and safe.
You know what’s funny, though?
The athletes who get to this more advanced stage have already gotten faster – because along the way, they’ve learned to put more force into the ground, and have improved their ankle and hip mobility. They’ve become faster without ever spending much, if any, time at all on sprinting and agility drills. And, once they have that foundation of strength, these supplemental movement drills actually work a lot better.
It’s like a big circle. They build a foundation of strength, which helps them develop reactive ability. They train that reactive ability further, and it brings them further to the “absolute speed” end of the continuum. So, they lift heavier weights – which brings them back toward the center of that continuum, and, in turn, allows them to train reactive ability even harder because they’re running faster, jumping higher, and turning on a dime better than ever.
If you don’t understand what I mean, check this old video I did out:
The entry level kids I mentioned earlier aren’t even on a continuum. They are on the “exerciser/non-exerciser” seesaw. Make them regular exercisers and build up some strength, and they wind up starting on the absolute speed end of the continuum because all they’ve ever known is running around. They won’t run faster until you get ‘em strong and shift them over to the absolute strength end of the continuum – and that simply won’t happen if you’re just spending 90 minutes of each session with them running agility ladders and doing skipping drills.
Why then, if the amount of movement training needed is grossly overestimated, do we have so many coaches and facilities in this industry who spend hours per week on movement training? Very simply, money makes the world go round. In other words, you can “safely” train a lot more kids in large groups and make it less coaching-intensive on yourself if you just set up cones, hurdles, and agility ladders and tell them to go to town. Actually getting a kid strong takes more individualized cues and variety in exercise programming. And, because strength exercises are more high-risk/high-reward, they take more one-on-one coaching – which is tough to do when you have twenty 13-year-olds and only one coach. This is one reason why I have always said that I will never let our business model dictate our training model at Cressey Performance.
So, to wrap it all up: some kids need movement training, and some kids aren’t quite ready for it. And, 99% of the time – while it might fly in the face of logic – if the parent comments on how slow a kid is, just having that young athlete go out and run more is the least effective, most dangerous way to address the issue.
Today, we've got part 2 of a great guest blog series from Kelly Baggett. You can find Part 1 HERE.
In the first installment, I talked about several of the common problems athletes have that make them perform more like an oversized truck and less like greased lightning. In this installment, I’ll give you some solutions to those problems. Let’s get to it!
Problem #1: Bad Feet
Solution: Spend Some Time Training Barefoot.
One simple thing you can do for bad feet is spend a little bit of time each week training barefoot. Your body won't let you move in a rearfoot dominant posture when you're barefoot because it'll hurt too much.
As an experiment, try taking your shoes off and lightly jog a few steps down the street. You’ll probably find the ONLY way you can do it is to get up on your forefoot.
Also, pay attention to which muscles you "feel" the movement driven by when you run barefoot. I don’t recommend training on concrete regularly. but if you have access to a fairly soft surface (grass is ideal and most carpet works fine), don't hesitate to scrap the shoes for a while.
Here is a video that clearly shows the difference between running with shoes on and off.
The idea is to do enough barefoot training that your feet strengthen and begin to favor the barefoot posture even when wearing shoes. Even 20 minutes once a week on grass is helpful.
If barefoot training isn't an option you can always train in lighter footwear that helps mimick barefoot running. Shoes like Nike Free 5.0 or 7.0 and Vibram 5 fingers can be an option here.
Problem #2: Lack of Glute Dominance.
Solution: Really Focusing on Strengthening the Glutes!
In short, if you want glute dominance, you need to spend significant time strengthening the glutes. Try this experiment.
Go in the gym, warm-up and knock out a couple of sets of 10 paused manual reverse hyperextensions. If you don't have a dedicated machine, find a bench, hang a dumbell between your shins, and do a couple of sets of 10 reps with a slight pause at the top.
Now that you have a good glute pump, take a casual stroll and see if you notice any differences in how you're walking. You'll likely notice that your strides are longer and you’re better positioned to drive off the balls of your feet when you walk because your hips inherently want to extend more.
That's a good thing from a speed perspective! Strong glutes favor a longer, more efficient, and more powerful stride. They also keep you injury free.
Problem #3: Lack of End-Range Strength in the Psoas.
Solution: Get Strong at 90 Degrees Hip Flexion or Higher.
The key for a strong psoas (and proper knee lift in sports) is strengthening the muscles that lift your knee up to 90 degrees or higher. Here is an example of that and an exercise for that.
Being strong in 90 degrees-plus of hip flexion also helps ensure optimal femur control, or put simply: it ensures the muscles high on your hip are controlling your thigh bone.
Problem #4: Lack of Mobility in Key Muscle Groups.
Solution: Regularly Stretch/Mobilize the Quads, Hip Flexors, and Ankles.
Stretching the quads and rectus femoris turns off what are often tight and overactive muscles controlling the knee - and that promotes better hip dominant movement.
The psoas must be strong, as I talked about earlier, but it also must be mobile enough to not negatively impact posture. An excessively tight psoas will negatively impact gluteal recruitment. If you’ve ever looked closely at a picture of the psoas, you can see the majority of the muscle lies up above your hip joints in more of the deep abdominal region.
I’ve noticed many people are both weak and tight in the psoas. People that are really tight often have adhesions in the upper psoas. The upper psoas is hard to get to and in my experience requires a solid twist of the upper body to reach effectively.
When it’s dealt with effectively, it’s not uncommon to hear an audible “pop” in your lower ab region as the adhesions release, followed by an immediate ease in breathing and increased feeling of looseness in the hips.
Here is a good all-in-one stretch I recommend for the quads, rectus femoris, and the psoas:
And here is one for the ankles:
Most people should stretch daily and the more extensive your impairments the more frequently you should do so. I've had some people stretch for 20 seconds every hour of the day while others can get away with one short session per day. Many people can improve significantly simply by implementing proper mobility work for these muscles.
Problem #5: Lack of Strength and Power in Relevant Muscles
Solution: Give Resistance Training an Honest Effort.
To move like lightning, you have to be able to get lots of force into the ground - and that means you have to have strength in the right places. That means the hip extensors, knee extensors, and plantarflexors must be strong and powerful. How do you get them strong and powerful?
You must do some form of progressive resistance training. That means some type of squatting or lunging for the knee and hip extensors, and some type of toe press or plyometrics for the plantarflexors. You then must take that base of power and apply it into progressive sport-specific movements.
Fortunately, all the specific stuff is taken care of in The Truth About Quickness Insiders System. The important thing from a longer term perspective is that you or your athletes spend time developing a base of strength through common strength exercises like squats, Bulgarian split squats, lunges, and deadlifts.
That about covers it! Hopefully you’ve found this short list of problems and solutions beneficial in your training or coaching. Stay strong and good luck with it!
As you may already know, Kelly and Alex Maroko just released The Truth About Quickness Insiders System, a resource I highly recommend. This outstanding product will be on sale at a great introductory price ($40 off) only through this Thursday at midnight.
As promised, today, we've got a guest blog from Kelly Baggett, one of the brightest minds in the field of high performance training for athletes.
Today I’d like to talk a little about some of the common problems I see in athletes that prevent them from being as fast, quick, and explosive as they could be.
You need a good combination of optimal movement patterns and force. Movement patterns are affected by things like your posture, muscle balance, mobility, and coordination. Force is affected by your strength and power.
You can be strong with the ability to exert lots of force, but if your movement patterns are off you won't transfer that force efficiently, and thus won't move very fast and explosively.
You can have great movement patterns, but if you don't have force behind those movement patterns, you wont move very fast and explosively either - so the key is creating the balance. Now that I've talked about the type of problems, let's get to the problems themselves.
Problem #1: Bad Feet
For years, coaches in a multitude of sports have belabored the key, "Stay on your toes!" Although literally being on your toes is a bit of an exaggeration and is likely to lead to a trucked toe, staying on your toes really means you drive off the balls of your feet and less on your heels.
Watch many great athletes when they accelerate or sprint and their heels barely seem to hit the ground. This is without any conscious input on their part. Most people are rearfoot dominant, which means they carry too much weight on their heels when they walk, run, or move in general.
Moving more towards the mid and forefoot favors quicker, more efficient, less stressful movement, and also makes it easier to activate the powerful hip extensors, which have the capacity to really make you fly. If you want to be a good athlete, you need to get off your rearfoot and onto your mid and forefoot.
How do you do that? Well, unfortunately you’re unlikely to find much in the way of relevant scientific or laymen’s information specifically delving a great deal into this topic. That doesn’t change the fact that there are no shortage of gimmicks out there that promise this. There are even products like jumpsoles out there designed to make you move on the balls of your feet.
The problem is the verbal cues and training aids are relatively worthless because most people don't have the inherent muscular recruitment patterns and strength to move in this posture naturally. If you have to think about it or force yourself to move a certain way it's generally not gonna be very effective.
The key is optimizing your muscle development and movement patterns so your body inherently takes an "on the balls of the feet" posture without you having to voluntarily force yourself to get in that position. When that happens it'll feel natural and efficient. I’ll talk about how to do that in the next installment. Now let’s get on to some of the other problems.
Problem #2: Lack of Glute Dominance
When the hip extensors are strong, they tend to "want" to drive your movements a bit more than someone who's glute deficient. Generally speaking, walking, running, jumping, and most other athletic movements can be driven primarily either from the muscles acting on the hip or the muscles acting on the knee.
When referring to muscles that act primarily at the hip, I'm referring mainly to the glutes and psoas. Muscles that act more at the knee include the quads, rectus femoris, and tensor fascia lata. When movement is primarily generated from muscles acting higher on the hip, it promotes a more efficient and less stressful movement pattern.
When movement is primarily generated by the muscles acting on the knee, it tends to promote more rearfoot dominant movement as well as knee pain, hip pain, and a ton of other common problems. Guess which pattern fast and slow athletes favor, respectfully?
Have you ever noticed that really fast athletes often hardly even look like they’re trying? They’re quiet and effortless when they move. Slower athletes often sound like a bull when they move. Their feet SLAP the ground like a pancake and you can hear their tension a mile away.
A large reason for that discrepancy is one group is using their hips to drive their movements while the other group is using their knees. Knee dominant movement is typically inefficient, loud, and it often hurts. Hip dominant (glute driven) is quiet, fast, and smooth.
Problem #3: Lack of End-Range Strength in the Psoas
The psoas works in concert with the glutes to control the femur from the hip. A strong psoas promotes optimum hip and foot mechanics. Everyone has heard coaches yell, "High knees, high knees!!"
Some athletes inherently run with high knees while others barely lift their feet an inch off the ground. Those who don't do it naturally aren't really helped much by the cue. The psoas is the muscle responsible for raising your knee up to 90 degrees and above from a standing position.
When the psoas is weaker than the rectus femoris and tensor fascia latae you will have a more difficult time getting proper knee lift when you run, and also, due to the influence on the posture of your hips, also be succeptible to overuse injuries like IT band issues, knee pain, and plantar fasciitis.
Problem #4: Lack of Mobility in Key Muscle Groups
The quads, rectus femoris, ankles, and hip flexors often tend to be tight. This favors improper/faulty movement and prevents the optimum transfer of power through the lower kinetic chain. It also favors common injuries like patellar tendonitis or plantar fasciitis.
If you’ve had knee or foot pain, chances are you have at least one of these mobility impairments. Anyone that has considerably increased the muscular development of their thighs will have a tendency to lean towards having tight quads.
That's not to say that muscular development of the thighs is a bad thing by any means, but one must pay attention to mobility.
Problem #5: Lack of Strength/Power in Relevant Contributing Muscles
This is the simplest problem of all - and also the one that will arguably have the biggest impact of all. It encompasses the "force" part of the speed and quickness equation. The more force you exert against an object, the faster you can move that object. In the case of speed and quickness, the moveable object is your body and the object you're applying force to is the ground.
The problem is most people are too weak to be explosive and quick. I’ll give you all the information on how to address and fix that and the other problems in Part II of this article series - which will run tomorrow.
Tomorrow (Monday) at midnight, Kelly and Alex Maroko will be releasing The Truth About Quickness at a huge introductory discount. I've reviewed the product and can say without wavering that the information it contains is outstanding; this resource will make for an excellent addition to any coach or athlete's library. For more information, head over to their early-bird discount page HERE.