Home Posts tagged "agility ladder drills"

What Happened to “Global” Athleticism?

Back in my high school sports career, I was much more quick than I was fast. Actually, I wasn't fast at all.

Apparently, the combination of not eating great and not having any organized strength and conditioning programming doesn't exactly do wonders for building speed that cripples your competition. So, regardless of the sport in question, I was left to fall back on my skills for any success I had.

Looking back, though, it fascinates me that I was actually still pretty quick, and it was readily apparent. In the sports I played - soccer and tennis in high school - I was a much better indoor soccer player (smaller field = more change of direction) and doubles player (cut the court in half = more change of direction). When the field of play opened up and top, straight-ahead speed mattered, I didn't show as well.

In hindsight, I still think it's intriguing that I was still able to develop a strong proficiency in change of direction work without any specific quickness or agility training. I didn't see an agility ladder until I was well into my 20s, and only time we ran "shuttles" in practice was for punishment, not developing quickness.

What I did do, though, is play every single kind of sport possible: soccer, tennis, baseball, basketball, football, ultimate frisbee, wiffle ball, street hockey, dodgeball, volleyball, you name it. I grew up next to a church, and it had a large grass parking lot that was only used a few hours each week - and the rest of the time, it was a field for all the kids in our neighborhood to play pick-up anything and everything. In high school, some buddies and I even started a weekend rugby pick-up game even though we had no idea how to play rugby. I was the kid who was soaked with sweat at the end of gym class and I wore it like a badge of honor.

Before I drift off into an Uncle Rico moment, let's talk about what this means for you.

Kids don't do this anymore. I don't want to sounds like an old man complaining about how generations have changed, but there isn't the same kind of day to day free play that previous generations have had. Moreover, even the athletes who do have a daily "training" stimulus of some sort have less variety in that stimulus. Instead of playing touch football on Sunday, wiffle ball on Monday, volleyball on Tuesday, basketball on Wednesday, etc., they just play soccer every day for the entire year. This obviously has injury and burnout ramifications, but even beyond that, it reduces the likelihood that these athletes will "accidentally" develop athletic qualities like I did. Variety served me well, even if it wasn't intentional. 

Earlier this week, Cressey Sports Performance coach John O'Neil and I carved out some time to discuss speed and agility progressions for our offseason baseball programming, and we touched in this point in some detail. If athletes have a "global athleticism" foundation like I did, they can probably thrive on just 2-3 days per week of true speed, agility, and quickness work as part of their strength and conditioning program.  However, since we're losing out on this variety at the youth levels now, we have to make a more dedicated effort to getting it with our training. In the past, we could assume some baseline of "reactive ability" and just initially focus on getting them strong (and don't get me wrong; that is still the most important thing).

Nowadays, however, the untrained, specialized kids need to do something "athletic" every day. They need to skip, hop, jump, and throw medicine balls every single time they come to the gym. It's not enough to take the "Just get them strong!" mentality.

[bctt tweet="Kids must train power daily now since they don't have free play like previous generations did."]

And if you're going to program more "global athleticism" - speed, agility, quickness - work, you better understand how to coach it. To this end, there is no better resource on this front than Lee Taft's Certified Speed and Agility Coach course. It's on sale for $150 off through the end of the week, so I'd definitely encourage you to check it out at this great discount.

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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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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 4/17/14

Here's this week's list of recommended strength and conditioning reading:

The Power of Habit - I actually started reading this yesterday while I was waiting around at jury duty, and it was so entertaining that I covered just under 100 pages in a very short amount of time.  I'm excited to finish it, and you'll definitely enjoy it if you're someone who likes to look at the "brain stuff" that impacts our habits and decisions.  It's super affordable on Amazon, too; you can get a Kindle edition for $7.99, and an actual book for $10.12.

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The Speed Ladder Fallacy - Dean Somerset expands on a topic I've covered in the past, and does a great job with it.

P90X and Muscle Confusion: The Truth - Charles Staley hits on this controversial topic from all angles.

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Dean Somerset Interviews Me – Part 2

This is the second half of an interview I did for Dean Somerset's website.  In case you missed part 1, you can check it out HERE. DS: What are the best supplements for the money, in your opinion? EC: For most folks, fish oil, vitamin D, a decent low-carb protein powder, creatine, and a greens supplement (I prefer Athletic Greens) will get the job done.  I’d add in probiotics for many people as well.  The longer I’m in this field, the more of a minimalist I become. DS: There are a lot of misconceptions and misinterpretations on core strength and core training out there. Some say you have to lay perfectly still and think happy thoughts while flexing your belly button, while other say you need to use stability balls to get anything, and other say heavy stuff on your shoulders does the trick. Also, the definition of where the core is and what it does seems to be either incomplete, or somewhat lacking in common sense, as most of the anatomical diagrams will show the core as a hollow vessel, and eliminate the internal organs from the picture. What do you consider to be important in the anatomy of the core, and what would be your go-to core training exercises? EC: I tend to fall in the camp that it encompasses just about the entire body.  We can all agree that the hamstrings probably deserve a place in the role of the core, since they attach to the pelvis via the ischial tuberosity and sacrotuberous ligament, right?

Well, those same hamstrings attach below the knee on both the tibia and fibula.  They share a function (knee flexion) with the gastrocnemius, clearly are in close “fascial proximity,” and have neural innervations from the same origin at the lumbar spine (sciatic nerve).  The gastrocnemious attaches on the calcaneus – so we’ve established “hip to foot” relationships of the “core.” Add latissimus dorsi to the picture.  It attaches to the iliac crest, thoracolumbar fascia, thoracic spine, ribs, scapula, and humerus.  That would be a “hip to arm” connection, right?

Add in the trapezius, which runs from as far down as T12 to the base of the skull, and you can argue that you’ve got a “hip to head” relationship, too.

We’ll just train it with crunches, though, right??? I don’t think it’s as simple as just memorizing the anatomy of the muscles surrounding the lumbar spine; it’s about understanding the complex, functional relationship among all the muscles and their tendons, the ligaments, the fascia, the nerves, and the bony structures to which they attach.  Things are more complex than we try to make them – which is probably why a lot of people have chronic back pain that goes misdiagnosed and mistreated. While much of the industry has gone to the “don’t move the lumbar spine” end of the continuum, it’s really not that black and white.  It – like any other body segment – should have some movement.  The problem just becomes when we add load to that movement.  And, more specifically, things get dangerous when we add load to the end range of that movement.  Going into full lumbar flexion with an 800-pound deadlift isn’t going to make your intervertebral discs very happy, and not controlling violent extension and rotation during an athletic movement like swinging or throwing could very well leave you with a stress fracture, oblique strain, or spondylolisthesis at some point. That said, there should be movement during daily activities; otherwise, we wouldn’t be able to tie our shoes, and my puppy wouldn’t be able to lick his unmentionables for twenty minutes every night before he falls asleep.  When we start adding resistance, crazy velocity, and high volumes to the equation, though, we change the game.

To that end, I’ll continue to train anti-rotation and anti-extension exercises in the gym because the favorable outcomes we’ve seen with this approach have been tremendous.  If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it. DS: Chewing tobacco: help or hindrance?? EC: I’m probably not the best one to ask.  I dipped once when I was about 18 and booted a few minutes later – and then felt miserably for about four hours afterward.  It wasn’t one of my finer moments. DS: I had a client who I was training for hockey a few years ago, and he forgot to go to the washroom for what I like to call a "pre-game." During the middle of his heavy squats, while I was spotting him, he, well for a lack of better term, he "released," and had to go change his shorts. Any training blooper highlight moments from CP? EC: Honestly, there are too many to list!  Most of them take place when our pro baseball guys are just shooting the breeze in the office.  Throw in a British golfer, pro boxer, or Ironman competitor, and you get enough people from different walks of life to make any conversation memorable and absolutely hilarious.  To that end, we actually have a quote book in the office; it’s got dozens of pages of stupid things that have been said over the past three years or so. DS: Who is the bigger prankster, you or Tony? EC: I’m not sure that I’d say that either of us are huge pranksters, but Tony is definitely the brunt of a lot more jokes at CP.  We always joke that every 2-3 months, we have a “Tony Moment” where he learns about something and is absolutely blown away to find out that we had already known about it for months. That said, the CP jester is definitely our pitching coordinator, Matt Blake, as some of these videos show:

DS: You have a lot of people looking up to you and aspiring to hit the level of professional success that you've been able to attain in a relatively short period of time. Who do you look up to so that you're continuously motivated to push and achieve more? EC:  That is a tough question to answer because my goal has never been to “be” someone else.  If I was to blindly follow someone else’s steps, it wouldn’t be the career I had in mind.  So, I feel like if you are going to be successful in what you do, there has to be some degree of innate motivation in you. That said, I look to a lot of people for inspiration. My father owns his own business and that had a more profound impact on me than you could possibly imagine as I opened my own facility.  Without even knowing it, he taught me that your business problems are your own and that you never make them anyone else’s problems.  And, give your employees autonomy, and as long as you’ve picked the right people, they won’t let you down. My mother is a high school teacher and administrator – and is pretty much the Mother Teresa of my hometown.  Over the years, I’ve watched on numerous occasions as she has fed some of her students who couldn’t afford to eat.  I’ve gone to the grocery store with her countless times – and it always takes an extra hour or so because she runs into so many grateful parents and students she’s dealt with over the years.  She established the first International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum in the state of Maine at her school.  She didn’t have to do any of this; it wasn’t mandated by her salary, and it certainly isn’t something a lot of other teachers do.  She taught me that your job has to fulfill you in some way far more significant than money, and that good will never runs out. My grandparents were married for over 60 years before my grandfather passed away this fall.  They taught me that family comes first – and my wife and I have had many talks about how they educated us on how a marriage should work. In the industry, there are quite a few people I look to for advice.  Alwyn Cosgrove has taught me a ton about how to run a business.  Mike Robertson has been a guy with whom I’ve collaborated a lot – and we’ve both gotten better in the process.  I look to guys like Bill Hartman and Charlie Weingroff as very bright individuals who simply enjoy learning for the sake of learning – and that’s something I enjoy. Pat Rigsby is a guy who has shown me more about how to balance all of life’s demands – from family time to various business endeavors. I could go on and on, but the point is that I draw inspiration from a lot of sources – both intrinsic and extrinsic. DS: You've stated that for baseball player, olympic lifting and vertical jumping aren't really necessary as the sport doesn't require it. Most trainers gave you hell, but you stood your ground and proved them all wrong. What other concepts have you brought to the table that have helped re-form many common misconceptions about training and sports development? EC:  It’s funny; right after I published that piece at T-nation about how power is “plane-specific,” I got an email from a researcher who was studying the exact same thing – and finding preliminary data that completely verified what I’d said.  Sometimes, research is out there to validate what we’re already doing. Whether I’ve made people changed their thought processes or not, a few things I’ve tried to bring to the forefront are: 1. The Difference Between Inefficiency and Pathology – We’ve always been taught that if an x-ray or MRI tells us that we’re structurally out of whack, then we’re screwed.  The truth is that all of us – even when we’re asymptomatic – have structural issues on diagnostic imaging.  The people who are in pain are the ones who don’t move efficiently on top of these structural flaws.  I see this every day with the pitching shoulders that come through my door; I assume that they’re all “broken” and that we are just managing them to avoid them hitting a painful threshold.

2. The Concept of Long-Term Athletic Development Beginning with Strength – This is an area where I’ve tried to lead by example with our training model at Cressey Performance.  I’m not interested in running a group of 20 14-year-olds through a bunch of agility ladders.  If we want the best long term results and safety, our #1 job in a youth population is to improve strength.  Sure, they run faster, jump higher, and throw harder – but they also decelerate better and change directions more efficiently.  You can run all the "quickness drills" that you want with a young population, but the truth is that you’ll never improve speed or agility unless you teach them to put more force in to the ground.  It’s like polishing the hub cabs on a car with no horsepower; you’re studying for the wrong test. Unfortunately, there are a lot of facilities out there that are just about finding a training model that allows one to run a ton of kids through the same program without much concern for the actual benefits to be gained (or lack thereof).  I’m not interested in babysitting. 3. The Differences Between Flexibility and Mobility – This was a key portion of my contribution to the recently released IYCA High School Strength Coach Certification. Mobility refers to the ability to reach certain positions, whereas flexibility refers to just one factor (joint range of motion) that affects that ability.  Mobility is also dependent on stability, the foundation for which is neuromuscular recruitment.  When we test flexibility, we’re talking about isolated testing of relaxed muscles/tendons.  To be blunt, we’re ignoring the nervous system.

Mobility encompasses multiple joints and therefore likely involves fascial contributions to movement, whereas flexibility may only involve 1-2 joints and may therefore minimize the impact of fascia on an assessment. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we can easily assess mobility in a general sense – but determining the cause of limitations is more challenging.  Flexibility, too, is a quick assessment – but correcting the limitation discovered doesn’t guarantee that movement quality will improve. 4. The belief that there is always something you can do to get better, regardless of injury – I’ve never been a fan of doctors and physical therapists telling injured patients to “just rest.”  First off, rest alone is rarely the answer.  Just as importantly, though, this recommendation ignores the fact that there are endocrine, immune, functional, psychological, and social benefits that are still to be derived from exercising.  When I’m working with clients who are injured, I feel that it’s my job to show them what they can do and not just what they can’t do.  And, there is always something you can do to maintain a training effect. 5. Weighted baseballs might actually be safer than traditional 5oz baseballs – and at the very least, they can be a beneficial training addition. This article sums it up quite well, so I won’t reinvent the wheel.  A lot of people can’t believe it when I saw that we used weighted balls, but the results have been nothing short of fantastic. These are just the few things that came to mind right off the top of my head.  I’d like to think that there are more! 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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