IS YOU WARM UP LEAVING YOU SLOW?

The job of the warm up is to turn you from a sedentary being (usually having just stepped out of a car) and turn you into a high performance animal. No mean feat!

Before we go into what needs to be achieved in a warm up, we’ll tackle what is being carried out by most teams across the country. Traditionally, warm ups for sport and training have contained the 2 following components:

  1. General warm up – to raise body temperature
  2. Static stretching  – to increase muscle length

Let’s look at them individually.

1.  The general warm up usually consists of a 10-15min jog round the pitch. In the gym it might be carried out on a bike/rower/treadmill, whatever is handy or the athlete likes. No real thought goes into that then.

Now, there’s actually very little wrong with the jog as a general rule. The desired outcome of raising the body’s internal temperature is effectively achieved. However, it doesn’t achieve anything else in preparation for the movement and energy system demands to come. It’s not a particularly effective use of the first 10-15% of your session.

2.  Static stretching sends the signal to the central nervous system to “shut this tightness off”. This causes the body to relax ad release the muscles. In so doing, neural activity is reduced for up to 2hrs and studies have shown strength and power to be reduced by between 5 and 30%. This is not ideal preparation for explosive movement. Post workout? Absolutely, as it normalises tissue length, calms the nervous system and restores structural balance.

This tends to last about 20mins before going into a more specific part of the warm up. Rather than setting you up for optimal performance, it leaves you with diminished power and strength potential for a length of time that will last the whole session. Plus it’s all a bit, well, sedentary really and absolutely nothing has resembled the movements you’re about to ask of your body.

Finally, do you find that you have to switch your mind from warm up mode to game/training mode? Yes? Then it doesn’t challenge or stimulate you enough to get your mind focussed. SO you are neither mentally or physically ready for performance. Remember, you are what you repeatedly do. If you are regularly training at less than optimal intensity/speed, then that’s all you can expect come match day.

So what CAN be achieved in a 20min warm up? Firstly, The name “warm up” implies that it does just that. Warm you up. What we really want to do is to prepare the body for the specific movements to follow in the session.

 

MOVEMENT PREPARATION

An efficient, systematic and purposeful approach used to prepare the individual for the specific demands of the day’s training sessions or competition.

Prior to Movement Preparation, all athletes at Speed Academy have undergone 7-10mins of Pillar Preparation involving soft tissue work, active stretching and muscle activation techniques focusing on identified dysfunctions, limitations and weaknesses. In a team setting it is the individual’s responsibility to carry this out prior to going out on to the pitch.

Then we move on to Movement Prep

There are 4 components of Movement Prep:

1)      Glute Activation

2)      Dynamic Flexibility

3)      Movement Skills Integration

4)      Neural Activation

 

GLUTE ACTIVATION

A massive problem with many athletes is that their glutes are often “shut off” through poor posture and repeated or lengthy sitting. The gluteal or bum muscles are the power source for the legs and are vital for multi-directional speed. We also know from our physiotherapy friends, that weak or inactive glutes lead to a variety of soft tissue problems such as hamstring and groin strains as well as further down the chain to chronic and acute knee injuries.

We use various types of mini-band walks to fire up the glutes while moving in a sporting position. Muscle activation in movement is dictated by proprioceptive feedback and movement intent. It should be reactive and automatic. Just squeezing the muscle doesn’t carry over to movement, just as firing a muscle from a prone position on the floor will not activate the muscle to work while in a standing position.. The muscle firing patterns when lying on the floor is very different to standing. Gravity can be such a pain sometimes.

Exercise Examples:

  • Lateral Walks in Athletic Base Position (band round knees or ankles)
  • Hip External Rotation in Athletic Base Position (band round knees)

 

DYNAMIC FLEXIBILITY

Here we move actively through various movement patterns specific to the training demands of the day. This provides us with active elongation of the muscles and active mobility of the joints. Any range of movement improvement is usable because it is task specific.

These exercises or movements are a rehearsal of the fundamental movement patterns and sequencing relative to the work to be done. If you don’t perform them well, on the field, movement will be poor.

Examples:

  • Lateral Squats
  • Lateral Lunge
  • Drop Lunge

 

MOVEMENT INTEGRATION

This now builds on the movement pattern efficiency where we progressively increase the force and velocity. We also progress from simple movement patterns to complex movement skills (depending on skill level of the athlete). Here we are looking for complete mastery of movement skills apparent in the training programme.

Examples:

  • Lateral Pillar March
  • Lateral Pillar Skip

 

NEURAL ACTIVATION

We are now almost ready to start. If the tempo was right, athletes should be breathing heavily, sweating and feeling like they’re already mid-workout. Now we put the cherry on the top to optimise performance. We need to prime the nervous system to work at optimal speed. We want very quick, short bursts of controlled movement.

Rapid jumps from an athletic position or 2” runs work well here. Bursts last about 3 seconds only. Long enough to fire up, short enough to prevent fatigue.

Examples:

  • Rapid Response Hip Turns
  • Rapid Response 2” Run

 

WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF WARMING UP THIS WAY?

  • Gradually increases core temperature; this helps with

  1. blood flow
  2. tissue elasticity
  3. range of motion
  • Muscle Activation

  1. Improves body awareness and control
  2. Improves self correction
  3. Decreases injury potential via better mechanics
  • Actively elongates muscle –  strengthening and lengthening

  • Creates Integrated Stability through

  1. Engaging key stabilisers of the trunk in multi-joint movement
  2. Decreases energy leaks – improved power transfer
  • Engrains Good Movement Patterns

  1. Repetitive ritual
  2. Unloaded so none fatiguing
  3. Covers all planes of motion through full range
  4. Provides coaching opportunities to focus on quality and set tone for session
  • Nervous System Activation

  1. Sharpens nervous system and prepares to respond quickly
  2. Elasticity (reactivity)
  3. Challenges dynamic mobility and stability

 

The time spent on movement prep should depend on the needs and ability of the athlete along with the needs of training today. There should be 2-4 exercises in each phase, depending on the needs of the athlete and the demands of the session, lasting anything from 10-25mins.

You should now be ready to go into your plyometric drills, specific movement skills work or pre-match drills.

 

Olympic Legacy – Are We Just Chancing It?

Early Sport Specific Training Allied To An Otherwise Sedentary Lifestyle Is Leading To Chronic Injury And Unfulfilled Potential In Our Young Athletes.

 

The next generation of sports stars may have been inspired by the amazing performances at the Olympics, but long periods of sitting and the health and safety police mean they stand no chance in the world of elite and professional sport.

 

This is compounded by early sport specialisation that is being promoted by sporting governing bodies to ensure that the best athletes aren’t lost to other sports. Repetitive movements lead to asymmetries, inhibited movement ability and pattern overload leading to chronic muscular/joint conditions.

 

Despite the fact that success in football and rugby is heavily reliant on athleticism, very little emphasis is placed in the coaching curriculum on developing good mechanics in acceleration, deceleration, changes of direction and athletic body positioning. While lip service is paid to Istvan Balyi’s recommendations on Long Term Athlete Development, how many coaches out there has the skill and knowledge to be able to correct a player who is off balance when decelerating? It’s not the coach’s fault. He can probably see the problem, but no amount of cueing will get a body to hit a position that it doesn’t have the physical capabilities for.

 

What does the coach do? Shout the cues louder? Accept that the kid is not going to make it?

 

Relying on “natural talent” coming through will provide an ever decreasing pool in years to come.

 

In previous generations, schools and sports clubs didn’t need to teach these qualities because they were  developed through general play. However thanks to the health and safety police, along with the fear of expensive law suits, climbing trees, jumping off high walls, British Bulldog, playground skipping and evasion games have become, in the main, extinct.

 

Our children have replaced running, jumping, throwing, dodging, landing, cycling, pushing and pulling with sitting, slouched over a pc or x-box.

 

When they aren’t doing this, they are playing or training for their chosen sport. The training at sports clubs tends to be focussed more on doing things more or faster than doing it better. So movement quality always gets compromised. Supplementing training with going to the gym and doing single plane, muscle based workouts, or going for a long run will only exacerbate the problem.

 

It seems the coaching federations have been a bit slow to respond to this change in youth lifestyle. They were probably wasting time looking at what the successful countries a doing. Do you think Spain, Brazil, Australia and New Zealand have an outdoor play problem?

 

Recognising Long Term Athlete Development (LTAD) and testing for physical competencies is a start, but it’s not widespread enough and the lack of experience, knowledge and coach training in this area means that its implementation is average at best. Don’t get me wrong. This is neither the coaches’ nor clubs’ fault. I’m a believer in coaching only what you’re good at and doing it very well.

 

*****

After working with and testing many young football and rugby players coming through professional academies, I recognised a trend. They were not physically prepared to cope with the requirements of top level professional sport.

 

I don’t mean they weren’t strong or fit enough. That’s easy to rectify. No, they were mechanically poor.  And this takes a lot more time and dedication to reverse, as well as being far more dangerous. Imagine Lewis Hamilton going out in the next Grands Prix driving your car, but with an F1 Engine. How long do you think the tyres, brakes, clutch, suspension, chassis would handle it? How competitive do you think he’d be?

 

I set up Speed Academy to bridge this gap in LTAD and provide young athletes with the athletic foundation required to succeed in professional sport.

 

Most people are not slow because of their genes. They’re slow because their co-ordination is compromised. Why? That’s where a good assessment comes in, but in most cases, co-ordination is something you lose rather than gain. Look at any 5yr old run, squat, jump and land. By the time we leave school, our movements are a product of what we repeatedly do. If we are not doing all the movements I described earlier, we lose that ability.

Very rarely in training will a football or rugby player sink into a full deceleration position. Most of the time it will be a rushed and abbreviated movement. Then, when required in a game situation, the movement isn’t strong enough. So a compensation is made.

 

The period from 14-18yrs is a time of high speed growth. Limb lengths grow at a different rate to the muscles and tendons. This leads to co-ordination, strength and flexibility issues. This is also the time when there is a pressure to be bigger, stronger, faster. Loading up faulty or compromised movement patterns will compound the poor movement.

 

Training at this age must be very movement quality focussed. Strength, speed and power improvements will come as a consequence of this. You can’t rush strength and size gains at this stage. The hormones in the body will control this. If you maintain co-ordination and movement quality through this period, the player/athlete that comes out of the other end of this hormonal cyclone will be awesome.

 

At the end of August, I’ll be running a 1 day Speed Camp to give aspiring future champions an insight into what is possible. They’ll discover areas where they can improve their athleticism. But most importantly, they’ll learn HOW.

 

At the Future Champions Speed Clinic, attendees will learn how to:

 

  • Warm up for optimal performance
  • Optimal athletic stance for reactive movement and strength
  • Accelerate quickly and efficiently
  • Decelerate rapidly while keeping your eyes on the game
  • Change direction with balance and control
  • The first step tricks used by the quickest players

All this will take place outdoors on a 3G surface at La Liga Soccer Centre in Thornbury.

All attendees will receive a free Speed Academy T-shirt, supplemental speed training handout and a £50 voucher for Speed Academy.

Who is it for?

Anybody playing a multi-directional field or court sport aged 14-18 who want to get an edge on the competition.

Date: Thu 30th August

Time: 9:30-4:30 

Venue: La Liga Soccer Centre, Thornbury, Bradford

Only 20 Places available

 

You can learn more and register here

 

 

Rapid Acceleration – It’s In The Detail

Acceleration is the holy grail of most multi directional sports. If you can burst through tackles or accelerate yourself out of trouble, it’s a priceless tool to have. If you’re slow off the mark, it doesn’t matter if you have amazing skill, you’ll rarely get the chance to show it because it’s so difficult to find space.

You accelerate out of a direction change. First step quickness is only useful if you continue to accelerate away. Deceleration doesn’t just stop at a standstill, you accelerate back out. This is why I always work on acceleration first in any training programme.

The goal of acceleration is to sustain a balanced posture while optimising the direction and magnitude of force in an effort to reach maximal velocity as fast and efficiently as possible.

There are three things we work on when improving acceleration:
Posture
Leg Action
Arm Action

When you break things down this way, the training becomes logical and you don’t just spend all your time doing starts and trying to make them faster. We all know that doesn’t work.

POSTURE
Your trunk needs to be strong enough to remain still while the arms and legs are driving it maximally in all directions. We need to train the pillar (core) to resist movement. So sit ups, side bends and Russian twists are of little if no use.

In order to keep the pillar still, we also need to improve hip and shoulder range of motion. if the hip lacks extension 2 things will happen, you will have a shorter stride length (we’ll discuss this later), and/or your body will make up for the discrepancy by extending the lower back. This results in slower acceleration and painful/tight lower backs and hamstrings.

If the shoulder lacks range of motion, the compromise comes fro the upper back, causing restricted lung capacity, collapsed posture and excessive rotation of the upper body.

We work on these deficiencies with daily prehab and again as part of the warm up. The warm up is vital to this. You need to prepare the body for what it is about to do. Every body is different, so needs preparing differently.

If the pillar has been worked on in an isolated fashion, it needs to be integrated into the required movement patterns otherwise it’s a lot of good work with no benefits.

At Spped Academy I like to use Pillar Marching and Skipping to focus on posture while the limbs are driving hard and Wall Drills to get the body used to the correct body position and force direction.

LEG ACTION
this is where some people get it (the fast ones) and some people don’t (the slow ones). The beauty is, as soon as the ones who didn’t get it, do get it, they are no longer the slow ones.

Te leg action really comes from a mindset. Your mind is telling your body to get from A to B. quickly as possible, so you begin to reach forward, both with the arms and the legs. This is what is called over-striding and actually causes a braking effect. so how do you take those brakes off and start to accelerate to your potential?

Focus on driving the knees back and down. Think about pushing the ground away behind you. The harder you push, the faster you’ll accelerate. If you focus on driving the knees, the force will come from the hips (Glutes). These are your power source. Think about power rather than quickness. Don’t try to rush side frequency. That will increase naturally as your body accelerates. Quick feet is not a part of acceleration.

Our Pillar Marches help your mind focus on the knee action while keeping posture still. Hill sprints of about 15m bring the angle to you while you are getting used to the Wall Drill. At Speed Academy we also use a push sled (not pull) to integrate the leg drive with body position.

Once you have developed your plyometrics programme, bounding exercises are excellent to work on that powerful back and down knee drive.

We always finish off with 4-6 x 10m sprints to put it all together.

ARM ACTION

Your arms will not make you faster – but they will make you slower if they are not efficient and in sync with your legs. What I mean by this is, don’t waste too much time on the arms unless they are holding you back.

The main mistake here is the same as with the legs. Most often athletes reach forward and focus too much on the hands, when what we want is to drive the elbows back to create a blocking effect for the leg action. This is where shoulder range is important. With the elbow now driving back, look to snap the hand back and down. Imagine you are flinging spaghetti at the wall behind you.

Without great posture the arms a of little active use. posture allows the shoulder blades to drop down into their rightfully place. Weak posture causes the shoulders to rise. 

 PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER

This is how an acceleration session looks at Speed Academy.

Pillar Preparation 10mins – 
Foam Rolling 
Active Isolated Stretching
Muscle Activation

Movement Prep 10-15mins – 

Band Walks 
Dynamic Mobility (focusing on the requirements of acceleration) 
Movement Integration (pillar marching/skipping)
CNS Activation (rapid response jumps/hops/runs)

Movement Skills 30mins – 
Wall Drills (e.g. posture holds)
Prowler March
10-15m Hill Sprints 
Lean, Fall, Run

I will work on one specific movement skill 2-3x a week for at least a 4wk block to allow the movement patterns to be learned, grooved and then applied to the sporting situation. You can’t expect the skill to hold up in a reactive, chaotic situation like sport unless it has been mastered in isolation first. 

The next block might be first step quickness. This begins the integration of your acceleration skills into realtime play.

Pre-Season Training – There IS Another Way

Pre-Season – There is another way

 

The sun has finally come out. It’s pushing 30º in some places. That can only mean one thing. Football coaches across the land are flogging their players in pre-season training.

 

Is this through scientific knowledge of the human physiology and how it adapts to stimulus?

 

Or is it because that’s the way it’s always been done?

 

I was talking to a local rugby coach last night after their training session and he said that numbers were low tonight.

 

And the reason?

 

Players hate the first few sessions of pre-season. You’re going to be run til you’re sick. Technique doesn’t matter because the ball is rarely involved so just run til you drop.

 

Who the hell wants to go to that? Those that do turn up, go in with a survival mentality.

 

There are several problems with this approach to pre-season.

  1. Turn out is low because players don’t like humiliation.
  2. This sadistic style undermines player confidence and self belief
  3. Taking players into such fatigue that technique and form are hugely compromised is one of the key factors that lead to injury.
  4. Pre-season has the highest injury rate of any other period in the year. By a huge margin. See 3.
  5. Fitness is very specific. High volume = Low intensity. If this is how you want to play then fine, but as soon as you increase the intensity and speed your body won’t be accustomed to it so you will still struggle to recover.
  6. Hard pitches and high temperatures are awful conditions for lots of high volume running.

 

So what’s the feasible option?

 

The short to long system.

 

Work on perfecting the basic technical skills and get used to the desired match intensity. Once match intensity is established, increase the volume and decrease the recovery until we reach match conditions.

 

Here’s why this works better:

  1. Get much better turn out because they don’t associate it with pain. It constantly feeds their confidence and self belief.
  2. Technical work and high intensity work requires longer pauses for coaching and recovery. Ideal for the summer weather conditions. In theUKwe have such a small window for this. In winter months, everything has to be short recoveries to stay warm.
  3. Intended match intensity is established early doors and regularly practiced.
  4. The body gets used to working at very high speed and high intensity. You don’t have to ask for more, just progress the volume and recoveries.
  5. You can’t endure what you haven’t got. Train speed first, then speed endurance. Strength first, then strength endurance. Power first… you get the picture.
  6. Practice makes permanent. You practice slow, guess what you’re going to get? So practice fast.
  7. It’s easy to know when to stop and monitor progression. When technical proficiency deteriorates or intensity falls below required level – STOP. Time recoveries and watch for improvements.
  8. You are constantly building confidence and players are used to feeling sharp. Pre-season should culminate in a massive session to boost mental toughness and ability to endure. But because you have instilled technical proficiency and intensity, breakdown is less likely to occur so injury risk is much lower.

 

IN summary, do what you’ve always done and you’ll get what you always got. Maybe it’s time to put some thought into the physical preparation side of pre-season. Because of our weather conditions in theUKit makes a lot of sense and I believe this type of reverse periodisation will become very popular in the not too distant future. I know several other top coaches already applying it.

 

So, get ahead of the pack and try this approach. I’ve been using it for a couple of years with my clients. If you want to try it and don’t know where to start, leave a comment here or on the Facebook page and I’ll be more than happy to help out.

 

Yours in speed

 

Rob

Why You Should Never Chase 2 Rabbits

I’m based at Edge Gym in Leeds. It’s so far removed from your average chain gym, I prefer not to call it a gym. It’s a performance facility. Because of this, we get a lot of athletes from various sports and of varying abilities.

Now, when you ask most guys in the gym “what are you working on today?” you’ll most often get “back and bi’s today” or “chest and tri’s”. On the odd rare occasion you might even get “legs and shoulders.” These are the classic body building split routines. Great at preparing for a body building competition and helping you move like a cheap toy robot, no good for sport.

But (most of) our guys are a bit more up to date than that. However, last week I asked this question to one of our full time rugby players. Here’s his answer.

“A bit of SAQ and then some power work.” 

This guy’s really into his training to improve his rugby and on the face of it, his response is a step in the right direction from the body building routines. Or is it?

At least the guys with the bodybuilding style routines know what they’re trying to achieve. They want to make their back and biceps hurt like crazy. And if they can feel the burn in the right places then it’s goal achieved for the evening. 

But SAQ? What does that really mean? 
What are you trying to achieve from that session? 
How do you know if it’s been successful?

You can’t train speed, agility and quickness at the same time. They are different qualities. My good friend Tom Little proved that with his PhD study on professional footballers. 

Not only that, but you can’t just train speed OR agility either. There are too many different skills and situations involved. Accelerating from different positions, decelerating, open steps, cross over steps, plyo steps, hip turns, body position, posture, fakes, the list is endless. 

If there are 2 rabbits in a field, you can’t chase them both. But if you just aim for one and lock on to your target with laser-like focus, you’ve a much better chance of success.

You won’t get faster by training SAQ. Instead, spend a month to 6wks focussing on one or two sport specific speed skills 2-3 times per week. That way you can incorporate the physical requirements into your gym and warm up routines, as well as in your game situations. By the end of the month you should have noticeably improved your side step and acceleration away from the side step. 

By noticeably I mean other people will be able to notice.

Yours in Speed

Rob Gascoyne

Football – It’s All In The Hips (part 1)

I was working with a tennis player this week who has a chronic groin problem. His lack of hip mobility means that, in order to make the shots he wants to, he has to compensate through his spine.

Ideally, his legs and footwork should get him to the shot, keeping perfect posture throughout the stroke. This perfect posture will keep his head still through the shot and enable him to see his opponents movements in his peripheral vision. Not only this, always having great postural alignment gives a consistent, repeatable technique that has optimal transfer of power from hips into the racket.

The tightness he has in his groin means he can’t sink his hips low enough to hit low volleys, half volleys and ground strokes correctly. To make up the deficit, he has to bend at the spine. This gets him close enough to play the shot.

The ramifications for this are huge. As his spine bends, the torso rotates differently which means his hands have to compensate and reach to make contact. In effect he’s inventing a new shot every time. Power is lost in the shot, and because his centre of gravity has shifted further towards the edge of his base of support, he is not as quick to recover. What’s most significant though is that, as his spine flexes and one shoulder drops, his head has moved with them and they are no longer level. This makes hand eye co-ordination less accurate and as he follows the ball, he loses sight of the other side of the court, and hence his opponent’s movements.

What the he’ll has any of this got to do with football?

It's nothing new. He knew what he was doing back in 1974

A change of direction in football – with or without the ball – poses the same problem. If you’re moving relatively quickly, you have to sink the hips to decelerate and change direction. Top players  will maintain an upright posture while doing this (Zinedine Zidane was fantastic at this so no excuses for you big guys).

This sinking of the hips means that you can keep a straight torso. This small difference allows you to keep your eye on the flow of the game while changing direction and losing your marker. Once the cutting movement is complete, because you’ve had your eyes on the game throughout the move, you”ve created the space needed and slot that incisive pass or drive into the available space.

Let’s now assume you have poor core strength and hip mobility. As you sink to change direction, your spine flexes and your head drops. Eyes are on the floor at this point. Not by choice but by physical necessity. As they slowly drag themselves out of the cut (trust me, you ARE slow if you aren’t dropping your centre of gravity low enough) you lift your head to look for your pass. For the next .2-.5 of a second your eyes are trying to catch up with the game. Then you find your man and start to make the pass. Too late, you need to push it again to create yourself a bit more space and the game moves on.

Without postural (pillar) strength and the necessary hip mobility you will always be playing 1-2secs behind the top players. Glass half empty

Work on your pillar strength and hip mobility and you will be able to play at a much higher standard than you currently are. Without feeling rushed.  Glass half full!

Don’t be silent. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

Yours in speed

Rob

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