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

 

 

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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