Youth Performance Testing Competition

THE 2016 SPEED ACADEMY COMBINE!

 

 

Agility Test

Flooded pitches!      

              

Cancelled matches!          

          

Cancelled training!

 

Would your season benefit from a boost of intensity?

The NFL Combine takes place every February to showcase all the up and coming talent in American Football. 

So, on 31st January, I’m organising The Speed Academy Combine in Horsforth!

Open to young athletes from all sports, it will be a series of sports specific tests to see who’s got it and who hasn’t. 

  • SPEED – 10m Sprint (electronically timed – the only way this can be timed)

  • AGILITY – Illinois Agility Test (again, electronically timed)

  • POWER – Standing Long Jump (reliable measure of explosiveness)

  • STRENGTH – Pull Up, Press Up and 1 Leg Squat (very reliable tests of strength to weight)

  • ENDURANCE – Yo-Yo Intermittent Recovery Test (more sport specific than the bleep test)

Train hard for each event and reinvigorate your season!

 

SUNDAY 31ST JAN 2:30PM

 

This unique event replicates many of the tests used by the very top professional academies in rugby, football and the EIS.

It is a massive opportunity for young sports people to work hard on certain universal sports skills and pit their abilities with friends, teammates and athletes from other sports.

This testing event will highlight where they are strong and what needs attention.

WINNERS?

Each test has a scoring structure, a bit like the decathlon in athletics. The athlete with the highest total in the 2 age categories (11-13 and 14-16) will receive 1 term FREE membership to Speed Academy (value up to £175) or a half day Speed Camp for their team (value up to £300).

There will also be on the spot prizes of training apparel for outstanding individual performances.

LOSERS?

There are no losers.

If you find that your athleticism is holding you back, then you’re in the right place. That’s what we do!

WHEN?         Sun 31st January 2016     2:30pm-5pm 

WHERE?      White Rose Crossfit, Lister Hill, Horsforth

WHO?           Male and females aged 11 to 16

HOW MUCH?     £10 –  £7 before 22nd Jan  

 

Maximum 30 Places!

 

SIGN UP HERE!

SPEED TRAINING TIP No2 – STEP BACK TO MOVE FASTER

STEP BACK TO MOVE FASTER

Explosive and reactive on field movements require immediate and efficient action, which is why the following statement is one of the biggest controversies in sports training.

Taking a step backwards will actually help you sprint forward—faster.

When some Australian scientists at Edith Cowan University had athletes use this “false step” technique to trigger a sprinting motion, the men covered five metres significantly quicker than when they took off by initially stepping forwards.

The Mechanics

In order for an athlete to initiate forward movement of the body, their driving foot needs to be behind their centre of gravity in order to maximize the first step.

There are two ways to achieve this:

  • allow your bodyweight to fall in front of the feet
  • rapidly and explosively step one foot backwards (plyo step)

It has been the eternal argument in speed and agility training. A few years ago,  this study, published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, appeared to shed some definitive light on the matter. [Read more…]

Are You Training Or Developing?

If you want your young players to fulfil their potential and get maximum enjoyment out of sport, you need a developmental system. 
  
Training for speed regardless of the sport, has to be developmental in nature.
  
With younger athletes (6 – 9 years old) training for speed is a matter of allowing them to explore various aspects of movement from a self-learning perspective. Remember that it’s not about trying to make them fast NOW. 

Think of lifetime performance potential as a pyramid. These early years are where the base is set. You will never have another chance to lay this foundation, so if you want to build high in the future, you’d better start broad.

As a Coach or Trainer, the objective is to create games, drills or situations that provide this broad-base of movement. The central nervous system is very plastic at this stage, so the more different situations and challenges you expose them to, the more ‘memories’ are created in the nervous system, thus providing a broader base from which to work. 

By limiting the stimulation of movements to one sport, you are narrowing the base of their foundation. Running, jumping, landing, skipping, hopping, crawling, balancing, reaching, throwing, catching, striking, pushing, pulling, bending, manipulating. It’s important that they are exposed to all these movements regularly in a challenging environment where they have to figure it out for themselves. Playing football all year round will lead to a very narrow base. You may have a very good junior player who may even get into an academy. But with such a narrow foundation, the height of the performance pyramid has been limited. 

The result is that many get frustrated and drop out of sport as they become less dominant figures. The ones that stick at it end up being injury prone. 
  
It is important to resist the urge to ‘over-teach’ or ‘make perfect’ the way youngsters are performing these skills. Babies go from lying on their backs to crawling then walking and running in a logical progression without any input from a coach. They’re very good at working things out for themselves. A coach’s role is to inspire in them the desire to learn.

Young nervous systems must be given the opportunity to learn through a trial and error process, what quality movement feels like. 
  
With pre-adolescent athletes, training efforts can become more teaching based. The focus will shift to honing movement habits and and putting into more complex scenarios. a strength component should be introduced here to facilitate the skill progression. This is important to understand. We are not trying to get really strong or build muscle. Pillar/core strength is of utmost importance to make skill progression a smooth process. It allows for better manipulation of their centre of mass (agility) and control over limbs.

Eventually as we reach 14-18 there will be more repetition of specific skills and they can be made much more sport specific. The ability to reproduce the skills under the pressure of higher speeds, loads and fatigue need to be introduced.
  
Do not be fooled into thinking that young athletes and more mature athletes can learn the skills associated with speed & agility in the same way. Programming must have a plan. 

There’s a reason they don’t teach Shakespear in Primary school. Speed and athletic development is no different.

Yours in speed

Rob

A Coach’s Number 1 Frustration

Coaching can provide some of the most rewarding moments in your life. Especially if you work with young athletes. But along with the rewards come the frustrations.

One of the most frustrating situations comes when your players are not able to carry out a skill or drill the way you have pictured in your mind. All your research says they should be ready for it, but in the session, 80% just don’t get it.

You’re stood in front of them thinking;

“How long do I carry on trying with this? Shall I just regress it now? No, I think they can do it.”

You walk them through it, and explain it fully, but as soon as any kind of tempo is added, their technique falls apart.

No matter how good a coach you are, no amount of great cueing will sort out a problem that’s rooted in movement ability. The only way to advance the players is to strip right back to fundamentals. That means removing the ball, taking out any competitive or reactionary element and breaking the movements down.

By breaking the movement patterns down to their constituent parts, you can isolate the problems. These issues can be worked on individually, then progressively re-integrated into the full movement pattern.

Let’s look at a simple football example. If you’re trying to coach an inside-outside dribble to beat a defensive player, you would make sure the players can adequately and consistently perform a turn with the outside of the foot, right?

But if you want the players to really perfect the skill so that it’s quick, balanced, reactive and undetectable, they need to be able to perform a perfect cutting action, or side step. Without the ball.

To perform an effective side step, they need to be able to achieve the following:

  • Adopt a low centre of gravity

    Ronaldo’s foundational movement skills make it easy for him to execute great skills.

  • Plant a flat foot (all studs, not toes)
  • Plant it outside the base of support perpendicular to the line of force
  • Drive the foot down and away with optimal force and direction
  • Create full extension of hip, knee, and ankle
  • Maintain posture to keep head up and transfer energy
  • 2nd step should be powerful and in the new direction (no good needing 2-3 steps to change direction).

Your players should be able to walk this through and describe this for you, let alone demonstrate proficiency. Only by knowing exactly how it should feel and what they’re aiming for can they analyse and self correct.

In order to carry this movement out effectively, the players need to have developed the following physical capabilities:

  • Ankle mobility – tight calve and stiff ankles will result in player being on toes. Less power and stability with high risk of knee, ankle sprain.
  • Great postural strength – torso collapsing results in energy loss and the head drops so eyes removed from game
  • Hip mobility – to fully extend without compensation while opposite hip drives in new direction.
  • Pelvic stability – for energy transfer and to prevent groin injuries
  • Single leg strength – to absorb and push off with no compensation
  • Proprioception and awareness – so can feel exactly where they are and what they’re doing. This way the athlete can make adjustments on the fly if needed.

In an ideal scenario, all young athletes should have developed these skills, but the reality is that most do no other activities other than their sport. That means it’s down to the sports coach to develop these areas of movement if the players are to progress and reach their potential. Hell, it’s not going to get any better sat at a desk in school or playing on the X-Box at home.

When players develop the foundational athleticism demanded by the sport first, coaching the skills is significantly easier. In this example, the players can perform a great side step, so all you have to do is introduce the ball and ask them to push it with the outside of the boot as they make the side step. Because they are balanced and strong on one leg, the application of a ball skill on top is a comfortable one.

When you break the movements down into their fundamentals you can clear up the issues, then re-integrate.

Doesn’t this just sound like whole-part-whole coaching?

I know what you’re going to say, who’s got the time to strip things back that far?  You’ve got 10 minutes per session to work on a movement pattern. You’ll be rehearsing the movements of the sport. Hitting the required positions, going through full range and gradually speeding up. Sounds like a specific warm up to me.

Except it’s not JUST a warm up. It actually makes them better athletes in the process.

Here’s a thought for you. What if, you had a strategy to develop the movement ability in the phase before you introduce the skill. It’s all down to how far ahead you plan your sessions. But in a progressive plan for juniors, you should be thinking long term, no?

If this all sounds like hard work, contact me. It’s what we do day in day out at Speed Academy. Maybe we can help you get the most out of your teams.

Yours in speed

Rob Gascoyne

Speed Coach

WHAT’S THE MOST IMPORTANT WORD IN SPEED TRAINING?

I was reading an article by an American sprints coach called Latif Thomas. And whereas I don’t coach track and field, what he said resonated with me. The main crux of this article was that there is one thread that runs through all our training. And without constantly referring back to that thread, those different areas of training become disparate and fail to transfer to improvements in speed.

I was going to rewrite the article with my own spin for multi directional speed training rather than just sprinting. But I think it’s better that Latif should take all the credit.

Besides, he says it much better. Even with the track focus, you can easily transfer the information to multi directional sports.
Take it away Latif:

“Our athletes will be faster when they develop this quality.
Our athletes will be more explosive and powerful when they develop this quality.
Our athletes will be on the board (instead of over and behind) and won’t trip over hurdles (or themselves) when they develop this quality.
Our athletes will consistently hit their times during tempo runs and race modeling sessions once they develop more of this quality.
So, if all I’ve said here is true, then what is the most important word in all of speed training?

Coordination.

Everything we do in practice is designed to improve the ability to express technique in order to positively influence performance. An athlete’s inability to express said technique simply boils down to lack of specific coordination.
Of course, I didn’t invent this concept. I heard Gary Winckler (coach to Alyson Felix, Olympic 200m champion – Rob) talk about it. Then I thought about it. Then I stole it. Now here we are.

Here’s an example. Last week I ran the exact same workout with two different athletes.

One was a 16 year old high schooler with a 200m PR of 26.1. The other was a 22 year old post collegiate with a 200m PR of 24.7.
The high schooler has been doing consistent technical work all summer and fall, going back and forth between me and another great sprints coach, Marc Mangiacotti.

In our last session, she looked incredible. Her bad runs are now vastly superior to what good runs looked like in June. She can break down her own technique before I say anything which, to me, is a sign of wildly improved kinesthetic awareness and skill acquisition. Her confidence is light years ahead of where it was 6 months ago. I’m very proud of her and can’t wait to see her reap the rewards of her hard work.

The post collegiate, on the other hand, comes from a (Division I) college program that did absolutely no technical work, no speed work and sent 200m specialists out for 30 minute runs on a routine basis even in the middle of the competitive phase. She came from a good high school program (cough, cough), so that’s roughly the last time this athlete had good technical instruction (a 25.02 HS PR vs 24.71 collegiate PR is not a comforting improvement over the course of 4 years at the D-1 level).

Needless to say, this athlete was some sort of Hot Mess. She could feel it wasn’t right.

It wasn’t lack of effort or focus. And it sure wasn’t lack of ability. It was pure lack of coordination.

She lacked (’lost’ might be a better word) the strength (coordination training under resistance), endurance (coordination training under event specific time constraints), speed (coordination training to express highest force in the least amount of time and resulting in optimal displacement) and mobility (coordination training to dynamically express forces through desired/required ranges of motion) to accelerate to top speed and maintain that velocity with any semblance of efficiency or consistency of execution.

Once she acquires the coordination that the high schooler currently possesses, I know one thing for sure, she won’t be grinding to dip under the times she ran when she was 16.

My point is pretty simple. If you want to run a 21st Century program, it’s not enough to just run fast in practice. As coaches we have to have our own process for solving the acceleration equation. And, just as importantly, we have to be able to help our athletes solve it themselves. Because we can’t cue them or engage in technical feedback once the gun goes off. Their success fundamentally depends on the ability to feel what is ‘right’ and what is ‘wrong’ and make corrections in real time, under the stress of competition and with 6-7 other athletes trying to beat them. Or with a crowd of people staring at them while they barrell down the runway.

It’s not enough to send kids into the weight room if you don’t have the same technical standards for a squat or clean as you do for coming out of blocks or doing phase work in the triple jump.

But if you reframe your training perspective with coordination being the ultimate goal and strength, speed, endurance and mobility being interdependent qualities, it will be easier to connect the dots between movements, event groups and specific skill development.”

OK, I’m back. Thanks Latif. Those Americans are good at self promotion aren’t they?

So what am I trying to get across with this?

Any body who has worked with me knows that I will not let poor technique go unchecked. In the weights room, it’s not just about shifting heavy loads. We want to understand what good movement feels like and how, when we have good movement, the force you can create is greater with more control and less stress.

In movement training, if we can hit the positions correctly, movement is much more fluid and effortless. What are the standout characteristics of the world’s best players? Fluid and Effortless. 

Fitness conditioning is about maintaining technique while resisting fatigue. 

By focussing on coordination you get a better understanding of what good a nd poor movement feels like. With this quality you can self correct. An essential ability to have once the whistle goes and there’s no coaching instructions to prompt you.

In your next practice, perform all your drills and exercises with this concept of ‘coordination as the ultimate goal’ in mind. It will be both liberating and overwhelming at the same time. Ask the coach how they want you to move. What should it look like? Get them to break the movement patterns down and demonstrate perfect technique (if they can). 

Slow it down, try different ways and see how they feel. Ask for coaching feedback. Only when you’re happy that you’ve mastered the technique should you then start to speed it up. If you haven’t learned something in your session, then it was pointless.

Yours in speed

Rob 

10 ACCELERATION TIPS FOR IMPROVING GAME SPEED

10 TIPS FOR FASTER ACCELERATION 

The ability to accelerate into space or away from defenders is a devastating skill to have. Instantly the opposition treat you differently because this kind of pace is hard to handle. 

Somebody with a high top end speed will just be marked closely and not allowed the space to get up to speed.

A player who can accelerate from a stand-still is much more of a handful. Get too close and they’ll leave you for dead. All they have to do is get you to commit one way and BANG they’re gone the other way. 

The key to rapid acceleration isn’t genetic (good genetics increase your potential but don’t guarantee good mechanics) it’s technique. I’m going to give you 10 ways you can begin to improve your acceleration now. If you improve 5% in each area imagine the difference that will make to your speed.

These are not in any particular order, but if you don’t do number 1, the rest will prove much more difficult if not impossible.

1. GET A MOVEMENT SCREEN
No, really. This is the most important thing you can do when approaching any kind of performance enhancement. 

The way you move is dictated by your history. 12yrs of sitting 5hrs a day at school takes it’s toll. As do any previous injuries, repetitive movements and poor coaching. There’s an underlying reason why you run the way you do.

Over the years, you’ve most likely developed various movement dysfunctions and/or asymmetries. Putting more force through a faulty mechanism will only lead to breakdown. 

Getting a movement screen will highlight anything that will cause you to compensate and move inefficiently. You can then correct these areas and it will be like taking your car in for a full service. All movements will be smoother, balanced and more efficient. The key attributes of speed.

Seek out a recommended strength and conditioning coach or sports physiotherapist who offer some kind of systematic movement screen. Ideally, I look for those certified in the Functional Movement Screen, or Kinetic Chain Assessment as they a robust systems providing reliable information.

2.  TAKE THE BRAKES OFF

So you’ve had your movement screen. It should have highlighted issues that are slowing you down. By applying a corrective programme you will mobilise areas that have become tight and activate muscles that were dormant. 

Do you think McClaren would send out a car that had a sloppy clutch, buckled wheel and warped brakes? 

Is it a good idea to increase engine power before dealing with these fundamental problems? 

To achieve an effective acceleration position you need sufficient mobility in the ankles, hips, rib cage and shoulders. To maintain those movements, you need to make sure there is good energy transfer from feet to hips and hips to shoulders.

Corrective exercise shouldn’t be viewed as injury prevention, it will actually vastly improve performance in itself. As well as allow greater power to be transferred through the system.

There’s no such thing as injury prevention work or prehab. Just good training. By improving the movement system, you move more easily with less resistance.

3. STRENGTHEN YOUR PILLAR

The core is a very ambiguous term. Most people tend to think of it as just the abdominal area. I prefer the term trunk to cover the whole area from the shoulder blades to the pelvis inclusive. Even better is the concept of the pillar I learned from Athletes Performance. This helps us envisage how we want it to operate – as a strong, sturdy support that all other strength is built around.

If every ounce of force you put through the ground is going to move you forward, then the pillar had better transfer that energy like a golf ball rather than a squash ball. All force is generated from and transferred through the pillar. So it had better be strong.

OK, when I say strong, I don’t mean cover model abs. Exercises where the trunk resists force rather than creates force are the order of the day here. Sit ups, crunches, side bends and like are exercises that flex the trunk. 

This will make you strongest in a flexed posture. This will lead to shoulder and neck tension when you run. It’s also a major cause of sports hernia. You want to avoid torso movement in sport, so that’s what you train for.

Exercises I use include various styles of crawling, single arm pushes and pulls, cable chops and lifts. You want to progress the exercise to finally perform them all in am upright, standing position. As you would be in your sport.

Sprinting places huge forces on the pillar in all directions. Deceleration and direction change even more. You cannot be too strong in this area.  

4. SINGLE LEG STRENGTH

Squats and deadlifts have their place, but the weakest link in acceleration tends to be the feet, hip and pelvic stabilisers. Applying force through one leg is very different to doing it through two. In your sport, how often are you on two feet?

Do a 2 footed jump as high as you can. Now do the same on one leg. Swap legs.

Was there a difference on one leg than two? 
How about the difference left to right?

Start practicing split squats and lateral squats TODAY! Perfect the technique with body weight only rather than add weight. Only add weight when you can still perform the exercise perfectly. If the hip or knee deviates, or you can’t relax your feet, regress the exercise.

5.  GET COMFORTABLE LEANING FORWARD

Many of the players I work with stand up vertical straight away when accelerating. This is the equivalent of attaching a parachute to your back. You can’t generate force from an upright position. 

Acceleration should feel like a perpetual fall. Your body will automatically rise as your speed increases. This does not mean look at the floor! You can’t see the game if you’re looking at the floor.

The causes of this problem are 1) Weak pillar (we’re dealing with that right?) or 2) fear of falling.

Use Wall Drills to get used to being in a leaning position:
Stand facing a wall at arms length with your hands on the wall at shoulder height.
Take 2 small steps back so you have about 50* lean.
Feet together.
Create a straight line head to heel, thighs and Glutes squeezed and chest lifted up through your biceps.
Now lift your right knee into a sprint position while keeping perfect alignment.
Push the wall away, do not lean on the wall!
Hold this position for 20secs the swap sides.

Sled or partner pushes allow you to get used to driving the ground away forcefully while keeping your acceleration lean.

Hill sprints bring the lean to you (see no. 7). Gradually reduce the incline as you get more accustomed to leaning.
 
6. DRIVE BACK AND DOWN

Many people reach forward and focus too much on driving their knees in front of them. Instead, focus on driving the knees back and down. Don’t worry about knee lift, that will just happen.

Drive the knees like pistons from the hips. Don’t be polite with this. The force created from hip to knee is the force that goes through the floor. The greater the force, the faster you move.

Pillar marches are a great tool for drilling in that knee drive and for firing up the Glutes and hamstrings prior to acceleration work. 

7. HILL SPRINTS

The benefit of hills is that they bring the angle of lean to you. Great if you don’t have the luxury of push sleds and harnesses.

A short sharp hill of about 10% will allow you to focus on the driving back and down in a leaning position. 

6-10 reps of 10-15m is ideal.
These are explosive so take 1-2min between sprints. This is technique work remember. Not fitness.

8. PUSH AS MUCH GROUND AWAY AS POSSIBLE

Fast feet does not equal fast acceleration. Tap dancers have fast feet, but they don’t get anywhere. We want force through the floor, lifting the foot off too soon will reduce force massively. 

Acceleration is the opposite of top end speed. You actually want to keep the foot on the ground as long as possible (as long as it’s pushing maximally).

All the time you’re pushing through the floor, you’re accelerating and the last 15 degrees of extension are the most powerful (which part of the squat are you strongest, the bottom or the top?). 

When driving out, think push, push, push. Try to make the stride as long as possible. But by pushing, not reaching.

9. WARM UP FOR SPEED

This sounds obvious, but your body must be fully ready to move fast through large ranges of movement. The warm up isn’t just about raiding body temperature. 

You need to ensure you have full range of motion, the sleepy muscles are activated, 
the muscles, nervous and energy systems are primed. It should flow seamlessly and take you from doing nothing to maximal performance without fatiguing.

Ours looks like this:
Soft Tissue Work (optimise tissue quality)
Active Isolated Stretching (remove the brakes)
Muscle Activation (fire up dormant muscles)
Dynamic Mobility (show the body the positions you require of it)
Integrated Movement (put it all together with rehearsal of good movement patterns)
CNS Stimulation (get nervous system up to speed)

10. WATCH THAT 2ND AND 3RD STEP

This is the one that pops you up. Trying to over stride or stopping yourself from falling will cause you to put your foot in front of your hips. The foot will land flat and put the brakes on instantly. You also run the risk of pulling a hammy doing this.

Focus on the knees driving like pistons and keep pushing the ground away. If it scares you, you got it right. You will feel no resistance and it may feel easy.

The key to remember about acceleration, If it feels slow, it’s usually fast.

Yours in speed

Rob

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.

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

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