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.
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.
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:
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…]
As far as young athletes are concerned, this is massive for them. It’s their New Year. A time for a clean slate and new beginnings.
Whatever their goal, making the school or representative team, last season is forgotten. Some kids come back from the summer holidays looking, sounding and moving completely differently. Like some one stuck them in a grow bag and fed them steroids for 6 weeks. With some, the transformation is huge. Others may appear to have been left behind.
In a time of new beginnings, there can be a tendency for coaches to introduce the new stuff they learned over the summer. Big mistake. That’s basing training on what THEY want rather than what their athletes need.
This is the perfect opportunity to strip things right back to basics.
Ensure the foundations are solid so that when you introduce the sexy new drills in later, it’s easier to coach.
Let’s step into the kid’s shoes for a minute, you’ve been given a new body that’s bigger, stronger and more powerful than the previous one. Chances are it’ll take a while to get the hang of it. Going back to basics is a chance for the coach to see where everyone is at and for the athletes to get to grips with their longer limbs. [Read more…]
I know there are many coaches out there that believe that you don’t need to screen athletes. Just seeing how the athletes deal with certain drills and exercises tells them all they need to know.
Well I apologise now, but I’m not that good.
Firstly, when you have a squad, it’s hard to objectively look at the specific movements of every member and glean all the information you need.
You may pick up that Jonny’s on his toes too much, or is posturally weak and struggles with stepping off his left foot. Or that Jenny’s knees collapse inwards when she jumps or changes direction.
Over the course of the first few weeks of preseason it becomes clear what each player can and can’t do.
How is that going to direct the programme?
Do you have a strategy to clear up the movement issues?
Or do you just hope that your programme and coaching skills are robust enough to develop them through it?
If you’re reading this then I’m sure you’ll already know that you can’t develop a skill if the players don’t have the required movement ability to execute it.
So this is a problem holding the team’s development back.
This is why I screen ALL my athletes.
Just so you’re clear, I’m not talking about a medical screen or genetic screen or anything like that. This is just a simple Movement Screen that highlights any basic movement dysfunctions.
After the first session, I now know what each player’s problems are. Not only do I know WHAT they can and can’t do, but more importantly I know WHY.
What does each individual athlete need to work on to get to where we want them? What do I need to include in the session?
Is it Movement Quality, Strength, Power, or Technical Skills related to their sport?
Without a good screening and testing procedure set up, how will I ever know?
Screening young athletes is a vital step in the training process. I take the time to do a movement screen (as well as the performance tests) with each and every athlete that joins one of my programmes. This directs what to work on during each training session and how each person can can get maximum benefit from the programme.
It’s my responsibility to enhance each athlete’s performance when they come to train with Speed Academy. After all…that’s what the parents are paying for, right? They’re paying me to help their child get more from their sport. Whether that’s to make them more competitive in a performance setting, or to get a more enjoyable experience from sport leading to a healthier relationship with exercise in adulthood.
Most athletes tend to spend a lot of time working on the technical skills of the sport. I think all NGBs now understand that technical proficiency is critical. But for every specific skill, there is a certain physical demand.
If the movement skills and athleticism aren’t there in the first place, then execution of a skill will be impossible no matter how good the coach is.
I had a lightbulb moment at an FA Sport Science Conference about 5yrs ago. Athletic development guru Kelvin Giles stated that
“you need the physical qualities in place to do the skills work, and the specific skills to do the tactical work, in that order.” Or something to that effect.
This struck a chord with me as it seemed at the time that many clubs and coaches were only really working on the skills and tactical side. So they’re just waiting to be given a great athlete so that they can turn them into a football or rugby player.
The problem here is that some kids move brilliantly at a young age, then grow a bit. This growth spurt causes them to lose control of their limbs and posture, start to move a bit like C3P0. Because of this, they have to adapt the way they move to account for the lack of stability and mobility. Many never recover from this as the new, less efficient movement patterns become engrained.
There are other young athletes that have the perfect attitude, co-ordination and awareness, but are physically easily dominated. These players are often missed and it’s too late when they catch up ini the late teens. The opportunity has gone. The potential was there, but completely overlooked.
Gray Cook a Physical Therapist from the States came up with the very simple Functional Movement Pyramid. This pyramid consists of three different blocks, or primary focuses, that need to be addressed to improve sporting performance and explains in a picture what I think Kelvin was saying..
Movement is the base of the pyramid and establishes a base for us to work from. Without good, clean efficient movement…performance will be decreased and injury rates are sure to increase. I have noticed over the years that in order to play at a high level, my athletes need to be able to squat, lunge, step, reach, push, pull, and crawl. I first recognised the effectiveness of this approach with my golfers.
For a long time I’ve worked closely with a very good golf coach called Mark Pinkett.
Early on in our relationship, Mark sent a young payer to me because he saw the value of athleticism in golf.
As always, the first thing I did was screen him. Now he might have been 16 and playing for England, but not knowing much about golf at the time, I just treated him like any other athlete and stayed true to what the screen was telling me.
I wanted to see him be able to master the basics of movement. So for the first 6-8 weeks we just focussed on specific mobility, stability and posture to enable him to perform basic movements such as squat, static lunge, push and pull.
After about 6weeks I got a phone call from Mark. His first words were “What the bloody hell have you been doing with Cameron?”
First thought that went through my head was “Sh*t! I’ve screwed up his swing by doing none specific stuff.”
“Just some foundation stuff, why?” Keeping my poker face.
“He’s hitting the ball miles, and I’m getting him to do things with his swing he couldn’t do before…”
We’ve worked together on a lot of players since then and we’ve never failed to get at least 25yds or dramatically improve consistency.
This experience with those golfers highlighted to me the importance of movement screening and creating the broadest foundation possible in the time I have with an athlete.
You can build a beautiful house on sand, but it won’t be long before it crumbles and you have to start again.
Using the Functional Movement Screen, I am able to screen each athlete and see what we need to work on. This sets up everything else and enhances performance.
Next, we want to attack the performance level. If they are moving well, this is where we will reinforce that good movement by loading it using resistance exercises. A good strength and conditioning program will help reinforce proper movement. Resistance training will basically tell the body we like what we see. If we like the movement, we want to load it. We want to tell the body this is good, so strengthen and reinforce this movement.
That’s why the base is so important. If we start to strength train on a poor base of support or movement, we’re going to reinforce faulty, inefficient movement. You will undoubtedly get some gains in performance, but what you have is an over-powered athlete. This is an injury waiting to happen. Imagine putting an F1 engine in a beat up Fiesta.
Fast yes. But it’s only a matter of time.
Clean up the movement first, and then move into some traditional strength and conditioning routines to build a stronger, more powerful athlete.
Finally, the top of the pyramid is the last thing we want to focus on. This stage is important, but building a solid athlete begins by working on building a foundation…A foundation based upon being strong and moving well. If the athlete is weak or moves like crap, there is no amount of skill work that will help enhance their game.
During the offseason, we focus primarily on the bottom two blocks of the pyramid. We want to build each athlete up by laying a foundation of good, efficient movement capacity. After we like what we see there, we start to reinforce that movement with strength and power work.
Finally, as the season gets a little closer, we will start to integrate more skill work in their programming. We may focus more on sprint, cutting, deceleration, reaction skills, and other technical skills related to being a good athlete.
However, we only focus on this phase if we have established a proper pyramid based on movement before performance and then performance before skill.
The short time it takes to run a good screen helps guide the development of a game plan for each athlete.
Whatever the scenario is, a good screen will help apply the best plan of attack in addressing the weaknesses of each athlete or the team as a whole. Taking the time to screen on the front end reaps huge benefits if the info found is used appropriately.
The football and rugby seasons are over. The best thing a young athlete can do to improve their football or rugby is to do no football or rugby.
Yes, that’s right NONE.
Their body needs a break from the repetitive movements of the sport which can lead to overuse injuries in growing bodies – as an aside, if your child has had a none contact injury then this is paramount as it should never happen.
The summer is an opportunity for them to move up to the next level. Do you think that will happen if they keep doing the same thing? Would you want your school to ONLY teach Maths or English in the hope to make the kids fantastic at those subjects alone? Young bodies as well as young brains need to be challenged. They also need variety to prevent burnout, both mental, physical and emotional.
All the top sports stars are great all round athletes. Look at Michael Jordan who had a dabble with baseball, Roger Federer who’s quite handy at football (as is Andy Murray), Gary Lineker had to choose between football and cricket.
When the focus is purely on one sport, the athletic foundation of that child will be narrow. Meaning the height of possible performance will be reduced. Challenges are few. With fewer challenges, they will not be able to fulfill their potential.
On the other hand, if that child were challenged on areas of weakness or different movement patterns, they will return to the sport a stronger, more capable athlete. More than that though, their attitude to their chosen sport will be enhanced for the break.
Tennis and other racket sports challenge the upper body in ways that football and rugby can’t. Working on striking movements, hand eye co-ordination, lateral footwork, torso strength and linking upper and lower body.
Cricket involves powerful throwing actions and again, striking. Track and field offers a world of opportunity to get faster and stronger. All these summer sports truly complement the winter ones.
On top of this, climbing trees, swinging on ropes and just free play will improve strength, balance and body awareness.
Summer. Use this time well and you’ll really see a forward leap next season.
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
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:
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:
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
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:
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.