Written on September 25, 2017 at 6:27 pm, by Eric Cressey
As a kid, I was a big fan of “The Flintstones.” I loved how Fred and Barney could run so fast. I can remember when they were chased by a Sabretooth Tiger; it was amazing how they could escape so quickly. Hmm, maybe there is something to that…
Fast forward to 2017, I still love speed. But now, I actually study it. I continually ask myself the question; “Why were humans given the ability to have speed and quickness?” This question has taken me down a road not many speed coaches travel. Many of these coaches like the traditional route of current methods of training. That’s cool, and in most cases, proves to be quite successful. But…
What if coaches would investigate more down the road of our human history? What if they allowed themselves to be vulnerable to the ways of how we escaped or attacked for survival? How would they think differently about speed?
What if we asked the question, “Why were we given the ability to have speed and quickness?” What can we learn when we venture down that path?
Here are a few of my thoughts:
1. Survival drives us through channels not so easily understood from a Central Nervous System (CNS) standpoint. We have to bow down to the subconscious effort that makes us move quickly on instinct or reflex. This is harder to understand, so we try to ignore it as a viable option for speed training.
2. Playing competitive sports actually taps into our CNS – or should I go deeper and say our “sympathetic nervous system?” This is where our heightened awareness of our surroundings kicks in. If I am caught in a rundown in baseball – or going to be tackled in football, or being chased during soccer i- it takes us to a level of effort we don’t commonly experience in our daily lives.
3. Our body kicks into what we call fight or flight: the survival mode. This occurs all the time during sports competition. It drives us to make incredible speedy plays. It forces us to react in such a way that our feet move quicker than our conscious mind can drive them. This is where I want to concentrate on for the rest of this article. I want to share with you strategies to make you faster!
Repositioning is a term I use to relate to how an athlete moves his or her feet quickly into a more effective angle to either accelerate or decelerate the body. Terms I have used to describe repositioning are:
Plyo Step: The plyo step is an action that occurs when one foot is repositioned behind, to the side, or at any angle behind the body. This act quickly drives the body in a new direction of travel.
Hip Turn: This is basically the same as the plyo step except the athlete turns and accelerate back away from the direction they were facing. Repositioning occurs to find an angle to push the body in that direction.
Directional Step: Think base-stealing. The athlete will face sideways but turn and run. The front foot opens to be in a greater supportive position to push down and back during acceleration steps.
The goal is to get into acceleration posture as quickly as possible to make a play when one of these repositioning steps occur.
A great drill to work on repositioning is what I call “Ball Drops.”
a. Simply have a partner or coach stand 10-15 feet away from the athlete with a tennis ball held out at shoulder height.
b. The athlete is in an athletic parallel stance facing the coach, turned sideways, or back facing- depending on the drill.
c. The coach will drop the ball and the athlete must accelerate to catch the ball before the 2nd bounce. I encourage the coach to use the command “Go” at the exact time of the drop to help when vision is not an option.
The action you will see 99.9% of the time is a repositioning or a hip turn or plyo step (the directional step is the act of preparing the front leg for push off; it angles in the direction of travel). Perform this drill facing forwards for four reps, sideways for four reps, and backwards for four reps (2 to each side for the side-facing and back-facing). Perform this drill 2-3x per week to tap into the “fight or flight” response.
Reactive Shuffle or Crossover
In this drill, the focus is on reacting to either a partner (like a mirror drill) or the coaches signal to go right or left.
a. The athlete gets in a great defensive stance and prepares to explode to her right or left.
b. The coach will quickly point in either direction.
c. The athlete will create quick force into the ground in the opposite direction of travel. Typically, there will be a repositioning step unless the athlete starts in a wide stance where outward pressure is effective in the current stance.
d. As soon as the athlete shuffles one to two times, he will shuffle back.
e. The same drill is repeated, but now using a crossover step.
Perform 3-4 sets of ten seconds of both the shuffle and crossover drill. Allow 40-60s of recovery between bouts.
Crossover with Directional Step
Hip Turn to Crossover
The final skill I want to write about might be one of the most important “survival” speed skills an athlete can have. It falls under the “retreating” set of skills where the athlete moves back away from the direction they are initially facing.
The hip turn can allow an athlete to escape or attack. The critical features are:
1. The athlete must “stay in the tunnel.” Do not rise up and down; stay level.
2. By staying level, the immediate repositioning that takes place allows for a great push off angle to move the body in a new direction.
3. The athlete should attempt to create length and cover distance quickly. Short choppy steps are not effective when in “survival mode.” GET MOVING!
4. In the snapshots below, the athlete is performing a hip turn based on the coaches command or signal. The athlete will perform a hip turn and either a shuffle, crossover, or run – and then recover back to the start position as soon as possible!
Perform 3-4 sets of 7-10s of work. If quickness/speed is the goal we want to do it in short bursts of time and not long duration where speed in compromised. Recover for roughly 45 seconds and repeat.
Now, I know it sounds kind of crazy to be talking about survival, cavemen, and “fight or flight” when we are referring to speed, but we have to always look at the genesis of all things. Animals that don’t have reactive speed have other ways to protect themselves. Humans have intelligence and the ability to escape or attack using systems derived out of our CNS to help us use our speed. Our job as coaches is to tap into this ability and use it to help our athletes “naturally” move fast!
The crack of a baseball blasted over the fence; the whack of a golf ball blasted off the tee; the sound of lacrosse pads smashing against each other. These are all signs spring is in the air, and with it, spring training for many of our children.
Are you ready? Are you physically ready for the season? Not just ready to run sprints on the first day of practice, but strong enough to complete day-in and day-out for the next 3 months.
We’re encouraging our student-athletes to follow their training guidelines, eat healthy meals and drink plenty of fluids, and most importantly, listen to their bodies. Minor aches and pains from training and activating those dormant muscles are normal, but prolonged pain that causes difficulties with your training regimen is not and may be a sign of injury.
More than 2.6 million children are treated in the emergency department each year for sports and recreation-related injuries.
Sadly, many of these injuries can be prevented through proper training, which MUST include muscle prep activities such as foam rolling and stretching.
Athletes must listen to their body as spring training gets underway and see your healthcare professional when those minor aches persist. There are so many treatment options as basic as the use of ice packs and cold compresses to myofascial release which will improve your injury recovery.
These are a couple steps to stay healthy during spring training and through the season:
- Get a physical. Ask your primary care physician to give you a physical exam. He or she can then clear you for participation in your sport.
- Seek support. Your school has athletic trainers, use them. They can guide your training efforts and help you safely prepare your body for your sport.
- Protect yourself. Use the correct protective gear for your sport – helmets, knee and elbow pads, goggles, ankle braces, etc. Make sure your protective gear fits, is worn correctly and is in good condition.
- Practice your form. This can prevent many sports-related injuries resulting from improper swings, kicks, throws and other sports mechanics.
- Make sure you hydrate. Prevent dehydration by drinking lots of fluids, preferably water. Sports drinks are OK, too.
- Get enough rest. Your muscles need some time off to heal and ultimately help you get stronger. Plus, resting prevents your muscles from becoming overused which can lead to injury.
- Take care of your head. All concussions are serious. They can lead to a host of problems including, but not limited to, nausea and vomiting, headache, mood swings, altered sleep patterns and more.
Spring training brings with it renewed championship hopes and dreams. Do your part to make sure you perform your best this season without having to experience an avoidable injury.
If you are looking to take your game to the next level and stay strong all season long…… K2 is the place to be!
Please call me if you have any questions and / or concerns. I look forward to hearing from you.
908-803-8019 (Call or Text)
By: Coach Lee Taft
Exercise #1 Medicine Ball Side Throw Progression:
A. Standing side throw– The athlete will face sideways to the wall in an athletic stance with the ball at chest height and elbows out. (stand roughly 10-12 feet away depending on the bounce of the ball)
- Using the backside leg to drive the hips forward and taking a small step toward the wall with the lead leg…
- Explosively drive the ball, keeping the back elbow up so the shoulder doesn’t get injured, into the wall.
- The focus of the exercise isn’t so much on throwing, it is on understanding being in the best stance to drive the off the back leg like a lateral shuffle.
- If the athlete is too narrow in stance or standing too tall the power production will be limited.
- This exercise needs to be done on both sides
B. Forward shuffle side throw– The athlete will back away from the wall roughly 6-8 feet further. The exercise will be performed the same as the standing side throw but the emphasis changes to lateral speed:
- The athlete will shuffle one to two times staying in a good stance and then driving off the back foot and transferring the speed into the throw.
- The athlete must use the back foot to push down and away to generate more speed on the throw.
- If the athlete does not have a good athletic stance (foundation) they will not generate enough force to gain benefits.
C. Backward shuffle side throw– Same exercise but now the athlete will shuffle away from the wall. Start the athlete only 6-8 feet from the wall.
- The athlete will shuffle aggressively one to two times away from the wall and plant aggressively to throw the ball.
- This is the most important exercise of all to reinforce the athletic stance and the importance of plant leg angles.
- If the plant leg of the back leg is too narrow when attempting to stop the throw will be weak.
- The athlete wants to still get forward movement when throwing. I like to do 2-4 sets of 3-5 reps on each side. The exercise has to be intense. The wt of the ball, experience of the athlete, and skill level determines the sets and reps.
This is the stationary version of the Side Medicine Ball Throw. The forward shuffle throw and backward shuffle throw would still get the athlete back to this position. The backward throw crucial for teaching deceleration angles. If the plant is poorly done the throw will show it. Great feedback drill.
Excerise #2 One arm One leg tubing row
This is a great speed exercise because it focuses on both deceleration (which is what most quick athlete do better than other athletes in athletic speed) and acceleration.
a. The initial position is having the athlete squat/bend on one leg and resist the pulling action of the tubing. The decelerators are kicked on.
b. Then the athlete quickly stands and pulls on the tubing while driving the knee up. This recruits the accelerators.
c. The extra benefits of the this exercise is the balance and stability ttraining.
We normally do 2-4 sets of 5-8 reps per side. Slow down into the squat/bend and explosive up.
Exercise #3 Reactive Shuffles and Crossovers
In this shot the athlete is ready to react and shuffle or crossover in the direction the coach points. This is a real live setting for athletes to develop their skill and for coaches to use great feedback.
a. The athlete will get into a loaded athletic stance and be prepared to shuffle or crossover (already determined by the coach) and react to the coaches point.
b. This type of exercise is great for athletic speed development because the athlete must randomly react. The athlete will use his or her innate abilities. If a mistake is made the coach can easily correct and have the athlete reproduce a better pattern for many reps.
I normally will do 2-3 sets of 3-5 reps. The athlete will react out to the cone and get back as quick as possible for one rep. Because I am after speed I will allow decent rest so the athlete isn’t completely pooped out.
Exercise #4 Resisted power skips
I like resisted power skips for speed because it increases force production and extension of the hips.
a. The athlete must learn to drive hard to move the resistance of the tubing yet maintain good posture for acceleration.
b. The athlete will learn to coordinate the arms and the legs during this exercise. It isn’t easy at first.
c. The biggest benefit is that more muscle fiber gets recruited when attempting to power skip. This is the goal to generate more acceleration speed.
I like to perform 3-6 reps for 20 meters. This is enough distance to get enough quality push offs yet not too far to get overly fatigued and change mechanics.
Exercise #5 Pure acceleration starts
To increase the mechanics and efficiency of accelerating from various starts you must practice them.
a. I will use falling starts, get ups, box starts, parallel stance starts, and many other variations so I can coach the athlete on the proper technique.
b. The goal is to be consistent with leg and arm action as well as acceleration posture.
c. If the athlete has breaks in his or her form they can be addressed quickly.
I like doing 2-3 different stances and 3-4 reps of each. Plenty of time is available to teach the form well.
Exercise #6 Cutting skills
Teaching cutting is a great way to improve the efficiency of the athlete in athletic speed. Most court and field sport requires so much in regards to change of direction it is important to address it.
a. The first thing I want my athlete to understand about cutting is the reactive nature of it. There is not enough time to think about the cut. Just do what comes natural and we can correct mistakes if they present themselves
b. The athlete must learn to make the cut by re-directing the cutting foot outside the width of the body that meets the angle they cut will be made at. I do not want the athlete to purposely drop low with the hips if the cut must be quick and not real sharp.
c. If the cut is sharp and the athlete must come back then the hips may lower slightly but only enough to control the center of mass.
d. The key to cutting is to create separation if an offensive player and to close the gap if a defender. The better body position you have and foot placement the better the results
I like to do 3-6 reps of 2-3 different variations of cutting:
a. Speed cuts
b. Sharp cuts
c. Rehearsed cuts
d. Random cuts
e. Jump stop cuts
f. Spin cuts
Yours in Speed,