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Youth Athletic Training

How Survival Instincts Drive Speed Development

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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

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.

Shuffle

Partner Mirror

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!

Are You Ready For Spring Sports

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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.

are-you-ready

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.

As always, K2 is here to help you get ready for the spring season!!  You can check out our schedule  at http://www.k2strength.com/schedule.html.

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.

Kevin Haag
908-803-8019 (Call or Text)

 

Foam Rolling for Athletes

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by Michael Boyle, MS, ATC

anna-on-roller
Anna working on spine mobility

A decade ago, strength coaches and athletic trainers would have looked quizzically at a 36-inch long cylindrical piece of foam and wondered, “What is that for?” Today, nearly every athletic training room and most strength and conditioning facilities contain an array of foam rollers of different lengths and consistencies.

What happened to bring foam rollers into prominence? The change has been in our attitude toward massage therapy. We have been slowly moving away from an injury care mode of isokinetics and electronics to more European-inspired processes that focus on hands-on soft tissue care. We now realize that techniques like massage, Muscle Activation (MAT), and Active Release Therapy (ART) can work wonders for sore or injured athlete.

In addition, the understanding at the elite athlete level is: If you want to stay healthy, get a good manual therapist in your corner. Thus, athletes at all levels are starting to ask for some form of soft tissue care.

What does all this have to do with foam rollers? As coaches and athletic trainers watched elite-level athletes experience success from various soft tissue techniques, the obvious question arose: How can I make massage available to large groups of athletes at a reasonable cost? Enter the foam roller.

National Academy of Sports Medicine (www.nasm.org) President Michael Clark, DPT, MS, PT, NASM-PES, is credited by many-this author included-with exposing the sports medicine community to the foam roller. In one of Clark’s early manuals, he included a few photos of self-myofascial release using a foam roller. The technique illustrated was simple and self-explanatory: Get a foam roller and use your bodyweight to apply pressure to sore spots.

Since then, many of us have discovered more uses for foam rollers, including injury prevention and performance enhancement. We’ve also moved away from the accupressure concept and now use them more for self-massage. And we’ve come up with specific protocols for different situations.

Essentially, foam rollers are the poor man’s massage therapist. They provide soft tissue work to the masses in any setting. But you need to know their nuances to get the most out of them.

What, How & When

A foam roller is simply a cylindrical piece of extruded hard-celled foam. Think swimming pool noodles, but a little more dense and larger in diameter. They usually come in one-foot or three-foot lengths. I find the three-foot model works better, but it obviously takes up more space.

They are also now available in a number of densities from relatively soft foam (slightly harder than a pool noodle), to newer high-density rollers that feel much more solid. The denser the athlete, the more dense the roller should be. Large, heavily-muscled athletes will do better with a very high density roller whereas a smaller, younger athlete should begin with a less dense product.

The application techniques are simple. Clarke’s initial recommendation was based on an accupressure concept, in which pressure is placed on specific surfaces of the body. Athletes were instructed to use the roller to apply pressure to sensitive areas in their muscles-sometimes called trigger points, knots, or areas of increased muscle density. The idea was to allow athletes to apply pressure to injury-prone areas themselves.

The use of foam rollers has progressed in many circles from an accupressure approach to self-massage, which I’ve found to be more effective. The roller is now usually used to apply longer more sweeping strokes to the long muscle groups like the calves, adductors, and quadriceps, and small directed force to areas like the TFL, hip rotators, and glute medius.

Athletes are instructed to use the roller to search for tender areas or trigger points and to roll these areas to decrease density and over-activity of the muscle. With a little direction on where to look, most athletes easily find the tender spots on their own. However, they may need some instruction on the positioning of the roller, such as parallel, perpendicular, or 45 degrees, depending on the muscle.

The feel of the roller and intensity of the self-massage should be properly geared to the age, comfort, and fitness level of the athlete. This is one of the plusses of having the athlete roll themselves-they can control the intensity with their own body weight.

There is no universal agreement on when to roll, how often to roll, or how long to roll, but generally, techniques are used both before and after a workout. Foam rolling prior to a workout can help decrease muscle density and promote a better warmup. Rolling after a workout may help muscles recover from strenuous exercise.

My preference is to have athletes use the rollers before every workout. We also use them after a workout if athletes are sore.

One of the nice things about using the foam roller is that it can be done on a daily basis. In fact, in their book, The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook, Clair Davies and Amber Davies recommend trigger point work up to 12 times a day in situations of acute pain.

How long an athlete rolls is also determined on a case-by-case basis. I usually allow five to 10 minutes for soft tissue activation work at the beginning of the session prior to warmup. If my athletes roll after their workout, it is done for the same length of time.

Some Specifics

While the foam roller can be used on almost any area of the body, I have found it works best on the lower extremities. There is not as much dense tissue in the upper body and our athletes are not prone to the same frequency of upper body strains as lower. The hamstrings and hip flexors seem to experience the most muscle strains, so we concentrate on those areas.

Here are some protocols I use:

Gluteus max and hip rotators: The athlete sits on the roller with a slight tilt and moves from the iliac crest to the hip joint to address the glute max. To address the hip rotators, the affected leg is crossed to place the hip rotator group in an elongated position. As a general rule of thumb, 10 slow rolls are done in each position (although there are no hard and fast rules for reps). Often athletes are simply encouraged to roll until the pain disappears.

TFL and Gluteus Medius: The tensor fasciae latae and gluteus medius, though small in size, are significant factors in anterior knee pain. To address the TFL, the athlete begins with the body prone and the edge of the roller placed over the TFL, just below the iliac crest

After working the TFL, the athlete turns 90 degrees to a side position and rolls from the hip joint to the iliac crest to address the gluteus medius.

Adductors: The adductors are probably the most neglected area of the lower body. A great deal of time and energy is focused on the quadriceps and hamstring groups and very little attention is paid to the adductors. There are two methods to roll the adductors. The first is a floor-based technique that works well for beginners. The user abducts the leg over the roller and places the roller at about a 60-degree angle to the leg. The rolling action begins just above the knee in the area of the vastus medialis and pes anserine, and should be done in three portions. To start, 10 short rolls are done covering about one third the length of the femur. Next, the roller is moved to the mid-point of the adductor group and again rolled 10 times in the middle third of the muscle. Last, the roller is positioned high into the groin almost to the pubic symphysis for a final set of 10 rolls.

The second technique for the adductors should be used after the athlete is comfortable with the first one. This exercise requires the athlete to sit on a training room table or the top of a plyometric box, which allows him or her to shift significantly more weight onto the roller and work deeper into the large adductor triangle. The athlete then performs the same rolling movements mentioned above.

Although I primarily use the rollers for athletes’ legs, they can also be used with upper extremities. The same techniques can be used for pecs, lats, and rotator cuffs, although with a much smaller amplitude-making the movements closer to accupressure.

Assessing Effectiveness

Foam rolling is hard work that can even border on being painful. Good massage work, and correspondingly good self-massage work, may be uncomfortable, much like stretching. Therefore, it is important that athletes learn to distinguish between a moderate level of discomfort related to working a trigger point and a discomfort that can lead to injury.

When an athlete has completed foam rolling, he or she should feel better, not worse. And the rollers should never cause bruising. Ask the athlete how his or her muscles feel after each session to assess if the techniques are working.

I also judge whether foam rolling is working by monitoring compliance. If I don’t have to tell athletes to get out the foam roller before a workout, I know the techniques are working. Most do it without prompting as they see the benefits.

Rolling vs. Massage

The question often arises: “Which is better, massage therapy or a foam roller?” To me the answer is obvious: Hands-on work is better than foam. Hands are directly connected to the brain and can feel. A foam roller cannot feel. If cost was not an issue I would have a team of massage therapists on call for my athletes at all times.

However, having an abundance of massage therapists on staff is not in most of our budgets. Therein lies the beauty of the foam rollers: They provide unlimited self-massage for under $20. Sounds like a solution to me.


World famous strength and conditioning coach Mike Boyle is Director of Elite Conditioning in Boston, MA. He is author of numerous videos and books and a featured speaker at seminars throughout the U.S, including Perform Better “Learn By Doing” Functional Training Seminars.

6 Amazing Exercises that Will Improve Athletic Speed

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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

g. More…

Yours in Speed,
Lee Taft

READY TO PLAY

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READY TO PLAY – How Nutrition may be the key to staying in the game.

Yes, injuries are often an unavoidable part of sports. And to recover fully, whether from a minor strain or major surgery, you must meet certain specific nutrition needs. The physical damage caused by training or injuries is the same as any other trauma. Even if sport trauma is anticipated and intentional, the body needs to repair and recover from that damage before it can handle more stress.

LET THAT SINK IN!!!

The body needs to repair and recover from that damage before it can handle more stress!

Recovery from injury is a complex process that involves fueling the healing process, removing damaged cells, managing inflammation and repairing damaged tissue.

  1. Fueling Healing

One of the most common errors in recovery nutrition is misunderstanding calorie needs. Many athletes underestimate how many calories it takes to heal. Depending on the severity of the injury, calorie needs can increase by up to 20 percent above baseline. Injured athletes should also realize they are often significantly reducing calories expended during activity. By accounting for both decreased activity and the increased healing factor, athletes are able to fuel recovery without promoting negative changes in their body composition.

Protein is often the focus of recovery, as it plays a major role in tissue regeneration and repair.  Athletes must consume enough protein. General recommendations for protein are between 0.8 and 1.2 grams per kilogram of body weight, but injuries can push the need up to 2.0 grams per kilogram.

Injured athletes can often meet their additional protein needs though dietary changes. Many add whey protein isolate or a vegan protein option to help support their diet.

 

  1. Managing Inflammation

Swelling, pain, redness and heat are signs of inflammation that most athletes readily identify following an injury. Inflammation is an important and necessary part of injury recovery. It is triggered by the body’s need to clear dead and dying cells and to start the process of new cell development. For as many as four days post-injury, it’s important not to attempt to decrease this inflammation phase because it can impact recovery time. Following this initial stage, the focus should shift to managing inflammation.

A diet rich in fats knowns as omega-3s can help maintain the body’s normal inflammatory response to activity and injury.  Research has shown that consuming 2-3 grams of omega 3s daily can positively influence markers of inflammation in the body.  Athletes can consume this amount through a diet containing two servings of fish per week combined with increased intake of nuts, seeds, avocado, olive oil, chia and flax seeds—or through the addition of a fish oil supplement.

Bromelain, an enzyme found in pineapple, has been shown to promote reduced swelling and bruising after surgery by helping to maintain a healthy inflammatory response to exercise and injury.* Bromelain is recommended in amounts between 150 and 500 milligrams per day. Although all parts of the pineapple contain bromelain, it is most abundant in the stems, leading many people to add a bromelain supplement to their diet.

  1. Repairing Damaged Tissue

The final piece of recovery nutrition involves supporting the creation of new tissue to replace the tissue damaged by injury. While many vitamins and minerals are needed to support recovery, vitamin A, vitamin C and zinc get the most attention.

 

Vitamins A and C help support the first few days of a beneficial inflammatory response and assist in the formation of collagen, which helps provide the structure of connective tissues such as tendons, ligaments and skin. Vitamin A has also been linked with a decrease in immune suppression normally seen after an injury.  Research has shown that a vitamin C deficiency can lead to irregular formation of collagen fibers, and hence to decreased stability of the tissues and abnormal scar formation.

Zinc plays a role in new DNA creation, the ability of cells to multiply and protein synthesis.* Zinc deficiency, which is fairly common, can inhibit wound healing.  Recovering athletes might consider a multi-vitamin containing vitamin A, vitamin C and zinc to assist in the recovery process

Amino acids, the building blocks of protein, are the last area of consideration for the recovering athlete. In times of stress and damage, the body has an additional need for some amino acids.  Glutamine is the most abundant amino acid in the bloodstream. It is considered conditionally essential in times of trauma or damage as an important source of energy in recovering cells.

Leucine and its metabolite HMB have been shown to help slow muscle breakdown and nitrogen loss in injured patients.

Arginine can increase nitric oxide production, which can improve blood flow to damaged areas, providing important nutrients and promoting removal of dead and damaged cells.  Amino acids are part of complete proteins in the diet, some athletes prefer to take them directly in supplement form.

Understanding what is happening in your body following an injury can help ensure that your diet supports a full recovery so you can get back on the field or court quickly. The above recommendations are guidelines. It’s always best to consult a registered dietitian or your health-care provider when making significant dietary changes or introducing nutritional supplements. When choosing a nutritional supplement, it is imperative to look for a brand that has been certified for safety and is free of banned substances, as determined by a third party such as NSF Certified for Sport.

Special Thanks to Stack.com and Exos Performance for providing the information for this article.

Why Athletes Need Muscles

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By Nick Tumminello

The goal of exercise programming for enhanced human performance is to maximize training transfer. Put simply, some exercises provide obvious and direct transfer to improved performance in sporting actions and overall functional capacity, whereas others provide less obvious transfer—that is, indirect transfer.

Since bodybuilding workouts do not necessarily reflect the specific force-generation and neuromuscular coordination patterns of many common movements in athletics, their positive transfer into improved performance potential is less obvious. This fact has led some personal trainers and coaches to mistakenly label them as “nonfunctional” and therefore not valuable. That is a false belief.

Granted, the further an exercise gets away from replicating the specific force-generation patterns of a given movement, the less directly it carries over to improving the neuromuscular coordination of that movement. However, as this article will demonstrate, this fact doesn’t make an exercise bad, and it certainly doesn’t make it “nonfunctional.” It simply means the less specific an exercise is, the more general it is.

With that said, since it’s well established that getting stronger can help sports performance, this article provides three ways in which using bodybuilding workouts to get bigger—that is, to increase muscle size—along with strength training concepts, can transfer to improved sports performance.

1. Better Ability to Dissipate Impact Force (More Body Armor)

Physics tells us that a larger surface area dissipates impact force and vibration better than a smaller surface area of the same stiffness. In athletic terms, bigger muscle mass better dissipates the impact force and vibration caused by events such as falling, getting punched, and taking or delivering a hit (as in football or hockey.)

To go into more detail, the way to better dissipate force is to spread it out over a greater area so no single spot bears the brunt of concentrated force. One good example is an arch bridge. Accordingly, those who wish to improve functional capacity and participate in impact sports should consider bodybuilding exercises—both for the physique benefits and as a way to build the body’s physiological armor. In fact, a larger muscle not only helps dissipate external impact forces, but also sets the stage for increased force production (by upgrading your hardware), provided that your central nervous system (your software) can muster the neural charge to maximize it!

2. Stronger From Your Feet

Unless you’re a race-car driver, it is crucial for you as an athlete to be strong from a standing position. More specifically, a study that compared the Single-Arm Standing Cable Press to the traditional Bench Press not only showed that the two actions involve very different force-production and neuromuscular-coordination patterns, but it also demonstrated that in a standing position, one’s horizontal pushing force is limited to about 40 percent of body weight.

This tells us that it’s mathematically and physically impossible for anyone to match, or even come close to replicating, what they can bench press in a push from a standing position. It also tells us that the heavier you are, the more horizontal and diagonal pushing force you can produce from the standing position (regardless of your weightroom numbers), because you have more bodyweight from which to push.

RELATED: 5 Pressing Variations That Are Better Than The Bench Press

Although it’s clear the Bench Press is one of the most overemphasized and misunderstood exercises in the sports performance world, this isn’t to deny that developing a stronger Bench Press can help your standing push performance. Rather, these results indicate that also getting bigger (gaining weight) can help you better use your strength by providing a greater platform from which to push against your opponents. It can also give you a better chance to avoid getting knocked over or knocked off balance. So, putting on 20 pounds of muscle mass—it is rarely good to gain weight in the form of extra body fat—though hypertrophy training (i.e., bodybuilding workouts) can give you more push-force production ability (i.e., strength) from your feet.

3. Harder Hitting

In a similar vein, another study, this one focused on baseball pitchers, found that increased body weight is highly associated with increased pitch velocity. In other words, pitchers who weighed more tended to throw the ball faster than those who weighed less.

Since throwing and striking are similar total-body actions—both summate force from the ground up—this finding about pitching correlates with what we see in combat sports. All other things (e.g., technical ability) being equal, bigger athletes simply tend to punch (and throw) harder than their smaller counterparts, because they have more body weight behind their punches (and throws). This gives them a greater platform (more weight into the ground) from which to generate force and use their power.

RELATED: STACK Performance Nutrition: How Athletes Should Gain Weight

If you’re someone who worries about gaining too much muscle, here’s something to think about: Although a gain of 10 pounds (4.5 kg) of muscle mass constitutes a significant increase, that additional muscle is not so noticeable if it is spread throughout the body.

Training Methods Aren’t Mutually Exclusive

As I said in my book, Building Muscle and Performance, “It’s not that bodybuilding workouts (i.e., size training concepts) make you less athletic; rather, it’s that if all you do is bodybuilding, then you’ll become less athletic simply because you’re not also regularly requiring your body to do athletic actions. As the old saying goes, ‘If you don’t use it, you lose it.’ However, you won’t lose athletic ability if you regularly do athletic actions while integrating some general bodybuilding concepts.”

The arguments about specific versus general exercise (i.e., movement-focused versus muscle-focused) are ridiculous. They’re like arguing about whether you should eat vegetables or fruits. Avoiding one or the other will leave your diet deficient. That’s why nutrition experts always encourage eating a “colorful diet,” with a variety of both vegetables and fruits, because they all have a different ratio of vitamins and minerals.

Similarly, a training plan that exclusively focuses on either general or specific exercises leaves some potential benefits untapped, since each method offers unique training benefits the other lacks. In contrast, a training plan that combines both specific and general methods enables you to achieve superior results by helping you build a more athletic body that’s got both the hustle and the muscle you seek.

References

1. Santana, J.C., F.J. Vera-Garcia, and S.M. McGill. 2007. “A kinetic and electromyographic comparison of the standing cable press and bench press.” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 21 (4): 1271–77.

2. Werner, S.L., et al. 2008. “Relationships between ball velocity and throwing mechanics in collegiate baseball pitchers.” Journal of Shoulder and Elbow Surgery 17 (6): 905–8.

Developing Speed And Vertical Jump!

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By Kelly Baggett

One question I’m probably asked more than any other is, “What is the best exercise to improve my vertical jump?” Or, “What is the best exercise to improve my speed?” A lot of people think there’s some secret exercise or movement that will turn them into explosive superstars overnight. In truth, there is and that exercise is called consistency and hard work!

If you aren’t willing to put forth consistent effort no single exercise will give you what you want. Having said that, there are many quality exercises that will enable you to focus on the specific targets that your workouts must hit and save you gobbles of time in the process of achieving your performance goals.

In this article I’ll attempt to shed some light on these questions and help you avoid going round and round playing a game of pin the tail on the donkey searching for that elusive magic bullet. I’ll give you some of the top proven exercises for both speed and vertical jump improvement.

Instead of wasting your time I’ll break speed and leaping ability down and show you the exact qualities your workouts must target and then give you the secrets, or exercises, that will enable you to hit those targets and make the most of your training time.

A lot of you may wonder if the exercises to improve one area (speed or jump) work to improve the other. In fact, the ability to accelerate quickly and jump high correlate well with each other.

This is because the qualities of strength required are similar. In fact, due to this, you can many times get faster without running, and jump higher without jumping, as long as you’re enhancing the type(s) of strength required in each through your training regimen.

To prove this all you have to do is take a look around. Have you ever seen a good sprinter who can’t jump high and a good leaper who’s slow as molasses? Me neither.

First understand that there can’t be a single best exercise for everyone because different training has different effects and the type of strength that one person needs to improve his or her speed and jumping ability may be the opposite of what another needs. For example, someone who’s lacking in basic strength will get great results with common strength exercises such as the squat.

Another person might have plenty of strength, but not enough “spring”, so an exercise like depth jumps will be his best training tool while the squats will do far less.

Understand that different training means have different influences on speed and vertical jumping ability. Speed and jumping ability both require an athlete to display large amounts of power. If you’ve read the power training article you know that power is a combination of strength and speed.

POWER = STRENGTH X SPEED

When performing a sprint, you can think of power as the amount of force that you apply into the ground with each stride. Obviously the greater the force, the more ground you’re going to cover with each stride. This is what is responsible for your stride length. Your stride length is then combined with your stride frequency or the speed at which you cycle your legs when you sprint, to determine your running speed.

So, you can increase your speed by either increasing your stride length or increasing your stride frequency with the largest potential increases coming from an increase in stride length, where power is of utmost importance.

In the vertical jump, you can again think of power as the amount of force you put into the ground at toe-off, which is responsible for the speed at which you leave the ground and the height that you jump. The more power you apply with respect to your bodyweight – the higher you’re going to go – and with respect to technique – that’s about all there is to it!

TIME OF FORCE APPLICATION

Realize in a sprint you have anywhere from .10 to .20 seconds to apply maximal power with each foot-strike. As you accelerate you have about .20 seconds but as you gain top speed and your stride frequency increases your legs naturally move faster so you only have about .10 seconds when running at top speed.

In the vertical jump you only have about .20 seconds to apply max power. This is why the ability to jump high and the ability to accelerate quickly have such a good correlation.

STRENGTH QUALITIES

In order to display optimal levels of power you obviously must have good levels of strength and speed. This is influenced by the following strength qualities.

LIMIT STRENGTH

This is the amount of force you can apply irrespective of time. Limit strength can also be thought of as the strength of your muscles when speed of movement is of little consequence. Lifting maximal weights such as performing a 1 repetition max in the bench press or squat will test your limit strength capacity.

Attention should be paid to developing limit strength in the muscles of the quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings, lower back and calves, as these are the most important muscle groups for sprinting and jumping.

The muscles of the hip extensors should be given special attention because they are usually the weak links in the large majority of athletes. These muscles are the glutes, hamstrings and lower back.

EXPLOSIVE STRENGTH

Refers to the ability to develop max force in minimal time without the use of the plyometric stretch-reflex. Jumping from a paused position and sprinting out of the blocks both require nearly pure explosive strength because you don’t have the luxury of winding up and utilizing plyometric ability like you would if you took a big run-up before jumping or a lead-in to a sprint.

Explosive strength relies on starting strength, which is the ability to “turn on” as much force as possible in the first .03 seconds of movement.

In order to develop maximal force in minimal time you obviously must have enough raw force or strength to draw from or to tap into quickly. This is why limit strength serves as the foundation for explosive strength. A rocket capable of 100 pounds of force isn’t going anywhere!

REACTIVE STRENGTH

Is displayed when your muscle/tendon complex is stretched prior to contracting and is otherwise known as plyometric strength, reversal strength, reflexive strength, rebound strength etc. This type of strength is evident when you perform a quick countermovement (bend down) before jumping. You can jump a lot higher that way then you can by pausing and then trying to jump can’t you?

Here’s why. The countermovement quickly stretches the tendons throughout your lower body. This allows your muscles and tendones to gather energy and create recoil like a rubber band. This reflexive/reactive response occurs quickly whereas a voluntary response to muscle stretch would be too late. Reactive ability enhances the force you can generate in the first .10 seconds of movement by anywhere from 200-700%!

With each stride and foot contact of a sprint the same thing happens as your achilles tendon stretches and recoils back like a spring or rubber band. The stretching reflex responds to the speed at which your muscle/tendon complex is stretched prior to movement. Try to slowly bend down before jumping and you’ll see what I mean. The faster and greater the stretch the greater the corresponding reactive force.

This is why you’ll notice people with excellent leaping ability descend down quickly and sharply in their countermovement. They create greater force in one direction that can then be transformed into force in the other direction. When your reactive ability is good the more force you can take in the more force you can put out.

Guys with subpar leaping ability have a hard time utilizing reactive force in the hips and quads so they don’t perform the countermovement with near the velocity, smoothness and proficiency. Fortunately this can be improved.

Most of the force generated from reactive contractions is involuntary, that is, you don’t have to think about it. This is why you can bounce a lot more weight when doing a bench press then you can whenever you pause a maximum weight on your chest before lifting it – even without really trying to.

We tend to use reactive force naturally whenever we are given the opportunity to do so and do it without thinking about it. In fact, one of the ways you can improve reactive ability is simply to avoid screwing it up. It’s there naturally and all training should enhance it and not detract from it.

One of the ways you can screw it up is with bodybuilding style training – which basically teaches your body to do the reverse of what it’s programmed to do. This is going to go against what you’ve heard but cheating, bouncing and accelerating a weight through the sticking point are all natural occurences and utilize and enhance reactive ability. You can detract from this with an over-reliance on prolonged eccentric training and slow training.

So, to quickly recap, the power in the vertical jump and sprint come from a combination of explosive strength and reactive strength – with limit strength serving as the foundation for both. When you put the 3 together you get what is known as your static-spring proficiency. A static-spring proficient athlete is otherwise known as a spectacular athlete.

Think of basic strength as the unseen concrete foundation of a house and your reactive strength and explosive strength as the result of that foundation (your beautiful home) that everyone sees. In a static-spring proficient athlete you see the end result, the ease of movement, speed, and jumping ability, but you don’t necessarily “see” the foundation behind that.

If you’re someone without a solid foundation you must train with slow heavy weight strength exercises to build that foundation, along with using explosive strength and reactive strength exercises to enhance power or the display of your foundation.

If you are already fairly advanced then all you have to do is determine which part of your power pyramid is the weak link (limit strength, explosive strength or reactive strength), and address the deficiency accordingly.

Now I’ll break the training methods down into categories of limit strength exercises, explosive strength exercises, and reactive strength exercises and show you the top exercises from each category. Really there are countless exercises that are all effective, but these exercises will give you a lot of value for your training dollar.

LIMIT STRENGTH EXERCISES

The goal of limit strength exercises is to simply increase the force or strength producing capabilities of your muscles. Progress will be evident in the amount of weight you can move in basic movements. The goal here is not to try to necessarily “mimick” sports movements, but rather just to increase the contractual force producing capabilities of the muscles that are involved in the sporting movements.

Whenever you perform limit strength exercises the repetition scheme can vary, but in general, the total length of the set should be kept under 25 seconds.

Full Back Squat – There should be no real reason to have to describe this exercise but make sure you descend down to parallel or below. This exercise works all the major muscle groups we need for speed and leaping ability. Perform for 3-8 repetitions per set.

Deadlift – Simply load up a bar and bend down, grab the bar, and pick it up while keeping your back straight and using the power of your glutes and hamstrings to initiate the movement. Deadlifts are a superior strengthening exercise for the glutes and hamstrings and also develop whole body power through their influence on the traps, grip and upper back. For extra hip and hamstring recruitment try performing deadlifts with a wide grip while standing on a box. Perform 3-8 repetitions per set.

1/2 Deadlift – This is like the deadlift but instead of starting from the ground you place the bar in a power rack or on boxes set just below the knee level. Again grip the bar and keeping your back straight or arched concentrate on squeezing with your glutes and hamstrings to pull the bar up. It also helps if you think of yourself as a bull pawing the ground down and back with your feet. Your feet won’t actually move but thinking of this action will correct your form and make sure you place stress on the appropriate musculature.

Split Squat – This is basically a single leg squat, with the non-working leg elevated on a bench behind you. Perform this exercise by holding a dumbell in each hand or with a barbell on your back, descend until the back knee touches the floor and then explode back up to the start position. This exercises torches the glutes, hamstrings and vastus medialis while also developing flexibility in the hip flexors. Perform 5-15 repetions per set.

Good Morning – Start off in a squat position with a barbell on your back placed down low on your traps – next arch your back keep your chest up and push your hips back as far as possible. As you do this your upper body will descend forward and you will feel a stretch in your glutes and hamstrings. Dig down and back with your feet to rise to the starting position. Perform 5-10 repetitions per set.

Glute Ham Raise – If you don’t have a glute ham apparatus you can always do these the old-fashioned way. Find someone or something to hold your feet down while you place your knees on a pad of some sort. Next starting from the top arch your back, keep your chest out and control the downward descent. You will feel this extensively in the hamstrings. Next, try to pull yourself up with your hamstrings but assist yourself with your hands as much as you need. Perform 5-15 repetitions per set.

EXPLOSIVE STRENGTH EXERCISES

The goal of explosive strength exercises is to either perform the movement with more speed, or with more height. Generally, speed of movement, especially the beginning of the movement, is more important than the load involved when it comes to these exercises.

Explosive strength movements focus on developing maximal starting and explosive strength, without much involvement of the reflexive stretch-shortening cycle (reactive strength). They inherently make you focus on applying max voluntary force as quickly as possible.

Box Squat – Using a wide stance sit back on a box just below parallel and pause before each repetition. Use a load equivalent to 50-60% of your best back squat and explode up trying to use your hips and hamstrings. You can also execute these with bands and chains for added effect. Perform anywhere from 2-5 reps per set.

Paused Jump Squat – Use a load of 15-30% of your max squat. Descend down just above parallel, pause for 3 seconds and then jump as high as possible. Perform 5-10 reps per set.

Jump Shrug – This is a lead in to a clean or snatch movement. Starting from either the floor, or from the “hang” position, explode up initiating the movement with your legs and hips. As you extend your hips and start to leave the floor follow through by shrugging your shoulders up. Re-set in between reps. Perform 3-6 repetitions per set.

Clean And Snatch Variations – These movements are explosive by nature and in order to perform them correctly you must instantly be able to develop maximum force. They also heavily involve the hip extensors, which are key for speed and jumping ability. Explaining the movements is beyond the scope of this article but if you can perform them correctly you can work them into your program. Perform 2-5 reps per set.

Standing Broad Jumps – Simply jump as far out as you can for distance and try to have a mark to shoot for. Pause momentarily between repetitions. Perform 3-5 reps per set.

On-Box Jumps – Find a box, stand in front of it, and then jump onto it and then step off and repeat. You can challenge yourself 2 ways on these. Either jump onto a low box trying to bend the legs as little as possible, or find a high box that requires you to really give it all you’ve got. Perform 3-8 reps per set.

1-leg Split Squat Jumps – Stand to the side of a box with one leg on the box and the other leg on the ground. Next, quickly straighten the leg that’s on the box and attempt to elevate yourself as high as possible by pushing off with the lead leg. Pause momentarily between repetitions. Complete all the reps for one leg before moving on to the other leg. Vary the height of the box to focus on different areas. You can also add weight to these by holding light dumbells. Perform 5-10 repetitions per leg.

Hurdle Jumps – Line up a row of hurdles or other barriers and jump over them one after the other, pausing momentarily in between each repetition. If you only have one such hurdle or object you can simply jump then turn around and jump again etc. Perform 3-8 reps per set.

REACTIVE STRENGTH EXERCISES

The goal with the reactive strength exercises is to execute the movements with either less time spent on the ground or more height. Each exercise and repetition places a premium on stretching of the muscle-tendon complex, which will boost your reactive/reflexive capacities by increasing your ability to absorb force, stabilize force, and reflexively react to that force. These movements allow you to take advantage and build upon the reflexive forces that come from the plyometric effect.

Ankle Jumps – An ankle jump is performed jumping off of the ground in rhythm by just springing off your ankles. While you’re in the air you want to pull your toes up. You also must prevent your heels from ever touching the ground. The key to this exercise lies in your ability to keep your knees locked while jumping and landing on and off the ground, as well as spending the least amount of time on the ground as possible. Perform 20 reps per set.

Shock Jumps – Also known as depth landings or altitude drops. What you do here is find a box equivalent to about the height of your best vertical jump. Next, step off the box and upon contact instantly try to absorb the impact without any movement and without letting your heels touch the ground. Picture a gymnast landing from a vaulting maneuver. You want to land in a powerful, yet quiet manner. You can continue to increase the height of the box until you can no longer land smooth and quiet. You can perform these by landing in a slight knees bent position, or by landing in a deeper squat position. The more knee bend the more the hamstrings and glutes are involved. Reactive strength improves as the speed of stretch increases, so you can increase the effectiveness even more by attaching elastic bands to the ground which then attach to your belt. Perform 3 reps per set.

Depth Jumps – A depth jump is a carryover from a shock jump and is performed by stepping off the box and then exploding upward upon ground contact. Try to keep the ground contact time short. To find the correct height for you simply find the height that allows you to jump the highest. So if you jump 22 inches from a 12-inch box, 30 inches from an 18-inch box and 28 inches from a 24-inch box the 30-inch box would be the correct height. If you find you can actually jump higher from the ground then you can by preceding your jump with a depth jump then you need to spend some time engaging in shock jumps before you perform this exercise. An advanced form of depth jumps calls for attaching stretch-bands to your body to increase your velocity as you descend, and then having the tension released as you begin your jump. Recall that concentric force increases as the speed of the stretch increases. This is probably the ultimate reactive technique but is an advanced exercise. Perform 3 reps of depth jumps per set.

Reactive Squats – This is a rhythmic jump squat variation. From the upright squat position pull the bar securely down on your shoulders and quickly descend down into a 1/2 squat position and bounce back up attempting to jump. If you do the movement correctly you should feel a stretch on the muscles of your quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes as you absorb, stabilize, and react to the oncoming force. Use weight anywhere from 15-50% of your maximum squat. Perform 5-10 reps per set

Reverse Hyperextension – This movement works hip extension hitting the hamstrings, glutes, and spinal erectors all during the course of one rep. If you don’t have a reverse hyper device you can get backward in a back raise or glute-ham machine and apply load by placing a rope or chains strung through weights around your ankles. To initiate the movement raise your legs up to parallel. You should feel a strong contraction in your glutes and hamstrings. Next, quickly allow your legs and the weight to fall and then about 2/3 of the way down regather tension and explode back up. This creates a reactive contraction in the hip extensors. Perform 8-15 reps per set.

Sprints – Very few exercises are as inherently as reactive as sprints and if you’re wanting to increase your speed you’re going to need to work on your sprinting technique. I recommend you sprint with maximum speed only once per week. On one other day go out and warm-up and build up to about 70% of your max speed and work on some technique drills. Just don’t strain too much during your “easy” session. To increase your acceleration perform 3-5 sets of 3-5 30 yard sprints. To improve your maximum speed perform 3-5 sets of 3-5 60-yard sprints.

Vertical Jumps – There should be no real need to explain this one, but one of the best ways to improve your vertical jump is to practice vertical jumping! You can use the vertical jump in place of a reactive exercise. I like to use a “3-steps plus jump” approach. Find a high object you can use as a goal or mark to shoot for. Next take 3 quick steps, jump stop and attempt to touch the object. Perform 3 reps per set with maximum effort.

THE RECIPE FOR SUCESS

A surefire method to quick progress is very simple and consists of 3 things.

  1. Get your limit strength exercises heavier.
  2. Get your explosive strength exercises faster.
  3. Get your reactive strength exercises higher.

If you do all 3 of these you can’t help but improve at a phenomenol rate! If you do even one of them you will still notice substantial improvement.

STRUCTURING A ROUTINE

If you want an idea how to set up a convenient training split simply select one exercise from each category at each training session for a frequency of twice per week. Just make sure you have one weighted squat variation in either the limit strength or explosive strength category each workout.

Limit Strength Exercise

Pick 1 and perform 5-6 sets of whatever repetition scheme is outlined for the particular exercise.

Explosive Strength Exercises

Pick 1 and perform 6 sets of whatever repetition scheme is outlined for the particular exercise.

Reactive Strength Exercises

Pick 1 and perform 6 sets of whatever is listed for the particular exercise you choose.

If you wish to address certain deficiencies you can simply increase the volume for a particular strength quality. For example, if you know you’re strength deficient, instead of performing 1 limit strength exercise you might perform 2, and then only perform 1 reactive strength exercise and eliminate the explosive strength exercise. This will leave you with the same volume but a different training effect.

If you know you’re reactive deficient you can perform 2 reactive exercises along with 1 limit strength exercise and eliminate the explosive strength exercise.

These are just a few simple ways of incorporating these exercises. Any of these exercises can be incorporated into any training split with great efficiency and a big boost in your training economy, and I hope an even bigger boost in your training awareness.

You can contact us at K2 Strength and Conditioning with any question.

908-803-8019