K2 Performance Training

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.

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.

Creatine Myths

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Creatine is a naturally occurring amino acid-like compound used by tens of thousands of athletes worldwide to increase their strength, power, muscle mass and explosive performance.

Despite this, creatine is still shrouded in mystery and rife with misinformation—often thanks to irresponsible journalism and media hyperbole. So, buckle up. Your previous notion of creatine is about to be blown out of the water.

Myth: Creatine is just for weightlifters and football players.

Athletes competing in sports like soccer, hockey, lacrosse and basketball can benefit from creatine, as it has been shown to reduce fatigue during repeated bouts of intense exercise. Even endurance athletes can benefit from low-dose creatine supplementation (3-5 grams per day), because it helps muscles store more glycogen, a readily available source of energy.

Myth: Creatine causes muscle cramps, pulls, strains, kidney damage and dehydration.

Not a single placebo-controlled, double-blind study of healthy athletes has ever demonstrated that creatine consumption produces these effects. In a three-year study of Division I football players, the incidence of muscle cramps, pulls/strains, tightness and dehydration was generally lower (or no different) in players taking creatine compared to those not using it.

As a side note, if you frequently cramp, eat foods rich in magnesium, potassium and sodium (especially on the day of the event), and stay hydrated.

Myth: Creatine is just for muscles.

Simple logic: creatine is found mostly in meats, so if you don’t eat meat regularly—or (gulp) not at all—you will have sub-optimal levels of creatine in your muscles and brain. According to an Australian study, vegetarians given 5 grams of creatine per day for six weeks experienced notable improvements in working memory and intelligence after the “deficiency” was corrected. In addition, at least one study suggests that creatine can improve the mood states of people who are sleep-deprived.

Also, recent research at Yale University’s School of Medicine demonstrates that creatine increases the overall energy capacity of the brain. Since a concussion often leads to a temporary alteration in the energy metabolism of the brain, athletes who supplement with creatine may reduce the severity of, and/or improve their recovery from, a concussion.

Personally, my kids use creatine and fish oil as their “nutritional headgear” during their football and soccer seasons.

Myth: Creatine monohydrate has not been studied for long-term safety.

Since 1992, hundreds of studies have been published demonstrating the safety of creatine monohydrate supplementation. My personal favorite is Creapure, which I take immediately after I work out (I take 5 grams along with a post-workout meal or shake). Use any other type of creatine that is claimed to be “superior”—for example, creatine ethyl ester, creatine malate, creatine citrate, creatine orotate—and you’re swimming in uncharted waters with no long-term safety data (insert Jaws soundtrack).

References:

  1. Greenwood M., Kreider R.B., Melton C., Rasmussen C., Lancaster S., Cantler E., Milnor P., Almada A. “Creatine supplementation during college football training does not increase the incidence of cramping or injury.” Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry, 2003 Feb;244(1-2):83-8.
  2. Rae, C., Digney, A., McEwan, S., Bates, T. “Oral creatine monohydrate supplementation improves brain performance: a double-blind, placebo-controlled, cross-over trial.” Proceedings of the Royal Society: Biological Sciences, 2003 October 22; 270(1529): 2147–2150.
  3. McMorris T., et al. “Effect of creatine supplementation and sleep deprivation, with mild exercise, on cognitive and psychomotor performance, mood state, and plasma concentrations of catecholamines and cortisol.” Psychopharmacology (2006) 185: 93-103.
  4. Pan, J.W and Takahashi, K. “Cerebral energetic effects of creatine supplementation in humans.” American Journal of Physiology – Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology. 2007 April ; 292(4): R1745–R1750.

Agility Training For Athletic Performance

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INTRODUCTION

Generally, agility can be defined by the ability to explosively start, decelerate, change direction, and accelerate again quickly while maintaining body control and minimizing a reduction in speed. Universally, agility can often be described as an athlete’s collective coordinative abilities. These are the basic elements of technical skills used to perform motor tasks spanning the power spectrum from dynamic gross activities to fine motor control tasks and include adaptive ability, balance, combinatory ability, differentiation, orientation, reactiveness, and rhythm. Coordinative abilities are often recognized to be most easily developed in preadolescence, which is considered to be an important time period for skill development. This period often changes focus during adolescence when the shift from general to special preparation should begin.

Most athletic activities that utilize agility occur in less than 10 seconds and involve the ability to coordinate a few or several sport specific tasks simultaneously (like catching a football and then making a series of evasive moves and cuts to avoid being tackled in order to advance the ball further down the field (6). With the exception of skills specific to the sport, agility can be the primary determining factor to predict success in a sport. Sports inherently require changes of direction in which lateral movements are used in the several planes of movement simultaneously. Sports regularly are played in short bursts of 30 feet (10 yards) or less before a change of direction, acceleration and/or deceleration is required. Because movements can be initiated from various body alignments, athletes need to be able to react with strength, explosiveness and quickness from these different positions.
Some people in sport may believe that agility is primarily determined by genetics and is therefore difficult to improve or enhance to any significant level. Sport coaches often become enamored with an athlete that possesses natural physical attributes (physical size, strength, vertical & horizontal power, ideal body composition) that are generally associated with a successful performance in sport.
However, many coaches often find these attributes alone will not guarantee success in sports that require agility. Unfortunately, because of the focus placed on physical attributes the focus on off-season programs often revolves around strength training and conditioning. Often agility and speed development at sport-specific speeds are neglected or only focused upon during small blocks of time in the preseason. Agility is a neural ability that is developed over time with many repetitions. The nervous system, motor abilities and sport specific movements at sport-specific speeds will have little time for development if not addressed throughout the off-season. It takes athletes weeks and months to see improvements in speed and agility. Agility should be trained as an important component of the annual training program.
Athletes who train for power oriented sports by only strength training and not incorporating sport-specific agility training are making a mistake in reaching their absolute best performance enhancement for sport. Whether it is a basketball player cutting toward a pass or a football lineman pulling to trap a defensive lineman, agility is a “critical” and often overlooked component of athletic performance. In sports such as baseball lateral speed, agility and quickness can be just as essential as strength and speed. The performances of athletes in sports today have dramatically elevated the level of agility necessary for performance success. There is a direct correlation between improved agility and the development of athletic timing, rhythm and movement.
The key to improving agility is to minimize the loss of speed when redirecting your body’s center of gravity. Drills that require rapid changes of direction forward, backward, vertically and laterally will help you improve your agility as well as coordination by training your body to make these changes in movement more quickly.ATHLETIC PERFORMANCE BENEFITS OF AGILITY TRAINING


Sport coaches may have difficulty bridging the gap between the application of strength, power and metabolic conditioning developed with strength training and conditioning to sport performance. Even for the athlete who will never make that Koby Bryant type move and bring the viewing audience to its feet, agility training has many benefits. Neuromuscular adaptation, improved athleticism and injury prevention and decreased rehabilitation time are three critical benefits that an athlete can receive with agility training (10).1. Neuromuscular Adaptation – Agility training may be the most effective way to address the neuromuscular system and sport-specific skills necessary for sport performance, since agility training most closely resembles the sport itself . Training at sport-specific metabolic training speeds enables athletes to train at a level that most closely resembles the intensity, duration, and recovery time found in sport during the off-season. The use of agility training in an annual training cycle provides a critical link for athletes to apply their strength and conditioning program gains to the competitive athletic arena.

2. Improved Athleticism – The most critical benefit of agility training is increased body control resulting from a concentrated form of kinesthetic awareness (10). Athletes that incorporate effective, consistent agility programs into their training often talk of the stunning gains in athleticism, no matter what the sport. It teaches the intricacies of controlling small transitions in the neck, shoulders, back, hips, knees and ankle joints for the best postural alignment. Athletes gain a sense of control to the task of moving faster. This can be seen in a greater sense for the uncoordinated athlete who learns more about him or herself through agility training then the coordinated athlete.
3. Injury Prevention & Decreased Rehabilitation Time– While it is virtually impossible to eliminate injury from sports, agility training improves athletic injury management. Injuries are not just a result of bad luck. By possessing the ability to control the body during that split second, critical instant of impact, an injury can often be prevented or have its severity reduced. This means preparing the body for the awkward movements, which can occur in sport and may result in injury. By imitating sport movements under low to moderate stress levels in practice situations and through training, the athlete’s body becomes better prepared for sport movement and injuries can be prevented or greatly reduced. When athletes utilize agility drills, they develop neuromuscular awareness and thus are better able to understand the movements of their bodies. The rehabilitation process can then proceed much more rapidly if the injured athlete possesses such neurological awareness.COMPONENTS OF AGILITY TRAINING


A comprehensive agility program will address the following components of agility: strength, power, acceleration, deceleration, coordination, balance and dynamic flexibility. When designing an agility program for athletic performance enhancement a strength & conditioning coach should incorporate the following components of agility (5,6,10,11,12,14,15):
1. Strength – Strength refers to the maximal force that a muscle or muscle group can generate at a specified velocity (distance ¸ time). When an athlete is in contact with an opponent the addition of their opponent’s resistance plus their own body weight is the resistance. Research has demonstrated a strong correlation between lower body strength and agility. The more emphasis the sport has on strength and power the greater the need for strength training, particularly the Olympic lifts, where the rate of force development is most similar to that of agility movements on the field or court.
2. Power – Power is rate at which work is completed (force X velocity). The faster an athlete gets from one point to another, the greater his/her power.
3. Acceleration – Acceleration is the change in velocity per unit of time. It’s an athlete’s ability to go from a starting position to a greater velocity and then change from one speed to another.
4. Deceleration – Deceleration is recognized as the ability to decrease speed or stop from a maximal or near maximal speed. Deceleration can be in various forms from using single or multiple footsteps, backpedaling, shuffling, or using a crossover step to slow down or stop completely.
5. Coordination – Coordination is referred to as the ability to control and process muscle movements to produce athletic skills.
6. Dynamic Balance – Dynamic balance is the ability to maintain control over the body while in motion. When the body is in motion, various feedback from the body, such as sight, kinesthetic awareness and perturbations, are made by the nervous system to adjust the center of gravity. Agility is closely aligned with balance by requiring athletes to regulate shifts in the body’s center of gravity, while subjecting them to postural deviation.
7. Dynamic Flexibility– Dynamic flexibility is the range of motion at a joint during active movements. These are generally activities utilized as a part of the warm-up designed to increase flexibility, coordination, speed and balance.TECHNIQUE

When instructing athletes on the execution of agility exercises it is critical to instruct athletes on technique. Visual focus, arm action, deceleration, recovery and biomechanics all play a valuable role in the proper technique of agility drills (6,10).
1. Visual Focus – The athlete’s head should be in a neutral position with eyes focused directly ahead, regardless of the direction or movement pattern being used by the athlete. Exceptions to this guideline will occur when the athlete is required to focus on another athlete or object. Additionally, getting the head around and finding a new focus point should initiate all directional changes and transitions.
2. Arm Action – Powerful arm movement during transitional and directional changes is essential in order to reacquire a high rate of speed. Inadequate or improper arm movement may result in a loss of speed or efficiency.
3. Deceleration – The ability of an athlete to decelerate from a given velocity is essential for changing directions.
4. Recovery – When training athletes to enhance their agility it is important to ensure that drills are performed at work and rest intervals consistent with the sport the athlete is training for. Partner athletes with other athletes of similar ability. Perform drills in a competitive atmosphere with technique always being more critical than the speed the drill is performed.
5. Biomechanics – When it comes to biomechanics and agility training three interrelated considerations should be taken into account:
A. Body Alignment – Maintaining a lower center of gravity enables the athlete to move more quickly, decelerate, and reaccelerate especially when needing to overcome the resistance of an opponent or object. The maintenance of core stability (maintenance of a neutral spine through the use of the musculature that supports the spine of the body) and the athletic position (perfect posture with the shoulders pulled back and down and abdominals tight, knees slightly bent with hips back and down and bodyweight forward on the middle of your feet) will enable the athlete to supply maximum power.
B. Movement Economy – Athletes should be educated as to the most efficient movement patterns and develop the required skills necessary to reach their performance objective. These patterns and skills may include movement patterns or skills that include side shuffling, backpedaling, use of a crossover step, turn and run or combinations of these patterns and skills.
C. Acceleration & Deceleration– Most sports require athletes to have the ability to accelerate, decelerate and reaccelerate. The more efficient an athlete becomes the better the athlete becomes at creating space between an opponent, move more quickly to a space or object and enhance performance potential.SUMMARY

Outside of sport specific training, agility training may be the primary determining factor to predict success in a sport. Sports are not straight ahead, but require changes of direction in which lateral movements are used in several planes of movement simultaneously. Because movements in sport are initiated from various body positions, athletes need to be able to react with strength, explosiveness and quickness from these different positions. Unfortunately, because of the focus placed on physical attributes in sports the focus on off-season programs often revolves around strength training exclusively. Often agility and speed development at sport-specific speeds are neglected or only focused upon during small blocks of time in the preseason. Agility is a neural ability that is developed over time with many repetitions. Research has shown that an increase in speed and strength was not as effective in developing agility as participation in activities specifically designed to develop agility.
The performances of athletes in sports today have dramatically elevated the level of agility necessary for performance success. Agility training provides the athlete with performance benefits: neuromuscular adaptation, improved athleticism, injury prevention and decreased rehabilitation time. A comprehensive agility program will address components of agility such as strength, power, acceleration, deceleration, coordination, balance and dynamic flexibility. When instructing athletes on the execution of agility exercises it is critical to instruct athletes on technique as a priority and speed of movement only after technique has been mastered.

How to Improve SPEED!

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How to Improve SPEED!
by Kevin Haag, CSCS, Youth Performance Specialist

 Who is the faster athlete….the one who gets there quickest

or

the one who can decelerate, change directions and accelerate most economically?

You better believe it is the latter!

Speed is every athlete’s need and many an athlete’s nemesis.  A complete speed training program develops the muscle movements and bursts of energy required to beat the competition.  Regardless of age, speed is the most fascinating component of sports. When an athlete displays speed on the playing field, it is eye catching.  Speed is known to change the outcome of a game in a single play.  In younger athletes, speed is more impressive due to the lack of tactics the opponents use to combat speed. 

Speed training programs should ideally start at a young age.  Drills for adolescent athletes focus on developing the correct mechanics and muscle memory required for quick sprints.  Everything from posture to arm movements should be practiced and repeated to increase fleetness and reduce injury.  Drills for pre-adolescents should be fun and more like a game.  The age of the athletes and specific sport have to be considered when deciding which practices to implement.

Teen athletes should develop a speed training program that calls for explosive movement and muscle strength.  If you want to get faster, do away with the long-distance running and long endurance exercises.  Rather, emphasize getting the maximum burst of energy from the very first step.  Shaving even just a few seconds off your speed time can make the difference between winning or losing the game.

 Any speed training program should follow a few basic elements:

  • Warm-up every muscle group before starting.
  • Concentrate on posture, head and shoulder position, arm movements and hip agility to help prevent injury and give your muscles the chance to show their best.
  • Vary the drills and speed required for each to avoid hitting a “speed barrier.”
  • Strength is a top factor in developing speed, so don’t forget the resistance training.
  • Do not add more than 20% of body weight if your speed training program includes sleds or resistance objects.  Anything over the 10% mark can have a negative effect on speed and actually slow the athlete down even when not weighted.
  • Optimal speed requires optimal health.  Don’t focus on speed training when you are not at your athletic best.  Instead, use those times to work on increasing range of motion, strengthening your core and other training specific to the sport.

 

Sample Speed Training Drill

Start with a Thorough Warm Up
Jog 10 minutes at an easy slow pace followed by some simple range of motion stretches for your shoulders, hips, ankles, neck, trunk and head. Move slowly and breathe deeply.

Maintain Proper Form
Good form means maintaining proper posture while focusing on how you move not just how fast you move. To ensure proper form, you should not be fatigued when you start drills. Form is the first thing to suffer when you are tired.

  • Avoid bending forward at the waist
  • Push from the balls of your feet (not the toes)
  • Focused your vision to the end of the course
  • Keep smooth forward/backward arm swings (not across the body)
  • Hands pump from shoulder height to hips (men) and from chest height to hips (women)
  • Elbows at 90 degrees at all times
  • Maintain relaxed arms, shoulders, and hands
  • Avoid head bobbing or twisting
  • Keep momentum forward and not side to side.

20 Meter Drills
Perform the following drills 2-3 times each session.

  • High-step walking: (lifting knees up to hip level)
  • High-step jogging: (lifting knees up to hip level)
  • Skipping
  • Crossovers: (Jog sideways while crossing right leg over left leg, then left over right leg)
  • Heel kicks: (while jogging kick heels to buttocks with each step)
  • Ladder drills: one foot contact per square
  • Plyometrics: single leg hopping, bounding, bunny hops, tuck jumps, jumping obstacles.

30 Meter Drills
Perform the following drills 2-3 times each session.

  • Double leg hops (jump forward over cones or another marker)
  • Zig Zag hops (jump forward in a zig zag pattern)
  • One Leg lateral bounding (jump sideways one leg, then the other)

Speed Drills: Take a 5 minute rest break between each set.

  • 5 reps / 10 meters /100 percent effort (full out from a 4 point start) walk back.
  • 5 reps / 20 meters /100 percent effort (full out from a 3 point start).
  • 5 reps / 40 meters /100 percent effort (full out from a 3 point start).
  • 2-3 reps of flying 30 meter sprints at 100 percent for acceleration (built up over 20 meters and at max for 30 meters).

Cool Down
Jog for 10 minutes at a slow, steady pace and finish with gentle whole body stretching.