This has become one of my main strength exercises for the athletes I train over the last few years. Some might say that a unilateral exercise is inferior to its bilateral counterpart, but I would disagree. I actually prefer programming the unilateral movement. Don’t get me wrong, they are both great exercises, but I tend to favor the rear foot elevated split squat (RFESS). If you prefer the bilateral movement that is ok, but think about what is the best movement for the athlete that you are training.
Most athletes are in a unilateral position when they play sports so why not get them into that position in the training facility. I have a few reasons why I prefer the RFESS. Some of them have to do with performance and some have to do with injury reduction.
Side Note: If you injure an athlete while they are training they can’t play. This would be counterproductive.
Here I am performing the Front Squat and RFESS, while Alex discusses point number 2 below.
So here are a few reasons why you will see athletes at SportPerformanceU performing the RFESS as their main strength exercise.
1. Sport Specificity- I do think the term gets overused and abused in most cases, but for a higher caliber athlete where the term should actually apply, I’m all about it. If you are in a unilateral position during the high majority of the sport you play, mimicking that movement in the training facility is a great idea. Athletes that are sprinting while playing their sport would benefit greatly from using this exercise as their main strength movement.
2. Bilateral Deficit- Yes the elevated foot is helping, I get it, but not to the extent that you can ignore the significant difference when comparing the two. For example the highest RFESS I have seen done in my facility is 265lbs for 3 reps. This athlete's bilateral squat is nowhere close to doubling that number. End of story.
3. Neutral Spine- The number one role of a performance coach is not to increase an athlete’s speed, power or strength; it is to keep them injury free and ready to go on game day. One way to do this is programming exercises that will improvement athletic quality while minimizing risk of injury. The bilateral squat is a difficult exercise for many athletes to do properly. There are many reasons for this, but for the purpose of this point I will focus on the spine.
Maintaining a neutral lumbar spine is difficult for most athletes once their thighs pass parallel to the floor. I’m not going to go into the intricacies of this point, but it is clearly an issue. By performing the RFESS this becomes a mute point, the lumbar spine can no longer go into flexion. Risk vs. reward must always be considered when programming exercises for your athletes. When it comes to maintaining a neutral spine, the RFESS wins.
Agree or disagree that the RFESS should be your athletes main strength exercise, you have to agree that it is an exercise that most all athletes should be doing. If you prefer it to be an accessory lift, that’s fine, just make sure that your athletes are doing it.
Most high school athletes want to play college sports. The road from playing on your local high school field to competing at the collegiate level is a potentially bumpy one. When kids ask me why some other kid got a scholarship offer, or why some great player doesn't have an offer, all I can is remind them that college recruiting isn't a perfect system. College coaches have subjective opinions and small windows through which they see each player, and all they can do is try their best to make the right decisions. The end thought is that don't tie your self worth or final judgement on your ability to college recruitment. Some great ones fall through the cracks, and some not-so-great ones get lucky. That said, here are a few points to keep in mind:
1 - Keep your grades up - if you let your grades slip, all you do is reduce the amount of schools that can recruit you. Let's you have a 3.5 GPA; most schools can recruit you, for this example we'll say 100. But, when your GPA slips to 3.0, perhaps only 50 of those schools can recruit you. When you get down to 2.5, now maybe 10 of those schools can recruit you, and you have to hope they want you and have money for you. Good grades are you best friend when it comes to college recruiting, and obviously the benefit of good work habits goes well beyond college sports.
2 - Focus on what you can control - when you play the game and practice, all you can do is work your hardest and play your best. You can't control outside opinions, press, criticism, etc, and when you begin to focus on those things, the weight of the task gets very heavy. You might want very badly to wear a college uniform soon, but remember that right now, you play for the uniform your high school gives you. Play within the context of the team, and help them win championships. That will reflect well on you in the mind of college coaches and do the most to help you have the best high school experience possible.
3 - Aim high, but don't exclude viable options - so many guys want to play division 1, which is great, go ahead and aim for the stars. Don't forget that there are tons of lower division schools with great educations where you might be able to play earlier, play more, play the position you want, etc. Don't get overly tied up in the division you want to play in unless you think you're going pro (and even then, there are pro athletes who didn't play division 1).
4 - Not all schools do "full scholarships" and you need other ways to get financial assistance - and even the schools who do have full scholarships tend to split them up. Say a team has 25 guys on it, but only 10 scholarships. They are unlikely to be able to offer full scholarships to many players, if any at all. In most cases, schools offer "packages," which include need based money (your family can't afford the school), merit based money (you got scholarship money for having good grades), and sport money (from the program's scholarship fund). This is part of the reason having good grades help. If a school costs $40,000, but they can get you $35,000 because of good grades, then they only have $5,000 left to cover, which they can either expect you to pay or try to cover with sport money.
5 - Don't buy into marketing schemes - if you want to be seen and recruited by a college coach, you need to be at their camps. Most "combines" do very little for recruiting. Same for recruiting websites. Most programs hold on-campus skill camps, sometimes advertised, sometimes not. This is how most coaches truly evaluate the recruits. If there are 300 kids at an advertised camp, chances are the coach has his eye set on 30 of those kids to evaluate. To get into that group of 30, have your high school coach call the college coach to let him you're going to be there and might be a good fit for his program. If you're not in the 30, you'd better be pretty damn good if you want to get noticed. Non-advertised camps (normally by invite only) are good bets to get seen by the coaches. Camps are really just fronts for recruiting forums where coaches can meet you, talk to you, and see you play in person.
6 - Don't be dumb - twitter, facebook, instagram, etc, are all fun and current. The number of athletes who hurt their college opportunities on these platforms is astounding. Don't post that inappropriate video, don't comment with crazy profanity at your buddy, don't post some picture of a party you went to. Obviously, we'd be better off just not doing anything wrong at all, so that's the goal, but if you do something wrong or act without class, don't advertise it on social media.
Getting to play college sport is a great privilege, and many have worked very hard to earn that privilege. Unfortunately, the process through which colleges select their athletes is far from perfect. It's up to you to everything you can to give yourself the best change possible.
Being an endurance athlete and I use the word athlete loosely; I just started mountain biking races this year, I have come to appreciate even more how important strength training is to those specific athletes. It is strength training that compliments an endurances athletes sport training in such a way that they will be able to push harder up the mountain, run faster up a hill or explode through the water and off the wall with greater power.
In all these sports strength training will help you compete at a greater level, but no more so than in swimming. In a sport where hundredths of a second mean everything, strength training should be a focus of any competitive swimmer. Dry land training for swimmers has come a long way in the last few years, but there is still much ground to be made. The old school mentality of dry land training for swimmers was to perform additional endurance exercise such as jogging or jumping rope. Although these activities in and of themselves are great to do, they are not going to help swimmers perform better in the pool. The new thought is that swimmers and other endurance athletes alike need a properly constructed strength training program to follow.
There are many things that would go into a comprehensive strength training program, but for the sake of this post I would like to focus mainly on the pure strength side of things. Strength training is really about force production. To move something faster, yourself or an object, you need to be able to create a greater amount of force against another object. For a swimmer, that would mean applying a greater force into the wall during turns and into the water during laps. Let’s say for example that a swimmer could cut .02 of a second off their time with each turn in a 25 meter pool while swimming the 200 meter free event from strength training for let’s say, a few weeks. If my calculations are correct this swimmer would take off .14 of a second. I’ve heard that is a lot in swimming. That is the difference between a swimmer being on a proper strength training program and cutting that .14 of a second off their time versus one that keeps their same time from not being on a proper training program.
Ok, so strength training is important, so what do I do? Unfortunately your specific program is not so black and white, there is a lot of gray involved, but there are many staples that should work for everyone if applied appropriately. This would include squat and deadlift variations, sled pushes, pushups, chin ups and rows. Most strength training programs will be built around these main movements.
Whether you are a swimmer or other endurance athlete make sure that you are following a strength training program that is best suited to your needs. Most endurance athletes should do well with training twice a week and some do like to bump it up to three times a week during their offseason.
Once the season rolls around, a lot of players stop taking the care of themselves that they did in the off-season. The truth is, the rigors of the season, practices, and games require just as much attention as the strength training of the off-season.
1) Drink and eat properly - if you don't fuel yourself right, you won't be at your best. Period. Try filling a car with soda and french fries and see how well it runs. Our bodies need complete foods, not pre-packaged sugar bars and snacks. Eat lots of fruit and vegetables, get some real proteins and healthy lipids (fats, like avocado and fish), and drink tons of water (no, gatorade is not as good as water. It's just sugar water).
2) Sleep - our bodies get to recover when we sleep. It's vital to our functionality, not just as athletes, but as people. Get some good sleep every night. This means planning ahead at times. Don't leave that paper to the last minute or cram for that test. Plan ahead, and get a bit done each night so you never have to compromise your sleep.
3) Lift - you don't need to lift four times a week with heavy sets and high volume like the off-season, but you need to maintain strength. When strength falters, injuries follow. Try to get at least 1-2 lifts per week, with low volume and moderate-high intensity. It shouldn't take more than a half hour to 45 minutes.
4) Recover - there are so many ways you can help your body recover with "active rest" - this includes using the foam roller and manual therapy to help promote blood flow and break up knots. It means doing what we call "developmental" exercises, which address any restrictions you might have in movement patterns. This means perhaps some static stretching in the evenings after practice, and more active mobility work as often as possible.
If you want to compete at the highest level, you need to prepare for it. Take care of yourself the right way, and you will be at your best on the field.
SPU's Alex Drayson and Matt Migiano write the SPU Athletic Performance Blog.
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