Speed is the most sought after commodity in the sport world. There is not a single athlete to have ever played sport that did not want to get faster. No matter the sport, they all wanted to increase their speed. I am still waiting for that first athlete that asks me to make them slower, that will be an interesting day. All kidding aside speed makes a huge difference in sport. It can be the difference between making the high school team, getting a college scholarship or signing a multimillion dollar contract. Speed is what separates the good athletes from the great athletes.
It seems that everyone wants to be faster, but there is some confusion about how to get it. So the question remains, how do we improve speed? I’m going to start with some basics physics to start answering that question.
Force=Mass x Acceleration
Force is the ability to accelerate an object.
Power=Force x Velocity
Power is how quickly we can accelerate an object.
Speed is how long it takes you to travel a certain distance.
Athletes that do not develop their ability to produce force and power will never be as fast as they would be otherwise. The greater your ability is to push into the ground (force production), the faster you will be. The faster you can apply that force into the ground (power production), the faster you will be. Developing the ability to produce force and power is what is going to make you a faster athlete.
All of these training qualities can be developed simultaneously to an extent; it is always on a spectrum no matter what the focus is of the training cycle. Force and power output should be developed significantly in relative terms before any large amount of time is spent on speed training.
So how do you as an athlete develop greater force and power production? Your training sessions should focus on multi-joint exercises such as squat, lunge and deadlift variations. It should also include clean and snatch variations, swings, medicine ball work and explosive jump variations. This is taking into account that you have been properly progressed to a point where you can perform these exercises.
Once force and power production is at a point where speed training should be focused on more heavily it is time to bring a more sport specific training protocol to speed development. Most athletes perform both linear and lateral speed specific movements during competition; the only athlete that focuses solely on linear speed would be a sprinter for track and field. Otherwise lateral speed most be developed.
Linear speed is pretty straight forward, run as fast as you can in a straight line. It can also include the ability to stop and start continuously with either a focus on a forward or backward run or both. Lateral speed involves the ability to change direction, make sharp cuts, and stop and start. Sprinters are the only athletes that will use linear speed a 100% of the time during their competitions. Everyone else will need to possess the ability to do both.
Training for linear speed could involve sled pushes, harnessed sled pulls and resisted sprints whereas lateral speed development would include lateral bounds, slideboard lateral sprints and crossover runs. These are just a few examples of what would separate our linear and lateral speed work.
Another interesting topic as far as sport specific speed training is that all speed specific work is done as a unilateral movement. There is never a time when both legs are producing an equal amount of force or power because only one foot is ever in contact with the ground. There is NEVER a moment when both feet are on the ground when we are sprinting, sure there are times when an athlete is making a cut or changing direction where both feet will be in contact with the ground for a split second, but when that happens there is still never a time when an equal amount of force or power is given by both legs.
So if the holy grail of sport training is speed why would we ever train in a bilateral pattern if we are seldom on two feet and never producing an even amount of force or power from both feet? There has been debate over this topic for years and will continue to be for some time. I am not going to dive into that debate today, but I will say I am not against bilateral training by any means. Unilateral and bilateral training are both training tools that should be used when appropriate.
Speed development will always be the first thing that an athlete wishes to improve upon, mainly because that is all they know. They do not understand that increasing their ability to produce force and power will in turn make them faster than any speed specific training program could. Specific speed training should be limited until the athlete develops the ability to produce a relatively significant amount of force and power. At that point a greater amount of time can be focused on speed specific training. Work on getting strong and powerful and your speed will increase!
How many athletes are required to perform a movement analysis before starting a performance training program? My guess is that most athletes are not. Let me ask another question. What happens when an athlete is asked to perform a back squat or any movement for that matter, which is dysfunctional in nature due to their physical limitations? Strength is added to that dysfunctional movement pattern, it is not added to the true functional movement pattern. I’m going to continue to use the squat as my main example because it is probably the most common exercise used in most high schools. The squat is an amazing exercise for building strength, but when it is performed before athletes are ready for the movement bad things can happen.
Below are some pictures that illustrate what an improper squat pattern looks like. These faulty squat patterns could be due to an array of reasons, some of which include short/weak hip flexors, imbalance of core musculature, excessive pelvic tilt, limitations with ankle mobility, weak glutes, etc. A complete movement analysis must be done to understand the complexity of these dysfunctional squat patterns.
All of the above pictures demonstrate a faulty squat pattern that needs some cleaning up. Below is a picture of a squat pattern that is ready to be loaded with external resistance.
If you are not performing a movement analysis of some sorts you are doing a disservice to your athletes. It is literally the foundation of any worthwhile performance training program.
How many unqualified lawyers have you had take on your law issues, how about unqualified accountants to take care of your taxes, anyone letting their kids go to school without qualified teachers? I’m sure you all answered none and of course not to those questions. Why would you use someone that was not qualified to handle your personal issues and take care of your child? You wouldn’t, yet everyday there are unqualified individuals acting as strength & conditioning professionals and attempting to coach your children.
A strength & conditioning coach is no different than anyone else that considers themselves a professional. A strength and conditioning professional should have degrees in a related field to strength & conditioning such as exercise science, kinesiology or physical education. They should also possess certifications from accredited and well respected organizations within the field. The Collegiate Strength & Conditioning Coaches Association, The National Strength & Conditioning Association and The United States of America Weightlifting are a few of the respected organizations out there. Experience is something else that you might want to find out about too. Who have they worked with, where have they worked, do they have references that support their efforts.
There are so many reasons why it is important to have a qualified strength and conditioning professional be the one that is actually working with your child, but I will only discuss a few here.
The first one is so blatantly obvious, but it bears repeating, they are qualified to do the job! They have done the schooling, received the certifications and have the work experience. Are you hiring someone that does not have the proper degrees and certifications to be an architect to design the building of your home? Of course you aren’t so why would you use someone that is going to help build and develop your most prized possession, your child? You wouldn’t, end of story.
Second, which plays off the first point somewhat. The biggest thing about being in a profession is you are continuing to learn new things about your industry on a daily basis. It has been said that taking a year off from the strength and conditioning field would put you years behind the rest. There is that much to learn every year! So if you are not continually learning and improving your skill set, you are falling behind. It is a consistently changing field that requires a deep understanding of the material and how to properly apply it. A 100% commitment is required to be a professional in any field, strength and conditioning is no different.
Third and I’ll finish with this point, when unqualified individuals attempt to run a strength and conditioning program the chance of injury goes up exponentially. One of the most difficult things to do is “give credit” to how some injuries present themselves. Chronic issues will not appear immediately (duh) and might not even develop until a few years down the road. A chronic issue could develop because an athlete might be asked to perform a movement they are not ready for; they shouldn’t be doing at all or are asked to do too much too soon.
Injuries, whether acute or chronic are unfortunate, but something that is caused due to chronic repetition of improper form due to poor coaching or the athlete not being able to physically perform the movement could take an extremely long amount of time to correct. There is a saying that goes, for every wrong repetition you do, you will have to do it properly five times. So think about doing something wrong for two years and add up all those repetitions, it’s not correcting itself over night. The proper movement pattern has been broken down so much that the repetitions that are needed to fix it will be substantial. Do not let these poor movement patterns lead to a broken athlete.
When it comes down to it, I want all young athletes to receive proper coaching and be able to increase their strength, power and speed while reducing their chance of injury. Every strength and conditioning professional should be able to tell you why they are doing everything in their program, if not, find someone that can. Make sure that your young athletes are getting what they need and deserve.
Swimmers perform the same movements, day in and day out, without as much as an after though. This is true for most athletes, but most athletes are not training year round and focusing only on one sport in the way that most swimmers do. It is great when an athlete is passionate about the sport they participate in and I fully support their decision to do so. When it takes place at a young age, as is usually the case with swimming, it can lead to overuse injuries if the right measures are not taken to prevent them.
When an athlete performs a movement repeatedly there should be a performance training aspect that assists in improving swim performance while reducing the chance that chronic injury develops. Swimmers are notorious for developing knee and shoulder injuries throughout their swimming careers. This is unfortunate because reducing and in most cases preventing an injury from ever taking place is possible, but it involves both the swim coach and performance coach doing their jobs both effectively and efficiently. Most of all, it involves both coaches being on the same page as far as training inside and outside of the pool.
There are going to be repeated movements that take place in sport, which is understandable and expected. There has to be an action plan that prevents these repeated movements from leading to chronic injuries. Swimming injuries are for the most part due to chronic overuse without having a properly designed performance training program. And no, running does NOT count as performance training!
The goal of the sport performance coach is to increase performance while minimizing injury. Knowing what the physical demands of the swimmers are gives the performance coach the ability to program a training plan that will strengthen their movement patterns, while continuing to give them the best shot at reducing their chance of injury. The sole goal of the swim coach is to increase performance while minimizing injury. Sounds familiar doesn’t it? For the swim coach to do these things there needs to be a well programmed training year, which includes recovery. When both coaches get on the same page great things start happening.
Everyone has to be involved in helping these young athletes become strong, powerful swimmers, while reducing their chance of injury and making sure that they are having fun. The parents and the coaches have to both do their part in making this an enjoyable and successful experience.
A key component in a strength and conditioning program is training specificity. Training should be specific to the athlete’s needs, goals, and sport. There are many components to consider in the realm of training specificity. The adaptations that occur from a training stimulus are specific to the mode (type), the intensity, and the duration of the training stimulus. In the Book Physiology of Sport and Exercise specificity of training can be defined as the principle that physiological adaptations in response to physical training are highly specific to the nature of the training activity. To maximize benefits, training should be carefully matched to an athlete’s specific performance needs.
Applying the specificity principle appropriately to a training program can help maximize the benefits of the program, and carry over to the performance of the athlete in their specific sport. One thing to look at when making a training program specific to an athlete is the movements to train. The types of movements that are used while playing should be closely mimicked in the training program. If an athlete needs to be strong unilaterally then the training program should include exercises performed unilaterally. If there is a lot of lateral movement in the sport, then train lateral movements. Along with the movements to be trained, the muscles and joints that perform the movements need to be taken into consideration.
Another important aspect of training specificity is the energy system or systems used by the athlete. If the athlete plays an anaerobic sport they are using the phosphagen system and the anaerobic glycolytic system. For an athlete that uses these anaerobic energy systems, in order to condition for this sport then the energy systems used in conditioning need to be the same ones used while playing the sport. One way to train for these systems is to alter the work to rest ratio. Athletes that compete in an anaerobic sport should condition by running shorter intense sprints. The length of the sprints, and the amount of rest in between sprints will be specific to that sport. Distance swimmers should condition mostly by doing distance swimming, and should include some swimming sprint work to aid in the all-out completion of the race.
Specificity of training is a very comprehensive approach to training, which can maximize the benefits of a program. It is a key component of any training regime, and should not be over looked when putting together a routine for anyone.
Written By: Joe Carillo, SportPerformanceU's Athletic Performance Intern
A great performance training program will reduce the chance that you sustain an injury, but sooner or later, if you have not already, chances are pretty good that you will be injured. It is one of the most defeating experiences an athlete will deal with during their career. If you have ever had an injury that has kept you sidelined for an extended period of time you know how it feels. All your focus is on returning to the game as soon as possible.
Let’s ask two very important questions to the sport medicine staff to see what approach should be taken with the injury. The first question would probably be how long am I out for and then a close second should be what can I do to get better while I’m injured? Is there a way to design a performance training program around an injury? The answer unfortunately is it depends on the injury, but for most injuries an experienced performance coach will be able to put together an appropriate program that keeps you strong and motivated! Trying to keep your training program on track will pay huge dividends when your injury has healed and it is time to return to play.
Let’s go over an example where our athlete has a right lower leg injury. Let’s assume this athlete will probably be sidelined for a few weeks. Here is a look at a program that might be appropriate for this athlete.
Single Leg Overhead Medicine Ball Slam 3x8
Three Point Prone Plank 3x60s.
Single Leg Deadlift 3x5
Alternating DB Press 3x6
Single Leg Band Push-Pull 3x10
Single Leg Squat 3x5
Chin Up 3x8
½ Kneeling Lift 3x10
Again this is just a hypothetical example; much thought has to go into writing performance programs, especially for an injured athlete. This program allows the athlete to work on power and strength, while staying off that injured foot. Yes every exercise is performed only on the healthy foot and yes if you did asymmetrical training forever it would be bad. For a short term training program this would not negatively affect you. It would have a tremendously positive effect and get you back into “game shape” sooner. Each training program should be individually programmed so these exercise movements have to be appropriate and beneficial to this athlete.
Each injury is a setback, some longer and some shorter than others. It is how we deal with those injuries that will decide how well we play once it is time to return to the game. The ability to train and stay in the right mind set will set us up for success in the future. Do not let an injury stop you from accomplishing your goals. Continue to train using appropriate modifications, attend practices and be a supportive teammate at games.
As strength coaches we all unfortunately know for many novice athletes there has to be a feel that they are doing something new and exciting …. It has to be fresh. I’m sure everyone that has coached has experienced it too many times to count. One of your athletes comes to you and asks “what new exercises am I going to be getting in my next program”? Well we know what our answer should be, which is explaining to them that training is a process that takes time, dedication and hard work. That they must learn the basics, groove the patterns, and become efficient with the movement. Mastering the basics is what is going to lead to gaining the most strength and power gains possible. Variety comes from changing angles, sets, repetitions, time under tension, rest periods, etc. This is what every athlete should be taught when they begin a training program.
Well as perfect as that sounds, it doesn’t always sound new and exciting to the athlete. The solution…a properly designed set of progressions for an exercise will make up for the variation that is desired when an athlete starts a training program for the first time. You might not be able to integrate the next progression quickly, but letting the athlete know that once they master the exercise they are working on at the moment they will get the next progression. This helps them stay focused on the task at hand.
An example of a four step lunge progression would be performing a reverse lunge, forward lunge, walking lunge, and finishing the progression with the slideboard reverse lunge. The athlete gets four “different” exercises while continuing to work on the on the same movement. This is a great example because the athlete is following a proper progression that pleases the need for something new and exciting to do. Honestly it is usually the athlete that is new to training that thinks variety, as far as exercise selection goes, should be part of a training program. An intermediate or advanced athlete would look at adding variety quite differently. They think about a training program as something that is going to help them reach their goals. This will come with time for the novices that stay dedicated to the process of training.
So the first thing to do is make sure that there is a proper progression, which will lead to a bit of variety for our novice trainee. It does take a little bit of creativity, but for the most part if the athlete is training hard and consistently they will be progressing to a point that the challenge of training far weights the desire for something fresh. This will lead to greater results which make both the athlete and coach happy.
Each athlete has a unique set of strength and power developmental goals based on many factors, some of which include training age, time commitment and physical strengths and weaknesses to name a few. With that being said a sport performance coach has to meet their athletes sport training goals using not only the best methods available, but also the most appropriate options available.
The most applicable and appropriate exercises come from the Powerlifting and weightlifting community. They give us an amazing exercise selection at developing tremendous amounts of strength and power. From variations in the squat, deadlift and bench press to the clean, snatch and jerk, the Powerlifting and weightlifting community have blessed us with great training tools.
When training athletes coaches sometimes get carried away with a certain training methodology that is sometimes not exactly what is appropriate for an athlete training for their sport. When athletes are asked to perform lifts that they are not physically ready to perform, due to either physical limitations or appropriate coaching cues injuries and/or movement limitations will take place. This is why weightlifting and powerlifting exercises sometimes get a bad rep, although they are some of the best exercises out there, if used inappropriately it will lead to undesired results. This is the question coaches must ask themselves when designed performance training programs “is this exercise appropriate for my athlete?” If the answer is yes, then by all means teach the appropriate progressions and have at it. If it is not then figure out what must be done to include the appropriate exercise. This could include using developmental exercises or regressing the movement until it becomes appropriate for the athlete.
This leads to my next point, athletes that play sports have other requirements that are unique to their own sport. Whether it is using single leg exercises for strength, medicine ball work for power, slide boards for lateral conditioning or anti-rotations exercises for core development, each training protocol should be geared toward meeting the demands of that individual athletes sport.
I love using Powerlifting and weightlifting exercises in my athletes programs, but they must be appropriate for the athlete’s physical abilities and appropriate for the demand of their sport.
Nutrition is an aspect of training that is overlooked by so many athletes. They think if they train hard results will speak for themselves. The results speak for themselves when you train hard and eat smart! Below you will find great sources of nutrients, meal and snack ideas and what to eat before and after games or events. This is by no means a one size fits all, but it is a great starting point.
Sources of Nutrients
Grass fed beef, organic chicken breast, omega three enriched cage free eggs, organic pork tenderloin, wild caught pacific salmon, organic turkey breast, wild caught tuna, plain Greek yogurt, dairy milk, organic lean ground turkey, organic buffalo, jerky, whey protein powder
Omega three enriched cage free eggs, wild caught salmon, avocadoes, wild caught tuna,
olive oil, nuts & seeds, olives, coconuts, almond butter, coconut oil
Fruits & Vegetables
Blueberries, bananas, strawberries, oranges, apples, pineapples, raspberries, blackberries, peaches, mango, kiwi, honeydew, pears, cantaloupe, grapes, plums, broccoli, asparagus, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, peppers, onions, yams, eggplant, spinach, carrots, pumpkins, butternut squash, zucchini, white potatoes, cauliflower, celery
Oats & Grains
Oatmeal, brown rice
Source of Fluids
Water, green tea, black coffee
Daily Example of Good Nutrition
Breakfast: 2 organic omega three enriched cage free eggs
1 cup of spinach, ¼ cup of mushrooms and ½ red pepper
½ cup of steel cut oatmeal w 2 tsp of organic honey
½ cup of blueberries and ½ cup of strawberries
1 cup of green tea
Snack: 2 scoops of whey protein powder
1 tbsp of almond butter
1 cup of water
1 cup of ice
Lunch: 6 oz organic chicken breast
½ cup of broccoli
1 cup of sweet potatoes cooked w/ 1 tbsp of olive oil & cinnamon
Snack: 1 cup of plain Greek yogurt
¼ cup of walnuts
½ cup of blackberries
Dinner: 6 oz wild caught pacific salmon grilled with lemon & dill
mixed greens with carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes and avocadoes
1tbsp of olive oil & 1 tbsp of balsamic vinegar
** Drink water throughout the day**
Event Meal/Snack Planning
Protein- hard boiled eggs, jerky, whey protein shake, Greek yogurt
Fat- hard boiled eggs, almonds, walnuts, cashews, almond butter, coconut water, pumpkin seeds
Carbohydrates- bananas, peaches, celery, apples, strawberries, oranges
** Every athlete is different as it relates to pre/post event meals & snacks**
Here at SportPerformanceU we believe that each athlete is an individual and should be treated as such. Every athlete has different strengths and weaknesses, training experience, time commitments, training goals, etc. Therefore when an athlete comes to SportPerformanceU they have an individualized training program that is specific to their goals and needs.
Let’s say I have two new athletes come to me next week that are both sixteen years old. Athlete #1 plays football, has an average score on his biomechanical movement analysis, has an above average score on his physical output analysis (measurement of strength, power and speed) and has three years of training experience. Athlete #2 plays baseball, has a below average score on his biomechanical movement analysis, has an average score on his physical output analysis and has no training experience. Will these two athletes get the most out of a general workout class? I think you probably already figured it out, putting these two athletes in one generalized workout class would prevent them from improving upon their own abilities in both instances. Athlete #1 is likely too advanced for the workout and athlete #2 is not ready to be in the workout. Not only that, but are they going to be focusing on the sport specific attributes that are needed for each sport. Don’t get me wrong the term sport specific gets thrown around way too much, but it does get more appropriate when you begin to gain more training experience and three years is definitely enough time to be integrating sport specific training parameters.
Training must be specific to each and every athlete; there should not be acceptations to this rule if being your best is priority #1! Although the athletes that were used in the example will not be on the same training program that does not mean they cannot train together. We believe that camaraderie amongst athletes leads to a greater amount of encouragement and better results. There should be teammates and friends on the training floor together. It creates an atmosphere that is contagious to hard work and success!