Mechanics produce efficiency, and efficiency produces speed. There is a caveat to this: Speed exposes flaws. Recall one of the most fundamental training formulas:
Speed x Strength = Power
This article addresses the first factor, speed. In our experiences, we have observed that speed without control is inefficient and subsequently not productive. The challenge in training is to maintain proper mechanics at the highest rate of speed possible. In sports terms, the challenge is to do everything at game speed.
NOTE: Speed training begins the moment you first say “go.” When athletes are warming up, watch to see that they have good mechanics. Some athletes get lazy during the warm-up, but we value the development of good habits throughout training. If athletes flop their arms or stay on their heels while jogging, these bad habits may carry over into sprinting.
Two places to start exposing flaws are the hurdles and ladder. With proper correction these flaws can be minimized or eliminated from an athlete’s form, which leads to greater speed on the court or field.
Hurdles: Start here and keep it linear.
From a logistical standpoint, observe your athletes from near the first hurdle. This gives you a good look at their start and their finish from behind. Keep it simple and instruct your athletes to do “1 Step” with a sprint off the end. Their start should be from a set position with an explosive first move, this trains them to be explosive on the court or field as well. Never let them jog into a drill or start slow, this trains their body to start slow. Since we are talking about speed exposing flaws, look for two things as they go through and off the end of the hurdles.
- Watch for arm position. Are they wild? Arms should be down at their side, with elbows bent near 90 degrees and “thumbs through the belt loops” as the arms pump.
- Watch body posture. Are they upright? Athletes should maintain the fall-tall position not bending at the waist. They should be tall with a forward lean.
Ladder: Move here for more lateral movements as well as a greater demand in cognitive skills. From a logistical standpoint, observe from next to the middle of the ladder. Keep it only as simple as necessary, mixing up straight-ahead and lateral drills.
- Watch for arm position and usage. Are the arms used? Are they wild? Arms should still be down to the sides with elbows bent near 90 degrees, but they tend to vibrate in place instead of actually swinging like on a run. If the arms are under control the feet will be better controlled and faster.
- Watch the feet. Is the drill executed correctly? Are boxes skipped or repeated? Make sure the pattern is being completed properly and that steps outside the ladder stay close to the ladder.
The best way to correct these errors is to have your athletes “Slow Down to Speed Up.” All training should be done as fast as you can with the qualifier “under control.” If there was ever such a thing as too fast, it is when an athlete is wrecking an apparatus. Athletes should start slower and speed up as they master the mechanics and movement pattern. Teaching athletes the proper technique and attentively correcting flaws in a controlled environment will lead to faster, more agile play and greater success.
Do you want your athletes to run faster or jump higher? Then get their hips right. Do you want them to hit farther or kick harder? Then get their hips right! It’s all in the hips. It doesn’t matter if you’re trying to dunk or spike, go yard or upper 90, if an athlete wants to get up, they’ve got to get down (load the hips).
Developing the hips in the athletic context is about developing power. If power is the rate of doing work, or for athletes strength times speed, then we are trying to go as fast as we can, as hard as we can. An athlete has to be able to transfer power from the hips. If an athlete can’t transfer power, then they will struggle to deliver their skill.
The glutes are the key part of the hips. The gluteus maximus is the most powerful hip extensor. Too many athletes fail to utilize their posterior. This could be a strength deficiency issue or a technique issue and these deficiencies lead to sub-maximal play and possible injury.
Ensuring athletes understand that their hips need to go back as well as down will help with technique issues. Proper lifting technique is crucial for athletes to understand how to more effectively use their hips on the field or court. Be sure to teach good technique and be cognizant of it while training.
Remember the 4 T’s: Take Time to Teach
If it’s a strength deficiency issue, one way to develop the hips inside the weight room is through power lifts like squat and dead lift. Some coaches avoid putting a barbell on a girl’s back altogether. However, like most lifts, just teach properly then use moderately. Deep squats with light weight while focusing on exploding up under control can improve vertical.
The dead lift is simply lifting dead weight, whether a barbell, kettlebell or dumbbells the technique is the same. Coaches tend to like this because it is about as safe as power lifting gets. For those who avoid it due to lumbar worries, we promote teaching the lift properly first and then using your discretion as to how you wish to proceed. Just follow the principle “use it, don’t abuse it.”
There are several ways to develop the hips outside of the weight room. Body weight exercises, mini-band work and change of direction (COD) drills can all be used to strengthen the hips and increase explosiveness. But with all exercises be sure to teach proper technique. When changing directions athletes should squat as they stop which teaches them to sink their hips and transition their body weight efficiently. However, COD drills are more intense than most linear speed drills and the reps should be counted accordingly.
Sometimes, your athletes just need a coaching cue. Tell them something to the effect of, “you need to bend to extend” or “you need to load to explode.” Keep them conscience of their technique until it becomes second nature. Then watch as their added strength and proper technique take their play to the next level. Just imagine if your athletes ran faster and jumped higher.
“Skill is important but the speed and strength it is delivered with determines the level of play!”
Perception is reality, youth athletes often lack the passion for training. And often females struggle more with the training aspect of playing a sport than males.
Two of the biggest challenges we see in athletes during training:
- The Question: “Why are we doing this, we would never do this in a game?”
- Lack of effort in a training exercise due to lack of understanding of its role in a game.
Both of these are obviously of the same nature yet sometimes as coaches we lose sight of the importance of understanding why we do things and how athlete’s psychologically choose to apply their efforts accordingly. In other words, if an athlete doesn’t see how a particular training element applies to their sport they are more likely to not try hard.
Remember when you were in school, or in a professional development class, and you thought to yourself that whatever you were learning was a waste of time and stupid because it would never be used in your life or job? Well, athletes are no different when it comes to training. They feel they just need to practice and play more to be better at their sport.
Athletes should be taught with vertical, horizontal and synergistic alignment for both clarity and motivation. Just as we hope the middle school and JV coaches are aligned with specific varsity skills coaching (for a smooth transition, reduced learning curve time and increased IQ) the same thing applies in Athletic Development.
It is our job as coaches to teach our athletes the importance of training so they become passionate about it as part of their athletic career. Most athletes love to play their sport(s), great athletes love to train because they understand the benefit and they have made it an important part of their program.
Some aspects of training are obvious yet others are seemingly just unnecessary work… and sometimes they are if the program curriculum has not been appropriately planned according to need. We call all aspects of training and practicing “stress” bouts. If each of these bouts of stress are not calculated and playing a role in reaching a goal, they are a waste of stress and should be re-thought.
In 2016 we are now seeing a tremendous shift in the paradigm of training and how important the role of year-round athletic development is for youth athletes. It is crucial we properly educate athletes to understand the benefits of training to remain healthy, reduce the risk of injury and adequately progress athletically to simply keep up.
Here are a few simple techniques we have found extremely beneficial when teaching the correlation of training to sport application:
- Language: Use language that correlates certain movements directly to a movement in their sport, even using the same coaching cues you would use in practice.
- Time: Use time periods of rest-work ratios that are directly proportionate to those in a game.
- Dexterity: Associate dexterity in training to that of an offense/defense position to better understand the deficiency of being dominant on one side or losing the directional first step.
- Repetition: Explain that practice makes permanent, training multiple reps instills the neurological movement pattern to ensure the 1, 2, 3, or more times they may have to execute a movement in play they will be perfect at it.
- Speed: Again, practice makes permanent and the only way to go fast is to train fast so if your kids are jogging or only giving 50% effort during training drills, that is how they are training to execute.
Remember, the more creative you become in teaching your athletes why and how training is important, the better, healthier athletes you will have.
A legendary strength and conditioning coach asked an aging professional basketball player how he would know when it was time to retire. His immediate response was, “when I lose my first step.” Speed starts with the start. Like drinking plenty of water, first step quickness is essential.
Training for first step quickness must not be neglected. In most sports if your first step is too slow you may not have enough time to recover. A misstep too often translates into a missed opportunity.
A couple things to consider:
- Do you let your athletes walk or jog into it drills, hurdles, ladders, etc.? Or do you require them to get set before they start?
- Are your athletes always on the whistle or do they sometimes start themselves?
- Do your athletes have adequate time to get set before they take off?
- Do you focus on and insist their first step is fast?
The way athletes train determines how they play. If they practice with a slow first step, they will play with one as well.
We often don’t start our athletes with a whistle. We like to put the onus on them to start when they are ready. Not only do we teach them how to set up and load their body from a static position, we lay out training principles that nurture a culture of patience. Most kids want to rush the technique and they end up neglecting details. Encourage your athletes to take the time to do it right.
A fun way to work on first step quickness from a dynamic position is hopping and landing on two feet then transitioning directly into a sprint. This can be done off a box, over equipment like a speed hurdle, or just in space. Take it up a notch by going into sprints from a vibration which brings in the element of reaction where the transition happens on the coach’s command. Whether forward, backward or lateral, put your athletes in a position to be athletic where they must get out fast.
In the weight room, consider the benefits of Olympic lifts like hang cleans, power cleans, and split jerks. Remember, focus on the speed of the rep, not the speed of the set. Quality always trumps quantity with Olympic lifts. Millions and millions of reps aren’t necessary. Explosive strength training correlates directly to the use of fast twitch muscle fibers for a quick start on the court or field of play.
We have alluded time and again to the general consensus that the most significant change from one level of play to the next is the speed of the game. This leads to a simple conclusion: the speed of the training changes too. You have to train fast to get fast. So if you want to train fast, start fast.
Proper Training Programs for the Rotational Athlete (ex. baseball, softball, tennis, golf, swimming)
Athletic Development and Sports Performance has to be approached from a developmental standpoint based on level, age, gender and purpose. It must be age-safe and age-appropriate. Basic Athletic Development fundamentals remain constant yet there are specific factors to be considered directly related to individual sport demands. These factors should be calculated and strategically implemented in order to safely meet the demands for the current and upcoming activity.
Training athletes for rotational sports requires a greater emphasis on balance in the development of the limbs, joints and core. Power is generated from the hips yet delivered to and by the limbs through the core and joints, which has to be accounted for when implementing a strength and speed training program.
We must keep in mind that different sports have different requirements to meet the specific rigors of that sport. Athleticism and speed can be taught, learned and practiced just as any motor skill yet the process of development should be carefully implemented based on anticipated competition, tests or performance.
The directional rotation adds another specific element of challenge for the rotational athlete as he or she becomes imbalanced due to the nature of their “one sided rotation” (right or left focus). This MUST be calculated and addressed through training protocols that begin with the proper warm up transitioning into training variations that build the necessary rotational capacity. Balancing rotational bouts and load has to be directly compensated for by performing equal and proportionate work on both sides of the body.
What all this means is if a baseball player throws and/or hits 200 times on their right side we absolutely must balance the body on the left side with adequate preparation, load and repetition. Injury frequently occurs for two primary reasons, overuse or lack of balanced training (undertraining) creating weakness and deficiency on one side of the body or a particular area. Over compensation due to weaknesses can be directly linked to overuse and/or opposing failure.
All of these factors must be considered when designing and implementing a training program for rotational athletes. Programs for the rotational athlete (baseball, softball, tennis, swimming, etc.) should include:
- Proper Warm Up – addressing the entire body
- Consistently developing fundamental strength and flexibility
- Dynamic Stretching – maintaining correct posture and rotation
- Start with the core, joints and fundamentals
- Rotator and scapula emphasis prior and post-training – rotations with bands
- Alternating position angles and stressors during training – front/back, left/right, push/pull
- Balancing single/double limb exercises – avoiding overloading
- Unloading the hips and shoulders post-training
- Weak-side compensation – addressing weak-side rotation with additional bouts as needed
- Wave loading periodization while maintaining year-round strength and conditioning
- Diversified training – keeping it interesting while training all aspects of the body thoroughly
- Maintaining athleticism during training at all times
At the end of the day, take time to teach, train smart and develop athletes with proper timing, form and progression understanding their exact needs. “It’s not about how much you know, it’s about how much you don’t know that is the issue.”
Why is Linear Speed Training so Important for Athletes?
What coach doesn’t want faster athletes? Typically the faster athlete gets to the ball first, wins the race, or gets in position to make the play before their opponent. You might have a killer first and second step, which are often the most important, but the rest of the steps (“linear speed”) determine if you get caught or whether you catch the other team.
To maintain top-end speed, and for that top-end speed to be fast, you must have good mechanics. There are 4 important elements to focus on when learning and executing linear speed:
Run tall with a forward lean. Two common mistakes you see in many athletes are they may lean too forward with an improper bend at their hips or they may run too upright. This may also be a result of heel-running, which is death to speed.
- Knee Drive
Knee drive is a crucial component of sprinting. This requires powerful hip flexion and prepared hamstrings. This is why we put such an emphasis on those parts of strength development for athletes in lifting.
- Heel Recovery
Heel recovery is important because it keeps your foot contact light and brings your knee up into the proper position. Remember: if the heel comes up, the knee must come up. Six inch speed hurdle training trains heel recovery by presenting an obstacle to step over.
- Arms and Hands
Athletes tend to let their arms swing out with their wrists cocked out. Athletes need to learn to keep a 90-degree bend at the elbows with the wrists and hands in a neutral position. Then make sure the path of their arm swing is not going overtly sideways. We want thumbs taking a path through imaginary belt loops. We want to keep as much motion as possible going forward, not side-to-side.
Remember: mechanics produce efficiency, and efficiency produces linear speed!
DX3’s Linear Speed Training will make you faster from step 1 and 2 through the finish line. Whether training in small groups or private sessions, the cognitive lessons we teach instill mechanics that win the race. Don’t miss a step! Come find it with the Speed Training Team at DX3 Athlete.