Coaches are always looking for the most effective coaching behaviors. But there is often argument about the importance of positive reinforcement, praise, and negative feedback.
There are different outlooks on which behaviors are the most effective in coaching young athletes.
So, what works best?
Let’s look to a great coach and teacher for some insight.
Coach John Wooden
John Wooden is a coaching legend.
He is one of the greatest coaches in basketball history. He coached his UCLA teams to 10 national championships in 12 years. That included seven in a row and a record 88-game winning streak.
He’s also heralded for his ability to teach his athletes. Teaching them on the court, and teaching lessons they took through life.
With that success, you might think that he always had the most talented players. However, by most accounts, you’d be wrong.
Some of his teams only had average talent. Many had notable weaknesses.
Still, year after year, he was able to elevate their level of play and get them to perform at a championship level when it mattered most.
So, coaches are naturally interested in his coaching. What was it about his coaching style that led to such unprecedented success? Was it his careful use of criticism? Was he masterful in using praise?? Or maybe both it was both?
How did this master coach teach?
With that very question in mind, some researchers set out to study how he coached. During one season psychologists, Roland Tharp and Ronald Gallimore observed and analyzed Coach Wooden’s teaching methods. Interested in education and learning, they thought that his teaching methods might deepen their understanding of learning.
So, during the 1974-1975 season they sat, watched, and tracked Wooden’s specific coaching behaviors during practices.
For 15 practices, cataloged 2326 “acts of teaching” in total.
So how much of this was praise? And how much was criticism?
Top coaching behaviors
Coach Wooden employed his top behavior more than 50% of the time. He used it four times as often as the next highest used technique. It would seem, this was the bedrock of his coaching. So was it praise or criticism?
Turns out, it was neither.
Over half (50.3%) of Wooden’s behaviors were just pure instruction. These were specific statements about what to do or how to do it. There was no judgment. No approval or disapproval. Just information.
Many coaches believe that one of the most important things to communicate is what you want the athlete to do. What is the intent you want them to do it with?
This aligns with Coach Wooden’s number one tactic.
The next most frequently occurring coaching behavior (12.7%) was called a simple effort cue, the researchers called a “hustle.” For instance “Drive!” or “Harder!” and, of course, “Hustle!”
It was a cue or reminder to act with effort on some previous instruction.
The researchers aptly named the third most frequent (8%) coaching behavior a “Wooden.” This unique feedback technique was a combination of scolding and re-instruction. He made it clear that he was not satisfied but immediately reminded them of the correct way to do something.
For example, “How many times do I have to tell you to follow through with your head when shooting?” or “I have been telling some of you for three years not to wind up when you throw the ball! Pass from the chest!“
The remainder of his coaching behaviors after that were roughly balanced between praise and criticism of some sort. Here’s the list of the coaching behaviors demonstrated by Coach Wooden;
Effort Cue (12.7%)
A “Wooden” (8%) – scolding + reminder how to do something
Positive modeling – how to do something (2.8%)
Negative modeling – or how not to do something (1.6%).
Information is king
If we add this up, we can see that ~75% of Wooden’s teaching acts contained specific information. This information was designed to provide the athlete a clear picture of what to do or what not to do.
Simply knowing that something is good or bad is not especially helpful. It is more useful to know whatexactly should be repeated or changed the next time. Without that specific information, praise or criticism can be easily misinterpreted by the athletes.
The researchers felt that this was a key contributor to his coaching success.
Wooden’s modeling formula
Another of the researchers’ observations was of how Wooden modeled behavior.
If he saw something he didn’t like and stopped practice to correct the mistake. He used a correct-incorrect-correct demonstration that was usually quick and succinct.
He would immediately demonstrate the correct way to execute the technique, then show everyone the incorrect way the athlete just did it, then model the correct way again.
This correct-incorrect-correct demonstration was usually very brief, rarely lasting longer than 5 seconds. However, it made it very clear what his expectations were, and how to meet these expectations.
More Effective Coaching Behaviors
There is a lot we can take from John Wooden’s coaching methods. He focused the majority of his coaching on providing his players with information and context. He helped them to understand what he wanted them to do, and how to do it.
You can do the same. Help your athletes learn what to focus on and the intent to bring to each repetition.
At the end of the day, we don’t need tons of cheerleading and high fives. Nor repetitive punishments and expletives for making mistakes.
In the weight room, clinic, or on the field, it’s less about whether athletes are perfect or imperfect. It’s more about making sure they’re progressing and learning from day to day.
The only way they can progress is to refine the way they are performing with information on what to do and how to do it.
Check your cueing and feedback and see how your coaching behaviors measure up to John Wooden.
These are the 5 “rules” we consider when we’ve designed training programs for swimmers. No matter whether we are talking about the developing swimmers, Collegians, or Olympic Gold Medalists we’ve trained at Velocity Sports Performance, these rules always apply.
Swimming Is Unique
An elite competitive swimmer is like any other athlete in many ways. They need a good foundation of coordination and basic strength throughout the entire body. This base of athleticism is useful for coordinating general motion and basic physical health.
However, swimming is unique among athletic movements. No other sport is performed in another substance and without contact with the ground.
Yes, there are sports like rowing or kayak which propel a vessel through water. There are also sports like skiing or snowboard where athletes ride over snow. Or speed skating, hockey, and skeleton which slide over ice.
First, in all those other sports you get to breathe. You have to get your face out of the water to breathe in swimming.
Second, there is the fact that almost everything else has movement produced or controlled by producing force and directing it through the feet into the ground.
A swimmer propels themselves through water primarily with the upper body instead of through the legs into the ground. They have to manage the laws of not just physics, but specifically hydrodynamics to swim.
1. The Pool Rules
Since humans are not native to the water, swimmers need to spend a lot of hours in the pool. They need to be in the water developing and maintaining their feel for the for it and efficiency moving through it.
For all training, that becomes the priority. They need to be in the pool.
While an athlete’s sport is always the priority, it’s even more true for a swimmer. It is more important than any dryland, core, conditioning, or strength program. They don’t get the same “cross-training” benefits from doing something on land.
Other ground-based athletes have the advantage that daily locomotion and lifelong development give them.
It’s an added foundation for most athletes’ sporting movements. They are used to being on the ground, with-in gravity, and producing forces, and getting kinesthetic feedback.
Swimmers aren’t that fortunate. To get those benefits, they have to be in the water.
Hours upon hours in the pool are required for developing the movement skill and specific conditioning need to excel in the sport. When designing and delivering performance training for swimmers, this always has to be kept in mind.
One of the strongest Key Performance Indicators (KPI) for swimmers can be as simple as healthy hours in the pool swimming.
That brings us to the 2nd priority. Keeping them healthy.
2. Stay Healthy
If a swimmer is injured and can’t swim, they have broken rule number one. Keeping them in the pool is the priority but keeping them injury and pain-free goes beyond just being in the pool.
Shoulder Pain In Swimmers
Shoulder pain, injury, and dysfunction are prevalent in swimmers.
“Shoulder pain is the most frequent orthopedic injury in swimmers, with a reported prevalence between 40% and 91%… Swimmers at the elite level may swim up to 9 miles per day (more than 2,500 shoulder revolutions). Muscle fatigue of the rotator cuff, upper back, and pectoral muscles caused by repetitive movement may result in microtrauma due to the decrease of dynamic stabilization of the humeral head.”
Epidemiology of Injuries and Prevention Strategies in Competitive Swimmers Sports Health, May 2012
These microtraumas, in turn, can lead to a swimmer’s shoulder symptoms.
That’s because the majority of propulsion in swimming strokes is from the upper body. Only the breaststroke or the underwater dolphin kick (the fifth stroke) have significant contributions to propulsion from the lower body.
A ground-based athlete produces a ground reaction force with the lower body. It is directed through the center of mass to take sports actions.
A swimmer instead will generate forces against the water that must propel them. In most strokes, the majority (80-90%) of propulsion is generated by the upper limbs.
The shoulder is unique. It has a huge degree of mobility. In fact, the shoulder is the most mobile joint in the body.
This allows for an extensive range of motion through multiple planes of motion. Unfortunately, the shoulder is also inherently unstable due to this mobility.
Conversely, since it’s highly mobile, this joint also needs lots of stability. The shoulder complex has to transfer all the force generated in the upper extremity into the torso. That means all of the small muscles that stabilize the glenohumeral and scapula-thoracic joints need to function well.
For a swimmer’s shoulder to function well those muscles need to fire in a coordinated manner, have enough strength to stabilize and transfer force, and the endurance to do it for thousands upon thousands of repetitions.
That’s a big ask and part of why there are so many painful shoulders in swimmers.
Athletes and coaches need to understand that technique trumps strength. The amount of drag in the water is a bigger factor in swimming velocity than propulsion.
Think about that for a moment. Minimizing drag, which requires maintaining the body’s streamlined position, is more important than propulsion.
Hydrodynamics tells us why.
The faster a swimmer goes, the more drag there is. It goes up exponentially. So anything that breaks the streamline and creates drag has an exponential impact to slow the swimmer.
On the other side of this problem, is the fact that propulsion gets harder as you swim faster.
The faster a swimmer’s hand moves through the water, the more resistance the water creates. It’s also exponential.
So the faster you go, the more drag slows you down and the harder it is to push the water.
Training for A Swimming Streamline
To minimize drag in the water, athletes should strive to maintain an elongated spine and streamline position, as well as display advanced lumbopelvic control.
Staying streamlined and minimizing drag in the water is primarily the realm of the pool and the swim coach.
However, on dryland, we can create the prerequisites the swimmer needs for this.
For the prone strokes of freestyle, butterfly, and breast, this requires the entire posterior chain to help the lower half of the body from dropping. The posterior chain includes all the muscles along the back of the body from toes to the head.
Exercises that link the entire posterior are key for swimmers.
Swimmers also need a foundation of strength and stability in their pelvis and torso.
The “core” of the body can be defined in many ways. For the purposes of the swimmer, we are defining it 360 degrees from the pelvis through the scapula.
During each swimming stroke, they have to manage rotational forces from the upper body and into the torso. They have to keep their streamline from the head, through the torso, and down into the pelvis and lower body. Any break in this chain will lead to increased drag.
This is why comprehensive core training is key. There is a place for isolated exercises of the core and pelvis, but it’s the multi-muscle/joint exercises that build connectedness need for swimmers.
Whether it’s swimming, sprinting in track & field, or a BMX event, everyone wants a great start.
In swimming, the opportunity to push off the blocks, overcome inertia, and generate horizontal momentum can be incredibly important. So we need to consider this when designing training programs for swimming.
Turns are the same.
Each turn is an opportunity to use the large muscles of the lower body to generate propulsion and build speed. Unlike sprint distances that have few turns, long-distance races have many, each an opportunity to gain speed.
Entering the water off the start, and coming off the turns are the fastest velocities during any event.
Starts are the fastest, and turns are second. To maximize the benefit, swimmers need power in their lower bodies to be explosive in both.
For sprints, the start (to 15m) makes up a large portion of the entire race and drops as the distance increases. In shorter sprints, this can be over 25% of the race so you better get it right.
Turns on the other hand (5m in, 5 m out), take up a larger portion the longer the race is. This makes sense because the longer the race, the more total turns there are. In a 1500m race, the turn time can be 30-40% of the race.
So making the most of these is critical in a sport where hundredths of a second make a difference.
Explosive Training For Swimmers
The swim start, and a good turn, require the athlete to explode from a static or relatively static position. In this position, the ankle, knee, and hip are all bent and ready to explode off the wall.
Although the swimmer is horizontal in the water, their alignment and force vector is like a vertical jump.
We need to highlight the static position here because there are differences in the strength qualities required when exploding from static positions.
The static muscle contraction
In many athletic movements, the athlete will perform a counter-movement first. This is the bending of the knees and hips while they dip down before a vertical jump. This occurs before they begin pushing back up explosively, and it gives them added force into the ground.
For a start, the swimmer is in their start position, knee and hips bent, and muscles tensed ready to fire. They need to immediately explode forward on the gun so they don’t waste valuable time.
It’s a static position.
They cant take advantage of that added force from the countermovement.
A turn is essentially the same. If they execute the flip turn well, their feet are near/touching the wall, with the knees and hips already bent. They don’t perform a countermovement sinking closer into the wall.
When they have contact with the wall they need to instantly generate high levels of force to explode off the wall. All of this has an impact on their training needs.
This lack of countermovement means when training for explosiveness in the lower body means they will need to have a high rate of force development.
Rate of force development is the ability to turn on the muscle quickly to achieve high forces in a small time. It can be developed with explosive exercises including plyometric jumps, medicine ball throws, and explosive weight training.
Ground-based athletes develop forces from the ground up, in a coordinated extension of the hips, knees, and ankle. The summation of these forces propels them forward.
Similarly, swimmers must develop a coordinated, multi-segment flexion from the upper body through the hips to summate the highest propulsive forces.
The dryland training of swimmers needs to include elements that emphasize the coordinated application of strength from the fingertips through the core and to the toes.
This is the “tip to toes” connected concept.
A key feature of “connected” exercises for swimmers is that the core and hips are controlled for stability at the same time while the upper extremity generates power in pulling and pushing moments. This goes back to the earlier rule that streamline is more important than propulsion.
So in dryland training, we shouldn’t sacrifice core control and body position for more power. We also strive to develop the forces and power with full-body control.
For an exercise to develop “connectedness” the following qualities need to be developed;
Athlete exhibits pelvis and spinal control during movement
Athlete demonstrates scapular control during strength application
Athlete develops pulling tension across multi-segmental, muscle/fascial lines
To achieve this swimmers should emphasize multi muscle/joint exercises. Gymnastic type fundamentals on rings and parallettes are a great way to build a solid foundation and always connect the core and shoulder complex.
Kettlebell exercises also are a great tool to emphasize the connection and develop stability in the shoulder girdle.
Training Smart for Swimmers
To design an effective training program for swimmers, you have to first understand the demands of the sport. Many of the same training methods used for other athletes will pay dividends for swimmers as well.
However, there are unique aspects to swimming we have to consider as swimmers reach higher levels.
Hydrodynamics are the driving factor and only when we understand their impact on the swimmer can a program be “swimming specific”.
The key concepts are;
The time in the pool rules all else
Healthy swimmers are in the pool and capable of efficient technique
Maintaining a streamline is more important than greater propulsion
The starts and turns are the faster parts of the race and make up large portions of it
Propulsion in swimming develops from the fingertips and connects through the core
Building training for a swimmer begins at a young age by developing all-around athletes. On top of that athletic foundation, dryland then continues to become more swimming-specific by following the rules above.
There are many ways to train swimmers, but to be effective, the rules need to be followed.
There are 3 goals coaches need to achieve when planning the return to sports for any athlete
As teams and sports organizations start returning to full sports practices and competition, they need plans to prepare the athletes.
At Velocity, we’ve been working with everything from elite athletes and teams, to local clubs and high schools in devising effective strategies. We are helping them to achieve the same three goals whenever we return an athlete to sports after extended times away.
Three Goals of Planning the Return to Sports
Working in higher-level sports, we’ve learned a lot about planning athletes’ return back to their sports practice after long layoffs. Most of this comes from athletes that were injured and required extended time out of sport to rehab and recover. Sometimes it’s with athletes who took a sabbatical year or had a pregnancy during their career.
No matter the case, we do know that without the right preparation, an athlete going back into their regular sports practice and training routine will be at higher risk of injury.
The three driving outcomes we are working to achieve for our players is that they can return safely, successfully, and sustainably.
1. Returning To sport SAFELY
We want athletes to return to sports without a sudden influx of injuries. Injury defeats the entire purpose of reopening sports and eliminates the chance of success. After all, you can’t play well if you are on the sidelines hurt.
Velocity is working with teams to create phased-in training plans, athlete readiness screenings, and load monitoring. This means helping athletes and coaches plan how to balance the needs of the athletes body, with the likely scenario of getting back to seasons quickly.
The first step is to do some basic screening of fitness and readiness as athletes return. Finding out what shape they are in is important because coaches have never faced this many athletes out of training for so long.
Next, we are helping coaches plan a ramp-up of both technical skills and the right physical qualities for the sport will lower the chance of injuries.
Monitoring how the athletes are responding to the increased load is another strategy that lets you get an early warning if the training is too much or too little. This feedback to coaches can help them adjust training plans to get back into shape and competitive form as fast as possible.
Successfully means being able to perform at a high level. No coach wants to see their team come back out of shape and unable to play up to their abilities. Plans for preparing the right physical qualities and skills begin now.
That means even before you are back, organize your athletes to complete specific types of training. They need to be preparing specific body parts and tissues for the stress of practicing again.
This is always important in preseason, but especially now when athletes have detrained. Their bodies are not the same as when they left.
Velocity is working with some teams and clubs to provide pre-return training that specifically reduces the risks of injury and increases the physical qualities they need in their sport.
While many athletes are trying to stay fit and ready with various exercises at home, exercising isn’t training. Training has a specific purpose and goal. While keeping a general level of strength, fitness and mobility were reasonable goals during time at home, athletes need to prepare for sport again.
Whether it’s through remote coaching and managed digital platforms, or in person, serious teams are getting their athletes ready now.
Sustainable is a goal that often gets forgotten. We don’t just want the first weeks to be a success, but the entire season.
This means that we have to get the preparation and buildup right first, and then follow it with continued training, monitoring, and recovery. Remember, these athletes aren’t going to be the same. Some issues can creep in slowly.
Velocity is helping teams and clubs plan their monitoring and supplemental recovery and training strategies for in-season. We have athletes that enter and rate daily responses on phone-based apps so coaches can see if their teams handling the demand.
When the fatigue is building or specific aches and pains are increasing, you can help implement and specific recovery plans and give athletes guidance on how to recover at home.
Another important strategy for sustainability while planning your return to sports after COVID-19 is to continue with their physical training during the season. This doesn’t mean a large volume of grueling physical training. That leads to excessive fatigue and takes away from their technical sports skills.
Instead, we recommend a strategy we use in elite sports called micro-dosing. Small, frequent, and high-intensity bouts of training. This may be dedicating 6-15 minutes of practice time to work on speed or specific explosive qualities.
It can also mean targeted high intensity interval training sessions or specific mobility work. What matters is that you pinpoint the physical qualities that will keep your players healthy and in top form, and then have a plan to build and maintain them.
A Shortened Time Frame
There will likely be a shortened time frame as we return in many sports. We are proposing an approach to achieve the three return to sport goals as quickly as possible. We want to do it quickly because people want to be back in sports.
Some leagues will feel the pressure and schedules will start very fast.
Some coaches will be under pressure to win and see this as an opportunity to get ahead of other teams.
We acknowledge that in many cases, a prolonged and steady buildup may not be feasible. However, we don’t want the return to be so quick that it puts athletes at risk. Planning the return to sports after COVID-19 shutdowns starts with setting these three goals.
When we say eccentric, we are talking about motions where muscles are lengthening while still contracting. As a simple example, think of a bicep curl. When you are curling the barbell up, that’s a concentric contraction. The muscles are contracting, and your bicep is getting shorter. On the other hand, if you lower it back down slowly and don’t just let it fall, you are fighting against gravity. This is an eccentric contraction. The muscles are contracting to resist gravity but are lengthening
Any athlete that needs speed on the court or field also needs brakes. Most sports involve changes of direction.
Going fast is great, but if you don’t have the brakes to stop or change direction, you’ll have a hard time using your speed.
Think of eccentric strength as brakes for an athlete. Since they often need to stop, change direction, and land, eccentric strength is important for athletes.
High forces can be developed during these eccentric actions.
In fact, your body can produce higher forces eccentrically than concentrically. Plus, the brain uses a different motor control strategy than for the concentric motion.
So, if you aren’t training these motions, you won’t have the coordination and motor control optimized.
When we perform a Strength Diagnosis for an athlete we identify the six strength types for athletes. The relative levels of these different types of strength create a profile of the athlete.
When it comes to eccentric strength, we call this quality Absorb.
Since we know eccentric strength is important for athletes, we measure it. To derive this value, an athlete is actually tested on how efficiently they can handle eccentric forces and then reuse that force to produce a subsequent explosive movement.
Training Eccentric Strength For Athletes
Absorb is trained in several ways. One is in the weight room because eccentric strength needs high levels of force to be stimulated.
Sometimes this is heavy lifts, or extending the time in the eccentric (lowering) phase of a lift. It can also be done with special equipment that focuses on the lowering phase.
Plyometrics that focus on overloading and controlling the landings is another good way to build your ability to Absorb.
Eccentric Strength Is Important For Athletes
Just like a fast car needs reliable brakes to corner well and stop, an athlete needs eccentric strength to perform well and stay safe. Developing this type of strength requires specific training with the right methods to improve it safely.
There is often confusion about whether speed training is sport-specific. It’s a natural question: does speed training need to be sport specific?
After all, as a parent or coach, the goal is to help your athletes be faster come game time. Does playing faster in the manner their sport or even their position demands call for specific types of speed training.
Below we answer that question, but here’s a preview; if you don’t have sport-specific training, your game speed will suffer.
…and if you only do sport-specific speed training, your game speed will suffer!
Speed In Sports
You already know that coaches want fast players!
Just watch sports, and you can all see that speed has an impact on the game. Faster players have an advantage.
And if you watch really closely and breakdown that speed, you can learn some things about what athletes need.
The basic mechanics are the same.
The key elements of speed look really close across lots of different sports. This isn’t to say they are precisely the same if we get down to measuring exact angles, contact times, stride length, etc…
However, the limbs’ fundamental action, the basic angles, and the alignment are all very similar. Why?
The Science of Speed
The reason that athletic speed is similar across diverse sports is that physics remains the same in all sports (at least those played on the earth.)
Its gravity, body mass, and Newton’s 3 Laws of Motion dictate speed in sport.
That’s why Velocity’s speed formula is so successful. It addresses the fundamental physics of speed.
Athletes are faster when they can produce the right forces into the ground, applied at the proper angles, over the right time frames.
Newtons Laws Of Motion for Speed
Newtonian physics doesn’t change based on the game. Whether on a field or court these basic laws of physics remain the same.
One of the biggest reasons why speed mechanics are so similar across sports is that athletes have to generate big forces relative to their body weight. This is called a “mass specific force.”
When a force is generated in a short time you get power. An athlete’s relative power is part of what propels them as they sprint. The power is generated from the actions of the big muscles in the lower body.
That force has to be applied in the proper direction to make them move the direction they intend. Thats why we can see similar joints angles and body alignment across sports. Yes, there are differences, but as a whole they are very similar.
Sports Have Different Speed Requirements
But even though the physics are the same, the game is not. Sports clearly have different requirements for athletic speed.
That’s why we intuitively wonder if speed training needs to be sport specific. The spaces, the opponents, the tactics, and the specific technical skills can be very different.
Sprinting isn’t the same when you are trying to catch a ball over your shoulder or trying to evade defenders and get to the goal.
The context of speed matters. It actually changes the way the brain and body process the movement.
So there is definitely a sport-specific element to speed.
As outlined above, we know there are differences in how speed is applied in different sports. But what about training for it? Is speed training sport-specific?
That’s the real question. What works to help an athlete play faster? What’s the most efficient and effective way to improve athletic speed?
Like a lot of things, it’s not an either/or answer. It’s both general athletic speed and sport-specific practice.
Almost every athlete needs to build their fundamental speed abilities. Acceleration, Max Velocity mechanics, and multi-directional speed & agility are the foundation.
Performance training through movement sessions or in the weight room improves the athlete through fundamental physics.
The sport alone won’t address the fundamental physics enough.
That’s the reason why you need performance training. It’s an opportunity to strip away the complex nature of the sports environment and really hone in on the fundamentals.
All of those contextual elements in sport mean athletes often don’t get to really push their speed limits. They can’t focus on improving the basics because they need to focus on their sport’s other elements.
An athlete’s “speed limit” in a sense is their underlying speed capacity. If their fundamental speed is limited, their sport-specific speed will be limited more.
Context Is King On Game Day
Speed fundamentals without application in a sport-specific context don’t transfer.
That’s why getting faster without also practicing your sport doesn’t translate to game day speed.
The elements of reading the game, decision making, and executing sport-specific skills are too important.
Put the fastest track sprinter into a different sport, and they’ll cover ground quickly, but they might not be in the right place or be able to do anything when they get there.
To reach the fullest potential, athletes need performance training to build the fundamentals and sports practice to learn to apply it.
Sport-specific Speed Training Is AND ot OR.
In the end, general athletic and specific speed training are both required. That is the only way to maximize an athlete’s potential.
Performance training improves the underlying speed capabilities through physics and motor control. Practice translate that speed to be useful in a sport-specific context.
Athletes that want to be faster need to build their speed skills in training and then learn to apply them at practice.
training is a constant topic of discussion among athletes, parents, and
coaches. For our team at Velocity, it comes up
daily in settings from local performance centers to our coaches at Olympic
While some performance coaches scoff at the idea of
sport-specific training, we think it’s a great thing to discuss.
It just seems like commonsense after all.
It’s based on you competing in a sport.
You want to improve performance in that sport.
You have decided to spend time and energy on training other than sport/skills practice.
Therefore, it’s perfectly logical that it should be specific.
In this article, we are going to cover the essential things you need to understand about sport-specific training. This includes:
Why you want sport-specific training
What sport-specific training is
Transfer of training
How sport-specificity affects Long term Athletic Development
How do you figure out what’s specific for your sport
Sport-specific speed, strength, stamina, and mobility
Why Do You Want Sport-Specific Training?
an athlete wants a training program, one of our key questions is: Why Do You
at the foundation of how Velocity approaches athletes. We need to understand an
athlete’s WHY? Their deeper motivation.
does this have anything to do with a specific training program?
Context and coaching
as coaches, our responsibility is to help guide you to the right solutions. If we don’t have any context to your question about
sport-specific training, we are making assumptions.
assumptions could be wrong.
you want sport-specific training because you have potential in the sport and
want to play at a high level? Some athletes are just
trying to make their team or get playing time.
you want to train specifically so that
you can reduce your risk of injury. Or perhaps
you’ve had an injury and are trying to get back to your performance level
Perhaps you’ve tried some training that wasn’t
“sport-specific” and you didn’t see results, or worse it had a
negative effect on your game.
All of those goals may, in fact, require
some type of sport-specific training. However,
they are also different.
A coach needs to understand this. After all, when we look deeper, sport-specific training is really; your goal-specific training.
athletes seek sport-specific training to meet their sport-specific goals. If
your coach doesn’t try to understand you and your goals, then they might be
missing the mark.
That’s bad coaching.
let’s start by redefining the underlying motivation for sport-specific
You want results in your sport.
You don’t want to waste time and effort on training that doesn’t contribute to those results.
The purpose of sport-specific training is to use training to effectively and efficiently reach your goals in the sport.
What Is Sport-Specific Training?
Since we know what the purpose is; what is sport-specific training?
we discuss “sport-specific” we hear a lot of different concepts.
Often it’s based on doing things that look like the sport. Drills that use the
sports equipment; balls, bats, gloves, sticks, etc…
Other times it’s practicing sports skills with rubber bands
on, wearing weight vests, or hooked up to bungee cords and devices.
At the elite level those ideas occasionally come up,
but the discussion tends to get more straight to the point. Our Olympic teams and pro
athletes want results.In their sport.Period.
athletes face heavy physical and mental demands. The margin for error can be incredibly small. In some of our Olympic sports hundredths of a second are the
difference between a Gold medal and not being on the podium at all.
athlete facing that can’t waste time or energy. They can’t add wear and tear to
their body if it doesn’t give them better results in return. Their coaches care
about the same thing.
Sports specific training transfers to better performance, lower injury risk and increased competitive longevity.
brings us to the concept of “transfer of training” in sports. Is the training
you are doing transferring to improved performance in your sport? Is it
transferring to lower injury risks so you can be in the game competing? Is it
helping to extend your career for more years?
are the questions that we ask of every component of training at the elite
level. As an athlete has more years of training, this becomes harder and harder
to achieve. This is related to their
“window of opportunity” for different qualities.
athlete’s opportunity to improve a skill or ability is not infinite. A human
will never run 100mph or vertical jump 20 feet. There are limits to human
performance. So let’s apply this concept to a physical ability. Sprinting.
To make our point let’s get a little extreme. A 3 year knows how to run. They won’t be that fast compared to an Olympic sprinter.
If we consider the Olympic sprinter near the top of human potential, then the 3 year has a huge window of opportunity to improve. The Olympian is nearing human limits, so their window of opportunity is very small.
This concept has a profound effect on the transfer of training. At early levels, doing general things will bring big dividends. A soccer team of 8-year olds will improve their soccer skills just by becoming more coordinated. Doing things like skipping, jumping hoping and running will increase their basic athleticism.
They get a lot of “transfer” (improvement in their sport)
from that unspecific and relatively less intense training.
General Athleticism Helps Young Athletes
general athletic training also doesn’t overstress the body. It doesn’t limit
the skill set being developed later. Maybe at 8, they are playing soccer, but by
10 they decide they like volleyball. That library of basic athletic movement
skills can be drawn on for most sports.
However, that high-level athlete is entirely
different. Just doing general skipping,
jumping and hopping won’t improve their performance. Our Olympic athletes
generally have a decade or more of training. Their window of opportunity to
improve is much smaller than that 8-year old.
Whereas a little training effort may have lead to 75%
sports improvement for the 8-year-old, the elite athlete has to put in a lot of
work to even improve 1%.
They have to put in more effort, endure more wear and tear
on their body and manage large emotional and mental stresses. There is no room for waste,
so training becomes more and more specific. Sport-specific training is
essential for efficiency and effectiveness at the elite level.
Long Term Athlete Development
Velocity employs a long term athletic development model
that helps address the need for specificity. It builds specificity from the ground up
through a foundation of athleticism. At the
early stages, this provides the transfer of training without the repetitive
stress and strain of high specificity.
As an athlete progresses, they continue to benefit from the transfer of training. They accomplish this by focusing on using different types of strength and building athletic movement skills. This gives them a larger library of skills to take to sports practice and put into their technical skills.
As they gain some additional training experience, they can start to become more specific to their sport, their position, and their individual needs.
So, start at the start. To use an analogy, we don’t start future professional drivers in Formula 1 cars at age 8. It’s specific, just not effective. You start them on a far more basic type of car and track. Any young athlete training outside of their sports practice should employ an LTAD model of sport-specific training.
Athletes should progress from general to specific based on the years of training experience of the athlete.
an athlete, you don’t have to be a sport scientist. Still, you should be
learning about your sport as you train. Hopefully,
you are getting that in part from your coaches. That means both your sport and
To determine what IS specific to a sport we strive to understand sports. The Velocity High-Performance Team utilizes experts in performance, sports medicine, biomechanics, sports science, and more to determine this along with the sports coaches.
While there can be thousands of components to elite
performance, they can be grouped into some big buckets to understand.
When it comes to the actual competition, it’s the athlete’s technical and tactical skills that clearly rule the day.
Technical skills are what we typically think of as their sport skills. Dribbling a ball, executing a gymnastics routine or hitting the ball. These skills are developed through thousands of hours of deliberate practice.
skills are the athlete’s abilities to judge and analyze elements of the game.
It’s also their decision making in those moments.
Can the linebacker read the lineup of the opposition and
the strategic situation to diagnose what play is most likely?
Can the rower recognize the other boat picking up the pace
and consider the distance left and their own energy reserves?
Awareness of what’s happening, analyzing it, and making a
strategic decision is an often under-appreciated skill in sports. However,
it can make the difference between being a Hall of Famer and not even having a
the sports skills are equal or close it may be physical skills that separate
athletes. In fact, at some point, their
ability to develop technical skills can be
affected by their physical abilities.
For instance, consider a quarterback or pitcher trying to
perfect their throwing technique for more velocity. As
they work with sports coaches they may be trying to move through new ranges of
motion for better movement efficiency. However, if their underlying mobility isn’t adequate, they
won’t be able to execute that technical model.
same could be true for strength or movement skills. Athletes need a foundation
of physical abilities to build on. This is what we often refer to as
third component of sports competition is the athlete’s mindset. We use this
term to encompass their cognitive processes and brain’s physiological
processing. When we ask world-class athletes
and coaches how much of the game is mental, they typically respond anywhere
from 50% – 99%.
course, you can’t win mentally if you don’t have sports skills or physical
ability. What this tells us is that those things will lose importance if your
mindset isn’t right.
this model of performance, you can begin understanding what is needed in your sport.
You can begin looking at what you need as an individual to succeed. If sport-specific training is about achieving results in the sport, then you need to know what leads to success in the sport.
the end, the thing that tends to increase your sports skills the most is
playing and training your sport.
a lot of performance coaches hate to hear this, but it’s true. Playing your sport and training your technical and
tactical sports skills is as specific as it gets.
However, there are often limits on this. Physically
from energy systems and repetitive motion. Access to coaching time or
field/court space. Weather. Ability to use deep focus on the same skills.
are all things that can limit the ability of the athlete to just practice more for continued gain. When
you cant do the sport more it makes sense that other training could help you
To Sport, Position or You?
So if we are talking about sport-specific training that is
not just practicing the sport itself more
the goal of improving performance, you need to start considering how specific
to get. Is sport-specific training really
instance, a lineman and defensive back in football are both in the same sport.
Do they have the same specific demands?
an extreme example but it carries over into a lot of sports. Different
positions may have some unique specific requirements.
we can take this further to be more specific. If we look at different players
in the same position, they may have different styles. Let’s say the soccer forward who is all finesse and amazing moves
versus the power player who relies on speed and jumping higher to win in the
air. Same sport, same position, different styles.
a step further and we can start to look at your individual genetics and
predisposition. What about your unique history of injuries and physical
qualities. When that window of opportunity gets smaller, these things come into
the end, the level of specificity in training is inverse to the level and
training age of the athlete. The younger and more developmental the athletes,
the more benefit from general training.
The more elite the athlete with years of training, the more specific training need to be.
We have already acknowledged that skills and tactics are
best improved in sports practice. However, we are
focused on determining what type of
physical training will be the most specific for your sport.
that leads to better performance. Less injury. Longer careers.
So. what physical qualities are specific to any sport? Let’s start by defining some broad categories; speed, strength, stamina, mobility, and resiliency.
What Is Sport-Specific Speed?
and agility are valued in almost every
sport. To et specific, you can start understanding different aspects to speed
As you try to understand what makes speed specific to your
sport you can start by thinking about how much of the movement is straight
ahead versus laterally and diagonally?
an important factor. Is there a lot of straight-ahead sprinting like a wide
receiver in football or a soccer forward? Or is it more sideways or mixed
movements? The type you see in sports like basketball and tennis as examples?
is a lot of crossover in training these. It’s
especially true at earlier stages of sports development, but as you go up in
level the difference is greater and training techniques more specific.
How often do you change directions in your sport? That’s another way to determine your sport-specific training needs. A player reacting to opponents or trying to lose them may make a lot of change of direction movements.
What Is Sport-Specific Strength?
Too often athletes think that strength is how much weight you can lift on a barbell. For an athlete, strength is so much more than that.
big lift barbell strength is often useful and represents one type of strength.
You need to understand that there are different types of strength and which you
need in your sport.
Strength is simply the act of applying force. Applying force to the ground, ice or water. Force applied to your bike, bat, racquet or a ball. Applied force to move your bones and joints into different positions.
Strength not only moves you, but it also holds you together. Your muscles, fascia, and connective tissue use contraction to make you function. Strength protects you when you absorb impact. Impacts from striking the ground when running. Internal stress from decelerating your arm after throwing or swinging the stick. Impact from opponents or landing on the ground.
Every Athlete Needs Strength
EVERY athlete needs strength. The devil is in the details.
Those details are about how fast it’s applied. The direction and motion. The muscle groups. And it’s the transition from one strength type to another. This is what defines strength for an athlete.
This is why the Velocity Strength Signature was developed. To help elite athletes understand what type of strength they needed to train.
help illustrate this, let’s consider the strength needed by an NFL lineman and
a tennis player. Do both need to be strong?
people may jump to the conclusion that a lineman needs strength and a tennis
player doesn’t. After all the lineman is pushing around another 300lb human who
is really strong. The tennis player is
only moving their body and swinging a little racquet.
we are thinking in terms of something
like a 400lb back squat this might be relatively
accurate. That is what we would call Maximum
Strength. The ability to contract slowly (compared
to many sports movements) and at very high force levels.
The tennis player does need some of this strength type, but they also need to cover the court really quickly. The tennis player is lighter and goes side to side changing directions. Those changes are going to require more eccentric strength. The ability to absorb their momentum going one way, stop and go back the other.
This is also strength, but a different type. Sports generally requires multiple types of strength, with some more important than others. Strength training starts to become specific when you train for specific types of strength.
many people, this may be one of the most obvious. A marathon runner needs
different stamina than a 100m sprinter. The Olympic weightlifter has different
energy needs than the 1500m freestyle swimmer.
does get harder as we move to team sports and activities that are not
steady-state or really short. The body essentially has 3 main energy pathways and it
uses them in different ways for the sport.
To condition for this type of sport, we can train multiple energy systems together so it mimics the sport. At other times we focus on building up one more than others.
It’s not only sport-specific but position, style of play and individual specific. Even in a sport like basketball, two teams may need very different conditioning based on their style. A high pressure or fast-break style will require different conditioning than a slower tempo, ball control focused team.
What Is Sport-Specific Mobility?
To produce your sports technical skills, your body needs to
achieve certain body positions. You need to move your joints
and muscles efficiently through specific ranges of motion.
If you are limited by the flexibility, stability
or mobility of your body, you might not be able to effectively develop
that sport skill.
Most people can understand the difference needed in
mobility between an elite gymnast (huge mobility demands) compared to a cyclist
(only a few specific areas need mobility).
During training, sport-specific mobility comes from more than only stretching certain areas. Even effective dynamic warm-ups and full range of motion strength training help.
First of all, understand you are right to want sport-specific training. Which means reaching your goals and improving performance in a sport.
wouldn’t you want that?
Sports specific training transfers to better performance,
lower injury risk and increased competitive longevity.
Therefore, you need to find training that will get results and not waste your time and energy.
1.Your Athletic Development
That means to first consider your level. A young athlete will get an effective transfer from developing all-around athleticism. Start at the start if you haven’t been training for years.
2.Your Sport Demands – Speed,
Next, you need to understand what your sport demands. A good coach and performance system should actually help teach you this and guide you to a better understanding of your sport.
If you are training right, you’re going to see a lot of benefits for a long time. Moreover, this requires the right;
3.Your Individual Needs
Finally, if you want to see benefits, your training needs to address your specific needs. If you’re slow, get faster. If you get injuries often, become more resilient physically.
is particularly true when it comes to sport-specific strength training.
Everyone can get stronger, but are you building the right type of strength? Do
you know your own genetic disposition and what type of strength will help you
on the field?
Sport-specific training is needed. Just make sure you know what that means and when. Ask questions to make sure your coaches do as well.
Every player and coach knows that speed kills. It’s an advantage that every player wants. Unfortunately, there is a lot of confusion when it comes to improving lacrosse speed.
The first thing required to improve lacrosse speed is to understand it will take specific work. Improving speed is not just practicing. It’s not running repeat wind-sprints and conditioning.
Speed development is the product of both technical work and improving power.
Technical work often looks like track drills to many people. With good reason. Track is the expression of pure speed. And while we don’t need our lacrosse players to have the technical mechanics of a track athlete, there’s still a lot of benefit from this type of drill.
Teaching the athlete how to move efficiently and effectively for speed is the starting point. After all, speed is the product of Newton’s Laws of Motion and applies to every sport. Physics doesn’t care whether it’s lacrosse or track.
The fundamentals of acceleration and max velocity sprinting apply to lacrosse.
Physics tell us that the amount of force applied relative to bodyweight is a key factor in speed. While sprinting, that force has to be applied to the ground in a very short time. Ground contacts range from ~ 250 ms accelerating down to less than 100 ms when at full speed.
Generating large forces in a small time is called power. To be fast a lacrosse player needs to be able to generate power in their lower body to project their body.
This means developing that power through progressive overload. A developing lacrosse player can apply progressive load through strength training, medicine ball throws, plyometrics, and explosive lifting.
If a lacrosse player doesn’t have much experience with this type of training, the general rule is to use a wide range of methods to develop different types of strength and power needed.
Many players and coaches see speed training as sprinting. While sprinting is a necessary part of speed training, just doing repeat sprints is not speed training.
When performing repeated sprints to improve fitness, the player builds fatigue on each one. In fact that’s the very stimulus that leads to improved conditioning.
However, running fatigued leads to changed coordination and force application. The speeds end up too slow, and the technique too sloppy to improve a players speed abilities.
Conditioning has a critical place, but it’s not part of improving lacrosse speed. A player has to maximize that ability first, before they can condition to use it repeatedly. Otherwise, the player is just conditioning to be able to run slow repeatedly.
Lacrosse Game Speed
So with the understanding that lacrosse players need to take specific action, what should they do? The answer comes from considering both how we improve seed and whats need for lacrosse.
Speed for a track sprinter is simple. Run as fast as possible and turn left. It’s not so simple for a lacrosse player.
Improving lacrosse speed is a process of developing the actual type of speed needed in a game.
When we break down lacrosse, we can identify some priorities;
Acceleration In Lacrosse
Acceleration is the process of increasing speed. Whether from standing, our of a dodge, or while already moving, acceleration occurs when the player tries to explosively increase there speed.
Acceleration mechanics are different than full speed mechanics. It involves longer contact times and more emphasis on horizontal power. The mechanics are more of a “punch and drive” action than cyclical.
Dodges in lacrosse are critical to creating opportunities to attack and score. Dodging is a combination of agility and acceleration. Agility is the capability to change the direction with body control and balance.
So when it comes to improving a player’s dodging, we can improve the components so that when it’s practice time, they can improve the skill. Improving the ability to stop or changing direction fast, and then reaccelerate in a new direction will help a lacrosse player improving their dodges.
When trying to get toward the goal, lacrosse players rarely have a straight line. Opposing players block the path necessitating runs that are often curved. The attacker has to try to get ahead while running on a curve.
Curved running ability relies on the same basics of linear speed, but with some key differences. The biggest difference is the body lean and the crossover action of the legs. Using some drills that train this will make players more efficient in their curved runs.
This exercise will help build a foundation of strength in the lower body. Lacrosse players need strength to apply braking forces when dodging and propulsive forces when accelerating.
The kettlebell version of this exercise is a great place to start. It reinforces proper posture while developing the single leg strength every lacrosse player needs.
Drill 2: Crossover Bounds
To build power and work on the crossover mechanics needed in curved runs, this drill works well. Players will develop power by applying a big force to the ground in a small time. Plus, they work on the trail leg crossing the midline of the body and pushing backwards.
Drill 3: Sled Bound To Run
A key factor in acceleration is getting the right alignment of the body to apply forces horizontally. The resistance of the sled requires the athletes to get into the right position to be successful. Using punch and drive mechanics to develop force will transfer to any instance of acceleration on the lacrosse field.
Improving Speed Gives You An Advantage
Every player wants to be fast, but not every player works specifically on improving lacrosse speed.
Use these drills and get focused on improving your athletic speed, so you can be faster in lacrosse.
If you aren’t training curvilinear sprinting, you’re missing an important part of game speed.
When you look around, you’ll start to notice there is a lot of curved running in sports. Most of us think of speed as straight-ahead running. We think of agility and see the changes in direction and footwork.
But since it falls somewhere in the middle, curved running gets ignored in most training programs.
Curved running is not turning or changing direction. It’s when an athlete is altering their body lean and mechanics to run on a curvilinear path. It is reasonable to ask if this is important in sports. When we break down the video, do we see curved running in sports?
Curved Runs in Sports
In any track sprint over 100m the athletes are going to have to run the curve. After all, that’s just the shape of the track.
Yet, curvilinear runs occur in a lot of team and court sports as well. The reason is simple, there are often opponents blocking their direct pathway.
A curved path becomes the fastest option. You can maintain or build speed running the curve while working to edge out your opponent and gain a lead.
If you want to see some great curved runs take a look at lacrosse. Because there is a large amount of field behind the goal players use all 360 degrees. This leads to many curved runs attacking the goal.
In many sports we see athletes trying to get around the corner or around the edge set by defenders. Think of a defensive end in football trying to rush the quarterback. Or the running back trying to both get outside around defenders while gaining some positive yards.
You see the same thing in basketball and soccer with offensive players trying to get around a defender to drive on the goal or basket.
Accelerating or Maintaining Speed
In liner sprinting we look at acceleration and upright, maximum velocity mechanics differently. The postures, rhythm, movement pattern, and power requirements are different.
When we consider curved runs in sports we need to recognize that they occur in both acceleration and max velocity.
The NFL defensive end is starting from complete rest when they start that curved run. An NBA player driving the basket is similar. These are instances where the players are accelerating on a curved pathway
On the other hand, a wide receiver taking the ball on a sweep, or a baseball player rounding the bases are using more cyclical, upright mechanics. Just like linear sprinting, as you get to higher velocities, you have to become more upright.
Bottom line; curved running in sports is common for attacking players. These runs also have differences compared to linear sprinting.
While its common in sports, its not actually well researched. In part because its just harder when the athlete is moving on a curved line.
However, we do have some information that highlights the different demands during curved running.
One of the most obvious is that the athlete leans their body. The tighter the curve, the greater the lean. This leads to obvious changes in running mechanics.
The body lean means the athlete has to manage and overcome centrifugal forces. They must apply mediolateral forces through the lower body much more than in linear sprinting.
With the athlete’s body leaning, the ankles make contact with the ground in either eversion (angled out) or inversion (angled in). Applying the large forces in sprinting at these angles creates new demands. Athletes need increased mobility and stability in the foot and ankle.
Since the trajectory of the run is curved, and the body leaning, the outside leg of the player must “crossover” the midline of the body to strike the ground. Crossing over requires both increased hip mobility as well as stability and power in different muscles.
While there is limited science, the early research on curved sprinting shows that the body is loaded differently. Training and specific preparation for those forces and ranges of motion just makes sense.
How To Prepare The Body
One of the things to prepare athletes is to make sure they have the requisite range of motion needed. The hips need an appropriate range in internal/external rotation and hip adduction.
This can be developed through various mobility methods. Check out this drill for hip mobility.
The foot and ankle also require a different range of motion and increased stability.
Like linear sprinting, curved runs in sports require generating and transmitting large forces into the ground. Developing the right strength and power qualities in the weight room will contribute to better curved running.
An easy modification to consider is leg strength with some type of lateral movement. This helps prepare for the added medio-lateral forces in the lower body.
Players should also include lateral hops and plyometrics. These will both build power and prepare the foot and ankle structures.
Sprint Training For Curved Runs in Sports
Most athletes have limited training time. Often they can barely spend time on linear sprinting. So how do they fit in something else?
In most cases, small doses added to the existing speed training can work. After all, there are more similarities with linear sprinting than differences.
If an athlete doesn’t have good mechanics in linear sprinting they probably won’t be good in curved runs. At Velocity, we’ve found that developing the basics first in linear sprinting is an effective strategy.
The crossover and lean are what make curved running possible and create different demands. That’s why we use crossover running to develop curvilinear sprinting speed.
Cross over running covers a continuum from single crossover steps to running laterally for multiple steps.
What we’ve found over the past 20 years and one million plus athletes, is that training the crossover improves curved running.
The trajectory in crossover running is more extreme than a curved run. However, the combination of linear and cross over drills prepare the athletes for effective curved running.
We top this off with small doses of curved running as applied drill in speed sessions. Doing this allows athletes to explore how to effectively apply these mechanics.
These applied drills are fit into both acceleration and max velocity training sessions.
Curved Running When Returning From Injury
When you consider the increased centrifugal forces in curved running, you recognize the extra demands on the body. The athlete encounters demands on their mobility, stability, and strength in the lower extremity.
If a player who makes curved runs is rehabbing from a lower-body injury, they better put some focus on it.
Unfortunately, we find it rarely happens. Curvilinear running should be trained before returning to sport. The player’s body should be specifically prepared for an effective and safe return to sport.
Curved Running In Sports Can Be Improved
Curved runs are critical in many sports situations. Being faster on the curve can give a player an advantage. That makes it something players want to be faster at.
The most important way to improve curvilinear sprinting is to get good at linear sprinting. Most of the mechanics, forces and physical demands are very similar.
Preparing the body through targeted mobility, stability, strength, and power development is the next step. It’s the physical foundation needed. Including crossover running drills and a small dose of curved runs tops off the training.
Improved curvilinear speed allows athletes to be ready come game time.
It’s a common cue you might hear from a coach. “Load to explode!”
That’s because it is fundamental to many sports movements and involves two of the six types of athletic strength.
LOADING YOUR MUSCLES
Loading is what you see athletes doing in a countermovement or wind-up. It’s that pre-stretch in many movements that increases their power. It measures how quickly you are able to build up force doing in that counter-movement.
Scientifically we describe this as the rate of force development. It tells us how quickly you can turn on your muscles and build up force. In the STRENGTH SIGNATURE, we describe this type of strength as LOAD.
When people are talking about strength, they often mean an athletes ability to apply maximal forces. They are talking about max strength.
But to generate maximum strength, peak forces could take over a second to build up. In rate of force development, we are looking at time frames of as little as 50-200 milliseconds.
As an example, picture a player about to jump. They first bend their knees and hips and dip down in what’s called a countermovement.
That counter movement helps build up force levels in the muscles and store some elastic energy to use while they jump up.
LOAD is the strength ability to have a high rate of force development during that counter-movement.
Another example would be an athlete “winding up” to throw a ball or a punch. Or maybe a hockey player winding up for more power in their slapshot or a tennis player preparing for a big swing.
Coaches and athletes often talk about explosiveness and power since these are qualities that athletes want. Jumping, sprinting, hitting, throwing, and changes of direction can be described in these terms.
But it isn’t always clear exactly how they are looking at it.
In physics terms power is how much work can be done in a period of time.
However, if we rearrange the formula for power, we end up with a formula that says Power = force * velocity. Basically that means power is strength multiplied by speed.
POWER = STRENGTH X SPEED
Power is a determining factor in athletic movements such as jumping and sprinting where time to perform is limited. It is often framed relative to bodyweight because that matters when an athlete in running and jumping.
The more power they can develop per pound of bodyweight, the more it will project their body forward.
Think of it as an engine and it’s power output. A big engine with lots of power might not move a large truck that fast, but put it into a smaller, lighter car and it flies. More power per pound.
In our STRENGTH SIGNATURE, EXPLODE is the average power an athlete can produce relative to their bodyweight.
Load To Explode
As mentioned earlier, that loading action, makes the following explosive movement more powerful. That’s why it’s so important in sports and we see it so much.
This combination of two types of strength in a coordinated athletic movement is a key part of performance training. We want faster loading, and more explosive power.
Loading is trained when we put an emphasis on how quickly muscles fire, not just how hard. Two of the ways we commonly do this are through starting explosive exercises from a pause, and by overloading counter-movements.
Sometimes the way to force an athlete to work on a specific strength quality is to put them at a disadvantage. This means they will have to overemphasize it, thus stimulating improvement.
In Load, we are talking about the ability to turn on muscles quickly.
So we take away momentum and counter-movements. Doing explosive exercises like jumps or Olympic lifts from a static start can be a big help here.
To improve the Rate of Force Development (LOAD) during a counter-movement, you can overload the counter-movement with added weight or movement speed.
For instance, in some plyometric or agility drills we have athletes use medicine balls, weight vests, or bungee cords to overload the “loading” portion before they explode.
This is a really effective way to not just build general Load ability but to work on the motor control for applying it to a specific movement.
In addition to training Speed and Agility, we also develop an athlete’s power capability through weight training and plyometrics.
Jumping exercises can teach athletes how to apply their strength quickly or can be used to overload it.
Through different types of plyometrics, we can train specific movement patterns that athletes need so that their EXPLODE qualities translate to improvements in their sport.
One of the most effective ways to improve EXPLODE is with Olympic lifts. By their nature, these movements combine strength and speed.
Athletes don’t need to always do the full competitive versions of the lifts or be as technically perfect as an Olympic caliber lifter. Basic technique and variations of the lifts are useful tools for all athletes seeking increased power capabilities.
Train Your Ability To Load and Explode
It’s a key part of sport most athletes should be training. By training these two strength types you can increase the speed and power of many key athletic movements. When it comes to strength training for athletes, it’s not only about how heavy a barbell you can lift.
The strength hockey players need to succeed is not always obvious to the casual observer. While lifting big weights like a heavy squat or bench press is impressive, strength is a lot more than just the matter on a barbell for athletes.
Here’s what you have to understand, those heavy lifting exercises are just one type of strength. It’s high force, but relatively slow (at least when compared to most sports movements).
In Velocity’s strength taxonomy, that’s what we’d call Max Strength or simply FORCE in the Strength Signature.
There are 6 types of strength we refer to for athletes. The development of all of them is crucial in building a better hockey athlete over the long term.
However, as a hockey player progresses, they will eventually focus on developing specific ones to higher levels and in the planes of motion that dominate the sport.
A player will need to increase their FORCE or maximum strength for quite a few years into their career. Young players in the NHL are often still building this as you won’t hit your higher-level until mid-twenties.
This serves as a base for many of the other qualities we are going to talk about. It also provides a degree of protection by increasing the load tolerance of the athlete’s soft tissues.
To go beyond that general strength, we perform a Strength Diagnosis through testing athletes and identify their unique Strength Signature—a profile of all 6 types of athletic power.
Even without that type of individual analysis, here are the 3 types of strength we’d like to see in a hockey player.
This strength quality is all about being able to absorb and control high levels of eccentric force. Eccentric muscle actions are where the muscle is applying force, but still stretching longer. It’s a critical and unique type of strength that is often neglected in many hockey players.
Every time a hockey player goes into a high-speed turn, they rely on eccentric strength to control those g-forces of the curve. If they want to go faster, they need more eccentric strength. When they take the impact of another player, they need this strength quality as well.
Training to improve this eccentric quality is done through a specific focus on absorbing and controlling forces. We use various overloaded plyometrics where the emphasis is on the quality and loads during landing or stopping.
It can also be achieved in traditional strength exercises when we focus on using extra slow tempos to lower the weight. Think of going downward in a squat and taking 6 seconds to do it.
Finally, we can really improve it by using special machines. We can overload the eccentric actions in diagonal and rotation patterns we see in hockey skating and shooting with flywheel inertia.
This is a power quality, meaning the player can apply big forces in a short time. We measure it relative to bodyweight because it directly correlates with a hockey player’s ability to propel themselves on the ice. High power output is needed for high skating speeds. It also contributes to things like shot power and making contact with another player.
Power is increased by first increasing strength to adequate levels and then focusing on speed of resisted movement. How much strength is enough? You have to test to figure that out.
To increase power, the variations of explosive Olympic lifts are a cornerstone. They are one of the most effective and efficient ways to increase whole-body power output.
Plyometrics and medicine ball throws are additional tools that can improve a hockey player’s capabilities. Performing these in lateral and rotational movements patterns helps transfer the explosive improvements from the weight room to the ice.
Another really effective method is to couple strength and power exercises together one after the other. Techniques such as complex and French contrast training rely on the increased nervous system activation of strength lifts. A heavy strength movement is followed by an explosive activity that takes advantage of this increased neurological state.
This type of strength is all about how quickly you can turn on your muscle units and produce force. It’s their rate of force development.
Maximum strength is traditionally about peak force generation, but that could easily take well over a second to build up.
In hockey, things move much quicker. Even long contact times with the ice are only in the 300-500 msec range. Like in many sports, in hockey, it’s not always about how much force you can produce, but instead how quickly you can create it. We want our hockey players to be able to “load” their muscles rapidly so they can explode into the next action.
Using exercises that put athletes at a disadvantage by taking away momentum and counter-movements forces them to work on their force development rate. This is often done with lighter loads that let the athlete focus on moving quickly, instead of just grinding against weight. Giving athletes feedback through velocity tracking technology in the weight room helps drive the right adaptations.
Instead of using generic programs, we tailor strength training to players after building a base of strength. This is done by actually measuring the 6 strength qualities to develop their Strength Signature.
The Strength Signature is a profile based on over 20 years of data from elite athletes around the globe. We can identify where a player’s relative strengths and weaknesses are so that an individual program can be created for optimal results.
Another reason we use Strength Diagnosis for hockey players is to identify strength imbalances that could put them at higher risk of injury. Whether they’ve been healthy until now or already had injuries, our Strength Diagnosis is an advanced step in keeping them on the ice and healthy.
For instance, a player with high EXPLODE and FORCE, but a low ABSORB score is at higher risk. It’s like a car with a really powerful engine and lots of speed, but bad brakes. That’s the formula for a crash.
Athletic Strength for Hockey
Once you understand that there are different types of strength, you can start to identify the types of strength hockey players need.
While a base of general strength is useful for a developing hockey player, understand that athletic strength has many qualities. To optimize performance and reduce the risk of injury, make sure you train the right type of strength.
On top of their basic force production capabilities, hockey players need specific types of strength. Absorb, Explode, and Load are the strength types hockey players need to thrive on the ice. Neglecting these essential qualities can leave holes in their game or put them at a higher risk of injury.