Why Eccentric Strength Is Important For Athletes (its critical!)

Changes of direction require eccentric strength

Eccentric strength is critical for athletes because they encounter a lot of eccentric actions. These movements are both impactful to performance and often linked to non-contact injuries.

One of Six Types Of Athletic Strength

Athletes need strength to absorb eccentric overload in motions like landing, stopping, follow-through, and change of direction. Think of this type of strength as your shock absorbers and brakes.

These activities come with high levels of force, and often high levels of speed. Think about an athlete who just went up for a rebound in basketball or spike in volleyball.

After that jump, they have to absorb the forces of landing. That means controlling them so they don’t get injured, and so they are ready to go into the next action they need to make.

LEARN MORE: Athletic Strength Is More Than Weight On A Barbell

What does eccentric mean?

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

Eccentric strength is important for athletes when they have to absorb forces
Eccentric strength is important for athletes when they have to absorb forces. You can see the athlete above is absorbing forces on her lead leg as she slows for sprinting and lowers to get the ball.

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.

Eccentric Forces

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.

Strength Signature

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.

Myth or Fact: Speed Training Is Sport-Specific

Is speed sport specific

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.

the physics of speed aren't sport specific

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.

curvilinear speed is common in sports
Physics dictate that movement will look similar across sports

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.

READ MORE: What Is Sport-Specific Speed?

sport speed is context driven

Should Speed Training Be Sport-Specific?

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.

Essential Guide to Sport-Specific Training

guide to sport-specific training

Sport-specific 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 training facilities.

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?

Whenever an athlete wants a training program, one of our key questions is: Why Do You Train?

It’s at the foundation of how Velocity approaches athletes. We need to understand an athlete’s WHY? Their deeper motivation.

How does this have anything to do with a specific training program?

Context and coaching

See, 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.

Those assumptions could be wrong.

Do 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.

Maybe 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 before.

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.

If a coach doesn’t really understand your goals, then your training might be off-target.

Most 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.

So let’s start by redefining the underlying motivation for sport-specific training;

  • 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?

When 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.

swimming specific training
With a small margin of error in many elite sports, training has to be specific

Elite 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.

An 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.


Transfer of Training

This 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?

Those 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.

Windows of Opportunity

An 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.

usain bolt sprint start
An Olympian has developed to such a high level, their room for improvement is usually 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

That 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.

Sissoko Tottenham Hotspur
Fundamental athleticism is great to keep elite players functioning, but it won’t help them improve sports skills.

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 Model

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.

Long term athletic development velocity programs

READ: How Elite Organizations Use A Long-Term Model To Build Champions

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.


Understanding Your Sport

As 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 performance coaches.

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.

Sports Skills

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.

wrestling sport-specific skills
Sport skills include both technical and tactical skills. For instance, a wrestler needs the skill to exact a move, but also needs to know when to choose that move and use it.

Tactical 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 career.

Physical Abilities

When 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.

The 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 “athleticism.”

Mindset

The 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%.

nick foles
A winning mindset includes the resiliency to overcome obstacles.

Of 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.

With 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.

READ ABOUT IT: Resiliency Is A Key Part of An Athlete’s Mindset. Here’s How To Build It.


Sports Training Is The Truest “Specific” Training

In the end, the thing that tends to increase your sports skills the most is playing and training your sport.

Now 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.

These 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 get better.

Specific To Sport, Position or You?

So if we are talking about sport-specific training that is not just practicing the sport itself more

With the goal of improving performance, you need to start considering how specific to get. Is sport-specific training really enough?

For instance, a lineman and defensive back in football are both in the same sport. Do they have the same specific demands?

Not even close.

That’s an extreme example but it carries over into a lot of sports. Different positions may have some unique specific requirements.

Then 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.

Go 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 play.

In 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.


Is speed sport specific
The laws of physics apply to all sports so a lot of the fundamental movement patterns look similar. Physics aren’t sport-specific.

Sport-Specific Training

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.

Training 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?

Speed and agility are valued in almost every sport. To et specific, you can start understanding different aspects to speed in sports.

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?

That’s 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?

Athletes developing the fundamentals of acceleration at Velocity in Greenville, SC.

There 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.

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

So EVERY athlete needs strength. The devil is in the details.

Strength is simply about generating and applying force. Athlete’s need to develop several types of general and sport-specific strength

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.

To help illustrate this, let’s consider the strength needed by an NFL lineman and a tennis player. Do both need to be strong?

Many 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.

If 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.

READ MORE: There are specific types of strength for athletes.

What Is Sport-Specific Stamina?

For 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.

It 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.

mobility vs flexibility
Athletes need mobility, flexibility, and stiffness in different amounts based on their sport.

RELATED: Mobility and flexibility are different. Athletes need to understand how.


How to Use Sport-Specific Training for You?

First of all, understand you are right to want sport-specific training. Which means reaching your goals and improving performance in a sport.

Why 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 Level

  • 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, Strength, Stamina

  • 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;

  • type of movements
  • strength qualities
  • energy systems development
  • needed mobility

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.

This 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.

3 Go To Exercises For Improving Lacrosse Speed

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.

Sprint Technique

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.

Lacrosse Speed

Improving Power

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. 

DISCOVER THE SPEED FORMULA FOR ATHLETES

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.

Speed Training Is Not Conditioning

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
  • Dodging (Agility)
  • Curved runs

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.

Dodging

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.

Curved Runs

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.

Learn About Curved Runs In Lacrosse

Improving Lacrosse Speed

Drill 1:  Bulgarian Split Squat

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.

Curved Running In Sports

Curved Running In Sports

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.

Trying to accelerate around a defender and get to the basket requires curvilinear sprinting.
A baseball player displays upright, cyclical sprinting mechanics.

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.

Biomechanics

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.

Crossover Running

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.

Load To Explode

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.

soccer strike
the backwards leg swing before the kick is a counter-movement

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.

EXPLOSIVE POWER

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.

Training LOAD

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.

Static Ballistics

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.

Overloaded Counter-Movements

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.

Training EXPLODE

In addition to training Speed and Agility, we also develop an athlete’s power capability through weight training and plyometrics.

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.

Olympic Lifting

Olympic lifts and variations are great for developing athletic power

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.

Warning: Hockey Players Need These 3 Types of Strength

Strength Hockey Players Need

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.

LEARN MORE: Athletes Need To Know Strength Is More Than Just Weight On A Barbell

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.

Absorb

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.

Explode

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.

Power per pound of body weight is important in hockey

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.

Load

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.

Measure to Manage

Strength Signature
Measuring specific strength qualities identifies an athlete’s Strength Signature

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.

Injury Prevention

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.

7 Strength Training Movement Patterns Athletes Need To Master

There are seven strength training movement patterns all athletes need to master. To understand why you have to understand why athletes strength train in the first place.

When it comes to strength training for sports (other than weightlifting and powerlifting), the goal isn’t just to get strong.  The goal is to improve their performance come game time and to reduce their risks of injury.

Building a base of general strength is useful for almost every athlete.  While many people pursue sport-specific training right away, a base of strength developed with General Physical Preparation lays a foundation to build on.

It’s even more helpful if all 7 of the fundamental movement patterns are being strengthened.  Athletes don’t want gaps when building a strong foundation. These movement patterns reflect the big categories of athletic movement.

Movements Over Muscles

Strengthening movement patterns means you are not only hitting the right muscles but working on the correct movements. After all, that’s how the brain works; in movements, not muscles.  You are training the right patterns for range of motion and the supporting tissues, including bones, muscles, and connective tissues. 

This wasn’t always the case in strength training.  For many years (and still today), bodybuilding influenced athletic strength training.  One of its basic approaches is a focus on isolating individual muscles to add maximum stress and growth.  That’s great if we are only trying to build muscle.  But if we want to improve movement, we need to train the muscles and the brain.

It’s easy to forget, but strength training is just movement training with added resistance.  We need to strengthen movement patterns in all three planes of motion to build a complete athlete.  Working on these seven strength training movement patterns in the weight room is a good start.

Movement Patterns in Sports and Strength Training

Multi-Segmental Extension.

elite training
sprinting is a common example of multi-segmental extension in the lower body

Or the similar action of the lower body in a volleyball player going up for a block.  How about the extension of the lower body and trunk on a football tackle.  

The basis of most sporting movements is the coordinated extension of multiple joints and muscles of the lower body.  Just picture a sprinter simultaneously extending their hip, knee, and ankle joints as they propel their body forward out of the starting blocks.  

Coordinated extension can be seen all over in sports and in the weight room.  Squats, deadlifts, jumps, and Olympic lifts all fall into this category.

Single-Leg Stance

soccer strike
athletes perform many actions from single leg stances

Another fundamental human movement pattern is single-leg stance.  Because human gait involves single-leg support variations, we find this everywhere in sports where athletes are moving over the ground.

A vital element of this pattern is that the left and right sides of the lower body have different things happening between them.  This unilateral focus changes both the application of force and the requirements for added stabilization in the core, pelvis, and leg.

In the weight room, we have true single-leg stances or split stances that create unequal loads between two legs.  While doing a step-up or a lunge, we have moments of single-leg stance.  IN split squats, lateral squats, and Bulgarian split squats, we might have both feet in contact, but the emphasis of force is on one more than the other.

Hip Hinge

Another lower body action we see is hinging at the hip.  This might also combine with some extension at the torso.  These types of movements are coordination of force and stability through the posterior chain muscles.

In sports, we might see examples in a wrestler bridging, trying to get their shoulders off the mat, or while standing and trying to throw an opponent backward.  Or if we observe a track athlete sprinting at full speed and focus on how their leg moves backward to hit the track by extending at the hip.

In strength training for sports exercises like the Romanian Deadlift, Kettlebell Swing, and Hip Bridges are all used for this movement pattern.

Upper Body Push

When we have a coordinated extension of joints in the shoulder, arm, and wrist, we consider this a push. We can classify these as vertical or horizontal push motions based on the plane of movement.

In many sports, we have motion where an athlete is pushing against an object or another player.  You can picture the football lineman pushing an opponent.

It’s also a component in many throwing and swinging motions.  During the second half of these and the follow-through, there is a multi-joint pushing motion.

The bench press is probably the most common Upper Body Push exercise known.  Because of the plane of motion, we’d consider this a horizontal push.  An overhead press, on the other hand, would be a vertical push.

Upper Body Pull

This is the inverse of the push and is the coordination of flexion in those upper body joints. While it’s slightly less common than pushing, it’s critical in many sports.  The “pull” in swimming strokes is what we would consider a vertical pull.   It could also be a rock climber or gymnastic pulling their body upward. 

Horizontal pulling occurs in wrestling and grappling sports as opponents battle for position.  The same can be true of a defensive lineman trying to get past a blocker.  Another common horizontal pull would occur in rowing, kayaking, or canoe.

Chin-ups and pull-ups are the quintessential vertical pulls.  However, pulldowns and other cable exercises can fit here.  For horizontal pulling, we have lots of rows with dumbbells, barbells, and cables.

Bracing

This isn’t a movement pattern at all.  In fact, bracing is actually an anti-movement pattern.  In their core, athletes need to control and transfer force from the upper to lower body.   

The efficient transfer of force often means limiting motion so that force isn’t lost.  Resisting flexion, extension, and rotation in the pelvis and the spine is critical for efficient and explosive movement.

For instance, let’s consider a wide receiver sprinting at full speed down the field.  As their foot strikes the ground, they want to transfer force into the turf to propel them forward.  If their pelvis drops and their core collapsed when they hit the ground, they would lose some of that force.  Instead, they want their core to be solid as a pillar and transfer all that force into the ground.

We strengthen this pattern through exercises such as planks and stability chops or lifts with cables.  Any exercise that focuses on the stability of the core while under load helps with bracing.

Multi-Segment Rotation

arm care program for baseball and softball players

Finally, we have the coordinated rotational action that builds up from the lower body, through a stable core and transfer into the upper body.  It is easy to picture this in sports from a batter swinging to a quarterback throwing.  Sports such as golf, tennis, and hockey all involve rotation to swing an implement.

There are elements of other patterns here; multi-segment extension, bracing and upper body pull/push.  The reason this is a fundamental pattern in itself is the coordination of the these in the transverse plane of motion.

In the weight room, we may use various cable exercises or medicine balls to strengthen rotation.  We can also use barbell landmine or other kettlebell exercises with rotational patterns to achieve this goal.

7 foundation movement patterns in strength training for athletes

Train Movement Patterns Not Muscle Groups

Movement patterns, not muscles, is how the human brain controls movement. Motor control is organized in coordinated patterns, not individual muscles.   The seven fundamental strength training movement patterns are;

  • Multi-Segmental Extension
  • Single-Leg Stance
  • Hip Hinge
  • Upper Push
  • Upper Pull
  • Bracing
  • Multi-Segmental Extension

By building our training approach from these seven strength movement patterns, we serve athletes better.  Better transfer from the weight room to sports.  Building movement proficiency in the weight room in all seven movement patterns is a building block for every athlete.

Improve Functional Strength To Prepare For The Return of Sports

Sports are returning after COVID-19 shutdowns, and athletes need to be preparing now, so they can get back and play at their best.

While at home or waiting for sports return, you can improve some basics that can help prevent injury and give you a foundation for improved performance.

With little to no equipment, you can work on your functional strength and stability to improve performance and reduce compensations.  

When deciding what you need to be doing, you should target areas you’ve had trouble with or are more critical for your sport. 

Maybe there is a part of your body where you have regularly had aches and pains?  If so, you may have already been told by a professional what you should be working on.  If not, get connected to a coach who will do a virtual or in-person assessment and give you a program.

3 Ways You Can Prepare For The Return of Sports

There are simple things you can do to improve your functional mobility and stability. These are important parts of the FOUNDATION phase when preparing for the return of sports to normal.

Return To Sport Pathway after COVID-19
These 3 strategies are important ways to prepare for the return of sports after the COVID-19 shutdowns. They are all part of step 3 in Velocity’s return to sport process.

Below are three things we commonly assign to athletes when they are working on step 3. One of the great things is that these can all be done at home.

If you’ve already been coached on strength training, stretching and mobility, it will be easy to add these in. If you need help, get a coach either in person or remotely to help.

SINGLE LIMB Exercises

While exercises that use two limbs at once (bilateral) are great for building strength and learning technique, they aren’t always the most sport-specific.

During most sports movements, you are moving off one leg, or the two legs are doing different things.  Just think about cutting, throwing, crossing over, and all the other things you do. Same with the upper limbs.

The bottom line, a lot of sports movement is on one leg or one arm.

So, that means that doing some exercise with only one limb (uni-lateral) can be a great addition to your training.  Some of the guidelines to start;

  • Do the same exercises you already know, just with a single limb.
  • You can use dumbbells, kettlebells, backpacks, or other items as your weight.
  • Start slow and focus on smooth, controlled movements.
  • As you have proper technique, go ahead and add weight.  You can actually do a lot in these exercises when you’re ready.

Using dumbbells or kettlebells are great opportunities to work with just a single arm or single leg.   Athletes will have to work more to stabilize joints when working unilaterally. Use movements that are slower at first and build reasonable control before adding weight or speed.

FLEXIBILITY

Working on the range of motion in your soft tissue structures can help eliminate restrictions that may be leading to movement compensations.  It’s something you can clearly do at home without equipment and prepare for sports returning.

We are talking about the range of motion you can achieve that’s limited by your muscles, fascia, and connective tissue.  This is what most people are thinking about when they imagine stretching.

They think about these structures kind of like a rubber band and make them more elastic. This isn’t the only piece for athletes (see mobility next), but it’s still essential.

To work on your tissue flexibility, you can combine self-myofascial release techniques with longer duration stretches and breathing. A standard sequence coaches prescribe for athletes would include;

  • Relax: use deep, diaphragmatic breathing to relax for 1-3 minutes before starting.  Continue this breathing through the rest of the session.
  • Release: use a foam roller or lacrosse ball to find trigger points in muscles. Stay on over-active spots for 1-3 minutes while continuing relaxation breathing.
  • Stretch: Use long duration or band-assisted/active stretches to target specific muscle groups.

MOBILITY

A lot of athletes know that stretching could benefit them.  However, flexibility is only the range of motion of tissues and joints. Your mobility is your body’s ability to control the range of motion and get into positions.  That’s really important for athletes.

Mobility requires flexibility, along with the strength and stability to protect your joints.  

We have athletes use exercises that work through active ranges of motion, such as Animal Flow, yoga, and Functional Range Conditioning. Coaches can help you select what’s right for you with some assessments, but here are some common tips to get the most benefit;

  • Breathe well during the movements and positions. Holding your breathe is cheating.
  • Move slow and smooth to start.
  • Get the movement right. in many of these movements you can look like you’re doing them, but if you’re not focused on the right muscles or patterns, you are losing benefits.
  • Pay attention. Just moving misses a lot of the benefit. Notice how your body is moving and how it’s connected to the ground.

Learn more about athletes’ needs for flexibility and mobility here.

Build Your Foundation To Come Back Stronger

While away from your regular training and practice routines, you can decide to turn this obstacle into an opportunity. Preparing for the return of sports is what serious athletes are doing.

The three tactics shared here are all part of the FOUNDATION phase in the return to sports process you can follow to be your best.

By working on some of the fundamentals, you can be ready to make faster gains when your training and sports return.

Injury Risk From Returning To Sports Too Fast

return to sports after covid injury risks

Detraining during lockdowns and a quick reopening will increase injury risk

The injury risk returning to sports after COVID-19 shutdowns is greater than most coaches realize.

Preventing injuries has to be one of the highest priorities for coaches, teams, and organizations as sports return.  What’s the point of reopening, if our athletes are getting hurt and missing sport anyways?

The detraining they have gone through means the athlete’s returning aren’t the same ones who left.  Their physical capacities will be different.

Few coaches have experienced anything on this scale before.  It’s probably been at least 10 to 20 years since a high school or college athlete has taken a full two months or more fully off from sports.  It just doesn’t happen anymore with year-round training and competition.

So how do we know if they will be at risk?

Return To Sport Lessons For Elite Sports

We know athletes’ have increased risks when returning after significant injury or surgery.  And we aren’t talking about just reinjuring the same body part, but the increased risk of other injuries since they haven’t been training.

We also can look at data from years in pro sports with shorter seasons and lockouts.  Consistently the number of injuries is much higher when the athletes return.

One of the risk factors in all these scenarios is the accumulation of fatigue.  As athletes fatigue, their injury risks increase.  The athletes coming off lockdown restrictions will fatigue faster.  They aren’t in the same shape to train and have a lower ability to recover.

If athletes have been consistently trying to maintain at least 25% of their normal training volume, consider how detrained they are over just 8 weeks.

Even if you ramp up training over the weeks at 40%, 60%, 80% and 100% the gap will be large and increase their risk of injury.

Stress As A Stimulus

Another factor in the injury risk returning to sports is how quickly they ramp up training again.

Practice, training, and competitions are a stimulus and stress for the athlete’s body.  We want some stimulus, so they adapt, putting some savings back in that bank account.  This is the increase in their readiness.  That’s the overall level of their abilities from training.

However, that same stimulus, when taken too far, overloads the athlete beyond their ability to adapt.  This level of stress can lead to immediate fatigue, which increases injury risk.  Remember, the athletes will likely have a diminished ability to recover as fast.  Both with-in a single practice session and between sessions.

When the stress overload is too high, it also damages tissues.  That damage may be a small injury that adds up to those chronic, overuse injuries.  It could also manifest as acute muscle strains and tendon sprains.

The Acute To Chronic Workload Ratio In Return To Sports

In elite sports, a lot of research and effort have gone into understanding how changes in training workload influence injury risk.  The general consensus is that if the volume of training drops too much, athletes detrain. Then their injury risk can go up.   If it increases too fast, then injury risks increase

For those planning the return to sport, this is an essential concept.

Chronic Training Load

Consider two measures of the training workload.  The first we call chronic workload.  This is the average workload that has been happening over time.  Often we look at the average of the last eight weeks, with some extra importance in the most recent weeks.

This should make intuitive sense for a coach.  The work, an athlete, has been doing in training over several weeks is what they can tolerate.  It’s what the athlete has adapted to.   Some practices are intense and some less severe, but it’s the average accumulated workload that they have adapted to.

Think about what this means for athletes right now.  They are getting drastically less workload.  Even if they are putting in their best efforts, they are getting far less than the total they were getting from practice, training, and competition before.

The workload is also relatively specific to the type and intensity of the work.  The workload from 60 minutes of high-intensity practice or games, is much different than 60 minutes of bodyweight training and modified conditioning programs.

So as each week of sports lockdown progresses, the athlete’s average for the last eight weeks is dropping.  Their chronic workload number is going down.  

Acute Training Load

On the other hand, acute training workload is what they are going through now.  This is typically looked at as the last 5-7 days.  Some days may be harder, others more relaxed, but the average is what the athlete’s bodies are working to recover from and adapt to.

The relationship to injury comes in when we see a significant gap in the acute and chronic training load.  This relationship is called the acute to chronic workload ratio (ACWR). 

ACWR – Acute:Chronic Workload Ratio

The average acute training load (last 5-7 days) divided by the average chronic training load (last 6-8 weeks).

CHRONIC Workload = 100 units

ACUTE Workload = 110 units (a 10% increase this week)

ACWR = 1.1

Any time there is an increase in the training load, we see the acute: chronic greater than 1.  Although the exact number varies by sport and finer details of workload, we still know when that number gets too big we have a problem.

Coaches have been pushing athletes for decades to train more and train harder, so they adapt. A jump in the training load itself won’t automatically increase injury risk.

On the other hand, it’s not hard to understand that if you keep doubling the amount of training every week, at some point, they are going to break down.

This graph is from Tim Gabbett, The training—injury prevention paradox: should athletes be training smarter and harder?, British Journal of Sports medicine, 2016.

Wile the precise ratio may be debatable, the concept isn’t. Interestingly, lowering training too much also started to increase injury risk. With the lockdowns athletes have experience they may currently be far off the left side of this graph.

Recent research in pro sports has explored this ratio.  A few years ago, there was a big push based on some excellent research that a ratio of around 1.5 increased injury risk.  

The exact number is not what we are worried about per se because the athlete’s age and level and the sport have an impact. What does matter is the basic premise; increasing workload too quickly leads to elevated injury risk.

Coaches, if you return to practice without a plan, and follow your normal approach, you might be putting your athletes in harm’s way.

Athletes will have a greater injury risk returning to sports

This pandemic has affected sports and we are all looking forward to getting back quickly.

However, in doing so, we must recognize and plan for the unique situation we are in as coaches, and organizations.

So be proactive. If you’re not back to practice yet, get your athletes some help and programming that addresses their specific needs when they return. Get with a knowledgable sports performance professional who can help you put a plan together to ramp back up as quick as possible.

The vital point for sports coaches is that if you increase the training load too fast, the injury risk returning to sports goes up. Your athletes’ average load over the last 1-3 months is probably lower than you’ve ever seen on a broad scale.