5 Important Rules In Dryland Training For Swimmers

dryland training for swimmers

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.

From a study; Epidemiology of Injuries and Prevention Strategies in Competitive 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.

LEARN MORE: FUNCTIONAL ANATOMY OF THE SHOULDER

Upper Body Propulsion In Swimming

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.

3. Streamline

training for a swimming streamline
Dryland training for swimmers should emphasize torso and pelvic control to maintain a streamline position

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.

4. Starts/Turns

training for explosive swimming start
Starts are an important part of the race that dryland training can greatly influence

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.

During turns the position and biomechanics are very similar to 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.

5. Propulsion

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Tendon Injury Risk For Athletes After COVID-19 Time Off

tendon injury risk after covid-19

While COVID19 itself hasn’t shown any direct effects, the pandemic and our social distancing response probably will impact tendon injury risk for athletes.  You need to understand what is happening with your tendons while you are away from sport and what they will endure when sports return.

As athletes return to sports practice and competition after lockdown, they will be susceptible to tendon injury as they undergo spikes in their training load.  These acute increases in the volume of throwing, sprinting, jumping, and swinging can be a risk factor for tendon injury.

TENDONS NEED LOAD

Too much load and you get an injury, but too little and you get structural change. After just 2-4 weeks of unloading the tissues of tendons begin to lose their structure and ability to withstand big loads. That means athletes wont to be the same when sports return.

SHOCKS AND SPRINGS

Tendons improve athletic movement skills by transmitting muscle forces and by acting as springs. This means they need to be able to provide both elasticity and stiffness. To do this they need to be exposed to the right types of stimulus in training.

TOO MUCH, TOO FAST

Repetitive stress that overloads the tendon can create micro-injuries in the tissue that add up. These become overuse injuries. Runners and jumpers often experience this when they increase their volume too quickly. Throwers and volleyball players often experience this in the shoulder or elbows as well.

TENDONS ARE COMMON SPORTS INJURIES

Tendon injuries are common in sports. Tendon injuries you may have heard of include;

  • Achilles Tendon – Ankle
  • Patellar Tendon – Knee
  • Elbow Tendons – Tennis & Golfer’s elbow

These injuries can occur with either acute tears or chronic overuse. Tendon injury risk for athletes will be heightened as they haven’t been conditioned by normal sports practice.

PREPARING FOR THE RETURN TO SPORT AS WE REOPEN

Loading tendons enough to stimulate the structure and function is the key to being ready when sports return. At home, and before teams resume, proactive athletes can use isometrics, eccentrics and reactive plyometrics to train. These types of exercises are key ingredients to build resiliency and capacity in the tissue.

GRADUAL RETURN TO SPORTS

One of the biggest risk factors for tendons is how rapidly the volume of work increases. Muscles adapt faster than tendons and can overwhelm them. When an athlete has been doing very little and then starts full practice, the risk of injury to tendons is exponentially increased.

Is Weight Training Good for Kids?

strength training weights

People ask us almost daily, “is weight training good for kids.”   

Let’s cut to the chase; It Is.

Velocity coaches from Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System instruct young athletes on proper technique

We believe in using strength training of various methods to increase neuromuscular recruitment, increase bone density, increase range of motion and strengthen the tendons and joints of the body.

Don’t just take our word on whether weight training is good for kids, ask the medical experts. According to a 2018 MAYO Clinic statement

“Done properly, strength training can:

  • Increase your child’s muscle strength and endurance
  • Help protect your child’s muscles and joints from sports-related injuries
  • Help improve your child’s performance in nearly any sport, from dancing and figure skating to football and soccer
  • Develop proper techniques that your child can continue to use as he or she grows older

And hen it comes to answering why strength training is good for kids they add;

“Keep in mind that strength training isn’t only for athletes. Even if your child isn’t interested in sports, strength training can:

  • Strengthen your child’s bones
  • Help promote healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels
  • Help your child maintain a healthy weight
  • Improve your child’s confidence and self-esteem

In a New York Times article on the issue they said:

“Kids, in other words, many of us believe, won’t get stronger by lifting weights and will probably hurt themselves. But a major new review just published in Pediatrics, together with a growing body of other scientific reports, suggest that, in fact, weight training can be not only safe for young people, it can also be beneficial, even essential.”

What is “strength training”?

This is one of the key questions we need to understand.  Lot’s of confusion starts with the concepts of strength training versus weight training.

When people say strength training, they often imagine someone in a squat rack lifting barbells. 

olympic weightlifting clean and jerk
People often imagine Olympic weightlifting when strength training is brought up

Or maybe that weightlifter at the Olympics performing at the edge of human capacity.

Yes. Those can be strength training, but there’s a whole lot more.

Strength training is basically any exercise that relies on some form of resistance to stimulate your body to get stronger. 

This includes:

  • Body weight
  • Elastic resistance bands
  • Sandbags
  • Medicine Balls
  • Free Weights
  • Resistance Machines
  • Barbells
  • Dumbells
  • Kettlebells

Why so many different things?  For one, to do it properly we need a range of resistance levels. 

We need things that are light so we can learn to do it properly and start at the right level.

We need things that are heavy so we can progress and stimulate the body to adapt.

Are bodyweight exercises safer?

So, when they are wondering if weight training is good for kids, many people look at bodyweight exercises as inherently safer.  After all, you don’t have that extra weight to lift.

Except they forgot about the bodyweight. A coach using proper exercise selection and regressions can actually allow an athlete to lift less than bodyweight.

kids strength training push-ups
A push-up is 64% of your bodyweight. Sometimes that’s too much for a young athlete.

Have you ever watched young athletes struggle to do a push-up well? Their bodyweight is just too much for their strength level. It’s no different than lifting a barbell that’s too heavy.

When doing a push-up, an athlete is actually lifting about 64% of their body weight. For a 120 lb. young female, that would mean they are lifting 77 lbs.

Imagine if the athlete was laying on a bench press, struggling with 77 lbs. Its the same with a push-up. In this case, if the coach gave the athlete two twenty pound dumbbells or an empty bar, the weight would be significantly less.

Who knew? bench pressing weights is a regression. Push-ups are actually more advanced and heavier!

Don’t even get started on pull-ups.

Is weight training necessary?

This question doesn’t come up often, but it’s in the back of a lot of people’s minds.  The reality is that the data, the medical experts and decades of experience tell us it’s safe. 

However, to be honest, we often follow our preconceived ideas.

If you’ve believed strength training with weights is dangerous for decades, it’s hard to instantly change that.  And that’s fair.

So then the question is; can you get better without lifting weights?

Yes, you can. 

However, you can’t stimulate the body to adapt as efficiently or as much. 

  • You don’t stimulate the neuromuscular system to recruit muscle and protect the joints and ligaments as well.
  • Athletes won’t improve the tendon tissue as well to reduce the risk of tendonitis and overuse injuries.
  • They won’t stimulate bone density during this crucial youth growth period and have the same life long positive effects.
  • You won’t build the same level of explosive strength
  • Young athletes won’t learn how to do the movements and be prepared if you start training with your team
  • You will miss out on the proven reduction in overall injury risk for athletes

How can kids train the right way?

Here’s the key to safely strength training for young athletes; Do It Right.

That means learning the movement patterns and habits that lead to safe weight training.  Have a qualified coach teaching it.

That’s not necessarily a bunch of kids in the garage with the weight bench trying to max out.  It’s not joining an adult class with a weekend certified coach who is cheering them on to do more. 

coaching youth strength training basics
Teaching the fundamentals of good body positions is part of Velocity coaching.

It’s also not about moving “perfect”.  Young athletes need to learn proper movement patterns.  However, trying to enforce a robotic standard of “perfect” actually takes away from the learning. 

This is where professional coaches standout.  They know how to put the athlete into positions where they are safe to learn how to move. 

Coaches use regressions of exercises to teach.  These are simpler movement patterns that reinforce the right movement safely.  They lead to a progression in movement patterns or weight lifted.

Is Weight Training Good for Kids; YES

Strength training for youth is endorsed by all major medic and professional organizations.  While the old myths of it stunting growth or being dangerous slowly die, it is understandable that some people are hesitant.

The benefits are large and necessary to prevent injury in athletes.  Weight training is an efficient and effective method for athletes.   Do it right and reap the benefits.

The Importance of In-Season Training: Part 3

Inseason Training

In part two of the ‘Importance of In-Season Training Installment,’ I discuss what happens to an athlete’s young body when they stop training. However, to re-cap, we must first revisit the main reasons why in-season training is so necessary.

  1. In-season practices are often far less physically demanding than off-season practices, which leads to drastic de-conditioning
  2. For athletes who did not maintain adequate strength training in-season for as little as one to two days per week, most strength gains made in the off-season will decrease massively!
  3. Research has shown that at the professional level in-season training reduces injury risk significantly, enhances individual playing time within squads and actually leads to in-season performance gains as opposed to pure maintenance.
  4. Off-season and In-season training are akin to opening an ‘athletic bank account.’ The off-season is where athletes make the most ‘deposits’ in the form of strength training, conditioning, and physical preparation work. Competition is where athletes make the most ‘withdrawals.’ In-season training allows athletes to keep their bank accounts top-upped so that they don’t ‘run out of money’. When they become overdrawn it results in fatigue and potential injury.

Even though this post is not about scare tactics per se, examining point four further, is important. Athletes and parents alike need to understand what actually happens to their body when they stop training in-season.

READ: The Importance of In-Season Training, Part 1

READ: The Importance of In-Season Training, Part 2

Just Like Post Number One, If You Don’t Use it, You Do Lose It

In sport science, the technical term for loss of strength, power, speed, and conditioning is known as involution. In other words, when resistance and speed training stop, the body will, revert to its former self.

To illustrate, let’s consider where a young athlete’s performance gains derive from. Structured strength and conditioning training generates a host of physiological changes their body undergoes as a function of the training process. These include (but are not limited to):

  • Increased neural connections: Strength training is ‘brain training.’ By learning how to lift weights safely, an athlete can make better neural connections within the motor cortex of the brain. This creates better synapses as well, which leads to enhanced focus, and mental clarity. This is why so many studies have actually linked strength training to better grades and performance in the classroom as well!
  • Increased neuromuscular coordination: Like the brain, resistance training allows athletes to create new neural connections, which means more muscle is activated in the body to cut, jump, sprint, block, tackle, etc. as well as this muscle being activated in a more coordinated fashion. Strength training makes young athletes move better and with much higher degrees of muscular coordination.
  • Increased oxygen delivery to muscle tissue: Through conditioning and strength training, athletes are better able to uptake and use oxygen in the body, which fuels muscle contractile activity. In other words, they can run and compete at higher speeds without succumbing to fatigue!
  • Improved body composition: Weight training and conditioning leads to reductions in body-fat, which means athletes can move and compete more effectively and efficiently. Reductions in body-fat are linked with better health markers and declines in disease risk all-together.

Given the multitude of positive performance benefits, the problem with stopping training during the in-season is that all these incredible adaptations can become reversed! Yes, all those neural connections that the athlete made as a function of resistance training can become undone with time.

Hence involution can be seen as the technical term describing the physical processes outlined in part 2 of this installment, which is effectively what happens when an athlete begins to ‘spend money from their bank account’ without ‘depositing’ any more through in-season training.

The good news, however, even in as little as one session per week an athlete can maintain all the positive performance gains listed above!

Hence in-season training takes on an even higher degree of significance as it allows athletes and parents to ‘safe-guard’ all the hard work that went into a successful off-season program.

As a result of in-season training, it is now appropriate that the four essential ‘rules’ of in-season training are identified.

  1. Train heavy but at a reduced volume: Many athletes and even coaches mistakenly believe that athletes have no business lifting heavier weights in-season. Unfortunately, this attitude leads lots of athletes to sub-optimize their in-season program by lifting weights that aren’t heavy enough to make them better or even maintain the progress they’ve made up to this point in time in the season. Hence, involution can also happen if an athlete is lifting or training hard enough to stress their bodies! However, by doing fewer sets or even taking a little bit of weight off (i.e., not exceeding 85-90% of max-effort for a majority of a program) athletes are able to train hard, but not encounter the fatigue and soreness that will detract from the competition. Hence, training hard and smart through reduced volume represents a winning strategy!
  2. Focus on Recovery: As stated in a previous installment, the game can take a lot out of a young athlete’s body. Microtrauma, soreness, and dehydration can lead to significant performance decrements. Hence, focusing even more on sleep, nutrition, and hydration will go a long way toward recovering from the stresses of in-season training, competition, and practice.
  3. Address aches and pains before they become full-out injuries: The saying ‘no pain, no gain’ is as old-fashioned as the knee-high socks, and leather football helmets are worn by athletes when the saying first took hold. Truthfully, pain is the body’s way of telling you that something is wrong and needs to be fixed. If an athlete feels significant pain in the weight room or at practice, I tell them to seek out a qualified athletic training or sports medicine professional. Furthermore, a qualified coach will ensure athletes use exercises that minimize stress and strain on the joints during the in-season period, as ligaments and tendons take even longer to recover then muscles.
  4. Don’t Be Reluctant to ‘Live to Fight Another Day’: A standing rule I have for my athletes is that if they can’t go harder, pack it in. In other words, even with reduced training volumes, focused recovery efforts and exercise selections that minimize stress and strain on the joints, if they can’t put in 100% effort in the weight room then that is their body telling them they need to rest, so instead they should go home, recover, and try things again the next day. The most successful athletes are the ones who listen to their bodies and train hard and smart!

In closing, in-season training is one of the single most crucial time, and energy investments an athlete can make in ensuring continued success. Numerous research studies have demonstrated the superiority of in-season training to non-training, with research likewise showing that a lack of training leads to significant reductions in performance, as well as a simultaneous increase in injury risk. As a result, a robust in-season training program is one that allows athletes to continuously ‘top-up’ their ‘athletic bank account’ by utilizing a systematic approach that strikes the right balance between hard-work, intensity, and recovery.

If a young athlete is truly serious about gaining a performance edge that in-season training is simply non-negotiable.

OTHER ARTICLES YOU MIGHT LIKE:

You Need to Know: Strength Is More Than Just Weight On a Barbell

Ultimate Guide to Speed Training