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.

Planning the return to sports after COVID-19 Restrictions

planning the return to sports

There are 3 goals coaches need to achieve when planning the return to sports for any athlete

As teams and sports organizations start targeting a return to sport dates, they need plans to prepare the athletes. 

At Velocity, we’ve been working with everything from elite athletes and teams, to local clubs and high schools in devising effective strategies.  We are helping them to achieve the same three goals whenever we return an athlete to sports after extended times away.

Three Goals of Planning the Return to Sports

Working in higher level sports, we’ve learned a lot about returning planning back in their sports practice after long layoffs. Most of this comes from athletes that we’re injured and required extended time out of sport to rehab and recover. Sometimes it’s with athletes who took a sabbatical year or had a pregnancy during their career.

No matter the case, we do know that without the right preparation, an athlete going back into their regular sports practice and training routine will be at higher risk of injury.

The three driving outcomes we are working to achieve for our players is that they can return safely, successfully, and sustainably.

1. Returning To sport SAFELY

We want athletes to return to sports without a sudden influx of injuries.  Injury defeats the entire purpose of reopening sports and eliminates the chance of success.  After all, you can’t play well if you are on the sidelines hurt.

Velocity is working with teams to create phased-in training plans, athlete readiness screenings, and load monitoring. This means helping athletes and coaches plan how to balance the needs of the athletes body, with the likely scenario of getting back to seasons quickly.

The first step is to do some basic screening of fitness and readiness as athletes return. Finding out what shape they are in is important because coaches have never faced this many athletes out of training for so long.

athlete monitoring can help improve performance and reduce injury risk
Velocity has simple tools that can help coaches monitor their athletes’ responses when returning to sports after COVID-19 shutdowns.

Next, we are helping coaches plan a ramp-up of both technical skills and the right physical qualities for the sport will lower the chance of injuries.

Monitoring how the athletes are responding to the increased load is another strategy that lets you get an early warning if the training is too much or too little. This feedback to coaches can help them adjust training plans to get back into shape and competitive form as fast as possible.

2. Returning to sports SUCCESSFULLY.

Successfully means being able to perform at a high level.  No coach wants to see their team come back out of shape and unable to play up to their abilities.  Plans for preparing the right physical qualities and skills begin now.

That means even before you are back, organize your athletes to complete specific types of training. They need to be preparing specific body parts and tissues for the stress of practicing again.

This is always important in preseason, but especially now when athletes have detrained. Their bodies are not the same as when they left.

Returning To Sports After COVID-19 - athletes are different now

Velocity is working with some teams and clubs to provide pre-return training that specifically reduces the risks of injury and increases the physical qualities they need in their sport.

While many athletes are trying to stay fit and ready with various exercises at home, exercising isn’t training. Training has a specific purpose and goal. While keeping a general level of strength, fitness and mobility were reasonable goals during time at home, athletes need to prepare for sport again.

Whether it’s through remote coaching and managed digital platforms, or in person, serious teams are getting their athletes ready now.

3. SUSTAINING the return to sports

Sustainable is a goal that often gets forgotten.  We don’t just want the first weeks to be a success, but the entire season. 

This means that we have to get the preparation and buildup right first, and then follow it with continued training, monitoring, and recovery.  Remember, these athletes aren’t going to be the same.  Some issues can creep in slowly. 

Velocity is helping teams and clubs plan their monitoring and supplemental recovery and training strategies for in-season. We have athletes that enter and rate daily responses on phone-based apps so coaches can see if their teams handling the demand.

When the fatigue is building or specific aches and pains are increasing, you can help implement and specific recovery plans and give athletes guidance on how to recover at home.

Another important strategy for sustainability while planning your return to sports after COVID-19 is to continue with their physical training during the season. This doesn’t mean a large volume of grueling physical training. That leads to excessive fatigue and takes away from their technical sports skills.

Instead, we recommend a strategy we use in elite sports called micro-dosing. Small, frequent, and high-intensity bouts of training. This may be dedicating 6-15 minutes of practice time to work on speed or specific explosive qualities.

It can also mean targeted high intensity interval training sessions or specific mobility work. What matters is that you pinpoint the physical qualities that will keep your players healthy and in top form, and then have a plan to build and maintain them.

A Shortened Time Frame

There will likely be a shortened time frame as we return in many sports. We are proposing an approach to achieve the three return to sport goals as quickly as possible.  We want to do it quickly because people want to be back in sports.

Some leagues will feel the pressure and schedules will start very fast. 

Some coaches will be under pressure to win and see this as an opportunity to get ahead of other teams.

We acknowledge that in many cases, a prolonged and steady buildup may not be feasible.  However, we don’t want the return to be so quick that it puts athletes at risk. Planning the return to sports after COVID-19 shutdowns starts with setting these three goals.

Returning To Sports After COVID-19 Restrictions: High Performance or High Injury Rate

HIGH PERFORMANCE OR HIGH INJURY RATE RETURNING TO SORTS

The return to sports after COVID-19 will be different than just flipping a switch and starting a season.

This stoppage of sports due to the pandemic is unprecedented.  Restrictions vary across the country from a strict stay at home orders to the shutdown of schools and organized sports.

Right now, most athletes aren’t going to practice or being coached in person.  Team practices aren’t occurring.  Almost all gyms and school weight rooms are closed as well.

All of this limits what types of training an athlete can be doing.

While many athletes are trying to stay fit with at-home workouts, it’s not the same stimulus to the body or mind.  For water sport athletes like swimmers and water polo players, it’s even harder to train appropriately.

Athletes Are Detraining After COVID-19

Athletes improve their fitness, speed, strength, and tissue resilience through their practice, training, and competition. All of those induce stress, too which the athletes adapt.

When there is reduced stress, the body also adapts, back to lower levels.

Because of all this, we can reasonably assume that an athlete’s training adaptations are deteriorating during this time. This process is what we call detraining.

How bad the detraining will be is based on the individual athlete’s genetics, training history, and what they are doing now.

Learn More: Athlete’s Tendons Are At Risk After COVID-19

Nonetheless, we know that even with the best intentions, athletes arent getting the same stimulus to adapt.

Using bodyweight, resistance bands, lightweights, and modified programs help reduce the detraining, but they just won’t cut it.  They don’t have the same effect as practicing their sport and comprehensive performance training.

Detraining is a bit like withdrawing money from a bank account.  Think of training and practice time as money that’s been invested.  The longer the restrictions last, the more athletes are withdrawing from their savings. 

Training is a stimulus that helps athletes adapt. Going without training, practices and competitions is leading to reduced capacities for most athletes.

Their accounts are starting to dwindle.

Some of the effects of detraining are on whole systems like the cardiac, aerobic, and neuromuscular systems.  They each have different rates of detraining.

In other cases, we have to consider specific structures and abilities in athletes.  So, what will be different in the athletes after COVID-19 lockdowns?

Reopening sports after COVID-19 lockdowns needs to consider the implications of detraining.

Athletes returning to sports after COVID-19 restrictions are different

Planning The Return To Sports

Plans for returning to sports after COVID-19 restrictions must consider the size of the detraining withdrawal that’s been made by athletes.   The magnitude of the deconditioning will affect how quickly athletes are back to 100 percent.

It’s up to all of us in sports to make sure we work to return athletes to sport safely, successfully, and sustainably. understanding that they are in a different condition is the first step.

Returning to Sports After COVID-19 Layoffs

Returning to sports after covid

As we look to the future and reopening, returning to sports after COVID-19 is a challenge athletes and coaches need to be preparing for now.

Everyone who loves sports wants to see it return to normal.

Sport provides many benefits to our society. There is the encouragement of physical fitness and health. The joy of exercise and competition. The lessons it teaches us about life and ourselves. And the comradery and community it can provide.

However, if coaches and leaders don’t intelligently manage the return to sport process, the risks for injury will be increased.

Because of all those positives and financial incentives at some levels, there are a lot of people looking to get things back to normal ASAP. That’s understandable, but this isn’t normal.

The athletes that will be returning aren’t the same ones who left.

We Hit Pause on Sports

With the imposed stoppage of leagues and schools, athletes have not had the opportunity to practice, nor compete in most places.

The more dedicated athletes have found ways to carry on as best they can. From running outside to training at home, they are working to maintain their fitness.

Unfortunately, even if they are doing everything they can, they just can’t duplicate all the elements of their sport. Large spaces, high speed running and jumping, long throwing or hitting, high-intensity practice, hours upon hours of weekly practice. All of this is missing or severely limited.

With it being gone, the accompanying physical stresses on the body or lowered as well. There isn’t the same load on muscle, tendons, and the cardiovascular system. There isn’t the same cognitive demand on the brain and motor control system.

Some Rest Is Good

On the bright side of that rest is the opportunity to recover. Many athletes don’t have an offseason anymore, and this may be the first time off from their sport they’ve had in years.

That can allow some time to heal injuries. Overused muscles and tendons are getting rest from the constant stress. The time off gives them a mental and emotional break that just may have needed and can reinvigorate their motivation to play.

Some athletes have taken advantage of this window to not just rest but repair their bodies and eliminate problems. Rest is helpful to reduce pain, but proactively working to rehab those nagging injuries takes the athlete to a new level and helps protect them when sport returns.

Athletes Have Been Detraining

Without that stress, there is also a negative. Keep in mind “stress” in the general sense isn’t good or bad. When it is too much, things can break, but when it is too little, they become weaker and fragile.

For many young athletes, they don’t realize how much that constant practice has conditioned their bodies.

Every repetition puts small strains on the tissues. They help stimulate the body to keep them strong and functioning. When it is too much, things like tendons start to break down over time. But now, there is too little. Those tendons are not ready to withstand the same practice volume they did a two months ago.

The muscles don’t have the same strength or endurance. Those qualities normally protect them in practice day after day. Adequate levels of strength, power, and endurance keep them firing properly to move efficiently and react to the athlete’s environment.

The problem is they aren’t going to be at the same level for a lot of athletes. Even though many are trying to train at home, they aren’t exposing themselves to the same high-intensity loads they do at practice and in games.

Without the muscles’ same capacities, they will fatigue faster. Lower intensities than usual will challenge them. If practice plans and volumes are not managed with this in mind, the athletes will be at higher risk.

Sudden Retraining Increases Risks

We have evidence in the world of elite sport that a sudden increase in the training load on athletes is a factor in their risk of injury.

You see it’s not just the overall volume that matters, but how quickly it changes. Ramping up from no training to normal over several weeks is much different than returning to full practices in a week or two.

In elite sport the concept of acute to chronic workload has been accepted by professional teams and organizations worldwide. Basically, the concept is that if your acute workload is too high compared to your chronic workload, an athlete’s injury rish increases.

Chronic workload is how much you’ve been doing over the last few weeks. Acute workload is how much you are doing this week and today. When your acute workload jumps a lot above your chronic workload your chance of injury os higher.

Risk of injury returning to sport after covid 19

Unprecedented Return to Sport Process

For coaches, this is a big challenge. Most sport coaches have not had athletes this detrained in decades. The era of sport off-seasons ended a long time ago. Coaches are used to athletes who are doing too much, not too little.

They take for granted that the athletes have been having the number of foot contacts, the swings, the throws that they need to be ready for practice. Even the best intention coach hasn’t experienced bringing back all their athletes from near zero.

LEARN MORE: Why Returning To Sports Now Isn’t As Simple As Flipping The Switch

In fact, our closet parallel to this unprecedented situation is athletes return from major injury or surgery. While athletes in lockdown haven’t had the trauma of surgery, they do have the detraining. Safely returning athletes to sport is an area of great focus in elite sports. Now it’s going to be important for everyone.

Have a Plan To Prepare

Athletes that want to be successful aren’t sitting back and doing nothing right now. They are training as best they can. Those that had nagging injuries are hopefully getting help to repair them and remove the root causes.

Knowing that there are a lot of unknowns in how sport will return, it’s in an athlete’s best interest to prepare now and to prepare for the worst.

The worst being a return to sport period that’s too short, increases volume too fast, and has too much intensity too soon.

That scenario could happen, and that’s outside of an athlete’s control. So, what can they do to be proactive?

Stamina

“Fatigue makes cowards of us all,” is a quote from Vince Lombardi that still rings true. Not only that, but our coordination goes down, and injury risk goes up when we are fatigued.

Although an athlete might not be able to train their stamina exactly as they would need it in their sport, they can stay close. That’s good because stamina starts dropping off between 3 and 30 days, depending on the energy system.

By working on maintaining or improving different energy systems, it’s going to be a lot easier to regain their sports-specific stamina when sport returns after COVID-19.

When we say different energy systems, we are talking about stamina for different durations and intensities of work. A good aerobic capacity is what people think about often as stamina. It is an essential part of many sports, and helps in an athlete’s day-to-day, or even drill to drill recovery.

Don’t stop there, however. Athletes need to be able to produce repeat short 1-6 second, high-intensity efforts. An athlete also needs to be capable of sustaining efforts right above that anaerobic threshold for anywhere from 30 sec to 4 minutes in a lot of sports.

The key is to make sure you have a good base of stamina as you get ready to return to sport. Get a plan, get a heart rate monitor, and get to work now.

Muscle

Muscle strength will last for several weeks, even if it may not be at its very peak. If you’ve been training for some time, it lasts a little longer and will come back quicker.

Still, after months of not doing any heavy lifting, you may be losing strength. Athletes often stimulate or maintain strength by the high-intensity things they do in sport. Full speed sprinting and repeated full effort jumping is typical in many sports practices and help maintain strength through a type of ballistic and plyometric training.

Without that sport practice, you are probably losing maximum strength more than you know. Even worse, since you lose the neurological ability for speed in just a few days, that explosive strength is dropping off rapidly when you don’t use it.

So, an athlete that wants to be ready is going to hit both ends of that strength & speed spectrum. Using dumbbells, kettlebells, or even bands can help maintain that muscle’s ability to produce high forces.

Doing explosive jumping exercises will help maintain that explosive strength.

Tendon

Tendons connect muscles to bones to transmit the muscle’s force and create movement. They can also act like springs in many athletic movements, from running to jumping.

They lose their trained capabilities and structure between 2 – 4 weeks according to the research. They are also one of the first areas to flare up with increases in training volume. Add to that a slower readapting rate than muscle. That means you better use it, and not lose it if you can.

The achilles and patellar tendons are areas of concern for a lot of athletes. There are some things they can do to protect them. Lower body isometrics (holding a position for 30sec – 1:00min) with bodyweight or added resistance are an excellent first line of defense.

One of the best tools to keep them springy is a jump rope. Basic jump roping is a good start, and double-unders take this up a level in maintaining those tendons.

LEARN MORE: Athlete’s Tendon Risk Infographic

Speed

Maximal speed abilities include actions like; jumping, sprinting, throwing a ball, swinging a bat or racket, or hitting a volleyball. They all require coordination of high-speed muscle contraction, and they drop off in just a few days.

This will be one of the hardest things to maintain at home and/or on your own. If you can get out and sprint, it’s a fantastic way to stimulate these abilities for every athlete. Yes, even the upper body athlete will benefit from the neuromuscular stimulus. Think of sprinting as a high-intensity plyometric exercise.

Sprinting and plyometrics are great if you have a place. Don’t do this on the concrete or your patio. The grass is a much better surface if you can get out in a park.

Returning to Sport After COVID-19

If you want the best chance to return to sport after COVID 19 without injury and playing near your best, take action now. If you’re not sure how to achieve some of these things, find a performance coach who can help guide your training plan, so you’ll be ready.

Hopefully, coaches will get advice as well so they can create an intelligent return to sports plans that manage the volume and load on athletes.

This sports stoppage is unprecedented. We all need to step back and evaluate how we will train as sport returns. This isn’t just business as usual.

Gym Closed? It’s A Good Time For Working Out(doors)

running in nature

Gyms and fitness studios across the country are closing, and it’s a good time for training outside.

Even if your gyms not closed, you should probably be avoiding big groups to practice social distancing during the coronavirus outbreak. In addition, there are big benefits to exercising outside!

No Gym, No Problem

No, you don’t have the machines, or the group energy, or the coach encouraging you.

So is that going to be your excuse? It might be harder in some ways and different now that you aren’t going to the gym.

No gym, now is a good time to workout doors
There are added benefits when you train outside.

This doesn’t mean you can’t keep exercising. Use this as a chance to explore the fitness and strength you’ve been building in the gym in new ways. You’ve already been training in the gym, so now it’s time to get outside and play.

During the coronavirus outbreak, you can combine the benefits of the outdoors with exercise while keeping a responsible distance from people and improving your mindset.

Boost Your Mood

People are experiencing new stresses daily with Covid-19. Stress and isolation like that aren’t great for the psyche.

One solution, training outside, has been proven to boost your mood. 

A 2015 study from Stanford University found students just walked through a campus park for an hour were less stressed than those who didn’t.  There is a lot of compelling evidence that getting outside makes us happier.

Get outside around some green, and you’re likely to feel better.

Outdoor exercise monkey bars

Build Your Immune System By Training Outside

Reducing stress and anxiety helps boost your immune system.  Plus, sunlight can help kill viruses! However, it’s even more beneficial when you are training outside

While the exact mechanics remain a mystery, research has shown a wide range of health benefits to being outdoors.  From the Vitamin D boost of the sun to additional ions and phytochemicals from plants, they add up to a stronger immune system.

How To Workout Outside

When it comes to outdoor exercise, the first thing that pops into most people’s heads is usually running.

running in nature is a great way for training ouside
There’s more to exercising outdoors than just running.

And if you love running, that’s great—but if you don’t, there’s a whole lot more for you to discover.

Whether it’s your own yard, a park, or larger greenspaces and nature, everyone can find something fun and challenge outdoors.

The key to finding the right outdoor workout for you is to engage.

Listen to your body and how you’re feeling. Find what enjoyable for you to do. Look for ways to and play to your workout. Try new things, vary it through the week, involve your kids as well.

Tips For Training Outside

  • Ease into It.  Outdoor exercise is adaptable to everyone’s level of fitness, but it might be different than what you’re used to in the gym.  
  • Exercise early. It’s easier to find excuses to avoid exercising outdoors at the end of the day.  In the morning you have more energy, the air is generally cleaner, the temperature tends to be lower.  Plus, you’ll get to enjoy the post-workout benefits of less stress and a better mood throughout the day.
  • Avoid temperature extremes.  Your body adapts to colder or warmer weather, but you should still avoid exercising outside in extreme heat or cold if not acclimated to it. In warmer temperatures, watch for signs of overheating. 
  • Don’t get burned. The sun is good for you, but too much sun is not. Protect yourself with a good sunscreen.  You can also wear sunglasses and a maybe a hat.
  • Drink enough water. “Drink 8 to 10 ounces of water in the 30 minutes before exercising outdoors. Then steady hydration through the workout should suffice. Remember that you can lose water through sweating even in cooler weather.

Workout Ideas

Training outside workout ideas
Just a few ideas of workouts you can try outdoors.
Better yet, lose some of the structure and just play around with this stuff outside!

Make outdoor exercises part of your lifestyle 

Many of us are conditioned to think of exercise as something we do in a gym.  With the gym closed and a need to stay away from groups, it’s a good time for training outside.

Get back to nature and start adding some outdoor variety to your training routine even when the gym opens back up.

The Complete Guide To In-Season Hockey Training 2020

Complete Guide to in-season hockey training

Whether players should lift during their hockey in-season training is often confusing. The proven benefits of developing strength for athletes are significant. It’s beneficial for injury prevention, speed, power and more.

There is no question that young hockey players need to be developing strength.  Many make this the focus on their offseason.

After offseason gains are in the books and the season is underway, what should a young hockey player’s in-season training look like?

After all, you only have so many hours and so much energy.  Isn’t the in-season just a time for maintaining the strength you built in the summer?

NO.  If you treat it this way you will fall behind and never reach your potential.

But can you really improve strength when playing a full hockey season? 

YES.  You can increase a lot.

Here’s the key.  Young players need to strength train if they really want to continue improving, but if they train like it’s the off-season they’re doing it wrong.

MYTH: Hockey Players Can’t Lift Heavy Weights In-Season

Decades ago the thought for coaches & players was that during offseason you built strength & power.  In-season you just tried not to lose too much. 

Back in the day, a lot of the training methods came from bodybuilding where it was all about gaining size.  Strength and power were a side-effect.

Bodybuilding methods to gain muscle size are traditionally based on a high volume of exercises and inducing muscle fatigue.

In the off-season, they were grinding to build muscle and strength.  Bodybuilding techniques are great for building muscle mass, and they are built on lots of sets and repetitions.  Lots of time with the muscles under tension. 

In strength training terms; Volume.

Because of this, a common approach to in-season training was built on the idea that lifting heavy would make players too tired. 

The thinking went that if they spent too much energy training, they would be sore and tired.  That would interfere with playing well and skill development.

Instead many people jumped to the conclusion that lifting lighter weights was the way to go.  And if you have a lighter weight, you naturally can do more reps.

The problem is that lowering weight and increasing reps can lead to more fatigue, energy expenditure, and even soreness. 

In elite hockey, that idea was losing steam when mandatory helmets were introduced. 

Now to be fair, it’s true that if you spend in-season doing 2-hour, grinding workouts with high volume, you’ll be fatigued.   As a coach or player that’s not ideal.

On top of that, it also won’t stimulate the neuromuscular system enough to maintain or gain strength.

The reason this approach was abandoned; it didn’t work

Players were fatigued and sore but, they still lost strength.

Even Pros Can Get Stronger In-season

Many people think the demands of a youth hockey season are too much to gain strength. Here’s some perspective; even young pros can still improve strength & power during their season. 

That’s right.  Although they may be in the NHL or the minors playing a full season, many players haven’t fully developed their strength yet.  In their late teens through early twenties, they still have a window of opportunity to improve.

We know because Velocity coaches have done it time and again with individual players and teams.

The key is that they stimulate their nervous system enough to improve.  That’s hard because it takes high intensity and power output to stimulate adaptation.  So how do they do it?

Micro-dosing Training

Hockey in-season training is all about stimulating the central nervous system and muscle, not grinding down the body and tissues to grow muscle.

Fast, explosive and heavy movements are what stimulate that type of adaptation.  They do take focus and a serious effort. In strength training terms; Intensity.

The good news though is that you don’t actually need a lot of it.

You see, it’s the intensity, not the volume that stimulates the change. 

Getting 2-3 small doses of intensity every week will do the trick.

This is what we see with pro and Olympic athletes at the pinnacle of sports.   When they have a demanding schedule they can’t spend the time or energy on long grinding workouts like the off-season.

On the flip side, they also can’t afford to lose strength & power.  That just leads to poor play and injury.  It’s the player who can be at their best-come playoff time who shine.

If You’re Not Gaining You’re Falling Behind

Here’s the scary part; if you get stronger and bigger every off-season, but don’t train in-season you are falling behind.

That’s right, other players who train in-season are getting an edge and developing further. As a really young player, your strength levels will continue to improve just out of natural development. You keep pace.

However, as you hit middle school and older things start to change. Even with great gains in the summer, if you don’t train in-season at best you’ll gain slower. Worse, you can actually be losing strength.

That’s right, getting weaker through a season. For a high school player who has a few years of training under their belt, they can really make gains during the off-season. Yet, once they stop and the stimulus goes away the body will readapt to a lower strength level.

A good hockey in-season training program will stimulate that improvement and stop them from falling behind.

in-season strength training
A player who trains in-season will continue to improve strength. Not as fast as they do in the offseason, but they continue to improve. A player that eliminates strength training, or just does lightweight will slow their gains or actually get weaker during the season. After a few years, the small differences add up to a big advantage to players who train smart!

Get Stronger With the Right Hockey in-season training

So the key is to stimulate the neuromuscular system with small doses of intensity.  What does that mean?

Well, it depends a bit on the developmental level of the athlete.  This means their biological development as well as training experience. 

Get this straight, it’s not about their level of hockey skills. Some very skilled players have barely learned to train off-ice.  Others may hit puberty earlier and some later.  The right training is based on evaluating these factors along with their current strength & power levels.

Middle School Years 

For a middle-school-age athlete, they are approaching or in early puberty. They probably don’t have a lot of strength training experience yet.

An athlete at this age also can recover and adapt quickly.  Plus, they don’t actually have the skill to recruit all their muscle fibers so they never hit the true high intensities.  So overtraining them is really unlikely.

This means they need to be doing some explosive plyometrics, speed drills, and basic strength training.  Because they have such a big window to improve, and a low-level experience, it doesn’t take a lot.

In practice hockey in-season training this age could look like;

  • 2 -3 sessions per week
  • 60-90 minutes
  • Dynamic warm-up for injury prevention and movement fundamentals
  • Athletic movement, speed, and plyometric drills
  • Two-three basic explosive and strength lifts with kettlebells, dumbbells or barbells.
    • Olympic lift fundamentals
    • Squat, deadlift
    • Bench, chin, and rows
  • Compound free weight movements that involve multiple joints.
  • Low reps 3-8 at most.  Sets of 3-5 on basic lifts

In fact, the bigger benefit of in-season training for this age of athlete is that they are learning to train.  Learning how to do the exercises right.  They are building the neuromuscular foundation for when hormones kick-in later.

High School or Higher Training Age

For a hockey player of high school age, their physical development is further along.  They may have some experience with strength training now.

For this type of athlete, the requirements go up.  Now they can recruit more of their fast-twitch type muscle fibers.  They can coordinate the movements a bit better.

Therefore, to generate enough intensity they need combinations of two things;  Speed and force. 

Speed

Fast, explosive movements are one way to stimulate the neuromuscular system.  This means things like Olympic lifts with high velocity and power output.  Explosive medicine ball drills.

The muscle needs a high rate of force development to create this stimulus.  Lifting light weights, moving slow, won’t do it.

Traditional strength lifts like the bench, squat or deadlift only move between 0.5 and 0.8 m/s.  That’s just too slow.  Explosive lifts with medium weights should generate movement velocities between 1.0 and 2.0 meters per second.  That’s the stimulus needed.

Force

To really stimulate the fast-twitch fibers and the central nervous system, basic strength lifts need to be heavier.  That requires a higher level of force production.  This stimulates the central nervous system as well.

It also requires multiple muscles and joints under tension.  Isolation exercises just don’t give enough bang for the buck.  Whole-body exercises stimulating lots of muscle groups and joints are the way to go.

Weights need to typically be 85% or more of 1 rep max.  That gets the nervous system fired up.  It also means to avoid fatigue only 2 – 3 reps are needed.

High School hockey in-season strength example

For a developing athlete a hockey in-season training program may look like:

  • 2 -4 sessions per week
  • 30-60 minutes
  • Dynamic warm-up for prep and injury prevention
  • Two-three basic explosive and strength lifts with kettlebells, dumbbells or barbells.
    • Olympic lift  
      • velocity of 0.75-1.6 m/s
      • 3-5 sets or 1-3 repetitions
    • Lower body lift – squat, deadlift, step-up, lunge
      • 85% or more of 1RM
      • 2-4 sets of 1-4 reps
    • Upper body lift – press, row, pull-up
    • 2-3 Injury prevention exercises

Sports Recovery

The off-ice training is the stimulus for the body and neuromuscular system to change.  Improvements come for the body and brain’s process of adaptation.

Here’s the thing to take note of; adaptation happens when the athlete recovers.  The work is the stimulus, the recovery is where adaptation happens.

What Is Recovery

Recovery is a term used for the processes every athlete goes through after some type of stress or fatigue.  The return to their previous normal state or slight improvement. 

This recovery process is specific to the type of stress the body experience.  In sports, we classify four types of stress.

Faster Recovery for Hockey Players

When looking at how a young hockey player can recover faster, there are some key strategies we know work. 

The body recovers in all four areas of stress during sleep.  That’s why sleep is the foundation of all recovery.   If you’re not sleeping enough, anything else you do is just a band-aid.

We’ve witnessed the benefits of sleep in athletes for decades with measurable changes in their readiness when they sleep better.  Following a routine and some basic tips can really help athletes sleep better.

Training, practice, and gains create fatigue. During recovery, your body returns to baseline or improves. Over time if you don’t recover you may over train.

The second foundation in sports recovery is basic nutrition.  We aren’t talking in-depth diets or loads of supplements.  Just getting enough of quality foods at the right times.

After these, it becomes about the specific needs you have.  It could be more mobility to help your muscles and joints.  Types of flushing like compression, e-stim or cycling can be great when your legs are heavy after a grinding on-ice session or game.  Or maybe it’s learning to reset mentally with breathing, visualization, floatation or other methods.

Start with the foundation of sleep and nutrition.  Then you can add specific recovery methods to meet the rest of your needs.

Take Your Hockey In-season Strength Training Seriously

Unless you want to fall behind other players, you should take your in-season strength training seriously.  If you are not getting stronger and more powerful in-season you are falling behind.

You can’t train with the same grind of high volume as in the off-season.  However, focusing on consistent training every week and small doses of high intensity will make you better.

The science backs it, decades of experience have shown, and it’s practical to do.  The only question, is why aren’t you training smarter during the season?

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.

2020 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 of sport-specific training is; what is it?

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.


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.

What Is Sports Specific Training?

what is sport specific training

Sport specific training is a constant topic of discussion among athletes, parents and coaches.  For the Performance Team at Velocity, the question of what is sport specific training comes up daily. It happens in local performance centers as well as with our coaches at Olympic training facilities.

When we discuss “sport specific” a lot of different ideas emerge.  Doings things that visually look similar to the sport are often called sport specific.  Maybe they are drills that use the sports equipment; balls, bats, gloves, sticks, etc… 

For others, they think of examples of like practicing sports skills with rubber bands on, wearing weight vests, or hooked up to bungee cords and devices.

Still, some coaches think of trying to duplicate the sport in the weight-room with the reps, weights, and muscles used.

So, with these competing ideas, what is sport specific?

Sport Specific Training for Elite Athletes

At the elite level there is a lot of talk about sport specific training. This isn’t just a discussion with developing athletes and their parents. 

Those examples of sport specific training do occasionally come up in our elite teams. However, the discussion tends to be more focused.  The administrators, coaches and athletes care about one thing; results.

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

The margin for error in elite sport can be incredibly small.  Hundredths of a second can be 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.

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, lets’ apply this concept to a physical ability.  Sprinting.

To make our point let’s get a little extreme. 

A 3 year should know how to run.  Of course, they won’t be that fast compared to an Olympic sprinter.  

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

If we consider the Olympic sprinter near the top of human potential, then the 3 year has a huge window of opportunity to improve.  The Olympian is nearing human limits, so their window of opportunity is very small.

This concept has a profound effect on the transfer of training.  At early level doing general things will bring big dividends. 

A soccer team of 8-year-olds will improve their soccer skill 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.

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

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, a professional player is entirely different.  Just doing general skipping, jumping and hopping won’t improve their performance. Our pro athletes generally have a decade or more of training.   Their window of opportunity to improve is much smaller than that 8-year old.

Whereas a little training effort may have lead to 75% sports improvement for the 8 year old, the elite athlete has to put in a lot of work to even improve 1%.

They have to put in more effort, endure more wear and tear on their body and manage large emotional and mental stresses. There is no room for waste, so training becomes more and more specific.  Sport specific training is essential for efficiency and effectiveness at the elite level.

Long Term Athlete Development 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.

Long term athletic development velocity programs

As an athlete progresses, they continue to benefit from transfer of training by focusing on using different types of strength and building athletic movement skills.  This gives them a larger library of skills to take to sport 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.

How To Use Sport Specific Training

Start at the start.  To use an analogy, we don’t start future professional drivers in Formula 1 cars at age 8.  It is specific, just not very effective.  Any young athlete training outside of their sport practice should employ an LTAD model of sport specific training. 

Begin by building physical literacy and then basic athleticism. As the years of training increase, make the specific qualities more specific. Only at high levels should highly specialized training to mimic sports movement be used.

Progress from general to specific based on the years of training experience of the athlete.

RELATED CONTENT FOR YOU: