Of course a swimmer wants swimming-specific exercises. Every athlete wants exercises and training methods that give them the most bang for their buck. In a sport as unique as swimming, this is even more important.
While it seems like common sense that sport-specific exercises are needed, there is more to consider. The key is to find the proper blend of general and specific exercises. This is true in every level of swimming.
An elite competitive swimmer is first and foremost an athlete. Therefore, they need a good foundation of general strength and coordination throughout the entire body. This base of athleticism is relevant in coordinating general motion and basic physical health.
Working with elite swimmers in the US and internationally, we see this fact reinforced time and again. It impacts the training for a young developing swimmer. General strength and athleticism are the foundation. They build overall capacity and resiliency to injury.
Unlike most other athletes, the swimmer operates in a non-ground based environment. The main force they battle is not gravity. This is unique.
The swimmer’s movement challenge is maximizing propulsion in the water and minimizing drag. Because of this, there are some unique challenges for training the swimmer.
A human who is foreign to the water environment. Subsequently, they need maximum exposure to the water to optimize their “feel”.
Feel for the water is a hard-to-define quality. It’s the ability to generate the largest propulsion with the body extremities against the resistance of water. The laws of hydrodyamincs mean the faster you move through water, the harder it is to push.
Summation of Forces
Most athletes produce a ground reaction force. This force is directed from the feet and legs through the center of mass. The swimmer is the opposite. The force is applied through the hands and then transfers through the upper body to the center of mass.
That force is not applied against a solid mass like the ground. A swimmer must generate forces against the water that must will propel them. In most strokes, the majority (85-90%) of propulsion is generated by the upper limbs.
Ground-based athletes focus on developing summation of forces and triple extension from the ground up. Swimmers must develop this same coordinated, multi-segment flexion from the upper body down through the hips.
Dryland training of swimmers needs to emphasize the coordinated application of strength. It should be coordinated 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. This happens at the same time the upper extremity generates power in pulling and pushing moments.
Connected is as much an intention in the exercises as an outcome. To train this quality of coordination, athletes need to actively bring it into each exercise. For an exercise to develop “connectedness” the following qualities need to be developed;
Exhibit pelvis and spinal control
Demonstrate scapular control
Develops pulling tension across multi-segmental, muscle/fascial lines
Sample Connected swimming specific exercises:
Gymnastic Ring and Bar exercises – front levers, L-hangs, pullup variations
Cable based pulling/chops/lifts with whole body engagement
Isometric whole body holds – prone, supine, sidelying.
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.
Athletes need to be able to control their spine and pelvic position. Whether it’s disturbed by internal muscle forces or external. This is core stability.
A swimmer’s actions in the upper and lower body connect back to the core. Without adequate core stability, the spine and pelvis can be pulled out of place.
Many athletes need to develop core stability in isolation first. They needs this before they can produce it during multi-segmental movement. This is one reason why core stability is both a foundation and ongoing focus for swimmers.
Swimming-specific exercises should strive to maintain an elongated spine and streamline position. This is paramount in the pool when they apply force. As a result, it should be a goal in many of the dryland and strength exercises.
Even in upper body exercises, this can be included. While performing upper body work, athletes should maintain lumbopelvic control as well.
Swimming specific exercise for core strength & stability
Fundamental breathing patterns & resets
Ground based animal patterns
Active mobility & joint resiliency – scapula, spine, pelvis, hips
Anti-Rotation core exercises
Training the Swimmer
Swimmers of all levels need dryland training. They need a balance of both general and swimming specific exercises. Swimming-specific exercises are much more than exercises that just look like swimming.
To summarize, for exercises to produce swimming specific improvements, they need to address the core functions and be connected. Strength and power developed in this manner helps transfer to improvements in the pool.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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?
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
You see, it’s the intensity, not the volume that stimulates
Getting 2-3 small doses of intensity every week will do the
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
Dynamic warm-up for prep and injury prevention
Two-three basic explosive and strength lifts with kettlebells, dumbbells or barbells.
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
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.
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.
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
“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.
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
Strength training is basically any exercise that relies on
some form of resistance to stimulate your body to get stronger.
Why so many different things? For one, to do it properly we need a range of
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.
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 cankids 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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
They get a lot of “transfer” (improvement in their sport)
from that unspecific and relatively less intense training.
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
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
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.
In-season practices are often far less physically demanding than off-season practices, which leads to drastic de-conditioning
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
The most common request we get from parents and athletes is for sport specific training.
Now sometimes as professionals, we want to roll our eyes when we watch the latest Instagram post that is some guru doing “sport specific training.”
Because just putting a stick in their hand or making them do their sport’s technical drill with a bungee cord is NOT sport specific training.
In fact, we aren’t against sport specific training at all.
However, as professionals, we know there is a lot more to being sport specific than you may think. That’s why we ask: “Why Do You Want Sport Specific Training?”
We know because when we work with professionals and Olympians, the purpose tends to be specific…play better and WIN!
Why Do You Want Sport Specific Training?
Whenever an athlete wants a training program, one of our essential questions is: Why Do You Train?
It is one of the foundations of Velocity’s philosophy. We strive to understand every athlete’s WHY? What do they want to achieve in their sport? What do they want to feel? What are they willing to work for?
What does this have to do with sport specific training?
It’s important because it gives our coaches context.
Coaches have a responsibility to help guide you. We are trying to guide you to the solutions that will give you what you want. That’s why you come to us for help. Any coach who doesn’t seek to understand your goals isn’t a real coach.
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 and get playing time.
Maybe you want to train specifically to 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 hurt your game.
All of these goals are different in ways. Even though a lot of the training may be the same for athletes in the same sport, some should be different. Different choices in training methods come from information such as those goals.
A coach needs to understand this.
Meeting Your Sport Specific Goals
Sport specific training is really; yourgoal specific training.
Athletes will generally seek sport specific training to meet their particular goals in the sport. If your coach doesn’t try to understand you and your goals, then they might be missing the mark.
That’s not professional coaching. That’s lazy and ill-informed.
We start by redefining your 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.
Putting It Into Practice
To understand your goals and needs the first step for a coach is to ask. Coaches have to do more than just ask “what do you want?” Professionals know how to dig deeper and uncover what you want. We find where your motivation comes from.
Then we start to assess your level and current abilities to determine what level of specificity is best and how to deliver it.
In part one of this installment, I set the landscape as to why in-season training was so necessary for youth athletes. In a nutshell, the answer boils down to two main points:
One, in-season practices are often far less physically demanding than off-season practices, which leads to drastic de-conditioning
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!
Nevertheless, in looking at the other effects of in-season
training, or more specifically, a lack thereof, it is essential to note that
lack of physical preparation during in-season periods often results in
significant increases in injury rates.
For example, in a study published in the British Journal of Sports
Medicine, a group of British researchers noted that when looking at in-season
resistance training on youth professional soccer players, English Premier teams
that employed in-season strength and conditioning programs with their athletes
spent nearly $494,000 less on sports medicine costs than programs that did not
use in-season strength training!
Furthermore, in using one of the teams from the research design as
a case-study, the Premiership team in question rose their player availability
to 95% (compared to other teams) meaning the coaches could basically pick from
their best players throughout the season!
Finally, in adding even more metrics back to the original points
listed in installment one of this article, performance metrics increased by as
much as 5% when athletes trained as little as 1x per week, compared to nearly
doubling (11.6%) when athletes trained 2x per week.
Call to Action:
As a result, the above findings highlight the fact that in-season
training reduces the risk of injury drastically, while also providing coaches
with the chance to field their best team at all times. Furthermore, athletes
who participate in in-season strength training can actually improve their
performances throughout the season anywhere between 5 and 12%!
Therefore, for athletes and coaches that are serious about taking
team and individual performances to the next level, there is no substitution
for in-season training.
Up to this point, in-season training for youth athletes has proved
crucial for a multitude of reasons:
practices are often far less physically demanding than off-season practices,
which leads to drastic de-conditioning
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!
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.
However, in spite of all these positive in-season gains, much
confusion still exists with in-season training compared to off-season training!
For instance, a question I get asked by parents often is “what is the
Understanding Your Bank Account
In providing an easy-to-understand analogy, I like to explain to parents that off-season training is very much like opening an ‘athletic savings account.’
With every resistance training, speed, agility, and conditioning
session an athlete participates in during the off-season, the athlete is
effectively depositing into their personal ‘athletic bank account,’ growing
their own personal ‘spending’ power on the field, court or ice in the process.
In other words, off-season training is all about maximizing
physical preparation. Given that here at Velocity we train our athletes for
speed using our ‘Big Force, Short Time’ formula, using the off-season to build
strength and power through resistance training and Olympic lifting allows our
young athletes to change their bodies by improving coordination and re-training
their nervous systems so that their muscles can produce more force in less
time, resulting in quicker reaction times and more explosive skill execution.
As a consequence, the more training an athlete has in the
off-season, the more physical ‘currency’ they can draw upon during the
competitive season to maximize performance!
Hence, a robust off-season program is characterized by the
Strength and Power Training using full-body, free-weight movements
Speed & Agility Training o improve first-step quickness and
top speed mechanics, to enhance coordination, multi-direction reaction times
and straight-line speeds.
Conditioning Training to fuel performance and reduce recovery
times so that athletes can go harder for longer.
Finally, because athletes performing off-season programs do not
usually play as many competitive games means more significant time, attention,
and detail can go into the off-season program.
How to Withdraw from an Athletic Bank Account But Not Go Broke In
Given that in-season training is all about putting as much
physical preparation currency into an athlete’s ‘bank account,’ competition is
where an athlete makes their withdrawals.
For example, every time an athlete goes hard in competition, their
muscles and body break down a little bit due to a host of physical processes
and microtraumas. Muscle soreness, for example, is often attributed to small
microscopic tears in muscle cells that take time, hydration, and proper
nutrition to heal.
When an athlete performs in-season training, they continue to
‘top-up’ their athletic bank account, meaning they can continue to go harder,
for longer in the season. Athletes that fail to perform in-season training; on
the other hand, effectively ‘run out of money,’ they don’t recover as well and
instead become more susceptible to injury.
However, because in-season training needs to be balanced with
competition means it is characterized by the following:
Less training volume: In other words, instead of doing 5 exercises,
athletes might instead do 3 to preserve more energy.
Less focus on conditioning: Even though practices aren’t
necessarily as intense, competitions still are so athletes in-season will
condition but not to the same extent as in the off-season.
Less focus on speed and agility: Like conditioning, athletes can
get plenty of agility and speed work during games and practices. However,
certain times they won’t so supplementary speed and agility training will
feature, albeit in a reduced format.
In closing, the main difference between off-season and in-season
training primarily comes down to emphasis and volume. Like a savings account,
off-season training allows athletes to open their own ‘athletic bank account’
of physical skill and preparation that they can withdrawal from all season
Failure to perform off-season training (opening the account) and maintain it with fresh deposits (in-season training) leads to significant reductions in sports ability. As a result, it is imperative that athletes train during the off-season and in-season to maximize performance, as well as make continued gains every year.
By: Tim Hanaway – Sports Performance Director – Velocity Norwood
Strength, in my opinion, is the single most important physical attribute that an athlete can possess as strength is literally the precursor to all forms of athleticism. Want to get instantly faster, more agile, quicker, more explosive, and maintain more endurance? Strength training will significantly enhance all of them. Adopting a ground-based, functional strength-training program that utilizes upper and lower-body, compound movements is genuinely the key to athletic success and longevity in my humble opinion.
The biggest challenge with strength and power training is that all the amazing benefits we associate with it from a scientific standpoint (i.e. increases in force production, speed of muscle contractions, inter-muscular coordination, enhanced ground-reaction time, etc.) are in fact reversible. Yes, you read that, right! All the hard work and performance gains an athlete makes during the off-season, or pre-season can, in fact, go away when this type of training is not maintained for prolonged periods.
The realities of In-season:
The above fact is one that I find often takes young parents and athletes by surprise. “How could this be?” A father might ask, as they then explain that their son or daughter plays for 2 travel teams, a rec team and their school team. “Surely, all that practice and hard-work would go a long way towards enhancing fitness?”
The truth is that more often than not, practices are simply not focused or intense enough in-season to stress a young athlete’s body to develop or maintain strength or fitness levels.
To illustrate this point, let me give you some perspective: A head coach is more often than not focused on their own “one thing” during the season, which is winning. Simply put, priorities change once the season starts! Head coaches are instead more focused on tactics, plays and improving all the areas of need highlighted in the previous week’s game, compared to fitness and strength gains.
In using basketball as an example, if the team didn’t get enough rebounds during the last game, you better believe the coach is going to have the athletes perform lots of ‘box out’ drills in order to re-enforce technique and try to remedy the situation. Likewise, if the team’s offense wasn’t functioning properly, chances are that same coach is going to spend a significant amount of time in practice that week walking through/going over all the plays at a moderate pace/intensity in order to “iron out the kinks” and fix any confusion.
So what does this mean from an observational/practical standpoint? Well, it most likely means that the 5 starters on the team will go through the plays at a moderate intensity (at best), with the remaining 10 players standing around and watching from the sideline for prolonged periods of time. Yes, the truth is, go to any team practice in-season and chances are that you are going to witness a significant amount of standing around, talking, and direction from the coach, with much less time dedicated to all-out scrimmages or drills attempting to simulate game-day conditions, compared to pre-season activity. This same trend is far from uncommon and readily identified within a scientific study conducted by Wellman and colleagues (2007) that looked to compare the differences between pre-season and in-season practices and game-times among NCAA Division I football players.
The fact is, whether discussing the height of collegiate sport or your average middle-school or high school team, studies like this one show that athletes simply do not experience the same kind of workloads during the in-season period compared to pre-season, as much more time is instead dedicated to tactics. So, what is the outcome of this rather apparent paradox if an athlete is no longer strength and power training, while simultaneously experiencing even less fitness training within a typical in-season practice?
In a study performed on elite male rugby and football players, McMaster and colleagues (2013) found that strength levels have a tendency to decrease after a three-week period when no form of strength activity is maintained. In addition, according to Meylan and colleagues (2013), the decay rates of strength parameters for youth athletes can show an even more marked difference, especially for those athletes who have not yet hit their growth spurt. According to the researchers, these athletes lost more strength and forgot it even quicker compared to their peers who have had already hit their growth spurt!
The Good News:
As dismaying as this information may be, the good news is that there are some very practical solutions that athletes can undertake in order to mitigate the negative effects of the paradoxical in-season strength and fitness loss. For example, If the mantra ‘use it or lose it’ is clearly relevant in this case, the simple solution, of course, is to ‘use it’ by strength training in-season! However, in speaking with the same parent from the above example that is already questioning how they could possibly train 4x per week in-season when they are already juggling so much between the numerous teams and practices their son/daughter is already participating in, the good news is that you do not need to train nearly as long or as frequently in-season in order to maintain all the performance gains made in the off or pre-season!
To illustrate, in a study conducted on male handball players (Hermassi et al. 2017), researchers found that in as little as two sessions per week athletes were able to maintain their performance gains, while another study found that so long as intensity was kept high, athletes (in this case rowers) were able to maintain their performance gains in as little as one session per week (Bell et al. 1993).
Call to Action:
So now that the negative effects of training cessation have been presented, and the fact that as little as one session per week can effectively maintain strength and fitness gains throughout the course of a season, the question beckons, what can you do to safeguard and maximize your son or daughter’s performance gains?
The answer is
Maintain an in-season strength and conditioning routine that can be executed in a little as one hour per week.
Our experience – and the experience of the athletes who train with us – confirms that this is all it takes to make sure they finish the season just as strong as they were at the start. In addition to meaning these athletes perform well during the season it also means that their strength improvements do not have to be regained at the end of each season, effectively accelerating their performance at a rate greater than their peers.
Bell, G. J., Syrotuik, D. G., Attwood, K., & Quinney, H. A. (1993). Maintenance of Strength Gains While Performing Endurance Training in Oarswomen. Canadian Journal of Applied Physiology,18(1), 104-115. doi:10.1139/h93-010
People are often confused about the differences between mobility vs
flexibility. It matters because it affects your athleticism
and injury risk. Hope that gets your
attention because it’s often the neglected and mis-understood step-child of
You probably recognize that athleticism has multiple facets. Strength, speed, and stamina are a few. To be fair, most people would probably
include flexibility in there as well.
Maybe you were taught to stretch in gym class back in the day. Maybe you’ve read enough articles from trainers to know about foam rolling. How about endless pics of yoga and mobility work on social media?
You know there’s something that you should probably be doing, but
why are some people talking about mobility and others flexibility. Aren’t these the same thing?
flexibility: Is there really a difference?
Yes. Mobility and
flexibility are related but different things.
However, as you scroll through feed and listen to trainers talk,
they are often used interchangeably. Most
trainers in the fitness and performance training fields don’t even know they
Traditional definition in sports medicine they would be;
FLEXIBILITY: The ability of a muscle to be lengthened.
MOBILITY: The ability of a joint to move through a range of motion
However, this is not what we are discussing here. We are not as interested in the traditional definition. We are more interested in the modern concepts that apply to injury prevention and performance.
Modern concept definition:
FLEXIBILITY: The ability of a muscle to be lengthened.
MOBILITY: The ability to control movement through a range of motion
Similar, but some key differences.
The concept of mobility incorporates flexibility, but not necessarily
vice-versa. The key for athletes is
mobility. Flexibility isn’t enough.
Mobility is a term and concept that encompasses a range of factors
affecting your movement including:
The tissues ability to lengthen
The joint ability to move
The nervous systems ability to relax and allow
The neuromuscular systems ability to activate
muscles and control movement through all ranges of motion.
is Important for Mobility
You do need enough flexibility in your muscles to obtain
functional and sport specific mobility. This matters, as you are considering whether
to work on mobility vs flexibility.
Flexibility is passive. It’s your ability to move your connective
tissue with the help of another person or tool, or gravity. Your muscles passively allow the movement to
Think of flexibility
like a rubber band. When you pull both ends, it stretches. It’s flexible. If it doesn’t stretch, it’s
inflexible. If it’s too inflexible, it could even snap. It’s the same thing
with muscles. They have elastic
components and are designed to move through a stretch.
also requires your joint capsule have a full range of motion as well. It doesn’t matter how stretchy your muscles
are if the joint itself won’t allow the movement.
Since. mobility includes moving through a full range of motion,
you are going to need to have some flexibility in those muscles to be mobile.
Mobility for Better Movement
The problem comes in when people think being flexible is
enough. Sure you can stretch your body
into all kinds of positions. Your muscle
clearly have flexibility, but can they control it?
with great mobility is able to perform movement patterns with no restrictions. The
movement is efficient and there aren’t any compensations. They have the range of motion and the
neuromuscular control and strength to move through the pattern.
On the other
hand, some people can perform a movement pattern successfully, but they compensate. They may fire some muscles in a different sequence,
use different muscle for stability or avoid certain joint position.
person may or may not have the stabilizer strength, balance, or coordination to
perform the same functional movements as the person with great mobility. This goes back to some of the fundamental differences
of flexibility vs mobility.
Control. Control comes through the strength in your
muscles. Control comes through
coordination of those muscles. Control
comes from properly functioning stabilizers.
is important, and flexibility is a part of that. That doesn’t usaully mean you
need to spend an extra hour in the gym every day. Incorporating a steady stream of exercises for
both flexibility and mobility into you training plan will go a long way.
addition to a general approach you should prioritize extra time for certain
areas. You may already know the areas or
your body that need to improve. Or maybe
its specific to your sport. A
comprehensive profile from a professional goes a long way towards targeting the
areas that will get you the most bang for your buck.
Methods To Increase Mobility
Myo-Fascial techniques: Sometimes these may be excruciating but can be very effective. Foam rolling, lacrosse balls and other tools are
basically a type of self-massage. These techniques help you release tight spots
in your muscles.
are exercises that are specifically geared towards training your range of
motion around joints. They involve actively moving, contracting and relaxing
muscles through the joints range of motion.
Some of these may isolate, while others involve multi-joint movement
Stretching: This may or may not be necessary.
If you’re naturally a very flexible person, stretching can make your joints more
vulnerable to injury. However, if you’ve always been stiff, and it’s stopping
you from moving well, you may benefit.
Some targeted stretches may be enough both as part of the warm-up and separate
its 5 minutes or 30, a good dynamic warm-up can work wonders. This type of warm-up does more then only
increase muscle temperature and blood. It incorporates all of the above with
movement. You actually prep the elements
of mobility as you prepare for the workout or competition.
athletes need to work on maintaining or improving their mobility. The strains and stresses of playing a sport add
up. Repetitive motion puts uneven stress
on your body and it adapts.
Mobility allows you to move as efficiently as possible. That means better performance and less risk of injury. In the end it not a question of mobility vs flexibility, but how you are going to maintain or improve them. Get it right so you can move your best.
social media training gurus, movement ninjas, and speed wizards, in youth
You’re doing yourself and so many young athletes a disservice. Hurting kids. Ruining athleticism. You’re embarrassing a profession. It needs to stop.
I can’t look at social media without seeing it. The cool looking video clip with a shredded, athletic 20 year old. They’re doing this combination of fast, athletic looking movements. It is impressive. It gets lots of likes.
Unfortunately, it’s also a total waste of time. It’s teaching the wrong movement patterns and actually puts that young athlete at a higher risk of injury.
hey, it looked really cool.
they start offering their “training” expertise to others and charging for it.
the problem is not him, or his tribe in the fantasy world of social media. It’s
us in the profession and it’s the very parents being
Sure, they can do some awesome combinations of movements, plyo drills, yoga moves, gymnastics and whatever. Looking good in little, to no clothing is a pre-requisite as well. They take great videos and selfies in the gym, at the field and places you want to be.
it’s inspirational. That’s ok. Sometimes its educational, and that’s good too.
But what about when people start listening to them and
trusting them with their health or performance?
Does that person actually have an education? Are they qualified? Do they know when they aren’t qualified and to refer to a professional?
Have they put in some years of doing it, apprenticing under masters of the craft and making the mistakes we all do along the way?
these social media training experts aren’t necessarily
bad people. But we are letting too many unqualified, uneducated and
inexperienced ones doing damage.
professionals, too many of us let them get away with it. We shake our heads, or
we just laugh at them behind their
backs. We know that some might mean well, but they don’t see the danger.
The danger of misleading people
to trust that they have real knowledge and understanding of health, fitness or
performance. The time, money and effort people may
waste under their direction. The violated trust of a coach to an athlete.
worst of all, the real danger of injury caused by these gurus ignorance. That
lack of understanding of biomechanics, injury, adolescent physiology.
why do parents settle for it? Sure it’s inspiring to see the picture and videos
of workouts and drills. It’s hard to know how to find a good coach. But why are
you trusting your kids health to this person?
Next time you encounter a social media expert, speed guru, kettlebell rockstar, or former athlete, ask them to prove they are qualified to guide your and influence your child!
Do you just trust your kid to anyone who looks good on social media?
you choose your airline pilot by their awesome social media profile? “Hey, I’ve
only flown a Microsoft flight simulator once before, but don’t I look good as a
jumbo jet pilot? Come fly with me!”
parents continue to feed the growing trend, by wasting their money without
checking that these people know what they are talking about. More growth for
the mythical social gurus and self-titled experts.
all over out there. Social media experts
expounding knowledge and answers. Yet
they are still in school (if they even went) or in their first job. They didn’t apprentice or learn their craft. No formal training. Do they even know what to do in an emergency or
hey, they did do that weekend certification that everybody passes…
I see it, I pray. Pray they don’t do any
significant damage. That they realize when they are in over their heads.
Next time you encounter a social media training guru, speed expert, kettlebell rockstar, or former athlete, ask them to prove they are qualified to guide your and influence your child!
Not by showing you what they can do, but showing what their clients can do. Did their clients improve?
do they handle athletes that aren’t as talented? What about ones with injury?
What do they know about building a winning mindset?
raise the bar. Make them prove they are
qualified to train your child.