It’s a common cue you might hear from a coach. “Load to explode!”
That’s because it is fundamental to many sports movements and involves two of the six types of athletic strength.
LOADING YOUR MUSCLES
Loading is what you see athletes doing in a countermovement or wind-up. It’s that pre-stretch in many movements that increases their power. It measures how quickly you are able to build up force doing in that counter-movement.
Scientifically we describe this as the rate of force development. It tells us how quickly you can turn on your muscles and build up force. In the STRENGTH SIGNATURE, we describe this type of strength as LOAD.
When people are talking about strength, they often mean an athletes ability to apply maximal forces. They are talking about max strength.
But to generate maximum strength, peak forces could take over a second to build up. In rate of force development, we are looking at time frames of as little as 50-200 milliseconds.
As an example, picture a player about to jump. They first bend their knees and hips and dip down in what’s called a countermovement.
That counter movement helps build up force levels in the muscles and store some elastic energy to use while they jump up.
LOAD is the strength ability to have a high rate of force development during that counter-movement.
Another example would be an athlete “winding up” to throw a ball or a punch. Or maybe a hockey player winding up for more power in their slapshot or a tennis player preparing for a big swing.
Coaches and athletes often talk about explosiveness and power since these are qualities that athletes want. Jumping, sprinting, hitting, throwing, and changes of direction can be described in these terms.
But it isn’t always clear exactly how they are looking at it.
In physics terms power is how much work can be done in a period of time.
However, if we rearrange the formula for power, we end up with a formula that says Power = force * velocity. Basically that means power is strength multiplied by speed.
POWER = STRENGTH X SPEED
Power is a determining factor in athletic movements such as jumping and sprinting where time to perform is limited. It is often framed relative to bodyweight because that matters when an athlete in running and jumping.
The more power they can develop per pound of bodyweight, the more it will project their body forward.
Think of it as an engine and it’s power output. A big engine with lots of power might not move a large truck that fast, but put it into a smaller, lighter car and it flies. More power per pound.
In our STRENGTH SIGNATURE, EXPLODE is the average power an athlete can produce relative to their bodyweight.
Load To Explode
As mentioned earlier, that loading action, makes the following explosive movement more powerful. That’s why it’s so important in sports and we see it so much.
This combination of two types of strength in a coordinated athletic movement is a key part of performance training. We want faster loading, and more explosive power.
Loading is trained when we put an emphasis on how quickly muscles fire, not just how hard. Two of the ways we commonly do this are through starting explosive exercises from a pause, and by overloading counter-movements.
Sometimes the way to force an athlete to work on a specific strength quality is to put them at a disadvantage. This means they will have to overemphasize it, thus stimulating improvement.
In Load, we are talking about the ability to turn on muscles quickly.
So we take away momentum and counter-movements. Doing explosive exercises like jumps or Olympic lifts from a static start can be a big help here.
To improve the Rate of Force Development (LOAD) during a counter-movement, you can overload the counter-movement with added weight or movement speed.
For instance, in some plyometric or agility drills we have athletes use medicine balls, weight vests, or bungee cords to overload the “loading” portion before they explode.
This is a really effective way to not just build general Load ability but to work on the motor control for applying it to a specific movement.
In addition to training Speed and Agility, we also develop an athlete’s power capability through weight training and plyometrics.
Jumping exercises can teach athletes how to apply their strength quickly or can be used to overload it.
Through different types of plyometrics, we can train specific movement patterns that athletes need so that their EXPLODE qualities translate to improvements in their sport.
One of the most effective ways to improve EXPLODE is with Olympic lifts. By their nature, these movements combine strength and speed.
Athletes don’t need to always do the full competitive versions of the lifts or be as technically perfect as an Olympic caliber lifter. Basic technique and variations of the lifts are useful tools for all athletes seeking increased power capabilities.
Train Your Ability To Load and Explode
It’s a key part of sport most athletes should be training. By training these two strength types you can increase the speed and power of many key athletic movements. When it comes to strength training for athletes, it’s not only about how heavy a barbell you can lift.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
“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 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.
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.
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.
Winning Battles Is Essential To Winning Hockey Games
For every goal scoring play in a hockey game, there were two or three plays that came just before that made it possible. Often these plays take the form of battles along the wall or in the corners. These are the puck battles that every player has to be ready for.
Players that help their team score goals – or stop them – are the type of players coaches want on their teams. Winning 1-on-1 puck battles is one way to stand out in the eyes of these coaches, and helps the team.
As the level of play rises, it takes extraordinary skating skills, speed, puck control, and hockey sense to battle and compete 1-v-1 effectively.
Along with skill work on the ice, developing players can improve their ability to win puck battles by improving strength. Unfortunately, while any strength training will help some for a complete novice, it has to become more specific as the level of play increases.
So, how do players do the right type of strength training to battle harder?
Build The Core
Puck battles often look like a wrestling match on skates. Opposing players are battling to gain leverage and position so they can control the puck.
Any player that wants to be successful, as well as avoid injuries, needs a strong core.
We aren’t talking six-pack abs and sit-ups. The core strength a hockey player needs helps them to resist movement. Resist movement is what allows a player to transmit forces from the powerful lower body into an opponent. It’s what helps them resist being moved out of position by the other player.
Here are two exercises hockey players can use to build strength and resist movement.
Develop A Strong Foundation
While many players watch a puck battle and see the work in the upper body pushing and pulling, they need to realize the biggest forces are being generated by the lower body. To keep body position and gain leverage, the legs need to be really strong and powerful.
These three strength exercises build lower body strength and power that helps winning battles in hockey.
While trying to gain leverage, or resist an opposing player, large rotational forces are created during puck battles. That means a hockey player needs both the ability to generate and resist rotational forces.
But where do rotational forces occur?
The hips and thoracic (upper back/chest) spine are where rotation should occur. The large muscles of the hip generate torque to rotate, and a solid core transmits them to the upper body to battle with the opponent.
These exercises build rotational power hockey players can use.
Bulletproof Your Shoulders To Survive The Boards
Crashing into the boards while battling for the puck can add wear and tear to the shoulders of any hockey player. To build the durability for contact in the shoulders, hockey players need to develop their strength and stability.
While traditional strengthening like bench press, shoulder press, and side raises are useful, hockey players need functional strength. This means strength that ties together the glenohumeral joint, scapular stability, and thoracic mobility.
The Turkish getup ties together shoulder and core stability and is a staple for athletes. Additionally, a routine of basic stability exercises can be added to any program to promote more stability.
Coaches Want Players Who Battle Hard To Win The Puck
Developing players and their parents may be most impressed by scoring goals, but hockey teams must win battles to score. Coaches are impressed by players that battle hard in all three zones.
Building the right strength will help improve the confidence and resilience hockey players need. Battle harder and win the puck with improved strength.
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.