Do athletes need a bigger engine or better brakes?

When it comes to training for performance, many, if not most, people immediately thinking about being faster and more powerful. After all, victory often depends on getting to the ball, finish line, goal line, end zone, or basket before your opponent.

This is the same as buying a new car with only one concern: How big is the engine? How fast can it go? How quickly does it get to 60mph? This is, of course, very important to athletic performance.

So, if we stick with our car metaphor, what’s going to happen if you buy a brand new Ferrari but the breaks don’t work? It won’t matter how fast you can go, because, without breaks, you can’t control all that speed.

In fact, the majority of non-contact injuries happen in just this way: athletes can’t manage stopping because they don’t have strong enough brakes and something, well, breaks.

So which one should you pick? The answer is that it depends. If you’re an explosive athlete who can’t change direction quickly, then you probably need better breaks. If your top speed blows away your competition but it takes you too long to get there, then maybe you need a more powerful engine. The first step is to assess where you are now and where you need to be.

At Velocity, we use a battery of tests to see where our athletes are strong and where they need to improve. Based on this and other information, like injury history and goals, our coaches can make smart decisions about what our athletes need in order to improve their performance.

If you want to see how your brakes and engine are working, contact us and schedule testing!

Velocity Coach’s Favorite Speed Drills

Speed training is fundamental to the Velocity system. We asked four of our coaches which drills were their favorites – a kind of “desert island” scenario for speed training. If you don’t have much time, or maybe just don’t know where to start, try these.

Coach Kenny’s pick: The Single Leg Tuck Jump

Reason
Every athlete needs to be quick and powerful on just one leg. Whether it’s cutting, jumping, landing, or sprinting, sports are mostly about exploding, stopping, and exploding again as quickly as possible.

Focus
This drill requires athletes to generate as much force as they can while getting their foot off the ground as quickly as possible.

Execution
While in a single-leg stance, jump as quickly as you and tuck your knee up toward your chest as soon as your foot leaves the ground.

Sets & Reps
As many reps as you can on one leg for 20 seconds.

60 seconds of rest.
As many reps as you can on the other leg for 20 seconds.

Repeat this series three times and you’ve done some respectable speed training in under four minutes.

Coach Yo’s Pick: Build Your Brakes! (Level Lowering Series)

Reason
In addition to being a place where many athletes can make a meaningful difference in their on-field or on-court speed, the moment when an athlete needs to change direction or decelerate is where the majority of non-contact injuries occur. This is due to lack of strength, poor posture or position, or a combination of both.

Fortunately, these types of injuries are easily preventable by learning good base position and improving eccentric strength.

Focus
Learn what good base positions are and how to get in and out of them quickly.

Execution
Work on your base positions:

  • Practice the Square Stance
  • Next try the Staggered Stance
  • Advance to the Single Leg Stance (on each side)

Next, you need to learn the “Loading Position.” At Velocity, we often refer to this as Level Lowering. While you can do this without any equipment whatsoever, we often use the following tools to help with these drills:

  • Agility Ladders help with your tempo and target ground contact time.
  • Minibands are fantastic for activating and keeping athletes’ glutes engaged.
  • Other variations include adding anti-flexion and anti-rotation elements to target different muscle groups and strength qualities.

Sets & Reps
Level Lowering is about posture and position before it is about volume. Therefore, going through a certain number of reps if the correct posture cannot be maintained is at best unhelpful and may be dangerous. The best way to approach these drills is to work until you master the positions.

 

Sports Medicine Specialist Misao’s pick: 5-10-5 Change of Direction Test

Reason

The movement patterns involved are simple, excellent for training specific movement, and are common to any sport that involves more than running straight ahead.

The test is very short, lasting at most six seconds. This means that an athlete’s performance is determined by their foot quickness and ability to change direction, not by endurance.

Another benefit of this drill is that it’s not a drill – it’s a test. Athletes get timed, so not only do they tend to push themselves harder than they would otherwise, they also get direct and immediate feedback as to whether they are getting faster or slower.

Focus
This test is about how quickly and athlete can change direction, plain and simple.

Execution:
Place three cones (or something similar) in a line with five yards between each cone. The athlete starts in the middle in a square stance, facing directly ahead, with one hand on the ground. The athlete sprints five yards one direction, then ten yards back the other way, then turns around to sprint back through the middle.

Time starts as soon as the athlete makes his or her first move coming out of the square stance and ends when the hips cross the middle line.

Sets & Reps
We suggest giving an athlete one or two test runs at about 80% to get a feel for the movement and decide which direction they want to start running. After that, more than three or five times through the test is adequate. If you are looking for a change-of-direction drill for conditioning purposes, we would suggest something like suicides or the 300-yard shuttle.

Coach Rob’s pick: Jump Rope

Coach Rob spends a lot of time with our Youth athletes, whose ages range from about 8 to 12. While simplicity is valuable regardless of your athletes’ ages, its importance increases with younger athletes, whose attention spans and motor control are not yet fully developed.

Reason
Part of the Velocity Big Four Speed Formula is small time, which is purely about getting your feet off the ground quickly. Jumping rope correctly teaches athletes how to get their feet up quickly and improves their ability to do so. It gives them immediate feedback as to whether they are getting better at being quick – they get over the rope or they don’t.

The coordination required to jump rope is another reason it work so well. Many of our young athletes need work in this area, and when they can coordinate their jump roping, it usually translates in to an improvement in overall coordination. This helps with running technique and a wide variety of other movements.

This drill requires a lot of focus, and nearly all of our youth athletes need more of that. In fact, our coaches know the quality that determines which athletes excel is often not talent or strength, but the ability to focus. We’ve found that giving our athletes drills that force them to lock in their attention to the task at hand is a great way to develop that ability.

Focus
Developing quick feet, coordination, and focus.

Execution
Jump over the rope by picking up your toes, not by bending your knees.

Sets & Reps
Set a goal for your athletes to be able to do 100 jumps in a row without stopping for any reason. Beginning with just five minutes of practice every day will yield great results. Once they can do that, move on to single leg jump rope, and then to double-unders.

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4 myths about Muscle pliability you need to know

Trainer performing graston technique

The term “muscle pliability” has been in the news around the NFL quite a bit recently. Tom Brady and his trainer, Alex Guerrero, claim that making muscles pliable is the best way to sustain health and performance. How true is that claim? While it’s a great descriptive term, we are going to shed some light on what it really means and how to create muscle pliability.

Our performance coaches, sports medicine specialists, and tissue therapists all find it to be a useful term.  Pliable expresses some of the important qualities of muscle. According to Miriam-Webster Dictionary here’s what pliable means:

Pliable

a: supple enough to bend freely or repeatedly without breaking

b: yielding readily to others

c: adjustable to varying conditions

That’s a pretty good description for many of the qualities we want in the tissue of an athlete (or any human for that matter). The problem is that it’s being mixed up with a lot of inaccurate and confusing statements.

Our Sports Medicine Specialist, Misao Tanioka, says that “the word pliability, in my opinion, depicts the ideal muscle tissue quality. It is similar to suppleness, elasticity, or resilience. Unfortunately, I believe some of the explanations offered by Mr. Brady and Mr. Guerrero have created some misunderstanding of what ‘muscle pliability’ really is.”

Let’s try and separate some of the myths from what is true.

Myth 1: Muscles that are “soft” are better than dense

That depends on what qualifies as “soft” muscle.  Tissue Specialist Cindy Vick has worked on hundreds of elite athletes, including NFL players and Olympians across many sports. “Soft isn’t a word I would use for an athlete. When I’m working on an elderly client, I often feel muscles that could be called soft; they’re not dense. That’s not what I feel when working on elite athletes. Athletes who are healthy and performing well have muscles that have density without being overly tense and move freely. The tissue is still smooth and supple.”

This muscle quality is affected by many factors, ranging from stress, competition, nutrition, training, and recovery. At Velocity, maintaining optimal tissue quality is a constant endeavor.  Proper self myo-fascial release, various stretching techniques, and manual therapy are all part of the equation.

Myth 2: Dense muscles = stiff muscles = easily injured athletes

Relating these terms in this way grossly over-simplifies the reality and is in some ways completely wrong.

You have to start with the operative word: “dense.” Tanioka says, “Dense tissue can be elastic; elastic tissue is resilient to injury. What we have to look for is inelastic tissue.” Cindy Vick adds that “if you mean ‘dense’ to refer to a muscle with adhesions, or that doesn’t move evenly and smoothly, then yes, that’s a problem.”

Scientifically, stiffness refers to how much a muscle resists stretch under tension. It’s like thinking about the elastic qualities of a rubber band. The harder it is to pull, the stiffer it is. If a muscle can’t give and stretch when it needs to, that’s bad.

Imagine a rubber band that protects your joint. When a muscle exerts force against the impact of an opponent or gravity, stiffness can help resist the joint and ligaments from being overloaded and consequently injured.

“I agree with Mr. Brady’s statement about the importance of a muscle’s ability to lengthen, relax and disperse high-velocity, heavy incoming force to avoid injury.” says Tanioka. “However, I think that athletes also must be able to exert maximum power whether actively generating force or passively resisting an incoming stress, which requires the ability to shorten and be taut and firm as well as well as lengthen. The ability of tissue to be durable and contractile is just as important as to elongate and soften when it comes to performance and injury prevention.”

In the view of our experts, it’s not about dense, soft, stiff, or other qualitative words. Instead, they emphasize developing function through different types of strength qualities athletes need.   Athletes must prepare for the intense stress and strain their muscles will face in their sport.  They need to blend the right strength training with mobility and flexibility.

 

Myth 3: Strength training makes muscles short

“It’s an old wives’ tale that took hold when body building techniques had a big influence on strength and conditioning. A muscle can be incredibly strong without sacrificing any range of motion” according international expert and President of Velocity Sports Performance, Ken Vick, who has worked with athletes in 10 Olympic Games and helped lead the Chinese Olympic Committee’s preparation efforts for 2016 Rio Olympic Games.

“I’ll give you two great examples: Gymnasts are, pound-for-pound, very strong and incredibly explosive, yet they are known to be some of the most flexible athletes. Olympic weightlifters are clearly some of the strongest athletes in the world and are also generally very flexible. They spend practically every day doing strength training and their muscles aren’t ‘short.’”

In fact, proper lifting technique demands excellent flexibility and mobility. For example, poor hip flexor flexibility or limited ankle mobility results in an athlete who probably cannot reach the lowest point of a back squat. Our proven methods combine strength training with dynamic mobility, movement training, and state of the art recovery technology to help our athletes gain and maintain the flexibility and mobility required for strength training and optimal performance on the field of competition.

 

Myth 4: Plyometrics and band training are better for pliability

We hear these types of claims time and again from coaches, trainers, and others who are quoting something they’ve read without much knowledge of the actual training science. Our muscles and brain don’t care if the resistance is provided by bodyweight, bands, weights, cables, or medicine balls. They can all be effective or detrimental, depending on how they are used.

Sport science has shown that manipulating different variables influences both the physiological and neurological effects of strength training. Rate of motion, movement patterns, environment, and type of resistance all influence the results.

Truth: Muscle Pliability is a good thing

Like so many ideas, muscle pliability is very good concept. The challenge lies in discerning and then conveying what is true and what is not. An experienced therapist can, within just a few moments of touching a person, tell whether that tissue is healthy. A good coach can tell whether an athlete has flexibility or mobility problems, or both, simply by watching them move.

In either case, it takes years of experience and understanding of the human body and training science, like that which is possessed by the performance and sports medicine staff at Velocity, to correctly apply a concept like muscle pliability to an athlete’s training program.

Becoming More Agile: Teach, Train, Apply

agility

When athletes walk into Velocity, they expect us to improve their physical performance. Their goals are often to fun faster, be more agile, or hit the ball farther. While their goals may differ, the solution is almost always the same: make their movements more efficient and their bodies stronger and more explosive.

What is Agility?

Before we can help our athletes improve, we need to measure their performance, but first we need to understand exactly what we are measuring. If we want to quantify a movement quality like agility, we need to understand exactly what we mean when we say “agile.” Let’s consider two possible definitions:

“The athletic ability to either create an elusive motion or a defensive REACTION with an emphasis on speed and CREATIVITY.” – Carl Valle

“Rapid whole-body movement with change of velocity or direction in RESPONSE TO STIMULUS”
–  Science for Sport

The most common test for agility is the 5-10-5 Pro Agility Test. If you’re not familiar with this test, it involves an athlete sprinting five yards to his left (or right), then 10 yards in the opposite direction, and finally five yards back the other direction. While this test does capture an athlete’s ability to change direction quickly, it captures nothing of an athlete’s ability to be creative or react to an uncontrolled stimulus.

In most cases, performance tests are conducted in a controlled environment for the sake of validity and so that they can be reliably reproduced. Consequently, they cannot truly measure an athlete’s creativity or reaction skills. If we accept that these abilities are essential components of agility, then we know the results of these tests will never give a complete picture of agility.

What makes good agility training?

Ladders, cones, and resistance bungees are commonly used in training drills to develop athletes’ footwork, coordination, and change-of-direction skills. If you’ve ever seen an athlete showing off their abilities with these drills, you might assume that they are extremely agile, but that’s not necessarily the case. If agility includes the ability to quickly respond to a stimulus, then we should realize that those rehearsed drills improve this skill. They can help develop quicker and more accurate feet, but every time an athlete practices that drill they are practicing it the same way. It’s like learning the alphabet: a child learns it in the same order every time and it is easily memorized – but no matter how quickly that child can repeat the alphabet, it doesn’t tell anyone anything about their ability to spell or form sentences.

Real agility is like the ability to quickly form concise, beautiful, grammatically correct and advanced sentences, only the “words” are the different movement skills an athlete has in his toolbox, and the “sentence” is the combination of how he puts those skills together. An athlete who has mastered agility is like a poet with his, or her, body on the field. It is no wonder that the best demonstrations of athletic ability are often called beautiful.

Drills are still great tools for teaching movement variations and improving their quality, but if we stop there, we have only added to our athletes’ “movement toolbox.” To make them more athletic we also need to help them develop the ability to know when to use those tools and be able to do so at a moment’s notice. This ability separates a great athlete on the field from one who is merely great at performing drills.

Velocity Sports Performance’s “Progressive Training Method”: Teach, Train, and Apply

Teach: Our coaches first introduce movement techniques to our athletes. We explain the biomechanics that make a particular movement efficient.

Train: Next we provide series of exercises or drills for athletes to practice specific movement skills.

Apply: Once they have a new movement skills in their tool box, our coaches create opportunities for them to explore their movement skills in non-rehearsed, random, and chaotic situations like mirror drills, reaction drills, or game-like scenarios.

Agility may be hard to measure, but we can still help our athletes get better at it. First, as their coaches, we need to study which movement skills are critical for success in our athletes’ sports – only then can we decide which drills our athletes need to practice and master. This is the “train” part of the Velocity system.

Next, we teach them to apply their new skills by taking them out of rehearsed patterns. We put them in situations that mimic game-like opportunities to use whichever movement skill we trained that day. The importance of this step cannot be overstated. If we skip it, all we have done is teach our athletes to be better at drills, and we have done nothing to make them move better on the field, court, ice, pitch, or any other arena of competition.

Seeing Agility

Are your athletes becoming more agile because of your coaching? You may not see it during the training session, but you will know it when you see them compete. We cannot put in the hard work required for our athletes to improve, but we can always support them by planning ahead and structuring our coaching sessions the right way.

 

Yohei Arakaki – Sports Performance Coach

3 ways to get an edge this summer: hockey specific training

winners never quit

Summer is the off-season for hockey, but it’s a great opportunity to get an edge over other players. If you want to get ahead and not fall behind the competition, here are three keys to your summer training.

Get Stronger

Summer is a great time to get strong. In-season you can do it, but it’s a lot tougher. The off-season offers a chance to get in the gym 3-4 days a week and see some gains without tiring you out before games.

Strength has a correlation with reduced injury risk, lower-body power, and on-ice speed. To get these benefits, a hockey player needs to increase his or her athletic strength. This means your strength training must be ground based, use multi-muscle/joint exercises, and include elements of both force production and rapid muscle contraction.

Build Athleticism

While it may seem to be counterintuitive, training to improve your hockey game doesn’t always mean more hockey drills. When you increase your overall athleticism through dynamic movement training or even playing another sport, you challenge your coordination, functional strength, and have fun at the same time.

Building a broad base of athletic skills can help reduce the risk of overuse injuries and increase your long-term potential. When an NHL team has a choice between two equal players, they typically pick the one who is more athletic across a broad spectrum.

Get Fit

The season might be a few months away, but don’t lose your fitness. No one wants to go into the new season and be dragging in the first few weeks. A fit player has more confidence in training camps.

Keeping up your base of aerobic and anaerobic fitness is key even if you’re not on the ice. For the summer off-season, two days of longer aerobic work build a good base and help you recover from the strength and power work. Another 2 days can be used for higher intensity intervals and circuit style workouts.

Use the summer to get an edge. If you’re fast now, you can get faster. The strong can be stronger, and the fit can be fitter. Imagine where you want to be at the start of next season and get to work!

Soccer – What is Fast?

 

Soccer Specific Speed

Everyone knows sprinting is an important part of performance in soccer, but it doesn’t take an English Premier League coach to see that other things like quickness, agility, and change of direction are important parts of game speed.

Today, with combinations of GPS and video tracking we have more information than ever about the movement demands of soccer players. At Velocity, we look at data from around the world, in different leagues and levels of competition. We know everything from how many runs players make at different speeds to how often they change direction.

What does it tell us? The game keeps getting faster every decade. It also gets faster as you move up each level, so if you want to compete you’d better be fast.

Sprinting

During a match, a professional player makes between 30 – 40 sprints.  We’re not talking about a 100m dash; these sprints range from  1 – 4 seconds over distances of 3 – 39 yards.

Sprinting has two main components: acceleration and maximum (or max) velocity. Acceleration is speeding up rapidly, and maximum velocity is sprinting over ~75% of full speed. Since the sprints can reach 39 yards, and this is far beyond the distance even the best payers can accelerate, we know that soccer players need both.
We know the technique needed for acceleration and for max velocity are very different. The two most apparent differences between acceleration sprint mechanics and max velocity sprint mechanics are body angle and leg action. Soccer players need to develop both movement skills to be exceptional.

Agility

While sprinting speed is very important, soccer isn’t a track meet. It’s not a linear game and elite players display incredible agility. Agility can be broken down into two key components: quickness and change of direction.

Sprinting speed is great, but if you can’t change direction, you’re going to get burned.

Quickness

Lightning fast movements in 1-2 steps can make all the difference in reacting to an opponent or leaving one on the ground.

Change of Direction

The game isn’t linear; it constantly changes direction. A player who can change direction in fewer steps and faster than the opposition has an advantage.

Fast on the Field

So to play your best game, you need several kinds of speed. Players will usually be better at one part or another, but you can’t afford any glaring holes.  As an elite player you need:

  • Acceleration
  • Maximum Velocity
  • Quickness
  • Change of Direction

You don’t have to leave this to chance, nor should you. While you may need the right genetics to be the fastest in the world at any of these, through training you can improve – at anything. Improve both your physical attributes and your motor control and you’ll be faster.  Speed is a skill, and like any skill it can be taught.

 

BE A SUPER BALL TO SPRINT FASTER

volleyball

 

BE A SUPERBALL TO SPRINT FASTER

If you want to be fast, it’s better to be a superball than a beach ball. It’s physics.

Visualize this by picturing 2 bouncing balls in your mind. One is a bouncy, superball made of a “stiff” rubber. The other is more like a beach ball and soft.

Which one bounces higher when it hits the ground?

The stiffer superball does because it applies the force to the ground and stores elastic energy. The beach ball absorbs some of the force and doesn’t have the elastic energy to rebound.

That’s like the reactive strength you need to sprint fast. If you’re stronger, then your muscles and tendons don’t relax or absorb the force. Instead, they store elastic energy, and use it to help you go faster.

This is important because the faster you go, the less time your foot can be in contact with the ground. Being like a superball helps you to achieve two parts of the Velocity Speed Formula; Big Force and Small Time.

To become more like a superball you need to develop specific strength qualities including Rate of Force Development and Reactive strength. Both of these should be developed both in the weight room and on the track or field.

Olympic lifts from a “hang” start position help develop that rate of force development. Muscle and tendon stiffness contribute to your reactive strength and need basic levels of maximum strength through squatting, deadlifting and lunging.

Plyometrics with a short ground contact are a way of developing both RFD and Reactive strength. You also develop this type of strength by doing sprint drills at high speeds.

If you want to be faster, be more like a superball. Get in the weight room and out on the track and to become stronger.