Is Youth Strength Training Safe?

is Youth strength training safe

Youth Strength Training Safety

Is resistance training safe for youth athletes?  It’s an important question for every coach and parent.

The bad news…

You still hear it the myths. Weight training will stunt your growth.  It will make athletes muscle bound.  It is dangerous for youth athletes.

The good news…

It’s safe and effective. We’ve seen it for 20 years.  Today it’s backed by research and medical leaders.

Health Benefits of Resistance Training for Youth and Adolescents

Resistance training has been show to be safe and also have a number of health benefits. It helps;

  • Body composition
  • Cardiovascular risk profile
  • Reduce body fat
  • Facilitate weight control
  • Improve insulin sensitivity
  • Strengthen bone
  • Enhancing psychosocial wellbeing

RELATED: Strength Training Is Injury Prevention

Is weight training safe for youth?  Here’s some experts answering.

The scientific and medical communities have come to a conclusion. It is that strength training is safe and beneficial for youth athletes.

  • American Academy of Pediatrics
  • American College of Sports Medicine
  • National Strength and Conditioning Association

Velocity Speed Formula: Big Force

Strength training for speed
Understanding strength training for speed is important for coaches and athletes.  Previously I’ve covered why the Big 4 is such an effective “formula” for speed (read it here). It’s how we analyze movement, teach and come up with drills and programs. No advanced degree in physics or neuroscience necessary. The formula is:
  • Big Force
  • Small Time
  • Proper Direction
  • Optimal Range of Motion
Let’s delve deeper and take a look at the first element; Big Force. It has driven why and how we incorporate certain drills and resistance exercises. It is basic Newtonian physics; you push the ground one way and it pushes you the opposite direction.

How Much Strength Do You Need?

It’s a good question. How much strength do you really need?
 
Observing the difference in muscular development between a sprinter and a marathoner should give you a clue. Sprinter’s have way more muscle mass. This doesn’t mean you need to just be bigger or become a powerlifter. But biomechanics research does tell us very large forces have to be applied by the athlete to move fast.
 
You need to produce a Big Force. The strength you need is developed by:
  • sprinting fast,
  • using specific sprint and plyometric drills,
  • and getting in the weight room.

What Is Strength?

For an athlete, strength means a lot more than just how much weight you can lift. There are 6 different strength qualities we train. Focusing on specific strength qualities is how we improve speed.
 
Strength is how much you can lift, right?
 
Nope.
 
How much you can lift is a great expression of some strength or power qualities. As an Olympic weightlifting coach, I’ve helped athletes go from starting the sport to be on the US National team. I love the strength and power (Strength x Speed) expressed through weightlifting.
 
Then there’s powerlifting. Squat, deadlift, bench. Many of the coaches on our staff have been competitive powerlifters as well as my friends. These feats of strength are really impressive and it’s a great expression of Max Strength.
 
Neither is the definition of strength though. They are just great examples of 2 of our 6 specific qualities. Going in-depth is beyond the scope of this writing but here are our 6 types of strength:
  1. Maximum Strength: think powerlifting and even sub max weights. It’s about force and speed is not important.
  2. Eccentric Strength: Think shock absorbers and brakes. When you land, stop, cut, etc… your muscles contract while lengthening. This is an eccentric strength action.
  3. Power (Strength-Speed): Moving fast against a larger load. Think weightlifting or football lineman pushing each other.
  4. Power (Speed- Strength): Moving fast against a light load. Throwing a baseball, jumping, throwing a punch. Moving it fast matters.
  5. Rate of Force Development: How fast you can turn on the muscles. Think of a drag racer analogy. It’s how fast they can go from 0 to speed that matters.
  6. Reactive Strength: Combine a fast & short eccentric stretch, immediately followed by RFD and you have reactive. This is the springy quick step you see in fast footwork.

What Type of Strength Do You Need?

If there are different types of strength, which help you apply a BIG FORCE into the ground? Which will help you get faster?
 
The answer lies in part on what you are trying to improve. The answer may be different if we are talking about acceleration compared to maximum velocity sprinting. And those may be different than a change of direction.

Acceleration

This is the phase where you are starting and gaining speed. During this phase, the mechanics lead to slightly longer ground contact times. This added time in contact with the ground lets you build up force to push harder. You still have only between 200 – 400 milliseconds, so Max Strength will help, but Speed-Strength is key.
 
This phase is also characterized by large horizontal and vertical forces. This means that when training strength, you need strength exercises for both pushing backward and down. A good dose of weight room basics like lunges, power cleans help. Combined with vertical and horizontal plyometrics, along with sled work, the results get better.

Maximum Velocity Mechanics

During this phase, you are upright and moving fast. Your foot needs to hit the ground with high forces but it’s not there for long. Elite sprinters are in contact less than 100 milliseconds. You need Max Strength enough to handle the high loads 1.5 – 2.5 times body weight on each leg. You also need to be able to absorb the impact and reapply force quickly. That’s Reactive Strength.
 
Since you’ve already accelerated, in this phase the forces are mostly vertical. They keep you from falling into the ground. Therefore, weight and plyometric exercises like squats, reactive hurdle jumps, and even jump rope double-unders all contribute.

Change of Direction

When changing direction, the type of strength can depend on how sharp of a cut you make. One situation is a major change of direction where you slow down and re-accelerate. This requires a lot of Eccentric Strength and Strength-Speed. On the other hand, if it’s a quick cut without slowing down or a big range of motion, then it’s more about Reactive Strength and Speed-Strength.
 
Both these are going to benefit from a mix of weight room and plyometrics. The weight room will include strength exercises and Olympic lifts for power. The plyometrics are going to need to focus on developing horizontal and lateral forces.

Technical Sprint Drills for Strength Development

There is a big misunderstanding of technical speed drills. Most people see a technical drill and naturally believe it’s to develop technique. It makes sense after all, but there is so much more.
 
Many “technique” drills in speed training are just as important to developing Big Force as the weight room. By refining an athlete’s technique, they become more efficient with the strength they have. They learn to apply it better.
 
Often many speed drills are really a plyometric exercise themselves. They require putting a lot of force into the ground, in the proper direction. They are in fact the most speed specific form of strength training there is.

Strength Training for Speed

Having good technique and good power output is key to being fast. It’s not an either/or situation, it’s an AND sitution. You need technique AND strength. In every athlete’s development, they go through stages. Sometimes their technique gets ahead of their strength, and vice versa. Make sure you stay on track by developing both and working with a knowledgeable coach who can determine if you need one or the other more.

How To Jump Higher and Hit the Volleyball Harder

How to jump higher

Just about every volleyball player wants to know how to jump higher and hit the ball harder. The best volleyball players have a huge jump and a whip of an arm swing to hit balls through the floor so its understandable.

Technique is always going to be the foundation to success and that comes from hours of on the court.  Still, there is more you can do to get that explosive vertical jump.

This video demonstrates two exercises every volleyball player should include into their workouts to help them dominate on the court or beach.  Coach Rett Larsen should know what he talking about.  He was the performance coach for the Gold Medal team in Womens Volleyball at the 2016 Rio Olympics!

 

Strength Training Is Injury Prevention

strength training helps prevent injury

Stay In The Game

In elite sports there is a lot of emphasis put on injury prevention.  It doesn’t matter how good you are if you are sitting on the bench, hurt.

Teams and athletes look to us to reduce their risk of injury.  We know there are many parts to injury prevention, but the foundation is often strength.

For the last 20 years, Velocity Sports Performance has known that good strength training is injury prevention.

  • Our experience with athletes in 11 Olympic Games backs it up.
  • Our experience with thousands of professional athletes backs it up.
  • A growing body of scientific research is starting to catch up.

is Youth strength training safe

RELATED:  Is Youth Strength Training Safe?

 

You need to know: strength is more than just weight on a barbell

Types of Strength
When you speak about strength or being strong, what do you imagine? An athlete hoisting a barbell loaded with heavy weight in a Squat or Bench Press? How about an Olympic weightlifter explosively moving 400 pounds from the floor to over his head in a single movement?
 
These types of things are often considered “strong,” but what about other sporting actions? How about sprinting at full speed, jumping high, or throwing and kicking?  Most people become unsure whether or how strength is part of these movements.

Defining Strength

What is strength in general and specifically for athletes?  Strength is all about physics, and we are talking about Newton’s 2nd Law of Motion: in a nutshell, Force is equal to Mass multiplied by Acceleration.
 
Strength is a way of talking about the application of force. An athlete can apply force to the ground, to an opponent, to a ball or other piece of sports equipment, or even internally to his or her own body.

Mass & Magnitude

The mass in this equation is what’s being moved. As an athlete that could be things like:
  • a ball or stick in your hands, to
  • your own body weight (jumping, sprinting and cutting)
  • a 300-pound linemen
  • 500 pounds on a barbell

Acceleration and Time

One thing most people recognize is that in sports, doing things quicker is usually an advantage. Athletes don’t have unlimited time to apply force.
 
Acceleration is how fast something increases its speed. The faster the acceleration, and thus the speed, the shorter the time.
 
In sprinting or agility, your foot is in contact with the ground for a limited time. In jumping, there is limited time, and doing it faster than your opponent can be key.  When throwing or kicking a ball or swinging a racket, bat or stick, you want it moving as fast as possible.
 
Speed of movement matters.

Muscle Action

In physics, force is what we call a “vector.” This means it has a magnitude (how much?) and a direction (which way?). Direction matters because forces can be applied in different directions for different effects.
 
One thing to consider about direction is whether the muscle is lengthening or shortening during the contraction. When it’s contracting and getting shorter (e.g., bringing the bar up in a Bicep Curl), it’s called a “concentric” action.
 
If you’re applying force while the muscle lengthens (e.g., while slowly lowering the bar in the 2nd half of the Bicep Curl), it’s called an “eccentric” action.
 
Types of muscle contractions:
  • CONCENTRIC = Shortening
  • ECCENTRIC = Lengthening
Eccentric and concentric strength are not the same. The same muscles may be used, the same structures and contractile proteins, and the same lints moved. Yet, the brain uses different motor control strategies. For the same action concentrically or eccentrically the motor control is different.

Physiology & Motor Control

Another important thing to understand about strength for athletes is where it comes from.  Often people equate strength with bigger muscles. This is for good reason, because they are related, although not perfectly and not for all types.
 
Generating force with your body is a combination of the structure of your muscles (size and biological content) and your neuromuscular control. The muscle is your engine to develop horsepower, but your brain is the driver that decides how hard you push the pedal.

Sport-Specific Strength

When we analyze an athlete in his or her sport, we observe various forms of movement. Speed, agility, jumping, throwing, kicking, hitting, twisting, landing and so on are movement caused by how an athlete generates force.
 
It follows that all types of athletic movement are based on how you generate and apply strength.
 
Still, how can everything be about strength? Is what your muscles do squatting a full barbell different from what they do when you throw a baseball that only weighs ounces?
 
The answer to understanding strength is actually composed of different combinations of Newton’s 2nd Law. Force = Mass multiplied by Acceleration

Playing with the Equation

In different movements we manipulate the 3 parts of the equation—Force, Mass and Acceleration (Speed & Time). The we consider the direction of contraction (eccentric or concentric). Now we have a way to analyze sports movements and strength types.
 
We use this movement-based approach to simplify complex biomechanics into 6 specific types of strength.

6 Types of Strength

Max Strength

This is the basic capability of the muscle to produce a forceful contraction. In application it also involves coordinating multiple muscle groups across multiple joints. The amount of force that can be generated regardless of the time it takes to develop and apply it is called max strength. This is what we call this type of strength even when he or she is under sub-maximal loads.
Maximum strength
Using a car analogy, imagine a big industrial dump truck. It may not move fast, but it can move big loads.

Eccentric Strength

As mentioned before, motor control is different if the action is concentric or eccentric. The capacity to develop high levels of eccentric force is key in sports. Actions such as landing from a jump, stopping, changing direction, winding up to throw a ball and swinging a bat are all eccentric in nature.
When we come to cars, think brakes.  Eccentric strength is like having great brakes on a car to handle those high speeds. An F1 racer has to have great brakes so he or she can go into turns as fast as possible before braking.

Strength-Speed Power

Most sports applications of force involves doing it quickly. Faster is usually better. This is where power comes in. Power is equal to the velocity times the force. Increasing either force or the speed its applied will lead to more power.
strength speed
When an athlete applies force rapidly to a larger load (e.g., blocking another lineman or pushing a bobsled), it’s what we term Strength-Speed Power. “Strength” is first in the name because it’s the bigger component in generating the power. This is like a NASCAR racer who can apply a lot of torque (force), moving the car even at high speeds.

Speed-Strength Power

Here it’s the “speed” of movement (or short time of force application) that is the larger factor in generating the power. Think of an athlete swinging a bat, throwing a ball, or applying force to the ground during high velocity sprinting.
The racing analogy is more akin to motorcycle racing—still applying force at high speeds (like NASCAR), but against much lighter loads.

Rate of Force Development

This is the drag racer. In a drag race, the goal is to go from 0 mph to full speed in as little time as possible. This is the same quality that creates quickness in an athlete. Rapid movement of the limbs, a quick release of the ball throwing or a shot in hockey, fast feet for soccer. Being able to rapidly generate force, regardless of whether the force level is high is known as Rate of Force Development.
Rate of Force Development
A drag racer coming off the line and getting up to speed as fast as possible is a good car analogy.

Reactive Strength

This one’s a combo. It’s a fast eccentric action coupled with a high RFD force. Think of rapid footwork, or a quick step to change direction and juke an opponent. Or the second quick jump when a basketball player comes down and goes back up quickly to get a rebound.
We use a motocross bike as the analogy. Because it has high Rate of Force Development with eccentric-type landings of bumps that gives it that “springy” quality.

Developing Strength that’s Functional

At the end of the day, athletes want the type of strength that will help them perform at the highest level and gives them the resilience to stay healthy.
 
Every athlete needs a base across all six types of strength. While it seems to make sense to go straight to the specific type of strength for your sport, it’s not the best strategy.
 
Doing that actually limits development and long term potential. During early stages of strength training, a broad base of strength is important. Even at the elite levels of sport, athletes mix strength types during different parts of the year.
 
As you progress in your development and level of competition, you begin to focus on the specific qualities. The strength types more important to your sport, your position and even your individual genetics and style of play.
 
Strength is much more than how much you can lift on the barbell.

Do athletes need a bigger engine or better brakes?

When it comes to training for performance, many, if not most, people immediately begin 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.

RELATED: Learn Velocity’s Proven BIG 4 Speed Formula

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.

RELATED: Why Athletic Strength Is More Than How Much Weight You Can Lift On A Barbell?

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!

Coaches Favorite: Kettlebell Exercises

kettlebell

Kettlebells are a great tool which have been around for decades but have become popular again.  And it’s for good reason; they’re versatile and dynamic.  We surveyed some of our coaches to find out what their favorite exercises are with a kettlebell.

Coach Mike’s Pick: Double Kettlebell Clean + Squat + Push Press

The Double Kettlebell Clean+Squat+Push-Press is a full-body exercise complex that gives you a lot of bang for your buck. When done correctly, you develop power through the Clean, leg strength in the Squat, vertical pressing strength in the Push Press, and core strength throughout the entire movement.

Execution: Before beginning, you must keep your core rigid through the entire movement to ensure you don’t hurt yourself.

  1. Start with the two kettlebells of the same weight 1-2 feet in front of you and feet slightly wider than your shoulders.
  2. With knees slightly bent, keep your back flat and push your hips back to the wall behind you and grab the kettlebells tightly.
  3. Take a good breath and “hike” the kettlebells backward between your legs
  4. Stand up as fast you can to snap the kettlebells up and forward into the rack position.
  5. Clean the kettlebells to the rack position.
  6. Take a new breath, slowly squat down with the kettlebells as low as you can then drive up as fast as possible.
  7. Start to press the kettlebells above your head as you reach the top position, using the momentum of your squat to help finish the movement.
  8. Once the kettlebells are straight above your head, take another good breath and slowly pull the kettlebells down to the Rack position.
  9. Once in the rack position, reset with a good breath and prepare yourself for another repetition. Instead of starting with kettlebells on the ground, carefully let the kettlebells “fall” (while still holding them) and again hike them back through your legs and repeat the exercise for as many reps as prescribed.

Velocity Sports Performance on Vimeo.

If your goal is to develop all-around strength, use a heavy set of kettlebells for 3-6 reps. If your goal is to get a solid metabolic workout, go with a lighter set with which you can get in 8+ challenging reps.

Misao’s Pick: Halo

The Kettlebell Halo improves upper body mobility and stability. It is an overhead pattern that requires core stability as well as mobility and stability of the shoulders and shoulder blades.

Execution:

  1. In a kneeling or standing position, hold the kettlebell with both hands by the horns
  2. Brace your core and hold the bell in front of your chest.
  3. Slowly circle the bell around your head clockwise, then counter-clockwise. The movement must be slow and under control.
  4. The weight of the bell needs to be light enough so your torso does not sway side to side or arch.

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You can easily progress this exercise by changing the way you hold the bell. Holding the weight with the bell pointing down is easier as the weight stays securely in your palms. If you grip it upside down (with the bell on top) it becomes more challenging because the weight travels farther away from your body, increasing the strain on the muscle due to a longer lever.

Coach Kenny’s Pick: Turkish Get Up

The Turkish Get-Up is great for shoulder stability, overall strength, and just plain toughness. It also can help develop a sense of body control and awareness and test an athlete’s focus.

Execution:

  1. Start laying on your back with your right knee bent and your left arm extended out to the side. Your kettlebell should be on the ground next to your right arm.
  2. Grasp the bell with your right hand and press it up so your right arm is completely straight and perpendicular to the ground.
  3. Keep your eyes on the bell throughout the entire movement.
  4. Roll up onto your left elbow, and then to your left hand.
  5. Push your hips up towards the ceiling as high as you can.
  6. Slide your left leg under your body and come up onto your left knee.
  7. Stand up.

To get back down, simply reverse the movement.

  1. Come down to your left knee.
  2. Place your left hand on the ground
  3. Slide your left leg out from underneath you so it’s totally straight, keeping your hips pressed up.
  4. Let your hips come to the ground.
  5. Lower on your left elbow.
  6. Completely lower yourself to the ground so you are laying flat.
  7. When bringing the kettlebell back to the ground, be sure to use your free hand to help guide it. Safety first.

Now do the same thing on the other side.

Coach Yo’s Pick: Bottom-Up Overhead Press

This series is great for shoulder stability, grip strength, elbow joint health, and core strength and stability based on athlete’s positioning. The Bottom-Up series gives the athlete a different stimulus since the load (kettlebell) is in an unstable position. This will improve overall proprioception (your level of awareness of where your body is in space), and by using different base positions ( ½ Kneeling, Tall Kneeling, Standing, Single Leg, etc), allows athletes to develop core strength and stability. It is a very unique exercise, and the kettlebell is an ideal tool for its execution.

Execution: Before you start, make sure that you have proper overhead mobility and stability and can do basic overhead press exercises with dumbbells or barbell. Once you have that skill, you can start by holding the kettlebell upside-down (bottom-up) right in front of shoulder. Make sure you the weight you use is not more than you can control with your grip alone. You can check holding the bell upside-down in a static position for a while without letting it drop. Ensuring you have basic stability before adding movement is always a good idea and will prevent needless injuries.

Performing the exercise in different positions will work on different elements of core strength and stability.

Coach Gary’s Pick: Split Squat KB Complex

The Split Squat KB Complex addresses muscle activation patterning, neuromuscular control, and dynamic stability of the trunk and lower extremities. This complex will challenge any athlete while reducing the likelihood of lower extremities injuries. This is valuable because more than 50% of injuries in college and high school athletics are knee injuries according to the American College of Sports Medicine. This 4-phased complex also allows coaches to progress athletes based on ability, making it excellent for novices and experienced athletes alike.

Execution:
Starting position – Kneel with your right foot flat and the right knee directly over the heel. Start with the bell on the ground in front of your left knee.

Starting Movement:
Inhale and lift the kettlebell with your left hand to the level of your forward (right) thigh.
Level your hips by pressing the hips forward and Press the forward (right) heel into the ground.
The upper body should remain tall and erect with the chest up and out and the shoulders level and stacked over the hips.

Phase 1: Split Squat – Stand up on both legs while driving your front heel into the ground. Once your legs are fully extended, reverse the motion and lower the body back to the starting.

Phase 2: Clean to Split Squat – Quickly thrust the body upward and bring the bell to the front of your shoulder. With the bell in this position, extended both legs to stand up, again driving your front heel into the ground. Once fully extended reverse the motion and lower the body back to the starting position.

Phase 3: Jerk to OH Split Squat – Quickly thrust the body upward and Jerk the bell overhead with the upper arm tight to the ear. With the bell in this position extended both legs to elevating the body upper, think about driving your front heel into the ground. Once fully extended reverse the motion and lower the body back to the starting position but remaining on the feet.

Phase 4: OH Split Squat to knee drive – With bell overhead and the upper arm tight to the ear, extend both legs to stand up. Once fully extended, quickly drive the back knee up and in front of body then back to the same spot on the ground. Once ground contact is made lower the body back to the starting position but remaining on the feet.

 

Exercise 6: Pistol Squat

The Pistol Squat is a great way to test balance and overall hip and glute strength. It also gives you a clear interpretation of your strength to bodyweight ratio. If you can easily perform the movement as a bodyweight exercise, add a kettlebell.

Execution:

  1. Front rack the kettlebell of your choice. Hold the bell with whichever hand is opposite from your “down” leg.
  2. Load your weight over one leg and slowly lower yourself to the ground on a single leg.
  3. Extend your “up” leg in front of your and keep it from touching the ground.
  4. Load your bodyweight onto one leg and as you drop down into a squat shift the loading glute back and extend the opposite leg forward in an attempt to keep it from touching the ground.

If you want to challenge yourself further, try performing the same movement while standing on some type of balance pad to give your foot an unstable surface to manage.

Coach Rob’s Pick: Single Arm Kettlebell Swing

The Swing is certainly the most ubiquitous use of the kettlebell. Once you have mastered it, try moving onto the single arm swing. This variation adds an anti-rotational component to the explosive hip drive inherent to the Swing.

Execution:

  1. Start with your feet hip-width or slightly wider. The kettlebell should be on the ground about a foot in front of you. Remember that during any weightlifting exercise, it is crucial that you keep your core tight and your back flat. Failure to do so, especially during a ballistic movement like a kettlebell swing is asking for injury.
  2. The weight you select should be lighter than you think you need until you get the feel for the exercise.
  3. Drop your butt towards to floor while keeping your chest up, grasp the bell firmly with one hand and “hike” it behind you, keeping your wrist tight to your body.
  4. Stand up quickly and let the bell rise up to about shoulder height. This part of the movement should be snappy and crisp.
  5. Keep your grip on the bell and let it fall, swinging back behind you while you keep it tight to your body.
  6. Repeat this movement for as many reps as prescribed.

Once you have this movement down, you can challenge yourself by switching hands every rep. To achieve this, let the bell swing up to its highest point, at which time it should be weightless for a brief moment. Have your opposite hand ready to grab the handle as soon as you let go with the swinging hand.

Whether you alternate hands or not, the Single Arm Swing is sure to get your heart rate up, make you sweat, and develop leg strength and core stability. Have fun!

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Are your offseason gains lost when it matters most?

Tim Hanway MS, CSCS, ASCC, ACSM

Sports Performance Director
Velocity Sports Performance - Norwood

As a professional coach, I have written extensively on a multitude of topics related to strength and conditioning. Whether I am talking about programming, the emotional aspects of training, or the nuts and bolts of coaching, I always come back to the importance of strength.

Strength is, in my opinion, the single most important physical attribute that an athlete can possess; it is quite literally the precursor to all expressions of athleticism. Speed, agility, quickness, explosiveness, and endurance all require strength in different forms. Strength training greatly enhances all of these qualities, which is why adopting a strength-training program that utilizes upper- and lower-body compound movements is perhaps the most effective path to athletic success and longevity.

One of the biggest challenges athletes encounter with strength and conditioning programs is that all the benefits they gain from training are reversible. All the hard work and performance gains an athlete makes during the off-season or pre-season can evaporate when this type of training is not maintained for prolonged periods of time.

The realities of In-season:

People are often surprised and have trouble accepting that they can lose their gains, especially young parents and athletes. The cold, hard truth is that more often than not, practices are simply not focused or intense enough during the season to stress a young athlete’s body enough to develop or maintain strength and fitness levels.

A head coach is, more often than not, focused on his or her own “one thing” during the season: winning. Simply put, priorities change once the season starts! Head coaches are instead more focused on tactics, plays, and improving whatever deficiencies were revealed in the team’s last game than they are on fitness and strength gains.

Let’s consider a basketball team: If they did not recover enough rebounds during the last game, that coach is definitely going to have the athletes work on 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 all the plays at a moderate pace in order to “iron out the kinks” and fix any confusion.

What does this mean from an observational and practical standpoint? Most likely, the five starters on the team will go through the plays at a moderate intensity (at best) while the remaining 10 players stand around and watch from the sideline for prolonged periods of time. The truth is, almost any team’s in-season practice is going to consist of a lot 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. This is supported by a scientific study conducted by Wellman and colleagues (2007) that compared the differences between pre-season and in-season practices and game times among NCAA Division I football players.

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. The result is that players get weaker – literally losing strength.

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 lost it even more quickly as compared to their peers who had already hit their growth spurt.

The Good News:

There are some very practical solutions that athletes can employ in order to mitigate the negative effects of the paradoxical in-season strength and fitness loss. If the mantra ‘use it or lose it’ applies – and it does – the simple solution is to ‘use it’ by strength training in-season. This does not mean that an in-season strength program should be the same as an off- or pre-season program. We know that athletes are spending a lot of time in practices and games, all of which require physical resources and take a toll on the body.

In a study conducted on male handball players (Hermassi et al. 2017), researchers found that as few as two sessions per week were sufficient for athletes to maintain their performance gains, while another study found that so long as intensity was kept high, athletes were able to maintain their performance gains with as little as one session per week (Bell et al. 1993).

Call to Action:

What can you do to safeguard and maximize your son or daughter’s performance gains that they worked so hard for during the off- and pre-season?

The answer is this:

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.

References:

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

HOCKEY TRAINING: Five Exercises to Help you Battle in the Corners

Hockey training

We do a lot of work with hockey athletes here at Velocity, and one thing they all share in common is that they are ready to work. Hockey has a long tradition of grueling training, and that’s because being on the ice is a fight (sometimes literally, though that’s not what we’re talking about here).

As performance coaches, we love athletes who aren’t afraid to get after it – the ones who are going to leave a trail of sweat on the gym floor when they’re done. Hockey players always fit this description, so we wanted to give all of you ice-warriors a few exercises to help you win when you’re up against the boards, fighting it out in the corners.

RELATED: Why Athletic Strength Is More Than Just How Much Weight You Can Lift On A Barbell

Add these to your training program and we bet you’ll win more of those corner battles on your way to winning the war.

Exercise 1: The Burpee

For such a simple exercise, few movements forge mental toughness and an unbreakable body like the burpee. With little more required than “get down to the floor and get back up,” it develops a mindset and work ethic that won’t quit, which is critical for winning the battle of the boards during all three periods and beyond. If you want to learn how to bend but not break, all while preparing your body for grinding competition, then burpees are for you.

To begin, drop your chest to the ground as quickly as you can while under control. Maintaining tension through your midsection during the descent is critical to a clean, efficient burpee. Next, push away from the floor, snapping your hips up so your feet land under your hips and jump. Spend as little time on the ground as possible – if you want to build a better motor you have to practice going as fast as you can. It’s that simple: get down, get back up! This simple exercise is a fantastic tool for the body and the mind because you have to keep your body moving even when it wants to give out – a skill every hockey player needs.

 

This physical and mental strength will serve you well the next time your opponent picks your most exhausted moment to come after you. If nothing else, the burpee teaches you how not to give up.

Exercise 2: Keiser Pulley Push-Pull

This cable exercise is a great way to build whole-body explosive power in a rotational pattern.  When you are fighting along the boards, it’s not just about pushing or pulling in one direction. When you need to knock the other guy off his skates, rotational movement from your skates all the way through your upper body makes the difference. Build this type of explosiveness and you’re sure to win more battles.

We like to use the Keiser trainer for this exercise because its unique air resistance lets us move more explosively and measure an athlete’s power output, but you can use any cable trainer that has two arms.

In a good athletic stance, use your legs and hips to rotate your body. Transfer that power to an explosive pulling and punching motion with the arms. Control it on the way back to the start position.  

 

Exercise 3: Double Kettlebell Front-Rack Position Lateral Lunge

This exercise is designed to strengthen the legs and core in the frontal plane of movement (side to side). It challenges the athlete’s ability to resist and absorb lateral forces as well as produce force coming out of the lunge. These abilities are critical not only for general skating but also for staying on your skates while pushing back against your opponent as you fight for the puck.

To do the Double Kettlebell Front-Rack Position Lateral Lunge, you need to:

  • Hold two kettlebells in the front-rack position with elbows forward and not to side
  • Maintain a rigid torso
  • Take a large step to the side with toe pointed forward (not to the side) while keeping the other foot in place
  • As you lower yourself to the side, keep your chest up, core tight, and feet flat
  • Push your hips backward
  • Get as low as possible while maintaining posture
  • Push back to original standing position with speed and continue to maintain posture
  • Repeat on the opposite side and continue to alternate for the prescribed repetitions

Exercise 4: Anti-Rotational Stability Chop

This exercise is designed to improve athletes core control in different positions. It teaches the athlete to engage and brace his or her core while the rest of the body is doing other tasks. This ability is critical for all movements on the ice, but especially at the point of contact.

To do the Anti-Rotational Stability Chop, you need to learn basic breathing technique and lumbo-pelvic control. Then you can apply the exercise to different base positions, such as: Tall-Kneeling, Half-Kneeling, Split Stance, and Standing.

 

Exercise 5: Airex Pad Single Leg Stability

The is a simple exercise that can be performed with or without equipment. It forces the athlete to focus on balance and stability at the hip, knee, and ankle of the working leg. Even though it doesn’t involve any weights or powerful movements, the improved balance and stronger stability you will gain will make you a tougher skater to knock down.

To perform this exercise, stand with both feet together and one small ball of any type in each hand (LAX ball, baseball, tennis ball, whatever you have). Start with your feet on the ground and progress to standing on a balance pad when you need more of a challenge. While hinging at the hip and keeping your back flat, bring your chest forward and down by bending one knee while keeping the opposite leg straight. Reach across your body with the right hand, placing the ball on the ground. Return to standing position and try to maintain your single leg stance. Next, reach across your body with the left hand to place the ball on the ground. After you’ve stood back up, repeat the process to pick up the balls. Small cones may also be used: instead of setting something down and picking it up, you have to touch the cones.

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. 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.

Defining Words

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’.”

RELATED: Why Athletic Strength Is More Than Just How Much Weight Is on The Barbell. 

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.