I came across a few articles in the most recent Strength & Conditioning Journal regarding youth agility training & the factors that go into gaining and improving these abilities. It led me to an article from June 2012 that I found interesting and also encouraging in terms of the direction we’re heading regarding youth/adolescent training. Previously, most training recommendations were made based purely on age, with little attempt to quantify the true physical maturation of a child or adolescent. The old model clearly had many flaws, but this new YPD (Youth physical development) model takes a lot more factors into consideration, and is based largely on when a child reaches peak height velocity and peak weight velocity, along with puberty.
I don’t want to summarize the whole article, but I do have it downloaded in pdf for anyone that wants it [just shoot me a comment or an email]. I really just wanted to share these two graphics that help explain what areas a child’s “training” should be focused on in order to develop to their full athletic potential.
A similar chart for females:
The thing most noteworthy for trainers:
-FMS (functional movement screens / mobility) are important, but never the primary focus of a training program. Even in the early stages of development, where training has low structure, the child is learning to develop agility, speed, power and strength simultaneously – and all components are important.
-This spectrum helps trainers decide what category a late developing or early developing child would be in & what components might be more important to emphasize (vs just relying on physical age & “training age”)
-Agility is an under researched component, but may need to be trained & then re-trained after peak height velocity is reached. Agility requires a large neural component (decision making, reaction time) that develops with a child’s maturity. The patterns can be established and trained early, with repeatability helping to form those neural connections, but it may need to be re-visited later if there is a significant growth spurt or change in physical development.
-High intensity metabolic training/endurance training is very low on the priority list until later years/higher structure training. With all the bootcamp trends popping up lately, it is important to remember that children are not “mini adults” and therefore shouldn’t be trained in the same fashion. We have come to terms with the fact that strength training (when done properly) is not going to damage limbs or stunt growth, but it is important to focus on the needs of the development child/athlete and not give them a workout targeted at people looking to lose weight.
-There is predictably a shift in maturity & age when it comes to females vs. males, but the training necessities when they DO reach PHV remain the same.
I like that this model seems to have more of an individualized approach when it comes to assessing a child’s readiness for training and I hope it becomes studied more, tweaked, and eventually widely accepted as a new standard for training.
Summertime & the living’s easy….unless you’re an athlete.
For most athletes, the summer is actually the busiest and most crucial time of all. Off-season strength & conditioning programs are where a lot of athletes have the time to focus on their bodies and make huge gains in strength- more so than any other point in the season. With that in mind, it got me thinking about all the components that go into planning for performance enhancement & how to evaluate if a particular program is appropriate for an individual’s sport.
For most people just looking to lose weight, or incur some type of body composition change, this type of evaluation might not be necessary. It doesn’t matter WHEN certain phases occur throughout the year [speed, hypertrophy, strength, etc], and the exercise selection isn’t as narrowly focused. But for an athlete, planning every step of the way is crucial. It is essentially like comparing cooking to baking. With cooking, you can experiment more freely – you can add ingredients, deviate from a recipe, get downright crazy and still probably achieve greatness. Baking, on the other hand, is a whole different ball game. There is a reason for everything in the recipe – deviate from the proportions and you’re going to have one dried up cake. But if you plan and you are exact with the measurements, everything will come out balanced and delicious.
Sometimes, however, athletes get so caught up in the little details of the program that they don’t stop to think “why”. Why certain exercises are included in certain phases (or at all); Why intervals are run with a particular work:rest ratio; Why this program is better suited than that one, etc. It is very rare to come across anything that steps back to really discuss the “big picture”. So this evaluation is to help athletes analyze their sport a bit more, and for coaches to make sure they’re considering all the variables when programming.
There is still some crossover with personal training here, i.e. assessing an athlete for individual goals, physical limitations, previous injuries, training history, etc – because you never want to lose the individuality component. But what makes a program ideal for a particular sport vs just a really great workout?
Categories of Evaluation
1. Requisite movements by position (the endurance of a point guard is > than a center in basketball, for example. or a midfielder vs an attack player in lacrosse)
2. Energy systems and related dynamics (primary contributors?)
3. Dominant/minimal speeds and related factors (sprinting? long, steady pace? varying intervals?)
4. Force/velocity factors (high speed movements? repeat submaximal efforts?)
5. Factors that determine success outcomes (is flexibility important?, endurance? conditioning?)
6. Factors that limit success (injuries, etc)
7. Morphological relevance (body comp – does the player need size? strength? speed?)
These are just the broad categories to consider when analyzing a particular athlete & their sport. To get more specific, we have the movement analysis that breaks down the sport into specific components to ensure that a program is balanced and focused, the physiological analysis that looks at all the metabolic components, and the limitation analysis that considers the barriers and differences in levels of success.
1. Movements used during the activity
2. Speed or rate of movement & frequency
3. Directional/plane variations/speed
4. Muscle-joint considerations and efficiency or resistance to economy
5. Muscle balance, stability, acceleration, deceleration and force couples
1. Energy systems used
2. Duration of power output
3. Magnitude of force demands
4. Frequency of force/recovery
5. Additional physiological demands (i.e. total caloric output)
1. Common injuries in the sport
2. Difference between “good” & “great” (for example, it has been shown that the velocity around the elbow joint is what separates the elite pitchers from the non-elite. other characteristics might include VO2max, or simple body composition factors like height & weight)
4. Flexibility, body fatness, strength/power weight ratio
With all that said, a pre-conditioning evaluation (or fitness assessment) would take into consideration the following:
1. Identify all deficiencies
2. Injury analysis – a past history of the athlete
3. Training history/tenure
4. Training status
5. Physiological assessments
6. Identification of neural efficiency/aptitude
7. Program level decision (beginner, intermed, advanced)
1. Limitations first – flexibility, distortions
2. Minimal strength needs – at least enough
3. Force rate development – power/speed
4. Neural efficiency – skill specific overlap
5. Metabolic conditioning – conditioning vs weight training
As you can see, it is more than just becoming “bigger, faster, stronger”. There is a lot that goes into evaluating an athlete – both at the individual level & for sport application. Using this checklist will help ensure that the program you’re following (or creating) makes sense.
Sorry for another long break between posts – but I am FINALLY back to normal after one hell of a sickness. I hope you all had a great Easter for those who celebrate, and don’t beat yourself up if you ate one too many cadbury creme eggs – they’re worth it. 😉
Along similar lines of this ballistic training stuff I’ve been talking about, I thought I’d talk about something we incorporate into a lot of our workouts. “Contrast sets” are something most people are familiar with, but many don’t know how to program correctly. They’re ideal for bridging the gap between strength & power, and they help the neuromuscular system fire key muscle fibers despite fatigue. They’re killer, and there are a lot of different combinations you can use to achieve optimal results.
Contrast training essentially takes the same movement pattern and muscle groups for 2 exercises but varies the speed and intensity in the same set. An example of this is seen when a lifter performs a barbell back squat followed immediately by box jumps. The recommended reps can fall anywhere between 5-10, depending on the goal, but for athletes trying to achieve explosive power under fatigue, they want to stick to the 5-6 range. Time under tension is important here, and using any more than those 6 reps during the strength movement will push away from the proper metabolic response. It is also key to use enough weight to elicit a STRENGTH response, because too light will defeat the purpose. Shooting for 85%-90% 1RM (for a seasoned lifter) is the goal.
When it comes to programming these, if you are using a TRUE contrast set in the proper % of 1RM, it is important to put them at the beginning. They are very neurologically demanding & require the most amount of energy. Usually picking 1 or 2 exercises to contrast per workout is sufficient.
Nick Tumminello has a great article with more examples on contrast training HERE – I don’t want to copy any of his stuff, so check it out. He also provides great examples for just about every movement.
I tend to use front squats & lateral jumps the most, but I’ve tried a lot of the ones Nick suggests. Anyone use contrast training in their programs?
In Part 1 we talked about why I hate machines as the main component of any training program – if you haven’t read that, you need to (don’t worry, we’ll wait.)
Now, here are some suggestions [read: laws] for making your strength training routine safe and fierce.
- Split stance & single leg anything
- Training unilaterally (one side at a time) vs bilaterally (both sides) is a great variation for beginners, but is also something that shouldn’t be neglected by advanced lifters. A lot of people have very tight hips, ankles, and thoracic spines which makes squatting and other bilateral activities VERY difficult to achieve successfully from the beginning. Athletes also have a tendency to be asymmetrical for a lot of reasons, particularly if they have a dominant side. The split stance is a GREAT alternative because it teaches the proper pattern, establishes balance, strengthens the right muscles, and increases mobility [its like magic, except real]. Basically it is very hard to screw up and still gets the job done. Examples of these include (but are not limited to) the split squat, lunge variations, step ups, and single leg squats. You can also use this same approach with upper body work including single arm chest presses and single arm db rows – particularly if you notice that one side is weaker than the other.
Major points: the knee of the front leg doesn’t cross the toe (forms a 90 degree angle when flexed), the back knee hovers above the ground but doesn’t touch, and the arms remain straight – squeeze your shoulder blades together like you’re trying to keep a marble lodged between them. For the split squat, the movement is up and down, for a lunge, it is obviously forward or backward.
This following photo is a split-stance reach – it helps teach the proper hip hinge technique on both sides and is the foundation for many exercises. It is great for a dynamic warm up and provides a killer hamstring stretch.
Notice the neutral spine position (no arch or curve) – truthfully, my torso should be more parallel to the ground but I only had 3 seconds to run into position 😉 Also: you want your hips to remain FLAT (aka no tilting to one side – we are not swimming and gasping for air a la Michael Phelps)
2. Overhead movements
- Putting the arms overhead is a great way to increase flexibility throughout the latissimus dorsi, rectus abdominis and pectoralis muscles while simultaneously activating the mid & lower trapezius. In most people, including athletes, these muscles are common problem areas due to posture or overuse of the internal rotators. Using a split stance position while putting the arms overhead allows for more mobility through these areas than you would achieve bilaterally. The added bonus of using overhead movements? It can create a huge challenge for the dynamic stabilizers of the trunk (these are an abdominal workout worth doing). Try holding both arms up in the air while doing lunges – even without weight, the change in the center of gravity will illustrate my point. (refer to the above photo as an example)
3. Combination moves
- Wish you could have your cake and eat it too? (which is a stupid expression, if I have cake, I’m going to eat it, that’s the point) – but in terms of your workout, where cake is not an option, the next best thing is a movement that combines patterns and uses a lot of different muscles. Whether you’re looking for calorie blasting moves, or you’re just trying to be more dynamically efficient, these are awesome. This is where you can get creative – some of my favorites are the step up into a reverse lunge, the split squat into a push press, or if you’re really really awesome – the burpee into a jump pull up. yes please.
4. Plank variations
- Contrary to popular belief, the point of your “core” is to keep your spine stable during motion- not to constantly flex your lower back. The best way to build a solid foundation is to master different variations of the plank exercise. The good ol “hold the plank position for as long as possible” is great, but its not the only way. There are a lot of progressions that are great for every training program. Try getting into the plank position, reaching out your hand, and tapping it on the ground 10x. Then switch hands. Then each foot. All while keeping your spine neutral and your hips straight.
Again notice the flat spine – you achieve this by keeping your chest elevated, squeezing those shoulder blades together, sucking in your stomach and squeezing your glutes. Also, my legs aren’t touching the ground – my shorts are just baggy 😉
The athlete’s plank is the most challenging variation – you want to maintain a neutral spine and keep your hips flat while dynamically changing the center of gravity. The leg and arm shouldn’t cause your back to hyperextend – you want to remain in a straight line. The wider your stance, the easier it is to maintain. I kept my feet just outside of my hips in this example, which is a good place to start for this one. The stronger you get, the narrower the stance should be.
Currently I have some variation of all of these things in my training program. I spent a lot of time last semester working bilaterally on deadlifts, front squats and hang cleans, so for the next couple of weeks, I’m focusing on fixing some imbalances and changing up my routine.
Videos will be up in the next few weeks when I get back to Miami and have some assistance, but until then, give these moves a try. Thanks to everyone who has hit me up with feedback – please keep it up, and share this blog 🙂