So, in my earlier post, I was singing the praises of the Olympic lifts & making bold claims that all their variations/regressions are the total package when it comes to training. Most coaches will gripe that the learning curve is simply too much and outweighs the benefits of the lifts. To an extent, I understand, particularly when it comes to full power cleans and snatches from the floor. But in this post, I’ll get into the specifics regarding certain lifts and how/where they would fit into a training program and still provide benefits.
(Again, if you’re more inclined to follow the Olympic lifting school of thought and want more, check out Wil Fleming’s new DVD – he’s the pro, I’m just an Olympic lifting minion in comparison)
Typically, after an initial assessment using whatever strategy you employ (that’s another post in and of itself) the most important movement to teach is the hip hinge – this is the foundation for all of the lifts and has to be perfected before anything else can be taught. Even if Olympic lifting isn’t on your agenda, all hope is lost if a proper hip hinge isn’t the goal of your program. This is accomplished in a variety of ways, but my favorite is using a PVC pipe and an RDL movement. The PVC pipe is great because it isn’t loaded, but when you’re forced to hold something and keep it close to (or, in this case, touching) your body, the movement pattern is much easier to accomplish. Once this is mastered, I like to throw in variations like KB hip hinges, band pull throughs, kettle bell swings, etc.
[See http://articles.elitefts.com/training-articles/teaching-the-hip-hinge/ for more on teaching the Hip hinge movement]
Another movement that is very telling as an assessment but that I like to keep in programs no matter what is the Overhead squat. This can be particularly unforgiving if you’re lacking flexibility or stability, but is a crucial movement should your athlete/client progress to catching a load overhead. If they are particularly lacking in the skills necessary to make this movement worthwhile, assisted variations should be used (cable or TRX OH squats) and unilateral work should be emphasized. For one, you can load the hell out of it, and two, you will see significant progress vs forcing a movement pattern that just simply isn’t there. This is where you can employ the use of OH bulgarians, OH lunges, and some of the TRX Y’s & T’s. In most cases, a lack of core stability is a problem as well, so your plank variations and roll outs are useful here too. Again, it is worth noting, that even if your athlete never needs to catch a load overhead, the ability to progress to a solid OH squat is a great goal because it corrects imbalances, improves posture, and makes you closer to being an actual human being (instead of a version of real life version of the QWOP game)
The front squat is probably the most useful component to teach for a variety of reasons. It is my favorite to work with because it builds a solid foundation, is easy to monitor (if an athlete is ever struggling, it is much easier to drop a bar from the front than the back), and demands excellent form. With the load in the front, the body is forced to maintain a neutral spine and upright chest, which is sometimes hard to constantly cue when using another variation. The learning curve can be tough, particularly for females who find the bar placement on the chest slightly uncomfortable and/or the stress on the forearms to be painful, but it does not take long for them to get used to it – plus there are a ton of variations in grip to use. To progress to the bar, front loaded KB squats/Goblet squats can be an option (to teach stabilization with a front load) and the PVC pipe can be used to teach that hand placement. Again, even if this is as far as you go, a solid front squat can be loaded substantially for awesome strength gains in a later phase of training.
Proper landing mechanics will need to be enforced simultaneously before loading the clean movement. I find it is really easy to teach the hip hinge, but once it needs to be done at speed (i.e. the catch portion of the clean), the athlete/client defaults back to a quad dominant pattern. In this case, I like using drop squats (that’s what I call them – essentially you start in an athletic position and drop into a squat as fast as possible. The key is to drop down without jumping first. The hips flex rapidly and the athlete gets comfortable sitting back). Once that is mastered, box jumps and plyo variations are awesome. Emphasis on landing silently through the heels will help enforce the proper hip hinge. Not only is this great prep for an eventual hang clean, but these exercises are neuromuscular necessities for athletes to improve speed and reduce the risk of injury. Doesn’t seem like a waste of time to me….
Finally, a full clean cycle will be used. This will be the 3 components that make up the hang clean and can be used as a neural prep once the athlete has mastered it. They start with the clean pull (a rapid jump shrug), then a high pull, and finally the full hang clean. This is usually done with just the bar for 2-3 sets of about 5 reps each. Eventually, you can start loading the cycle and emphasizing the clean pull and high pull in this phase.
There are also variations you can start to use – RDL with a hang clean receive, hang clean to step up, SA snatch, just to name a few. These are great total body “connector” exercises that improve athleticism immensely.
As you can see, a beginner is still doing a whole lot of work and getting stronger, more flexible, and also improving power using this method. Most of these exercises can be used in the beginning of a workout, and other movements, like loaded pushes/pulls and other circuits will complete the workout. As I mentioned earlier, the hip hinge/landing mechanics/and core stability are all components that need to be taught and emphasized ANYWAY – so that whole ‘learning curve’ thing is really just a poor excuse. Even if you stopped here, and didn’t emphasize heavy cleans or full snatches, the Olympic lifts still create a perfect base for most of the training. From there you can go on to teach some pretty awesome deadlifts with athletes that actually have the capacity to pull from the floor.
There are so many terms in fitness/training/strength & conditioning that are getting to be taboo. The most cringeworthy being “muscle confusion”, “functional training” (As opposed to dysfunctional training) and “core”….but the newest term to add to my list is “Corrective exercise”. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m all about correcting muscle imbalances and I start all my programs with circuits that address individual issues. However, I believe we are getting so caught up in being pseudo “physical therapists” that we forget the point of a work out: to do WORK.
One of the first days of grad school, (After already achieving a few training certifications at this point) I had a class strictly dedicated to programming. We were given a case study, and told to address the concerns & come up with a program for the particular athlete. I remember being pretty pleased with my corrective exercise strategies, but when my professor looked at it, he laughed and asked me, “so… when do they actually lift weights?”. I was taken aback for a few minutes because I felt like I had included some good stuff: a variation of the back squat, lateral lunges, inverted rows, etc. Excuse me, what???
I had been familiar with the Olympic lifts and used them in a lot of my own programming, but didn’t particularly know how or when to program them (and all their variations) into a solid training program, particularly in an early phase of training. So, when I was given a case study of a typical basketball player, with a variety of issues (tight lower back, tweaked hamstring, tight external rotators, susceptible to ankle rolls…) I could really only focus on a corrective intervention. Isn’t that what everyone says? “You’re only as strong as your weakest link” “Do no harm” “[Any other cliche comment about correcting problems here]”…and all I knew was that the Olympic lifts are really freakin’ hard…even for someone with great mobility.
Eventually, as we got deeper into the semester, it occurred to me, most exercises we have were originally designed to help with dynamic flexibility, stability and strength IN ORDER TO complete the Olympic lifts to their full potential. Understanding this mentality helped me to design better programs with more lifting work being done, because I could understand how these exercises related to a higher goal (not just a body part). Even if you do not subscribe to the Olympic lifting school of training, or your athletes never progress to doing full power cleans or clean/jerks (which is completely fine, because you may decide it just isn’t worth the time to teach), you will still use a variety of exercises that are just Olympic lifting regressions (OH squats/lunges, RDLs, Deadlifts, Shrugs, Split Squats, just to name a few…)…so it’s cool to know why they exist and where they belong.
What’s the point of all this? Basically, don’t be afraid of higher work. Do your assessments, figure out your limitations (or those of your clients), but don’t get so caught up in simple correctives. I know some will argue that corrective exercises are difficult, and I completely agree (we had a class where we only did correctives for about 2 hours – I was so stiff the next day I felt like I had run sprints)– but if you could combine interventions (flexibility & stability) with your strength & power work – you would, right?
Check out Wil Fleming (the Olympic lifting guru) ‘s DVD ‘Complete Olympic Weightlifting’ – I love his system because it is simple, effective, and for all athletes. It is similar to the way I was taught to approach teaching and performing the lifts and I think it’s useful for just about everyone. Contrary to learning the style of Olympic lifting for actual Olympic lifters (which, remember, is a true sport, and the %’s and volumes are usually written as such for those looking to compete) or Crossfit that simply abuses my beloved O Lifts, this shows a great progression from soup to nuts.
I’m splitting the post up to let this idea marinate, but in part 2, I will break down the components and show how to classify these exercises for use among all types of lifters and athletes.
Finally coming off the high of birthdays, graduations, mother’s day, etc. If I was in the NFL this time in my life would be flagged for Excessive Celebration.
As promised, here is the final installment of my posts on agility training & conditioning workouts. The sample I have involves lacrosse, but it provides some insight into the training phases & concerns for a particular sport. Often times in strength & conditioning, a ton of emphasis is put on the strength part – what rep schemes, rest periods, and exercises fit into a particular phase, etc. But there is definitely a lack of information for the same type of programming on the conditioning end. For example, if an athlete is in a “hypertrophy” phase of training in the weight room, does that affect how many times a week he/she conditions? Do the number of drills within a session change? What kind of drills should be emphasized? AKA: How do you make it all fit together?
Truth be told, (and even contrary to the title of my blog) the way I like to program SHOULD be called “Conditioning & Strength” – I think conditioning is extremely important & often underemphasized in certain cases. I’m not saying S&C coaches don’t know how to program for it, because they do, but the information reaching the masses very rarely discusses conditioning as it applies to the particular “phases” of training.
So first of all, here are some of the basic concepts & their order of operations when it comes to conditioning.
A. Speed foundation: flexibility, muscle balance, dynamic balance
B. Speed technique: form, coordination, technique, ROM
C. Speed strength: metabolic efficiency, speed loading, MD efficiency
D. Speed power: neuromuscular efficiency, MD efficiency
E. Sport speed: preseason and practice; sport efficiency, metabolic efficiency
Order of operations
In a particular workout, this is the structure you’re shooting for
1. Injury related issues (corrective exercises)
2. Dynamic warm up (line drills)
3. Technique drills (acceleration, landing drills, med ball work, etc)
4. Speed of movement drills (ladder drills, agilities)
5. Metabolics (the main conditioning portion with key emphasis on energy system development & the goal of the phase)
6. Cool down
Breaking down the “phases”
So how do you put it all together?
A. Speed foundation: Warm up, dynamic flexibility, Circuit 5-7 exercises. Glycolytic power for 20 minutes [transitional rest – building a base]
B. Speed technique: 3-4 technique drills [10-20 yds, 1:3 rest], 3-5 speed drills [15-20 yds, 1:5 rest]
C. Speed strength: 2-3 technique drills [15-60 yds, 1:3 rest], 5-7 movement drills [20-120 yds, 1:5 rest] 6-7 minute sport specific distance drills
D. Speed power: 1-2 technique drills [1:3], 7-10 movement drills
E. Sport speed: Sport specific drills 15-20 yds; 10-15 sets metabolics 20-30 yds
Training example – Prep phase
This would be an example for a lacrosse player in the beginning phases of a program. Its okay if you don’t know the particular exercises, but its just to get a sense of how the program flows & what some of the major points of emphasis are. In this case, all of the technique drills are focusing on form & landing mechanics. Later phases will involve more ballistic movements, med ball throws, and power development.
- Warm up: OH reverse lunge; SL transverse rotation; Adductor windmills w/ arm to toe reach 2x through
- Line drill warm up
A march w/ ankling
B march w/ ankling
High knees/Butt kick combo
- Fwd/Back/Lateral Reaction line drill x 6 movements (3 x through)
- Tuck jumps (x8; 3 times through)
- (Arms across the chest) speed squats – no jumping, triple extension x10
- Swivel jumps x10
- Lateral jump w/ reach x10
- Box drill 3x each way (6 total) x4
- Sprint/shuffle/backpedal always facing forward around the box
- Same drill w/ change of direction on whistle
- Z drill x4 50%, 75%, 100%, 100%
- Triples x4
- Figure 8 (10 yds) – 2 loops each time; x4
- Over – back – over partner sprints [1/2 gassers using width of the field] x5
So there you have it. This goes for any average joe working out as well. If you’re following a strength program that’s pretty heavy on the weight side (pun completely intended) but you try to fit in some conditioning on the other days, do you really know what you should & shouldn’t be doing? Countless fitness books have the weight training down to a SCIENCE – and then leave about 1-2 chapters going over all the different little cardio options. “Light cardio” “no impact” “moderate” etc. What does that even mean? Too many times people are unaware of the effect conditioning has on the CNS – they try to run 400m repeats on their “off” days because they think its a suitable option (PS if done correctly, those suck. i do them far too often. they are NOT a light activity).While everything I’ve written applies directly to sports performance, the same concepts can be taken. If you know you’re in a strength phase, then your conditioning, while not the main focus, should still help with that goal. Sled pulls, med ball work, metabolics, etc – all can help boost your program while still falling into place with what you are truly trying to accomplish.
Hopefully this has provided some insight into the conditioning madness. Now head over to my homegirl’s blog over at I Train Therefore I eat & check out her conditioning workout for the day!
So it hasn’t stopped raining here since I last posted – which is ironic considering my enthusiasm for outdoor workouts & agility drills was semi-based on great weather and sunshine. BUT, as promised, here is part 2, and when the skies clear up, we’ll be back in business.
The only “equipment” you need for these are some cones – and if you’re not a nerd like me who keeps things like that in her car for just this sort of thing (what?) then don’t worry. I can’t even list all the times I’ve used random objects for markers – extra sneakers, water bottles, backpacks, a jumprope, a beach towel, and even an umbrella have all made appearances in my park workouts. Just this past Saturday, in fact, my TRX, t-shirt and medball all made a fascinating box drill. As long as you can clearly identify the points, its fine. You just might want to hold off on putting that particular work out on YouTube 😉
Here are just a few drills that I tend to use the most – I like them mainly because they’re easy to set up, applicable to various goals, and don’t require a ton of technical skill practice.
1. Box drills & all their variations.
The box drill can be set up in various sizes. I tend to keep it smaller ( < 5 yds) if I use it earlier in the session to work on faster changes of direction and I’ll make the box bigger if I’m going for more conditioning. I usually do 3-4 “reps” in a row before resting, but you have a lot of flexibility when it comes to how many you do. The key is to be explosive, however, so going around too many times will just negate the training stimulus.
You can also change the sprint/backpedal/shuffle parts – it can be all sprinting, all shuffling, all facing one direction around the outside of the cones, etc. There’s no “wrong” way.
2. “L” drill
This looks way more complicated than it really is, but essentially it incorporates quick change in direction (Cone 1 – 2) and then weaving around cones 2-3 (balance, flexibility, speed, etc).
Here’s a [hardcore & therefore awesome] example of what this looks like – NFL combine guys will start in a 3 point stance, but for general training, you can start in a simple athletic position
3. Figure 8’s
These can also just be set up with 2 cones at various distances – similar to the 2nd half of the L drill, the main goal is to keep your hips centered and your feet moving while weaving as close as possible to the cone(s). You can run through 1-2x in a row, or change direction in the middle – again, very flexible with how you want to do it.
4. T drill
This is typically used in a lot of s&c programs as a speed/agility/quickness fitness test, but I also like to use it for conditioning. It is just another variation that incorporates lateral agility with sprints and can be very applicable to any sport. Sprint from A-B, Shuffle from B-C, Shuffle across from C-D, Shuffle back to B, and backpedal to A.
5. Shuttle runs / Suicides
There are a million variations to this type of run – I usually put these at the end of a workout for strictly conditioning. You can vary the # of times you change direction or keep it very simple and just run through it multiple times. Here are a few examples:
So there you have it – some awesome ideas to get you started. I really hope you guys give these a try – it breaks up the monotony of the treadmill & turns you into an all around fierce specimen….& lets be honest, isn’t that always the goal?
Part 3 will have a full sample work out & some energy system concerns for various sports. I know I said I’d do it in this post, but this one got a bit lengthy and I’d rather build up the suspense. 😉
ALSO shout out to “The Varsity Zone” since I stole your videos – I am not affiliated with them in any way, just thought they were useful for this post. Thanks!
I’m baaaaaaack (for real this time)
The blog & I have done a lot of soul searching recently and have decided to rekindle our relationship. Actually, my final semester of grad school is coming to a close, the lacrosse season is over, and I’ve found a way to stay healthy for a full week. All the awards!
Since all the chaos is winding down, it is a perfect opportunity to kick those workouts into high gear again. It is also a great time if you’re from up north because the weather is FINALLY starting to become manageable. Time to take our talents outside & get crazy.
The major benefit of living in Miami is the ability to train outside all year round. That definitely doesn’t mean I do it every single day because I’m as big a gym rat as they come, but it is always great to have the option when you’re looking for something outside the box. I try to carry minimal equipment on these days & just post up at a park or a field and go to town. Most of the time I only need a med ball, some cones, and possibly my TRX if I’m feeling really ambitious. [Shameless plug – but I’m a major fan of the TRX. I don’t use it exclusively, or even THAT often, but I love the variety it provides and the convenience of being able to put it anywhere. Its also insanely durable, which means a lot coming from me since I have a talent for destroying just about everything]
I should be paid for that ad. TRX get at me.
Anyway, since my main specialization is sports performance, I tend to program that way for myself. As such, agility drills and sprints are something I incorporate into my outdoor workouts on a consistent basis. Agility training is something I love because its fun, quick, useful, and the only real limit is your creativity. I know a lot of people shy away from it because they don’t feel like its necessary, but I assure you, there are some serious benefits that come from these drills. It requires skill, coordination, balance, strength, power and endurance – and that’s only the beginning. Since you are forced to use your dynamic stabilizers in multiple planes at a rapid pace, it is more demanding than simply running. I also enjoy scaring away everyone at the park by setting up cones and acting like I’m training for the NFL combine. I really am though, it’s fine.
This also goes back to some earlier posts where I discussed neuromuscular training. Preparing your body for movements by practicing these movements greatly reduces the risk of injury when you go to attempt similar tasks. AKA: if you practice changing directions occasionally, you’re far less likely to roll your ankle playing basketball than if you consistently stand around doing calf raises before a hoops game. Makes sense.
Usually I make these workouts go for about 30-40 minutes with very minimal rest. I’m not a huge nazi about the work/rest ratios because I’m not training for a particular sport – I just try to pick a variety of drills with multiple changes in direction and I rest enough so that I can perform them with the most technical skill as possible. I promise you, it really is THAT simple.
Here is the fool-proof formula for a great agility session:
Dynamic warm up (we all know the importance of this – start general, get specific, lateral movements, add speed/power. boom.)
Neural prep (short bursts of power: squat jumps, lateral hops, sprint starts, tuck jumps, etc)
General agility (speed ladder, forward/backward movements, lateral movements @ 50%)
Specific agility (drills with sharp cuts or varying changes in movements – short cone suicides, T drill, figure 8’s) – pick 2-3 of these
Conditioning gross agility (more for the conditioning effect – shuttle runs, suicides, longer figure 8s, etc)
If you’re new to agility training, you don’t have to go at 100mph right from the start. In fact, when do we ever recommend starting as fast as possible? Focus instead on technique and getting used to stabilizing your body through the different changes in direction. When you become more efficient, the speed will increase naturally.
In my follow up post I’ll have a few agility drill examples, some considerations if you ARE training for a particular sport, and a sample workout 🙂
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?
Everyone check out this great (quick) post from Julia Ladewski, a program director at one of the Parisi Speed Schools. It’s an awesome list of 9 basic movements that young athletes need to master – especially if they plan on playing sports in college.
These movements that Julia talks about, plus some others that I’d probably throw in (lateral movements, plank variations, and some single leg work) are imperative for all athletes, regardless of level. They train neuromuscular coordination, iron out the imbalances and essentially get the body prepared for whatever demand is going to be placed on it – whether that’s in the weight room or on the field. The greater the ability to recruit the proper muscles – IN THE PROPER PATTERN – the less the risk of injury. The FASTER you can recruit these muscles – in the proper pattern – the better athlete you’ll be. See the trend here?
What really gets me is that we have to teach people- especially kids- how to do basic movements like these. Really, jumping rope? And the hip hinge? Why am I showing you how to sit back without completely losing your junk? I’ll save that rant for another day, I promise. But it is definitely an issue that coaches and trainers need to be aware of – with all age groups. I’ve even had to revert back to simple variations for my high schoolers that play multiple sports!
This type of training isn’t even exclusive to athletes. As someone wisely pointed out in the comment section of Julia’s post (and no it wasn’t me) – this should really be changed to movements necessary for ANY “able bodied person”. Sadly, we tend to ignore this type of training across the board for a ton of reasons – it isn’t as beast mode as ripping some iron off the floor, and it isn’t as convenient to accomplish in most gyms. But guess what? Those are stupid excuses. Using the dynamics & agility drills as my main focus, I maintain that running line drills (A skips, B skips, lateral movements, skipping, etc) shouldn’t be stopped once you quit playing sports – and should be incorporated even if you’ve never played them. A few of my wonderful classmates illustrated this point beautifully earlier this semester. While all of them are athletic and know a thing or two about strength, they looked like a complete train wreck when trying to run through some of these drills. It wasn’t because they were out of shape – it was because neurologically they weren’t prepared for those kinds of movements. They hadn’t done them in years, and were all uncoordinated at first. It was embarrassing. How are these lean people unable to control their own bodies? Thankfully, after a few attempts, they started to get back into the groove because the system recognized the pattern.
But think about it – when was the last time you went out to a field/track to do some lateral shuffles? When was the last time you jumped rope? Do I even want to ask when you last sprinted….? (probably not). I’m not blaming anyone really, because commercial gyms don’t make these activities very convenient, but I’m the BIGGEST fan of incorporating these types of things into training. I train like an athlete so I can retain the benefits of being an athlete – the speed, the power, the fitness, and just general awesomeness for as long as possible. Use it or lose it. It is not a cliché – its just how the body operates.
Everyone that knows me is probably shaking their heads because they know I’m crazy about dynamics & sprinting. My athletes understand why they need it, because they see the direct carryover in what they do on the field. Other people? Much harder to win over. Yet I can’t tell you how many people come up to me in shambles all like “My ankle is all screwed up cuz I rolled it playing basketball the other day” or “I think I pulled something in my back when I threw a Frisbee to my dog” or “I don’t even KNOW what I did, but how do I stretch my hip flexor?” Poor neuromuscular coordination, poor posture, and muscular imbalances leave a real soft foundation for those random spurts of power production. There is no reason to be surprised, then, that something is “out of whack” if you don’t prepare your body for that movement.
SO the take home message: stop crying, start sprinting. Haha, no, not quite, but DO train more athletically. It doesn’t mean you need to train as intensely or as frequently as an athlete, but throwing in some of these simple movements can go a long way. If you prepare your central nervous system to handle more dynamic tasks, you’ll be less likely to end up a hot mess after that random game of flag football, or your Frisbee field day with Fido.
Need more examples/Not sure how to incorporate into your training? Leave a comment.