Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Moved Art of Coaching Speed to new home

Moved the blog Art of Coaching Speed so I can manage it better.

What started as an exercise in gathering my thoughts for training my own staff has grown.  I look forward to helping many coaches develop their skills and training techniques.  Hopefully I'll provoke some thought along the way.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Woodway Speedboard

I have long been a fan of the Woodway FORCE treadmill.  It is a self propelled treadmill. This has been for several reasons;
  • Encourages FOOT CONTACT under COG
  • Allows VIDEO ANALYSIS of multiple strides easily
  • Provides easier accel bounding learning and resisted bounds
  • ...and in the case of a FORCE 2.0 or 3.0 provides data on actual forces and gait analysis between left and right legs
Last year Woodway introduced the SPEEDBOARD.  We  had the chance to recently evaluate it with athletes of different calibers and experience. 

Another self propelled treadmill, this one uses a low friction belt, and curved surface so that no harness is needed.  A bit scary for many when first stepping on, it ends up being very easy to get used to.

We have done some rudimentary video analysis comparing athletes over ground and on the Speedboard.  Although  not complete, I can say that differences in most kinematics are minimal.  Below are some comparison shots.  Although limited by using 60 frames of video, their was not difference in stride frequency in this analysis.



Our coaches have generally found that athletes feel like it "makes them go faster."  In our trials and observations, it seems to encourage better recovery and step over mechanics.   This has been consistent among many different athletes.  Put them on their and we have seen residual phase get cut dramatically and a better step over action.  The step over may be encouraged by the slight angle of the tread in front, encouraging them to step up to it. 

One area where we have found we had to really coach well and watch is ground contact.  I encourage dorsi-flexed ground contact and this becomes even more important on the Speedboard.  When coached and executed, ground contact is good and many athletes have actually felt increased gastroc soreness after sessions.  This makes sense as they are making contact with slight angle and therefore potentially loading in a more stretched position.  This would also be something to consider if an athlete is returning from a foot/lower leg injury or has problems there. 

If an athlete tends to overstride and does not understand to try and footstrike under the COG they may be encouraged to overstride or even heel strike in lower level athletes.  The key was coaching.  It is very easy to hear the difference and we found even more than on the ground that if given as a cue, athletes could hear the difference themselves.

These are a bit in contrast to the FORCE treadmill.  I have found it encourages better ground prep and footstrike mechanics by its nature to require additional force production.  Any overstriding on it will not drive the belt backward. 
All in all we are finding it extremely useful. 

  • Takes up a lot less space than 60-100 yards of track/turf. 

  • It allows us to provide video feedback and analysis over multiple strides. 

  • Encourages good recovery mechanics.

  • Allows a natural running motion.

  • Allows IN/Outs indoors

  • Useful for repeat sprint intervals with active running recovery between.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Increasing Speed - Interview with Jon Goodwin

Here is the beginning of a great interview with Jon Goodwin, that was done by Patrick Ward on his blog.

Increasing Speed – Interview with Jon Goodwin
by Patrick on August 9, 2010

Last month I attended the NSCA National Conference and watched a lecture on sprint biomechanics given by Jon Goodwin. The lecture was easily the best of the weekend and I jotted down a lot of notes. Jon was nice enough to take time out of his busy schedule (as both a coach and researcher on sprint biomechanics) to do this interview and I am very excited to present it to you.
1. Thanks for taking the time out of your day to do this interview, Jon. Could you please tell the readers a little bit about yourself.

Essentially, I’m a frustrated athlete. Injury ended my involvement in athletics and like many, coaching was my next avenue to stay involved in the sport I loved. I started coaching in 1997 and from there my coaching interest progressed from athletics to strength and conditioning. Whilst this was going on I completed a BSc in Sport Rehabilitation and an MSc in Biomedical Engineering before progressing from teaching biomechanics at undergraduate level to validating both a BSc in Strength and Conditioning in 2006 and a distance learning MSc in Strength and Conditioning in 2008 at St Mary’s University College in the UK. I now run these programmes whilst continuing some coaching and starting studies towards a PhD in sprint mechanics.

2. Your presentation at the NSCA National Conference on sprint mechanics was excellent. In that presentation you talked a lot contact length and contact frequency in attaining high velocity. Can you please talk a little bit about this? More specifically, why is contact frequency so important and what can we do about it?

The mechanical relationship here is real simple and governed by real simple rules.

Firstly, obeying simple laws of mechanics our motion is only altered by forces. We are subjected to 2 important forces when we run – gravity vertically and air resistance mostly horizontally. If not for these 2 forces we would just continue throught the air at a constant velocity forever. The job of running at max velocity is then to apply forces in such a way that we overcome the changes in motion that these forces create. i.e. when we land we need to arrest the downward velocity we have accrued during freefall and also overcome the loss of horizontal velocity we are subjected to due to air resistance.

Next, we need to think about when we are able to apply the forces that can do these jobs. The answer to that is simple too. The only time we can express these forces actively is when we have a surface to push against. i.e. when we are on the ground.

So now we’re left to consider; what are the variables we have access to while the athlete is on the ground? What things can a coach enable an athlete to change to apply force in a more effective way to allow faster top running velocities?

There are 2 variables we have access to here.

The first is contact length, the distance travelled by the centre of mass whilst the athlete is in contact with the ground. This is controlled by how long your legs are and how far you reach in front of your mass and/or push off behind.

The second is contact time, the time you take in contact with the ground. This is controlled by how long it takes the athlete to apply enough impulse (force x time) to halt their downward velocity and reaccelerate themself back into the air for the next flight phase.

You should be able to see here, we have the components of our standard equations for velocity; a displacement and a time taken to cover that displacement. This leaves us with a fundamentally important relationship for speed (and acceleration and agility) coaches to keep in mind.

Velocity = Contact length / contact time

Obviously our leg length isn’t something we’re actively going to change (not ethically anyway) and wide contact positions such as reaching in front or pushing off a long way behind have been demonstrated to become progressively more ineffective mechanically. Whilst there is likely to be some plasticity in contact length, possibly controlled by athletes strength around the hip, contact length probably only offers small opportunities for change. i.e. getting stronger might enable you to handle longer contact lengths (so allowing faster velocities) but we certainly aren’t going to cue athletes technically to reach out in front or push off further behind.

Contact time on the other hand has been shown to be a huge variable of importance. The primary thing faster sprinters do differently is they generate much higher peak leg extension forces on the ground and they do it much more quickly. This means they can overcome gravity and project themselves back in to the air in less time (air time being virtually almost constant across runners of different ability). With this capability they are able to cover their contact length in less time. So what happens to our equation? Contact time gets smaller, so velocity gets larger. This is the primary mechanism by which faster sprinters travel at faster velocities than slower ones.

read the rest here...

Sunday, August 8, 2010

10 % Rule of Speed Training

If you’ve read speed training articles, or watched most presenters and dvds, and even if you’ve gone through coaching education you’ve heard it.


That’s the most you want to load according to conventional wisdom, 10% of bodyweight. Of course that’s a bit arbitrary because are we talking a sled or parachute. Grass or track or turf? So it’s evolved a bit to be no more than 10% decrement in speed.

Only 10%

It’s been handed down over the last few decades like a prized heirloom from mentor to apprentice, coach to athlete.

10%. No more or else! If you use more, you risk detriment to sprint technique.

Almost all coaches will agree without thinking twice. This is blanket rule for sleds or other resistance training and it’s applied broadly to both acceleration and maximum velocity.


I stuck to this 10% rule in my early sprint training days because it’s what other track coaches taught me and made some sense. However, over time, I couldn’t find the full logic and my background as a weightlifting coach probably made me biased toward more load. As I did graduate work in biomechanics I developed a new lens to analyze it. For many years now, I have used heavy resistance (50% to > 100% Bodyweight) to improve acceleration in team sport athletes.
One way to add weight for Mark Sanchez?

If you ask most proponents of the 10% limit why, you won’t get many solid answers, because people aren’t asking the right questions. Let me help ask some.

Are you training acceleration or maximum velocity?
Big difference. The kinetics and kinematics are not the same in acceleration and max velocity.

Quick Review: Kinetics is about motion and causes (torque, force, impulse, rate of force development, etc…) and kinematics (velocity, acceleration, joint angles, alignment, etc…) describes the motion. From a technique standpoint, it’s chicken and egg. Each impacts the other.
In terms of force production what we know today is that the HORIZONTAL component is large in pure acceleration, but the VERTICAL component is dominant in maximum velocity. A heavy sled provides horizontal resistance. Makes sense why a heavy sled wouldn’t translate to max velocity sprinting.
It can be argued that in most team sport settings, it is acceleration that is more common and therefore more important. Right now what I’m talking about is focusing on improving acceleration. Since we are talking about acceleration, and most of the research on resisted sprinting is on max velocity, THROW IT OUT.
So what, if it acutely changes some kinematics?
Sprinting with resistance changes the kinetics and kinematics. So what? Is that inherently bad? Isn’t that often a goal of training drills?

In coaching athletes I am often trying to change kinematics. That can be the main point. I may be trying to develop a greater arm action, or a larger horizontal force component, or a higher stride frequency. It’s not whether or not heavy sleds changes things. For the coach it’s a question of; is it the change you want?

Speaking of different kinematics, what about some other drills that we use? Wall drills change the upper body kinematics, but we decide that the value of training the core and lower body motion is worth the temporary change in the upper body. Plyometrics have different kinematics as do many “technical” drills. Why are those OK but, heavy resisted sprinting is not?

Remember also, of the little data there is on acceleration, this is an acute change while doing the resisted run. The question is what does it do to the actual acceleration mechanics without resistance?

What are you using it for?
This is a key question that should drive our decision to use any drills. I like to classify drills as technical, training, or applied. This helps guide our selection based on athlete and training session goals.

Technical drills are designed to improve motor control, build kinesthetic awareness and teach the athlete how to move. Training drills are designed to elicit a training effect such as force characteristics, or energy system development. Applied drills are intended to add variability and let the athlete discover the movement solutions to different problems.

In a movement training session we will have some of each, but with a focus on one area more than others. I think resisted sprint drills can be used in different ways.

An athlete may get a technical benefit out of heavy sled resistance if it brings about kinesthetic awareness, helps them understand the feel of driving back. In working on 40 yd dash starts, I’ll use that heavy sled to build awareness of what it feels like to have tension in the start position.

It also can be a training drill. We can use it to build special strength and work on the impulse components. When used in a contrast method (which for me is almost always) it has a potentiating effect on the following un-resisted accelerations.

What research says it’s detrimental?
There is research, almost all of it on maximum velocity sprinting, which shows changes in kinematics with heavier resistances. Does that mean it causes negative adaptation?

I don’t care if the athlete’s time over a distance is 1000% longer if the technique is right. Lets imagine I have a very heavy load on the sled. The athlete goes for 6-10 steps. If it only moves a few inches on each stride, so what? As long as the mechanics are right and the contact time is good, why not? You are getting a stimulus even if it didn’t move.
Not exactly what I had in mind.

I definitely think you can cause detriment to acceleration technique if you use it poorly. Add a lot of resistance to the athlete and their form could fall apart. Allowing this while yelling “Drive harder!” isn’t what I consider good coaching.

Tips to best use heavy sleds for acceleration
Enough questions already. Bottom line, I question the proposed rationale for limiting sleds resistance to 10% when training pure acceleration. You might want to question it too. Here are some tips I use for sled resisted acceleration.

Use heavy sleds for pure acceleration.
After using these techniques and analyzing video I advocate using loads greater than 50% and sometimes up to 100% for the first 5 steps of acceleration and that’s it. If you are getting into longer distances I think you need lower resistance. As a matter of fact, we barely ever use any horizontal resistance during max velocity. I might be more inclined to add a weight vest to influence the vertical component.

Make sure you get the effect you are looking for.
Heavy sleds are going to change something. Whether its kinetics or kinematics, consider how the change will influence the adaptation you like. If I have a very strong athlete, who is a plodder with long ground contact times already, I need to be wary of very heavy sleds because the change may not be what I was looking for.

Contrast with free accelerations
Always follow heavy resisted acceleration with free acceleration. If you are using it as a technical exercise than this clearly makes sense. If you are using it for a training effect, it may not be as clear cut, but I still follow with free accelerations.

I advocate a “guided learning” approach to movement training. I introduce technical and training effect elements, then allow the athlete to solve movement problems. These applied drills are key for the individual to adapt the technique to their personal and environmental constraints. I think it’s a key to get a transfer effect into actual sport competition and preventing that robotic look to movement.

Use waves for more reps.
With an athlete that can handle a higher training load and will benefit from more reps, use contrast waves. Just increasing volume, you could add more reps in each set of resisted runs and then go to more reps of un-resisted accelerations.

Instead I would suggest doing multiple waves. Each wave would include 2-5 reps with resistance and then doing at least as many un-resisted. These contrast sets can then be repeated by going back to resistance and finishing with un-resisted. I find this helps with the motor control adaptation better and prefer a series of waves where each wave has fewer resisted reps.
Go Use It
So now it’s time to figure out what you are going to use. Ask the questions, analyze the acute effect. Review training adaptations and decide what works. That’s what coaches do!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Training Prescription: Placebo

A post on Precision Nutrition got me thinking about a key aspect in the Art of Coaching; the Placebo effect.  As a performance coach you will have to understand this and manage it, and potentially employee it.

During this year's NFL Draft preparation, we had athletes that struggle with the over-reaching phase.  Now understand, most collegiate football players have not gone through an extended over-reaching period that affects them neuromuscularly.  This may sound like a knock on strength programs, but its not.  In a football offseason, they are making steady progression and the emphasis is strength, power and mass in most cases.

Under the stress of the NFL draft process and preparing for the Combine and Pro Days, these athletes struggle with the feeling of over-reaching. We often look to effectively use some methods that may be as much "placebos" as anything else. 

Here's one we see every February. We have the case of an athlete preparing for the NFL Combine. His focus is the 40 and nothing but. Training is going great. Times in the 10 and 20-40 are dropping. He's been training hard and technique is better when we breakdown the video analysis.

The problem, he's 2 weeks out and is coming out of an overreaching phase still. Even though he has shown all those improvements, his NMS is just recovering and supercompensating as evidenced by various jumps we measure.

This concept of overreaching is hard to fully accept for a few. He has to have that current 40 time. When he gets it and doesn't see that all time PR yet, he flips out. Literally. Loses all belief. Wants to throw everything in the training plan out the window. Wants to go find another speed coach to work magic.

So what do we do as coaches? For one we go back and review the plan we set. We remind him how we said this would happen and actually means everything is working. We show him the same progression for guys who have ran great PRs in the 40 in previous years training with us.

Still he's off the reservation.

So, we also breakout PLACEBO.  

Now most people have some idea of the placebo effect.  In a classic pharmaceutical study design, there is the group that gets the drug, the control group who gets nothing, and the group that gets the placebo .  The placebo is something that is inert.  It has no effect.  However, what has been documented for the last half 50 years is that the placebo group will probably show results.

"Whether you believe it will or won't work, you're right" is an old adage that sums it up.  The placebo effect is any phenomenon that occurs from a person’s belief and perceptions, rather than from the actual chemical-physiological effects of a drug.

Placebos can have a huge effect.  It is one of the confounding factors in many areas of medical research.  It's also a confounding factor in performance training.  What is really causing some of the results we see. 

If an athlete uses _____________(fill in the blank with any treatment or modality here) then after 3 weeks receiving it, they feel 90% better.  That's an effective treatment it seems.  Great!

Looks great until you realize that an athlete receiving what looks like the same treatment, but its a sham, and they still get 60% better.  A little confusing to what's really happening.  They feels 60% better, but the treatment/modality wasn't real so that's not why.

Now imagine there was a way (in pharmaceuticals this is easier) that a third athlete get the treatment but doesn't know it. takes the real drug, but they don’t know. (Maybe we do myofascial work while they sleep?) They only feel 30% better.

If we compare these three groups we can see that that 90% is actually 30% real effects plus 60% placebo.

OK, so the placebo effect is real. But this is training not a pharmaceutical study, right?  This is physical, you can't fake it can you?

Not so fast.  Watch this video.

Remember that NFL Combine athlete?  What ails him is doubt, so we breakout one of our tools to address it.

He mentions during the discussions that his hip was tight. 

"Really? Tell me more." "That could hold you back a little. Let's see the PT."   The PT finds that its a little tight like always. We know he has been convinced that he needs something "extra"and he's heard the hype that A.R.T. is amazing from some other guys.   So we schedule some A.R.T. on it for him.  We address the "hip issue" while also taking care of the normal recovery we'd planned. 

Walla!  When he runs again he sees improved times and is fired up again to get to the Combine.

Do we know if its the treatment or the placebo effect?  No.  

We know we trained him well and that the additional A.R.T. wouldn't hurt.  (don't misunderstand, I strongly believe in many soft tissue techniques including A.R.T.)  We allowed an opportunity for his beliefs in A.R.T. to help him.

Make sure you look at the entire picture.  The placebo effect is scientifically documented.  Don't forget it.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Soft Tissue Management: Whats Best?

Whats most important for your athletes to do for their recovery?  Stretching? Foam Rolling? Whole Body Vibration? A.R.T.? Modalities? Cold Tubs?

Should it be the ATCs, coaches, massage therapist, chiropractor, or physical therapist?
and on and on and on....

Certain coaches will argue that one or another from the above lists is the key.  They're all probably right in some case. 

I know I used to get too caught up in specific approaches.  This was very true in my earlier years as a coach when I was getting exposed to specific methods in the firstplace.  When you witness a good practitioner, who believe in what they are doing, and applies it consistently, you will see benefits.

As I kept (and still am) exposed to different methods, you start to get a more complete picture.  Forgot the names and various intial and trademarked systems, and start to think TISSUE QUALITY MANAGEMENT.

Thats what its about after all. Maintaining the integrity, capacity and functionality of the body's tissues. Muscle may lead many lists, but more and more people are realizing its also fascia, tendonous/bone junctions, and joint capsules. 

The beautiful part is that once you get beyond thinking just about one tissue, or one approach, you'll find its the combination that really gets results.  The best people I work with use a combination of methods.  The massage therapist who is doing as much stretching as soft tissue work.  The chiropractor who is doing myofascial work, with stretching, manipulation and active movement.  The performance coach who is having his athletes do specific, focused self myofascial work and then AIS stretching.

It's about getting the tissue to the quality required.  To allow the athlete to recover and be prepared for the next training session or competition.  That's the goal.  Tissue quality.

Monday, July 5, 2010

The Blind Men and the Elephant

Talk to a bunch of coaches, go online, or to a conference and you will get passionate arguments about the right way to train an athlete.  Each coach can give examples that fit their point of view.  In many ways though, it's a lot like this Indian fable...

One day, three blind men happened to meet each other and gossiped a long time about many things. Suddenly one of them recalled, " I heard that an elephant is a queer animal. Too bad we're blind and can't see it."

"Ah, yes, truly too bad we don't have the good fortune to see the strange animal," another one sighed.

The third one, quite annoyed, joined in and said, "See? Forget it! Just to feel it would be great."

"Well, that's true. If only there were some way of touching the elephant, we'd be able to know," they all agreed.

It so happened that a merchant with a herd of elephants was passing, and overheard their conversation. "You fellows, do you really want to feel an elephant? Then follow me; I will show you," he said.

After reaching their destination, the merchant asked them to sit on the ground and wait. In a few minutes he led the first blind man to feel the elephant. With outstretched hand, he touched first the left foreleg and then the right. After that he felt the two legs from the top to the bottom, and with a beaming face, turned to say, "So, the queer animal is just like that." Then he slowly returned to the group.

Then the second blind man was led to the rear of the elephant. He touched the tail which wagged a few times, and he exclaimed with satisfaction, "Ha! Truly a queer animal! Truly odd! I know now. I know." He hurriedly stepped aside.

The third blind man's turn came, and he touched the elephant's trunk which moved back and forth turning and twisting and he thought, "That's it! I've learned."

The three blind men thanked the merchant and went their way. Each one was secretly excited over the experience and had a lot to say, yet all walked rapidly without saying a word.

"Let's sit down and have a discussion about this queer animal," the second blind man said, breaking the silence.

"A very good idea. Very good." the other two agreed for they also had this in mind.

Without waiting for anyone to be properly seated, the second one blurted out, "This queer animal is like our straw fans swinging back and forth to give us a breeze. However, it's not so big or well made. The main portion is rather wispy."

"No, no!" the first blind man shouted in disagreement. "This queer animal resembles two big trees without any branches."

"You're both wrong." the third man replied. "This queer animal is similar to a snake; it's long and round, and very strong."

How they argued! Each one insisted that he alone was correct. Soon they came to blows over it, yet still there was no agreement.  Of course, there was no conclusion for not one had thoroughly examined the whole elephant. How can anyone describe the whole until he has learned the total of the parts.

Another modern version has a different ending a may fit may today's sports performance profession even more...

“We now know that the elephant is like a wall,” said the one who touched the side. “The evidence is conclusive.”to see what all the fuss was about. While the blind men were arguing fiercely, she examined the elephant. But instead of stopping after one feel, the prophet touched the whole thing, including the tail, which felt like a rope.

“I believe you are mistaken, sir," said the one who touched an ear. "The elephant is more like a large fan."

“You are both wrong,” said the leg man. “The creature is obviously like a tree.”

“A tree?” questioned the tusk toucher. “How can you mistake a spear for a tree?”

“What?” said the trunk feeler. “A spear is long and round, but anyone knows it doesn’t move. couldn’t you feel the muscles? It’s definitely a type of snake! A blind man could see that!” said the fifth blind man.

The argument grew more heated when along came a blind, self-declared prophet

“It’s just a big animal with big sides, ears, feet, tusk teeth, nose and a skinny tail,” she thought. “What a bunch of fools these guys are.”

Then the prophet said, “Stop! I have discovered the truth. I know who is right.”

Being a prophet and all, they stopped and listened and said, “tell us!” 

“I have examined the elephant with mine own two hands,” she said, “and I find that you are all right.”

“How can this be?” they asked. “Can an elephant be a wall and a fan and a tree and a spear and a

snake?” And they were very confused.

The prophet explained “the elephant is a great Tree, and on this tree grow leaves like great Fans to give most wondrous shade and fan the breeze. And the branches of this tree are like Spears to protect it.

For this is the Tree of Creation and of Eternal Life, and the Great Serpent hangs still upon it.

“Unfortunately, it is hidden behind a great Wall, which is why it was not discovered until this very
day. It cannot be reached by normal means.

“However I, in my wisdom, have discovered a Most Holy Rope, by which the wall may be climbed.

And if one touches the tree in the proper manner which I alone know, you will gain Eternal Life.”

They all became highly interested in this, of course.

The prophet then named an extremely high price for her services (or dvd or seminar), and made quite a bundle.

The college strength coach has a different perspective and environment than the physical therapist.  They both differ from the track coach and what he sees.  This is different than the performance coach in a private facility and different than the personal trainer.

Next time when someone has a different answer, try and consider their perspective, and keep the possibility open that they have seen something you haven't. 

Beware of the strength and performance gurus who have the absolute answer and will share it for the right price.  Especially when they haven't proven their worth with anything but the intern.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Olympic Lifts vs. Explosive Jumps for Speed

Here is a post I put on recently.  Same old argument of O-lifts vs. other for explosiveness.  I usually skip these debates online and would rather have the conversation in person, but ended up posting for some reason.

I remember sitting having a couple of beers with Steve Plisk (a very knowledgeable coach and big O-lift advocate) and saying "the Olympic lifts are NOT about power in the triple extension." My assistant director used to work for him and I think he was ducking under the table at that point. Steve sat up a little straighter and gave me a look that said the next things out of my mouth had better be good.

"It's the fact that you can develop multiple strength & power qualities at the same time, and maybe most importantly it's the ECCENTRIC Rate of Force Development that's the most beneficial." As the discussion went on we agreed on these benefits and Steve didn't try to put me under the table.

I think Rob's post was really important and I think many will miss some points. Too much of the discussion on O-lifts revolves around "power". However, many strength coaches are not thinking through the entire force velocity curve as Rob elaborates. What part are you trying to train? What part does your athlete need in their sport/position?

Too much of the conversation also revolves around clean variations. There are also snatch and jerk variations to add to your toolbox.

As a training tool you can drastically change the FORCE part of the curve. From much heavier than bodyweight (or most added implements) to less than bodyweight. Yes less. In the teaching phases a bodyweight jump may require more force in that basic motion than doing a light bar. And for the more load side of the equation, there are very few ways that you can add load at the level of O-lifts without a barbell. Dumbells, kettlebells, weight vests wont do it.

As a training tool you can also change the strength characteristics. As Rob mentioned different starting positions and conditions will have a major impact in how you are training the neuromuscular system. I remember talking to Al Vermeil on the phone about 15 years ago and he opened my eyes to using different starting positions to affect different strength & power qualities.

As a training tool you can train concentric and eccentric qualities in a controlled manner and affect them in mutli-joint movements that develop the legs hips, core, thoracic spine and shoulder girdle.

As a training tool you have some objective measure of rfd and success. You either make the lift or not. Use a Tendo or Gym Aware unit and you have greater feedback.

As a training tool you can work on some unilateral stability and strength qualities (think split lifts).

Is there anything magic about them? No.

Are they the only tool you should have? No.

Are your performance coaching skills complete without them? NO.

Do I use O-lifts? Yes, extensively.

Do I use jumps, plyos, weighted jumps, vertimax, medicine balls,weighted sleds, dynamic effort band squats, etc...? Yes, extensively.

Do I recommend consistent use of O-lifts in a young developing athlete? Yes,as the primary method for explosive qualities.

Do I believe they are "safe"? Yes, as much as any training technique.

Do I believe many programs are doing them poorly and should stop? Yes. Or better have the coaches learn how to coach.

Does using the crappy techniques we often see cause a problem? Yes, but not just in injury risk, but also in poor transfer of training.

Do I believe that examples of poor transfer abound? Yes. If you are lifting the weight but, you end with no hip extension, legs wide, back arched, or holding bar on wrists, you are not helping performance.

To go back to the question, here is why I may choose one versus the other.

Efficiency - I know in Joe DeFranco's rationale he seems to advocate other methods to give athletes"more bang for their buck". I am always looking for that as well. The fewer things I can do and the less energy expended to gets results is better for an athlete. That's exactly why I often will use an O-lift. I get to train more strength qualities in more of the body with that movement. Put a gun to my head and tell me I have to get the best results developing and preventing injury in athletes with just one movement. I say O-lift variations.

If I have the luxury of abundant time and energy, than doing various other methods of strength and power development can work very well.

Training Phase Time - I think Mike Boyle mentioned somewhere about how long you have to work with the athletes to achieve a goal being important. If we only have 5-10 weeks to affect performance (say NFL Combine training) and the athlete does know how to do the lift well, I'm not using it. Why would I limit my athlete by spending time teaching them. Use other lifts to train the qualities you want. If they walk in the door and have time restrictions, and haven't done the O-lifts, I'm using other methods plain and simple.

Athlete Preference - Don't forget this. I have many times had athletes that have been convinced by other strength/performance coaches that the O-lifts are bad. I've had the athletes who were always told to lift more in the clean and felt the pains who don't want to do them. So the question is then, Do I send them away because they don't fit me,or do I find what fits them? I will try and fit a program that fits them and their goals. If an O-lift would be the best way, I will tell them that. It's never the ONLY way,although it may be a BETTER way.

Eccentric Needs- It's an entirely different thread, but the importance of training eccentric qualities is still under-rated in our profession. It's one of the most critical factors in performance enhancement, injury prevention, and injury rehabilitation. Various jumps (especially if externally loaded with weight vests, bungee cords, or other means) are very useful. However for any athlete in a contact sport with player impacts, O-lift variation are maybe the best method for progressive, safe and effective eccentric rate of force development. You don't get this benefit in pulls alone or many jumps alone.

Facilities - Do I have the platforms, bumpers and bars? If not, such as training on the field or while travelling on the road, I will have to utilize other methods. If I don't have any other tools, I'm not serving my athletes.

Safety - Not an issue of one versus the other. Any method has risk. If I get an athlete who has extensive wrist injury Hx (like some NHL guys I've had) the clean may not be the way to go. At the same time, if I have a guy with extensive knee injury Hx, I may be better off not using the jumps so much and using the control and stability of the Olifts more. If you believe that jumps and bodyweight are inherently safer, spend time watching many of the YouTube videos of plyos being done horrendously. When do most ACL injuries occur? Non-contact landings, stops and cuts.

Training Phase - In season versus off season relates a lot back to the efficiency point. While I love lots of jumps and plyos, I can get good stimulus on explosive strength qualities with the O-lifts with less impact and injury risk at times. Do I need specific explosive qualities or general? I may do O-lifts in greater volume earlier, and then reduce their volume and add more specific movements as we move toward a competition phase.

Guys it's a tool. I believe a relatively safe,effective and efficient one. I still believe there are some every good coaches who don't use them. I believe there are some poor coaches who do. I think there are lots of coaches who don't know how to do them or coach them and make excuses why.


Thursday, June 17, 2010

Art of Coaching; Know What you Don't Know

As a performance coach today you may be asked to help in the areas of strength training, rehab, conditioning, core training, tissue quality, biomechanics, and more.  There is lots to know.

Face it now; you'll never be an expert in all of them.

I often see young coaches doing this and they get caught when they don't really know.  They want to answer, but need to learn to say, "I don't know."  Tell people what you know, then go do some research and learn something.  This is where most of your real learning will come from.  School just gives you the tools to do that research and think critically.

Recently I was working with a head ATC who did this.  I was pissed off, because it involved the area of concussions.  This is a critical issue involving player safety.  If you don't know, DON'T FAKE IT.  Have the guts to put your ego aside and ask someone.

To be a master coach you need to develop wisdom.  Wisdom doesn't mean knowing all the answers. 

Understanding these various fields, and having experiences in them will make you better.  Spending time as a student athletic trainer and in a sports medicine setting made me a better performance coach.  Still, I wouldn't for a second think I could do a better shoulder eval than an experienced and educated ATC.  I studied biomechanics in grad school, but wouldn't think I know better than my friend John Garhammer

Learn your strengths and weaknesses.  Learn to ask others for their expertise.  If you are part of a team of professionals, respect and learn from them.  Even the superheroes always have to use each others' strengths to overcome the villains.  You don't have to do it all alone.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Training Your Coaching Eye

A key skill for a sports performance coach is being able to analyze movements.  You have to watch an athlete move and make a mental comparison to the technical model in your head.  To do this effectively you have to develop your ability to watch for certain types of detail in relatively high speed movements.

So how do you develop this skill?  Your Coaching Eye.  You deliberately watch sports movements.  Not casual watching of the movement, but focused, and analytical observation.

Just as there is the concept of 10,000 hours in mastering a skill, the same applies here.  You have to watch movements tens of thousands of times.  If you are a performance coach this may means thousands of starts, accelerations, max velocity runs, cuts, jumps, stops to start.  Then add cleans, squats, snatches, Bulgarian split squats and on and on.  It's a long list.

It's easy to be disheartened by the volume. Don't be.

The good news is that developing your eye in one helps with the others.  Part of doing this is actual visual skill, much is cognitive processing, and part is learning that specific movement.  The dist two, visual and cognitive, carry over to other movements to some degree. 

Where do you get your reps?  First of all coaching your own athletes.  Then while observing others coaching.  Still, this might take a while to get to a master level.  plus, what if you don't get to see all the movements in your setting?

How about when watching sports? Instead of watching the game, pick a player and watch their movement whether in the play or off the ball.  Watch it with a critical eye and analyze what you see.

Hows your video collection?  DVDs of elite sports events are a great source to develop your eye.  Video clips abound on the Internet, good and bad.  If you have access to Dartfish or similar software, you can increase your learning even more.

By using Dartfish, our coaches get to watch the same movement more than once.  They can slow it down, or go frame by frame.  This allows them to see the details.  Then they can go back to full speed and try to see it in the action.

The question is; are you developing your coaching eye?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Master at Work

Leonardo da Vinci was a Master.  He was a master of both Art & Science.  Paintings, sculpture, engineering, anatomy, military tactics.  What an amazing mind.  To become a master coach we need to develop our skills in both the art & science of coaching athletes.

As I walked through an exhibit at the Getty Museum on Leonardo this past weekend, I was amazed by all of the work that preceded a masterpiece.  There pages and pages of studies.  Studies may focus on a single body part, or a certain part of a bigger work of art.  In many cases da Vinci spent weeks, months or even years on the preparation for a work of art.  Pages after pages of notes, ideas, drawings to prepare.  While many see the finished work, the preparation is behind the scenes.

One of the skills in coaching that is often lost is the planning stages.  Once you have some confidence and knowledge, you can easily walk out and "wing it" on many training sessions.  I know I have fallen into this trap at times.

The problems arise in several ways.  For one you can get caught with your pants down when things don't go as well as they could have because you didn't have a plan.  Secondly, you can't move toward your bigger goals if they aren't planned out and you look at how this session fits in and supports the bigger goals.  Lastly, you won't learn from the session as much.

Planning a training session makes a difference.  Its a battle plan that lets you be prepared and lets you review.  The planning itself may be the most important part.  Its the act of thinking about what your overall strategy, detailing the tactics and execution for the day, and using your coaching art to make it fit together to create a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.

Sometimes I've seen coaches feel like needing a plan is demeaning or "rookie."  If a master like da Vinci spent this much time planning and preparing, I'd feel pretty good about doing it as well.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

US Olympic Committee Training Design Conference

Early Specialization and Deep Practice

As I was sitting in a conference room at the US Olympic Training Center, listening to World Championsip and Gold medal coaches from several sports, a more comprehensive view of the problems with early specialization came into perspective.
The Talent Code
Daniel Coyle, author of The Talent Code gave the keynote address and discussed some of the concepts in his book.  It's a great read for anyone involved in developing talent, whether it's athletic, music or other.

Daniel travelled around the world observing what was happening at talent hotbeds.  Sports and music academies that were repeatedly producing champions against all statistical odds.  He wanted to find what they have in common.  Many of the things

Early Specialization
Many coaches there agreed that in general we have too much specialization and year round competition at an early age. The lack of physical education in schools was also a key issue facing development of high level athletes in the future. How many champions are being lost because they aren’t being exposed to sports and physical activity in school? How many are burnt out by continual competition in a single sport? How many overuse injuries could be prevented? How many are missing their true sport calling because they only play one?

As I was giving the cry of too much specialization at an early age, many of the coaches were talking about the importance of our US athletes spending more time playing the sport. They were saying that we are already more athletic in many cases, but we need better skills and better ability to read the game. US athletes are athletic, but they aren’t as creative or as tactically savvy as many other countries.

It is hard to argue that if our biggest problems aren’t athleticism and injury we should be playing less. To develop the tactical awareness you clearly need to play the game. To develop precise ball skills seen in volleyball and soccer you need to be playing with the ball. So playing year round would help if you know you are going to be a high level player in some sports.

We also had some discussion revolving around the so called “10,000 hour rule.” Well if I need 10,000 hours to become a master at a skill, isn’t getting started earlier (early specialization) and practicing it year round a good idea? It would seem so.

However, as the discussion continued, some other thoughts emerged from many of our elite US coaches. While they want the athletes to play the game more, in many cases they wish the adult coaches would get out of the way. “Too much time is sport is being driven by coaches, and not the players. It drill centered, instead of centered on playing the game” remarked one of the best coaches in the world with at least one gold medal to his resume.

As this line of discussion progressed over the 3 days, it became clear that the coaches advocating more pay, weren’t advocating the year round, organized competition, coach driven, and drill center activity we see in sport. For younger athletes quality play and skill development can happen in 1/3 the time when lead by a quality coach compared to what they see happening.
Deep Practice
This tied us back to some of the ideas presented in The Talent Code. One of the key ones is that champions practice better than others and great coaches create an environment for “deep practice.” We need to understand it’s not about the 10,000, but the practice that is built in that time. Just spending 10,000 hours won’t get you to the top. It has to be focused and engaged. Note this doesn’t mean just doing an activity – it means continuously pushing the limits of your ability, always operating just out of your comfort zone, making mistakes and learning to fix them, getting comfortable with that dynamic of improving by failing. And it’s making sure that time is spent doing the activities that you need to improve, whether it’s ball handling in soccer, technique in tennis, or tactical awareness in football.

As we discussed this concept of “deliberate” or “deep” practice, it was clear that playing full sided competitive games in organized tournaments doesn’t do this. Numerous examples were given, but one of our US National Team coaches in soccer talked about it well.

He illustrated that if you have a 90 minute game plus 10 minute half you have spent 100 minutes on a game. Add to that 3 games as is often seen in a tournament weekend and we have 300 minutes. Five hours.

In a typical game the time each player has the ball isn’t distributed evenly, but for the sake of discussion let’s assume it is. That’s 90 minutes divided by 22 players on the field, which means the each player has the ball for all of 4 minutes and 10 seconds. Do it for 3 games and now you have maybe 13 minutes of skill development with the ball. Yes, there is tactical development, but even then how much of that time is wasted when the layer may not be that involved in the space of play?

Thirteen minutes. As the coach pointed out he could have a well designed practice with various individual, small sided and situational games that would give each player twice as much time with the ball, in just an hour. One hour versus 5.  Add to that the concept of "deep practice" and you get even more out of that time.

Which is going to help that player develop the basic fundamental skills better? Go crazy and take that time to 2 hours over the weekend and you’ve quadrupled the skills development.

Does this mean don’t play in competition? No. None of them were saying that. What they were saying is we don’t need our future champions to be playing in organized competition, or in low yield practice, year round in just one sport.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Situational Coaching

What's your coaching style?  Do you adjust for different athletes?  If you're not adjusting your coaching to the athletes you may be leaving some behind.

Now that's a choice many performance coaches have made.  Consciously or not, they have a coaching style, and if it doesnt work for some athletes they can go somewhere else.  If you are in a position where you can pick which athletes you want to work with, then this works.  More power to you. 

If you work in a team setting, or want to reach a larger audience, then you better be able to adjust your coaching style to your athletes.  Personally I enjoy the challenge.  It's one of the skills of coaching. 

Adjusting your coaching style doesn't need to mean that you do things that arent you, don't fake it.  Just understand that the methods of instruvting and motivating need to adjust based on the individual charactersitics of the athletes you are working with.

The concept of Situational Leadership as propsed by Blanchard and Hershey gives a coach one perspective in how they can do this.  Their leadership concepts were developed for business but have been applied in many coaching and military settings.  The following matrix of an athlete's skill and motivation relative to a task is adapted from  Pathways to Coaching, TLO 2001 by Bristol.

Athletes in each of these zones will need a different coaching approach to acheive their optimum results.  A fundamental concept here is that there is no one best approach to coaching,  It's situational.  It depends on the athlete's motivation and skill in that task.
• Guiding (low skills/low motivation): If you give this athlete a task and leave them on their own to do it, they probably won't succeed.  This athlete needs guidance, by a coach that stays close at hand giving positive feedback, pointing out success to fuel motivation, and showing them the task solutions. They are probably more introverted and less confident in this situation, so don't try to be a cheerleader or drill instructor with your motivaion. 

The guiding coach has to help the athlete envision a future they can create and take ownership of.  The short-term goals are key to achieving this. Progress is structured through a series of cumulative efforts and short-term tasks with deadlines. The coach needs to stay in close contact alongside this athlete to monitor the progress being made and give constant praise and encouragement for the achievements.  Critical feedback needs be deliver in the classic praise-critical-praise sandwhich and not in a public setting.

Directing (low skills/high motivation): This athlete is motivated and often may be working really hard, just at the wrong things or using poor technique.  The coaches job here is to harness that motivation and direct it to the right tasks and proper efforts.
The directing coach needs to effect a real commitment from the athlete on the direction of training and striving for an agreed vision of the future.  This helps ensure that activity is consistent with this goal and not have that high motivation fuel useless or detrimental efforts.  If you don't get them to buy in to your vision or your expertise, they will be off doing something else with all that motivation.

If the coach tries to fire this athlete up, but doesn't fix the skill or what the athlete is doing, burn-out or injury may be around the corner.  They don't need motivation, they need direction.   The coach stands alongside them and points them in the right direction.  This coaching may be reflective feedback and support or very authoritative directions depending on the athlete. The astute coach will be looking for the opportunities when they can reduce directions, as the athlete demonstrates increasing confidence.

Inspiring (high skills/low motivation):  This athlete has the skills, but has lost confidence or passion in what they are doing. 

You will need to work tactfully to explore the reasons that may be underlyingand creating the low motivation levels. Although often related, its important to discover whether the passion is gone or they have lost confidence. 

A range of short-term actions should be planned that will bring repeated small successes to build confidence and generate new enthusiasm. Working alongside in this context requires the leading teacher to be in regular contact throughout the programme of activities, maintaining a focus on the positives.

When the passion is gone, don't go for the over-blown hype.  Instead find the ways to re-engage them in the process and not just the outcome.  To be engaging tasks need to be at a high enough level or else they will be boring.  Helping an athlete find their passion takes a skilled coach, but will bring great rewards.

Delegating (high skills/high motivation): This athlete is very skilled at the tasks and is very motivated to improve.  If only every athlete was like this you may think, but this athlete has very specific coaching needs as well.  With this athlete you give them increased ownership of decisions and provide them the role of "self coaching" as a partner.

The freedom to experiment needs to be well supported to allow mistakes to happen and to learning from them. Coaching this athlete will be an interactive partnership that involves them in the decision making, program planning, and feedback.  You supervise, but don't micormanage.  You don't have to be next to them or even there for every task.  Get their feedback first to gauge how much feedback they need from you. You counsel, instead of direct them.

Ensure that opportunities are created to share this learning with other athletes.  Often creating new coaching opportunities and responsibilities for the athlete through coaching others, helps them themselves to further develop their own capacity in the team or group setting.

This video on situational leadership overviews the concept well although the computer generated voice may make you throw your computer. 

All in all, the final question is about how you are going to coach.  If you want to reach as many athletes as you can, and help them to their best possible outcome, then you need to condsider their situation.  Some basics of coach always cut across all these quadrants, but for continued and wide success you will have to adapt your style.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Multi-Directional Movements: Transit

In the last post I outlined Base Positions as a category of multi-directional movement going through my Hierarchy of Coaching Success related to speed and agility.  The next catergory is transit movements.  These are movements with the goal of propelling the athlete through-out their playing space (field, court, lane, etc...).

Many people training athletes like to break down movements into linear and lateral.  It seems natural and has a nice separation.  I used do this entirely, but now only do it in early phases.  The reality of sports is usually that these are always intertwined out on the field.  Training should work that way as well.
Big 4
For all of the transit movements, I still emphasize the Big 4 as I was introduced to from Loren Seagrave.  It is a breakdown that covers the different aspects of the movement as well as ties the rest of training to improving movement. This should be an entire post of it's own, but here is a quick rundown.

  • Big Force
  • Small Time
  • Proper Direction
  • Optimal Range of Motion
Big Force
To propel the athlete significant forces have to be applied to the ground.  Drive harder may be the key for some athletes.  This means that we need to consider the strength qualities of; starting strength, rate of force development, max strength, relative strength and reactive strength.  The importance of each will differ with the transit modde, sport and conditions to some degree.  We will need to consider how we improve these qualities through drills, resistance training, and plyometrics.
Small Time
In sports, speed counts so applying that force in a small time, while in contact with the ground, is critical.  This requires the right strength qualities as mentioned above. Some athletes need to train to apply the forces faster.  Again this comes back to specific strength qualities and how we cue and emphasize certain movements.
Proper Direction
Force is a vector which means it has a direction as well as quantity.  Efficient and effective movement requires not just the right magnitude of force, but the right direction.  As we examine movement mechanics, especially multi-directional, the proper direction of application becaomes important.
Optimal Range of Motion
To move well an athlete requires the proper range of motion through their joints and soft tissue structures.  In many movements it's important to note that it's not the largest rom but the optimal.  In many sporting situations, having their feet close to the ground to react quickly and apply force is better than having them far away.
Sprinting is a pretty straight forward mode of transit, and breaking it down into acceleration mechanics and maximum velocity mechanics is understandable.  The mechanics of each phase is different and the need for each depends the sport and position. 
Overall the frequency of acceleration mechanics is much greater across many sports and positions.  If you have to move farther than one step you need to use some degree of acceleration mechanics. 

We will train this with basic mechanics drills that build specific strength, kinesthetic awareness and range of motion.  Wall drills, skips and harness work make up the bulk of this.

Then we have drills to elicit a specific training effect.  Sleds, hills, bounds, and plyometrics all can accomplish this by adding resistance or disrupting the current motor attractor landscape.  We also need to create applied situation where the athlete can apply these parameters and develop the best movement solution for themselves.

Max Velocity
There are clearly cases where an athlete need to maintain higher sprinting speeds.  These max velocity mechanics apply when the athlete has linear momentum and they differ from acceleration.

Much like acceleration we will utilise diferent max v mechanics drills.  Not so much to create an exacting stereotype of movement, but to develop specific strength, local energy systems, kinesthetic awareness and range of motion.  We may use fast leg drills, step over runs, in/outs, and butt kick  to help the athlete develop new motor parameters.

For a neuromuscular training effect we will look to bounding, sleds, weight vests, slight inclines, and slight declines to acheive the desired effect.  many of these are used in contrast with unloaded efforts to not just have a training effect, but to enhance motor control as well.

In some cases moving fast for the field sport athlete is more tactically effective with a higher stride frequency.  A long stride length requires the feet are further from the ground for longer.  When in a sporting situation where an athlete may have to react to stimuli of opponents, objects, or changing environment, having their feet off the ground is bad.  If they can move close to the same speed but at a higher frequency and maybe lower amplitude, it may be advantageous.  This is one of the biggest differences between track speed and field speed.

In this case we will work on developing that from multiple standpoints.  First we will try to use various plyometrics drills that focus on developing reactive strength.  This will be required to be effective with a high turnover.  Then we will use high frequency based drills to emphasize turn-over.  Drills like stepover runs in the ladder, running into a ladder or spacing and maintaining speed, and 2-inch runs are a few examples.  Then we applying it.  Using live drills in which the athlete needs to react while moving fast wil help them find the best movement solution.

Somehow people always forget backwards when talking about linear speed.  We need to consider how athletes move backward.  There are usually two basic approaches; backward running and sliding.  Backpedal is a true "linear" movement relative to the hips and center of gravity.  Most backward sliding movements are actually more of a "lateral" movement because the hips have been turned even if the head and shoulders haven't.

The purpose again is to have a way of looking at the demands on the athlete so we can determine their training needs.  Next article we will cover the lateral categories of transit movements,