If you work with athletes, most will fall under this category. Most sports dictate the athletes to be fast. I think this is why traditional strength work always seems to work really well regardless of the sport. Practice and games live on the velocity side of the F-V curve, therefore S&C coaches are filling in the lack of force production the athlete is getting from their sport.
Some traditional qualities about VBAs include:
1) They sprint, jump, cut, change direction, and condition at higher velocities during weekly practices and games.
2) They are good at using their Stretch Shortening Cycle (SSC) vs a muscular effort.
With that said, the goals and methods utilized when programming for a VBA are:
Velocity Based Athlete
|Increase Force Production at Lower Velocities||Hypertrophy (Submaximal /Repeated Effort)|
|Muscular > Tendon Effort||Strength (Max Effort)|
Phase I is the Volume Block (“Accumulation”). This will lay the foundation for the rest of the training cycle. This prepares the athlete’s tissues for the demands that will come in the rest of the training cycle (providing thicker tendons and muscular hypertrophy). When we have a VBA in front of us, we know a few things about them. They live on the velocity side of the F-V spectrum, they are typically “springy” and can use their SSC well. In my experience, they also prefer passive vs active strategies. Knowing what they do well, we can fill the buckets of what they don’t do well. The following chart can be used to help shift the VBA abilities from a strictly velocity based to a more power-based athlete.
|Speed Zone: Acceleration
(Long GCT) Plyos:
NCM Initiation, Depth Drops, Loaded Sled Sprints (10 yd)
|Submaximal Effort: Prioritize TUT
(Tempo, Triphasic, Isos)
Speed: When training the Acceleration Zone, the whole effort from the athlete is based on overcoming inertia and gaining speed. Think back to the Ben Johnson example from Charlie Francis. You need huge forces to overcome the static start, and this could potentially fill some lagging areas for our VBAs.
Based on some of Charlies’ and Joel Smiths’ work, one other thing to consider is that most VBA’s are probably more comfortable as upright sprinters and generate more vertical forces naturally. So, we prioritizing force production in the acceleration zone and positions that put the VBAs in a more advantageous position to develop horizontal force.
Another thing to consider is the lower leg health of the athlete. While jumping down into a 3-point stance will work acceleration ability, the stresses placed on the athlete’s ankle, Achilles, calves, etc. will be high. Initiation with a soft start is a nice first progression. These starts include falls from various heights, Walk Ins, Skip Ins, and Fly Ins. Another example, I really like Hill Sprints during this block. There is a strength component for the athlete, more horizontal force production (hill creates a natural lean), it doesn’t crush the lower leg while accumulating sprint volume early on, and it works the force side of the F-V, which has that longer GCT.
Power: Like the Acceleration Zone, the Power Block in a program involves a longer GCT for the athlete. Some things to consider might be working on some NCM Jumps, Depth Jumps (force absorption), or even loaded sprints.
NCM initiation in this block deals with longer GCT, while reducing the unnecessary load of repetitive high effort, high force jumps (such as high hurdles or other jumps over high implements which do involve longer GCT). A coach still has to consider tendons and other tissues may not be quite ready to handle those kinds of repetitive high forces early on in the first block.
Loaded sled work on the other hand, involves a lot of concentric work (allowing more eccentric during strength block), more horizontal force production (supports acceleration zone), and doesn’t allow the athlete to build momentum and utilize their SSC as efficiently as normal sprint or light sled work might. Based on work by Cam Josse and JB Morin, sled time should not dip below 150% of best time (2 second 10 yd sprint= 2.5 sec 10 yd sled sprint).
Strength: With strength, prioritizing hypertrophy early on through the submaximal effort is the safest, most effective way to enter a program for pretty much all athletes. Within the block, manipulating TUT to put an emphasis on the muscular effort as opposed to allowing the athlete to utilize their elastic qualities teaches them how to generate force more efficiently. Speaking from personal experience, this was one of the biggest benefits I found from strength training when I was a younger athlete.
I also think Cal Dietz’s first block from Triphasic Training fits really nicely here as it manipulates the tempo and places a lot of emphasis on “creating a sharper V”, building thicker tendinous tissues for subsequent blocks, and allows athletes to learn to grind under some very uncomfortable scenarios under load (eccentric front squats….. ugh) preparing them for the intensity of max effort work down the line.
Conditioning: At this point, I feel everyone should be at least somewhat familiar with Joel Jamieson’s work in the conditioning realm. I really like his breakdown of the energy systems, and how he progresses everything from capacity to power in each specific portion of the energy system.
I like to take a High- Low approach to programming. On Low days, Cardiac Output (think LISS), and short Tempo Runs/Rows (15 sec at a 70% effort, resting the rest of the minute before repeating) dominant the athletes programming.
On the “High Days”, one of the methods I took away that I love early on in an athlete training block (especially VBAs) are High Resistance Intervals (HRI). As the name suggests, these involve short bursts of maximal effort, ramping up the resistance of the exercise or machine very high to tap into fast twitch muscles fibers. This helps to not only build aerobic capacity, but because of the intensity and short, repetitive starts from a dead stop, it forces the VBA to continually overcome inertia and generate a quick burst of energy without the assistance of the SSC, as compared to a LISS jog, row, elliptical, etc. might. With these, think of Hill Sprints, heavy loaded sled work, high resistance spin bike/versa/endless rope, or any cardio equipment you can really ramp up the resistance.
Phase II is our Force Block or “Intensification” phase. This block is all about upgrading the engine size of the athlete, so when the last block hits the athlete can handle the power upgrade. While most coaches call typically call this their Strength Block, what we are really training is force production. As Tony and Ty say in their book, “Focusing on force production and not weight lifted, creates “Athletic lifting”, where the execution of the lift is done against a relatively heavy load that does not compromise the SSC to such a degree force production drops.” Make great athletes, not great weight lifters.
|Emphasize Coupling Phase
(Phase Switching, Medium GCT)
Double Contact (DC) Initiation (Single Efforts)
Prioritize Strength- Speed, Accommodating Resistance (Chains)
Power: To keep the power section as the same GCT as the speed work, progressing the initiation of the plyometrics from NCM to a Double Contact (DC) starts to incorporate some eccentric-isometric-concentric phase switching, while still emphasizing a longer GCT then a continuous plyometric. Think multiple High Hurdle Jumps with a DC initiation. The higher hurdles means the athletes need to produce higher amounts of force to clear the hurdle. Even with the DC initiation, you’ll see athletes load a little heavier with deeper knee bends, more folding at the hips, and deeper, harder arm swings. All this leads to longer GCT times.
Speed: Continuing to prioritize the acceleration zone is best in my opinion. The main progression you could consider adding this block is moving from a soft start to a hard start. Hard starts are more stressful on the athlete because we take away that little bit of momentum on the start they had during the soft starts. This ends up being a nice progression because of the higher forces that must be generated and continues to help the athlete find the ability to produce that force with less assistance from the SSC. Some starts that fall under this category might include Pushup Starts, Med Ball Starts, Seated or Lying Starts, or Resisted Starts (partner, band, 1080, etc.).
Strength: Higher intensity methods (but still submaximal) should be implemented. The goal of this block is higher force output, which should be implemented with higher, more strenuous loads. While the Tissue Prep block would be programmed at a lower intensity due to the TUT restrictions, this force dominant block should begin touching heavier loads (Strength-Speed zone, around 70-80% for a less experienced athlete, and 80%-90% for a more experienced).
One method a coach could consider adding for a more experienced athlete is to start to incorporate some accommodating resistance. While there is always some debate between bands and chains, one simple way to look at the two is bands manipulate velocity, while chains add mass. If in this block we want to increase force output chains would be the appropriate tool to use.
Conditioning: On Low days, C.O. and Short Tempos are still my favorites, but on High days I like to progress from HRIs to High Intensity Continuous Training (HICT). These are one of my personal favorites, and fit nicely in this block due to the lower eccentric loading of this method.
These are very similar to HRIs but take away even more of the SSC by forcing the athlete to overcome inertia from a dead stop on every single rep, not just each initiation of the circuit. The athlete again performs high resistance exercises with max effort (intent still matters…) over an extended period of time at a 20-30 RPM pace. The nice part is the movements are typically all concentric in nature, while minimizing the eccentric loading. Since most of the other methods in this block are ramping up the eccentric and overall pounding on the athletes, finishing a day with some concentric movements helps to initiate the recovery while still getting the conditioning work in.
While this is easier on a cardio machine because you can see the speed, I also love incorporating throws, jumps, and other more athletic type movements. Here are a few examples:
This is our Power Block or “Realization” phase. This is where it all comes together for the athlete. Everything done previously is used to increase the power of the athlete to transfer over to the field or court. Depending on the athlete, a number of methods can be applied based on their training age and history. I work mostly with younger athletes (14-18), so I do not use all of the following regularly but have seen good results with older more experienced athletes when we’ve played around with these. While not an exhaustive list, the following table is a nice place to start.
Late Acceleration/Max Velocity
|Minimal Coupling Time (Shortest GCT):
Continuous Initiation; Transition Plyometrics, Depth/Drop Jumps
Accommodating Resistance (Band Resisted), Clusters, French Contrast
Based on Force, not Load
Lactic Intervals, Cardiac Power Intervals, Explosive Repeats
2 methods I really like are 4 Zone In-and-Outs as well as Flying Sprints. In-and-Outs have 2 different variations: the 3 zone and 4 zone, and can be increased in intensity based on the length of the zones (length dictates intensity). 3 zone is based more on acceleration work, while 4 zone is based more on late acceleration as well as touches on max velocity. I prefer a 4 Zone because it starts with a buildup, which again is a little more forgiving on the athlete and is a micro progression to max velocity work, as well as teaching the athlete how to relax while achieving max velocity. Remember, the higher level the athlete the better the are at relaxing muscular efforts quickly. Below is a breakdown of the 4 Zone In-and-Out.
Speed: Now that the athlete has built up a nice base and power in their start, we can start to build late phase acceleration as well as top end speed. While most athletes outside of sprinters never really reach top end speeds in their sport, it is the most neurologically demanding activity we can ask our athletes to perform and delivers a tremendous stimulus on the athlete’s entire body. Most team sports athletes will only be able to hold top end speed for about 1-2 seconds.
Flying Sprints are probably even simpler to set up for the athlete. All it involves is a soft start build up over a 30-50 yard area (plenty of time to build up to max speed) and a 10-30 max velocity zone. Since most athletes get a ton of acceleration and change of direction work in their sport and practice, this offers a perfect time to work on max velocity. Improving an athlete’s max velocity raises the athletes maximal output (the absolute highest peak they can reach, essentially a speed “1RM”), making all subsequent efforts submax.
Power: To match the GCT in the speed work, we want to choose activities that involve multiple efforts while minimizing the GCT. This might allow the VBA to showcase come of their natural elastic qualities, but by adding an external load or high efforts (high hurdles, depth jumps, hill jumps or bounds) we can slow down the GCT just enough to force them to overcome some higher external forces. If you have access to technology that can give you feedback on RSI and GCT, this may be efforts in the 200-300 ms range.
Strength: Within Submax Effort- if choosing to add accommodating resistance you would switch from chains to band resisted. As discussed earlier, chains add mass to the bar (perfect for a Force block) while bands manipulate the acceleration of the bar (perfect for a Speed/Power block). The bands allow the athlete to accelerate through the top range of the bar without the need to decelerate, making it more similar to a ballistic type of effort, as well as forcing the athlete to drive hard with maximal intent to overcome the downward inertia the band creates. As Tony and Ty discuss in Force and Power, research suggests a resistance between 10-25% of the athletes 1 RM to elicit the proper stimulus.
Another strength training method people are familiar with is the French Contrast Method. The method involves combining high load and high speed plyometrics into a circuit to light up the nervous system, and essentially train all along the Force-Velocity curve in one shot.
A coach might select the Max Effort Method for a more experienced and physically developed athlete for improving neurological coordination (stimulating the maximal amount of motor units). This is different from the Submaximal Effort to the nature of motor unit (MU) recruitment. One thing to consider when using the Max Effort method is basing the load off of the athlete’s max force production capabilities, as opposed to the highest load the can actually lift. Again, sport involves a time component. So, if F=m*a, taking in the acceleration component is important for the training of the athlete.
Conditioning: Being able to perform multiple high-power efforts in most team sports is paramount for success. After all, if the athlete can’t stay on the field because they keep gassing out, what good are they to the team?
Explosive Repeats are great for helping an athlete develop repeated high efforts with a moderate time period for recovery (such as when a foul is committed or a time out is called). Efforts are usually 8-10 seconds with about a minute of rest or until the athlete returns to a aerobic zone (120-130 HR). As you get closer to the season, increase work and decrease rest.
Cardiac Power Intervals are a little more demanding and should probably be used right before season. Essentially, you are trying to raise the ceiling of how much work you can perform while already in a state of high heart rate. Drive HR up to max and attempt to hold for 20-30 seconds (such as late in a close game when there is no time for substitutions) and then immediately try to recover HR as quickly as possible.
The final method to consider programming is the Lactic Interval Method. As the peaking block is right before season, it can be assumed that some terrible, “mental toughness” type of conditioning tests are right around the corner. If the athlete is not getting some lactic work in during the sports practice, this may be a method to help prepare the athlete for the tests. While normally the middle ground of lactic training is frowned upon because of its interference with training higher intensity methods, some lactic training won’t kill the athlete. Consider adding this in towards the end of the training week, when the athlete has the weekend to recover and not interfere with any of the other high intensity methods during this block.
In Part 3, I will wrap up programming considerations for the second type of athlete, the Force Based Athlete (FBA).
Keiran Halton MS, CSCS, CISSN
Keiran is a S&C coach based in Mamaroneck, NY, and works with clients looking to get stronger and train around pain to get back to activities they love to compete in. He also is the head S&C coach at Brunswick School in Greenwich, CT, where he oversees all of the high school’s athletic teams training programs. Keiran has been fortunate to have worked in some of the top performance facilities in the country which allowed him to work with some of the best athletes as well as learn from some of the most respected coaches in the industry. Keiran lives in CT with his fiancé and loves a good IPA, hiking, and hates repeat glycolytic sprints on the Air Dyne. @haltonperformance
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