speed

Baseball and Gaining The Off-Season Advantage

The off-season can pass by in the blink of an eye. Even though the cold and dark months between November and March remind you nothing of the game of baseball, they are the most crucial for ensuring you’ll be at your best come opening day. What you do with these months is what separates you from, and elevates you above, other players.  

How Bad Do You Want to Get Better?

I can vividly remember sitting in our small high school gym and being handed a blank piece of paper by my coach. We were instructed to fill the piece of paper with our goals:

Team

  • - Win Back-to-Back Conference Championships
  • - Win Sectional Title
  • - State Champs

Personal

  • - Gain 10 lbs.
  • - Lead by example (Everyday!)
  • - Make all routine plays in the field
  • .- 300 Batting Average

This list was from my junior year of high school. Each year I would strive for, and ultimately achieve, more. This was only possible because within each goal was an action plan.

Let’s take a deeper look at the first goal in my personal list:

Gain 10 lbs

You’re cheating yourself by just writing down your goal and leaving it as that. That’s too easy. You have to ask yourself: how will I gain 10 pounds this off-season? Answering these questions will help you expand your goal sheet and create a roadmap for how it’ll be accomplished.

Below is what a piece of my final goal sheet looked like.

Gain 10 lbs

  • -4x/week of strength training
  • -Eat a lot!
  • -Weekly weigh-ins

With an action plan your chances of reaching your goal increases exponentially.

As an athlete, many times a well-designed strength and conditioning program needs to be part of your action plan. When training properly you’ll be able to work towards accomplishing many things at once. Other than the obvious (getting jacked) a training program will also provide many other benefits as you head into your spring season.

  1. 1. Get Stronger

If you’re not using progressive overload, you’re missing out. If you’re somewhere between 14 and your mid-20s, your body is at its peak of hormone production. Testosterone and growth hormone are flooding your bloodstream. Taking advantage of an increase in production of these hormones is a wise decision. Progressively overloading your tissues and nervous system will allow your body to better deal with stress. You want to train to better be able to handle higher volumes and intensities. In short, gradually challenge your body more and more each week and you’ll become stronger and be able to handle increased demands of future training sessions and long seasons.

You also must appreciate that without a good base of strength it will be more difficult for you to improve other fitness qualities. If you were to fill up a bucket with various fitness qualities, you can only add so much until nothing else fits. You can either keep trying to force things into an already full bucket, or you can GET STRONGER. The stronger you are, the more force you can produce, and the bigger the bucket becomes. Now you have more opportunity to get explosive and increase your speed.

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  1. 2. Increase Bodyweight

Studies have shown that an increase in bodyweight can lead to an increase in throwing velocity. If you go back to physics class…

F=ma

Force= mass x acceleration. The more mass you have, the more force you’ll be able to produce, and in turn, the harder you’ll be able to throw. Obviously, there are other variables, mechanics being one of them. But, if you’re a high school or college player, it’s likely you’ll be able to pick up a few mph by increasing your weight. Couple your increase in weight with increased strength and power and you’ll be better at delivering and accepting force, and you’ll be able to mitigate injuries while continuing to throw harder.

  1. 3. Increase Range of Motion

Throwing a baseball is one of the most violent and high-velocity movements in sport. This is in no way a means to scare you. You just need to appreciate the importance of all of your joints working optimally so you’re not overstressing one area over another.

Maybe because of your lack of shoulder external rotation, your medial elbow is being stressed much more than it should. Or, if you lack internal rotation in your lead hip, it could lead to your throwing shoulder having to work way harder than it should during your delivery.

Making sure you have as much mobility as possible heading into a season is extremely valuable. A smart off-season training program will understand this and incorporate soft-tissue work, along with mobility training for your thorax, shoulder girdle, elbow, and wrist.

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  1. 4. Rotator Cuff Strength & Endurance

Along with putting on mass in your glutes, hamstrings, quads, lats, and other prime movers, it’s also important to designate time in your training program for your rotator cuff.

Think of your shoulder joint as a golf ball sitting on a golf tee. It’s your cuff that will keep that ball centered on the tee. The better your rotator cuff is at centrating your humeral head in the glenoid fossa, the more durable your shoulder becomes. A strong rotator cuff will also help you have better control when decelerating your arm during the follow through of your throw.

  1. 5. Create Camaraderie and Develop Good Habits & Routines

The last major benefit of having an off-season strength and conditioning program has less to do with physical gains and more do to with gains in the mental and emotional realm. Training with teammates is a great way to create camaraderie and build team chemistry, as you’re all working hard towards the same goals.

Knowing you’re individually prepared is important, but having confidence that your entire team is prepared is powerful.

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Developing consistency with an off-season strength and conditioning program is also a sure-fire way to carry good work habits and routines into your spring and summer seasons.

In Summary

A quality off-season strength and conditioning program is one of the most valuable things an athlete can invest in. Take care of your body, put in smart work and you’ll be rewarded when the season rolls around. Even if you’re in high school and are playing a winter sport (which, if you’re an underclassman, I highly recommend) you should still make room for 1-2 strength training sessions each week in order to make sure you’re building your base of strength and have adequate amount of mobility.

Start today. Write down your goals, create action plans, and get to work!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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Mike Sirani is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and Licensed Massage Therapist.  He earned a Bachelor’s of Science Degree in Applied Exercise Science, with a concentration in Sports Performance, from Springfield College, and a license in massage therapy from Cortiva Institute in Watertown, MA.  During his time at Springfield, Mike was a member of the baseball team, and completed a highly sought after six-month internship at Cressey Performance in Hudson, MA.

Mike’s multi-disciplinary background and strong evidence-based decision-making form the basis of his training programs.  Through a laid-back, yet no-nonsense approach, his workouts are designed to improve individual’s fundamental movement patterns through a blend of soft-tissue modalities and concentrated strength training.

He has worked with a wide variety of performance clients ranging from middle school to professional athletes, as well as fitness clients, looking to get back into shape.  Mike specializes in helping clients and athletes learn to train around injury and transition from post-rehab to performance.  If you’re interested in training with Mike, he can be found at Pure Performance Training in Needham, Massachusetts.

Owning the Frontal Plane for True Multidirectional Speed

What does every coach want more of for his athletes?  Multidirectional speed; a foundational pillar of any athletic development program.  Multidirectional speed relies on an athlete’s ability to not only produce power, but sustain it throughout competition.  When getting at the heart of multidirectional speed you will find it to be about improving motor programs and increasing an athlete’s ability to maintain a posture during explosive dynamic movements. To ensure performance is optimal, posture and body control must be owned in all 3 planes of motion to ensure an athlete’s full potential is accessed.  Most athletes are well-trained and potentially over-trained in the sagittal plane, while they are under-trained in the frontal and transverse planes.  This is likely the case because deadlifts, squats, and the bench press are well-understood exercises.  When considering the transverse plane, we have seen improvements in the understanding of the importance for rotational development in athletes, specifically in the golf and baseball communities.  However, what is still lacking is how to own the frontal plane.

A typical frontal plane progression is single leg balance, lateral walking, shuffles, and an occasional lateral plyometric drill.  And although these are frontal plane movements they are not developing an athlete's ability to maintain a posture under distress.  An athlete needs to have the capability of sticking their foot in ground to plant and explode out of the pocket in a different direction with complete control and at no risk for injury.  Insert frontal plane ownership, but how?

What is Speed?

Going back to Physics 101, we know speed equals distance divided by time, S= D/T.  If applying this equation to a performance enhancement center the goal becomes to maximize D while T remains a constant or achieve a given distance in minimal time.  Let's consider sprinting, a part of every field sport.  When deriving D we get Stride Frequency (SF) x Stride length (SL).  We need to be able to manipulate these variables to allow us to effectively enhance the speed of an athlete.

Oftentimes we will drill repetition after repetition striving for efficiency of movement in hopes that SF and SL will improve.  However what is frequently neglected is an athlete's initial posture and the influence it can have during both the swing and stance phase of gait regardless of their plane of motion.

Postural Influence

Let's discuss posture in the frontal plane.  Conventionally, frontal plane instability is recognized by unwarranted movement at the knee, but the activity occurring above and below the knee must also be considered.

First the foundation, the pelvis.   The pelvis is comprised of 2 innominates that articulate with each other at the pubic symphysis anteriorly and at a centrally located sacrum posteriorly.

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These structures form a pelvic inlet (top-down view) and a pelvic outlet (bottom-up view).  The position of the pelvic inlet and outlet are influenced by adduction/abduction of the innominates, frontal plane motion.  This is important because the inlet/outlet position dictates the position of the pelvic floor, an essential component of multidirectional speed.

When considering the relationship between the hips and pelvic floor a length-tension curve can be utilized.  From my experience, most athletes present with a bilateral anterior pelvic tilt because of the environmental stressors driving them into an extended over-sympathetic pattern.  When this sympathetic pattern exists, the pelvic floor elongates or eccentrically lengthens.  The pelvic floor is essential in an athlete because it creates a sling across the pelvic outlet and acts as the linkage to the hips.   If the pelvic floor is elongated a reduction in power output will occur, especially in the frontal plane.  Dynamic side to side movements require increased pelvic floor activity to control and maintain the athlete’s center of gravity within the base of support.  If an athlete is unable to do this, their risk for injury increases dramatically.  In other words, on the length-tension curve we are already too far to the right (as most humans are) and have less potential for power output, which in turn means less potential stability for an athlete.

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Second, the feet.  The feet are an influential reference center, as they provide afferent input directly from the environment.  The ability for an athlete to not only sense their feet, but control the interface between their feet and playing surface is critical during multidirectional movements.  When frontal plane stability is lost at the pelvis it tends to trickle down the kinetic chain and instability occurs at the level of the foot.  And likewise, if frontal plane stability is lost at the foot via an increase in calcaneal eversion (part of pronation), it can translate up the kinetic chain and lock up an athlete.  This can lead to increases in both the ground reaction forces throughout the kinetic chain and the amount of work required of an athlete to change directions.  Not only does this unnecessary energy expenditure slow an athlete down when changing directions, it increases their risk of injury. To minimize the effects of the external forces imposed on an athlete, proper internal positioning must be emphasized to enhance performance.

Now onto the important, but nerdy stuff…..

How do we assess if an athlete has frontal plane access? 

To decide whether or not an athlete has access to their frontal plane I like to use two tests and one positional assessment.

Pelvic Ascension Drop Test (PADT)

The first test comes from the Postural Restoration Institute, the PADT.  This test informs about an athlete’s ability to get into stance phase of gait.  To achieve this, an innominate must extend as an athlete’s pelvic outlet abducts.  This allows femoral adduction and priming of the pelvic floor musculature.  The inability to “clear” or pass this test indicates that an athlete may be compensating throughout their kinetic chain and/or locked into an extended pattern as discussed earlier.

One way to begin to correct this pattern is to use a modified all 4 belly lift to drive anterior inlet and posterior outlet inhibition via the internal obliques and transverse abdominis.  This should allow outlets to abduct and inlets to adduct.

Passive Abduction Raise Test (PART)

The second test examines the other portion of the gait cycle, swing.  The PART also comes from the Postural Restoration Institute.  This test examines whether or not an athlete’s innominates can enter the swing phase.  Limited passive femoral abduction means that an athlete cannot adduct their pelvic outlet enough to get into swing phase.  This potentially means that the transference of power at toe off is restricted and the athlete may be slower because of it.  The goal here should be to inhibit the dominant hip adductors to allow an athlete to move reciprocally into and out of the swing phase.

Here is a great hooklying exercise to address the issue.

Half Kneeling Position (Lunge)

As always, tri-planar information is being gathered and interpreted to drive decision making, but let’s continue with the theme of the frontal plane.  The position of half kneeling provides great insight on an athlete’s access to the frontal plane.  To start, let’s correlate this position to the gait cycle to help understand its role in multidirectional speed.

With regards to the stance phase of gait, the back leg is in late to mid stance depending on the position of the pelvis whereas the front leg is in the swing phase.  If an athlete has an anterior pelvic tilt as discussed earlier they will be in late stance, a more extended position, compared to a neutral mid-stance position.

If an athlete is in late stance the first order of action is to get them to a neutral position because the sagittal plane will lock the frontal plane.  In this athlete, the pelvis will be angled inferiorly towards the stance leg.  This is a sign of frontal plane instability resulting from weakness of the ipsilateral abdominal wall and the inability to perform femoral adduction.

Position the athlete via the internal obliques and transverse abdominis.

What about frontal plane control/stability?

The Hruska adduction lift test is a great test to determine where an athlete may be falling short in their frontal plane stability.  Improvement in this test, from my experience, correlates to improvements in multidirectional speed and general power output during maximal jumping exercises.  Here is a video by Zac Cupples on how to properly execute this test:

We want to strive for at least a 3/5 for our athletes.  This signifies that the athlete has enough frontal plane control to able to train in the frontal plane for speed adaptations.

How do we train the frontal plane in our athletes?    

When training my athletes I like to take a tiered approach.  I start with my positioning or preparatory movements to neutralize the pelvis.  By doing so I am allowing access to both sides of the athlete’s body and letting them move freely in all planes.  These exercises are very individualized and based on examination items, but here are a few of my favorite:

Crossover Toe Touch

From here I like to move into my priming movements that are geared towards neurological stimulation.  By activating the central nervous system we are turning on the essential muscles needed to optimally perform and reduce the risk of injury via improved patterns of stabilization.  For me, this typically involves multiple large muscle groups to fire the entire kinetic chain.  My two favorites are:

Crawling

After the preparatory and priming movements, go after stabilization in the frontal plane.  To achieve this, the athlete’s program should include single leg exercises, plyometrics as well as sport specific movements based on their sport.

Conclusion

To be brief, do not underestimate the influence the frontal plane can have on multidirectional speed.  An athlete’s ownership of the frontal plane will take them to the next level in performance.  Own the frontal plane!

about the author

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Keaton Worland is a dedicated healthcare professional striving to help others achieve their highest human potential possible by bridging the gap between rehabilitation and performance. To do so he has entrenched himself in the most up-to-date literature to ensure both clients and patients exceed all expectations.

Rethinking Agility Ladders: How to Actually Make Athletes More Agile

Since the dawn of the new era of sports performance and strength and conditioning, there is one tool that just about every athlete has used. Go into any sporting good store, go to any team’s offseason workout, even watch any show about NFL offseason training and you will see this tool being used. This tool is the speed ladder, and to be honest, it’s not actually doing what you think it is for your athletes. Most coaches use it for agility purposes claiming the speed ladder is going to get their athletes more agile, in turn allowing them to speed around their opponents. The one problem is this is not true at all. Now don’t get me wrong…the speed ladder is a great tool for athletes, but just not to improve their agility.

As an athlete, the speed ladder is a great tool to use as a warm-up or as a conditioning tool. For starters, it forces you to work at a maximal effort in a cardiovascular sense. While you’re using it, you will feel your heart rate start to elevate faster than you can recover and you will start sweating up a storm. Your legs will begin to grow tired, and it is an amazing tool for increasing your alactic capacity (your ability to continuously perform maximal contractions). Depending on how much rest you take in between each set, it can also improve your lactic capacity. As a warm-up tool it helps to get some blood flowing into your legs and to get your anaerobic and aerobic capacity going. There are, however, much better tools to use when working on agility.

What Is Agility

So what is agility anyway? Agility is the ability to start, decelerate, stop and explosively change direction while playing a sport. In other words, how fast can you stop and change direction during a game? It is easily one of the most important aspects in all sports, and it can mean the difference between winning and losing a contest.

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The key to agility is the rate of force development. In order to be agile, your body needs to be able to decelerate at a very quick pace, come to a complete stop and then reaccelerate in a different direction. When looking at an elite athlete, such as a running back in the NFL or a point guard in the NBA, they both having incredible rate of force development. They are able to be sprinting full force, come to a complete stop and then accelerate again to fake out a defender and either change direction or keep sprinting.

The best way to see an increase in this performance is through improving strength in each of the three phases. These three phases are the eccentric phase (deceleration), coming to a complete stop (isometric) and the acceleration phase (concentric). Now does the speed ladder truly improve the strength in these three phases? The answer is no it does not.

The eccentric phase is the lengthening of the muscle, and it is the phase that shows how much force your body can absorb while decelerating. The Isometric phase is that one point in agility when your body comes to a complete stop, even for as little as a tenth of a second. And the concentric phase is when you must forcefully explode out and change direction. This is all defined as rate of force development.

Rate of force development is the speed at which your body can produce force as fast and as explosively as possible. Developing the three phases of muscle contraction is the key to increasing rate of force development. The more you develop these three muscle contractions, the faster and more agile you will become.

Now in my experience, the best way that I’ve seen to do this is through the use of bulgarian split squats. Here's a short list why:

  • 1.  Bulgarian split squats put a premium on core "stability" as your abs are having to oppose a lengthening quad on the back leg.
  • 2.  More shoulder friendly than back loaded positions with a barbell
  • 3.  They are loaded from the bottom so put less compressive forces on the spine.
  • 4. It's a single leg activity, and once you have the necessary strength base in a bilateral movement, it becomes very important to be able to transition that into a single leg world.  Because last time I checked....all sports that involve running and cutting are realistically played on one leg.

Programming

Now that we’ve gone over all the technical stuff, let's talk programming. As with everything else in strength and conditioning you need a base to build off of. The first step is to do a 5 rep max squat. We do 5 rep max because it is enough weight to be able to figure out a legitimate 1 rep max, without stressing the central nervous system too much. We want to save the central nervous system for actual competition itself.

Once you get your 5 rep max go here and plug in the weight you used and type “5” in the reps category then hit enter! This is the weight that we’re going to base all your lower body strength work off of. It is important to get exact numbers, because every athlete is different and we need to be constantly stressing the body through increased loading. By getting an exact max, this allows you to stress yourself through exact percentages and progress much faster.

With this program you will be doing legs 3 times a week. Yes, that’s right, 3 times. Before you start complaining saying “that’s too much”, hear me out. You’ll be using non-linear periodization so each day will be using different volumes and different intensities. We will be using the Cal Dietz “Triphasic Training” model (If you haven’t read the book, I highly suggest doing so it has a ton of awesome stuff!).

Accumulation

The first 3 weeks of training will be the accumulation phase, to get the body ready for higher forces later on. It will look like this:

Day 1 (Monday): Bulgarians 4x8

Day 2 (Wednesday): Bulgarians 3x6

Day 3 (Friday): Bulgarians 4x12

Day 1 is medium intensity with medium volume, day 2 is high intensity with low volume and day 3 is low intensity with high volume. As coach Dietz explains in his book, this is done so that your body can recover better from the volume. When doing high volume on a Friday, the body has 2 days off (the weekend) to recover from the training, so it will get back in working order. If you do the high volume day on another day during the week, your body won’t have enough time to recover from the session, which will affect your performance in other training sessions.

Eccentric

Once you’re done with the accumulation phase, the fun part begins. You get to do two weeks of eccentric loading, two weeks of isometric loading and end off with two weeks of dynamic effort. The periodization for both eccentric and isometric loading will be the same, because we’re training two different contractions for 2 weeks at a time. It will look a little something like this:

Day 1 (Monday) Eccentric Bulgarians 4x4 with 30% of your 1 rep max

Day 2 (Wednesday) Eccentric Bulgarians 4x3 with 35% of your 1 rep max

Day 3 (Friday) Eccentric Bulgarians 4x5 with 25% of your 1 rep max

**** to do bulgarian split squats you will use the percentages given above, and take the weight you find and split it between 2 dumbbells. For Example, if you get 90 pounds, you use a 45 pound dumbbell in each hand.

So as you can see, we’re doing the same amount of sets each day, but the rep count is different. Not only is the rep count different, but the intensities are different. Like I stated before, this is so your body doesn’t become overtrained.

When doing eccentrics, you’re going to count six seconds on the way down, and explode back up. It’s very important that you get the full six seconds, so that you are truly taxing the eccentric contraction to the best of your ability. Exploding back up is also very important, because this is what is going to get you faster and more explosive.

*this video only shows a 3 second eccentric, but you get the idea

Isometric

Now for the isometric cycle, it’s going to be the exact same set up as the eccentric cycle. For those of you who don’t like to re-read directions (even though it’s literally only 2 paragraphs above this) it’s as follows:

Day 1 (Monday) Isometric Bulgarians 4x4 with 30% of your 1 rep max (3 second hold at bottom)

Day 2 (Wednesday) Isometric Bulgarians 4x3 with 35% of your 1 rep max (3 second hold at bottom)

Day 3 (Friday) Isometric Bulgarians 4x5 with 25% of your 1 rep max (3 second hold at bottom)

Dynamic

Last but certainly not least comes the dynamic effort portion of the cycle. I’m sure most of our readers know what this means, but for those just started out in this industry dynamic effort means you’re moving the weight as fast as you can. This means you need to be as fast as possible. This cycle is where you’re going to see your speed truly coming together and the light bulb will turn on in your head.

The numbers for the dynamic effort cycle are going to be a little different from the other two cycles. This is because you’re trying to work through the entire range of motion as fast as possible. You will not be slowing down at all during these lifts, so therefore you need to use a little lighter weight. The concept is still the same though for the periodization. The numbers are as follows:

Day 1 (Monday) Dynamic Effort Bulgarians 4x4 with 22.5% of your 1 rep max

Day 2 (Wednesday) Dynamic Effort Bulgarians 4x3 with 25% of your 1 rep max

Day 3 (Friday) Dynamic Effort Bulgarians 4x5 with 20% of your 1 rep max

Closing Thoughts

While I've gone out of my to simplify the concept of agility today, I hope this article gives you a better understanding of what your athletes actually need to be more agile.  Also, please understand that's there more than way to skin a cat.  Just because I focused on bulgarian split squats today using a triphasic approach doesn't mean that's the only way to get things done.  If you have any questions post them below, and feel free to chime in with what you've been getting results with.

about the author

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Ed Miller is a former intern at Defrancos Training Systems in New Jersey and Syracuse University. At Defrancos he had the pleasure of working under Mike Guadango and Joe Defranco where he trained with some of the best athletes in the world from the NFL, MLB, NHL and various other sports. At Syracuse University he worked under Coach Corey Parker and Coach Veronica Tearney. He has a B.S. in Exercise Physiology from SUNY Brockport and is also the founder of “The Zone: Strength and Fitness” in White Plains, New York where he works under Anthony Renna owner of Five Iron Fitness. He is also the Head Strength and Conditioning Coach at Rye Neck High School in Mamaroneck, New York. Ed has prided himself on getting his athletes bigger, stronger and faster using the “less is more” mentality.

Shifting In and Out of Patterns: A Discussion on Extension, Neutrality and Performance

I’m a conventional deadlifter, but I’m a short guy. I’d probably be better off pulling with a sumo style. I’ve tried sumo a couple of times, but they were pretty frustrating experiences. I definitely couldn’t pull as much sumo as I could from a conventional approach the first time. I guess I probably just need to work on it. I certainly wouldn’t enter a meet and try to use sumo for the first time ever under those conditions. Something bad might happen. Every year during spring training you hear about pitchers trying out new pitches to add to their repertoire. These pitchers don’t just decide to add a new pitch in the middle of the season, because they know they have to practice it and work out the bugs before trying to mix it in during games that count. In the world of Postural Restoration Institute (PRI) practitioners there is often times discussion regarding whether it is a good idea to pull athlete’s out of their pattern because this might make them run slower, throw with less velocity, or not be able to jump as high. My personal thought on this matter is that perhaps these quantifiable drop offs are the result of the athlete not having practice performing this skill from the new position that they are performing them from. Perhaps with more practice and the acquisition of training volume in this new position, the athlete would be able to reach the same quantifiable expressions of the sport movement, but do so with a biomechanical approach that would be better for longevity related matters.

Extension Patterns

Stress, behaviors, exercise, and specific sports movements are associated with driving people into extension/inhalation oriented positions. Extension strategies are used to power up for strength and power movements in competition and training. If movements are practiced in an extension oriented position, then that position becomes the dominant response strategy that you go with when you need to perform that exercise under competitive or high stakes conditions. Extension strategies, which are associated with anterior pelvic tilt, lordosis, and elevation and external rotation of ribs may limit a number of joint movement capabilities, such as humeral and femoral rotation because of bony positions, or result in compensatory strategies to achieve required necessary motion for sports movements.

While there is nothing necessarily wrong with extension positions, problems may begin to occur when people exist in extension during times of rest, and when they are unable to get out of an extension oriented position in general. Excessive extension seems to be related to unnecessary levels of muscle tone, which may increase internal resistance to joint movements. Discussing all of the pitfalls of excessive extension and resting extension positions is beyond the scope of this document. The overall concept that this document is aimed at addressing is the idea that extension is a part of sports, and a strategy that many athletes may over utilize. Chronic pain syndromes may become a part of an athlete’s life if they are unable to prevent excessive extension during the performance of their sports movements, and if they exist in that position during rest/utilize this strategy during activities of daily living.

Extension and Performance

Regardless of the downside of utilization and reliance on excessive extension, tremendous displays of strength, power, and athleticism through extension is a common occurrence in sports. Exercise adaptations that take place with repeated sports movement performance in extension will result in hypertrophy and force production of the tissues used to power those movements. These adaptations will make these extension driven sports movements even more powerful. These adaptations are very specific to the tissues used in an extension position, and adaptations will not present themselves to the muscles that would be utilized in a more flexed position. Therefore, the musculature that would be recruited and utilized in a more flexed position would essentially be untrained.

Perhaps the reason why sprinters run slightly slower following an intervention that makes them neutral is because they haven’t trained the tissues that they’re recruiting to power that movement under those circumstances. Claiming that making sprinters neutral is a bad idea for their sport may be a short sighted statement. Perhaps an individual with impressive quantifiable expressions of force production who witnesses acute reductions in those expressions after achieving neutrality simply needs to train that movement under the conditions of neutrality. New muscles will have an opportunity to power joint actions if someone achieves neutrality after not being able to reach that position previously. These muscles need to be strengthened and then integrated into more complex athletic movements. If proper joint actions can be utilized for sporting movements with the appropriate prime mover and stabilization strategies of muscles and then optimal quantifiable expressions can be reached, this would appear to be the best practice approach to training and competition. Coaches simply should not expect equal quantifiable expression of new positional and muscular strategies to that of older strategies to be instantaneous.

The quantifiable comparison of an extension strategy to a neutral strategy is not necessarily a fair one if neutrality has been recently achieved. If we as a community want to evaluate whether neutrality is a detriment to the quantifiable expression of an athletic movement, we need to properly train the musculature that would be recruited under neutral conditions in the performance of a sport movement for an appropriate amount of time to allow it to experience the positive effects of training adaptations. Appreciating the differences between acute and chronic physiological expressions is an important consideration on this topic, and one that needs further evaluation before any definitive statement can be made.

Fitting the Mold

In the world of sports performance, it seems that there are criteria levels of fitness that must be met as a requisite to be successful at high level sports. Football receivers will be unable to play in the NFL if they run a 4.9 in their 40 regardless of their sport specific skill. In regards to movement capabilities, there is also likely a similar phenomenon. It is highly likely that each sport, and each position inside each sport possesses a specific range of motion profile that would be a requisite for the ability to execute sport specific biomechanics associated with optimal performance of sporting actions. Once the athlete possesses the appropriate levels of joint movement variability, there is probably little additional benefit from going greatly above and beyond that level.

If the athlete is capable of quantifiably reaching a movement range of motion standard and is able to recruit the appropriate muscles in the right sequence, the athlete will likely be able to realize best case mechanics and will be doing everything in their power from a biomechanics standpoint to prolong their playing career. All this being said, the stress of training and competing, as well as the aging process will likely alter the gross range of motion capabilities or alter the sequencing and/or synchrony of muscular action utilized in the active performance of dynamic tasks over the course of the athlete’s playing career.

If the athlete has been trained with an understanding of proximal neutrality, and what sorts of positions and muscular strategies are associated with being able to stay within a criteria motion standard and synchronization pattern that allows for the expression of proper biomechanics, the athlete will potentially extend their playing career and be able to realize more great performances per playing season.

about the author

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pat davidson

-Director of Training Methodology and Continuing Education at Peak Performance, NYC.

-Assistant Professor at Brooklyn College, 2009-2011

-Assistant Professor, Springfield College 2011-2014

-Head Coach Springfield College Team Ironsports 2011-2013

-175 pound Strongman competitor. Two time qualifier for world championships at Arnold Classic

-Renaissance Meat Head

Loaded Carries: The What, The When and The Why

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Do reps that should be fast feel slow, even when they're light? Does something just feel missing from your training? Do your movements feel stale and uncomfortable? Or do you just flat out feel un-athletic? If you answered yes to any of those questions then I can almost guarantee you don’t do any type of loaded carries, and if you do, you probably aren’t programming them properly. Loaded carries are the most underutilized movements in today’s strength and conditioning field. The amount of versatility loaded carries can provide to a program is parallel to the barbell, really. The biggest reasons you should be doing loaded carries are:

1.  Stability

2.  Energy system development

3.  Recovery.

Stability, and I don’t mean single leg bosu squats. I mean stabilizing the spine in a safe, fixed position, while fighting the inertia of a load and then creating movement. This is a two pronged approach to teaching true stability in an athlete. In human gait there is minimal inertia fought and a minimal amount of reflexive stabilization needed. Reflexive stabilization is the inert firing of muscles to stabilize a moving part on the opposite side. In loaded carries, the athletes are forced to stabilize and control the load imposed in order to move.

An athlete who can properly stabilize moving parts will have a greater ability to consciously create pressure. This happens through strengthening the reflexive muscles of the core that are difficult to properly utilize. This can lead to major increases in intra-abdominal pressure and thickness of the trunk, which can then help prevent certain injuries.

It is not uncommon for athletes to have acute and sometimes debilitating injuries due to lack of stability throughout ranges of motion. If one can safely translate (walk) through space with load and train the reflexive stabilizers then this risk of injury greatly decreases. You can’t consciously control every single muscle in your system, reflexive stabilization saves you more than you give it credit for.

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Energy system development is the big boy. You cannot reach your specific goals if you don’t first have a proper foundation. The versatility of loaded carries can give you an easy to implement portal to any energy system you wish to engage in. This opens the door to multiple skills as well as safely increasing training stress. Slow and de-conditioned athletes alike will benefit more than they can imagine from this.

Loaded carries can develop the alactic and aerobic capacity simultaneously. This is possible by having an athlete perform very alactic runs followed by light walking or another low intensity exercise that will facilitate aerobic recovery for the next set. I will go into how to properly program and progress carries later in the article.

However, something important to understand is the gift of GPP you can give to an athlete. Sure it’s great to spend their whole off-season doing sport specific movements, but that’s what their pre and in-season training should be geared toward. Developing a large generalized work capacity is an opportunity to further improve and refine sport specific skill and the greatest gift we can give to our athletes IS the opportunity to improve.

Types of Carries

Our first step into how to properly implement loaded carries is to define the different types. I break them down into two categories: direct and indirect.

Direct

Directly loaded carries can be further broken down into anterior, posterior and parallel loads. Anterior carries are any type of carrying movement where the participant stabilizes the load on the anterior portion of the spine and are in direct contact with it. This includes sandbag, keg, hussafelt, conan’s wheel, kettlebell front rack walks, etc.

Posterior loaded carries are any type of carrying movement where the participant is in direct contact with a load on the posterior portion of the spine, this is mainly characterized by the yoke walk.

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Finally, direct parallel loads are where the participant is in direct contact with the object but the load is parallel to the spine. This includes any hand loaded carry like farmers and any overhead walks.

Indirect

Indirect carries do not necessarily involve the participant actually carrying the object, however, they are still overcoming the inertia of load. I often refer to these more generally as moving events. This includes, prowler pushes, sled drags, and truck pulls etc.

The key to keeping your adaptations coming is to expose yourself to different types of carries before changing the protocol. Incorporating multiple types of loads and carries will allow an athlete to further their work capacity without increasing difficulty. Outside of strongman carries, utilize kettlebells and buddy carries as well to add variety.

Programming

Now that you are aware of the different types of carries we can implement, the next step is to define how we can program them. When creating a program, every movement chosen should directly reflect the goal of that program or block. Hence, I have categorized the different ways to program loaded carries based on your and/or your athlete’s goals:

Increase speed/alactic capacity

Using loaded carries to increase speed or expand the ability to fight off metabolic waste (alactic capacity) can be extremely effective in a short period of time. Often times with deconditioned athletes I choose light loaded carries over sprints. This is because the load imposed that the athlete must overcome acts as a limiting factor for them to “over sprint.” I wont go into the proper mechanics of sprinting, but squeezing and trying your hardest to go fast certainly isn’t the correct way.

The nice thing about loaded carries for speed is that there really isn’t any running. Although you are going as fast as possible, the gait pattern is still walking. There is no flight phase (i.e. the major difference between running and walking) in loaded carries because it just wouldn’t work. Why? Your reflexive stabilizers are not prime movers, although they can be powerful enough to carry heavy loads, they will never be powerful enough to carry heavy loads without a point of contact on the ground.

This lack of flight phase simplifies the movement and makes it more accessible to more populations. Programming carrying events for speed is simple. Vertically increase volume over a given distance while keeping speed constant. This means pick a distance to train (40-60ft) and a speed (<10s) to maintain. These two variables should stay relatively the same throughout the block. What you can manipulate to create adaptation is volume and intensity (surprise, surprise).

For most athletes new to carrying events that fit this category, I would recommend accumulating 200-300ft at a given speed with a light load. The overall feel of the protocol should not be higher than a 7/10 RPE. The key to truly improving speed is frequency, being able to do the same session 2-3 times a week will be far more beneficial then just “killing it” one day.

If you're a more advanced athlete looking to focus on increasing work capacity as opposed to maximal speed, I would recommend not going past 400ft. To further progress someone who has mastered loaded carries it is best to manipulate rest time. The reason I limit most carrying sessions to 400ft is because no matter how efficient the pattern, the ground reaction forces associated with carrying events is significantly higher than walking and although this stress can lead to great adaptation, too much stress will soar over the line of diminishing return and potentially lead to pain.

Examples:

Novice: 5x50ft 60% of max in under 9s. Rest as needed.

Advanced: 8x40ft 70% of max under 8s with 90s rest.

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Facilitate recovery

Carrying events are wonderful to facilitate recovery because of the high levels of stress imposed and very small amount of total volume needed. This fits better into the active recovery needs of a healthy athlete that hasn’t already built up excessive amounts of stress (the peak of the season or in a high volume strength block wouldn’t be ideal times). The fact that the participant is fighting inertia to stay “neutral” systemically engages the entire body. This gives it a great bang for your buck. You are able to reap the rewards of loaded carries while facilitating recovery.

Examples:

Novice: 3x50ft 50% of max under 9s

Advanced: 4x40ft 50% of max under 8s with 60s rest.

Improve GPP

A incredibly effective, and fun, way to increase work capacity is though loaded carries. Since they are loaded versions of walking they can be taken for long distances. The training variables you need to worry about here are rest time and distance. Load will take a back seat here while volume will play a secondary role. Due to the nature of this training the total amount of distance covered will be more variable since the load will be so low, but I would not recommend exceeding 600ft.

Increasing work capacity with this protocol can be done in two energy systems: the glycolytic and aerobic. Both can do an incredibly effective job, but there are some notable differences in programming for either energy system. In this scenario, rest time and distance are directly correlated with total volume, while work is inversely correlated with total volume.

The more glycolytic you would like to make your training the more distance you should cover per set with more rest time and less total sets. The opposite would be true for a more aerobic training session

Examples:

Novice:

Glycolytic: 3x150ft with 30-40% of max, rest as needed

Aerobic: 6x50ft with 40% of max with 45s rest

Advanced:

Glycolytic: 3x200ft with 30-40% of max, rest as needed

Aerobic: 10x40ft with 50% of max with 45s rest

Closing Thoughts

When training moving events I typically program them at the begging of a training session. Next time you squat, try hitting some yoke with one of these protocols and watch how much more powerful your squats feel. Producing high amounts of force over a short period of time will excite the nervous system and prepare you for lifting weights. An added benefit to programming your carries at the beginning of the session is that although it isn’t fatiguing it is an opportunity for the athlete to efficiently increase work capacity.

Loaded carries will give you a whole new world of development to dive into which will ultimately lead to an increase in performance. Not everyone will take a 1000lb yoke for a 50ft ride but I promise everyone has something great to gain from exposure to loaded carries regardless of their goals. Stop being slow, start being explosive. Stop being bored on the treadmill, start running with kegs.

The Minimal Adaptable Load And What It Means For Your Training

As coaches and athletes we’re always in pursuit of the same thing:

PROGRESS

And that progress will come in many different shapes and sizes. For one person it may mean losing 15 lbs, for another it may mean deadlifting 500lbs, and for another it may mean winning a world championship.

At the end of the day, however, progress is always the uniting principle by which we can gauge the effectiveness of a training program:

Is it taking you/he/she closer towards their goal?

If yes, then you’re making progress.

If no, then you’re not.

BUT, here's the magical question:  how do I or my athletes make progress?

The answer...stress.

But not just any stress, it has to be the right type of stressor, at the right time, in the right amount.  If any of those factors are off, then you won't be incurring the type of positive adaptation you're looking for.

While there are many variables to consider when putting together a comprehensive training program, I'd like to focus today on one that I believe doesn't get enough attention, and the implications it has for training.  And that variable is called:  The Minimal Adaptable Load.

The Process of Adaptation

Before continuing, it's important that you know a thing or two about adaptation since that is, at the end of the day, how we make progress.

Thus, let's walk through the basic process.

In the graph below you'll notice fitness level is on the y-axis and time is on the x-axis.  The 0 point on the y-axis represents your current fitness level, while above it represents improvement and below represents decline.  It's important to note that any fitness quality can replace "fitness level" on the y-axis.  For example, you could easily get more specific and put something like speed strength, or starting strength, or absolute strength, but for today we'll just focus on the broader concept of fitness.

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As you can see in the above graph, the process of adaptation follows a pretty simple formula:

Step 1:  Provide a stressor/training stimulus

Step 2:  Fatigue

Step 3:  Recovery

Step 4:  Supercompensation

Step 5:  Involution

If you'd like to read more about adaptation, then checkout this post I wrote for Eric Cressey a little while back.

Let's take this a step further and consider three separate scenarios:

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Scenario 1:  Not Enough Stress (Purple Dashed Line)

In this scenario, the athlete has not been stressed nearly enough.  While they did accumulate low levels of fatigue, it wasn't enough to force a positive adaptation (notice how the purple dashed line doesn't cross back over the original fitness level).

Scenario 2:  Too Much Stress (Red Dashed Line)

This is the exact opposite of our first scenario:  the athlete has been stressed far too much (driven too low) and can't adequately recover.  In other words, they dug a hole too deep to climb out of (again...not surpassing the original fitness level and maybe even getting worse).

Scenario 3:  Just Right (Green Dashed Line)

Jackpot!  The athlete has been stressed enough to force adaptation to occur.  Fatigue accumulated, but it was the right amount of fatigue because the athlete could adequately recover from it.

The Minimal Adaptable Load

What you just experienced in Scenario 3 is the minimal adaptable load.  And seeing as this is a term you're probably not familiar with (I'm fairly certain I made it up this past weekend) let's go ahead and define it:

The minimal adaptable load represents the total amount of volume in tons/lbs/kgs that must be lifted over the course of a designated period of time in order to incur a positive adaptation in a fitness quality.

Hopefully I don't need to explain why this concept is important, but this value does change with time.  When you first start off training you can practically just look at weights and get stronger, but once you've been lifting for a while it takes a little more effort to keep putting weight on the bar.

Which brings us to our next big point:

The Beginner vs. The Advanced Athlete

I think the real beauty of the minimal adaptable load shows through when considering how you go about training a beginner vs. a more advanced athlete.

Since the beginner has a lower training age it won't take nearly as much stress/load to improve a given fitness quality.  The more advanced athlete with an older training age, on the other hand, will require significant stress/loading to improve a given fitness quality.

For example, take a freshman in high school who hasn't touched weights once his entire life and an all american going into his senior year of college.  Different scenarios?

You bet your ass they are.

And that has to show through in their programming.

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The beginner can afford to train several different fitness qualities at once because it doesn't take much loading to incur a positive adaptation.  For example, let's say it takes 300 lbs of volume (and this is a completely arbritrary number) for him to see improvement in maximal strength.  That's not much at all, so you can afford to go after multiple qualities at once.

The advanced athlete, on the other hand, might need 10,000 lbs of volume (again, made up number) to see progress.  Thus, he needs to periodize his programming to focus on one fitness quality at a time.  He cannot train max strength, strength speed, and speed strength simultaneously because it'll be impossible to make progress in any category.  If he actually did perform the necessary amount of loading in each category he'd be so overtrained that he'd get worse.

Keeping Track of Training

The other important thing to note is that you should be keeping track of your training (and your athletes training if you're a coach).

If you don't have these numbers, then how are you ever going to appropriately monitor training from month to month, and year to year.

For example, let's say you hit a 3 month block aimed at improving your deadlift.  At the end of those three months you retest and see very minimal gains.  What should you do next?

Well...you should consult you're training log.  Look at volume, look at intensity, look at how many different fitness qualities you're attempting to train at once etc.  In essence, bury yourself in the numbers and figure out where your program is coming up short.

Granted, there are other variables to consider as well:  nutrition, total allostatic load etc.  But having a training log is an invaluable tool when it comes time to making consistent progress over the long haul.

Key Takeaways

While we touched on some bigger concepts in today's article, here are the three major takeaways I hope you have:

1.  Identify your and/or your athletes training age because it will have a big impact on how you approach programming for them.

2.  Keep track of your and/or your athletes training with a detailed training log because it gives you invaluable data on training volume etc.

3.  Begin thinking in terms of the minimal adaptable load (i.e. how much volume needs to be lifted over x amount of time for me to see gains in y lift).

As always, feel free to post questions, comments, concerns and/or pictures of people curling in the squat rack below.

about the author

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James Cerbie is just a life long athlete and meathead coming to terms with the fact that he’s also an enormous nerd.  Be sure to follow him on Twitter and Instagram for the latest happenings.

Strength and Conditioning Programs: Understanding Stress and Adaptation

I’m going to let you in on a little secret: Your body has its own bank account.

It’s an account full of what we’ll call adaptive currency, and it’s responsible for buying you different fitness qualities. For example, say you want to add 10 pounds to your deadlift…well, that’s going to cost you.

In fact, every decision you make in both life and training impacts the size of your bank account and influences how much “money you have to spend” at any one time.

For those of you out there who have aspirations to perform at a high level, and stay healthy doing so, it’s vital to understand this concept...

Be sure to checkout the rest of the post over at Eric Cressey's site by clicking the link below:

Click Me==> Strength and Conditioning Programs:  Understanding Stress and Adaptation

about the author

812f4cb124c2dda65e33a5f1c2f087ef.jpeg

James Cerbie is just a life long athlete and meathead coming to terms with the fact that he’s also an enormous nerd.  Be sure to follow him on Twitter and Instagram for the latest happenings.