Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Do what you've always done, get what you always got!

Albert Einstein believed that the definition of insanity is to continue to do the same thing but expect a different result.
Unless your lucky enough to be on a cup run*, if you're a non-league football player you can safely hang up the boots for the summer months. By now you'll be glad for the rest.

But before you do, take heed of Mr Einstein, he was a clever bloke. If you're planning something big next season, now's the time to plan.

Do a debrief of your season. Do it now, not next week or at the start of preseason. Now. Because you need clarity.
  1. What areas of your game did you excel?
  2. What areas were not up to the same standard?
  3. Are there opportunities available to you to step up to the next level (e.g. get into the first team or move to a bigger club)?
  4. Are there other players coming through that might steal your place or have you been relegated (meaning lower stndard next year)?
Over the coming weeks I'll be posting some articles on key areas of your physical preparation where massive improvements can be made in a short space of time. Some of the topics I will address are:
  • How to get blistering acceleration
  • Get off your toes!!
  • How to drop your man and create time on the ball
  • Great footwork, not fast feet
  • Performance nutrition
  • Gym work that will transfer on to the pitch
  • The power of the core
  • Flexibility - what's useful and what's not
  • Injury prevention
  • Staying power - who slows down the least wins!
When you do something new, your potential for improvement is massive. We just have to make sure that we have the end goal in mind. There's no point in getting great at something that has no carry over to your sport.
If you have any other topics you would like to see added, then just add it to the comments below.

Yours in speed


p.s. *that's the last time I use the word lucky. Winning games has nothing to do with luck.

Monday, 28 March 2011

What's wrong with modern training

I want to share with you, an article written by Vern Gambetta. Vern is based in America and has been one of the most influential coaches in athletic development today.

When this guy talks, successful coaches listen. So should you.

What he highlights is the whole reason why many football coaches are wary of the gym. And you know what, I don't blame them.

But hey, strength training doesn't have to be about the body building stuff you see in the mags.

Take it away Vern. 

ACL Tears in Female Athletes - The Problem & Some Solutions

This article and some of the information (misinformation) in article in Sunday New York Times sports page is disturbing. The topic of the female athlete and ACL injuries is complex and sometimes controversial. It is a real problem and a crisis given the economic and human cost.
Let’s look at a couple of the points of emphasis in the article and then I will look a bit more globally and offer some solutions.
The following is often offered up as a solution to prevent ACL injuries: “bend at the hips and knees to softly absorb the load, keeping their knees behind the toes, striking the ground toe to heel.” Watch a game or practice you will see it is impossible to keep the knees behind the toes and still play the game. You may do it a completely controlled artificial environment, but in the real world at game speed the knee will go where it has to go. It will go into extreme valgus and varus positions. The knee will go way out beyond the toe. The key is that the knee goes where it needs to go with control. As far as foot strike, it is completely dictated by the movement requirement, landing from a rebound could be a different foot strike than on planting and cutting. This strategy will robotize the player by taking instinctual and reflexive movements and making them cognitive, conscious and mechanical. In my opinions (I emphasize it is my opinion) we may actually be predisposing the athlete to injury with these types of prevention programs. It is certainly not time well spent.
Here is another solution from the article: “The knee should be in a neutral position; ideally, … said, the center of the kneecap should be aligned with the second toe.” Neutral is a position the knee passes through in a millisecond. In an artificial controlled environment you may be able to align the kneecap with the second toe, but it won’t happen at the speed you must play in order to be able to execute jumps, stops, starts and turns. It is a dynamic, ballistic environment that is not sterile and controlled. Once again the result will be robotic movement.
The information in both quotes represents what is thought to be cutting edge research, but it does not represent what must be done in the real world in the competitive arena. These types of so-called prevention programs and strategies are fundamentally unsound. If in doubt my rule of thumb is to go back to common sense. If these strategies worked then why aren’t they preventing ACL tears? Everyone is doing some variation of these programs; in some cases devoting up to thirty minutes a day to them, still the rate of ACL tears has not dropped, if anything it has increased.
It begs a simple question: Do these players have the physical competencies and fundamental movement skills necessary to compete? We know they have the basketball, soccer, or specific sport skill, but do they have the underlining physical competencies and movement skills to give them a fair change to avoid injury? Part of the solution is quite simple – identify and assess the physical competencies. Then train those competencies in parallel to the sport skill. The dark hole is what is being done in the off-season, preseason and in- season in regard to strength training. In many situations strength training is only done in the off-season, reduced in pre-season and almost nonexistent in-season.
For the female athlete a commitment to year around strength training is a requirement, not an option. It must continue in-season through the championship season. Unlike her male counterpoint that has a great percentage of muscle mass and higher testosterone levels, the female cannot afford to take off from strength training. Obviously the greatest investment should be on leg strength. The great majority of ACL tears are noncontact and in most of those cases they are a deceleration injuries (As are ankle sprains). It stands to reason then that we should focus on training the decelerators. Stop focusing on the knee and think kinetic chain, emphasize the linkage of ankle, knee, hip and the trunk. The knee is stuck in the middle; it is at the mercy of the joints above and below.
The sports that put the knee IMG_0200at greatest risk are sports that require quick starts, stops and changes of direction off one leg onto the other leg. This  dictates that the training emphasize work on one-leg and reciprocal movements. The single leg squat is the cornerstone (True single leg squat, not some of the permutations labeled as such), lunges in all planes and step-ups at various heights. Double leg squats are important, starting with bodyweight and progressing to appropriate loads based on developmental level and sport demands.
Dynamic balance should be part of daily warm-up, as should a mini band routine to work the intrinsic muscles of the hip. Once a foundation of leg strength is established then progressively add agility work that starts with known programmed movements and progresses to random chaotic movements. Incorporate jump rope as a means to teach good coordination and foot strike. Progress to multi dimensional jumps and hops.
The clincher here is that this must be systematically addressed in the female athlete starting just before puberty. Think of it as preparation to play the game that runs parallel to skill development. In most cases it should slightly precede skill development. The two must go hand in glove, not either or. The functionally strong young female athlete will be more receptive to skill learning and be better able to apply the skills to the game. TRAIN TO PLAY, DON”T PLAY TO TRAIN!
Select movements that link and connect the ankle/knee and hip as a functional unit to reduce and produce force. Include exercises that have a high proprioceptive demand. Above all train on your feet! A simple rule of thumb, if you lying prone or supine or seated you are not preparing to attenuate the ground reaction forces that are demanded in the game. You must train with you feet on the ground to effectively learn to shock absorb and use the ground.
Don’t say it can’t be done, it can. It takes organization, focus and commitment. You don’t need a lot of equipment or huge time blocks. You need to be consistent and relentless. Training can be done anywhere; it can be on the field or on the court if necessary. Apply the  “weight room without walls” concept. Make it challenging mentally and physically to prepare for the stress of competition. The bottom line is that to prevent ACL tears you must train the body for the rigors of competition. The prevention program should be a transparent component of training.

Hi, it's me again. 

Your body needs to be prepared to go into all sorts of positions and get itself out of them safely. That means you need to have been there before - many times.
But it's something you must progress your training towards. Let's face it, getting injured in training is pretty stupid, no?

As always, leave your comments below, I'm always interested in what you think. If the interest's there, I may do a post on bullet-proof knees.

Yours in speed


Thursday, 24 March 2011

Long Term Athlete Development

This is an area where I've tried to lead by example with our
training model at Speed Academy. 

I'm not interested in running a group of 20 14-year-olds through
a bunch of agility ladders.  If we want the best long term results and
safety, our #1 job in a youth population is to improve their strength. 

And I don't mean  bodybuilding style muscle training routines either. 
I mean strength training with an end in mind. They type of training that
recognises the whole body works as a system and moves in 3 dimensions.

Then they will run faster, jump higher, and tackle harder - but they also
decelerate better and change directions more efficiently as well as get injured less. 

You can run all the "quickness drills" that you want with a young
athlete, but the truth is that you'll never improve speed or agility
unless you teach them to apply more force in to the ground. 

It's like polishing the alloys on a car with no horsepower;
you're studying for the wrong test.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of coaching programmes out there that are just about
finding a training model that allows one to run a ton of kids through
the same program without much concern for the actual benefits to be
gained (or lack thereof).  I'm not interested in babysitting.

Yours in speed


Friday, 18 March 2011

Finish the season flying!

6 weeks left in the season and 10-15 games to play, what training should a football player/team be doing?
Let’s have a look at the facts shall we? Most teams, because of the winter backlog, now have 2 games every week until the end of March. Some even more.
So, during those 2 x 90 minutes the match demands are as follows:

·         10‐14km per game
·         2‐3.5km at a speed greater than 14kmh
·         800‐2000m at a speed greater than 20km.h‐1
·         Approx 1000 discrete actions (turns, acc’n, dec’n, jumps etc.)
·         The average heart rate is 78‐86% of the individual’s maximum heart rate.
·         40‐75mins above 85% individual’s maximum heart rate

So, if this is happening twice a week we can safely say that our aerobic conditioning is covered.

With 1600-3200m per week above 20kmh, we don’t need to include any lactate system training either. Plus, any lactate training would take 2-3 days to recover from. 2-3 days we just don’t have.

2000 discreet actions loading the leg muscles per week.
That’s 1000 single leg squats per leg!

You do not need to be training these areas any further. Plus, you have to be very careful not to further load these areas and reduce performance. Any relatively fit player should be able to manage 2 games per week no problem, but it’s the additional loading found in the training sessions that, although appear harmless, often hinder recovery.

You must be very careful with how much you load the legs during this period. The body will recover it’s CV system pretty quickly, but the Central Nervous System (CNS) and the muscular systems take much longer to recover. You should be very careful with any drills and plays that involve a lot of direction change and accelerating/decelerating.

Because we want to feel sharp, there’s a tendency to play small sided games and possessions. Be careful with these, they have a heavy loading on the legs.

Yes, we do need to keep feeling sharp, but that can be done in other ways.


What do I mean? We need to look at what might be slowing us down rather than trying to do stuff to make us faster/sharper. When we get fatigued, muscles tend to work through a shorter range to prevent injury in the weaker outer range. These muscles are likely to get tight and build up with the waste products brought on by fatigue. Further causing reduced blood supply and nerve communication. We need to restore muscle quality so that blood can supply energy to them and neural communication is fast.

How can you do this?

Foam rolling (poor man’s massage)– This restores tissue quality and needs to be done daily at this time of year. Foam rollers can be found in most decent gyms and can be bought for £10 on the internet. 5-10mins minutes working on glutes, upper back (to aid breathing and posture); lat and shoulder muscles (again, posture); quads; groin; and calves. Type “foam rolling” on You Tube for examples of the exercises.

Stretch key areas – Stretch the major culprits - psoas group, inner thigh, hip external rotators, thoracic spine and the quadricep hip flexor.

Mobility drills - to increase active range of motion and fire up the correct muscles. These MUST be done with perfect posture otherwise they are just tiring exercises that compound poor movement patterns. This is where it’s quite important to be very careful if you’re introducing anything new. I would just do your normal football drills but focus on adopting a perfect posture throughout. That’s when you realise how poor your range of movement is and how much you’ve been compensating.

Posture and core work - This is the ability to hold posture against forces not sit ups or crunches. Focus on the ability to maintain perfect tall posture while resisting lateral, rotational or backwards/forwards. Stretch bands are great for this. Otherwise use a partner.

Body Position – Spend 5-10mins concentrating on the body positions you want to hit for direction change or accelerating. Posture, alignment and balance.
Speed Drill – Make it reactive, competitive and involve the movements you’ve been working on. Don’t let it last more than 5secs and 6 reps is enough with at least 1min recovery. This is all about quality.
Now go into tactical play. And keep it short.
A session designed like this will enhance recovery between games, keep players sharp and even improve their movement and speed on the pitch. That’s the difference between falling apart and finishing strong at the end of the season.
As always, I’d love to hear your comments. Please leave them below.
Yours in speed

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Do YOU want to be faster by next weekend?

That's quite a big call you may say. But there's one thing that I see in almost every football player and many rugby players (rugby clubs tend to take their speed more seriously and get specific coaching) that could turn on the turbo boost without actually having to do any additional training.

ARMS boys use your arms!


Take a look at the 2 athletes above.  They're both world class runners, and they're both at the same point in their stride.  One is sprinting, the other is just running. BIG difference. If there's a loose ball do you want to run to it? or sprint to it?  Look at the elbow position on the guy on the right. Now look at Carl Lewis' elbows.  Now I know we don't want to teach track and field athletics on this site, but we can certainly pick up a few useful tips on how to accelerate.

If you're arms are flailing side to side like you're running through a corn field, you're going nowhere. It's not that you're a slow player, it's just your technique is holding you back. It's the acceleration equivalent of setting off in 4th gear.  Sort out your technique and BOOM you just got fast.

Remember this - Whatever your arms do, your legs will follow.
Throw your arms side to side and your legs will push you side to side.
Short tight arm action - pitter patter strides. Long straight arms - over striding.

If your elbows drive powerfully back and forth with a fast turnover, then your knees will follow. We're not looking for track-style perfect linear arm and leg action but we do need them to be in the general direction you want to go in, right? By getting a more powerfull arm drive, you get a more powerfull leg drive.  Which means you make up more ground per stride with the same - if not quicker - stride rate

The most important thing to remember — and probably the hardest thing to do — is to keep your shoulders relaxed while driving hard. If your shoulders start to rise, the hips lock up.
If they're tense and pulled upwards around the neck, the hips won't function correctly. If the action of the hips is limited, accelerating efficiency is limited too.  You just put the brakes on!

Practice your arm action in front of the mirror and try to incorporate it into some 10m sprints after a comprehensive warm up just before normal training.

If you like this article or would like to know more on the subject, leave your comments at the bottom.

Yours in speed.