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Tips For Summer Training Success; Part 2 Applications for Athletes

In Part 1 of this article we talked about important factors in the development of a strong summer training regime. Hiring a strength coach or trainer who can design a program for you or your team is not only vital, it is your road map to success. Creating a schedule that you or your athletes can and will adhere to during the summer months is vital to being consistent in your application of the training protocol during the off-season. Finally, you must be sure that you are taking care of your body, through proper nutrition, rest and recovery modalities such as soft tissue work and mobility. All of these factors are vital to athletic development during the summer months and throughout the year for that matter. Before you begin to get fancy with exercise selection and adding more and more intensity to your programs first be sure to set the foundation for success with these factors.

Tips for Performance:

1) Training must transfer to your sport.

Before we go any further let’s get something straight in respect to why it is we add any extra stress to our bodies through training in the first place. The S.A.I.D principle, or Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands, makes it quite easy to understand that the stresses that we apply to the human body through training will provide specific adaptations which are driven in large part through neurological changes at the motor cortex or physiologically through muscles, tendons, bones, etc. All that means is that you need to understand the performance demands of your sport before you just go out there and start flailing around with something you conveniently found on Youtube.

For example, if you are a football player and you want to improve at your sport it’s important that your training make you stronger, more explosive, faster, more powerful, more agile, and optimize the Phosphogen energy system. Your training should involve a high percentage of ballistic-strength work, acceleration and top end speed training. If you are running laps around the football field trying to “lose weight”, or “get in shape” for football you are most likely not going to improve what’s needed to make you better at your sport. Coaches please stop having them run laps for punishment, this is lazy! If your athletes need to be reprimanded have them run short explosive sprints instead of long and slow jogging around the field. When in football do they ever move at a speed that slow and for that long? The typical play lasts no more than 10 seconds and is very explosive and aggressive, their training should mimic this.

Now a soccer player is a different type of animal and should be trained as such. Soccer still requires strength, speed, power, acceleration and agility just as the American Football player does. The difference between the two lies in the duration of rest between these all out sprints or bouts of explosive movement. A soccer player may go minutes without ever fully stopping to rest and because of this the primary energy system is more oxidative/aerobic in nature. Their training must reflect this in order to enhance the body’s ability to respond to the demands of their sport.

To recap, you must know the physiological demands of your sport and then you must train them. The body will respond to the stress that is administered, it’s important that the stress in training is very similar to the stress they will see in sport. Programs should be tailored to the demands of the sport and to the athlete’s individual demands and needs. Did I mention how valuable a vetted strength coach can be for an athlete? With all this geeky talk on performance you can see how handy having a strength coach on staff can be.

2) You Are Only as Good as Your Last Rep

The summer months may be short but they can provide athletes with an uninterrupted period of training to make some really great progress in their performance. You must not squander a single rep of this opportunity to improve, as you cannot get those reps back. Something our athletes hear me say often, “You are only as good as your last rep.” You must not have unproductive reps as these are not getting you any closer to your goals. This means staying focused during your training time whether on the field or in the gym. A few things to focus on for increased performance.

Speed is vital to force production and developing power. This means you must train fast to be fast. If your training resembles powerlifting you are most likely becoming a better powerlifter and not a better field sport athlete. Nobody cares how much you squat when you are getting dragged down 5 yards short of the end zone by someone who was faster than you. In fact, nobody cares how much you squat at all, we are more concerned with how fast you run, how high you jump, how quickly you can change direction, how coordinated your movements are and how healthy you can remain.

Force = Mass x Acceleration

If you are moving loads slowly during strength movements you are not training force production capabilities as they happen in sport. The magic number in force production when looking at ground contact is 250ms. An athlete that is not able to both create force and decelerate forces quickly during ground contact has a greater chance of injury such as ACL tears or other ligamentous injury. Field sport and almost all team sport athletes need be to strong but they must also be reactive, like a stiff spring. If you are weak you can't bounce the spring, but if muscles are so static you can't be springy this strength is not so helpful to the athlete. During resistance training we are especially concerned with an athlete’s ability to convert the energy from the eccentric phase of a lift into an explosive concentric phase. In a squat for example this would mean the athlete is able to change directions quickly from lowering themselves into the bottom to exploding back up. If you take 4 seconds to get to the top it’s probably too much weight. If you are able to explode out of the hole and accelerate to the top you are on the right track.

The use of accelerometers puts a number on every rep so the athlete can stay accountable to the speed of the movement and stop “chasing the weight.” At XIP Training Systems we use Push Bands for monitoring strength movements and also for testing the reactive abilities of our athletes. This is called Velocity Based Training, or VBT. Feel free to email me for more information on this front as there is too much to discuss here. The last 2 years of using this technology has enabled us to make some very valuable changes in our programming and I highly recommend it to all athletes and coaches who are concerned with a transfer of training to their sport. Our athletes rarely have a bad rep since implementing VBT into our training as it has made them more accountable to each rep and has helped to develop the coaches eye and ability of our staff to give effective feedback.

3) Your warm up is a trigger.

I can remember back to my days as a high school and college football player when the whole team got together for “circle time” and counted from 1 to 10 with the 8-10 different stretches that were prescribed. Our warm up consisted of standing in one place and holding stretches over a period of appx 10 seconds while the captain hollered out orders or hollered at everyone to count louder. It’s ironic that here I am now close to 20 years later hollering out orders to athletes just as I was way back then. Had I only known then what I know now!

Warm up protocol has come a long ways over the years, as we are now seeing almost all programs from youth to the pros performing some type of dynamic warm up at the start of their practices and games each time they step on the field, court, ice, track, mountain, etc. A dynamic warm up is both a highly effective means to preparing the body from a physiological or tissue preparation standpoint and also at preparing the CNS for the rigors of competition. The CNS is the control center for all movement, so making sure you have primed the command center for battle is vital in preparing the athlete for all of the high speed, highly reactive movements they will encounter during competition. The warm up is a trigger to all of the mechanisms needed for optimal performance, it is the signal that sets the machine in motion every time we walk into the gym or onto the field. It must be consistent in order to be effective. The warm up you do each and every practice or training session should be the same warm up done on game day. Coaches you must make time for this to happen, it is that important to your athlete’s success. Athletes you must perform every rep of the warm up with great focus and precision, do not waste reps in your warm up. How you do anything is how you do everything, something we tell all of our athletes here at XIP. Don’t expect to have an awesome workout if you cannot make it through your warm up with attention to detail and commitment to excellence. I have provided a warm up that our athletes use at XIP during their off-season training here with us.

This warm up is highly reactive in nature and requires a lot of coaching from experienced coaches to be effective, but it produces some really great results for our athletes. We also train almost all in-season varsity teams at a local high-school, and each team has a warm up specific to their sport that they do every day they are at practice or in the gym. These are typically shorter and also cater to the environment they practice or play in, whether court, field, ice, mountain, track, etc. I try to keep these under 8-10 minutes as time is sometimes limited before games or halftime or even at practice, so we must remember that sometimes less is more in these situations.

4) Use bands to help athletes feel the forces of acceleration and deceleration in sport.

Although I don't want to sound gimmicky here, elastic bands can help athletes create more force and develop power production capabilities while also helping them “feel” the forces that can be acting on them in sport. I have included some videos of a few of the ways we use bands at XIP to help our athletes both create and accept the forces they will encounter in competition.

Banded Backpedal and Deceleration. This is great way to help train change of direction in the sagittal plane. It is also a great way to train hypertrophy in the muscles of the lower body. This can also be done with a band fixed to immovable object and the athlete backpedaling and then accelerating in towards the wall and back again. Change body position constantly here.

Banded Change of Direction. This is a simple exercise that helps train reactive capabilities of the lower leg and ankle in all planes of movement.

Although these are just a small fraction of the movements we incorporate with the use of bands it gives you an idea of how effective they can be at mimicking the high speed changes of direction encountered in sport. These can also be done on the field with one athlete holding the band while the other is moving.

5) Get out of the gym!

Sport is not played on rubber tiles with bars and dumbbells attached to us with a coach telling us exactly what we are doing each day right down the number of sets and reps. It’s not played in controlled environments where you can predict the outcome of each exercise or movement with great accuracy, it’s not predictable. This is why injuries are far more likely to happen during competition than in practice, it’s unpredictable and risky in nature. Sport is played, it’s not administered. The outcome or winner and loser is never known at the start because there is so much unknown over the course of a match or game. That’s what makes it so much fun to be a fan, and to cheer for your favorite team, the unknown…

Your summer training must do the same. It must incorporate “structured play” that will challenge your ability to respond and react as an athlete, just as you will in sport. Many may think that the agility ladder they are running in or fancy cone drills they are doing is making them more agile…I’m sorry but it’s not. It is training foot speed and body position which are important components in training. Agility however, requires an external stimulus that you must react to which means you won’t know what’s coming, it’s an unplanned event unlike those cone and ladder “drills”. Cat and mouse or mirror drills are great for soccer, football, lacrosse, or basketball players; coverage drills are a must for DB’s in football or defensively in basketball with one on one competition and match ups; or acceleration drills where change of direction is dictated by visual or audible stimulus from a coach or another player is effective at training agility and speed all levels. Get out on the field, or on the beach, or even a dirt parking lot, anything that forces the foot and ankle to respond to what is underneath it can be highly effective at preparing athletes for competition this fall and decreasing the risk of non impact injuries such as ACL tears and strains.

6) Train speed when you are fresh.

I will keep this one simple. If you truly want to get faster you must perform your speed training when both the muscles and CNS are fresh. If the muscles are fatigued they cannot fire quick enough to be training top speed. If the CNS is fatigued from lack of sleep, over training, poor nutrition or stress it cannot effectively relay signals for muscles to fire quickly. Train speed when you or your athletes are at their best and allow adequate rest between reps. If you breathing hard and not fully recovered you will not reach top speed potential and thus will be getting more of a conditioning effect in the session than true speed. I like to train speed earlier in the week, as long as your athletes are resting over the weekend, as they tend to be more rested on a Monday than later in the week. Be sure to get your speed sessions in at the beginning of a practice if you are coupling this training with your strength work or team practice. Trying to “fit it in” at the end is pointless if getting faster is what you are interested in.

I hope these tips can help provide readers with a more successful summer of training, and help keep you all performing at your best throughout the year!

Coach Guyer

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