Archive for Speed

The Conundrum of Sport-Specificity…

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on June 9, 2014 by razorsedgeperformance
(This article was partly motivated by the story out of the NHL combine about the top-ranked prospect being unable to complete a pull-up in testing…)
This one is a doozie. There is no right answer, just multiple perspectives to consider. 
Sport-specificity creates an interesting dynamic for sport scientists and coaches because it can be ALL THAT MATTERS or very restrictive at the same time.
The first thing to mention is that as a sport scientist (or performance coach, or strength coach, or physiologist, biomechanist, athletic therapist, physiotherapist, chiropractor, or anyone that works in sport regarding athletic performance and injury prevention) all of your efforts are measured by the goal of the athlete in their sport. Improving speed, power, strength, flexibility, etc. are all great but at the end of the day people want to be more successful tomorrow than they were today. The attraction to sport specificity is around being as efficient as possible, to affect those things that can translate directly to sport. It is the reason you see so many training tools on the market that simulate many sporting activities. If you can create overload on the exact same move you do in sport, then you should improve and succeed. Or so the belief goes.
This can lead down a very closed-minded path though. Some people will believe that you can’t predict or correlate performance with metrics in the gym, because the sport is more complicated that that. Or other people will say that attempting large-scale changes in the weight room via weightlifting for example are a waste of time because the given athlete doesn’t compete in weightlifting, therefore there is no need to develop the skill.
The truth is sport is so dynamic and unpredictable that we constantly need new ways of inching closer to our goal when we are limited in what we can measure or impact. Let’s look at the weightlifting example. There is only one sport that uses these lifts officially and we will leave that out of the discussion, because it is the definition of sport specificity. Then there are secondary sports i’ll call them, where a sport skill is directly reflected in the performance of weightlifting exercises. For example, athletes who perform jumping in their sport would likely benefit directly from the triple extension that occurs. What is sometimes lost though, is the specificity of neural recruitment. The nervous system can behave similarly anytime you want to do something explosively, or at high velocities. Think about changing the speed that your watch keeps time. If you tried to do your daily activities in the same amount of time as usual, but your clock moved twice as fast, you would be running all over the place trying to be super-productive. Your ‘normal’ pace would now likely be twice as fast. On the other hand, if you slowed the clock down to take twice as long, your behaviour would likely slow down as well. (This has never been proven, but the concept just came to me, and seemed to validate my point…so take it with an open-mind!) When performing activities at high velocity then, like weightlifting, we serve to increase the rate that we do most of our work at. So any sport that involves movements of high velocity then could see potential benefit of weightlifting exercises. Yet how often do you hear coaches say, “This sport is different, we don’t need that stuff”, or some version of that.
When it comes to predicting performance improvements then, sometimes we need to think outside the box in order to work through a possible checklist. If your sport involves an opponent and weather conditions, you can never be truly sure of performance outcomes. However, we can’t let that hold us back from finding ways to measure progress toward mastery. Going back to our weightlifting example, if after a given mesocycle we can say that athlete X has higher power and rate of force development, then we can probably assume an improvement in the sport. If we have an energetic test (or conditioning test, or whatever you want to call it), and we determine an athlete to be more fit, then that will likely confer a competitive advantage. What about mindset and sport psychology principles. Often in sports, coaches and commentators will call them the intangibles, or people will say “he/she has that something you can’t teach”. Over time, research has looked at talent identification and development, and you know what, there are many times where these things are measurable. So how many people are doing questionnaires and profiles to measure these so-called things that can’t be measured? (Maybe another story for another day!)
One thing that has always resonated with me form my time at Edith Cowan University with Dr. Haff and Dr. Nimphius, is the concept of building capacities. Every time you improve on one of these outcomes, you expand an athlete’s physical capacity for competition, which is rarely ever a bad thing! Sometimes just because you can’t see how a specific metric or test fits into actual gameplay, doesn’t mean it’s improvement won’t somehow impact performance. When we open our mind to the possibilities that many roads lead to Rome, we can usually find that improving physical and mental capacities give athletes a better chance when going for gold!

Two Determinants of Speed

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on December 22, 2012 by razorsedgeperformance

One of my big pet peeves is when I hear people talking about speed and the conversation typically starts with ‘there are two ways to improve speed: stride length and stride frequency’. The thing that bothers me the most is that these aren’t truly determinants, but simply characteristics. If you take an athlete out onto the track and ask them to increase their frequency or increase their stride length, do you expect to get immediate improvements? Mathematically you can describe the results of a 100m sprint through these two variables but it doesn’t give us much to go on as coaches. Whether looking at linear speed or change of direction speed (COD for our purposes) there are really just two determinants. These are OUTPUT and POSITION.

OUTPUT This is the favourite of the strength and conditioning coach because it is more or less the horsepower that the athlete has. Two of the more important outputs are overall force production (strength) and rate of force development. Each one of these can have a major impact on stride length and stride frequency. If you produce more ground reaction force than you can probably create a longer stride. If you can reach that max force quicker, you can spend less time on the ground and thus stride more frequently. So for the intent of improving speed or COD our output becomes a very trainable factor. With the right tests, we can easily monitor how well we are able to change these. Using force plates you can look at countermovement jump data, maximum force production through an isometric mid-thigh pull, or look at different aspects of the profile during a weightlifting movement like the snatch or clean. Tracking things like maximal force and rate of force development (and if you wanted, the marriage of the two via power measures) can tell you exactly how much your outputs have changed. We know if all else is equal, improving these outputs should improve speed and COD. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case, and that brings us to our second determinant.

POSITION This is the second major determinant and just as important as the first. Position can be thought of as the skill component or technique of a given task. Let’s think about sprinters for example. We have seen sprinters that look absolutely perfect when they run but don’t win…we have also see some that run ‘crazy’ with limbs flying around still end up on a podium. Then the world record holders seem to have the best of both worlds. The runner with technique who doesn’t win is likely lacking in output, while the runner who looks lost but does well is producing plenty of output but in the wrong position. The same thing can be noticed in the sport of weightlifting. The snatch, or clean and jerk, are both very technical lifts. At the same time, they are still very different from darts or golf in that they require the most weight to be lifted as possible. With this combination you see the interplay of output and position displayed very strongly. It is believed that the chinese lifters are currently the best because their technique (position) is almost flawless, so they can complete lifts to the absolute maximum of their output. Some other countries use different methods, and although they get lifters very strong, possibly stronger, they cannot complete lifts as close to their maximum output levels, making their totals lower. So how does position come into play for a strength and conditioning coach? Well, it really depends on the situation you have and the time you have with your athletes. At FITS we prefer the term athletic develoment specialist for a few reasons. First, we are about all-around athleticism so we want out job description to reflect that. The second part is that we truly embrace the term development when it comes to our athletes. We understand that for every bit of output you add in the gym, position needs to be taught and solidified on the court, field, ice, or snow. When a field sport athlete wants to get faster, building output is definitely a great place to start. Once a sufficient amount of strength and RFD has been developed it is important that it is utilized in a way that maximizes speed in the appropriate direction. This means force application has to be as efficient as possible, and this is dictated by angles. Angles of joint position, body lean, and foot strike. At FITS, we use a variety of tools to ensure we are coaching athletes to be better, not just stronger. We have a comprehensive approach to development that is second to none and I am so proud to be part of the team!

The King of Exercises

Posted in Health, Performance with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 14, 2011 by razorsedgeperformance

I’d love to start this off by saying how important deadlifts are for increasing strength and power, which translates directly to speed on the field, ice, and track. Here at REP that’s not our style though. What is more important about deadlifting is how crucial it is for EVERYBODY to move better and restore balance to your body. It is crucial to get out of constant hip flexion by introducing the best hip extension exercise. It combines a hip hinge and a squat pattern, two basic moves that everybody should master for physical literacy, yet with most clients, these are missing. If you aren’t comfortable doing a deadlift, or aren’t 100% sure you are GREAT at them, go see a pro and get some work in. If the deadlift is the ‘King of Exercises’ then a poorly executed deadlift just might be the ‘Kingpin of Exercises’, the mob boss responsible for crime and destruction on the streets…or your tissues…

The Basics

You want to set up behind the bar with feet about shoulder width apart. This stance should be more narrow than a squat. The bar should be right up to your shins. Play around with your grip (you can use double overhand or alternating grip… I’d suggest staying with double overhand until it starts to get too heavy) width to find what feels most comfortable.

The Setup

I just gave you the basics of positioning, so now let’s talk approach. From a standing position, make sure your chin is tucked down and core is engaged. Next, sit down a little bit, like a quarter squat, by pushing the hips back. Then you will hinge at the hip and place your hands on the bar. You should be looking at a spot on the ground about 3-4 feet in front of you, not at your feet.

The Lift

When you are executing the lift, there are 3 things that we absolutely don’t want. First, is your hips and shoulders rising separately. This will put a ton of strain on your back if your hips pop up, then your shoulders start to come up. Second is any major lumbar flexion throughout the lift. A lot of times, if your hips pop up first, then you are likely going to go into lumbar flexion, since your spinal erectors are rarely strong enough to lift the weight on their own. Third is an exaggeration at the lockout position of lumbar extension or cervical extension. You do not need to lean back to make sure it’s complete. Your shoulders should not end up behind your bum (looking from the side). We are looking for hip extension, not lumbar extension. Full hip extension should leave you locked out in a straight line, head to toe. With the neck, some people look way up to the sky for this same purpose. Don’t do it. Leave the chin tucked and the neck in neutral.

One of my favourite cues for having a well-coordinated lift off, is to try ‘pre-lifting’ the upper back/shoulders. This tends to give the stiffness in the arms and upper body that you need to ensure your legs do most of the lifting.

Here are a couple of videos that you can look at to help give you an idea of what to do…

(Unfortunately the above video was filmed before I understood the importance of neck packing; the chin should be tucked more than it is in this video for a straighter spine)


Some key points about deadlifting…

  • A 2x body weight deadlift is the bare minimum for any elite athlete.
  • Anybody who lifts regularly, no matter the age or athletic status, should be able to deadlift body weight
  • You do not need to go into hard lumbar extension to exaggerate the finish.
  • You can put serious mass on through your legs and upper back with deadlifts
  • If you don’t use straps, your grip strength will fly through the roof!
  • They do contribute greatly to the ability to jump and sprint
  • They are probably the best full-body posture exercise out there

If you don’t deadlift, start now. Get someone to look at your technique. Learn how a good deadlift FEELS then you can start progressing up in weight. Make them a cornerstone of your programming.

It’s About Getting Better!

Weightlifting for sport or just for the sake of weightlifting?

Posted in Performance with tags , , , , on June 17, 2011 by razorsedgeperformance

First of all, I’d like to apologize to the regular readers for the lack of posts as of late. The good news is, I’m now a University graduate. Feel free to use this as an excuse to take the day off of work or to go out for binge that only Charlie Sheen and David Hasselhoff could pull off. Now on to todays topic, olympic weightlifting.

Getting it done

As a former football player, Olympic lifts were regularly put in our training programs to develop power and explosiveness. For those of you who don’t know what these are, check out “clean and jerk” and “snatch” on youtube, be careful for the results of the latter. These lifts are great for developing rate of force development (RFD) and overall power. The one problem I’ve seen is, some people get way too focused on the olympic lifts, and not focused enough on the reasons for doing them. These lifts are extremely technical and are a sport at the olympics, don’t get too caught up in trying to master these lifts and forget about training for your sport. If you don’t have the proper technique to perform these lifts, either find a coach or don’t do them at all. That being said, there was a great study in this months Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research which really opened my eyes to this specific issue. Let’s take a look at what this study concluded and what kind of effects this should have on our training.

The whole point of the study was to compare variations of the olympic lifts. The variations used were: Power Clean (from the floor), Hang Power Clean (Below the knee), Mid Thigh Power Clean, Mid Thigh Clean Pull (No catch). This study used 11 elite rugby players and had them perform a 3 repitition max of all of these lifts on a force platform. The purpose was to measure peak vertical ground reaction force and rate of force development during each of these exercises. So basically, how much force are you putting into the ground and how quickly are you generating that force. The results of the study found peak force totals of: Power clean – 2306.24N, Hang Power Clean – 2442.9N, Mid Thigh Power Clean – 2801.7, Mid Thigh Clean Pull – 2880.2N. So if we use the Power Clean as our baseline, the Hang Power Clean generated 106% more force, the Mid Thigh Power Clean generated 121% more force, and the Mid Thigh Clean Pull generated 125% more force than the Power Clean. As for RFD, which is an extremely important factor similar results were found: Power Clean – 8839.7 N/s, Hang Power Clean – 9768.9 N/s, Mid Thigh Power Clean – 14655.8 N/s, and Mid Thigh Clean Pull – 15320.6 N/s. Looking at it simply, with Power Clean as the baseline again, Hang Clean had an RFD of 111%, Mid Thigh Power Clean had an RFD of 166%, and Mid Thigh Clean Pull had an RFD of 173%. So what does that mean exactly?

These results tell us a number of things. If you’re looking to generate a lot of force and you want to generate it quickly, stick to Mid Thigh Clean Pulls and Mid Thigh Power Cleans. Sure you won’t be doing as much overall weight, but that number is meaningless unless you’re entering an olympic lifting competition. My suggestion would be to incorporate those two exercises as your explosive exercises into your next program. On top of this, keep heavy deadlifts in the program and together the Power Clean will become meaningless. Remember, it’s not about being the best at weight lifting, it’s about being the best at your sport. Get your ego out of the gym and start doing what’s best for your sport and not what’s best for your numbers.

Believe it or not…endurance running is about power!

Posted in Health, Performance with tags , , , , , , , on April 27, 2011 by razorsedgeperformance

Sprinters versus marathoners…Nothing alike they say…A whole different can of worms…Well, I’m here to tell you they are closer than they appear. Sure there is a definite difference in which energy systems are used as the primary fuel source, but there are also many commonalities. For example, they both race for time, so at the end of the day, the fastest runner wins. With that in mind, ground contact time on each stride is the enemy. The longer we are on the ground for each step, the slower our time will be, since it means we are not going anywhere!

So how do we reduce ground contact time? Essentially it comes down to stiffness. When preparing to strike the ground, we need to activate a whole bunch of muscles in our legs along with having good stiffness in our connective tissue. This way, after driving downward, our leg essentially bounces off the ground as quickly as possible. If our muscles aren’t trained to withstand the high ground reaction forces, some of our joints will bend, absorbing much of the energy and sticking to the ground. This can cause some overuse injuries, and also slow us down.

Why power training? Stiffness is another word for tension. The ability to create tension is basically strength. Strength in a short period of time is power. A running stride definitely falls into the category of short period of time! Power training involves any exercises that involve creating a high level force, but at the fastest rate possible.

Most endurance runners spend almost all of their time doing long distance running assuming that the more they run, the better they will get. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. The more we run, the more efficient our body becomes at running. This means we use less energy to create the same result. It doesn’t necessarily mean we increase our maximum running speed. As I mentioned earlier, marathons are still a race, the fastest runner for 26 miles wins.

If you want to really drop your time in your endurance event, start putting more focus on sprints and strength training. Don’t worry, you won’t immediately turn into a meathead. What you will do, with the proper guidance of course, is improve your ability to transfer force through the ground in order to propel your body forward. This means more speed, and a better time!

Remember, it’s about getting better!

Speed Kills

Posted in Performance with tags , , , on March 18, 2011 by razorsedgeperformance

We all know what everyone says, speed is the name of the game. If you are talking professional sports, speed can also make you millions of dollars. Unfortunately, what we see in successful athletes isn’t always speed per se but a combination of multiple factors. For some field sports that involve more space, linear speed is real and definitely valuable. In some sports, athletes never get into full sprint mechanics, so the speed and quickness is about a number of factors, like brake/deceleration mechanics, reaction/movement time, or coordination and efficient movement patterns. For the sake of simplicity, I want to talk about training linear speed.

I for one have been a big proponent of the strength model for improvements in speed. I don’t believe enough athletes have maximized strength and power in their legs, especially the posterior chain to elicit their top speed. This is by no means the be all and end all of speed training, but a very simple place to start. While i’ve found that these increases in strength have high carryover for field sports performance, i’m not afraid to say that i’m always learning and trying to get the best approach for my athletes.

I recently came across a really interesting article in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise (Feb 2011) that may clarify the speed training game some more. In the study, researchers took a handful of physically active males and had them run sprints on a calibrated treadmill and track. They were able to calculate sprint times, ground reaction forces (the amount of force put into the ground by the athlete), vertical forces, and net horizontal forces. They computed ratios of the forces, then further determined a ‘force application technique variable’. What they found was that actual sprint performance was highly correlated with the variable of technique rather than the total amount of ground reaction forces.

What does this mean for coaches and athletes? Well, it means that we need to continue to spend time developing proper sprint mechanics to ensure athletes who need to work on linear speed are applying their forces in the best manner, not just the highest amount. When running mechanics are improved, then the application of greater levels of force will continue to improve sprint performance. This also tells me that the approach of running repeated sprints in order to improve speed WITHOUT supervision is not an appropriate method of improvement. You may improve conditioning, but if everyone could improve their mechanics by just trying to run fast, we would have many more athletes running 4.4s or 10s 100m dash times. I once read a strength and conditioning program for an NFL team where the approach to speed development was the repeated practice of long sprints. “In order to get fast, you need to practice moving fast’ was the philosophy. This new research tells us that unless we are actually altering our biomechanics in a positive way, we may just be tiring ourselves out.

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