Athletic Performance Academy – Latest news & updates from Athletic Performance Academy

Two International Speakers are coming to APA’s next SAQ workshop

Hi there,

I am excited to announce that this June I am opening out my usual four hour ”Speed, Agility & Quickness Training” Workshop to six hours.  For the first time I will be inviting two additional International speakers, Ruben Neyens and Howard Green.  Both Howard and Ruben were speakers at the recent 2018 Grand Slam Coaches’ Conference in Australia.

Myself, Ruben and Howard will each present for 45-minute in the morning and then again in the afternoon.  The goal is to showcase the entire physical development journey from Mini tennis 10-under, to 14-under Junior performance tennis to the Pro game.  This workshop will be suitable for any coach, teacher or parent who is interested in learning about speed development for tennis players (as well as those athletes who play other sports).

Plan for the day:

We will break the speed drills down into fundamentals, semi-specific and specific drills for tennis.

Ruben Neyens: Fundamentals   Morning and afternoon: speed drills and games for the 10-under player

Daz Drake: Semi-specific     Morning: the APA speed training system.  Afternoon: speed drills for the 14-under player

Howard Green: Specific       Morning: RREADERR model introduction.  Afternoon: speed drills for the Pro player


Price: £50

Dates: Sunday 3rd June 2018 9am-3pm

Location: Gosling Sports Park


Book Online HERE


About the Speakers

Daz Drake

Daz Drake been a professional coach since 2000 and specialises in youth fitness and Tennis. He has been an an accredited S&C coach with the UKSCA since 2007 and the director of Athletic Performance Academy (APA) which provide Strength & Conditioning coaching to several high performance Tennis Academies including Gosling and Sutton Tennis Academy.

He has had the pleasure to work with some of the best junior tennis players in the world including players who have gone on to play at the professional level, and has worked with two Top 50 WTA Tennis players.

Ruben Neyens

Ruben Neyens combines the roll of head of coach education and physical coach for the High Performance Department U12 for Tennis Vlaanderen (= the Flemish Tennis Federation). Together with a team Ruben coordinates programs and projects like KidsTennis, Physical coach development, regional workshops and many more. He is co-author of the manual KidsTennis and developed the physical coach manual and several other coach education programs. On ITF Tennis iCoach and Instagram you can see a lot of contributions about physical training. He has also been a speaker at national and international conferences. Ruben has a degree in Physical Education and started his career in his own town Tessenderlo as head coach.

Howard Green

Howard has been the Head of Strength & Conditioning at USN Bolton Arena High Performance Tennis Academy for 8 years. He is an accredited S&C coach with the UKSCA, a Certified Tennis Performance Specialist with the iTPA and has a First Class Hons degree in Sports Coaching – including several coaching qualifications. Prior to coaching Howard spent 6 years in the Royal Marines Commandos, serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Howard has experience preparing Professional and Junior players at WTA, ATP, ITF and Tennis Europe levels, most notably working with world number one Ana Ivanovic. Howard has his own training philosophy and methodology, which takes into account both the general and specific physical qualities needed. He also places a high amount of importance in training coordination abilities to enhance movement performance.


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Middlesex University 9th Annual S&C Student Conference 10th March 2018

Yesterday I went to Middlesex University for the  9th Annual Strength and Conditioning Student Conference.  I think I’ve only missed one since they started!

As always it was nice to catch up with a few colleagues and I was particularly delighted to hear Perry Stewart speak, who had previously worked for me some years ago before his role with QPR and more recently his role as Lead Academy S&C coach (U9-16) at Arsenal FC.

Perry Stewart- Title: Understanding the Youth Athlete- From Theory to Practice

Perry split his talk up into three parts which I have discussed below but he started off with an important point.

Youth S&C Coach as a Career

I wholeheartedly agreed with Perry who made a passionate point that too often working with youths is seen as a right of passage for less experienced coaches to gain their experience on route to working with the pros.  As Perry said, it is a specific population that needs a specific expertise, along with a lot of experience.

It’s so rewarding because you’re starting with a blank slate- you are building the foundations rather than trying to re-build them.

So now on to the three elements of his talk:

Football as a Business

Perry asked that no one took photos of his presentation but I can say that Perry revealed some fascinating insights into the business that is professional football.  He highlighted the huge sums of money it costs to put together a team.  Now it wasn’t such a surprise to me that the top teams in Europe have assembled a squad at a cost in the region of £500 million pounds (Man City, Real Madrid, Chelsea, Man United, Barcelona).  But what was more surprising was how much it costs to support an Academy player for a season.

U9-U11 £3000 per year

U12-U15 £40,000 per year

U16-U17 £300,000 per year

U18 £500,000 per year

Pro £££££££££££ (based on contract)

Perry said that the chances of an Academy player making a debut in the Premier League are less than 0.05% (I think!!) meaning it is more likely they will be struck by an meteorite!!!  And I think the chances of them getting a professional contract were still less than 1%.   Given the huge costs to run an Academy and the percentage of players making it professionally a number of Academies have closed.


Growth & Maturation

Perry went into a lot of detail on the way Arsenal use the Peak Height Velocity (PHV) to report back to the coaches on their development.  He mentioned the Robert Mirwald (2002) maturity offset (age at/ of PHV) calculation as well as the Khamis-Roche method (% Predicted Adult Height).  During PHV you can sometimes see the adolescence ‘awkwardness’ where athletes are like baby giraffes or bambi on ice!!  During this time you may need to modify the training somewhat.

Such as:

  • reduce reduction of the same tasks- use lots of variety
  • periodisation- modulate volume and intensity
  • gradually increase workload- avoid acute spikes in training load

Arsenal categorisations for Khamis Roche method:

  • Pre PHV <85%
  • Approaching PHV 85-89%
  • Circa 90-95%
  • Post >96%

Typically Arsenal takes measurements quarterly although will increase them to every 6-8 weeks if they are circa PHV.  For further info please see this presentation by Dr. Sean Cummings Practical-case-study-of-using-maturation-assessments-and-sport-Sean-Cumming-UK

Arsenal Training System

Apologies as I can’t remember the specific titles for each phase but it went something like this:

Motor competency >> Overload phase >> Specificity >> Periodisation and Planning

You develop the skills (how well you do it) then you add some load to the skills (how well and how much you do).  After that you apply the skills to the sport (how fast you do it) and finally you build the skills into a more targeted annual plan.  He concluded with two videos showcasing some of the drills and how they are progressed from U9-U16 for speed and then strength.


Dr. Ben Rosenblatt- Title: Physically preparing teams to win major international tournaments

I have known of Ben’s work and reputation for several years having followed him in his roles as a senior rehabilitation scientist for the BOA and EIS, and Senior S&C Coach for the Olympic winning GB Women’s Hockey team.  Ben now is the Lead Men’s Physical Performance Coach for the FA.

Ben split his presentation into three areas too:

  • Training Durability
  • Tournament Durability
  • Game Impact

He started by asking the question we should all ask as S&C coaches- but in a slightly different way.  Normally the question is ”what are the physical demands of the sport?”  If you know this you can prepare for it.  But he asked instead,

who are the most PHYSICALLY CAPABLE OF TOLERATING the demands of training?

Who are the players in the team who seem to be always turning up to every training session ready to get after it, that don’t pick up many knocks or illnesses?

Training Durability:

I was interested to see that Ben has been using a jump profile to measure physical characteristics that might be related to training durability.  But unlike concentric measures of power or force he was focusing on eccentric measures.  This makes sense as it is the deceleration components that place the most stress on the body!

He was looking at both the speed of the eccentric lowering phase of the jump but also the depth.  It appears that those athletes that can drop deeper but faster and can then obviously arrest that momentum in the time needed to deliver the jump are most robust.  They are typically the strongest (1.7 x BW Back squat) and have a mean power on the eccentric phase of 8 W/kg performing the jump in under 0.5 seconds and a depth of 40cm.

Is it a surprise that stronger athletes are most durable? No! But it is good to see a test that is sensitive enough to discriminate between the athletes who get fatigued by a tough session and those that actually respond positively to it.

Doing more work than normal

Ben was able to show that stronger players have a potentiation effect (jump performance) the day following a match/session where you have to do more work than normal.

Fit players sleep better

Players who score more than 20.5 on a 30-15 test ease to sleep better.  Equally unfit players who also have to do a high training load are going to experience significantly larger amount of fatigue.

Tournament Durability

Essentially this part of the talk can be summarised as ‘Training tougher than a Match.’  Ben highlighted that in a week where he wanted the team to get after it (in a previous training camp) he used GPS to record workrate and specific percentage of time in high speed running zones (>5 m/s).  He found that only 8% was above match intensity in the training.

He spoke to the coaches about needing to get them to be training at higher loads than in a match during this period and they constructed a few drills to specifically address this such as a 4 vs 4 game in a 60 x 40 Yd. pitch where the ball could only be played forward.  This encouraged a lot of movement ahead of the ball to keep possession.

Game Impact

Ben asked two questions:

  • What matters most?
  • What’s easiest to change?

He said he spoke to the Head coach and his summary of the hockey strategy was they need to jump back harder and get ahead of the ball harder!! Basically they needed to be faster at retreating when they lost possession of the ball (GET BACK) and faster at advancing ahead of it when they gained possession (GET THERE), and do it for the entire match (LAST THE GAME).

Planned vs. Programme Change of Direction

GB Hockey prided themselves on being the fittest team in world hockey but one of the things Ben found was that players were very slow to redirect their changes of direction when they needed to respond to an opponent/change of possession etc.  He said they were all very good at doing high speed shuttle drills but this was a closed drill with an anticipatory change of direction.

Biomechanics tells us that the deceleration loads of unplanned directional changes are much higher than planned directional changes.  You spend more energy taking longer to change direction!  So he spent some time on doing more unplanned high speed changes of direction to make more of an impact on game day!


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Physical Conditioning for different game styles

Hey Everyone.  I recently had the privilege to be invited back to speak at the Master Performance Coach Level 5 tennis coach qualification, at the National Tennis.

I was asked to speak about how to physically prepare for different game styles.  I had recorded the presentation separately as a webinar so you can hear what I had to say!  Hope you enjoy.

Understanding the Demands of Tennis

It should always be at the forefront of any strength & conditioning coaches mind the question:  What are the ‘physical’ demands of the sport and who are the athletes that are most physically capable of tolerating the demands of the sport?

The likes of Raphael Nadal have spoken out about the stress on the body of the current tournament schedule.  But I am still exacerbated that in 2018 there is still very little data on the ‘mechanical loading’ of elite Tennis.  From personal communication with trainers who work with Top 100 players on the tour, I know that it is possible to pay for the Hawk Eye data- which costs £250 per match.  Hawk eye uses a camera to track player movements and from this you can determine distance covered in the match.

Thankfully there are promising signs that technology advancement in Tennis is catching up with the needs of the coaches.  For years accelerometers and GPS technology have been redundant in Tennis because the discrete movements of tennis players which take place over short distances have been too difficult to accurately detect with GPS units.

From speaking to Matt Little I know that he uses a catapult system with Andy Murray.  From this technology he can calculate player load for each session using the accelerometer and he can use the GPS to measure distance covered and highest speeds reached.  Apparently the GPS can actually work inside- he has used it successfully in bubbles, and the next break through will be being able to get feedback on what percentage of time Andy spends accelerating to and decelerating from particular speeds.

So for me knowing how much load is going through a player across the course of the competitive calendar is the key thing to know first and I hope that the Performance Analysis teams will be able to shed some light on this over the next few years.

In the meantime we have to make some assumptions about the likely demands of the sport on our players and acknowledge that different types of game styles may put different demands on the body.  I maintain the belief that at the top level of the game a tennis player has to be able to do all the different game styles at some point and we need to be able to prepare for all of them.  However, I do believe tennis players (like all elite athletes) win because of their strengths so of course we need to be mindful of what they do best- what the physical demands are of that playing style- and devote enough training time to prepare specifically for that.

Demands of a particular Game style

Power Game- Big Serve/Forehand 

Need muscle strength and power to hit fast serves and groundstrokes that can enable them to hopefully finish the point off with one or two more shots.  There are different types of athletes who employ this type of game style.  Obviously the big tall men and women will use this game style.  Think of Maron Cilic and Kevin Anderson.  The tall athletes may also lack the movement skills so need to work hard on their speed and agility so that they can stay in the rally if a counter puncher can turn the point around.

The other type of athlete who can successfully use this game style is the likes of Roger Federer.  While he is known as an ‘all court’ player his recent success at the Australian Open 2018 was built on a very effective 1st serve where he won 81% of points on his 1st serve.  He finished 75% of his points in the tournament in under 5 shots, compared to Maron Cilic (69%), and Rafa Nadal (58%).  He was also able to hit a forehand immediately after his 1st serve in 86% of the time from an imposing 2.07m inside the baseline.

Attacking baseliner

Similar to the Power game they also need muscle strength and power.  However this game style may not be able to rely on a big serve or massive ground stroke to win easy points.  They will be looking to maintain pressure on their opponents by maintaining a strong court position on the baseline and taking time away from their opponent with several aggressive ground strokes.  They will need quickness to get off the mark and good footwork to maintain steady balance.  They will also need a high level of anaerobic fitness so they can keep a high intensity throughout the match using short sharp bouts of explosive work with incomplete recovery.

All court player

Similar to attacking baseliner but they will also look to attack players with accuracy (not just power) and they have a willingness to approach the net regularly.  They do not serve particularly big, or play with huge power from the baseline but instead look to rely on a variety of skills in both attack and defence to disrupt their opponent.  They may come forward to the net whether serving and volleying or approaching from the baseline.  They will therefore need to be explosive to move forward quickly, cover the net and get up for smashes.  They will also need great speed and footwork to take the ball early and play at a high tempo to take time away from their opponent.  They will also need a good all round fitness as they will be moving forward a lot.

Counter punchers

This game style is often suited to someone who lacks a major weapon that allows them to consistently win shorter points, so they base game around developing a higher level of fitness.  They use the pace of the opponent and they are more likely to move deeper behind the baseline to give them more time to hit the ball.  This means they will often cover a lot more ground and rely on wearing their opponents down by making them play another shot.  Fitness has to be very high for this player.


Training Sessions for a Specific Game style

As far as training videos go I’m afraid I don’t have a lot of video footage of training I do with my athletes.  I need to get better at that!

But for some examples of a couple of ideas for how you could work on specific qualities for different games styles check out these below:

Attacking baseliner/all court player- Roger Federer warm-up

Notice the explosive movements laterally and up/back.  Federer won 75% of all his points in less than 5 shots at the recent Australian Open 2018 so he is looking to move aggressively into the court following behind his very effective first serve.  In fact Federer was able to hit a forehand after his first serve 86% of the time at an imposing 2.07m inside the baseline.  His warm-up, his speed work and even his stamina work will ideally be about doing high quality work for 5-15sec work max.


All court player- Ed Corrie CH 215 WR stamina session

Rather than use a big serve and forehand Ed will use precision and timing.  This session was about working on precision of footwork around the cones even when he is tired, as well as maintaining a good tempo of high intensity movement into the wider areas.  This is to enable Ed to keep beating the bounce and set up with precise footwork so he can hit the ball on the rise and take time away from his opponent.

This session can just as easily be done as a speed session but with recovery between the work bouts.

Want more info?

For those of you wanting more info on where to learn more about Tennis Strength & Conditioning I recommend three books below:




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FREE Ebook: Fun Games for Kids

This blog is one I am really excited to write.  I have been really enjoying mentoring some of my assistant coaches recently.  Like all things in life there are challenges to every business.  I recruit a lot of part-time S&C coaches, who at some point will often move on to a full-time job unless I can offer them one first!!!  But while they are with me I do everything I can to assist in their development.  Lately I’ve been on the shoulders of a few coaches more than usual as I am seeing if they can step up from assistant to a lead role- or whether I need to bring in some more ‘talent’ who are perhaps more ready to take the lead.

So what are the ingredients I am looking for from a great coach? Obviously a big part of this is the Quality of the Session Plans- it’s the ‘what you coach.’  I can help here by providing session plans.  But there is also the Quality of the Delivery- it’s the ‘how you coach it.’  A big part of my role is challenging my team by role modelling some of the behaviours that I want to see in my coaches in terms of how they engage the children with their communication.

I thought I would share some of the learnings here and I’ll address both topics in this post!  For those of you in a rush and just want me to get to the punch line, well I can summarise that playing games with kids is one of the main ways we can easily create a fun learning environment.  It can be a bit of a crutch for a less experienced coach who is still finding their voice! Let the games be the coach!

You can read more about this topic in my FREE Ebook:

To download the ”Fun Games for Kids Ebook” click the link below:

Click Here


”Are all coaches born or are they made?  Can some coaches that initially seem to lack the knowledge, skills and even personality to be a great coach then grow into one over time with good mentoring?…”

I often think about this and want to start with some thoughts of mine.  Let me start by setting the scene.

Long term coach development??

Youth Training is one of my passions.  I think practitioners like Rhodri Lloyd have done great work to pave the way for new understandings of the training process and long-term athlete development (LTAD) principles.  But coach mentoring is my absolute favourite thing to do.  If there was such a thing as long-term coach development (LTCD) what types of skills would we expect to respond greater to training at certain times in a coaches development?

Is there an argument that coaches respond better to certain training once they are ’emotionally’ mature?

If we think that an athlete goes on a long term development journey to first learn some skills and then train them and then apply them in a competitive match environment, then wouldn’t it make sense that a coach could also need to learn some communication skills and train them, as well as all the book smarts they have to learn vocationally or academically?

I don’t always feel many student coaches that I mentor have necessarily learnt as much about how to coach at university as they have about what to coach!!!!!!!

Being a business owner I am somewhat like the national coaches of sport conducting talent ID.  We know that an evaluation/test is only a snapshot of someone’s ability at a point in time.  It may not be a reflection of their potential.  There are so many variables at play! Maybe when I interview a coach who has no experience I see something in them and I give them the opportunity to grow with my organisation. But if I know a coach has several years of experience and they don’t create a great environment then perhaps I don’t give them the same opportunity.

I need to respect that I am running a business and it has a reputation to protect.  I can’t allow coaches opportunity to learn from making too many mistakes resulting in poor feedback on the quality of the sessions from the children and parents.  That’s why I have lead coach roles and assistant coaches/interns.

But regardless of role they do, they have to show me something that makes me think they will fit in with my company.  So what is that ‘something?’  I try to be objective in my assessment so I can give good feedback to coaches who I may or may not give a job to.  It also gives me ways to give specific feedback in coach appraisals and mentoring programmes.

I’ll previously posted on Communication numerous times.  This is a key part of being an effective coach:

Lessons we can learn from Sir Alex Ferguson

Are you a good coach?


Essentially it always comes down to three things:

  1. Creating the environment
  2. Setting the scene
  3. Asking for Feedback


What does the Research say?

Last year November 10th 2017 I had the opportunity to do a guest lecturer visit at the University of Hertfordshire as part of the third year ‘Advanced Coaching Module.’

Take a look at the video below created by Joshua James:

Coaching Employability and the Coaching Process

This is just to give you some background on my coaching style and also some evidence in the research to support some of the behaviours I was using.  Now not everyone is going to coach in the same way and the same style.  But I feel we need some sort of operational definitions of the ‘characteristics’ of a world class coach and at APA I define them as:

Definition of an Athletic Performance Academy Coach

An inspirational, honest, professional, courageous, self-aware, self-disciplined leader who coaches unconditionally and effectively and is rigorous in developing themselves as well as their athletes

Athletic Performance Academy

Athletic Performance Academy


Instilling Values to Develop Yourself- 

If the definitions are the behaviours we can see then the values are the deeper aspects of our very core that manifest themselves in our behaviours.

These are psycho-emotional and spiritual factors that we want to develop in ourselves and in our athletes in order to help us achieve our highest potential (getting the best out of our talent).

It is a balanced approach to developing the PERSON first and the ATHLETE second.


Values- Commitment, Excellence, Courage, Competitive Spirit, Respect, Enjoyment


I am quite a high energy guy.

I like to get my passion across by being quite animated and vocal.  I like to be heard and when I am giving feedback I tend to get quite excitable when someone is performing something well (or not performing well).  I need to let them know I care about their performance and it is important to me.

But on the flip side I know I have to do this ‘compensate’ for the choice of drills I like to use.  More on this below.

I also coach quite explicitly (which is something I am trying to work on!)

I have had a lot of chats with coaches over the years about implicit vs explicit coaching.  Anyone who has studied the motor learning literature can tell you that explicit instructional coaching works better in the short term- children move better in the drills.  But longer term and in more chaotic environments the children who were ‘over coached’ tend to struggle to move well.

You see I tend to default to giving too much information rather than too little.  I tend to internalise movements by drawing children’s attention to where their body is in time and space (explicit feedback).  I want ‘this joint angle’ not that one; ‘I want the arm to move to here not there!!’  ”Move your feet wider apart!’  Implicit feedback relies more on creating an outcome result but not giving specific feedback on how to achieve the outcome- so you give them more time to solve the problem themselves.  You tell them where you want them to move to, or the target to throw so it’s more about external cues. This is known as a ‘non-awareness strategy.”

Because I am more explicit it means I like to coach within closed drills that slowly open up into more chaos.  It allows me to instruct and correct more easily.  Other coaches would try and coach within the chaos as the norm using conditioned games and competitions- and let the athlete have more opportunity to self organise and auto correct through trial and error.

Because I am more inclined to close skills down into their component parts it ‘could’ be less fun and engaging for the children. But I compensate with loads of energy and enthusiasm for the drills and I give the children feedback on how well they are performing the tasks we are doing.   Without the energy and the input from the coach the drills would be too boring.

And that was the inspirational for the ‘Fun Games for Kids’ syllabus.  We always play games at the beginning and end of sessions any way.  The games in the Ebook I created are categorised so that coaches can use the most appropriate type of game to test/challenge a particular type of speed or coordination.  The Ebook gives my less experienced coaches some ‘Games’ to use as an evaluation tool and to compliment the ‘skill development’ drills I like the children to practice to learn the correct technique.  You could say it is a crutch to help them create a more inspirational learning environment by appealing to our natural desire to play!  I will always advocate certain skill development drills to instil the proper mechanics but these days I will get to the chaos sooner and make it a bigger part of the learning than in the past.

I also wrote the Ebook for me- to challenge my ability to teach/train skills through more chaos.  To test myself to see if I can refine technique in more chaos rather than always making it easy for myself.  I have noticed that mistakes are more visible in chaos- movements that aren’t repeated over and over- don’t look as good as if I just drill them on the same thing ten times in a row.  But over time they can make little corrections.  Longer term they will be able to manage themselves better in the chaos.

So let’s look at some of the other ways to inspire the children beyond just playing games and the drills themselves.  What about the delivery style and communication?


Creating the environment

The environment I want is an environment that promotes Listening, Learning and Fun.  I believe that the best way to do this is to be inspiring!! Remember the 3 P’s:

3 P’s of Inspiration

Passion: Grab their attention

There are different ways to do this.  My style is through my own high energy but you can convey passion in different ways- it’s about getting your athlete or group to be engaged in what you are saying to them/showing them.  They have to feel something from your words or actions.

Presence: Respect clear rules

Energy will only get you so far if you can’t channel it and control it- especially with children, and especially if you are using some of the games in the Ebook.  You need to have a presence.  It doesn’t mean you have to be a big scary person. It’s about Respect.  One of the best things you can do with groups is set rules/expectations of behaviour/routines and BE CONSISTENT with these and any consequences for non compliance!

Purpose: Set the scene- expectations / get buy in 

To get your athletes to focus it is important to set the scene with the what-why-how.  I want my coaches to do this with the Games as well so the children can at least think a little bit about why they are playing a particular game and how they can perform to have more success at it.

I personally default to closed drills as I said before.  But one of the reasons I hold the attention of the children is that I am VERY CLEAR with the teaching points and know exactly what I am looking for.  I expect the children to respond to the challenges I set them.  Even though the drills are closed at times- I have clear expectations of how I want them to do it and I think the children engage in this challenge of getting the process correct!

Let the drill teach the skill: Multi skills

Take a look at my summary of the multiskillZ curriculum I wrote.  I recently bought this product and you can see the review in a previous blog.  In terms of setting the scene it’s a lot easier to get buy in when you’re having fun!!!! That was one of my motivations to get the multiskillZ product because I wanted to get some new ideas for fun skills and drills!  But it’s also because I want to challenge myself to set up the environment differently!

MultiskillZ overview

One of the the things I really enjoyed reading about was the information on Session structure, how to start and end the session, and all their thoughts on periodiation.

Athletes will always respond well to drills that are:

  • Fun
  • Competitive
  • Challenging

Generally speaking games based drills are more fun so rather than just doing closed technical drills, more open drills that involve running and use of a variety of skills are more fun.  Athletes always enjoy opportunities to apply their skills.

Keep score to hold interest and promote competition and most importantly stretch your athletes by making them aware of world class levels of performance.  I think it’s always easier to challenge them by setting the level high and see if they can reach it.  To do this you as a performance coach need to have an awareness of standards and know what world class looks like!

Too often we might berate athletes for not working hard enough but if we don’t stretch them in the first place they may not have a reason to need to work hard!

Give them a choice

When you set the scene you can also:

a) give them a choice how hard they want to be challenged- they can decide how challenging they want the drills to be

b) give them a choice if they want to stop or keep going (when the drill is challenging)- but they must know that IF they decide to KEEP GOING they will need to meet the demands of the drill.


Summary of a great coaching session

There a number of ways to define world class coaching- from a communication stand point I find it helpful to describe the characteristics so I can give more constructive feedback, ‘An inspirational, honest, professional, courageous, self-aware, self-disciplined leader who coaches unconditionally and effectively and is rigorous in developing themselves as well as their athletes.’

What does that look like in terms of the outcomes we want for each and every session:

Listening • Children show respect by listening when the coach is talking • Coach needs to have something ‘interesting’ to say • Keep the information concise and concrete • Select a few simple teaching points • Show a god demonstration and then ask one of the children to demonstrate it back to the group to check for their understanding

Learning • We are coaches not baby sitters • Provide appropriate amount of instructional/corrective feedback to enhance movement skills  • Children should be able to tell you one or two key features of correct technique

Having Fun • Competition is good as there are natural in built outcomes because of the score line • But you can still create attention on the task by setting expectations for behaviour/performance level • Tell them exactly what you are looking for and give feedback on their performance.

Children need to be stimulated and in my opinion it is possible to give them a session which is as fun as their favourite sport.  You just need to think about what children like about playing sport playing a computer game.  Can you challenge them and make them compete to achieve a task that they want to complete!!!!

The fact remains that some coaches may have more talent for ‘communication’.  They may be more at ease in front of people and have more natural presence.  By everyone can be a better coach.  I just have to decide whether they can improve quick enough and to a level high enough to work for APA!!!

I hope you found this blog useful.

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…we have a small favor to ask.  APA aim to bring you compelling content from the world of sports science and coaching.  We are devoted to making athletes fitter, faster and stronger so they can excel in sport. Please take a moment to share the articles on social media, engage the authors with questions and comments below, and link to articles when appropriate if you have a blog or participate on forums of related topics. — APA TEAM

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Want to come and work for APA?

Dear coaches,

APA are recruiting for a part-time strength & conditioning coach at Gosling Tennis Academy.


The role at Gosling starts immediately and would ideally suit someone who is looking to gain valuable experience in a high performance environment.

We welcome applications from all candidates.  It is not essential that you are available to coach every day to be considered for the role although it is preferable if you can make yourself available every weekday.

Hours: 4-6pm Monday to Friday     

Duration: Permanent. School term time

Remuneration: £8-15 per hour, depending on experience 


Please download the PDF below to find out further details


Multi SkillZ by Coach2Competence Product REVIEW

Hey everyone. I’ve been doing a bit of self-directed Continued Professional Development (CPD) over the last few days.  I decided to purchase the ”Multi Skillz” online video library, produced by Coach2Competence.  It cost £266 or 299 Euros for the first year subscription and £35 per year thereafter.

Background on the company:

Kenneth Bastiaens is currently the director and owner of Coach2Competence, a company aimed at developing athletic foundations for young athletes. In 2000 Kenneth was Head of Strength & Conditioning at the High Performance Centre in Belgium. For 9 years he trained athletes such as Kirsten Flipkens, Yanina Wickmayer, Alison Van Uytvanck and Ruben Bemelmans whilst also developing new conditioning pathways. In 2010 Kenneth reformed the Talent ID & Development 12 & under structures for Flemish Tennis. At the highest level, Kenneth was consultant in the coach-player team of Kim Clijsters and travelled on the ATP Tour as a coach for 1 year. With a Masters degree in Kinesiology he is now the driving force behind Multi SkillZ, high quality motor development For Sports, Fun & Success. Kenneth has been strongly involved in Coach Education as a tutor, content manager, speaker and lecturer.


Why did I purchase it?

”Motor skills, ”athletic skills” or ”physical competency” or any other word you want to call it is really important.  It’s the foundations of movements on which we build sport specific skills.  During youth we have to challenge the nervous system as much as possible to be able to solve complex movement puzzles.  I’ve always been interested in motor skills training and I consider it to be one of the things APA do really well.  But I’m always looking to learn some new ideas and over the years my quest for knowledge has taken me around the globe.


I have picked up some great ideas in recent years on what kinds of activities young children should be doing. Early in my career I picked up a VHS video of ”Coordination training for Tennis” produced by the German Tennis Federation in the very early 1990s.  This was a groundbreaking moment in my coaching journey as it made me realise that you can coach coordination skills in some really innovative ways.  There I learnt about:

  • Differentiation
  • Orientation
  • Reaction Speed
  • Balance
  • Rhythm


I first came across Kelvin Giles at the UKSCA Strength & Conditioning Conference around 2007 and later in his consultancy role for the Lawn Tennis Association.  He helped me to understand how to quantify the quality of fundamental movements that have more of a strength focus- squat, lunge, push, pull, brace, rotate etc.


I studied some more material from SportsCoachUK ”An Introduction to the Fundamentals of Movement” which was a great CDrom on Balance, Coordination, Agility.  I also watched the Lawn Tennis Association CD-rom ”Strength & Conditioning Fundamentals- Exercises for under 10s.”  It broke fundamental movements down into speed, agility, coordination, strength, power, injury prevention and flexibility.



I came across Ruben Neyens at the Lawn Tennis Association National Coaches Conference in 2015- who did a great presentation on ABCs for children and then the following year Kenneth Bastiaens presented on ”Multi skillZ- motor development for success in sports”.   You can only open the link if you are a member of tennis iCoach- but I’d recommend it especially if you work on Tennis as it’s only $30 per year.

So I kept my eyes on these guys and figured that Belgium tennis is leading the way in motor development for children.  That lead to me purchasing the Multi SkillZ video library so I can inject some new ideas into my coaching.


Here are some of the notes I made paraphrased from some of the online tutorials where Kenneth describes the theory behind the practice


It doesn’t just have to be competition based games!!

  • Being creative
  • Playing with others

Performing and taking up challenges without there being a specific competition

Show and tell- children design drills for their team mates to copy

Tasks on your own- Getting dizzy putting finger on floor and running around!

They need to feel competent and feel joy at the same time.  They want to do things they enjoy!


OUR GREATEST COMPETITION IS THE COMPUTER GAME.  Computer games are organised in levels and children are challenged over and over again.  Therefore it is our job to do that too.  Children need to experience ‘motor gaming.’


The goal is NOT to improve certain movement patterns or movement techniques.  We emphasis motor abilities referred to as the sub factors of the different development domains.  We do not stick to specific drills or exercises.  On the contrary we would like to expose the children to continuously changing situations and movement tasks.  In this way we believe we accelerate motor learning and motor abilities.

FUN and stimulating

A Multi SkillZ drill meets 5 standards. The i5-approved drills:

  • Invite participants to play or move
  • Intensive
  • Intriguing as it takes the attention of each participant constantly
  • Implicit learning
  • Interactive as participants are challenged to work together

There are separate drills for Fitness, Skills, Function and Speed. Each drill challenges the participant’s motor ability, problem solving behaviour and cognitive skills. The interactive nature of the fun play exercises enables participants to learn social skills and core values such as trust, creativity and cooperation.

The main components above are further subdivided into four sub-categories per motor ability.  So you get 16 components all together.  For each sub category there are at least three drills- each drill has red, orange and green version.  For each colour- red, orange or green there are also usually three levels of difficulty so there is plenty of differentiation to accommodate the different abilities not only across colours but within colours!!

At APA we use the 5 S’s of fitness to classify the fitness components (Skill, Suppleness, Strength, Speed, Stamina) but regardless of how you categorise things I can definitely say there is plenty of new concepts I took away.  The concept of the i5- approved drills is something I really liked.  I have to say that I was impressed how literally EVERY drill ticked all those boxes.  Literally every child had a job/instruction to follow in every drill even when they weren’t the one performing the task.



In addition to the video library there are 22 online tutorials that cover some really important topics such as motivation, working with parents, periodisation, and long term athlete development.

Kenneth talking about Long-term Athlete Development.

In the next blog I will talk a little about one of the concepts Kenneth mentioned ”Periodisation for Kids.”



There are loads of products out there but for me this is one of the best ones out there.  If you’re someone who wants to know more about the specific ‘techniques’ of movement and how to coach the specifics of squats and press ups and running technique etc this might not be for you.  The authors of this product want the learning to be as implicit as possible.  So apart from the demos where the coach role models good technique it is pretty much move and play throughout.

I come from a very technical background so I’m actually looking for a resource that will encourage me to use more play activities and less technical instruction.  If you’re looking for something similar then this is the one for you.


Since you’re here…
…we have a small favor to ask.  APA aim to bring you compelling content from the world of sports science and coaching.  We are devoted to making athletes fitter, faster and stronger so they can excel in sport. Please take a moment to share the articles on social media, engage the authors with questions and comments below, and link to articles when appropriate if you have a blog or participate on forums of related topics. — APA TEAM

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What can Personal trainers learn from working with kids?

This year I have been fortunate to have a number of coaches assisting in various roles within APA.  One coach in particular Shay Khan, had a fantastic opportunity to go to Kuwait for two months, which came having just completed one month working at Gosling Tennis Academy with the junior academy squads.  I wanted to ask Shay what he learnt from his experiences and what were the things he took from APA that he was able to use in Kuwait.


Transitioning from Youth to Adult Strength and Conditioning.

I had the fortunate opportunity to work abroad (Kuwait) as a Strength and Conditioning (S&C) coach for MMA (Kickboxers, Muay Thai, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Karate) Athletes for two months. Prior to taking up this opportunity abroad I was currently working under APA at Gosling Tennis Academy as an S&C coach for younger athletes.


What aspects of the APA system were you able to apply to the role in Kuwait?

Transitioning into the adult population in a different country was not only a challenge due to potential language barriers I was going to face but also coaching athletes who participate in a different sport to tennis. One of the things I took away from the Tennis Academy was the 20:20:20 split of skill, speed and strength which I thoroughly used in the youth strength and conditioning classes in Kuwait. So for a 60 minute session there would be a 20 minute focus in each fitness component.  I found that the split allows a variation of exercises to be used but also to keep the sessions fun and not repetitive.

Moreover, as there was s&c support already there in place I was in a position where I could challenge myself in those two months to make a change with an athlete that joined as I got there, which allowed me to carry out testing / analysis and making a programme for someone who never previously had strength and conditioning. From gaining experience in the tennis academy I could transfer what I had learnt into this new environment. For example, in the tennis academy we carried out a Physical Competency Assessment (PCA) which I also used in Kuwait. I found that really working on the basics at Gosling Tennis Academy such as a simple overhead squat or a single leg hop creates a brilliant foundation for correct movement qualities which can then be transferred as the individual progresses (age) onto a higher level.


One thing I’d take back home from my experience?

Working abroad has allowed me to independently use my experience and knowledge that I’ve gained in the past to work autonomously. One thing I’d take away from my experience and use in future coaching settings would be to challenge myself but also not to be afraid to try something new whether that be in programming / testing / analysing but also coaching outside of my comfort zone.

What is First Step Speed- who cares?

This weekend just passed I had the great pleasure to induct another six candidates through the first part of the 1st4sport Level 2 certificate in Strength & Conditioning.

For those of you who haven’t come across it the basic progression looks something like this:

Level 1 => Design a weekly schedule based around foundation strength and core work

Level 2 => Design a 4 week plan based around speed, strength and stamina

Level 3 => Design an 8 week plan as part of an annual plan based around speed, power, strength and stamina


I have always felt (just my opinion) that S&C coaches are more comfortable in the gym than on the pitch and so excel in the resistance training part of the qualification, but get much more new information from the speed aspect.

Speed and Agility

Personally I think this aspect is made more difficult when coaches seem to disagree on the technical model when it comes to how to get somewhere fast.  I tried to give the candidates as broad an overview as I could of the different types of speed and what to look for in terms of teaching cues that relate to the technical model of sprinting.

Typically I start by introducing the topic as Speed, Agility and Quickness as these terms seem to be more familiar.  But as you know at APA we have our our terminology so I then go in to a bit more detail and break it down into:

  • Straight ahead Speed
  • First Step Speed
  • Multi-Directional Speed
  • Sport Specific Speed


Please note that there is a reactive component to all these types of speed which is accounted for in the APA method.  However ‘reaction speed’ is something that is focused on in the ‘skill’ element of the APA system- which accounts for reaction speed of any movement not just a locomotive one.

Straight ahead Speed

I started by showing them the image of Usain Bolt above which represents the technical model for acceleration (posture, arms and legs) during a 100m race.  This is the most pure form of sprinting.  We focused on acceleration during this qualification although highlighted some of the differences between acceleration and top speed.

Acceleration during sprinting involves a ‘running step‘ which is the name I give to the action of driving the leg forward to propel the body forward.

Drills we covered:

Level 1 Stationary: Wall drills (posture/legs) and Arm drills (arms)

Level 2 Dynamic: Falling starts and crouch starts

Level 3 Dynamic (Decision making): Rolling starts and catch me if you can reactive sprints

Level 4 Force overload: Partner resisted sprints, prowler, heavy sled, hill sprints

Level 5 Velocity overload: Parachute, downhill sprints

Level 6 Endurance overload: repeated sprints


First step speed 

I like to progress on to First step speed (FSS) after Straight ahead speed (SAS) because the technical model of accelerating is still relevant.  The focus is still on the running step.  However, the initial body position will be different.  Some coaches will call it quickness training, speed off the mark, or just speed.  I like to call it first step speed because the actual first step (which is a explosive running step in the direction of travel) is still employed.  But you might be going forwards, sideways or backwards.

Reactive or planned

If the movement is planned you will see the athlete bias their weight over one of the legs so they can pivot from that leg.  In a planned movement the first step is taken using a pivot step off the lead leg to allow the back side leg to come through.

In this instance there is no ‘wasted’ movement away from the intended direction.  I use the word wasted in inverted commas because some coaches talk about a false step being a wasted movement.  In this situation it would be but it is important to realise when it isn’t- which we will come to next.

In the example above of a stance used for a planned 60Y Dash as part of a baseball test, the athlete knows they are going in a planned direction.  There is no choice of Left or Right so they can pivot off inside leg closest to intended direction.


Reactive movement means the athlete has to quickly reposition their body from a neutral athletic stance to a position to produce optimal force in the intended direction.

Directional step (Lead leg):

If the athlete has a choice, or has to react to a cue such as a ball drop you may see them use a ‘directional step’ of the lead leg to initiate movement.  In the image below the athlete uses a directional step. You can see the athlete’s lead leg foot opens up and moves slightly in front of the white line.  This is what we call the directional step.  It is referring to the repositioning of the lead leg.  Some tennis coaches call this the ‘jab step’ but I don’t like this term as it could be confused with the same term used in basketball.

This drill was technically a reactive drill- but the athlete had only one choice AND he had quite a lot of time to catch the ball after 1 bounce as the feed was quite close.  In my experience if the athlete has to make a choice of going left or right and has very little time you will also see the dig step, which is the repositioning of the back side leg.


Gravity step: (Lead leg)

Gravity step is where a player who is moving in one direction will bring the leg that is towards that direction in under the body. This bending of the knee and bringing the leg inward causes the body to literally “fall” in the direction the person wants to move. This has been shown to actually be the fastest way to get the body at rest to move in the direction of desire.  This is something I have observed when the person is in a wide stance- which we will talk about now.

Dig step: (back side leg)

One of my most popular blogs talked all about the plyo step:

Why the key to getting faster is to step back first

A dig step- also known as a plyo step or false step is often rejected by coaches as a inefficient way to initiate movement because it involves wasted movement away from the intended direction.  But Lee Taft and others have championed this step for decades as it is part of the body’s fight or flight response when we have to move somewhere quickly under extreme time pressure.  It involves pushing the back side leg away from the intended direction.


Initial stance

This is critical to our understanding of FSS. Depending on the width of stance athletes may initiate movement in different ways BEFORE starting the first step.  This ‘initiation’ of movement is a kind of reorganisation of the body to get it into a body angle ready to accelerate.  I loved the quote ‘‘trading inches for angles.”

Narrow stance- from here you will commonly see a directional step with or without dig step

Wide stance- from here you will commonly see a gravity step

I talk about these things in more detail below in latest Daz Dee TV Episode 17:


Drills we covered:

Level 1 Stationary: Cone drills (clock face and Figure 8)

Level 2 Dynamic: 5 metre starts

Level 3 Dynamic (Decision making): Reactive 5m starts and combination drills (X drill)

Level 4 Force overload: Weighted vests and Heavy Medicine balls

Level 5 Velocity overload: Bungees

Level 6 Endurance overload: repeated starts


Video First step speed drills:


Multi-directional Speed

For me this covers everything else that gets us from A to B that doesn’t involve use of a running step associated with sprinting.

This includes side steps and cross-over steps and it also covers the important technical model of changing direction.  Before I get the haters I realise that you can still perform things like side shuffles and cross-overs very ‘quickly’ but I have put them in this classification as I want to keep First step speed to strictly sprinting mechanics using the running step.


Drills we covered:

Level 1 Stationary: Cone drills (1 step and side shuffle to stop)

Level 2 Dynamic: 5 metre decelerations there and back (with a stop, progressing to no stop)

Level 3 Dynamic (Decision making):  Reactive 5m there and back and Pro Agility 5-10-5

Level 4 Force overload: Weighted vests and Heavy Medicine balls

Level 5 Velocity overload: Bungees

Level 6 Endurance overload: repeated change of directions


Video Multi-directional speed drills:


Sport Specific Speed

Most sports will utilise one of more of the three types of speed mentioned above.

Tennis- uses FSS and a lot of MDS and has the unique aspect of the ‘split step’ which is a jump which precedes the first step.  In sport many of the aspects of speed are submaximal because they don’t involve sprinting.  But they do require the body to move it’s position quickly.  You will see this in the examples below.

Video Sport Specific Speed drills for Tennis:

Basketball- uses a backwards step known as a drop step to pass a defender who is standing behind them. 

American football- use a backwards step known as drop step, followed by a cross-over to initiate quarterback pass

Since you’re here…
…we have a small favor to ask.  APA aim to bring you compelling content from the world of sports science and coaching.  We are devoted to making athletes fitter, faster and stronger so they can excel in sport. Please take a moment to share the articles on social media, engage the authors with questions and comments below, and link to articles when appropriate if you have a blog or participate on forums of related topics. — APA TEAM

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FREE Speed Technical Checklist

Hi everyone,

firstly a belated Happy New Year.  I resisted the temptation to do a ‘Best of 2017’ Blog post this year and I have previously written about all the Pro team pre-season schedule I have been using over the last few years.  You can read more about it here and hereBut needless to say December was a busy month working with the pros in their pre-season.

As we get back into the normal routine I am turning my attention to the time of year where I always do the Level 2 Certificate in Strength & Conditioning, as well as the Speed, Agility & Quickness Workshop in February.

Level 2 Certificate in Strength & Conditioning Coaching

I’ve been running both of these for several years now and it’s always been on my ‘To Do List’ to create a technical checklist for the Speed element of the Level 2 qualification.  You see, 1st4sport provide you with a comprehensive checklist of technical points to highlight in your coaching for the Bench press, Deadlift, Squat etc- but there is nothing for the speed component.

So I’ve gone away and put some time into this so candidates coming onto the qualification will now have some teaching points that they can highlight in their coaching practicals.

APA uses a specific form of classification for it’s speed component of Fitness:

  • Straight Ahead Speed
  • First step Speed
  • Multi-directional Speed

For more info you can go to the education resources page with further details

But without further delay here is the APA Speed Technical Checklist that you can download as a PDF for FREE.  Just click on the red title below:

APA Speed Checklist 2018

I hope you find it useful.  It will be used on the Level 2 qualification as an assessment guide for the assessor to see that the coach has a good understanding of the main technical points associated with each type of speed.

I must give credit to Lee Taft and his excellent resource ‘Complete Speed Training.’  I’d also encourage you to check out Parisi Speed School who produce excellent resources on Speed.


Since you’re here…
…we have a small favor to ask.  APA aim to bring you compelling content from the world of sports science and coaching.  We are devoted to making athletes fitter, faster and stronger so they can excel in sport. Please take a moment to share the articles on social media, engage the authors with questions and comments below, and link to articles when appropriate if you have a blog or participate on forums of related topics. — APA TEAM

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When’s the best time to focus on single leg training?

Best time to focus on Single leg training

When’s the best time to focus on single leg training? If you had asked me this question 10 years ago I might have given you a different answer.  Early in my career I was influenced by the NASM Personal Training certification and their method.  [Full disclosure: I never took the exam but my best friend did and I looked extensively through the course material he was using].  When I think back to S&C programmes in my early career I remember starting training blocks with what I guess you would call Neuromuscular Training (NMT) using lower loads, higher reps and SINGLE LEG (SL) work for lower body strength.

The rationale was that the SL work would identify and then even out any imbalances/asymmetries in strength, in preparation for the higher bilateral loading to come in later cycles.  This was influenced by my understanding of the NASM methodology, where the first cycle was called a stabilisation phase aimed to do exactly that.

This blog will add to the previous blog I wrote on single leg training and offer some new reflections.  I also want to talk about the timing in your programming where single leg work might make more sense to focus on.

Who cares? Aren’t they just two different patterns?

For a long while I’ve not really felt the need to emphasise single leg or double leg, and I’ve seen the idea of having to make a choice over one or the other as a non starter discussion point in my book.  I simply view them as two different movement patterns that will both be incorporated into a session, or a week.

Normally I run my programmes like the example below if I am training two legs sessions per week.  I only do this during pre-season (as part of a 4-day strength programme) or for more advanced athletes who I don’t think can handle the loading of two sessions at >85% 1RM for the same exercise because of the high intensities that will impose on their bodies (otherwise I do three whole body sessions):

Day 1:

Heavy Bilateral Knee Dominant Exercise (KDE): Squat 5×5 (>85% 1RM)

Light Bilateral Hip Dominant Exercise (HDE): Deadlift 3-4 x 6-10 (<85% 1RM-if programmed in at all for that day)

Unilateral Hip Dominant Exercise (HDE): Single leg glute bridge 3 x 15-20 each leg


Day 2:

Heavy Bilateral Hip Dominant Exercise (HDE): Deadlift 5×5 (>85% 1RM)

Light Bilateral Knee Dominant Exercise (KDE): Squat 3-4 x 6-10 (<85% 1RM if programmed in at all for that day)

Unilateral Knee Dominant Exercise (KDE): Single leg pistol squats 3 x 10-15 each leg

Brownlee Brothers

By the way, Ian Pyper S&C coach for British Triathlon said that he would often split his off-season S&C programmes into two strength workouts- one on a Monday and one on a Friday.  One workout would be a heavy DL exercise such as a squat or a trap bar Deadlift, and the other day would be SL exercise such as split squat.  So it is interesting to see how he would also programme in both.

Personally I have also done this approach in the past but normally when I am still working with an intermediate athlete who is starting to warrant greater variation in load through the week.  Often I would plug in a SL exercise as the primary strength in the mid week session to go between a Squat (Monday) and a Deadlift (Friday).  So for me it’s not about either or, it’s about both.  But I always like to take some time to reflect and so what follows are some key points to consider that like a lot of subjects boil down to injury risk and performance benefit.  Ultimately the question to ask is whether the DL or SL variation has the greater capacity to produce FORCE and in a way that will transfer to sport, with manageable injury downside.


Heavy Bilateral Squats are a lower back exercise, right?

Recently I wanted time to reflect on how appropriate it is to ALWAYS use BILATERAL loaded exercises as my PRIMARY STRENGTH exercise.  After all, Mike Boyle was one of the first coaches to show that there is a bilateral strength deficit.  He said that he had many guys that could split squat 115lbs on each leg for 15 reps but there was no way on earth they could bilateral squat for 230lb, and probably not even for 5 reps!

And even if they could would you want that much load being transferred through the spine?

Mike Boyle says the heavy back squat is a lower back exercise.  From an injury risk standpoint there may be some links to back pain which might be associated with the back being exposed to forces from the legs that it cannot cope with.  But perhaps part of the problem is that it is not too much force per se but the wrong distribution of force going through the lower back due to immobilised joints down the chain- or the lumbar spine is not stable enough?

What about performance gains? Perhaps I am more capable of achieving a higher total load across a single leg exercise? I know that an elite level goal is to be able to hold 22.5% of Back squat 1RM (or 45% body mass) in each Dumbbell for a single leg primary strength exercise such as a split squat or a walking lunge etc.   Assuming I can squat 160kg at 80kg body mass, that works out at 36kg dumbells in each hand (just under my 80kg body mass).  And by the way I can’t bilateral squat 160kg!!!!!!!!  But yet I’m pretty confident I could hold the 36kg dumbbells in my hands!!!  For a Barbell split squat this would be 50% of my 1RM back squat.  Again, the idea of having 80kg on my back for a barbell split squat seems a bit more achievable than 160kg on two legs.

Listening to Mike speak on the Pacey Performance Podcast he is actually looking for you to be able to hit the target of 100% body mass (50% held in each dumbbell) for 5-6 reps for most of his single leg progressions including RDLS.  Again, I feel pretty confident I can do that.

So perhaps there is something there?  But if that means my torso rigidity is the weak link that is not letting me transfer enough force through my torso on two legs, isn’t that also a pretty concerning weak link given that all sports training is about how much of that strength training can transfer to the actual sporting movements– which last time I checked involved transfer through the torso!

Furthermore, I’ve seen evidence that the lower back can be upset by low pistol squats that are done without the use of a box set up, like Mike Boyle uses below.  Read this link for more info.  So don’t be so quick to go for one or the other!


For me there is just something logical about the fact that 160kg on my back will place much higher stress on my ”system” than 80kg ever can.  Yes the total load due to the bilateral deficit may be higher across the single leg exercise, but you are still only lifting 80kg at one time and I think that has to have a lower stimulation on the nervous system per se.  I’d love to see what the brain activity is and hormonal response to markers such as testosterone, for example.  However, developing force per se is only part of the puzzle otherwise we would just all focus on getting our squat, deadlift and bench PBs up.  It’s because we work to enhance ‘sports’ performance that we are having this discussion in the first place.  To quote British Rowing, ‘if it doesn’t make the boat go faster, what’s the point?  So we need to look at force production and it’s transfer to the sports movements.

Well Aren’t Single leg squats more Sport Specific?

This then naturally leads us to the other argument that one of my senior coaches also posed to me last week- saying that he had also moved away from using bilateral exercises as his primary strength exercise- because it’s not sport specific.  Ian Pyper also referred to this in his work with the Brownlee brothers, saying he would tend to move towards step ups for his SL work in more specific phases as it has greater transfer to running action.

I have previously written several articles about sport specificity.  You can find one here as well as some of my best work if I don’t say so myself with this article.  But I go back to a point Marco Cardinal made on his Pacey Performance Podcast about his role being getting them strong for the sport.  It was very clear to him that his role was to:

=> get people stronger in the key movements or activities that were relevant to the sport

=> get them strong enough to SUSTAIN the TRAINING Load

=> get them strong enough so they don’t break down


The way you evidence that someone has got stronger is pretty simple in my book regardless of whether you use SL or DL primary strength exercises.  But to demonstrate how much of that strength can be (directly) transferred to their sporting movement is more tricky.

Alex Natera (who quotes Michael Johnston, Strength Scientist at British Athletics) talks about the bridge between CAPACITY Strength and TECHNICAL Strength.  He calls this COORDINATION Strength.  In his work with sprinters in track & field this coordination strength exercise was known as a ‘link training exercise, such as a Prowler push.

So take a 25kg sled or approximately 33% bodyweight for arguments sake.  This is a link assessment- a loaded skill that is very similar to the sport skill, in this case acceleration during sprinting.  A good way to see if the strength training is transferring is measure the time it takes to push it a fixed distance.  If 1RM is going up in the gym but time on the link assessment is not going down then the strength training hasn’t transferred.

What’s the difference between CAPACITY STRENGTH and TECHNICAL Strength?

Capacity strength would be your traditional DL exercises such as Squats and Deadlifts and Jump squats.  Technical strength would be your SL exercises such as SL Hip thrust, SL Seated calf raise.  So in this way Alex was suggesting that perhaps you start with the ‘less specific’ bilateral exercises and move towards ‘more specific’ unilateral exercises.

Alex says ‘just because you run on one leg doesn’t mean you need to lifts always on one leg! But, in Special Preparatory periods where the track coach is getting nervous about you doing more heavy lifting you can focus on more SL work.  This is because at this time there is a greater volume of high speed running and the coaches don’t want the sprinters to be feeling fatigued.  You can sneak in some high intensity strength loading by using SL work.  To the coach they will see you lifting less weight on the back, but actually the intensity is very high!  Remember that a pistol squat (to quarter squat depth) with 1 x Bodyweight external load (30kg weighted vest and holding two 25kg dumbbells let’s say for a 80kg male) is supposed to equate to 3 x BW on DL Back squat

100% BW pistol = 3 x BW Back squat

I haven’t really looked at this in detail myself.  I need to be convinced of whether we can make comparisons between a quarter depth SL squat and a parallel DL squat but it’s something to think about.


I personally still feel the argument for one or the other is a non starter.  You need both in your programme as they are both movements that I want my athletes to master.  I still feel intuitively that having let’s say 200lb on your back will add more ”system stress” in terms of neural load than doing 115lbs separately on each leg- assuming the body can squat that much!!  Therefore DL squats create higher OVERLOAD and CAPACITY STRENGTH in terms of total load overcome in a single rep.  I also like the fact that the lower back is a force transferer which may or may not be a limiting factor in whether someone can BL squat more.  It means we need to work on strengthening our torso if we want to squat more.  I will talk about some paused deep squats that I heard Greg Nuckols talk about in another post!

I do agree that SL work might make more sense to focus on more in your Specific Preparation phases and I’ll look to incorporate more in those phases- but I’d still keep both in, in all phases.

I like the way Alex and Mike Boyle view bilateral strength- there is a point beyond which it probably doesn’t serve us to keep getting stronger on two legs in a non sport specific way.  For Mike Boyle I know he talks about being able to squat 50% bodyweight for 10 reps on a Goblet squat.  Then his focus changes to SL work and it seems getting to 50% bodyweight in each hand for 5-6 reps seems like their next goal!!!!!



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