Individualizing the Management of Overhead Athletes

Eric Cressey delivered a presentation in 2012- originally delivered at the American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA) Convention – to 4500 coaches in attendance- called ‘Individualizing the Management of Overhead Athletes.’

 

He has now made it available for FREE if you sign up to his newsletter so if you want to see it is full then go ahead and sign up.

 

This blog is a summary of the three topics discussed in the 45 minute presentation.   For the most part the information is directly quoted from Eric’s presentation.

Our Heaviest Influence is the Weather

 

We deal with terrible weather and as a result you don’t associate baseball with where we operate our CSP fitness facility in Massachusetts.  This forced me to do a lot more listening and ask a lot more questions as I didn’t have a lot of the experiences growing up in the North east that come from being in a baseball hot bed.

 

 

Massachusetts (highlighted in red) is the 7th-smallest state in the United States. It is located in the New England region of the Northeastern United States.

 

”Do you see a lot of ice hockey players coming out of the state of Alabama, what do you guys know about the state of New Mexico’s lacrosse programme?  It doesn’t happen, right? So we have these sports up in the Northeastern area that really aren’t that prevalent in the south, where all these big time prospects are coming from.

 

We know that statistically speaking, if you have a surgery in the minor leagues, it cuts your chances of making it in the big leagues in half

 

Now, to add to that, it’s about a 1 in 50 success rate, with 2% of players that are drafted ever make it to the big leagues, so if you become the 2 in a 100 that makes it, you become the 1 in a 100 all of a sudden if you have a surgery.  So it’s very important we work with the talent we have and keep it healthy.”

 

Eric spoke about a draft pick where major league teams liked the fact that the prospect had never thrown more than 80 innings in year.  You see a lot of these colleges now recruiting more and more from the north east.  Why? These guys don’t have the same level of accumulated wear and tear that everybody else has.

 

”You get an arm from Georgia and then you compare it to an arm from Massachusetts, and you compare the number of innings they both have; if I have two guys and they are both pitching at 90-92 mph, I’ll take the Massachusetts guy any day of the week.  He’s got a bigger window of adaptation, he probably has less calcification on his ulnar collateral ligament, he knows how to roll in different social circles from playing hockey, so there’s lots of benefits to playing multiple sports.  So one thing we have working in our favour here, is that the weather kind of forces that.”

 

Absolute Strength to Absolute Speed Continuum

 

On one end we have absolute speed where we are focused on Velocity and on the other end we have absolute strength continuum where we are focused on Force.

 

 

”If you look at how a typical young sprinter is built and what they come with naturally, very reactive, reasonably fast and can put the force into the ground reasonably quickly but what can you do to improve them – you’ve got to get them stronger right?  So you’re going to take them from all the way over on the left and train them more on the right.  Same story for a basketball player.

 

Once we get them over that original hurdle of that foundation strength, we realise that hey there’s some stuff that we can do in the middle that will help them get to where they want to be, such as loaded Jump squats and Olympic lifts.

 

So maybe my best move is not just throwing on a weighted vest and doing plyos with a kid who has always done sprinting and plyos, I need to get them strong first, and then I can start to look in the middle.

 

Bear in mind that this might be more relevant to off-season and that if someone is in-season and is very strong, are you going to say you’re going to do a tonne of sprinting and plyos when you come in to train with me? No, he’s probably getting a lot of that in-season in matches already.

 

So what does that look like in the context of pitching in baseball?

 

 

Talk about being all the way on the left; if I’m a pitcher I’ve thrown a 5 ounce baseball my entire life, it’s what I’ve done since little league.  Now, what we realised is that strength training improves throwing velocity.  They’ll be some pitching coaches that will tell you that strength training is bad for pitching (who apparently don’t know how to read the scientific literature).  Bad weight training is bad for anybody!  Good weight training can certainly help in the quest to throw a baseball harder.

 

So we need to take these guys who have a base of absolute speed and take them over to the absolute strength end, which is a basis for a lot of things.  It’s not just a basis for power output, it’s also a basis for joint stability.

 

What do we know about throwers? They have a lot more laxity in general, both congenital (so the way they were made) and acquired.  Now once we have built that foundation of strength and we’ve got to take them more to the middle.

 

So understand where you are on with respect to long term power development and appreciate that that will change over the course of a season and career.”

 

Getting Outside the Sagittal Plane

 

”Rotational sports aren’t like sprinting.  They take place in multiple planes of motion and yet most of the traditional gym strength clean, squat and bench programmes are very sagittal plane dominant.

 

 

So what I see in most college athletes who come to me when they’ve made it to pro ball and they look back on their college weight training experience.  They have been in large group settings, they’ve all done the same programme, so they’ve all learnt to squat, bench, deadlift etc.  So when I get them in many cases they may be strong enough, they may have plenty of arm speed but they’ve never really done anything in the middle.

 

In many cases this is the same for the training out of the sagittal plane; you just don’t see many guys training outside that sagittal plane at the level they need to.  We also know that there is something called the ‘delayed transmutation affect,’ which a famous Russian scientist Zatziosky referred to as the time it takes to be able to transfer or realise the general strength improvements into sport specific actions.

 

So if I gain 50 pounds on my squat in the off-season when does it carry over to me throwing the baseball harder?  What I can tell you is that, that period is going to be a lot longer in a baseball player because of the rotational component, than in a football player who just wants to run faster in a straight line or jump high.

 

 

What do we see?  This is a 14, 16, 18 and a 22 year old.  They all have an adducted right hip.  They all have low right shoulders, horizontal clavicle (we like to see a 6-20 degree up slope), and as they get older they tend to re-engrain these compensatory patterns.  If I just do bilateral exercise, is that going to get better? No!  They need to be doing left hand throwing, some rotational med ball work in the other direction and we need to learn how to get back to neutral and then train in neutral.”

 

Hip and Shoulder Separation

 

Just before we get into the specifics of how the body moves in a baseball pitch, just a quick recap on Anatomy of the Pelvis.

 

 

The Anterior Superior Iliac Spine (ASIS) is a bony prominance on the front of your pelvis.    The Posterior Superior Iliac Spine (PSIS) is a bony prominance on the back of your pelvis.  When you tilt your pelvis forward or back it will affect the position of the ASIS and PSIS.

 

The research group below basically looked at what happens to your pelvis and thorax (basically the area your ribs occupy) when you throw.

 

 

”All you need to focus on is the far left column (above) where it says Foot Contact, and that’s stride foot contact so it’s what happens when I set my front foot down.  What you have to appreciate is, if I look at my pelvis and my right Anterior Superior Iliac Spine (ASIS) what you’ll see is they have already started to orientate towards the plate.

 

So as my hips are moving towards the plate, my torso is still moving in the opposite direction

 

 

So am I going to be able to prepare for this level ? of hip-thorax separation angle by just doing squats, bench, and cleans in the gym? No!  It’s not going to get the job done.  I need to train a little bit more rotationally to prepare for those demands that might be taking place.”

 

The demands are equally high on hitting.

 

 

This is something that is happening at crazy high velocities through an extreme range of motion so we are pushing the limits of hip mobility, hip stability and core stability simultaneously.

 

Specificity of Power Development

 

”Remember also that power development is plane specific.  Just because I get good at doing vertical jumps or broad jumps, I don’t know that that is going to carry over to rotational medicine ball throws and things like that.  On the flip side I’ve just seen way too many guys with bad bodies come in and jump an 18 inch jump and yet go out and throw 95 mph – so power in the gym wasn’t correlating with pitching velocity.

 

So if we’re talking about predictive value, the more specific you get with the context of power the better off you’re going to be, so things like skaters, lateral hop and rotational throw for distance etc will be good options.

 

”Get into that hip, then get out of that hip – it’s all about weight transfer.”

 

The ‘hip’ being the back hip.  But as well as power development which comes from the back hip, but you also need to learn to transfer force and accept force with the lower half especially on the front leg, as you can only speed up what you can slow down.”

 

 

Understanding and Individualising Deceleration

 

It’s a great picture because it shows where everything ends.

 

 

”When we talk about deceleration we often want to work back from what we see and build up from what started it all.  So what’s controlling a throw?  We have supinators at our forearm we are needed to control the pronators when you pitch a ball.  We have to have strength at our forearm which helps to decelerate the pronation.  We also have our elbow flexors with about 2400-2600 degrees per second of elbow extension when you throw a baseball, so something crossing your elbow has to help to slow that down.

 

At the glenohumeral joint, when we throw we go through 7000 degrees per second of shoulder internal rotation, it’s the fastest motion in all of sport and it’s the equivalent of making 20 full revolutions of the ball on the socket every second.  Furthermore, when we get out in front and we release that ball that’s about 1.5 times bodyweight in distraction forces.  So you have that humeral head swiveling and also being pulled out of that socket so your posterior cuff is going to take a beating and you need to make sure it is really strong.”

 

Summary

 

”At the end of the day lower body strength really matters for these guys, and building some general foundational strength will be really important.  But try to think about the three areas discussed above as these will be actionable areas you can look at to make further gains in their baseball development.”

 

Hope you have found this article useful.  Thanks to Eric Cressey for the great insights.

 

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Should Tennis Players Train Overhead?

Hi everyone!  In today’s post I’m going to speak about a topic which has been really important for me to get my head around over the years as a coach working almost exclusively in Tennis  – and that’s training overhead.

 

Shoulder related injuries account for a large percentage of repetitive injuries in Tennis along with lower back issues and ankle sprains.  So given that the shoulder area already has to deal with a huge amount of stress just from playing the sport we do need to tread carefully with our programming, as it relates to training overhead.

 

 

In a recent discussion with one of my coaches I was pretty upfront in saying, ”I’m not a fan of programming Barbell overhead presses and Barbell bench presses.”  His reaction was a lot like many I had seen before, bewilderment, because perhaps it was taken as if I was saying I’m against getting strong at pushing in the horizontal and vertical plane!

 

Quite the opposite – I think it’s really important to get stronger at pushing in the vertical and horizontal plane but I don’t think the bench press and overhead press are the best options for a tennis player, and certainly not a barbell version.

 

In this blog I’ll address why I think that way, and I’ll also pay respect to a couple of practitioners who have inspired a lot of my thinking in the past and continue to lead the way in strength & conditioning applied to baseball – Eric Cressey, of Cressey Performance and Ben Brewster, of Tread Athletics.

 

I did write an article Why Our Tennis Players Aren’t using Olympic Lifts – which is a topic for another day but it goes along the same lines – it’s about the cost-to-benefit ratio of these types of exercises in a special population of athletes.

 

One of my favourite comments from Eric Cressey goes like this ?

 

Many of you are going to hate me for what I’m about to say. I don’t let my overhead throwing athletes overhead press or bench press with a straight bar.

 

There. I said it. Call me all the names you’d like but ask yourself this:

 

Am I cursing Eric’s name because I think that the cost-to-benefit ratio of overhead pressing and straight bar bench pressing justifies their use, or is it because I feel naked without these options? I have to bench press. I can’t start an upper body day with any other exercise.”

 

Early in my coaching career I literally read every article from Eric’s blog, I’ve also personally purchased most of his products and most of what I know about the shoulder I have Eric to thank for.

 

 

This post won’t go into the functional anatomy of the shoulder joint so if you want to do a deep dive on this I highly recommend you check out Sturdy Shoulders or Optimal Shoulder Performance.  With that been said, let’s get into today’s topic and kick off with the Bench press!

 

Why I don’t like the Barbell Bench Press

 

Reason #1 – It doesn’t train scapular movement effectively

 

I read an article by Eric in 2010 – Should Pitchers Bench Press?

 

In it Eric says ”As it relates to pitching, the fundamental problem with the conventional barbell bench press (as performed correctly, which it normally isn’t) is that it doesn’t really train scapular movement effectively.  When we do push-up variations, the scapulae are free to glide – just as they do when we pitch.  When we bench, though, we cue athletes to lock the shoulder blades down and back to create a great foundation from which to press.  It’s considerably different, as we essentially take away most (if not all) of scapular protraction.”

 

With dumbbell benching, we recognize that we get better range-of-motion, freer movement of the humerus (instead of being locked into internal rotation), and increased core activation – particularly if we’re doing alternating DB presses or 1-arm db presses.  There is even a bit more scapular movement in these variations (even if we don’t actually coach it).

 

Reason #2 – It adds non functional mass and potentially reduces functional flexibility

 

The range of motion is a little bit less with a barbell version but athletes like it because that allows them to increase the load on the bar and potentially add on some muscle mass.  The issue is that this muscle mass could lead to restrictions in shoulder and scapular movement – which won’t carry over to throwing the way the muscle mass in the lower half and upper back will.

 

 

This is probably why we don’t see an abundance of literature pointing to the correlation between bench pressing strength and pitching velocity (in the same way we might see between Rugby players with bench press strength and bench throw power output and playing level).

 

We want athletes with good range of motion in external rotation at the glenohumeral joint of the shoulder and horizontal abduction.  This generally means exercises which promote length of the pec and lat muscles are favourable.

 

As Eric says, ‘what you do in the weight room has to be highly effective to justify its inclusion.  I just struggle to consider bench pressing “highly effective” for pitchers.

 

Eric Cressey has a free presentation – Individualizing the Management of Overhead Athletes – which I’ll briefly highlight some of the key take home points in another blog.  But if you want to see the whole thing sign up to his newsletter on his home page.

 

 

Why I don’t like the Overhead Press

 

My thoughts on this are similar to the bench press argument.  Despite my years in Tennis I have to be honest and say that more of my focus (at least in my blog) has been on lower body strength/power.

 

So if you want a good series to read check out on Eric’s blog check out:

 

The Issue with Most Powerlifting-Specific Programs

 

Should We Really Contradict All Overhead Lifting

 

How To Build Back to Overhead Pressing

 

The main summary is that overhead pressing using a barbell or dumbbells allow a lifter to take on the most load, and in the case of the barbell, they have the least freedom of movement (especially if we’re talking about a Smith machine press). Moreover, they generally lead to the most significant compensatory movement, particularly at the lower back. I don’t love these for tennis players.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reason #1 – Throwing athletes are already predisposed to shoulder injuries

 

Overhead throwing athletes (and pitchers in particular) demonstrate significantly less scapular upward rotation at 60+ degrees of abduction.

 

Laudner KG, Stanek JM, Meister K. Differences in Scapular Upward Rotation Between Baseball Pitchers and Position Players. Am J Sports Med. 2007 Dec;35(12):2091-5.

 

From that study: “CLINICAL RELEVANCE: This decrease in scapular upward rotation may compromise the integrity of the glenohumeral joint and place pitchers at an increased risk of developing shoulder injuries compared with position players. As such, pitchers may benefit from periscapular stretching and strengthening exercises to assist with increasing scapular upward rotation.”

 

So if we know they are already at increased risk of developing shoulder injuries shouldn’t we be searching for the least stressful forms of overhead exercise?  For the record, I don’t consider the overhead press to be one such exercise.  I explain more below.

 

 

Reason #2 – Overhead pressing doesn’t train scapular movement effectively

 

Impingement of the shoulder happens when we close down the space between the humerus and acromion.  This usually happens when we get more rounded in our posture, causing our shoulders to internally rotate more.  More external rotation = more sub-acromial space. How much internal or external rotation we get is going to be affected by the position of the bar (front vs. back vs. dumbbells) and the chosen grip (neutral corresponds to more external rotation- of humerus). Certain exercises will require more internal rotation and when used in excess – something like a barbell overhead press is typically going to make impingement worse, and a large percentage of the population really can’t do it safely. 

 

Subacromial impingement syndrome refers to the inflammation and irritation of the shoulder tendons (rotator cuff tendons) as they pass through the subacromial space. This can result in pain, weakness, and reduced range of motion within the shoulder.

 

 

 

 

Reason #3 – We want more Traction and less Approximation

 

Additionally, comparing most overhead weight training movements (lower velocity, higher load) to throwing a baseball (or serving in Tennis) is like comparing apples and oranges.  Throwing a baseball is a significant traction (humerus pulled away from the glenoid fossa), whereas overhead pressing is approximation (humerus pushed into the glenoid fossa).  The former is markedly less stressful on the shoulder – and why chin-ups are easier on the joint than shoulder pressing.

 

 

Reason #4 – Overhead Pressing requires adequate shoulder flexion range

 

As a final plea, if you really are dead set on doing overhead pressing (with a barbell particularly) I’d just caution you to do some form of clearing test to check the athlete has adequate overhead range of motion.

 

 

The fist to fist test is just a start point to highlight that there may be a restriction – although it is supposed to encapsulate external shoulder range of motion, shoulder flexion and horizontal abduction (of top hand) and the opposite in the bottom hand- it’s not a complete picture.  So in order to know exactly where the restriction is you would need to do a follow up assessment of things like T-spine (lumbar locked test or seated rotation), scapular (shoulder flexion and abduction) and humerus (total arc of motion in external and internal range combined).

 

As shoulder flexion is a pretty key driver of overhead movement it’s generally a good idea to assess that in isolation.  There are many versions you can do – seated, standing and lying down.  If the only way you can drive overhead motion is with compensatory lumbar extension then you know that there is no sense in doing loaded overhead pressing (especially with a barbell!)

 

 

So what are the Alternatives?

 

Below is a great visualisation of the spectrum of overhead exercises.   At the most aggressive end of the spectrum, we have overhead pressing with a barbell or dumbbells. They allow a lifter to take on the most load, and in the case of the barbell, they have the least freedom of movement.

 

 

At the other end we have some options as more shoulder friendly exercises that can deliver a great training effect in more at-risk populations (i.e., tennis players).  The bottoms-up kettlebell military press delivers a slightly different training effect more safely because more of the work is devoted to joint stability. And, the bottoms-up set-up helps the lifter to engage serratus anterior more to get the scapula “around” the rib cage

 

Also check out this brilliant video from Ben Brewster of Tread Athletics

 

 

Hope you have found this article useful.

 

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  • Share this post using the buttons on the top and bottom of the post. As one of this blog’s first readers, I’m not just hoping you’ll tell your friends about it. I’m counting on it.
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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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Pacey Performance Podcast REVIEW – Episode 381 Alistair & Tom Part 3

This blog is a review of the Pacey Performance Podcast Episode 381 – Alistair McBurnie & Tom Dos’Santos

 

Alistair and Tom are interviewed in a two part series (Episode 380 and 381).  Episode 380 focused more on Deceleration ability.  Episode 381 focuses on change of direction ability.

 

I’ve created a three part blog series out of it.  In Part 1 and Part 2 the full script of the podcast was included for Episode 380.  In this Part 3 blog an edited version is included with the key take home points from Episode 381.

 

Alistair McBurnie

 

Alistair is a sports science analyst for Manchester United’s first team, having worked his way up from coaching at academy level.

 

Twitter

 

 

Tom Dos’Santo

 

Tom is a lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University, where he teaches strength conditioning and sports biomechanics. Previously, he’s worked at the University of Salford, and England Northwest and Manchester Thunder netball squads.

 

Twitter

 

? Listen to the full episode here

 

Discussion topics:

 

”Would you be able to talk to us about the key positions we should be worried about when it comes to effective change of direction and how we train those?

 

”@Tom: there is a whole range of definitions in terms of if we are just talking about a change in path of travel or reorientation of our centre of mass.  I’ll break down change of direction (COD) into four phases.

 

  1. Initial Acceleration – to initiate the movement
  2. Preliminary Deceleration – depending on the angle (particularly for more aggressive COD anything 60 degrees and above)
  3. Preparatory postural adjustments – stride length and preparatory positions to optimise final foot plant (there will be some potential braking over the penultimate step and prior steps
  4. Execution phase – final foot plant – then re-accelerate

 

There are probably five or six different change of direction actions during the execution phase.

 

  1. sidestep cutting action – involves lateral foot plant abducting at the hip and pushing off towards the opposite direction
  2. cross-over cut – medial foot placement on the same limb and push off in the same direction
  3. shuffle step – a series of lateral foot plants – we see that from an evasive perspective (rug
  4. split step (jump cut) – jump into the cut and push off that one limb, or land bilaterally and then push off one limb
  5. spin maneuver– typically a 270 degrees blind side turn- popular in ball carrying sports to avoid being tackled
  6. Pivot – turn to 110-120 degrees or more performed bilaterally or unilaterally
  7. Deceleration – which is an agility action in its own right

 

Performance-Injury Trade Off

 

Some of the technical characteristics that are required for faster performance could be at odds with potential increased knee joint loading.

 

There is always going to be some injury risk with changing direction.

 

The faster we run the greater the knee joint load so typically we need to reduce our momentum into that, so the penultimate foot contact is key.  I believe that a lot of the poor postures adopted in that final foot contact are a by product of sub-optimal positioning on those preparatory steps, particularly in the penultimate foot contact.  I think it’s a really important step to put you in the optimal position to execute an optimal final foot contact.

 

Penultimate Foot Contact

 

We encourage EARLIER BRAKING particularly with these sharper COD as it’s a safer strategy with the penultimate foot contact because we decelerate in the sagittal plane, the knee joint is in a stronger position, GRF vectors are aligned with the knee joint centre, and we go through substantially greater range of motion (typically you go through double the amount of knee flexion, around 10-120 with the penultimate foot contact- PFC 100–120° versus FFC 20–60°) which equals greater angular displacement. Thus, based on the work-energy principle, ↑ work = greater reduction in kinetic energy and ↓ velocity.

 

Figure 1. The image on the left illustrates final foot contact (FFC), and the image on the right illustrates penultimate foot contact (PFC).

 

Final Foot Contact

 

If we think about the Final Foot Contact (FFC) you are asking the limb to go from a rapid braking phase to a rapid transition into a propulsive phase, so asking it to do two things during ground contact, whereas the PFC can focus purely on braking, and it goes through increased range of motion which is a safer strategy.

 

For a sharper turn (180 degree) we encourage to decelerate more in the anti-penultimate step, start rotating in the PFC to start lining you up in the correct position.

 

Brake early and lower your centre of mass

 

That’s going to put you in the optimal position to create that perpendicular force with a wide lateral foot plant in order to change inertia and accelerate laterally or medially in this sense.  By having a wide lateral foot plant we need to acknowledge we are going to increase the moment arm in the frontal plane, so that’s going to increase knee valgus loading, so there is probably this Goldilocks affect- not too wide but not too narrow.

 

 

Frontal Trunk control

 

Another performance-injury trade off.  If your objective is to have the greatest exit Velocity we should be encouraging medial trunk lean.  However, this is the argument that we need to ”drop the shoulder” which is a deceitful maneuver to unbalance and fool your opponent however we do get increased moment arm in the frontal plane and that is going to increase the knee valgus

 

If the objective is to complete the task as fast as possible we try and rotate early towards the direction of travel.

 

Hip Extension and Knee Flexion Paradox

 

If we want to decrease the risk of injury we just need to ask the athlete to run slow and land really softly.

 

Slower athletes display lower knee joint loads and go through greater knee and hip flexion, they distribute the load further up the chain.  Faster athletes, make ground contact/land in initial hip flexion, they don’t go through any further hip flexion so maintain the isometric and go purely into hip extension- so possibly resisted hip and knee flexion could be a strong performance indicator, while also acknowledging the greater knee joint load of this strategy.

 

Foot Position

 

We encourage a neutral foot position.  If you are excessive internally rotated this will increase the susceptibility to knee abduction moments and having excessively rotated outwards can lead to pronation and lead to tibial rotation.

 

A big debate is if we heel strike or not?  I wouldn’t want to change direction just on the ball of my foot.  I assume I am going to increase the loading and susceptibility to ankle injuries and we need that firm base of support.

 

Optimal Technical Model

 

I don’t think it exists but we do need to acknowledge the Performance-Injury trade offs and address the technical deficits that aren’t going to offer any performance advantages.”

 

”@Alistair: I think that enhancing an athlete’s physical capacity is probably the most effective way to mitigate injury risks and develop their strength/power qualities to enhance performance.

 

Control to Chaos Continuum

 

I also like the Control to Chaos Continuum.  During a session I always start with pre-planned drills to begin with.  This allows you to make sure that you execute a certain volume of left and right change of directions, so you know how much work you did in the session, and it’s way of making sure you are getting the required dosage that you can build on.

 

 

Within more of an agility based drill you do forsake that element of control because it does become more chaotic.  But these are really important for game performance and this would be a good segway into the technical session.”

 

”Is COD testing losing its place in an applied setting?”

 

”@Tom:  I suppose it is, but I don’t think it should be.  I still think there is a time and place for it.

 

COD Testing

 

Pre-planned COD testing and training seems to be getting bashed at the moment as it’s not sport specific and it doesn’t involve perception-action coupling.  However, we test and train sprinting in a pre-planned environment.  Everyone is okay addressing sprint mechanics in a pre-planned environment, everyone is okay addressing jump mechanics in a pre-planned environment.  But as soon as we want to do a COD drill we immediately must throw a ball and a defender in, when in fact most athletes don’t warrant the right for that because they can’t MASTER THE MECHANICS in the pre-planned.

 

We don’t programme our plyometrics by going to a 50 cm box and thinking about an overhead target.  We do it in a controlled manner.  We still want those pre-planned elements in our training, we are not saying completely remove the unplanned elements, just think about the volumes and dosages.

 

I’d argue that in most sports our coaching philosophy is we want robust 360 degree athletes who are proficient at changing direction off left and right limbs from low, medium and high velocities

 

If we start breaking it down into our tests and we say we want our athlete to sidestep cut off 45 degrees, 90 degrees, do some aggressive pivots.  But then we also need to make sure they are equally proficient off both limbs.  So from a timing gate perspective, that means they need to do at least two trials on the left, two trials on the right, at 45, 90 and 180 degrees.  But that’s 5 metres, which shows that they are good at decelerating and changing direction from a low entry velocity.  So do I do repeat the same thing at a high entry velocity? Before you know it, we probably need 30 trials to build up this multi-directional speed profile and that’s just for one sidestep cutting action.

 

The other issue with timing gates is we are getting no insight into movement strategy, we are just getting an indication of how quickly they are getting from A to B (which is fine when the objective is in most sports is to get from A to B).  Particularly we want to know how are they entering, how are they changing direction and how are they exiting?  With the advancement of wearable non invasive technologies we are starting to get more insights into this.  We can mask our deficiencies in COD with superior acceleration and linear speed capabilities.

 

Change of Direction Angle Profile

 

We do Force (Load)-Velocity load profiling with our jump squats which takes 45 minutes so why can’t we do the same thing on the pitch and view this testing session as an isolated training session to elicit a training stimulus.

 

We can build a picture of 45 degree, a 90 degree and 180 cut for each isolated COD cutting task such as a sidestep cut.

 

Agility Assessments

 

I don’t think there will ever be a perfect agility assessment because sport is chaotic.  I am not a fan of one versus one testing, looking at how successful one is at evading an opponent.   I think it’s quite floored because we are still not getting an insight into perceptual-cognitive speed.  How do we standardise that defender for the attacker, how do we standardise the starting position? We can’t use a generic stimulus such as flashing light or arrow because they don’t differentiate skill level.  You need a sport specific stimulus and I don’t think you can complete that on the pitch.

 

To evaluate we should be looking at the movement quality and not just completion time or COD deficit, which are floored in my opinion.   We should be filming our athletes completing COD tasks to see how they are executing them – are seeing if they are adopting double foot contact or predominantly loading on one limb, and look at their trunk position etc (whether it’s during a testing session or during field based conditioning sessions).

 

The reason why I’m still a big advocate of these pre-planned tests is because we are focusing on that perception-action coupling (with agility drills).  What we are interested in is the mechanical ability to perform that task irrespective if we add some externally directed attention or agility stimulus.

 

If an athlete is poor at performing that task, it is only going to be amplified and worsened in an unplanned environment

 

I still think that a lot of athletes don’t really excel at these pre-planned tasks where we are evaluating the physical and mechanical ability to perform the COD task.

 

COD Deficit

 

The COD deficit is really popular as a way of getting an isolated measure of COD ability by subtracting a linear sprint time of equivalent distance from the COD test time such as the 5-0-5.

 

505 completion time – 10-meter sprint time

 

But it seems to be maybe potentially biased to slower athletes.  If you are ‘slower’ (but achieve the same 5-0-5 time) you’ll arguably going to have a ‘better’ COD deficit but the athlete is slower!

 

If you think of a test like a 5-0-5 a faster athlete is actually at a disadvantage because they have greater horizontal momentum and they are going to have to apply a greater braking force in order to decelerate and perform that task.  So something we have to factor in with the COD deficit is the athlete’s entry speed.

 

A better option might be to break the COD completion time down into three phases we can assess:

 

  1. Entry time– point they enter COD to FFC
  2. COD time – initial contact to toe off of main foot contact (FFC)
  3. Exit time

 

 

If you’d like to read more about this, see Tom’s article on Simplifaster for more information.

 

Also pay attention to the pacing strategy (which might be indicated by entry time).  When you do a 5-0-5 you might see some athletes start decelerating prior to the entry gate (so they want to decelerate over 6 metres- 1 metre before the gate) which is a self regulatory effect where faster athletes potentially don’t want to utilize their full speed because of this braking load tolerance, and want to make the task easier.  It seems to be the same for weaker athletes as well.  It seems to be a physical capacity issue; eccentrically strong athletes can approach faster and decelerate quicker.”

 

 

Top 5 Take Away Points:

 

  1.  Performance-Injury Trade off – Some of the technical characteristics that are required for faster performance could be at odds with potential increased knee joint loading.
  2.  Optimal technical model – I don’t think it exists!
  3.  Pre-planned COD tasks – we want those pre-planned elements in our training, we are not saying completely remove the unplanned elements, just think about the volumes and dosages.
  4.  Assessing movement – we should be looking at the movement quality and not just completion time.
  5.  COD deficit – could potentially be biased to slower athletes.

 

Want more info on the stuff we have spoken about?

 

Science of Multi-Directional Speed

You may also like from PPP:

 

Episode 380 Alastair McBurnie & Tom Dos’Santos

Episode 372 Jeremy Sheppard & Dana Agar Newman

Episode 367 Gareth Sandford

Episode 362 Matt Van Dyke

Episode 361 John Wagle

Episode 359 Damien Harper

Episode 348 Keith Barr

Episode 331 Danny Lum

Episode 298 PJ Vazel

Episode 297 Cam Jose

Episode 295 Jonas Dodoo

Episode 292 Loren Landow

Episode 286 Stu McMillan

Episode 272 Hakan Anderrson

Episode 227, 55 JB Morin

Episode 217, 51 Derek Evely

Episode 212 Boo Schexnayder

Episode 207, 3 Mike Young

Episode 204, 64 James Wild

Episode 192 Sprint Masterclass

Episode 183 Derek Hansen

Episode 175 Jason Hettler

Episode 87 Dan Pfaff

Episode 55 Jonas Dodoo

Episode 15 Carl Valle

 

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