Three Basic But Overlooked Points on Speed & Agility Training

Is there any athlete who does not want to run faster, jump higher,  throw harder, and cut quicker? The internets are loaded with instruction and advice, with thousands of training methods and tens of thousands of exercises promising to deliver the goods. In this day and age, knowing what NOT to do is nearly just as important as knowing what to do. So next time you Google or YouTube what makes a person faster, more powerful, and quicker, it would be good to keep these three things in mind:

The Wet Grass Test

The Wet Grass Test is performed by looking at an activity or exercises and asking, “Could I do this on wet grass?” If the suggested exercise would be largely unaffected by wet conditions, it’s probably of little benefit.
The far majority of sports involve transferring forces generated from the entire body, through the ball of the foot and into the ground.  This moment in time garners little attention compared to the events that take place shortly thereafter; the 90 mph fastball, the rim-ratting dunk, and the first steImage result for foot ground reaction forcep quickness to the ball. The place where the ball of the foot meets the ground is where it all begins.
But what if the ground is incapable of keeping it’s end of the bargain? Wet grass does not allow for generating ground reaction forces. Of course, competing in wet conditions is an entirely different topic of discussion. What I’m saying is that it’s not optimal to TRAIN in those type of conditions, for the purpose of building power, speed, and quickness.
Linear running/jogging, agility ladder, and jumping in sand are three popular activities that fail the wet grass test. Instead, look for activities that require the ground to reliably “give back” what you put into it. Make sure the exercise passes the Wet Grass Test.

Fatigue is a barrier. 

It’s MOSTLY brain training!

Training for speed, power, and quickness should require focus and effort. Much of the benefit of speed and agility work comes from training the brain, with some degree of motor learning involved. It’s not the kind of thing you can do while watching a phone or TV. Practicing precision with various jumps and landings, running form drills, and relatively short (distance) sprints are all hard work. You should break a sweat. But these should not be exhausting.

A typical Plyo Friday, out back – focusing mostly on efficiency.

There is a time for conditioning; for exercise methods more suited to generally “getting in shape.” This type of energy systems work technically targets the heart, lungs, and muscles. But at least some of the time, athletes should avoid undue fatigue when attempting to target the  nervous system attributes critical to speed, power, and quickness. Fatigue directly interferes with motor learning and ability to focus on generating high forces. It increases the chances of injury in moderate- to high-impact activities.

Being burpee’d and box jumped to death is pointless at best. I’m relatively new to soccer, but I still say that high level soccer players should not be required to run a mile in under 5 minutes. Running “lines” until you are blue in the face is okay for conditioning. But this is not speed training.

In practical terms, I’ve found that athletes get the BEST benefit when they spend the majority of an ~hour session on activities that target the nervous system, with ample rest and focus on peak power, and approximately 10 minutes of “grinding” type anaerobic conditioning at the end. Of course, the details of the exercise prescription depend on the current goals and abilities of the athlete, as well as their current team season.

Force Before Agility

Agility is a sport- and even position-specific quality that should be addressed primarily in practices. For athletes that are too weak to generate much force, focusing on agility is like putting high performance tires and a rear spoiler on a tiny two cylinder engine. It drives me crazy to see raily 130-pound athletes spending 20 minutes on an agility ladder. They would be served much better by hitting the weights in order to increase their potential to generate force!

Keystone girls getting after FORCE (hitting the weights).

Lifting weights -alone- is not a comprehensive path to speed and quickness. But the majority of athletes benefit tremendously from having some serious squat, dead lift, chin-up, and overhead press goals. Yes, chin-ups and overhead press are keys to developing the real, functional core strength that keeps the spine and pelvis stable when the hips push to change direction and accelerate! With strength comes the potential to generate forces, and THEN training speed and plyometric exercises allows the athlete to apply that strength, generating a high amount of force quickly. This is power, defined!

Stay tuned for more information on training for speed, agility, and power.



Value in Physical Therapy

“I rarely refer to physical therapy because with the co-pays and everything…” Says a friend of mine who is an MD. He regularly refers for MRIs and performs epidural injections which cost (quite literally) hundreds if not thousands of dollars per test and treatment.

“Physical therapy is too much for most of our clients” says a nearby foot surgeon who is a stones throw from my physical therapy office. I do not know the cost of plantar fascia releases. And toe resections. And ankle fusions. And tendon reconstructions. And amputations. And…Yaaahhhhh!hd-aspect-1454081235-dean-scream-header

Yes, physical therapy costs more than a monthly gym membership or lunch at your favorite deli. But it’s a lot less expensive than MRIs, surgeries, and injections. I still haven’t arrived at the point of this rant.

This is not a simple question of “Which treatment is cheaper?” The issue is VALUE.

Let’s say that you have a stubborn pain across the inside of your knee that has not diminished in a few weeks.

You could consult an MD to poke at (palpate) the knee and prescribe some anti inflammatory pain medications. You could hire an orthopedist to poke at the knee and give you a cortisone injection and tell you to quit doing the things that you enjoy. A typical chiropractor may check for imbalances in posture, alignment, nutrition, or some kind of chi electromagnetic field. He or she may lay you on a table, and perform specific manipulations on your joints.

You could do all of those things, and that would be okay, possibly even helpful. But none of these are likely to address the cause of the problem.

Your knee problem is very likely a movement related issue, and very rarely do medical disciplines outside of physical therapy have you, you know, ACTUALLYMOVE!

All of them demand little time or effort on the patient’s behalf. They are all chasing pain and stop shy of educating and empowering you to understand and address the cause of the pain if at all possible. I won’t go ahead and compare the cost of 6 or 8 visits of physical therapy versus diagnostic tests, surgery, and associated post-op medical care. But the data is definitely out there and easy to locate. You can see the results of some studies here , here, and there.

**Pain is not the bad guy, to be ignored or completely annihilated in the typical American way. Pain is a “tell,”  a guide that marks the way for an intelligent approach to treating the problem.

If you come to most physical therapists with a sore knee, they will-

-Take a look at your posture and alignment of the feet through the hips.

-Have you MOVE! What is the femur doing at the knee and hip in its accessible planes? Is the femur attempting to move in planes where it doesn’t have access, particularly at the knee? What is the foot and ankle doing in relation to the knee? Does the foot move too much or not enough? How are the core and opposite shoulder moving in respect to these accessible planes of movement? What general movement strategies does the person use? Do they access their hips when going up and down stairs, squatting or going to and from a chair?

From this, we can come up with a plan to address your specific impairments without relying on medications, injections, or invasive surgeries**.

Most folks with knee pain benefit from a handful of modalities to calm down the irritated and/or inflammed tissue.

Most have some pattern of weakness or tightness of the pelvis and hips.

Some with knee issues have ankles and feet that are too tight or tool flexible. Some have high or low arches that warrant work on their feet or even orthotic intervention.

I’m not saying that physical therapists can or should guarantee everyone a pain-free existence, or that medications, injections, and surgery do not have their place. They certainly do. But let’s not pretend that a thorough movement assessment and treatment has less value to the patient and the system.

It’s nice to believe in what you do for a living!

And if you want to go even one step better, find an exercise program, a personal trainer or -certain- guy who knows what he’s doing, so that you can train and maintain your body without doing harm in your exercise program. I mean, wouldn’t it be great if you could learn the details that address and prevent pains and problems before they become debilitating.great idea

I mean, geeze…you could even include this work as a part of a regular exercise routine that you should be doing anyway!

Imagine if you could schedule a detailed one – on – one assessment to go over your body, your barriers and personal goals, then carry that out with a little instruction and light assistance.