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Are Your Tight Ankles Making You Slower?

When addressing speed, agility, and quickness it is important to take movement quality into account. Moving fast relies on that fact that athletes are able to get into an effective and efficient position. However, there are times when this position is unattainable due to structural or functional deficits.

A few weeks ago, on our Instagram account, we addressed ankle mobility. Many times ankle mobility is discussed when referencing issues in squat technique. However, if you lack mobility through your ankle it will also limit your ability to get into proper sprinting positions.

Images: Poor Ankle Mobility vs. Adequate Ankle Mobility

Loss of ankle mobility can be created from multiple sources. Many times we will see a loss of mobility from a history of ankle sprains, or from athletes that rely on ankle taping for practice or competition. You may also see a loss of mobility from specific shoe ware or a lack of complete movement, think, “Use it or lose it”. When athletes such as hockey players are stuck in a neutral position with high ankle boots for their sport they tend to lose the mobility within their ankle. 

Figure 1 Limited Ankle Mobility Figure 2 Adequate Ankle Mobility

Sprinting relies on the ankle’s ability to move into a dorsi flexed position then accept force in this position without losing integrity. The ankle then expresses force as it moves into a plantar flexed position. If the joint is limited in its range of motion then it will compromise its integrity in order to accept and produce these forces.

Figure 2 Proper alignment through ankle while transmitting force vs. misalignment

The body recognizes that this is a compromising position and it will limit the amount of force that it creates which is transmitted through this structure. Even the strongest, most powerful athlete will be limited in their movements if the body does not feel strong moving at full capacity. The body does not like compromising positions or movements. Its main goal is always safety in movement.

How to fix this…

In order to address this issue we must address the ankle’s ability to move into and out of platar and dorsi flexion as well as accept and produce forces from these positions. In order to see exercises to best address the mobility aspect of this deficit check out our post on our most common ankle mobility drill.

The body is incredible when it comes to compensation. If it recognizes an issue in structure or function at that structure it will find a way to operate around it when called to do so. Do not rely on this ability to compensate. Find a way to get back to proper movement and function. 

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When Should Youth Athletes Begin Strength Training

Youth sports are becoming more competitive each year. Due to this increase in competition, many are looking for additional ways to get an edge or to prepare themselves for the rigor and demands of these sports. This is opening up avenues for physical development for these young athletes. Within physical development programs you see some combination of speed, agility, and strength training being introduced. One of the common questions I received from parents of youth athletes is, “What age is appropriate for Strength/ Weight Training?”.

This is a great questions, and one that I am always happy to answer. I feel that there is copious amounts of misinformation out there on this subject. Some of these myths have been created to benefit specific parts and some of the information was curated out of good intentions, but ultimately misinterpreted over time.

One of the most common arguments against resistance training is the risk of injury. To this I would say, it is the same risk you would incur if you went to someone other than an accredited dental hygienist for dental work. The key is finding someone educated and experienced in the area of working with youth athletes. In August of 2009 the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research printed a position statement for youth resistance training. In this statement they point out that the risk of injury due to resistance training is less than the risk of any team based sport.

So, if risk of injury is the basis for your child avoiding resistance training then you need to pull them out of all sports, as well, in order to avoid a potentially higher risk.

NOW, I believe it is important that I create a common starting point for this article. From this point forward I refer to the subject as Resistance Training. This way there is less opportunity to misconstrue my message and thoughts on the ideas to follow.

I also think that it is important to understand that there are an endless number of ways to incorporate Resistance Training into a routine in order to benefit an athlete. Resistance Training refers to an effort, created by the body, to overcome an outside force or resistance. Many times this is thought to be limited to weights. A majority of the population believes that you can only become stronger, faster, or more explosive through weight training or doing things in the weight room. This is one avenue that you can use, however, it is not the only.

To look at this from another angle, let us observe sprinting. When we observe a grown, male athlete sprinting at top speed, they are generating enough force into the ground to maintain their body weight over the ground. This force can be upwards of 500% of their body weight. You can imagine, if you are applying this much force with every step that the body is undergoing some amount of strength development in order to repetitively create and apply this force.

Now, as it pertains to youth athletes, they will not apply this same amount of force. It is theorized that they apply 2-3x body weight in each of their strides. However, even at 2-3x body weight, they are creating more force than they ever could with any movement in the weight room. This alone is enough reason for me to instruct each of our athletes on proper sprint technique and drills.

Furthermore, we spend a great deal of time teaching athletes on plyometric/ jumping drills. These drills include jump rope, box jumps, broad jumps, skipping and bounding. Each of these exercises is a form of resistance training. In each example the athletes in moving their body weight against the resistance of gravity. They are also doing this at a high velocity. What is even more important about this form of training is the fact that the athletes are learning to absorb forces as well. Any time they land from a jump or bound they must organize they body in a way to land safely. This form of control, in landing, is resistance training.

As you can see, there are many ways to go about resistance training and improving the strength of our young athletes. So, with these examples, is it even worth entering a weight room for resistance training?

OF COURSE.

One of the most advantageous aspects of the weight room that other avenues don’t provide is the ability to be versatile and explore different patterns. In each of the two cases above, sprinting and jumping, both of these movement are done at a high velocity. In some circumstances this can increase the risk of injury with an untrained athlete. By incorporating the weight room we can learn specific patterns, such as the squat so that when we land from the box jump we understand how to organize the relationship between the ankle, knee and hip. As another example, we can use the lunge to help and athlete understand that the hamstring and glute musculature are prime movers in locomotion so that they better understand what they should feel when they are accelerating and why it is important to lift the knee in a flexed position throughout the acceleration phase.

So after hearing these different ways to implement resistance training, sprinting, jumping, weight room exercises, you can see that there are multiple ways to go about improving athletic performance and movement skill. Every athlete should have exposure to all of these modalities at every age in order to benefit.

The most important point I can create with this information is that it is never too early to begin resistance training, our BSP athletes will start at 7/8 years old. However, it is the age, physical maturity, and experience that will dictate the amount of time emphasized in each area. Be sure to enlist the help of degreed, certified professionals prior to beginning these exercises and movements with your youth. 

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How to be Faster from Base to Base

Within the game of youth baseball there are a lot of ways to set yourself apart. Some players are able to make an impression because of their ability to pick up on fielding skills, or accuracy at the plate. For others, they show early promise through their decision making skills. No matter the age or experience, many athletes can set themselves apart with proper movement and speed training. Many young athletes struggle to coordinate their movements and ultimately place themselves in inefficient limiting positions. By incorporating speed and agility training, athletes are able to learn proper movement patterns and improvement quality in order to be safer, more efficient, more powerful, and ultimately faster.

One of the greatest expressions of this linear speed (excluding adjustment to play on field) is the ability to sprint from base to base. This can be a sprint from one base to another after the hit or at higher levels the ability to steal bases. One of the biggest advantages an athlete can create is within the first step of the movement. The first step sets up the rest of the acceleration as it pertains to posture, body position, foot contact and angle of trajectory off the ground.

In this article I will discuss two of the starting strategies and how/ why we would use each of them.

When it comes to sprinting from a lateral starting position there are two common strategies that are taught, the directional step and the crossover step. Now, these are not the only two positions that can be used. However, this is where we begin before we begin to specialize in strategies for particular athletes.

*Disclaimer*

Prior to introducing either step our athlete have had extensive instruction on body position and posture throughout the acceleration. This helps as they understand where they need to be after the initial step.

Directional Step

The first step we teach is the Directional Step.

We begin with this step first because it allows us to go from a basic position, Athletic Stance, with little weight shift and a very clean force application. The initial movement is a lateral “push” off the back foot. This is movement that is very common for this athlete as they will use this any time they throw the ball. Due to this we can draw context to the step as we introduce it.

This step also requires little weight shift prior to the movement and allows them to keep their hips square until the moment of rotation when they prepare for foot contact.

Following the step, as mentioned above, our athletes are prepared for the acceleration as they have all been through the acceleration drills and recognize where they need to be set up in order to perform an optimal acceleration.

Next, Cross Over Step.

Cross Over Step

As we introduce the Cross Over Step we take a minute to explain to our athletes that we use each of these movements as a tool within sports. Neither tool is better than the other. These are simply tools in our toolbox of movements that we have at our disposal. The athlete has the ability to choose which is best for them based on their comfort with the movement and situation in competition.

The Cross Over Step is a great tool to create lateral propulsion into a linear sprint. We implement this technique after the Directional Step because it requires us to shift our weight prior to the initial movement. This technique also requires stronger hips and adductors as we will need to create force across our mid-line in the initial step.

The advantage to this movement is our ability to stay square to the play longer, prior to rotating into the acceleration as well as the ability to get the center of gravity in front of the stance leg in the sprint early.

Basically, when done properly, we can go faster earlier.

By implementing these movements, based on the instruction in the videos above, you can reduce the amount of time it takes to get into the acceleration while increasing the ability to achieve max speed earlier.

If you haven’t already, check out the videos above and begin to implement them in your own speed and agility training program.

If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out!

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Lateral Kneeling Accelerations

In this week’s post I want to discuss an acceleration position we use at Brattain Sports Performance with each of our agility-based athletes. In the past I have written about our acceleration progressions and the drills we use to improve our athlete’s accelerative abilities (Here, Here, and 😃esigning-an-acceleration-program-for-athletes-of-all-sports" style="background-color: initial;">Here). However, I have not shared much about how he help our agility-based athletes improve their accelerations technique from lateral starting positions. In this case we like to progress toward a drill called a Lateral Kneeling Start.

Why use the Lateral Kneeling Start?

As we move though our progression we will use a number of starting positions and first steps, such as, directional steps, crossover steps and the lateral kneeling starts. Typically we will move in that order as we progress through the movements in order to create context as we move from one to the other. After we have established the basic concepts for lateral accelerations, i.e. start stance, force application, posture, and position through the initial movement, through the use of our initial directional step, then we will progress to the crossover and ultimately lateral kneeling start.

The benefit of using the lateral kneeling start is added strength demands in order to organize the body in this positions, maintain rigidity, as well as, create the desired movement through the initial step. If you went through our initial (linear) Kneeling Start videos then you have the basic concept of our kneeling accelerations. We desire to create a position that forces the athlete to maintain control in a difficult stance. 

By asking the athlete to drop into the 90/90 position, meaning 90 degrees in both knees, we are placing them in a, mechanically, disadvantageous position. In order to maintain this position they must have adequate strength through the quadriceps, posterior hip musculature (primarily glutes), erector spinae, and core (anterior and lateral).

From this position athletes must be able to propel themselves up and laterally. This helps them to develop strength and power from a low position, but also introduces the rotation that is needed through the hip in order to change the plane of movement.

So, who is this for?

This is a movement that we will use with all of our agility based athletes. However, this is most predominantly seen in programs of athletes that will find themselves in a lunge position at some point (i.e. Volleyball, Basketball, Baseball, and Tennis) in competition or that will go from a low position into an acceleration.

Often times, athletes will find themselves in this position following a deceleration which requires eccentric strength through the quadriceps. Due to this we will often perform the deceleration in training prior to a reacceleration from the same position.

The added benefit of this drill is the improvement of strength reserve through these muscles. This means that if we have adequate strength in these low position, when we play our sport in a higher position we require less energy/ work to perform the movements.

How do you go about implementing the Lateral Kneeling Start?


The first step to incorporating the Lateral Kneeling Start is to incorporate the basic acceleration progression drills. Once your athletes have completed the Wall Drives, Tall Falling Starts, Staggered Starts, Single Leg Starts, and Kneeling Starts they are then able to begin being introduced to the Lateral Kneeling Starts. Begin by getting them in the initial position with the knees at 90 degrees, upright torso, and arms in the appropriate positions. Next instruct them to lean out. Initially, I will have the athletes lean out then catch themselves with one foot to get familiar with the lean and reactive movement. After that we will initiate the run out. In this run out we emphasize extension through the back leg, rotation at the back hip and proper directional foot placement.

We will work through accelerations off of both sides through progressively further distances on the run out. Once we are comfortable with the acceleration we will begin to incorporate decelerations, both linear and lateral.

As I always mention to our athlete, this is another tool in our tool box. This is not necessarily a position we will regularly go from, however, we now have the ability to do so. As we expand and increase this movement toolbox our athletes have the capacity to make greater, more demanding movements with less effort. 

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Olympic Lifting Versus Plyometric Training for Speed Development

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Within sports performance training most coaches have a plan and a program that they work from. This program serves as our roadmap to help us keep our actions focused and moving in the proper direction. When we create this program, we often create it with the end in mind. The end, most often, is our clients and athletes achieving their goals. Too many people’s surprise there is more than one way to go about achieving these goals.

When we work with athletes to help them improve their speed, whether for competition or for combine/showcases we have a rigid structure or framework that we are going to stick to. We begin by assessing their speed and movement patterns, then address movement quality through stretching/ mobility drills/ resets, then we work to improve their movement quality through speed or agility drills, and finally we will incorporate strength and power exercises in order to support the movement patterns and enhance the movement itself. I have written about each of these steps at length here and here. Outside of the initial framework there is a lot of flexibility to work between. There are multiple ways that we can go about assessing an athlete. There are a variety of flexibility and mobility drills that we can use in order to improve their range of movement, and function. We can even brainstorm and design speed drills all day long to help the athlete get into the correct sprinting position. Suffice it to say, there is more than one way that we can go about achieving our goals.

One argument that many coaches can get caught up on revolves around the final step within the initial framework that I discuss- the strength and power exercises. There is a great debate about whether you should use Olympic lifting or Plyometric training in order to improve an athlete’s power and explosiveness.

So which is it? Is one better than the other? In this article I will discuss the two variations of movements and the benefits and drawbacks to both. (Full Disclosure: At BSP we use both. We use them to different degrees depending on the athlete and the sport.)

First, what is an Olympic Lift and what is a Plyometric?

Olympic lifting is actually a sport of its own. Olympic lifting as a sport is comprised of the Clean and Jerk as well as the Snatch. These two movements are discussed in detail here. Both of these lifts, when used properly, can create a tremendous amount of power at the hips which translates to an explosive hip extension on the competition surface when sprinting, jumping or changing direction.

Conversely, plyometrics are most often done with little to no weight used and in a very quick fashion. These movements typically look like jumps, hops, or bounds. Similar to the Olympic lifts we are training the explosive hip extension. However, plyometrics can also be much more versatile. Where the Olympic lifts are performed primarily in the Sagittal plane (Directly in front of the body) plyometrics can be used in multiple planes (Sagittal, Frontal, and Transverse). This allows us to create power and explosiveness in many directions and lines of movement.

How does this relate to Speed Development?

As stated above, both of these tools have the ability to create an explosive hip extension. This explosive hip extension (Straightening of the hip) can help athletes jump higher, run faster, and make quicker more agile lateral movements. These tools are also beneficial in creating contextual cues for the speed drills that we perform.

For example, if I am having difficulty getting an athlete to come up tall during a sprint drill then I can use something like a Clean Pull (Olympic) or a Box Jump (Plyometric) to illustrate what that position should feel like and how it will affect the movement and the movement outcome.

With both techniques having such an advantage in specific areas how do we use them to optimize our training? The answer to this will refer back to the two advantages that I highlighted earlier. The Olympic lifts are great for loading explosive movements, thus creating the ability to improve force production. I will use the Olympic lifts or a variation in all of my training sessions. As much as I believe the additional external load will benefit the athlete I will not allow the load to increase to a point where there is a detrimental effect on the technique of the movement. As we continue to increase the load, following adaptation, we will create a greater force output. At some point this force output much be directed in an optimal position. This is where our plyometric training becomes so important.

The primary benefit, that I see, with Plyometric training is our ability to manipulate stimuli, force direction and application, as well as intensity. Using a variety of plyometric exercises, our athletes will see drills focused on both horizontal and vertical force application. These drills will include, but are not limited to, Broad Jumps, Bounding, Skipping, Box Jumps/ Drops, Hurdle Series Drills, and Combinations of these drills. The exercises themselves will vary based on the time of year and athlete’s experience, however typically we will always include an ankle stiffness complex on each day, a vertical drill on day 1, and a horizontal drill on day 2 of each training week. As training progresses we will move from bilateral to unilateral and through a spectrum of controlled to chaotic/ reactive drills.

Again, the benefit to Plyometric training is our ability to be creative and develop drills based on our needs.

How do the two tools differ when being used for speed development?

Both forms of training are very beneficial when training for speed. However, is one more beneficial than the other? Yes and no. It depends on your population, goal, and desired outcome.

The primary advantage to the Olympic lifts over Plyometric training is the ability to increase load on the movement. The greater the load, the more force that must be created by the athlete in order to complete the movement. By increasing the force under load we are able to increase the amount of force able to be used without the load.

Think of a vertical jump. If an athlete is asked to perform a clean- similar to jumping mechanics in the lower body- with 90lbs. and in the process of doing so is able to generate enough force to leave the ground, then when you take the load away from the athlete and ask them to jump again, as high as they can then they will be able to jump higher. This is due to the body’s ability to generate more strength and conversely power to move that 90lbs. external load. Once the load is gone the body is still primed to complete a similar movement with similar strength, but no limitations.

The disadvantages to Olympic lifting include the time and attention it takes to coach these movements as well as the limitation in variety.

The Olympic lifts revolve around two movements with very little variation from a kinematic stand point. Though these two movements are very important there are more elements to take into account.

This is where plyometrics come in.

The primary advantage to plyometrics is the down fall of Olympic lifting. Within plyometric training the limitation in force and direction comes down to the creativity of the coach. I can create plyometric drills for many directions, distances, demands, and joints. If I want to create a drill that works on the athlete’s ability to drive out of the blocks, off the line, or out of a start position, I can do that by putting them in a sport specific position and asking them to jump out to a certain point. If I want to work on their ability to produce reactive force through the ankle joint I can do that as well by designing a drill that forces them to jump, repetitively, through their ankle onto an elevate surface. Additionally, if I diagnose that they are missing power within their hip extension I can load a vertical or horizontal movement with a medicine ball and ask them to throw it as high or as far as they can.

The drawback to the plyometric exercises is the lack of ability to load the movements. It can be done through weight vest, bungee cords, and dumbbells, however it tends to make the movements awkward, blocky, and without proper technique.

So what is the answer?

As I have said so many time, it depends. Both are great tools and should have a part in your program. However, it will depend based on my athlete. If my athlete is an 11 year old female soccer player, we will do 90% of our explosive training with plyometrics. However, I will still teach and use the kettle bell swing in every session to help learn and create a more power full hip extension.

On the other hand if I have an 18 year old football player I will focus our work on the Olympic movements in order to create power under load. We will still use plyometrics to create power and stiffness at the ankles and within different planes of movement.

And still, if I have a track athlete we will split our time 50/50 between Olympic lifts and plyometrics due to the demands of their sport.

At the end of the day this argument is like many others within the field. There is no right and wrong. There is simply a tool that fits best in your program and coaching philosophy. Whatever it is you, as a coach, should be an expert in the area and know exactly why you are using it the way that you are.