How to Perform Self-Myofascial Release

The latest Inner Circle webinar recording on my How to Perform Self-Myofascial Release is now available.

 

How to Perform Self-Myofascial Release

Self Myofascial Release SystemThis month’s Inner Circle webinar reviews my system of performing self-myofascial release.  As with anything else, there is a right way, wrong way, and a better way to perform self-myofascial release.  In this webinar I will:

  • Discuss why we use self-myofascial release
  • Review the different types of tools you can use and my recommendations on what I think is best
  • Overview how I perform self-myofascial release with my clients, patients, and athletes
  • Discuss when to perform self-myofascial release

To access this webinar:

Scalene Hypertrophy

I recently evaluated yet another Major League baseball player with the “yips,” or what I like to call thoracic outlet syndrome.  I really don’t believe in the yips at all and feel that thoracic outlet syndrome is almost always to blame.  Telling a professional athlete it’s all in their head or some mysterious mechanical flaw is just insulting.

One of the major reasons that thoracic outlet syndrome occurs in baseball pitchers is from hypertrophy of the scalene muscles (and sternocleidomastoid).  Throwing a baseball causes many adaptations to the body, including this increase in scalene size.

Here is a video of the athlete inhaling with his head turned to each side.  Notice the significantly larger scalene and sternocleidomastoid on his right side.

scalene hypertrophy

I wish I had a magic trick to help in this situation.  I will perform manual therapy on the scalene muscles, surround musculature, 1st rib, and thoracic cage, however, it’s hard to combat the hypertrophy associated with throwing.

Understanding what to look for is the first step, though.  Scalene hypertrophy is a subtle finding to detect on examination.

 

 

Should We Stop Blaming the Glutes for Everything?

Today’s guest post comes from John Snyder, PT, DPT, CSCS.  John, who is a physical therapist in Pittsburgh, has a blog that has been honored as the “Best Student Blog” by Therapydia the past two years.  He’s a good writer and has many great thoughts on his website.  John discusses some of our common beliefs in regard to the role of the proximal hip on knee pain.  I’ll add some comments at the end as well, so be sure to read the whole article and my notes at the end.  Thanks John!

 

Should We Stop Blaming the Glutes for Everything?

should we stop blaming the glutes

Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) rupture1,2 and patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS)3,4,5 are two of the most common lower extremity complaints that physicians or physical therapists will encounter. In addition to the high incidence of these pathologies, with regards to ACL injury, very high ipsilateral re-injury and contralateral injury have also been reported6,7,8.

With the importance of treating and/or preventing these injuries, several researchers have taken it upon themselves to determine what movement patterns predispose athletes to developing these conditions. This research indicates that greater knee abduction moments9,10, peak hip internal rotation11, and hip adduction motion12 are risk factors for PFPS development. Whereas, for ACL injury, Hewett and colleagues13 conducted a prospective cohort study identifying increased knee abduction angle at landing as predictive of injury status with 73% specificity and 78% sensitivity. Furthermore, as the risk factors for developing both disorders are eerily similar, Myer et al performed a similar prospective cohort study finding that athletes demonstrating >25 Nm of knee abduction load during landing are at increased risk for both PFPS and ACL injury14.

 

Does Weak Hip Strength Correlate to Knee Pain?

With a fairly robust amount of research supporting a hip etiology in the development of these injuries, it would make sense that weakness of the hip musculature would also be a risk factor, right?

A recent systematic review found very conflicting findings on the topic. With regards to cross-sectional research, the findings were very favorable with moderate level evidence indicating lower isometric hip abduction strength with a small and lower hip extension strength with a small effect size (ES)15. Additionally, there was a trend toward lower isometric hip external rotation and moderate evidence indicates lower eccentric hip external rotation strength with a medium ES in individuals with PFPS15. Unfortunately, the often more influential prospective evidence told a different story. Moderate-to-strong evidence from three high quality studies found no association between lower isometric strength of the hip abductors, extensors, external rotators, or internal rotators and the risk of developing PFPS15. The findings of this systematic review indicated hip weakness might be a potential consequence of PFPS, rather than the cause. This may be due to disuse or fear avoidance behaviors secondary to the presence of anterior knee pain.

 

Does Hip Strengthening Improve Hip Biomechanics?

Regardless of its place as a cause or consequence, hip strengthening has proved beneficial in patients with both PFPS16,17,18 and following ACL Reconstruction19, but does it actually help to change the faulty movement patterns?

Gluteal strengthening can cause several favorable outcomes, from improved quality of life to decreased pain, unfortunately however marked changes in biomechanics is not one of the benefits. Ferber and colleagues20 performed a cohort study analyzing the impact of proximal muscle strengthening on lower extremity biomechanics and found no significant effect on two dimensional peak knee abduction angle. In slight contrast however, Earl and Hoch21 found a reduction in peak internal knee abduction moment following a rehabilitation program including proximal strengthening, but no significant change in knee abduction range of motion was found. It should be noted that this study included strengthening of all proximal musculature and balance training, so it is hard to conclude that the results were due to the strengthening program and not the other components.

 

Does Glute Endurance Influence Hip Biomechanics?

All this being said, it is possible that gluteal endurance may be more influential than strength itself, so it would make sense that following isolated fatigue of this musculature, lower extremity movement patterns would deteriorate.

Once again, this belief is in contrast to the available evidence. While fatigue itself most definitely has an impact on lower extremity quality of movement, isolated fatigue of the gluteal musculature tells a different story. Following a hip abductor fatigue protocol, patients only demonstrated less than a one degree increase in hip-abduction angle at initial contact and knee-abduction angle at 60 milliseconds after contact during single-leg landings22. In agreement with these findings, Geiser and colleagues performed a similar hip abductor fatigue protocol and found very small alterations in frontal plane knee mechanics, which would likely have very little impact on injury risk23.

 

Can We Really Blame the Glutes?

The biomechanical explanation for why weakness or motor control deficits in the gluteal musculature SHOULD cause diminished movement quality makes complete sense, but unfortunately, the evidence at this time does not agree.

While the evidence itself does not allow the gluteal musculature to shoulder all of the blame, this does not mean we should abandon addressing these deficits in our patients. As previously stated, posterolateral hip strengthening has multiple benefits, but it is not the end-all-be-all for rehabilitation or injury prevention of lower extremity conditions. Proximal strength deficits should be assessed through validated functional testing in order to see its actual impact on lower extremity biomechanics on a patient-by-patient basis. Following this assessment, interventions should be focused on improving proximal stability, movement re-education, proprioception, fear avoidance beliefs, graded exposure, and the patient’s own values, beliefs, and expectations.

 

John SnyderJohn Snyder, PT, DPT, CSCS received his Doctor of Physical Therapy degree from the University of Pittsburgh in 2014. He created and frequently contributes to SnyderPhysicalTherapy.com (Formerly OrthopedicManualPT.com), which is a blog devoted to evidence-based management of orthopedic conditions.  

 

Mike’s Thoughts

John provides an excellent review of many common beliefs in regard to the influence of the hip on knee pain.  While it is easy to draw immediate conclusions from the result of one study or meta-analysis, one must be careful with how they interpret date.

I think “anterior knee pain,” or even PFPS, is just too broad of a term to design accurate research studies.  It’s going to be hard to find prospective correlations with such vague terminology.  Think of it as watering down the results.  Including a large sample of people, including men, women, and adolescents and attempting to correlate findings to “anterior knee pain” is a daunting task.

Imagine if we followed a group of adolescents from one school system for several years.  Variations in gender, sport participation, recreational activity, sedentary level, and many more factors would all have to be considered.  Imagine comparing the development of knee pain in a 13 year old sedentary female that decided she wanted to run cross country for the first time with an 18 year old male basketball player that is playing in 3 leagues simultaneously.  Two different types of subjects with different activities and injury mechanisms.  But, these two would be grouped together with “anterior knee pain.”

What do we currently know?  We know hip weakness is present in people with PFPS and strengthening the hips reduces symptoms.  As rehabilitation specialists, that is great, we have a plan.  I’m not sure we can definitely say that hip weakness will cause knee pain, but I’m also not sure we can say it won’t.  Designing a prospective study to determine may never happen, there are just too many variables to control.

John does a great job presenting studies that require us to keep an open mind.  I’m not sure we can make definitive statements from these results, but realize that there are likely many more variables involved with the development of knee pain.  Hip strength and biomechanics may just be some of them.  Thanks for sharing John and helping us to remember that it’s not always the glutes to blame!

 

 

How to Prepare for and Perform a Throwing Program

The latest Inner Circle webinar recording on my How to Prepare for and Perform a Throwing Program is now available.

 

How to Prepare for and Perform a Throwing Program

How to Prepare for and Perform a Throwing Program

 

This month’s Inner Circle details the specific steps I take to prepare the body before throwing, followed by the steps I take to start performing a throwing program.  Far to often I see amateurs not really understand how to prepare and perform a throwing program.  They simple pick up a ball and start throwing.  This approach isn’t the most advantageous considering how dynamic and stressful the act 0f throwing is on the body.  By following these six steps, you’ll be putting yourself in a much better chance of success to reduce injury and get more out of your throwing session that day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Foam Rolling for Recovery

Foam rolling has become a popular component of most personal training and sports performance program.  It is simple to perform with cheap equipment.  But more importantly “it works.”

There has been quite a bit of debate on what “it works” means to different people.  This was probably perpetuated by naming the use of a foam roller as “self-myofascial release.”  Many have argued that foam rolling does nothing to “release” the fascia as the ability to deform fascia significantly is well beyond the means of a simple piece of foam or PVC pipe.

At times, that has lead to the knee-jerk reaction of some to essentially say that foam rolling does nothing to the fascia, thus must be useless and a waste of time to perform.  Too bad it wasn’t just called “self-massage.”

Many, including some prominent strength coaches, have argued back saying again that “it simple works” because people feel better after foam rolling.

I couldn’t agree more.  However, I’m not a big fan of just say “it just works.”  I want more than that.

 

Foam Rolling Helps Recovery

self-myofascial release for recoveryWhile foam rolling has become popular, it still is used most often as a way to prepare for training.  However, a recent research report was published in the Journal of Athletic Training that looked at the effect of foam rolling after training on delayed onset muscles soreness (DOMS) and performance.

In the study, 8 collegiate men performed a 10×10 squat protocol to completely exhaust their quads and cause DOMS.  The groups performed this two times, once with performing foam rolling afterward and another time without foam rolling.  In the experimental group, foam rolling was performed immediately after squatting, as well as 24- and 48-hours later.

Foam rolling for recoveryThe foam rolling procedure consisted of 2 rounds of rolling for 45 seconds each over the quads, adductors, hamstrings, IT band, and Glutes.

Results of the study showed that DOMS was significantly reduced when foam rolling was performed.  However, they also discovered 30 meter sprint time, broad-jump distance, and change-of-direction speed were all negatively effected by the presence of DOMS, but the impact was lower if they performed foam rolling.

 

Implications

Based on this article, I’m not sure we are any closer to understanding “why” foam rolling works, however we do understand more of “how” foam rolling works.

Foam rolling isn’t just a way to prepare for training, but also a useful tool to recover from training.

Foam rolling should be performed both before and after training, and likely even on off days after training.  Doing so will reduce the amount of soreness you have after a hard session and allow you to train hard or perform better next time.  This is important for everyone from the personal training client to the in-season athlete.

Put simply, foam rolling helps you recover faster and then perform better, I know everyone at Champion is definitely still foam rolling!

 

How I Use Foam Rolling and Self-Myofascial Release

This month’s Inner Circle webinar will be on how I use foam rolling and self-myofascial release in my programs.  I’ll be going over specific techniques using a variety of tools to perform a comprehensive self-myofascial release program.  You can simple roll back and forth, but there are better ways to incorporate self-myofascial release to be even more effective.

The webinar will be on Thursday March 19th at 8:00 PM EST but I’ll record it for those that can’t make it live.

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to Prepare Before You Throw – Part 2: Prepare Your Throwing

As I said in part 1 of this 2-part article on How to Prepare Before Your Throwing Program, one common theme that I often hear when players describe how they got hurt was that they did not properly warm up and prepare themselves to throw.

To prepare before your throwing program, you really need to do two things: 1) Prepare your body and 2) Prepare your throwing.  If you haven’t yet, please go back and read part 1 of this article to learn how to prepare your body:

 

How to Prepare Before Your Throwing Program – Part 2: Prepare Your Throwing

Now that your body is ready to roll and start your throwing program, I want to shift gears and talk about how to use your throwing program to prepare to throw.  I think it is really import to “prepare to throw, not throw to prepare.”

What I mean by that is that you need to make sure you are properly warmed up, even within your throwing program, before you can start your throwing “work.”  You shouldn’t just jump on the mound, or throw at full intensity, or quickly progress to long tossing.  That is throwing to prepare, and as I stated in part 1 of this article, I don’t want aggressive throwing to be the first things your body feels.

To prepare to throw, you need to prepare your body (again, in part 1) and then prepare your throwing program.  There is a BIG difference between your “warm-up” throwing and your “work” throwing.

Would you ever just throw your max weight on the bar and start squatting or deadlifting without doing warm up sets?  Never, right?  In strength and conditioning we usually incorporate a gradual increase in load with the weight of an exercise before getting to the weight we want to use to train.  You have warm-up sets and then work sets.  As an example, if you are supposed to perform 5 sets of 5 reps of deadlifts at 285 lbs, if you first set is 185, second set 205, and third set 225, those don’t count as your 5×5 work sets.

The same goes with throwing.

 

Prepare to Throw Step 4 – Ease Into Throwing

I’ve played catch with 100’s of professional baseball pitchers.  I honestly only remember one that would start throwing 90 MPH at my knees by the third or forth throw (and he’s been injured his entire career).  Big leaguers get it and gradually get loose.  You’d actually be surprised at how easy they actually play catch initially as they warm up.

On the flip side, one of the more common tweaks I make to my younger athletes is to ease into throwing.  Not a week goes by without someone gunning a ball at my ankles on the 3rd throw (I love you GD…).

This is extremely stressful on the body.  Remember throwing itself is stressful.  You have to gradually apply that stress to get the tissue used to the force.

Not all throwing has to be designed to gain arm strength or velocity.  Some throwing should be more similar to just riding a bike with your arm to get blood flow and gradually apply stress to the elasticity of the tissue.

 

Prepare to Throw Step 5 – Let The Distance Dictate the Intensity

The next step to prepare to throw builds on step 4.  Now that you’ve played light catch to get loose, it’s time to start walking back and increasing the distance.

Distance in your long toss program is a variable we use to adjust your intensity.  Realistically there isn’t much difference between throwing with full intensity at 150 feet or 200 feet.  Full intensity is pretty much full intensity.

Again, resist the urge to start throwing on a line at new distances.  Rather, I tell my athletes to “let the distance dictate the intensity,” meaning throw the ball with a bit of an arc to firmly hit your partner in the chest on the descent.

If the ball would sail past your partner another 100 feet if they missed your throw, you are throwing too hard for the stretch out phase of throwing.

baseball long toss arc

 

There will be time to throw on a line, that is next step…

 

Prepare to Throw Step 6 – Get Your Work In

OK, you’ve made it!  You prepared your body.  You’re mobile.  You activated your muscles.  You did a dynamic warm up.  You eased into throwing and long toss.  Congrats!  Now you can “throw.”

Just to reiterate, there is a difference between “warm-up” throwing and “work” throwing.  Step 6 is now incorporating your “work” throwing, whatever that may be for you that day.

It could be long toss, weighted balls, bullpen work, even throwing in a game.  That is your “work” throwing and you are now ready for it.

 

By going through the proper steps to prepare to throw you’ll find that you actually get better work in and throw better, plus you’ll be much more resilient to injuries.  These are some of the key steps I outline to all of my athletes and what we follow in the big leagues.

 

Want to Learn More?

I have an entire Inner Circle webinar dedicated to detailing these 6 steps to prepare for and perform a throwing program.

 

I also have a free 45-minute video on How Baseball Players Can Safely Enhance Performance While Reducing Injuries.  Enter your name and email below and I will send you access to the video as well as a handout of the above arm care warm-up exercises that you can take to the field:

How to Prepare Before You Throw – Part 1: Prepare Your Body

Working with so many injured pitchers over my career, one common theme that I often hear when players describe how they got hurt was that they did not properly warm up and prepare themselves to throw.  I’m not sure if this is always the true cause of the players’ injuries, however, I hear it often enough that it has to have some significance.

throwing long toss programThis seems to make sense, though.  Throwing is very dynamic and aggressive on the body.  In fact, it is the fastest known motion that the human body performs!  If it could, your shoulder would rotate a full 360 degrees around up to 27 times in 1 second!  That is unbelievable.

I often say injury is just a simple physics equation.  Force = mass x acceleration.  The faster your body moves and the harder you throw, the more forceful it is on your body.

Because of this, you can see how just grabbing a baseball and starting to throw can be stressful on the body.  Throwing is so dynamic and forceful that you want to do your best to put yourself in a position to succeed before you start throwing.  This will help foster a long and healthy career.

To prepare before your throwing program, you really need to do two things: 1) Prepare your body and 2) Prepare your throwing.  In this two part article I will discuss both.

 

How to Prepare Before Your Throwing Program – Part 1 – Prepare Your Body

It’s funny how common sense tells us to prepare our body for common athletic activities, like running and jumping, yet people often neglect throwing.  The first three steps to prepare before your throwing program involve getting your body ready.

 

Prepare to Throw Step 1 – Get Loose

The first step in preparing your body to throw is to get loose and work on your mobility.  We’ve studied 1000’s of baseball pitchers and have found a few things when it comes to throwing a baseball:

  1. Throwing a baseball causes your muscles to tighten and you loose mobility of your shoulder and elbow
  2. Not addressing this becomes cumulative and you eventually get a little tighter and tighter over the course of a season
  3. Working to maintain your motion is effective and can prevent lose of motion

One of the phrases I use a lot with my athletes is “I want you to be you BEFORE you pick up a ball.”  What that means is, if you just threw 100 pitches yesterday in a game, I know you are tight.  If you ignore it and pick up and ball and try to throw, you are setting yourself up for trauma.  Throwing will loosen you up (before you tighten up again), but it’s a much more aggressive way to get your mobility back.

Rather, perform some self-myofascial release by using a foam roller, massage stick, and baseball ball.  Here are the ones I use the most on Amazon and because the foam roller is hollow, you can put your other tools inside and all fit nicely in your gear bag:

  • Foam roller – One of the best and hollow to put your other tools in it in your gear bag.
  • Massage stick – The best one on the market, the other more popular ones don’t compare.
  • Trigger point ball – You can use a baseball, but I also like the reaction balls.  The nubs help you get in there and hold it in position on the wall.

How to prepare before your throwing programYou should focus on the entire body with particular emphasis on your lat, back of the shoulder, rotator cuff, pec, biceps, and forearm.  You should avoid the front of your shoulder.  There really aren’t a lot of muscles there and your just smashing your rotator cuff and biceps tendons.

Hit each spot for 30-60 seconds and hold on any really tender spots for 10 seconds.

Notice how I intentionally didn’t say to “stretch” your arm or perform a “sleeper stretch” (here is why you shouldn’t perform the sleeper stretch).  Most baseball pitchers are too loose to stretch effectively and they end up torquing themselves too much and making things worse.  There is a difference between muscles and joints, it’s possible to have tight muscles and loose joints.

There is one shoulder stretch that is effective on the muscles and not too aggressive on the joint, the cross body stretch I call the Genie Stretch.  This can be enhanced even more by using a trigger point ball in the posterior shoulder muscles.  You can and should stretch your forearm, you can’t really hurt yourself here.

 

Prepare to Throw Step 2 – Warm-Up Your Muscles

Now that you have worked on restoring mobility back to your baseline BEFORE you throw, it is time to get your muscles ready to throw.  In the strength and conditioning world, we refer to this as “activating” the muscles.

You want to hit all the muscles and movement patterns that are need to accelerate and decelerate your arm.  These essentially include the scapula and rotator cuff muscles.  By turning on these muscles, the body will be better prepared for the upcoming activities and throwing.

Shoulder activation throwing programThe simplest way to do this is with resistance tubing.  We use a combination of tools at Champion, but tubing is quick, easy, and portable.

You do need to be careful of your volume of exercises.  These warm-ups are designed to prepare the muscle, not fatigue them, and are not a substitute for strengthening the muscles.  That is a completely different program to be performed at a different time.  We use tubing to simply activate the muscles with low volume sets and reps of 2×10

I use Theraband tubing with handles.  They are the best and far superior to the cheap bands you can buy at the local stores, which have odd resistance and can lose resistance over time.  They are even ~$15 on Amazon.  You can attach the band to a fence or post, or take turns holding with a partner.

I like the tubing with handles and want you to have to grip the tubing, rather that velcro strap them around your wrist.  Grip the tubing helps warm up your grip and forearm muscles and also has a reflexive stimulus to your rotator cuff to engage.

Here is a link to Amazon.com to purchase the Theraband Exercise Tubing I use in the video at the end of this article.  I recommend the green band for Little League age, the blue band for middle school and early high school age, and the black band for the older or experienced pitcher:

 

Prepare to Throw Step 3 – Getting Moving

The third step to prepare to throw now involves dynamic movements.  You can see that we are building on a logical progression here: restore mobility, activate the muscles, and perform dynamic mobility exercises for movement prep.

Throwing is a very dynamic activity, obviously, that needs elasticity of the muscles.  Stretching and mobility work alone will not turn on the elastic components of your muscles.  Similar to my comments above on stretching, I don’t want a baseball being the first elastic stimulus your body faces.  I want to slowly work up to that so it is less traumatic and aggressive of a jump in stress on the tissue.

We want to dynamically move the joints and have the muscles produce quick contractions,.  This helps prepare the muscle for  by improving mobility and activation.

At Champion, our athletes have a whole portion of their program dedicated to these three steps and assuring that the entire body is prepared to throw, however, I demonstrate a simple arm version of this in the video below.  Perform this and you’ll be head and shoulders above most other athletes.

For pitchers, we use movement prep exercises that mobilize and activate the muscles groups needed to throw, like the chest, posterior shoulder, and rotator cuff.  It doesn’t take a lot of repetitions to prepare the body.

 

My Warmup Program Before Throwing

Perform this 3-minute arm warm up program prior to starting your throwing program for the day.  This is our bare minimum program that we teach our athletes that are new to the concepts of preparing their body before throwing.  As you can see, you don’t need dozens of exercises or many sets and reps, even just performing this quick warm-up will put you in a more advantageous position to throw than most other athletes.

It is quick and easy and can be performed on the field before practice.  Look out into the bullpen next time you are at a MLB game and you’ll see many players performing this during the game.

I’ve adjusted the order of how I prepare the body a little bit since the filming of this video, so it is a little out of order per the above information, but serves as a great example of a quick and easy 3-minute warm up to be performed after your self-myofascial release and before throwing.

 

In part 2, I will discuss the next three steps involved in preparing to throw and how I actually start off my throwing programs.

 

Want to Learn More?

 

I also have a free 45-minute video on How Baseball Players Can Safely Enhance Performance While Reducing Injuries.  Enter your name and email below and I will send you access to the video as well as a handout of the above arm care warm-up exercises that you can take to the field:

When Should You Fit Agility Training into a Program?

Today’s guest post is from Lee Taft and Pat Beith, from Athletes Acceleration.  Lee and Pat are the gurus on speed and agility training, so an article from these guys is truly an honor to include on my website.  Speed and agility training are often one of the missing components to strength and performance programs that I never really understood, consider they are such an import part of complete athletic development.  That being said, the rehab world is REALLY missing the boat in this area.  Speed and agility are two qualities that are significantly impacted after injury, yet so often ignored in advanced rehab programs.  Lee and Pat have a new product out this week called Complete Speed Training, which I have watched and really enjoyed.  More below.

 

When Should You Fit Agility Training into a Program?

I certainly get asked many questions about my techniques and how I teach agility, but one of the biggest questions I get asked is when do I put agility in my program. I get this from the fitness professional but more so from the sport coach. It is the sport coach that wants to know how to find time to fit agility into an already packed practice plan. In this article I want to share several ways I implement agility into any program, and why it is a must to find time.

Most sport coaches are so excited to practice the newest offense or defense or implement new drills they discovered. But many of them bypass one of the most important elements of making a good team- improving team speed, agility, and quickness. The question that always comes back to me is when do I fit it in my practice. The problem comes from coaches that feel you must put quantity ahead of quality. Those who know me realize I am all about quality. I want great movers. I can condition them easy enough, but to make them great at moving- it takes time and attention to detail.

I will give you some times slots that agility training can fit neatly into a practice and make a big impact. But before I do, let me explain the mind set that goes into scheduling agility during a sport practice. If my goal is to improve the movement ability of the athletes I need to focus on the skill or technique of the movement pattern. For example; if I am a volleyball coach and I want my players to move quicker to tipped balls I must teach them how to react quickly out of the defensive ready position. My focus then will be on a few things;

  1. I want the athletes to have appropriate body positions so they can move efficiently.
  2. I want 100% effort or intensity of speed when reacting and moving to the ball.
  3. I want complete control of the movement so a counter move can be made if needed.

Now, let’s focus on scheduling agility into a practice. One of the best times to implement agility is right after the warm up routine. The athletes are fresh and you can make a big impact on their nervous system. A great way to implement the agility is to pick a skill that you want to teach and be really focused on that skill for the 2-5 minutes you allow for training it. Once again, go back to the 3 points I made in the last paragraph. I want the athletes learning to move better each and every repetition. I don’t want them to just do work. A great example of an agility workout I use often is teaching the crossover technique. I would set it up like this:

  1. Have 2-4 athletes performing at the same time (if it was a large team like soccer or football I would have more than one station with assistants watching as well. You might have to deal with more than 2-4 athletes if you don’t have any coaching assistants).
  2. The exercise should be clearly explained and demonstrated if needed.
  3. It is important to give them a setting in which the skill would be used in a sport. This helps clarify the purpose of the skill.
  4. Give them the distance of travel that should be covered and the duration of the exercise.
  5. Start the exercise from a great starting stance/athletic stance.
  6. If you see a dysfunctional crossover technique, address that athlete by name immediately and give one quick coaching cue to correct the movement.
  7. If you see a consistent theme of poor movements by most of the athletes, re-demonstrate and continue on with the exercise.
  8. Complete 4-6 reps making sure each rep is quality or at least quality instruction is being given to correct poor patterns.
  9. Build a foundation of movement that greater skills can be built upon.

This way of coaching the skills make the athlete concentrate 100% of their energy on one skill or combination of skills. If you teach too many different skills and you run the athletes through without emphasizing the technique and intensity of effort, the meaning of the skills is lost. Do exercises to get a point across and to teach something!

Let’s keep moving along with times to inject agility into a practice. Another great time to coach agility is just before or after a drink break. The way that I like to mention it to the athletes is like this; .Ok guys/gals, before we take our drink break I want you to put all your focus into an extremely important skill we are about to learn- then we will take a good breather and get hydrated.. By phrasing it this way, I have put a sense of importance on the skill and the athletes better be focused and prepared to give 2-5 more minutes of attention to the skill.

There is no doubt that the best time to make a big improvement and impact on the learning of a skill is when the athlete is in a non-fatigued state. But athletes need to learn how to move efficiently during fatigued times of a game, like in the final minutes. So the last time I would like to mention as to when a coach could implement agility is at the end of the practice. I strongly recommend not teaching a new skill at this time due to the lack of focus generally associated with the end of practice.

If the athletes are comfortable with the agility skill to be used I do feel there is some importance to having them perform it at the end. But as mentioned already don’t throw a new skill at them and expect great learning to occur when they are fatigued. Let me give some important points to implement this method of agility training:

  1. Because the athletes are tired and don’t have as much mental focus left you must give them something to focus on. For example; if you are coaching them on a hip turn and crossover to defend a basketball player making an offensive move to the basket you must talk to them about a defense scheme. In other words you are trying to coach the skill, but by giving the athletes a scenario that will occur in the game they will have a built in focus point due to the game-like setting.
  2. Be sure to stop the exercise if the execution gets sloppy. Always remember the brain is programming the patterns. If they are sloppy that is how they will be programmed in the brain. Demand great execution.
  3. It is important to ask the athletes what they did wrong if the execution was poor. This way you are holding them accountable for their improvement. This is especially important when doing the skill work under fatigue. You force them to be aware of everything they do.

So there are a few ways you can implement agility training into a sports practice setting. Now let me talk about when agility training should be in the athletic development setting.

Just as mentioned above, the agility can be included in a non-fatigued state or in a fatigued state. Both are important but must have protocol. When first introducing the skill it should obviously be done in the early part of the training session. Once learned and performed well it can be done in a fatigued state to induce a concentration element.

Here are a few rules I follow when coaching agility in an athletic development setting:

  1. I will only coach 2-3 agility drills per session. I want the athletes to learn something and not be inundated with too much stimulus. When they only concentrate on a couple things they can absorb them and put a meaning to them. I believe it is important to always give them a situation the skill would be used in a sport. This helps them to relate to it much easier.
  2. I keep my time frames in the 5-12 second range and demand intensity of effort or speed. I want effort for a couple reasons:
    a. This is how I get a read on their true ability with the skill
    b. They learn the skill at full speed. Doing a skill half speed makes it a different skill in many ways.
  3. I want the athletes to understand self-correction on the fly. This means if the athletes screw the skill up on one rep he or she can quickly make the needed correction during the set. This is why I ask them questions about the skills- I want accountability.
  4. The total time of agility training is usually around 15 to 20 minutes. This includes coaching time and feedback. I don’t believe in making an agility session in conditioning. When it is time for conditioning I will work on low risk exercises that cause an anaerobic threshold response.

So there you have it. This is by no means the only way to do this but it is the only way I do it. And it has worked for many years. The number one message to take from this article is to teach skills. Don’t waste the athletes. time with doing aimless drills without a message. You will do a great job!

 

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