SPRINT LESS TO SPRINT FASTER?
Hey guys – I just wanted to quickly address a misconception and a physics-based approach to how we should be training speed in a safer, more effective method…
The misconception is that more sprints at practice or at your workout are going to make you faster… Sure a few max effort sprints will improve your efficiency and will gas you, but there are better forms of conditioning and more effective ways to be faster. If you are training max effort sprint work for reps without optimal rest (minutes in between) your body will not be able to produce peak force each sprint. You will start moving slower, and your body will get used to this and make it a habit. There is a time and place for conditioning, but when you are trying to train absolute speed.. it is not the time.
Speed is our ability to produce as much force as possible off the ground in the quickest amount of time. When we are sprinting we are producing maximal force each stride, exhausting the glutes and hamstrings. Repetitive overload of these muscles is not sustainable and this is why we see so many hamstring pulls in over-trained, sprinting athletes. Elite level sprinters will produce over 1,000 lbs of force into the ground during each push off in a sprint. The amount of work done during one 100 m dash is essentially more than an elite powerlifter will do in one week. If sprinting is our only form of sprint training, there is no way we can sustain maximal power output throughout a full training session, without slowing down or getting hurt. So how can we train the muscles necessary for sprinting in a more effective manner? We need to work on not only STRENGTHENING the muscles involved, but simultaneously improve our fast twitch velocity off the ground. Where does this happen??
THE WEIGHT ROOM!
The formula for power in the physics world is Work/Time (P=W/T). Work being the energy transfer that occurs when an object is moved over a distance. So it should’n’t be taboo to think that our training methods should be similar to those of POWERlifting athletes. Sprinting is a a power movement and must be trained as such. We need to improve our glute and hamstrings ability to propel and accelerate the body forward. We cannot just force a longer stride length by making an effort to reach further out each stride.. We need to truly develop the muscles that generate the legs extension and launch it forward. Think about the movement of the leg during a stride… Pretty similar to the mechanics of a deadlift right? Extending the leg, bracing the core and powering off the ground in a timely manner.
Same goes for exercises such as the sled push and sled pull. Going heavy on these gives us the opportunity to produce maximal force each stride we take maintaining postural integrity that is similar to our take off position in a sprint. When going heavy on a sled push, its important that we do not go for maximal speed, but maximal force production off the ground and knee drive. If we try to move a heavy weight too quickly, then we will compromise our sprint form and maximal power output of each stride and deviate from our proper mechanics. Just like anything in sports, we can practice good mechanics or bad mechanics… but enough reps is going to make it a habit.
At the same time, everybody knows a big guy that can deadlift and squat a lot of weight but can’t run for his life… Why aren’t these guys fast on the field? 1) They may have mechanical errors in their sprint form. 2) They may have a lot more mass on their body to propel forward and 3) They haven’t trained their explosiveness off the ground.. Through jumps , various plyo drills, and speed lifts we are training our bodies fast twitch muscle fibers to produce as much force as possible off the ground in the quickest amount of time. For example, if we have a strength lift like a deadlift or a squat in our programming, it is important that we also put just as many if not more jumps and speed lifts into the regiment. Some of these will include deadlifts for speed at 55-65%, weighted jumps, depth jumps (producing force off the ground in the quickest amount of time), speed squats, split jumps… the list goes on and on. It is important that you get strong and it is important that you learn how to move your own bodyweight and other external forces quickly. This sounds pretty similar to the concept of speed production doesn’t it? This IS speed and this method of training is a proven physics based approach to speed training. Get in the gym, I’ll see you there.
THE MECHANICS AND THE KINETIC CHAIN
When you’re hitting or throwing a baseball you’re applying force into the ground and up through your whole kinetic chain while using the barrel of your bat or your arm as you’re launching tool. While hitting or throwing you are not just standing knock knee’d and flat footed while throwing your hands so lets all acknowledge the fact that hitting and throwing a baseball is an athletic full body movement.. A beautiful yet violent combination of rotational and linear force… I am not going to dive into the whole topic of hitting or pitching mechanics.. but as a former baseball player and current strength coach I will say your swing and velo start in the weight room.. Not just lifting weights and trying to get as jacked as possible.. but teaching your body how to work together as a unit.. A total kinetic chain, allowing the hips to work against the torso while hands and barrel work as a sling shot.
Pitching is very similar to this.. blocking the front side (with the front leg) while the rest of the body works as a perfectly tilted violent Merry Go Round toward the plate.
The ability to hurl a ball toward a target or drive the back hip/hands/barrel through a pitch with a firm front side is an extremely violent yet athletic movement similar to riding a bike full speed into a sidewalk… Think of the front wheel hitting the sidewalk (this is your front leg landing and locking out) while the rest of your body hurls over the handlebars (this is the rest of your momentum flying forward during a pitch or swing)
The first step in generating the tools to be successful and healthy during these movements is getting in the weight room, teaching your legs how to not only be strong.. but also produce force in a quicker manner. As strength coaches if we can make our baseball players more fast twitch (produce power quickly) we are one step closer to getting them where they want to go. It requires a healthy combination of speed, strength, and overall body awareness. We must not forget the physics behind the movements in america’s “past time” … POWER.. A combination of Strength x Speed. Yes we must have these guy (and girls) grind through heavy lifts such as squats and lunges but we must also program in our plyometrics (Lateral bounds, broad jumps, stability hops) that will translate to fast twitch movements on the field. So long story short we train the legs for strength, speed, and explosiveness…
Leading us right up the kinteic chain to THE CORE (which i classify as hips to neck)
The tough part about training the core for baseball is that we have to train in multiple planes (being that is is a rotational sport) We need to focus on exercises that involve core rotation for power (for example Med Ball Scoops) but we must also train the cores anti-rotators (i.e planks) to stabilize the spine and create torque in our swing.
The Upper Body Gets Tricky
This is where the confusion stems from when training baseball players.. YES you should train all the muscles of the upper body as well but you need to find a healthy balance between mobility and strength. Your lats (back) are essential for shoulder health. They also provide you with the ability to create torque when you load up your swing or reach back to unleash a fastball
Too much tightness however will inhibit your layback and your thoracic mobility (and therefore your velo) during your windup.. So balance between strength and mobility is key.
Long story short baseball is a game full of explosive movements, reaction times only possible through thousands of reps, and lots of mobility. Performing such violent movements put a lot of stress on the body.. which is why the best way to take care of your arm and the best way to stay in the game and have success is to master your body awareness and train your whole kinetic chain as a COMPLETE ATHLETE.
YOUR RIDE OR DIE BIG 5
Heres the deal… Someone comes up to you and says; “You’ve got one year to turn yourself into a physical specimen..But here’s the catch.. you can only do 5 lifts” What are you gonna pick?
After much thought and lots of second guessing myself it became clear to me what I would pick. The decision was not made by which lifts were my favorite or which lifts were gonna make me look better at the beach… The decision came from a practical standpoint. If you are trying to turn yourself into a beast of an athlete you have to attack the body from all angles. The body can do incredible things… When you think of all the most athletic movements in sports its pretty clear that the body works most efficiently and most often in multi joint movements. If you want to avoid imbalances you must keep all quadrants of the body strong. Whenever you are designing a workout program you need to take into account 5 areas: Upper Body, Lower Body, Anterior Chain, Posterior Chain, and of course The Core.
1.Clean and Jerk: Probably the most important lift on here for overall explosiveness and athleticism. (However… Also the most dangerous) You are combining an explosive pull of the ground using the whole posterior chain, extending the hips for maximum explosiveness; and just when you think the exhausting part is over you have to catch some heavy ass weight in a front squat and stand it back up.. ” Oh the lift must be over right?” Hell no you gotta jump and throw that weight as high as you can over your head while trying to support it in a split squat.. and then you stand it up and smile. Keep in mind however that this lift is not for everybody. We live in day and age where desk jobs, tight hips, and internally rotated shoulders dominate the world. So before we try anything too heroic lets do our stretches and mobility. (that’s a topic for another day)
2. Front Squat I chose front squat over back squat for a few reasons. 1) Safer on the back 2) Teaches thoracic and hip mobility and 3) Hits the anterior leg (quad) hard. (Later on down the list we have trap bar deadlift to crush the posterior chain.) I’m not gonna sit here and try to classify the front squat as strictly knee dominant because you are still using the glutes and hamstrings BUT the quads do the majority of the work on a front squat. WHY is it safer than back squat?…… When squatting the bar always has to stay over the center of the foot… with the bar front loaded it becomes much easier to keep your spine vertical… The positioning of the bar on your back during a back squat naturally will cause you to lean forward to maintain balance therefore placing more pressure on your low back. And as for thoracic (mid/upper spine, and lat) mobility …your ability to keep your elbows up during a front squat is the only thing keeping you from attempting a hammer curl with your front squat weight. If you don’t have thoracic mobility you will not be able to keep your elbows up, tension in your core will be lost, and you’ll find yourself supporting heavy ass weight with your fingers and wrists.
3: Bench Press: The Bench Press is gonna be your horizontal push. The biggest mistake on this lift is shoulder positioning . When you bring the bar off the rack you should try to dig your shoulder blades (scaps) into the back of the bench to pull your shoulders out of their internally rotated position and into a powerful pushing position. DRIVE THROUGH YOUR FEET! Benching gets a bad wrap… it is only harmful when your shoulders are not retracted. You can tell if you’re doing them wrong if your traps and shoulders are more sore than your chest the next day.
4: Trap Bar Deadlift: One of the most alpha exercises you can do. This exercise hammers the posterior chain…Glutes, Hamstrings, Back, Traps, Core.. you name it. It may seem as simple as lifting something up off the ground and putting it down but it is also the most important lift to improve your speed as an athlete. The main movers during this lift are also the main accelerators when you sprint. I picked the trap bar deadlift over the barbell deadlift because it is easier to get your spine in a healthy vertical position when your hands are at your sides as opposed to out in front of you. DON’T think “Pull” on a deadlift… Think “Push” through the center of your feet.. your arms are just ropes along for the ride. Keep your core tight, your back flat, and your grip strong. Although I did not technically add a horizontal pull (such as a row) into my top 5, keep in mind that the only way you will be a healthy and successful deadlifter is to pinch your shoulder blades back and keep them from getting pulled forward by the weight… essentially this is a row… you are using the same muscles you row with to stabilize massive amounts of weight from pulling you forward.
5: Pull Up: The pull up is my final destination on my top 5 essential lifts. This vertical pulling movement plays an antagonist role to our vertical push (the jerk). People forget that our lats are part of our core and play an essential role in almost all upper body strength movements in sport. Make sure as you are doing these you make an attempt to retract your shoulders just like every other lift. Healthy joints are going to be the key to your success.. if your mobility is forgotten you will not be able to stay healthy and reap the benefits of these lifts.
DID I FORGET ABOUT CORE???
HELL NO… Each of these lifts relies on your core to stabilize the spine during the movements. Without a strong core these lifts will never improve and will eventually lead to injury. Try practicing these lifts without a weightlifting belt to fully build up your core and get it ready to support heavy weight.
BE SMART, LISTEN TO YOUR BODY
Thanks for reading guys, I’d love to hear input from you as well on what you think and if you agree or disagree with what I’m saying. Video Below has demos off these lifts in order.