Do athletes need a bigger engine or better brakes?


When it comes to training for performance, many, if not most, people immediately thinking about being faster and more powerful. After all, victory often depends on getting to the ball, finish line, goal line, end zone, or basket before your opponent. This is the same as buying a new car with only one concern: How big is the engine? How fast can it go? How quickly does it get to 60mph?

This is, of course, very important to athletic performance. However, if we stick with our car metaphor, what’s going to happen if you buy a brand new Ferrari but the breaks don’t work? It won’t matter how fast you can go, because, without breaks, you can’t control all that speed. In fact, the majority of non-contact injuries happen in just this way: athletes can’t manage stopping because they don’t have strong enough brakes and something, well, breaks.

So which one should you pick? The answer is that it depends. If you’re an explosive athlete who can’t change direction quickly, then you probably need better breaks. If your top speed blows away your competition but it takes you too long to get there, then maybe you need a more powerful engine. The first step is to assess where you are now and where you need to be.

At Velocity, we use a battery of tests to see where our athletes are strong and where they need to improve. Based on this and other information, like injury history and goals, our coaches can make smart decisions about what our athletes need in order to improve their performance.

If you want to see how your brakes and engine are working, contact us and schedule testing!

TRAINING: 3 drills to help you stop on a dime


Almost every sport is about more than just running fast or a huge vertical. Pick one, and we’ll bet that most of the action happens around changing direction. For the majority of the athletes with whom we work at Velocity around the country, this means they have to be just as good at stopping as they are at starting. Without good brakes, they simply can’t control their speed.

Three of our coaches have chosen their favorite drill to help their athletes have strong, fast brakes so that they can stop on a dime.

Level Lowering Ladder

One of the most basic skills an athlete needs to change direction is the ability to maintain proper position during deceleration. One of the tools we like to use at Velocity is the agility ladder because it helps focus the athlete on foot position and accuracy in addition to whatever skills we choose to address that day.

To do these drills, athletes first need to have the coordination to perform basic ladder drills well, such as swizzle, scissor switches, and the icky shuffle. Once the athlete can perform each of these without difficulty, they can modify the drill and pause as they drop their center of mass, stopping themselves in the proper position. The most basic, and therefore most important, positions in sports are the square, staggered, and single leg stance. A mini-band can be placed around the athlete’s knees to create awareness of proper knee position.  If the athlete adds a medicine ball into the drill, they can work on more ballistic/dynamic eccentric movement with a different stimulus.

The athlete needs to lower his/her center of mass to create “triple flexion” in lower extremity joints: hip, knee, and ankle. The center of mass, knee, and ground contact must be in a good alignment to keep the movement safe and efficient.

Most importantly, the athlete must achieve proper hip hinge and dorsiflexion of the ankle. The vast majority of non-contact injuries occur during deceleration, often at knees or ankles. Learning how to absorb (load) force with proper body position (hip hinge, stable knee, and dorsiflexed ankle) will help prevent these injuries.

Springs and Shocks Ladder

The agility ladder is a great tool to help our athletes develop their shocks and springs.

When it comes to speed, athletes need to be springy and quick off the ground. When we talk about “springs,” we mean our athletes’ ability to be faster by using the elastic properties of their muscles.

“Shocks” means having the ability to absorb impact and force so our athletes can stop safely and quickly. This drill emphasizes both abilities and applies to any sport.

How to do the drill:

through the ladder try to be a quick as you can off of the ground. This is where we focus on our springs. When we land we want to land and be under control. The more control we have when decelerating the safer our body will be when changing direction. Most important part of the landing is keeping the body in proper position and not allowing a valgus knee.

Important details to watch are: position and control. We want an athlete to be able to develop the strength and control through the proper range of motion. This is especially important as we begin to add not speed or distance. Do not let athletes progress unless they can properly and effectively let control their landing for at least 2 seconds.

Resisted Deceleration March Series

Slowing down is often the most challenging aspect of changing direction and requires the athlete to absorb more force than at any other phase of the movement. This series of drills teaches athletes to keep good posture and body-alignment during deceleration. When we add a concentric movement (explosiveness) immediately followed by a deceleration phase the drill also develops reactive strength and power in the athlete.

How to do the drills:

  1. Position the athlete in a good athletic base with a resistance band or bungee cord around their waist. The partner holding the band increases resistance by pulling toward the direction where deceleration needs to occur.
  2. The athlete controls their posture while moving toward “the direction of pull”. Their shin is a very important detail and must point away from the direction of pull. This helps their foot dig into the ground and resist the momentum that is trying to keep them moving in their original direction.
  3. The ground contact, knee, and athlete’s center of mass should be in alignment and proper posture maintained.
  4. If you want to incorporate an explosive moment, have the athlete perform any form of change-of-direction movement, such as a lateral push, crossover step, or jump.

Important details to watch are:

  1. Make sure the athlete understand the basic athletic base position. Hip-hinge and dorsiflexion of the ankles are very important.
  2. The level resistance needs to be appropriate to their strength and ability. You may adjust this by using a different size resistance band or the distance between the athlete and partner.
  3. Ground contact, shin angle, knee position, and the athlete’s center of mass stay aligned (away from the direction of pull).
  4. Make sure the athlete is not leaning on the band.
  5. Eccentric control first, then concentric! Make sure your athletes understand how to use the brakes before they hit the gas pedal.

Becoming More Agile: Teach, Train, Apply


When athletes walk into Velocity, they expect us to improve their physical performance. Their goals are often to fun faster, be more agile, or hit the ball farther. While their goals may differ, the solution is almost always the same: make their movements more efficient and their bodies stronger and more explosive.

What is Agility?

Before we can help our athletes improve, we need to measure their performance, but first we need to understand exactly what we are measuring. If we want to quantify a movement quality like agility, we need to understand exactly what we mean when we say “agile.” Let’s consider two possible definitions:

“The athletic ability to either create an elusive motion or a defensive REACTION with an emphasis on speed and CREATIVITY.” – Carl Valle

“Rapid whole-body movement with change of velocity or direction in RESPONSE TO STIMULUS”
–  Science for Sport

The most common test for agility is the 5-10-5 Pro Agility Test. If you’re not familiar with this test, it involves an athlete sprinting five yards to his left (or right), then 10 yards in the opposite direction, and finally five yards back the other direction. While this test does capture an athlete’s ability to change direction quickly, it captures nothing of an athlete’s ability to be creative or react to an uncontrolled stimulus.

In most cases, performance tests are conducted in a controlled environment for the sake of validity and so that they can be reliably reproduced. Consequently, they cannot truly measure an athlete’s creativity or reaction skills. If we accept that these abilities are essential components of agility, then we know the results of these tests will never give a complete picture of agility.

What makes good agility training?

Ladders, cones, and resistance bungees are commonly used in training drills to develop athletes’ footwork, coordination, and change-of-direction skills. If you’ve ever seen an athlete showing off their abilities with these drills, you might assume that they are extremely agile, but that’s not necessarily the case. If agility includes the ability to quickly respond to a stimulus, then we should realize that those rehearsed drills improve this skill. They can help develop quicker and more accurate feet, but every time an athlete practices that drill they are practicing it the same way. It’s like learning the alphabet: a child learns it in the same order every time and it is easily memorized – but no matter how quickly that child can repeat the alphabet, it doesn’t tell anyone anything about their ability to spell or form sentences.

Real agility is like the ability to quickly form concise, beautiful, grammatically correct and advanced sentences, only the “words” are the different movement skills an athlete has in his toolbox, and the “sentence” is the combination of how he puts those skills together. An athlete who has mastered agility is like a poet with his, or her, body on the field. It is no wonder that the best demonstrations of athletic ability are often called beautiful.

Drills are still great tools for teaching movement variations and improving their quality, but if we stop there, we have only added to our athletes’ “movement toolbox.” To make them more athletic we also need to help them develop the ability to know when to use those tools and be able to do so at a moment’s notice. This ability separates a great athlete on the field from one who is merely great at performing drills.

Velocity Sports Performance’s “Progressive Training Method”: Teach, Train, and Apply

Teach: Our coaches first introduce movement techniques to our athletes. We explain the biomechanics that make a particular movement efficient.

Train: Next we provide series of exercises or drills for athletes to practice specific movement skills.

Apply: Once they have a new movement skills in their tool box, our coaches create opportunities for them to explore their movement skills in non-rehearsed, random, and chaotic situations like mirror drills, reaction drills, or game-like scenarios.

Agility may be hard to measure, but we can still help our athletes get better at it. First, as their coaches, we need to study which movement skills are critical for success in our athletes’ sports – only then can we decide which drills our athletes need to practice and master. This is the “train” part of the Velocity system.

Next, we teach them to apply their new skills by taking them out of rehearsed patterns. We put them in situations that mimic game-like opportunities to use whichever movement skill we trained that day. The importance of this step cannot be overstated. If we skip it, all we have done is teach our athletes to be better at drills, and we have done nothing to make them move better on the field, court, ice, pitch, or any other arena of competition.

Seeing Agility

Are your athletes becoming more agile because of your coaching? You may not see it during the training session, but you will know it when you see them compete. We cannot put in the hard work required for our athletes to improve, but we can always support them by planning ahead and structuring our coaching sessions the right way.

 

Yohei Arakaki – Sports Performance Coach