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NIFS Healthy Living Blog

Testing Progress Toward Your Athletic Performance Goals

GettyImages-1067160268In a world where people want results in an instant and take drastic measures to achieve those results as fast as possible, developing strength, power and athleticism in a long-term aspect is often overlooked. For any fitness-related result or outcome, improvements take time. Fat loss, overall strength and/or power in any particular lift, speed, and agility are all seeds that needed to be watered for a while before noticeable and permanent changes are evident.

In an athletic realm, this leads to the importance of the “testing” process and the use of that process over the course of months, semesters, and years. As a young athlete or athlete fresh out of high school entering the college world of sports and strength and conditioning, this is how you monitor your success and validate that the training and improvements you are making are the things that are actually working. Numbers do not lie. If your times in specific agility drills or weights have increased in certain lifts, obviously you have made improvements. If those numbers have not changed or have decreased, you need to address methods of training or overall compliance/intensity with the program.

Below are five performance tests that measure multiple aspects of your overall athletic profile.

40-Yard Dash

The 40-yard dash, or “40,” is one of the most common drills we use to measure straight-line speed. Sure, many sports are played in a multidirectional way, but overall top speed is an important puzzle piece. Setting up and performing this drill is relatively simple; however, you may need two people to help with the timing.

First, set up two cones exactly 40 yards apart. From here, go to the starting line and sprint from start to finish. The clock or stopwatch should start on your very first movement from the starting line and stop when your body crosses the finish line.

5-10-5 Shuttle

The shuttle run is one of my personal favorites. It allows you to see an athlete’s explosiveness and change-of-direction skills. With lateral movements being so important in many sports, this gives you a good idea of where an athlete stands. To set up the 5-10-5 Shuttle, you need three cones spaced out evenly at 5 yards apart. The athlete starts at the middle cone with their hand on the ground. They run to the right or left cone and touch the ground (5 yards), across the whole setup and touch the ground (10 yards), and sprint through the middle cone (5 yards). Timing of this test starts when the athlete’s hand raises up from the ground and finishes when they cross the middle cone.

Vertical/Broad Jump

Jumping ability is another “power” aspect that translates very well into success on the field or court. The vertical jump test is generally performed with a Vertec, or a piece of equipment where you stand underneath and jump to touch as many of the rings overhead as you can. Other than obtaining the Vertec, the test is fairly simple. First, you want to measure your standing reach, or simply the height that you can reach with your arm outstretched overhead. As I mentioned before, you jump and hit as many of the rings on the Vertec as you can. When the maximal height has been reached, you subtract the standing reach number to get the vertical jump height.

Another great way to measure power would be with the standing broad jump. For this, all you need is a tape measure that is on the floor with a starting line for the athlete. To perform, the athlete starts behind the starting line and jumps out as far as possible and lands under control. The length of the broad jump is measured wherever the back of the athlete’s shoe lands.

Bench/Squat/Trap Bar Deadlift

In the preceding sections we looked at sprint and jump measurements, but we can’t leave out our strength numbers. Like the great Louie Simmons of Westside Barbell said, “Weak things break.” Truer words have never been spoken. Because of this, we want to measure those strength gains with every opportunity that we have. For me, my main three strength lifts that I measure are the bench press, the squat (front squat or back squat, depending on the athlete), and trap bar deadlift. These are three main staples in my programming and I always want to see if the way that I’m implementing them in workouts is yielding the best results.

These may look a little different for you. You may choose DB Bench Press, Pull-Ups, Farmer’s Carries, or something similar. My recommendation is to be sure that whatever you are testing are things that you are continually working on. It’s tough to test a back squat if you haven’t back squatted in 8–10 weeks.

Overall, the moral of the story is testing to see whether what you are doing is helping you achieve your goals is vital. Without testing you are just guessing. Remember, numbers do not lie!

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his blog was written by Alex Soller, Athletic Performance Coach and NIFS trainer. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: strength goals speed athletic performance fitness goals fitness assessment agility testing fat loss

Plyometric Building Blocks: Creative Movements and Injury Prevention

GettyImages-601905120As an athlete there is no substitute for the ability to produce power and be explosive during your sport. From competitive weightlifters and NFL-caliber football players to distance runners, producing (and absorbing) high impacts is crucial for succeeding in your sport as well as staying healthy throughout your competition season. Are you incorporating any of these exercises into your current program?

Creative Movements

Finding plyometric, or more simply “plyo” exercises, has become relatively easy. They have become one of the staples of social media and other internet posts because of their ability to morph into unique movements that will get many likes and retweets. Many performance coaches are looking to become the first person to introduce a movement or show a variation that no one has seen, and plyo exercises allow for a lot of creativity to fit a certain sport or activity.

But should you choose a movement you have never seen and implement it into your program? My answer? It depends. The movement may benefit you in some way, but you must also ask yourself whether it is training a specific area that you are targeting and whether the movement itself is safe. Plyo exercises are meant to be very explosive. They are designed to tap into the high potential of the motor units of the muscle fiber, which are essentially the driving forces from the brain to the muscle. The goal is to reach these high levels of effort (85–100%) during repeated bouts, with the goal of the body adapting to those high levels with an increased recruitment of those high-level motor units. The more we express their abilities, the easier it becomes for us to do, leading to more power.

Injury Prevention in Plyometrics

Now you have to ask yourself a question: Can you perform a movement at full effort while being safe? If you are unsure, here are a few building blocks to consider when choosing a movement.

The Landing

Whenever I teach lower-body plyo movements, the first thing we learn is the landing. Regardless of the sport, landing on the ground always presents a potential risk due to the heavy forces that are coming down. Always be aware of your knees and make sure they are always stable when your feet hit the ground. Avoiding an inward collapse of the knees is a great place to start by making sure your hips are engaged, which will increase the stabilization of the knees.

A good place to start is a simple Box Drop drill. Step up onto a box that is about 12–18 inches high. Step off and land on the ground with flat feet, knees outward with a slight forward lean of the chest. This will start the healthy promotion of safe and soft landings.

Effort

I touched on this above, but effort is a nonnegotiable variable during plyometric movements. Your body and muscles have to have a reason to increase their power-producing capabilities. If you approach a plyo exercise with low effort or the “going through the motions” mindset, it will be a waste of time. For example, say you have a maximal broad jump of 10 feet. During training, the ideal distance you would jump might be around 8+ feet depending on the number of repetitions you are going for. Do you think that jumping to 5 feet during your training sets would tax your body to make improvements on that maximal 10-foot jump? Unlikely. Train with high effort and energy and you will be rewarded.

Simplicity

My final building block is to not overcomplicate things. It is so easy to get caught up in doing an exercise because it looks similar to movements you might perform on the field or court, but my advice is to step back and ask yourself whether there is more thinking involved during the movement, or are you allowed to focus on one aspect and give all you have for the sets and reps you are going for. If a plyo exercise you find has 3, 4, 5, or more aspects, “paralysis by analysis” will definitely kick in. Choose movements that do not require a lot of thinking and allow you to attack every rep.

BE POWERFUL!

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This blog was written by Alex Soller, Athletic Performance Coach and NIFS trainer. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: injury prevention plyometric sports student athletes athletic performance team sports

Three Drills to Develop Athletic Agility

GettyImages-871413050Agility drills basically represent an obstacle. Athletes who can respond faster to starts, stops, and change of direction earlier than the obstacle will have a practical advantage on the playing field. This blog highlights three of my favorite agility drills that can be built into your team’s conditioning routines. The benefits of these runs, jumps, and cuts include increases in reactionary speed, coordination, footwork, and body awareness. Athletes need to be able to change direction rapidly under control without decreases in speed.

You will need a good strength base before doing any high-intensity agility drills. These three drills are great for giving athletes the ability to keep their eyes on the play while knowing what is around them. Adding teammates to the mix always makes it fun and competitive.

Enjoy the drills!

Screen Shot 2020-03-03 at 2.54.12 PMDrill 1: Offense/Defense—Partner Reaction Acceleration Tag

Setup: Cones are spaced 10 yards apart with a middle cone at the halfway point.

Number of Athletes: 2
Athlete 1: Offense (starts the drill); Athlete 2: Defense (reacts and chases)

Execution: Both athletes start on the ground head to head on the baseline. Athlete 1 starts the drill and is allowed two fakes before they must stand, turn, and sprint 10 yards. Athlete 2 reacts and chases Athlete 1 once they stand and turn and has 10 yards to catch and tag Athlete 1 in a sprint fashion.

Screen Shot 2020-03-03 at 2.54.22 PMDrill 2: Cat & Mouse—5-5 Shuttle Reaction Tag

Setup: Cones are spaced 10 yards apart with a middle cone at the halfway point.

Number of Athletes: 2
Athlete 1: Offense; Athlete 2: Defense
Athletes will face each on opposite sides 10 yards apart.

Execution: At the start of a whistle or cue, both athletes sprint a 5-yard shuttle 5–5.

Athlete 1 then tries to sprint past the midline as fast as possible before Athlete 2 tags him before passing the midline after they both do a 5-yard shuttle.

After the 5-yard shuttle, Athlete 1 can juke/cut, etc. to get to the midline to fake out Athlete 2 before being tagged. Athletes switch between offense and defense.

Screen Shot 2020-03-03 at 2.54.44 PMDrill 3: Shuttle Runs—Reaction 5-5-10 Shuttle

Setup: Cones are spaced 0, 5, and 10 yards apart.
Another set of cones is 5 yards apart on the baseline.

Number of Athletes: 3–4
Athlete 1: Shuttles (drill start); Athletes 2–4: Reactionary

Execution: At start of a whistle or cue, Athlete 1, facing the baseline, begins shuffling between the 5-yard cones. Athletes 2–4 stand facing the other way on the baseline waiting to react to Athlete 1. Athlete 1 can shuffle back and forth for a total of two times. However, within the two shuffle attempts, Athlete 1 can turn and sprint whenever. Athletes 2–4 must respond to Athlete 1 and turn and sprint. After Athlete 1 initiates the sprint shuttle, all athletes are now in a race to sprint a 5–5–10-yard shuttle.

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This blog was written by Michael Blume, MS, SCCC; Athletic Performance Coach. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: team training sports speed athletic performance drills agility coordination proprioception footwork

How to Build Training Programs for Competitive Athletes (Part 2)

In part 1 of this blog, I explained training periodization, and talked about the first two macrocycles: off-season and pre-season. Now I’ll talk about the remaining macrocycles: in-season and post-season.

In-Season

ThinkstockPhotos-100324402.jpgOnce the competitive season begins, scheduling time to get in to lift is a lot more difficult due to the practices, games, and travel that are happening. To me, in-season lifting is sometimes undervalued in the competitive/athletic world because of the fact that the primary focus is to win games or matches, not lift weights. However, I believe that this is one of the most important (if not the most important) times during the year because of what lifting can do for the athlete throughout the competitive season and into the off-season.

The goal of in-season lifting is simple: maintain what you have built in the off/pre-season and make sure that no muscular imbalances develop. This is not a time to try and increase your squat or bench by 50 pounds. It is a time to make sure that your body stays healthy and you are able to preserve the muscle, strength, and power that you have built throughout your season. Doing this will not only keep you healthier for your sport, but will also set you up for better long-term development during the subsequent off-season. Think about it: If you lose the vast majority of strength, power, and muscle mass you’ve built over the in-season, you are basically starting at square one when the season is over. If you are able to preserve 85% of that strength and power, you are starting further along than you were the year before, which allows you to make bigger gains.

Recommendation:

Training Frequency: 2 days per week
Mode: Medium Sport Specificity
Volume: Low

Post-Season

When your competitive season comes to a close, there should be some time to relax and recover from it. Take time and reflect on how you performed and what you could have done to be better in different aspects of your activity. Start creating a plan on how to improve those things once your training ramps up again.

As for training during this period, it should still happen. Your body is still recovering, but you want to make sure you do not totally fall off the map by not doing any type of exercise or physical activity. This is a perfect time to play or participate in some other sports or change up your weightlifting routine. You basically have free reign on your choices under one circumstance: get away from your actual sport/complete lifting routine.

This macrocycle does not last long, but it is an important one. You have been competing for months and want to avoid being burnt out on the sport you love, so getting away will be good. Do something different; just be active. After 3 to 4 weeks of light activity, you can begin your off-season program and start the quest to better yourself for the next competitive season.

Recommendation:

Training Frequency: 2 to 4 days per week (light activity)
Mode: Low Sport Specificity
Volume: Low-Medium

***

Overall, there is no exact science that is going to work perfectly every time when you are building your own training programs. You will always need to make tweaks, even to the best programs around. This blog provides the framework for developing a solid program, but the devil is in the details. You want to make sure that you have everything planned out as you progress through the competitive season. Some things may not go as planned, but that is okay. The ultimate goal is to make you the best athlete you can be in the sport or activity you are doing!

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This blog was written by Alex Soller, NIFS Athletic Performance Coach. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers click here.

Topics: NIFS mini marathon training weightlifting competition post-season programs off-season athletes athletic performance