By Greg Robbins NASM-CPT and Jamie Smith C.S.C.S. Men's Fitness
Sprinting is a phenomenal way to develop power, as well as a ridiculous physique. If you’re an athlete, you best be sprinting, regardless of your sport. Sprinting is also incredibly taxing on the body. The high outputs are responsible for the impressive results garnered by performing them, but management of sprinting in your program is important. I recommend that you alternate between 3 types of sprints. Additionally, if you are using sprints to improve maximal speed, allow for complete recovery.
• Straight away sprints for distance – Get down to the nearest track, start with smaller distances of 20 – 100 yards. If you want to emphasize acceleration use shorter distances of 10-20 yards. If your focus is top end speed, utilize sprints in the 40-100yd range.
• Hill Sprints – These are amongst our favorite movements for all types of people. The benefits to sprinting uphill are plentiful. The top reasons being that you will recover from them faster due to the restricted output and lesser impact on your body. Hill sprints also force you to be in the most efficient biomechanical position. When searching for hills try and find one that is 50-100 yards in length, ideally on a grass surface (not pavement). Try to find a hill with a medium grade, not to steep, but not too flat.
• Sled Sprints – If you have access to a sled, these are also a great choice. In a similar fashion to the hill sprints, the added resistance of the sled will place your body in 45-degree forward lean. This is great for acceleration development and will strengthen the posterior chain (glutes and hamstrings). It will also have a positive transfer from gym strength to sport specific strength. When programming sled sprints it’s important to choose a resistance appropriate for your training level. If the resistance is too light then the benefits of the forward body lean and positive shin angle will be lost. If it’s too heavy then improper mechanics will be developed. Sled sprints are performed for shorter distances between 10 and 30-yards.
Jumping is a fundamental part of most athletic endeavors. Some sports obviously rely on this skill more than others, but most field sports will include jumping in some capacity. Improving your jumping ability has tremendous transfer to other fitness categories as well. Improving your explosive strength and reactive capacity through jumping will positively affect your strength and acceleration. A sound approach will include a variety of different kinds of jumps:
• Jumps Up – the most popular jumps are for height. These include box jump variations, squat jumps, and vertical jump variations
• Jumps Out – another popular variety are jumps for distance. These include broad jump variations, hurdle jumps, hop variations, and bounds (linear and lateral).
• Jumps Down – Most people forget about jumping down. However, jumping down should be the first skill you master. By learning to land, and absorb force, you will be better able to land safely with the jumping varieties listed above. Furthermore, how often in sport does one jump only to never land? After said landing, how often does an athlete not have to reverse the forces of landing into a new movement? By incorporating options such as the depth drop (stepping off a box or other structure and landing softly into an athletic position) you will improve your capability to absorb force.
• Combinations – The final variation is a combination of the modalities listed above. Now that you can jump up, out, and down, start combining them. One example is the depth jump to a box. Step off a small box, land softly and quickly reverse directions into a box jump.
There are numerous benefits to throwing. These include building explosive strength, reactive strength, coordination, and torso strength / stability. While throwing is commonly viewed as an upper body movement, in reality it develops full body power; effectively linking the hips with an upper body effort. The most common throwing exercises are performed with a medicine ball. However, you can use sandbags, kettlebells, and weights. A balanced throwing regimen should include push, rotational, hip hinge, and overhead variations. Here is an example of each:
• Kneeling Hip Extension to Chest Pass: Take a stance on two knees. Have the ball loaded to your chest. Hinge your hips back to your heels. Explode the hips forward, and chest pass the ball simultaneously. The hips should reach full extension, with the glutes engaged and the body in a tall posture, low back not hyper extended.
• Shot Put Toss: Take a stance just outside hip width. Your body will be perpendicular to the wall, or the intended path of the ball. The ball will be loaded to the back shoulder, with the back elbow up, and back hand opened directly behind the ball. The front hand will be placed lightly on the front of the ball to keep it up. Forcefully throw the back side hip forward, rotate the torso to bring the rib cage relatively square to the wall or intended ball path. Simultaneously push the back hand through the ball.
• Shovel Toss: Take a stance slightly wider than hip width. With straight arms bring the med between your legs and back towards your butt, not so much down. Hinge the hips, maintaining as vertical a shin angle as possible. Release the ball by exploding the hips into extension and underhand tossing the ball forward with straight arms. The movement is similar to a KB Swing.
• Overhead Slam: Take a jump stance. Bring the ball overhead while achieving extension of the hips, knees and ankle joints. You should be on the balls of your feet at the top portion. With straight arms forcefully slam the ball down just in front of your feet, while pushing the hips back and allowing the arms to swing past your legs and back toward your butt. Do not try and keep your arms in front of the legs to minimize any deceleration.
The kettlebell swing is a movement that will have a high transfer in developing athleticism. The swing offers up a few very powerful benefits. Here are two reasons you should be incorporated swings into your training program:
• Explosive power: The swing is very close to a true “ballistic” movement. This means that there is little deceleration; which likens it to a throw or jump. Every swing can be done with maximal effort. The benefit of the swing is that there is zero impact and the bell never leaves your hands, which means you can couple multiple explosive efforts.
• Hip hinge: The swing is essentially a dynamic deadlift. It is crucial to develop the hip hinge pattern if you are an athlete. After all, what separates the professional athlete from the amateur is often the ability to produce power from the hips.
Athletes, especially contact athletes, should be able to push efficiently. This means they need to be strong from head to toe, and deliver forceful efforts forward. A program should include a few fundamental pushing exercises, here are some ideas:
• Bench Press: The bench gets a bad rep. When you do it correctly it’s safe, and builds incredible strength. Remember to set up in a strong fixed position with your back arched, feet on the ground and shoulders pulled back / down. A correct bench press will include a full body effort with drive coming from the feet through a tight back and into the bar. Imagine rowing the bar to your chest by actively engaging the lats and then pressing yourself away from the bar (rather than the bar away from you).
• Sled or Car Push: If you don’t have a sled, no worries, push your car! The beauty of sled pushing is that it’s low skill. Get behind the weight and drive it forward. Remember to keep the arms locked out, the shoulder blades pulled down, and the back arched (not rounded). When driving forward maintain as much forward lean as possible, picking up your knees and driving your feet behind you. Try to extend your leg through every step so that the hip, knee, and ankle joint reach extension.
Certain sports rely heavily on an athlete’s ability to generate rotational power. Every athlete will rotate at some point during their sport. Including rotational exercises is important, and should be included in a program looking to improve athleticism. There are many ways to get some healthy rotation, amongst the best are:
• Punching: You don’t have to be a fighter to punch! In fact learning to punch correctly and incorporating some basic punches is a great way to get moving, and learn to link the lower body and upper body into an explosive rotational effort. Take a boxing lesson, and go hit stuff once in awhile!
• Sledge hammer swings: Who doesn’t like to smash the crap out stuff with a hammer? On top of looking extremely bad ass, hammer swings build great rotational power, and torso strength. If your gym doesn’t have one, go out and grab your own. You can grab a hammer at any hardware store, and pick up an old tire for free! It’s a great low cost option to add to your training arsenal.
• Standing Chops and Lifts: This is a great way to develop rotational strength through the hips, torso, and upper back. At the same time it will improve hip and upper back (t-spine) mobility. You can perform these movements with a cable. Both chops, and lifts, will start in the athletic position. When performing a chop or lift it’s important to brace the torso (lower rib cage) to prevent any lower back (lumbar) rotation. The difference between the two, are that chops start from the top and lifts start from the bottom. Chops will start with the arms in an overhead position. The resistance will come across the body and finish on the outside of the opposite hip. Lifts will start with the forearm on the opposite thigh and the resistance will come across the body and finish in the overhead position (opposite shoulder).
REACH and EXTEND
The ability to get long, and stay stable in that position, is an undervalued skill in athletic development. However, athletes will often find themselves in this position, whether diving for a ball, or getting up for a block. Here are three great moves to work on your stability in an outstretched position:
1. Body Saw: The body saw is an excellent movement to work on your ability to resist hyper extension of the back. Assume a plank position, with your feet on something movable. Options include a slide board, trx, val-slides, or a towel placed on top of a slippery surface such as wood, a mat, or turf. Once you have assumed the plank position, slightly push forward and back from the shoulders in a “sawing fashion”. Remember to squeeze your but and keep the stomach braced.
2. Single Leg Deadlift: This is a great single leg movement that will recruit the often neglected hip stabilizers. It is also a great way to strengthen the posterior chain. One way to perform this exercise is to hold a dumbbell or kettle-bell in the opposite hand of the leg that is on the ground. Make sure to start the movement by pushing the hips (back), maintaining a neutral spine (no rotation), and keeping the leg that is on the floor slightly bent. When doing this do not allow the knee to collapse in, always push the knee outward.
3. Split Stance Overhead Cable Extension: This exercise is also a fantastic drill in anti-extension. You will need a rope, and a cable column. With your back facing the column, have one hand on each end of the rope. The rope will be behind the neck, with your hands right in front of the shoulders. The lower body will be in a split squat position, with your back knee about 4-6 inches off the ground. Press the rope up and slightly out in front of you. Do not fully extend the elbows, press the rope just shy of lockout. Keep your shoulder blades locked back and down, and the stomach braced (rib cage down). Remember to engage the back leg glute to remain stable through the movement.
The squat is a fundamental movement that will lead to maximal strength gains, as well as improve the development of power potential. No matter what training level, everyone can squat. Learning how to hip hinge, rotate the knee’s outward (spreading the floor), and use the upper back / torso to stabilize is the most efficient way to develop total body strength. There are many different squatting variations. Depending on your current training level, here are 3 different variations.
1. Goblet Squat: This is a great movement for a novice. The goblet squat can be performed with a dumbbell, kettle-bell, and/ or medicine ball. The resistance will be held in front, at chest height, with the elbows pointed down towards the knees. Throughout the movement it is best to keep the resistance close to the body the entire time. This will require the upper back to stabilize the weight by squeezing the shoulder blades together (retract) and down (depress).
2. BB Squat to Box: This variation is a solid movement for an intermediate lifter that has already developed the squatting movement pattern. The box is there to gauge depth, and as a teaching tool to sit back. At no point should there be any relaxation while squatting to a box. If the box was removed you should still be able to hold the squat form. When choosing a box height it’s best to use a height that allows the thigh (femur) to break parallel (hip joint is below the knee). This will be specific to the individual.
3. BB Squat: The back squat, when performed correctly is an extremely beneficial exercise. The ability to efficiently transition from the deceleration to acceleration phase of the squatting movement will not only lead to maximal strength, but will positively transfer to all the sprint and jumps concurrently performed during the training program.
It is very important to incorporate different movements that directly improve the function of the torso. The torso musculature is designed to absorb and stabilize forces that are created from the lower and upper extremities. Here are two different exercises that will increase torso strength.
1. Standing Belly Press and Hold: is a movement that requires stabilization of the torso by resisting rotational forces. When performing this movement make sure to be in the athletic position, two hands interlaced on a handle - attached to a cable column, and perpendicular to the resistance. From there push the hands away from the chest in a straight line and do not allow the resistance to disrupt the athletic position. After you complete the recommended reps, hold the last rep for a specific duration, 5 – 15 seconds.
2. 1-Arm Farmer’s Carry: This should be implemented in everyone’s training program. This will require the torso to resist rotating and bending. It will also increase your grip strength. When performing this movement it is best to use a farmer’s handle. If you do not have access to one you can use a dumbbell or kettle-bell. Make sure to keep an upright posture by squeezing the shoulder blade back and down, bracing the torso, and moving in a straight line.
What’s the difference between an athlete who is all show, and the one who has some go? Strong athlete’s have a lot more going on - on the back side. The muscles of the posterior chain are largely responsible for producing explosive movements. If you want run faster, hit harder, jump higher, and be an asset to your team – you need to pull your weight, literally. Here are some ways to get started:
1. DO MORE ROWING: There are endless variations of the row. We don’t so much care which ones you choose, but rather, how you perform them; and how often. Make it a point to row AT LEAST twice as much as you press. For example, if you hit the bench press for 4 sets, you need to do 8 sets of rows. Additionally, pay attention to your shoulder blades, not your arms. Initiate rowing movements by locking the shoulder blades back and down.
2. Backward Sled Drag: Incorporating this movement will develop a stronger posterior chain, improve your work capacity, and aid in recovery. When performing a sled drag focus on maintaining a straight line from your ankles to your shoulders. The body will be in a lean back position but if the arms are extended, shoulder blades are back and down, and the torso is braced you will receive the benefits. It is important that with each step you go from “toe to heel” and get full extension from the knee.