Gallagher Performance Blog

The Essentials of Speed Training

What you need to know:
  • Training for speed is not the same as conditioning. Speed is an entirely separate physical trait than being "in shape".
  • Sport-specific speed requires an understanding of the sport and the individual athlete to help maximize their speed potential.
In our opinion, the most misunderstood and poorly implemented aspect of training athletes is definitely speed. Athletes are in need of practical and proven speed training methods. After all, if a player can't keep up with the speed at their current level, they run the risk of being cut or not playing much. Every athlete has the ability to improve their speed if they train the correct way. Below are some simple tips to help take your speed to the next level.

# 1 - Train Powerful Legs NOT Quick Feet

This can be said for any athlete. The world’s fastest athletes don’t have "quick feet". They have powerful legs. Unfortunately, many athletes have been coached to "move their feet quickly" and they now equate quick feet with speed. Ultimately, this creates an athlete who moves their feet quick, but they don't move very fast. It's important to understand the difference between speed/acceleration and quick feet because it will have tremendous implications in your training.

For example, many trainers and players automatically default to using agility ladders as a means of developing quick feet. This is nothing more than a gimmick when it comes to developing true speed and we discussed that here.

Want quick feet? Take up tap dancing. Athletes need powerful legs.

Toss the quick feet exercises in favor of some explosive strength training. As your strength and lower body power development improves, your speed will thank you.

# 2 - Focus on Short Distance Accelerations (10-20 yards)
Most sports are a game of quick, repeated bursts of speed coupled with changes of direction. Outside of track & field, most sports favor acceleration and deceleration over top-end speed. It is important to have top-end speed to stay competitive at any level, but if you aren't able to win the small area battles on the court, field, or ice, the chances of playing regularly are not in your favor.

This means athletes must be explosive and capable of reproducing the same explosiveness during the course of a game. Short distance sprints are an excellent tool to develop acceleration.  This allows for a higher level of transfer to athletics due to higher degree of specificity. Short hill sprints, sled drags, sled pushes, and a variety of acceleration drills will also be highly effective because they will reinforce ideal acceleration mechanics.

# 3 - Speed Work and Conditioning Are Not the Same

"Explosive, not tired." At GP, that is a concept we communicate to all our athletes. Nowadays, young athletes assume conditioning and speed are the same thing or that by improving their conditioning, they will get faster. For many athletes, suicides and gassers come to mind. Players are instructed to sprint with minimal rest, pushed to exhaustion. Sure you want your athletes to last an entire game and not get out worked, but this will not get them faster. Actually, it is counter-productive if speed is the objective since it is physiologically impossible to perform at your maximal effort without adequate rest.

There is a such thing as training parameters and workload capability. These concepts demand consideration when training athletes. Sadly, if you asked the majority of trainers and coaches what those two terms mean, you will get a blank stare in return. True speed is only develop at near maximal effort. Maximal effort depletes energy systems and strains the nervous system. All these need adequate time to recover between sprints. This must be monitored closely to ensure that a speed training session does not become a conditioning workout.

# 4 - Make Lateral Starts and Transition Drills a Priority

Sport, namely team sports, requires movement proficiency in all directions. Most may seem like a linear sport to the observing eye, but watch closely and you will see otherwise. That said, speed training cannot be simply performed in a linear fashion. To make your speed training more specific, use lateral starts and bounds to reinforce explosive leg drive in lateral or diagonal directions. There are a number of lateral start variations that can be effective, such as lateral standing, lateral standing on outside leg, and side lunge position.

Building on the idea of multi-directional movement and explosive direction changes, you can progress your speed training to include transition drill exercises. These will allow you to replicate body positions and transitional movements that will directly impact your speed on the field or ice.

Seal the Deal
Following these tips will help you make more progress in less time and ensure that your training has the best chance to transfer into true speed development.

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to post them below.

Gallagher Performance has a proven track record of improving speed time and time again. There is a reason why so many athletes come to us for speed development. If you’re interested in learning more about GP's approach to training athletes, our contact information can be found at www.gallagherperf.wpengine.com.

3 Simple Steps to Reduce Your Risk of Sports Injuries

3 Simple Steps to Reduce Your Risk of Sports Injuries
The Problem
Youth, high school, college, and professional sports continue to rack up thousands of injuries each year. Despite advances in areas of sport such as equipment, coaching, and player safety guidelines, injury rates are not decreasing. In fact, many sport-related injuries have increased dramatically over the last decade, with a sharp rise in youth sport injuries as evident by some alarming statistics:
  • High school athletes account for an estimated 2 million injuries and 500,000 doctor visits and 30,000 hospitalizations each year.
  • Overuse injuries are responsible for nearly half of all sports injuries to middle and high school students.
  • Since 2000, there has been a fivefold increase in the number of serious shoulder and elbow injuries among youth baseball and softball players.
  • According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), more than half of all sports injuries in children are preventable.
With those numbers in mind, let's look at football injuries since they alone account for over 500,000 injuries per year, twice as much as any other sport. More than half of all football injuries are to the lower extremity and roughly 67% of all football injuries are sprains/strains. Several injuries occur at the joints, especially the shoulders and knees. Many of these often require surgery and potentially have career-ending and/or lifelong implications.

The Solution
While injury is an inherited risk of participation in sport, there are steps that can be taken to reduce the risk of serious injury and to give athletes the best chance of a rapid and complete recovery when injuries do occur. Again, consider that more than half of sport-related injuries are deemed preventable. As with any health issue, prevention should be of primary importance. With that in mind, let's look at a few simple steps to reduced your risk of injury.

#1 - Movement Screening/Assessment
Many injuries are preventable with movement pre-screening that is designed to identify musculoskeletal asymmetries and weaknesses that are known to increase the risk of injury. Ideally, movement screening is performed before the season begins. These movement assessments are utilized by several professional and collegiate sports teams and are proving to be an asset in their ability to keep athletes healthy.

How?

They provide a starting point for implementing specific exercises and routines to bring structural balance back to the body. Don't make the assumption you or your young athlete is 'ready' for the season without any objective evidence that there is work they need to do. This is exactly why you will hear the advocates of movement screening say, "Assess, don't assume."

#2 - Intelligent Strength and Conditioning Program
Once your weaknesses and imbalances have been identified, it’s important that you find someone in your area who is capable of addressing them through intelligent programming.  If you’re injured, it’s more than likely that you have developed compensation in your movement that contributed to your injury. These compensation patterns are typically best handled with an appropriate combination of strength training and corrective exercise. The combination is key. Corrective exercise is not the only means of approaching imbalances in the body. Many people fail to appreciate that appropriately applied strength training has the ability to be corrective on its own.

Furthermore, if you are injured, finding someone who has a firm understanding of functional anatomy, how it relates to your injury, and how to train around your injury while still addressing your weaknesses can prove to be the difference in making a speedy recovery. After all, you don't just want to return to your sport, you should want to return better than you were before.

#3 - Appropriate In-Season Program
This point can't be stressed enough, as too many athletes tend to slack off during the season and don't place a priority on maintaining adequate strength, mobility, and neuromuscular control of their body. Basically, they don't pay as close attention to the little things as they did during the off-season. There can be any number of reasons for this, but if staying healthy is important, you must find the time. This becomes evident when you consider that 85% of non-contact ACL injuries occur mid-late season. Other sport-related injuries also have greater frequency of injury as the season progresses.

Appropriate in-season training is intended to provide lower volume and frequency of strength training while continuing to address injury prevention and recovery methods. To complement in-season training, services such as chiropractic and massage therapy can be implemented to restore structural balance and function to the body. This provides a solid template for keeping sport performance as high as possible throughout the season. Plus, athletes are able to enter the next off-season close to peak performance, rather than spending weeks or months returning to their previous form.

That's All Folks
Injuries are part of the nature of sport and, unfortunately, completely preventing injury is an unrealistic expectation. Despite that, the risk of injury should not be taken lightly by parents or athletes when the risk of serious injury can be greatly reduced by taking appropriate steps as outlined above.

For those of you in the Greater Pittsburgh area, this approach to keeping athletes healthy and performing at their best is available at Gallagher Performance. These services are not exclusive to athletes, but are available to all individuals who enjoy being active and wish to take a proactive approach to staying healthy.

GP Client Testimonial

GP Client Testimonial
I have been lifting ever since high school and have been all over the fitness spectrum since then.  In high school it was a simple program 3 sets of 10 for everything.  The programming didn't change much in college.  My results with this left me bulky and with stagnant numbers.  My bench, squat, deadlift max outs never changed no matter how hard I pushed myself with this programming.  So then I decided to leave the strength world and try high intensity interval training or HIIT. I read tons of articles, Internet blogs, etc. for workout ideas.

Fast forward after 5 years of HIIT, 6 days a week, an average workout time of 50 minutes, and the result was a 6’2”, 160 pound weakling with 3% body fat (measured by 7 point pinch test).  I found myself having to force myself to go to the gym. Every workout left me gasping for air and not enjoying it. I was extremely fatigued throughout the day and had difficulty concentrating. When you’re in a Doctorate program, you need all the concentration you can get. I didn't know where to turn because I had scoured the Internet and couldn't figure out how to program. I kept operating on the idea that "more training with higher intensity is better and who needs a deload week".

One day I had enough and set my goal: to get as strong as I possibly can. I heard about GP's training approach, so I went to talk to them to see what they had to offer. If you have read as much as I have on fitness blogs and articles, it is easy to separate those who know what they are talking about from those who don't. After talking with them and even seeing their own performance in the gym, I knew that GP was absolutely the place to turn to.

For the reader who wants to know the results I gained in 2 cycles (24 weeks):
  • Deadlift -  went from 425 to 530
  • Push Press - went from 165 to 270
  • Front squat - went from 175 to 350 (and yes I sat on my heels)
I did this at 235 pounds with 13% body fat (+ 2% for user error).  I also made these gains after 5 years of my own piss-poor programming, i.e. HIIT, which left me with nothing more than diagnosed adrenal fatigue. If that doesn't mean anything to you, Google "adrenal fatigue" and read how hard it is to make gains in the gym or even operate on a functional level throughout the day. For those readers who have been searching for great programming but don’t know where to turn, here you go.

Throughout my cycles I could email them at any time with questions, concerns, or feedback. My workouts were changed based on how my performance was in the gym the week prior. I was excited to go to the gym to see how much I could lift that day.  The new programming translated into better focus at school too. My gains were nothing like they had been before and I absolutely recommend GP's programming to everyone.

- Jared

2 Common Misconceptions In Endurance Training

What you need to know:
  • Many endurance athletes have exhausted their means of improvement with traditional training.
  • Training deficiencies, such as strength, can take your endurance capacity to new levels.
The Problem with Tradition
Similar to any group of competitive athletes, endurance athletes carry their own 'traditional' concepts when it comes to training and program design. Whether they are runners, bikers, swimmers, triathletes, or any combination in between, anyone new to an endurance sport realizes they must improve their aerobic capacity to sustain a specific pace over a specific distance. In order to do this, many people simply take to road and log mile after mile after mile.

After all, this is the accepted way of doing things, right? As a runner, if I have the goal to run a half marathon and I can only run 5 miles, obviously I need to put my time in to improve my running. But, what happens when simply just running or just biking fail to provide you the results you want? For many, this means they decide to start doing more. They think, "I must not be doing enough, so I must do more to improve."

In the endurance community, this type of thinking is the essence of traditional training. But is this training efficient in producing results? Are you wasting your time? What if the reason for your plateau in progress is not your lack of running/biking/endurance, but rather a deficiency, such as strength, that you may not have considered?

Approach enough endurance athletes about strength training and you will hear a lot of myths and misconceptions. However, talk to some of the best endurance athletes in the world and they will acknowledge the benefit strength training has in their performance. With that in mind, let's look at two of the most popular misconceptions.

Misconception #1 - Strength Training is Not Useful
This myth continues to stand the test of time despite the evidence that strength training is beneficial to athletes, regardless of sport. Even to this day, there are endurance sport experts that debate back and forth on whether or not endurance athletes need to lift weights.

Seriously? This is still happening even when we know strength training is a necessity for optimizing sport performance and health? Of special importance to endurance athletes, strength training has been shown to:
  • Maintain and/or promote the building of muscle mass. This is a huge benefit because endurance training negatively impacts muscle mass, meaning many athletes lose precious muscle.
  • Strengthen the endocrine and immune systems. Yet another big plus since chronic endurance training has a negative impact on both these systems.
  • Promote adequate bone density. The importance of this should speak for itself, but this will be of special importance to runners when you consider the risk of stress fracture.
When you take all that into consideration as well as the ability that strength training has to correct imbalances in the body and promote neuromuscular coordination, strength training should be an essential component to your training program.

Misconception #2 - Avoid Heavy Weights and Low Reps
Now that you have considered resistance training as part of your endurance routine, the next misconception to deal with is exactly how an endurance athlete should go about lifting weights. This misconception has its roots in the belief that endurance athletes need to perform high-repetition sets, usually 15-20 or more reps. The idea being high-reps will build muscle endurance, which will have the best carry over to their endurance sport. Again, this may work in the beginning, but as an athlete becomes more experienced and improves, training must adapt accordingly.

Keep in mind that many endurance athletes have exhausted their improvement with traditional training. The key to improvement now becomes identifying any deficiency. For endurance athletes deficient in strength related pathways, they can benefit from maximal strength training. Training for maximal strength requires specialized programming and relies on lifting heavy weights explosively for lower amounts of total reps.

To illustrate this concept, here is an example of a triathlete who utilized maximal strength training in her program with very successful results.

Case Study:
  • Triathlete trained is one of the head researchers for PowerBar, has a PhD in nutrition.
  • 8-10 lifts were performed per month in the 90-95% range of her 1RM (rep max)
  • Special exercises performed were box squats, special deadlifts, good mornings, and a similar variety of pressing movements for upper body.
  • No high repetition work was performed to avoid soreness and a high degree of effect on her traditional triathlon training.  Also, very little time is spent training in this manner.
  • She was amazed at the results this training was giving her. She said that she “could now look at any hill, use muscles she never had, and was able to dig deeper than ever before, and have a posture that was solid as stone,” which made her much less fatigued at the end of the run. She had shaved 1/2 hour off of her Iron man, and did about 4 hours less work per week of traditional training.  She had gained 2lbs of weight from the beginning as she trained this way for 8 months. Her bodyfat went down about 2%, and she no longer had back pain, neck pain, and less nagging training injuries and setbacks.
Importance of Maximal Strength to the Endurance Athlete
What’s the importance of maximal strength to the endurance athlete?  Let's consider two athletes, athlete A and athlete B.  They are both seasoned runners, but athlete A becomes much stronger, relatively speaking, while athlete B stays the same in strength.  Keeping body weight constant, it will take less effort for the stronger athlete to perform the same amount of work.  This increases endurance through strength conservation.

Clearly, the programming of specialized strength training can be beneficial. Also consider that the athlete in the case study above did almost 4 hours LESS training per week. This concept is known as training economy. Training economy is about achieving the greatest sport result with the less amount of time and energy spent in training. Thomas Kurz said it best in his book, Science of Sport Training:
"Training is efficient if the highest sport result is achieved with the least expense of time and energy".
To highlight this concept even further, research performed in Finland at the Research Institute for Olympic Sports found that replacing almost 1/3 of regular endurance training with explosive strength training not only improved strength and speed tests, but also improved aerobic capacity and running economy.

Take a moment to consider how much of your endurance training is unnecessary and whether your time may be better spent on training your deficiencies.

Final Words
The purpose of this article was to provide some insight into the importance of considering alternatives to traditional endurance training. Integrating resistance training to built specialized strength will only compliment your endurance capacity and provide you with a more efficient training program. To become a complete endurance athlete, addressing deficiencies appropriately can be the difference between a season of frustration and one of personal bests.

 


 

Stay Hydrated: How Much Water Do You Need?

Stay Hydrated: How Much Water Do You Need?
What you need to know:
  • Adequate water intake or hydration is determined by many factors.
  • Common advice such as "Drink 8 cups of water a day" or "Drink half your body weight in ounces" are far too simplistic and may not provide you with the water you need.
Why Water is Essential to Health and Performance
"Dehydration of as little as 2% loss of body weight results in impaired physiological and performance responses."
As your body's principal chemical component, water makes up roughly 60 percent of your total body weight. Every system and cell in your body depends on water. Water is essential to normal human function.

Lack of water leads to dehydration, a state that occurs when you don't have enough water to allow your body to perform normal functions. A review published in the Journal of the American Dietetics Association states that "Dehydration of as little as 2% loss of body weight results in impaired physiological and performance responses."

To put that into perspective, this would equate to losing almost 3lbs of water for an individual who weighs 150lbs. That may seem like a lot of water to lose, assuming that one must exercise a lot or resort to extreme measures to lose that much water. But let's take a closer look and see just how easy it is to lose water without exercising.

According to the Guyton Textbook of Medical Physiology, the same 150lb individual will lose about 2.3L of water daily from urine, feces, sweat, and insensible water loss through the skin and breathing. 2.3L equals almost 5lbs of water loss per day from normal body function. This estimation does not factor in a warmer climate. Naturally, sweat rates increase in warmer weather, so this same individual could lose up to 3.3L of water a day.

It should be clear that becoming dehydrated is not a difficult task. There is a common misconception that dehydration only occurs in people that sweat a lot due to exercise or warmer weather. This couldn't be further from the truth. Normal bodily functions can lead to dehydration if water intake is not addressed appropriately.

The importance of adequate water intake has important health considerations as well. There are studies that have demonstrated individuals who stay well hydrated are less likely to experience:
  • Cancers of the breast, colon, and urinary tract
  • Urinary stone disease
  • Mitral valve prolapse
  • Childhood and adolescent obesity
Meeting Your Basic Daily Needs
In sedentary individuals, it appears that men require about 12 cups of water per day and women require about 9 cups of water per day. Whole foods are estimated to provide 4 cups of that daily water total. Another 1 cup of that daily water recommendation comes from 'metabolic water' or water that your body makes from metabolic processes, thus making this water you don't have to worry about consuming.

So for the sedentary individual, they will require about 7 cups of water/fluid per day since the remaining 5 cups of water will come from food and normal metabolic function. This is assuming that one is eating enough to meet their calorie needs.

It's important that any fluid you count toward your daily total is non-caffeinated or non-alcoholic. Caffeine and alcohol raise water needs in the body. If you consume either of these, you will need more water.

Water Needs in Response to Physical Activity
As for athletes, there is strong evidence in the research showing that dehydration will have major impacts on endurance, strength, intensity, and mood. When it comes to athletes, little research has been done to determine exactly how much water intake is needed to prevent dehydration. This likely explains the wide variety of answers one can potentially be given when attempting to figure out how much water they need to rehydrate. The honest answer is, "It depends." The reality is, there are a number of factors that play into understanding how much fluid intake an athletes needs to appropriately rehydrate.

Athletes or active individuals will generally require greater amounts of water due to increased muscle mass, metabolic activity, and sweat rates. So how much water will an athlete require? For starters, we can make a safe assumption that athletes eat more food during the day than the average person and that they have a higher metabolic rate. With this in mind, they will be getting more water from food sources and metabolic function. Depending on the climate an athlete exercises in, daily water intake may need to increase to an additional 2-4L (8-16 cups) on training days. Water intake must be based on factors such as activity level, body mass, sweat rates, and climate.

Bottom Line
A safe, general guideline for athletes and water intake would be to consume 1/2 gallon of additional water on non-training days. When it comes to training days, an athlete may require a gallon or more of water per day to maintain adequate hydration levels.

Source:

Kleiner, S., Water: An essential but overlooked nutrient. Journal of the American Dietetics Association. Volume 99, Number 2, 200-206, 1999.
 
 

Why Stretching Won't Solve Your Tight Muscles

Why Stretching Won't Solve Your Tight Muscles
What you need to know:
  • Many healthcare providers and trainers poorly understand why someone ‘feels tight’.
  • Dealing with muscle tightness is not as simple as just stretching.
Why Muscles Become Tight
The human body is designed to move and movement requires varying amounts of stability and motion. When movement occurs, patterns of stability and motion can occur in efficient or inefficient ways. As structures accommodate movement, the load placed on everything from joints to muscles and tendons to nerves changes and these changes can produce symptoms. In the process of wanting to avoid symptoms, the body will often develop compensation patterns. A common result of this compensation process is the feeling of being 'tight' or 'tension'. This tension serves a protective role, thus it is referred to as protective tension.

The development of protective tension and the reason behind its presentation is one of the least understood mechanisms in musculoskeletal care. The body is smart enough to constantly monitor loads and prevent excessive load of any given structure to ultimately help prevent injury. If you are feeling 'tight', there is a reason and your body is sending you a signal. However, many people will ignore this signal until more pressing issues develop, such as pain. So how does one handle a muscle that ‘feels tight’? Unfortunately, the solution is not as simple as just stretching. Stretching often provides temporary relief because of underlying joint dysfunction, stability and/or mobility deficits, or muscular weaknesses that need addressed.

Thinking Beyond Stretching
To illustrate this concept, let’s look at the classic example of someone with ‘tight hamstrings’. The common solution many people hear from coaches, trainers, medical professionals, and the all-knowing local gym guru is, “You should stretch your hamstrings more.” So the well-intentioned individual chooses to stretch their hamstrings more often because they feel they have received good advice from someone they perceive as knowledgeable.

However, the majority of people will eventually find themselves in a cycle of temporary relief from stretching. They stretch, feel better, then some time later they feel tight again. So they stretch more and more, but fail to have any sustainable results all because they received very poor advice from the start. Be critical of your information source. Just because someone owns a Mac doesn’t mean they are qualified to be a programmer for Apple. Get the point?

Discovering the reason behind your tight hamstrings (or any tight muscle) is a complex process. Here are just few common reasons why hamstrings develop protective tension:

#1 - Poor Posture due to Weakness of the Abdominal and Glute Musculature
The anterior pelvic tilt is a common posture seen today. As the pelvis rotates forward due to stability and muscular control issues, this places stress on the hamstrings since they attach directly to the pelvis. Not only is this a static posture consideration, but also applies to dynamic posture or essentially the posture one assumes while moving. Movement will place greater stress on the anterior and posterior abdominal slings. These slings serve as a link between your shoulders, spine, and hips. Weakness in their ability to control pelvic and spinal movements, such as rotation and extension, can create overactive or tight hamstrings. In this case, the hamstrings will continue to feel tight until the underlying issue of correcting posture and pelvic/spinal stability are improved.

#2 - Adverse Dynamic Tension of the Sciatic Nerve
Peripheral nerves, such as the sciatic, have their own unique biomechanics to allow for movement of the arms or legs. Nerves are surrounded and encased by muscle/connective tissue, so they need to be able to ‘slide’ through tissue during movement. If they can’t slide, tension develops because nerve tissue is highly sensitive and can be injured very easily if too much stress is applied to it. Hamstring tightness can be attributed to the sciatic nerve or its  branches, the tibial and common peroneal nerves, being entrapped within the hamstrings and/or calves. The detection of neural tension requires specialized training. Those that are qualified utilize specific soft tissue work and neural mobilizations tailored to treat neural tension.

#3 - Accumulation of Adhesive Tissue within the Hamstrings
This is common in athletes and runners because of repetitive use. Adhesive tissue can develop within musculature in response to overuse, thus affecting how a muscle contracts and lengthens. Typically a muscle that does not lengthen appropriately will create the feeling of tightness. Again, specific soft tissue work is tailored to treat adhesive tissue and allow for proper hamstring function.

#4 - Joint Dysfunction of the Pelvis or SI Joints.
Abnormal joint mechanics will alter muscle function. If joint centration or how the joint moves is altered, this will alter length-tension relationships of muscles surrounding the joint. This affects muscle function and will potentially place tension on the hamstrings. These are best addressed by joint mobilizations or adjustments/manipulations. Licensed chiropractic professionals are well trained in identifying abnormal joint mechanics and the impact it has on the body and nervous system.

Final Words
Protective tension in a muscle develops for various reasons and must be examined accordingly. At GP, our assessments are used to identify protective tension and why it is present. This provides us with the information needed to design the most appropriate course of treatment and client education.

Athletic Development: Will Your Child be a Success or Burn Out?

Athletic Development: Will Your Child be a Success or Burn Out?
What you need to know:

• Long term athlete development is a process that occurs over many years. This is not an "8 week program". Rather, it starts at an early age and continues on into adulthood. It is not simply a linear process, but is one that must be highly individualized to assist the athlete in reaching their full potential.
• The greatest challenge to coaches, parents, and athletes is the understanding of how difficult this process is. Athletes are dealing with massive changes in physical attributes, brain function, and sport skill acquisition. These all must be managed simultaneously while stressing the concepts of hard work in a positive environment.
The Case for Long-Term Development
When it comes to athletics, critical development begins at a very early age. As children mature, they progress through important developmental stages during their growth and maturation process. If long-term athletic development is of any importance to the coach, parent, or athlete, certain aspects of these stages must be addressed at appropriate time periods, otherwise the chances of the athlete reaching elite status is reduced.

Similar to other facilities and organizations that place importance on long term athlete development, the model used at Gallagher Performance began with a review of research and methods utilized in child and athletic development around the world. Through the review of current and past research/methods used with elite athletes and even military special operations, it was concluded that to truly address athlete development, a new way of looking at how to properly structure "strength and conditioning" programs must be considered.

Long-term athlete development models are being utilized around the world by more than 100 national sport organizations. For example, within the sport of hockey, there is no doubt that countries like the Czech Republic, Finland, and Sweden produce numerous NHL players. The numbers becoming even more impressive when considering the population of these countries. Each of those countries has placed the primary focus on long-term athlete development models.

Early Specialization in Sports: It's Not Working
Early specialization in sport is becoming increasingly more common among children in the United States. The rationale behind such a decision typically being if a child plays one sport, year round, they will be more advanced than their peers, more likely to be the 'star', get recruited, and/or possibly go on to make millions. Is this all fact or just wishful thinking?

Recent research from UCLA reveals that early specialization in sport has very poor connection with young athletes achieving elite status. A survey of almost 300 NCAA Division I athletes found that 88% played two or three sports as children and 70% did not specialize in one sport until after the age of 12. These findings were already understood in former East Germany and USSR within their youth development programs.

Studies in East Germany and the USSR found that children who went through an early specialization program did have more immediate improvement in their performances. But these children also had their best performances between the ages of 15-16, had greater inconsistencies, many quit or 'burnt out' by the age 18, and they had greater rate of injuries because of forced adaptation compared to children who played multiple sports and specialized later in life.

Now coaches are beginning to recognize the negative impact early specialization has on athletes. Brent Sutter, former NHL player and head coach/GM for the WHL's Red Deer Rebels had this to say about players who focus on hockey 10-12 months out of the year:
“You just don’t have as many players today that are as good athletes as they used to be. Too much today, especially in young players, is focused on hockey 12 months a year ... You really notice the guys who are true athletes and the ones who are not. The ones you can take and play baseball or soccer with them and they get it. This is noticeable even at the NHL level. The true athletes are a little bit further ahead ... I want our scouts to look at athletes not just strictly hockey players."
This is not just a hockey issue. Arguably, the same can be said for athletes in any sport.

Conclusion
Long-term athlete development serves as a framework for athlete development in sports. It is a system that integrates age-appropriate training and recovery programming with competition while maintaining one consistent goal: the development of athletes.

At GP, we take an educated and unique approach to proper youth development in sports, focusing on a wide variety of motor, coordination, and other developmental skills. Athletic development is a process and certainly not one that should be rushed. Don't just take our word for it. Sports science and coaching experts around the globe are endorsing this model and implementing it to ensure the best outcomes for their young athletes.

 

Finding a Solution to Your Shoulder Pain

Finding a Solution to Your Shoulder Pain

 
"He who treats the site of pain is often lost."
- Karel Lewit

The purpose of this article is to provide some basic information about the importance of understanding the role posture and function have in pain and movement dysfunction. The hope is that you will gain an understanding of why your chiropractor or therapist must evaluate and bring into consideration issues that may not seem related to your pain.
When it comes to dealing with chronic musculoskeletal pain, the site of the pain is rarely the actual source of the pain. This concept is often missing or ignored in traditional North American treatment. Let's look at shoulder pain as an example. All too frequently the shoulder pain patient is provided an evaluation and treatment that is solely focused on the shoulder. Depending on the professional you see, the shoulder is typically treated with any combination of adjustments, passive modalities (ultrasound, electrical stimulation, laser), manual therapy, or shoulder exercises. If those fail, you may be referred for shoulder injections or you may become a potential candidate for shoulder surgery.

Notice the pattern? Everything is focused around the shoulder. That's where the pain is, so that's where my problem has to be, right? The same pattern can be seen with low back pain, neck pain, knee pain, etc. This seems like rational thought, but what if you, as the patient, do not respond? Does this mean that conservative treatment failed? Does it mean you need surgery? What if only focusing on the site of pain caused something very critical to a positive outcome to be missed?

Looking Beyond the Shoulder
Czech physician Vladimir Janda likened musculoskeletal pain and dysfunction as a chain reaction, thus stressing the importance of looking beyond the site of pain for the source of pain. Janda observed that due to the interactions of the skeletal system, muscular system, and Central Nervous System (CNS), dysfunction at any one joint or muscle is reflected in the quality and function of joints/muscles throughout the entire body. This opens the door to the possibility that the source of pain may be distant from the site of pain.

Janda also recognized that muscle and connective tissue are common to several joint segments; therefore, movement and pain are never isolated to a single joint. He often spoke of "muscular slings" or groups of functionally interrelated muscles. Muscles must disperse load among joints and provide stabilization for movement, making no movement truly isolated. Meaning shoulder movement does not occur only at the shoulder, but is dependent upon the function of the spine, rib cage, pelvis, and even the ankles. For example, trunk muscle stabilizers are activated before movement of the upper extremities begin; therefore, shoulder pain can be caused by poor core stabilization.

Hopefully you are coming to realize that while you may have pain in a specific area, it's not always the cause of the pain. Going back to the shoulder, a 2006 study that reported 49% of athletes with arthroscopically diagnosed posterior superior labral tears (SLAP lesions) also have a hip range of motion deficit or abduction weakness. This illustrates a key point. How often do you see shoulder pain/dysfunction treated by correcting hip mobility and stabilization patterns?

Outside of glenohumeral joint range of motion and rotator cuff endurance/strength, has your shoulder evaluation included any of the following items:

#1 - Breathing Pattern
The average person will take close to 20,000 breaths per day but until recently the impact breathing has on movement and dysfunction has been largely ignored. Proper breathing certainly provides great benefit to athletes and individuals who display a variety of movement dysfunction.  Neurologist Karel Lewit said, “If breathing is not normalized, no other movement pattern can be.” Understanding the impact proper breathing has on the body and how to restore ideal breathing patterns is critical in both athletic development and rehabilitation.

#2 - Thoracic and Cervical Spine Function
Spinal posture lays the foundation for shoulder function. Improper function of the thoracic (mid-back) and cervical (neck) areas of the spine will compromise the function of your shoulders. Imagine the spine as a series of cog wheels, movement in one area will impact all areas. This is visualized in the picture below:



Regardless of whether they are sitting or standing, the majority of people tend to fall into a posture very similar to what is seen on the left. Increased kyphosis of the thoracic spine (rounded mid-back) is a major reason for forward head posture and rounded shoulders. There are seventeen muscles that attach to the shoulder, many of them influencing the position and movement of not just the shoulders, but spine as well. Shoulder function is dependent on proper spinal posture and without correction of spinal posture, the shoulders don't have a fighting chance to stay healthy.

#3 - Mobility of the Opposite Hip and Ankle
The importance of looking at hip mobility was emphasized previously, but let's also consider the ankle. This ankle becomes of particular importance when dealing with overhead throwing athletes. Dysfunction at the ankle will alter mechanics up the kinetic chain and place undue stress on the shoulder and elbow. Correcting any muscular tightness or poor joint movement of the ankle sets the stage for ideal throwing mechanics and the prevention of shoulder injuries.

Closing Thoughts
Despite focusing on shoulder pain, many of these concepts hold true for any type of chronic musculoskeletal pain. Before abandoning all hope or 'learning to live with the pain', consider that being evaluated by a professional who will look beyond your site of pain could be the solution you have been looking for. That's why these concepts form the foundation of the examination and treatment process at Gallagher Performance.

Dietary Fat Is Not the Bad Guy

Dietary Fat Is Not the Bad Guy
Despite what you may have been told, fat isn’t always the bad guy in the "Battle against the Bulge". Healthy fats such as monounsaturated fats, omega-3s fatty acids, and saturated fats - yes, you read that correctly - all can play a huge role in improving your health, memory, mood, and body composition. Let's take a look.

#1 - Better Health
The human body is about 97% saturated and monounsaturated fat, leaving the remaining 3 % to polyunsaturated fats. Half of that three percent is omega-3 fats, and that balance needs to be maintained. Vegetable oils contain very high levels of polyunsaturated fats, and these oils have replaced many of the saturated fats in our diets since the 1950s.

The body is in a constant state of rebuilding cells and producing hormones, two processes in which fats have a very important role. Regardless of what we consume through our diets, our bodies use the building blocks we give it. When we give it a high concentration of polyunsaturated fats instead of the ratios it needs, it has no choice but to incorporate these fats into our cells during cell repair and creation.

The problem is that polyunsaturated fats are highly unstable and oxidize easily in the body. In fact, they oxidize and become unstable during food processing and even light exposure while sitting in the grocery store. The oxidation of fat creates inflammation and mutation in cells. Inflammation has widespread affects on health and immune function. Inflammation is associated with conditions such as arthritis, asthma, and allergies and is now being identified as a key component in chronic diseases ranging from cardiovascular disease to diabetes to cancer.

Saturated fat is not the enemy. As a matter of fact, saturated fat is essential to optimal health and taking it out of your diet is a disaster waiting to happen.

#2 - Improve Memory, Enhance Mood
If you think fat only affects how you look, you’re in for a surprise. Studies are now demonstrating that staying mentally sharp and maintaing a balanced mood may be largely related to the type of fat you eat. Over the past decade, research continues to link omega-3 fatty acids to benefits ranging from better blood flow to improved mood and memory function.

The brain is 60% fat and thrives on smooth signaling between nerve cells — and the body refreshes these connections with a new supply of fatty acids. In a study published in Neurology, researchers found that those who ate fish regularly scored higher on a battery of tests for memory, psychomotor speed, cognitive flexibility and overall cognition. Furthermore, the researchers claimed that consuming EPA and DHA, fatty acids found in fish and fish oil, specifically contributed to the boost in brainpower. DHA has also been linked to decreasing the risk of Alzheimer's disease as well as overall cognitive decline.

When it comes to mood, studies show omega-3s can improve your mood. Research shows omega-3 fatty acids help nerve cells communicate better. This means feel-good brain chemicals like serotonin and dopamine can get in and out of cells more easily, translating into a better mood. Researchers from the National Institutes of Health report that omega-3 fatty acids are as effective at treating major depressive illness as commonly prescribed antidepressant drugs.

#3 - Less Body Fat, Leaner Physique
Consuming "good" fats can improve body composition and make you leaner. This comes as a surprise to many people because fat contains a lot of calories and is more calorie dense than carbohydrates and proteins. But not all fats have the same effect on the body.

Studies show that the body processes specific types of fat very differently. Essential fatty acids (EFAs), such as omega-3s, are not stored in the body. They are used to rebuild cells and make hormones, resulting in an energy expenditure increase in the body. This means that your body will burn more calories. This effect isn't limit to just EFAs either. When consumed in appropriate amounts, monounsaturated fats such as avocado and nuts do not appear to elevate body fat levels and help support hormone production. Saturated fat sources that are rich in medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), such as virgin coconut oil and grass-fed butter, don't get stored as fat either and promote optimal body composition.

If you would like more detailed information on how fats can help you achieve your health or fitness goals, please contact us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

3 Reasons To Train for Maximal Strength

3 Reasons To Train for Maximal Strength

 

 

Strength solves a lot of problems.


A high level of maximal strength is arguably the most important physical quality in performance and athletics. Regardless of whether you are an elite athlete, average Joe, weekend warrior, or someone who just wants to look and feel great, training to increase your strength levels with make you better. Period.

Here are three simple reasons why strength is important:

#1 - Move Better, Reduce Injury Risk
Adding strength to a balanced body will aid in preventing injury and help you move with greater ease. Greater ease means greater efficiency. Training for strength improves neuromuscular coordination, thus improving efficiency of movement. As strength increases, it simply takes you less effort to perform the same amount of work. Researchers have identified strength training and its association with stronger connective tissue, enhanced function of the muscle-tendon unit, and reduced injury rate due to improved neuromuscular function and greater muscle mass.

#2 - Be Faster, More Powerful
As you gain strength, the faster and more powerful you become. The body gains strength by motor unit recruitment and neural drive. This means that when you lift something heavy, the body will recruit more motor units and more muscle to accomplish the task. By continually challenging yourself with increasingly heavier weight, the body becomes more efficient and coordinated in its ability to recruit more motor units, activate more muscle and move weight more explosively.

Maximal strength training builds fast-twitch muscle fibers. The muscle that matters. Everyone can benefit from building the fast-twitch, powerful muscles from heavy strength training. All athletes perform at higher levels with improved strength, including distance runners, cyclists, rowers, martial artists, track and field athletes, gymnasts, swimmers, soccer, rugby, baseball, and hockey players. But it's not just for athletes either. Everyday tasks such as getting out of a chair, opening a jar, or lifting groceries all are depended on fast-twitch muscle. Strength is an important element of life because it simply makes daily tasks easier to perform.

#3 - Lose Fat, Gain Muscle by Training for Strength
A missing component of many fat-loss or muscle-building programs is lifting heavy weight. Over the long term, building fast-twitch muscle fibers with strength training increases metabolism. Increased metabolism means you burn greater amounts of calories, even at rest.

Boston University researchers explain,

“Type II muscle fibers have a previously unappreciated role in regulating whole-body metabolism through their ability to accelerate the energy burning processes in remote tissues.”

And if your goal is to gain more muscle, maximal strength is an essential component of your training. As mentioned previously, you gain all the benefits of Type II fibers in addition to the fact that Type II fibers can grow up to two times the size of Type I fibers. To achieve maximal hypertrophy, you have to tap into your Type II fibers with heavy weights. Research has demonstrated that near maximal strength training (93% or higher of 1RM or rep max) activates satellite cells. Satellite cells are dormant muscle cells within Type II fibers and they regulate hypertrophy. Maximal-load training causes greater activation of satellite cells and gene signaling involved in the process of building muscle.

Curious about what a strength training program can do for you? Contact us for more information at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

References:
Aagaard, P., Andersen, J., Effects of Resistance Training on Endurance Capacity and Muscle Fiber Composition in Young Top Level Cyclists. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports. 2011. Published Ahead of Print.
Andersen, J., Aagaard, P., Effects of Strength Training on Muscle Fiber Types and Size: Consequences for Athletes Training for High-Intensity Sport. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports. 2010. 20(Suppl 2), 32-38.
Comfort, P., Haigh, A., et al. Are Changes in Maximal Squat Strength During Preseason Training Reflected in Changes in Sprint Performance in Rugby League Players. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2012. Published Ahead of Print.

Hamstring Questions? We Got Answers

Hamstring Questions? We Got Answers
It does not take a professional eye to take notice of the frequency of hamstring injuries in sport. Evaluating the injury list for collegiate and professional teams, you will find that hamstring injuries are at the top of non-contact related sport injuries. Even more staggering is that roughly 1/3 of all hamstring injuries will recur, with the majority recurring within the first 2 weeks. Now these statistics mainly reflect sports which involve sprinting, however hamstring issues can create problems for athletes regardless of sport. It is important to understand that hamstring health becomes more critical as increasing loads and demands are placed on them. Given these statistics, one can logically bring into questions if traditional return to play guidelines and rehabilitation programs are truly ideal.

BRIEF ANATOMY
A quick look at the picture above and it becomes clear the hamstring is actually the collection of four muscles. The semimembranosus (SM), semitendinosus (ST), bicep femoris long head (BFLH), and bicep femoris short head (BFSH). Understand that three of the hamstrings are biarticular (SM, ST, and BFLH). This means they are 'two-jointed' and cross the knee and hip, thus influencing both knee and hip movements.  The two primary actions the hamstring produces are hip extension (except for BFSH) and knee flexion (all 4). This brief overview of the hamstrings has implications as to the how and the why behind hamstring treatment, rehab, and training.



INJURY MECHANICS
The act of 'pulling' a hamstring usually occurs at high speed running during the terminal swing phase of the gait cycle. In the picture above, this phase is seen in the athlete's right leg. As the hip is decelerating the forceful momentum as the leg swings forward, the hamstrings are loaded and lengthening as you are finishing the swing phase before foot strike. There are predisposing factors that ultimately cause the hamstring to be compromised such as: poor neuromuscular control or the lumbopelvic region, asymmetries in muscle length and/or hip range of motion, and sacroiliac joint dysfunction. All of these factors need to be and should be considered when devising a treatment and rehab protocol to ultimately reduce the risk of re-injury.

The GP Approach
Effective treatment for a hamstring strain, and for any injury, must address not only the site of pain but ALL possible predisposing factors. As stated above, there are essentially three 'reasons' as to why hamstring injuries occur. Sprinting is not the problem. Focusing on each predisposing factor through progressive treatment and training will best prepare the athlete for return to sport activities.

The utilization of manipulation, massage, soft tissue techniques, and nutritional considerations to support tissue healing become the foundation of early care and recovery from hamstring injury. Everything used to facilitate healing is based on examination and identification of the presence of any predisposing factor(s).

The transition from rehabilitation to return to sport then becomes dependent upon a process that addresses proper tissue healing and exercise progressions to improve structural balance, lumbopelvic control, strength, and coordination of movement required by sport specific demands in output and movement patterns.

 

The Truth About Functional Exercise

The Truth About Functional Exercise
Functional exercise/Functional fitness is one of the more popular trends in the fitness industry today. It seems commerical gyms are offering classes and personal trainers are claiming to be functional exercise 'gurus' in greater numbers by the day. One does not have to spend much time on the worldwide internet to find thousands of articles devoted to functional fitness.

Regardless of the exercise, the majority of these functional exercise 'experts' attempt to combine a variety of movements into one exercise or challenge your balance/coordination. They make the claim these exercises improve your ability to perform activities of daily living (ADL) and/or improve athletic performance.

Fact: There is a dramatic difference between what is being advertised by 'experts' as functional exercise and the true principle behind functional exercise.

All exercise can be 'functional', if applied correctly to address the needs of the individual. This takes into account their goals, primary sport form, strengthens/weakness, and imbalances that need correction. If your exercise has no direct transfer into any of these areas, the exercise is not 'functional'. Functional exercise should never be determined by how it looks, but rather what it produces.

GP Athlete Spotlight: Christian Wilson

GP Athlete Spotlight: Christian Wilson
Christian Wilson (Monroeville, PA) currently is a forward for the Pittsburgh Selects AAA hockey team. Christian is a highly skilled forward with lots of potential to take his game to the next level. His work ethic is tremendous, making Christian a delight to train.

Christian's programming has focused on putting quality size to his frame while improving his lower body power, speed, and quickness. With improvements made thus far, he is already catching the eye of his coaches. Hard work and smart programming pay off.

Welcome to GP, Christian!

GP Athlete Spotlight: Matt Fisch

GP Athlete Spotlight: Matt Fisch
Matt Fisch (6'5", 190lbs) is a starting power forward for Franklin Regional HS and plays his AAU basketball for the FCA Tar Heels. He will have specialized attention given to adding quality size to his frame while improving overall strength/power in preparation for the upcoming season.

Matt has terrific abilities and difficult to contain when he is on his game. He has already demonstrated the motivation and determination it takes to succeed. We are excited to have him part of GP. Time to go to work!

Welcome to GP, Matt!

GP Athlete Spotlight: Paul Emanuele

GP Athlete Spotlight: Paul Emanuele
Paul Emanuele (RB/DB, Franklin Regional HS) is currently in training with specific attention provided to strength/explosive power and speed in preparation for a number of combines this summer, with the most recent being this weekend at the University of Pittsburgh.

Like all athletes who see consistent improvements, Paul has been a hard worker since day one. Tremendous athletic ability and hard work are always a dangerous combo. Paul has the speed, quickness, and power to break open a game at any moment.

Welcome to GP, Paul!

GP Athlete Spotlight: Todd Summers

GP Athlete Spotlight: Todd Summers
Todd Summers (Murrsyville, PA) will be a sophomore at Franklin Regional this fall. At 6'3" and 181 lbs, Todd is a power forward for the FRHS varsity basketball team and also plays AAU ball for the Pittsburgh Pressure and BSA.

GP is aiding Todd in his preparation for the upcoming basketball season. His program has focused on improving lower body strength/power development while adding size to his frame. Todd has a tremendous work ethic and with his vastly improved physical abilities, he is on the path for long-term success.

Welcome to GP, Todd!

3 Reasons Why You Should Skip Breakfast

3 Reasons Why You Should Skip Breakfast

Breakfast has been coined 'the most important meal of the day'. But is this really true? Sure there are plenty of experts that stand behind breakfast's ability to boost metabolism, improve weight control, etc. But there are some reasons to consider passing on breakfast:

#1 - Breakfast is not required to boost metabolism. Level of energy expenditure (i.e. exercise), amount and composition (fats, proteins, carbs) of calories consumed daily, and genetics are the factors that impact metabolism. Not breakfast. This also means eating small, frequent meals throughout the day is also not necessary to raise metabolism.

#2 - Passing on breakfast can help lower total carb consumption. Most Americans consume far too many carbs and far too little protein and fat. The more we learn, the more we realize that overconsumption of carbs/sugars are a major contributor to many chronic diseases and excessive body fat. Many traditional breakfast foods (cereal, pancakes, muffins) are high in carbs. Your body releases insulin in response to eating carbs which stops your body's ability to burn fat.

#3 - You can get the benefit even if you occasionally skip on breakfast. Intermittent fasting will improve insulin sensitivity and blood sugar regulation. Plus, growth hormone will be released in higher levels. This all means you preserve lean muscle tissue and burn more fat.

The idea here is that breakfast should be optional. Being mindful of what works best for someone is an essential part of any nutritional program. If you love how your breakfast gets your day started, then stick with it. But for those that wish to pass, there is no harm in forgoing breakfast.

Interested in losing weight and improving their body composition? GP takes a unique approach to your goals. We help you get in tune with your body and work to find what you respond to best.

Who's managing your nutrition program?

Magnesium for Better Health, Athletic Performance

Magnesium for Better Health, Athletic Performance

Magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in the human body and is an essential part of over 300 biochemical reactions in the human body. It plays an essential role in energy production, proper muscle and nerve function, blood sugar control, and blood pressure regulation to name a few. However, literature suggests that 54-75% of the population is deficient in magnesium. And for those that exercise regularly, especially resistance training, your requirements may be higher than what is recommended. Also, daily requirements may be higher for those that are heavy sweaters or experience symptoms of low magnesium such as arrhythmias, muscle spasms, or unexplained fatigue and weakness during exercise.

Research has also demonstrated magnesium's ability to increase red blood cell production, thus increasing the availability of both zinc and magnesium to support energy production, muscle contractions, and waste removal during intense exercise. Zinc is also a part of red blood cell production and the release of anabolic and fat-burning hormones during exercise.

How does one ensure they are getting plenty of magnesium in their diet? First, incorporate whole foods rich in magnesium such as halibut, almonds, cashews, spinach, and potatoes to name a few. Second, supplementation with highly bioavailable forms of magnesium such as magnesium glycinate may be needed.

To get an idea of where your magnesium levels are at, it is recommended to have your red blood cell magnesium levels tested as this provides the most accurate reflection of the body's magnesium stores.

Source:
Molina-Lopez, J. Molina, J., et al. Association Between Erythrocyte Concentrations of Magnesium and Zinc in High-Performance Handball Players After Dietary Supplementation. Magnesium Research 2012.

Have You Mastered Your Movement?

Have You Mastered Your Movement?
This article was originally published for MPG New England. It has been republished here with permission.
 "The word ‘athlete/athleticism’ is used too loosely amidst the sporting community. It is one thing to participate in a sport and it is another thing entirely to be an athlete."

-James Smith
Athletic development is a long-term pursuit. The organization and implementation of sport training programs can pose many challenges.  Programs should never be a simple concept of various exercises for a given number of sets and reps combined with exhaustive conditioning sessions if individualization in the process of long-term athletic development is of any importance to the coach and athlete.  Athletic development is a process in the mastery of several components. One component of athletic development that is often overlooked (or ignored) by many coaches is proper mechanics as they relate to the acquisition of sport skill. Or in its simplest sense, the concept of movement efficiency. This is especially evident in youth sports, arguably when the instruction and learning of proper mechanics matters most to an athlete.

The training of fundamental athletic qualities should start early in life. These athletic qualities have been described as coordination, mobility, balance, rhythm, relaxation, timing, and kinesthetic sense (awareness of one’s body in space).  It is these qualities or biomotor abilities that separate a true athlete from someone who simply participates in a sport. James Smith wrote, “The word ‘athlete/athleticism’ is used too loosely amidst the sporting community. It is one thing to participate in a sport and it is another thing entirely to be an athlete.”

We all can appreciate this concept. Be it a youth soccer game or an international track and field event, we have seen the ‘superior athletes’. The highest-level athletes standout by their ability to make complex sport movements look effortless due to their high degree of mastery. They simply make things look easy because they have learned to move efficiently.

Whether it is the ability to sprint, jump or throw, several athletes participating within a high level of sport do not demonstrate efficient mechanics. Let’s consider sprinting. Yes, the ability to generate high levels of power and ground reaction forces will allow an athlete to move fast, but speed potential cannot be realized until efficiency of movement is mastered. This often requires the eye of a coach/specialist who understands biomechanics as it relates to sprinting and the ability to instruct what is necessary to the athlete.

The concept of teaching ideal or efficient movement should take priority before increased training loads or demands are implemented. This holds true for sprinting as well as any sport skill or weight room movement. The more a movement or sport skill is practiced at increasing velocities or against greater loads, the more concrete that exact movement pattern becomes programmed at the neuromuscular level.  Meaning that that athletes who perform a specified movement without regard for proper mechanical efficiency only get better at moving inefficiently. This becomes detrimental to their long-term potential as an athlete and elevates their risk of injury. It is the proper mechanical instruction of the sport skill(s) combined with proper management of training load variables that becomes vital in setting the stage for athletic development.

Don't Fall for the Speed Training Trap

Don't Fall for the Speed Training Trap
 

Driven by Business
Speed, Agility, Quickness (SAQ) training has a unique ability to draw larger amounts of young athletes with promises of becoming a faster, more agile version of themselves. These facilities or individual coaches commonly use methods such as high speed treadmills and ladder drills. The SAQ system is terrific for business because they appear to provide athletes with what they need. However, these systems often fail to produce sustainable, long-term adaptations to improve speed.

When you consider what true speed development is all about, you begin to see why these methods do not work. And even why they may carry a high injury risk with them. Sure these methods will work for some athletes, but they are typically athletes that are already slow. Does this justify using less efficient means? Let's take a look.

# 1 -  High Speed Treadmills
The mechanics needed for ground based speed are entirely different from the mechanics utilized on a treadmill. On a treadmill, the surface moves underneath you whereas on land, you must move over the surface. Training on a treadmill does nothing to develop an athlete's acceleration or drive phase, arguably the most important element of speed in sports. High speed treadmill training becomes about who can pick up their feet and put them down the fastest instead of how much force is being applied to the ground. Furthermore, at high speeds it becomes easy for form to breakdown and ingrain poor mechanics.

#2 - Ladder Drills for Foot Quickness
Ladder drills simply make you good at ladder drills. There is no correlation to actual speed development and developing one's ability to have 'quick feet'. Any benefit to speed can be negated by teaching athletes to chop or shorten their strides. These drills are best suited for a dynamic warmup, but if you think you are going to develop Robert Griffin III agility you are only fooling yourself. Agility is developed from improving relative strength and the practice of sport skills.

How True Speed is Developed
The science behind the world's fastest man, Usian Bolt, gives insight into what true speed development is all about. More important than how fast an athlete moves their legs is the power in their stride. An average runner's stride applies about 250kg (550 lbs) of force to the ground in roughly 0.12 seconds of contact. Bolt's stride applies over 1000 lbs of force to the ground in roughly 0.08 seconds of contact. That's a significant difference. High speed treadmills and ladder drills will not develop high level speed because they ultimately fail to train the physical abilities that enable an athlete to realize their true speed potential.

Speed and acceleration should be train through proper technique instruction and developing power-speed qualities such as limit/maximal strength, explosive strength, ground reactive forces, and rate of force production. These abilities train athletes to develop high amounts of force in a brief amount of time, developing the power that enables them to accelerate quickly and achieve top end speed faster.

The process of speed development must also take into consideration the concepts of Long-Term Athlete Development (LTAD).  Young athletes, both male and female, have unique time periods during which their speed development is very sensitive. These "windows of optimal trainability" must be capitalized on or else the athlete's true speed potential will never be realized. For the vast majority of youth athletes, they miss these windows of opportunity because of over-competition and under-training that is often seen during the ages of 8-13.

Final Thoughts
As with any physical quality, the critical periods for speed development will vary between each child due to his or her genetic makeup. Each critical period respects the stages of human growth and maturation as scientific evidence demonstrates that children vary considerably in their rate of response to different training stimuli. Some children may show potential for speed at age 10, while others may not display the same potential until years later. Consequently, a long-term approach to speed development is needed to ensure that athletes who respond slowly to training stimuli are not ‘shortchanged’ in their development.

This is why a knowledgable coach who understands LTAD models and is skilled in recognizing "windows of optimal trainability" for speed, strength, stamina, suppleness (flexibility), and skill development should be sought out. If the the trainer or coach who is responsible for training your child does not understand LTAD models, I would think critically about the services you are paying for.
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  • Murrysville, PA 15668

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