Velocity Based Training – First Thoughts

I have spent the past couple weeks experimenting with a bar velocity tracker with my athletes. Here are a few of my first impressions on velocity based training (VBT):

Taller athletes have a lower average velocity, equal or higher peak velocity

Considering the mechanical disadvantages caused by longer limbs, this isn’t too surprising, but it was something I hadn’t thought of prior to seeing the data. Dr. Bryan Mann has produced more on velocity based training than I ever will, and he has provided the modified intensity scale for velocity ranges below.

I’m interested to see how an athlete’s height will affect their %1RM to velocity correlation (I haven’t found any research on this yet) as I have more time and experience with this.

Improved effort on reps with sub-maximal loads

Now, every rep is track-able instead of relying on each set being judged as a whole. When doing a set based on %1RM or fatigue level, a set is gauged on the difficulty of the final few reps. With velocity tracking every rep, and having a set range, athletes were exploding up each rep, as fast as possible (maintaining proper form). Instead of judging a set of 8 on how the final 2-3 reps feel, now we have 8 data points to gauge the set on. Plus, adding another value for athletes to monitor has increased the competitiveness of the lifts.

No more debate on proper load for speed work

Relying on qualitative feedback (quality/perception of a set) has always had an inherent flaw – it is interpreted differently by different people. Trying to convince an athlete that their speed work is too slow can be…challenging at times. Being able to point to numbers on a screen eliminates these discrepancies and provides quantitative data for athletes and coaches to more accurately gauge their work.

These are just a few, quick observations after going hands-on for a couple weeks. I plan on expanding on my experiences with VBT, implementation, and results once I have more time and compiled more data.

 

Drew Henley, CSCS, USAW, FMS
Drew@henleysp.com
Twitter: @DrewBHenley

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Strength, Speed, & Conditioning Tests

With fall sports reporting for training camp, I wanted to go over a few of my testing staples.

10 Yard Dash

With as much emphasis that is put on speed, acceleration is far more important/relevant to sport performance. It is rare for an athlete to have a long, open, straight path needed to reach their top speed, instead most sports are built around accelerating and rapid change of pace & direction. The 10 yard dash is an excellent way of testing an athlete’s initial acceleration. Depending on the sport, level of athlete, and athlete’s build/position, the times can have a wide range, anywhere from 1.5-2.5 seconds. Generally with my athletes, I’m looking for large athletes (such as football linemen) to be under 2.0 seconds, medium build athletes (running backs, hockey players, big/power baseball players) to be under 1.85, and small, fast athletes (defensive backs, basketball guards, small/speed baseball players) to be under 1.7 seconds. Again, there are a lot of factors to take into account for this test, and since it is such a short amount of time, even one-tenth of a second makes a huge difference, so the times can vary team by team, athlete by athlete.

Pro Agility

There is a reason this is the standard for measuring change – it’s simple and reliable. Also known as the 5-10-5 or short shuttle, the pro agility involves three separate acceleration phases and two changes of direction, usually under 5 seconds. Below are the time ranges I look for with my athletes:

Large athletes: under 5 seconds
Medium athletes:  4.5-4.7 seconds
Small athletes: under 4.4 seconds

300 Yd Shuttle

Another staple that almost always elicits a groan and sense of dread from athletes, the 300 yard (50 yards, down & back 3 times or 25 yards, down & back 6 times) shuttle can be a very useful tool in assessing an athlete’s conditioning/recovery level. I split my teams into 3 or 4 groups (depending on sport, but usually 3) and use multiple rounds of 300s. Splitting into groups gives a 2-3:1 rest to work ratio while maintaining constant activity and keeping teammates active & supportive. With football, I only do 2 repetitions at 50 yard intervals, mainly to see how they could recover from a fast paced, taxing series and perform on the next. Ideally, they are coming in under the following times for both rounds:

Linemen:  under 70 seconds
RB/TE/LB: under 65 seconds
WR/QB/DB/K: under 60 seconds

For hockey, I prefer 3 groups completing 5 rounds (at 25 yards) because this comes closer to mimicking line changes during games. For me, time isn’t as important as drop-off between rounds. Time should still be under 70 seconds each round, preferably closer to 65, but the drop-off from their fastest time to their slowest should be under 5 seconds. This shows they are able to recover between their shifts and play at a consistent, high level.

Broad Jump

I use broad jump in place of vertical for testing lower body power with my athletes. While they can both be used for testing, one of the reasons I use broad is efficiency. I can test several athletes in broad jump in the time it takes to test one using a vertec. This makes it easier to conduct multiple testing sessions throughout the year to track progress. Another reason I prefer broad jump is how we track the progress. As Dan John has said – there are a lot more inches in broad jump than vertical, so tracking progress is much more noticeable. You’re looking at roughly 3x the distance in broad jump than vertical, so improvements are more noticeable and easy to track. However, when listing standards for broad jump, there are a lot of factors to take into account. Height, weight, gender, sport, and leg length can all factor into an athlete’s jump distance, so it is harder to give recommendations than for vertical. All I can do is look back on the all of the testing data I have to provide loose guidelines for numbers.

Female athletes: at a minimum, they should be jumping their height, but I look for height plus a foot (6’6” for a 5’6” athlete), higher level athletes should strive to be above seven feet.
Large male athletes: again, height should be the minimum, height plus a foot for higher level athletes.
Medium male athletes: Eight feet and beyond, more explosive athletes should be beyond 9 feet.
Small male athletes: Height is the biggest factor for athletes in this bracket, as a 5’8” athlete with excellent power may have trouble breaking nine feet, while a similarly powerful athlete that’s 6’2” can easily clear ten feet. Nine feet is a good benchmark (ten and beyond is great, regardless of height), but if you want to factor in height to make a more level field, 1.5x height is a good baseline.

Bench Press

The simplest and most common test for upper body strength. We use a 1-3RM test and calculate a predicted 1RM. I used to have athletes go 1-5RM, but had too many athletes going for 5 reps to get a higher number than they were actually capable of, as the equation gets less accurate the more reps there are. Male athletes have a baseline of 315 or 1.5x bodyweight, whichever is less. For female athletes, we’re looking at 75% of their bodyweight as a baseline, but this can vary greatly depending on their sport and training level.

Overhead sports (baseball, softball, swimming) test dumbbell bench in place of barbell to protect and allow free movement of the shoulder. Male athletes should be pressing their bodyweight (half in each hand), while female athletes aim for 60% bodyweight (30% per hand).

Squat

“The king of exercise”…Squat is the exercise with the most caveats of anything I’ve listed. First, new athletes to the program (freshmen & transfers) do not test squat upon arrival, we wait until after spending the first few months working on their technique. Second, different sports test different squat variations. Overhead sports do front squat to protect their shoulders, while most other sports test back squat, however I am drifting more towards single leg variations with a 3-5RM per leg. For back squat, male athletes have a baseline goal of 350 (405 for large/strength athletes) or 2x bodyweight, whichever is less, and female athletes are aiming for 185 or 1.5x bodyweight. Male athletes testing front squat are 250 or 1.5x bodyweight, while female athletes are held to a minimum of 150 or 75% of bodyweight. As I mentioned, I am working towards replacing bilateral squats with more single leg testing, as research, numerous coaches, and my own observations are proving it’s a more effective (and safer) way to train.

Power Clean

This is the exercise I test with the fewest teams, for a few reasons. First, it’s an incredibly technical lift that has usually been incorrectly learned by athletes in high school, and athletes can be incredibly resistant to acknowledging their “cleans” are closer to cheating reverse curls than an Olympic lift. Second, there are a handful of teams where the risk outweighs any reward that may come from the lift, specifically baseball and softball, as injuries to the hand, wrist, elbow, or shoulder are possible during the catch phase. Finally, it can be challenging to perform Olympic lifts without the right resources, such as a platform/mat, bumper plates, and bars with a good spin. Standards vary greatly depending on the athlete’s training experience and technique, but I like to see my small athletes over 225, medium athletes over 275, and large athletes over 315.

Plank Test

There are two variations I use for this test. The first is 3 – 1 minute front planks, with a minute break between, and the other is the same timing, but with front, left, and right planks (one of each). This is a simple pass/fail test to see where we are at from a stability standpoint.

As with any performance related numbers, it’s important to keep perspective. Higher level athletes, or those with more training experience, will be held to higher standards while lower level & younger athletes won’t have as high of expectations during their first few years training. It’s important to not be focused solely on improving test numbers, but developing a healthy, high-functioning athlete for their sport. These tests are just a few ways to track and make sure we’re on the right path.

 

Drew Henley, CSCS, USAW, FMS
Drew@henleysp.com
Twitter: @DrewBHenley

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Returning from Hiatus

It has been quite a while since I wrote on here (~3.5 years), and a lot of things have happened during that time to take my attention elsewhere. Moving across the country, getting engaged, losing a loved one, moving across the country AGAIN, buying a house, and getting married (to the woman who put up with the nearly 6,000 miles of relocating) were the big ones. I also wanted to take some time to reflect and refine my coaching philosophies and how they have changed over the years.

As you’ll notice, there are several changes to the site, and I hope to bring you new material on a (semi) regular basis.

All the best,

Drew Henley, CSCS, USAW, FMS
Drew@henleysp.com
Twitter: @DrewBHenley

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Why My Athletes Don’t Use Lifting Gear

One thing I believe in above all else when training athletes is to ensure what we are doing in the weight room will benefit them on the field, court, etc. While I can’t teach a pitcher how to throw a sinker or improve a golfer’s stroke, my goal is to give them better tools to build with. Does a baseball player who deadlifts 400 pounds play better than one who only pulls 300 pounds? Not necessarily, and certainly not because of the discrepancy of a single lift. Strength and conditioning is an important aspect of developing athletes, but to pretend it is solely responsible for leaps in ability is fictitious and overvaluing my worth as a coach.

I believe it’s important to train the entire system of an athlete rather than focusing on just improving weight numbers. For example – if a baseball player is losing his deadlift because of a weak grip, it would make sense to have him use wrist straps to eliminate the grip issue and allow heavier lifts. If the goal is to train for a powerlifting competition, this is an excellent strategy. However, I don’t know of any baseball players that moonlight as powerlifters – the goal is to prepare them best for the baseball diamond. A weak grip is a sign of an inability to successfully transfer force through their arms. Baseball, along with most other sports, relies on the ability to generate massive amounts of force, minimize energy leaks, and direct this force in a controlled manner.

Take the baseball player example – when swinging a bat, all of the force he generates from his legs must travel through his entire body before reaching his hands and the bat he is swinging. Just like the expression, “You are only as strong as your weakest link,” the weakest part of the kinetic chain will limit how powerful the swing will be. As important as generating force is, being able to maintain tension to allow the force to reach its endpoint is equally important. While most muscles are trained for force generation and movement, there are several body parts which must be trained to resist movement and maintain their rigidity to allow force to pass through them, like a cord passes electricity from the outlet to your computer.

I’ve found the following three areas to be the most common energy leaks and improvement in the ability of these muscle groups to transfer force can lead to substantial improvements in performance.

Grip

As any baseball player will tell you, grip strength is paramount to success. While this may not be entirely true (as found by studies like this one), it still has an important purpose, but as a means to an end and not an end in itself. When it comes to grip strength, there is a point of diminishing returns and you only need to be “strong enough” to reap the benefits. It might be nice to have forearms like Popeye, but dedicating entire training sessions to grip work is a waste of precious gym time. Athletes should work on active gripping with exercises like weighted wrist rollers, wrist curls, and rice bucket drills, but also program in static grip strengthening exercises such as plate pinches, farmers walks, and dead weight holds.

Shoulders/Scapular Stabilizers

This is for injury protection as much as enhancing performance. A stable shoulder girdle can help keep the humerus in proper position and reduce the chances of an injury to the rotator cuff or labrum. Extra work with the scapular retractors, specifically the rhomboids, will help negate the effects of sitting in front of a computer for hours every day. Some of my favorite exercises include reverse planks, batwings (which can also be very effective when done with a TRX instead of dumbbells), waiter’s carries, and wall slides.

Torso/Spinal Stabilizers (Anti-Rotation/Flexion/Extension)

Methods for training the abdominal muscles have changed drastically with the contributions of John Pallof and Dr. Stuart McGill. More coaches are shying away from spinal flexion and the potential risks it poses to intervertebral discs and gravitating towards core training that prevents spinal movement. Ab rollouts (stability ball, wheel, barbell, etc.), Pallof presses, and many of the Cook Bar half-kneeling exercises are excellent choices when training core stability.

If you find your performance stagnating, try incorporate some of these ideas into your training. It’s quite possible you’re losing some of the force you are generating because of an energy leak in one or more of these areas.

If there is ever anything I can do to assist you or your program, please do not hesitate to contact me via email, Twitter, call, or text.

All the best,

Drew Henley, CSCS, USAW, FMS-1
480-241-4112
Drew@HenleySP.com
Twitter.com/DrewBHenley

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My Goals as a Strength Coach

There are countless ways to improve athletic performance, and in the words of Dan John, “Everything works…for about six weeks.” I’ve mentioned before my training philosophy and some of the methods I use to coach my athletes, but I’ve never listed my goals. These goals help shape my coaching style and programming methods.

1. Get the maximum results with the least amount of work possible

This may seem counter-intuitive, as the basic concept of strength training is to continually complete tasks more difficult than the one before in an attempt to elicit an over-compensatory response, increasing strength. While it is important to progressively increase resistance and other variables to continue to make gains (remember, everything works for about 2-6 weeks…then nothing works), it is also important to factor in other stresses on the system. If an athlete is practicing 20-40 hours per week, competing another 10+ hours, while committing another 5 hours to strength training, the cumulative fatigue can hinder performance or possibly result in injury. Factor in emotional stress, such as school, relationships, family life, etc. and it becomes clear that efficiency in training is key.

I can create a program that will bring the most hardened athlete to his knees with dizziness, hugging the nearest trash can, and wondering when he’ll be able to stand again, that is simple. What are the benefits of this? How will the athlete perform at practice or in a game following that workout? Now, imagine if I can have the same athlete complete a different workout, one with inter-set rest periods, some mobility work, and a reasonable amount of volume. After the workout, he feels tired, but strong, able to continue on with his practice schedule and keeps his lunch down. If both workouts produce similar results in increased strength, why choose to make an athlete feel miserable? The idea that an athlete needs to be dead after every workout is ridiculous and dangerous. Put the same situation in different areas: If you can drive a 1 mile stretch of open road to get to the grocery store, or a 15 mile roller coaster of peaks, valleys, merging traffic, and reckless drivers, which would you choose? The point is, athletes have too many demands outside the weight room to punish them with every workout. If a program is efficient and properly designed, a single workout shouldn’t produce incapacitated athletes. (Note – this is a general rule, and I have written before on the importance of “gut-check” workouts and the benefits they produce)

2. Provide the head coach with the proper type of athlete

I once had a coaching change with a football team I was working with that put me in an interesting situation. The first head coach had been with the team for a few years, knew his athletes, and built his system around big, slow athletes and preferred a ground and pound approach. The workouts fit that description – athletes had high levels of absolute strength, a decent amount of power, and minimal aerobic conditioning. The new coach came in, installed his air attack scheme and said he needed fast athletes that can run an up-tempo game plan. While this wasn’t the best use of the athletes we had on hand, the coach wanted to run what he had success with, so we changed the training to accommodate the new demands (this was early in my coaching career when I thought total overhauls were necessary). The athletes lost some of their maximum strength, but maintained their power and improved their conditioning as well as speed with the new program. As a strength coach, it’s important to remember where you fall in the grand scheme of things. We are support staff – we are there to work with the head coaches and within their framework. It is our responsibility to prepare athletes for the demands of their specific program. Give them the tools to produce in their sport, given their coach’s game plan, and with the specific demands of their position, and you are positioning them for success.

3. Get athletes to understand “why”

This ties together the above two points. Why are we doing Exercise A instead of B? Why are we performing reps at Weight X instead of Y? Why can’t I do extra work on my off-day tomorrow? The more an athlete understands the “why” of a training plan, the more they can dedicate themselves to it and achieving the goals of the program. If they can see the big picture – factor in practice schedule, competition, and recovery time – then they can control their urge to do what they want to do at the moment, and focus on what they want over the long haul. A championship trophy is worth more to an athlete than an extra ten pounds on the bar today.

These are three of my goals as a strength and conditioning coach, which help shape my interactions with my athletes. I recognize not all coaches agree with these ideas, and I respect that. Again…everything works, and everything has its place, these are just some of my observations from coaching.

All the best,

Drew Henley, CSCS, USAW, FMS-1
480-241-4112
Drew@HenleySP.com
Twitter.com/DrewBHenley

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