How Important Is Landing In Preventing ACL Injuries?

Drag Racing Pic

No question that it will go fast. But how does it stop without crashing?

I have previously written about the role of a proper landing in the prevention of ACL injuries.  I thought that I would expand on that somewhat.  We often think about landing playing a role in basketball and volleyball injuries.  I’ve also had it happen to athletes playing football, soccer, and lacrosse.  If we take time to carefully evaluate our athletes, many of them in all sports display poor landing mechanics.  This can put the knee into an awkward position and can cause extra stresses to be placed on the ACL.  Since an ACL reconstruction generally keeps an athlete out of action 6 months, anything that we can do to help prevent these injuries can be huge for our athletes.

So, what can be done to help?  We often get into a hurry to get kids running and jumping too fast.  In my mind, when car gurus design a newer, faster car, they make sure to spend plenty of time designing and testing the braking system before they take the car on any test runs.  It should be the same with athletes.  We need to test and train the braking systems before we go crazy with the jumping and running.  The simplest way to help your athletes is to teach them how to land properly.  Now this isn’t just a 5 minute drill that you do once and never repeat.  You have to emphasize landing every time that you do a jumping drill.  We all want to see how high or how far the kid jumps.  However, it’s probably more important to watch how they land.  Yes, you should try to watch and coach everything.  Just make sure that you are putting emphasis on the landings.

Want to see the effect that proper landings can have?  Myers and Hawkins published a study in 2010 that looked at changes in tibial shear forces when they worked on landing mechanics.  They found a 56% decrease in forces when the emphasized proper mechanics.  The athletes that they worked with also increased their vertical jump about 2.5 cm.  The only negative was the fact that the athletes tended to revert to their old habits once they got tired (see this article on knee landings which discusses the study further).

I think that a 56% decrease in forces could make a huge difference in ACL rupture prevention for athletes.  Because of this, make sure to emphasize it during your training.

So how should the athletes land?

  1. Should land on their toes
  2. Keep their knees flexed
  3. Keep their head/shoulders up
A good way to check on their landings is to listen.  The athlete should “land softly”.  If you hear a loud landing, it’s a good sign they they landed on their heels and probably had their knees straight.  This type of landing puts too much force through their ankles, knees, and hips.

As for how to limit the return of bad habits once your athletes get tired, I have two suggestions:

  1. Repetition, repetition, repetition
  2. Make sure to do some of the landing training when the athletes are tired.  We all get sloppy when we are tired.  Putting them into this stage for some of the training will give you a chance to show them what happens and then correct it.

Happy Landings,

Mark

 

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Don’t Skip The In-Season Training Program

Sometimes sports coaches amaze me.  Over and over again, I see them emphasize the off-season training program.  They push the kids to lift, run, and lift some more.  While most of these programs are “voluntary”, participation is always highly encouraged.  So what about once the season starts?  That’s a different story.  Guess what the first thing to get cut out is?  Yep, the strength program.  During the season, the priority is to spend time practicing and prepping for games.  However, why does the strength program always seem to get cut out?  Take a look at the average sports practice.  How much time is wasted due to poor planning & coaching?  A lot.  Yet instead of making practices more efficient so that a coach can fit in the in-season strength program, they just eliminate it.  So what does this do for the kids?  Nothing positive.  The two major things skipping the in-season program does are both huge negatives:

  1. Decrease in strength – During the season, an athlete is going to get worn down, banged up, and possibly lose some strength.  If they don’t lift during the season, they will definitely lose strength.  So what do you do?  Keep them lifting.  While the kid may lose some strength during the season, the stronger they stay late into the season, the better that they can play late in the season.
  2. The injury factor – It’s widely accepted that lifting weights helps to decrease the chance of injury.  Guess what?  It may also help to decrease the time missed if a player does get an injury.  Research on high school football players compared time missed by players who received similar injuries.  It was found that those who were participating in an in-season strength program missed 1/3 of the time of other players with similar injuries.  Not all injuries can be prevented, but most coaches, players, and parents should be willing to take steps to limit the time lost from injury.

I think that these two factors are good enough reasons to make the in-season program a priority.  Why don’t sport coaches feel the same?  I guess that S & C coaches just have to keep looking for opportunities to educate sports coaches.  Maybe one day things will change.

Check back next week for more on how to design a good in-season program.

 

Mark

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Gentle Reminders From Coed Softball

Bats ;ic

A few months ago, my wife convinced me to join a coed softball team with her.  I’m not really a softball person, but she knew several members of a team and they needed a few players.  I figured out that I could fit it into my work schedule so I agreed to play.  I thought that it would be good since I haven’t played anything competitive in awhile.  Little did I know how much softball would help me.

I can honestly say that I’ve had fun playing.  I’ve also enjoyed the competition and the personal challenges.  Being a little older I tended to get more bumps, bruises, and dings in my body than I seem to remember from my younger days.  Some things haven’t changed much though:  I still get frustrated when I make mistakes and excited to make good plays and win games.  So what has all of this done for me?  It’s made me really examine each bump and bruise, each mistake, every high and low.  You know what?  It helped remind me what it’s like for my athletes when the same things happen to them.  It made me remember why athletes don’t want to “sit out” when something hurts.  It reminded me of the emotions that play such a large role in sports.  While I know that coed rec league softball isn’t exactly the Olympics, it still helped remind me what it’s like to have a little “inner fire” inside.

While I hadn’t really forgotten any of these things, it was still good to experience them again.  When we deal with athletes we can’t afford to forget what it was like to be one.  If we do forget, we won’t ever be able to truly connect with them and understand them.

Mark

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Plan Management

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Sometimes you've got to go to plan "b"

A Kink In The Plan

Have you ever been several weeks into a team’s off-season training program a new kid suddenly shows up?  Sometimes its a kid that has moved into the area, but a lot of times it’s a kid who is coming from another sports season.  He or she has been playing sport B while his teammates in sport A have been putting in time and effort in their strength and conditioning program.  We all like working with multi-sport athletes, but it does create some interesting challenges for us as coaches.

Things To Consider

There are several things to keep in mind while trying to get these “newbies” up to speed with the rest of the group.

  • Recovery – If these athletes are coming in from another sports season, they are probably already tired, worn down, and “dinged up”.  Oftentimes these kids are rushed into the off-season program for another sport.  As a coach, I’d rather give a kid a few days off before they get started on their training program with me.  An athlete who is worn down can’t give 100% and is more likely to get hurt.  Giving them even just a week off between seasons can be beneficial.
  • Differences in training levels – Even if these athletes are “in shape” for the sport that they just finished, they won’t be in shape for the sport that they are going to.  Each sport has different physical and physiological demands.  These athletes usually can’t be expected to start off at the same level as the athletes who are currently in the off-season program.
  • Adjust the plan – When we create an off-season plan, we put all of our knowledge and know-how into it.  And now we have to change it because of one kid?  Yes.  To build on the previous point, an athlete that is coming into your program will need to be eased in ,unless he is coming from a sport that has a solid in-season program.  He won’t be able to complete the same sets, reps, and intensities as the other athletes.  Just remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day.  He or she will catch up to the other athletes soon enough.
  • Focus – While it is sometimes difficult to do, try to find a way to focus on these kids.  If they haven’t been lifting regularly or doing the same program, there should be an emphasis placed on technique.  That way once they catch up to the other athletes, their technique will be good.  This is especially important in lifts such as the squat, clean, and snatch.  You should also get plenty of feedback from these kids on how they feel.

What To Do?

When you have a large group of athletes, it becomes difficult to integrate a new kid into the mix.  However, for the good of the athlete, you must pay attention to these “newbies”.  All too often they show up and just get tossed into the mix with the other athletes.  While it may take some creativity to integrate them properly and at the right pace, it will benefit them in the long run.

Mark

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Coaching = Teaching

How long should you work with an athlete on a new skill?  A few minutes?  A couple of sessions?  A month?  What if they are really struggling to pick up the skill?  Do some athletes just “never get it”?

Correcting Mistakes Pic

To be a good coach, you must be a good teacher.

While it does seem that some athletes seem to pick up a new skill faster than others, there are a few things to keep in mind during the learning process.

  • Learning Styles – There are 3 different learning styles:  auditory, visual, and kinesthetic. Make sure to utilize all three styles in teaching.  This will give you a much better chance at getting through to the athlete.
  • Repetition – The key to learning and perfecting a new skill is repetition.  According to motor learning scientists, it takes 300-500 reps to learn a new skill.  That will allow the body to form a “motor program” to help it complete the skill the same way almost every time.  What about changing a bad habit?  That can take 3000-5000 reps to change that faulty motor program.  That explains why it is sometimes easier to teach an inexperienced athlete a skill.
  • Coaching Is Teaching – Want to see a great teacher?  Find a great coach.  They are able to find ways to get through to their students so that they learn.  They break things down into parts, use cue words to guide, give correction when needed, and give praise when needed.  They are determined to find a way for the athlete to learn the skill.
  • All Athletes Are Different – Sometimes one athlete picks up a skill very quickly yet may it take another athlete a lot longer.  The question is, how long do you keep trying?  Do you ever just give up?   Former NFL coach Chuck Knox used to believe that all athletes could learn if their coach was a good enough teacher.  Great coaches get creative and try to find a way that will work to teach the athlete.

We all spend time trying to find the next “super exercise” or to create the perfect program.  While it is important to constantly evaluate these things, if you want to be a great coach, work on your teaching.  They best way to get better is to watch other coaches.  See if you can pick up a few tips on how they teach a skill or drill.  It will make you better.

Mark

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The Sport Specialization Solution

Softball Catcher Pic

How many games has she played this year?

I found this article about sports specialization for softball players.  If you know me at all, you know that I’m not a fan of kids specializing in one sport.  Two points from the article did encourage kids not to specialize:

  1. College coaches want multi-sport athletes because they are more well rounded
  2. “…multi-sport athletes do tend to be more well-rounded and often out-perform those who focus only on a single sport. Often the skills from one sport translate into an advantage in another, such as explosiveness in basketball or agility in soccer.”
These two statements probably don’t come as a surprise to most strength and conditioning professionals.  Unfortunately there are numerous other things in the same article that try to discourage multi-sport athletes.  I won’t get into all of the details, but I do have one question.  If playing multiple sports helps a person to develop into a more complete athlete and makes them more desirable to college coaches, why are so many athletes still playing a single sport year-round??? To add to this, many of the athletes who specialize become physical trainwrecks before they ever make it to college. Lets also not forget to mention those that mentally burn out. So if it’s not benefitting the kids, who is this helping? There are only 3 parts to this equation – the athlete, the parent, and the coach. We’ve already decided that specialization isn’t helping the athlete. That only leaves the adults. When did sports stop being about the athletes themselves?
So, what’s the solution?  It’s very simple.  Stop trying to convince parents and kids that playing one sport year round is the only way to go.  Not only is there another way, playing multiple sports is the best way to develop athletes.   Maybe if athletes weren’t being “encouraged” (forced) to focus on one sport, it would solve a lot of issues.

Mark

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Slacktastic

Slacktastic.  Huh?  That isn’t a word.  It should be.  Want a definition?   Here it is: an athlete with fantastic potential who tends to be a slacker during strength & conditioning sessions.  Now that you know what it means, I’m sure that you can think of an example.  We’ve all dealt with this athlete before.  You know the kid, the one with great potential, the one who halfway does his warmup, who you always have to wait on to start a drill because he or she is taking their sweet time, the one who always complains and has an excuse.  Yeah, that kid.  Usually these kids have been gifted with decent athletic skills.  That’s why they tend to be slackers, because they’ve always been able to get by on their natural ability.  When these athletes are training individually or in a small group, it becomes harder for them to be a slacker.  Even though they may still try to get out of things, hopefully this can be cured through good coaching.  What about in a large group setting?  That is when the slacktastic athlete really comes out.  When the weightroom has more bodies in it, these athletes tend to find ways to take their time, skip exercises, etc.  In an ideal situation, there will be multiple coaches in the room to help with supervision.  Unfortunately, especially in high schools nowadays, there is rarely enough supervision to coach effectively and to eliminate problems.  That’s when it becomes very important for coaches to “have eyes in the back of their heads”.  That’s also when a coach has to make sure that what they see from a kid is really what they are getting from the kid.  I’ve heard stories of kids putting on a great show when they know that the coach is watching.  If they aren’t being watched, their slacktastic qualities shine through.  Part of being a great coach is truly getting to know your athletes.  This is part of that.  Discovering that a kid isn’t putting out 100% also gives a coach (or parent) a chance to teach some life lessons.  This is a valuable part of athletics that should never be overlooked.  Of course, possibly the greatest reason to hold these athletes accountable is because it can affect your team.  Other kids are great at picking up on these sorts of problems.  Many times the hard working kids will know who doesn’t go all out.  This then leads to negative feelings, especially if the kids that don’t work hard all of the time still get lots of playing time.  These issues tend to stay small as long as things are going well.  However, as soon as the team faces adversity these problems tend to snowball.  The best way to prevent these sorts of issues?  Hold all of your athletes accountable every day.  Make sure that the “superstars” realize that you know if they aren’t giving 100%.  You can also try to create competitive situations where the “slacktastic” athetes will be held accountable by their teammates.  While it can be a challange to deal with those who don’t go all out every day, dealing with and solving this issue is part of good coaching.

Mark

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Did the jumprope really need to be improved????

I was looking in a catalog recently and came across an item called the airope.  What is it?  Basically, it’s a jumprope without the rope.  It is two handles that each have a short length of rope attached to them. For a better idea, please see the picture below.

airope pic

Want to take the athleticism out of jumping rope?

I guess the idea is to make it easier to do jump rope activities with people who may struggle to get the hang of it.  The price – $35.  Of course, for $5 I can buy a regular jump rope and do numerous activities with clients.  What if they have problems getting used to using the rope?  Wouldn’t it be easier to start them with the “non-rope” version?  NO!!!  Easier isn’t the point.  Jumping rope is and always has been a great training tool.  It helps to develop balance, coordination, and let’s not forget the plyometric benefits of the jumping itself.  Why take away any of the benefits?  If you have a client who can’t jump rope, loan them one and have them practice at home.

As for drills that I have clients do using the rope, here is a partial list:

  • Two foot jumps in place
  • One foot jumps in place
  • Two foot lateral jumps
  • Variations of form running while using a jumprope (high knees, etc)
  • One/Two foot jumps while moving

Obviously it is important to start off with the easiest jumps and progress to more difficult ones.  I feel that jumping rope is one activity that should be incorporated into your training plans regularly.  I try to find a place for it at least once a week.  Oh, and in case you were wondering, I use the $5 – $10 ropes.  They work just fine and they keep the athleticism in the activity.

Mark

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The Whole Truth

Dumbbell Pic
The weights never lie!!!

 

“The Iron never lies to you…The Iron will always kick you the real deal. The Iron is the great reference point, the all-knowing perspective giver…two hundred pounds is always two hundred pounds.”  – Henry Rollins

I found this quote recently and it really made me think. How many times have we been around someone who says that they can lift this much, run this fast, etc.  They’re always fast and strong, at least according to what they say.  Once you get them in the weightroom (or on a stopwatch), the reality just isn’t quite what you’ve been told.  I think that a lot of the athletes that I have trained were “mistaken” about their strength and speed on that first day.  It’s almost become a running joke for me during the initial evaluation – how far off from the athletes perception is the reality?  I don’t think that I’ve done an eval yet where they ended up stronger than the thought they were.  I guess that’s part of the neat thing about our business – you can tell all of the stories to others (or yourself) that you want to, but in the end, the weights and the stopwatch will tell the truth.

Mark

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3 Keys During The Football Off-season

Football Pic

For the football fans in the U.S., our glut of football excitement is about to run out. The NCAA football season ended when Alabama beat LSU.  The NFL playoffs are in full swing and soon the Super Bowl will be played and over.  So as to not forget our neighbors to the north, the CFL offseason is well underway.  Of course, just because the season is over doesn’t mean that things are any less hectic for the coaches, players, and support personnel.  No matter what level you are at, this is the period to get better.  Coaches are looking for better players through scouting and recruiting.  Even high school coaches scour the hallways looking to encourage a “diamond in the rough” to play next year.  As for players, they are all (or should be) working to get better.  This is the time of year to improve strength, power, and athletic skills so that they can be a better player.  This can be just in preparation for next season, or it can be to get ready for various combines and tryouts.  It is a very busy time of year for all involved.

If you are a player, right now you should be on a solid program to develop you strength, power, speed, agility, flexibility, balance, and coordination.  If you aren’t, you are going to miss out.  You will miss out on the chance to excel on the field and possibly miss out on a scholarship or pro contract.  Years ago most players didn’t train during the off-season.  Nowadays, if you don’t train during the off-season, you probably won’t see the field during the season.  If you ask the guys from Alabama, LSU, or any other major college football program, this is when they start to get ready for next year.  It doesn’t start in August, it starts now.  They lift weights, run agility drills, and do anything else that is necessary to get better.  So what should you (or your players) be doing during January?

3 Keys During The Off-season

  1. Evaluate, evaluate, evaluate – Every player should be evaluated at this time of year.  It is true that it helps to re-test them in their 40, vertical jump, clean, etc.  In addition, it is a good time to eval individual players for lingering injury issues, strength and flexibility imbalances, etc.  Whether you use a formal system like the Functional Movement Screen or do something different, you need to try to pinpoint any problems that each individual may need to work on.  If you don’t do it while you have time to, you won’t do it at all.  If these problems don’t get fixed, they will limit the development of the player.
  2. A solid program – Every player should be placed on a solid strength and conditioning program.  It should be well thought out and should include phases that will develop hypertrophy, strength, and power in the weightroom.  It should also include plenty of flexibility, speed, and agility work.  Just lining up to run sprints isn’t really speed work.  I mean form and technique work.  It takes a lot of reps to make a change permanent.  Get started now.
  3. Team bonding / competition work – This is also the time to begin to include some team bonding activities.  They don’t have to be every day, but there is a long time from now until August.  Start to include them now to help your team develop the chemistry that the need to succeed.  As for competition, that can be worked into drills and other off-season activities.  Some kids don’t have the competitive fire that they should.  This can be developed but again, it should start now.
Keep these keys in mind while you plan your program.
Mark
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