agility

Box Jumps - A great way to develop power improve athleticism

Strength training is awesome.

Not only does it mean you get to lift heavy stuff repeatedly, but by building strength we can also become faster, stronger (DUH), more powerful, more resilient to injury AND more athletic.

By strength training and getting stronger we see a subsequent increase in our maximum force production (the MAXIMUM amount of force our neuromuscular system can produce).

Now this is great. Ultimately, the more force we can produce, the higher our ceiling for producing power (and subsequently, athletic performance) becomes.

BUT (there’s always a but….).

Unfortunately, for maximizing power development and athletic performance, strength training doesn’t tick all of the boxes.

See, if we only train to improve strength, we become stronger, but we won’t necessarily become more powerful.

To become more powerful we need to train to be fast and EXPLOSIVE.

By training explosively we can increase the rate at which we produce force, which improves our ability to jump higher, accelerate quicker and sprint faster.

For improving athletic performance, quick explosive training compliments strength training perfectly, as strength training increases the maximum amount of force we can produce, and explosive training increases the speed at which we can produce that force.

But how do we start training explosively?

Often improving power is done through the use of moving lighter weights QUICKLY. An example of this would be training using the Olympic lifts (Snatch, Clean etc.) and their variations. Unfortunately the Olympic lifts are fairly technical and have quite a steep learning curve.

Which finally brings us to the topic of the post.

hunter bennett performance box jumps

 

Box Jumps!

Box jumps are a fantastic exercise that allow us to improve our explosive power, but don’t have the learning curve associated with the Olympic lifts.

Additionally, with box jumps we are jumping onto something high, which results in less compressive forces placed on the body which makes them a very joint friendly exercise variation.

 

But there are a few key cues that need to be followed to make sure they are done safely and effectively.

Feet are flat with weight evenly distributed on landing.

Knees are neutral (no valgus).

Trunk is neutral and abs are braced.

And a big one - If you land in a position where your femurs (top of thighs) are lower than parallel to the ground, the box is too high. We don’t care about how tall the box is, we care about how high you can jump – there is a difference.

Now, because we are trying to improve power, box jumps DO NOT need to be done to failure. With power training it is always quality of quantity. An example rep range that may be used would be 4 sets of 3 repetitions, where each individual rep is done as explosively as possible.

Similarly, they should be performed at the start of the session, before fatigue sets in. As fatigue inhibits our ability to produce force quickly, it is pointless to train for power when under significant fatigue. Because of this, box jumps should be performed after our warmup but before any heavy loading (eg. Heavy Squatzzz).

An additional benefit of programming box jumps before your heavy lower body exercises is that they ‘prime’ the nervous system, ultimately preparing the body for maximum contraction by potentiating the nervous system to fire more efficiently and at a faster rate. This will in turn improve your ability to produce force (strength), and increase the benefits of the following strength exercises.

An example lower body session that utilities box jumps effectively may look like this:

- Foam rolling and self myofascial release work
- Dynamic mobility warm up
- Movement preparation

- Broad Jumps 2x3
- Box Jumps 4x3
- Back Squat 5x5
- RDL 4x6
- Split Squat 4x8/side

And just like that you have a way to both develop power and improve the quality of your strength session immediately!

For any further info, contact me below!

 

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The Stability Ball Conundrum - Are They Actually Benefiting Us At All?

The definition of stupidity

The definition of stupidity

At some point over the last few years, unstable surface training received a significant increase in popularity.  Suddenly you cant walk two steps into a gym without stumbling into an inflatable exercise ball, BOSU ball, or weird squishy disc.

They are often considered a ‘functional exercise’ tool, whatever that means. But what a lot of people may not realise is that they started out as a rehabilitation based training tool, mainly to rehab various degrees of ankle sprains (which has shown to work, I might add).

Their gradual movement into the commercial gym setting was likely a result of the success they saw in this rehabilitation setting, and are now spouted as a sure fire way to increase balance and stability.

Now, I’m not denying that they may have the capacity to improve upper body stability (scapular stability in particular), and trunk stability in appropriate situations, but in my personal opinion that is where their benefits as a training tool for the general population stop. 

There are a couple of reasons i say this.

They have zero (and I mean ZERO) specificity to the real world.

Specificity implies that to become better at a particular exercise or skill, you must actually perform that exercise or skill. In the same light, if you practice a skill, you will get better at that skill.

So if you practice training on an unstable surface you will get better at training on an unstable surface.

The issue with this?

We don’t live on an unstable surface. We spend 99.9% of our time on stable ground, whether talking a sporting situation or just in day-to-day life.

The improvements in strength we see if training on an unstable surface don’t actually carry over to stable surface movements. Therefore we do not see the associated improvements in speed and power that come with improved strength.

In fact, they won’t even improve our ability to maintain stability on the ground, as the neural coordination required for even the same movement on the alternate (stable and unstable) surfaces differ too much!

In fact, stable surface training has shown to produce superior improvements in athletic performance measures in comparison to unstable surface training (1).

This is likely the same for day to day activities such as walking up stairs and standing from sitting.

We cannot train to our full capacity when on an unstable surface.

So the main reason we lift weights is to increase our strength and power, and develop muscle mass, right?

Well when we train on an unstable surface, our force production capacity is limited, as we spend so much neuromuscular effort to maintain stability. If we cannot produce maximal force, we are limiting our ability to both increase strength and power, and also build muscle, as the muscle is not placed under enough stress to elicit an adaptation response (2).

 

So to summarise

Unstable surfaces limit our ability to increase athletic performance and improve our capacity to undertake activities of daily living.

They also inhibit our ability to recruit muscle and produce force, therefore limiting strength and hypertrophy gainzzzzz.

But how do we improve stability?

 

Single leg work my friends, which is a topic for a future post.

 

 

Do you want to improve strength, stability and power but are not sure where to start? Click here to see if you qualify for my online coaching program.

 

 

References

1.     Willardson, Jeffrey M. "The Effectiveness of Resistance Exercises Performed on Unstable Equipment." Strength & Conditioning Journal 26.5 (2004): 70-74.

2.     Anderson, Kenneth G., and David G. Behm. "Maintenance of EMG activity and loss of force output with instability." The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 18.3 (2004): 637-640.

 

Improve acceleration and improve athletic performance.

In my last blog post I gave my opinion (Which was somewhat negative...) on agility ladders. This was based upon their inability to actually improve speed and acceleration. If you haven’t read it yet you can have a look here.

Hunter Bennett Performance. Acceleration, performance, speed, agility, strength, power, athletic development.

Whilst this is all well and good, I didn’t really provide any in depth recommendations on how to improve change of direction speed and agility, and considering that these are directly related to acceleration speed, I thought a post addressing how to improve acceleration would be appropriate.

Sooooo. Acceleration. The reason I have chosen acceleration rather than ‘speed’ is I feel it is much more indicative of athletic performance.

Field based sports are characterised by short, repeat efforts, rarely longer than 20 metres (and most often less than that). So it can be argued that the ability to accelerate rapidly is much more important than top end speed.

*The exception here would be sprinters, as they need a good max speed and they need to maintain it for as long as possible.

So someone’s ability to accelerate can be broken down into two components. The amount of force they can put into the ground, and how quickly they can apply that force into the ground.

So, if a person is not particularly strong (can’t apply much force), they are going to be limited, no matter how quickly they can apply the force they do have.

This leads us into the first recommendation to improve acceleration.

Strength Training

By improving strength we improve the maximal amount of force we can produce. By increasing the amount of force we can apply into the ground we improve our capacity to accelerate.

My recommendations would be compound lower body strength exercises such as squats, deadlifts and split squats (and variations of), working within a basic strength sets and reps scheme (5x5, 6x4 etc) 2-3 times per week. This ensures we are not only training the muscles involved in accelerating and sprinting, but also using exercises that have immediate carryover to performance as they somewhat replicate the joint actions that occur during these movements.

Now, what if someone is strong (can apply lots of force), but not very powerful (slow applying that force)?

That leads us into the second component.

Power Training

So, now that we have built a solid foundation of lower body strength (force production capacity), we need to learn how to apply that force rapidly (improve our ‘rate of force development’, or RFD).

This can be done by adding explosive lower body movements into our lower body program. These would be jump variations (such as box jumps, broad jumps etc.), plyometric exercises (lateral bounds, tuck jumps etc.) and Olympic lifting variations (clean, hang snatch etc.). These exercises use either bodyweight or lower relative loads to train explosive movements, whilst the plyometric activities also improve our capacity to use the stretch shortening cycle (SSC).

The inclusion of short sprints are also recommended, as we are trying to get faster/better at accelerating.

These exercises should not be performed to failure as the intent is to move as FAST and as EXPLOSIVE as possible. As fatigue inhibits our ability to produce force rapidly, it would inhibit the training effect we are looking for. So these exercises should be performed before the strength component of the session, and not until failure.


I understand that this is by no means a comprehensive guide on improving acceleration, but i hope i have provided a brief explanation on some of the ways we can improve acceleration. These recommendations are fairly broad and provide more of a brief overview, for more detailed information feel free to contact me.


Do agility ladders really make you faster and more agile?

Hunter Bennett Performance. Agility, agility ladders, reaction time, speed, acceleration, power

Not really.

Now I will be upfront here. I am not a big fan of agility ladders. I feel they are over utilised, and don't deliver what they promise.

'But they make your feet faster right?'.... well maybe. But what does that even mean? So if my feet move quicker I will be faster? If we think about it, It’s not particularly shocking that that’s not really how it works.

Defining agility

Agility can be broken down into two components:

Change of direction (COD) speed. The speed at which we alter the direction of travel in a PRE-PLANNED manner. Note the emphasis on pre-planned. COD speed is completely physical, and simply the rate at which we can alter direction of movement.

And

Reaction Time. The time taken to react to an unknown or unpredictable stimulus. This is effectively the time taken to assess a situation or stimulus, and then react to it. This is a mental process.

So Agility is therefore both the process of making a decision and moving in accordance to that decision, in response to an un-controlled stimulus.

An example of Agility would be a rugby player making a tackle on another player who is coming towards them with the ball. The player with the ball is likely to move in one direction in an attempt to evade the tackler. The tackler must cognitively react to the unknown stimulus (the direction of the side-step), and then change direction in accordance, as means to make the tackle.

Soooooo? What about agility ladders?

So agility ladders don’t have a cognitive component, so they don’t directly train agility. But they do kind of train COD speed right? And that may transfer to agility?

Again, not really.

Speed, whether it be COD speed or straight line speed is function of power ((force x distance)/time). If you apply a greater amount of force into the ground in the same or less amount of time, you move faster. It makes sense. The more force that goes into the ground, the further you travel per step in the same amount of time.

To improve speed you therefore have to train at maximum speed, and produce enough force to increase maximal power production.

Now do you see the issue?

When using an agility ladder, you are not producing enough force to elicit a training response. Also worthy of note, is that when you use an agility ladder, you move inefficiently, in a way that does not replicate sprinting or changing direction. You’re just moving your feet quickly, while they stay within your base of support. Changing direction quickly involves the foot producing high levels of force rapidly whilst outside the base of support, producing lateral movement. If the foot is not outside the base of support the ability to move laterally is limited.

So now you can see the issue I have with agility ladders?

Again, this is a bit of an opinion piece, and one could argue that they may have some usefulness as an effective warmup tool, or potentially in a rehab setting. But  just don’t try and sell them as something that will significantly improve speed or agility, when in reality, they will not.

So what should we do instead?

Improving strength and power through resistance training exercises would be an important step. This will improve our ability to produce force, which is integral to speed. This could be followed by some speed/agility specific training, such as straight line sprinting, or lateral movement work. This specific training will allow us to develop the ability to use our increased strength in a speed/agility specific way.