sprint

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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Sprinting for Fat Loss, Strength and Athleticism. The Ultimate Guide.

Whether you are a high level athlete, a weekend warrior or completely new to the gym, sprinting should be an integral component of your training program.

Not only is sprint speed an extremely important factor for athletic success, the act of sprinting can help promote fat loss, increase our strength, and improve our overall athleticism.

Lean, strong and athletic

Lean, strong and athletic

Sprinting for fat loss

Let’s start with how sprinting can cause fat loss, and help us maintain a high level of leanness.

Firstly, sprinting is taxing.  I mean REALLY taxing. It ultimately requires the integration of every muscle in the entire body working at near maximal capacity to sprint at (or close to) our top speed. This alone is using up a HUGE amount of energy during our sprint session.

Additionally, due to the accumulated fatigue sprinting causes we also get a significant increase our metabolic rate up to 24-48 hours after our sprint session. This rise in energy expenditure is known as excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (or, EPOC), and can lead to serious energy use for a significant time after exercise.

These two factors are what allow sprinting to promote fat loss effectively.

A sample sprint workout aimed towards fat loss might look something like this:

-          Sprint 85% max speed for 90m distance

-          60s rest

-          Sprint 90% max speed for 90m distance

-          60s rest

-          Sprint 95% max speed for 90m distance

-          60s rest

-          Sprint 100% max speed for 100m distance

-          60s rest

-          Sprint 100% max speed for 80m distance

-          Repeat 2 times

These workouts should be performed on upper body days, or on cardio specific days. They should NOT be performed before lower body workouts because the fatigue associated will limit your performance in the gym. On the same note, they should NOT be performed after your lower body workouts as the fatigue form the gym session will increase injury risk while sprinting.

 

Sprinting can improve our strength performance

Undertake short, non-fatiguing, sprint work after your dynamic warm up is a fantastic way to prime the nervous system before a heavy gym session.

After sprinting, you central nervous system is fired up. This improves your ability to produce force rapidly (rate of force development for you science nerds out there). By sprinting before heavy lifting our nervous system is primed to produce maximal levels of force at a rapid rate, this means that we can lift heavier and more explosively in the gym, which can lead to serious strength gains.

A sample sprint workout aimed at priming the nervous system might look something like this.

-          Sprint 75% max speed for 40m distance

-          60s rest

-          Sprint 85% max speed for 40m distance

-          60s rest

-          Sprint 95% max speed for 40m distance

-          90s rest

-          Sprint 100% max speed for 40m distance

The idea here is to NOT accumulate fatigue. You should finish the sprints feeling quick and powerful, not tired and shitty.

 

Sprinting for Athletic Performance

Sprinting is a great tool to use to improve athletic performance.

Sprinting requires significant effort from the hip extensors (glutes and hamstrings) to produce force rapidly. These muscles are important for jumping, changing direction rapidly, and accelerating and decelerating, and as such, play an integral role in successful athletic performance. As sprinting can improve the ability of these muscles to produce force quickly, it can have a direct carryover to these other important movements’ as well.

Sprinting also improves our anaerobic capacity. During sprinting we are working at a speed well above lactate threshold, which requires the integration of our ATP-CP and anaerobic (or glycolytic) energy systems. By spending time where these energy systems our under significant stress, we promote physiological adaptations that improve the capacity of these energy systems. This results in an improved anaerobic work capacity, meaning we can work anaerobically for longer, and at a higher intensity!

A sample sprint workout here might look something like this:

-          Sprint 75% max speed for 40m distance

-          60s rest

-          Sprint 85% max speed for 40m distance

-          60s rest

-          Sprint 95% max speed for 40m distance

-          90s rest

-          Sprint 100% max speed for 40m distance

-          Repeat ONCE more

-          Sprint 85% max speed for 90m distance

-          60s rest

-          Sprint 90% max speed for 90m distance

-          60s rest

-          Sprint 95% max speed for 90m distance

-          60s rest

-          Sprint 100% max speed for 100m distance

-          60s rest

-          Sprint 100% max speed for 80m distance

In this scenario, we use short sprints to improve our maximal force production rate of force development, and then finish using longer sprints, which allow us to spend more time above anaerobic threshold.

 

There are some considerations.

Now, before you head out and start sprinting straight away there are a few things that you need to consider.

Firstly, if you haven’t sprinted since your last high school sports carnival 7 years ago,

Take it SLOW.

This means not exceeding 90% of your maximal speed for the first 4 weeks. This may seem excessive, but is important. Sprinting at speeds between 90 and 100% maximum speed is extremely demanding on the body, which increases risk of injury significantly. If you haven’t sprinted for a couple of years, this risk of injury becomes much, MUCH greater.

Don’t worry, HUGE benefits still occur within the 75-90% speed range. In fact, I like to keep the bulk of most people’s sprint work within this range, with occasional jumps up to 95% and 100%. This limits accumulated fatigue and associated injury risk while still maximising the benefits of sprint training.

In the same vein of thought,

Hill sprints before flat ground sprints

If we think about running mechanics for a second, a lot of people tend to get injured as they ‘over stride’. This is when the front leg extends too far in front of the body, which can result in hamstring injury. Running uphill is a great way to avoid this.

Additionally, the ground reaction forces are significantly lower as we sprint up hill, which reduces the amount of stress placed on the knee and ankle joints, reducing the risk of joint injury.

Similarly, try and keep most of your sprint work on grass or turf. Concrete, bitumen and pavement should be avoided as they are very unforgiving and create unnecessary load through the joints.

Focus on your sprint movement quality

This is an important factor to focus on that allows us to reduce soft tissue and overuse injuries. Keep the chest up tall, shoulders back and head in a neutral position. This will ensure that we are not leaning over at the hips, placing unnecessary stress on the hamstrings.

The movement should be fluid. This means nice smooth arm movement and smooth rotation of the thoracic spine. Elbows should be bent to 90 degrees and the arms shouldn’t cross the body’s midline – they should move only forward and backwards along the side of the body.

The knees should be kept high, and the foot should strike directly under the hips, NOT out in front of you.

Warm up effectively!

Lastly, make sure you warm up. And I mean warm up properly!

This means making sure we have prepare ourselves for movement by working on hip and thoracic mobility. We then need to warm up dynamically, promoting muscle activation and blood flow to the extremities. This should be followed by gradual build-ups, where we slowly build up sprint speed to our working speed of that day.

You should feel primed and ready to go before you start your sprint session. If you feel stiff and sore then you are not ready to sprint!

 

If you want to incorporate sprinting into your program but don't know where to start, or are interested in joining my coaching program,  fill out the form below.

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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.