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Strength Training For Sports - Why Getting Faster Is All About Learning To BRAKE!

Written by: Nick Jack
Category: 2014
on 28 August 2017
Hits: 13866

Anyone playing sports at a high level will appreciate the value a strength and conditioning program can provide and understand that training for the sport alone will not yield great results. Devoting too much time to strength and conditioning, at the expense of practicing skills in the sport itself is also a recipe for disaster, and there has been many potential athletes ruin their career from being too good in the gym. There must be a balance between all these variables, as there is only so much time that can be given to training, and more is not better. There is a fine line between over training that is counterproductive and exposes the athlete to injury or illness. Any strength program given to an athlete is to complement the bulk of their training which is built around the skills of the sport. This means that there is only a very small window of opportunity to give the athlete the type of training that will greatly enhance their athletic potential. And for almost any athlete in ball sports, the need to become explosively fast and also remain injury free would be at the top of the list of what they want their strength program to provide. In this article, we will show you that the best exercises and methods we use in our Sports Program for doing this are, and why many athletes may not be getting the most out of their training program.

The Secret To Getting Faster Is Learning To BRAKE!

Out of all the things used in the gym this would be one of the most misunderstood concepts, especially at the amateur level where people have a very poor understanding of human movement and energy systems.

Training strength is only one small part of many in a great sports program, in fact there is 8 things you must consider (see article The 8 Must Haves For Sports for more detail on these).

The biggest mistake I see is people using methods and exercises taken from body building world where the focus is not on moving well but looking good. You may develop size and even strength to some degree but this will not mean you turn that into explosive power. At an elite level they know this and rarely will you see athletes devote time to exercises that do not yield results. The reason elite athletes to continue to excel and reach new levels of performance is that they are always developing new training methods and techniques that give them massive results in little time so that they have more time to recover and repair to be at full strength. They are constantly searching for new ways to push performance limits and counteract injury using sports science and an in depth analysis of what makes the body perform better.

And one of the best lessons taken from sports is that deceleration or applying the BRAKES is the key to quickness.

I am going to share with you a concept I first learned from TWIST Conditioning over 10 years ago and have successfully used this for with athletes from sports like Basketball, Tennis, Football, Hockey and Soccer. If you are a coach or trainer I highly recommend their programs and education courses as these are the best I have ever seen in my 15 years as a trainer.

BRAKES is a very clever acronym that Twist Conditioning created to educate athletes and coaches on how to enhance an athlete’s ability to develop speed, quickness and agility by first learning to decelerate movement, stop, and quickly change direction. It is in these specific movements that so many of the season ending injuries like ACL Tears occur, but also where you see the elite seem to have so much more time than their competitors, such as Roger Federer in tennis.

Learning this deceleration is crucial to the efficient execution of creative offensive moves such as those seen in the NBA today by players like Stephen Curry or Kyrie Irving. Training deceleration is essential to providing the athlete with the ability to perform instant changes of direction and explosive first step quickness without losing balance or momentum to lose an opponent.

 

I played basketball for over 30 years and tennis for 10 years and was always looking for ways to be faster, and to be able to go from standing to still to explosive.

That first step is so important and I remember playing against guys in basketball who were just so fast on the court yet when we did a speed running test of 20m to 50m they were just average. But with the ball in their hand dribbling they could cross you over so fast you would be left standing still and defensively impossible to get past. I practiced a lot when I was younger but rarely spent time in the gym as I thought it was a waste of time and only for the big guys. Little did I know that it would have made me so much faster and also prevented so many injuries that plagued me later on during my basketball career.

The BRAKES acronym is as follows:

  • Balance (Performance Balance)
  • Reaction
  • Agility
  • K(q)uickness
  • Explosive Speed AND Eccentric Strength

Did you notice that the word strength was only mentioned right at the very end, and listed as eccentric strength? Yet what you see in most training programs is that STRENGTH is the only thing trained and all of the other factors crucial to developing incredible braking skills are completely ignored. There is no real place for exercises like bench press and bicep curls in the sporting world, and any machine based training.

Even great strength exercises like deadlifts and squats which we use a lot, will not improve the skill of the brain in developing the skills to brake. Doing stacks of deadlifts and hoping it will make your crossover move like Kyrie Irving is dreaming. Remember practice of the move itself on the court is critical, but developing the ability to make it that 10th of a second faster than anyone else you will get in the gym.

Let's take a look at each of these skill sets and give you exercise examples to help you implement in the gym.

Balance:

I hear huge groans from many of you right now, especially those obsessed with lifting big loads in deadlifts and Olympic lifting.

Their belief is that balance is over rated and not needed to be trained in the gym and that strength alone will override any balance deficits. This is a big mistake to make for Balance provides the foundation for all strength and conditioning training. An athlete’s movement efficiency is dependent on the ability to maintain and regain balance when challenged. This includes both the static balance and stability necessary to stabilize joints to help prevent injury and to create a strong base the needed to execute movement.

To train balance you must be out of balance and force the brain to find ways to activate the stabilizer system. Without this you will never be able to fully train the body for reactive quickness and agility.

 

Read our article about Stability Training for more detail on this.

Reaction:

This is a very unique skill to learn in the gym environment but often overlooked.

"Sport situations require the ability to read and react in an environment of organized chaos. Sport is unpredictable, demanding quick decisions, the ability to move explosively in any direction usually within short distances, typically within a range from fingertip to fingertip.” - Peter Twist.

When you consider that the game is so unpredictable and that you need lightning quick reflexes combined with split second decision making it makes sense to train reactivity. I never thought to try and combine this in the gym until seeing and reading about this in Twist courses but it makes absolute sense. It is so different performing agility and strength drills that you know what is going to happen versus those where you are forced to react to unpredictable situations and still be able to execute perfect form and movement. Reaction skills determine an individual’s ability to read and react explosively.

Think of a tennis player needing to react to a serve or a basketball defender trying to react to a crossover move. You cannot premeditate, you know your opponent has the advantage and it up to you to react fast and effectively. This type of training is very reliant on the brain which is why you must try to avoid exercises that do not require brain involvement like machines and body building exercises. Training the brain can greatly improve the neuromuscular timing of all movements.

Remember quicker muscle reactions and reflexes lead to safer, more efficient movement. The two videos below give you a good example of this.

 

Agility:

Agility is defined as - The ability to perform a series of explosive power movements in rapid succession in opposing directions (tennis& basketball).

Effective stopping demands a high level of eccentric strength demands. It is the proportionate bending of the ankle/knee/hip. Basic strength is a pre-requisite for force production and reduction."

Many of the exercises will demand the body to handle forces in an eccentric mode up to 12 times body-weight and be able to change direction and overcome those forces. This all must be done in tenths of a second. It is developed through exercises that develop unilateral and reciprocal leg strength.

Personally, I believe agility is almost more important than speed for many athletes, in particular if it incorporates reactive training!

Using exercises like speed ladders, witches hats and hurdles are often what you think of when agility is discussed. How does this relate to the gym you might think? By combining agility focused exercises in combination with strength related or balance focused exercises allows the crossover of abilities within the training session. For example a lateral lunge with dumbbells performed by 8 reps instantly merged into a superset with a lateral diagonal ladder run is an example of adding agility to a training session.

 

You will find a ton of additional agility exercises in this article - 25 of our best agility drills for sports

K(q)uickness:

Refers to lightning first step foot speed and acceleration with a focus on minimizing preparation time between movements.

Explosive changes of direction and nearing top-end speed in the shortest amount of time possible will ensure success in any dynamic environment. Plyometric training is fantastic for this type of skill set. This is where the use of Olympic lifts can be of some benefit, however I would still prefer single leg and more lateral moving exercises for this as the timing and body positioning required is more similar to the demands of the sport meaning the carryover to the movement is more likely. 

The two drills shown below are arguably the most critical for lateral change of direction. The lateral crossover step shown in the video on the right is one of the most important skills you can develop for covering maximum distance in the shortest amount of time.

 

Explosive Speed AND Eccentric Strength:

Involve efficient muscle lengthening, shortening, coupling and transfer of momentum.

Eccentric strength is the lengthening phase of a movement, such as lowering your body during a chin up or squat. If your body and the muscles are not effectively trained to withstand eccentric loading (deceleration), potential energy is lost and worse injury is more likely to occur. As mentioned earlier this is where we see so many of the non contact ACL injuries occur during movements like a single leg landing after a jump, or a lateral change of direction pivot on a cutting move.

Without the efficient control of deceleration, there is no stability or leverage to maintain integrity of the joint and secondly be able produce the force needed for Explosive Speed and Power. Exercises that develop this are absolutely VITAL!

I would spend considerable time with single leg and single arm exercises for sports. 

How many sports can you think of where the athletes spend most of the time jumping and landing on two legs at the same time? Hardly any if at any all. Even running involves one leg on the ground at a time while the other leg swings through in the air. I cannot think of any sport other than rowing where two legs push at the same time constantly. Again this is not to say the bilateral exercises are not needed or a waste of time, this is just to make the point that if you only train with two feet and two arm exercises but compete in an entirely different fashion you may not be reaching your potential as an athlete.

Single leg strength is essential for the development of speed, balance and injury prevention for almost ALL the lower limb injuries seen in sports occur in a single leg stance or single leg landing. Of all the sporting injuries to gain a lot of attention in recent times is the dreaded ACL tear which is known as a season ending injury. The mechanism behind this injury is faulty single leg change of direction and single leg landing techniques. Strength from bilateral movement has little to no influence in preventing these injuries. 

"Every athlete we train can do the rear-foot-elevated split squat with significantly more than half what they can do in a back squat. In fact when we tested both front squats and rear-foot-elevated split squats, many of our athletes could split squat and  front squat with the same weight! I know it seems impossible, but its not." - Mike Boyle

Watch the video below for more ideas on this.

Great articles to read with more detail on ACL injury in sports are below

I cannot overstate the importance of addressing all the factors contributing to ACL injuries when trying to develop braking skills and change of direction. Our detailed step by step program for ACL injury prevention and rehabilitation covers all of the simple stability, strength and explosive exercises and includes all of our key exercises used with elite athletes. This is our most detailed program ever created due to the complex nature of the injury with over 130 pages and 100 exercises. You can find our more about this program by clicking here or on the image below.

 

A Word About Injury Prevention & Olympic Lifting

Of all the elements in sports training to consider injury prevention should be number one. For it is simple, if you are injured you do not play!

Olympic lifting might be great fun and develop great overall strength and the ability to concentrically lift heavy things fast but it does not prepare the athlete to stop on a single leg from a jump or pivot explosively sideways. There is almost no eccentric strength required at all, as soon as the bar is lifted it is dropped to the floor. The athlete can develop explosive power but never learn how to brake! We must appreciate that Olympic lifting is a sport in its own right. This means not only do you need to learn the skills of your chosen sport but you also need to learn a second sport that comes with it's own set of complex methods and instructions that can take years to master. Not to mention the risk of these exercises if you get them wrong, as they can seriously ruin a spine.

When you consider that most sports are played off one leg and explosive power is needed for lateral and rotation more than just vertical lifts it makes not much sense to devote huge time to these exercises.

  

If you have a history of injury with knee pain, shoulder pain or back pain it is wise to address your injury concerns and weaknesses with your injury first before progressing to difficult programs with explosive speed and agility. We have advanced online programs that cover each of these specific injuries with videos and PDF books complete with step by step instructions. Go to our online shop to see details about the specific programs provided for each of these injuries. If you are not injured read on.

How To Design The Program?

There are many things to consider here.

There are so many factors such as what is your sport, what position you play, previous injuries, how well you move in foundational patterns and current strength ratios that it is impossible to give a one size fits all series of exercises. What you must do is complete a detailed assessment first to find where your weakest links are and put a strategy in place to correct and improve them. Once this is completed you can move to the next step which where you need to determine what skill sets your sport demands of you.  This is where you begin to see things like speed, agility and power included in your program.

But you MUST learn how to move correctly first.

You will find a great article to read about doing exactly this here How To Choose The Right Exercises For Your Sports Program

Designing programs and methods around great movement is the key. If you move poorly in a simple form you will  never move faster and more explosively with more difficult exercises. All that will happen is you will compensate and create a faulty pattern of movement that is not only inefficient but increases the chance of injury. So make sure you spend time learning to move and developing your movements before progressing to this much more difficult stage. Our Functional Training Free report shown below gives you a perfect starting point to do this.

Summary

We have covered a lot of information in this article and I hope this gives you some great ideas about how to use the gym to enhance your sporting potential. The days of going to the gym to do 3 sets of 8-12 reps of 10 simple body building exercises in the hope that it will make you stronger in your sport is well and truly over. You need to understand how the brain coordinates the movements you need for your sport, and that technique is everything. The more efficiently you can move the faster you become at reacting and executing complex tasks and movements within the blink of an eye. You will not only gain an edge on your opponents but, more importantly remain on the sporting field or court the entire season.

For more ideas and information on specific topics I may not have covered in detail be sure to check out our INDEX PAGE on the website that has over 300 of our best articles. These are all sorted into categories for quick reference so you can find what you are after more easily. You can also subscribe to our FREE fortnightly newsletter by clicking here.

If you do need specific help with your exercise program please feel free to reach out to me for help and we can set you up with your individualised program.

About The Author

Nick Jack is owner of No Regrets Personal Training and has over 15 years’ experience as a qualified Personal Trainer, Level 2 Rehabilitation trainer, CHEK practitioner, and Level 2 Sports conditioning Coach. Based in Melbourne Australia he specializes in providing solutions to injury and health problems for people of all ages using the latest methods of assessing movement and corrective exercise.

References:

  • Movement - By Gray Cook
  • Corrective Exercise Solutions - by Evan Osar
  • Athletes Acceleration Speed Training & Game Like Speed - by Lee Taft
  • Diagnosis & Treatment Of Movement Impairment Syndromes - By Shirley Sahrman
  • Low Back Disorders - by Stuart McGill
  • Knee Injuries In Athletes - by Sports Injury Bulletin
  • The ACL Solution - by Robert G Marx
  • Understanding & Preventing Non-Contact ACL Injuries - American Orthopaedic Society For Sports Medicine
  • Anatomy Trains - by Thomas Meyers
  • Motor Learning and Performance - By Richard A Schmidt and Timothy D Lee
  • Assessment & Treatment Of Muscle Imbalance - By Vladimir Janda
  • How To Eat, Move & Be Healthy by Paul Chek
  • Scientific Core Conditioning Correspondence Course - By Paul Chek
  • Advanced Program Design - By Paul Chek
  • Twist Conditioning Sports Strength - By Peter Twist
  • Twist Conditioning Sports Movement - By Peter Twist
  • Twist Conditioning Sports Balance - By Peter Twist