The Web: Testing, Training and the Tactical Athlete

Tactical athletes in the military, law enforcement and fire/rescue communities can range from part time SWAT officers and volunteer fire rescue personnel up to elite operators in Hazmat teams, full – time SWAT Officers and our military’s finest operators in Special Forces.  Testing is a part of this culture.  The higher the level of the individual in terms of his/her expertise or the team they are a part of, the greater importance testing takes in the optimal readiness and efficiency of the individual.  The lower the level of the team, the more often testing is viewed as a necessary evil of the job, something to be tolerated and passed rather than an opportunity to compete and excel.


Testing for the tactical athlete is challenging to say the least.  In the military world, testing is expected and accepted.  In law enforcement and fire/rescue testing ranges from accepted, tolerated to even resisted.  Regardless, once testing has occurred, what has been measured and how does this relate to the ability of the individual to do the job?  In the Olympic sport of weightlifting, the web has been used for many years to compare contrasting physical abilities in order to determine physical abilities and progress between competitions.  The web is a spider web configuration with the tests percentiles arrayed along each vector of the web from the center (zero) out to the edge (99th Percentile).  The vectors of the web are configured so similar measured parameters are aligned together.  When this web is configured for each individual, the optimal web should be circular in shape and above the cutoff percentile for each individual.  If the web is not circular, then the “dent” should reflect a lack of ability in a certain area of fitness.  It could be strength endurance, aerobic fitness, anaerobic power, even body composition and assessment scores.  The individual can then create a training plan in which the emphasis becomes pushing the dent out and raising the score in the deficient area in order to create a more circular web in terms of fitness scores.

Here is an example of a web using the Cooper Age and Gender Base Standards for Law Enforcement as our basis for the percentile rankings.  Lets assume our individuals being tested both mid 30’s males and the test battery scores were:

Officer Blue                                             Officer Red

Test                                      Score                         Percentile             Score                         Percentile

1.5 Mile Run                         10:14                                 85th                                 11:49                               60

300 Meter Run                        51                                    80                            54                           65

Vertical Jump                          19.5                                 50                           26                            95

1:00 Push-ups                          34                                   70th                                 71                                   95

1:00 Sit-ups                               62                                  100                          55                         100

Generally, tactical athletes fall into three categories – lifters, runners and those that do just enough to pass the test as fitness is not a part of their lifestyle.  As can be inferred from the example, Officer Blue is a runner and Officer Red is a lifter. Both are in good to excellent shape in terms of fitness.  However, if body composition is introduced, Officer Blue is 15% body fat at 170 pounds while Officer Red is 22% fat at 200 pounds.  Neither is unfit, however, at 22% body fat and in his mid-thirties, Officer Red could be on track to be over fat and under fit by his mid-forties.  The mitigating factor is genetics.  If Officer Red is a thick, heavy-set football lineman type of build, then maybe he is optimizing his fitness potential.


Regardless, in terms of overall fitness for the job, the recommendations for Officer Blue would be to increase his lower body elastic strength training minutes (plyometrics, jump rope, ladder drills, dot drills, etc.) and his anaerobic power training minutes (intense circuits such as Tabata style (20 seconds work bouts – 20 second recovery bouts for multiple sets), crossfit type training focusing on the 45 – 60 second work bouts, as well as speed endurance training such as 200’s up to 400’s with quality being the guide to volume).

Officer Red is a big, strong lifter that uses weights as his main source of fitness.  He does some running, but most of it is moderately, short interval sprints such as repeat 50’s up to repeat 200’s on occasion.  His overall ability to utilize oxygen is compromised either by his body composition, choice of fitness training or a combination of both.   The idea for Officer Red is to incorporate some longer sessions of fitness either jogging, biking, swimming, elliptical workouts or moderate circuits that go for several stations with multiple rounds keeping the heart rate up in the 140’s for the entire training session.  Using heart rate training, the 5 zones of training for both officers are 220 minus their age + or – up to 10 beats per minute either way.  The range is due to genetics, body composition and fitness level.  A fit officer that spends a great deal of time on a well rounded fitness program who is a lean person with low body fat will be in the lower ranges while the heavier, less fit officer would be in the higher ranges for the same workload or workout.  So, the zones for each officer would look like this:

HR Zone Percentage             +10        Average        -10

Max 95-100%                           195              185             175

Competition – Testing – Arrest Gone Bad

Intense 85-95%                      177                167            157

Quality Intervals – Tabata / Crossfit Circuits

Moderate 75-85%                   159               149             139

Long Slow Distance – Giant Set Weight Training – Some Circuits

Light 65 – 75%                         141               131             121

Warm-up, social weight training

Recovered 55-65%                 123               113              103

Daily Activity 50% – Under                        Under 93 beats per minute

Resting Heart Rate upon waking without moving

Resting heart rate could be as low as in the low to mid 40’s with elite level fitness athletes.  With sedentary, unfit people, resting heart rate can be in the 60’s and even 70’s.  Anything above 84 is generally regarded as dangerous and should be immediately referred to a physician for examination.  The lowest heart rates recorded are in the Tour de France athletes with Indurain at 28 and Armstrong at 32 at peak condition.  If we assume max is 30 and illness begins at 85, then average would be 57.5 for fit individuals with a range of 55 – 60 for high fit.


Testing ranges from a necessary evil that is tolerated to an opportunity to compete and excel.  Regardless, the key is what is being tested and what is to be taken from the test battery. What can be done to relate testing back to the everyday choices the tactical athlete makes in terms of fitness training.  The web is a tool that can be used to track and compare disparate tests and relate them back to the individual tactical athlete in order to coach them to optimal status for the team, themselves, their health and operational status.


How do you test athletes for camp?  How do you hold them accountable in todays culture in which they want it all?  Jobs, social life, family time, hobbies and sports all vie for their limited attention spans and quality time.  Larry Smith, the head coach at Arizona, Southern Cal and Missouri first introduced this to me as my boss at USC.  After spring testing, the scores are set and the goals for the fall are determined for the fall.  I have used this system very successfully with men and women’s basketball, volleyball, soccer, baseball and football at the collegiate level. IF the head coach buys in, it is very easy to get athlete buy-in.  I have had various head coaches put their own spin on the test so that it better reflects their culture and system.  For example, in soccer, the 110’s were 1:00 minute turnovers in which after running the distance, the athletes had the balance of the minute to return to the starting line.  We did not max basketball athletes in the clean at times so we did a trap bar pull off of boxes (like a dead lift but more centered with the trap bar and from a higher starting point than the floor).

I feel this system works very well as the lifters need to run and the runners need to lift. Everyone needs to be aware of their body weight and body composition. Great performance is rewarded and laziness is penalized.  In case of injury, the test that is not allowed will be thrown out and the scale will reflect the change in total points possible as well as the passing score.  In the spring, we encouraged our athletes to test for max effort lifts.  In the summer, we counseled them to max for points.  Once you max out on points – why go higher?  It is time to play ball.  We squatted all summer, but on Fridays we did leg circuits as well as some type of total body circuits (dumbbells, kettlebells, bar, body weight and mixed methods circuits).  With camp approaching, I was not as concerned with how much weight an athlete could lift in the squat as how much work the legs could handle and recover in a short time bout and hit it again.





PTS.            POWER CLEAN                      BENCH PRESS                     *LEG CIRCUIT

5            +10 POUNDS                              +10 POUNDS                        5 SETS IN 90 SEC.

4            +5 POUNDS                                  +5 POUNDS                        4 SETS IN 90 SEC.

3            GOAL WEIGHT                      GOAL WEIGHT                         3 SETS IN 90 SEC.

2             -5 POUNDS                                  -5 POUNDS                        2 SETS IN 90 SEC.

1            -15 POUNDS                                -15 POUNDS                      1 SET IN 90 SEC.










I hope this sparks you to create your own system of testing prior to camp.  Over the course of almost 15 years of collegiate coaching after I was taught this system, it worked for us.  Good luck!  Robb

Triangle Circuits

Triangle Circuits is an excellent tool to use in order to build your circuit and control the volume of exercise that is prescribed. Steve Myrland (the inventor of the agility speed ladder) first introduced me to this training design concept.  It is very simple in concept but can be very complex in the application.   The first exercise (1) has the highest priority since it will be executed the most times during the circuit.  The second exercise (2) has the second highest priority and so on.  Below is a schematic drawing of this type of circuit design.

Circuit   E X E R C I S E S / D R I L L S


1) 1

2) 1    2

3)  1    2    3

4)  1    2    3    4

5)  1    2    3    4    5

6)  1    2    3    4    5    6

7)  1    2    3    4    5    6    7

8)  1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8

9)  1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9

10) 1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10

This is an example of a 10 series circuit that builds up to 10 exercises or drills.  It is easy to teach as the athlete builds one exercise/drill upon another, but always begins at the start which is always exercise/drill one.  Exercise/drill one will get 10 sets, exercise/drill two will get 9 sets, exercise/drill three will get 8 sets, etc.  So for instance if core is my main emphasis, followed by single leg strength, upper body pulling and pressing then the circuit with exercises/drills might look something like this.

1) Supine Plank Hold

2) Lateral Plank Hold

3) Prone Plank Hold

4) Lateral Lunge Squat

5) Inverted Pull – Ups

6) Single Leg Balance Squat

7) Push – Ups on Medballs

8) Alternate Step – Ups w/a weight vest

9) Alternate Tubing Pulls with Feet Staggered

10) Alternate Tubing Punches with Feet Staggered

This type of circuit can be time driven or rep driven in order to control either the total time of the workout or in order to increase the quality of the repetitions.  I have found that time creates a sloppiness in reps but can also increase the mental stress of the work bout as the athlete does not know exactly how many reps are left to execute.  If it is timedriven, I have an excellent chart in my “Power Conditioning Handbook” that details exactly how long any timed circuit will take in order to complete.  An example from this table is below.

Number/Exercises Work Bout Recovery/Exercises   Recovery/Sets

2 sets              3 sets             4 sets

4                                 :15           :30                        2:00                             7:00                11:30               16:00

6                                 :15           :30                        2:00                           11:20                18:00               24:40

8                                 :15           :30                        2:00                           13:00                20:30               28:00

10                               :15           :30                        2:00                           16:00                25:00               34:00

4                                  :30           :30                      2:00                              9:00                  14:30             20:00

6                                  :30            :30                     2:00                            13:00                  20:30             28:00

8                                  :30           :30                      2:00                            17:00                  26:30             36:00

10                                :30           :30                       2:00                            21:00                 32:30            44:00

4                                     :45           :45                    3:00                             13:30                  21:45            30:00

6                                     :45           :45                    3:00                             19:30                  30:45            42:00

8                                     :45           :45                    3:00                             25:30                  39:45            54:00

10                                   :45           :45                    3:00                             31:30                  48:45            66:00

This chart is designed to be utilized in conjunction with the old style straight circuits that we are all used to using.  In order to construct a triangle chart, it would need to look something like this:

Time :15 on and :15 off

Number of                             Total

Exercises                                Time

1                                                 :30

2                                                 1:00

3                                                 1:30

4                                                 2:00

5                                                 2:30

6                                                 3:00

7                                                 3:30

8                                                 4:00

9                                                 4:30

10                                                 5:00

Time :30 on and :30 off

Number of                          Total

Exercises                             Time

1                                                 1:00

2                                                 2:00

3                                                 3:00

4                                                 4:00

5                                                 5:00

6                                                 6:00

7                                                 7:00

8                                                 8:00

9                                                 9:00

10                                              10:00

Time 1:00 on and 1:00 off

Here is another tool to use in order to develop and implement workouts for your clients.

A special thank you is in order to Steve Myrland for sharing his expertise with me concerning the development of this topic.

Olympic Lifting for Athletic Development

Olympic lifting is a sport consisting of the Clean and Jerk as well as the Snatch.  The clean is two movements, pulling the bar from the floor and catching it in a front squat position and recovering to a standing position followed by the Jerk.  At this point a consolidation of the grip is allowed as part of the recovery.  The Jerk is a short dip and drive accomplished by flexing the knees and driving the bar overhead to a locked out press position.  The catch in the Jerk is usually a split squat stance in which the athlete pushes back from the front leg before moving the rear leg in the recovery.  The Snatch is a wider grip lift (so the bar does not have to be pulled as high) with essentially the same mechanics as the clean, the difference is that the bar is racked or caught overhead in a wide grip, fully locked out press position in a deep squat.  Recovery is accomplished by standing up out of the squat and moving the feet into a comfortable standing position.  Some of the key technique cues are to pull the bar by pushing the feet through the floor, not pulling or jerking the bar as this generally disrupts the flat back, pillar core needed to execute the lift safely.  Always maintain pressure on the bar by either pulling or pushing.  In heavy loads the breath must be large and locked and held in order to support the spine as the loads are on the shoulders and transferred through the spine to the legs, feet and floor.  The arms do little other than hold the weight.  For novices, it is easy to cue them that they are jumping with weight and speed and technique are the keys, not strength.

Weight lifters in the lighter weight classes generate some of the greatest power outputs measured in sport.

Why Include Olympic Lifting as a Part of the Training Process

In Olympic lifting, the athlete is jumping with weight.  In other words, Olympic lifting can be viewed as loaded, in-place plyometrics.  In athletics, rate of force development (RFD) is the key to power.  Jumping is the key for lower body RFD.  What is sprinting other than jumping from foot to foot?  The greater the variety of drills imposed on the athlete that optimizes the RFD at varying loads, speeds, angles and directions, with consistent dosage, will increase the athletes ability to be explosive, quick, fast and powerful.  Olympic lifting is one tool that can be used to increase vertical plane RFD in the extensors of the lower body and in creating “triple extension” at the hip, knee and ankle in a parallel stance.  Single leg power is generally developed by agilities and plyometric drills.  In order to measure actual power output abilities and adjust the prescription for an athlete for any given workout the use of the Tendo unit is currently the only practical device that can be utilized to quickly determine an athletes’ ability to generate force at that moment.

Techniques of the Clean, Jerk and Snatch

The clean is a pull from the floor, a re-bending of the knees (or scoop) for the explosive second pull to lift the bar above the hips as the body is pulled under for the catch or rack. During the second pull, great hip extension will result in the bar brushing the mid to upper thigh.  Pressure is kept on the bar at all times by either pulling or pushing.  The depth of the squat during the rack is determined by the load.  The lighter the load, the higher the squat during the catch phase as the bar is pulled higher. Cleans can be classified in a number of different ways.  Olympic clean is usually executed by going deep in the hole (deep squat) to catch the rack, a power clean is usually caught higher as the athlete lacks the squat skills to go low, a hang clean is executed above the scoop from just above the knees/mid-thigh and a muscle clean is executed by using more back and upper body than legs.  The snatch is essentially the same with the exception that the grip is wider, there is more flexion at the hip, the weight is lighter, the amplitude of movement is greater and the speed of the bar is faster.  For athletic development, the snatch is rarely if ever loaded above 70 – 75% of max as speed is essential in the snatch. Remember, it is being prescribed to enhance RFD.

Teaching Olympic Lifting

Olympic Lifting is taught backwards or from the top down.  The athlete is generally taught with a dowel rod before moving to a bar.  Many times the snatch is taught before the clean as it is the more technical of the lifts.  The general techniques are to teach, in order the following cues:

Technique            Cue                        Reason

Stance                      Feet                        7-15 degrees external                                                                               rotation

Legs                          Knees                    Knees bent to kneecaps                                                                          even with toes

Posture                    Chest                      Pull shoulder blades                                                                               back or lift chest up

Grip                          Wrist                      Turn wrists down/flex                                                                         forearms for wide                                                                                                                                                                                          elbow pull

Now the athlete has two techniques to execute one at a time, a slight to moderate RDL followed by a jump.  The arms at this point do not bend at the elbow as posture and jumping are the keys.  After this is mastered, the athlete will be allowed to repeat (with verbal feedback of each cue from the athlete to you) and add a shrug to the jump.  After this is mastered a standing, medium grip upright row is executed followed by a standing medium grip upright row with an elbow whip to a front squat position, holding the bar on the front shoulders for the clean.  In the snatch, the techniques are the same but the bar is pulled with a wider grip upright row, the whip occurs to move the elbows under the bar and it is pressed overhead as the body is pushed under the bar for an elbow extended, overhead catch.

Technical Errors and Corrections

Problem                                                                         Coaching Cue

Using too much upper body                                        Use more legs, jump

Hit belly or belt with 2nd pull                                     Too much back, too little leg, use                                                                                                          more legs

Elbows too low in rack                                                  Either lazy elbow/forearms too long

Hitting knees in pull                                                      Trying to clean from                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         floor, pull from floor, clean from the hang position

Jerking from floor                                                           Push feet through the floor – do not pull from the floor

Loss of posture/pillar core                                            Lock in breath, retract shoulder blades, big chest

Lack of power                                                                    Cover bar with shoulders until 2nd pull, then cover bar                                                                                                                  with hips by great triple extension.  (FASTER!)

Rubbery core during pull                                                Lock the core, tighten the abs, pull blades back

Soft rack/catch                                                                  Put force into the floor – stomp                                                                                                             your feet on the catch

Can’t get low                                                                       Move feet wider after pull for                                                                                                                 rack/catch

Assist lift for the Olympic Lifts

The assist lifts for Olympic lifting include pulls from the floor and boxes or plinths; various deadlifts, various squats, various presses and jerks as well as a bendover back side chain movements.

Pulls – Pulls are prescribed for loading more than the athlete can catch or to train triple extension without the catch in order to save the athlete from getting beat up by catching rep after rep.  However, the eccentric ability of the legs to absorb the force of the clean is paramount for translation to generating force at the tendon in plyometric, change of direction, sprinting type activities.  In pulls, the technique is the same as in a clean from the floor, box or plinth but the bar is guided back down with no attempt at a rack.

Deadlifts – Deadlifts are executed from the normal squat stance, wide sumo stance, off of boxes/plinths or from the top down in the RDL (Russian or Romanian deadlift).  The grip is either an overhand grip or an over/under alternate style grip.  Usually the former grip is assigned.  Deadlifts are utilized to stress the back, glutes and hamstrings of the back side chain.  Reverse hypers and glute ham raises are other examples of this type of bendover exercise.

Squats – Squats are used to increase the ability of the athlete to catch or rack the load in a low position.  Power squats are done with the bar low on the back and usually a wide stance.  Power squats involve the back to a great degree.  Olympic squats are executed with the bar high on the shoulders and the stance is usually somewhat narrow, thus putting less stress on the lower back.  Front squats are executed with the bar in front of the neck with the bar supported on the shoulders and high elbows and is least stressful on the lower back.  This squat may be difficult for long forearmed athletes.  Overhead squats are executed with the bar extended overhead in a locked out position.  Overhead squats put the greatest stress on the functional mobility of the shoulders, hips and ankles as well as the core to support this squat.  The Safety Bar squat is used to stress the thoracic spine more than the lower back.  It allows the athlete to use greater loads on the hips and legs than normal squats, put less stress on the lower back, spot themselves for a great degree of safety with the handles and are generally a great addition to Olympic lifting.  Single leg squats (Bulgarian squats) are executed with one foot elevated to the rear without rotation at the hips, so the load is supported on the front leg only.  This puts greater stress on the loaded leg and much less stress on the low back.  The Soviet Bloc coaches tended to prescribe many more single leg exercises to their lifters once they were able to back squat 500 pounds (225 kilos) in order to save their backs for the lifts and pulls.

Jerks – Jerks are overhead presses in which the bar is driven up by flexing (dip) at the knees and using the legs to drive the load overhead while assisting with the shoulders and arms.  The feet will rapidly split forward and backward in order to lower the center of mass for the catch in a lunge or split squat stance.  The push jerk is an overhead press in which the legs assist the press, the feet even leave the floor, but there is no split.  The push press is executed the same with out foot movement off of the floor.  The press is executed by just using the upper body, no legs.

Combination and Complex Lifts

Combination lifts are exercise in which two or more techniques or lifts are combined in order to create a series of exercises.  For example, 3 hang snatches + 3 overhead lunges + 3 good morning to a press could be prescribed.  This would include speed pulling, core stability, push back lunges for recovery and bendovers with speed to a wide grip overhead press.  A complex lift is similar with the exception that each technique is executed in a row 3 times.  For example, 1 hang snatch + 1 overhead lunge on each leg + 1 good morning to a press x 3 repetitions.  The complex lift is more demanding on the strength fitness of the athlete.  Combination and complex lifts are excellent for stressing technical aspects of the lifts, fitness of the athlete, build up sets, as well as increasing time under tension at light to moderate loads.  In order to increase time under tension (TUT), prescribe a hold for a certain time at each change of direction, from eccentric to concentric, in the lift.  Usually it is best to prescribe a three second hold as the athlete will count too fast.  Three seconds is usually about 1 – 1.5 good seconds.  Combination and complex lifts are excellent ways to prescribe corrective exercise for athletes that are time challenged and need/want results in measurables and are not as interested in screens, assessments and injury prevention.

Why assign or prescribe Olympic Weightlifting exercises as a part of the workout or training program?

In a word – POWER.

In addition, postural strength, work capacity and mobility/stability are all byproducts of good weightlifting exercises as a part of the training program.

Speed Training Systems

Speed can be developed – if it is trained first and foremost in the training program. Speed should be considered first in the plan daily, weekly and monthly.  Speed must be trained concurrent with other systems in order to maximize the ability.  If speed training is delayed in the training cycle until the athlete is “in shape” or until the athlete perfects their form, then it is usually too late to incorporate the speed protocol due to the demands of the season. Speed should be started early in the training cycle, first in the day and early in the week. The rest and recovery from each bout of speed repetition should be a minimum of 3:00 – 5:00 minutes, depending upon the distance covered and the fitness level of the athlete.

Key Techniques of Speed

Posture – the correct posture for starting, transition, change of direction and absolute speed must become an automatic response. This posture requires a braced core, flat back, retracted shoulder blades in a “tall” posture attitude.

Core strength – is a key in order to limit energy leakage from shoulder to opposite hip as the athlete attempts to put force into the ground.

Stance – The stance is the key to the start and the start is the key to race to the finish line, the base, the ball and/or the opponent.  Whether starting up or down, linear or laterally, the stance determines the ability of the athlete to impart force into the ground, the length of the ground contact time and the ability of the athlete to maintain the proper techniques for acceleration during the second or get away step.

Casted ankle – this technique of “toe up” is key in order to impart force into the ground in a short amount of impulse time.

Thigh Separation – this cue is excellent in creating mastery of individual stride length abilities.  It tends to enhance both knee punch as well as glute extension which are critical techniques in linear speed.

Arm Drive – Arm drive is from shoulder height with the hand in front to almost shoulder height in back with the elbow (which is very limited in many over bench pressed athletes) with the hand passing even with the shorts pocket during the downward stroke.

Leg Drive – Leg drive consists of knee punch, thigh separation, high recovery with the ankle crossing above the knee and the heel just brushing the buttocks.  During the drive phase the toe never gets ahead of the knee.  In fact, as the knee begins the downward drive to the ground the knee and toe should be in a perpendicular line to the ground.

Head Position – is in the anatomical position with the “eyes on the prize”, be it the finish line, the ball or the opponent.

Speed Progression of Training Pyramid

(thanks to Dr. Bob Ward)

Over Speed

Speed Endurance

Absolute Speed for Speed

Plyometrics for Power and Acceleration

Resisted Sprints for Power and Acceleration

MediBall Drills for Speed, Power and Acceleration

Moderate Load Olympic Style Strength Training 2 – 10 sets of 1 – 3 reps

Big Load Heavy (Power Lift Style) Strength Training 3 – 8 sets of 1 – 5 reps


Speed Drills

Flying Stick Drill Set up a series of sticks or strips that begin at 7’6” between each stick.  Allow for an acceleration zone of a minimum of 15-20 yards.  The total number of sticks should allow for a minimum of 7 sticks and a maximum of 16 sticks.  The number of sticks will be determined by the speed fitness of the athlete.  If the athlete is fast and fit, the number of sticks will be in the mid-teens.  If the athlete is slow or does not possess adequate speed fitness, then the number of sticks will be in the high single digits.  Once the athlete becomes comfortable, the next lane of sticks is set at +6” or 8’.  The next lane is 8’6”, the next lane is 9’.  If the athlete is national class and/or tall, then the stick drill can be increased in 9” increments – 7’6” to 8’3” to 9’.  As soon as the athlete loses form and begins to reach then he must move back down one level, increase his speed or maintain better form.

Speed Tests

10, 20, 40 and 60 yard sprint – from a start utilizing either a 2 (upright) or 3 point stance, begin timing on the athletes first movement.  Stop timing as the athlete’s core passes the finish line.

Flying 20 and 40 yard sprint – utilizing a 15 – 25 yard acceleration zone time the athlete from one end of the flying sprint zone to the other end.

3 Step 5 and 5 Step 10 Drill – Have the athlete with national or world class speed attempt to 3 step the first 5 yards and 5 step the first 10 yards of the 20, 40 or 60.  Do not count the first step (which just gets the athlete to the start line).

Stride Length – Utilize a 20 – 25 yard acceleration zone and measure the 2 longest strides from the tip of the rear toe to the tip of the front toe.  This should equal out to 1.265 multiplied by the athletes height in inches, + or – 4 inches.

Sample Speed Training Programs

Absolute                           Sport                           Sport

Sport                                Speed                         Special

Speed                            Endurance              Endurance I

Intensity                                           95% +                             90 – 95% +                   90 – 95% +

Distance of Run                           15 – 35 yds                       40 – 100 yds                100 – 200 yds

Reps                                                       3 – 6                                    3 – 6                             1 – 5

Sets                                                         1 – 3                                    1 – 2                             1

Total Distance in Session          45–630 yds                     120–1200 yds             100–1000 yds

Recovery / Reps                              2 – 5 min.                          2 – 5 min.                 5 – 10 min.

Recovery / Sets                               8 – 10 min.                      8 – 10 min.                    N / A

The key to speed and acceleration is to train it first, foremost and it must be the overall focus of the program.  Strength is easy, lift heavy stuff and people get strong.  Hypertrophy is up to the athlete and what food choices they make and how they utilize nutrient timing.  Power is the combination of speed and strength and should be a by focus of the focus on speed.  If speed is to be enhanced, then it must be a focus of the program.

Dynamic Warm-Up Track Drills: Why Do Them? What Do They Do?

Many performance professionals include track type drills as a part of a dynamic warm-up. Drills such as skips, butt kicks, shuffles, carioca and back pedal are a staple of many dynamic warm – up programs.  But, why do we do those drills for performance athletes and performance clients? Riding a bike, jogging on a treadmill and calisthenics are all good options for raising core temperature, increasing heart rate and upping the respiration rate, which are the goal of a good warm-up.

Most performance athletes and performance clients compete or are very active in ground based endeavors such as sports or exercise classes or have hobbies and/or jobs that involve moving with speed and efficiency.  Most of the drills we use in dynamic warm-up patterns are repeat opportunities for first step and get away step mechanics practice.  If done with focus, technical proficiency and power, the athlete can repeatedly practice the posture, mechanics, arm drive and core stability needed in order to become a better athlete in terms of moving with efficiency.

The drills and what they are doing follow:

Linear Drills

Skips – Single and double leg skips are repeat first step mechanics for linear movement.  Knee punch action with a toe-up casted ankle are critical for proper force to be imparted into the ground which will in turn drive the body forward.  If the glute is engaged on the back side as the foot makes ground contact, the body will be propelled linearly and cover ground.  If not, the ground reaction forces of the foot contact will cause the body to move vertically as much as linearly.  Common errors include no force into the ground (this is huge), poor casted ankle/foot drop, collapsed posture, poor arm action.

Butt Kicks – Single and double leg butt kicks are to reinforce the cyclic action of sprinting.  When sprinting, the heel will almost brush the buttocks as the ankle crosses above the opposite knee.  When running, the ankle will cross at the opposite knee.  When jogging, the ankle will cross below the opposite knee. If the athlete has a casted ankle with the toe-up, then the butt kicks will be springy upon ground contact.  Most athletes will let the ankle drop and allow the foot to “reach” for the ground as contact is made.  This will add to ground contact time and is a major difference between running and sprinting.  Posture should be tall with a braced core, good arm action and hips over the toes.  Common errors include flat-footed ground contact, poor arm action, excessive knee lift with the butt kick and too much forward lean and/or flex at the hips.

Slide Kicks – Double Leg slide kicks are excellent for training transition from starting acceleration to absolute speed in sprinting.  This occurs for most team sport athletes beginning at the 10-20 yard mark.  With a toe-up casted ankle, the athlete stands tall and begins to jack hammer the foot up and down above the ankle.  Quickly the amplitude of movement will increase as the foot/ankle will go up to the opposite knee and jackhammer to the ground.  The athlete will begin to lean at the hips and the jackhammer force will begin to propel the athlete linearly.  As the lean increases, the amount of ground covered between each step will increase as the force the athlete imparts on ground contact will propel the body forward.  The jackhammer action does not change as the speed increases.  Common errors include dropped foot for contact (no casted toe-up ankle), collapsed posture, obvious change of gears from acceleration to a run rather than acceleration into a sprint, poor arm action and flat–footed ground contact.

Cycle Kicks – Single and double leg cycle kicks are the most technically difficult to learn to execute and usually takes 4-6 weeks of mastering the other three linear drills before this drill is incorporated into the dynamic warm-up.  Cycle kicks are a combination of the other three drills and are a mimicking of the sprint cycle action. The difference is that this action is done in warm-up and is fast in execution but does not impart the force that is used in acceleration and sprinting.  Focus on tall hips, braced core, heel-up, toe-up, arm action can all be the focus of this drill which creates a slightly different exercise on each rep as the focus is changed.  Common errors include uneven leg cycles, poor high ankle recovery and collapsed posture.

Lateral Drills –

Pull Shuffle – Pull shuffle is what we normally think of as a shuffle drill.  The front leg is pulling the body forward.  This is what is used in basketball defense as the athlete shadows an offensive player that is a comfortable distance away.  Common errors include too much external rotation of the legs, over striding with the front side pull leg,

Push Shuffle – The push shuffle is much more violent and explosive as the back leg will impart great force into the ground in order to move the body laterally.  Knee punch, toe-up casted ankle technical emphasis is reinforced.  The knee of the push leg will be ahead of the toe in order to impart force on the push.  Again, think of the basketball athlete on defense, but this time the offensive player is very close and the defender is attempting to beat the offensive player to a spot in order to redirect his movement.  Common errors include too much external rotation of the legs, pulling with the front side leg rather than pushing with the back side leg and being too outside dominant (usually due to too much double leg squatting) thus being bow legged with the knee outside the foot rather than on the inside edge of the foot for the push-off.

Lateral Skip – Is a repeat action of the first step in push shuffle in order to cut off an opponent.  Keeping the shoulders and chest perpendicular to the acceleration direction as the arms drive from front to back.  The lateral movement occurs from the backside leg putting force into the ground.  The front side leg will cover the ground in relation to the force imparted by the back leg.  As in any acceleration drill the front side leg should have a knee-up/toe-up focus with the foot contacting the ground under the hips.  In other words, don’t overreach or overt stride with the front side leg and attempt to pull the hips forward.  Common errors are no backside knee punch, poor rhythm, over striding with the front side foot and bad arm mechanics.

Carioca – The carioca drill is an opportunity to repeat the first step mechanics for the crossover step.  High knee action across to the opposite hip with the little toe up focus to keep the knee ahead of the toe for good acceleration mechanics is critical for optimal acceleration mechanics.  The back side arm action must be with a 90 degree flexed elbow in a front to back action rather than crossing the mid-line in order to prevent the shoulders from rotating toward the direction of acceleration, thus creating unwanted motion during this repeat drill.   The rotation should occur below the hip while the torso above the hip is relatively perpendicular to the direction of acceleration.  Common errors include poor casted ankle/foot drop, low knee recovery, poor landmark placement of backside knee-punch, poor arm mechanics and collapsed posture.

Crossover Run – the Crossover run is the front side/back leg of the carioca drill repeated.  It is imperative for the backside elbow to drive back and not cross the mid-line in order to prevent torso rotation.  The backside knee should punch up and across the hips aiming for the front side hip.  The little toe should be the focus and in a toe-up position. This allows the knee punch to be optimally in front of the foot in order to impart force back into the ground in a backward vector.  The shoulders should stay perpendicularly square to the direction of acceleration.  The downward knee punch and rearward elbow punch should be equally forceful in order to create maximal acceleration in reaction to the ground contact force.

Crossover Skip – The crossover skip is usually easier to learn than the crossover run for most people.  This is more of a pattern drill than an acceleration drill in order for athletes to become comfortable with the rhythm of the crossover pattern.  It is a drill to introduce in the progression in order to make the coordination of the crossover run easier for the athlete to internalize.  The focus is on the rhythm of the drill first, followed by cueing the knee punch, arm action and finally the little toe up mechanics.  Since a skip is slower than a run, it is easier for the athlete to be aware of the movements and techniques needed to optimize the pattern.  Common errors include not skipping or skipping with only one leg.

Backward Drills

Back Pedal – The back pedal is to teach stopping mechanics for change of direction.  Hip, knee and ankle flexion as well as posture is critical in order to prevent the collapse and possible internal rotation that occurs all too often as athletes attempt to absorb force.  Many time this poor force absorption pattern results in an ACL rupture.  The key points of cueing are chest over knees, knees over toes. The feet should be forward and the arms should be driven backward forcefully at the elbow.  The posture should mimic as if the athlete were doing a good morning or in other words the tall, braced core, flat back attitude should be apparent.

Backward Run – The backward run is prescribed to emphasize and create awareness of backside mechanics.  Explosive elbow drive, heel – up and reach, posture and ground contact point are all similar, but much more critical to locomotion when attempting to go fast backwards.  In order to execute this drill, it is much easier to start with a back pedal and as the speed increases, instruct the athlete to get tall, hammer the elbows back and get the heels up and reach.  Instruct the athlete to lean in the direction of acceleration with the hips tall and great posture as top end speed is attained.  Common errors include leaning away from the direction going (which results in a lot of work and very little locomotion), low heel recovery, poor arm mechanics, poor posture and externally rotated feet.

Backward Skip – the backward skip is a drill that is prescribed in order to allow the athlete to feel the heel brush off of the buttocks.  Optimal posture is easier to attain, arm mechanics are slower and can be emphasized and foot contact is much easier to correct.  The common error is a lack of rhythm for the movement pattern.

Backward Butt Kicks – This drill will correct a lack of heel brush off of the buttocks.  Long-term joggers and bigger athletes such as offensive linemen in football will benefit greatly from this drill.  The emphasis on backside heel to buttocks brush will pay dividends for these athletes as high speed, absolute sprinting will show mechanical improvement with high ankle recovery which in turn allows for stride length optimization as well as better ground force production due to the corresponding optimal knee punch.

General Corrections

External Rotation of the Legs – This is usually due to too much double leg squatting or leg pressing and a corresponding dominance of the outside sling or outer, lateral areas of the hips and legs which create tighter TFL, IT band and vastus lateralus causing the external rotation expressed in the lower leg and foot contact mechanics.  In order to correct this the addition of single leg exercises such as Bulgarian (also known as pitcher squats), multi-direction lunges and multi-direction single leg squats are critical.  Especially useful to correct this is the lateral lunge or squat and the scorpion lunge or squat.  Additionally, the lateral leg musculature needs to be lengthened and/or released via stretching, massage and/or application of vibration.

Rhythm/Drill Mechanics (walk before run) – Just as in learning any new skill, it is best to execute it walking before trotting, jogging before running and running before sprinting.  The addition of the skip application of the drill allows more explosive forces to be applied but at a slower tempo of movement allowing for corrections to be cued and internalized before sprinting is attempted.

Posture (Strength/awareness/age & maturity) – Posture is more complex as there are a variety of issues that could contribute to a collapsed posture.  The easiest correction is just due to a lack of awareness.  Creating focus via a verbal cue many times is all it takes to correct this problem.  Tight hip flexor complex is also a reason for collapsed core as the front side core above the hip will flex on the hip opposite the knee punch as a reaction to the tight hip flexors on the straight leg side.  Poor front side low core strength and stability will also contribute to postural collapse as the upper core attempts to assist in the lifting of the heavy lower limb during acceleration mechanics and the corresponding drills.  Many times the growth spurt experienced by emerging athletes will exacerbate this problem as the rapid lever lengthening will make stability strength much more difficult to master and/or maintain in these drills.  At full speed/absolute speed the athlete should be tall, chest over the hips, hips over ground contact point and be “planed out” like a boat on water.  In other words, the athlete should be sprinting up on top of the ground/track/field/court for a short distance.  This is not sport speed but speed development and is different than the speed that is used in sport competition.

Poor Arm Drive – This is usually due to lack of awareness and/or front side shoulder tightness.  Front side anterior deltoid and pec stretching will allow for additional ROM.  To create greater awareness, add a very light weight (1-2 lbs) to the hands of the athlete or place an ankle band from the webbing between the thumb and forefinger to the elbow which will not allow arm straightening during the hammer back phase of the arm drive.  Arm drive should be from “cheek to cheek” or shoulder height in front with the hands and almost shoulder height in back with the elbow.

Foot Drop or Poor Casted Ankle – Have the athlete rub the toes up on the top of the shoes. Have them march in place with a casted ankle.  Why is this so critical?  When the foot drops and “reaches” for the ground, the ground contact time is increased and the tendons are not loaded as much as the muscles are loaded.  When the mucles are loaded, the athlete is running. When the tendons are loaded, the athlete is sprinting.  That is why conditioning is concerned with volume and sprinting/speed development is concerned with quality.

These drills will assist the client/athlete to improve first step and get away step quickness if done with focus, effort and intensity.  Impulse into the ground, posture, mechanics and being engaged mentally will greatly increase the quality of the efforts which will increase the abilities of the client/athlete, if done with consistency.

Agility Loads and Progressions

In my experience of training athletes the need for a progression of individual agility/mobility drills as well as a generalized load progression is very apparent. Garrett Giemont was the first individual that enlightened me to the concept of agility drill progressions. Mike Arthur and Bryan Bailey of the University of Nebraska also helped shaped my thoughts as they felt that agility/mobility drill for sport are nothing more than multi-directional plyometrics. Melding these concepts with the experience of observing literally thousands of athletes executing millions of reps have created the following progression examples.

Level 1: Linear Movement requiring various forms of locomotion.

Shuffle into a run carioca into a run backpedal into a run
Butt kick into a run crossover run into a run backward skip into a run
Slide kick into a run Lateral skip into a run backward butt kick into a run
Cycle kick into a run shuffle skip into a run

All of these movements require coordination and varying levels of impulse into the ground. However, depending upon the distance of the run and the violence of the transition to sprinting, these drills are relatively safe to prescribe to an athlete early in the preparation process.

Level 2: Speed Angles 1 – Drills requiring a change of direction of less than (or more than, depending on your orientation) 90 degrees requiring various forms of locomotion (such as crossover runs, carioca runs, sprint – shuffle – backpedal runs, etc.).

Circle drills “W” Drill “L” Drill

Level 3: Speed Angles 2 – Agility drills requiring a change of direction of more than 90 degrees, but less than 180 degrees (down & back shuttle type drills), while utilizing various forms of locomotion.

“T” Drills “V” or Triangle Drills and Square Drills

Level 4: Speed Angles 3 – Shuttle type drills that are down and back in nature on the same path that also utilize various forms of locomotion.

5 – 10 – 5 Short shuttle suicide/jingle-jangles and Sprint/Backpedal Drills

The load of these drills must be figured much as you weight strength training exercises.
The total volume is figured as sets and reps and will suffice in order to quantify how much work is done from a volume standpoint. Generally, most drills are shorter in nature, generally in the 5 – 10 yard range of acceleration before the athlete must decelerate, change direction and re-accelerate. Depending on the number of legs there are in the drill combined with the number of trips per leg will generate the distance load.

For example, if I prescribe a square or box drill and the athlete will be required to run 4 legs with each leg being 7 yards in length, the entire drill will be 28 yards per repetition.  If the athlete executes 6 reps at this particular station, then the volume load for this drill is 6 reps and the distance load is 168 yards. Some rules of thumb I gathered over the years of assigning agility training sets and reps for athletes and teams concerning yardage are as follows:

Sets            Reps           Volume           Yardage

Level 1           2 – 4           2 – 4             4 – 16          160 – 640

Level 2           3 – 5           3 – 5             9 – 25          360 – 1000

Level 3           4 – 6           4 – 6            16 – 36         640 – 1440

When developing the training session for the day, the work load for the week and the program for the month I found it better to begin with a large number of lower level drills and very few if any of the more stressful level drills. At the beginning of the training session the athletes will be less fit, experience more soreness and be more prone to injury and subsequent loss of preparation time. As the athletes progressed in response to the demands of training, the stress of the load in both volume and intensity levels of the drills would be increased.

As always, you must determine the ability of your population to handle the load prescribed. The above chart is for collegiate and professional athletes. For high school or middle school athletes, the total loads will be less in volume, probably 30-50% less.

Another factor to consider is what type of coaching is gong on during and after the drill for each athlete. Are they being coached on movement mechanics, posture, footwork and angles of attack or is most of the coaching “c’mon, get after it boy, you’re moving like molasses” type of instruction.

Remember to keep in mind the overall effect of the training load for each week and month. Sprints, plyometrics, speed development, strength training, and medicine ball drills all need to be factored into the equation of the training prescription. In and of itself each training parameter may look like just enough. However, when examined with the overall program in mind, it is easy to over load the athlete with too much cumulative training stress. Combine training with too little focus on recovery/regeneration and the injury bug will soon rear its’ head in the form of shin splints, low back problems, impingements, illness and the various forms of the itis’s.