Tips & Tricks

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

Number


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.

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.

Pattern Quality: The Impact of Exercise Prescription Variables on Overuse Injuries

It is important in prescribing exercise programs to be aware of several variables and the impact the exercise prescription can have on a person that is not ready to execute certain drills, movements, loads and intensities due to lack of training age, poor general fitness and/or  inadequate movement patterns due to lack of mobility and/or stability.  Some popular exercise programs assign exceedingly large loads of volume and/or intensities (resistance, speed and/or range of motion) with little regard to the ability and state of preparation of the end user.  The human body is a superb machine, able to compensate for many inadequacies and still execute some form of the movement, even though the pattern is less than ideal.   Over time, especially with increasingly larger loads/volumes, the body will begin to exhibit symptoms that relate back to these less than ideal patterns of movements.  Poor compensation patterns of movement may ask muscles to do jobs they were not designed to do, in a sequence and order that is not optimal for the pattern, or put joints in poor positions in terms of their designed function.  These symptoms include low back tightness; hamstring tightness and pulls; tendonitis and bursitis in various areas; stiffness in joints; and over time, the inability to execute certain movements due to pain and restrictions in muscles and/or immobility in the joints themselves.

Let me explain.  If a person is unable to squat in a normal squat pattern because they tend to load the front side by bending the knees first (rather than hinging at the hip), collapse forward at the trunk due a weak core or tend to shift onto one leg due to a lack of flexibility in a muscle group or lack of mobility in a joint, is it wise to load them with 40-50 reps, added resistance, speed as in jumps or large range of motion movements?  They may be able to execute the prescribed workload (4-5 x 10 with a 20 pound vest and squat below parallel) and not immediately have any noticeable ill effects.  However, over time, the cumulative effect of repeated poor movement patterns will cause training adaptations that may not be ideal and could contribute to muscle, tendon, ligament, joint and disc problems.

If the professional tasked with prescribing exercise programming is aware of some simple parameters when implementing the exercise prescription, then the program designed for the athlete will not only prepare them for the rigors of their occupation and hobbies, but can also enhance the athlete’s ability to stay fit, healthy and active at an exceedingly high level for as long as they choose.

Observing the athlete moving in any skill or pattern begs the question, is the pattern optimal and clean in its execution.  If the answer is yes, it is ok to execute that pattern.  However, if load is added in terms of speed, additional ROM, volume, TUT (Time the muscle is Under Tension – i.e. heavy and slow, light and fast or medium loads with pauses or stops in the range of motion) or some other variation and the pattern changes for the worse, then the athlete is not prepared adequately. This compensation is due to a weakness, imbalance, lack of mobility or stability and negatively impacts the ability to execute that exercise prescribed. At this point, a decision must be made to either restrict the load/intensity or regress in the progression and periodization of the exercise prescription.

However, in some instances, the movement improves, providing a clue as to the cause of the poor pattern.  If the athlete is unable to perform a decent squat pattern, i.e. collapses forward in the trunk region, but when load is added in the form of a medicine ball or weight held at bent arms length which subsequently improves the movement pattern, this tell us something.  The front of the core (abs) is a spring built for resistance to collapse.  With the addition of external load at bent arm’s length, many times the body will compensate by engaging the core and resisting the collapse, thus causing improvement in the squat pattern in terms of the anterior core no longer collapsing.

As a professional tasked with assigning exercise, if optimal pattern awareness is made a part of the exercise prescription process, then managing the physical ailments by our athletes as they age will be made easier by the type and quality of training the end user does in their younger years.  No pain – no gain is no way to prepare the people we are entrusted with improving their fitness abilities.  No train – no gain combined with train for stability/mobility for enhanced physical ability to bend, rotate and extend with strength, power and fitness is a way to approach program design and exercise prescription for the diverse population that presents itself each and every day.  Pattern, progression and periodization pave the way to optimal movements, continued progress and few injuries.

Neutral or Natural Spine? Which is Optimal for Health and Performance?

There has been great controversy over the past several years about the position of the spine (specifically the low back) as it relates to optimal performance and long term health.  Is the Lordotic spine healthy?  It seems to function quite nicely for a great many athletes.  What about the Kyphotic spine?  This back position seems to produce the greatest amount of symptoms and problems.  But what about the concept of “neutral” spine, how do we define it, what is it?   Is it braced, drawn in, tail tucked, flat back bowed, arched or what?  How do we attain it?  Why are we so worried about it?  What happens if I don’t have it?  How do I get it?  Where do I find it?  Who invented it?

Let’s look at some definitions.

Another way to look at this concept is the tilt of the pelvis.  In lordosis, the pelvis is rotated forward or anteriorly.  In kyphosis, the pelvis is rotated posteriorly.  In neutral, the pelvis is aligned.  In examining this concept as a performance practitioner rather than a researcher, athletic trainer or physical therapist has led me to some conclusions.  First of all is the pelvic position and the corresponding lumbar spine position resulting in some type of symptom manifesting itself in terms of pain, discomfort, tightness or inhibition of performance.  If so, then I will prescribe some corrective exercises, stretching, foam rolling in order to address the inhibited performance due to pain, discomfort and tightness.  I will also refer this person to an athletic trainer for further evaluation.  If there is no pain, discomfort, tightness or inhibited performance, then why fix it if it ain’t broke?  Most sprinter, hurdler, jumper, power, speed athletes will have a lordotic lower spine.  If they are asymptomatic and pass the intrinsic muscle tests for the pelvic floor and lower core region – then train.  The kyphotic person may need some remedial work, regardless of symptom level if you plan on loading the spine with squats, cleans, deadlifts or other types or resistance exercises that place load through the core.  According to Dr. Stuart McGill, one of North Americas leading experts on the spine and its ability to withstand load a flat lumbar spine will tend to exhibit symptoms or problems much more often under load stress than a lordotic spine.  Extension work for the kyphotic spine will be prescribed in order to enhance the lumbar area’s ability to withstand load.

My concern is the ruckus over the “neutral” spine concept and its application to performance training.  After listening to many experts argue over the efficacy of this concept (it reminds me of the back side of the “drawing in” controversy), reading about this in the various publications concerned with performance and health exercise information as well as coaching thousands of athletes performing literally millions of repetitions over the past 25+ years I have come to the conclude the following observations.  In a nutshell, the “neutral” spine is a manufactured and artificial position for the lumbar region.  The term I feel much more comfortable with is the “natural” spine position.  Here is a practical application of the difference.  Have the client/athlete reach overhead until they feel skinny.  At this point, have them take a big, deep breath and lock it in as if you were going to punch them in the stomach.  While maintaining this core-lumbar position, drop the arms, exhale and drop into a basic athletic position.  This is a natural spine position that is ready to absorb and produce force throughout the core region.  In order to convince the skeptic, have the client/athlete produce a lordotic lumbar spine while in basic athletic position and then press down on their shoulders much in the manner of a resistance squat load.  Repeat this drill with a kyphotic lumbar spine and ask the client/athlete, “ which is better to absorb and produce force?”.  Then, if the client/athlete or colleague is still not convinced, ask them to assume the “neutral” spine position and repeat the drill a final time.  The asymptomatic, “neutral” spine is a manufactured position that is unable to be replicated during the duress of performance.  It also goes against the concept of maintaining pillar core integrity in order to transmit the power generated from the legs into the shoulders, arms, hands or implement with very little flexion, extension or rotation in the lumbar spine, until the mobility of the hips and thoracic region have been exhausted.

Dr. McGill explained this concept to me at a seminar in which in a one on one conversation I had asked him why I was being instructed at a performance center to teach the tail tucked position in training performance individuals.  His first response was “I would have no idea”.  When he laughed and said he would expound upon his point, I knew he was teasing me and asked him to please continue.  He asked me if I would humor him in a little experiment.  I said “sure”.  He then instructed me to assume an athletic position, “tuck my tail” and then react to his instruction for the next 30 or so seconds.  At this time he commanded me to “jump, do a squat thrust, shuffle right, shuffle left, do a quarter turn right, do a quarter turn left, squat, buzz my feet, lunge right, lunge left and get back into position”.  At this point, he asked me what had happened to my lumbar postural position.  I responded that I had no idea.  He stated that was his point – that artificial/manufactured core positions are not practical to teach for performance athletes that are asymptomatic.  In rehab settings in which specific symptoms or deficiencies are being addressed then artificial spine positions are certainly a part of the rehabilitation protocol.   The natural lumbar spine position with core integrity to withstand force in multiple planes as well as transmit force in a variety of angles while still maintaining the ability to respire (without holding your breath) is a huge piece of performance that allow us as coaches and trainers to unlock the power of the legs and hips and express that power in our sports.  This “natural” spine position combined with hip mobility, the skill of disassociation of the hip – shoulder complex and internal coordination resulting in huge force summation creates the physical performances we all long to enhance with our expertise.

Beginning Strength Training Loads Based on Percentages of Body Weight

Many times it is very difficult to determine what level of load to use as you begin to resistance train.  I believe you must have the athlete/client demonstrate a certain level of skill with body weight as the resistance before moving on to external resistance loading.  This may be something as basic as the 20 rep rule where the person must be able to do 20 quality reps of a movement before adding external loading.  Being able to demonstrate twenty quality reps of the squat, push – up, lunge, step – up, back raise or glute ham and the pull – up are good base lines to use.  As long as the patterns are clean and the movements are controlled and stable it is now acceptable to add resistance once the baseline threshold has been met or exceeded.  Where do we begin?  Below are some suggested loads to use for some of the exercises and movements we commonly prescribe in resistance training.  There are no set or rep guidelines, those are up to you.  Remember, the chart below is an example of a continuum that can be implemented with respect to the abilities of the athlete/client.  The determination of the sets and reps will move the difficulty up and down the continuum of training.  For example, 3 x 10 will be much more difficult than 3 x 5 at the same relative load due to the simple math of 30 reps (3 x 10) is much greater than 15 reps (3 x 5).

LEG EXERCISES

Exercise         Untrained                     Novice             Intermediate               Advanced                Athletic

Squats             Bodyweight(20 reps)      35% of BW           65% of BW                   100% of BW           125% of BW

Increment Change – 10%

Dead Lift          Bodyweight(20 reps)      35% of BW           65% of BW                   100% of BW         125% of BW

Increment Change – 10%

Leg Press           50% of BW                     75% of BW          100% of BW                 125% of BW             150% of BW

Increment Change – 15%

1 Leg Press        25% of BW                    50% of BW            65% o BW                   80% of BW              95% of BW

Increment Change of 10%

Step – Up        Body weight (20)             10% of BW             25% of BW                    40% of BW             55% of BW

Increment Change – 5 % of Body weight

Lunge              Body weight (20)             10% of BW              25% of BW                    40% of BW            55% of BW

Increment Change – 5% of Body weight

Jump Squat      Body weight (20)             2.5% of BW               5% of BW               7.5% of BW        10% of BW

For Power  Increment Change – 2.5%

Jump Squat      Body weight (20)              5% of BW               10% of BW             15% of BW          20% of BW

For Strength  Increment Change – 5%


BENDOVER EXERCISES

Exercise               Untrained                 Novice                Intermediate             Advanced                 Athletic

Stiff Leg Dead Lift     20% of BW            40% of BW               60% of BW                  80% of BW              100% of BW

Increment Change 5% of BW

RDL                 10% of BW                30% of BW               50% of BW                 70% of BW               90% of BW

Increment of Change 5% of BW


UPPER BODY “PUSH” EXERCISES

Exercise                Untrained              Novice               Intermediate              Advanced             Athletic

Bench Press          Push – Ups (20)        25% of BW                50% of BW                  75% of BW            100% of BW

Increment Change 5%

Incline Press    20 Feet Up Push – Ups   20% of BW              40% of BW                  60% of BW               80% of BW

Increment Change 5%

Behind Neck  Prs    5% of BW                15% of BW              35% of BW                  50% of BW               65% of BW

Increment Change 2.5 – 5%

DB Bench               Push – Ups (20)       15% of BW           30% of BW                    45% of BW                60% of BW

Wt in each hand Increment Change 2.5 – 5%

DB Incline      20 Feet Up Push – Ups    10% of BW           20% of BW                    30% of BW                40% of BW

Wt in each hand Increment Change 2.5 – 5%

DB Shlder Prs         5% of BW              10% of BW              17.5% of BW                25% of BW              32.5% of BW

Wt in each hand Increment Change 2.5%


UPPER BODY “PULL” EXERCISES

Exercise             Untrained                Novice               Intermediate             Advanced                  Athletic

Pull – Ups        Assisted 50% of BW   Assisted 25%      Bodyweight (5)         Bodyweight (15)         Bodyweight +5%

Increment Change Assisted 10 – 15% Reps +5 per set Weight 2.5% or Pause ea. ¼ rep

Pulldowns                25% of BW         40% of BW               60% of BW                 80% of BW               100%+ of BW

Increment Change 5

1 Arm DB Rows     10% of BW                   17.5% of BW          25% of BW             32.50 % of BW           40% of BW

Increment Change 5%

Individuals will vary greatly from exercise to exercise based on maturity, injury history and training age.  This is a guide to determine a starting point for the individual.  If the individual is overweight, then the load may be set up as a percentage of Fat Free Body Weight.  A functional screen, movement assessment, flexibility test and strength evaluation will assist greatly in determining the actual abilities of the client, athlete or patient.