Sep 10, 2007

Training Correctly for Vertical and Acceleration Power

By Chris Ecklund, MA, CSCS

A report on “how youth learn” in the literature (Plisk 2003) as well as 10 years experience of teaching movement has all but proven to me that “teaching the movement” often involves too much thinking and very little actual movement improvement in athletes during the training session (and the respective application on the field). It’s become painfully obvious to me that there’s too much coaching going on and not enough progression. As an athlete, you can’t always “fix” a movement or performance. Often times you have to progress into it and to allow it to happen.

This is exemplified in no small way by the following scenario: Athlete #1 is instructed how to perform box (or depth) jumps. He is instructed that of primary importance is minimal contact time on the ground, a hip-loaded contact position on the ground (and again upon the top of the box), a soft landing, good knee and toe alignment, neutral spine, and the correct timing of the forward arm swing to maximize jump height. Ok, now do all those at once…ready…go!

Are you confused yet? Do you remember anything I just said?

Let’s look at Athlete #2. He is shown how to do “Box Jump Up and Downs” with no countermovement (a rapid downward prior to upward movement), correct posture and arm position focusing on landing mechanics. When the athlete is ready, higher boxes are used as well as adding countermovements and single leg variation to maximize landing mechanics control. And finally, when the athlete is ready, the true box (or depth) jump is performed. While Athlete #1 may or may not be able to handle the scenario given, often times (and especially in group settings) using this methodology will most likely cause more athletes harm than good. Also, trying to unteach poor mechanics through explanation is extremely difficult (again, especially in large groups). Moving most athletes and groups of athletes through better progressions ensure better performance outcomes sooner with less injuries.

Training athletes to become better performers and injury avoiders is therefore not just the manipulation of the higher box heights, heavier bench (because nobody cares how much you can bench if you just got leveled on the field), and bigger biceps (hope you got that figured out by now!). Though they are extremely valuable and definitely come in to play with all individuals, they do not and cannot stand alone. Often times appropriate movement adjustments and techniques can yield similar, safer and more progressively overloaded improvements in athletes than variable adjustments.

It is with this mindset that the following training protocol was developed. Follow the progressions. Learn how to move appropriately FIRST! Here’s the deal…you learn how to move, you apply power in more appropriate directions, you jump higher and run faster BEFORE you even get stronger or more powerful. Can you imagine what will happen when you add more weight and intensity AFTER you’ve already got that?! I’ve helped countless athletes add power and inches to their jumps through this progression…many of them even IN season.

Box Jump Up and Down No CM
Linear 2-2, 1-2, 1-1 (one foot to other, same to same)
Lateral 2-2, 1-2 (both outside and inside foot), 1-1 (outside to inside, outside to outiside, inside to inside, inside to outside)

Sets: 2-3
Reps: 5-10 for double leg / 3-6 for single leg
Frequency: 2-4 times/week alternating linear and lateral days (keep daily repetitions below 50)
Master Double Leg first

Key Coaching Points:
1. Posture and alignment should be maintained throughout.
2. Focus on hip loading more than knee loading initially (hips back instead of knees forward) to maximize glute, hamstring and groin power.
3. No Countermovement. At least a 2 second pause in the squatted/hip loaded position at initiation must happen prior to take off.
4. Until you can land all jumps perfectly do not add the Countermovement.
5. Land as quietly as possible.

Starting Position:
1. Neutral Spine (all 4 curves that exist in your spine should be in your spine). Don’t slouch, round out, or flatten the spine.
2. Draw in. Keep your belly button pulled in toward your spine tight. This engages the transverse abdominals and stabilizes the spine and hips and increases power development.
3. Alignment. Knees should be lined up with toes, feet flat (but pressure toward ball of foot).
4. ¼ to ½ Squatted depth in a Hip Loaded position. Here’s the easiest way to figure out if you’ve got it. Stand face up to a wall with toes no further than 1” away from wall. Can you squat down to a ¼ or ½ squat position without falling backward or losing knee toe alignment. Use that as your guide.
5. Arms back.
6. Feet hip to shoulder width (hint: your shoulders aren’t as wide as you think).

Take Off:
1. Explode upward: Fully extend legs, drive hips forward and swing arms up to the sky.
2. Try to get your body fully extended in the air prior to landing.
3. Maintain posture and alignment as you leave the ground.

Finish Position:
1. If you landed like you started you’re on the right track. Everything you started with should be the way you finish (alignment, posture, draw in, etc.).
2. Land as quietly as possible: if you can land quietly chances are you are doing a good job controlling the movement with your muscles (avoids injury and prolongs your career). If you can’t do that, get ready for joint pain in 2 years…and for the rest of your life.
3. Arms forward: allow your arms to be out in front of your body at the finish to counter balance your body.
4. Get your foot flat: not on impact, but as you come down into your squat. I see many athletes make the mistake of trying to stay on the balls of their feet. Don’t. It’s not better.

Plisk, S. (2003). Principle based teaching practices. Strength and Conditioning Journal, 25(5), 57-64.

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