Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Presented By: Joe McCullum, Level 10 Fitness

UBC Thunderbirds Strength and Conditioning Club


·         What is agility? In laymen’s terms, it’s the ability to stop and start with some level of control when faced with some sort or stimulus (visual, verbal, spatial, kinesthetic) or opposing movements in any direction.  

·         Before throwing a bunch of cones on the floor and telling your athletes to run to them, what are some of the key factors we should be looking at?

o   Have you taught them the basic body position and mechanics to change direction as you would sprint mechanics or any other technique?

o   Base level of strength/stability/balance.  This is always a work in progress and does not mean you can’t do some level of work. 

o   Mobility/movement patterning/sequenceàcan your athlete flex, extend and rotate?  If so, where are they initiating these movements from?

o   Can they create tension correctly? Hip hinge patterns

o   Can they move laterally and backwards

o   Do they push or pull?

o   Can they stop?  Can they change elevation? 

o   Can they start explosively?

o   What happens to their body position after they start explosively?  What do their feet do?

o   Are you prepared to stop when their technique starts to fail?  Quality of movement is key for engraining the correct patterning

·         If they are unable to do any of the above does that mean they do not qualify for agility training?

o   In short, no.  Like everything in strength and conditioning; every movement has ample progressions and regressions.

·         If an athlete doesn’t have the strength or ability to change direction at low speeds, what happens when they repeat these movements at any sort of velocity with poor form? 

o   We cannot control what they do on their fields of play, but if they lack the base strength and mechanics needed, we will be repeating a negative motor pattern that will be reflected in game and practice settings.  We pay close attention to technique in the weight room, so why not here?

o   Do they step left to go right or back to go forward?

·         Can they stand on one leg?  Can they do a bodyweight squat? Can they do a low level shuffle and stick and actually stick it with correct tracking patterns?

·         Since agility requires a change of elevation at some level, where do they bend from? 

o    Do they flex at the waist to lower their body position or at the knees and hips?

o    Do they use their lumbar spine or glutes to extend their hips? 

o   What does their torso and head do (lateral flexion and bobble heads)?

o    Do their arms help to initiate a torso rotation?

o   Can they stick the landing of a depth drop (split, single leg, both legs)?

·         Can they do a waiters bow?  Are they flexing/hinging at the lumbar spine or hips? Do they understand what tension is?

·         Agility occurs in all directions, hence the need to understand the mechanics of lateral, transverse and backward movement patterns

·         What is more powerful, pushing or pulling?  In any direction?  Do the base mechanics change depending on direction?

·         Do they have the basic ability to control their bodies at a high velocity?  How do you cue or give examples of how to change elevation?  What are some issues that may arise with deceleration training, specifically in untrained women?

·         Do they step back to go forward, left to go right etc..

·         Once you have trained the above movements, what do you do with it?  It is great if we can get our athletes to separate themselves in sport or close in on someone, but what happens if they do this with poor body position?

Basic Cues for all Movement Sessions (more important for elite athletes that are strong!)

·         If switching from linear to lateral work (or vice versa), incorporate a few movement patterns that will replicate what you are moving towards

·         Begin with these patterns if you are working base lower body power and strength work (squats, dead lifts, Olympics etc) to avoid potential injury

·         If you are using any of these movement patterns in the weight room, be weary of your surroundings and the type of flooring

·         Have fun with it and be creative in disguising your repetition

Base Progressions and Keys

The following movements should be incorporated into daily workouts.  I utilize all directions in my workouts but place specific emphasis on certain areas depending on the needs of the athletes to engrain and repeat the movement patterns.  Some degree of these movements should be also placed into their warm ups for gym sessions, practices and competitions with slight changes in speed and effort to accommodate the following activity.  It is important to note that there is no real set way to do the following movements.  We need to look at how efficiently the athlete moves and make a decision as to how much “coaching” we need to clean up. 

1.       Multi-directional push and progressions.  Work on àbody positionàpower position (drive not pull)àupper body mechanicsàunderstanding tensionàbuild a foundation for multi-directional movement

How to “push” (lateral, cross over, backwards)

a.       Observe your athlete execute a shuffle, cross over shuffle and back pedal.  Note where they are initiating movement from and what their upper body is doing

b.      Have the athlete load up one leg as if to jump.  Once they are tracking correctly, have them powerfully “push” themselves laterally (if going backward, push off both legs), basic lateral hop.  Note what the lead leg does.  How much effort is coming from the push vs. the pull leg

c.       Once the technique of pushing is set, have them repeat several in a row.  As fatigue sets in, watch for skewed upper body mechanics and excessive reaching with the lead leg


2.       Shuffle and stick progressions.   Work on footworkàaccelerationàdecelerationàtrackingàcorrect power position/stickàpowerful countermovement in set directionà

How to Shuffle and Stick: (Lateral, Linear, 45 degree, short and quick, backward, cross over, long and powerful)

a.       Regardless of direction you choose, the client should be instructed to drive off the trail leg with minimal pull with the lead leg.  In sport, you will pull with the lead leg, but if we engrain the importance of the drive phase, the pull will eventually add to the efficiency of the movement

b.      Once the drive has been initiated, the athlete should be instructed to move their feet as fast as possible into the stick phase (once an athlete stops or starts powerfully in a competitive setting, it is normally followed up with a reactive quick foot pattern).  We would slow this down (for beginners or regular clients) or use a shorter distance if footwork is a concern

c.       The stick-SLOW IT DOWN!!! The idea of the stick phase is that the speed of the movement should make it difficult for them to land after any velocity has occurred.  We want to engrain the correct posture and tracking of the foot, knee and hip so that they can drive off effectively for the next rep.  This may take anywhere from 1 second to 20 seconds.  Momentum will either send the athlete into another step in the direction they are travelling, or back to their drive leg.  We are looking for them to be able to stabilize themselves before they continue forth.  This also forces them to understand the importance of placing their body in the most efficient position before changing direction

d.      When they stick-If their hips are not square, tell them to take their time and balance themselves into the correct position to engrain the correct patterning (start at the foot and work your way up).  Most common position is for the trail leg to sweep behind the plant leg.  Most athletes will try to move as quickly as possible and neglect the importance of this.  From an efficiency stand point, we want the trail leg and plant leg to be in a square position to ensure minimal energy loss (even if they are hockey players)

e.      The “correct position” is to stick with a slight bend in the knee (basic power or hip hinge pattern).  As mentioned, momentum will either take them in the direction they are moving (in the form of a hop or lateral hip shift) or back from which they came in the form of putting the other foot down

f.        Mix up the patterns to disguise repetition.  They all require the same principles.  Try some decoupling work when you are somewhat confident in the athletes abilities

3.       Ladder drills and progressions.  Work on àelevating heart rateàfootworkàbody position (start and stops, in and out)àacceleration/decelerationàreactionàdecoupling (for stick, ball and racquet sports)àto teach when and why you would use “quick foot” drillsàconditioning

How to use the ladder drills somewhat effectively:

a.       Once the athlete can do the basic drills within the ladder, it is nothing more than a warm up tool

b.      Have the athlete go through the ladder with a set progression as fast as possible.  On your cue (generally near the end of the ladder when body position starts to change) they must stop within the ladder and get into the most efficient body position they can before starting again.  This may be used in any direction

c.       Have the athlete sprint, backpedal or shuffle into the ladder (5-8meters out from it)

d.      Have the athlete sprint, backpedal or shuffle outside (within 1meter of the ropes) of the ladder and enter it on your cue on a predetermined pattern

e.      On your command get in or out of the ladder.  Mix it up

f.        Use a ball or med ball, stick, racquet etc and incorporate some decoupling movements

4.       Cone drills and progressions.  Work on àvisual and verbal reactionàstarting mechanicsàchange of elevationàchange of direction/agilityàmulti-directional movement

How to use cone drills:

a.       Place 4 cones in either a square pattern or a consecutive line .  Distance between should be dependent on what your goals for the athlete are.  I begin with shorter distances and expand from there

b.      Use a chalk line as a marker for a neutral position (the spot where they must stop, start and return to)

c.       Have the athlete run to each cone and back to neutral in whichever fashion THEY chose.  Tell them there is no set pattern and let them make the decision as to where they would like to go.  It is completely random, but there will be something to take home from this when you start to watch numerous athletes in this drill (creativity, confirmation bias)

                                                               i.      The beauty of this lies in the ability to utilize a set space and cover all planes and all different movement styles while easily disguising repetition

d.      Assign each cone a number or point to each cone you would like the athlete to go to.  Take note of their transition from each separate stop and start.  Did they move “functionally”?  Was there wasted energy?  Was there frustration?  If not, you are probably doing it wrong

e.      Move to more random patterns.  Throw a bunch of cones out in any pattern.  Incorporate all different types of movement patterns as the athlete progresses. 

Extra Drills to Enhance Movement:

·         Stab or towel drills

·         Line drills/relays.  Work on knee, hip and torso position

o   Staticàreactiveàlow to high reactive for knee, hip and torso positionàduck under

·         Large Quadrant drill

·         Chain Tag


Key Points:

·         Making mistakes are ok for both parties involved.  There is no “set” technique.  Determine how the athlete moves best and work from there.  If an athlete makes a mistake, we want to capitalize on it as a positive.  It means they are going at a speed that we need and part of what we are trying to achieve is seeing how they deal with it.

·         Don’t make examples of your weakest athletes in group settings.  Use someone that is good at what you are teaching to demo technique.  It is not to shun the rest of the group, but to give motion memory and visual reps of what it should look like for those that may struggle.

·         Slow down the volume and speed up the quality reps.  Once progressions are set, we need to operate at high speeds.

·         If you are working with a group of athletes and they are struggling with technique, try using the “whisper” technique to empower them.

·         Film as much as you can for instant feedback.

·         Many people will rip on quick foot drills.  Remember where their use lies.  Fast feet are utilized right before a change of direction to give the defender a reason to question which direction you will be going, in confined spaces and to manipulate your body position after or before a powerful step.

·         Be creative without getting crazy.  Disguise repetition so that the athletes can do the basic movements and do them well.

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