By Joel Smith
How important is it to you to that your athletes are getting the best training methods available? Consider the following:
- If there was a piece of information that could instantly cut .2-.3 seconds off of someone’s 40-yard dash, what would you do to acquire it?
- How about learning how athletes who stopped squatting managed to add 8 inches to their vertical jump in a matter of months, would you be interested in learning more?
- Would you want to know methods and team dynamics that helped take a winless high school football team to the state finals two years later?
For some reason, it seems like much of what is thrown around the world of training, as far as coaching athletes is concerned is new exercises and repackaged ways of achieving the same thing. Paradigm shifts in the world of human performance don’t come along very often (and many are afraid of accepting them), but the 60 coaches who gathered in Lombard, Illinois were in for something special.
The “Speed Activation Consortium” went off on June 19 and 20, 2015, and challenged our thinking. It taught us all better ways to observe and coach the basics of human movement as well as teach outside the box thinking on some aspects of the human nervous system, nutrition, breathing, activation, and training adaptation.
I took furious notes over the course of the seminar and am sharing with you some of the things that you aren’t going to see at the typical strength and conditioning or track and field seminar. The Speed Activation Consortium focused directly on things that have immediate and measurable impacts on athletic performance. I’ve never come home from a seminar and achieved such immediate impact on coaching and training in my life.
Dr. Tom Nelson D.O.
We take between 5 and 30 thousand breaths a day, so it’s easy to realize that how we breathe might just be of a “little” importance to human, and athletic performance.
Through my years of strength training and track, I’ve occasionally heard the bit about apical vs. diaphragmatic breathing from some coaches and personal trainers. The problem is that without a demonstration of its immediate beneficial effects, most coaches will think to themselves, “oh, that’s nice,” and then start daydreaming about their next bench press workout or which deadlift variation to have their athletes perform in their next training cycle.
It’s unfortunate the breathing is so easily passed over. I was at a strength and barbell oriented seminar a few months back, which featured some stations attendees could go to and be coached on their powerlifts or Olympic lifts. There was also a breathing station. Funny enough, people who had been assigned to go to the breathing station somehow “skipped” that area, likely to get a double dose of bench press coaching. For some reason, we don’t take the time to observe the small, but incredibly important, aspects to our success.
Tom shared with us some practical demonstrations on the ability of breathing alone to influence dramatically factors such as hamstring length and talked in depth about it’s ramifications for a team atmosphere. Breathing is one of the few modalities that is proven to have immediate and measurable ramifications on the neuromuscular system of an athlete.
It always helps to know just a little bit more about why you might be doing what you are doing. I learned from Dr. Tom Nelson’s talk that the diaphragm is helpful in pressurizing the gut cavity, and it gets oxygen flow to the muscles of the lower trunk and psoas. Also, with everything I’ve been reading on gut health lately and it’s relation to mental health and function, I’ll be sure to be doing my breathing on a regular basis, and not just prior to workouts! Proper diaphragmatic breathing is also a critical portion of the activation process, as the system can be traumatic without it!
Dr. Tom Nelson brought the Be Activated system to Nazareth Academy’s high school football in LaGrange Illinois to an incredible impact. These athletes use systematic and synchronized breathing in conjunction with their pre-game activation routines. The players at Nazareth also incorporate the breathing into the rhythm of their hitting drills. For the rest of us, we emphasize breathing so much in lifting, why not in actual sport skills? You breathe often, so know how to integrate it with general health, and all aspects of sport performance.
“If you can squat and clean more, you’ll get faster” — Typical attitude towards speed
“If you have great hips and ankles, I can make you run fast” — Chris Korfist
Chris Korfist’s thoughts on the ankles and hips in the process of sprinting and jumping should be staples in the education of any coaching professional, track and field, strength and conditioning, and otherwise. If we took 50% of all the time we spend talking about various sprint drills and barbell exercises and re-directed that towards learning more about the two most important joints as far as speed is concerned, the ankle and the hip, we would all be light-years ahead, and our athletes would be thanking us.
Chris’s thought process on ankle rocker is, in my opinion, the most under-shared, under-rated piece of sports science information of all time. You can have an “old-school coach approved squat to bodyweight ratio,” but if you can’t stabilize that force through the tripod of your foot, your CNS will tell the legs to forget it when it comes to being fast. The body won’t send all of its power to a floppy base because certain injury will occur if it did!
Chris’s presentation featured some of the following essential points on foot function in athletic performance:
- The body is constantly seeking a tripod (triangular connection through the balls of the foot under the big and little toes, and the heel) through the foot in sprinting, jumping, or any other ground-based movement.
- Ankle rocker is an athlete having adequate dorsiflexion to perform their required athletic movement. Most athletes don’t have it.
- Athletes will do just about anything in terms of compensating movement to get around the lack of an ankle rocker, resulting in things like the foot spinning out in swing phase, or exaggerating arm movements.
- There have been multiple instances where Chris saw athletes stop squatting, focus on the foot and ankle rocker, and gain 8” on their vertical jump.
- The best athletes in sport typically have awesome ankle rocker. Look at freeze frames of basketball players such as Michael Jordan, or John Stockton, and check out their dorsi-flexion when defending or cutting to the hoop.
In the aftermath of some great points, Chris gave us some simple, yet incredibly useful dorsiflexion drills to do, and I’ve been using them myself every sprint day since the seminar. I’m constantly blown away by my supreme lack of balance in single leg stance in a true tripod, and I’m starting to realize why I’ve had knee issues for so many years.
The second portion of Chris’s talk was on the hip, particularly the importance of the gluteus medius and its role in stance. Those of us who have been through the “Be Activated” universe know that just because a muscle gets “stronger” in the weight room or from doing various forms of resisted work, doesn’t mean that it has better contractility as far as sport movement is concerned. Most muscles can engage given enough time to recruit, but not every muscle can attain an instant punch as a result of an efficient feedback loop. Here are some great points Chris taught us regarding the role of the hip in sprinting:
- Sprint stride abnormalities are often the result of an improperly firing gluteus medius, the biggest of which is a hip drop, and subsequent stride cross-over in front of the body. Via the kinetic chain, this crossover also overloads the hamstrings due to braking forces associated with an early touchdown.
- Lack of glute medius contractility can negatively influence swing leg recovery in the sprint gait cycle.
Chris took us out to the track for his mini-hurdle drill sequence for his athletes, where he gave us hurdle heights, distances, and associated cues. The hurdle drills, also known as “wickets” to many are not just a drill, but a diagnostic tool, as Chris sets the hurdles up bisected by a lane of the track. Chris does this so he can observe and cue the athletes regarding their cross-over movement about the midline of their body.
Chris also implemented variability in touchdowns through the hurdle drills, also known as “plyo-soidal” training. I have learned over the past few years how much the CNS needs movement variability in order to build a better motor program and seeing Chris put down small track pieces in between hurdles for some stride variability may have been my top “ah-ha!” moment of the weekend.
Chris’s impact on what I’m doing right now:
In all of my practices, as well as those of my sprint athletes, Chris’s ankle and hip drills are now a staple. I also immediately began using plyo-soidal work to improve the takeoff mechanics of my youth high jumpers while staying on a curve, to immediate and dramatic results. Telling a young high jumper to perform a particular takeoff mechanic when they can barely run a curve properly is fairly useless. But give their sub-conscious brain something to bring the takeoff mechanics out of them, and magic happens.
I’m also blown away by how awesome Chris’s rocker squats on the kBox are; I’m pretty much addicted to this movement right now. The way Chris uses mini-hurdles as a diagnostic has changed the way I use them in preparation for sprint work, as well as in prescribing activation and specific strengthening work.
I had read Tony Holler’s articles on Freelap before this seminar but had never heard him speak on sprinting. After hearing Tony talk sprinting, coaching, and life in general, I can say that I now know a few more keys on making athletes fast as well as the art of how to be a coach and make a true impact on those around me.
Some great points that Tony made that will stick with me as long as I work with sprinters, or any other “cat” are:
- You need to attract the cats (genetically gifted athletes) into your program, train them like cats, and keep them wanting more.
- Keep your cats happy. Running 10×200 doesn’t keep cats happy.
- Be organized, have fun practices, and promote brotherhood.
- It is important to time sprints and maintain a high quality of practice. You can have great quarter milers without ever running further than 200m in practice.
- You need an advanced timing system, or you can’t time 10-meter flys.
Many track practices involve overly long warmups, too much stretching, and talking crap, and drawn out speeches from coaches (Tony gave a hilarious example practice schedule based on this concept). Tony’s practices are different. They have warmups based on 5-second bursts, staying in the phosphate system. Each warmup drill that Tony uses has a distinct purpose to it and is done with intent. Tony brought us all out to the track to check out his warmup procedure and then watch some of his staple workouts, such as timed 40-yard dashes with a 10m fly split using a Freelap timing system.
Probably the coolest part of the whole bit was watching Tony’s star sprinters perform 40-yard dashes, and then get involved to perform a “gantlet” 40-yard dash. I had read about it before and knew what to expect, that when the crowd got behind Tony’s athletes, the sprinters threw down great times, improving .2 to .3 seconds on the 40, and over .05 seconds on the 10m fly.
His sprinters also showed a few other of his staple workouts, such as 23-second runs on 8 minutes of recovery. The resonating tone of being in Tony’s practice was that low-quality work wasn’t tolerated. His sprinters were excited about practice, and they didn’t do work that didn’t matter.
Great Tony Holler Quotes at the Speed Activation Consortium:
- “You can’t produce vertical force when fatigued!”
- “Train the phosphate system”, “Train the lactate system later”, “Ignore the aerobic system”.
- “For every substance, small doses stimulate, moderate doses inhibit, large doses kill. Speed training must be administered in small doses.”
- “If you ain’t wearing spikes, it ain’t sprintin!”
- “When you record rank and publish (timed practice results), sprinters never forget their spikes.“
- “It’s OK to be fast in January or February. It’s OK to PR in practice.”
- “Sprinting is the best speed and power exercise!”
I can tell you that if you have never been a part of this, you are missing an essential human element of track and field, and athleticism in general. Watching an athlete immediately cut .2 to .3 tenths off of their 40 yard dash is a heart lifting experience.”
Tony’s impact on what I’m doing right now:
If you are a track coach, you need to go out of your way to listen to Tony Holler speak sometime. Tony has changed the way that I think of quality efforts in track practice, as well as gathering and motivating athletes towards those quality efforts. His “5 second bursts” warmup was an immediate paradigm swap for me. There are many things that you can learn about sprint training by reading articles and watching videos, but much of what you can learn about coaching athletes, you just need to watch Tony Holler in action.
In terms of athletes I see in the weight room on a daily basis, one thing Tony mentioned that will stick with me for life is to be sure to mention every athlete’s name in the course of the session. Tony is a master of building the athletic community, and his insight has helped me not just to make athletes fast, but also to be an impactful coach.
Dr. Eric Janota, D.O.
Eric Janota is an Osteopathic physician who loves and regularly practices the “Be Activated” system. He gave us some great insight into the Zone 1 activation, and I learned plenty of things I hadn’t considered in the past. Chris Korfist and Dr. Janota demonstrated a zone 1 activation for the group, and then gave attendees the chance to experience activation for themselves in a practical session that followed.
Some great pieces of information I picked up from Dr. Janota’s lecture were:
- The psoas has the most nerve endings out of all muscle fibers in the body and is intimately attached to the diaphragm.
- Over-users of the neck have the worst (most painful) activation points at the upper sternum.
- Homework (20 breaths prior to sleep)
- Keep the jaw loose. If you jaw is tight, you’ll rotate around your jaw in any movement.
- The activation process is cutting through sympathetic layers, so drink plenty of fluids afterward.
- Lots of things that can cause a reduction in patterning. A fight or flight state can cause collapse, and movement back into poor patterning.
I’ve known Cal Dietz since I read his Triphasic Training book several years ago, but never was able to meet him until this particular weekend. If you’ve ever been to Cal’s website, you’ll realize that Cal is the ultimate curator of coaching and training knowledge. Cal has thousands of articles on sports science methodology in his library. If you are interested in the Triphasic training system or just want to be a better coach, you truly need to hear Cal speak, as it gave me a rich background to the ideas found through Triphasic Training and the numerous workout routines found on XL Athlete.
Cal knows that it is hard to convince someone of anything until they can see the data for themselves. He is a coach who makes great use of things like Catapult and Omegawave, which helps coaches to see exactly what he is talking about when he is recommending a change in programming. Cal shared with us a great anecdote on how a hockey team won 80% of the time when it was under a 900 score in catapult. When it was over 900, they won only 46%. Unless you saw the data, would you believe that the training volume was influencing your gameplay outcome? If you are looking for just a few gems from Cal’s talk at the Speed Activation Consortium, here you go:
- Supra-maximal eccentric training must be heavy to achieve greater tensile strength in the remodeling of tissues.
- Supra-maximal work is most effective with results in speed and reactiveness, and it offers a very compressed training effect.
- There is a 12-15bpm decrease in heart rate after a supra-maximal eccentric block. The entire vascular system must also adapt to heavy workloads.
- Cardio isn’t a focus; it’s a byproduct. Athletes can achieve gains in the power of the aerobic system through anaerobic training. Two weeks of aerobic and two weeks heavy eccentrics yield lower resting heart rates.
- You must have some level of oxidative qualities to be able to recover at the highest level. 2-3 weeks of oxidative work per year is important. Oxidative work, based on capacity with the barbell is performed early before summer.
- Local adaptation to lactate is fine, and longer duration isometric work is perfect for this. Watch global lactate accumulation, however, which is bad for a lot of players.
Other Great Training Ideas:
- Isometrics aren’t sports specific, but you do iso’s a few weeks a year, so later your sports specific stuff works even better.
- You can improve the bench press simply by bringing strength in other areas up. Cal gave an example of a hammer thrower who stopped benching for several months, and still put 30lbs on his bench by bringing his other lifts up.
- Squeeze the glutes maximally during a bench press attempt, and see what happens to your 1-rep max (it goes up).
- 12 years ago, Cal peaked at a lower percentage of 1RM and got better results. He took six years, of continually dropping the load lower, and found better results, the lower he went. Peak athletes at 25-55% load for an optimal taper.
Cal’s impact on what I’m doing right now:
Listening to Cal speak about his philosophy and experience is a dream for a strength coach, track coach, or anyone else interested in building stronger, faster, and more fit athletes. I’m in the process of the taper for many of the swimmers I am working with. Cal’s thoughts on his peaking process for athletes and on loads as low at 25% are a breath of fresh air.
So often it’s hard for coaches to trust that their athletes will maintain their strength with light loads so it’s great to hear that you can afford to lower the weight from coaches who have been down this road. I also won’t forget Cal’s ideas on oxidative qualities of muscle in 2-3 week training periods as a means to get more out of the athletes I work with on a year-round basis.
I’ve known about Dan Fichter ever since I discovered Inno-Sport in the mid-2000’s, and after a decade, I finally was able to meet him and hear him speak in person. Dan is one of the most voracious learners that I’ve ever met in the sport and human performance field and has integrated lots of information in regards to the neuro-dynamics of the body, as well as lots of applied psychology and kinesiology. Dan recently took over as the head football coach of a winless team at Irondequiot high school and two years later they were state finalists. That’s real world results.
Dan’s emphasis with nearly anything in his system is that if something is done correctly, there are immediate results. Many coaches and trainers will tell an athlete that if they keep doing a particular exercise, that they will see some good results a few weeks or months down the road.
A great testament to this, I came back home after the seminar and used a good handful of Dan’s ideas (as well as other seminar ideas) with some youth high jumpers I train. One of the jumpers who has some “function” issues took his lifetime high jump PR by 4” a few days after incorporating some of the drills and ideas I learned from the seminar. I don’t consider myself a slouch with athletic development either, and I know that the concepts I integrated from this seminar made a big difference in performance, not in 6 weeks, but immediately!
Dan had some great points on general athletic movement and performance:
- Buy in matters. Doesn’t matter how you explain it, buy in, if done right, makes a huge difference right away.
- Instability puts a brick under the gas pedal. That’s why you need balance. If your body doesn’t think it can land safely, it won’t jump. For the most part, people fight against themselves when they move.
- Variety? Make something perfect first. Myelinate the nerves of movement.
Dan went on to share his training philosophy he has honed over the decades, studying with some of the brightest and best minds in the industry. Dan is humble and hungry enough for success that he is willing to change his worldview and paradigm multiple times until he perfects it. Dan’s philosophy focused on aspects such as:
- The brain and CNS as controllers of all movement
- The importance of reflex arcs and feedback loops
- The cross-crawl concept
- And many more
“one of Dan’s unique, and effective, group warmups”
Great Dan Fichter Quotes at the Speed Activation Consortium:
“Let’s take the rotator cuff issue. (Athletes and coaches who insist on doing lots of banded rotator cuff exercise prior to workouts) Would you loosen the lug nuts on your car before you drive it? “
“Most people are “undertrained” not “overtrained.” (Because they don’t train their sport movements maximally, often enough)
“Not once did I mention how many days off, when to peak, loading parameters. If your position is off, then you will not accomplish your mission.”
(On “sport specific” training) “We are training to prepare the body for sport. We don’t have a special set of muscle to play different sports”
“Max speed sprinting is standing on one leg. You should be able to balance on one leg.“
“It can be difficult to maintain a maximal velocity longer than 2-3 runs of a very short distance. That means anywhere from 20-40 seconds of proper neurological programming, per day. This is not enough. That’s where isometrics come in.”
“The adaptation of tendons only happens if you train the limits of jump height. Submaximally produced a submaximal adaptive response. Frans Bosch said only maximal jumps stimulated tendons to improve.”
Dan Fichter’s impact on what I’m doing right now:
Dan covered a LOT of information in the hour or so that he spoke. In that time, I picked up at least a half-dozen ideas that I immediately begin incorporating into my own training and coaching sessions:
Some of the things that I’m instantly changing is my approach to warming up, and managing a team for optimal performance. I’ve been using the “Stand at attention” position Dan recommended to improve the focus of the athletes I train prior to sessions, particularly those who have trouble honing in on the workout. I utilize bar hangs with a variety of leg positions now for both performance and recovery training sessions. I’ve personally never gotten more of a hamstring cramp than I have trying to perform a static lunge hanging from a bar, with a chain draped around my back foot! This type of work is solid gold, however, as I’ve seen immediate changes in sprint mechanics as a result of being able to maintain this position longer. Again, position matters!
I now use other work Dan showed us on athletes using his good side/bad side ideals. This system uses the more mobile segment of the body to improve function on the more immobile half immediately. We also utilize some maximal contractions coupled with super-slow lowerings to gain an immediate improvement in muscle function that shows up on the field of play. Making a barbell lift is nice but does what you are doing transfer directly to the field?
As soon as I returned from the seminar, all of my athletes were doing variations of super slow movements of specific importance to their sport. Pretty much everyone I’ve come in contact with I’ve made do a slow motion cross-crawl, even my wife! After listening to Dan speak, you might just call me a “cross-crawl evangelist”.
Dr. Kerry Egan/Dr. Kerry Heitkotter
Kerry Egan and Kerry Haicutter are two of the most informed and cutting edge students of health and human performance I’ve ever met. They had a wonderful presentation covering a variety of incredible topics. The topic of vision and athletic performance is something I hear more and more each month, so I was particularly excited to see it covered in their presentation.
Dr. Egan covered some great points such as:
- When your mitochondria work properly, your body performs the way it is supposed to. Case in point, the farthest distance Chris’s athletes performed in practice was 2x150m, and to great success.
- There is much more to vision than 20/20. Just looking has so many things involved.
- Central and peripheral awareness of space must be synced up. If you have central and no peripheral, can be blindsided. Central vision off – depth perception. Peripheral eyesight is constantly used on the football field.
- Our body speaks 100,000 languages, which one is stuck? Which language meets the need? 80% of what we process is on the subconscious level.
Dr. Kerry Heitkotter
Dr. Heitkotter had some awesome nutritional points, such as:
- If you are constantly eating sugar, then you can’t get in proper aerobic/anaerobic capacity, and the body will break down.
- Chocolate milk is NOT a recovery drink. She likes coconut water, adding protein, not just whey, but other types, such as brown rice proteins, and pea proteins.
- There might be more nutritional value in the cardboard box than in your cereal.
- The importance of good oils: MCT (Medium Chain Triglyceride) oil, coconut oil, avocado, sardines, olive oil.
- You should be eating every 2 hours, and be ingesting good oils, such as coconut balls, coconut oil, or MCT oil.
- A great electrolyte replacement is water with cucumber, or lemons/oranges.
- You can tell by an athlete’s response to coaching by personality. If they are withdrawn, they don’t detox well, and you can’t push them so much. An outgoing personality, you can push all day long.
- People say eating organic (this is recommended) is expensive. So is eating fast food and buying $3 energy drinks.
You might say I’m biased about this seminar because I spoke at it, but it’s a bit different when many of the other speakers at the seminar are your strong influencers and mentors. I’m not going to write about my talk here, aside from saying that you can derive most of my main points by checking out these two articles.
- Deconstructing (and Reconstructing) the Depth Jump for Speed and Power Performance
- 7 Philosophies on Increasing Vertical Jump Skill and Power
It is interesting just how much of a “bug” vertical jumping is, as so many athletes are completely and utterly obsessed with the movement. It was fun and enjoyable to present a topic I’m passionate about to so many hungry coaches.
If I learned one thing from this seminar, it’s that if you are doing things right, you’ll see immediate results, not in a few months like we tell so many of our athletes. It is so rewarding to be able to apply modern coaching science and reap an instant benefit. The knowledge gained at the Speed Activation Consortium was of those coaches who are both hungry, and humble enough to seek the truth, and change their paradigm enough times to perfect their system. If this information was interesting to you, I hope to see you at future Speed Activation events.
Please share this article so others may benefit.