There comes a moment where it seems like we’re just not allowed to play anymore. Like, one day we woke up and decided, “playing is for kids, I’m a big boy/girl.”
As kids, play time or recess was an important aspect to developing our social skills, our brains, becoming resilient, as well as just time to explore movement and have fun.
However, as we became adults, we lost sight of the idea of play. The idea of voluntarily doing something just do for doings sake, seems silly and childish.
George Bernard Shaw said it best. “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”
It seems that every part of our lives is dictated by a schedule now. We go from one appointment to another, from work to home, to sleep. All to do it over again. This, over time, ages us. We move less, we have fun less, in essence, we become Jack from The Shining.
Play lets us connect with others, it keeps our minds sharp, and can jump start our problem solving abilities.
Plus it’s just fun. And in a world where every moment is scheduled and we just hop from one appointment to another, we could use some time that is 100% voluntary fun. But how?
Think back to when you were 10 years old. What did you like to do for fun?
Maybe it was running around, playing tag or swinging from the monkey bars. Maybe it was building Lego’s, or board games or puzzles. It doesn’t matter. Let’s tap into that mindset of playfulness.
Remember, we don’t want to become Jack. We want to avoid a life of all work and no play. And we certainly want to avoid become dull.
There’s a saying in sports that “speed kills.” It kills anyone who doesn’t have it. This holds true for any athletic event, whether its sprinting in a 100m dash, a defensive end getting off the line, or an outfielder tracking down a fly ball. Adding even the slightest bit of speed can be the difference between first and last place, getting to the quarterback or catching that fly ball. However, that extra pep in your step doesn’t come easy. It is important to remember that training for speed is a process, and takes dedication. Strength is part of the game. The second part of it comes down to technique.
Improving speed requires:
Increased Stride Length
Increased Stride Frequency
Increased Power Output
One of the best ways to accomplish those three things is training for speed with a solid strength program. Why strength? Because increased strength leads to producing more force you can put into the ground with each step. This leads to longer stride lengths and power output. We’ve covered two of the main points to speed development. The other—frequency—is a matter of technique. As an added benefit, your body should become more resilient to injury.
However, there seems to be a predisposition to using things like agility ladders, parachutes and fast feet drills to increase speed. While this may appear to be fast, it’s likely not increasing true speed. Unfortunately, these kinds of drills are rising in popularity. But nothing builds speed quite like strength training.
What is Speed?
Speed refers to the rate at which someone or something moves. Seems pretty simple. How about covering more ground in the shortest time possible? That seems more applicable to sports and training.
For any training program, we want to include the fundamental movement patterns:
We can also include core exercises among those as the core is going to play a big role in speed development.
The typical hip hinge exercise we look at is the Deadlift. It is a strong developer of the posterior muscles of the body. Glutes, hamstrings and the upper back see improved strength gains from Deadlifts. However, not everyone needs to deadlift with a barbell. There are other options, like using kettlebells or trap bars.
Second to the Deadlift is the Hip Thrust, which is another great glute developer. It’s said that the glutes are the powerhouse of the body, especially when it comes to anything athletic. So why not use exercises that will make them stronger.
Adding Squats to your training will develop the ability to put more force into the ground. There’s a reason why many strength coaches use it as the ideal way to build speed. Squatting uses a lot of the large muscles of the lower body. However, just as there are variations with the Deadlift, Squats can be done in a myriad of ways.
The standard in most weight rooms is the Back Squat, but you can also implement Front Squats and Goblet Squats, along with a multitude of specialty bars like the safety squat bar.
When using strength training for speed, the upper body tends to get lost in the mix because no one really thinks about the upper body’s contribution to moving faster. However, building strength in the upper body helps with the arm drive necessary to pull the legs along.
While sprinting and athletic movements related to it look like mostly a lower-body driven activity, the upper body and arms really drive the body. The legs will only go as fast as the arms can move.
Push movements include the Bench Press or Overhead Press, both with a barbell or dumbbells, and Push-Ups. Our pulling exercises would include Pull-Ups and different row variations with body weight, dumbbells or barbells.
Single-leg movements are ideal for speed development as sprinting essentially is a bunch of single-leg movements. Therefore, increasing our single-leg strength can have a lot of carryover into our sport.
Single-leg movements to incorporate into your strength training for speed program are Split Squats, Step-Ups, Single-Leg Deadlifts and Lunge variations.
For speed development, the hamstrings might be the most important muscle in the body. When they are weak, they tend to get strained often, and they have a huge role in deceleration. If we want to stay on the field and also stay fast, strengthen your hamstrings, especially using eccentric training.
Exercises like Slide Disc Curls, Nordic Curls and Glute-Ham Raises will provide a lot of benefit to strengthening your hamstrings.
As far as our core is concerned, you want to include movements, or should I say “anti” movements. The core needs to be able to resist movement; it needs to keep the spine stable. That’s why you want to use exercises like Deadbugs, Side Planks, Pallof Presses and multiple loaded carry variations.
Strength training for speed doesn’t have to be fancy or flashy. In fact, sometimes the flashy doesn’t take us anywhere. Stick to the basics and master them.
It the calling card of those that say you have to work hard every single day to get to your goals. It implies that if you take days off, you’re not fully committed. It’s almost as if it’s a badge of honor to hashtag “nodaysoff.” That showing how tired you are, but you’re still going at it is something to be admired. I’m gonna call BS on that one.
No Days Off creates this unrealistic ideal where you constantly have to go all out, lest you be seen as lazy, or weak, or unmotivated, or that you just don’t want your goal enough. What this leads to is all kinds of negative self talk, which we need to avoid. It serves no purpose. And I hear it all the time.
How many times during the last month have you gave yourself negative self talk?
That mindset, it’s not going to get you anywhere. Except overtired, frustrated, and hungry.
You may see the solution as “I gotta do more” but then you’re just missing the point of exercise and training. We’re human, we need rest, we need time off. This also applies to life. If we just grind all the time, eventually we wear ourselves down. We need breaks from training, work, school, life to keep ourselves sane and happy.
Yes. consistency and commitment are important, but not at the expense of recovery. More is not better, #nodaysoff is bs, and rest is important.
Just because there’s a barbell in front of you, doesn’t mean you have to lift it. If there’s one tool in the gym that has gotten more attention than any other, it’s the barbell. And for good reason as you can load it with considerable amounts of weight. Far more than you’d be able to do with something like dumbbells or kettlebells. However, for many of us hitting the gym, it may be the wrong choice.
One of the drawbacks, depending on the exercise, is that you can be locked into a certain range of motion or joint motion/angle. This can be potentially hazardous for those who don’t necessarily fit that mold of that position. It’s unnecessary to put yourself through that stress when there are so many other ways and tools to reach your goals.
“Just because something has always been done a certain way,
doesn’t mean that YOU have to do it that way.”
But people tend to be dogmatic in their approach to fitness. It’s either one way or nothing, and it’s hard to convince them of anything else. People will argue that it’s the ONLY tool suited for exercise, no matter what. Everyone must deadlift with a barbell from the floor or it doesn’t count, which ignores a myriad of variables that are suited for another article. It’s time to wake up and realize is that the tool is only as good as the user. If the user is unable to manage the tool effectively and safely, then how effective is it going to be?
What can you use instead of a barbell?
Each of these tools can be substituted for just about any exercise, and when it comes to our fundamental movements of push, pull, squat, hinge, and single leg movements, we can easily adjust to accommodate a different tool.
Typically we thing the bench press or overhead press, which requires a barbell for either lift. However, like we mentioned earlier, you get locked into a certain movement pattern, especaially at the shoulder joint. And we want to avoid cranky shoulders where ever we can. Enter any of the tools previously listed. More freedom to move which can mean less probability of injury.
The most common barbell pull is a bent over row, but again it can put some people in a compromising position. This is especially true for anyone that has ever suffered from low back pain. Enter the dumbbell, where you can perform just about any variation of row you can think of.
Everyone can squat, it’s just a matter of finding the right variation that suits your needs and abilities. Squatting with a barbell, whether front or back, presents some challenges in terms of mechanics that some are just unable to achieve. So why force it? Because it looks cool in the weight room when you have the bar loaded with plates?
Pick a variation, like a goblet squat and hammer away at that.
The hinge or its most associated exercise example, the deadlift, can be one of scariest exercises to do. More to do with images of guys picking up 100’s of pounds on a barbell, than the actual exercise itself. But it can be an easy swap to use a kettlebell and learn in that capacity to keep you safe.
Training comes down to producing enough of a stimulus to elicit change in the body, whether the goal is more strength, more muscle, or less fat. However we need to be able to train smarter, which sometimes means steering ourselves from tools like the barbell that may not be a great choice for us now, to ones that are more manageable, like dumbbells.
This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t challenge yourself, but to do it smarter to avoid injury.
Knee pain can suck. Much like low back pain, it can be debilitating and knock you out from doing things you love, like training, or playing, or just simply walking up stairs. When we experience any kind of pain, our minds usually run to the worst case scenario, and with knee, the mind turns to the ligaments and menisci and what kinds of damage is there.
But if there’s one thing to keep in mind, it’s that body is all connected.
Look Above & Below
There have been countless times with clients where they have complained of knee pain while doing “insert exercise.” And more likely than not, it usually has nothing to do with the knee at all. It’s usually coming from somewhere else.
When it comes to pain, my thought process is to look above and below for the root cause. In most cases, the pain we’re feeling is coming from another source. It just manifests itself in a vulnerable area. In this case, strength, mobility or stability issues at the hip or ankle can cause pain at the knee. The hips and ankles are meant to be mobile. If this is an issue, the body will compensate and find that moblity elsewhere. *cough, cough, the knee, cough*.
Remember, the victim is rarely the culprit. Search for clues as to why the knee hurts. Avoid automatically assuming something is wrong with the knee.
“The victim of pain (knee) is rarely the culprit (hip/ankle).
Assess and Test”
The first place we recognize knee pain is when we go to squat to do something, or when we go up stairs. However, in order to perform both of those movements, it’s important to have optimal range of motion in the ankle, specifically dorsiflexion (pointing your toes/foot to you shin). If this happens to be restricted in some way, then the knee has to take on some of the force.
One way to test to see if you have a good amount of dorsiflexion is the “Knee to Wall” Test. In this, you’ll set up in a half kneeling position with your front foot 3-5 inches from the wall. Push your knee towards the wall while trying to keep the heel down on the ground. If you can do this with no issues, then rock on. If not, then we may have to do some work with regaining dorsiflexion.
This can be accomplished through different corrective exercises utilizing some banded distraction, stretching and SMR for the calves.
Weakness and/or tension in the hips can cause the knee to get a little cranky as it contains many big strong muscles of the hips, but also equally important stabilizing muscles. Most of us sit a fair amount of time, and this can cause many of the muscles in the hips to tense up and not have access to as much mobility. When this is the case, the link between the foot/ankle and the hip doesn’t work as well. And what ends up happening is the knee gets treated like Cinderella by her two evil step sisters.
In order to combat this, we’re going to start off with SMR using a lacrosse ball or foam roller on the glutes, TFL, and the quads. I’d throw in IT Band as well, although when you foam roll your IT Band, you’re really only affecting the lateral part of the quad at best. But it does feel “nice,” so go for it.
Follow this up with strength based movements like squats (if you can tolerate it) and various hip hinging exercises like deadlifts and hip thrusts. You can also incorporate isolated exercises like hamstring curls, and corrective/activation exercises like band walks, monster walks and posture ups to help strengthen some of the smaller stabilizing muscles. With those banded exercises, make sure the movement actually comes from the glutes. It is very common for the hip flexors and TFL to take over.
Band walks happen to be a particular favorite as they target a little muscle called Glute Medius, which can control the hips from shifting side to side, which can lead to knee problems down the line, especially for runners.
Lastly, you can add in stretching exercises like the pigeon stretch. I’d recommend doing it off a bench as it is easier to control the depth and intensity of the stretch.
Pain sucks and our typical reaction is to address the site of pain. But if we take the time to find the root cause of the pain, we can often take care of it for good. When it comes to knee pain, look towards the ankle and hip for clues on what to do.