A three part series dedicated to the discussion of long-term athletic development for athletes and coaches. Athletes and new lifters are often being pushed too hard, too fast. What actually goes into training, coaching, and developing an athlete or lifter from young/novice trainee to a superstar? Part two covers the importance of developing movement, energy systems, and strength for long-term athletic development.
As a review, Long Term Athletic Development (LTAD) refers to the progressive development of on- and off-field skill, strength, speed, and movement over time in order to enhance performance and growth, and decrease risk of injury. If you read part one of this series, we discussed the overarching principle of why long-term athletic development (LTAD) is advantageous for coaches, athletes, and parents. Three of the principles of long-term athletic development are movement patterning and variability, energy systems development, and strength development, all of which will be discussed here in part two.
Movement Patterning and Variability
When the topic of movement patterning is brought up, we are talking about the learning and development of gross motor skills to be able to efficiently move, position, and load to transfer success from the training floor to the field and/or court. What this ultimately means is that we cannot stack “cool”, advanced exercises on top of any sort of dysfunction. This won’t help us improve anything. As coaches coaching athletes, there needs to be a foundation that is built for the athlete in order to build upon. What does that foundation look like? A movement foundation consists of training the following patterns: squat, hinge, horizontal press/pull, vertical press/pull, ground base core work, and locomotion.
The Squat and Hinge
If an athlete cannot perform these two correctly, they shouldn’t have much business doing fancy plyometric type drills. Teaching an athlete how to effectively squat and hinge shows them how to load their primary movers in the likes of running, cutting, jumping, and landing. Young athletes usually have the issue of loading their knees and backs because they don’t know where else to move from. Effectively building the squat and hinge patterns will strengthen the hips while also teaching foot/ankle and core stability. The goblet box squat, pull throughs, and glute bridges are great movements to initially build the squat and hinge pattern of an athlete. Building these patterns will help the athlete develop long-term growth in multi-directional speed, agility, and jumping. They are also great for not developing any bad habits that could lead to injury down the road.
People are always overlooking the importance of MOVEMENT. In order to get strong and stay healthy, you need a good foundation of understanding how to move and load. The goblet squat (pictured here with a box) is a great foundational movement to start with to build the squat pattern. 1) The anterior load in front helps the body reposition and sit the hips back while engaging the anterior core. 2) The box provides the individual with a feedback loop to ensure they're getting the hips in the right position. A box is also a great tool to help train out any specific lumbopelvic dysfunction. 3) Hips back. Chest up. Chin tucked. Spread the floor. Engage the glutes at the top. #strengthandconditioning #squat #gobletsquat #movement #fitness #rufstrong #rufpfamily
A video posted by Alex Rosencutter, CSCS, CISSN (@alexrosencutter) on
Horizontal/Vertical Pressing and Pulling
Developing the ability to press and pull horizontally and vertically will not only strengthen the back and shoulders, but ultimately help build stability around the shoulder and develop scapulohumeral rhythm. Think healthier shoulders with good strength, more stability, and mobility. Movements such as the half-kneeling row, half-kneeling press, and half-kneeling pulldowns are great introductory movements.
Ground Base Core Work
The purpose of the core is to be able to stabilize the trunk and pelvis, provide distal mobility, and allow the production and transfer of forces from the lower to upper body. Exercises performed on the ground are great for giving the athlete a feedback loop for where neutral is and for teaching stiffness. An exercise such as the dead bug is great to teach the athlete how to find neutral spine, create anterior core stiffness, and resist rotation and extension.
When it comes to locomotion we are looking at the development of mechanics involved in walking, running, acceleration, deceleration, jumping, and landing. All of these in the beginning have a lot to do with posture. It’s nothing hot or fancy, but highly effective. Drill such as wall pistons, arm swings, slant board starts, and others are great tools to teach and reinforce posture. Posture gets the athlete into the right position in order for the body to produce movement effectively.
In the end, the goal is to get the athlete being able to recognize and replicate foundational patterns learned in training to their competition. The more efficiently this happens, the better the athlete will be at getting in and out of positions effectively which ultimately will lead to a faster, powerful, more agile, healthier athlete. Before jumping to the fanciest, most complex drill or exercise, make sure to master the basics. Another nugget can be thrown in for movement variability, meaning it is important to provide the athlete with as much movement variability in comparison to their sport at times. If an athlete is constantly overloaded in the transverse plane with rotation, for example a pitcher, then give them some work in the sagittal and frontal planes. Acquiring other skills and variability will decrease risk of injury and improve strength.
Energy Systems Development
Let’s be honest. The pyramids were not built from the top down. Neither are our energy systems. Therefore, athletes need to condition themselves the right way in order to effectively build their energy systems house or pyramid. No more running athletes into the ground with countless suicides or sprints on the first day of practice or at the end of every practice. If you were ever an athlete, I am sure you remember what that felt like. Ultimately, there is a better way to build a more efficient athlete. Here are three nuggets when it comes to developing the energy systems of an athlete:
Specificity Is King
Each sport has different demands as it relates to pace, intensity, and duration of the activity. That means, specificity is key when it comes to conditioning an athlete. Ultimately, the body will adapt to the stimulus of training it is being provided. If you constantly bombard athletes with high intensity sprinting year round, then they are going to be really good going for 10 seconds or so, but not too good past that point. If they’re a baseball player or 100m sprinter, then this might not be too big of a deal. However, if they are playing basketball or soccer, this probably wouldn’t bode too well. Therefore, always crushing an athlete just because the old-school thought of “more is better”, will leave the athlete with lackluster performance.
The Aerobic Systems Build More Efficient Athletes
Even if the sport doesn’t require a lot of long duration, low intensity aerobic effort, it still remains crucial to have a good aerobic foundation underneath. Having a good aerobic foundation allows the athlete to compete at high intensity levels for longer durations, have better heart rate recovery in between high intensity bouts in order to reload and go again, and overall be more resistant to fatigue and injury. Without an aerobic base, our house or pyramid will ultimately collapse and lead to our team of athletes bonking out in the first quarter of the game.
Each Sport Lies Somewhere on the “Power/Capacity” Continuum
Each sport relies on different amounts of power output and capacity or duration. For example, Football and Baseball are high on the power side and low on the capacity/duration side, all the while, Soccer would certainly have power involved but be high on the capacity/duration side of the continuum. Therefore, capacity based athletes should spend most of their time in practice or training fine tuning their aerobic system with some higher intensity power work mixed in time from time. On the flip side, for power based athletes, an aerobic foundation needs to be built early in the season or offseason before working on developing the higher intensity energy systems such as the glycolytic or ATP-PC systems to develop power. Overall, the message is we can’t just go balls to the wall with athletes all the time. There needs to be structure and variability in order for the athlete to develop and not wear down. Having the energy systems all working well with one another will help the athlete be able to develop and train at higher levels as they age and progress.
Most youth athletes spend all of their time crushing skill work, speed work, skill work, speed work, skill work, skill work, skill work. Can you see where I am going with this?
Young athletes spend all of their time forming skills in practice and competition, that they never get much strength development to go with it. The stronger an athlete can get in comparison to their body weight, the more potential they have to be able to be faster by applying and absorbing force better and the healthier they can ultimately be.
Now, if an athlete is still developing between the ages of 9-13 or is an older athlete who doesn’t have a training background/foundation, I am not a big believer in loading them with heavy weight. Athletes at these ages are still learning how to move without drunkenly tripping over their shoelaces or rupturing their eardrums with their screeching voices. Therefore, any loading should be done with the goal to build a foundation of strength and movement to build upon. A big thing young athletes don’t know how to do is create stiffness in order to stabilize and apply force. The strength work performed should do exactly that, reinforce good movement, teach how to create stiffness, and apply/absorb force.
Exercises such as the goblet squat and pull through are great movements that can build massive amounts of strength to build from. Work done with bands is also a great tool to teach the athlete to maintain stiffness. Working in rep ranges 10-15 is usually better in the beginning because this gives them more repetition to reinforce the movement and build them up from. In the long run, if the goal is to develop the athlete from a young gun to varsity, college, or the pros, then a foundation of strength should be built within the proper limits to eventually build them into an all-star. It’s the athletes who skip this important strength development work or skip to too advanced training too soon that end up hurt or under-developed.
What’s to Come
Part three will cover the importance of mobility, stability, nutrition, and recovery and how they all fit into the equation of long-term athletic development.