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Training for Winter Sports: Best Exercises for Soccer and Basketball Players

The weather is getting colder and the seasons are changing.  With these changes comes the beginning of new high school and college sports seasons with two of the biggest being soccer and basketball.

I have had the privilege of training both soccer and basketball athletes this past offseason and we have used many different training protocols to make sure they are strong, agile and more resistant against injuries going into their seasons.

Both soccer and basketball share similar movements in their sports; stop and go running, deceleration, cutting and acceleration and jumping components.  In this article I am going to share with you some of my favorite training exercises I use to get these athletes ready for their season.

Deadlift

There has been a timeless debate in the “strength and conditioning world” regarding which exercise is better to build strength, size and game speed; the squat or the deadlift.  Both exercises are great and should be used but if I had to pick one over the other for soccer and basketball players it would be the deadlift.

Like the squat, the deadlift is a highly effective movement to train the hips to extend.  Most sports are dependent on the athlete’s ability to extend their hips, whether it is to sprint, change direction or jump.  Being able to move and accelerate and object from the ground using one’s hips leads to great strength and power development essential in sports.

The one advantage that the deadlift has is the ability to train starting strength which is the ability to move the body quickly from a dead stop.  Many athletes, parents and coaches ask how they can improve their child’s “first step.”  This first step development comes from training to move deadweight quickly and effectively.


Forward Lunges

This is one of those exercises that I had used in the past, forgotten, came back to it while training at Cressey Performance.  When doing forward lunges again, I realized how weak I was at it and then realized the huge value it has.

I have had many of my athletes primarily performing reverse (step-back) lunges because I felt they were able to get into proper position easier and they could use the back foot explosively to train the first step.  This movement was great for that however I was neglecting one huge component necessary in both of these sports: deceleration.

Most deceleration during soccer and basketball comes when the athlete is moving forward and the front leg needs to slow the body down to change direction.

Forward lunges require the front leg to decelerate.  The forward lunge trains the hamstring muscle group to slow the body down through the eccentric contraction much like it needs to do when playing a sport like soccer and basketball.

During sports the body must decelerate loads greater than the body weight alone due to the acceleration of the body creating a greater force vector.  When doing this lunge variation with added resistance the body learns to deal with forces great than body weight alone much like what occurs when playing sports.

Kettlebell Swing

The kettlebell swing has several advantages when it comes to training for soccer and basketball; namely training the posterior chain (primarily hamstring and hip muscle groups) for power production, it can also be used as a conditioning tool.

Many strength and conditioning coaches utilize Olympic lifts (clean and snatch) to train the power element of sports; while these lifts may be great for power generation, they take much longer to learn the technique when compared to the kettlebell swing, and they are good for maximal power production whereas soccer and basketball are sports that utilizes repetitive bouts of sub-maximal force production.  Sports like soccer and basketball consist of a series of repeated sprints and stops; not an all or nothing explosive movement.

Kettlebell swings can be done within a strength program for repetitions if training posterior chain power production is desired or it can be done for time intervals if training for conditioning.

Core Stability

Core stability for soccer and basketball are crucial for the athletes to perform optimally.  Not only must the core be stable for the athlete to perform their dribbling and shooting skills effectively they also must have a strong core to be able to fend off all of the knocks and fouls that opponents will perform to steal the ball or disrupt a game winning shot.

Training the core for stability is quite simple and I recommend a variety of core stability exercises within a particular training program.  Plank variations, ball or wheel rollouts, strap fallouts, Pallof presses are all great exercises to train the core through stabilization.

Conditioning Circuits

This is one component that is not used frequently enough in strength training protocols.  It is one thing to make your athlete strong and perform well in the weight room, but if they cannot perform better at their sport then the job you’ve done is not complete.

In my article, Get with the Circuit, I touted the need for solid conditioning programs for athletes that needed both strength and endurance.  Adding a conditioning circuit into the program once a week will greatly enhance your soccer and basketball athlete’s strength transfer from the weight room to the field and court.  It is important that these athletes gain the strength endurance necessary to perform repeated measures of sprinting, stopping jumping, and cutting.  The athletes who are able to maintaining this strength endurance cycle will most likely be in better shape and perform the best at their respected sport.

Some of my favorite exercises to include into circuits are jump rope, kettlebell swings, pushups, body rows and the Prowler.  Time should be suited close to what would be done during a game situation.  I like circuits of 4-6 stations doing 20-30 sec. of work and resting for 10-20 sec.

Conclusion

Soccer and basketball players are just like any other athletes in respect to the fact that they need to be strong, stable and conditioned.  The details within a program should be tailored for each specific sport and specifically designed for the individual athlete for optimal success.

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Monday, November 28th, 2011 Sports Performance Training 1 Comment

Kettlebells for Young Athletes: Part III

In the first installment of this series we briefly looked at studies concerning weight training for young athletes and the potential risk associated with it.  In the second article I explained some of the double leg progressions that I use with my athletes that minimizes the risk of injury and decreases the stress placed on the spine of the growing athlete.

In this installment I want to focus on single leg movements that I use with the kettlebells.  I have seen plenty of strength programs that focus too much on double leg movements; like squats, deadlifts and power cleans.  These exercises are great for increasing strength and power production quickly, however, neglecting single leg work is doing an athlete a huge disservice.

The benefits of single leg work are tremendous.  Most sport movements use the legs independently; running, cutting and bounding are all done off the single leg.  If you only train double leg movements there is no way of truly knowing how the legs compare in strength and stability between each other.  If your right leg is much stronger, more stable and has more appropriate flexibility, when you need to use the left leg to perform a high level movement you may not be able to perform the movement, or even worse, you could sustain and injury because it was not capable of performing the movement you needed to do.

Kettlebell Lunge Variations

One of the most common and effective single leg movements is the lunge variation.  Many of these movements can be done with dumbbells or other weights but the kettlebells offer a few more intermittent variations that can help the young athlete progress successfully.  I am not going to deconstruct the lunge and all of its variant movements, just note there are several movement variations like the stating lunge, forward lunge, reverse lunge, bench split lunges,  etc.

One of the first variations I use is the Low Kettlebell Lunge usually starting with one kettlebell in each hand.  The kettlebells are easy to hold and using two generally makes the movement more stable.  As the athlete masters that movement with showing appropriate levels of strength and stability you can challenge the anti-rotational stability much more by using only one kettlebell for the same movement.  The single kettlebell will pull the athlete toward the side of the weight therefore increasing the need for strength and stability of the legs and core muscles to resist the weight pulling you off-line.

Taking the lunge to the next level is a variation that cannot be done comfortably using dumbbells and that is why kettlebells are ideal for these movements.  The Racked Kettlebell Lunge is a great challenge for stability and core strength.  I usually start out with the single kettlebell version because it is slightly less demanding on the core stability.  Find a place for the kettlebell to sit well against the upper body.  I tell my athletes to allow the weight become part of your body.  For safety reasons you want to keep the kettlebell as close to the body as possible and centered over your hips.  During the descent the kettlebell will want to pull you out to the side of the kettlebell and forward.  Leg and core strength and stability are key in making the movement successful and beneficial to the athlete.

The double racked kettlebell version is one of the hardest versions I have encountered primarily due to the amount of the demand it places on the core muscles of the body.  During the descent the heavy weight will want to pull the body forward so it is important to keep the core muscles strong so the body stays upright and stable.  The double racked kettlebell lunges also challenges the breathing because the bells are racked on the chest not allowing the chest to expand to take a normal breath.

The last lunge version I will discuss is the Overhead Kettlebell Lunge.  This movement can be done with a dumbbell, however, I prefer the kettlebell because of the weight displacement.  Unlike the dumbbell, the kettlebell weight conforms to the body and sits in a direct line over the hip making the weight easier to keep in line and therefore minimizes the risk of stress on the shoulder joint.

The Kettlebell Weight Rests much more In-line with the Body than the Dumbbell

Start with the single overhead kettlebell lunge, the leg position is entirely up to the strength coach and it may be a good idea to alternate which legs are forward or back during your training.  When performing this movement it is very important to keep the shoulder sucked into the socket and keep the weight in-line with the arm and the hip.

If you need to make this movement really challenging for the athlete then add the second kettlebell and use the same principles of execution.

Conclusion

Single leg movements should not be ignored when helping the athlete to build the strongest and highest performing self that they can be for their sport.  Give these variations a shot and let me know what you think.

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Saturday, September 24th, 2011 Kettlebell Training No Comments

Kettlebells for Young Athletes: Part II

In the first installment of this series we briefly looked at studies concerning weight training for young athletes and the potential risk associated with it.  Though the notion of strength training itself was not seen as potentially dangerous, implementing improper protocols and exercise selections may have negative effects on the growth of the body and may increase the chance of injury.  I have also found that upon creating proper training programs for young athletes the use of kettlebells is extremely advantageous for teaching proper set up and lifting mechanics used in major lifts.  In many cases kettlebells are much easier and safer to progress than using the traditional bars and dumbbells.

In this second half of the series I will highlight some of the advantages that the kettlebells have over bars and dumbbells especially when it comes to progression of the exercises.

Kettlebell Deadlift Variations

The first installment explained how the kettlebell deadlift is essential for training hip extension and how it could be much safer to implement than a traditional barbell deadlift because it is much easier to set up and execute with proper technique.  Once the technique is mastered and executed with the weight the trainer has established as the goal, then small variations of the movement can be used to further enhance strength gains.

The Single Arm Alternating Deadlift is executed like the standard kettlebell deadlift but uses only one arm at a time and switches at the top.  The challenges come with maintaining proper body alignment by keeping the shoulder back and chest up.  Also, on the single side there may be an urge to shift body weight to the side of the kettlebell and the athlete should not allow for this.  The single arm alternating deadlift forces the athlete to completely activate the core muscles to resist this shift and maintain proper body alignment.  Lastly, the individual grip strength is trained.  Grip is usually much stronger on one side compared to the other side.  By only using one arm to maintain the kettlebell in proper position it is possible to focus entirely on the one arm for the given repetition and the other on the next, in order to narrow the strength deficit between the two arms.

After the young athlete’s technique is stable and consistent you may find that the kettlebell may become too light to elicit a proper training effect for the athlete.  Most kettlebells only reach around the 100lbs. mark; but instead of jumping directly into the barbell version of the lift, the strength coach may opt for one more variation before.  The Double Kettlebell Deadlift is great for the young athletes whose technique has become solid and their strength is progressing.  This variation offers all of the benefits of the other kettlebell deadlift variations; being able to keep the weight very close to the body for the initial set up, training each arm (grip) individually allowing for balancing out the sides all the while being able to increase the weight to a fairly heavy level.  Once the athlete is able to perform this variation with weight totaling around 135lbs. successfully then they can consider the barbell deadlift.

Kettlebell Squat Variations

As discussed in the first installment, the squat is a very important exercise for athletes to improve core and hip strength, however a traditional barbell squat calls for loading the bar and placing it on the back of the athlete which increases the risk of injury to the less experienced lifter and also may compress the spine.  After mastering the bodyweight squat using kettlebells, the kettlebell goblet squat is the next step in the training process.

After the athlete gains experience in the standard kettlebell goblet squat, like we explained in the first article, the movement can be altered to take it to the next level.  Double Kettlebell Front Squats simulates a barbell front squat without having the athlete hold the barbell in the initially awkward fashion.  Using two kettlebells allows for an increase of weight used which can enhance strength gains and it also challenges the core muscles which must be engaged fully to maintain proper body alignment during the execution of the movement.

The Single Kettlebell Front Squat is another great option for young athletes, which is similar to the double front squat version, however when using a single kettlebell racked on one side of the body there is a much greater need to focus on proper technique and balance between the two sides of the body.  The single kettlebell will not only pull the chest down and forward, it wants to cause a shift towards the side of the body where the weight is.  The athlete must counter this motion and keep the chest up and the weight distribution equal on both legs.

Kettlebell Swing Variations

We established the kettlebell 2-arm swing as an excellent alternative for Olympic lifting for the young athlete to improve hip drive and power.  When the 2-arm swing technique has become consistent, then swing variations can be introduced.

The 1-Arm Kettlebell Swing is performed the same way as the 2-arm version, however the single arm version will stress the grip on the working side much more.  It is also a useful movement to balance out the strength and movement coordination between sides.  Usually one side of the body will be stronger and more coordinated and this will be quickly evident when performing this movement.  When executing this movement I recommend to swing the free arm along with the kettlebell side which helps maintain the shoulder in their proper position and also facilitates easy transition to the next variation, the alternating swing.

In the Alternating Kettlebell Swing the athlete will be switching hands.  This allows the athlete to increase their coordination and their work capacity as they begin to get fatigued in one arm, they can switch to the other side and keep the movement going.  The frequency of the hand switch is only limited by the coach’s imagination.  If you want the athlete to train strength and coordination you can have the athlete go heavier and for shorter duration.  If you are training the conditioning of the athlete, keep the weight lighter and switch hands every few repetitions.

Conclusion

Once the young athlete has mastered the basic kettlebell movements these above variations allow for safe progression in programming.  In the third part of this installment, I will go into some of the variations of the single sided movements that kettlebells have to offer.

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