The Result of Consistent Training
It’s been about a week since I wrapped up a youth speed and agility camp at the middle school track. Ten local youth athletes attended, ranging in age from 12 to 15 years old. Most of them are multiple sport athletes, but their main sport is baseball. The goal of the camp was to improve their speed, agility, and core strength. A study out of the strength and conditioning department at the University of Nebraska showed that the athletes who could accelerate the quickest over a 10 yard distance, had the most on field success, according to strength coach, Jim Kielbaso. As we just read, acceleration is extremely important to athletic success in any field sport, so I placed a huge emphasis on improving it. The very first class, I ran the kids through several different tests, which included a 30 yard dash, pro agility shuttle, standing long jump, and medicine ball rotational scoop toss. These tests are specifically for baseball players, since that is their main sport. I like to establish these numbers at the very beginning, so we can see that all this training is creating improvements. Call me geeky, but I am a numbers guy and I like to measure performance. We had 6 weeks (12 sessions) to train and get better. Dan John has said, “Everything works for 6 weeks, and then it doesn’t.” I am not going to try and convince you that I have come up with the ultimate workout, because anything can create improvements in the untrained or those with a limited training history, assuming the workout is relatively safe and does not promote injuries. However, the kids did make some great improvements in a short time and I wanted to share with you the way I organized the camp. Even if you aren’t interested in speed and agility improvements, bear with me, I will make it clear how this can relate to you. It’s about consistent training. Here is how a typical class was organized. I tried to keep down time to a minimum!
We began every class with a dynamic warm-up. Originally, we began with just standing work, but due to some occasional muscle tweaks during the first couple classes, I began incorporating some mat work. For some reason, it seems like the kids required a more involved warm-up than has been needed in past camps. This is only my theory, but I am wondering if it has anything to do with the abundance of electronics these days, occupying our minds and keeping the body inactive throughout the day, causing muscle imbalances, and poor posture. For whatever reason, I found we had to do more mobility work, especially for the adductors (groin muscles). We began warm-ups with some simple exercises on the mat, and increased the intensity as we moved through the standing dynamic stretches.
We continued the warm-up with drills for foot speed/footwork on the speed ladder and dot drills. I have heard some strength coaches question the validity of using the speed ladder in training, but I think it is great for an extended warm-up, and getting the kids to move their feet quickly. I do notice significant improvements in footwork over the course of the camp. The dot drills incorporate some hopping, basically low level plyometric drills combined with footwork. There is another reason I utilize the ladder drills in training, the kids find it fun. They look forward to the challenge, encourage their fellow athletes, and every now and then, we get a good laugh when someone makes a big mistake, but we always encourage them to do better on the next rep. I always strive to keep a positive environment when training.
We moved from the foot speed/footwork drills to speed mechanics next. Improving mechanics is the easiest way to improve speed and acceleration. We started with the most simple fix of all, the arm swing. Cleaning up the arm swing can make quick improvements in speed. Most of our speed mechanics work revolved around acceleration due to it’s importance in sports. We covered a forward body lean position, producing force with each stride, and lifting the knees and toes. Eventually, as technique improved, we started adding resistance to their accelerations. We used resistance bands, weighted sleds, uphill sprinting, and the last day, we did some over-speed training with some downhill sprints. We usually finished each speed mechanics section with a couple sprint reps. Emphasis was placed on quality over quantity since we were working on technique.
Agility was next on the agenda. I had them run through a large variety of cone drills. When possible, I would make it into a game. I wanted to balance out our sprint work, the ability to move forward quickly, with the ability to move quickly in multiple directions. It also gave us an opportunity for some conditioning work. Multiple reps of a cone drill with short rest times will get the heart beating and the lungs working. I made sure they had opportunities to move laterally (side shuffle), move back wards (backpedal), and make sharp cuts. We worked on making good cuts, so they could change direction efficiently. What good is improved speed if we can’t move in multiple directions and change direction quickly?
The final piece of the puzzle was our core training. The majority of the time we did our core training in a circle drill. The kids had their mats in a circle and while they performed a specified core exercise, they had to do a relay around the outside of the circle, one at a time until everyone had ran around the perimeter. Sometimes instead of running, they had to do crawls. This added a game element to the training, and dare I say it, made it fun.
When the camp was all said and done, the kids had made some solid improvements. Here are the average improvements of the group as a whole. They reduced their 30 yard dash by .36 seconds, decreased their pro agility shuttle by .17 seconds, improved their standing long jump by 4.67 inches, and increased their rotational medicine ball scoop toss by 1 foot, 9 inches. Like I said at the beginning, I don’t think I came up with a miracle workout, just a solid workout, but they all made significant improvements in 6 weeks. The magic lies in the consistency. They worked on speed and agility, twice a week, for 6 weeks straight. Of course, not everyone made it to every single workout, but the biggest improvements were made by those who attended the most classes. That’s the most important part, it’s showing up and doing the work. Of course it helps to have a great workout that’s safe, but you still have to do the work. I had a client who was training for a triathlon. I created a calendar of workouts for them to follow but they were having a hard time fitting it into their schedule. There wasn’t much improvement happening. Finally, we simplified things and came up with times when they could get out and actually do a run, swim, or bike. Once they were consistently training, the improvements started to happen. They recently placed 25th out of 150 in a triathlon up north and followed it up the next day with a solid performance in a sprint triathlon in Bend. They just needed the consistency in their training. You want to be an endurance athlete? You need to swim, bike, and/or run several times each week. Want to get stronger? You need to lift weights or do body weight exercises several times a week. After about 6 weeks of consistency, then you can look into changing up the workouts. Start with consistency and then you can get fancy with the workouts.