There is one irreplaceable thing in all athlete’s training, sport practice. You can be a great football player without doing power cleans or bench presses but you have to practice football. You can be a great powerlifter without pulling sleds and doing reverse hypers, but you have to squat, bench and deadlift. Beyond sport practice though, there are 7 movement categories that are present in the training of all my speed/power athletes (non-strength athletes, those that don’t play their sport with a barbell).
It is important to note that I say movement categories, not movements, because what is appropriate for an athlete of one level, may not be appropriate for an athlete of another, but the types of movements are fairly universal.
For land based sport, what is the simplest way to set yourself apart from your competition? Be faster!
Sprints are the highest velocity movement you can perform and will have great transfer to any land based sport, because sprinting is ‘sport specific’ to them all. Even aquatic athletes, like swimmers and water polo players, will benefit from sprint based drills to improve their lower body power.
Every athlete you work with though may not be ready for maximal velocity speed work depending on their preparedness or the time of the year, that is why we must look at this as a movement category. Younger athletes will benefit from more drills and submax intensity runs until they have developed proper technique, as adding intensity more quickly ingrains technique, so you want to make sure it’s the right technique. Athletes coming off of a hiatus will be detrained and aren’t ready to do maximal velocity sprinting, so they will be better served by doing extensive high knees and skips, as well as hill/sled sprints to reduce their velocity (and hence reducing the chance of soft tissue injury) while building up their special work capacity and strength.
Read More: 7 Speed Training Mistakes That Keep Athletes Slow by Joel Smith
Improved jumping ability (both horizontal and vertical) will improve sprinting acceleration and explosive lower body power across the board, plus it is simple to teach to athletes. Jumping is also of great benefit as it will teach the athlete not just to produce force, but the landing phase will also help them learn how to properly absorb forces.
Jumps though can run a wide gamut from extensive low amplitude hops to depth jumps from a 1m box. Younger athletes with lower relative strength levels or coming off a period of light/no training will benefit from low intensity work aimed at improving their landing technique, rhythm and body control like the drills here. More advanced athletes can benefit from more intensive work like single and double leg bounds for distance and depth jumps. Critically think about what exercise variations your athletes are prepared for and have them use what is right for them, rather than just doing what you see top athletes do on YouTube.
Read More: Squat Jumps To Maximize Athletic Power by Eric Bach
Throws, whether you’re throwing a medicine ball, shot put, keg, pud or any other weighted object is a great way to develop total body explosive power and coordination in multiple directions. There is no deceleration phase in a throw as the implement will accelerate out of your hands, making it a much more true explosive movement than DE lifting or weightlifting movement alternatives. Throws are also simple to learn, can be done in multiple planes of motion and by utilizing different weight implements, can attack different parts of the force-velocity curve.
For the most part, athletes of a wide preparation level will be able to handle most throwing variations. The bigger variable to manipulate with throws for athletes of different levels and at different phases of the training is the weight of the implement being thrown, but some more complex variations such as jumps + throws should be reserved for more advanced athletes.
Read More: Train Like A Thrower by Chad Wesley Smith
As we get into these weightroom movements, it is more important to look at these as movement categories, rather than specific exercises. When you read ‘Squats’ of course you are thinking Barbell Back Squat (whether high bar or low bar) but the reality is that not every athlete is ready to do that and it may not be the most useful thing for them in their training. Exercises like this should exist within an entire range of progressions and regressions to fit an athletes movement abilities, strength and the time of the year in their training.
Are high bar Olympic squats a great movement? Of course, but some athletes you work with may not be ready to do them effectively and safely, they may need to do Box Squats or Belt Squats or Goblet Squats or Front Foot Elevated Split Squats. You should choose exercises for athletes based upon 3 factors, can the athlete do them safely (do they have good technique), can the athlete produce some good output on the movement (can they move some weight cause if not, it’s probably not the best choice) and does it fit within the context of the athlete’s plan at that point.
Read More: 3 Keys To Exercise Selection for Sport Performance by Chad Wesley Smith
Upper Body Push
Pressing strength in the upper body is going to help athletes improve pushing/punching strength in their sport, add muscle mass and perhaps most importantly, help protect them from injuries in the shoulder girdle.
As with the discussion above about progressions and regressions for the squat, the same idea must apply to upper body pushing, but with extra attention being paid to the pushing demands of the athlete’s sport/position. A barbell bench press is a great exercise to develop strength in the chest, shoulders and arms, but for an athlete like a pitcher or quarterback who doesn’t do any direct pushing as part of their sport performance, they may be better served to use a neutral grip bar or dumbbells that allow them to find a more natural/comfortable position to press in.
Read More: Scapula-Best Friend or Biggest Enemy of the Bench Press by Ryan Brown
The great Chubbs from Happy Gilmore said he best in his immortal quote, “It’s all in the hips.” The power an athlete is able to generate through their hips is essential to performance. Powerful hip extension through the glutes and hamstrings will help an athlete sprint faster, jump higher, hit harder and a range of other important qualities.
The exercises you choose to strengthen the hamstrings, glutes and low back for improved hip extension need to also be chosen appropriately for the athlete’s and their preparedness. The snatch is certainly a powerful exercise to build explosive extension abilities but many athletes will not have the requisite movement abilities or relative strength to perform the movement safely and effectively. A simple progression for athletes to move through would be…
-45 Degree Back Raise
-RDL or Good Morning
-High Pulls from Blocks or Hang
-High Pulls from the Floor
-Olympic Lifts from Blocks or Hang
-Olympic Lifts from the Floor
Read More: 5 Pillars of Power by Joel Smith
Upper Body Pulling
‘Everything you do, you must undo’ inherently sports are internal rotation dominant for the shoulders so whether athletes are pushing, throwing or swimming, they’ve almost always become internal rotation biased in their shoulders and need appropriate volumes of upper back training to restore balance and maintain health.
Movement progressions and regressions aren’t quite as significant for upper body pulling movements as they are all fairly remedial and will mostly be progressed or regressed by load.
Read More: The Shoulder Health Essentials by Dr. Quinn Henoch
These 7 simple movement categories are the foundation for nearly all of my athlete’s training and will help you create powerful, well-rounded and healthy athletes. Think critically about what your athletes are ready for within these categories and their results and health will be improved.