What do you need to do as an athlete to maximize your potential? Is it all about weight lifting after school? Should you be doing “speed and agility” drills? Are there some “secrets” that you should be paying closer attention to?
When it comes to elevating your performance as an athlete there has never been a better time to be alive which is why I wanted to put together this article to help you as a parent, athlete or coach see the complete picture of what it takes to develop to the fullest potential. These six principles are the same six that we instill in all of our athletes when they come to us with plenty of potential, some experience in weight lifting and training and with the aspirations to be great.
We give a little bit of a different talk when it comes to our beginners so I will create a separate article for those parents and athletes. This message and information below are for those athletes who feel they already have some game, some athleticism, and a lot of determination but want to know what is next for them.
Buy-in and follow the steps and you won’t be disappointed.
# One. Have Great(er) Expectations
When you spend time with middle school and high school athletes you quickly realize that they have a lot of room to improve their technique. They struggle to keep their posture tight on a deadlift and squat, to spread the floor with a squat, to engage their core throughout a full range of motion on a push-up, and don’t know the processes of jumping and landing, to name a few.
And all of that is okay. People of all ages aren’t magically taught how to train with great form and precision. The message here is that after you get an athlete training with great form, they must have greater expectations for themselves.
If all that a good athlete got from us was great technique that will stay with them for the rest of their life we have certainly achieved a large part of our job as coaches. But to say that mastering technique is the END GOAL instead of the BEGINNING goal is selling the whole process and journey short.
Instead, when you consider mastering technique the beginning and not the end everything changes. You realize that you can continue to expand your athletic window while you continue to develop as a player. Being a 17, 18, 19, 20 year old athlete with an advanced menu of training abilities puts you in the best possible position to have an amazing career.
The catch… you don’t develop these skills and adaptations overnight. So fall in love with the process!
Some of the areas you can adapt to build off of the fundamentals are the angles, tempos, variations, tools, and hitting new personal bests.
Here are two examples of expanding your mind on training. Aden is crushing a 100 pound external loaded push-up while Jake Blumenthal of Randolph football and track doing a really difficult core drill. Monty doing a set of tough elevated split squats and a great group owning a challenging plyometric drill.
The take home message is this: set your sights higher than just getting by from a training standpoint. Don’t settle for just learning technique. Instead, aim to become masterful and move on to new training challenges. Continue to fill in your athletic gaps and you will quickly realize that you are capable of way more than you ever thought possible.
# Two. Technique
From a young athlete, high school athlete, ACL/college athlete to a father and performance coach athlete I have been training since I was 14 years old. In the beginning, “training” looked more like lifting weights when I could, running around my neighborhood, doing plyometrics in my backyard, and going to workout at a facility.
In total I been working out consistently for 16 years and yet over the last two years I have really dialed in my form and have never felt better in my training sessions. My mind/muscle connection is stronger than ever and I am really feeling smooth when I go through the exercises.
For all you young, talented athletes the message is simple… you can’t run away from technique. Ever. Stay humble in training. Learn and re-learn your technique. Never get complacent and never assume you have it all figured out.
Because my question to you is how confident are you to perform deadlifts, squats, reverse lunges, push-ups, rows, single leg squats, single leg jumps, or change of direction sprints under a performance coaches eye? How confident would you be to ace every single exercise?
That’s always the goal. So while you progress and add in new things to your athletic menu, always stay grounded. The training room is an amazing place to be a student of the game.
Here are two great examples of Randolph Football great kids Justin Townsend making his deadlift nearly perfect (needed to finish more with his glutes) and quarterback Aden Koenigsberg making a huge reverse lunge look great!
Most athletes in training do what they have always done. If what they have always done is a reverse lunge where the back leg is way too far out stretched than you are just ingraining bad technique and making it feel normal.
Never mistake doing an exercise often for doing it properly/perfectly.
# Three. 3-Dimensional Training
Squat. Deadlift. Push-ups. Rows. Lunges. Farmer Carries. Sprints. Hurdles. What do these exercises all have in common? Everything is done in what is called the sagittal plane.
A simple way to think of the sagittal plane is the straight line plane. While these exercises are the fundamentals and the foundation of a great performance program, a good athlete needs to master these but also become just as proficient and versatile with exercises that challenge you in 360 degrees.
What about horizontal strength and power drills? What about rotational drills?
Why should you focus on three dimensional training if you want to take your game to another level? Because the goal in training isn’t just to acquire strength… the goal is to become the most explosive and resilient athlete you can be. You do not get to that level by doing only sagittal plane exercises.
What is so important to appreciate is that there is a whole new world of training when you open your eyes and mind to going beyond the sagittal plane. But just to be clear, you should never drop these foundational sagittal plane exercises because they are important. But if every single time you are training to get better you are only focusing on them then you are leaving so much potential behind!
Here are some examples of great three dimensional drills by Jack Chernow of Mendham and Columbia University baseball, Mike Cilio of Mendham and University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Also Natalie is a 2 x post ACL soccer player from Knolls and Julian is a former Randolph Basketball player now playing at Seton Hill University.
# Four. Tempo / Single Leg
If you have been working out for some time you may have fallen into the habit of moving the weight from A to B as fast as you can. If so, you are leaving so much potential gains behind!
Instead of speeding things up to get better a good athlete should SLOW THINGS DOWN!
Why is that? When you lift weights fast you are missing out on what is called “time under tension” which means that you aren’t exposing your muscles to enough stress to create a significant adaptation. When you rep out fast and mindlessly you are going through the motions. Sure your muscles may fatigue because of the weight being heavy and you eventually tiring out but you aren’t getting the connection that makes training transfer to increase your performance or maximize injury resilience.
Consider how tough it is to perform a squat with a four second lower, pause at the bottom for two seconds, then explode up to the top. You are exposing your muscle and body to a “full” muscle contraction. YOU are dominating and controlling the weight, instead of the weight dominating you.
When an athlete better controls the tempo of their movements they are then able to USE that enhanced power to get in and out of their cuts better, be more explosive to the ball, and have a larger overall impact on the game.
Here is Townsend crushing elevated split squats with a 321 tempo. Three seconds down, two second hold, one second to the top. Monty Boykins, a Lafayette and University of Pittsburgh graduate is doing a 321 RDL with perfect form. Notice in Townsends video how the athlete behind him is going too fast. I slowed him down on the next set!
# Five. Integrate / Single Leg
Is a dumbbell row a great exercise? Absolutely. Is an overhead press a great exercise? Absolutely. Is a plank a solid exercise? You bet.
But there comes a point when it becomes essential for a good athlete to focus on integrating movements to get the most athletic transfer. Because remember, being strong IS NOT THE GOAL!
The real goal is to become as explosive and resilient as possible. If you focus on that you will not only get really strong but you will improve in so many different facets that carry over into improved performance.
So why should you focus on integrating instead of isolation?
Here’s something to consider. When you play a sport, for instance, wrestling, your entire body is engaged in the match. Every muscle is firing and working together to produce the result that you want. The stronger and better those muscles are connected the more transfer into the match you will experience. When you’re on the mat and looking to make an attack you need your entire body strong, coordinated and connected.
How we explain it to our athletes is to consider our body connected with flexible steel cables. The better these steel cables are connected and the stronger they are the better the overall structure is.
If you are a good athlete you will reap some serious rewards by systematically integrating your training.
Here are some great examples. The first is by Mike Colaiocco former Blair All-American wrestler now at UPenn Wrestling doing a 215 pound elevated split squat. Next is Monty doing a Side Plank with his feet on a foam roll, chains on his hip, and doing a cable row. Next is Aden doing a split stance overhead barbell hold and last is Justin Bosland, of Roxbury basketball/baseball making a bear hold with touch look flawless!
# SIX. Rhythm Runs & Pouncing
These two go hand in hand. Running is a natural process that all humans are capable of doing. If you are a good athlete though what you need to focus on is two things when it comes to your running. The first is how smooth and coordinated you are and the second is your ability to explode and cover ground as fast as possible.
When you look at good athletes play their sport they are in their element. They are doing the thing that they have done hundreds, if not thousands, of times before. But when you take then out of their element and look at them perform simple movement drills you will often see clunkiness, poor mechanics, and an inability to coordinate movements to make them look smooth and powerful. Movement drills if they look good are usually being performed well. When they look bad…
So what do you need to do? Athletes need to embrace being a beginner, slow down, and enjoy the process of putting the pieces together. At Driven we call this “Ballerina season” because we are looking to enforce rhythm, power, and grace in all of our movement drills while teaching and mastering the technique.
After they begin to look and feel fluid the next step is to enhance their ability to “pounce.” As a college basketball player it was amazing how fast a defender would close out. When you play against truly elite competition you notice very quickly how fast gaps are closed, space is occupied, and the opponents seem to be everywhere.
I call this ability “pouncing” (think like a cat) and it is simply an athletes ability to take up and close out as much space as possible extremely fast and explosively. The skill of pouncing needs to be practiced by developing a stronger mind/muscle connection and by enhancing the “intent” of the athlete. Going through the motions without concentrating does not drive enhanced explosiveness. Instead, focus on what you are trying to do and put ALL of your effort into doing it.
You will then notice that you are sharper, more powerful, and taking up more space than ever before.
This first video is a good group of athletes at different ages all practicing the same movement pattern of a double crossover into an inside hip turn into a crossover run. Riley loves Irish Dance and has cross trained for years and little Patrick loves grinding! He finishes the group strong! If you watch the video you will see all the athletes nail the mechanics at varying speeds.
This is a great exercise to work on “pouncing” in a three dimensional area. Aden’s doing solid work here especially since it was about two days after the football season ended.
This is a good group of athletes, the first one is Tommy Spinelli a former Mendham Football player now going into his senior year playing football at Muhlenberg College, the second is Vince Colaiocco (Mike’s younger brother, equally awesome) and who will be going to University of Tampa to play lacrosse working through a tough plyometric progression.
# 7 BONUS:
The quality of the food you eat will directly impact how well you recover, your ability to train hard and consistently and the transfer to the game that you experience.
If you are like *most* high school athletes you are either skipping breakfast, skimping lunch with just a sandwich and then a bag of chips, and not having a Super Shake consistently.
Here’s the bottom line when it comes to nutrition. There are no quick-fixes. There is no easy way to gain 20 pounds or lose 20 pounds. Your nutrition speaks for itself. Which means that as an athlete you have complete control. You can dictate the quality of the foods you eat and how much of those quality foods you eat. You can control saying no thanks to Wendy’s and alcohol. You can control making yourself a shake and having breakfast daily.
The answer is not complicated, but it is meaningful. Take responsibility for your nutritional actions and we can guarantee you will feel better, become quicker and more explosive and get the most out of your hard work.
If you are a good athlete who is looking to take his/her game to another level start here with these principles. Focus on them. Live and breathe them and they will not let you down.
And if you want experienced coaches who will care about you, treat you like family, and give you all the pieces of the puzzle to achieve success schedule a call with us. You could be the next athlete that becomes a part of the family!