Six Steps to Make Your Pre-Season Training Matter
By: Gary Vesper, Founder
At Driven we are always thinking ahead when it comes to our athlete development. We know that if athletes want to be at their best in March than they need to start putting in the work now. With that in mind I thought it would be fitting to highlight five keys of a successful performance program for lacrosse players and what athletes should be doing to maximize their time and energy, get great results and prevent future injuries.
1. Warm-Up Properly
I know, sounds obvious right? Well, not so fast. We see many athletes still using the same old methods of “touch-your toes” stretching, jogging or skipping the warm up altogether. There are two reasons why I feel athletes continue to neglect their warm-up:
1) They are tired of people harping on it.
2) They are tired of doing it and not really feeling like they are getting something out of it.
To be fair, I get where the athletes are coming from. Everyone says how important warming up is yet they do not know or offer a better solution than the tried and untrue methods. These typical warm-ups are boring, ineffective and inefficient.
So lets uncover some techniques that truly optimize the athlete for game readiness. Learning how to foam roll properly will make a huge difference in an athlete’s ability to train hard consistently and alleviate the nagging bumps and bruises DURING a season.
The next step to a proper farm up is flexibility and mobility of specific joints and muscles. At Driven we teach athletes how to stretch with resistance bands and then use their new flexibility during mobility drills that blend flexibility and stability through long and various ranges of motion.
The steps to a great warm-up:
- Focus on tissue quality first through foam rolling
- Mobilize joints and muscle groups together
- Activate hips, core and back
- Stabilize joints
- Get the body moving
Done this way athletes will enjoy and embrace the warm-up. And the results of longevity are invaluable.
As your athlete looks to have a breakout season I encourage you to explore the horizons with this important topic. They will feel better, train better and ultimately play better when it matters most!
2. Learn How To Cut And Change Direction
The beauty of lacrosse is watching players zigzag across a field, with the stick in their hand, dodging the opponents while trying to stay on balance. This scenario is also the challenge of being a lacrosse player. How do you strategically maneuver across the field while minimizing the impact the other player has on you with their physicality?
A crucial component of lacrosse training is the prevention of ACL injuries by teaching how to cut efficiency and effectively to be at your best and to stay on the field. One way to do that is to teach athletes how to change direction with their whole foot on the ground and not just their toes. By keeping more ground contact allows you to then use your hips to sink into the cut and then explode out of. When a player cuts on their toes they are leaning forward, placing too much pressure on their quadriceps and knee joint.
The next step is to make sure the athlete knows that in order to cut they need to put their feet outside the body. What we mean by this is that athletes should not cut with their feet directly underneath of them. Instead, “throw” your feet outside of your center of gravity so that you create a better ANGLE to plant, absorb and then propel off of.
These two strategies are the foundation of our movement skills at Driven. Teach athletes to cut with their whole foot, with their hips and with a better angle. If you do this you dramatically reduce the chance of injury while making them a harder player to knock off balance.
3. Train Hip Dominance
This one is so important! Ask a lacrosse player (or any athlete) how to squat and they will show you something that looks like a squat. Ask a lacrosse player (or any athlete) what a hip hinge is and they will have no idea what you are talking about or how to do it.
A hip hinge is a movement pattern that encompasses weight shifting backwards into your hips so that you engage more of your muscles in your glutes and hamstrings instead of just your quads. Your glutes are the true force producer of the lower body so when you get athletes to strength train beyond just squatting you open up a whole new level of athleticism.
Being able to hip hinge properly makes athletes more explosive because you are training your engine, your hips, to do the bulk of the work. By teaching and strength training an athlete how to maximize body control through their hips they become more coordinated and rely less on their knees and quads to do all of the work. This allows them to get stronger safer and provides a level of safety when the athlete goes into the game.
If a lacrosse player wants to reach their potential they must learn how to do exercises that include the hip hinge. This will open up a level of athleticism they did not have while easing the stress that is on the knee joint.
*Exercises: Deadlift, Single Leg Deadlift, Single Led RDL, RDL’s, RFESS, Hip Thrusts
4. Go from High Reps to Low Reps
How do you get the best results in a pre-season window? Here is how I plan for beginners in their training programs. For the record, most athletes are beginners because they simply do not spend enough time consistently training. Start with higher rep schemes (8-12) the first month so that it gives the athlete a chance to put on more size through the larger repetition schemes.* This also gives athletes a chance to get comfortable with the movement pattern and truly feel what the exercise should feel like.
* Bulking up is done through the higher rep ranges because you spend more time under tension. This builds size for the athlete because they get in a lot of good volume and strengthen the tissues of the muscle without straining them through heavy loads.
As the player works through their programs lower the rep ranges so they can get as strong as possible. That is the name of the game for pre-season training; getting athletes to become as strong as they can in this amount of time so that they can use that strength explosively. The lower rep ranges also trains the neuromuscular system to coordinate more efficiently because it has to learn how to handle a heavier load.
If you follow this program design you will have taken an athlete from just being inexperienced through a heavy volume phase, an intermediate phase to begin to load the exercises, and then a loading phase that they can now start to really challenge their strength.
*For beginners a low rep range is not below 5-6. Athletes rarely need to do single or double reps in an exercise.
5. Train Rotational Power
Lacrosse is a rotational sport in which requires a different set of skill sets than sports like basketball and soccer. With the stick coming across your body you need to develop rotational core control and then train that control into rotational power.
What this does not mean is doing ‘Russian Twists’ with a medicine ball for hundreds of reps. Training sitting down and with repeated flexion (rounding) does not train the core muscular to synchronize or to power through on a shot. It also does not train the core to stabilize so that when a player goes to shoot they do not suffer any energy leaks through the kinetic chain. To maximize shooting velocity the kinetic chain (the connection of muscles to perform a task) needs to be linked; energy leaks hurt power production by “leaking” explosiveness through weak points in the body.
In order to fix this we recommend performing rotational medicine ball throws against the wall. Done properly this teaches athletes to use their hips in conjunction with their core and arms to maximize efficiency. This also challenges athletes to develop pure power. Power is the expression of strength and speed at the same time. Therefore, throwing a weighted (six pounds max!) medicine ball with speed, force and coordination transfers right over to shooting a lacrosse stick across a player’s body.
When athletes perfect and then progress medicine ball training it is remarkable to see the speed in which they shoot go up. This not only enhances direct on field performance it dramatically increases a player’s confidence. Perhaps the most important part!
6. Train Anaerobic and Aerobic And THEN Glycolytic
Don’t worry, this isn’t that fancy of a topic so let me just explain.
We need to focus on getting the athletes conditioned in a smart manner so it is actually useful come game time.
There are three energy systems in the body: Anaerobic, Glycolytic and Aerobic.
Anaerobic: Under 10 seconds of work
Glycolytic: Under 90 seconds of work
Aerobic: Over 90 Seconds of Work
Here is what you need to know about energy system development:
Do sprints under 10 seconds and then rest for minimum of three minutes so you enhance your anaerobic capacity to produce speed repeatedly.
Jog for 30-60 minutes WITHOUT getting tired. You DO NOT want to huff and puff doing these. The goal is to challenge your hearts ability to keep going while staying in this aerobic window. By expanding your aerobic capacity you then create a better recovery ability.
If you specifically train these two systems early on you will feel MUCH better when athletes start to run wind sprints on the field. “Suicides” fall under that glycolytic window and it is the easiest system to train and the one that gets trained the most.
So you might be thinking, if you use it the most shouldn’t you train for it? My answer, is it always best to teach to the test?
By developing your other two systems FIRST and then adding in your glycolytic work you have developed your horsepower (anaerobic) with a big window (aerobic) so you are now able to withstand chaos (glycolytic). Your aerobic capacity to run without getting tired needs to be very large so that when you start doing intense “suicides” you have trained your heart to perform at a higher capacity. Anaerobic training will produce a faster athlete that can stay fast for a longer time. Do not blend the two until you start running suicides.
Follow these conditioning guidelines and you will be in much better shape come the season! Consider how science and what we know about human physiology can help achieve your goals and you will really enjoy the payoff.
I hope this article gives you plenty food for thought for your lacrosse players pre-season training programs. It may seem like a lot but it really isn’t. Each component has a place in a program that can be addressed as a separate entity. It is important to remember that lacrosse is a game in which all athletic components need to be on display simultaneously. Athletes must be fast, strong, flexible, conditioned, and powerful in order to dominate and win. I hope this article helps you do just that! If you have any questions or would like some input on how to best implement these strategies please feel free to reach out.
All the Best,
Gary Vesper, XPS, FMS, Pn1, CSAC