Mastering The Machine
By Loren Landow, CSCS, Denver Broncos
As coaches and trainers, we have many different equipment options for training our athletes. Barbells, dumbbells, isolated equipment, medicine balls, TRX, kettlebells, Run Rockets, Elastomers, Sandbells and bags, weighted sleds, battle ropes and the list goes on. All this equipment exists to further exploit our athletes’ strength, explosiveness, speed, agility and stability. Ultimately all these tools are only as good as the mechanical efficiency the athlete possesses on the playing field. So, if you have poor mechanical efficiency on the field of play, adding greater power, strength or endurance won’t solve the efficiency problem. “Adding resistance to dysfunction won’t fix the dysfunction.” In many instances, it will make it worse.
Before adding power, athletes first need to be accountable for how they move. They should learn general locomotion skills such as acceleration, deceleration, planar movement (shuffles, slides, carioca patterns, etc.) transitional steps (jab step, crossover step, drop step, rhythm/false step, power cut and speed cut). Arming your athletes with this general movement arsenal, while mastering the skill of deceleration with each skill, will do more for their play making ability.
If you attend a Broncos off-season workout, you might see me do this to emphasize the importance of speed:
Hand a stopwatch to an athlete and have him start and stop it as fast as he can. Most results will be .18 -.22, basically 0.2 of a second.
Then explain to the athlete that that is the difference between a 4.6 and a 4.4 40-yard dash.
This lesson creates the buy-in for technical training.
Regardless if the opposition is faster than our athletes, if we play with proper movement mechanics, we have the advantage over someone who has blazing, straight line speed.
My goal is quite simple, how efficiently can athletes transition from acceleration to change of direction, and then back into acceleration? The athlete who can get back to acceleration patterns the most efficient has the advantage. So, how do we train this?
I always tell athletes that they need to do all the right things from the wrong position. Simply stated, this means that sports are too unpredictable to know where we are going and how to most efficiently get there. First, we need to use our off-season training to re-teach fundamental movement skills. I create a learning block of training of Acceleration / Deceleration, Planar movements / Deceleration, Top End Speed / Deceleration and Transitional movement application (how, where, when). This isn’t meant to robotically program athletes, but to arm them with the necessary skills that make up specific on-the-field tactics. Doing all the right things from the wrong positions is only as applicable as knowing the right things from the right position. Teach the skills in the most learnable environment, and as the competence level grows, start changing the stimulus which they need to react to (whistle, clap, partner, loose ball, lighting system, etc.).
As the specific demands of the season are required, build in these general skills into the metabolic demands of the sport. As an example, instead of using linear movement patterns to condition your athletes make the demands truly similar to the start and stop of sport. Not only are you conditioning the athletes with more similarity to the sport, but the skill of deceleration is constantly rehearsed while in fatigued states, which has huge implications to injury prevention.
As coaches, regardless of the equipment at our disposal, if we neglect teaching athletes how to move efficiently with the machine of the human body, we are neglecting the piece of equipment that matters most. Arm your athletes with the awareness and mastery of locomotion and let all the other tools become the icing on the cake!
Loren Landow, CSCS, MAT Specialist, USAW, is the Head Strength and Conditioning Coach for the Denver Broncos and owner/founder of Landow Performance in Centennial, CO.
For more training tips from Loren, check out All-Pro Performance Training, Human Kinetics, 2021.