Physical Presence Speaks Volumes

Basketball season is upon me once again. As I walked into the Patriot Center last Sunday at 5pm (read that again… SUNDAY at 5PM) for our first team practice, I sighed to myself as I noted this is where I will be spending enormous chunks of my days for the next seven months. Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoy working with this team and staff… but, it does mean I will often end up working 7 days per week for weeks and weeks at a time. Right about now, it may have dawned on you that I’m not a basketball coach, so what do I do at these practices that result in 7 day workweeks, you may be wondering. My role during practice is to conduct the team warm-up (which I previously wrote about here), monitor practice volume and intensity (this is a topic I will post on next week as it is critically important for strength coaches to write effective and complimentary programs), watch practice to see where our team has room for improvement (speed, strength in certain planes of movement, conditioning, etc.), and simply to show support for the team which results in a tight bond between myself and the players and coaching staff.

That last part is the one I want to focus on for this post: one’s physical presence demonstrates support for both the team and coaching staff that will eventually manifest itself into an excellent working relationship between all parties. Clearly this can be applied well beyond college athletics and is the backbone to why you show up for your child’s recitals and various events. Taking it a step further this is a great example of how you can show support for a spouse of coworker. Simply by being present.


Over the last three seasons I have been able to keep a constant pulse on the team and the long-term result is that this year I have put the strongest, fastest, and most well conditioned team on the court (up to this season, at least). This has come from small, but critical, insights to the game I’ve garnered ONLY from hanging around.

What can you learn today by “zipping your lip” and simply listening and watching?

Teaching Triple Extension

Want to work on improving everything from linear sprint speed, power, change of direction, force production, vertical jump, and deceleration strength? I know, who doesn’t, right? These qualities should be included in the very definition of athletic success.

The triple extension is a huge key aspect to unlocking all of these qualities in concert. It is also the component that is common through virtually all the movements that come to mind when thinking about the ideal strong, fast, and powerful athlete. Some good examples are a wrestler shooting, a sprinter coming off the blocks, throwers at the point of release, the vertical jump in a volleyball attack, etc.

What is Triple Extension?

Triple extension is the simultaneous extension of three joints: ankle, knee, and hip. Getting all of these areas to extend powerfully at the perfect moment is a beautiful and natural occurrence. Mess it up and, well, it looks really bad…

Why should Triple Extension be taught, developed, and progressed?

Again, if you’re looking to unlock and develop the athletic potential in yourself or an athlete under your guidance, then triple extension work is a must. Perfection of this movement during training will result in a faster, more powerful athlete on the court, field, or mat. And if you’re faster and more powerful, you WILL be more successful and less injury prone.

Teaching Progressions:

  1. Basic Bodyweight Strength Exercises – pushups, pull-ups, body weight squats, body weight lunges, etc. should all be considered foundational portions of any athletic development program and should NEVER be skipped. Trust me, no one is “too advanced” for this type of work. These movements have their place in any program whether they appear in the warm-up or the body of the training session.
  2. Medicine Ball Overhead Throw – this particular exercise allows triple extension to occur. However, I like using other MB variations to teach a powerful hip extension like a Scoop Throw. I suggest 2-3 sets of 4-6 repetitions for beginners and 3 sets of 2-5 repetitions for more advanced athletes.
  3. Broad Jump and Vertical Jump Variations – these are fantastic because you can add subtle variations almost endlessly to increase or decrease intensity/difficulty for every athlete’s needs. Plus, this is a great opportunity to teach takeoff and landing technique to avoid the dreaded and dangerous knee collapse. Common variations I use regularly include: broad jump, burpee to broad jump, single leg broad jump, vertical jump, hot ground to vertical jump, vertical jump to single leg landing, etc, etc, etc… Sets and reps are the same as med balls at 2-3 sets of 4-6 repetitions for beginners and 3 sets of 2-5 repetitions for more advanced athletes.
  4. Sprint Variations – Numbers 1-3 are progressed over the course of at least 12-weeks for beginners (less for more advanced athletes), sprinting variations can be added to encourage exceptional high quality triple extension repetitions. Generally for this application of sprints the distance should be kept quite short. I find 5-20 yards hits the right spot. At this point we should be dealing with an athlete that can, minimally, be considered “intermediate” in level and with that qualification I suggest 6-20 sets of 1-3 repetitions at a distance of 5-20 yards. The higher the number of sets, the shorter the distance and the lower the number of reps should be. Oh, and be sure to allow for full recovery for achieving power and speed development.
  5. Speed Squats – Hands down my favorite style of lower body exercise. This movement type teaches athletes how to produce force by pushing hard into the ground and accelerating up as fast as possible. These variations include the traditional Speed Squat, Wave Squat, and Jump Squat. Speed squat variations should ONLY be used with ADVANCED athletes. I suggest 6-10 sets of 2-3 reps with about 45-seconds rest between sets. Weight should be kept at 55-65% of the athlete’s 1RM squat.
  6. Olympic Lifting Variations – Please take note that this is the absolute last suggestion of my list of progressions for teaching the Triple Extension, but it is the variation that inexperienced (and in my opinion misguided) coaches frequently jump to first. Olympic lift variations have their place with highly advanced and elite level athletes. However, I rarely use them. Why? Because through my experience I have found that one can elicit faster and greater gains via cycling through numbers 1-5. However, I do use them sparingly with some athletes. I have to admit the athleticism required for Oly lifts can make executing them a lot of fun, but there is a requirement of athleticism!! It makes me sick to my stomach how many coaches are on some kind of auto-inclusion of each and every Olympic variation for each and every athlete. What a mistake! Including these in a program too soon leads to poor form and execution which means you’re not getting that much bang-for your-buck with the movements (i.e., wasting time) and would be better off regressing to something more straightforward. Anyway, some great variations include the jump shrug, high pull, hang clean, etc. Keep the sets moderate and reps LOW.

You really can’t make a mistake if you cool your jets and follow this progression slowly. Remember, untrained athletes will get stronger and faster with very little stimulus. So take your time and learn to enjoy and respect the process!

Fall Your Way to Faster Sprint Times: The Falling Start

Who doesn't want to sprint faster? Whether you're a competitive athlete, a weekend warrior, or simply someone who wants to win the next random "tough guy" challenge at a BBQ, the ability to sprint quickly certainly can't be a negative addition to your toolbox.

It's tough to find a better means of true plyometric training than sprinting, and, on top of that, there are few human movements that simply feel more "freeing" than sprinting. There's no denying that it's just plain fun.

However, most of us find ourselves in a devilish conundrum here: Sprinting faster - and safely - isn't just about going out and sprinting. Why, you ask?

  1. Most people simply lack the strength to efficiently decelerate (and subsequently accelerate) during each stride. The remedy to this lies in ensuring your involvement in a sound strength training regimen. I discussed the "why" behind the importance of strength for increased speed in the Improving My Son's 60-Yard Dash Q & A I wrote last year (see the third point), so I'm not going to bore you here.
  2. The majority of us move like crap. As such, heading out to the track for 100yd repeats for our first "sprint" session is a recipe for pulled adductors, hamstrings, and hip flexors (admittedly, this happened to me in college so I'm allowed to make fun of those that currently do it). Given that most people sit the majority of the day, possess glaring flexibility deficits, and haven't sprinted in a while, going balls-to-the-wall right off the bat is about as intelligent as thinking you can win a cage match against Wolverine.**

This being said, I prefer to ease people into sprinting, utilizing short bouts of 80% intensity to begin with. These will typically be completed at 20-yards OR LESS. This way, the person won't be able to reach full acceleration and reduce the risk of incurring an "ouchie." Not to mention, nearly everyone's sprint times can be lower by working on the first ten yards alone, due to the fact that the start of the sprint is where you lose most of your time.

Here's a drill I like to use to ease into sprinting, on top of helping teach someone how to produce large amounts of force into the ground:

Falling Start

Some of the key points:

  • Fall. Seriously, fall forward as far as possible. You want to lean so far that you would literally fall on your face if your feet don't catch up to you. This is critical to creating the momentum we're looking for in acceleration, as well as nearly (but not completely) approximating the body angle required for acceleration one would experience out of the blocks. This is where Matthew (the one demonstrating) is better at this drill than the majority of people I've seen do it, as most tend to think they've leaned further forward than they actually have.
  • As you lean forward onto the balls of your feet, be sure to keep the hips forward (i.e. body should be stiff as board, like you're a falling plank...no bending at the waist).
  • As you drive out of the fall, maintain that forward lean and be vigorous with your arm action. Drive those elbows "front to back" and keep the palms open/relaxed (again, Matthew does a pretty good job with this).
  • Try your best to keep the chin tucked throughout the acceleration, too. The only main critique I have for Matthew's demo is that he looked up - hyperextending his neck - as he drove out of the start.
  • Keep your sprint distance to 10-20 yards, especially in the early stages of training. In the video, Matthew only accelerates through the eight yard mark before slowing down.

There you have it. While there are countless drills you can use to "improve that first step," I really like this one for people just starting out with their sprint work, as well as mixing in the programs of those toward the "advanced" side of the spectrum, too.

**unless your name is Magneto.

Great Warm-up Movement You've Never Tried

MB Push + StartWhat is it? A great warm-up tool for getting the CNS firing and reminding the body how to produce a lot of force against the ground. The movement approximates the start for a sprint event. You can’t get as low as you do in the blocks, but it helps teach and reinforce how to produce great amounts of force as you are falling forward.

Why use it? See above, plus it’s fun!

Who should use it? Any athlete that is concerned about a “quick first step.”

If I were to coach myself based on my demonstration in the video, I clearly need to work on allowing myself to fall a fraction of a second longer and spend another fraction of a second extending through and taking advantage of the triple extension moment.

Overall, not too bad for a woman who had a baby exactly one-year ago tomorrow!