speed and agility

Bowler Squat for First Step Speed?

The Bowler Squat is an exercise you generally see in a physical therapy setting and is used as a basic way to teach multi-planar single-leg stability.

We’ve used these at SAPT for quite awhile as a regression for athletes who are struggling with single leg balance to the point that they can’t execute a single-leg hop with a balanced landing. But who are more advanced than limiting exercises to side-lying clam level.

This is an athlete who has excellent lateral hip strength and can demonstrate a safe, controlled landing. For athletes who aren’t able to display control, we look to regress, often with the Bowler Squat.

Hip Drop Knee Cave.jpg

If you take a look at the pictures above you will see both a knee cave and a large hip drop in the example of the Bowler Squat illustration. Most importantly, you will see the same hip drop translate over to running stride - this is a giant red flag signifying weak lateral hip musculature on the support leg (the leg opposite of the dropped hip) and a VERY REAL risk of injury (groin, ankle, knee, hip, etc.).

The Standard Bowler Squat is a great way to work on multi-planar single-leg stability.

Beyond using the Bowler Squat as a way to teach stability and balance, I also like to use the Bowler Squat as a part of my dynamic warm-up with elite athletes as a way to prime/activate their core muscle function. We’ll do several variations of them: straight forward Bowlers with a lateral knee touch, eyes closed, or as part of a single leg balance sequence (again I use a few variations of these).

This is an advanced variation of the Standard Bowler Squat. It can be used as a challenging addition the warm-up for high level athletes.

The 1-Leg Balance Progression is a great warm-up sequence for runners that challenges balance.

Up until recently, that’s about as far as I had ever taken the Bowler Squat both in theory and practice. But, Tim DiFrancesco (formerly the head strength coach for the Los Angeles Lakers) posted about the Bowler Squat being a great exercise for first step speed development. I had never thought of the dutiful Bowler Squat in such grand terms! It gave me an opportunity to reframe the exercise as I watched some of the athletes I work with play their sport of basketball. To be clear, I am taking this post further than what Tim’s initial post suggested, so these are my own conclusions based off of a simple thought he posed.

I didn’t have to look long or hard to find the Bowler Squat in action and came up with an almost endless list of ways the Bowler Squat can be woven into performance exercises.

Over the past couple weeks I’ve started experimenting by using certain variants of this with athletes who are already and must continue to perform plyometric movements, but who struggle with stability, control, and tension.

With only a couple weeks to consider and experiment with a mental reframing of the Bowler Squat as possible driver for first step speed, I would hesitate to assign it too great of importance.

I really like the balance challenge and how it naturally forces an athlete to focus and tighten up with a few reps prior to a jump, but the real workhorses behind first step speed continue to be the Bulgarian Split Squat and all it’s variants as my number one choice - with all other lunge, squat, and deadlift variations following closely behind.

Ensuring an athlete has the ABILITY to execute a perfect Bowler should be a prerequisite to any single-leg plyometric activity. But, being as strong as possible is always the foundation for durable, resilient, and effective performance.

If you are a coach and have any experience utilizing these types of combos, I’d love to hear what you use and how you feel about the results.

Position Specific Drills: Defense

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Position Specific Training: Defense

When training a football defensive player, the 5 primary aspects of focus are: strength, explosiveness,  footwork/agility, and reactiveness.

Strength is Part 1, this is where you lay the foundation. Building an elite athletes is analogous to building a house: you can't do without a strong, solid foundation. Therefore, strength is the foundation upon which you develop explosiveness, agility, and reactiveness. The athlete must be strong enough to: move their bodyweight effectively in all 3 planes of motion - aka frontal, transverse, and sagittal for you kinesiology majors out there - and manhandle and tackle an offensive player. Staple lower body strength exercises all athletes should do are squats, deadlifts, and lunge variations (just ensure you fit the variation of said movements to the individual). Pair these with upper body strength builders such as the bench press, pullup, overhead press, and rowing variations, and you're well on your way toward success. When performed properly in an intelligently designed strength program, these will get the most meat the bones of your athletes and set them on the road to becoming behemoths!

Strength training turns boys into men!

Explosiveness is Part 2. This is when the application of strength translates into moving faster and jumping higher. "Explosiveness" (the coveted athletic attribute) entails exerting a high amount of force really fast, as in split-seconds fast. To train this,  perform exercises which force you (or your athletes) to move fast. This is where plyometrics and Olympic lifts come in!Plyometric exercises such as cone/hurdle hops, box jumps, vertical/broad jumps force you to exert high amounts of force in milliseconds.

**Word of Caution!!!** Olympic lifts are great for developing explosiveness, HOWEVER they are extremely technical; so technical they have their own sport! They are only to be done under the supervision of an experienced coach who can properly teach/progress them to maximize gains and reduce injury risk*.  (*Note from Kelsey: and athletes should demonstrate proficient strength and technique in the squat and deadlift. The Oly-lifts should be reserved for strong, experienced athletes, aka,  not the average high school athlete.)

Working on explosiveness is critical for all defensive positions. Defensive ends/tackles have to be explosive to get a jump on the offensive line to tackle  the running back or sack the QB. Meanwhile, linebackers, corner backs, and safeties must be able to jump higher than receiver in order to break up or intercept passes.

Agility and Footwork are part 3. Here's where the foundation analogy starts to make more sense: the application of strength and explosiveness equates to improved speed and change of direction. Agility and footwork go hand in hand like peanut butter and jelly! You need to know how and where to place your feet, relative to your body, in order to avoid injury and effectively change direction. If you try to change direction and your step is too short, too long, or at the wrong angle you are putting your ankles, knees, and hips in a disadvantageous (and potentially injurious) position. A great way to start working on foot position and running technique is to spend a few minutes during the first portion of a training session on agility ladder drills, for lateral, diagonal, and change-of-direction work. Once you become proficient at the ladder drills, you can progress to cone drills on turf or grass where you work on changing directions in game-like scenarios.

Last but not least we have Reactiveness, whichis the culmination of all four qualities. Everything a defensive player does involves reaction! They react to the snap, react to the QB, react to the runner or the receiver, and they react to grab a fumble. You need to be strong and explosive to move your body fast and you need agility/footwork to react to the play and make something happen. A couple of training ideas would be:

-Reactive starts to a whistle

-Reaction ball training

-Reacting to the QB drill

-Sprint shuffle cone drills

-Cone agility box drill

Training doesn't have to complicated or use fancy equipment or techniques. Focus on strength first, then the subsequent qualities and your team will be unstoppable!

The most fun/dangerous reaction drills ever!