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The International Youth Conditioning Association
Updated: 11 hours 8 min ago

6 Reasons Your Athletes Shouldn’t Deadlift – Phil Hueston

Mon, 04/22/2019 - 16:00

Deadlifts are the worst. Let’s face it, everyone hates them. They’re not fun. They’re not cool. They’re hard. Doing them is just a grind.

I think your athletes should skip the deadlifts. Find something better, easier and cooler to do in their place like some fancy, new piece of equipment or the sexy new exercise variation you just saw on Instagram.

Just don’t include the deadlift in your athlete’s training plans. Here’s the reasons why your athletes shouldn’t deadlift.

1. Everyone loves an anterior pelvic tilt – The glute and hamstring activation stimulated by the deadlift helps correct anterior pelvic tilt. But why would we want that? The resulting lumbar lordosis from an anterior pelvic tilt places your athlete at greater risk of low back strain or injury. Of course, anterior pelvic tilt also results in tight hip flexors and dominant quads. Those will help prevent the glutes from doing their job and allow your athlete to enjoy some knee pain and maybe even a serious knee injury.

2. Why prevent injuries? – While we’re on the subject of injuries, I think we can all agree that athletes love to spend time on the trainer’s table or the sidelines. And what athlete doesn’t love doctor visits, MRI’s, surgery and long stints in rehab?

Deadlifts strengthen the core. We know that. But they also assist in strengthening anti-rotation by activating the obligues, deep abdominal stabilizers and quadratus lumborum. Add to that the improved strength of the spinal erectors and multifidi that comes from the increased requirement for spinal stacking support and the deadlift has real potential to prevent back injuries.

Deadlifts improve glute strength, leading directly to improved knee stability and fewer injuries in that joint. But they also reduce the likelihood of injuries in the shoulder girdle as a result of the high degree of shoulder traction needed to manage the weight. The increased grip strength and activation of the thoracic spine also aids in the improvement of shoulder health and injury prevention. Why would we want any of this?

3. Who needs a foundation for other lifts and movements? – Skip the deadlift and move directly to snatches and power cleans. No hinge improvement necessary. The athlete will figure it out on their own eventually.

Conversely, if you teach proper hinge technique and improve pull strength from the floor, when your athlete does move to Olympic lifts, he or she will make everyone else feel bad about their anemic training weights and spastic looking lift technique. And we don’t want to make anyone feel bad, now do we? Trigger alert!

4. We don’t need a true measure of total body strength – We can just guesstimate how strong your athletes are overall. After all, nothing shows off total body strength like a single leg dumbbell curl, right?

5. We don’t want athletic skills to improve too rapidly – After all, rapid gains in vertical leap, broad jumps, acceleration or deceleration/direction change just make it look like your athlete is either showing off or cheating.

While we’re on the subject, I think your athletes can live without large-scale improvements in sports skills like throwing, shooting, tackling and checking, too.

6. We don’t need any one exercise to own the title “best and most versatile exercise” – I mean seriously, do your athletes really need one exercise that trains just about every joint and every major muscle group?

Deadlifts are highly effective at improving posterior chain strength and activation. Not only would this level up your athlete’s deceleration and acceleration skills, it would help them rehab and correct a whole collection of imbalances, kinetic chain dysfunctions and deficiencies.

Since they have lower compressive stress on the knees than squats and no negative impact on other joints when done correctly, you’d be much better off choosing the cooler looking exercises instead. After all, your athletes need to post all their training on “the ‘gram,” don’t they?

Your athletes certainly don’t need an exercise that can be adapted to virtually any body type and adjusted in intensity and volume to meet a variety of training goals.

So it should be clear by now that your athletes really don’t need to deadlift. Besides, we’ve all heard that deadlifts are dangerous, yada, yada.

You may also have noticed that I’ve been arguing that your athletes don’t need to and shouldn’t deadlift. Because despite my arguments about your athletes and deadlifts, my athletes will continue to do them. They’ll also continue to outperform athletes who don’t, as well as stay healthier than those who don’t.

If you heed my really terrible advice in this piece, my athletes will have less to worry about if they ever meet your athletes in competition. Let’s hope, for the sake of your athletes, that you ignore my advice and let your athletes deadlift. Frequently.

Keep the faith and keep after it!

Bio: Coach Phil Hueston is not just another pretty trainer. With over 18 years of in-the-trenches experience with athletes ages 6 to 60, he brings a unique skill-set to the improvement of his athletes. The author of the Amazon best-seller “Alchemy; Where the Art and Science Collide in Youth Fitness,” his client list includes professional athletes, collegiate athletes as well as thousands of youth athletes. Phil has been the co-owner of All-Star Sports Academy in Toms River, NJ, one of the largest and most successful youth and family fitness centers in New Jersey since 2008. He was named “Coach of the Year” by the IYCA for 2012-2013.  A contributor to and coach to other coaches, Phil provides unique insights and ideas that can help other coaches accelerate their clients’ progress and performance. Phil is married to the woman responsible for his entry into the fitness profession, MaryJo. Between them they have 2 grown children, Nate and Andrew, and 99 problems.  Phil’s personal website is, and he can be contacted at


The IYCA High School Strength & Conditioning Specialist is the only certification created specifically for coaches training high school athletes.  The course includes several hours of video instruction and two textbooks with contributions from some of the top strength and conditioning coaches in America.  Click on the image below to learn more about how to become a certified high school strength & conditioning coach.

The post 6 Reasons Your Athletes Shouldn’t Deadlift – Phil Hueston appeared first on IYCA - The International Youth Conditioning Association.

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Progressive Overload: Training vs. Exercise – Jim Kielbaso

Mon, 04/15/2019 - 16:09

The principle of progressive overload is perhaps the most important concept for coaches to understand when developing athletes.  It is one of the most basic differences between training and simply exercising. Unfortunately, this concept is often misunderstood and misapplied, especially when working with athletes under 18 years old.  While developing athletes can be a very complex undertaking, I’d like to simplify the concept of progressive overload and discuss how to most appropriately apply it as part of an overall training program.

The most simplistic way to explain progressive overload is to slowly challenge yourself to do more than you’re currently capable of doing.  Without some system of progression, we’re just burning calories and making athletes tired. Sure, they may benefit from exercise, but the process of training or developing athletes should be more systematic so they progress in the safest and most efficient manner possible.

The variables that can be manipulated when applying overload include:

  • Frequency – how often the stimulus is applied
  • Intensity – either the percentage an athlete’s maximum capability or the degree of effort that goes into an exercise
  • Duration – how long the workout takes
  • Volume – the total amount of work performed.  This is generally represented as the weight x reps for strength training, but it can also be represented by the total amount of sets, number of reps or distance traveled.

Most of this article will focus on progressive overload for strength development, but speed & agility will also be discussed briefly.

Linear Progression

The essence of progressive overload is that your body adapts to a stimulus and slowly grows stronger or more efficient, depending on the goal.  For example, if you can currently do 10 push-ups in a row, you would try to do 11.  You would try to complete 11 push-ups until you can achieve that goal.  The stimulus of attempting to do 11 forces the body to adapt and grow stronger.  When you can complete 11, you begin working toward 12.

This is a very simple version of linear progression.  Linear, meaning one variable, constantly moving in one direction.  Many experts turn their noses up at this basic concept because progress eventually stagnates with most people, but it is a simple way to understand the underpinnings of progressive overload.

The story of Milo of Croton is another simple example of linear progression.  Milo was a 6th-century Greek wrestler who picked up and shouldered a young calf when he was a young man.  He picked up the calf every day as it slowly became a full-grown bull.  Because he had lifted it every day, he gradually became stronger and was able to impress crowds of people by picking up bulls as an adult.  The slowly increasing size of the bull provided a constant challenge that his body adapted to, and the concept of progressive overload was born.

Many athletes were developed through rough versions of this basic concept, and this was the inspiration for the adjustable barbell where small weights could be added to a bar in order to provide increasingly challenging stress.

Many coaches still take advantage of this simple strategy with relatively new trainees as they have athletes perform as many reps as possible of a single set of certain exercises.  The results are recorded each day, and they are asked to “beat their score” in the next training session.  This has the potential to turn into high-rep sets, but it works well when there is limited equipment and/or beginner lifters who will respond to even the lowest volumes.  A basic workout for a young athlete could be one set of each of the following:

  1. Push-ups
  2. Chin-ups
  3. Sit-ups
  4. Single-leg squats
  5. Goblet squat
  6. Hanging leg raise
  7. Curl & press with dumbbells
  8. Inverted row

Something as simple as this routine could be a great way to teach beginner lifters how to slowly progress, execute quality reps, and push through the discomfort of strength exercises.  Many coaches use a “20-rep set” where they prescribe one set of 20 reps of each exercise.  Instead of giving the athlete a weight that can be lifted 20 times, they pick a weight that can only be lifted 10-12 times.  Once fatigue sets in and no more reps can be completed, the athlete puts the weight down, rests for a few seconds, then attempts a few more reps.  This is repeated until the athlete has performed all 20 reps.  Only the first “set” (when the weight was put down the first time) is recorded, but the athlete stays with the exercise until all 20 reps are performed.  If the athlete performed 13 reps on the first set today, the goal is 14 at the next session.

This is a way to utilize linear progression but also add extra volume to the workout because the athlete is essentially performing multiple sets.  When the athlete can complete all 20 reps in one set, weight is added, a new exercise is prescribed or something else changes to increase the demands placed on the athlete.

Double Progression

This system gets at the essence of the “double-progression” method of progressive overload in which the resistance is increased when a certain number of reps is attained.  A typical example would be to select a range of 8-12 reps.  You could choose a weight that could be lifted at least 8 times, but no more than 12.  Let’s say you can complete 10 reps today, but cannot do 11.  In the next training session, you attempt to complete 11 reps.  Once 11 reps can be completed, you attempt 12 reps at the next training session.  When 12 reps can finally be completed (which is the top of the rep range we selected), the weight is increased the smallest amount possible, and you start the process over again, gradually trying to perform one more rep than you were able to get in the last workout.

This is an excellent way to help young athletes choose appropriate weights for their workouts, which is actually a very common issue in many weight rooms.  Beginner lifters usually have no idea what an appropriate weight would be for each exercise, so they end up choosing weights based on what others are using.  Testing is another way to help athletes choose weights for certain exercises, where a 1RM is established and percentages of that number are prescribed.  But, this takes a lot of time, can be dangerous with inexperienced lifters, and often isn’t very accurate with young lifters.  It’s also difficult (and not recommended) to establish 1RM’s for every exercise.

So, this system of gradually increasing the number of reps performed, then slowly increasing the weight, is a great way to help athletes learn how to choose appropriate weights.

Multi-Set Double Progression

Another way to implement this system is by using multiple sets of each exercise.  Using multiple sets gives athletes more opportunities to practice technique, and the additional volume can provide a great training stimulus, especially for athletes who cannot push themselves hard enough to get maximum benefit from a single set.

In this case, prescribe a number of sets and reps for each exercise, for example, 3 sets of 8 reps or 3 x 8.  In this example, athletes will use the same weight for all three sets and attempt to perform 8 reps on each set.  When all 3 sets of 8 reps can be completed, the athlete gets to move the weight up the smallest amount possible at the next workout.  If an athlete using 100 lbs can only perform 8 reps on the first set, 7 on the second, and 6 on the third, he/she will stick with 100 lbs on the next workout.  

Many coaches will encourage athletes to perform as many reps as possible on the final set as a way to challenge athletes to push a little harder.  This will also help you determine when they’re ready to increase the weight and how much the increase should be.  In the above example, an athlete who performs all three sets of 8, but cannot do 9 reps on the last set, should increase the weight the smallest amount possible.  On the other hand, an athlete who performs 15 reps on the final set is probably ready for a slightly larger increase in order to provide a more appropriate stimulus.  

Different versions of this scheme have been used by intermediate and advanced lifters for many years with exceptional results.  The idea is that the first set should end up being fairly easy, and allows for some technique practice.  The second set becomes more challenging, and the third set is where the hardest work is done.  

It’s also important for athletes to record their results somewhere so they can look back at how many reps they performed in the last workout as a way to set goals for the current session.  Most young athletes aren’t going to remember they did 7 reps on the second set of bench press with 115 lbs.  Most young athletes already have enough on their minds, so that needs to be recorded.  A workout card or training software like TrainHeroic are great options for recording workout results.  


Teaching athletes about progressive overload is also an excellent way to teach the value of slow progression so they begin to understand the concepts of gradual adaptation, recovery, and super-compensation.  Many young athletes think that they are going to get big and strong very quickly.  Teaching them the value of consistency and gradual adaptation is an excellent concept for young athletes to understand so they begin to value small gains and how to schedule their workouts.

The graph below should be drawn out and explained to every athlete beginning a strength training program so they have a basic understanding of how the process works and why consistent training is so important.

Teaching athletes about progressive overload also gives coaches the opportunity to explain the value of recovery in the process of adaptation.  Understanding how the cycle of stimulation – recovery – adaptation – super-compensation works is an invaluable lesson for athletes to learn.  Most young athletes simply do not understand this cycle, and they end up either training inconsistently or too often.  This also gives us the opportunity to explain how performance training fits into their overall schedule with sports practices, competitions, and other commitments.  They need to see that all stress should be accounted for so they can create schedules that lead to progress in all areas.

Speed, Plyometrics, and Conditioning

While most of this discussion has been about strength training, progression should also be used with speed training, plyometrics, and conditioning. With plyometrics and speed training, progression is not quite as simple and easy to explain because technique and volume are so important to progression. You’re not adding another rep in every workout or increasing the number of repetitions every day. You can learn more about this type of progression in the IYCA’s Certified Speed & Agility Specialist course.

Conditioning programs are a little easier to quantify because coaches can easily manipulate variables such as number of reps, work;rest ratios, and total volume to gradually increase the demands placed on an athlete. It’s important to gradually build this volume rather than creating dramatic spikes just to make it extra difficult. Of course, there can always be a case made for making training difficult, but coaches need to be aware of how athletes will respond to large spikes in volume or intensity, and ensure that there is adequate recovery after this kind of session.


As athletes get more advanced with their training, or enter their competitive seasons, we need to think about the concept of periodization.  Through the years, I’ve seen coaches try to overcomplicate periodization and progressive overload with crazy set/rep schemes, charts, graphs, spreadsheets, and percentages that require a calculator.  While certain systems of periodization can get very complicated for advanced athletes, we can (and should) keep things more simplified for most athletes who haven’t even entered college.

Most of these athletes would be considered beginners in the world of strength training, and some could be considered intermediate lifters at the very most.  These trainees don’t need overly complicated programs, but we should definitely change the demands placed on them throughout the year.  Off-season training programs (when athletes are not engaged in daily sport practice) can include a higher volume of strength training and the overall demands can be greater.  During the pre-season, the amount of conditioning and sport-specific work will increase.  Once daily practice begins during the in-season phase of the year, it’s important that we continue to train, but in a way that does not induce unnecessary fatigue.

This phase of training is difficult for both coaches and athletes to understand.  Both groups often feel like brief training sessions are difficult to schedule and not worth it.  Education is crucial here so they understand the importance of maintaining their strength gains without overly taxing their bodies.  Inducing unnecessary fatigue will have a negative impact on both practice and competition performance, so the volume and intensity will be reduced.  For example, an in-season athlete who has been training consistently for several months may still be able to squat during the season, but instead of doing multiple sets at a high rate of exertion, he/she may do only 1-2 sets, stopping each set before maximal fatigue sets in. This athlete also won’t train as often during the in-season phase. 1-2 training sessions per week are about all that’s possible during a demanding season.

Once athletes have a substantial training base, periodization becomes much more critical because experienced lifters will not make progress as easily as beginners. Complete books have been written on periodization, and many popular training programs have been devised, but most of these programs are unnecessary until athletes have trained consistently (without interruption) for at least a year and are no longer seeing significant progress. That doesn’t often happen before college, so we can do a much better with young athletes by simply monitoring training volume and intensity and understanding that strength training is meant to supplement a sport, not be the sport by itself.

Keep It Simple

When working with young or inexperienced athletes, it’s important for coaches to teach them about the training process so they have a better understanding of how they will make progress. Teaching athletes the basics of progressive overload, and using basic systems of progression, will give them an understandable framework in which to work from. They’ll be much better able to make consistent progress, choose appropriate weights, and train safely. They will also be much better prepared for more complex systems they may encounter if they advance in their athletic careers. It will also help them understand how to train for the rest of their lives.

Most coaches also see themselves as teachers or mentors, and teaching athletes the value of progression can be a gift that will pay dividends for the rest of an athlete’s life.

  Jim Kielbaso is the President of the IYCA and Director of the Total Performance Training Center in Wixom, MI.  He has authored multiple books, articles and training products and has spoken at events around the world.  He holds a BS in Exercise Science, an MS in Kinesiology and has gone through multiple certifications through the IYCA, NSCA, NASM and more.  Jim is a former college strength & conditioning coach and has trained thousands of athletes at every level of competition.  He runs a successful NFL Combine training program in Michigan and has been hired as a consultant for major sports programs like the University of Michigan Football Program and the University of Kentucky Basketball Program.


The IYCA High School Strength & Conditioning Specialist is the only certification created specifically for coaches training high school athletes.  The course includes several hours of video instruction and two textbooks with contributions from some of the top strength and conditioning coaches in America.  Click on the image below to learn more about how to become a certified high school strength & conditioning coach.

The post Progressive Overload: Training vs. Exercise – Jim Kielbaso appeared first on IYCA - The International Youth Conditioning Association.

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Improving Strength to Weight Ratio with Your Youngest Athletes – Brett Klika

Mon, 04/08/2019 - 17:05

According to the Centers for Disease Control, it appears that roughly 32% of children are either overweight or obese. Compound this with large scale youth inactivity and the result is a growing number of young athletes who will struggle with poor strength to weight ratios beginning at a young age.

As youth strength and conditioning coaches, we are in a position to help these children improve this important component of health and athleticism while minimizing frustration with our youngest athletes. While bodyweight exercises may prove troublesome for these youngsters, there are other effective movement strategies that can help them build the strength to move with more confidence and competence as they get older.

Consider the movement strategies outlined below when working with young children whose bodyweight stands in the way of their ability to move effectively.  

Strength implements

Exercises with dumbbells, kettlebells, Sandbells, medicine balls, etc. can be performed with weights well below that of a child’s body. While a 100-pound child be not be able to move their entire body mass effectively during a push up, they may be able to perform a dumbbell bench press or med ball throw with a 10-pound implement.

Consider an inactive and/or overweight child’s joint and muscle proprioceptors. When a large amount of load is placed on, such as bodyweight, they are quickly overloaded and send the “abort” signal to the surrounding structures. Using implements with lighter loads not only improves coordination and strength, it preps their proprioceptive system to manage load more effectively.

Not only will these exercises help them improve their strength to weight ratio over time, they will most likely enjoy them and be willing to perform them with a greater level of intensity.

Sandbell Spelling

Overhead Press

Vertical Slams

Pushing, Pulling, Gripping, Carrying

Pushing, pulling, gripping, and carrying activities can be done at sub bodyweight loads, but have a tremendous positive impact on the proprioceptive system. Pushing and pulling can be done without the impact of gravity. Pushing/pulling sleds, pulling ropes, and similar exercises minimize the negative impact of increased bodyweight and allows for heavier loads to be used.

Gripping activities like farmer walks and suitcase carries not only impact the hands and forearms, they aid in improving shoulder stability. As proprioceptive strength and stability improves at the shoulder, exercises like pushups and pull ups become more attainable.   

Pushing, Pulling, Carrying

Suitcase Carry

Alternate Grabber

Assistance exercises

While improvement in strength are usually observed with increases in training load, actively assisting movement can help develop motor coordination patterns that slowly translate to strength in “under-strong” young athletes.

For example, a child may not possess the hip, leg, and core musculature strength to stabilize and mobilize everything necessary for a lunge or squat.  Suspending an elastic band overhead and placing it under a child’s arms or having them hold it to unweight their body as they move can allow them to perform the movement correctly. Over time, slowly decrease the thickness of band that is used until it becomes unnecessary.

During assistance exercises, kids are able to go through full joint range of motion and their brains and bodies learn the proper neuromuscular sequence. For overweight children, this may be the only way they can perform these movements initially.


While isometric exercises still involve a child’s bodyweight against gravity, removing the complication of dynamic movement can help their proprioceptive system develop the proper stability needed in a given body position.

For example, a pushup requires not only the stability of the hips and spine to integrate the whole-body movement, it requires the concentric and eccentric strength to control the body moving down and up. Focusing on merely the aspect of stability in the static position, children can then slowly add the additional component of movement either against gravity or with some form of assistance.

It is important however to monitor a child’s ability with these exercises. If they prove too difficult, consider using implements, etc. to improve strength.

Push Up Plank

Wall Sit

All of the movement strategies above not only help inactive and/or overweight children improve their strength, they contribute to an increase in physical activity. Strength goes up, bodyweight goes down. The result is improved athleticism, success, and enjoyment with physical activity for life.

Brett Klika is a youth performance expert and a regular contributor to the IYCA who is passionate about coaching young athletes.  He is the creator of the SPIDERfit Kids youth training program and has run successful youth fitness programs all over the country.  Brett is an international speaker whose passion for youth fitness has helped thousands of people learn how to create exceptional training experiences for young athletes.

If you want to be better at coaching young athletes, the IYCA Youth Fitness Specialist certification is the industry gold-standard for youth fitness and sports performance.  Click on the image below to learn more about the YFS1 certification program.

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Concussion Awareness & Mitigation, Part 2 – Joe Powell

Wed, 04/03/2019 - 17:53

Part 2 of 2 on concussion awareness and mitigation for the S&C Professional discusses when and how to program strength training for the neck, as well as exercise variations that can fit any program.

Strength Training the Neck and Its Associated Musculature

Neck training and its importance is not a new-found fad or focus in the strength and conditioning community. However, as part 1 detailed, what has emerged recently is concussion awareness and hopeful prevention has spread from not only the contact sports, but to the non-contact type as well. Clinical diagnosis along with research-based studies are showing athletes in sports that are largely non-contact in nature are at a higher risk of head injury than what may have been previously thought. As we begin to better understand the mechanism and origins of concussions, health care practitioners, S&C professionals, sport coaches, and parents are learning that athletes of both sexes and of all ages and sizes can be affected. Proper understanding that head injuries can, and unfortunately, do frequently occur, is the first step into emphasizing prevention programs and strategies for athletes that were once maybe deemed safe from an injury of this nature.

To hopefully mitigate the number of head-based injuries to their athletes, many strength and conditioning professionals include neck-based training within their programs. Exercise selection to train the neck musculature is quite diverse. Dependent upon the coach, exercises may include machines, plate loaded harnesses, resistance bands, or even a plethora of manual resistance techniques (See IYCA manual resistance video library). There are no shortages of variations of neck training, as coaches utilize training the musculature in all three cardinal planes of movement, as well as focusing in on concentric, eccentric and isometric muscle actions. A well-developed neck training program will emphasize strengthening the musculature through many of the joint actions.

The main joint actions in regards to the training of the neck and shoulder girdle are as follows:

Cervical spine:

  • Flexion
  • Extension
  • Lateral Flexion
  • Rotation
  • Protraction
  • Retraction

Shoulder Girdle:

  • Elevation
  • Depression
  • Protraction
  • Retraction

When choosing exercises for neck strength training specifically, it is best to perform exercises that directly work the cervical spine, and to use exercises focusing on the shoulder girdle as more secondary exercises. Training both regions are important, but targeting the neck musculature via cervical spine movements should be performed first and more frequently.

Utilizing the equipment available (or no equipment at all if using a manual resistance variation) and training through an array of both joint and muscle actions will better equip athletes to face the unknown rigors that are in play in athletics.

How, when and where to program neck exercises within a program

Training of the neck and its associated musculature should be placed within a strength training program year round. However, a heightened emphasis should occur during pre-season and in-season periods. These are the times when practices and games are at the forefront and thus more contact/risk of incident of neck related injuries. Even though athletes have limited time in the weight room during these periods of the year, neck training should never take a back seat. What should take place is multiple sets during each workout and even different variations on the other training days of the week. This may include performing different muscle actions each day or changing the joint action performed.

During the off-season is when coaches receive the most time with their athletes and this is the time period where it is imperative to teach the athlete exactly what is expected when performing exercises involving the neck. Our athletes are only as proficient in an exercise as we choose to make them, so it is crucial they receive carefully detailed instruction. Building a great base of exercise knowledge as well as baseline strength in the off-season will in turn provide the blueprint for effective neck training during the pre-season and regular-season.

Like the other major joints in the body, resistance training for the neck can be done multiple times a week. There are many exercise variations possible due to the magnitude of musculature on the cervical spine and shoulder girdle. A balanced approach that encompasses multiple joint actions of the neck and each of the muscle action phases several times a week is recommended.

There is a great degree of variability when choosing on where to program neck exercises into a training block or training session. Regardless of where they take place within a workout, neck associated exercises should be performed in a very careful manner and not ballistic or in a rapid fashion. Because of that fact you’ll typically see coaches perform them at the beginning of a workout in conjunction with movement prep type exercises. This is when athletes are in a non-fatigued state, both physically and mentally, and are more likely to maturely and properly perform the exercise.

It is also common for neck exercises to be done as part of a superset with another lift as a sort of active recovery for a more taxing multi joint exercise or at the end of a workout as an accessory lift. Coaches employ the superset tactic to train neck to utilize their time given with athletes in the weight room. If time is a factor, pairing neck training up with various exercises can be effective. When allowing athletes to pair neck training with other exercises, it becomes difficult to oversee every athlete at once, especially if you a short staffed or even a solo coach. Here it becomes important that the athletes understand exactly how to perform the exercise and they have gained the coach’s full trust.

Modes of Resistance Training for the Neck

Simplicity can be key when choosing exercises to train the neck. Athletes are thrown many multi-joint and difficult exercises at them in a training session. Keeping the neck exercises simple can often yield better results. When training a youth demographic simplicity almost has to take place. Young athletes may not understand the risks associated with head related injuries and may not understand why they are performing these exercises in the first place. In a society where running faster, jumping higher and getting bigger are the expected results of an S&C professional, it’s hard to sell exercises that do not check any of those boxes, even if they are just as, if not more important. Understand your clientele and understand what works best.

Bracing and isometrics for training the neck musculature are both great for simplicity sake, but also because they are incredibly effective. Research by Dempsey et, al (2016) showed that athletes who have displayed higher levels of isometric neck strength exhibited a decrease in acceleration of the skull after an impact, and Collins et al (2014) concluded isometric neck training resulted in an outright decreased overall risk of sustaining a concussion. As unpredictable as sports as a whole may be, so too are the positions the body can be placed in during a game or training session. Because of this, it is wise to include dynamic movements to the neck training repertoire and include both the concentric and eccentric phases when performing an exercise. While isometric holds and bracing both can provide great training residuals for athletes it is best to utilize all three muscle actions within a program. Having increased strength through a greater range of motion can minimize injuries in every joint, and that includes the neck and shoulder girdle. By preparing the athlete to accelerate and decelerate through resistance they better equipped they will be to take on the rigors of sport. Whatever the modality of neck training may be, the goal remains the same. To minimize occurrence of concussion. Such an emphasis is put into dedicating time into sets and reps for the neck because research justifies that it can prevent the occurrence of concussion.

Manual Resistance Exercises

Neck Flexion:

Lateral Neck Flexion:

Isometric Lateral Neck Flexion:

Machine Neck Exercises

Machine Neck Flexion:

Machine Neck Extension:

Machine Neck Lateral Flexion:

Machine Neck “Nod”:

Machine Neck Retraction:

Shoulder Girdle Exercises

Band Pull Apart:

DB Side Raise:

DB Shrug:

DB Upright Row:

Single Arm DB Shrug:

Plate Upright Row:

Band Scapular Retraction:


Joe Powell is an Assistant Strength & Conditioning Coach at Utah State University.  He formerly held a similar position at Central Michigan University where he also taught classes in the Department of Health and Human Performance.  Joe is a regular contributor to the IYCA Insiders program and has been a huge part of bringing the Behind the Science series to the IYCA.  He is also the author of the IYCA Guide to Manual Resistance Strength Training.  Get more of Joe’s contributions in the IYCA Insiders membership.

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Exercise Stimulates The Brain – Karlie Intlekofer Ph.D.

Mon, 04/01/2019 - 14:52

Exercise Programming that Maximizes Brain Benefits

As young athletes develop, part of their growing skillset includes the ability to follow verbal instructions and make good decisions. This challenges kids to direct their attention and remain organized as they carry out goal-directed behaviors, using an ability known as executive function. Young athletes have an advantage in developing executive function because the brain regions that help us stay on task are highly sensitive to aerobic exercise. In fact, a child’s executive function is immediately improved by a single bout of physical activity.1-4 There is also a long-term cognitive improvement after regular exercise training,5-7 indicating that each season in which a child participates in regular practices may confer additive benefits to their executive function.

Why is executive function so important?

Part of every child’s potential for athletic success is based on their ability to focus, respond quickly, and adapt to new situations. While these skills certainly serve them on the field or court, it may come as no surprise that a child’s level of executive function predicts their success in school.8 Executive function develops slowly and matures during adolescence or early adulthood.9 This is why teams of older individuals can handle more complex tasks and follow directions more reliably.  

Exercise primes the brain for improved executive function

The two major features that predict whether exercise will boost executive function are engagement and intensity.

Aerobic exercise that is highly engaging benefits executive function because more brain regions are activated, resulting in more blood flow to the brain. For instance, when teammates work together to complete a task, they show more activity in brain circuits important for listening and verbal communication. Practices that feature plenty of social interaction are a reliable way to keep athletes engaged and significantly improve their executive function.10 Beyond social interactions, higher brain activation also occurs when hand-eye coordination is challenged by complex tasks compared to simpler movements. Engaging forms of physical activity provide a longer lasting cognitive enhancement compared to repetitive and familiar types of exercise.11

Secondly, only moderate to vigorous exercise consistently improves brain blood flow and executive function.6 When this threshold of intensity is not reached, some studies failed to detect cognitive improvements, for example treadmill walking in 7-11 year-olds,12 and stationary bicycling in 13-15 year-olds.13 For exercise to reliably improve brain function, it seems that the heart rate must be sufficiently increased. Intensity correlates to the athlete’s release of adrenaline (epinephrine), as well as the degree of neurochemical changes (in brain-derived neurotrophic factor) that optimize brain function.14,15 Selecting exercise intense enough for adrenaline release is also advantageous in terms of improving an athlete’s fitness and also closely matches the release of adrenaline that comes with competition during the athlete’s event or game.

Coaching for maximum benefits

As coaches, we are hopefully already structuring practices to include plenty of opportunities to cooperate and to adapt to new situations. These findings on brain benefits may convince you to introduce more variety to your warm-ups and conditioning exercises to ensure that your young athletes are reaping the full cognitive advantages. Some additional ideas to consider are shown in the video kindly provided by Jordi Taylor and Rona Guggemos:i

Exercises featured in the video:

  1. Dowel Run
  2. ISO Squat Ball to Cone
  3. Tennis Ball Throw Single Ball
  4. Tennis Ball Throw Double Ball
  5. Box Jump Hands on Head
  6. Box Jump Hands on Hips
  7. Sprint to Decel
  8. Plyo Box Sprint

Dr. Karlie Intlekofer earned her Ph.D. in Neuroscience and Behavior. She is a published author, researcher, and popular speaker. Karlie is also an expert on how exercise influences the brain and pediatric neuroscience. She currently works as a Global Wellness Researcher at Johnson Fitness & Wellness.

If you want to be better at coaching young athletes, the IYCA Youth Fitness Specialist certification is the industry gold-standard for youth fitness and sports performance.  Click on the image below to learn more about the YFS1 certification program.


  1. Budde H, Voelcker-Rehage C, Pietrabyk-Kendziorra S, Ribeiro P & Tidow G. Acute coordinative exercise improves attentional performance in adolescents. Neuroscience Letters (2008) 441: 219-223.
  2. Ellemberg D, St. Louis-Deschenes M. The effect of acute physical activity on cognitive function during development. Psychology of Sport and Exercise. 2010; 11: 122-126.
  3. Hillman CH, Pontifex MB, Raine LB, Castelli DM, Hall EE & Kramer AF. The effect of acute treadmill walking on cognitive control and academic achievement in preadolescent children. Neuroscience. 2009; 3: 1004-1054.
  4. Pesce C, Crova C, Cereatti L, Casella R & Bellucci M. Physical activity and mental performance in preadolescents: Effects of acute exercise on free-recall memory. Mental Health and Physical Activity. 2009; 2: 16-22.
  5. Davis CL, Tomporowski PD, Boyle CA, Waller JL, Miller PH, Naglieri JA & Gregoski M. Effects of aerobic exercise on overweight children’s cognitive functioning: A randomized controlled trial. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport. 2007; 78(5): 510-519.
  6. Davis CL, Tomprowski PD, McDowel JE, Austin BP, Miller PH, Yanasak N, Allison JD & Naglieri JA. Exercise improves executive function and alters neural activation in overweight children: A randomized controlled trial. Health Psychology. 2011; 30(1): 91-98.
  7. Hinkle JS, Tuckman BW & Sampson JP. The psychology, physiology, and the creativity of middle school aerobic exercisers. Elementary School Guidance & Counseling. 1993; 28: 133-145.
  8. Blair C & Diamond A. Biological processes in prevention and intervention: The promotion of self-regulation as a means of preventing school failure. Development and psychopathology. 2008; 106: 461-472.
  9. Best JR, Miller PH & Jones LL. Executive function after age 5: Changes and correlates. Developmental Review. 2009; 29: 180-200.
  10. Serrien DJ, Ivry RB & Swinnen SP. The missing link between action and cognition. Progress in Neurobiology. 2007; 82: 95-107.
  11. Carey JR, Bhatt E & Nagpal A. Neuroplasticity promoted by task complexity. Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews. 2005; 33: 24-31.
  12. Tomporowski PD, Davis CL, Lambourne K, Gregoski M & Tkacz J. Task switching in overweight children: Effects of acute exercise and age. Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology. 2008; 30: 497-511.
  13. Stroth S, Kubesch S, Dieterle K, Ruchsow M, Heim R & Kiefer M. Physical fitness, but not acute exercise modulates event-related potential indices for executive control in healthy adolescents. Brain Research. 2009; 1269: 114-124.
  14. Winter B, Breitenstein C, Mooren FC, Volker K & Knecht S. High impact running improves learning. Neurobiology of Learning and Memory. 2007; 87: 597-609.
  15. Ferris LT, Williams JS & Shen C. The effects of acute exercise on serum brain-derived neurotrophic factor levels and cognitive function. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 2007; 39: 728-734.

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Training Muscles vs. Movements – Karsten Jensen

Wed, 03/27/2019 - 17:46

Regardless of which process strength coaches use to create training programs, such a process must have a step where exercises are selected.  Exercise selection is always executed based on certain criteria that include:

  • Scientific research
  • Foundational bio-mechanical principles
  • First person experience with athletes.

It is logical to assume that the better the criteria, the greater the likelihood of a positive outcome of the training program.

Criteria include principles, strategies, and tactics. This article suggests the 1st Principle of exercise selection, followed by a description of primary exercise selection strategies. Last, current research findings on the effects of single-joint vs multi-joint exercises are discussed and concrete guidelines for exercise selection are suggested.

1 First Principle of Exercise Selection
The first principle of exercise selection could be that:

Any exercise ever performed must – in the short or the long run – improve the athlete’s ability to practice or compete.

If these criteria are not met, how do we explain that the exercise is in the program?

Even exercises that might be included for fun and variation can be said to meet the above criteria.

Why would we include an exercise in the program where the purpose is “just” fun? The answer is that we would include exercises for fun so that the athlete stays in our program. What is the outcome if of the athlete staying in the program? With practice, over time, the ability to practice and compete is improved.

Exercise Selection Strategy (Part I): Bio-mechanical specificity
For athletes, the ability to practice and compete involves the ability to safely, effectively and repeatedly sprint, cut, kick, throw or perform any other sporting movement.

How do we know which strength and conditioning exercises will improve the above abilities?

The primary strategy is to select exercises based on biomechanical specificity which means that there is a certain biomechanical resemblance between the training movement and the sporting movement. (10)

This strategy is often misunderstood. Correctly used the exercises should stimulate, not simulate the sporting movement. (7,8) More accurately, the exercises must always stimulate the ability to practice or compete in the sport. The most foundational exercises do not necessarily look that much like the sporting movement. As the movement patterns are built the resemblance to the end goal become gradually more obvious.

Example: Especially eccentric knee-flexor strength may be important for preventing hamstring injuries during sprinting. The first video below shows a more foundational hamstring exercise that does not really look like sprinting. In contrast, the second video shows a hamstring exercise where the resemblance to sprinting is more obvious

Exercise Selection Strategy (Part 2): Intra- and inter- muscular coordination
Train the movement, not the muscle – one of the original taglines of functional training – is a logical proposition when the end goal is to improve the ability to perform a sporting movement.

However, the body is only a strong as its weakest link. (6) Further, the basic phenomenon is that the body avoids positions of weakness and seeks positions of strength. Thus, practicing complex movements with identifiable weak links may inhibit long term progress as far as that particular movement.

Therefore, a longer training cycle has an early phase where the primary focus is to develop any identified weak links. In this early phase, there is a secondary focus on practicing a version of the final movement that challenges the identified weak link. As the weak links become strength’s the focus is reversed and practicing the complete movement is the first priority. Train the muscle, then the movement is the (over)simplified tagline for this dynamic that is also expressed as “first isolate, then integrate.”

How could we describe the benefits of exercises that focus on weak links? How could we describe the benefits of exercises that focus on practicing the movement?

The concepts of intra- or inter-muscular coordination describe which exercises that focus on weak links aim to do. (9)

Intra-muscular coordination
“Another possibility for improved power results from improved intra-muscular coordination. The term “intramuscular coordination”, describes in the author’s opinion the relation between excitatory and inhibitory mechanisms for one muscle for a specific movement.” (93)

Inter-muscular coordination
“A further way to improve power results from improved inter-muscular coordination. Inter-muscular coordination describes the ability of all muscles involved in a movement, agonists, antagonists, and synergists to corporate wholly with respect to the aim of the movement.”
It is obvious that inter-muscular coordination requires the use of multi-joint exercises. However, intra-muscular coordination can be developed with both single-joint exercises or targeted multi-joint exercises.

3 Tactics – Single-joint or multi-joint exercises.
The following section offers some research-based guidelines regarding the benefits of single joint vs multi-joint exercises.

The most foundational aspect of the choice between single-joint and multi-joint exercises is the ability to develop intra- or inter-muscular coordination:

  • Single joint exercises are more effective to strengthen a weaker muscle group, but the single joint exercise must eventually be replaced with a multi-joint exercise to obtain more impressive strength increases. (3)
  • Multi-joint exercises offer an increased opportunity to develop inter-muscular coordination through the involvement of multiple segments of the body. (6)

Example – Frontal Plane Stability in for sprinting

Early phase 6 weeks:

A1. Forward Walking Lunges with a pause to demonstrate balance as the trail leg passes the stance leg. The exercise can be vertically loaded with a vest, dumbbells or a barbell.

B1. Standing Hip Hike

Later phase (6 weeks)

A1. Forward Walking Lunges Dragging a Sled, explosive execution. Add vest if needed.

B1. Standing Hip Hike is included with low volume as a warm-up or finisher exercise.

Structural strength, including hypertrophy (muscle mass), is a foundation for developing maximal strength:

  • Single joint exercises and multi-joint exercises for the same target muscle group – with similar RM loads – results in similar levels of electromyographic activity. (1)
  • With the use of multi-joint exercises, synergists might fatigue before prime movers and limit the stimulus of the prime movers OR synergists might not be sufficiently stimulated due to the dominance of the prime movers. (1)
  • To the extent that the same fibers of a target muscle experience the same stress (load) the hypertrophic response from single joint and multi-joint muscles is likely going to be similar. (2,5) However, due to different patterns of muscular hypertrophy between single-joint and multi-joint exercises (so-called regional hypertrophy) a combination of a single joint- and one or more multi-joint exercises may be required for complete muscular development. (1,4)
  • Compared to using multi-joint exercises to develop the same target muscles, single joint exercises may result in faster increases in muscle mass due to a shorter duration of neural adaptations (1,2)

With respect to the development of maximal strength and Vo2max:

  • Multi-joint exercises may result in a greater training stimulus due to greater load lifted. (2)
  • Multi-joint exercises may have greater potential as a tool to develop V02max due to a higher muscle mass involved. (5)

Application Summary
To utilize the information presented in this article strength coaches must work from a needs analysis of the sport and assessment of the athlete’s strengths and weaknesses. (10)

The body can be understood as a kinetic chain that is not stronger than its weakest link(s). For this reason, there is an initial emphasis on developing weak links through targeted multi-joint exercises or single joint exercises.

Once the weak links have become strengths the emphasis switch to practice the final, key movement.


  1. Gentil P, Fisher J, Steele J. A Review of the Acute Effects and Long-Term Adaptations of Single- and Multi-Joint Exercises during Resistance Training. Sports Medicine 2016
  2. Gentil P, Soares S, Bottaro M. Single vs. Multi-joint Resistance Exercises: Effects on Muscle Strength and Hypertrophy. Asian J Sports Medicine. 6(2): 1-4. 2015.
  3. Giannakopoulos K, Beneka A, Malliou P, Godolias G.Isolated vs Complex Exercise In Strengthening The Rotator Cuff Muscle Group. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 18(1):144-148. 2004
  4. Ribeiro AS, Schoenfeld BJ, Sardinha LB. Comment on: A Review of the Acute Effects and Long Term Adaptations of Single and Multi-joint Exercises During Resistance Training. Sports Medicine. 2016
  5. Paoli A, Gentil P, Moro T, Marcolin G, Bianco A. Resistance Training with Single vs. Multi-joint Exercises at Equal Total Load Volume: Effects on Body Composition, Cardiorespiratory Fitness and Muscle Strength. Frontiers in Physiology. Vol 8. Page 1-8. 2017.
  6. Teixera CVS, Evangelista AL, Novaes JS, Grigoletto MES, Behm DG. You are Only as strong as Your Weakest Link: A Current Opinion about the Concepts and Characteristics of Functional Training. Frontiers In Physiology. Vol 8, page 1-8. 2017
  7. Stone MH, Stone M, Sands WA. Principles and Practice of Resistance Training. USA: Human Kinetics; 2007. 243-253 p.
  8. Siff M. Supertraining. 6th Ed. The Means of Special Strength Training. USA: Supertraining Institute; 2004. 240-246 p.
  9. Schmidtbleicher D. Training for Power Events. In Strength and Power in Sport, Chapter 18, p. 385-395. Blackwell Science; 1992.
  10. Jensen K. Needs Analysis of Sports. The Foundation of Success With The Flexible Periodization Method.

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Action Potentials, Plants & Paul Revere: The Spread of LTAD & A Call to Action – Joe Eisenmann

Mon, 03/25/2019 - 15:30

Currently, there is considerable interest, discussion and debate about long-term athlete development (LTAD) in America. The IYCA is one of several groups educating and creating awareness on this topic, and there have been several excellent blogs and resources made available.

My entire life has been dedicated to the growing, maturing, exercising, and performing youngster. In the past year, I have given several talks along the lines of ‘LTAD: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly’ that cover a range of topics and concepts such as the current issues in youth sports and physical activity; the history and underpinnings of Long Term Athlete Development; the USOC American Development Model and the NSCA Long Term Athlete Development position statement; athleticism, physical literacy, and fundamental movement skills; training and sports science; and implementation.  Along the way, I unearth the Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

(If you are interested in hearing the full story consider attending the 2019 IYCA Summit, May 3-4 where I will be presenting a more in-depth analysis of LTAD.)

Since several other IYCA articles have outlined the basic tenets of LTAD, I’m not going to repeat them here. Likewise, most of us, if not all, are familiar with the ills of youth sports (e.g., over-competition and undertraining, early specialization, bad coaching, ‘microwaving’ young athletes, the win at all costs culture, overzealous parents, pay to play, etc.), along with inadequate school physical education and the resultant low levels of physical activity and fitness in today’s youth. Collectively, these issues add up to a repulsive grade of ‘C’ on the Aspen Institute’s Project Play Report Card on Youth Sports and the US Physical Activity Report Card. And, many consider this “grade inflation”!

So if I’m not going to write about principles of LTAD, what do I want to convey in this piece?

I’ve said this many times – we have the framework – a blueprint for athlete development and quality coaching. Now, we just need to implement it and hold the adults running youth sport programs accountable! And yes, that is easier said than done. But if we truly want to realize the human potential and outcomes of a physically active and fit culture and a youth sports system that provides a positive experience than it’s worth our time and energy.

Action Potentials, Plants and Paul Revere

So what the heck do action potentials, plants and Paul Revere have to do with LTAD? There is a word that ties these things together – propagation.

An action potential generated at the axon hillock propagates as a wave along the axon. The current spreads out along the axon, and depolarizes the adjacent sections of its membrane.

Plant propagation is the process of growing new plants from a variety of sources: seeds, cuttings, and other plant parts.

And Paul Revere? Recall from elementary school history and the Revolutionary War – One, if by land, and two, if by sea. These were the words penned in the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem of Paul Revere’s midnight ride to alert the Patriots how the British were coming.  

But still, what does this have to do with propagation? And LTAD?

Paul Revere was a propagator of information as he rode north towards Lexington alerting colonial militias along his route. In turn, by the end of the night about 40 riders were spreading the news and alerting others about the British Redcoats.

Think about it – an action potential, plants, and Paul Revere. From 1 signal, 1 piece of a plant, and 1 man grew a vast wave that impacted many.

spread of ltad

A call to action and a challenge….to propagate

So the good news is that there is increasing attention and interest in LTAD (or at least the ills of youth physical development) – we see it in news media, social media, and the USOC and its National Governing Bodies are beginning to push the American Development Model.  

However, we need to propagate and spread the message. If I am Paul Revere, you – the youth sports performance specialists, the physical educator, the strength and conditioning coach – are the next set of riders equipped to carry the message.

There are several reasons that the strength and conditioning coach can have an impact on LTAD in the community. First, the general skillset of the strength and conditioning coach includes the ability to teach the fundamental movement skills of body control, locomotion and object control and also the foundational movements of squat, lunge, pushes, pulls, rotation, sprinting, jumping, and change of direction.

Another important role the strength and conditioning coach (especially those with sport-specific acumen and experience) can fill is that of a coach educator and coach developer in the community. An off-season and/or pre-season coach education clinic that goes beyond the X’s and O’s (tactical) and provides a framework for quality coaching is well within the abilities of most strength and conditioning coaches. This clinic may include topics such as: the role of a coach, effective communication, motivating young athletes, teaching skills, designing effective practices, character development, and leadership. In addition, this is a good opportunity to discuss the general principles of LTAD and fundamental movement skills acquisition.

Beyond this one-time coach education, the strength and conditioning coach could potentially serve as a Coach Developer – educating, mentoring and overseeing the volunteer coaches in terms of appropriate coaching behaviour, practice planning, and conducting a practice with the overall goal to develop and improve coaches so that players maximize their potential at all ages.

So, this is my challenge – put this article done and start thinking about how you can impact your community. Who are the stakeholders that need to be involved? How will you communicate and work collaboratively with the coaches, parents and other stakeholders? You have the understanding of LTAD and the skillset to educate and implement fundamental movement skills and proper strength and conditioning activities that develop athleticism, and you have the ability to lead. What are you waiting for? Let’s go, you are Paul Revere – spread the word and prepare the foot soldiers for battle!

Men are mortal. So are ideas. An idea needs propagation as much as a plant needs watering. Otherwise both will wither and die.

B.R. Ambedkar

joe eisenmannJoe Eisenmann, PhD has dedicated his entire career and lifestyle to the physical development of young people in the context of physical activity, youth sports and fitness. His diverse roles have included youth sports coach, professor, researcher, strength and conditioning coach, sport scientist, Director of Spartan Performance and Director of High Performance and Coach Education at USA Football. Currently, he works with Volt Athletics, SPT, the NSCA, Leeds Beckett University and the UC-Irvine Pediatric Exercise and Genomics Research Center. He can be reached at and follow him on Twitter @Joe_Eisenmann

For more detailed information about Long-Term Athlete Development, get the IYCA’s Long Term Athlete Development Roadmap – the most complete and practical guide to enhancing athleticism through every stage of development.

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How Physical Activity Enhances Brain Power – Erica Suter

Wed, 03/13/2019 - 16:34

If you’re a sport parent or coach, chances are, you enroll your kids in strength and conditioning programs so they become stronger, faster, and more resilient.

Of course, you want kids to perform at their best physically, whether that is by scoring goals, blowing by defenders, shooting three pointers, outrunning opponents, bodying off defenders, or making the audience “ooh” and “ahh” with sharp agility jukes. Expounding further, you want your kids safeguarded from injury and able to enjoy their sport, instead of being sidelined.

While performance and injury prevention are the backbone to youth strength and conditioning programs, I’d argue mental development is just as important.

Most of us have heard that physical activity improves cognitive function, but what exactly is going on at a neural level? How exactly does movement enhance memory, learning, and creativity? How can physical activity maintain or enhance brain function for a lifetime?

Without going into too much of a neuroscience discussion, here’s what you need to know: the brain establishes neural networks based on our experiences, from learning to roll over as a baby, to building the core strength to lift our heads up, to walking on different surfaces, to connecting the two hemispheres of the brain to perform sport-specific movements.

Movement, then, is the impetus for the expansion of new neural pathways in our nervous systems. Looking back to our elementary school days, we were able to learn skills in school because of the integrative dance of the muscles and brain.

When you learned cursive, your eyes moved to look at the chalkboard to see the letters on the board. Then, your brain sent a message to your hand to write what you saw on the paper.

Or how about learning a musical instrument? Your eyes followed the notes on the page, and the dance of your fingers and flow of your breath brought music out of your instrument.
Movement is a miracle. A gift. And something we should not take for granted. Movement leads to tremendous skills and rebuilds the plasticity of the brain for a lifetime.

Unfortunately, kids are being pulled away from magic of movement. Schools are cutting recess, video games are on the rise, phone and TV distractions are endless, strength and conditioning programs are not prioritized by sports clubs, physical education teachers are being laid off, and street pick-up games are waning. Because of all this, kids are becoming sedentary drones of society whose brains remain stagnant, close-minded, and distracted.

It’s sad because as we know that the brain is capable of restoring itself and rebuilding new pathways so long as we keep moving and challenging it with our movement.

Alas, to provide hope, there are several solutions to get the most out of your kids’ fitness and boost their brain power.

Let’s dive in:

1. Give them movement autonomy.

More often than not, physical activity for kids nowadays is under an organized setting. While some structure is needed for kids learn, I’d argue that free play is just as beneficial.

This doesn’t mean you should let kids run around with absolutely no guidance, but it’s totally okay to sprinkle in activities that give them autonomy. In fact, it’s highly encouraged.

As an example, for my middle school soccer players (ages 11-13), I will teach them a skill, then design a fun game around it where they have to problem solve on their own. My favorite game is “Soccer Break Dancing.” I give my kids a diverse menu of flashy soccer skills, then I tell them to get a partner and create their own dance together. Eventually, we all get in a circle and have a “dance-off.”

Not only is this activity one that inspires creativity, but it also allows them to create on their own and tap into the right side of their brains.  Find more conditioning games here.

2. Do cross-body movements daily.

Speaking of brain hemispheres, it is important for kids to activate both the left and right sides of their brains. The integration of the hemispheres allows humans to be optimally proficient in every life activity. Many people will argue, “oh, well they are a creative. They are just right-brained.” While some people may tap into one side an itty bit more, the left side is needed to analyze, sequence, and plan to jump-start the the creative process.

To give another soccer example, Messi is a “creative” player, but he needs the foot coordination and technique (left brain) in order to spontaneously (right brain) execute his skills. This is just one example of optimal interplay of both hemispheres.

With that said, research shows that cross-body movements maximize the functioning of both hemispheres. These movements are special because they cross the mid-line of the body, and allow the muscles of each side to work in concert together. Here are a few examples of cross-body movements you can perform daily to keep building neural pathways (adults included):

Cross Crawl

Crawling Coupling

3. Make fitness fun.

In order to inspire kids to be active in the digital age, fitness must be fun. The less of an obligation and chore it is, the more they develop a passion for movement and play.

Whether you are a parent, sports coach, or strength coach, there has to be a nice balance of structure and free play. However, for kids under age 8, free play is your best bet. Want them to get stronger? Take them to climb some trees. Want them to become more conditioned? Play tag. Want them to become agile, balanced, and aware? Take them to the playground.

Taking the conversation back to the “Break Dance” competitions I use for my athletes to hone in on autonomy, this is also a drill that allows kids to have fun and be carefree to come up with their own flow of movements:

Oddly enough, yes, coaches are there to instruct, but at the same time, we are also there to set up our kids’ environment so that it elicits certain physical results. Set things up properly, and let the drill do the work.  Over-coaching might look good from the outside (especially to over-bearing parents), but it doesn’t produce great results.  Kids need to learn and explore on their own.

Give these pointers a try and I promise the results will be nothing short of amazing. Your kids will not only have increased energy and focus, but also, increased confidence and creativity. And last I looked, these are things we want kids to have even outside of sports. After all, their sport careers will be over one day, and all they will have left is their brain power.

To that end, their mental development extends far, far beyond their athletic endeavors. It permeates into friendships, relationships, academics, career achievements, and creative pursuits.

Erica Suter is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and soccer performance coach at JDyer Strength and Conditioning in Baltimore, Maryland. She works with youth athletes across the state of Maryland in the areas of strength, conditioning, agility, and technical soccer training. Besides coaching, she is a passionate writer, and writes on youth fitness as well as soccer performance training on her blog She also is the creator of the Total Youth Soccer Fitness Program, which is a comprehensive guide for coaches and parents on how to train youth soccer players both safely and effectively. Her mission is to inspire a love for movement and play in kids, and motivate them to stay active for a lifetime.

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Athletic Scholarships & Dream Teams – Greg Schaible

Mon, 03/11/2019 - 16:21

The allure of earning athletic scholarships drives people toathletic scholarships take massive action.  This phenomenon has been around for years, but it seems to be intensifying.  This article will address some of the factors involved in earning athletic scholarships and will use my personal experiences to illustrate the challenges of this process. 

Competition vs. Talent Stacking

First it was the Dream Team!

Then it was the Big 3 with Lebron, Wade, and Bosh.

Now it’s the Warriors or pretty much anywhere Lebron is playing.

It seems to be most prevalent in the NBA but certainly it happens across all pro sports to a certain extent. For TV ratings and viewership this is probably just going to become the new normal within professional sports. It’s starting to happen more and more at the collegiate level with recruits teaming up and all heading to one school to play ball. I even see this to some extent in high school with players transferring schools just to play on a different team.

While it certainly can make for some exciting teams. I think we need to be cautious of how much we let this mindset start trickling down into high school and especially youth athletics.

Before I give my argument against the Dream Teams, I want to first give a reason why they can be beneficial for an athlete.

Competition creates improvement. Without competition complacency starts to set in. If you are constantly competing against (or practicing against) someone just as good as you, if not better than you, it will force you to up your game.

I’ve experienced this first-hand running track in college. My event was the 400m. We had five really good 400m runners on that team, but only four were going to make the relay team. It pushed all five of us to be better and continually push ourselves in practice. Practice, as we all know, is where the improvements are made, so if practices are not competitive, nobody gets better.

Going to a “Dream Team” where you would get to practice and compete with the best of the best only makes sense then….right?

Possibly… If that is your mindset going into the move.

However, if that competitive mindset isn’t already established. The athlete may just be taking the easy route to wining a championship and perhaps college exposure and earning athletic scholarships.

A big part about youth and high school athletics is developing a competitive mindset.

Some would call it grit or resiliency.

Giving athletes the easy route to championships at an early age may do more harm than good both in that athlete’s career, and their approach to life.

And, for most kids, that is what athletics should be about – learning about life and how to deal with adversity through lessons learned in sports.

Coaches and parents need to encourage a developmental process for kids. They are certainly not going to have that outlook initially, especially in the day and age of social media showing highlight reels but never highlighting the process.

Obsession with D1 Athletic Scholarships

Kids (and parents) have a love affair with D1 athletic scholarships. In my opinion, the whole D1 scholarship is over-glorified. If you or your kid has the opportunity for a D1 scholarship, that is an awesome accomplishment, and you should take pride in that! However, it shouldn’t be the reason you pick a school, and it’s not the end of the world if you don’t receive any D1 offers.

I grew up in a small town (graduated with just over 100 kids in my class). Needless to say, my high school isn’t the first stop on a big D1 school’s recruiting trail.

I played football, basketball, and track in high school and received interest from a number of DII and DIII school to play different sports. It was my dream as a kid though to go D1. I eventually did get a couple letters from D1 programs saying I could be a preferred walk-on in Track, and if I scored points in the conference meet, that I could work myself into a scholarship.

With aspirations to go D1, I jumped at the opportunity!

A couple lessons here: 1) If you are good enough, schools will find you….usually.  With social media, YouTube, and highlight tapes being passed around, it’s very easy for a school to catch wind of you. 2) I was extremely naive in high school, assuming that colleges would find me.  It may sound contrary to point #1, but you have to be pro-active about the process.  

I sent out zero highlight films to schools and went to zero showcases for any sports. Schools still found me, but I would have received many more offers if I’d done a little more work to be seen. If you are serious about wanting to play at the next level and earning athletic scholarships, you need to make it a point to be seen. Go to showcases, send film to schools you’d like to go to even if you don’t think they’d watch. I’ve heard of several athletes getting athletic scholarships by doing this. It shows the coach you care, and if they offer you a scholarship it’s usually because a specific intangible they see in you or you fit well with the system or coaching scheme they run.

But again, don’t forget about YOUR ability to develop as an athlete and a person. This is what I did not understand when choosing a university.

I ended up going to that D1 program as a preferred walk on, only to be cut from the team at the end of the very first semester on campus. People from relatively small towns are not exposed to how many great athletes are actually out there. Up until that point, I was always the best on the team and had never been cut before. I thought athletic scholarships were pretty easy to get. 

Getting cut sucked! But looking back, it was the best thing that could have ever happened to me.

I ended up transferring to a DII school and ran track at the University of Findlay. Like I mentioned before, we had five really good 400m runners on that team and many other very talented athletes. This taste of adversity forced me to work harder to get better. When all was said and done, I ended up running faster times than anyone from the D1 school I was originally cut from. I also had the opportunity to compete nationally at the DII level earning All-American honors. I received an athletic scholarship in undergrad, and, after my athletic career was over, I worked as a graduate assistant for the athletic department as I finished my doctorate degree.

I say none of this to brag, but to only bring your awareness to the possibilities elsewhere!  It’s all about finding the right fit.  I feel very fortunate that I found the right fit.  

Most athletes who play a sport in college are going to be doing it for the love of the game, the competitiveness inside of them, and the perks that come along with being an athlete at a University. Some will have the ability to take it to the professional level. Like I said before, if you are good enough, someone will find you no matter if you are DI/DII/DIII or junior college.

Select an environment that allows you to develop as an athlete but also a person. Go to a school where you can both compete and play (in practice and games). Choose the opportunity to play, and as a result, you will get better!

One final aside.

The ability to go somewhere to play a sport you love, and possibly receive athletic scholarships for it, is a privilege (no matter the level) that not many people get. I see way too many athletes waste the opportunity by not taking advantage of it with their academics. I didn’t know it at the time, but being cut and transferring also saved me 10-20 years of paying down student debt.

Sports can bring you countless opportunities if you choose to look at it that way. It’s important to recognize that it’s an opportunity to grow as an athlete and person, so don’t put up blinders and have tunnel vision to what may seem glamorous at the time.

Dr. Greg Schaible is a physical therapist and strength coach specializing in athletic performance and a regular contributor the the IYCA. Greg is the owner of On Track Physiotherapy and owner of the popular online education resource Sports Rehab Expert. Greg works with athletes and active individuals of all ages. As a former athlete himself, he attended The University of Findlay and competed in both Indoor and Outdoor Track & Field where he earned honors as a 5x Division II All-American and a 6x Division II Academic All-American.

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Muscle Clean & Muscle Snatch Variations – Jordan Tingman

Mon, 03/04/2019 - 15:00

Add the muscle clean and muscle snatch to your toolbox

As a collegiate strength and conditioning coach, we deal a lot with rookies coming into the weight room with little-to-no technique with regard to the Olympic variations.  Many people think the Olympic lifts are simple, but we spend a great deal of time teaching them and cleaning up errors that have been developed as a result of poor instruction.  Take your time when teaching these lifts to young athletes so they learn good habits, and progress slowly instead of focusing on how much weight is on the bar.  muscle clean

In order for an athlete to reach his/her full potential in executing a great Olympic lift, bar path is absolutely critical.

During my time at Eastern Washington University, I have had the opportunity to work under, and learn from, Coach Nate Barry. As much as I thought I previously knew about the Olympic lifts, he has really helped me understand exactly how much the technique and bar path can differentiate between a great and poor lift.  Teaching athletes how to perform the lifts is one thing.  Recognizing mistakes is another.  But, having the skills to correct faulty technique is one of the most important skills coaches can learn.   While they are certainly not the main portion of our program, we use “muscle” variations (muscle clean & muscle snatch) as a way to teach and correct certain aspects of the clean and snatch.  

As much as I knew about the muscle variations of lifts, I never thought to incorporate them into my athletes’ programs, until I recognized how well they can reinforce correct weightlifting positions as well as reaching full extension in the second pull.  Other benefits of the muscle variations include staying balanced (for better bar path) and improving the rack/lock-out positions when either of these is an issue.  

We can take an athlete with very little weightlifting experience, and regress them back to a muscle variation in order to learn proper positioning.  We also include the muscle variations in barbell warm-up routines or in programming to reinforce correct positioning and triple extension.  Of course, athletes can still mess things up, but having the muscle variations in your toolbox gives you another way to teach positions and extension with athletes who need extra work.  

BARBELL Working on Position 1 with the Muscle Clean or Muscle Snatch

Teach from the “high hang” position or “Position 1.”

  • Have the athlete find their correct grip, reinforcing utilizing a hook grip
  • The athlete will maintain an upright torso, hinging slightly at the knee and hip joints, leaving arms long, but lats engaged
  • Reinforcing this position with a pause to correct torso, knee or hip angles can lead to better execution later in the movement
  • Once Position 1 has been established, cue the athlete to violently extend knees and hips without jumping off the ground to their rack position.
    • This reinforces an aggressive triple extension in the 2nd pull of the movement, and can translate to a better understanding of timing and when to extend the knees and hips together.  This is a very common problem with inexperienced lifters, so this exercise can help athletes understand the timing and full extension of the 2nd pull.
    • Ensure that the athlete keeps the bar as close as possible, shrugging up and letting the bar float until pulling into the rack position is necessary.  This feeling is often uncomfortable or foreign to new lifters, so this can help them experience it.
    • Cueing “push through the floor” can allow athletes to create more force when extending the bar.  Because the first pull is eliminated in the muscle variations, athletes must feel the entire push in order to move the bar.  If they lack this push, they’ll end up using their arms too much which will ultimately lead to other issues.  

Ways to progress this exercise:

  • Add a front squat after the muscle clean
  • Add an overhead squat after the muscle snatch

This video demonstrates the muscle clean:

This video demonstrates the muscle snatch:

KETTLEBELL Muscle Clean Variation:

If your athlete is not quite ready to utilize a barbell, or equipment is limited, a great way to get movement patterns started is by executing the same sequence as listed above utilizing a kettlebell for the muscle clean.

Ways to Progress this exercise:

  • Add in a goblet squat following the muscle clean
  • Pull the kettlebell from the floor
  • KB Muscle clean from the floor + Front squat

DUMBELL (DB) Muscle Snatch:

Another option for reinforcing the movement is the DB muscle snatch. This exercise can be utilized alongside a snatch variation in a program to reinforce extension and unilateral balance.

This video demonstrates both the KB and DB muscle variations:

The Olympic lifts can be a great way to develop strength and power, but we need to teach them thoroughly so that young athletes can properly progress and stay safe.  The muscle variations give you another way to improve areas of the lifts such as the second pull and rack position.  These are just one small part of the process, but having them in your toolbox will give you another teaching option the next time you work with an athlete who needs to clean up certain areas of the lifts.


Jordan Tingman – CSCS*, USAW L1, ACE CPT, CFL1 is a graduate of Washington State University with a B.S. in Sports Science with a Minor in Strength and Conditioning. She completed internships with the strength & conditioning programs at both Washington State University and Ohio State University, and is currently a Graduate Assistant S & C Coach at Eastern Washington University.



The IYCA High School Strength & Conditioning Specialist is the only certification created specifically for coaches training high school athletes.  The course includes several hours of video instruction (including the Olympic lifts) and two textbooks with contributions from some of the top strength and conditioning coaches in America.  Click on the image below to learn more about how to become a certified high school strength & conditioning coach.

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Training Kids With Autism: The LDD Approach – Eric Chessen

Wed, 02/27/2019 - 15:00

“Okay so we’re gonna do squats so what I need you to do is first go to the ball and then feet out and look forward and remember…”

“Hold up. You want to see how I do it?” (coach nods)

“Squat.” (Then I demonstrate the squat)

It’s one of those crossover moments where a coach might find me during a bathroom break and tell me that there are striking similarities between coaching young athletes and coaching athletes with autism. Yup.

We talk about simplification in coaching and there is the constant pull to give more information. The art of coaching, in my experience, is a practice in providing as much verbal information as is useful and absolutely no more. I refer to this process as Label/Demo/Do (LDD).

When I say “Squat” the exercise is labeled. The goal is to have the athlete associate the word with the action. With the autism population, this may take a few dozen practices. With the neurotypical population glued to phone screens, this may take a few dozen practices. Yes, there are some similarities. Performance, whether in activities of daily living or sport, is about independent mastery. I get adamant about labels because I want to be across the room and be able to give directions that are then followed to the best of current ability.

Labeling is pouring concrete; we say it and it sets solid. During our Autism Fitness Certification seminars, attendees will practice coaching a medicine ball push throw. I’ll hear “Good push pass. Do another chest throw. Great chest push throw.” Turkish getups are not from Turkey. Bulgarian split squats were not smuggled out of the Eastern Bloc, but the labels stayed and we have a common language for these exercises. Our athletes, particularly those with autism and related disorders, need consistency and repetition. A push throw is always going to be a push throw. We should adhere to a Lord of the Rings rule; “One label to rule them all.”

Labeling also leads to opportunities for choice and autonomy. If I ask Karl whether he wants to do push throws or overhead throws first, he has a distinct understanding of each exercise. He can demonstrate a preference. For many individuals with autism, this is a highlight of independence and as close to free play as it gets. Because the labels “push throw” and “overhead throw” have been repeated consistently, practiced, and reinforced, Karl can understand the differences and elect his choice.

Introducing exercise is predominantly visual. We can easily show what a movement should look like. A long explanation tends to translate poorly towards performance and takes away from practice time. Demonstrating the exercise allows the athlete to have a visual reference for the movement. Also, some of my athletes genuinely enjoy watching me perform squats. I don’t know why.

Demonstrating is also a great opportunity to set up contingencies or if/then relationships. This is simply translated into “I go, you go.” Our athletes may require a demonstration of a new exercise multiple times during the teaching process. This is much easier and effective than explaining hip position, neutral spine, and every other abstract aspect of movement.

Doing is practice. When our athletes are doing we can assess and address whatever compensations or deviations arise. In the doing phase, we can coach and correct. When our athletes are doing, we can change the variables so that the press is more overhead, the heels are on the floor during squats, and that bear walks don’t deviate into pyramid shuffles (rear up in the air with hands and feet merely gliding across the ground).

Label/Demo/Do is about efficiency. In the 45-60 minutes I have with an athlete (often only 1x/week), I want more time practicing and moving, and less time explaining. Copious amounts of information do not enhance the experience.  Here is a very brief example of the LDD method in practice:

Where I will provide robust information is when providing Behavior-Specific Praise (BSP). My favorite concept and practice from the field of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), BSP follows the successful completion of a task and illuminates exactly what the individual did successfully. Rather than saying “Great job,” which I could say while staring at the wall, “Great job keeping your feet on the floor” during a push throw tells the athlete that I was watching and reinforces exactly what he/she was doing correctly. There’s a much greater chance they will repeat that behavior after using BSP.

BSP also allows me to give feedback that is descriptive but not overwhelming. When information comes in as instruction, it’s often just noise. When it is praise, there’s a higher chance it will connect with the athlete, neurotypical or otherwise.

The Label/Demo/Do approach seeks to optimize the time spent practicing and refining movement quality. It mitigates the dreaded “stand and wait while coach explains” and enables our athletes to transition quicker. For those working with the autism and special needs population, LDD decreases the opportunity to engage in off-task or problematic behaviors by, in technical terms, giving our athletes something better to do. It takes some practice to say less, but it enables us to coach more.


Eric Chessen, M.S., is the Founder of Autism Fitness and the Co-Founder of the strength equipment company Autism Fitness offers certification, online education, and consulting worldwide. For more information visit

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Conditioning Games for Young Athletes – Brett Klika

Mon, 02/25/2019 - 15:00

Working with children at any age is an art as well as a science. As coaches, we aim to push our young athletes out of their comfort zone so they can grow physically and mentally within their sport and beyond. Science continues to provide methods by which we can do this effectively. However, we must also find ways make the process enjoyable and engaging for the kids involved.

Many of us remember the “lines, laps, and lectures” that marred our experience with youth sports. We also remember that special coach or training environment that brought out the best in us. This situation was usually created by coaches who understood the inner workings of children in the development process. They acknowledged the role of pushing our limits, but also created an environment that was positive and engaging.  And yes, FUN!

The “conditioning” aspect of training is probably the least popular amongst athletes at any age. However, it’s a necessary evil when it comes to physically and mentally preparing youngsters for competition.  Fortunately, conditioning does not have to be a Bear-Bryant-esque death march. By using gamification, creativity, and just plain old fun, it can be a tool to keep kids smiling while they sweat.

Consider combining the specific conditioning protocols you use for your individuals and teams with the more engaging, gamified versions below. Watch how the context of play brings out higher levels of effort and resilience, both indicators of high performance!

Letter Agility 

This activity is ideal for individuals and teams when space is limited.

  1. Spread athletes in the space, providing ample room around each to move.
  2. Call out a letter, and they have to re-create that letter on the ground by moving their body in the specific pathway as fast as possible.
  3. The letters should cover roughly a 6-foot area.
  4. Progress from letters to words and/or shapes.
  5. Provide time constraints.
  6. Have them face a partner and race.

Dirty and Clean 

This is a great activity for large spaces and teams.

  1. Randomly place cones throughout a large area. The larger the area, the greater the distance each athlete must cover to play the game.
  2. Assign one team to be the “dirty” team, the other the “clean” team.
  3. Prior to beginning, make sure to have a count of how many cones are being used.
  4. On the whistle, the “dirty” team must disperse and continue to knock over as many cones as possible with their hands.
  5. The “clean” team must set the cones back up as fast as possible.
  6. Athletes must move throughout the space. Neither team can knock down or set up the same cone two times in a row.
  7. At the end of the time (20-30 seconds) whoever has the most cones either knocked over or standing is the winner.
  8. Repeat, switching roles.
  9. For added challenge, change the body parts that can be used to knock over cones.

Compass Calisthenics 

This simple concept is great for individuals and teams when space is limited.

  1. Create a list of 10 bodyweight exercises that can be done in place.
  2. Familiarize the athletes with the compass directions (East, West, North, South).
  3. Athletes perform each exercise for 30 seconds.
  4. During this time, the coach will frequently call out one of the compass directions and the athlete has to re-orient their body and movement to that direction. For example, “Push-ups EAST, NORTH, WEST”, etc.
  5. 10 Seconds of rest is provided between exercises.

Human Cone Drill (Jumping Jacks) 

This is great competitive activity for moderate to large spaces and teams.

  1. Split athletes into teams of 5.
  2. Set up cones for each team, separating each by roughly 10 yards.
  3. Have teams stand in line behind a cone, facing a corresponding cone roughly 30 yards away (distance can be shortened for different ages, and training spaces).
  4. Athletes stand in a single file line with arms outstretched onto the person’s shoulders in front of them.
  5. On the whistle, athletes begin doing jumping jacks.
  6. On a second whistle, the athlete in the back of the line must weave through their teammates while avoiding the jumping jack arms.
  7. Once a teammate has moved to the front of the line, they can call “go” and the next person in the back of the line weaves through.
  8. The goal is for a team to reach their distant cone before the other teams.
  9. When the coach blows a whistle during the race, the last person in line must stop and put their hands out in front of them.
  10. The entire line must re-form so all participants can place their hands on the shoulders in front of them.
  11. When all teams have accomplished this, the whistle is blown again and competition continues.

Partner Mirror Drill 

This is a conditioning activity for partners when space is limited, or when reaction speed is a goal.  

  1. Create partners.
  2. Partners decide who the “leader” and who the “follower” will be.
  3. On the whistle, the leader begins to perform activities of their own choosing, i.e. shuffling, jumping, calisthenics, etc.
  4. Instruct athletes to use a relatively small 6-8-foot area for movement.
  5. The follower must try to mirror exactly what the leader is doing in real time.
  6. On the coach’s whistle, the roles switch.
  7. Continue for 30 second intervals.
  8. Encourage creative, varied movement, i.e. dance moves, calisthenics-to-locomotion, etc.
  9. To increase difficulty, a movement cannot be repeated while someone is a leader.

All of the activities above function to challenge the metabolic system. However, by gamifying the experience, kids actually enjoy the process. The more the enjoyment, the greater the effort.

Integrate these fun and challenging conditioning activities into your youth programs and beyond. Never be afraid to create an environment where athletes smile while they sweat.    

Brett Klika is a youth performance expert and a regular contributor to the IYCA who is passionate about coaching young athletes.  He is the creator of the SPIDERfit Kids youth training program and has run successful youth fitness programs all over the country.  Brett is an international speaker whose passion for youth fitness has helped thousands of people learn how to create exceptional training experiences for young athletes.



If you want to be better at coaching young athletes, the IYCA Youth Fitness Specialist certification is the industry gold-standard for youth fitness and sports performance.  Click on the image below to learn more about the YFS1 certification program.


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In the Fast Lane – A Speed & Agility Roundtable

Mon, 02/11/2019 - 17:07

Having quick, agile athletes is vital to most sports, so it should be a focus for every strength and conditioning program. We asked a roundtable of experts how they satisfy the need for speed in their training.

When thinking about speed and agility, many people picture the highlight-reel moments—an Olympic sprinter blazing through a 100-meter dash, a wide receiver breaking away down the sideline, or a baseball player stealing second. What do those three scenarios have in common? The athletes are running in a straight line. However, as strength coaches know, speed and agility training is not so straightforward.

Linear speed is undoubtedly important, but the ability to stop, start, and change direction is just as crucial, say the strength and conditioning coaches in our roundtable discussion (See “Our Panel” below). They don’t agree on everything, though. In fact, a few of them hold opposing views on the merit of equipment like ladders and dot mats.

Clearly, there is a lot to consider when putting together an effective speed and agility program for athletes. Here, five performance training experts give their varied takes.


Andre Bernardi, CSCS, USAW, PES, is the Head Strength and Conditioning Coach at North Greenville University. He is a certified specialist in speed and explosion through the National Association of Speed and Explosion and holds a sports conditioning specialty certification through the American Council of Exercise. Bernardi is also a certified specialist in sports nutrition through the International Sports Science Association.

Sean Edinger, MS, SCCC, USAW, is Assistant Athletics Director for Athletic Performance at Syracuse University, working specifically with the football team. He is responsible for conditioning players for new Head Football Coach Dino Babers’ up-tempo style of play. Prior to Syracuse, Edinger served as the Director of Strength and Conditioning at Bowling Green State University for two seasons.

Jeff Kipp, MS, CSCS, RSCC*D, is Head Strength and Conditioning Coach at Strake Jesuit College Preparatory in Houston. Before Strake Jesuit, he was an Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach for the University of Kansas and spent 10 years as a Strength and Conditioning Coach at the United States Air Force Academy. He presents often on speed development at conferences and has authored many books for the NSCA about the topic.

Adam Linens, MS, CSCS, ATC, PES, CES, is an Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach at the University of Oregon, working specifically with the men’s basketball team. Previously, he worked with the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks and Cleveland Cavaliers and the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream.

Josh Robertson, SCCC, is the Strength and Conditioning Coach at Conway (S.C.) High School. He was the Assistant Director of Speed, Strength, and Conditioning at Appalachian State University from 2006 to 2010 and served as Head Strength and Conditioning Coach at Wofford College from 2004 to 2006.

What’s your overall philosophy regarding speed and agility?

Jeff Kipp: Speed is important to almost every sport. For instance, I tell my soccer players, “How many balls are there on the field? Only one. So what’s everybody doing out there? They’re jostling for position, trying to get into an open spot on the field, or trying to stay with their man.” Being able to run fast and change directions efficiently is imperative to all of those activities.

When I’m putting together speed and agility programs, I incorporate exercises that will teach athletes how to load and control the body effectively, as well as generate force. However, I look at strength, speed, and agility equally, so I don’t focus all my effort on weightroom or acceleration work and then forget things like lateral movements. Programming this way makes for a balanced approach to all aspects of athletic performance.

Adam Linens: In my experience, all athletes want to do is go fast. But speed and agility training is not about how fast a player can accelerate, it’s about how fast they can stop and then reaccelerate multiple times. When NBA players get to the final years of their careers, they have no problems starting—they have problems stopping, landing, and changing direction. Those skills require the most eccentric strength, so I try to instill them early in my players’ careers.

That being said, much of what I teach is based on linear speed development. Although basketball athletes don’t need a ton of linear speed training—since they play a change-of-direction sport—good technique for linear speed will transfer to change-of-direction work and other movements.

Josh Robertson: When you focus on speed and agility, you get better athletes. Combine the correct weightlifting methods with the correct speed and agility rest periods and drill distances, and the result will be a great speed and agility training program.

Sean Edinger: First, there’s pure genetics—some kids are just fast. Then, there’s the ability to move efficiently and quickly stop, start, and change direction, which can level the playing field and raise up players who might not have as much God-given talent.

Andre Bernardi: We want our athletes to be able to put their feet on the ground and get from point A to point B faster than their opponents. Skill sets aside, if they do that enough times over the course of a game, they are likely to come out on top.

How do you improve speed and agility?

Edinger: Athletes, particularly when they first get on campus, need to get stronger in terms of horsepower. A lot of them have a limited amount of force they can produce, and I help them develop it in training.

The real trick when you’re talking about speed is getting athletes to engage their fast-twitch muscles: How quickly can they display force? To work on this, we do bounds, skips, box jumps, lateral jumps, and lateral movements and take-offs. We only do a few per set because I want maximum effort on each rep.

Spending too much time on plyometrics for speed work can be counterproductive, though. If you do plyometrics and athletes get tired, they’ll start spending a lot of time in contact with the ground, and you won’t get the benefits you want. A huge part of this is a lack of conditioning. If players are out of shape or think they’ll struggle to get through a workout, they’ll hold back.

As far as agility training, I don’t place a lot of stock in ladders, dot mats, and things of that nature because football players don’t use any of that footwork on the field. For example, remember when swing dancing was a big thing a few years ago? People looked like they could dance, but they just memorized the steps. It’s the same thing with ladder and dot drills. Athletes might look like they’re getting more agile, but they’re simply memorizing the footwork and executing it at a high rate of speed. There’s no momentum buildup, and they don’t have to stop and change direction.

Kipp: I have standard plyos that I use. I start with a snap-bound into base positions to teach athletes how to load the body. Then, I move into jumps where players drop into a position, hold it, and generate force. Over a longer period of time, such as an entire offseason, we’ll get into faster response exercises that incorporate the stretch-shortening cycle. This will include true plyometrics—multiple broad jumps, multiple squat jumps, and scissor jumps—that accentuate explosion.

Linens: I like to use ladders and hurdles to instill proper balance, body positioning, linear speed, and lateral quickness. We start with specific ladder drills to teach forward-to-backward change of direction, hip rotations, and pivoting. Then, I’ll get into more advanced drills with hurdles and cones. After that, we progress to reactionary training, where I use numbered cones, colored cones, or pointing in different directions to get athletes to react. During these sessions, I also like to use lateral resistors around their ankles to strengthen their hips.

Bernardi: We focus on the basics. We’ll warm up, and then we’ll do something I call “rapid response,” which is a quick-feet drill where players try to pick up and put down their feet as fast as possible. After that, I may do something like a mirror drill.

With agility, I’m pretty simple. I’m a big ladder and footwork guy. I stick to pro-agility drills, zigzag drills, and a lot of activities where athletes react off a partner. This really represents the demands of most sports because athletes constantly have to react quickly during competitions.

What role does technique have in speed and agility training?

Linens: Technique trumps everything. Some coaches overload athletes with repetitions or resistance when their movements aren’t correct to begin with. This only ingrains bad habits.

Instead, I’ll teach a drill and make sure athletes have good technique before moving forward. After they’ve gotten proficient in the drill, we’ll add some resistance. However, I don’t add so much resistance that it makes the movement look sloppy. My general rule is: The more sport-specific a drill, the lighter the resistance.

Edinger: It’s important to remember that less is more. If you can only get 10 technically perfect reps out of a player, then 10 is what you’re looking for. Don’t make him try to do 15 or 20. When you’re talking about movement and speed in particular, never train a player after his form starts to falter. As soon as there’s a breakdown in technical proficiency, you need to stop—cut the drill, change the drill, or stop the session.

Bernardi: Teach technique work—foot placement, knee drive, and arm swing—before you do anything else. Once that’s accomplished, you can instruct athletes to put their feet into the ground and increase stride length or stride rate to maximize speed development.

To instill these movements, we’ll do a lot of quick shuffles where athletes claw the ground with their feet. From there, we may progress to a bound and then to a sprint, all the while emphasizing foot contact.

One of my favorite drills to stress technique is a march progression with a sled. Players start off like they’re doing a wall drill and switch to a slow march to emphasize their knee coming up and the ball of their foot driving to the ground. They do that a couple of times, and then it goes into a fast march. The drill ends with athletes pushing a sled, which really highlights the knee drive.

How do you make speed and agility training sport specific?

Kipp: I’ve always thought that you don’t train speed and agility for the sport—you train athletes to become faster, more agile performers at their sport. There are going to be times in every sport when an athlete is out of position and needs to react. If you didn’t train them to be versatile with their body positions and able to move through a full range of motion, it will affect how well they can react.

Edinger: I don’t subscribe to a sport-specific training mindset. Rather, I slant things to be like the sport I’m training. The drills that we use with Syracuse football are very specific to the sport and specific to what my coaches want players at each position to do. There are certain steps and movements for each position, and it’s important that the athletes practice them over and over until they become second nature.

For example, since wide receivers run routes where they push a defender, stop, come back, and run a hitch, we have them do a drill where they work on stopping in three steps. Throughout the action, their shoulders must be over their knees, and their knees must be over their toes. This way, they get the correct portion of their cleats into the ground and remain balanced. This drill is included in all their individual agility sessions.

Linens: I take the sport, break it down into different movements, and then teach corresponding pieces of it through a drill. I’m not teaching basketball skills, but our speed and agility training can focus on footwork related to an open step or crossover step that will help players drive to the basket or shuffle on defense.

Robertson: When I train an athlete on speed or agility, that is the training—not sport-specific speed and agility exercises.

What role does strength training play in your speed and agility work?

Kipp: It takes strength to slow the body, stop the body, and then reaccelerate in any given direction. So the stronger athletes are, the more easily they can stop themselves and create force against the ground to accelerate.

Linens: Strength training enhances speed and agility, and speed and agility enhance strength training. If you think of different concentric and explosive speed movements, they all require triple extension. We focus on triple extension in a lot of the exercises that we do, such as squat variations, dumbbell variations, kettlebell swings, arm dumbbell snatches, and clean variations.

To enhance change of direction, we emphasize single-leg exercises in the weightroom. I try to get athletes comfortable with balancing, exploding, controlling, and decelerating on one leg. Some of our exercises include variations of step-ups and lunges, single-leg Romanian dead lifts, and rear-foot elevator squats, as well as dumbbell split jerks.

Bernardi: Any opportunity I get in the weightroom to have athletes drive their knees and cycle their feet is going to make them faster. So I like doing speed squats and different lunge variations where athletes are focusing on their knee drive. We also do a lot of step-ups to develop speed.

Robertson: Going down below parallel in the back squat is the foundation of how we move. When athletes can lift more than their bodyweight in the back squat with speed in the movement, their speed and agility will go through the roof.

What advice would you give strength coaches who are starting to build their speed and agility programs?

Robertson: Don’t try to do too much. In America, we think you can take a zebra and run him in a thoroughbred race. We believe training will improve him or running him into the ground will change something mentally to enhance his performance. But this approach is detrimental because it attempts to do too much.

Some strength coaches have what I call “a box of hammers.” They pull out a small hammer and beat on the athlete and tear him down. When that doesn’t work, they get a bigger hammer. The next thing you know, the athlete is broken. They might say the athlete wasn’t good to begin with, but I’d say they didn’t train him right.

Kipp: Create a road map. Have a plan for where you’re going and how you’re going to get there, but understand there are going to be bumps along the way. Also, keep your eyes and ears open for new ideas. When it comes to speed and agility training, every coach out there can benefit from listening to their peers.

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Pete Croatto is a freelance writer based in Ithaca, N.Y. He can be reached at:


If you’re looking for more information on speed training, the IYCA recently released a new course called Speed Testing Mastery.  This couse walks you through all the details of how to get athletes to run a faster 40- or 60-yard dash.  The course includes 10 instructional video modules and a detailed 8-week training program.  Also included is video analysis of 7 athletes that clearly show you exactly what to look for when coaching athletes.  Learn more about Speed Testing Mastery.

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