Field and court sports share common goals: on offense create as much space as possible, and on defense close space between the defenders and the ball. We saw this when Michael Jordan created 4 feet of separation to hit the game-winning shot against the Utah Jazz in Game Six or when watching Darrelle Revis break up a pass by running the route for the WR. Al Pacino said it best in the movie Any Given Sunday: “The inches are all around us—one inch left you miss the ball, one yard too short you lose the game.”
This perspective puts a premium on the ability to sprint, accelerate, change direction, and decelerate. Improving general skills guides the planning process of off-season training. Being more skilled in sport means that an athlete has the ability to control their body accurately, efficiently, and in a timely manner, which provides faster sport motion. Zatsiorsky stated that “when sports performance improves, the time of motion turns out to be shorter.”
Breaking down sport, there appears to be a continuum of skills and capacities, with a capacity reflecting the amount something can produce. The capacities that contribute to the success of sporting movement are:
These capacities can be propulsive or decelerative, depending on the direction of the applied force. The capacities related to impulse cause change in movement and follow Newtonian law. As athletes get stronger and more powerful, they are able to increase their manipulation of momentum more successfully.
In my previous article, I went through the why of implementing decelerative-emphasized training. This article will go through the how of implementing decelerative training, breaking down how to classify, progress, and pair eccentric training elements with increased decelerative capabilities in mind.
Learning and Repping the Skill of Stopping
A skill is defined as “the ability to do something well, expertise.” As stated above, being more skilled in sport means that an athlete can control their body accurately, efficiently, and in a timely manner, which provides faster sport motion. In order to be proficient in any skill, the movement pattern must be rehearsed and fit a specific technical bandwidth that allows the athlete to express the necessary force to be successful.Deceleration ability may be the biggest determining factor in performance when looking at general skills and their effect on sports, says @CoachJoeyG. Click To Tweet
The reason athletes train is to prep for the demands of the sport while increasing the underlying factors affecting faster sports motion. Deceleration, in particular, is the underpinning factor in greater change of direction and max velocity speeds, which are directly responsible for creating and closing space.
Dr. Damian Harper defines deceleration as:
“[The] ability to proficiently reduce whole-body momentum, within the constraints, and in accordance with specific objectives of the task, while attenuating and distributing the forces associated with braking.”
Deceleration ability may be the biggest determining factor in performance when looking at general skills and their effect on sports. In the research article “COD task: does the eccentric muscle contraction really matter?,” Helmi Chaabene stated, “from a practical observation suggest that coaches should consider implementing eccentric strengthening, which is the main muscle contraction regime activated during deceleration, in their training program directed at promoting COD outcome.”
When looking at horizontal deceleration, research has pointed practitioners toward developing eccentric capacities specifically in the quads, hamstrings, and glutes. When the athlete has lower levels of eccentric strength in their lower body, it will cause reduced knee flexion in stopping movements, putting the majority of the mechanical stress on the hamstrings. Pairing this shallow knee flexion decel with poor trunk stability can lead to a dramatic increase in non-contact ACL injuries. Increasing eccentric force capabilities in key muscle groups and joints will increase performance and help mitigate several common injuries, such as hamstring strains and ACL tears.
Look at sprinting, as Peter Weyand and Ken Clark found that elite sprinters are able to decelerate the lower limb in the two-mass model faster than normal team sport athletes. The elite sprinter’s impulse curve or waveform should have much higher levels of eccentric peak force and eccentric rate of force (RFD). Contributing factors to great deceleration show up all over sports in a variety of skills.
Five Factors Affect How Well an Athlete Can Decelerate
Using the hierarchy developed by Al Vermeil, we see the progressions of how to increase braking ability, which will have a cascading effect on a player’s athletic abilities. This hierarchy is not limited to the lower body, as football blocking and block destruction both have decelerative actions, so apply the same methods to upper body training.
There is some crossover between the training elements in this hierarchy, as dynamic stability is present in all of these exercises and does not have its own catalog of exercises. I will focus solely on eccentric peak force and eccentric RFD, as plyometrics has been explored in recent articles. In the following sections, I will go through the exercises that have been implemented here at FAU and give examples and rationale on why we use them to develop deceleration capabilities.
Eccentric Peak Force
“Eccentric peak force allows athletes to harness gravity to create power.” – Antonio Squillante
From a kinetic perspective, peak force is the peak of the waveform curve or impulse curve. It can be described as the max amount. Traditionally, strength and conditioning coaches have measured this through 1RM testing. There is an understanding that the limiting factor in true training of peak eccentric force is the ability to complete the concentric phase of the lift. Research has shown that eccentrically, athletes can produce 120%–140% of a normal 1RM squat.
Peak force manipulation does not have time constraints, which is a major reason just focusing on strength production has limits when looking for transfer to sport activities, as sport has specific time windows for the application of force governed by movement. Getting strong just for the sake of getting strong will not guarantee better sports performance, as much as we would like to believe it will.
Strength is necessary, as the lack of it will guarantee failure in the ability to produce skills—but solely focusing on strength as the holy grail will reach a point of diminishing returns and lead to stagnation of performance gains. Strength and conditioning coaches do need to create reserves (or surplus) greater than what is demanded in sport to protect the athlete from injury. This also gives the athlete the ability to perform under some levels of fatigue if the capacity is developed to new and higher levels. These reserves are critical for performance, as athletes in field sports rarely are completely fresh during competition.Strength and conditioning coaches do not want the first time that athletes experience 6x BW in eccentric forces to occur in competition, says @CoachJoeyG. Click To Tweet
Building eccentric peak force is critical for enhancing the skill of deceleration, as peak force shows up in the later phases of horizontal braking in the steps leading to the penultimate step. As the ground contacts expand and the knee and hip angles deepen, the need for more force—specifically deceleration force—is pivotal in the athlete’s ability to manage the momentum. Deceleration forces have been recorded as high as 8x BW and occur between 50 milliseconds and 300 milliseconds. Neglecting the training of this sports phenomenon will most certainly lead to an increased risk of injury. Strength and conditioning coaches do not want the first time that athletes experience 6x BW in eccentric forces to occur in competition.
Peak force can be developed through two modalities:
- Submaximal eccentric training
- Supra-maximal eccentric training
Submaximal Eccentric Training
Submaximal eccentric training has been made popular by coaches like Charles Poliquin and Cal Dietz, and it is not a new training intervention. It can be applied to all exercises, and its reach is only limited by the strength and conditioning coach’s creativity. The greatest impact is on the implementation of tempo to compound lifts such as squats, hinges, presses, and pulls.
The benefit of using submaximal eccentric training is twofold.
- The structural adaptations that occur with increased time under tension. Using this method has a great hypertrophic response on the muscles. The time under tension stimulates an anabolic hormonal response, along with the increased tissue damage from the focused eccentric action, allowing greater size and strength adaptations to the CSA if adequate recovery periods are applied.
- The adaptation of the tendon structures and motor unit recruitment, which, if implemented early in the training phase, can allow the strength and conditioning coach to be more aggressive in later progressions when programming plyometric activities, as GTOs are programmed to allow higher levels of stretch-shortening activities. The controlled lowering helps groove the pattern, increasing the technical proficiency of the lift, and is a great motor learning tool when teaching early progressions of exercises.
Using this method is a great alternative to the 3×10 rep prescription seen in the early offseason that is used too frequently, as it checks many of the same boxes as hypertrophy, tendon health, motor learning, lactate buffering, and even aerobic system development. This early intro to eccentrics at submaximal intensities accomplishes the adaptation of hypertrophy with higher intensities and sets the S&C up for supra-maximal eccentric training progressions later in the training cycle.
Squats are one of the most common means of implementing this method in the S&C community, but bodybuilders have been using tempo on isolated joint work for a long time. The load is less than 100% of 1RM, hence the name submaximal. The preferred intensity zones that we have found to be adequate in stressing the athlete safely were between 65% and 85% of 1RM. Once the 85% of 1RM threshold was crossed, it was extremely difficult for the athlete to complete the concentric portion of the lift. We use the rep range of 3–5, as 5+ reps dramatically increase the risk of injury due to fatigue. Sets of 5+ reps with tempo can expand past several minutes, which under significant load is not a safe environment for athletes.
Lower body examples:
Video 1. Squat.
Video 2. Sub max split squat.
Video 3. SL tempo RDL.
Video 4. R leans.
Video 5. Tempo side squat.
Upper body examples:
Video 6. Sub max bench tempo.
Video 7. Sub max DB bench.
Video 8. Tempo chin-ups.
Video 9. Submax tempo press.
Video 10. Sub max rows.
Supra-Maximal Eccentric Training
Using sub-max eccentrics is like eating appetizers at a restaurant: they are great starters, but you are still holding out for the main dish. Sub-max eccentrics set up athletes to handle higher-intensity training means like supra-maximal eccentric training and plyometric training. This style of training is defined as 100% of 1RM or greater: controlled lowering without the possibility of completing the concentric portion of the lift without outside aid.Using sub-max eccentrics is like eating appetizers at a restaurant: they are great starters, but you are still holding out for the main dish, says @CoachJoeyG. Click To Tweet
This is a very aggressive and intensive style of training that should be completed with minimal volume and carefully progressed. This method should be used with main core lifts such as presses, squats, and hinges. Coaches must have mature, attentive lifters, as equipment such as weight releasers or spotters is needed to accomplish this modality.
Supra-maximal eccentric training cannot be mentioned without bringing up Dr. John Wagle and his research pertaining to accentuated eccentric loading (AEL). Dr. Wagle defines AEL: “Accentuated eccentric loading (AEL) prescribes eccentric load magnitude in excess of the concentric prescription using movements that require coupled eccentric and concentric actions, with minimal interruption to natural mechanics.”
This style of training is supra-maximal eccentric and has, in several research papers, shown increases in strength and speed in field-based sports athletes. Eccentric training can lead to greater increases in total strength and, when paired with SSC activities, allows for more forceful and propulsive concentric actions. In Jamie Douglas’s research paper “Effects of Accentuated Eccentric Loading on Muscle Properties, Strength, Power, and Speed In Resistance-Trained Rugby Players,” he stated:
“The additional eccentric load afforded by slow AEL may provide a superior stimulus to the neuromuscular system, a stimulus that could be especially relevant to trained athletes simultaneously attempting to increase strength, power, speed, and aerobic fitness.”
Creativity must be at a premium when navigating equipment deficiencies and it shouldn’t push coaches away from using this training method, as it produces immense results.
Lower body examples:
Video 11. Squats with weight releaser.
Video 12. AEL supra max squats with SSB, no hands then hands.
Video 13. Supra max split squat.
Video 14. Trap bar deadlift AEL.
Video 15. Push press to controlled lowering supra max for press.
Video 16. Bench weight releaser supra max.
Video 17. Chin-ups partner pulldown.
Video 18. Deadlift to supra max RDL.
Video 19. AEL band-resisted box jump.
Video 20. AEL box jump.
Eccentric Rate of Force
Deceleration is a rate-dependent activity. From a kinetics standpoint, RFD is, in simple terms, how fast to peak force. There are several time brackets that people use to measure it between 50 milliseconds and 250 milliseconds. The steeper the slope, the more the athlete is able to express force faster.
Why is it important to manage force fast? In sports, there are limited time windows in which the athlete can apply force—if the window is extended, the movement slows down. Slower playing speed in specific situations like tackling, decelerating, or cutting can lead to serious injury. The main determinant of not being able to express force faster is slower skill execution, which makes it easier for the opponent to separate or close on you.
With eccentric RFD exercises, we want to increase the rate of the stop. These exercises must be performed with violent intent and have tremendous adaptive responses, such as increased muscle stiffness and higher recruitment of type IIx fibers. When classifying eccentric RFD exercises, the higher the jarring effect of the modality, the higher the demand of mechanical stress on the athlete and the increased GRF. These exercises fall into the classifications of altitude drop, snap downs, and rapid catch. Because of the high mechanical stress of the exercises, coaches only need to prescribe a small volume to elicit positive adaptation.
A simple way to conceptualize programming for snap downs is to prescribe them similarly to Olympic lifting variations. Quality over quantity is at a premium, as we don’t want to have these rapid decelerations happen with fatigue. Coaches can be extremely creative in the final position of the decel out of the snap down. We start with a square “athletic position” and move to a staggered stance. Limiting or removing the portion of the base of support has an increase on the dynamic stability demand. This exercise isn’t limited to the sagittal plane, as coaches can tap frontal plane decelerations as well.Because of the high mechanical stress of eccentric RFD exercises, coaches only need to prescribe a small volume to elicit positive adaptation, says @CoachJoeyG. Click To Tweet
When selecting drop heights for altitude drops and depth jumps, the most logical resource has to be Dr. Verkhoshansky. We looked at his recommendations and compared how applicable they would be in our specific setting and how compatible they would be with our intended training emphasis components. Dr. Verkhoshansky recommends that the drop should be 2.5 feet, or 30 inches, for explosive strength and reactive ability. For increasing peak force, the drop should be performed at 3.5 feet, or 42 inches!
As coaches can see, these aren’t small boxes to step off of. In the research paper “A methodological approach to quantifying plyometric intensity,” the authors found that a rebound vertical jump produced around 4.5x BW in GRF. If a vertical jump landing is more intensive than falling off a sub-vertical-height box, it didn’t make sense to start the altitude drop progression with anything short of the average vertical height for each position group. We add intensity to the exercise by increasing the height over the positional average.
Video 21. Drop landings.
Video 22. Altitude drops.
Video 23. Assisted snap downs.
Video 24. Tb snap downs.
Video 25. Db snap downs.
Video 26. Push-up drops.
Video 27. Bb drop rows
Video 28. DB drop rows.
Video 29. Full-speed decelerations.
Video 30. Decelerations.
Pay More Attention to Deceleration
As more light is shone on the sporting task of deceleration and its components, it is becoming more evident not only of its need on the training calendar but the performance benefit if this skill is improved. Field sports are about manipulating space, and deceleration not only increases COD but also improves speed. This is not a new training modality, as Loren Landow, Vern Gambetta, and Bill Parisi have been using similar training methods for decades—not to mention what the Soviets did for who knows how long.Though it is not new, deceleration and its components often get neglected in the training process, says @CoachJoeyG. Click To Tweet
Though it is not new, it often remains neglected in the training process. Thankfully, researchers like Damian Harper have brought notice to this neglected training element, and practitioners like Les Spellman and Jevaughn Pinnock are consistently creating new methods of training. As Dr. Harper stated: “You cannot speed up what you cannot slow down.”
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