To initiate our GPP phase, we first had to ask the simple question: “Where do we start ’em?“ Following that, we’ve got them right where we want them—leaner, stronger, and more robust movers with a set of lungs to boot! Now it’s time for that undulated, conjugate, supramaximal plyometric program, right? Not quite yet, coach (or better yet, mom and dad)! Given the age of our developmental athletes, we have two major assets in time and plasticity—and the nature of both can easily be abused.
For those developmental athletes who have progressed through the foundational program, the question becomes, “How do we keep our foot off the gas pedal while moving the proverbial needle forward?” In our programs, we apply a scope of progression: slow-fast, extensive-intensive, force-explosive, internal-external, and so on. Our initial programs have used the basic bodyweight/centralized external load strength movements as well as carries, crawls, and sled work. While the strength exercises have provided general movement skill, connective tissue strength, and global muscular endurance, the crawls, carries, and drags have allowed my athletes to move forcefully through the horizontal vector in the sagittal, frontal, and transverse planes.
In a way, this provided the base for faster, more explosive movements like cutting, sprinting, backpedaling, and certain jumps. The resistance of the sled forces athletes to find a position of optimal strength and slows the movement down, which I find helps with the connection to the brain. The crawls force them to maintain posture about the spine and load the shoulders in a dexterous manner, driving a coordination connection (cross crawl patterns and such). My guess is the carries add difficulty and asymmetry while in gait, which develop a more robust stumble reflex. But now we can speed things up a little.
Jumps, Throws, and Running Patterns
I must add a word on how to implement jumps initially, and I’ll say the approach of teaching them to land and load will serve you well. In the progression section of his “Shock Method” presentation, Matt Thome describes a six-point jumps progression leading up to the shock method. This path encompasses the extensive-intensive approach further categorized by long-short coupling, multi effort-single effort (or rhythmic-output), as well as unloaded-loaded, with the latter terms hallmarking intensification. Thome goes on to explain level 0 jumps where you emphasize landing technique in single efforts with lesser qualified (beginning, developmental) athletes to learn the skill of absorbing and withstanding force quickly.1
Taking off is another element layered in landing ability. In this case, we best serve our athletes by teaching them to assume the athletic position quickly. Sport coaches spew about this all the time, commanding their athletes to get low, stay low, and explode low. Most readers know that this is easier said than done and tremendously tough to teach young athletes who most likely have poor movement bases to begin with. The Rip Down series is one way to teach athletes how to load aggressively and serves as a precursor to deceleration training.2
- The rip down technique helps young athletes learn the pace and timing of the stretch reflex as well as timing with the upper limbs.
- You can use a rip down technique to drop into bilateral and unilateral positions, preceding jumping both vertically and horizontally. A simple example is performing a rip down to the athletic stance (1/2 squat position) to a box jump. A few sets of three to five intermittent reps serve as a good starting point.
- Cue them to rip their butts to their heels and land like a ninja, silent but deadly!
- Usual progressions start with double-leg landings, moving to single-leg landings.
- Implement horizontal jumps over time.
- Place the rep down techniques in the pre-strength portion of your session to allow time for explosive training qualities when your athletes are at their freshest, and their minds are usually more focused.
We can use the same philosophy for medicine ball throws to train explosive abilities of the trunk and upper body. In this case, single-effort throws using a paused catch help train the ability to withstand contact of an oncoming body or object. This is most applicable in American football and rugby upon tackling and blocking. But it’s also prevalent in ball handling sports like basketball when the speed of an oncoming ball can register large forces that require both local and total body absorption. The fingers, hands, elbows, and shoulders need to be able to withstand the ball’s force with help from the trunk, hips, and lower limbs. You can employ as many different patterns here as you like, and do them as a part of the pre-strength circuit that can serve as a stimulatory warm-up.
As for running in this phase, it’s wise to hammer sprinting on the technical side and employ various running patterns for these late entry developmental athletes. Wicket runs are in high order, along with various skipping and slower bounding drills. We can break down cutting into the 3- and 5-step forward-to-backward and side-to-side patterns, beginning with walking pace and learning how to stick the foot in the ground. Stick! Sink!! Separate! Then, gradually speed up the approach. From here, we can implement oval, circular, and parabolic patterns, as real-life running in sport is never like the sharp forty-five and ninety-degree “Tecmo-Bowl” characters.
So Now Where Can We Take ‘Em?
Here is a program model we use to help our developmental athletes transition down the slow-fast, extensive-intensive, forceful-explosive spectrums (more on this later). In this program, we can transition the technical jumping into a more extensive style of jump training that emphasizes timing and rhythm in the session’s strength portion. The derivatives of the jumps and throws will take place where the crawls, carries, and drags were in our foundation program. This allows a controlled volume of the extensive jump training, and I find it affects motor learning in two ways.Our program model helps developmental athletes transition from baseline skills to the slow-fast, extensive-intensive, & forceful-explosive spectrums. Click To Tweet
A contrast of learning occurs when the skill exercise is followed by a strength exercise.3 I must note a context here, as the jumping and strength exercises are general in nature at this stage, but we can revert to the slow-fast spectrum. Here, athletes can get a feel by practicing the neural pathway slowly before engaging in faster activity. Slowing things down lets the athlete attain the position and posture of the body so they can move powerfully. An example would be performing the knee drive exercise to help an athlete achieve the feel of knee drive in the sprint. In this instance, the squat exercise can prepare for a vertical type jump, and a horizontal push exercise (pushup/bench press) may aid a chest pass throw.
If we continue to implement the 1×20 method here (possibly into the 14s at this stage), you better believe there will be some fatigue in the local musculature. This is not necessarily a bad thing—especially if we’re trying to stress the system further and improve motor learning. Conditions of fatigue can create a “sensorimotor chaos” that forces the organism to respond to the fatigued muscles by producing an output not previously registered by the brain.4
The key word here is fatigue and not exhaustion. Note that fatigue should be generated locally as opposed to globally. Think about a squat exercise fatiguing the legs as opposed to programming an Olympic lift variation. Using a strength exercise in this manner provides a fatigue overload that develops motor control resilience when in fatigued conditions (learning to deal with conditions of fatigue). It also allows a mechanical overload without having to add an external load. I’ll explain the significance of this practice when we discuss the relationship between higher intensity and neural rigidity. Effectively, we can stretch out our adaptive response without having to use exhaustive means.
Block I is the lower body emphasis of the session where we work three of the basic five movement patterns (squat, hinge, single-leg). Feel free to employ the single-leg squat exercises (with your bilateral version) in different planes as in a lateral lunge or a rotational lateral lunge. We’ll also add some ankle strengthening before jumps that emphasize the action about the ankle. You can keep these on the clock as well (EMOM protocol), and you’ll find your young trainees huffing and puffing once again—a practical way to use fatigue as an overload stimulus.
Block I: Lower Body Emphasis with Extensive Jumps
A1) Squat: variation based on progression
A2) Box jump
A3) Hinge: variation based on progression
A4) Hurdle hop
A5) Single-leg variation: left
A6) Split jump on same leg/single-leg hopping/skater jumps
A7) Single-leg variation: right
A8) Split jump on same leg/single-leg hopping/skater jumps
A9) Calf raise
A10) Ankle jumps (may lighten the load by holding onto a stationary object or hanging overhead bands) or low box jump with minimal knee bend
Block II is the upper body dominant portion of the session. In this program, we continue to apply one multi-joint push and pull movement along with trunk strengthening exercises. With overhead throwing athletes, sometimes we do strengthening exercises for the posterior shoulder (YTW patterns) before some introductory “rebound” work with a light dumbbell or medicine ball.5 I must state that I first learned about rebound drills in a brief two-day clinic with Jay Schroeder in 2004.
Block II (general athletic development):
A1) Horizontal/vertical push
A2) Med ball chest pass or “wall ball” throw
A3) Trunk flexion
A4) Med ball sit-up throw
A5) Horizontal/vertical pull
A6) Med ball slam or overhead throw vs. wall
A7) Trunk rotation
A8) Med ball twist throw
A9) Trunk extension
A10) Med ball scoop throw vs. wall
Block II (for a throwing athlete):
A1) Horizontal/vertical push
A2) Med ball chest pass or shot put throw
A3) Lateral raise
A4) Lateral raise rebound
A5) Horizontal/vertical pull
A6) Med ball slam or overhead throw vs. wall
A7) Posterior lateral raise
A8) Posterior lateral raise rebound
A9) Y raise or external rotation
A10) Y raise rebound or external rotation throw (extensive)
We’re not ignoring the trunk—we can put it in a separate set:
A1) Trunk flexion
A2) Med ball sit-up throw
A3) Trunk rotation
A4) Med ball twist throw
A5) Trunk extension
A6) Med ball scoop throw vs. wall
This also offers a great opportunity to partner groups of athletes. And they can play catch with each other, which seems to coral their accuracy a bit as they are less apt to throw the ball too hard. Just be wary of doing this with swimmers because some lack hand-eye skills, and I’ve seen a few broken fingers over the years.
To continue to get aerobic benefits, keeping this program on the clock is a good idea. You may have to expand the interval in the early going to coach the newer exercises; E90O90 will work well here, eventually getting to an EMOM pace. You can expand or retract this into parts of a full session or plug and play parts of each if you run into time constraints. No matter the scenario, this bridge program can help keep the foot off the gas pedal while moving the needle forward without blowing a gasket.
The Why: The Laws of Time and Maturation
Skill, strength, speed, endurance, and flexibility are the major trainable qualities every athlete needs. Each of these qualities has optimal windows of trainability that can distinguish between early- and late-entry sports. Early entry sports are your non-contact, non-stick-and-ball sports like gymnastics, diving, and figure skating that require a high degree of skill and flexibility. Optimally, these are trained in early development (4-10 years old).
The development of the other three qualities exists inherently during skill training.6 For example, in gymnastics, the skills of the P-bars, rings, and handstands will sufficiently develop strength in the upper body. At the same time, the jumping, landing, and explosive running (vault and floor exercises) will aid in improving speed qualities. The need for formal or targeted strength, speed, and endurance training is a low priority (if a priority at all), as the cumulative stress on the system is enough to fundamentally cover all three.
For late-entry sports (field, court, contact), we typically introduce the qualities of strength, speed, and endurance (we’ll also refer to these as the output qualities) in early to mid-teenage years with the foresight of more aggressive, targeted training down the road. For coaches, parents, and young athletes in this boat, it’s easy to fall prey to solely working on one of these qualities in the absence of others. For example, although the optimal window of trainability for flexibility and skill has passed, this does not erase their place. Though their new existence may be planned informally at this juncture, they act as a security system, computer virus control, or a protective medication of sorts. In this way, skill and flexibility are constantly present but also adapting to the athlete’s growing body and mental maturation.6
As stated above, the beginning of the trainability window for the output qualities will typically occur during this period. The key word here is initiation, which would include a fundamental approach that covers a broad spectrum of these abilities and their subsets versus a specialized and aggressive approach. In other words, getting put through your paces with the basics can give us a larger bang for our training buck while leaving plenty of room to take advantage of more advanced methods later.
This phenomenon revolves around the stiffening of the plasticity of the nervous system with high-intensity work.7 If coaches rush athletes with high-intensity strength, plyometric, and endurance work, they can only improve with even higher intensity or more volume. Most readers would agree this approach is a ticking time bomb of physical and psychological injury, given that maturity levels of both have not yet reached their peak.
Even though the sub-abilities of speed, strength, and endurance are needed during competition and training in late-entry sports, their general application will provide the necessary blend of these specialized qualities. Furthermore, each ability has a similar trend of peak opportunity among both genders. For both young women and men, peak trainability occurs:
- First with endurance in the high school years (F: 12-14; M: 16-18)
- Second with speed in mid-HS to collegiate (F: 16-18; M:19-21)
- Third with strength in late/post-collegiate (F: 19-21; M: 24-26)1
Applying high-intensity specialized methods is a recipe for disaster regarding the athlete’s long term and acute health and will retard future progress. Let us also understand that these windows do not represent independent training silos, as these three qualities will contain blends of each other—strength endurance, speed endurance, speed-strength, and strength-speed, etc.We need to know *when* to use *what* for our developmental athletes. As coaches (and parents) of our junior high and high school athletes, we must understand that the slow cooker is still on. Click To Tweet
We need to know when to use what for our athletes in this age range. As coaches (and parents) of our junior high and high school athletes, we must understand that the slow cooker is still on. Now there may be cases for the outliers where scholarship money or potential professional careers may be on the line, and then a brief time in the microwave may be called for.
“I tried to tell you time and time again
You know you’ll have to pay the consequence
Now you’re obsessed with such a pace
But slow and steady wins the race!”
—”Slow Down” by Ozzy Osbourne
Since you’re here…
…we have a small favor to ask. More people are reading SimpliFaster than ever, and each week we bring you compelling content from coaches, sport scientists, and physiotherapists who are devoted to building better athletes. Please take a moment to share the articles on social media, engage the authors with questions and comments below, and link to articles when appropriate if you have a blog or participate on forums of related topics. — SF
1. Matt Thome, The Shock Method.
2. Zach Dechant, Movement Over Maxes: Developing the Foundation for Baseball Performance, (Zach Dechant, 2018).
3. Jeff Moyer, “Minimalist Approach to Building Better Athletes,” TFC 6.
4. Frans Bosch, Strength Training & Coordination: An Integrative Approach, (2010Publishers, 2016).
5. Tommy John, Minimize Injury, Maximize Performance: A Sports Parent’s Guide Survival Guide, (De Capo Press, 2018).
6. Derek Evely, “Putting It All Together-Abilities & Maturation Rates,” Understanding Youth Training for Parents Course, (com, 2020).
7. Joel Smith, “Jeff Moyer Q & A,” Just Fly Sports (blog), August 2, 2016.