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Single-leg strength is a quality that has frequently been ignored in strength programs, but is essential to the improvement of speed, development of balance, and prevention of injury. Unfortunately, most strength programs focus on conventional double-leg exercises like squats, leg presses, or even worse, nonfunctional leg exercises such as leg extensions and leg curls. A closer look, however, reveals that most sport skills are performed on one leg.
Any sport that involves running, jumping, or throwing involves performance on one leg. In contrast, the double-leg squat distributes the load to two legs. While this is a good exercise to develop lower body strength, it does not contribute to single-leg strength and balance as much as purely single leg exercises, such as the single-leg squat, do. The actions of the pelvic stabilizers are different in a single-leg stance than in a double-leg stance. Single-leg exercises force the glute medius to operate as a stabilizer, which is critical in sport skills.
The one-leg squat places a high proprioceptive demand upon the body. It challenges the joint and muscle receptors of the lower body to provide feedback regarding joint and limb position and reposition them accordingly. The proprioceptors assist the body to generate movement in a form that is appropriate to the demands placed upon the body. If exercises are of low proprioceptive demand, the body will quickly adapt and will not be prepared for the greater demands called for in the game. That is why the single-leg squat has been called "the king" of all single-leg exercises.
Initially, many people will not be able to perform the single leg squat. This is mostly due to a lack of ankle, knee, and hip flexibility, balance, or leg strength. There is, however, a particular progression that can help anyone to perform the single-leg squat. While it will take some time, about three to four weeks on each exercise before progressing, the program should allow anybody, with no lower body injuries, to perform the exercise.
The first exercise in the progression is the split squat. In this exercise the athlete assumes a long lunge position with their hands on their head. In this position the athlete has two stable points on the ground. From this position the athlete attempts to touch the back knee to the floor while keeping the front knee over the ankle. Some things to look for are, to make sure the athlete can maintain an erect posture, proper balance, and control. An athlete that lacks control will not be able to lower themselves without banging their back knee into the ground. This is an indicator of poor yielding/eccentric strength. This will improve over time and with this exercise. This exercise then progresses to the lunge.
In a lunge, the athlete begins with both feet together and hands on their head. Next, the athlete should take a long step out with one leg and touch the back knee to the floor while keeping the front knee over the ankle. Finally, the athlete should push off of that leg and return to the starting position and switch legs. The things to look for in the lunge are similar to the split squat. The lunge then progresses to the single-leg bench squat.
When performing this movement the athlete will get into a position similar to the split squat, except that the back foot is placed on top of a bench behind them. From this position, the athlete descends into a position where the front thigh is parallel to the floor. Once again, this exercise is done with no movement and, as in the split squat, the dynamic flexibility of the hip flexors will be improved. Things to look for in this exercise are similar to the exercises above. You will notice that many people who are extremely tight through their hip flexors will exhibit a lack of range of motion.
The movement finally progresses into the single-leg squat. This exercise forces the athlete to use the leg without any contribution from the opposite leg for balance. The pelvic muscles must now function as stabilizers without the benefit of the opposite leg touching the ground or a bench.
This twelve-week progression, three weeks on each exercise, can help anybody to perform the single-leg squat. A well-designed program should also include other exercises to help strengthen pelvic stabilizers such as the glute medius, which will assist in the performance of the single-leg squat.
I would like to acknowledge Mike Boyle on his thoughts, ideas and progression of single leg training.
It's around that time of the year where those of us in the collegiate setting have to sit down and write summer strength and conditioning programs for our athletes. This can often be a daunting feat but this article is geared towards making the process simpler so that no stone is left unturned and you can provide the best possible program for your athletes. This article is not about sets and reps so I don't plan on going into specifics about how much to do, but the goal is for you to have all your bases covered as you begin to put your summer program together.
The Summer Program
The summer strength and conditioning program is important to the development of the student-athlete. The summer is typically a time where an athlete can train without having to worry about an academic load which can often impact stress and recovery levels. This often allows them to train with a greater intensity and effort. The only other responsibility that the student-athlete may have is a summer job or internship, which still leaves time for training if they make the effort.
The summer program will be different depending upon the sport and their season. Programs for fall (football, soccer, volleyball, field hockey) sports should prepare them to get ready for pre-season as that is their most stressful time of the year. The program will include more specific conditioning as the summer progresses. Programs for winter sports (basketball, hockey, swimming, wrestling) can focus more time on developing strength, speed, and hypertrophy and power because their pre-seasons are when school is in session. Programs for spring sports (baseball, softball, lacrosse, rowing) can also focus on developing strength, speed, hypertrophy and power but has a non traditional season in the fall, so some specific conditioning needs to be added in as the summer progresses.
What do I do first?
The first step in developing your summer program is to find out when your athletes return to school and work backwards. This will give you starting date for your summer program, which is typically 12 weeks in length. If you are writing a program for a fall sport, check with the sport coach to see when they will arrive for pre-season in August.
You will also have to speak with the sport coach about specific conditioning tests and/or goals that they are looking for in their athletes. Some coach's will want their athletes to increase a certain percentage in their lifts or pass a conditioning test and your program must be designed so that these requirements can be attained. The sport coach may also want to include skill specific work into the program and that will have to implemented into the overall plan outline of the program.
Once you have your dates and calendar made up, you can now proceed into actually writing your program and deciding what exercises to choose and how you will split up the program.
Things to consider
As you begin to outline your program and think about how to organize it, there are some important things to consider. Most college athletes will be performing their workouts in commercial gyms, which may not have medicine ball wall to throw off of, nor may have sleds, resistive belts, slideboards, Olympic lifting platforms, and other things that are common to strength and conditioning facilities but not for the general fitness facilities. The program should be able to perform in any basic facility. You have to choose basic exercises, which every facility has access to:
3. Pull-up bar
That means there may not be as much variation as in the program as compared to the school year off-season program. The key to prevent boredom and getting stagnant is to change with variation. You can vary the implement, grip, limb involvement and stance to keep the movement the still change the exercise. For example, one phase you may do 1 Arm Cable Row's with your feet parallel, and then progress that to feet staggered and then to 1 Arm 1 Leg. The movement is still the same, but the exercise changes.
This allows you to keep your program fresh, but have some consistency.
Another thing to consider is to prescribe exercises that your athletes know how to perform. It is not a wise decision to include exercises that you're athletes have never performed without you. You want to include exercises that they are comfortable with and have experience with. This will minimize the chance that they can get hurt with poor technique with an unfamiliar exercise.
When writing the summer program for your upperclassmen, you also have to think about prescribing a routine for your incoming freshman. The key thing here is to keep things as simple as possible, which could mean no exercise variation and you only vary the loads and repetitions. Do not include technically challenging lifts, such as clean and or snatches. The last thing you want to do is overload your program and make it confusing to the point where the athlete won't even do the program.
Every athlete should be able to find a gym to train in the summer time. Many places offer 3 month specials specifically for college students. Most colleges also may allow other student-athletes from different schools to use their facilities during their slow hours of the day out of courtesy. If your student-athletes live near a college with a strength and conditioning program, give the head strength coach a call to see what their policy is and what their open hours are during the summer and if it's possible to let your athletes train there. Sometimes this is a good option because they'll be in a like minded training environment and have access to common equipment.
Once you've got your program written out and put together, you've got a couple options on how you can package it to your athletes. You can do it the old fashioned way and print off each athletes program individually (with their prescribed loads) and get them bound up at the print shop on campus or you can use newer forms of technology.
One easy way is to simply email the program (in excel or word) to your athletes. You can also create a CD-ROM or DVD that has all the exercise videos and program for the athlete to download right off the disc. This allows them to put their name and maxes into their sheet (if active with formulas) and allows them to directly print it out. Another option is to talk with your school's web development area and see if they would be able to create a strength and conditioning page and space on the server for your files.
The latter is not a very difficult project but time consuming on the front end. Having your own page can be extremely beneficial for your student-athletes, recruits and potential interns. You can put your programs on that page and give your athletes the password so they only have access to it, you can put all of your nutritional information that you give as well as exercise video clips that serve as reminders on how to perform certain exercises. Setting up a web page where you can update and upload files will make the process much easier in the long run and saves time, energy and paper.
The summers are a great time to make some gains in strength, speed and power and can really prepare athletes for their seasons. Be sure that you're providing the most efficient program and helping them to accomplish what they need to during this time period. Coach them to train hard, with good technique and this will carry over when they have to train on their own.
How and Why did you get into the field of strength and conditioning
This is kind of a long story, but I'll try to keep it short so I don't bore any of your readers. I was always a "bigger" kid growing up, and had trouble participating in many sports because of my disadvantageous size. I went out for football my freshman year in high school and vowed to lose enough weight so that I would have the opportunity to play more. At my peak, I weighed 225 lbs (standing in at a whopping 5'4) with probably a body-fat of 30% (and that's being generous).
I did a complete overhaul on my diet, began to exercise every day, and read anything I could get my hands on regarding training, and nutrition. I ended up going a little over board and lost 90 lbs in six months. I was then introduced to the weight-room and fell in love with it. As a high school senior, I knew I wanted to be involved in athletics in some way and what better way than athletic preparation? I loved the prospect of training athletes for their sport and knew I wanted to be a strength and conditioning coach.
I went to the University of Connecticut and volunteered in the varsity weight room in my second week of school. I began by simply observing and asking questions and each year I gained more and more responsibility. By my senior year, I was given two teams to train and coach on my own, which was an unbelievable opportunity in itself. This worked itself into a graduate assistant position at UCONN for another year a half. Along the way I was fortunate enough to complete internships with Mike Boyle at his professional facility, and with Jeff Oliver at the College of the Holy Cross.
Who in the field has influenced or helped you the most? Influence your training philosophy? What have you learned from them that you can share?
There have been a number of people that have inspired and influenced me in a number of ways. I really admire all of the people that I have gotten to work with over the years, namely: Jerry Martin, Andrea Hudy, Shawn Windle, Teena Murray, Chris West, Moe Butler, Pat Dixon, Mike Boyle, Ed Lippie, Walter Norton Jr., Jeff Oliver, Liz Proctor, Charles Maka, and anybody else that I forgot.
I would also like to mention that people that have really shaped the industry and been willing to share their own knowledge: Everybody at T-Nation (Cressey, Robertson, TC, Waterbury, Shugart, Thibaudeau, Berardi, John, Cosgrove, Tate, Poliquin, King, and many others), Louie Simmons, Robb Rogers, Vern Gambetta, Mike Boyle, Paul Chek, Juan Carlos Santana, Mike Clark, Mark Verstegen, Charlie Francis (RIP), and all the other great minds and coaches in the field today.
Jerry Martin and the entire staff at UCONN taught me about organization and understanding that the athlete is more than just the body. They taught me to train the mind and challenge my athletes mentally as well as physically. They taught me how to create a championship type environment within training sessions. I don't think enough coaches realize that training the mind is not only as important but sometimes more important than training the body.
Mike Boyle and his staff taught me how to look at the body more functionally. They taught me how write programs, coach and always look for better ways to do things. They taught me to question things and understand that there might always be a better way to do things. They taught me how to look for dysfunctions within the body and how important it is in the development of the athlete.
Jeff Oliver taught me how to maintain balance within my life and how to truly care for your athletes. He taught me that everybody we work with is a human being, not just an athlete. If we attempt to make better people, we will make better athletes. He taught me that work isn't everything and that you have to take time for yourself to ultimately do your job better.
These three different work environments have had a tremendous impact upon myself as a human being and coach. My parents taught me the foundation of work ethic, respect and self-discipline. Their teachings along with my work environments have influenced and shaped my philosophy to where it is currently, which is to:
1. Train my athletes with an emphasis on reducing the chance of injury
2. Train my athletes to become better athletes rather than a better basketball player
3. Educate my athletes about themselves, training, nutrition, mental toughness, discipline, work ethic, etc.
The methods and exercises may change year to year, but the underlying goals never change. I thank everybody for giving me an opportunity to be better and I try to get my athletes to understand that they get to get better each and every day.
What is the last book I read and Why?
The last book I read was the Talent Code by Daniel Coyle and it was recommended by our Hockey Coach. It was a very good book discussing how and why people become experts or very good at something. It's very similar to Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell in that regards but goes more into myelin and repetition and how that lays the neural pathways to become really, really good at something.
I'm currently reading the Lone Survivor by Marcus Lutrell, which is a story about a Navy Seal and his story of survival in battle. So far, it's been an outstanding read, especially when he describes the training that the Seal's undergo. It puts to shame what we our athletes think is hard. It really gives you a better idea of what the human body is capable of doing.
What are the three biggest mistakes a basketball player makes when it comes to strength and conditioning?
1. No focus on mobility/flexibility training. Basketball athletes tend to have horrible mobility and flexibility because of the repetitive movements that they perform by playing all the time. Full range of motion is rarely performed while playing basketball and needs to be implemented to improve joint health and longevity. Constant repetitive movements through a small range of motion will tear up joints and lead to overuse injuries.
2. Poor selection of lower body strength movements. Uneducated athletes will tend to use machines when performing lower body training such as the leg press, leg curls and leg extensions which doesn't adequately train the muscles to perform the way they need during sport.
3. Running long distance for conditioning. Again this is another poor selection by uneducated athletes and coaches. I'm a big believer in the adage of train slow to be slow, train fast to be fast. Running slow for a prolong distance in one direction is not what basketball athletes do and it doesn't make sense to why that should form the bulk of their conditioning. If you're going to do a long distance run every 2 weeks or so, then it's OK, but it should not be done as the primary means of conditioning. Basketball athletes should focus on sprints, intervals and performing a variety of different movements that occur during a game at a high intensity with rest intervals mixed in.
What assessments or evaluations do you use with your players during pre-season? Summer months?
I use the Functional Movement screen with our basketball athletes and we perform it twice a year. The first time is after the season to assess how effective our in-season warm-ups and training were to maintain optimal mobility; it also helps me identify areas of emphasis for our post-season training and extra training that our athletes have to do.
The second time of the year is in the pre-season once my athletes return from the summer. This is used to identify how effective our mobility work was during the season and if any movement dysfunctions were cleared.
The other test that we implement along with the FMS is a wall dorsiflexion test to measure the amount of dorsiflexion our athletes possess. We put a tape measure on the ground from the wall. The athlete stands next to the tape and goes through closed chain dorsiflexion by pushing their knee towards the wall. If the athlete can touch their knee to the wall by keeping their foot flat on the ground, we move them back .5 inch at a time until they can no longer maintain those standards. I want my athletes to at least have 3 inches of dorsiflexion.
Other tests that we perform during the post-season and pre-season are the following:
a. Vertical Jump standing (countermovement)
b. Vertical Jump with Approach
c. Lane Agility
d. Free throw & ¾ Court Sprint
e. Bench Press (repetition max)
f. Max Pull-ups
g. 3, 300 yd Shuttles - all 3 have to be w/in 90% of their best time and their first shuttle must beat their previous best time. They get 2:00 rest b/w shuttles. This test is only performed in the pre-season. One time is taken in the post-season; this is the time that must be beaten.
There has been a lot of debate about the squat and single leg training. In your opinion, should basketball players squat? Year Round? Only Summer? Never?
I'm a big believer that basketball athletes should not perform bilateral squatting movements with a large degree of loading. The things that make good basketball players (long limbs, long torsos) don't make for great squatters. They also don't have the greatest amount of dorsiflexion which will impair the squat pattern.
I think basketball athletes can perform isometric squats, bodyweight squats and squats with DB's, but am not a believer that they have to squat with a bar to get strong. I've had my basketball athletes perform single leg training as their primary means of strength development since 2004 and have had great success while improving strength, power and minimizing lower body injuries.
What's the point in only squatting for a certain part of the year? That's like saying you should only shoot and dribble in-season. Squatting is a movement pattern and skill that needs to be practiced continuously; I think if you choose to load the pattern, you need to continue to perform the movement so you don't lose it. I choose to bodyweight squat or perform isometrics and this is how we help to maintain this movement.
I'm sure people will disagree, but this is what works for me and that's why we can all learn from each other.