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Monthly Archives: June 2011

The McKinney Little League Dodgers had their second “conditioning” session of the summer yesterday. I posted about the first one here: . To remind, the idea is to get our kids outside during the summer, doing something structured related to baseball, and to create a bonding situation for the team. Basically I approach these sessions as really fundamental physical education sessions.

We’re continuing to use dynamic flexibility exercises pretty extensively in the warm-up. For speed and agility work, I like to begin at the ground and work up. This means that we begin by focusing on things like walking on the toes, then progress to hamstring exercises, then to quads, then to exercises for the hips. I added inchworms to the hamstring exercises. These are a real challenge for seven and eight year olds who don’t quite have the upper body and core strength to be really good at these. I also added a high knee skip. I don’t teach running mechanics per se with this age group, but I focus them on staying off their toes/heels and lifting their knees. It always surprises me that a lot of these fundamental movement skills (like skipping) are no longer emphasized in schools, so this was something new for many of them.

Ostensibly this is speed and agility for baseball, or at least I relate everything that we do back to that sport for them. Last week we began teaching them how to take the first step explosively by using falling starts. Today we reviewed that for a few 10-yard sprints, then I broke out some mini-hurdles. Now, these kids are not at the point where they need specialized stride length drills. But, the mini-hurdles force them to focus on lifting their knees while taking the first few steps and it’s fun.

We reinforced stopping, backedpedaling, and starting with a ten-yard drill. The drill involves cones being placed at the 2.5, 5, 7.5, and 10 yard lines. The athlete is instructed to start explosively, run up two cones (i.e. to the 5 yard line), backpedal one cone, run up two, etc. It’s a great drill that reinforces starting, stopping, running backwards, and keeping the hips low. I find it’s best to show them the drill, let them run it once, then teach them how to do it successfully (they tend to listen better after they’ve made some mistakes and no longer know everything).

Eventually our kids will be allowed to steal bases. With this in mind, last week I focused on how to shuffle. Today I added to that by having them shuffle about 2.5 yards, turn, then sprint.

The speed and agility part of practice ended up with some strength training for the kids. I continually emphasize that you have to be strong to be able to be fast and explosive. Today our main strength training exercise was 10-yard resisted sprints. This is not meant to be a speed development exercise, it’s meant to be a lower body strengthening exercise. I have long belts where someone will stand at each end and put the belt around their waist. The kids paired up by size, one kid ran while the partner walked (and thus provided resistance). This is a great way to focus on the need to stay tall while running and to teach the kids the importance of using their arms. Shin split drills and abs rounded out the session (the whole workout took about thirty minutes), then the kids spent about twenty minutes on fielding drills.


Swinton et al in the July issue of the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research had a study examining the differences of performing deadlifts with a straight bar compared to a hexagonal barbell.

The deadlift has always been an effective exercise at developing lower body strength. The problem is that a lot of weight can be handled in this exercise. As it involves squatting down and picking the weight up off the floor, there is a potential for injury to the lower back even if the exercise is performed correctly. The idea behind the hexagonal bar is that the lifter stands in the middle of the barbell, so that the weights are positioned close to the lifter (instead of in front of the lifter), so in theory the injury risks are reduced.

To my knowledge, the Swinton et al (2011) study is the only one to take a biomechanical look at the straight bar and hex bar deadlifts.

This study involved male powerlifters. They were asked to perform a 1-RM on both a straight bar deadlift (SBD) and a hex bar deadlift (HBD). Subjects had an average SBD 1-RM of approximately 213% bodyweight and a mean HBD 1-RM of approximately 231% of bodyweight (i.e. these were decent powerlifters).

On a different session, subjects were then asked to perform repetitions at 10-80% of 1-RM which were analyzed. The authors found that the HBD (compared to the SBD) reduced the peak moment at the lumbar spine and hip, while increasing the peak moment at the knee. The HBP also resulted in greater peak force at each % of 1-RM (though this was not statistically significant), greater peak velocity at almost all %’s of 1-RM, and greater peak power at each % of 1-RM than the SBD.

This study has some interesting implications:
• First, the SBD is better at targeting the lumbar spine. This is both a pro and a con. If the desire is to target the muscles acting on the lumbar spine, then the SBD is the way to go. If the desire is to minimize stress to the lumbar spine, then the HBD is the exercise to use.
• Second, the HBD allows for more weight to be lifted, and generates greater peak force, greater peak velocity, and greater peak power. The combination of all these things suggests that if there is only a finite amount of time for an athlete’s strength and conditioning, this may be a better exercise to use that the traditional SBD.

Like with all studies, this one has some limitations. First, we don’t know if this information applies outside of powerlifters. In other words, it’s unclear if this applies to high school football players, college athletes, etc. Second, we don’t know if there are any confounding factors. Perhaps the HBD is only useful after a certain level of strength has been developed at the SBD. Finally, it’s unclear if there are any inherent dangers or cautions with the HBD.

Even with the limitations in mind, it’s an interesting study.

Swinton, P.A., Stewart, A., Agpiros. I., Keogh, J.W.L., and Lloyd, R. (2011). A biomechanical analysis of straight and hexagonal barbell deadlifts using submaximal loads. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 25(7), 2000-2009.

I have started doing what we’re calling “conditioning” for my oldest son’s little league baseball team, these are seven and eight year olds.  On the first day, I explained to the kids that our goal was to make them faster, more explosive, and to help get them in shape for baseball.   In reality it’s a well-rounded physical education course once a week.  Now that I have three kids of my own, I have come full circle on this.  I used to think that this was a bad idea, but I look at this differently now.

There was a time when kids were in good, fundamental physical education programs in school.  Outside of school kids would be running around through the neighborhoods, riding their bikes, playing ball, etc. until the sun went down and they were dragged back inside by their parents.  In other words, there was a time (at least how I remember it) when we all had the opportunity to have a good movement base and get outside a lot.

Those days are gone.  Public schools have really crunched down their curriculums to be able to perform on state and federal tests which are important for funding.  The obesity epidemic combined with the negative perception that physical education brought on itself have refocused physical education away from movement skills and towards a fitness model.  Kids don’t play outside anymore due to a combination of factors; parental work schedules, safety, suburban America just isn’t conducive to that, etc.  No matter how much we may dislike this, it’s not going to change.

So with all that in mind, kids can really benefit from a basic, structured movement program.  What I’ve figured out over time is that there is not a need to coach sprinting mechanics with young kids, if the program is progressive you can get them there without artificially constraining their running form.

I began our session with a warm-up; after a light jog the focus is on dynamic flexibility exercises that work on mobility while also developing some basic balance, strength, and coordination.  Everything was done over ten yards and we repeated most things twice.

I ended the warm-up by teaching the kids how to swing their arms while sprinting as I’ve noticed this is a real problem.  Many of our kids either want to “run like chickens “(where they swing their arms across the midline of their bodies) or they want to “beat the drum” (where they lock their upper arms in place and just move from their elbows).  So we spent about 2-3 minutes going over how to swing the arms.

After teaching them how to figure out which foot goes back during a sprinting start, we started working on falling starts.  The idea is to begin to teach them how to take the first step explosively.  These are combined with ten yard sprints.  This gives an opportunity to reinforce swinging the arms.  From this point on, everything done in this session would reinforce the need to take the first step explosively.

Running in a straight line is great, but in baseball (and in most sports) there is a need to stop suddenly.  As I explained to the kids, you don’t just get to run forever.  So the next area to focus on was how to stop.  After showing them this, I had them sprint five yards (starting explosively) and stop. 

This is really easy and it’s really predictable.  With that in mind, I had them sprint towards me and react to me.  When I threw down my baseball glove they were to stop as quickly as possible.  This reinforces starting explosively, stopping, and reinforces the need to react to sports cues.

Shuffling was next.  This is an easy sell to young baseball players.  While they aren’t allowed to steal bases yet, they know it’s coming and want to be good at it.  After teaching them how to shuffle right and left, we put all these skills together for the T-test. 

In the T-test, we sprint forward 10 yards (so this is your explosive start as well as acceleration), we have to stop, then shuffle left five yards, then shuffle right then yards, then shuffle left five yards, then backpedal for ten yards.  To give them some perspective, I told the kids that professional athletes could run this drill in ten seconds.  Our kids did it in 14-17 seconds, which is not bad.

After that we finished with some muscular conditioning; standing long jumps done both as a single-effort (i.e. how far can you jump?) and done for ten yards; 80 seconds of ab work, then shin splint exercises.  Everything finished up with 15 minutes of baseball fielding drills.  Like I said, more of a one-hour physical education course than anything else.

Next week we’ll reinforce the explosive start, backpedaling, and shuffling with some different exercises.  I plan to mix up the muscular conditioning so that it is different every week (keeps the kids engaged).

Salo et al published an article in the June issue of Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise attempting to determine whether stride frequency or stride length is more important for 100 meter sprinters.

As background, speed is frequently expressed as the product of stride length times stride frequency, the idea being in you can improve one (or both) then you will improve speed. This leads to a number of drills, exercises, and training tools designed to improve each. Philosophically, some coaches feel that stride frequency is next-to-impossible to increase and that the emphasis should be on stride length.

The authors examined the 100 meter sprint performances at 52 elite level races ranging from National Championships to IAAF races to World/European Championships to Olympic Games, both semifinal and final heats. A total of 11 athletes, who ran in at least 10 of these races had their performance analyzed. Mean times ranged from 10.02 to 10.18 seconds, so these are pretty good 100 meter sprinters.

Of the 11 athletes studied; one was stride frequency reliant. This means that there was a very strong negative correlation between their stride frequency and their race time (greater stride frequency meant faster time). This is the athlete with the slowest mean time on the 100 meter races analyzed (10.18 seconds).

Three athletes had very strong negative correlations between stride length and race time (i.e. they were primarily stride length reliant). These three athletes had “average” 100 meter times times (10.17, 10.17, and 10.12).

The rest of the athletes were somewhere in between, thiswere the fastest athletes (average 100 meter times ranging from 10.02 to 10.16).

The authors have several interesting observations. First, reliance on stride frequency or stride length is probably due to individual preference. Second, once this has been established this is something that can guide the athlete’s training. Stride length means exerting more force against the ground, stride frequency means faster leg turnover – i.e. training means can be chosen with this in mind.

Reading this study, I noted the relationship between overreliance on one aspect and having the poorer times (it’s not statistically significant and was not noted by the authors), but it sticks out. The slowest athletes either relied on stride frequency or stride length and lacked balance. It makes me wonder if overreliance on one or the other is a hindrance to being faster and if this is the knowledge that should drive training.

Salo, A.I.T., Bezodis, I.N., Batterham, A.M., and Kerwin, D.G. (2011). Elite sprinting: Are athletes individually step-frequency or step-length reliant? Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 43(6), 1055-1062.