Thursday, April 1, 2010


I took a brief break from finishing the rest of the 40 Yard Dash series to insert an article that I was asked to write for Cal South Soccer Magazine. I will finish the last 3 zones after this. Here is the unrevised version. Unfortunately, it is about double the allotted length for the article. You will see the abbreviated version of this appearing in the May issue of Cal South magazine. The athlete in the pictures is professional soccer player, Raul Palomares, who trains with me at Velocity in West LA.

Increasing Your Overall Soccer Performance

In order to be successful on the soccer field, an athlete must have a certain skill set that is quite different than most sports. Particular to this sport, players must move in all directions in the most varying and undefined patterns. Lateral movement and linear movement are equally important. Explosiveness and the ability to react in a split second can determine which player gets to the ball first or in the correct position to quickly defend against a shot on goal. Players constantly have to respond to external environmental cues and react with the proper movement application. Thus, a high level of soccer performance means a player must have good lateral movement, acceleration speed, deceleration techniques to gain good body control, and an explosive lower body. The following exercises and drills have been used at the Velocity in West Los Angeles with a high level of success.

Side Bounding (Heidens)
This is a basic lateral movement exercise that builds outer hip strength and overall leg power. It also raises the athlete’s heart rate, increases blood flow to their muscles, and prepares them for the rest of their workout. Set up cones that are 4 to 41/2 feet apart (depending on the age of your soccer player). Jump from right to left and hold the landing for a full second before jumping back to the opposite side. The athlete should attempt to jump both for distance and height. Make sure to use hips and arms to generate force.
            Do three sets of 5 jumps on each leg, totaling 30 jumps.

DIAGRAM:                                     ê Ñ 4 ft Ò ê

Photos taken by Devyn Schumacher. Athlete in both images is Raul Palomares.

3 Hurdle Drill: Acceleration to Quick Deceleration
This drill is one of the best at building strength in the legs, teaching the hips to lower, and the body to accelerate and quickly decelerate in front of an object (namely a soccer ball) to gain good body control. Set up 3 microhurdles that are approximately 2 feet apart and place a soccer ball approximately 8 yards in front of the hurdles. The athlete should begin in a good base position and quickly shuffle through the hurdles keeping the feet apart. There should be an emphasis on sticking and holding on the outside before reversing directions. When the predetermined number of roundtrips is achieved or by cue of the coach, the athlete should burst forward into acceleration towards the soccer ball. Upon approaching the soccer ball, the player should take smaller quicker steps, much like chattering their feet, and should concentrate on getting their body under control.
            Do three sets of at least 3 roundtrips with acceleration and deceleration.

DIAGRAM:                                    ] Ñ 2 ft  Ò ] Ñ 2 ft  Ò ]

                                                        8 yards

                                                          o (Soccer Ball)

Photo (top) was taken by Devyn Schumacher. Photo (bottom) was taken by Benjamin Allen.  
Athlete (top): Raul Palomares. Athlete (bottom: Youth Athlete at Velocity: West LA   

4 Cone Reaction Box Drill
This is a favorite drill at Velocity West LA. Due to the reactive nature that is required for soccer athletes, this drill forces the player in the box to quickly respond and take the proper route to each cone. The coach should set up 4 cones in a box formation with each cone being approximately 3 yards apart. Each cone is assigned a number 1 – 4. The soccer player should stand in the middle of the box facing the coach. The cone to the player’s front left is cone 1 and the cone to the front right is cone 2. Appropriately, the cone to the player’s back right is cone 3 and the cone to the back left is cone 4. Upon instruction of the coach, the athlete will begin to chatter their feet in the middle of the box. The coach will call out any number 1 – 4 in any sequence. The soccer player reacts by shuffling to the appropriate cone and then immediately return to the center of the box and reestablishing their center of gravity. This drill can progress both in speed and the distance between each cone, helping build endurance and motor pattern development.
Do three sets for at least 30 seconds each. Make sure to allow adequate rest for your athlete to fully recover from this high intensity drill.

 ê(3)  Ñ 3 yards Òê(4)                       
 Ó                   Ó                 
 3 yards       X          3 yards
    Ô                   Ô
  ê(2)  Ñ 3 yards Òê(1)

KEY:            X = the athlete                        Y = the coach

Photo taken by Devyn Schumacher. 
Athlete: Raul Palomares

* Deceleration is the key to multidirectional Speed
In order to make any change of direction, an athlete must first slow down or decelerate before you can speed up again.

* Use the ground to help you run faster
Simple physics says that applying force against the ground means the ground is going to apply an equal and opposite force, thus propelling the body forward. When teaching your soccer athlete to accelerate, it is important that they lower their hips and drive their feet into the ground to move forward.

* Learn to react faster
Soccer players have to constantly react to their environment. Whether you are doing simple running drills or complex cone drills, it is important to add reaction drills into your training program to improve your soccer athlete’s ability to continually react fast.

Photo Taken by Benjamin Allen.            
Athlete: Youth Athlete at Velocity: West LA

Brock Christopher is the General Manager and Sports Performance Director at the Velocity center in West Los Angeles. He has worked with numerous soccer athletes and helped improve their overall soccer performance.

Special Thanks to Photographer Devyn Schumacher. 

Also, Special Thanks to Professional Soccer Player Raul Palomares.
10 yrs professional soccer
5 yrs with 1FCKaiserslautern , 1 Bundesliga (Germany)
3 champion league appearances
2 yrs in NK Osijek (Croatia)
2 yrs in Racing Ferrol (Spain)
1 year with Chivas USA
1 year with Galaxy

Monday, March 15, 2010

Zone 1: The Start

ZONE 1 - The Start (Initial Stance)

The start of a 40 yard dash is important because the athlete has to overcome the effects of gravity placed upon the body and accelerate out of a static, non-moving position. It is important to understand that the goal of the start is not to necessarily win the start but rather, the athlete needs to place his body in the most efficient position to begin accelerating. Unlike Olympic events, there is no starting gun and no reaction time component. The clock starts upon the initial movement of the athlete. 

More so than any of the other three zones, the athlete's effectiveness in this zone is highly determined by their strength level and body dimensions. It is the most influenced by absolute strength or the overall explosive power the runner possesses. Tremendous contractile strength is necessary to generate the high forces to overcome inertia and for pushing against the ground in the first four to six strides where the ground contact times are generally larger. The front leg has a greater influence on this initial starting velocity because it exerts force longer and must produce the optimal impulse. The rear leg produces the greater initial force as it is the driving leg. 

So what does the start look like...

If you look at the picture on the left, you can see a few things happening. The athlete has an optimal stride rate-to-length ratio.  After the first two strides off the line, the foot touches down in front of the center of gravity.  Initially, the forward body lean is very high.  The lean decreases with increasing stride rate and length. Normal sprinting position is achieved between 14 - 18 yards for the average football combine participant. 

In the fourth frame of the picture on the left and in the picture on the right, you can see that the athlete achieves what is called "triple extension". This means that the runner's ankle, knee, and hip joints are all completely extended - helping the athlete achieve the greatest amount of force production. 

The best way to analyze correct sprinting mechanics is by dividing the human body into 3 segments. These would be Torso Posture, Arm Action, and Leg Action.

Torso posture is the dynamic alignment of the body. In order to sprint efficiently, the torso must maintain a proper posture through all phases of the 40 yard dash. The starting angle is approximately 42 - 45 degrees from horizontal. The head is in a relaxed position with the eyes focusing either straight ahead or on the ground. The main consideration of the initial stance is the relationship of the positioning of the hip relative to the torso. There is an acute angle with the hips well in front of the feet and the shoulder well in front of the hips. This is the "Triple Extension" position. Posture probably undergoes the most change of any of the 3 segments because the angle changes with each step as the feet start to come under the hips and the body gradually changes to an almost complete upright position in maximum velocity.

I like to use the "pistons of a car" analogy with my athletes when addressing arm action in the start position. The arms have a dynamic propulsive effect on the body. Mechanically, if the arm drives forward with the movement originating from the shoulders, the contralateral leg naturally drives forward. The most simple way to get faster is to increase one's arm action. The arms are the pistons and if they fire rapidly, the legs or the engine, will follow suit.

The athlete starts the 40 yard dash in what is called a '3 point stance'. This means that their body has 3 contact points with the ground - the right foot, left foot, and one hand. Generally, people who are right handed start with their left foot forward and right hand as the contact point with the ground. The opposite arm is raised behind the midline of the body and drives forward. The same is true vice versa for left handed runners. 

There are two components to arm action: direction and amplitude. The arms should swing from the shoulders, not the elbow. The 'karate chop' movement from the elbows does not create the proper force for the opposite leg drive. The primary movement of the arms should be down and back. The focus should be driving the elbows backward with as much force as possible. The forward action of the arms is the natural elastic response from the stretch of the muscles of the pecs and anterior deltoid resulting from the drive backward. 

The angle at the elbow is a debated topic and I tend to lean more towards the track expertise of Chuck DeBus. Most coaches teach that the angle is about 43 degrees in front of the body and extends to about 110 degrees behind the body. Chuck's position is based on the simple physics of the greater force that can be created with a longer lever arm. If the angle is increased from 43 to slightly over 90 degrees, the lever arm can create a greater amount of force. It can also drive forward more without creating a vertical force that would pull the body upwards instead of forwards. So, I would argue that the angle at the elbow changes from about 100 degrees in front of the body to an open, wide angle that is about 110 - 120 degrees on the backstroke. The hand should never swing above the chin because that tends to lessen the horizontal force and increase the vertical force of the body.

In the start and acceleration zone, the arms provide a propulsive force transferring momentum to increase ground reaction forces. In maximum speed, the arms serve as more of a balancing mechanism. 

The leg action is the final component. In order to drive forward and overcome inertia, the front shin should form an acute angle in respect to the ground. This is called a positive shin angle and is essential to understanding force application during acceleration and optimizing the stride at maximum speed. The shin angle is a means of describing the relationship of the center of gravity to the ground contact point. The front leg should form a 90 degree angle, which allows the correct usage of the large muscles of the glutes extending powerfully and pushing back against the ground. A negative shin angle results in a reaching action in which the foot hits the ground in front of the shin and thus driving the body more upward than forward. This pulling action is a weak position for force application. 

The back foot is placed approximately 6 - 12 inches behind the front foot. Most athletes place their foot way too far back. This does not load the glute properly and results in the back leg taking too much time to drive forward. The body needs to feel like it is almost falling forward when in the start position.

The most overlooked component of the start is the application of the stretch-shortening cycle. For example, when performing a vertical jump, the legs go through 3 stages. The body is lowered and the muscles are lengthened, the 'eccentric phase'. When the body starts to transition and reverse directions, there is a brief period where the muscles are neither lengthened nor shortened. This isometric muscle state is called the amortization period. The muscle is then rapidly shortened to jump upward, the 'concentric phase'. The stretch-shortening cycle refers to a natural part of most movements. When the sequence of eccentric to concentric actions is performed quickly, the muscle is stretched slightly before the concentric action. The slight stretching stores elastic energy. The addition of the elastic energy to the already existing concentric action results in a greater force. SSC actions exploit the stretch reflex as well as the intrinsic elastic qualities of the muscle-tendon complex. Elastic energy is the energy stored in tendons, other connective tissues, and the myosin cross-bridges - the majority being in the connective tissues.

The best analogy for the function of the stretch-shortening cycle is thinking of the muscle like a rubber band or a spring. If you stretch out a spring and keep it in this state for too long, it won't recoil with as much force. Same goes with a rubber band.

Finally, the legs need to take advantage of Ground Reactive Forces. Newton's 3rd Law of Motion states, "Whenever a first body exerts a force F on a second body, the second body exerts a force -F on the first body. F and -F are equal in magnitude and opposite in direction." This means that if the legs push forcefully into the ground, the ground will forcefully push back with an equal force. So if the athlete can get stronger and more powerful, he will be able to take advantage of using the ground as an object to generate more force. Having the front leg at a 90 degree angle and the back leg at approximately 100 - 130 degrees puts the body in the optimal position to derive force from the ground or Ground Reactive Forces.

The dynamic combination of the torso posture, arm actions, and leg actions results in a very fast, efficient start. It is important to realize that there is no cookie-cutter way to teach starts. Every athlete has a different genetic makeup. Height, weight, and other factors have to be taken into consideration when working with your athlete. A taller athlete has a harder time accelerating because all of his lever systems are longer, which require more time to move properly. Some athletes' nervous systems are more excitable and the initial impulse production is easier to train. Every athlete is a different blank canvas and it is the performance trainer's job to be visionary to the steps necessary to complete his final masterpiece. 

Sunday, March 7, 2010

40 Yard Dash

The 40 Yard Dash

The 40 yard dash is the gold standard test for football speed. By simply cutting down your time by tenths of a second, a player can increase his draft stock drastically. Taylor Mays of USC, for example, ran an unofficial 4.24 at the combine in Indianapolis on the 28th of last month. Had his time stood, he would have tied the fastest electronic time and would immediately be considered one of the Top 10 picks in the upcoming NFL draft, earning him several million dollars more on his contract.

In this video, Mays did not look fast at all. His running mechanics looked sloppy but yet, he recorded the fastest time for all DBs. My goal with the next several blog entries is to discuss all the intricacies that make up a 40 yard dash.

Before beginning to break it down, a few basic performance terms should be addressed. The 40 Yard Dash can be broken down into 4 zones. While everybody has different ideas on this, I have found that these zones are the most common and are used by the most successful people in the industry.

The 4 Zones
1) The Start (or Initial Stance)
2) Acceleration
3) Maximum Velocity (or Top Speed)
4) Finish

Common Terminology for the Mechanical Dynamics of a 40 Yard Dash

Stride Length - Initially, short strides increase to moderate and transition into longer strides throughout acceleration. In the acceleration phase, the goal is to have a high stride frequency that gradually get less frequent and lengthen out. Maximum Velocity stride length is longer and is maintained throughout the final portion of the sprint.

Ground Contact Time - This is what I find the most important and is usually where the athlete improves most. Simply, ground contact time is the amount of time the foot is in contact with the ground. Like stride length, it varies throughout the run. The foot is in contact with the ground initially for about .22 seconds. The span of time is longer at the start and early acceleration because it is the mechanism by which force is generated through striking the ground. As the body transitions into maximum velocity, the ground contact changes to about .11 seconds and then finishes at about .09 seconds.

Flight Time - Flight time is the time spent in the air. It makes sense that the flight time is short during the first few strides of the race and becomes longer throughout the race.
.03 sec -> .08 sec -> .119 sec.

Shin Angle - The shin angle is the angle of the Tibia in relation to the ground. There is a positive shin angle at the beginning of the race. It helps the body overcome inertia and drive forward. As the stride lengthens and body inclination changes, the shin angle increases between 70 and 85 degrees.

Trunk Angle - In the start position, trunk angle from the horizontal is large, and the angle increases rapidly at the beginning of the race and then continues to increase gradually until maximum velocity is reached.

Velocity - This is a pretty obvious term. The speed of the body, or velocity, starts slow and increases rapidly through the first 14 - 18 yards. Velocity increases more gradually after the initial acceleration. Once maximum velocity is achieved, the body can only maintain this speed for about 10 meters. Velocity then gradually decreases throughout the remainder of the race.

Stride Frequency - This is one of the easiest things to teach. Mechanically, the frequency of your strides can increase with increased arm action. If an athlete vigorously drives his elbow backwards, when it returns forward, the contralateral leg naturally drives forward. Stride frequency obviously starts at zero, so it is technically slow at the beginning. It increases very rapidly and then as the stride begins to lengthen, it is less frequent and maintained throughout the remainder of the race.

Heel Recovery - This is directly related to the height that the knee achieves while lifting. If the thigh drives higher, recovery time is longer. It simply is directly proportional to the knee drive. At the beginning of the 40 yard dash, heel recovery is low because the body is oriented forward and the knee height is rather low. As the race develops, the hip angle begins to straighten and allows the knee to naturally drive higher. Heel recovery increases through the acceleration period and is again maintained throughout the remainder of the race.
* To demonstrate this concept, bend over and lift your knee as high as you can. Keep your knee locked in this position and then stand up (without moving the knee at all). Notice that the knee is oriented higher now and all you did was change your hip angle.

Stride Count - This is the most effective way to teach and quantify what is happening during the sprint. The stride is the distance between the feet while running. Generally during maximum velocity, a typical stride is about 40 inches. If you can reduce an athlete's 40 yard dash from say 22 strides to 21 strides, the athlete just covered 3 1/3 more feet in the same amount of time. This could relate to as much as .2 seconds, several million dollars more to your athlete. The stride count is higher initially and as the stride lengthens, reduces and stays fairly constant during the final portion of the race.
* This concept is part of why I believe Coach Tom Shaw is the industry leader for speed. After talking with him for several hours, the guy is simply a genius (especially in this area). He has trained 4 of the 6 fastest athletes in the history of the NFL combine, including Chris Johnson, who ran an electronically timed 4.24 40 yard dash. He has stride count down to a science.

If you have not figured out by now, speed is simply the dynamic relationship between stride length and frequency. Simply put:
Speed = Stride Length x Stride Frequency

The next several blog entries will cover what is happening in each one of the 4 zones mentioned earlier. I hope you, the reader, is beginning to understand how complex sports performance can be. Explaining what is happening, or should be happening, in each phase of a 40 yard dash does not even begin to touch on how you train each of these aspects. It also is just covering one simple thing. The vertical jump, 5-10-5 agility drill, 3 cone drill, and standing long jump are also different events at the NFL combine and each come with their own mechanical breakdowns. This is why I hate being called a "personal trainer". Exercise Physiology is incredibly complex, hence the reason my college text book was over 500 pages. I chose this over my originally intended pre-medicine route because this stuff is so incredibly fascinating.

Finally, while I would love to be the person creating all of this knowledge, the blog excerpts are a combination of stuff that I have learned and created along with knowledge that I have gathered from other sources. Just to name a few, these blog excerpts will be knowledge gained from Coach Tom Shaw, Velocity Sports Performance methodology, Athletes' Performance methodology, resources created by Vern Gambetta, the sprinting expertise of Chuck DeBus, and information provided by the National Strength and Conditioning Association.