Many people and companies claim to have specific workouts that will increase foot quickness, but if you understand the mechanism, you can develop a program just as good on your own. This week we go over the concept of agility, foot quickness, or what it really should be called, motor control.
What is Motor Control?
Motor control is how fast you can stop and start contracting your muscle. Yes, you can strengthen muscles for a little agility, but if you have no motor control, it's like driving a car with no steering wheel or brake pads. When people have a ton of agility, it can be observed by fast foot movement; they are moving their foot fast because they can take short quick steps by starting and stopping quickly. See the video below:
Role of Genetics
Of course with most things in the human body, genetics can be a huge factor in quickness. Genetic factors include length of limb and muscle fiber type. Although this is true, they are not enormous factors, and there are other ways to train. Below are ways to develop a good agility program.
Direction of Movement
Sports are multi-directional so it is important to develop a drill in different directions (linear, lateral, diagonal, etc.). Muscles need to be able to start and stop quickly in different directions by activating certain muscle fibers for each direction.
Magnitude of Range of Motion (ROM)
Sports can be unpredictable so one may have to raise the legs high, or low to ovoid an obstructions, or initiate of movement. For this reason, drills should include sets where you raise your knees higher, or intentionally keep them low.
Precision of Movement
This is perhaps might be the most important part of motor control as it is a direct focus on control of movement. When developing an agility program, one must focus on control during a drill. For example, if one is jumping back and forth laterally over a line, are they just jumping to random spots, or are they staying very close to the line or aiming to go very wide away from the line. With novices, random jumps everywhere are performed. Good program has athletes focus on a certain foot location to develop control.
Equipment for Agility
Below are two common types of equipment used for agility exercises, and how they work.
Resistance Bands - Resistance bands cause the legs to move faster when moving the legs closer to the body. This can help with quickness because the body needs to adapt to this change, and learn how to start and stop the muscle with the new external force.
Additionally, in physics, we know that if resistance is applied farther from the axis of rotation of a lever, it is harder to move the lever. In this case, the axis of rotation is the hip joint, and the lever is the entire leg. This means that the further the resistance band is down the leg/foot, the more difficult it will be to move.
Strength Shoes/Jumpsoles - Jumpsoles or strength shoes are weighted equipment put on the shoe are replace the shoe entirely. These can increase vertical jump and quickness because it keeps you on your toes which can aid in training the Stretch-Shortening Cycle (SSC), but we will go more into that in another post. The main reason it increases quickness is because of what we mentioned above. It adds more resistance to the furthest point of the lever, your leg. This forces you to train your muscles to figure out how fast and how hard it needs to contract to stop your feet to step in a particular spot.
Just like any other training, it is important to properly progress through exercise (simple to advanced) and difficulty (no equipment to equipment). Now that you understand the mechanism, not only can you cut out the mindless marketing of companies, but develop a program for yourself.
You should arch your back. You shouldn't arch your back. Which one is right? As with most things, you have to consider goals and purpose. This week we explain the risk and benefits of the arch.
Flat Back Bench Press
Above is a picture of safe form for the bench press. Although it is referred to as "flat", the spine is actually slightly arched to create a neutral position. you want a slight arch that you can fit a hand under. Below are cues to get the right form:
- Keep the shoulder blades tight and pinched together
- Slight arch in the back
- Hips on the bench
- Arms 45 degrees at the bottom phase to take stress off the shoulder joint (if the bar hits your nipple line, you will be at 45 degrees)
This is safe and the direction of force from the humerus and torso is perpendicular to the torso's alignment.
Arched Back Bench Press
Above is what we mean by arch in the back. Notice the foot position and hip position. This is a good position for powerlifting since the goal is to push as much weight as possible within the proper guidelines on form and rules.
Why can some people lift more like this? The arch turns the traditional flat bench into somewhat of a decline press; the direction of force is LESS than perpendicular from the humerus to the torso. For that reason, there is less distance the bar needs to move if the bar touches the xiphoid process or below. Another aspect that makes lifting with an arch easier is due to the angle of pull. Below is a bell curve explaining that with most free weights, a lift starts easy, gets hard (often when the moving joint is parallel to floor), and then finishes easy as the movement is done. The shorter range of motion means it is easier, but some may still have a "sticking point" elsewhere in the movement due to one's own weakness.
So if the goal is about the maximal amount of weight you can lift while performing a bench press, an arch may be the best way to go, given you practice benching with an arch. This is due to the reasons below:
- Shorter ROM meaning less distance
- Due to shorter ROM, the humerus joint angle is less likely to encounter common sticking point
- Decline press showed the highest EMG (graph showing amount of muscle activation) of the pectoralis major compared to other chest exercises and variations (Bompa & Carrera, 2005). More neuromuscular signal means more strength.
As for the actual cues for the bench press, I myself do not practice this form too much as I do not work with many powerlifters. I often refer them to my good friend Zach Trahan (@zach_trahan or #coachedbytrahan on instagram) for all things powerlifting/strongman. Contacting him or asking me for his contact info would be the better option in my honest opinion.
Of course there can be risks as well. One risk is that it can cause impingement along the backside of the spine due to hyperextension. Anytime you extend your spine, you risk going too far back and actually hurting it; hence we say neutral spine, not extended spine, all the time. The core should be properly trained and angle of arch should be optimal, not as far as can be. A second risk is that some competitions allow hips off the bench (not powerlifting competitions), some let require they stay on (powerlifting competitions). Practice what you are training for; don't get disqualified or lift less weight just because of unfamiliarity of form. Nothing is wrong with the traditional way either.
Each form is okay to do, but should be chosen based on goal and ability to perform each form correctly. The argument whether arch should be used for all athletes is commonly debated, and trainers can always have their own opinion. For non-powerlifting athletes, I opt for the traditional form, but that's just me. To each his own, however everyone should understand the mechanisms behind form and function.
ACSM Resources for the personal trainer 4th edition. (2014).Walters Kluwer.
Baechle, T. R. & Earle, R.W. (2008). Essentials of strength training and conditioning 3rd Edition. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
Bompa, T.O., & Carrera, M.C. (2005). Periodization training for sports 2nd Edition.
Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
Resistance training can be very broad. It can mean elastic bands, machines, small dumbells, springs-loaded machines, etc. Those are all great, but at some point, they will build muscle endurance rather than actual strength. Those types definitely won't build definition or the "toned" look most are looking for. Even with all this known, a large amount of the female population choose to stick with that form rather than heavier weights. Here's why more women should lift heavy weights.
What are the benefits?
You've all heard it before; benefits include: higher bone density, muscle mass retention, muscle mass development, more strength, more stability in joints, and more coordination due to neuromuscular activation. So instead, let's focus more on the top 2 concerns with lifting heavy (heavy for this context is considered above 75% of 1-RM).
"I don't want to look bulky"
This is probably the number 1 reason my female clients present, so let's clear it up. Muscle mass development is primarily affected by hormones, one of them being testosterone. In studies where blood was drawn to measure these levels in men and women. Women showed significantly lower levels of testosterone than in men before, during, and after exercise (even during hypertrophy programming). Males actually showed an increase in testosterone during the workouts, whereas women had little to no change. Due to hormones, women will actually have quite a hard time putting on mass. Yes, genetics are different for everyone, so you may still see some females putting on mass easier.
Another reason is their programming. Although the previous studies showed little testosterone and muscle mass change in women during hypertrophy phase, it can still occur. If you do nothing but hypertrophy training for months, then of course you will get bulky. For example, people who are veterans in CrossFit, tend to appear a little more built compared to others because CrossFit follows a hypertrophy model (moderate to high weight, little rest time, high volume). A co-worker and legit Strength and Conditioning Coach suggested never having females on more than 2 weeks of hypertophy; not because it will get them big, but because it can be useless due to low testosterone levels.
So don't be afraid. Lift on with an occasional hypertrophy program, but for the most part strength programming to get optimal benefits through other adaptation methods.
I would rather look "toned"
I hate the word "toned" as much as I hate the word "functional", but I'm not here to get into that. The other main reason females do not want to lift heavy is just the alternative to being bulky. Here's why weights are good for more muscle definition. You may see another guy or girl in the gym that has the nice slim body, but they can hardly lift a 15 pound weight. This is referred to as "skinny-fat". If you continually do high repetition exercise (running, swimming, bodypump, etc.), you will release cortisol, a hormone which actually breaks down muscle protein. You may lose fat from caloric expenditure, but the definition will not be there if there is no muscle.
Doing a balanced program of weights, cardio, and other activities will get you the defined body you want, in addition to following a sound nutrition program. Although this article is aimed to encourage more females to weight lift, a balanced program can benefit everyone.
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