Troubleshooting for Power Performance

by | January 8, 2015, 8:27am 0

How many ultimate players want to run faster and jump higher? Judging by the frequency that question is asked of me and the number of great articles written on the subject, I’d say most of them.

Most people know that training explosiveness requires a good strength base and training musculature to engage quickly and powerfully, but still run into roadblocks of various sorts along the way, most notably pain during training or playing and plateaus in improvement.

For this article, I’m going to focus on how to maximize your vertical take off and first step. These movement patterns are similar in that they are powerful, plyometric and require the whole body working together to be most effective.

Follow along for an outline of issues that many ultimate athletes encounter while training to become more explosive, and for those who are more about doing than they are about reading, there are a couple suggested workouts at the end of the article.

Common problem: “When I squat I feel it in my knees, and my quads are doing most of the work.”

What’s going on?  

  • Your ankle or hip mobility is compromised. In order to get low with these mobility restrictions, you bend your knees more, causing lots of sheer force into your knee joint and connective tissue.
  • You’re under-using your glutes. They should be providing most of the strength and power for this movement, both because they’re better at powering the squat movement and because you want your glutes to be the driving force behind your on-field explosivity.

What can I do about it?

  • Increase mobility in your ankles and hips through exercises like this and this during your warm-up. In order to get good squat depth while you’re working to improve mobility, try lifting your heels slightly by putting small weight plates underneath. This allows you to get closer to or below parallel without knee pain.
  • Do glute activation exercises before you squat, like the Running Man or the Cook Hip Lift  – unless you turn that musculature on, it’s not going to fire strongly. Keep your weight in your heels, especially as you push up from the bottom of your squat. Keep your knees over your toes – don’t allow them to collapse inward.

Common problem: “I can do a lot of weight in squats and deadlifts, and my hang cleans are rocking. But my vert and/or first step is still not as awesome as I think it should be.”

What’s going on?

  • Functional power and gym power are two different things. The translation between explosivity in the gym and explosivity on the field is key – and it won’t happen by itself.
  • Running is a one-leg-at-a-time endeavor, and jumping almost always is as well. Bilateral training alone isn’t enough. Performance in ultimate requires that your body be symmetrically strong, but because of the asymmetries of the sport, we have catch-up work to do in the gym.

What can I do about it?

  • Start doing technique-focused track workouts in the off-season and pre-season. I’ll be doing this with Sockeye and Riot this year. Warm up well, activate all the right stuff, and have a focus for the workout (fast first step after every cut during the shuttle 200’s, max vert jump towards the goal post at the end of the 60’s, etc). Use the same cues during warm-up and plyos (hip extension, arm drive, posture) that you use in the weight room.
  • Add single-leg movements into your weight training regimen. In bilateral movements, you’ll always unconsciously do more work with your dominant side…that means your other leg/side of your core (the one not doing all the pivoting/throwing) will remain weaker. Try working unilateral power moves in as well as hang cleans, like the DB Snatch or single-leg box jumps. Work in Skater Squats and SLDLs (single-leg deadlifts) in addition to the double-leg versions – then you won’t have to always cut using your strong side in order to be quick.

Common problem: “My joints hurt when/after I do plyometrics, and/or I’m not super springy.”

What’s going on?

  • You’re spending too much time on the ground. Plyos are only good for you if there’s minimal ground contact – otherwise there’s too much strain on tissues and joints under load.
  • You’re absorbing force with joints instead of muscles. Your body needs to bound and rebound as a unit – without conscious effort and training to develop reactive stiffness your knees/ankles/feet often take a hit.

What can I do about it?

  • Make sure your plyos are plyos. Good plyometric training uses minimal ground contact, maintains muscle stiffness, and is done in short sets. When you get tired, you start hanging out between jumps – increase your work capacity slowly and take a break if you notice that “springy” quality evaporating.
  • Work to absorb force with your glutes and hamstrings – start with smaller jumps and focus on where you feel the stability and cushioning coming from. Aiming to land on your midfoot (the area right behind the ball of your foot) increases your ability to use the right musculature. Reactive core movements like Farmer’s Hops help train you to maintain muscle stiffness throughout your trunk – that means less weight and energy sliding around that your legs have to stabilize.

Here are a couple workouts to try, one focusing on first step and the other on vertical. You should be able to spot concepts from this article in the program design. I’d love feedback from you if you do them! Happy winter training! :)

A note about pain: remember that it’s a symptom that something is wrong. Don’t ignore it, or push through it. If you try these tips and you still have pain or performance issues, go get it checked out by a professional.

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