Travis Johnson, PhD-DVRT Master Instructor (Kinetikos)
“This car accelerates from 0 to 60 miles per hour (0 to 97 km/h) in 3 seconds. The brakes don’t really work though…want to go for a ride?”
My friend Alex Sugai described this scenario over lunch in Tokyo the other day. Alex is an excellent tennis player and coach plus definitely knows a thing or two about developing athletic performance. We were discussing how so many people focus on training acceleration for sports, but never really give much thought to the role of deceleration.
Way back when I was taking my first steps towards entering the sports performance industry (a long time ago in a galaxy far away), I remember studying the NASM course work and learning about how our bodies must reduce force in order to produce force. For my young brain at that time, the concept was completely enlightening: we could actually improve performance by simply training athletes to be able to reduce more force, i.e. create better deceleration capacity.
Our ability to decelerate governs much of what we do with our bodies both on a conscious and sub-conscious level. Ask someone to jump off a 6 inch box and they will do so without batting an eye. Ask them jump off a 6 foot box and suddenly there is a lot of concern and doubt if they can safely absorb the force on landing without injury….can they decelerate safely upon impact?
In sports and activities requiring rapid change of direction, our brains are going to down regulate our speed if it knows we don’t have the capacity to actually decelerate quickly enough to make the anticipated stop and cut.
As Alex and I discussed in our lunch conversation: If you want to be able to run up fast on a tennis ball, you better have the ability to stop rapidly when you reach that ball. And as I learned so many years ago, training deceleration will probably increase your speed more than focusing on acceleration.
Looking around the industry today, not many people really seem to take that lesson to heart and few try to do anything with it. Being completely honest, for many years I didn’t really do much with it either. I considered deceleration development as part of SAQ work conducted on the court or out on the field, I had no concept of working on it in the weight room.
That changed when I met Josh Henkin and was introduced to the DVRT system a few years back. I watched him cleaning and snatching the Ultimate Sandbag from a variety of positions and angulations, but rather than simply dumping the bag after the concentric portion of the lift (what is usually done with a barbell) he actually RETURNED the USB in a controlled manner along the path it had traveled. i.e. deceleration!
When I tried the same activities myself, I was amazed at how hard it was to perform the decelerative portion of the lift well. Sure I could do a rotational clean and get the USB up to my shoulders, but when I tried lowering it in the same rotational manner I just about fell over. There is a reason that the rotational clean is part of the DVRT Level 2 course work…there are a lot of pre-requisites that need to be built up before that can be executed properly.
Within the Level 1 course work, participants often have a similar experience with the MAX lunge. Things start out OK as they are slowly patterning the drill on one side of their body, but as soon as they try alternating and adding some speed they get thrown around all over the place…they don’t have the capacity to decelerate.
At this point I am sure astute readers are thinking: “What about kettlebell swings? Those train deceleration.” Of course that is absolutely correct. Swings are a staple exercise with most people I work with and I would venture to say they are the method whereby most coaches deliver loaded cyclical force reduction and force production to their athletes.
But, where swings fall short is that the we are operating from a bilateral stance with a generally balanced load that we decelerate largely within our base of support. Sure, we can go single arm and create a rotational force that must be resisted, however it is not going challenge us the same way as a rotational snatch, rotational clean or even a MAX lunge performed with a Ultimate Sandbag. The eccentric portions of those lifts (i.e. the deceleration) is occurring outside our base of support and demanding that we resist a load that can pull us off of our feet. This has a much stronger carryover to sport and life.
As is the case when developing any new quality, decelerative capacity should be approached conservatively over time. While the MAX lunge (formerly known as Rotational Lunge) is an excellent place to start, don’t just dive in and try to crank out a hundred or so right out of the gate…and definitely don’t throw that at your clients and athletes from the start. If the movement isn’t patterned properly you will be simply reinforcing poor movement, and if the load is beyond the tissue’s capacity you risk straining something.
Take some time to groove the pattern well on each side over the course of a few sessions, and gradually build into a reciprocal movement. After a few weeks when things are really dialed in you can work on getting that transition from force reduction to force production to ‘pop’.
Once you really own that MAX lunge, start playing with some other activities like:
-lateral step high pulls, cleans and snatches
-rotational high pulls, cleans and snatches
These are covered in great detail in the Level 2 course, so think about catching that course next time it is in your area. For the time being you can get the basic idea from these videos here:
If you want to unlock your strength potential in the real world, don’t think about just what you can lift, but what you can resist!
Don’t miss the chance to get in on our FINAL DVRT Ultimate Sandbag Training courses for 2016 HERE
Travis is a Strength and Conditioning Coach based in Tokyo, Japan. He owns and operates a performance facility in central Tokyo with his wife where he works with individuals from all walks of life: from gen pop with pain issues to pro athletes preparing for competition. He has developed S&C programming for professional rugby and soccer teams and has taught extensively throughout Japan.
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