For athletes to truly grasp what it takes to be faster, more explosive and more agile, they must understand the relationship between their feet and the ground. To a certain extent, much of those athletic traits can be attributed to two things—force absorption and force production.
How much force can you absorb? How much force can you produce? How fast can your absorb/produce it? How long can you sustain that level of force production? Can you absorb or produce force in numerous positions and planes of motion?
The answers to those questions have a lot to do with your speed, agility and quickness. Sure, it's a bit deeper than that, but at a bird's eye view, those questions pretty much cover the bases. Developing a strong relationship between the feet and the ground can help answer those questions and begin to add these characteristics to an athlete's toolbox.
One tool we have grown to love at PACE Fitness Academy (Indianapolis, Indiana) that helps build this relationship is the Snap Down.
The Snap Down is an awesome drill for developing the proprioceptive relationship you need your body to have with the ground or training/playing surface. It's low-impact, very easy to coach, extremely easy to learn, and has numerous benefits. Let's dive into what makes this such a useful exercise and hit on some of my favorite progressions.
What is the Snap Down Drill?
First, let's just talk about the simple Snap Down drill. We begin our athletes in a passive triple extension posture where they're up on the balls of their feet with ankles, knees and hips in full extension and arms above the head.
We position the start this way because it mimics the extension patterns we all know create speed and power, but also adds a little bit of vulnerability with the overhead reach. Simply assessing posture at the beginning can allow us to identify if an athlete uses excessive lumbar extension to get overhead, if they have mobility issues up the kinetic chain, or if their balance is lousy.
We allow athletes to find their "jumping stance" with their feet. Instead of having a set width, we just see what the athlete naturally does and adjust it if it looks like a trainwreck. Other than that, we get them rolling on these quickly.
From the start position, athletes will viciously snap into an athletic position with triple flexion now at the ankle, knee and hip joints. The arms are now positioned somewhere near the hips or bent for optimal re-acceleration mechanics.
Athletes should be intentional and violent with the movement. We want to see force being applied and absorbed as the lower body gets into position, as well as arm speed and very precise movement into the end range of the Snap Down. This movement is the groundwork for all of the various progressions to come. Master this and unlock some of the most underrated tools an athlete can access.
The Single-Leg Snap Down
The Single-Leg Snap Down is exactly the same as the drill I described above, minus one foot. When you snap down into your final position, you want to make sure you now apply force and land on one leg while the other leg stays off the ground.
The off leg can assist in balance during this movement by staying bent and underneath the athlete's center of mass. Don't let the leg escape from this position, or you may see some wobbliness or knee valgus upon landing. This is also groundwork for other single-leg variations to come, so work on this as an entry-level variation that will open up future progressions.
The Snap Down to Vertical or Broad Jump
The next step we take in this progression is adding a force production element to the standard Snap Down, whether it be on one leg or two. We do this by either adding a Broad Jump, Vertical Jump or any other kind of athletic movement (sprints, bounds, shuffles, crossovers). Sometimes, it turns into a combo of many or all of the above.
Building off the groundwork laid in the original drill, we now aim to respond to the ground as quickly and powerfully as possible. The key to this drill is to minimize ground contact time and maximize jump height, jump distance, bound quality, acceleration speed, etc. This allows athletes to train the stretch-shortening cycle and increase their reactive strength, which has massive carryover into athleticism and important lifts.
The Elevated Snap Down
This variation goes back to the basics of the original Snap Down with no added movements after landing. However, it adds load to the drill by increasing the surface height of the setup. We like to start by jumping off 45-pound bumper plates and progress up to a 12-inch box over time.
By elevating the athlete in the setup phase, you increase the downward force they will need to absorb upon landing. This is a two-fold benefit for the athlete in that we're safely implementing some "overspeed" training into their foundational SAQ work and also filling gaps that other popular power exercises do not train.
For example, the true purpose of a Box Jump is to have an athlete jump high and land on an elevated surface. Landing on that elevated surface drastically decreases the force being absorbed during the landing phase. If you jump 28 inches into the air and land on a 24-inch high box, you only have to absorb 4 inches of downward force rather than all 28 inches of the jump. This is great for training concentric actions and maximal force production without overly fatiguing athletes to the point where their landings get sloppy.
The Elevated Snap Down picks up where Box Jumps leave off by adding incremental load to the landing phase. Since there is no maximal jump to begin the Snap Down, the athlete is fresh during their landing mechanics and can execute it with perfection. Together, both exercises can help fully train all aspects of jumping and power production, and eventually lead to more advanced (full jumping, full landing) options.
The Elevated Snap Down to Jump
Just like we add a secondary movement to our ground-based Snap Downs, the same progression follows for the elevated versions, as well. Again, we add load to the landing, so it is especially important to minimize ground contact time and maximize force production for the given movement—sprint, jump, shuffle, etc.
Depending on elevation height, you can explore single leg options with very advanced athletes who possess high levels of strength and stability. For beginners, I would stick to bilateral options until they've shown mastery of split squats with moderate load and all of the previously shown Snap Down variations.
The Resisted Snap Down & Combo Variations
Last, but not least, comes the fun stuff. Resisted Snap Downs using Vertimax or band tension is a great way to spice up any of the previous variations. This is where coaches can really get creative and start to toe the line of "sport-specific" drills.
No, I don't mean put a basketball in your athlete's hand while they do these. That's just silly. I mean mimicking more sport-driven movement combos within the constraints of general strength, speed and agility.
For example, a basketball player may do an Elevated Snap Down to Vertical Jump to Lateral Shuffle to add slight elements of sport demands to advanced levels of training.
The key with these higher level progressions is to make sure that the quality of movement does not change as you enter new variations. If anything, form should improve as load increases. Look for crisp, precise movements in every rep.
This is surely not an exhaustive list of Snap Down variations, but these are some of the most common and effective options our athletes have found success with. The Snap Down and its progressions are truly some of the biggest bang-for-your-buck movements an athlete can perform, and they can be tweaked to all ages and skill levels.
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