In most sports, athletes are required to change directions at a moment's notice. This often involves deceleration after reacting to a play or situation and then explosively moving in the opposite direction. This allows athletes to elude defenders easier and cover a larger range when trying to make a play.
As odd as it sounds, the ability to slow down rapidly is one of the defining characteristics of fast athletes. Although a mental component is needed to process and react to the information to change directions, the ability to decelerate rapidly is crucial, because it enables athletes to adjust and redirect motion before other players on the field can react.
Try adding this training style to your programs to improve your ability to decelerate and change directions.
A study was conducted on professional rugby players, measuring the biomechanics of a 45-degree cutting maneuver by starter and non-starter players. The players performed 5-meter sprints followed by 45-degree change-of-direction movements to the right and left. One of the most significant differences between starters and non-starters was that non-starters required more time to decelerate before they could accelerate and change directions. Thus, the ability to decelerate was tied to improved performance for change-of-direction maneuvers.
Decelerating requires the ability to apply and absorb large amounts of force across joint angles in the hips, knees and ankles. And most commonly the deceleration is done unilaterally since athletes must be able to plant one leg down prior to changing directions. These movements are made possible as a result of eccentric contractions where the muscles are lengthened, typically under high amounts of rapid force.
Dynamic changes in direction involve isometric and concentric contractions that allow athletes to blaze past defenders in different angles, but all of that is preceded by an eccentric contraction when they first decelerate. By diligently training eccentric movements, athletes will go a long way in improving their ability to decelerate, which transfers to greater change-of-direction skills.
Here are some ways you can focus on eccentric training to enhance COD skills.
This involves doing the eccentric portion of lifts with just your bodyweight. This method is especially effective for beginners trying to develop proper form, neuromuscular control, and some hypertrophy. Examples are Nordic Ham Curls and Eccentric-Only Pull-Ups.
An emphasis is placed on the eccentric portion of the lift (usually 3-5 seconds) and the concentric portion is done explosively. It's wise to incorporate unilateral exercises with this type of training since most types of planting/cutting in sports is off one foot. Examples include Bulgarian Split Squats and Bulgarian Lunges
This consists of using implements like bands and chains to stress the eccentric portions of lifts. This causes a type of chain reaction where more kinetic energy is utilized during the eccentric contraction. This faster muscle stretch results in more elastic/reflexive energy and ultimately greater force production during the concentric portion of the lift. Examples include Box Squats and Kettlebell Swings done with resistance bands.
- Bodyweight Eccentric Push-Ups x 6 reps
- Bodyweight Eccentric Pull-Ups x 6 reps
- Kettlebell Swings with Resistance Bands x 5 reps
- Eccentric Emphasis Bulgarian Split Squats x 4 reps each leg
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