Integrate these three areas of focus into your training program to help improve overall athleticism: efficient knee bending, neck strength and sport-specific movement.
Efficient Knee Bending
An exercise that can be a staple of any workout, either in the weight room or on the field prior to an agility session, is the Squat Movement Homework. We call it "homework," because it is something that any athlete can practice on his or her own. It also helps with flexibility and body positioning.
• Stand with toes two inches from a smooth wall
• With feet shoulder-width apart, push hips back and assume a squat position
For proper execution of the movement, keep the toes pointed straight ahead and the knees tracking over the heels. Be aware of the angle of the knees—they should not bend into a knock-kneed position or flare out away from the midline of your body.
Neck Strength and Control
With concussions on the rise, it's important to take time to strengthen the cylinder—your neck—that supports one of the most important parts of the human body. After warming up for a strength training workout, you should focus on strengthening the musculature of the neck.
We're not certain that a stronger neck will eliminate concussions, but if you train your legs, core and upper body to be stronger and faster, then you should adopt a comprehensive program that prepares all aspects of your physical make-up to perform at a high level. The body will follow where the head goes. If the muscles of your neck move slowly or inefficiently, are you getting the most out of your performance?
Monitoring heart rate and breathing during a speed and agility program has become the norm at the collegiate and professional levels. Most programs have moved away from the "on the line" mentality of conditioning and started focusing on more sport-specific protocols. Having a progressive agility program that will fatigue the body at the level it will experience in a game can help lower the potential for injury, as well as increase stamina on game day. A well-rounded agility program focuses on training multiplanar movements—moving forward, backward, left, right, up, down and rotationally.
As the season approaches, incorporate the appropriate skills of your sport into your program to sharpen focus. Using the skills learned from practicing the Squat Movement Homework, healthy neck training strategies and a comprehensive sport-specific program will help you become a more athletic athlete.
Photo: Courtesy of Robert Taylor
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