Do You Need Your Brakes Fixed?

TAGS: weight belt, teager, squat rack, medicine ball, barry sanders, band depth, sport, athlete, training

By Bryce Teager and the University of Nebraska at Omaha strength and conditioning staff

Many articles out there deal with enhancing acceleration but pay little attention to deceleration or force absorption. However, in most cases, you must be able to absorb force before you can create force. Training deceleration will allow you to maximize the benefits of the stretch shortening cycle and consequently increase force and power output. Not only can training deceleration improve performance, but it can also help reduce the risk of injury, as a large percentage of injuries occur while decelerating your body or limbs (e.g. landing from a jump, changing direction, slowing the shank during swing phase of a sprint, etc.).

I don’t know how many of you would get into a Ferrari and gun it into heavy traffic if you knew your brakes didn’t work. So why would you perform a dynamic effort squat, make a fast 90-degree cut on the field, or throw a fast ball on the diamond if you knew your deceleration abilities weren’t quite up to par? On the other hand, who cares how good your brakes are if you’re driving grandma’s car so you must train acceleration and deceleration concurrently.

Take a look at the greatest running back of all time—Barry Sanders. He didn’t have the greatest max velocity in the world, but he could accelerate full speed and cut on a dime without slowing down. This was because he could control the momentum of his body without having much of the energy dissipate as he changed direction. Is this article going to give you the ankle breaking abilities of someone like Barry? Probably not. But it is intended to give you a few ideas on how to better your force absorption qualities in order to increase your performance on the platform, field, or court.

Band depth drop: Stand on a plyo box with two partners standing on the side of the box. Attach two bands to a weight belt. The partners should stand on the bands about 12 feet in front of the box where you will land. Step off the box and land with the ass back, the knees pushed out, and the shoulders over the knees while keeping the shins as vertical as possible. Emphasize a soft landing. Let the muscles do the work, not the joints. Progressions include increasing the height of the box, using a heavier band, landing in a split or unilateral position, and adding a reactive jump after the landing with or without having the partner let the band go at the bottom of the jump.

Barbell drop squat: Take the barbell out of the squat rack, place the feet directly under the hips, and rise up onto the toes. After a slight pause on the toes, pop the feet out 2–3 inches while simultaneously dropping quickly into a squat and decelerating the load. Hold this position for 2–3 seconds and squat back up. Repeat for the desired repetitions. Emphasize a quick drop and smooth deceleration with the hips pushed back as far as possible in order to stress the posterior chain. Variations include adding bands, chains, and/or explosively coming out of the hole immediately after the eccentric contraction. Additional variations include front, back, and overhead drop squats. You can also try to decelerate the load at various depths such as quarter squat, half squat, or an ass to calves squat.

***This can be an excellent substitution for a coach who is not comfortable teaching the clean to his athletes. I believe one of the main benefits of the clean and its variations is actually catching and decelerating the load. Following a triple extension during the clean, the athlete quickly pulls himself under the bar, whips the elbows around, and then has to brake the load eccentrically at a fast rate. The drop squat mimics the drop under phase of the clean without being overly technical.

45-degree overhead medicine ball decelerations: The torso also has an important role in deceleration in many athletic events, and this is a great exercise to help improve that attribute. While in a seated position, hold your torso at 45 degrees with your arms held overhead. There should be a straight 45-degree line from your hands to your hips. Your partner will chest pass the medicine ball into your hands while you decelerate it and try to statically hold your torso at 45 degrees. If your partner throws it out far enough and with sufficient speed, your torso will dip a few degrees. Then you should throw it back to your partner’s chest and get back into the ready position. You will have to try it in order to realize the intensity of this exercise. It doesn’t look like much, but the eccentric contractions will have you feeling it by morning.

Static back extension medicine ball drops: Get into a GHR machine and extend your body and arms until they are parallel with the floor. There should be a straight line from your hands to your ankles. From that position, your partner will stand on a 12-inch box and drop the medicine ball into your hands. Quickly decelerate the medicine ball and throw it back up to your partner (try not to let the medicine ball move your arms more than six inches). Make sure that you catch it and throw it back with your arms fully extended to increase the length of the lever, thus increasing the intensity of the exercise. Keep your upper body parallel with the floor at all times. You can increase the intensity by increasing the drop height, increasing the load of the medicine ball, or having your partner throw it down at a higher velocity. This is a great pre-hab exercise for overhead athletes. Being able to decelerate the arm after a high velocity throw, spike, serve, or pitch is very important for decreasing the risk of injury.

BOSU ball depth drops: This is equivalent to a drop squat for the upper body. Grab onto a BOSU so that your hands are on the outside ring and the flat part is facing your chest. Put the BOSU on top of a 12-inch box and get into a push-up position. Push laterally off of the box and land with your arms slightly bent. Brace the core and do not allow your hips to sag upon impact. Progressions include increasing the height of the box, wearing a vest, elevating your feet, or falling from a standing position (only for those with very high amounts of relative strength).

Additional Comments

In order to prepare the muscles and connective tissue, make sure that you have a solid foundation of GPP work before attempting this type of training. The rapid eccentric contractions during these movements can be very stressful to the muscles and CNS so be sure to deload the movements every few weeks to avoid overtraining and injury. Are these exercises unsafe and risky? Yes. They are unsafe if you progress too soon or perform them with poor technique. However, I believe that competing in an uncontrolled environment without training these qualities in a controlled environment beforehand is what we should be more concerned about. If you want to go out on the field and try to absorb a hit from a 250-pound linebacker without training similar movements first then that is just a risk you are going to have to take. Deceleration training isn’t an end all by all means of training, but it is one more tool you can add to your program in conjunction with other methods such as DE, ME, RE, and SE in order to best prepare yourself for competition.

Bryce Teager is a graduate assistant strength and conditioning coach at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. He works specifically with football, volleyball, and men's and women's basketball. In addition to coaching, Bryce also is a two time national championship weightlifting qualifier and has competed in strongman, mixed martial arts, and powerlifting. Before his coaching career at UNO, he played division II football and competed in indoor track. Bryce can be reached for questions or comments at bateager@mail.unomaha.edu.

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