Movement Is Your Weapon


Movement is your Weapon

When you step on to the field of play your sport specific skills and your movement skills are your weapons to defend and attack against the opposition. Do you want to go to war with one weapon or an array of different weapons with different functions that are fit for different purposes? Carlin Isles (USA Rugby 7’s) is a man with an abundance of movement skills at his disposal (and ridiculous pace to boot!) that he can call up on and utilise to suit different scenarios such as the one in the video above.

A lot of young people I have worked with have spent many years practising and honing their sport specific skills but few have been exposed to really high quality movement training. When they arrive with us they often do not have a broad selection of movement skills to utilise. Many favour one or two specific movements often to a favoured side of the body making them more predictable.

Building the arsenal

U.S. Army soldiers and its M2A2 Bradley fighting vehicles take part in the U.S.-South Korea joint military exercise against possible attacks by North Korea, at a shooting range near the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas in Paju

As a coach it’s important to develop a knowledge of all the basic movement patterns that an athlete will need in their tool box, and then systematically work through them teaching the athlete the correct way to execute them.

I’m a big fan of Ian Jeffreys’ 3 categories of target movements for developing locomotive agility:

INITIATION MOVEMENTS – i.e. starting or changing direction 

Example movements include the hip turn, drop step, speed cut, power/sharp cut, directional step, acceleration pattern.

TRANSITION MOVEMENTS – i.e. waiting to react, in motion or deceleration

Example movements include the athletic positions (static & dynamic), jockeying, controlled running, side shuffle, back pedal, plant/chop to athletic position (deceleration)

ACTUALISATION MOVEMENTS – i.e. acceleration, max speed or curved running

I want my athletes to be able to perform all of these movements effectively. This would initially be under closed conditions then progressing to patterned closed conditions before challenging them under progressively more random, open and reactive situations that mirror the demands, patterns and stimuli they will have to react to in their sports.

“Position, Pattern, Power”

ebarc-main-pyramid-113012An athlete’s ability to execute each agility movement properly is not only down to their knowledge and understanding of the movement their problems/errors/faults could be caused by a number of different factors in the same way that their linear running mechanics can be effected.

Listening to Nick Winkelman of EXOS at the UKSCA conference he shared various elements of the EXOS system, one of which was – Position, Pattern, Power.

This is a great way of looking at the key factors that will impact on the execution of a movement.

  1. Does the athlete have the flexibility, mobility and stability to get into the optimal position to execute the movement skill effectively?
  2. Does the athlete have the co-ordination to produce the optimal technique for each movement consistently?
  3. Does the athlete have the strength and power qualities to produce and reduce force in a manner than allows them to accelerate, decelerate and re-accelerate effectively?

It could be any combination of these factors holding them back and with a comprehensive athlete profiling system in place you should be able to identify the areas that need to be addressed.

Find the Challenge Point

In my experience as we progress the complexity of speed and agility tasks (closed > patterned > open > reactive) there comes a point for each athlete where their execution of the skill will break down as the task is beyond their current capabilities. We do not want to reinforce bad movement patterns so we need to find the point at which they are being optimally challenged.

At the optimal point you will most likely see a mixture of success and failure, with the execution of the movement appearing inconsistent, sometimes great other times not so. It is tempting when you see the inconsistencies to try and intervene all the time and provide feedback. I’ve definitely been guilty of over coaching and overloading the athletes with too much information in the past and I now limit the detail and frequency of feedback, with a preference toward external cueing of movements and allowing athletes to have a go without me interrupting!

Optimising Learning through Language

What we say as coaches and how we instruct has been shown through research to effect how well  people learn and retain movement skills.

External cues have been shown to be more effective in helping athletes learn motor skills than internal focused cues.

External cues take the direct the athletes attention away from specific body positions, preventing paralysis by over analysis of their own movement and position/co-ordination of limbs.

Here’s an example of the differences for teaching the Athletic Position (credit to Lee Taft for some of these – if you’ve not checked out his DVDs you should!)


“Get in the tunnel” or “Imagine you’re in a room with a very low ceiling”“Bend at your ankles, knees and hips”
“I should be able to slide my credit card under your heels”“Weight on forefoot, heels slightly raised off the floor”
“Show me the logo on your t shirt”“Back straight, chest up, spine in neutral”
“Get your feet on the train tracks”“Feet between hip and shoulder width”


When selecting the external cues that you utilize it’s important to consider your audience, for example if you are using analogies then make sure they are relevant. If you want to learn more about external cueing I’d recommend checking out this book – Attention and Motor Skill Learning by Gabriele Wulf it’s not cheap but definitely worth the investment.

To help coaches further develop their knowledge and ability to deliver high quality agility training we are also running a speed, agility and change of direction clinic with Nick Grantham on Sunday Feb 22nd 2015. 

In this practical 0.5-day clinic Nick will explore key topics in speed, agility and change of direction training, including: The difference between agility and change of direction, the sub-qualities of speed, physical preparation strategies for speed, agility and change of direction, programmed and random decision making agility training and CHAOS training.

This is an essential workshop for all students of strength and conditioning or exercise science, as well as any coach or trainer working with to improve their athletes speed, agility and change of direction.



Fundamentals of Speed Development

Enhancing speed is a complex challenge for coaches with many different factors that combine to make someone fast. When I talk to coaches speed development and agility are probably the areas that most feel least confident in.

Check out this awesome tweet by Dr Brad DeWeese that summarises all the contributing factors:

I thought I’d write this article to share some of the concepts I keep in mind when I think about making people faster and the training methods I utilise to optimise strength, power and speed. When it comes to speed development I am definitely someone who is still digging and learning.

Important things I keep in mind….

  1. Acceleration = force/mass

How well we accelerate is in one part down to how much force we can produce (max strength) and how quickly we can produce it (power).

The second factor the athletes mass – how heavy they are and what the composition of that mass  (lean muscle vs body fat) is has as big an impact on how quickly someone will get off the mark.



  1. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction

There are a couple of important things that we must consider with his point.

Direction & Angle of Force Application

When accelerating we want to go FORWARD so we muboltst apply force BACKWARD into the ground, which is why in the early phase of sprinting there is a much greater lean angle than in maximal velocity running. In maximal velocity running vertical force becomes increasingly important as we must overcome our bodyweight and gravitational forces.

In acceleration, the goal must be to produce the maximum horizontal force whilst minimising forces in all other directions (particularly vertical).

The ability to produce force horizontally is the most important factor in successful sprinting.

Amount & Rate of Force Production

In addition to the direction and angle of force application, how much & how quickly you can produce at each ground contact is very important.

If you are weak, when your muscles contract you can only put a relatively LOW force into the ground behind you, you will end up with less propulsion into the direction you want to go (in this case forward) in comparison to if you are stronger and more powerful and you can put a HIGH force into the ground.

Our approach to enhancing speed

As I have mentioned in previous articles the methods we use for developing speed have been heavily influenced by the likes of Lee Taft (, Nick Winkelman of Team EXOS, Mike Young, Mike Boyle and Ian Jeffreys to name just a few. Below is a summary of ten points which are fundamental to our speed training philosophy at this point in time. Is it perfect? I’m sure it’s not, but it has produced some good results with our athletes thus far and we are continually evaluating it and trying to improve it.

  1. Know your athlete – assess relative strength, power (squat jump, vertical jump & depth jump), body composition, ranges of movement at key joints and make sure you actually watch them sprinting. In fact video them sprinting so you can watch it in slow motion, pause it and check their technique in the different phases.
  2. To steal Jeremy Sheppard’s phrase “Pigs don’t fly” – if your athlete is carrying excess body fat, you need to address this quickly. At this point in the words of Nick Winkelman “your best speed coach is your nutritionist”. According to Ralph Mann for elite sprinters anything over 7% is hugely detrimental to sprint performance due to the fact it massively increases the vertical force production demands on the athlete.
  3. For novice and weaker athletes – aim to improve strength relative to their body weight. Using basic strength exercises – squats, deadlifts, split squats, push and pull exercises, trunk strength (for effective force transfer)
  4. For strong athletes – aim to improve the rate of force production (power) using loaded jumps (squat jumps, trap bar jumps, Olympic lifts and derivatives), plyometrics (jumping, leaping, hopping, bounding), medicine ball throws.
  5. Bear in mind that the general strength and power exercises outlined above used to optimise total force production have a vertical emphasis. We must include exercises that emphasise horizontal force production as this has been shown to be the separating factor between good and elite sprinters. Some examples include: harness, sled sprints (we use SKLZ Speedsacs indoors), low walking lunges with the sleds, broad jumps (single and double leg), bounding.
  6. Utilise exercises like pogo jumps, ankling, vibration hops to develop stiffness at the ankle and enhance the athlete’s use of elastic energy and force transmission at ground contact.
  7. Use wall drills to set the positions you want for acceleration and maximal veloctiy, it’s a perfect opportunity to manipulate the athlete into the correct positions and establish your external coaching cues. I then use the same cues when they are actually running. For example, “snap the laces up”, “push the ground away”.
  8. Develop the athletes technique in increasingly dynamic situations and challenge co-ordination with marching/skipping drills.
  9. Assess their technique against technical models for sprinting. If it’s not optimal. Check mobility and flexibility at key joints e.g. do they have a good range of dorsi flexion at the ankle to create the a shin angle that will allow for optimal horizontal force production? Do they have the flexibility in the quadriceps to allow the ankle to pass over the knee in the recovery phase? If flexibility is not an issue it could be a strength/power problem or a co-ordination issue and you’ll need to address it accordingly.
  10. If you want to get faster you MUST run fast. Give your athletes an opportunity to sprint (start short and build distances over time). We use competitive sprints & timed sprints. Our timing system is out most weeks and it’s seriously addictive, the athletes get super competitive with themselves and others. Start positions will vary depending on the weeks emphasis e.g. Linear or Multi-directional and the athlete’s sport.

Do you want to become a better coach of speed, agility and change of direction? Join Nick Grantham at this Speed & Agility Clinic Feb 22nd 2015. Limited spaces available.

We also have 8 MEGA Bundles available that give you access to both of Nick’s workshops (Speed Clinic & Physical Preparation for Performance) and Ian Jeffrey’s Future Champions for just £125. Click here to get one of the last tickets!

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Drop Snatch for Deceleration

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Drop Snatch for Deceleration

The Drop Snatch is an excellent tool to use as a progression to teach the Olympic Lifts as part of a bigger sequence. I tend to teach the Snatch using a top down approach going from Overhead Squat first to check they can get in to the correct position, then the Drop Snatch to get the speed under the bar and to be able to consistently hit the catch position. From there I teach the second pull (or Jump Shrug) and then I link it all up into the Snatch from Hip.

Another big reason for me including it in a programme is the fact that it is a great exercise to enhance an athletes ability to decelerate the whole body which is a vital component of optimising multi-directional speed and agility.

To further assist in developing the athlete’s ability to decelerate I also utilise a comination bilateral and unilateral altitude landings along with linear and lateral leaping and hopping progressions with a focus on sticking & holding landings. Before heading into specific deceleration and re-acceleration agility drills (utilising various stopping positions – e.g. forward/reverse lunge stop, lateral shuffle, universal athletic ready in static & dynamic forms)

Drop Snatch Technical points:

1) Feet hip width
2) Bar on the shoulders, hands in snatch grip position
3) Drop down into an overhead squat position, feet go from hip width to shoulder width & feet at 5 to 1 position
4) Lock out the arms above your head as you descend.
5) Bar should finish above the crown of the head, weight should be through your heels at the bottom.
6) Squat the bar back to standing, reset to the start position and repeat.

Speed Training – Elite Performance Pathway

Speed Training

Training to enhance speed has become something of an obsession for me as a coach over the last few years. When I was reviewing my progress as a coach back in 2010 and looking around at the competition I highlighted speed & agility training as a weaker area of my skill set but an opportunity for me to grow and stand out from the crowd of coaches who rarely stray away from a weights room with their clients/athletes.

I’ve gone on to read tons of books and articles, studied videos, been to conferences and on courses in pursuit of understanding what it takes to make my athletes faster.

But most importantly I’ve then committed hours and hours applying this knowledge and I am know implementing it in to a much more comprehensive system.

If you are a strength coach who isn’t confident with speed work I encourage you to take yourself out of your comfort zone and start exposing your athletes and clients to this type of training. The results can be phenomenal.

Speed Training & the Elite Performance Pathway

Speed training is an integral part of what we deliver on our EPP programme with the young athletes. We focus on coaching the correct positions and movement patterns whilst developing the strength and power qualities required to optimise acceleration and maximal velocity sprinting.

Over the last 4 weeks we’ve utilised a training system that has incorporated the following components during each session that lasts approximately 90 minutes, once a week.

  1. Foam rolling
  2. Activation (glutes, hip flexors, core, shoulder stabilisers)
  3. Movement prep (6 full body movements)
  4. Jump Training – Jump, Leap & Hop (Linear major emphasis, Lateral minor emphasis)
  5. Wall drills
  6. Marching – Skipping – Bounding
  7. Free Sprinting
  8. Strength Training – key exercises – Bilateral Lower Body, Upper body Push, Unilateral Lower Body, Upper Body Pull, Core (anti-rotation / bracing)
  9. Flexibility

The stucture of the training system has been heavily influenced by the work of Lee Taft, Mike Boyle, Nick Winkelman and Team EXOS in terms of what it contains. The biggest shift in the delivery though is HOW I am coaching within speed training sessions, moving from internal coaching cues focused on the body position, to external cues focused on outcomes, which is down to what I have seen and heard Lee Taft and Nick Winkelman talk about and deliver. I urge all coaches to check out their work!

The results

What we’ve seen in the first 4 weeks of using the speed training system is quite staggering, all the results are electronically timed using a Microgate Witty Timing System so there are no dodgy stopwatch results in the mix. I don’t need to say anything else as the results speak for themselves…

EPP KS4 Data
















10m Sprint Times Oct 14















 Are you an athlete that needs to get faster? Are you a coach that wants to learn how to make athletes faster? Over the next few months we will be announcing an exciting line up of workshops and seminars that will help you take your athletic performance or coaching  to the next level, by giving you the opportunity to learn tried and trusted methods with some of the leading strength and conditioning coaches from around the UK. If you are committed to becoming the best coach or athlete you can be, pre-register your interest in these courses to make sure you get a place – CONTACT US NOW!

Elite Sport Programme – Resisted Accelerations (Sled Sprints)

Key Technical Points for Resisted Accelerations (Sled Sprints)

1) Strong trunk position
2) 45 degree forward lean
3) Drive the floor away, feet contacting behind the hips
4) Powerful arm drive from hip to lip
5) Keep the head down

***Always follow the resisted accelerations with an unresisted sprint (x1 rep)
***Maximum load of 10% of bodyweight on the sled

Elite Sport Programme – Strength & Acceleration Technique


Elite Sport Programme- Year 8 / Year 9

Programme Objectives: Increase whole body strength, develop acceleration technique

RAMP Warm Up – 6 minute target time


1) Wall drives  3 x 10 per leg

2) Seated Arm Drive 3 x 5 seconds

3) Resisted Acceleration 3 x 10m (partner or harness resisted

4) 15 m Maximal Acceleration (unresisted from a standing start)


1) Goblet Squat – 3 x 10 reps

2) Assisted Pull Up or TRX Row 3 x 10

3) MB Walking Lunge wit Rotation 3 x 8/leg

4) Press Up 3 x 10

Rest between sets = 60 seconds


1) Single Leg Bridge

2) Plank combo – front, side x 2, reverse – 30 seconds each side

3) Skydivers (a.k.a. Prone AW)



Wall Drives for Acceleration

Wall drives are an excellent drill to develop the correct posture and leg action for acceleration.

Key points:

1) Body at 45 degree angle
2) Straight line body position through out
3) Low heel recovery with toe pulled up (dorsi flexion of the ankle)
4) Focus on driving back with foot, your contact point should be behind the hips

Recommended Progressions:
Move into the Tall & Fall drill or harness resisted accelerations (from a 45 degree angle start) to allow the opportunity to incorporate the arm drive and forward movement.

Do you want to learn more effective speed, agility and change of direction drills to make you or your clients/athletes faster? Join Nick Grantham at this Speed & Agility Clinic Feb 22nd 2015. Limited spaces available.