B.A.S.E. Sports Conditioning – Articles 16
Jump to It.
Part II: Building your base.
by Mike Mejia, CSCS
In part one of this series, I wrote about the many dangers young athletes face when first embarking on a plyometric program. More specifically, I explained why it’s so important to make sure that a proper athletic foundation is in place to support this type of training. So, this time around, I’m going to show you some of my favorite drills for improving mobility around key joints like the ankles and hips, as well as some great exercises for increasing systemic strength and stability.
Granted, they may not be your typical weight room fare, but they’re exactly what you’ll need to do in order to effectively progress to the next installment of this series. They’ll also give you a whole new appreciation for what it really means to be a well-conditioned athlete.
Before you can even think about landing up on top of plyo boxes, or on the ground after jumping over hurdles, you need to possess adequate mobility in your hips and ankles. While the muscles around your knees provide more in the way of stability, your ankles and hips are instrumental in helping to properly absorb the tremendous landing forces that are incurred following any type of jump. A lack of mobility in one, or both, of these areas will significantly increase your chances of injury. That’s why drills like the wall ankle mobilizations and high kneeling hip flexor series are so important. By actively increasing range of motion in these notoriously tight areas, they’ll help you to more efficiently decelerate your body weight. That is, provided of course you’re also doing the appropriate strengthening drills for these areas—examples of which are included in the program below.
Having good active hamstring flexibility is also important, especially since so many young athletes tend to “tail under” when attempting to land properly. Picture the glutes and tail bone tucked underneath the shoulders, with the back rounded—instead of the more desirable position of being back, slightly behind the athlete and a more upright posture. That’s where a drill like the leg swing comes in. By helping to actively increase range of motion of the powerful hip extensor muscles, it will better prepare your body to deal with the sudden changes in length and tension they’re forced to absorb upon landing. Just be sure to start out slowly and look to gradually increase your range of motion over time. And don’t forget to include the side leg swing (also described below) to help increase active range of motion in the groin area and along the illiotibial band (ITB).
From a strengthening standpoint, the main areas to focus on are your core and those big powerful muscles in your hips and thighs. A strong core is absolutely crucial for providing the stability your body needs when doing all sorts of plyometric drills. Unfortunately, adopting a bodybuilding type approach to your workouts, with lots of crunches and sit-ups, will do little to accomplish this. So do yourself a favor and stop chasing after that vaunted “six-pack” and start doing the types of drills an athlete needs to improve performance and resist injury! The plank variation featured below offers the perfect remedy for typical gym-based “ab” exercises. It’ll help increase stability in your core, hips and shoulder girdle, giving your limbs the perfect platform from which to generate power.
You also shouldn’t overlook the muscles of your upper back and the role they play in helping maintain proper postural mechanics. Landing a jump of any type and allowing your upper back to round forward on impact can place you at risk for any number of injuries to the thoracic spine, neck and shoulders. A great way to guard against this is with a drill called skydivers. In addition to strengthening all of the muscles of the upper and lower back, they even incorporate those all-important glutes and hamstrings, making them an extremely efficient way to train all of the muscles on the back of your body. You know, the one’s that you can’t see in the mirror and as a result, tend to get ignored when you’re in the gym.
As far as your lower body is concerned, while exercises like squats and deadlifts are great, you’ll also need to include some unilateral exercises. Besides requiring more in the way of balance and coordination, working one leg at a time will also give you the opportunity to detect strength imbalances that might have otherwise gone unnoticed. You can find some great examples of unilateral exercises in my first article for Inside Lacrosse that’s featured here. In addition to those drills, try incorporating things like overhead squats to help improve total body mobility and coordination, as well as some mini band walks to target the lateral glutes for better knee stability. Examples of how to do each are included in the video below.
Try doing the following program 2-3 times per week for the next 3-4 weeks, before moving on to the third phase of this program. Doing so and adopting a more patient approach to your conditioning might not be the popular route, but I can assure you it will end up paying huge dividends in the long run.
Here’s a detailed rundown of the program.
Ankle Mobilizations x 8-10 per sideHip Flexor Series x 5 reps of all 3 positions per sideLeg Swings (Front & Side) x 10 reps of each per side
Strengthening Drills: Do 2 sets of each drill for the prescribed number of repetitions.
Elevation changes x 10-12 repetitionsOverhead squats x 8-10Skydivers x 10-12Lateral Band Walks x 12-15 strides each wayUnilateral Calf Raises (not shown) x 10-12 per side
* Remember to also include a couple of lower body drills from the unilateral strengthening program featured in the link above.
Wall ankle mobilizations: Face a wall and place one foot at its base. Begin by dipping your knee inward to make contact with the wall, while making sure to keep your heel on the ground. If you don’t feel enough of a stretch in that position, back your foot up until you feel a sufficient stretch in your lower calf and Achilles tendon area. Continue dipping your knee in to touch the wall and then return to the starting position.
High Kneeling Hip Flexor series: Begin in a high kneeling position with your left foot positioned out in front of your right knee at an approximately 90 degree angle. Holding your core and right glute slightly braced, extend your arms up straight over head, holding on to a broomstick or foam roller. Once in position, maintain a core neutral position and drive your left knee forward until you feel a stretch in the front of your right hip and upper quad. Be sure to keep your arms back out of sight and front heel down as you do this. Go back and forth for 5 repetitions, then continue driving the knee forward as you lean over to your left side for 5 more reps. Finally, bring your arms down about chest height and continue with 5 more reps where you rotate over the left knee. Then switch over to the other side and repeat the sequence.
Forward Leg Swings: Stand holding on to something for support with your left knee slightly bent and your torso help upright. Begin by gently swinging your right leg out in front of you until you feel a slight stretch in your hamstring, then immediately reverse the motion and swing your leg behind you until you feel a stretch in the front of your right hip and thigh. Continue in this manner, trying to gradually increase the size of the swing with each rep, making sure the torso doesn’t move. Do 10 reps and then switch legs.
Side Leg Swings: Place your arms up against a wall with your feet positioned slightly behind you and bend your right knee slightly to help support your body. Begin by gently swinging your left leg across the front of your body, then immediately reverse directions and swing it out away from you. Once again, try to keep your torso still as you gradually increase the distance of each swing, making sure to point your toes in as you come in front of your body and then out as you swing your leg away from you. Do 10 reps and then switch sides.
Plank with elevation change: Get in a plank position by resting on your forearms and holding a neutral spine (no heavy arch in your lower back, but not rounded either) and your legs straight. Keeping that core neutral posture, proceed to use your right arm to get up into a push-up position, followed by your left. Then keep your core position unchanged as you reverse the sequence and then do the same thing leading with your left arm. Continue alternating arms until you’ve done 5 to 6 repetitions to each side.
Overhead Squat: Grab a broomstick, or light barbell, and position it up overhead with your arms extended. Next, with your arms held completely out of sight, break your hips back first as you “sit” into a parallel squat position. Pause when your thighs are parallel to the ground and then press back up until you’ve completed 8-10 reps. Make sure that your heels stay down, your knees don’t pinch in or bow outwards and that your torso stays erect with your arms back, out of sight.
Skydivers: Lie face down on the ground with your arms out in line with your shoulders. Keeping a slight bend in your elbows and knees, begin by bracing your core lightly as you simultaneously lift your chest and legs off the ground. As you do this, be sure to pinch your shoulder blades together to work your upper back and squeeze your glutes. In the top position, only your abdominals and upper parts of your thighs should be touching the ground. Hold for a second or two, then lower back down and repeat until you’ve done 10-12 repetitions.
Lateral Band Walk: Place a mini band around the tops of your ankles and squat slightly to get into a “ready” or athletic position. Keeping your shoulders, hips, knees and toes pointed straight ahead, begin by striding out sideways, as you control the back leg while it comes through to finish the step. Continue striding out for 12-15 strides and then go back the other way. Make sure to try and create the striding motion with your hips and not just slinging your feet out to the sides.
Unilateral Calf Raise: Stand up on a small step or platform with just the ball of your right foot in contact with its surface. Holding your left leg next to your right, allow your right heel to dip slightly below the level of the step until you feel a stretch in your calf. Next, smoothly change directions as you press up into the ball of your right foot and hold the top for a second. Lower back down and repeat until you’ve done 10-12 reps and then switch sides.