Q: I once saw you comment on how one's gait can influence your
performance. How people with excessive dorsiflexion when walking usually
wouldn't prevail at something like a unilateral jump (and I can imagine that
sprinting would fall into the same category). Could this be improved to any
greater extent simply by walking and doing pretty much anything and everything
on your toes?
A: Actually based on my observations people with excessive dorsiflexion (excessive heel to toe emphasis when walking or running) have a more difficult time prevailing at any type of athletics. However, you're not gonna do much for this by walking on your toes or anything of the sort. This is a case where form dictates function. If you want to change the function the best thing to do is change the form. For this particular problem, excessive dorsiflexion, based on my observations and understanding, the root cause generally lies further upstream in the area of the hip.
Try rolling the top of your hips forward and walking on your heels. It's difficult. Try tolling your hips back and doing it. It's much easier. The anterior ( top of the hips rolled forward) posture is very common amongst athletes and, although it has it's disadvantages and problems such as tight hip flexors, it probably offers some leverage advantages as it's found in top sprinters nearly 100% of the time. Posterior (hips back) posture is the opposite. Thus, if you have posterior hip rotation this is a case where you'd actually want to tighten up the hip flexors and loosen up the hip extensors.
Check out the recommendations for posterior hip rotation and kyphosis Here
Q: What are the books you recommend someone should read to improve their training knowledge?
It really depends on what type of reader you are. There are lots of good books but I have often found the limiting factor for many people's knowledge accumulation is the amount of scientific type mumbo jumbo they can wade through and tolerate. There are few writers who can get their points across and give you the principles you need while still making the reading interesting for the reader.
If you enjoy perusing through scientific type information and are after general information and advanced concepts, books by Zatsiorsky, Siff, Verkhoshansky, and various translated soviet texts are chock full of info. but the reading can be a lot like trying to translate another language. For example, most of the coaches I know have a copy of books by those authors but I can count the number of people I know who have read them front to back on one hand.
If you're a less patient reader I'd read anything by Fred Hatfield as he is well studied and writes with a lot of energy and enthusiasm and won't bore you to do death. Books by Bompa also are scientific enough and are written in everyday language. Charlie Francis has a lot of good easy to comprehend information as does Ian King. In the nutritional and diet area, you'd have a hard time finding a better resource then Lyle McDonald.
Q: What do think about unilateral exercises like lunges and split squats compared to bilateral versions like squats? I've heard that the unilateral versions are more sport specific?
A: I think as far as training the "muscles" of the legs for a sport specific task, the single leg versions, particular bulgarian split squats, are better. Here's the main reason why:
Pick up a pair of moderately heavy dumbells and sit down and knock out a set of incline dumbell curls curling both arms up at the same time. Now, notice that whenever you fail and are unable to lift the weight, you can still get an additional couple of reps if you lift the dumbells one arm at a time. It's called the bilateral deficit. When you lift one limb at a time you can generate a stronger contraction in the working muscles as the nervous system is able to generate a stronger contraction. Not to mention, training one limb at a time eliminates imbalances etc.
However, when it comes to training the "central" nervous system, bilateral versions are superior simply due to the much greater load and whole body muscle engagement that occurs. The gains in neural efficiency and rate coding and the general whole body central nervous system effects that occur from a squat or deadlift are hard to duplicate with single limb exercises. General adaptations and gains such as increased central drive that result from big CNS exercises like squats cross over to ANY other exercise.
Recall that you can increase performance and strength through either gains in muscle or gains in muscular efficiency. Training the central nervous system is "efficiency" training and increases strength primarily by increasing central drive or increasing the number of impulses per unit time that are transmitted to the muscles. This causes recruitment of the largest motor units and therefore results in higher force outputs.
In addition to "general" neural adaptations there are also "specific" neural adaptations. The transference that occurs in this this department is less then what occurs from general neural adaptations, but single leg variations would be the best way to get them. These adapatations include:
• Decreased antagonist inhibition
• Increased coordination between muscles
• Increased coordination within a muscle.
The best overall training would incorporate both.
I often recommend the use of more bilateral versions inseason and more unilateral versions offseason. Since there is less sport specific work offseason the "gym" training can be more sport specific. Since there is so much sport specific work inseason there is little if any need to add a bunch more additional sport specific work.
Q: I was wondering how you would cycle or use progressions of whole sprinting sessions for football while using a sled in part or all of it in preparation for combine training?
A: First off, the sled is more valuable the shorter the distance. I wouldn't use it for distances over 30-40 yards. Second, never use resistance that causes you to slow down more then 10% as doing so will negatively alter your sprinting mechanics.
For example, if you chose to run 30 yard sled sprints and your best 30 yard time without the sled is 3.0 seconds, you wouldn't want to use so much resistance on the sled that you run any slower then 3.3 seconds.
Lastly, in my opinion the sled works best as a potentiating tool so combine normal unloaded sprints along with your sled sprints. For every 2 sprints you do with the sled you might do one without the sled.
As for volume, my general recommendation for sprint work is to terminate a sprinting session anytime your performance (time) drops off noticeably below your best effort of the day. With max speed work keep everything high quality. That might mean you'd do 100 yards total sprint work or it might mean you do 500 yards total.
A sample weekly schedule for combine training would look something like this:
MONDAY – agility and speed training (3 cone technique training along with 40-yard dash - Initially focus on technique for the start and work your way out each week)
TUESDAY – Upper body lifting
WEDNESDAY – Vertical Jump and 20-yard shuttle
THURSDAY – Broad jump technique and Lower body strength training
FRIDAY – Upper body strength training
SATURDAY – Resisted sprints alternated with normal sprints (focus on distances between 20 and 40 yards)
Now you wouldn't need to do that much overall speed and specific agility work if you weren't training for a combine.
In fact a more typical early offseason schedule for a football player this time of year would look something like this:
MONDAY - dynamic warmup- upper body lifting
TUESDAY - off
WEDNESDAY - low volume of sprints or plyos - lower body lifting
THuRSDAY - off
FRIDAY - upper body lifting
SATURDAY - dynamic warmup/ lower body lifting
SUNDAY - off
You can see here there is only one day of speed work as the focus here is much more on mass and strength.