Putting New Drills To The Test

A new drill may seem great at a workshop, but how do you know if it will be good for your specific program?

By Vern Gambetta

Vern Gambetta, MA, is the President of Gambetta Sports Training Systems, in Sarasota, Florida, and the former Director of Conditioning for the Chicago White Sox. He is a frequent contributor to Training & Conditioning, and can be reached through his Web site, at www.gambetta.com.

Training & Conditioning, 11.6, September 2001, http://www.momentummedia.com/articles/tc/tc1106/drills.htm

There is no shortage of enticing new drills that you will learn about from clinics, conferences, and publications that you read. Many times, I have come back from training seminars with a new drill that seemed particularly useful‹until I put it into one of my training programs. More often than not, I found that the new drill did not do anything better than what I was doing, or in extreme cases, I found that the new drill was ineffective. We touched on new drills in the May/June issue of Training & Conditioning, but because drills are the building blocks of every workout, it is important to understand their role more fully.

How do you know if a new drill or exercise is right for your program? The answer is that every drill you consider needs to be evaluated using several criteria. First, you need to evaluate the drill¹s effectiveness and determine its optimal placement within the context of your overall training program. Second, you need to analyze where the drill fits in your daily workouts.

Let¹s begin by looking at the first step, which is to identify the effective drills among all the new drills that you¹ll come across. Begin by asking yourself some key questions about each new drill. These questions focus on WHAT the drill will accomplish, and WHY it would improve your program. Here is a sample checklist of the types of questions you should ask about any drill under consideration:

€ How is this drill performed? Review the mechanics of the new drill. You need to completely understand the drill to assess it. And correct execution will be essential for eliciting optimum training adaptation.

€ What will this drill accomplish? Think of a drill as a precision instrument. It should have a specific application and training goal. Does this specific goal fit the needs of your program? If not, remove this drill from consideration.

€ Why should I add this new drill to my program? Perhaps the most important question that a strength coach can ask is whether a drill is a "need to do" activity or a "nice to do" activity. If it is simply "nice," then it won¹t add anything to your program and it should not be included in your workouts. You should only add a drill if it fills a gap in your training or if it achieves an objective better than existing drills.

€ What particular athletic component does the drill enhance? When you consider a drill, be very specific in identifying the exact athletic qualities or components that it will address. If it attempts to do too much, be wary of its effectiveness.

€ Is the drill practical in your situation? For example, if you are training a 30-member team, specialized equipment needed for a drill may be too expensive to equip a whole team or it may take too much time to set up each day.

€ What level of development is the drill suited for? Certain drills are better suited for developing athletes rather than more advanced athletes. Be sure to assess the drill with your particular athlete¹s developmental stage in mind.

€ What are the ranges of sets and repetitions? Are the sets and repetitions congruent with the purpose of the drill? Do they achieve your goals for this drill?

If the new drill has survived to this point it is now time to think about placement of that drill. Putting a drill into a context that optimizes its effectiveness should be a key element in the design of any training program.

Proper placement means putting the drill into a daily workout so that it not only builds upon the drill that comes before it, but prepares the athlete for the drill that follows. Like an individual brick in a wall, a drill that is inserted in the proper time and place will strengthen and enhance the entire structure of the workout. If the drill does not fit anywhere in your program, then it is not appropriate for your needs. If it is placed improperly, it will be useless for your program.

Analyzing and placing a new drill is certainly not a black-and-white proposition. Each drill is unique, as is every strength coach¹s program. The key is understanding the variables that make up your program and thoroughly embracing the team goals.

For Example
Here are some new drills that I've fit into my training programs. I'll describe how I assessed them and decided they would be beneficial. I'll also explain how I placed them in the daily workout.

Stance Throw Drill: The starting stance for this drill can be a standing stance or a three- or four-point down stance. A medicine ball weighing three or four kilograms is placed on the ground directly in front of the athlete. Then, the athlete executes the drill by picking up the ball and simultaneously accelerating forward while throwing the ball outward. Measure the distance the ball is thrown and the time it takes the athlete to move a specific distance from the start, usually about 10 yards.

I like this drill because it reinforces good starting mechanics and develops explosiveness while coming out of a down starting position that a football player would use. For football or rugby, this drill also enhances the ability to deliver a blow.

In order to obtain the full effect of this exercise, athletes should do this workout after they are warmed up, but are still fresh and have plenty of energy. Consequently, it should be placed in the beginning of a workout, but after the warmup.

Multi-Directional Jumps: The athlete begins by standing with the feet shoulder-width apart. He or she then executes a standing jump forward. Upon landing, the athlete immediately takes off again and jumps sideways, turning 90 degrees in the air. Then he or she immediately takes off again, jumping sideways and turning another 90 degrees in the air so that upon the next landing, the athlete is facing the opposite direction of where he or she began. The athlete should then immediately take off and jump backward to finish.

Start by keeping the jumps short and gradually lengthening the distance jumped. Once the rhythm and technique of this sequence are mastered, have your athletes perform two consecutive series of the jump. Two series of jumps are considered one set. A typical multi-directional jumping drill will have the athlete execute three to five sets of jumps, depending on the overall objective of the workout.

This drill works great as a remedial plyometric exercise. It proprioceptively challenges the athlete and helps prevent knee injuries. This drill should be done early in the workout because its basic purpose is to warm up and strengthen the knees. Multi-directional jumps can be performed daily as long as the number of jumps is adjusted according to your athlete¹s abilities and your individual goals.

Standing Bench Press (stretch cord): To begin, attach a stretch cord to each end of a wooden dowel and securely attach the other ends of the cords to a pole or fence behind the athlete. The athlete grasps the dowel with two hands and positions the dowel at chest height so that all slack is taken out of the stretch cord. He or she begins the exercise in a good athletic stance with the feet shoulder-width apart and the knees slightly flexed. Then, the athlete presses the dowel outward as rapidly as possible using full range of motion. It is important to control the return (eccentric) phase to get the full benefit of this workout. Have the athlete perform three to five sets of 12 to 15 repetitions each.

While assessing this drill, I realized it was perfect for applying the strength developed in more traditional movements to a posture that is common to most sport situations. This exercise is also important because it enables you to integrate strength training and core stability in a way that will not occur if you are doing presses while lying on a weight bench or strapped into a machine.

The standing bench press is considered a transitional upper-body strength exercise, so I usually couple it with a variety of bench presses and medicine ball chest passes. It is a companion to upper-body strength drills such as pushups and regular bench presses and should be placed in a sequence with them.

BOSU Squat Sequence: A BOSU can be described as half a stability ball attached to a plastic base. The BOSU is one of several new training devices designed to challenge balance and proprioception in an environment of controlled instability.

I chose BOSU exercises because I was looking for something that prepares the nervous system for more complex activities. It should be placed early in a daily workout, preferably leading into resistance squats, which are described later in this article. There are many drills that can be centered on the BOSU device, but the three that I frequently use are included below in a sequence of squats. These drills are effective for sports such as basketball or soccer, where an athlete has to perform reciprocal leg actions.

Squat on one BOSU: Have the athlete stand on the BOSU with a relatively narrow stance with his or her hands placed on the hips, so that the arms cannot be used for counter balance. He or she should perform a normal squat, completing two sets of 20 repetitions.

Squat on two BOSU: The BOSU are placed next to each other, and the athlete places one foot on top of each BOSU. Have the athlete perform two sets of 20 repetitions.

Squat down on two BOSU and up on one BOSU: Again, use the two BOSU but in this exercise, have the athlete shift to just one leg on the ascent. He or she should alternate legs for each repetition. Have the athlete perform two sets of 20 reps.

Increasing Demand Runs: The idea behind this drill is to progressively increase the effort of the run from a comfortable aerobic pace up to a mixed aerobic/anaerobic effort that approaches 90-percent effort. Along with developing aerobic power, the objective of this drill is to teach athletes to monitor their bodies and to control their runs by controlling their efforts.

I have found this drill especially useful for the non-endurance athlete and the team sport athlete who does not know how to distribute running effort to get a good aerobic training effect. It is a good "meat and potato" drill that can be the focus of a daily workout. It should be placed in the middle of a workout, after an athlete is totally warmed up but still has plenty of energy.

Give careful consideration to the time increments as well as the total duration of the run. Usually, two sets of nine to 12 minutes are very effective. This is a relatively sophisticated drill that may not be appropriate for novice athletes.

One of the reasons everyone likes new drills is that they are fun. Giving your athletes something different and unique does make the workout more motivational, which often leads to better effort and better results. But finding a new drill to replace something already existing in your program is not so easy.

A better way to keep things fresh is to progress some of your tried-and-true drills in interesting ways. For example, if one wanted to build an athlete's lower extremity with a basic squat exercise, a progression of drills could be instituted as the athlete's legs and lower back become stronger. There really is no limit to where you could go with this progression. It is dictated to you by the demands of the sport, by the athlete's position within the sport, and by the qualities of the individual athlete.

Below, I provide an example of a progression with a squat that would take three to four weeks to complete and leads the squat toward the direction of a total-body exercise. It begins with the body weight squat and progresses to squats with external resistance as the athlete's strength increases. Once each variation of the squat is learned, that variation is plugged into later workouts as needed. This particular progression is useful for training during the off-season because it begins with a modest challenge and builds from there. Try to begin with 20 repetitions in the following drills, but remember, as external resistance increases, repetitions and speed should decrease.

Body Weight Squat: Hands interlocked behind the head. Execute a full squat at one rep per second.

Weight Vest Squat: The body perceives this drill as an internal load. Otherwise, the emphasis is the same as the previous squat.

Sand Bag Squat: A tubular sandbag is draped over the athlete's shoulders. This added resistance will slow movement down, but the sandbag will still be perceived by the body as an internal load.

Dumbbell Squat: Have the athlete squat while holding a dumbbell at each shoulder.

Dumbbell Squat to Press: Have the athlete squat down and press the dumbbells up on the ascent.

Dumbbell Shift Squat: Have the athlete squat down on two legs and then shift to one leg for the ascent. He or she should alternate legs.

Dumbbell Shift Squat to Press: Have the athlete squat down on two legs, then shift to one leg for the ascent and perform a press with the opposite arm.

Note that I do not recommend how much weight is used with each example above. That factor depends on the athlete and the sport being played. For example, a soccer player would not have to overcome the external resistance that a football player normally does. As a result, football players would train with more external resistance than most soccer players.

There is no shortage of drills available to you. Remember, the key is using each drill for a specific purpose within the context of the whole training program. Try to make drills fit into a workout so that there is a logical flow from one to another. This process demands a clear understanding of the objectives of the entire training program as well as the application of each drill. Remember, a program with a few well-thought-out, well-placed drills is far better than a program that is haphazardly packed with drills just to fill time.