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December 27, 2016
Guest Post: Houston’s Jason Russell, “No Matter Your Philosophy, the Goal is Movement Efficiency”

This week’s guest post is another article from Jason Russell, Assistant Director for Sports Performance at the University of Houston. Jason’s previous post entitled “Using the Force Plate: Don’t Lose Your Way,” can be found here. Jason is currently in his third year at UH working with Men’s and Women’s Basketball. 


The force plate is nothing new. It is measuring values that we know to exist; information and concepts which we’ve essentially based our programming on for years. What’s so innovative is the technology Sparta has introduced, and how practical they’ve made it. As we know, there are three variables that make up the Sparta Signature, or scan – LOAD, EXPLODE, and DRIVE.

The Scan

We know LOAD to be average eccentric rate of force, which relies heavily on the ability to create force and load through the anterior chain. EXPLODE is defined as average concentric rate of force, which displays the ability to transfer and apply that force. This involves “bracing” against external force to overcome inertia. The final variable is DRIVE, which quantifies vertical impulse relative to applied force. This is the time component; the ability to carry out force through the movement, dependent upon muscular compliance, posterior chain strength, soft tissue quality, and mobility.

None of these are new concepts. Again, force-time curves have been around for years. These are simply a different nomenclature to classify and quantify identifiable qualities we can attempt to improve, and allow us to better describe these qualities to sport coaches, sports medicine, and athletes.

Why is this important?

The scan shows us the relationship between these different qualities, giving us a glance inside the athlete’s body, and not just a value of force in Newtons over time in seconds. Now we know where the athlete is on the spectrum. Our end goal in training now becomes MOVEMENT EFFICIENCY; in other words, where on the spectrum the athlete needs to be. The value of this is three-fold:

  1. Movement efficiency will improve performance. We know certain qualities can positively affect performance in specific sports. We can accurately measure these specific qualities and their relationships as well as the affects training on these qualities and the athletes’ performance.
  2. Movement efficiency will decrease the likelihood of injury. Athletes with large differences between variables statistically are at an increased risk of injury. These often tend to be your high-level performance (think high risk/high reward).
  3. Movement efficiency can improve endurance. As Andrea Hudy explains in her book Power Positions, an efficient/trained athlete utilizes less energy and oxygen in competition compared to an untrained athlete.

In contrast, an inefficient mover is essentially displaying leaks of force through losses of muscular tension during movement, or possibly applying an extreme amount force in a small amount of time (think too much water pressure in too small of a pipe). This leads to virtually the opposite of all three points made above:

  • A lower level of performance due to time spent attempting to regain tension and apply force or missing out on an optimal range of motion needed to apply that force.
  • Being more prone to injury due to the inability to create, absorb, withstand, or disperse force over a sufficient amount of time.
  • A higher cost of energy resulting in less overall endurance.

INTENT is the Key Word

I’ve always been a firm believer in knowing “the why”. People (especially our current generation of athletes) tend to do better when they know why they’re doing what they’re doing. INTENT is the key word. And that’s the basis for understanding how the force plate and Sparta can help your program.

We’ve all heard the term “the mind runs the body”, attributed to General George Patton. And in the strength coach world, it’s often plastered on a wall, or screamed out during a conditioning in reference to “mental toughness.” These are all great applications of that phrase, as it holds true for basic human nature. We must remember human movement is no different.

“To change any habit,

we must make a conscious effort to do so.”

To change any habit, we must make a conscious effort to do so. For me, it becomes about exercise selection and cueing. It’s all about INTENT. You must elicit the response you need from the athlete’s body. Prescribe exercises that innately require the action, movement, or variable that the athlete needs to improve (the variable you’re trying to improve). For example, since we know LOAD to be associated with anterior chain strength and eccentric rate, we may prioritize front squatting rather than back squatting in a certain cycle or for a certain athlete, trying to create and reinforce a rigid anterior core with an upright torso and positive shin angle.

Another example would be using external and internal cues to elicit the desired response. “Think about pulling your foot back under your hip as you stand up” or “you should feel it in your hip and glute” for an athlete who shows a low DRIVE variable. I highly doubt any of this is groundbreaking, it’s simply coaching.

The Science in Which We Believe…

One of the worst things I could do as a coach is to be closed off to something new without first understanding HOW it might alter what I do. We have to continuously learn. With that comes open-mindedness. I’ll admit, I am biased towards Sparta and the force plate. But that’s simply due to my belief in what Sparta offers and how it fits into my global philosophy as a coach. As a profession, we can’t be weary of something so heavily based on the science in which we believe. I’m a former college football player and thrower, and I’ve spent most my career working with football. The last thing I want to do is abandon Olympic lifting and squatting. I believe in those tools FAR too much to feel like they’re counter-productive to what we’re trying to accomplish. The toughest piece of feedback I’ve had to confront is that the guys I love to train the most already excel at these movements.

Now using the feedback I’m given from the Sparta system might mean not quite as many heavy squats or cleans with the guys who can already move serious weight (something most of us love). But you have to stick to your guns. We still spend our offseason using variations of the Olympic lifts, front squatting, and back squatting. I think there’s something to the 50+ years of people lifting heavy weight to get better at their sport. The mindset and approach it takes to hit a heavy squat or clean is invaluable. But I also believe in the science of the plate and Sparta.

Similar to Ryan Martin’s approach at ODU, we don’t eliminate these movements from training year-round. We simply prioritize or de-emphasize certain things at certain times to create the type of profile or scan that will best suit our athletes. We’ll still Olympic lift, squat, press, and pull in-season as well as out of season. Like David Deets of Mississippi State has stated, using Sparta doesn’t mean you have to overhaul your programming. It may mean you need to re-think some things, and possibly tweak something here or there. A “tweak” could be something as simple as scan-specific pre-lift or pre-practice prep work. It’s just a matter of how you choose to use the tools in your toolbox. Don’t sacrifice your foundation and fundamentals, instead build on them and find ways to pinpoint your athletes’ needs.

The goal is improving movement efficiency using the tools and philosophies in which you believe. And the result is holistically improving performance and decreasing the risk of injury. I’m not going to abandon what I know and believe, rather I will find a way to apply it even better by using the data that Sparta helps me collect.

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December 27, 2016
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