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Brian Schiff’s Blog

Injury Prevention, Sports Rehab & Performance Training Expert

Archive for 'agility'

Over the years, I have tested many different fitness products through my work with Personal Fitness Professional Magazine. I am not paid to promote any products on my site, and this latest review comes after spending the past few weeks using this particular product in the clinic with my patients. I am pleased to bring attention to it because I think it can help with recovery and training.

Recently, the inventor of the HECOstix, Josh Broeker, reached out to me to see if I have had a chance to use his product. Much to my surprise, I was not familiar with it. As a performance physical therapist working with many athletes from various sports and ranging from youth to professionals, I was naturally excited to see the product in action. I am always looking for ways to enhance neurocognitive training and my rehab. Josh was gracious enough to send me a few HECOstix to try out.

For those unfamiliar with the product, see the image of the Red, White and Blue version below:

As I rehab and progress athletes back to sport after injury, implementing tools to improve hand eye coordination, reaction time, cognitive skills and decision making is important prior to sending them back to practice and sport. A few of the really cool features I like about this product include:

  • Lightweight and durable EVA make-up
  • Different versions and multiple colors allow for auditory cues and quick reaction
  • It can be used safely by all ages and abilities
  • Travels easily with you anywhere

The HECOstix can be used for virtually any sport and done indoors or outdoors. Perhaps the greatest thing about the product is that it injects FUN into training while allowing users to compete against others or their own results in an effort to improve performance. This tool also allows for progressive challenges moving from underhand to sideways to overhead throws depending on the functional demands and skill level of the participants.

In the clinic, I have been using it with some of my patients rehabbing after ACL reconstruction. Adding neurocognitive training is essential for full recovery and secondary prevention. below is an article from Sports health discussing neurocognitive and neurophysiological functions related to ACL injury:

Specifically, I have integrated it with dynamic balance and movement drills calling out a color while throwing the HECOstix toward the client. I have also had a pair of patients throwing and calling out the color as part of a rehab game. I will be continuing to use it with this population and other athletes working on hand eye coordination and cognitive training for their sport.

If you are looking to add a new wrinkle to your training or rehab, I highly recommend giving this product a try. For more information on the product, be sure to visit

Lateral quickness is an important part of athletic development. Having the ability to effectively decelerate and and then re-accelerate the other way is critical for success in field and court sports. Incorporating such movements as part of a multi-directional speed training plan will pay dividends for athletes. In this video I demonstrate how to use the BOSU Elite Balance Trainer to improve lateral speed and quickness.

This exercise is an excellent way to increase lateral foot speed and quickness. In addition, it allows you to introduce energy system training, improve proprioception and enhance dynamic lower limb stability. It is also a great way to train body control and deceleration – two key things necessary for injury prevention in jumping and cutting athletes. Athletes may tend to stand upright once they come back down to the ground, so coaching and cuing them to stay low and not allow their shoulders to move outside the outside leg may be necessary.

You can read more about this exercise in my upcoming column Functionally Fit at

I just finished presenting at our our second ACL Symposium of the year at the Athletic Performance Center last Saturday.   Rehabbing and training female athletes has been a passion of mine for some time.  Over the years, I have also developed a love for research and reading it, particularly studies on the ACL.

In my practice, I have incorporated jump landing, single leg training and deceleration based training for some time.  While we all know females are 3-8 times more likely to suffer an ACL injury than males, we have not isolated the exact reason why. Researchers have offered some clues such as: wider pelvis, narrow femoral notch, smaller ACL, ligament dominance, limb dominance, natural laxity (hormonal factors), wider Q angles, and faulty muscle firing patterns to name a few.

Many of the structural factors are beyond our control.  So, as practitioners, we must focus on the training.  Consider the following study just published in the August 2011 edition of the American Journal of Sports Medicine that basically reveals females develop peak valgus moments during deceleration during a drop landing maneuver, whereas males develop peak valgus forces during acceleration on the way back up:

Click here for the abstract


Drop Landing

This article adds more evidence that females recruit and fire their muscles very differently than males.  More importantly, it reiterates that we as coaches, therapists and S & C professionals need to be working on deceleration mechanics.  I believe this starts with simple soft two legged drills such as:

  1. Small squat jump and holds
  2. Box drops and holds
  3. Forward line jump, stick and hold
  4. Lateral line jump, stick and hold
  5. 90 degree jump turn, stick and hold

In addition, one of my favorite drills is a single leg forward leap (hop) and stick working on deceleration.  The athlete stands on the right leg and then pushes off forward landing on the left leg.  Coaching the athlete to land softly on a bent hip and knee while avoiding valgus is important.  I usually perform 2-3 sets of 5 reps on each side.  Cueing with a mirror, auditory corrections and tactile cues are useful in encouraging proper form.

SL Stick (start)

SL Stick (start)

SL Stick (finish)

SL Stick (finish)

It is important to keep in mind that the majority of non-contact ACL tears occur between 0 and 30 degrees of knee flexion.  They also typically involve deceleration (landing, jump stop or change of direction), planting or cutting.  For this reason, deceleration training must also involve programming for agility and change of direction.

On Saturday, I led the break-out session on deceleration training and covered a few key exercises I use with my athletes.  These drills are layered on one another and the basic ones I begin with are:

  1. Stops – I have athletes accelerate out and then decelerate to a controlled two legged stop after 10-20 yards.  Keep in mind allowing for a longer run will allow the athlete to gradually slow down, while decreasing the distance increases intensity and force on the knees.  I coach breaking down with small “pitter patter” steps versus a sudden hard stop.
  2. 2 cone lateral shuffle stops – the athlete shuffles over 5-6 yards and then stops with good hip, knee and foot alignment working to keep the shoulders inside the knees (inside the box).  I progress to multiple cone shuffles to increase intensity and maximize repetitive deceleration.
  3. Pro-agility drills – 3 cones are placed 5 yards apart and I combine linear and lateral movements between the cones layering #1 and #2 above in a continuous pattern to work on acceleration/deceleration combos and change of direction
  4. Y drill (4 cones) – the athlete runs forward to a cone 5-15 yards out and then performs a 45 degree cut left/right.  The progression begins with directed and predictable movement and then advances to reactive cueing with auditory and visual cues.
  5. Arrow drill (4 cones) – The athlete runs 5-15 yards forward and then performs a 135 degree cut left/right and runs past the cone that serves as the bottom edge of the arrow head.  This is much more demanding on the body (knee) and as such I only move to this after the Y drill has been mastered.  In addition, I teach a hip turn (from Lee Taft) to reposition the hips and minimize torsion on the lower leg.  I move from predictive to reactive agility as in the Y drill.

These exercises are a small sampling of my ACL prehab/rehab routine.  I also include an enormous amount of single leg PRE’s and balance training as well.  I believe the most important things we can currently do to reduce ACL risk in this population are:

  • Screen our athletes to help identify risk (FMS, drop landing, dynamic strength,running/cutting analysis)
  • Emphasize hamstring, gluteus medius and lateral rotator strengthening
  • Teach landing mechanics and proper deceleration through neuromuscular exercise, biofeedback and repetitive cueing
  • Refine proper cutting technique by teaching ideal angles and how to reposition the hips
  • Empower coaches and athletes with simple yet effective body weight training routines that can be replicated on the field or court with the team

For now, the battle rages on.  I hope you will join me in the quest to prevent these catastrophic injuries.  I think as research evolves we will continue to see that the answer to promoting optimal stability at the knee will increasingly have more to do with addressing the hip and ankle.  For now, we need to teach soft bent knee landing/cutting that shifts the body’s center of mass forward, while eliminating valgus loading as much as possible in the danger zone.

In this final post, I will show two simple yet very effective reactive drills I use with one of my clients training for Saber fencing for the 2012 Olympic games.  In terms of reactive agility training, you can utilize  audio, visual or even kinesthetic cues.

As it was difficult to video myself and the client, I chose to use audio cues for this post so you could see the drills.  I also use visual cues to train her with these same reactive movements.  In this drill, the focus is precise quick footwork in a linear pattern.  I have also added in some left and right linear movements as the athlete does lunge or attack off center in certain instances during a match.

In many cases, success in fencing is defined by inches.  The ability to anticipate the opponent’s movements and react faster is crucial.  We use several of these drills to work on her footwork in space.  Keep in mind that the progression from simple planned agility drills to more complex reactive agility training yields optimal results. 

With that said, strive for repetition and mastery fo the most crucial movement patterns/skills and avoid temptation to get too creative.  Use drills that train precise movements in applicable spaces for appropriate time intervals.  Focusing on this mix will elevate performance and get those inches you need in sport.

In the first two posts on this topic I have shown you predictive agility drills.  These are great for the beginning phases of training and early pre-season conditioning.  Once athletes understand how to move properly, it is time to turn your attention to reactive agility as this more appropriately mirrors sport.

There are countless games and drills you can use with your athletes.  I have certain “go to” drills if you will but am always looking for new ones or more importantly the best ones for each athlete or group of athletes I am working with.

Today I included some video taken from a field hockey speed clinic I held last month.  A primary goal was to show the team a bevy of drills they could use to improve speed, agility and quickness.   Another important goal was to make the hard work seem FUN.  

You see I was an athlete not so long ago and I know athletes really don’t get very excited about conditioning because that usually involves running, sweat and fatigue, right?  So, anytime you can introduce games and competition to get maximal effort from your players or clients, it becomes a win-win for all involved.

In the video clip today, you will see a friendly game of partner tag.  Is this ingenious?  Absolutely not.  But, I strategically placed cones in a circle and then asked about 12 players to move within the circle trying not to get caught.  Group one worked for 30 seconds while group two rested and then we switched.

So, the pairs designated an initial “it” person and when the whistle blew the offensive player tried to evade while the defense pursued.  This timed drill accomplishes all of the following great things:

·         Unpredictable movement

·         Variable speed

·         Variable cutting cutting angles

·         Acceleration and deceleration

·         Multiple bodies in the same space (very game like)

·         Great anaerobic conditioning

Some may say there is a greater risk of injury by confining the athletes.  I simply respond by saying the playing field has boundaries and in sport there will be collision at times as well as the very real need to maneuver tightly and quickly around people to avoid collisions and score.  By the way, not one person collided in our drill.  Safety or the lack thereof with tag comes down to preparation and proper instruction prior to starting.

Leading up to partner tag, I always initiate more basic partner mirror drills for linear FW/BW running, shuffles and combinations in a 4 cone pattern (smaller area with only two at a time).  These simpler condensed drills lay the foundation for an all out reactive game of tag.

The take home message is that reactive agility must be a progressive part of your field or court training to help refine proper movement patterns, reduce injury risk and maximize athletic performance.  In my final post, I will reveal an even more specific reactive agility drill with an Olympic level fencer I am training for the 2012 games.