March 6, 2017 • Strength & Conditioning

Non-traditional approaches offer new era of strength training

For 26 years, Ethan Banning has trained scores of athletes at all skill levels. He’s watched high school athletes earn scholarships, college students reach the pros, and he even helped Boston Red Sox infielder Pablo Sandoval lose 38 pounds before the 2011 season.

He hasn’t achieved that success as director of sports performance at Triple Threat Performance in Phoenix by keeping the same routines. Athletic training is constantly evolving; if his workouts never changed, Banning knows he wouldn’t have lasted long.

“It’s very different,” said Banning. “In my coaching now versus what I might have done five, eight or 10 years ago, a lot’s changed. Strength and conditioning specialists need to think outside the box a little bit.”

Like Banning, many experts are turning toward new or non-traditional training methods to take their athletes to the next level. Some coaches have incorporated sandpit training and yoga into their offseason workouts. Bruce Lombard, who worked with the Penn State football team, even created what he dubs “MMAFx” — mixed martial arts/football cross training — to help with hand speed and footwork.

One of Banning’s favorite “new” exercises, the barbell hip thrust, traces its origins to Russian literature nearly 50 years ago, but only made its way to America around 2006. Two years ago, STACK named it “the most important exercise you’re not doing.”

There are numerous non-traditional exercises that have come to the forefront of sports performance in the last few years. We asked a handful of experts to find some of the best new exercises they would like to see in more high schools and colleges. Here are their suggestions.

Barbell hip thrust

This workout requires a bench and barbell, with an optional bar pad for comfort.

How to do it: Sit in front of a bench with a loaded barbell — the bottom of the shoulder blades should line up with the bench — and roll the barbell directly above the hips. Then, thrust the hips vertically, driving through the heels while supporting your weight with both your feet and shoulders. Banning suggests starting out with a weight equivalent to your deadlift.

What it does: This workout develops glutes while complementing the hamstrings, quadriceps and adductor muscles. It’s great for improving vertical jump, speed and acceleration.

More than three years ago, Banning worked with a prep lacrosse player who couldn’t perform normal squats due to hip issues. That’s when he first decided to implement the barbell hip thrust, and the payoff was evident.

“When we were able to reintroduce the squat later on, she squatted better numbers-wise and fundamentally than she did before her hips were hurting,” Banning said. “That was pretty interesting. She was also able to jump higher, and her running speed improved.”

Banning quickly carried that over to other clients and saw similar results. Carolina Panthers quarterback Derek Anderson was a fan, and high school athletes, such as UCLA softball recruit Kelly Flynn, have embraced it.

“It might be the exercise that’s most improved the lower half of my glute area,” Flynn said. “I notice I have a lot more force and connection while hitting, and I notice I run a lot faster from it.”

Bullet-belt resistance training

As the name suggests, this requires a “bullet belt,” starting at about $42. Scott Gadeken, of IMG Academy (Bradenton, Florida), prefers the “pop and rip” option because the Velcro tends to hold up better, but the “pop release” is a cheaper choice.

How to do it: Runners attach the waist belt, while another person holds the accompanying strap to apply resistance and release the runner. Gadeken recommends starting with a 5-yard sprint, then releasing the runner, who sprints for another 20 yards. After two weeks, increase to 5 yards with 30 yards after release followed by 10 yards with 40 yards after release.

What it does: Strengthens the glutes, hamstring, hip flexor and quads. Increases linear speed and acceleration.

Gadeken oversees more than 800 student-athletes as IMG Academy’s head of physical conditioning, and he’s helped some of the best high school athletes in the country. In this upcoming class, IMG boasts 11 ESPN 300 football prospects and two ESPN 100 basketball recruits. Gadeken has also worked with 2015 MLB first-round draft pick Brady Aiken. He has made sure all of them used the “bullet belt” at some point.

“It’s so good just because it’s hard to get a resistance sprint out of somebody in a safe manner,” Gadeken said. “It’s definitely going to help you build more strength and power than just sprinting alone.”

Whether it’s a point guard sprinting down the court, or a receiver accelerating out of a break, Gadeken said there’s a lot of value in this training.

The belt squat

A belt-squat machine starts at around $2,400. Some gyms use belts with dumbbells, but Zack Fuller, CoreXcell Sports Training (Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania), cautions against that.

“It’s not going to be the same because of the way the cable pulls,” Fuller said. “There really isn’t a replacement for the machine.”

How to do it: Once positioned correctly on the machine, use the same form as a normal squat. For beginners, Fuller recommends lifting 60 to 75 percent of your max squat weight and performing sets of 10.

What it does: Hits the calves, glutes, hamstrings and quadriceps. Improves vertical jump and allows an exercise similar to a regular squat without putting as much pressure on the spine.

Five years ago, hip belt squats remained hidden from the mainstream. Now, the exercise is becoming harder to ignore.

Fuller recommended it for all his athletes, from former Philadelphia Eagles offensive tackle Winston Justice to a high school athlete who couldn’t even squat the bar. In fact, it’s that versatility that convinced Fuller to name this his favorite non-traditional exercise.

“I would say this completely changed the game for me as far as training goes,” said Fuller, who opened CoreXcell in 2006. “It’s probably the best investment I’ve ever made, as far as a piece of training equipment.”

With the help of the belt squat, Fuller has watched his athletes increase their squat masses at a faster rate. Instead of developing muscles in the back like a traditional squat, this exercise also helped more with the hips.

“It’s essential to my prep and my system,” Fuller added.

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