Ask any parent what they want to see when they drop their kid off at your performance training facility and they’ll likely say one of 3 things:
“I want my kid to be faster.”
“I want my daughter to be more powerful and explosive.”
“I want my son to be stronger and lift more weight.”
The best part: none of these answers are inherently wrong.
The issue lies within the order of operations in which we as athletic performance professionals (i.e., Strength & Conditioning Coaches, Physical Therapists, etc.) sequence our training philosophy.
Our profession spends way too much time up front on the skills of acceleration, force production and jumping mechanics without ever spending quality time on their respective counterparts.
You’ll also likely never hear a parent tell you that they want their kid to build better deceleration skills, landing mechanics and an ability to absorb force.
It’s because those skills aren’t sexy, nor are they indicative of results in the eyes of parents.
Furthermore, neither are these items—deceleration, landing and force absorption—viewed as being relevant in the eyes of athletes and regular gym-goers chasing long-term health and performance.
Let me be clear: deceleration, landing mechanics and force absorption are, in fact, crucial skills for you to both learn and acquire as step one in the process of building longevity and durability.
And, don’t give me that “well, I’m not an athlete” song and dance, because all humans are athletes, regardless of whether you’re playing a sport, participating in physical activities or simply want to live a healthy lifestyle.
If we truly believe that all humans are athletes, then we should all begin to understand how and why these 3 primary skills are important in the overall training process.
You’re probably still not convinced, which is cool. Trust me, I understand. But, let me ask you something:
Does an endurance runner need eccentric lower body control during downhill running?
Does a recreational basketball player need to control her lower body during the landing portion of grabbing a rebound?
Does a men’s league soccer player need to possess the ability to slow down quickly, stop on a dime and then immediately change directions?
Also, all humans means all humans. We all have an ability to build body control and athleticism. It just takes consistent effort and time.
We can even discuss the incidence of lower body injuries in sports as a sign for change within 5 key body areas:
“The incidence of acute Achilles tendon rupture appears to be increasing.”1
“Hamstring injuries are one of the most common injuries in athletes.”2
“In professional ice hockey and soccer players throughout the world, approximately 10% to 11% of all injuries are groin strains.”3
“Acute strain injuries of the quadriceps commonly occur in athletic competitions such as soccer, rugby, and football.”4
“Hip flexor injuries account for one-third of acute groin injuries.”5
Are these statistics all-inclusive? Of course not. It’s research. We always have to take research with a grain of salt and simply use it as a guide.
However, these pieces of evidence do provide useful information to, at the very least, get the ball rolling on potential shifts in how we prescribe exercise, develop protocols and build training programs.
In addition to neglecting deceleration skills in our training programs, are we also forgetting about isolated work?
I’m referring to the type of isolated exercises that can directly target the key areas discussed in the evidence above.
We have seen a meteoric rise in athletic performance programming in recent years for the addition of “arm care”, “shoulder health” and “direct arm work”.
Why not add “direct lower body health” to the mix?
What about the athletic performance professional that drops the all too familiar “but, our athletes squat heavy, deadlift heavy and perform heavy single leg work…”?
My response: that’s probably not enough. There is a need for a much more well-rounded training approach that includes both deceleration training exercises that sharpen the skills of force absorption and direct exercises that isolate the 5 key lower body regions: calf, hamstring, groin, knee and hip flexor.
When developed in concert, you will begin to build strength and durability for the long-term. This is key if we truly want to maximize performance and minimize injury risk.
Some of my favorite ways to target the lower body regions via direct work are as follows:
Valuable ways to begin adding in direct work is through time under tension, otherwise known as “King TUT”.
You can achieve this in a variety of ways, but my favorite are through tempo work (i.e., 3 seconds down, 3 second hold at the bottom and 3 seconds up), eccentrics (slow lowering), isometrics (holds) and loading through full joint excursions.
The big key to understand is that tension is your friend. Tension improves tissue tolerance to load and positional capacity, which will bode well for when you add in deceleration training exercises.
Dr. Tim Gabbett talks about the fact that “it’s not the load that breaks you down; it’s the load that you’re not prepared for.”
Well, it’s time to begin preparing.
At this point, a lot of you might be thinking that direct work begins to now make sense, but are still unsure as to what deceleration, landing mechanics and force absorption are all about.
Let’s define them.
Deceleration is possessing the ability to slow down fast—yes, fast. You want to accelerate fast? Well, that coincides with the ability to decelerate fast as well. They’re both skills that need to be sharpened.
Landing is possessing the ability to accept and absorb load fast. Same rules as above. You want to produce force fast? Cool. Absorbing force fast is just as cool. Again, both are skills in your athletic performance toolbox.
The Tesla is a premium, high-quality car.
Elon Musk, Tesla CEO, has gone on record by saying that “brake pads on Tesla’s would literally never need to be replaced.”
Be the Tesla of athletic performance.
Speed is worthless without a great set of brakes. Case in point: don’t be like Mendoza from Mighty Ducks.
Here are some basic level deceleration exercises that you can begin to implement in your training programs right away:
And, here’s how to sequence them from phase to phase to ensure quality time in each mode.
Interested in learning more about deceleration training and landing mechanics? I’ll be presenting this topic at 2 upcoming NSCA events in 2020 with plenty of hands-on coaching breakouts:
NSCA Rhode Island State Clinic – February 29, 2020
NSCA Missouri State Clinic – April 4, 2020
Matthew Ibrahim is the Co-Owner, Director of Strength & Conditioning and Internship Coordinator at TD Athletes Edge in Salem, MA. Throughout his career, he has been an invited guest speaker nationally in over 10 U.S. states, highlighted by his presentations at Google Headquarters, Stanford University, Equinox and Lululemon, in addition to guest speaking internationally in Milan, Italy. His professional work has been featured in some of the world’s largest publications, like Men’s Health and Men’s Fitness. Currently, he is a PhD student at Rocky Mountain University in the Human and Sport Performance program. Matthew also serves as an Adjunct Professor of Exercise Science at Maryville University and Endicott College. Connect with him on Instagram for training, performance and professional development: @matthewibrahim_
1. Yang X, Meng H, Quan Q, Peng J, Lu S, Wang A. Management of acute Achilles tendon ruptures: A review. Bone Joint Res. 2018 Oct; 7(10): 561–569.
2. Chu S, Rho M. Hamstring injuries in the athlete: diagnosis, treatment, and return to play. Curr Sports Med Rep. 2016 May-Jun; 15(3): 184–190.
3. Tyler T, Silvers H, Gerhardt M, Nicholas S. Groin injuries in sports medicine. Sports Health. 2010 May; 2(3): 231–236.
4. Kary J. Diagnosis and management of quadriceps strains and contusions. Curr Rev Musculoskelet Med. 2010 Oct; 3(1-4): 26–31.
5. Serner A, Weir A, Tol J, Thorborg K, Roemer F, Guermazi A, Yamashiro E, Hölmich P. Characteristics of acute groin injuries in the hip flexor muscles – a detailed MRI study in athletes. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2018 Feb;28(2):677-685.