Wednesday, December 15, 2010

"False" Stepping

Again, I have had some time to catch up on the blog world, and have enjoyed much of the writing Mladen Jovanovic, a performance coach from Belgrade, Serbia at his site, Complementary Training. One of his recent posts discusses the 'false step' or as some call it the "plyo step". He does a good job of presenting the movement here; Is taking a false step a bad idea?

As Mladen said, context is exactly right. If it's speed, then whatever it takes to effectively position the body to apply the optimal forces. If it's technical, then we have to be smarter about taking away an instinctive movement, and coach what is necessary to ready the body for the next necessary position; not just control something because we, as coaches, like to have control.

Loosely related, but more closer than one might think, the startle response/reflex/flinch (whatever one wants to call it) gives some insight into what happens when in a split second we need to make a response to do something as fast as possible. NOT false stepping, in a speed dependent context, is going to be a conscious decision thus slowing the decision and movement process; in terms of neurological processes, there is a great lag time between an unconscious decision to a conscious one (even to the point of recent research questioning the idea of what we know as 'free will'). A false/plyo step essentially is an unconscious process which enhances speed of every aspect of the movement.

This is a good video on some aspects of the startle reflex from Tony Blauer, of Blauer Tactical Systems, a specialist in close quarter tactics and different scenario-based training for law enforcement, military and self-defense instructors. Obviously this is regarding close quarters combat, but what would be a startle response of a human running from or towards an emergency? Sometimes it's important to allow instinctive responses to do their magic and to not tinker with something that has worked for a very long time. Use the instincts to enhance performance.

A moral to the story is that it's not necessary to control everything an athlete does; we're not working with robots and the body has some seriously effective wisdom inside when allowed to do its thing.


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Warming up

A potential way to improve post workout recovery is to have a good, precise pre-workout warm-up. If you think about the mechanisms to a joint injury or muscle strain, the tissues may be violated beyond their current working capacity either by a coordination problem, excessive strain of tissues that are not adequately warm, or possibly because of fatigue. Obviously an "injury" isn't an all or none component, but occurs on grades of damage; some damage can be good, too much can be bad, but regardless, stress will be incurred; it's just how much? A better warm-up might mean less stress/strain on the tissues than an poor warm-up.

Important considerations that must take place in the warm-up:

1. Increase of body temp. What's the gauge? I have no idea. I err on the side of sweat 'beads' on the forehead and sweat showing through on the athletes shirts.

2. Increasing specificity; specificity in terms of movement, neurological recruitment specific to loads and speeds to be used. We progress from general, starting with the easiest on the body (depending on some of the factors I will list out in a minute here), and moving to more specific. There has got to be specific movements, loads, and speeds geared towards to the highest intensity activity for the day, or injury at some point will be inevitable. The 5th or 6th rep of some sprint work should hopefully not be the pinnacle of motor recruitment for that day... if an athlete makes it that far without the sniper getting him or her; what about reps 1, 2, or 3? Do not waste reps continuing to warm-up. (you could use testing measures to mark peaks or falls in performance which can help guide training... another topic for another time)

I look at it as a pyramid; a slow ascend to allow time for the heating to move to the peripheral (helping with many things from oxygen's "stickiness to hemoglobin and nerve conduction velocity), potentiating motor unit recruitment, increasing extensibility of all tissues (maybe the wondrous fascial system won't be screaming for a foam roller or real soft tissue therapy from real hands as much; I am not saying soft tissue work is not useful or necessary from time to time, but being smart helps to not have to back track so much), time for capillaries to dilate and increase in enzyme activity among many other things.

3. Time; minus any adrenaline "bomb", the above processes take time and just "jamming" the transmission into overdrive can really take it's toll. It can be like an overuse injury, it may not show up tomorrow or even next month, but over the years the body will take a beating. Warm-ups do not and should not be marathons and take away precious time from the rest of training, but accuracy to do the right/necessary things is critical and one of the necessary things is time. Patience will pay off.

4. Utilize the warm-up with movements that can teach or enhance the learning of that days work; slower, less intense versions of the subsequent work hits on specificity and the rest time to wait for the physiological processes to take effect is a good time to teach lessons on anything that will help with training, today and throughout their career.

Recovery is just as much about the training and how one warm-ups has subtle effects that may make an athlete 'age' much faster. I know cryogenics can theoretically prolong life, but in terms of movement, being cold can strain body structures much more.

The coaching details I observe are breathing rates (I stand close enough to the athletes to hear their breathing); the first few faster drills/movements will require a little more time as the enzyme activity increases, capillaries dilate and the disassociation of oxygen slowly improves, being cognizant of mental states/mood (how is the athlete behaving today vs. other days; subtle body language/facial cues/reactions to you and others/etc.), what day of the week it is (athletes tend to get slight energy boosts towards the end of the week... *sometimes not though, and this could be a real potential indicator for some serious changes that need to be made), time of the day as circadian rhythms will effect hormones, body temp and other physiological processes, time of the year which can greatly effect the circadian rhythms with the upper latitudes experiencing greater diversity such as that here in Grand Forks, North Dakota; think about what it's like to warm-up at 6 am when body temp is usually near its lowest and the wind chill is -30 degrees F; and in the spring when temperatures drastically change warm-ups may be shortened to save from sapping energy the goals of each workout. But as the summer progresses, a heat acclimated body's cooling efficiency necessitates probably re-extension of warm-up volume. Other aspects such as individual personalities, times within the training season and on the school calender, and even motivation from team success factors can play a larger role than most might think.

Now these probably seem like a lot, and I don't have a 100 different warm-ups for every scenario, but I do make sure to tweak here and there with a few additional movements or added time to make sure that we are warm in the both physical and mental sense; or for some individuals, scrap parts of the training for the day. I am working on getting more objective measures for this type of stuff, but I still feel pretty confident with evolution's unlikely and amazing eye and ear. Hey... and developing a real strong relationship with the athletes helps quite a bit too; mom and dad can usually tell when something 'isn't quite right' with their son or daughter. That part of the collegiate environment is great because of the time to spend with the athletes, and any chance you get to spend time with them outside of the usual training and sport environment is time well spend, so long as it's genuinely getting to know each person better.

All of this falls under the umbrella of really trying to be aware of the setting and time given for training. Sequencing exercises within a workout, sequencing workouts to allow for precise recovery and so not to overload specific movements and systems to a point of slow or no return, understanding the "psychological stress" that different days of the week may present and there time within the year play a role covers a lot of ground to ensure both sides of the training/recovery street are kept moving as best as possible. Damage control is much easier when there is less damage to control.

This might be an elementary post on warming-up as there are so many factors to consider and reasons for certain warm-up routines and drills; even different perspectives on what to do and justifications for when and why that could be right in the certain contexts, but the bottom line here is maybe diligent warming-up can really save on the body acutely and long term... "easy on the transmission big fella".


Friday, December 10, 2010

Some thoughts

Just a few thoughts to wrap up this week. I hope to have a chance to get a few more blog posts down in the coming weeks as we head into the semester break. It's been a great fall but I, like the athletes, are looking forward to the holiday break; it will be a good chance to reflect on the fall semester, what went well and not so well, get some further reading in, work on some changes, and most importantly spend time with family.

-We often complain about athletes not "stepping up their game" in either training or sport performance, but are we as coaches "stepping up our game". It's always easy for me to point the finger but more times than not, I need to be pointing the finger at myself. Am I taking action to improve, or am I just talking about it? Do it... or at the least do something and learn from it.

-I once got an email from a colleague with a story about a teacher who was teaching a math class with mixed students of 'advanced' and the 'less advanced' students. The teacher did not know that the students were of different levels, he thought they were all advanced students. By the end of the year, all his students were receiving high grades. Because of the teachers expectations and standards, every student rose to the challenge and in a sense became 'advanced' students in the subject. Storyline: High expectations, standards, and belief in your students, athletes, people leads to positive outcomes.

-Praise your athletes once in a while on the quality of work and effort they are doing; it goes a long way towards developing the necessary habits and skills to continue to put forth. Athletes don't need to be told how great they are, but they need to know that you are aware of the amount of work, effort, and time they are putting in. Even for the athletes that don't "get it" and fall into the catagory of "I could do without working with so and so", find something positive in what they do and make a point of it; hopefully it will lead into improvements in other areas. Fighting fire with fire usually leads to more fire.

-If I treat athletes in a mature way, the athletes respond in a mature way. I put this quote on twitter a few weeks ago; "Mature athletes require mature parents." -manager of the Danish National 49er Sailing Team. Growing-up about how we lead goes a long way; lead by example.

-My search is often for the smallest change to have the greatest effect; I am looking for minor tweaks that can ripple through an entire program of work... unless of course the whole program sucks and needs to be overhauled; sometimes tough decisions need to be made. My hope is that I am aware enough to know the difference or that am able to objectively enough see what's necessary.

-National Corrupt Athletic Associaton.


Thursday, December 9, 2010

For Any Sport Coach

An important read from Kelvin Giles and Vern Gambetta; this goes beyond just soccer as the concepts can apply to all sports.

Soccer Small Sided Games – The problem, not the solution!


Monday, November 29, 2010

A great read; the power of culture

It's been a busy semester and I have not had as much time as I would like lately to read, but I did get a chance to take a look at this excellent paper looking at the ecological components of the IFK Vaxjo track and field club in Sweden:

Successful talent development in track and field: considering the role of environment.

Henriksen K, Stambulova N, Roessler KK.

Institute of Sport Science and Clinical Biomechanics, University of Southern Denmark, Odense, Denmark.

Track and field includes a number of high-intensity disciplines with many demanding practices and represents a motivational challenge for talented athletes aiming to make a successful transition to the senior elite level. Based on a holistic ecological approach, this study presents an analysis of a particular athletic talent development environment, the IFK Växjö track and field club, and examines key factors behind its successful history of creating top-level athletes. The research takes the form of a case study. Data were collected from multiple perspectives (in-depth interviews with administrators, coaches and athletes), from multiple situations (observation of training, competitions and meetings) and from the analysis of documents. The environment was characterized by a high degree of cohesion, by the organization of athletes and coaches into groups and teams, and by the important role given to elite athletes. A strong organizational culture, characterized by values of open co-operation, by a focus on performance process and by a whole-person approach, provided an important basis for the environment's success. The holistic ecological approach encourages practitioners to broaden their focus beyond the individual in their efforts to help talented junior athletes make a successful transition to the elite senior level.

Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2010 Oct;20 Suppl 2:122-32.

A few quotes from the paper that stood out to me:

-A prospect athlete commented on training with elite athletes:
"I believe they remind us that it is possible to become best in the world when training in this club. We train besides them and see that they also get tired, but manage to stay focused. Sometimes they invite other world class athletes, and we see how they interact and benefit from training together."

-"I was called up by an American coach who asked me about some training issues in heptathlon. I told him it was difficult to describe over the phone, but I could just send him Carolina’s last seven years training plans. He was stunned and said: ‘‘You are crazy, man. You should make a fortune on those plans’’. I told him it was just training, not secrets, just a lot of papers with numbers on them. What counts is what you make of it, how you make the athlete train with focus and intensity. He did not understand."

-Ten years ago we rejected co-operation with a set of parents. They were very skilled coaches, but they wanted to turn a group of 13-year-old kids, including their own children, into an elite group. We told them: ‘‘You are more than welcome here, but in this club we will not break up a prospect group to create an elite group. If you want to do so, find another club’’. They did. Three years later, all of their three sons, who were very skilled athletes, had left the sport. I talked to one of them later and he told me the experience just wasn’t any fun.

-The athletes must learn to be responsible, which requires foremost knowledge of oneself. If they miss training, it is up to them to catch up and show me what they have been training on their own. Every day we work with their personal development finding a balance between helping and not helping too much.

... and an important, uncommon, look at some of the discipline characteristics of their athletes, (an approach many of our athletes might find useful to adopt)...

-The prospects mention partying as a major part of youth culture among their non-sport peers that fits poorly with life as an ambitious athlete. The athletes appreciate their Saturday morning training session, which gives them an excuse to leave early on a Friday night and several athletes have at some point deselected friends, who were unwilling to accept their athlete life style. A coach commented on the high expectations placed on youth in Sweden: “The young athletes, particularly girls, are expected to do well in sports and school, to help around the house and even to look pretty and dress right. These are tough demands”.

... and one more; a great point on attitude...

-Another resource worth mentioning is the attitude of coaches and managers involved in the different track and field institutions in Växjö, clearly illustrated by the words of an elite coach: "We have managed to build an elite organization with exceptionally many and skilled coaches. In this regard I give a damn about the club. I refuse to see this in a perspective of club, high school, university or whatever. What counts is all track and field in Växjö. We need to disregard who has the main role and simply provide the best possible training for any serious athlete. In total we are 26 coaches involved with elite and very talented athletes. You will not find this anywhere else."

IFK Va¨ xjo track and field club has a special booklet to present their core values of the club to new coaches, parents, athletes and business sponsors. Within the book are a set of 7 assumptions followed by the club:

-“Our blue book represents a mindset. Adopt this frame of mind and you will be able to answer almost any question… We have deliberately compiled a philosophy rather than a manual”

1. Excellence can be reached through cooperation and openness
2. We are a family, in which everybody contributes
3. Group and team organization is a precondition for the development and continued motivation of athletes and coaches
4. Attitude beats class
(explained by an elite coach: “To be crude, I really don‟t give a damn about how good they are. I can work with any athlete as long he or she really wants this”)
5. An athlete is a whole person
6. Successful development is more important than early results
7. The club can always improve

Pretty damn good stuff if you ask me.


Friday, November 12, 2010


One thing I realize more everyday is to not mistake common for normal. Or even common for average, because I am afraid common is usually far below average.

But then again, I guess it is all relative to perspective.


Tuesday, November 2, 2010

"Coaching" assumption

It's important to have good cues for teaching different techniques, but what's always been a real 'eye-opener' for me is asking the athletes to explain what those cues mean. On many occasions a cue I have been telling athletes for a certain lift, drill, or exercise has meant something entirely different to the athlete... or meant nothing at all. I have asked athletes, "do you know what I mean, when I say ______ ?", or better yet, "can you show me what I mean when I say ______?" The responses have often times been 'I don't know' or a blank stare. No wonder they have not improved.

Coaching is more than just telling athletes what to do and barking out a few cues. Interpretation of those cues is critical. Patience with the time it takes to do things right and to coach right is vital to the opportunity for success within any program. I am continually working on this patience and making sure to take the time to utilitize not only words, but even more importantly in ultilizing good demonstration, followed by repetition, then the necessary/optimal feedback, followed by more repetition.

It's easy as a coach to fall into the trap of assumption, but athletes usually don't have near the understanding that you do as a coach. It's important to not overload athletes with too much information all at one time, but to give it in small doses and then be absolutely certain that they know what you mean.

"You haven't taught until they have learned" -John Wooden.


Sunday, October 31, 2010



From the back cover of "Movement" by Gray Cook:
“Exercise and rehabilitation time is valuable—too valuable not to use a system. Gray Cook's Movement uses a systematic approach to exercise and rehabilitation built on the fundamentals of authentic human movement.”
-Peyton Manning, Indianapolis Colts

Who's not educating who?


Thursday, October 21, 2010

Pogo Hops

Within my own personal training I experiment often, playing around with different techniques and movements. On more than one occasion I began a session feeling less than optimal (tightness in the back or hip, a little knee discomfort here or there) and on more than one occasion, I've had amazing improvements in my body's feel from simple pogo hops; hops straight up and down, hops side-to-side, front-to-back, diagonal patterns, etc. I've gain improved range-of-motion in a deep overhead squat, improvement in toe-touch flexibility and just a better feel and energy flowing throughout my body. At times it has felt like complete "fascial unwinding"... whatever that is and whatever it feels like???

This has even extended beyond my personal anecdotal evidence of my self to a few athletes I've worked with.

So what is it with the pogo hops?

The key it seems is the ability stay relaxed like a boxer (think shadow boxing) and "springy" like one of those $.25 super balls, staying on the balls of the feet.

I don't expect it to have magical effects for everyone, maybe no one else (maybe my mind is working autosuggestion on me). Pogo hops might be useful warm-up drill or low-level plyometric. They might work well to teach lower leg stiffness for those that need it. They may "wake-up/activate" certain neuromuscular components. Heck, they might improve digestion. I don't know. Test them. Context and creative application is the important thing.

I am not recommending pogo hops as the next "big thing" or that we all need to go to Africa and learn secrets from the Maasai people; although we might learn a great deal (and more than just big "ups"...). But stepping back even further, I want to make a case against money wasted on expensive "exercise" equipment. In this case, equipment like vibration platforms. What is really going to be gained from a several thousand dollar piece of equipment? To me: it seems such a waste. That money could go towards coaching education or even towards a charity. (Hey?! How about a charity that gets people off their asses?!)

In the case of the pogo hops, I am theorizing (please understand that) that if done right, the athlete learns quick, powerful 'bounce' off the ground which necessitates a powerful synergistic muscular contraction up and down the entire body, and then followed by quick and complete relaxation once airborne, and then the subsequent quick, powerful contraction again upon impact. Again, done right (this is absolutely key) it can have a 'vibration' effect on the body because of the fast, rhythmic contract/relax pulsing. Plus the athlete has the opportunity to actually learn something about athleticism and rhythm (something that is quite absent I've noticed these days), and a little bit of plyometric effects for the lower leg. What does the vibration platform teach?

So again, let me be clear: I am not looking for big things from pogo hops. I don't expect huge verticals, massive cleans and snatches, blazing speed, cuts on dimes or any dominating performances... you need the real and complete training for that.

I am also not looking to start any pogo hopping craze. Like a 'rebounder' hype, except minus the rebounder because that's just more money out of the budget.

All I am really saying is, don't believe the hype. Instead get creative with bodies not machines. Don't waste your money on pricey gimmicks. Sure they may have an effect, but lets use it for the geriatric population or astronauts, not young healthy people. And if you argue you need a specific amplitude and a frequency of 30 Hz, I've got another option I found out while riding my bike this summer; ride over the speed bumps on the side of the highway. Want to increase the frequency? Ride faster.

Just be sure that there isn't much traffic. Sure a bike costs money but the cool thing is that your bike has multiple purposes.

Weird things happen when you move your body (sarcasm).


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Be Strong and Be Real

I apologize ahead of time as I worry this blog often paints a picture of me being a grumpy, 'meathead' strength coach. It's just that writing can be very theraputic for me as James Pennebaker states in his book: "Opening up: the healing power of expressing emotions."

It scares me.

Scared of the frailty I see.

Scared of the lack of strength.

I see it way too often and I work with collegiate athletes, so it must be worse with the general population. It's not just a matter of moving a certain amount of poundage. Maybe it's the ability to handle one's own bodyweight. Do a pull-up? Do a push-up? But even more importanty, apply one's a best effort. Not give-up because it's sooo hard. (insert Big Pun's song here)

It goes far beyond the so-called "physical"... I, as a coach, honestly can't help a person if they don't have the 'strength' to help themselves. It really isn't a matter of the physical strength, because as I've said before, there are no weak people, just weak efforts.

A few of the lines I've heard from my perspective in my world:

"I am worried about dropping the weight on myself."

Really?! You have that little faith or confidence within yourself to be able to save yourself from dropping a weight on yourself. Nine times out of ten the person saying this is lifting a weight that is less than 25 lbs. (I find this to be a real insight into the 'inner' workings of that individual... it's not a matter of an outward, physical display of strength)

"I am scared I am going to break my wrist."

It's your bodyweight... and your feet are not vertical over your body, so it's not even your entire bodyweight. If it is that fragile, maybe a break would do your wrist some good. Word on the street is that broken bones heal to become stronger than before they were broke.

"It hurts my back everytime I do a push-up."

'Okay??? So what are WE going to do about it? Scrap the push-up? And why am I hearing about your back hurting 8 WEEKS into the training? I can only help those that want to get better. Let's fix that so you can do a PUSH-UP without your back hurting. If you expect to perform your sport, yet can't do a pain-free push-up, should you really be playing the sport???'

This isn't really a case of what is going on in what we call the structural components of the body, but more of a vast gap between the thoughts that one has and the outward expression of those thoughts, specifically the conflict between those two. What is it that you really want?! But I am not here to delve into the "deep" ends of the human mind.

These are just 3 of many things I hear at the start of each new school year. And... this is coming from collegiate athletes, who we assume are supposed to have some level of athletic superiority... or at least society would believe it to be so. Obviously there are sports like football in which the culture understands the value of strength (but many times only the 'physical' aspect of strength is understood as the sense of entitlement grows daily) and "most don't want to train like football players", but I digress... So what does this say for the rest of the population?

We are at a crux of physical frailty, and we don't know what is going to happen. The folks who are getting old and dying now, came from a generation where physical labor was still part of the norm. Not so with this generation.

What's being done about it?

What's being taught in PHYSICAL education classes? Are standards in physicality too "mean" to hold the kids too? Is it going to hurt Johnny's feelings too much? Are we being honest with ourselves and those we teach? Why is it so much different in other school subjects?

What are parents doing? I think young children are inherently 'strong', let's just not enable them to grow weak. Are we enabling this weakness to infect every part of our being? Because, I'll say again, strength isn't just about lifting a certain amount of weight. It is the STRENGTH to give it one's best effort. To not give-up in the face of a little adversity. We create such a dichotomy between the mind and the body, but are they really something seperate? Like I said, those that are in society that are DOING things or have DONE things, grew up in an era where a little sweat every day was the norm. They developed, if you will, both the so-called mental and physical strength. What are we developing today, or tomorrow; or what did we do yesterday? What did we do yesterday?!

* I think much of this goes back on culture and the praise of outcomes. Sports are a perfect example in which 10-15 years ago, it was a rarity to a high school game on TV. Now we are lucky to be able to flip through the channels and not see one. As a young high school athlete I had a dream of being on ESPN. Not so now. It's only worth it to do if it's on the "big time" or if you are the best. No time or patience for the process of everything. If I am not good immediately, why bother with consistent effort to improve. As I often tell the athletes I work with (mocking myself driving in my car, pulling up to the McDonald's drive-thru window), "I'll have an order of strength, power, speed, agility, and why not super-size that with some conditioning."

Check out Carol Dweck's research. Lot's of application for teaching/coaching.

I spend an inordinate amount of time each fall, sometimes well into the spring semester, trying to convince/motivate/inspire that applying a little effort goes a long way in a lot of things... and it takes time; both to change mindsets and for the improved effort to take effect and become better. It's not quite as easy as just applying a program/plan to the athletes and expecting greatness.

Improving something is very simple, it comes down to intent. If you have a real, honest intention to get better at something, it will happen; maybe not today, or tomorrow, but someday. The only real limiting factor is time, but if we plan well, there is usually more than enough time.

The question that needs to be asked is, "Are we being honest?" Honest with those we teach or guide? Honest, again, with ourselves? Should I lie and tell you you are something you're not? Say something is easy and happens fast? If it is easy and comes quick, great! But don't expect it.

And one side note/thought: I am not going to 'sugar' this... if you are in a sport that has some component of power and you can't squat (and I am talking the one and only way to squat: right) over 315lbs. for a male and 185 lbs. for a female, well, that may be a problem (and I would say those are generously low numbers). Now I don't know if those are magic numbers and if they hold in all cases, but let's get serious and understand the real necessities here.

We live in a culture that has the highest of the high in a lot of things, but that also means we will have the lowest of the low in many other things. Let's not let our health, let alone our strength bring it all down.

I guess this rant became more than just about strength.

Stronger, quite simply, is better than weaker.


Friday, October 15, 2010


Thought I would blog today since I have a little time and have been very slacking in my blogging. Absolutely nothing "cool" to write about lately. No secrets or gimmicks, just boring old (actually quite the opposite, I really enjoy it) training and coaching...

1. We're working on perfecting the Olympic lifts to take advantage of the potential power benefits associated. Quality pulling and catching. Making sure it starts right and ends right.

2. Getting athletes to continually progress towards heavier and heavier loads in overhead, front, and back squats. Teaching the importance of a controlled descend/eccentric and an extremely powerful and fast ascend/concentric. Focus on lots of lateral heel pressure throughout, knee alighment and hip drive, great depth with great spine posture. There's only one way to squat: right.

3. Utilizing some real posterior chain movements; deadlifts with an RDL pattern for returning the bar to the ground. RDL's of course. 'Old-school' straight-leg hip extensions off the glute-ham with again controlled eccentric with an explosive concentric movement, making sure athletes are moving precisely at the hips. Eccentric glute-hams (3-4 second), used at the end of the week to allow for the longest recovery before the next microcycle of training. Heavy kettlebell swings done with minimal knee flexion and focus on powerful hip drive/snap.

4. Weighted chin-ups, pull-ups (all variations), and push-ups. Again, controlled eccentric with a powerful concentric. Spine posture is paramount in the push-ups with maintaining a subtle, slight posterior tilt of the pelvis to keep the anterior torso 'engaged', good hand positioning (under the shoulders, touching the chest to the ground with full 'extension' at the top. Head position stays in 'neutral' throughout. For the chin-ups: NO 'air' bicycles. legs motionless, full 'extension' at the bottom, chest to the bar... EVERY rep. Last rep is always finished with a very focused and controlled eccentric.

5. Balanced dose of single-leg work. Lunging of many sorts, but mostly reverse lunging. Back-loaded, front-loaded, overhead barbell lunging. Maintain as vertical spine throughout all forms of lunging so as to keep the glutes "interested" in helping with the movement. Making sure the lunging is hip led and not knee led. Same as usual: controlled eccentric (big step), and fast, powerful concentric. Making sure our trail-leg knee "kisses" the floor on every rep (even if the front foot is elevated). I tell the athletes that the trail leg is only for balance; 90% of the load needs to be on the lateral aspect of the front heel.

6. Sprinting. We sprint a lot. Maintain proper eye gaze on the acceleration aspect, proper head/neck position (in line with the spine). Powerful arm action; front to back motion. Correct foot interaction with the ground, staying on the forefoot, making sure the foot strike is under the hip at top speed. Keeping nice, tall, relaxed posture throughout. Making sure we are actually running fast when we do run (times).

7. Agility. Change of direction, similar foot interactions with the ground. Teaching athletic positioning using the hips for power. Soft, but violent feet. Get the toes and hips pointed where you want to go.

8. Developing the ability of the athletes to jump well, high and far and to land those jumps with cat-like precision and ability to be able to "live" to jump and play another day. "Catching the ground".

9. Conditioning. Whether it be running of different sorts or circuits. Getting athletes the necessary work capacity to handle not only the demands of their sport but the practices that the different sport coaches run.

9. Really, much of my job, especially the younger athletes, is teaching them how to train. How to approach each set, rep, drill; focused, quality effort. Technique. How to lift weights with purpose. How to "own" the loads being used. How to spot their teammates. How to get strong, how to conditioning, how to run fast, how to jump high, how to control movements, how to do everything we do in training.

Why we do the things we do. Teaching the "science" of training. Basic stuff, but necessary for the athlete. Teaching them how to recruit more motor units, what targets fast-twitch fibers, what targets what energy systems. This helps create a "sense of purpose" with what we are doing.

Education on lifestyle skills. Why and how these can effect their performance in not only athletics, but school and life. Developing the relationships to get athletes to comply to these lifestyle skills and to be able to honestly discuss their "downfalls".

Attitude. The attitude it takes to get strong, fast, explosive, quick, etc.

Commitment and discipline. Committing to being great at a few things and not average at many. Having the discipline to do the things necessary to maintain that commitment. Right now, for many of the athletes I coach, it's sleep and limiting and/or eliminating the negative nutritional intakes (processed food and alcohol).

As the coach it's important for me to stress these things EVERY day, not just once in a while. Learning is on-going and repetition is so very important. And more importantly, it's necessary for me to do my best to demonstrate the things I am trying to teach. It's easy to talk the talk, but walking the walk is the way to teach the lessons. It seems we live in a culture of ever-increasing talk, and less and less walking. Words are great, but action gets it done. Simple, but not easy. Easy sucks.

Well, this post turned into something longer than I was planning to spend time on. What this whole training thing comes down to though, is that it's a process. The process doesn't happen over night, or even months and sometimes in 1 year; it takes years. I try to get the athletes to "buy-in" to this process and find the enjoyment in it. It's about continual striving for perfection. Perfection is impossible, but having that ideal gets one heading in the right direction.

... and to honor one of my heroes and mentors, whose birthday was yesterday:

"The journey is better than the inn."

"Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best you are capable of becoming."

-the late Coach John Wooden, who would have turned 100 yesterday.


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Kendrick Farris C & J 211

Not bad (quite amazing actually, the deep squat jerk is impressive)... maybe America does have hope in weightlifting. A nice change from his odd half-squat, half-split jerk.


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Rockstar (and then hungover) athletes

So here's how it goes:

I am a collegiate athlete all of 22 years of age. A senior on my team. A "team leader". I train excruciatingly hard 4-5 days per week, nearly year round. On the weekends, I hit the bars and parties until sometimes 2-3, maybe even up til 4 or 5, in the morning. I usually eat a large pizza when I get home to slave off the next days hangover, or I just pass-out (sometimes not even in my own bed) and wake-up the next day around 11 or 12 pm. If I'm lucky and it's only Saturday, I'll get a bite to eat, maybe take another nap in the afternoon and then awake to start the partying and same routine all over again. From here I'll use Sunday to lay in bed all day long (head throbbing), maybe do some homework if my brain can handle any thinking at this point, but mainly just try to recover enough so that Monday can start the next week of hard physical training.

This is common. Common among many college athletes. Don't believe me? Please wake-up.

Maybe it is just me... but it sure seems as though alcohol use is rising and is becoming more and more the norm within athletic environments. It seems as though coaches expect it, are ok with it, and hell, maybe even promote it (not even aware they are doing so).

Alcohol seems to be the white elephant no one wants to deal. Maybe because it's so sacred to everyone. No one is up in arms about smoking bans, but an alcohol ban... well we already know what happens with a ban of alcohol. But does alcohol and athletics have a place together? Where do we draw the line between being "rockstars" and athletes? This day and age it seems we don't. The culture is about being "cool", not necessarily good... or at least good for a long time. Everyone can usually get a taste of success (it's not beer), but it's the great ones that sustain it. Maybe being a "one-hit wonder" is all anyone wants anyway; maybe it's too much work for anything more.

Let me be clear, I am not entirely against having a beer or two (I'll drink, in moderation, once in a great while) every now or then (alcohol has been shown to have some health benefits), but most of these athletes aren't having just a beer or two... many are completely "wrecked" after one of their all-night benders, let alone doing it 2 nights out of the week. I know many athletes are hitting it hard both Friday and Saturday in the off-season training... I mean really?! What happened to the athletes who cut the drinking because 'they are in training'? Yes it is the culture, but does it have to be? It seems that it has become more and more acceptable, and the only other activity to do outside of sports and school. Kids must not know how to comfortably hang-out or pick-up ladies (or ladies meeting guys) without a little self-esteem "boost" from drinking. Obviously all this is a reflection of much bigger issues in our country, but I'll digress here.

*A disclaimer... I have experienced the wild nights and the next days hangover. It wasn't a common occurance for me, but I've been there and done that. I've learned and no longer advocate it. Just because one makes mistakes, doesn't make one a hypocrite for trying to help others from doing the same.

I sit and 'fight' in my head daily, 'should I include this exercise in the program? Should I periodize it this way? Should they be eating this? Having these supplements?' Yet the drinking that many do, just totally annihilates them on some of the most important recovery days of the week.

How about foam rolling? Massage? Ice baths? Any recovery method for that matter? How about just not drinking for one weekend? Let alone a season and/or off-season.

It's not even just the act of drinking that effects things. Heavy drinking is usually accompanied by late nights with little sleep or horrible sleep, ordering a pizza late to hopefully keep away the hangover (junk diet), and it could be considered a gateway drug. Sure alcohol is legal (if your 21), but so is candy, and staying up all night, and living a sedentary lifestyle.

Being in the line of improving sports performance, I am again amused at the level of detail that we go into on things that I think may not do a damn thing, yet we barely get the basics right, let alone even 'touching' the alcohol issue. We'll harp on nutrition, getting good sleep, but alcohol? Forget it. Are we as coaches, sport and performance, even promoting it? Or stating that it's acceptable, by are words or actions?

We all want better and better performance. We all think we have new and great ideas on training. Yet many of us struggle to get our athletes to do the basics well; and to limit or stop the use of alcohol is one that is too sacred for anyone to even touch on. Maybe it's something we can't live without? But think about it... I know of many athletes who 'get their drink on' 2 nights a week. This is nearly 30% of their year. About 100 days of 365 in a year. Holy shit... think what an athlete could do with 100 extra days of something positive happening per year!

And to add, much of this complaint could be thrown back on parents, as it seems that included in the weekly grocery list is to make sure there is enough alcohol for the entire family.

I guess just half a commitment and mediocrity is what we'll take and accept. Or is it? Is having a different philosophy and rules on alcohol not possible?

These are just thoughts I wanted to put out there; things I think about when trying to decide if I should be discussing nutrient timing, working on breathing techniques, theraputic/corrective exercise, stabilizing the dynamic neuromuscular system, wondering if the athletes need the first 30 progressions before they can scratch their ear, and so on... (c'mon fellas, please have a little humor here. I have used, still do, and maybe will use anyone of these things in the future, just not for 95% of the training)


Thursday, September 2, 2010

Physical Education/Cultural Standards

We had a good, slightly heated, discussion yesterday in the class I teach, "Fundamentals of Physical Conditioning" and here are some of the questions I posed:

Should an individual be able to perform 10 pull-ups (chest to the bar, all the way to a dead hang, no bicycle legs or swimming stroke kicks) in order to be able to graduate high school?

Be able to run a mile in under 7 minutes?

Attain a specific average in the 300 yard shuttle test (2 trials with 2 minutes recovery between reps)?

Demonstrate 30 push-ups with precision technique?

Maintain a high level proficiency in a scored movement assessment of running, jumping, climbing, and lifting techniques?

The list could be pretty extensive, but you get the idea.

My argument is that somebody has to step-up and (re-) 'up' the standard. Why not school P.E.? Or are we just too soft?!

The other situation I presented was an at home example. The other evening my 4 year old daughter wanted to watch a video after we got done eating dinner (it was a sing and dance along video I'll have you know, so it wasn't a totally passive video). I told her she could if she did 100 push-ups first. She gladly obliged and proceded to perform push-ups. Her technique leaves a little to be desired but she's working on it... she just turned 4.

As she's off in the living room counting "... 19, 20, 21... ", my wife 40% jokingly, 60% not (that's what it was, I tested it with a tone meter) argues,"Don't you think that's child abuse?"

"No." I immediately responded turning back to continue to monitor Eva as she continued doing push-ups after a brief rest.

All this got me thinking a little more, and I've often wondered, 'is something like this, having my daughter do push-ups just for an opportunity to do something, bad?' What's more abusive, paying with push-ups for a privilage or making a kindergartner sit still in a desk for a total of 2-3 hours out of a day... setting the stage for the beginning of the end for many when it comes to an active lifestyle? Or better yet, feeding our kids the school lunches?


Friday, August 6, 2010

Nice run for Tyson Gay

Good to see Tyson Gay get Usain Bolt. Not sure what will come of this, but should spark some good competition for the future. Key will be for Gay to be able to stay healthy for an extended period and continue to build on this.

Maybe something with Stockholm Olympic Stadium that doesn't bode well for Bolt.

We'll see...


Thursday, July 22, 2010

What matters?

I am all for getting down to the details of things in human performance and physiology, but what this often leads me to is just more questions. A couple specifics, the "inner" and "outer" core and breathing:

1. The "inner unit" vs. "outer unit". I know what this is, but my question is how?

-How does a very thorough warm-up change activity in this? How does general athletic movement change this? Can we really tease out the two? Does any of the direct exercises for the two "seperate" units really carry over to game play? Really?!

-How does this change for an athlete who goes from de-conditioned to conditioned with no direct work on "inner unit" exercises?

-How does 'cleaning up' one's diet effect this?

-How does going from 'hating life' (tired, stressed out, relationship problems) to 'loving life' change this?

2. Again, diaphragmatic breathing.

-How does a good warm-up change this? Increase body temp, changing biochemistry, changed perception from getting active, decreased parasympathetic control... how do all these changes effect diaphragmatic breathing?

-Does a few drills done in a therapy room with conscious focus carry over to entirely different activities with faster speeds, and completely different afferent inputs?

-How does this change for an athlete who goes from de-conditioned to conditioned with no conscious focus on breathing mechanics?

-How does 'cleaning up' one's diet effect breathing?

-How does going from "hating life" (tired, stressed out, relationship problems) to "loving life" change breathing mechanics?

-With both these, "inner and outer" unit and the diaphragmatic breathing, how does a day of chores change this? How does a day at the computer change this? It's summer time and I go from changing my daily routine of sitting in class during the day and studying at night (if I was a student) to spending 70-80% of my waking hours physically active; how does this change things?

-Or how about this one? A person 'spills' there thoughts and feelings to a friend about what's been bothering them; you can instantaneously see a change in their breathing.

I know these questions open any and every can of worms, and takes us into realms outside our scopes of practice, but they are things I think about. I am not some psychiatrist who looks for people to lay on my couch and tell me their life... it's just questions I have and wonder if "picking fly shit out of pepper" is a good route to take? Are we barking up the mechanic's tree, when it should be someone else's tree? Should we be looking for different solutions, other than trying to Lego piece things together? Solutions that are more 'broad and sweeping'?

I don't doubt this is knowledge that may be important, or techniques that may have some application, but time, focus, and energy are fleeting; what should and what needs to be done?

Another thought: We might ask, "how is it connected?" with regards to the human body, or everything in life for that matter, but I think a possibly better question is, "HOW IS IT NOT CONNECTED?". What you find is that everything is connected. I say an instruction to my daughter and she cleans up the mess she made... meaning had an effect on matter; or either it's all meaning or it's all matter (but I am leary of absolutes...). It's just comes down to, "to what degree?"



Thursday, July 15, 2010

Why I ride my bike to work

A few reasons why I ride my bike to work, plus some other stuff.

1. It's good for my health. The 8-16 miles I bike in a day is good low-intensity movement (cardio... how I hate that term).

2. It's a great warm-up for a day of coaching. We start training sessions real early and if I'm not "going" in the morning, I'm gonna miss things and the athletes are going to sense my low energy. This could be a blog post in and of itself, but I'm starting to think that coaches should do an equal amount of warming-up as the athletes prior to each workout. The reasons are endless, but enhancing blood flow throughout the body and to the brain are going to sharpen many things. Increasing the release of certain neurotransmitters from movement is going to enhance cognitive function and warm the body temperature to increase nerve conduction velocity; I'm gonna be sharper and bring more "energy" to each session. The athletes are going to sense this energy or lack thereof; we're social animals and emotions flow osmotically from person to person and since emotions are the driver of motivation... well... this is pretty important.

3. It gives me a chance to feel the weather; the air temperature, humidity, cloud cover and wind. These things are going to have an effect on the athletes physiology for the workout and I can make decisions, or prepare adjustments, on the extents of things like the duration of the warm-up, volume and/or intensity of all aspects of training, and get a feel for the outcome of that days training. The environment has a greater effect on us than we often think. Atmospheric pressure can have effects on respiration, and this can have some pretty dramatic effects. This goes as far as the previous weeks/months weather, which can affect things like allergies or asthma. The list of physiological effects are great and things like mental states are not excluded... and sometimes mental states are the biggest factor. So as the bike ride gives me a chance to take in that days weather conditions, I also keep close tabs on the weather year round. I have my dad, a farmer, to thank for this; growing up with lots of talk and lessons of weather. Lots of factors to be considered and the environment ranks real high.

4. Directly related to the environment, I ride my bike to save on it. Sure it's minute, but if you want to change the world, you have to first change yourself. I hold myself responsible to try my best to do my part... which brings me to a current event issue, the Gulf oil spill. We can bitch all we want about the awefulness of this (which it is) and express all our anger toward BP, however, everyone of us is equally responsible. Even though I ride my bike to work, I still use a car, I fly (1-2 times a year) on commercial airlines, mow my lawn, use all the amenities of modern technology, hell, I even use a bike that had to be produced and shipped to me somehow. Now I am not taking sides in this issue, but we need to be aware of the entirety of the situation at hand. It's cultural, political, it's the ideologies that have led to our current situation. Again, it constitutes awareness and choices; like I said, if I want to change the world, I first have to change myself... that means you, me, us.

5. Related to number 4 and saving on the environment, it also saves me a lot of money. But maybe not, as it requires more energy from me, and makes me hungrier which costs more for food, which increases my consumption (which costs me money), which increases production, which increases pollution... and down the rabbit hole we go... hahaha!!!! The ouroboro of life; we need to choose our battles... I'll ride my bike.

(Speaking of saving me money, this is important for me as strength coaches don't make jack... at least for most of us... *ahem* big-time DI coaches. I'm not complaining... but I am. C'mon powers that be, PAY UP! I mean, jeez we're just strength coaches who only spend more time with the athletes than any other coach or athletic trainer, are expected to improve their performance and keep them healthy and injury free, be the first (athletic department personnel) on campus in the morning and the last to leave at night, and have no "off-season"... just to name a few. Like I tell folks, the only major difference between me as a strength coach and those that work for... nevermind.)

6. Riding my bike to work, I can take different routes and get a little off-road and get out into nature. I'm not going to go into much detail regarding the endless positive effects of nature on our health and wellness, but I am going to recommend an important book; "Last Child in the Woods" by Richard Louv.

To take a shot, it's our disconnect from nature that could be argued to be one of the deep roots of all our predicaments. We're animals just like all other animals and you rip an animal out of it's natural environment and you get problems. Zoo animals have many of the same problems we have in our society... so what are we? Zoo animals?

From wikipedia (scientifically "classy" I know):

Captive animals, especially those which are not domesticated, sometimes develop repetitive and purposeless motor behaviors called stereotypical behaviors. Examples of stereotypical behaviours include pacing around or self-grooming. These behaviors are thought to be caused by the animals' abnormal environment. Many who keep animals in captivity, especially in zoos and related institutions and in research institutions, attempt to prevent or decrease stereotypical behavior by introducing novel stimuli, known as environmental enrichment.

Weird. Sounds eerily familiar...

Ok... moving on...

7. Related to nature, riding my bike I get additional exposure to the sun. This can be tied into a lot of things health, not just vitamin D (which is important). Getting in the sun can go a long ways towards mental health and resetting circadian rhythms. Depression is an ever-growing issue and sun helps. Sleep disorders are another problem. Having trouble falling a sleep at night? Having odd sleeping patterns? Increased sunlight helps re-adjust or keep functioning naturally the suprachiasmatic nuclei (small region in the brain above the optic chiasm, optic=think eye) which controls circadian rhythms, the neuronal and hormonal activities that roll with a roughly 24-hour cycle. Lack of sunlight can throw these rhythms entirely out of whack. Trying getting more sunlight and see what happens.

8. Lastly, but in no way the least, by biking, I get the opportunity to say hi to folks. Maybe this helps towards enhancing community.

From my empirical experience (n=1), riding my bike is a good thing.


Friday, July 2, 2010

A couple thoughts and a REAL issue

1. Where's the recovery? Training sessions and options that coaches are advising are getting interesting. Now I am all for maximizing time in a workout, but it seems like the lego approach is getting crazy. Jumping from a work set of squats to some ankle mobility, to some activation, to some upper body exercise, all the while trying to focus on better breathing. Too many things to think about. I don't know if there is enough cognitive real estate for an athlete to be able to multi-task that much... where is the recovery between sets. How much can you cram into a training session, while still becoming amazingly good at a few things... recovery (as in standing around doing nothing) can be a good thing and isn't always time wasted (it's also a good time to coach as I'll discuss in the next point). Sometimes to get strong and powerful requires time to regroup and focus on the next set.

2. An athlete's perspective. Coach Sean Skahan had a good post similar to this idea a while back; "Lead By Example". To build on what Sean was saying, do coaches know what it's like to be in the athletes position not only from the physical work being done, but also having a coach calling out cues and corrections in a non-stop, relentless manner? I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to have the roles reversed a number of years ago, when I partook in a workout with a good friend who I had been training. He started calling me out with the same cues and corrections I had used with him, and I realized how damn annoying I had been. I wanted to say "shut the f***-up!" From this point forward I worked to say what needed to be said and then shut the hell up. Coach, but also let the athlete work and move; often they are trying to make the motor connections, it's just that sometimes these things need practice and time, not a nagging parent. (Sorry about the photo ladies. I do love you, but this photo is just too funny)
3. I'm all for science but when it becomes the only way to see the world we get problems. Science has given us another perspective, but that's what it is... just another perspective. The problems arise from folks having their heads shoved way too far up their microscopes ass; having a narrow scientific view of things. This is unfortunately too often the case as in a recent Newsweek issue covering "The Science of Healthy Living". Thankfully we have people like Frank Forencich shedding some hopeful light on a very dark and sorry subject in our culture; "Where's my habitat?" But even Frank and many others can take their message into the scientific realm and do battle, as science is starting to add real evidence to what, for many, at one time seemed irrational views of the world. Many still deny the evidence... to quote Frank in his rebuttal to Newsweek:

"This is not some sort of mystical, hippie-quantum physiology. This is a real cause-and-effect process that is backed up by hard-ass, evidence-based research. Mind, body, land and health are intimately connected. You can pretend that mind is separate from body or that body is separate from habitat, but if you do, you’ll perpetuate a dangerous falsehood that is profoundly health-negative."
What we have is a REAL problem in our society, particularly with our culture. I often get caught-up in addressing and debating training issues as they relate to athletes (being a strength and conditioning coach), but the more relevant problem is the collective health of Americans. With the Fourth of July only a few days away, why not celebrate this holiday weekend enjoying family and friends, real food, nature, and lots of movement. At the very least, instead of getting in your own personal workout, skip it and take a friend or your family outside for some movement. A simple walk would even suffice... we'll all be better off for it.


Thursday, July 1, 2010


This is one of the more impressive things I've seen lately. This obviously displays her posterior chain strength, and equally impressive coordination around the hips and torso; able to maintain a relatively stable hip and pelvic position throughout. What one can assess from this is some tremendous capacities around her center of gravity, which is a commonality of great athletes. But the real key is to be able to take this kind of strength and have the body control to use it well on one's feet.

Now whether this specific strength translates directly to performance (bobsledding in this case) is questionable, but coupling this ability with Emily Azevedo's athletic background, makes her a pretty legit athlete. The video is just a brief glimpse of the abilities of an elite athlete as the glute-ham raise is not always indicative of many things... but it is a glimpse of some capacities, especially when the glute-ham raise is done off the floor in this manner... my first response was WOW.

A few quotes from an article on Emily:

“At first I was a little surprised. I know nothing about bobsledding,” Edson said. “However, when I saw her perform, it appears to be an event that is made for her— requiring strength, quickness, some size, good balance and kinesthetic awareness. Those requirements are true for both hurdling and bobsledding.”

The translation into bobsledding success was relatively easy for Azevedo.

“Being a hurdler and a gymnast, you learn a lot about body awareness and biomechanics,” she said, “and especially being a gymnast from a young age, you learn about all of that. That carried into hurdling. I’ve learned how to make adjustments – it’s easier for me to compute what needs to be done.”

In bobsledding: “There is a lot of technique involved— not just sprinting with the sled. It’s pushing 500 pounds successfully and fast… and knowing how to make adjustments and fix things technically.

“Hurdling is a technical event – I loved it. It’s not just sprinting and running. Running is not as exciting as hurdling. It’s the same kind of thing in bobsledding. Loading into the sled – throwing your body in – it takes practice.”

An important take away here though is Emily's heavy background in gymnastics, which she competed in up until age 16, and her track ability. She, at one time, held the 100 meter hurdle record at the University of California Davis. What makes her truly legit is the fact that she can run. So many coaches and athletes like to highlight weightroom feats, but my question is: can they run? The ability to run is fundamental, but to do it fast and well is important. In most sports, big numbers doesn't matter if one can't run well. Let's see both, strength and speed, with great coordination as Emily has.


Hat tip to Josh Leeger for directing me to the video and to Jason Ross for posting it.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Physical Education 101

Reflecting back on some of the important experiences I've had that has made an impact on my coaching, outside of having learned from working with and training under some great coaches, my undergraduate degree in physical education has had an enormous influence on my coaching skills especially with regards to team settings. It's unfortunate that physical education degrees often get a bad rap, where many just think it's roll-out the ball and let them play (which can actually be a good thing). Or Mr. Woodcock style (although I do like his style),

Mr. Woodcock: "Are you going to be a loser?"

Young Farley: [wincing while doing pullup] "No sir..."

Mr. Woodcock: "Rhetorical Farley. I already know the answer. You are a disgrace to fat, gelatinous, out of shape little kids the world over."

However the teaching skills I gained from an excellent P.E. program have been my most used in all the application. In the program we not only had the usual classroom lecture and discussions, but were fortunate to have the opportunity to apply P.E. lessons to classes at a small local private elementary school, who unfortunately did not have a full-time P.E. instructor. This gave us the chance to teach an entire semester of classes ranging from sport education, skill development, and dance.

No real particular order, but ones that stood out and have influenced me:

1. Body orientation. As a teacher it's important to position yourself to be able to see the entire class from where you stand. Having the ability to roam about the environment helping individuals, while with a quick glance, being able to assess the activity of the entire group. This means that even if a student comes up to you with a question or you are giving individual feedback, you still have your eyes and ears facing the entire group. Regardless it is a matter of repositioning yourself or the student, always have your eyes and ears towards the class.

Always be able to see and hear as much as possible.

2. Keep them active. Everytime we taught, our college instructor and one other fellow student would record instruction time and activity time. At the end of the day of teaching, we would tally up the number of minutes giving instruction in which the students sat or stood listening and the minutes the students were engaged in physical activity. Our goal was to have the students active for something like 75% of the time or more where students were moving. Having minimal instruction time, with maximal activity time, maintaining that the lesson was being comprehended. This forced instruction to be precise and concise.

Time is a huge limiting factor, maximize it. But please... don't just do stuff to do stuff... because energy can be just as limiting as time.

3. Specific feedback and correction. We were also recorded for the amount of feedback we gave and the type (along with being video taped). It was okay to give general feedback such as "good job!", or "nice work" but at a minimum. as our professor was really looking for was specific feedback. Whether it was evaluative or corrective, it needed to be specific; "Push the ground away from you", "bring your elbow towards the sky" (corrective); "you're doing a nice job of extending your elbow", or "good step on that throw" (evaluative). One of the main things I remember being emphasized was catching them while they are doing something good, using positive specific feedback (not raving praise, just 'neutral' compliment), while being vocal enough for the rest of the class to hear. If they heard how Johnny was doing a particular thing well, everyone paid attention and tried to be like Johnny doing that same thing he was doing.

Give specific, accurate feedback. Make it positive but don't 'drool' over something or someone.

3 1/2. Along with the specific feedback, another important ability is to be able to adjust back and forth between local and global feedback. Giving instruction/feedback to an individual in close proximity while quickly giving instruction/feedback to an individual at a distance away from you the teacher, and then quickly getting back to the individual closest to you again; easier understood seen done than said. This also relates to voice dynamics which I'll comes up in a later point, but having the ability to communicate effectively both near and far over a large group. All this relates back to body orientation and the ability to see and hear the entire group.

Be able to extend your communication over a large group and area.

4. Group feedback. Playing off number 3, group feedback was important because it often covers many issues that much of the entire group has/had. While maintaining good positioning for yourself to see the entire group, you may begin to see an error show up more than once by multiple students. At times it's important to stop the entire group and bring them together to make some specific points. Instead of spinning your head trying to correct each individual, group feedback allows a teacher to correct many students while only giving the feedback one time... basically just teaching efficiency.

Teach efficiently, cover important points with the entire group.

5. Another opportunity with the individual or group feedback is to check comprehension. Instead of simply just 'spoon feeding' the information, asking the student(s) the question(s) regarding a specific movement, drill, or skill requires them to provide their own feedback on the situation at hand. The student(s) providing the feedback (answer) enhances the potential for the point to be learned affectively, drawing on the emotional specificity of it relating to him or herself, making the association (neural connection) stronger. Cold call if everyone stares with blank looks (this will help enhance engagement).

Strengthen comprehesion through questions.

You obviously don't want to go overboard on the group feedback, as the group will lose interest and motivation from excessive stop of everyones' activity. Only use it at a points where it necessary and will have a collective effect, even reinforcing things for the ones doing things correctly. Use your teaching/coaching sense...

6. Teacher enthusiasm, voice dynamics, and nonverbal behavior. Teaching enthusiasm affecting performance and learning goes without saying; a teacher excited about what he/she is teaching tends to care more and work harder to get the lessons across, while making the students feel that what they are doing is worthwhile. Along with enthusiasm comes voice dynamics and the ability to change loudness, pitch/tone, and timing of delivery. Included with the voice dynamics are nonverbal behaviors of the teacher, utilizing hand and body movements when presenting information. Having the uncanny ability to adapt the communication to different learners and situations is the most artistic ability in teaching/coaching. This takes continued practice and experience. This is as important of a skill a teacher/coach can possess and practice, there just isn't any substitute.

Present dynamically.

7. Demonstration. One of the best and most obvious ways to communicate in a physical setting is through the use of demonstration. A demonstration needs to be accurate and when possible it's important to use a student to demonstrate. Using a student to demonstrate, frees up the teacher to direct the students focus to specific aspects of the movement. Another possibility here is the use of media, which again leaves the teacher free to guide attention to particular points about what is being observed. It's vitally important for the teacher to guide the students observations of the demonstrations. The demonstrations need to be repeated multiple times, and it is thereafter, that more traditional verbal communication can be used because now words will have more relevance to students who now understand better what's being discussed. At this point a teacher can stress how and why a particular skill is performed a certain way.

Good demonstration breeds good demonstrators.

8. Cueing. Make cueing simple and precise; short phrases that are consistent and easily remembered (rhymes help a lot). Take the time to explain in greater detail the specific cues early, and from then on use the short, quick, and accurate phrases only when necessary.

Short and simple cues.*

This last one I did not learn in about in my undergrad but I think has some pretty strong effects and is important to think about...

9. Teacher expectancy. This one's important and is a maybe a little less tangible, but the teachers expectation of the students really has a strong impact on achievement. Having belief in your students goes a long way with their success. The teacher is strong in their influence on the culture of the group and building a strong group culture is paramount in creating an achieving environment. An area of expectation that a coach or teacher might be well advised in looking into is the work of psychologist Claude Steele of Stanford University. His "stereotype threat" research is pretty interesting regarding performance and a coach might well invest the time to try to inflict a positive stereotype with his or her athletes within the culture of the team.

Again, this is just a few of the many concepts I gained from my physical education degree. I continue to practice and work on refining these concepts daily, but the fact that I had the opportunity to begin this practice over 10 years ago in my undergraduate education has allowed me to make some of these skills become more unconscious, freeing up conscious 'space' for other information/skills to hone. With that, my honest (albeit biased) suggestion for someone wondering what they should major in if they want to become a sport or performance coach is physical education.

*One of the things I am working on with regards to instruction and feedback is attentional focus. I am trying to come up with cues utilizing more of an external focus vs. internal focus. An obvious example is with a basketball player shooting; attentional focus on the rim and spin on the ball (external) vs. focus on the positioning of the shoulders and extension of the elbow and flexion of the wrist (internal).

Backed on research, external attentional focus wins 'hands down' in improving performance and decreasing muscle activity vs. internal attentional focus, making an athlete more accurate and efficient.

A specific example is, in the past I've struggled with teaching athletes how to bound well, even using good demonstration. Basically I had the athletes use their imagination about crossing a rapid river full of the deadly crocodiles and hungry hippos, and that stones were spaced apart across the river. Their objective: cross as quickly as possible leaping stone to stone avoiding the crocodiles and hippos... magically they bound pretty well. Cheesy I know, and athletes think I'm weird but its been effective. For shorter bounds, stones are closer together; long bounds, they're further apart. Another way to do this with an external focus, would be setting up mini-hurdles or objects at specific spacing to get the effect. The important aspect is to just learn the movement, once this is down the specifics can be adjusted and refined later. Another example of using external attentional focus is teaching tuck jumps and the athletes playing the role of Mario having to jump over barrels coming at them.

Obviously these things can be done with hurdles or other objects, but in large group settings and with minimal time, imagination can work pretty well.


Thursday, June 17, 2010

It's upon us!

The apocalypse is fast approaching...

Hilarious! I think Mister Rogers enjoys this device for other reasons too (1:49 mark).


(Thanks to Erwan Le Corre for pointing this out... on second thought... maybe not... Ignorance is bliss... until shit hits the fan.)

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Be wary of absolutes

(After thinking over the previous title of this post, I realized that "There are NO absolutes" is a paradoxical statement, as "There are NO absolutes" is an absolute.)

Over the past few weeks, I've been experimenting with some trunk flexion exercises; floor sit-up movements (working on quality spinal flexion), some hanging curl-ups. These supposed death sentence movements have played out nicely for me personally. After a solid set of a specific trunk flexion exercise, I've taken a little shoulder pain and erased it from my senses. Along with improving overhead ROM and pressing technique, these trunk flexion exercises have also helped cleaned-up my overhead squat pattern and lunge movements... and I've felt better the last couple weeks than I have in a while. I know simple trunk movements won't directly improve certain athletic measures, but improving the coordination, flexibility, and neuromuscular and fiber strength of my trunk will impact, and has, the real work that does lead to better performance in these measures.

So, what does this mean to the anti-flexion ideology with regards to training the torso? It's not simply one or the other. With that being said, there are many athletes that I work with, that I would no way in hell have perform these movements; while there are some that I have and will.

Will repeated flexion cause some sort of disc/spine damage? Sure, as any REPEATED movement can. It doesn't mean some may not benefit.

The important thing as coaches is the ability to decipher what's necessary. Understanding movement, but be able to look, listen, and ultimately learn from each and every athlete. Each athlete is going to bring a unique difference outside of the usual 2 arms, 2 legs, a torso, head... you get the point. The idiosyncrasies of movement patterns, postures, and mindsets have to be considered. I agree with most coaches that an understanding of some sort of ideal is important, but not all shapes fit into perfectly round holes. Athletes have been adapting since birth and sometimes I think we have to accept there will be differences that we may not be able to change or may take years (structural and connective tissue adaptations). I've seen athletes with foot and ankle structures and motions, for example, that don't match for perfect ROM and scores on a squat or lunge test, yet are some of the best athletes I've seen with no injury. Not saying it won't happen, and maybe they can improve, but I am always questioning what's right. I've also seen athletes with exceptional "weightroom" movements who have chronic muscle pulls and joint issues.

Anyway, trunk flexion movements have been helping me lately. Some will say that scratching a scab feels good too, but doesn't make things better... but I feel pretty confident with what I am doing and I've gotten plenty of reasons/theories as to why this has been beneficial for me and I'd be more than happy to discuss.

Regardless, I just wanted to share these thoughts...


Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Getting Fit or Fit

I've blogged this in the past, but quite simply, conditioning is vital. I am reminded of this daily. It's so much more than just energy systems. Specificity of movements (or non-specific a la "cross training"/variation), velocities, sensory stimuli, nutrition and hydration levels, sleep, and pyschological states.

I am not going to advocate the idea of old school aerobic base (actually I am, just different methods), but I will say a conditioning base. It comes down to being fit and it doesn't just start in the first few weeks (or last few) of the off-season or pre-season; it's year round. There are adaptations that have to take place throughout the body that needs time, just as building strength, speed and power do.

There's nothing magic or secret about it, just that very fit athletes tend to fare better than those that take many minutes to regain their breath (and composure) following a simple warm-up or agility drill... and a de-conditioned athlete, I would argue, is more likely to get hurt than one that is well-tuned.

Can you run/sprint well, change direction over and over, move your body in a multitude of ways with a quick tempo, all while being able to get the heart and breathing rate to fall quickly back into a comfortable zone upon completion?

Everybody lifts hard. Everyone does some plyos. Everyone sprints and does some agility work. Not everyone conditions (year round). It can be specific conditioning sessions or just sequencing and pacing of the movements, lifts, and/or drills one is already doing. Athletes can look very impressive in the weightroom or run fast or jump high on precise performance tests but once the real game starts, is the tank empty after the first few minutes. Speaking of the beginning of a competition, pre-contest anxiety can really compound this, making conditioning, again, very important from an ability to recover from this, but also the familiarity of having actually gasped real hard for air before and the confidence to know we are in shape for the entire duration.

But remember that there's balance that needs to be applied, because while conditioning is critical, it cannot destroy ones ability to develop more speed and power... but being more fit (in the correct domain) should enhance this. And, considering the current state of things, I am not too concerned that many are really conditioning too hard... outside of some endurance athletes. (That seems to be a common thread; endurance athletes need less conditioning, while other intermittent sprint sports need more... )

Survival of the fittest... and not just who falls off the wagon; get fit and stay fit so everyone stays on. It comes down to the most highly trained and physically energetic, and the symbiotic relationship between those two traits.

I've mentioned Walter Payton before; another that comes to mind is Jerry Rice... who was influenced by his then teammate Roger Craig. These guys made Montana's job easy. Ahhh the good old days...


Wednesday, June 2, 2010

"American Idle"

I read "American Idle" by Mary Collins back in February. It's a well written, inspiring, and extremely important book. If we want 'better' in any domain, this is where it starts. I highly recommend you, and everyone you know, check it out... it affects us all.


Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Big(ger) Picture and Insights of Athletes

Carl Valle has a couple excellent posts over at Elitetrack to check out:

Posture Palmatum

More on Posture

Alan DeGennero made some excellent points in his talk at the BSMPG in Boston, and Carl reiterated those and furthered in his post "More on Posture":

"Alan brought up the fact that personality has a correlation between injuries with athletes, perhaps hinting that corrective exercise is not the panacea many think. He saw the relationship between the art of coaching and sports science (namely sports medicine). When I read about posture in a 1940s PE book they mentioned how important creating confidence in young boys to encourage good posture. The book included a picture of a sapling growing, it was very similar to the bonsai tree example I wrote about earlier about addressing posture early in the career and the training season. Athletes need to start off feeling confident in your program and about their abilities to be good, and cocky athletes seem to have great posture in general. So doing 3x12 of a corrective exercise may help, but athletes are 24 hour creatures and need a coach, not just a trainer. I care more about the pelvis but upper back work starts with a complete program that encourages those positions under real load. Back squats, power cleans from the floor, snatches, and restoration work on developing this. It takes years and is hard work, but it's worth it." -Carl Valle

I completely agree and it echoes similar thoughts from my post Emotional Movement Intelligence.

There is so much more to athletic development than what just goes on in a workout. Being a coach requires developing a relationship where open communication can occur, because often times it's the athletes who hold the answer. It's easy to soley evaluate the structure of an athlete and view things from a purely mechanistic perspective which we should as it's part of it, but not all of it, and we aren't dealing with machines...

One thing I added this year to our soccer s&c program was classroom sessions; actually more of a discussion session. We would meet as a team once per week to discuss relevant topics such as nutrition, daily activities and their effects, recovery, physiology concepts to create clearer understanding of what we are trying to accomplish, and/or any current affairs issues that may be affecting us. My thinking was that if I came across information in which I would think 'man, I wish I would have known that when I was competing' then why not give that opportunity for the athletes I work with to have that knowledge and understanding? The athletes asked questions and I provided answers or direction as best I could. I found these opportunities opened more doors to better communication but also increased motivation and intelligence with regards to their personal efforts. What occured though was beyond just education for the athletes, it was education for me; the questions (and even arguments) brought greater depth to what I needed to do or change with my approach. The athletes also provided tremendous feedback to me as to what they liked, disliked, and potentional ideas to improve things. It's something I will continue to use...


Thursday, May 13, 2010

What is it?

A lot is made of assessing athlete’s movement and criticizing what he or she does wrong. There are very often cases where poor movement leads to injury, but there are also cases where there seems to be poor/inefficient movement that leads to excellent performance and very little occurrences of injury. Can we make improvement? Sure. Should we try to make improvement? Most definitely. What amuses me though. is how quick we are to blame or assess the movement when we rarely blame or assess the environment and/or equipment. Specifically, let’s look at running… instead of having one microscope on movement…

What about looking at the terrestrial environment? Running on hard, flat surfaces repeatedly is asking for it.

What about equipment? How would changing footwear or getting rid of shoes all-together change things? We don’t necessarily do to well in the expensive products.

What about an individual’s social environment? Why are they running? Is it enjoyable? Is there a deep psychology reason for wanting/needing to run? Is running a marathon or half marathon just ‘what everybody’s doing’?

What type of personality is an individual bringing to their activity? Emotions are strong in that they have the capacity to change us; how we see the world, our approach to whatever we endeavor, and most definitely how we move.

What came before? What type of lifestyle have they lived? What was/is the long-term adaptation to the specific activity(ies) that they partook.

How about diet? What about all the possibilities with one's nutrition? Different cultures have vastly different diets.

Then there’s the activity itself… Is running, especially long distance running good for you? There’s been research on showing both sides of this one, from the basic idea that cardiovascular/aerobic exercise is excellent for health, to distance running/marathons are bad for your heart; increasing plaque in the coronary arteries. Increased bone density vs. the repetitive stress injuries…

An excellent book that has received a lot of attention is “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall. The book was an excellent story regarding ultra-running, the Tarahumara people of Mexico, shoes, and how humans are ‘built’ for running. My fear though is that most people missed the most important aspect of the book; the Tarahumara people, their culture and environment. What most people took is that we can/should go run long distances and run barefoot or at least with minimal footwear.

What the Tarahumara are not is probably more important than who they are with regards to their astounding health and ability to perform amazing running feats. They do not bring a “Type A” personality to their running (Type A personalities can bring some pretty serious health implications to the table). They don’t attempt to accumulate a specific number of miles each week, following a specific routine. Most of their running is ‘community’ based in their ball game they play while covering long distances. They don’t have a sedentary culture centered on the individual and “advanced” technology. They don’t wear the type of footwear that Western culture grows up with.

… And… this is important… their ecological environment is extremely varied; huge canyons of constantly changing terrain, making their running into an extremely random activity… far different from the monotonous steady-state drudgery that most view as long distance running. This is another case and point regarding the variation principle I alluded to in a previous post. The type of terrain forces changes in speeds and movements, making the Tarahumara’s form of running far different from being a repetitive steady-state activity; variation is necessary for health.

See more of everything to understand what’s really going on.