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.