Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Confirmation Bias?

The following article has been making it's rounds:

Falcons Have Had a Winning Strategy for Fitness

Is this a matter of confirmation bias? A few years ago, FMS was 'tagging' itself to the Indianapolis Colts, and now that the Colts have been the most injured team in recent years, along with a suffering record, the marketing has disappeared.

My question is, how come there has been no discussion as to what's going wrong with the Colts' injury issues? If experts can easliy pronounce why a certain team has few injuries related to their system, then they must just as easily be able to explain when the system doesn't work for other teams. Is the 'looking the other way' just to not hurt marketing? Or other factors?

"Its developer is the physical therapist Gray Cook, who has offered demonstrations at the N.F.L. Combine and estimates that 8 to 10 teams use the methods, which he said departed from the long-held credo of bigger, faster, stronger.

“That’s high-school mentality,” said Cook, who has introduced the F.M.S. regimen to Navy Seals."

Is it really an either/or? FMS or bigger, faster, stronger? Thankfully then that we have high school's to feed the NFL, whose athletes are the biggest, fastest, and strongest in sport.

If this is a "business" and people are paying money for information, products, and certifications, then we need good consumer reports. Any insights would be helpful to me and many others.

AS

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Authentic Restoration

An intriguing area of focus in sport performance is what is going on at the level of the heart and the autonomic nervous system; the balance between sympathetic and parasympathetic control of the heart influincing heart rate variability (HRV). Some of the research points towards low-intensity movement targeting aerobic metabolism as an effective way to increase vagal tone therefore HRV. In the "advanced" world we live in, the first choice seems to be some piece of "cardio" equipment, but I am going to argue (as I have before) something much simpler and potentially more effective; a hike through the forest.
My disdain for these electronic rat wheels runs deep, and I can not figure out why there hasn't been a more holistic push to get athletes (all people included) outside to take care of a little stress and enhance recovery.

Walking through the woods most definitely rids of the useless repetitive stress that occurs on some machine. It also doesn't confine mobility, as anyone who has walked in the woods knows, there's varied size hills to acsend and descend, fallen trees to step over, brush to duck under and slide around, and subtle contours of the forest floor to massage mobility into the foot and ankle... all entangled in the serenity of nature; opening up awareness to a primal sensory experience of flora, fauna, sun, and fresh air. As the Japanese call it, Shinrin-yoku, forest bathing. But this isn't just some alternative medicine hocus pocus, as there is a lot of hard evidence pointing to the powerful effects of nature on human well-being; things like lower cortisol, blood pressure, heart rate, and an increase in HRV... among the myriad of possibilities that lower stress allows in increased mental and physical creativity.

I recommend checking out Richard Louv's two classics, "Last Child in the Woods" and "The Nature Principle".
 We are great at piece-mealing things together, but we need to dig deeper, and get more real and less artificial with our approach to human performance and wellness.

AS

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Power Development and Lower Body Strength

I thought I'd share some of the power development and lower body strength work I use in the weight room. It looks like nothing special, but when you get athletes to do these very well, it goes beyond being special. I like a blend of double and single-leg strength work, and not selling out to one or the other: both have their advantages.

Power-
Olympic Lifts
-Power Clean
-"Full" Clean (catching the weight deep regardless of %)
-Hang Clean: I use this less. Sometimes in-season or athletes in need of specific modifications
-Power Snatch
-"Full" Snatch
-Hang Snatch: I use this more with taller athletes/basketball players.

*Rarely do I we do any pulls (clean pulls, snatch pulls) except out of necessity (wrist/shoulder/etc.) because I feel the sense of urgency in the pull is lost when you don't complete the entire lift, plus the receiving position has tremendous positives too.
-Push Jerk
-Split Jerk: we make sure to get athletes to alternate legs forward; nice for developing the obvious of power, but also the eccentric strength/power on one leg.

-Squat Jumps (loaded)
-Step-up Jumps
-Split-Squat Jumps

*We'll do different squat jump variations, using both a barbell and dumbell, as well as with the split-squat and step-up jumps.

*I very rarely use dumbbells for Olympic lift variations. While they might look cool, they seem to be an exercise in purgatory; suffering with little accomplishment. They don't provide the load to necessitate much strength, speed, or power... unless one is throwing the dumbbell as high as possible on a D.B. Snatch.

Lower Body Strength
Squatting
-Back Squat
-Front Squat
-Overhead Squat: We do it everyday we lift with an empty bar or light load. If it can be used as a good assessment, we'll use it as a drill for the range-of-motion (ROM) it offers.
-Goblet Squat: Usually with a heavy dumbbell; challenging to the deepest muscles down to the pelvic floor because of the constant tension of holding the d.b. in place.

*We only use the clean position for front squats, as it stays consistent with our Olmpic lifting and I think it does some great things for wrist extension, shoulder (scapula) and upper back strength.

*All squatting is done with the athlete getting deep, while maintaining starting spine position. We don't lift like robots, but I try to teach them to brace the torso and lift with the legs.

Pulling
-Barbell Deadlift: I am changing the name to "life"-lift, because I am tired of the screams of horror when I say we are going to "dead"-lift.

-Snatch-Grip Deadlift
-Romainian Deadlift: barbell and dumbbells (heavy).
-Single-D.B. Deadlift: Use this on rare occasions for reps of asymmetrical loading
-Suitcase Deadlift: Same reason as above.

*I use both double and single-leg variations, with probably a 2:1 towards double leg. I feel that pulling strength is important and helps balance out all the pushing done by the knees, and teaches bracing quite well.

Lunge/Single-Leg Squatting
-Reverse Lunge: sometimes elevating the front leg for greater ROM
-Walking Lunge
-Lateral Lunge: usually hold a dumbbell in a "goblet" position, more for a variation and stretch.
-Step-ups: variation in box height for different emphasis. I like high-box step-ups for hitting the hip joint and the deep ankle dorsiflexion.
-Bulgarian split-squats
-Single-leg Squats or Pistols: I find these useful for eccentric strength and control, plus the nice triceps surae eccentric stretch.

*The lunge variations can be loaded with barbells (back, front, and overhead position; same here as squatting, we use the clean position for the bar in front), 2 d.b.'s or 1 d.b. for asymmetrical loads (goblet, overhead, shoulder, side positions). I really like the front positions of load as it seems to get the athletes to bring their hips through the movement minus any tendancy to lumbar extension. But I do like the back positions for the purpose of the deeper eccentric hip work.

*Also, I do not like the alternating lunge in-place because I've noticed the negative effective (knee issues), and it seems to be a glorified closed-chain leg extension when returning to the start position.

Remember this is a very small component of what we do, as I feel it's important to keep the weight room used for what it is meant to be: a place to get stronger. Fancy circus tricks are to be left for those performers, as the elephant in a circus said to a naked man, "it's cute, but can it pick up peanuts?"

The application is a combination of different sets and reps, loading (progressive), organization, and the different variations depending on many factors, beyond the time I have of today.

It's also important to remember that while the forces applied in sport aren't always vertical (like the basics I've mentioned above) in reference to ground reaction, however within the body as the frame of reference they usually are vertical, and that is the purpose of the weight room: to strength the body to handle those forces. It's always a matter of getting behind the center of gravity and driving it vertically in reference to the body, it's just often times we purposely temporarily put that center of gravity outside our body to either decelerate it or push it in another direction... of course there are horizontal forces that occur, but these I feel are better prepared for with high velocity athletic movement on the court, field, or ice.
Mladen Jovanović provides a more detailed perspective: Frame of Reference

The one sport that is unique as far as forces go is swimming, but Carl Valle had an excellent post today on some of his thoughts with loading the body of a swimmer: More Absolutes?

... and all this is why the weight room work doesn't need to be stupid with limited value exercises; the whole purpose is to strengthen the body generally. The more specific actions come beyond the weight room, which is where the majority of our training takes place: sprinting, jumping, agility, crawling, and throwing/catching; all the great stuff that Jeremy Frisch does such a fine job of promoting.

AS

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

What does it really take?

I’ve been contemplating a lot lately on the bigger picture of injury and performance; Injury prevention is talked about, and training programs are supposed to help reduce the risk of injury. This I completely agree.

My thoughts are that the injury prevention focus might be worded incorrectly. These words become our perspective and our actions progress from there. I think “injury prevention/reduction” creates a subconscious fear response: defensive at the least.

The other side of the same coin is improving performance. What does it take to improve athletic performance?

Lots of experts now discuss the concept of long-term athletic development, a slowing of the physical developmental process in order to get things right; fixing and improving movement deficiencies, developing the basic motor skills to allow for improved body control, working on skills, developing speed, power, strength, agility, work capacity, and progressing towards more competition.
I like the idea of long term athletic development (LTAD), but unfortunately, it’s not a part of our national physical education curriculum. However, LTAD really is for everyone, as no part of athletic excludes or must exclude anyone. We are so fixated on health and wellness, almost chasing a demon or soul (depending on perspective I guess) inside our body that is somewhat undetectable to our natural senses, except for those few that are exceptionally body aware. The athletic development approach turns the focus outward, on performance which is ultimately what we want our bodies to be able to do. And doing, so long as it’s the correct doing, usually takes care of the inside.

The problem with the extensive knowledge of what LTAD takes to accomplish, is that it may come at a point too late in history for it to really get us ahead: improving performance and reducing injury.

Reflecting back on my younger (in age) years, a typical day would be biking/walking/running to school early enough to play football or whatever other necessarily rough game we could think of, doing the same at recess (secretly tackling with vengeance when the supervisor turned their back to our game), playing some currently banned game utilizing hard rubber balls in gym class that could leave a mark for days, more tackle football at the 2nd recess if we were lucky, and it depended on the time of the year, but I remember playing more football after school in the hour or so we had prior to basketball practice. Along with the sporting side of things, we lived in a rural community and region, and we spent a good amount of the rest of our free time climbing trees, building tree forts, riding bikes, and even some not so approved of fun, but which still involved lots of physical movement. My friends and I never stopped moving except for the times we were forced to sit still in class, or going to bed.

This carried on up throughout our school years, albeit at less consistency (weird things happen as you get older, as energy just doesn’t stay quite as high for some reason). The progression through the middle school and high school years became more organized sports that changed as the seasons changed, although vigorous physical activity was happening year round, and all the time we were competing against one another. But even as things became more organized, we never were taught the things that are taught by LTAD experts: how to run properly, jump and land, squat, lunge, lift, brace. Sure we were taught to throw, but not by the standards of today’s throwing “experts”. But it didn’t matter; we still developed athletic, strong bodies. Many of us even ate like shit and that didn’t matter either, we weren’t obese.

Ultimately we PLAYED…. and thinking back, of those that were involved in the hours of play before, during, and after school, and the ones who stayed consistent throughout the upper grade years of multiple sports year round; none had an injury outside of the freak contact injury that is inevitable if you live the life of a normal, active human being. We didn’t get hurt, and many of us still play quite vigorously still with very few aches or pains.

Many of us were also fortunate to go on to play collegiate athletics in some way shape or form. Looking back, as the smaller school that we were, per capita, we were athletically very successful both in performance and relatively little injury, as was the same for many of neighboring schools we competed against… all minus any long-term athletic development conducted by performance experts.

Had we had the type of physical education program I am espousing, filled with the full progression of skill theme development that makes up part of the LTAD process, might have we been better? I do not know. But today’s progress in knowledge and understanding is being paralleled by, very simply, a lack of free play. The sporting legends of today and yesterday were not made by a LTAD program or outstanding P.E. programs, they were made on the playgrounds, in the streets, out in nature, on a child’s own free time: mimicking their peers and idols, and competing daily.

So a well thought out and applied LTAD program might give us a plus one, but presented on a culture and society that is sitting at a minus one gives us what? Zero.

So what am I espousing? I really don’t know, but good performance and staying injury free doesn’t necessarily come from a coach or program, nor can it; although they can help... if things are done very well. Miracles don’t occur from a few hours of “training” per week. The majority of it comes from physical use day in, day out… hours upon hours; free play, what kids used to do at the parks, playgrounds, backyards, and in the woods. Just as play readies children socially, emotionally, and intellectually, it prepares their bodies for increasingly challenging demands. Injury reduction and performance enhancement start young, and under the guidance of the children themselves given time in the right environment.

If at some point, we get to “Utopia”, hopefully today’s model of athletic/physical development will be applied on the lifestyle of yesteryears. We need both: sound physical education and lots of free play. I think it can be done, but it’s going to take a lot to wake up from the sedentary slumber we find ourselves in. If we can see that we are built to move and can put it into action, then I really believe we have taken a giant step forward towards advanced (or restored) consciousness.

AS

Monday, December 19, 2011

Anti-Fragility Training

As we commence into the holiday break, a large fear as a strength and conditioning coach is the loss of a lot of hard work and time. It's easy for athletes to forget their responsibility to hold up their end of the privileged opportunity that is collegiate athletics. For some of the athletes it is going to be 4+ weeks before I see them again, and lots of bad can happen in that time... adaptations of negative flow.

Sometimes you'd like to enchant athletes with a never seize attitude when it comes to training. Sure overtraining is a possibility, but for most, it's a long... long way off. I've been fortunate to work with a few of the 'do more' types, and while they'll often deal with some nagging aches and pains from the constant motion, these rare athletes almost never experience the catastrophic injuries that their less trained counterparts often fall victim too. It's a balance of finding the 'sweet spot' of training, but as a coach it's much easier to reign in the enthusiastic husky, than it is to try to get a bulldog to pull the sled.

There's a reason why those that have long, lustrous, hall-of-fame careers. It's because they made the decision to work... consistent training was the ticket.

In the collegiate setting, I can total up 8+ weeks that a team and sport might have "off". Combine this with a 4-5+ month season and we are looking at 6-7+ months of either very narrow and specific training or little to nothing, save for the truly dedicated athlete. Why do so many get injured again?

Sure... look at an injured athlete and try to conclude why they got hurt, but Sherlock, please look at the healthy athlete and conclude why they have not.

As the s&c coach, the hard working athletes think you're great because you challenge them, the lazy athletes think you suck because anything you do makes them hurt (not injured I remind you) because they are so damn weak, out of condition, and lazy... and certain sport's cultures just don't like to do anything but their sport, which makes for some fun (*scorn*) enticement.

Should training ever stop? Usually, it just needs different forms. The work I do is the general work, maybe a physical education approach is what it should be called... but it's critical to keep athletes moving, they're athletes! Their recovery shouldn't be the same as the fatty who watches sports for a living (plus some desk job on the side). Run, jump, lift, and throw: work on the skills of moving, not the skills of a particular sport.
"... the training never ends."
For athletes to build up the mastery of their bodies and they must use them. Run, jump, throw, and lift... fast, high, far, heavy.

AS

*Hat tip to Nassim Taleb for the anti-fragility idea. While I don't fully comprehend his concept (apologies, I am working on it), I do understand that it works in opposition of fragile; which can continue to be broken down, anti-fragile is robust, but with the ability continue to be built up.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Scare Tactics

Squat lifts likely cause of stress fractures in young athletes, study finds

This is unfortunate garbage in so many ways. Lets break this down a bit (words from the article are in italics, my words below)...

The squat lift, an exercise that has long been a standard training technique for athletes, puts inordinate stress on the spine and likely is the cause of chronic stress fractures in young athletes.

That’s the conclusion of a study presented Wednesday at the North American Spine Society annual meeting.

Puts stress on the spine? Sure so do a lot of things, sedents. "Likely" the cause?

Even when young athletes have textbook form in doing squats, they are risking a hard-to-heal stress fracture of the posterior lumbar spine structure known as the pars interarticularis.

Textbook form? Who's judging? Fear mongering.

“These are high-risk lifts whether you’re a child or an adult,” said lead author John McClellan, a pediatric and adult spine surgeon at the Nebraska Spine Center in Omaha. “For years, coaches have blamed spinal fractures on kids’ poor weightlifting techniques, so we wanted to put that theory to the test.”

Absolutely they are high-risk lifts. How do you push the envelope without pushing the envelope. That's why I have the position I have as a strength and conditioning coach, to help push the envelope and make sure things are done right. The study did not test that theory, sorry.

To do that, McClellan and his co-researchers enlisted 20 male athletes in their 20s, taking X-rays of them in various positions, including normal standing as well as doing front and back squats. They used a bar and weights totaling 95 pounds.

95 pounds... that's a nice warm-up weight.

The exercises were done under the guidance of a physical therapist.

Uhhh.... that's a problem.

The most alarming finding was a change in the slope of the sacrum during a back squat, when the bar was across the upper back.

OMG! That is NOT alarming. That's what happens in a back squat.

The average sacral slope increased from 41 degrees in normal standing to 68 degrees while doing back squat and 58 degrees while doing a front squat, when the bar was across the clavicles.

The researchers concluded that squats significantly increase the slope of sacrum and the alignment of the spine, resulting in a “horizontalization” of the sacrum.

“I agree with him,” said Raj Rao, an orthopedic surgeon who practices at Froedtert Hospital in Wauwatosa. “It fits and is consistent with the established literature.”

Thank you for that information!

Rao, a professor of orthopedic surgery and neurosurgery at the Medical College of Wisconsin, would not go so far as to say squats should not be done at all, but athletes, especially younger ones, need to be cautious, he said.

Ok, we are getting a little more logical now. That's why my 2 and 5 year old use a plastic toy broom. (No! They don't do this daily, just once in a while for shits and giggles, geez! Their workouts mostly consist of playing outside.)

Doctors said doing a similar type of exercise without weight is much less likely to cause pars stress fractures.

Of course it does... thanks for more logic. But less weight also does less for making physiological change... hey, it's physio-LOGICAL!

Rao said some people may be more predisposed to problems with the pars. Once a stress fracture occurs, he said, it can be very hard to heal.

However, changing attitudes of coaches and trainers is difficult, said Michael Reed, a physical therapist who specializes in the spine.

Contrary to popular belief, my goal is NOT to injure anybody. Change my attitude to what? Using less effective means? Well people, then stop buying tickets for the games, and ranting and raving over great sport performances or the lack thereof. Let's just give a trophy to everyone.

Has it ever occurred to anyone that progressively overloading the training to high levels IS injury prevention? It doesn't happen by progressive underload. Come to grips with reality, sport is high velocity, high force. No exposure = no preparedness.

Part of the problem is the exercise is effective at strengthening muscles.

Damn right. And it's not a problem.

“The problem is, it can be very risky,” said Reed, who practices at the Hospital for Special Surgery Spine and Sport in Jupiter, Fla. “Even the best form will not protect you.”

More fear mongering. Tell me something that isn't risky that has high reward? C'mon tell me?!

Reed said he doubts many parents know how risky squats are. He said they probably rely on coaches and trainers who don’t fully understand the risks.

... and also therapists and chiros who just don't understand. (Hey Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince, can you remix that one for me?)

Reed said squats also pose risk for older adults, but the biggest concern is in people who are skeletally immature.

Older adults? Who cares?! (just kidding)

Indeed, squats are a part of training for many high school sports, added McClellan. Many kids start doing the exercises by age 13.

In a well controlled and coached environment with the usual progression, good for them!

He said he has seen more than 500 kids with pars fractures and often they remember hurting themselves doing squats.

Spewing numbers... so this is science huh? The kids SELF-REPORTING that they OFTEN remember hurting themselves doing squats??? So how does this relate to the first statement: “For years, coaches have blamed spinal fractures on kids’ poor weightlifting techniques, so we wanted to put that theory to the test.”? So 500+ kids were with great coaches, using great technique?

Invariably, coaches will blame the injury on bad form, he said. Now there is evidence that even good form puts the spine at risk, he said.

Darn, now what am I going to blame their squatting injuries on? Because everyone is getting hurt squatting right? Uh... wait a minute... what squatting injuries???

Once a pars fracture occurs, the chance of it healing is as low as 2%, he added.

Many of those people eventually will develop degenerative disc problems and a lifetime of low back pain, he said.

I get it... but enough with the scare tactics.
I can't believe I wasted my time on a stupid journalistic report of the pseudoscientific claims of this vendetta study. But... there comes a time when myself or my fellow coaches have to stop putting up with this BS, and outlandish claimss are being made against the things we are doing to help the athletes (I've discussed this issue at length in previous blog posts). And if research is needed, we (coaches) can come up with the necessary paper. The problem is that there's this particular type of "study" to deal with and gets too much media attention... which is why we need more logic.

All this no doubt adds to the resurfacing of the whole bilateral vs. unilateral lower body training debate. There really shouldn't be much debate as both have their positives and negatives and touch on different aspects of physical development. The problem occurs when an absolute stance is taken on one over the other. Instead of stating 'this is what has worked well for us in this particular situation', we have attempts at meme proliferation specifically for monetary purposes (or just one-sided, illogical arguments).

Debates and arguments are excellent for this particular profession where the holy grail has not been found (and never will be), and Carl Valle has been probing the waters for real treasure. I can't say enough good things about the questions he raises and points he makes and, emotions aside, the challenges he presents are important for consumer reporting.

I highly suggest reading Carl's recent blog posts.

Stone Cold and Boyleling Over

Secret Hip Flexor Strengthening Exercise!

Bilateral Exercise- Rise from the Grave

Dangers of the RFESS- Breaking down the Back Breaker!

One argument that comes up with the single-leg lifts vs. double leg is that so and so has had less training injury when removing the squat for another exercise. In my limited experience and that of many other good coaches, I/we have not had any problems with the squat (maybe my kids aren't reporting it, haha!). Maybe better coaching is occurring because a better understanding of movement. If I lost my passion for teaching a good squat, then sure... maybe we'd have more squatting injuries. I have seen injuries (back and other) with single-leg lifts, but if they are coached well, they are good options in a program along with squats. Keep the doors open... Squatting isn't the only thing, or the end all be all in the methods I use, it's just that few are out to bastardize sprinting, jumping, or light weights.
 
Let's be rational and argue. Argument is good. Bring a little emotion too (we really can't separate the right and the left brain, sorry); it fuels creativity and enthusiasm. Forget about the money and let's do it for the evolution of training science and theory. We don't have to all agree, and there doesn't have to be, nor will there always be a right answer. It will better us all.
 
Sorry if I offended anyone. If I am wrong or you disagree, please call me out.
 
AS

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Complete Keys To Progress

With an extraordinary amount of training information available on books and online, it's easy to forget time-tested basics and the ultimate prerequisite of any endeavor; consistently applied effort.

John McCallum's The Complete Keys To Progress, a true classic in every sense, is a collection of his writings for Strength and Health magazine from back in the 60's and 70's. A book with a number of entertaining short stories on training, recovery, nutrition, along with the mental and emotional factors necessary for progress in one's training.


AS

Friday, October 14, 2011

Cornerstones: Strength and Power

From the book: "The Charlie Francis Training System":

"To what degree do you apply a conversion phase to the strength work?

I would question the value of a traditional conversion phase where you go back down from a higher weight and then try to increase the number of repetitions and the speed at which you are performing the lifts. I would simply leave the repetitions low and the load high year round.

My understanding of the purpose of using lower loads and higher repetitions is that you expect to get a conversion of strength to power by using a higher rate of movement. How that relates to sprinting where the limb speeds are far beyond anything you can produce in the weightroom is beyond my understanding. The actual applicability of traditional conversion work to sprinters then becomes relatively small. This low specificity is clearly evident, when you realize that if you lower the weight to enable a 10% faster lifting movement it still represents only a small fraction of the actual limb velocity of the sprint. What you should be trying to do is maintain strength while maximally challenging the CNS.

To illustrate this point, Ben's foot moves to from 0 to 80 kilometres per hour and back again to 0 during a stride. This equates to approximately 20 metres per second. The average speed during a squat movement is .5 metres per second. You can see that even to double the speed of the squat to 1.0 metre per second has little relevance to the actual limb speeds during sprinting. Furthermore, trying to increase the speed of the squat work heightens the risk of injury.

As an example, when Ben is performing 2 sets of 5 repetitions in either the bench press or squat he is moving a heavy weight as fast as he can. The CNS stimulation/activation is optimal. He is maximally involving his nervous system via maximum recruitment of motor neurons. He is challenging his organism. However the actual lifting speed of a maximal weight is moderate to slow."

There are few strength movements that can be safely loaded to do exactly what Charlie espouses by 'challenging the organism'. The basics of barbell lifting have withstood the test of time because of the consistent and certain results they can produce while minimizing risk of injury (compared to more radical means).

There has been a push to change methods of developing strength and power to what, on the surface, appears
to be safer means, but looking deeper athletes are left resultless and just more fatigued.

The new ways are single-limbed to reduce back stress and use dumbbells for snatching and cleaning... for what I do not know. One only needs to view these with the naked eye to logically deduce that the power output is less than necessary for anything real to happen, and the challenge to the organism's CNS is less than maximally activating motor unit recruitment throughout the entire body.
Stolen from Christian Thibaudeau's absolutely great classic: Theory and Application of Modern Strength and Power Methods... which I think he got the numbers/chart from Dr. Mike Stone.
 I've also heard about new, esoteric ideas of "sports specificity" lifts which mimic certain components of specific athletic skills as being the "new" strength training and it being called coordination training under load. This confuses me more and more as to at what point does coordination training become redundant and developing little in the way of horsepower, structural integrity and morphological adaptations?

I may be beating a dead horse talking again about basic barbell training under heavy loads, but where my beliefs stand now and seem to lean more and more each year, is that heavy strength training with a barbell is the biggest factor in making at least some sort of change in physiology.

I am all for single-leg training with different forms of lunging and single-leg squats, but bilateral lifting with maximal weights seems to speak to the nervous system with a much louder voice; and while we might not see tremendous changes in certain other performance measures, I argue to anyone to show me the methods that do make better and faster changes. I thought Mike Robertson did a nice job of explaining things in his article: The Truth About Single-Leg Training.

Strength training obviously improves strength, but more than just strength of muscle, but bone, joint integrity, the ability to tap into higher and higher threshold motor units. What's to say of the neuroendocrine responses to heavy lifting? Is greater increases in circulating testosterone and growth hormone, among other biochemical changes, not conducive to better internal chemistry that promotes healing and performance changes? The more muscle mass invovled, the greater the hormonal response.

I've done my best to look at other possibilities, but following the light (and research, and other bright coaches, and empircal observation), always leads me back to a few certain truths and heavy squats, cleans, snatches, and deadlifts shine the brightest... easy to teach (if not, learn how), the technique has been mastered by great ones that have come before and are currently coaching and practicing, and provide some of the safest means to get closer towards intended goals.

As the history of stength and conditioning began with the farm kids who threw heavy hay bales during their summers taking it to the city kids, and the observations of a few "innovative" coaches who noticed the changes from lifting weights (word is Knute Rockne instructed his players to strength train as early as 1922), lifting weights was the center piece of off-season training. (A former colleague of mine with home roots in Nebraska told me that in the Cornhuskers true glory days, they would bring their weight room via semi-truck to the bowl games). That doesn't seem so much today... at least outside of college football ( "Football Training" ), but maybe it is just me.

Where we should be at is a refinement of the history of what works, and this isn't a call for more meatheaded led screaming and yelling, but a move towards the reality of what makes changes, and what doesn't. It is not about leaving out the vitally important stuff like mobility and flexibility work (while good Olympic lifting and full range strength training can do that too and maybe even better; a plug for my fellow University of North Dakota colleagues!), plyometrics (awfully important), agility, and sprinting (goes without saying).  It doesn't matter the sport as there are usually only a few tweaks here or there between training for one sport and training for another; strength and conditioning is general physical preparation, not specific prep. Jim Wendler put it right: 1. Stretch 2. Lift 3. Sprint.

Or as Jim Steel, head strength and conditioning coach at the University of Pennsylvania put it so well in his article: The Truth. A must read.

"Strong people are harder to kill than weak people and more useful in general." -Mark Rippetoe.

I've seen it time and again, the athlete who trains consistently year round and develops a high level of general strength and real power output (Olympic lifts and jumping) usually doesn't get hurt by activities that a real athlete should not get hurt from (quality movement is a given and must, but that's not the point of this post)... which is the basis of my tweet on Twitter: "We can look at injured athletes and ask why they got hurt, but it's also important to look at healthy athletes and ask why they have not."

Dr. Mike Stone may not "captivate" the crowd like Steve Jobs was able to, but his presentations and information show the real science behind strength and power. I highly recommend his textbook: Principles and Practice of Resistance Training.
AS

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Hill Sprints

Eastern North Dakota is pretty flat, but thanks to the mighty Red River and it's usual spring flooding, we do have some nice dikes built up in Grand Forks/East Grand Forks.
I am not sure what the exact grade/slope is of the hill, but I am sure it exceeds the exact % grade of what would be ideal for specific speed development with longer ground contact times (potential for hockey contact times). But, I figure that 1 or 2 strides hit somewhere on the acceleration curve... plus a key factor is intending to sprint up the hill, i.e. motor unit recruitment.

Regardless, I like to sprint hills at least a few times a month. This particular morning, we (Zach, one of our other assistant strength coaches) had some time to play, so we ran hill sprints. We did 10 sets of 3 sprints. Recovery between the 3 sprints was a walk back down. In between sets we recovered 2-3 minutes, which allows for maintain sprint performance... or the much talked about repeat sprint ability (RSA). I was able to finish most reps within 5-5.2 seconds; which kept things within range of high anaerobic work.

The nice thing about hills is you can push the intensity (effort) high with little or less risk of injury as the velocity is less than 0% grade sprinting and the strides are shortened on the front end (decelerating the swing leg; eccentric hamstring load); makes for nice general conditioning for sprint sports. You can also change up the "walk downs"; walking backwards, which creates a nice eccentric stretch of the triceps surae muscle-tendon complex (important to keep healthy and strong for jumping, sprinting, and agility), lateral walks and carioca walks which are can be ok for eccentric load of the hip abductors (another fairly important component found to be weak in our weak culture). Obviously care has to be taken with these walk downs, as the eccentric stress can lead to some multiple day DOMS.

I guess we could debate all the possible intricate details of what may or may not be going on but... hill sprints are just cool and tough; and cool and tough guys did them (Walter and Jerry).
video
Backwards walk downs...
video
A few bounds thrown in as well...
video

A tribute to "Sweetness"...

My hill...
Walter's hill...
AS

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

More Mythical Methods?

The fall of the postural–structural–biomechanical model in manual and physical therapies: Exemplified by lower back pain
Eyal Lederman

Summary and conclusion points

• Postural-Structural-Biomechanical (PSB) asymmetries and imperfections are normal variations—not a pathology.

• Neuromuscular and motor control variations are also normal.

• The body has surplus capacity to tolerate such variation without loss to normal function or development of symptomatic conditions.

• Pathomechanics do not determine symptomatology.

• There is no relationship between the pre-existing PSB factors and back pain.

• Correcting all PSB factors is not clinically attainable and is unlikely to change the future course of a lower back condition.

• This conclusion may well apply to many common musculoskeletal conditions elsewhere in the body
(e.g., neck pain).

Lederman, E. The fall of the postural-structural-biomechanical model in manual and physical therapies: exemplified by lower back pain. Journal of Bodywork & Movement Therapies. (2011) Apr;15(2):131-8.

Eyal Lederman certainly doesn't hesitate to challenge the status quo as in his previous paper The Myth of Core Stability.

One of the section summary points caught my attention and is something I tend to agree with:

• PSB factors are unlikely to change in the longterm by manual techniques or even exercise, unless rigorously maintained (exercise).

... basically shit's hard and has to be consistent; real training, over and over again. Beyond that, I really have no idea... I guess just try something and test to see if it works.

AS

Monday, October 10, 2011

Just a reminder...

When Starting Strength came out it was an instant classic and is a book that needs to be promoted more. One of the best texts I have read, no check that... the best, covering the fundamentals of barbell training. The second edition is expanded, but the first edition cover is way more bad-ass, which is why I put it here.

Putting the 'strength' back in strength and conditioning...

AS

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Beautiful Training

"History teaches everything including the future." -Alphonse de Lamartine
 
Thanks to Josh Leeger for directing me to an excellent blog post from Ross Enamait. The videos are the training of Russian Greco-Roman wrestlers. The training is refreshing to watch and the athletes are just that... athletes!





These videos reminded me of the Polish Olympic weightlifting training videos. As evident in these videos (10 parts on Youtube), these guys are far from just weightlifters, they are beyond athletic of what you might see today... and the weightlifting that they compete in sure as hell doesn't hurt their ability to display great power in the other exercises done in the video; real weights and real movement.





Weightlifting, gymnastics, sprints, plyos, throwing, playing basketball, soccer, flexibility, general conditioning/obstacle/adventure runs, training done outside... combined with sound coaching and thorough evaluations by the medical staff. Awesome stuff!

AS

Monday, October 3, 2011

Pushing Limits

It's amazing to see the extremes of the capacities of human ability, and very few hold a candle to that of Alex Honnold (at least his mental capacity), an American free solo climber (free solo=nothing but a little chalk!). I've read about Alex before and was excited to see a 60 Minutes segment was being done on him. I thought 60 Minutes did an excellent job of filming and presenting the story.

No searching for glory or money here, just a pure uninhibited love for the freedom and challenge climbing presents...



There's also a great article in National Geographic Magazine in the May 2011 issue on climbing at Yosemite National Park which highlighted Alex among other climbers.

Daring. Defient. Free.
"The minute you freak out, you're screwed." -Alex Honnold in Outside magazine.

So you think you're a bad ass?

My palms sweat just thinking about it.

AS

Friday, September 30, 2011

Peaking For What?

An observation I've seen is that athletes that are a little sore in the legs (quads, glutes, hamstrings) sometimes perform better in a vertical jump test. I've been testing vertical jump at different times throughout the practice and training week of teams, and have notice some improvements in vertical jumps the day after a relatively intense in-season lifting session. There hasn't been massive increases of inches, but some athletes have jumped 1-2.5 inches better, and teams have improved as much as an average of around .25-.4 inches. Obviously this means some athletes had slight decreases, but I can confirm it's very rare.

Not sure for the specific mechanisms as to why this occurs; I could conjecture that the soreness creates stiffness in the muscle and 'tugs' on the tendons a bit more, tightening the "springs"??? Musculotendon stiffness leading to increased elasticity? The CNS still running 'hot' from the previous day? Maybe the previous testing time was a poor performance?

What this all means, I am not quite sure, but the athletes and teams continue to performing well; and most importantly we are not injured, beyond small things that don't limit playing or practice time. The correlation I do see with this is that, the good teams and coaches continue to attempt to develop their team throughout the in-season with intense practice and progressive in-season strength and conditioning. There is the necessity to control volume, but intensity must stay if not push higher. The reason this can work is tracking the general volume and most importantly practicing the lost art of common sense. Verbal, face-to-face communication amongst coaches and athletes really does go a long way.

With the "survival teams" (teams struggling), there is the mentality of so-called 'peaking' for every game and unfortunately at times for every practice. I have noticed an increase phobia of soreness in-season, and the problem with avoiding soreness is we always stay behind the soreness "wave" and never catch the surf to be ahead of muscular discomfort from being more adapted.

There are few times in a season that team sports really need to taper and peak, and these dates need to be highlighted; the quest should be for constant development in-season and out of season. Dynasty's are never built tapering for everything, when there is nothing to ever taper from; there is only a few play-off games each season, and only one Super Bowl or championship... and if it takes treating every game and practice as such, then you probably aren't good enough anyway and should get back to work on the basics of technical, tactical, and physical development.

Record keeping and common sense.

AS

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

GPP or SPP in TSP (Team Sport Preparation)?

It goes without saying that what's done in training must have a specific purpose or it shouldn't be in the plan. In team sports this can be a fairly difficult assessment to make as to what is truly going to affect performance. Does increasing linear speed improve a basketball player? Does improving vertical jump improve the ability of a volleyball player? Does improving the back squat make a football player better? These are objective and common measures or assessments of general athletic performance.

The questions are endless, and within team sports, the answers are almost always; "it depends."

I think it's important to make logical decisions regarding training, but as of now the potential variables to improve upon could be considered close to infinite. In 'strength and conditioning' my responsibility and the athletes responsibility is the necessity to, number one, become a better athlete, in becoming generally stronger, generally faster, generally jump higher, become generally more mobile and coordinated, and improve general work capacity. What this is most often called in technical coaching speak is GPP (general physical preparation). How much GPP is necessary is the ultimate question, and in the collegiate setting how much time is needed with GPP? When are athletes generally physically prepared? In team sports, how much specific physical preparation is necessary when the athlete spends a large amount of time in specific technical and tactical practice of their sport? From a strength and conditioning perspective with regards to team sports, what exactly is specific physical preparation?

From what I see, often incoming athletes, freshmen, and even sophomores, sometime juniors are generally not strong enough, generally not fast enough, generally don't jump high enough, generally do not display enough flexibility, and/or usually don't have the general work capacity for the overall demands of collegiate practice and competition. Without a high level of generalities, the specificities become even more of a challenge to achieve; and again I ask, what are the specifics?

Really, in strength and conditioning, athletes need to run fast, jump high, throw far, and lift heavy weights as fast as possible through full ranges of motion; this takes care of a high percentage of the necessary means to fulfill the time-limited objectives of training.

Is a 145 kg front squat with great technique necessary for all male athletes? No, but it sure as hell doesn't hurt.

Is a 25 inch vertical necessary for all female athletes? No, but it sure as hell wouldn't hurt.

Are 10 strict chin-ups necessary for female athletes? No, but it sure as hell doesn't hurt.

Does a 4.4 40 yard dash guarantee sporting success? No, but it sure as hell doesn't inhibit it.

Now, could there potentially be better qualities, specific ones, to spend time and energy to improve? Yes, but at some point the generals may limit the specifics. And what qualities might we improve that we could quantify to be sure we are not fooling ourselves?

There really isn't a good/perfect answer, but what seems certain is we need to put the "strength" back in strength and conditioning, and the "athletic" back in athletic development; neither of those spell specificity... specificity does not need to mean exact. Specificity maintains that at least one or more biomotor quality has some similarity task being trained for. What's usually necessary is becoming very proficient at the generals. which most coaches have narrowed down to work being more "functional" towards the desired outcome(s); the basics... being fundamentally great and athletically developed.

ath·let·ic 
adjective

1. physically active and strong; good at athletics or sports: an athletic child.

2. of, like, or befitting an athlete.

3. of or pertaining to athletes; involving the use of physical skills or capabilities, as strength, agility, or stamina: athletic sports; athletic training.

4. for athletics: an athletic field.

5. Psychology . (of a physical type) having a sturdy build or well-proportioned body structure. Compare asthenic ( def. 2 ) , pyknic ( def. 1 ) .
AS

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Excessive kilo-(n)grams

I came across Google Ngram a few months ago, but forgot about it because I knew it's potential to become another computer addiction. I was reminded of it again today in this entertaining talk from TED: "What we learned from 5 million books".

Here's my quantitative analysis of 1900 to 2008, do the "math".


Have fun,

AS

Reawaking My Dead Blog

My blog has been dead for a while and I finally put together a new post and my f**king computer froze! It was f**king great too... F**K! Pissed off...

Sorry about the vulgarities; I've been reading the new book, "Go the F**k To Sleep". Wasted time I could have been moving instead...
AS

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Coaching Wisdom

Some remendous insight from a recent discussion with a great mentor of mine, Greg Lanners, commenting on the necessary care that must be taken when coaching young athletes and students…

"As coaches, how much drilling should we be doing with kids. Why do we feel such a need to program kids? I understand improving strength, which would seem to be a necessity in our current competitive world, or addressing a significant motor deficiency or movement impairment. And of course injury rehab is an entirely different story. But how do we best impart on kids the pure joy and freedom of movement within their bodies? Not using others as a guide as to how they should move, but allowing them to experience their God given abilities in a natural and pain-free way. And through that also promote the same enjoyment and satisfaction of participating in an athletic or competitive activity. Yes it may change when kids get to college and certainly when they are paid as professionals, the rules/expectations are different. But kids need to be shown and should come to realize that they have a set of very individual abilities or skills that if used frequently can lead to a healthier, more emotionally stable, and fulfilling life. And everybody's skills/abilities/gifts are different. So how fine and precise and specific and technical do we actually need to be? Just get kids to move without inhibition- the old "watch a kindergarten PE class” argument.”

No matter the level of the athlete, a global perspective of the 'larger' picture needs consideration; coach what needs to be coached, don't what doesn't… and it’s not always what you do, but many times, what you don’t do.

AS

More on "False" Stepping

I apologize about the clarity of the videos, they were taken with my phone (and it's not an iphone).

In this first video, I had a group of soccer athletes line up in an athletic stance and the only direction I gave was to sprint 10 yards as fast as possible; ALL athletes utilized the "false" step. The next series of 'races' were with the athletes paired-up; this time I directed the faster of the two athletes (athlete is on the right; determined by electronic testing) to NOT "false" step... even though many couldn't help themselves from not doing it (subconscious... and faster). (I also reversed it and had the other athlete try to NOT "false" step, and the same occurred with them being slower of the line... however the phone on my camera did not save that footage for some reason)

In the second video it is much more clear with court lines to determine who crossed the line first. The first 'race', I instructed two volleyball athletes to line up in an athletic stance and race through the cones. Both employed a "false" step. In the next races it is very evident which athlete was instructed to NOT take a false step; the athlete directed NOT to "false" step was slower or struggled neurologically to utilize the directed strategy (or lack thereof in this case), but arguably both occurred.

video video

In both these cases, the athletes only had to focus on 1 option and that was sprinting straight ahead, let alone in a more dynamic, open chaotic environment where the athlete needs to be ready for a multitude of movements. I feel confident to say that I believe almost every athlete of any level would employ the so-called "false" step in this or similar situations... but don't take my word, test it out with other athletes.

Again, just to reinforce yesterday's blog post on "false" stepping, I really believe the athlete has some very effective instinctive hardware that we need to be careful as to how much we tamper with. Some techniques are important to teach and potentially correct, some are not. We need to figure out which 'skills' need work and which to leave alone, and in certain situations, it appears the "false" step should be left alone. As I stated yesterday, too much focus internally can create a tremendous mess.

AS

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

"False" Stepping 2

We often talk about the wisdom of the body and I see it all the time with athletes; subconsciously stepping a foot back to put themselves in an optimal or better acceleration position. Is coaching against false stepping going against the wisdom of the body?


There has been some research in support of stepping backwards prior to acceleration, as some coaches term as the “plyo” step. While others are adamantly against the so-called, “false” step. Is there research supporting that NOT “false” stepping is faster than “false” stepping? In talking with elementary educators, they say all young children perform this movement at the necessary times... so is it really a learned bad habit? Or an innate ability to play with the physical qualities of the world in we live? Humans have been evolving and living with gravity much longer than we have been teaching how to move "better"...
How does this change in a reactive environment in which the athlete does not know which way one is going to have to move?

In an open environment an athlete is trying to position themselves quickly and effectively into an optimal biomechanical position (positive shin angle) displacing one’s center of gravity. In order for an athlete to overcome inertia, one has to displace their center of gravity ‘outside’ of their body … along with that, how does the “plyo/false” step set up each subsequent step thereafter?

In a reactive environment in which an athlete might find themselves in an athletic position but not aware of which direction of movement comes next, I have seen many levels and abilities of athletes utilize a “plyo/false” step for advancing forward. (i.e. tennis, infielder in baseball, basketball, volleyball, football). An objective measurement would help settle this long standing debate, but is very difficult to control for in an open environment. The environmental context will change things and I think the “plyo/false” step might at times be an athlete’s most successful option...

The question remains for those coaches that believe you need to coach this instinctive false stepping out of the athlete, how does increasing conscious control in a reactive environment enhance an athlete’s success at getting from point A to a random point B as fast as possible?

In those “oh shit” moments that occur so often in open-skilled sports, it seems that it would be much more effective to allow the subconscious hardware to at least do some of the work. It seems that it is very ‘effortful’ to try to override a subconscious, faster network in a chaotic environment. Technically speaking the “false step” usually/most definitely doesn’t put an athlete in a biomechanically dangerous position; but for those against the “false” step, do what we gain from not stepping back, do we lose during the lag time of the conscious decision to not do so?

Research has shown that activity in the brains motor region can be detected 300 milliseconds prior to the person feeling he/she has decided to move. Lots of research in neuroscience regarding free will is pressing this issue too; regarding subconscious decisions vs. conscious ones and many are showing a delay in the time between the two.

Also, in the forward model of motor control, it’s stated that often the consciousness is alerted to movements/behaviors that are already being planned and performed, and isn’t necessarily ‘causing’ these behaviors/movements. To me, 300 milliseconds is a long time… and every time I line athletes up on the line in an athletic position with feet square to the finish for a 20 meter race (I did it with a group this morning) they all “plyo/false” step on “GO!”. Is every athlete wrong? Or do their bodies have something to say about this interplay with gravity and physics?

If it is a movement error and needs to be 'trained out', what’s the timeframe and payoff? Can it be done in 5 minutes a day, 4-5 days a week? If it can, then why do other skills and physical qualities take so long to develop? Are we again overriding an innate startle reflex that entirely makes up for the “false” stepping, by saving us a few milliseconds in nerve conduction velocity? There is lots going on in the sporting environment, and the body is a big part, but what happens centrally in the brain with inputs and outputs is a large factor too.

Of course context is the key and not every movement in sport requires or should have a false step, but if it happens, most times it’s because it was the most necessary and optimal movement option for that situation.

I personally don't teach anything regarding it. If it happens, it happens. I try to teach good position, expose athletes to multiple different changes of direction (pre-planned and open), and teach them how to position their body to put their COG where it needs to be in order to move effectively. Movement issues sometimes might be lack of awareness, other times it might be a strength issue.

Observe great athletes, because I don't believe they lie; they are great because they are the most successful at accomplishing movement problems and I think there is much to learn from what they do, and I feel that coaching the "false" step out of them would be time better spent on other aspects of athletic development.

It's easy for us as coaches to critique and criticize what we see from the sidelines or stands, but get in a game and one quickly realizes that relying on subconscious processes is the way to go. Too much override from the 'higher levels' of the brain slows things down tremendously. In motor learning, external vs. internal attentional focus shows that external focus far surpasses internal focus in the success rate of accomplishing different skills, along with faster speeds and a decrease in neuromuscular activation… saving both time and energy. (I highly recommend one checks out Gabriele Wulf's research and book, Attention and Motor Skill Learning)

Working against the subconscious to NOT "false" step in certain situations would be an internal focus... less effective than external focus of attention: getting to point B as fast as possible. There are many factors to take into consideration when analyzing and deciphering training plans… in open sports, taking in the sensory information, interpreting, and decision making in the fastest manner possible is all part of the visible physical movements that we see in game action.

Agility/change of direction, acceleration, speed, and jumping are all very interesting movement components to sport and can be a tremendous challenge to prepare athletes who play sport. While certain ‘skills’ look nice to work on in training such as not “false” stepping in situations where it is actually a better option, often very few of these ‘skills’ really occur the way we think they do in a game setting. How much do we try to teach and control movement vs. how much do we let the body self-organize the movement challenges? I’ll share more thoughts later in regards to change of direction in sport. Do what we can in training, give the athlete movement problems to solve, and get out of the way.

AS

Game Acceleration

In Conditioning or Speed Reserve? I mentioned acceleration from tall(er) positions and transitioning into acceleration out of different movements. Some great coaches have been doing this for a long time; but in order to prepare for what's ahead, athletes need to be able to accelerate anytime, anywhere.

Sprinting at maximal velocity is a major component and helps with acceleration from different positions. Also, plyometrics are vital, but we can't forget what might be the most 'plyometric' of them all, max velocity sprinting.

Everything in training is accessory to the game, but the closest training connections as far as specificity goes must be running, jumping, and agility movements; bridging the gap.

AS

Monday, July 18, 2011

"Football Training"

Most of track and field is exempt from this discussion because the sport is measured objectively, and athletes and coaches usually do what's necessary to perform well. At the very least, it isn't easy to hide...

The argument I get tired of hearing is "we don't want to train like football players". I hear it all the time and ask what does a football player train like? You mean with a high level of effort towards developing great speed, power, and strength?

Taking a Socratic approach...

Would your athlete benefit to become stronger/faster/change direction better/jump higher?

Which athletes in the USA do those things the best?

Which athletes accelerate the best?

Which athletes are the fastest?

Which athletes have the best vertical jumps?

Which athletes are the strongest?

Which athletes change direction the best?

The gap to be bridged between "football training" and a sport is done by conditioning techniques and practice of the particular sport. Either way, we can go on kidding ourselves or really start to make changes in athletes.

I understand that football can and, to many extents is, be an entitled culture, but that does not mean there has to be an emotional resentment towards the methods of a sport that has embraced strength and conditioning more than nearly all other sports in America; to developing athletic qualities that almost all athletes can greatly benefit from.

The delusion that we can make something out of nothing is rampant in athletic development; heavy loads and fast movements are necessary. Adaptation doesn't come easy.

AS