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.


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.


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.

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
-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.

-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.


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.


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.


*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.