Friday, December 21, 2012

The Navy SEAL Delusion

It's quite amusing to see all the make-believe military and special ops training that many athletic programs are doing these days. I am not quite sure what it's for. Maybe coaches think they might be developing "mental toughness" or "team cohesion".
It seems every week there is a story popping up about how some team trained with or like the Navy Seals this past off-season. Now, I enjoy learning and reading about the Navy Seals as much as anybody and I think there are principles to take from them. However, the delusion that doing a week of "evolutions" or a few days out the year pretending to be on the beach of Coronado Island seems a bit ludicrous for athletes.

BUD/S (Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL) is a filtration process to become a Navy SEAL where the enlistees are able to DOR (drop on request) at any time, which is a good thing for the SEALS, as it gets rid of those that aren't mentally tough enough. The SEALS aren't expecting BUD/S to develop as much mental toughness as they are to weed-out those that don't have the mental character. I highly recommend Dick Couch's (one of the original 'frogmen') book "The Warrior Elite: The Forging of SEAL Class 228" to get a very descript look at what BUD/S training is.

The Navy SEALS are the best at what they do, because they plan, prepare, and follow through day after day, month after month, year after year - "the training never ends" -  it's no way just BUD/S... and the way I see those teams that use faux BUD/S is downright sloppy - how about just good technique and hard work in the weight room, field or court? Navy Seals are disciplined, grown-up men who are warriors that take their job very seriously. I work with student-athletes.

How about just following through with some of the principles that make for good SEALS (and equally, good athletes)?

-Required to be prepared (eating right, going to bed on time, extra practice, study, stretching, whatever...).

-Being held accountable, showing up every day and on time (and making sure teammates do also). Such as being able to get up and perform early in the morning at any point in the year... not just one or two weeks in the summer. If a SEAL screws up, there is a consequence (we should have consequences with our athletes too, aka, holding people accountable).

-Expecting things to be done right (respecting technique and effort, no screwing around when it's between the start and finish of the allotted training time), and having a deep respect for the process, with the intent to get better each day.

-Being consistently great at the fundamentals (what's more of a mental challenge than doing both the little things and big things right every day?).

-There are no "off" days, everyday has a focus (all the things above, along with going to class and maintaining grades).

Maybe the "Hell Week" is used for team building? Each year, it seems someone is doing something more radical, like all the military training, to "team build". How do you top this stuff? I get athletes and sport coaches wondering why we aren't doing the same or how we might be able to do something "outside the box" too. Maybe someday, I'll take a team up Mt. Everest? Athletic development/strength and conditioning has nearly become an entertainment profession. I remember playing "War" when I grew up... I guess it's all the same. Whatever happened to team building like challenges from something called 'practice'?

There is the possibility that sometimes pressing too hard for all this mental toughness training and team building can back fire too. I know I've participated in some of these 'exercises', and I thought they were the stupidest thing I've ever done - artificial and fake. Everyone wants more with "new and better", yet often paradoxically, trying too hard, gets you less with "old and worse".

But what do I know... the placebo seems to be the thing these days.

AS

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Black Box

Heart Rate, Resting Heart Rate, Heart Rate Recovery, Heart Rate Variability, Left Ventricular Hypertrophy, Autonomic Tone, Electromyography, Motor Unit Recruitment, Energy Systems, VO2 Max, Lactate Threshold, Glucocorticoids, Testosterone, Human Growth Hormone, Hematocrit, Body Composition, Protein Synthesis, Glucose, Insulin, and on, and on...

Important measures? Maybe. Helpful? Debatable.

I like the internal details - they can definitely add insight and direction... but when it comes to coaching, you better have the awareness, skills, and diligence to work with a black box.

AS

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Gun Control Debate: My Thoughts

I get the different perspectives of this argument.

Most of it revolves around fear and trust: fear of losing something or someone, and a trust of each other and that the 'right' thing will be done.

Those that are for the right to bear arms, have a fear of the impingement of their "rights" and fear for personal and social protection, but deeper, likely a fear that somehow this country will slowly transform into George Orwell's "1984" or Nazi, Germany. I get it. I too, don't want to lose what's great about our country.

While I also get it that we can't just stand as the "innocent" bystander to the most heinous of acts, and just point to the individual as the problem. It's a fear that the easy availability of guns can get into the wrong hands, and so the government should at least make an attempt to protect its people of something like the school shootings from happening again.

Without guns, some acts may never occur or might substantially diminish the horrendous outcomes of them. Although, with guns, the exact same can be said. A gun is a tool, and with all tools, different domains and users determine their deeming morality.

A gun and it's many different forms are the products of what we might call technological progress. With that, one of the challenges I see is the different ways we define "progress" in general as a human species. Is it technological, biological, or ideological? Are those even separate?

The current state
The reality is the technology of guns is here, and will likely never go away regardless of their regulation. In that case, I ask, has our biological and ideological progress kept up with our technological progress? Can we, should we, will we be able to handle the presence of guns.

I don't think there is a 'right' solution, but I do know that we, as individuals, have a responsibility to give an effort to make our local communities/ecosystems better through our connections and actions. I particularly like Kwame Brown's ideas for action that he recently shared in his post, Friday in Sand Hook: My Thoughts.

Moving forward
One, of my many questions, is: at a fundamental level, is a gun necessary for life?  I would say this is, arguably, contextual. Guns are for destroying life, and/or protecting it... depending on how you view it.

How we've handled guns, and will handle guns (as with any tool, and all matters) moving forward is going to be dictated by our level of respect for life - all life, not just human life. Guns create major headlines, but there are also far deadlier killers and threats happening quietly all around us and inside of us (and this issue has similar argument sides as the gun control debate)... like I said, a respect for life.

The following video has circulated quite a bit in the past few years, and the focus has often been on the hunting method and humans ability to display great endurance... yet the part that breathes into my soul the most is from the 6:00 minute mark on - in the face of killing and death, the hunter knows the true purpose of killing, and takes great care to show his sincere empathy and respect for life, and his connection to it. He understands. He understands he's not 'above' or 'below' life, but embedded within it.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Pull Like A Pole Dancer

I haven't been to any strip clubs lately, and I don't watch any sort of risqué movies, but I have seen enough music videos to get an idea of how most dance these days. Regardless, all forms of dance have much to offer in terms of learning, assessing, and teaching movement. My most recent observation comes from the exotic dancing realm...

One of the trickier parts of the Olympic lifts is the first pull from the floor. Depending on the athlete, some may do fairly well from the hang position, but as soon as the bar goes to the floor, the pull becomes a mess. Sometimes it's failing to hold the back angle (in relation to the floor), sometimes the hips pop up too soon, for others the shoulders drop back behind the vertical line of the bar.

One cue that I have used with pretty decent success is to 'pull like a pole dancer'. This seems to help clean up the first pull by getting the athletes to hold their hips back (butt out, against an imaginary pole), while getting both the shoulders and hips to rise at the same rate. Sure the hips sliding up the pole my be exaggerated for some, but cues that get an athlete to exaggerate the movement usually make it easier to settle into a happy medium with what you are trying to accomplish.
As soon as the bar passes the height of the knee, I tell the athletes to put the bar on the thigh and go. We try to be smooth off the floor (pull before you pull) and progressively accelerate to the point where passing the knees is the trigger.
I am not totally sure why the pole dancing cue has been so effective, maybe because the guys and ladies are so good at exotic dancing these days (or more likely have just seen it so much everywhere)... and/or the fact that the cue would fall under an external attentional focus. Either way, it's worked well for me.
video

**I strongly suggest having a great relationship with your athletes first, so as not to be offensive in using such a cue.

AS

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Perspective

I have to give some real credit to the sport and culture of swimming. They are required to have a certain toughness about them to participate. The swimmers start practice sometime in early September and the season goes through March. During that time, I know our team practices at 6 am five days per week, sometimes six. They also train through many of their meets. When I say they train through them, I mean they practice and lift as if there was no meet. No reduction in training time, days, volume, intensity. There is no taper. They taper only for conference and NCAA championships at the end of the season.

Now of course I would suggest swimming can do better. There is such a thing as being stupid about training. But I have seen it on the other side of things, where there is a constant hyper-vigilance in regards to doing too much. Making training too easy. Teams wanting to taper from tapers... and tapering again off that! 

In my time working with swimming, I remember there being an odd day when the coach would call for a later practice. Moving practice to 7 am was like a gift. You would have thought each athlete won a million dollars. These athletes have a different perspective than others. Early mornings and constant training are the norm, with recovery very much an afterthought... but this is all they know. So don't complain to a swimmer about an early practice, or lifting the day before a game or let alone, the day of! When they finally do taper at the end of a long, grueling season, it's an amazing thing to witness the changes in attitude and energy. Is this optimal? Unlikely. Does it work? It works often and well enough for coaches to continue this approach.

One thing is for sure though, their perspective of getting up early, and training all the time, even when not feeling ideal, is different from those that don't. Is it for the better? I am not sure, but I do know there isn't much they won't be able to handle in the pool.

Training and sport requires balance. It is not life or death, but it should provide challenges to broaden individual's perspectives. Sport is a microcosm of real life, and should offer up a number of lessons to help one deal with the challenges that living presents. 

I personally find it a great task to provide the optimal training, where the training and recovery is monitored thoroughly. However, maybe there are some negatives consequences in the wake of optimality. The very essence of greatness is derived from overcoming less than optimal circumstances. If things were so favorable, everyone would be great. Paradoxicality is more likely to be the rule, not the exception.

This perspective on training brings up a larger point I'd like to present. I like to read books, watch documentaries, and listen to other people talk about their experiences. I like things that give me a different perspective (some might argue that I don't, but I really do appreciate diversity) on sports, training, and life. Specifically, hardships that people of different times and places have had to endure. I find it helpful when I am present with a challenge. This diversity of life both now and historically persistently offer up the words, "it could be worse".

A couple weeks ago, I watched a documentary on the Dust Bowl of the 1930's (on the great TV station PBS!). It coincided with the great depression. Sure, the farmers of the Dust Bowl were much the victims of there own efforts, and their perspective of life undoubtedly changed, but it's difficult to not have empathy for the people of the time. And while we may not envy them and their lives in that time and region of the country (many died from the dust, most horribly the death of children, some men and women committed suicide), I do envy their appreciation for such simple things, such as single day, even just hours, when the wind did not blow, filling their lunges and eyes (the threat of dust pneumonia), and covering the house top to bottom in a thick layer of dust. The only place not to be brown of the dust was where their heads had laid on the pillows at night... but they had pillows! 
Their lives were stripped of many of the superfluous things (as have many of those in dire circumstances the world over) we so take for granted today. To hear the stories of those that lived through that time is at the same time heart-wrenching and inspiring. It was also inspiring to hear of the simple joys they (young children at the time) cherished, like a dust-free bed.

One of my favorite books, "The Road" by Cormac McCarthy presents a story of a man and his young son on a journey across the desolate landscape in a post-apocalyptic world, where many of the remaining survivors have resorted to cannibalism. The purpose of the journey is not real clear, but the purity of their lives, challenges, and love for one another is difficult to harbor under easier circumstances. The fleeting moments of safety and calm when the father hugs his son around a small fire, to keep warm. The internal battles the father fights; such as what to do with the one bullet in his pistol. The everyday struggle to find food and avoid the bad people. There are simple moments of conversation while the father holds his son - because there is nothing else to do, and nothing else either would want to be doing. Inspiring, is how the father's love provides the strength and courage, while being terminally ill, to protect his son so he may survive. 

I found "The Road" to be genuine and pure. To me it was a story for such a deep, powerful love and care for the moment, that is difficult to be possible in times of ease. Life's meaning changes. Purpose changes. Perspective changes.

I have a sense that the perspective in our affluent society is changing, as is likely vastly different from that of those less fortunate, and of generations ago. I try to have an awareness (that might be turning into a phobia) of this affluence, and the apathy it can spread. Sure, some might think having abundance is great, but I am not going to be so quick to think that the desire, aim, and creation of a so-called utopia is helpful. Having everything perfect or trying to make it so, seems to defy the logic of  what it takes to become something great.

Digressing, I think there are things to be gained from changed perspective. Maybe it's just a matter of coping, but we all are required to cope, and adaptability has served many of us well. Acquiring different perspectives whether it by choice or necessity, can create a new, deeper meanings and allow our thinking to be more adaptable - an increase in resilience, a toughness that comes from adversity. As I have stated before, how can we develop this toughness, when we are always trying to provide ideal conditions for our athletes (and children)? This doesn't mean seek out stupidity, just don't always take the easy road. Use good judgement.

AS

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Verbiage Triage

A few years ago, I had the coach-athlete role reversed with a friend who I had previously coached. He bombarded me with cues and emptied the dump truck full of verbiage I had used with him. All I could think about during the exercises was for him to shut up. It was a great lesson in humility.

AS

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The "Speed Barrier" and Knowing

If Ivan Abadjiev had been a sprints coach, would he have been concerned about the so-called "speed barrier"?

I've heard "avoiding the speed barrier" from some well-known coaches and am genuinely curious as to it's validity, or is this just some coaching folklore? 

Who has had athletes experience this supposed stabilization of speed? If so, was it because they were tired? Might sticking with it, instead of 'giving-up' too soon, lead to the eventual breakthroughs? Is it just a matter of necessary variation to adjust for diminishing returns or reduced will? Does diminishing returns reduce motivation, or does reduced motivation diminish returns, or both?

Sometimes, I think we think we know, but we might not. Prediction (from instinct or data) or wait and see? How much false confidence do we gain from successful predictions?

We must make choices and observations of occurrence with confidence, but certainty of why is risky.

AS

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Charlatan Nonsense

I felt compelled to post these questions along with links to present some of the glaring problems in the profession of strength and conditioning/athletic development.

Here is the link to the following question. I quoted the question and answer below in which I highlighted specific parts of the answers (in bold italics):

Question:
Hi Coach! Thanks for the great response! I love the idea of contrast sled pulls and sprint work. when I worked my backs and receivers we did sled work at 10 yard intervals followed by 10 yard hill work. We did this four weeks! We then did sled walks for 20 yards followed flying 20's great results. However, I was wondering if you did medicine ball throws with hurdle jumps? Also, did you cut exercises with weights down to a minium? 

An e book would be great!

Answer:
Warren, we did do hurdle bounds and explosive medball throws ( both backward scoop and extension throws into a large mat , which ate my favorite because you talk about full triple extension following the momentum created by the medball, its awesome) our first 4 week block hurdle bounds were max effort single respinse. Second four weeks reactive. Last block, even though we were in alactic capacity i did a few reactive hurdle bounds to a 10 yd sprint, which was accounted for in the overall volume. If in a large group 15-20 they were split , 1/2 medball and 1/2 hurdle bounds. Now you can do hurdle biunds holding a medball and after landing the last bound use the medball in a acceleration sprint , which is highly effective but advanced. You must perfect hurdle bounds both max effort and reactive before adding the load of the medball and the lack of arm lift ( since the arms are holding the medball ) this was usually done with big skill and skill. It was enough to get the big guys to reactively bound over hurdles but when we left they could all do it with minimal ground contact time ( strive for .15 secs on ground). Now they do all this olympic lifting and they are less explosive!!!! How do i know? Athletes still call me and tell me how shitty they feel on game day cause the head strength guy uses maximal loads during the season to get them strong. There's a time and place for everything and during the season when the primary emphasis is the game , is NOT the time. Again i sit unemployeed while stupid stuff like this goes on. Its embarrassing the bullshit that goes on in this profession. Lets lift heavy to get strong in season, total moron!!!!"

My issues:
-So in stating that they could do it with minimal ground contact time and that they were striving for .15 secs, we would assume testing/evaluation to be done with accelerometers/force platforms.

-The claim that the athletes do "all this Olympic lifting and are now less explosive" (what is explosiveness?) requires comparison of previous metrics with current ones

-And the last part falls under many different logical fallacies, such as ad hominem and appealing to emotion.

... and the link to the following question. I quoted the question and answer below in which I highlighted specific parts of the answers (in bold italics):

Question:
"Coach while at your various stints as a physical preparation coach I was wondering what methods you used to track and record data besides visual and short term monitoring system. Did you track player data from their freshman to senior year? I was just wondering as I am starting to track my high school athletes but am having trouble putting it all together via excel. Thanks for your time and input."

Answer:
"JJ, let me it this way, i hate computers ! I had a " Louisville" sluggar right next to my desk and i used it! I believe i was on my third computer when Coach Wannstedt was let go. I usually left that to James and i believe he used excel sheets. Listen youe are either a researcher, a data collector , a a phoney , or a coach. I chose to coach. All my energies went to making my athletes better ! James and i only tested occassionally. We did not want to waste time losing a training day. You'll see your athletes getting better. I was fortunate enough in my career to have the majority of head coaches let me do my thing. Thanks"

-It is possible to record information without the use of computers.

-It is my belief that a coach should be all of those things - a researcher, a data collector, and a coach. Making a statement that all one's energy went into making athletes better is a fragment. Better than what? I am all for being present when coaching athletes and using subjective judgement is a big part of coaching, but when making claims that athletes are better, or as in a previous post that a specific program makes one "explosive as f***", is fallacious without data to back up claims. 

-I also believe that testing is not a waste of a possible training day. I use the mantra of 'training is testing, testing is training'. Testing often requires a maximum use of the athlete's specific resources to accomplish the tests, which to me suggests that it is a physiological stressor, and applied at the correct time can lead to an adaptation of possible improvement of the skill tested. I would argue that Usain Bolt's 100 meter times have improved to what they have because of the realization that takes place in the races (World Championships/Olympics), not necessarily the practices. Training can get you to the starting line, but the race can change you even more.

-Telling another coach that "you'll see your athletes getting better" helps no one. Sure as a coach, you become better skilled at spotting nuances in technique that may or may not be improved with feedback and certain cues, but how do you know your feedback or cues worked? And again, better at what? I can accept the subjective idea of improving technique, as this is formally logical in that many coaches will agree on certain techniques. But after that, improvement in technique is simply improvement in technique. At that point the technique should lead to improvement of performance, and performance requires a metric(s).

Talking about subjective outcomes and opinions is fine, but when it is used for arguments of certain coaches or training methods being better than others, then the arguments become anti-intellectual and the profession of strength and conditioning/athletic development spins in the same place, staying in an authoritarian state of a few gurus leading the blind; which is eerily familiar to many of today's institutions (certain states and religions). If coaches were explicit with what they did and tested (pre/post), then we can make better comparisons and actually have intellectual discussions. Track coaches rarely have to worry about this because their work gets quantifiably evaluated in every meet. A person like myself, or the 'coach' above, who works with team sport athletes can easily sound like an expert and get away with subjective claims because team sports provide a protective barrier of so many variables to hide behind. 

All these arguments and claims are the realm of gurus, and I feel this is a major problem in coaching. If you are not testing and retesting, then making arguments is illogical rhetoric. Coming from a site such as Elitefts.com where many of the writers talk of indicators (specific data points) to determine the effectiveness of a method or program, is quite disappointing. 
My suggestion is that this profession, as with many other subjects with a search for a best practice, needs more science, reason, and logic. They are arguably the best tools we posses in order to have a shared reality. We owe it to the athletes.

AS

Monday, November 12, 2012

A Break From Breakfast

"Breakfast is the most important meal of the day."

Maybe, if that is the only time you can eat, or it's the only time you are not putting garbage into your body. Otherwise, I call this a fallacy.

"Breakfast jump starts your metabolism."

Wow. As if metabolism stopped (you'd be dead). Exposing yourself to sunlight requires metabolism. Moving requires and changes metabolism. All processes in the body require metabolism.

"Breakfast will help you feel not so hungry later in the day."

Maybe or maybe not. A high glycemic meal (as many breakfast meals are) could lead to a drastic drop in blood sugar from the excessive insulin release, making a person feel hungry again.

And the word BREAKFAST: breaking the fast.

As if 8 hours is really a fast... and as if a fast is really a bad thing. I've noticed that people often think they will actually die if they don't eat every few hours... I'd say America does not need to worry about missing a meal. There is also mounting evidence that fasting can have some potential positive effects. This doesn't necessarily lend credence that everyone should fast and for exactly how long, just that things related to diet are highly variable... and a little variability might be a good thing. Just as muscles need rest after being worked, the digestive system might use a break too.

I've been as guilty as any in promoting these myths regarding breakfast in the past, however I have long since quit touting breakfast as the ergogenic that so many claim it is. Eating food is very important, however, as crazy as it may sound, it might not be essential to be eaten first thing in the morning.

As if the lion awakes to omolettes, pancakes, and sausages, only then go out on the hunt and athletically perform her best.

AS

Friday, November 2, 2012

Skeptical Empiricism

I read a Q & A thread on popular website in which an "expert" coach who made the claim of employing superior training methods and that his team was "explosive as f*%#".

Now maybe they were "explosive as f*%#", but how does a coach know? Making subjective claims when arguing training methods, to me, is just 'wooing the crowd' to maintain guru status, or more hopefully just a logical fallacy. There are times when it is ok to claim that a certain exercise or program has potential for greater "explosiveness" outcomes vs others without evidence, so long as logic and reasoning can be easily applied. However, just stating "explosive as f*%#" is fiction, until it has been specifically defined and reliably tested.

-Define "explosiveness".

-Evidence of "explosiveness": Vertical or standing long jump? Clean or snatch numbers? 40 yd dash? Agility test? Is the test repeatable and reliable?

-Baselines of "explosiveness": what were the athletes' initial "explosiveness" scores prior to the commencement of training (and even better yet, an athlete's career training statistics)?

And before patting ourselves on the back for a job well done... analyze and interpret the data. What are some of the variables? What are the uncontrollable factors, and possible adjustments that could skew the outcomes positively or negatively? Also, most performance coaches do not have, or can afford to have, controls or use blinding.

These would be just a few of the factors to consider. Someone with a greater scientific background than me could come up with many other things to look at.

I've heard athletes say, or even tell me, "Coach, I feel more explosive" or "I feel faster". This might make me feel warm and fuzzy inside, and I am very glad for the positive feelings the athletes have, but I still ask them and myself, "how do you know?"

It's the struggle I fight with in my head daily. I am a skeptical empiricist.

AS

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Stoic Lifting

*To clarify, this isn't directed towards competitive O-lifters, as many already know this through experience and shared knowledge.

Maxing on Squats and Deadlifts Everyday. I really liked this article by Greg Nuckols. He gives a very clear and concise description to the often misunderstood Bulgarian Method of training: high frequency, high intensity training on a daily basis. Basically working up to a training max on a couple lifts everyday (or at minimum of 4-5 days per week). The program worked well for Greg, and I have witnessed to be very effective for one of our competitive Olympic lifters here at UND.

The details of the Bulgarian method are pretty straightforward, however the key point that I believe so many miss is as Greg stated:

"Here, the daily max is a weight that you can move without mental arousal (no death metal and ammonia) and without any aberration from perfect form."

The Bulgarian Method has been chastised by many lifters and coaches claiming the impossibility of maxing daily without the assistance of drugs. The problem is their definition of maxing is to think of testing/evaluation or competition day efforts. The type of efforts resembling borderline psychosis, training partners slapping each other on the face prior to each attempt, lots of yelling and chest beating... to the point that the whole pre-max attempt celebration and max attempt requires an automatic defibrillator to bring back to life the lifter and spotters. This can be fine at the right times (competition, evaluation at the end of a meso/macrocycle) but it will limit the frequency that one can train with high intensity, because it's not just the intensity (load and/or speed) of the work, but one's psychological state.

And this is often the crux of the issue. So few are aware enough to realize the amount of effort required for performance enhancements, while governing this effort 'to live to train another day'. Very few can find, nor understand, the optimality of arousal to elicit the desired outcomes of training. Excessive arousal will deplete energy stores and make a mess hormonally, and lethargy leaves everything to be desired. It's an amazing skill to be acquired to fully direct nervous energy yet still tempering the nerves. The goal is to minimize arousal and increase performance. Truly, the mind is the body and the body is the mind.


As I stated, high levels of emotional energy are ok at carefully selected times and with simple tasks (Yerkes-Dodson Law) - it's just difficult to sustain and very depleting. And when trying to improve a skill, hyperarousal and not sustaining a regimen will obviously make the acquisition of the skill(s) very difficult (in the case of a strength, power, or speed skill). There are no secrets, just a guiding and balancing of energy. I do believe the Bulgarian Method or more generally high frequency, high intensity training can be very effective, even without drugs (of course abiding by appropriate recovery ettiquite). It just takes an athlete or group of athletes with the right desire, action, and emotional intelligence: Stoicism

"When I see a man in a state of anxiety, I say, 'What can this man want?' If he did not want something which is not in his power, how could he still be anxious?" -Epictetus

And within that quote there is great insight into both an athlete's approach to training and a coach's approach to coaching that athlete.

AS

Monday, October 22, 2012

Sprinting

The other day, I read the argument again that 'most field and court sports are more about acceleration than absolute sprint speed, so let's focus most, or all of our sprint training on acceleration'.

I have a hard time with this view because I feel that both acceleration and absolute sprinting should be mainstays in a program regardless of sport. Sure some sports involve mostly accelerations of about 10-20 meters, and some even shorter (i.e. volleyball), yet many who train these athletes do not think twice about using a training method in the weight room that will never be found on the field or court. Neglecting any aspect of sprinting that uses primarily alactic anaerobic metabolism, I feel is a major mistake. The range of movement and velocity of sprint running leaves too much to be garnered to be ignored.

I am not going to spend much time re-wording my logic since I have done this before...

Acceleration and Absolute Speed

Conditioning or Speed Reserve

... but I am going to point out a recent article written by Matt Gardner, who puts it very succinctly:

Acceleration Imbalance Part 1

AS

Thursday, October 4, 2012

How To Become Strong

There are two fundamental ways to become strong: a) to be born with a hereditary predisposition toward strength and then just let the biological processes unfold as one matures, or b) to train.

-Arthur Drechsler, The Weightlifting Encyclopedia.


AS

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Advice to athletes

I really like what Jim Wendler writes. His advice to football players is good, but unfortunate that it even has to be said... regardless, the article struck a nerve with me, like Aron Ralston's dull knife...
While this is a list of instructions for a football player, these points go for any athlete. I italicized in bold print the pieces of advice from Jim's article, followed by my take.

1. Don't worry about your bodyweight.

I agree. The males that do usually start to carry around a belly that usually leads to an awkward pelvic position, leading to a whole potential load of problems: hamstrings, knees, or back, or just fatness, or fatness with injury. The females: weak. Weak because either they become afraid of lifting heavy weights (which really is the only thing that seems to make much of a difference), worried they will become too big or because of being malnourished, or usually both. Both make one weak.

Worry about training, practicing, and playing aggressively. Eat well for health. Better to be solid than soft. Better to be solid than frail.

2. Condition for practice, not the game.

I used to be all about training for the game, training smart, but unfortunately sports coaches don't always abide by smart. 2-a-days, 3-a-days, archaic conditioning tests, marathon practices, additional 'nail in the coffin' conditioning... not to mention the emotional side of it all (read: how to recover from an adrenaline bomb, or smaller, more consistent rounds of stress shots).

Athletes need to be hardened in training for anything. And let's be real, that soft, corrective bull or precise sport-specific conditioning rarely is going to save any athlete for what they will have to go through. Conditioning to survive and thrive in practice, because as Jim said, "you don't see the game if you don't practice well", or practice at all because of injury.

3. Have a role and fulfill that role to the best of your ability.

No shit. Jim's right, not everyone will be a superstar, just as blue ribbons and trophies for every participant is a waste of natural resources. I see this all the time with once high school stars, now turned average players at the college level... half-assed efforts, whining, and taking up space. Why put in the time and energy to go to practice, film, meetings, lifting, and the academic requirements? Just to say you wear a jersey? Shallow.

Personally, if I had to choose, I would rather die with honor. Control what you can control.

4. Don't be a dumb jock. 

This drives me nuts. Why not be an intelligent bad-ass? Stupid is stupid. Now, just as not everyone can be a superstar, not everyone can be Einstein, but damn... at least try to correct stupid.

A common theme lately is attempts by s&c coaches to train their athletes like warriors', pretending to be Navy Seals (more on that another time) and such, but all true warrior cultures valued training the mind too, not just "mental toughness". Athletes, please do your part.

Intelligence, tenacity, and ability is scary, because they almost always lead to more of what currently is.

Also, if you really are intelligent, don't act dumb... and this is probably more often the case. Stop fretting about being "cool" among dumb peers. I am not sure why some athletes seem to value this (i.e. grammar skills). Actually, I do kind of get it... but knock it off, time to move on, and grow up.

At the very least, be independent to think for yourself and search for your own answers. Honestly though, the hand holding today from everyone really makes this challenging... recognize it and get beyond it.

5. Treat the people around you with respect.

This is hugely important. Females often do this better than the males, but it shouldn't matter, male or female: rule #1, don't be a dick (or bitch).

You shit like everyone else.

AS

Friday, August 10, 2012

"World's Greatest Athlete"

In his post-decathlon interview, I felt Ashton Eaton displayed a tremendous amount of awareness and respect for the history of the Olympic games, especially the tag of "world's greatest athlete", in referencing Jim Thorpe. The debates rage as to who is the greatest Olympian, or the greatest athlete, but few can argue that whoever comes out on top of the decathlon deserves some serious consideration.

Eaton is a great story, and hopefully one that continues for a long time. All-around athleticism is something that is tragically missing these days. I'll often ask a recruit what other sports they play, and without hesitation and almost with a sense of pride they state they've been focusing on the one particular sport they are being recruited for since they were 12. All I can think about is 'disaster' waiting to happen. Now granted there are always exceptions, but these are rare because I can speak from some experience now to say that often this is all going to end in a physical train wreck.

Reading a little about Ashton Eaton's background, and his humility for those who have come before, I just couldn't help but be excited to see him mentioning Jim Thorpe on national television after completing his impressive run from the trials to the Olympics. It's just unfortunate that most probably don't know who Jim Thorpe was... but among him and Eaton and other multi-sport stars, I hope young athletes take note.


Ashton Eaton chases glory, not fame

"Just look at what Eaton has done, and how he's done it. Eaton was born in Portland, and by the age of 2, his father and mother split up. Roslyn Eaton moved her only child to rural central Oregon, to La Pine, a town of 5,000, and Eaton didn't see much of his father, Terrance Wilson. Five-year-old Ashton wanted to be a Ninja Turtle -- who didn't in those heady days of the early '90s? -- and took up tae kwon do. The would-be Donatello learned Roslyn's first rule of sports: If you start it, finish it. Roslyn's other rule: Do whatever you're doing 100 percent. Eaton went on to become a black belt."

... and...

"Eaton tried every sport, even ones his lanky body wasn't particularly suited for, like wrestling, which he did for two years in high school but gave up after tearing a meniscus in his knee as a sophomore. He excelled as a shortstop and center fielder on travel baseball teams before high school, and as a football player at Mountain View High, he was great covering ground at safety, and outstanding getting to the edge as a running back -- even when the play called for him to go up the middle.

Such variety of experience is growing hard to find in youth sports these days, which increasingly insist and subsist on one-sport specialization. Bend resists that. Mountain View athletic director Dave Hood makes it a point to honor three-sport athletes every year, because he and his coaching staffs see each sport helping the others. Besides that, Hood says, "We want kids to be kids. We want them to have fun." Though Oregon high schools don't hold the decathlon, Bend turned out to be an ideal incubator for a multievent athlete." 


Why Are Jim Thorpe's Olympic Records Still Not Recognized

"Carlisle’s piano teacher, Verna Whistler, described Thorpe as guileless. “He had an open face, an honest look, eyes wide apart, a picture of frankness but not brilliance. He would trust anybody.” Moore was an unconventional young Bryn Mawr graduate when she went to work as a teacher at Carlisle. She taught typing, stenography and bookkeeping, basic courses designed to help students conduct their business in the white man’s world. She recalled Thorpe as “liked by all rather than venerated or idolized....[His] modesty, with top performance, was characteristic of him, and no back talk, I never saw him irascible, sour or primed for vengeance.” Moore noted that Thorpe “wrote a fine, even clerical hand—every character legible; every terminal curving up—consistent and generous.” His appearance on the gridiron, she said, was the “epitome of concentration, wary, with an effect of plenty in reserve.

With students from 6 to college age, at its height Carlisle had an enrollment of no more than 1,000 pupils, yet on the collegiate playing fields it was the equal of the Ivy League powers, one of the more remarkable stories in American sports. This was partly thanks to Thorpe, who won renown in football, baseball, track and lacrosse, and also competed in hockey, handball, tennis, boxing and ballroom dancing. At track meets, Warner signed him up for six and seven events. Once, Thorpe single-handedly won a dual meet against Lafayette, taking first in the high hurdles, low hurdles, high jump, long jump, shot put and discus throw. 

The result of all this varied activity was that he became highly practiced in two methods modern athletes now recognize as building blocks of performance: imitation and visualization. Thorpe studied other athletes as closely as he had once studied horses, borrowing their techniques. He was “always watching for a new motion which will benefit him,” Warner said."

I highly, highly recommend giving both articles a read, especially the Smithsonian article about Thorpe because I don't feel he gets enough recognition in the specialized culture we live in.

AS

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Outsourcing Intent?

Josh Leeger commented on a case study he did with himself measuring HRV using both the Ithlete and BioForce app. Seeing some potential limitations, Josh raises some interesting questions.


Using heart rate variability to measure recovery from exercise…or not
Using heart rate variability to measure recovery from exercise…or not? Part 2

Josh also sent me the following:

Signs of overload after an intense training
"The lack of effects in biomarkers together with the changes observed in psychological assessment indicates that an intensified training can produce psychological disturbances prone to early overreaching developement."

It makes me question, does, or can, the quantification of certain biomarkers trump personally perceived psycho-physiological states? It probably depends on the athlete's level of awareness... but also things like a burning desire to train/compete, and a love for sport, and training: the process... or hate for it all.

I am not sure "outsourcing" an athlete's physiology can ever equal being, well... one with one's self.  A questionnaire, or possibly an open, candid conversation with the athlete and coach... trust can go a long way.

Just as a metric from a machine might suggest not training, an athlete's personal decision based off a questionnaire or an athlete not 'feeling' it decides not to train, however the coach challenges the athlete to go forward with training... and goes on to great performances and medals: learning how to, at times, suck it up. One will never know if that was the right decision to train that day (those days) or not.

A great athlete/coach relationship is something very sacred: a wise coach, an athlete(s) with full awareness and a raging will is something to behold.

"You got to pull on that bar like you're ripping the head off of a goddamn lion" -Donny Shankle.

I doubt on those days, Glenn Pendlay says, "No Donny, you're not training today."
AS

Friday, June 22, 2012

Rodney Mullen

I grew up skateboarding a lot, so of course I have an affinity for this. Rodney was one of my heroes back in the day. In this presentation, Rodney gives such sweeping insight into creativity that it's not necessary to care one bit about skateboarding... although after listening to his passion spill into his animated words, it might spark your interest. After watching this, it becomes it it becomes clearly evident why Rodney is a master of his craft. Rodney is a legend, an intellect, and an important leader in the world of skateboarding. I highly recommend checking out this talk!



AS

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Silent Coaching

I thought Carl Valle wrote an excellent blog post a couple days ago titled "What not to Coach". I highly suggest giving it a good read.

I wrote a similar blog post touching on what I felt are some of the important aspects and challenges that are involved in coaching in my position: Quality Control Coaching.

One of the coaching skills that is often mentioned is cuing, which is a primary component of teaching... but something that I think is important to remember is that cuing does not always, nor should it, involve verbalization. The same goes with feedback: it does not always require talking. I've been challenging myself to coach without saying anything, and it's amazing at how effectively (maybe even more so than with words) one can communicate by cutting out the babble... because I think that's often what athletes hear (try reversing the roles sometime; I talked about it with point #2 here). A certain touch, eye contact, body movement or signal can "speak" volumes.

Words can be nice, but can you coach without saying anything?
AS

Monday, March 12, 2012

Ecological Solutions

I've briefly touched on human health and well-being with regards to our biophilic need to be connected to the natural world. In the past, I've mostly blogged about ideas related to athletic performance along with a few things on general health and well-being on a more superficial level and things mostly directed at the human body, with just a few mentions to the broader environment that supports our survivability and thrivability.

Ever since I took an interest in health and fitness, I've always been much more curious about the why than the what and how. I've always tried to ask enough questions, particularly the why questions, with the intent to take things to their logical conclusions (or beginnings). And the key conclusion I continue to come to, is that most of the ills, challenges, and issues regarding human health and well-being have been symptoms of leaving our hunter-gatherer way of living; the agricultural or neolithic revolution.

This new "civilization" for whatever reason, purposely or inadvertently, created a disconnect from the natural world, the cyclical/spherical way of all life... as some argue was a major mistake...

The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race

You can see the fragmented resurfacing of such ideas about how to live, that have been turned into economic commodities (an amazing paradox!) in the recent "paleo" craze; paleo diets, paleo fitness, paleo lifestyles (whatever the hell that means?!). I think the paleo approach is a great step in changing people's view on health and fitness, but is unfortunately often only directed towards helping people deal with their personal symptoms, with little concern about the greater human and non-human world "out there"; really only addressing more and more symptoms of symptoms.

This is not an attempting to tackle all the issues of the 21st century, such as population growth, the growing energy "crisis", the potential fragility of globalization, or global warming, and likely causes... but these are all seemingly related, more or less, to our disconnect with the earth, especially our individual local landbase, that supports us and ultimately gave life to us.

I think Josh Leeger does an excellent job discussing many of these issues on his blog. He recently addressed the position of certain techno-anarchists, and provided some possible redirecting solutions of the current civilization's path.

Fitness at Civilization's End

The thing I don't think many either think about or know (or, more likely, care... although we should) is that history has a long list of civilizations that haven risen and eventually collapsed. All of them, except this one... so far. Will ours be any different? Can we really have infinite growth of our economy on a finite planet? Should we try?

Regardless, there are people who, in this culture of consumption that often leads to destruction of the natural world - the life giving, health and well-being antidote to civilization's diseases, are doing some great and important work (... wow, this has become a very lengthy intro to a couple videos!). Paul Stamets is one of those people. I highly recommend watching a couple of his talks below.



If I am not convincing you to watch either of these videos, at least check out the last few minutes (starting around 9:01) of Paul's talk at TEDMED 2011... maybe this will spark some interest.



AS

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Lives of Ease

Yesterday the snow gods blessed the Greater Grand Forks area with 4-5 inches of snow. As I've written about in the past, I often ride my bike to and from work for a number of particular reasons. I also choose to shovel my driveway when we get any snow, both because I choose to and because I do not own a snow blower. I'll often shovel the neighbors' driveways, time permitting, but often wonder to myself if I am doing them a favor... or disservice.

If I shovel my neighbor's driveway, I might be considered to be doing a good deed, helping deepen the sense of community we share with our neighbors, along with selfishly getting in my own great vigorous movement. On the flip side, I am taking away an opportunity for my neighbors to get themselves out of their houses and get in some healthy physical movement. Take your pick. I choose to shovel as much as my time allows.

Shoveling also, to me, is like a nice long walk, where I can contemplate among other things, the pitfalls and needs of humanity and the rest of the world. Unfortunately the real needs of humans are few in far between in our current culture, at least from a particular ethnocentric point a view.

As I toss the heavy snow into a pile, my thoughts go... "In this culture there is ever growing obesity problems and non-communicable diseases (although this is arguable through understanding social network science), fed by the decline in physical activity, among a host of other factors related to the human greed for efficiency that leads to a life of ease."

At this point my intensity of shoveling has increased (a little angry rage is like a potent ergogenic aid), and I'll usually get my awesome neighbor, an older guy of 70+ years in age who maintains enough youth to be shoveling his driveway, to yell some words of encouragement with a motivational fist pump. My thinking continues... "I am shoveling this driveway, not so much for the removal of snow as I am for the opportunity to get outside, in my neighborhood, and fight the diseases of sedentism."

But then ask myself the question,

"Why do people buy expensive snow blowers (or hire out to have someone remove the snow with their scraper attached to the front of pick up trucks), that slowly help to suck away at the ever-decreasing fossil fuels (sorry I had to throw the ecological side of this in to this, but it really is part of the bigger issue here)?

Because they are lazy?

Because having the biggest, most expensive snow blower is like a peacock showing off it's colorful spread? ("I have more money than you, thus making me more powerful!" (and fatter and physically weaker! Hahaha!!))

Because a person doesn't have enough time to shovel their driveway? Because it's so big, because they have a 4 car garage connected to a mansion of enormous proportions, and they have to spend all their time at their job to make all that money to pay for it? Ahh... affluence.

Or... because Aaron is shoveling his driveway, and he's a fucking jack ass, and I resent him! (That's cool too.)

Removing snow with ease using a snow blower (a machine for ease), to be able to drive our vehicles (another machine for ease) up as close to our houses as possible, so that we can get inside to where the thermostat keeps the interior of our homes at a cozy 70 +/- degrees at all times (god forbid we should ever expose our bodies to any other temperature), where we can cozy up on our couch to watch lots of TV shows of people struggling to lose weight, get chosen as the next music star, watch other humans sweat in a sport, or watch people struggle in choosing their future spouse... intermixed with advertisements of things we should buy to... uh???... why the hell do we need to buy that stuff anyway?... sorry I lost track of what was going on... hey what's this?

If we could only see this obsession with ease, maybe we could become enlightened enough to expose our selves to a bit of physical unease which we so desperately need.... but that maybe that's asking too much. 

Heck you can get the kids involved, if you have any. They love to be out in the snow. Bury them in the snow, with their head exposed so they can at least breath. And ultimately, if the kids are out and involved, they'll know what to do to make the experience worthwhile.

Or you maybe people are happy with a sedentary lifestyle, and kind of enjoy complaining about all its' ill effects. That's fine to an extent. I just hope others can see this life of ease is having effects on the world at large, and at some point something will have to give. The funny thing is, as I alluded to yesterday, our solutions to problems such as those related to our ecophysiology is always addition, thinking that we can save ourselves from ourselves."

I finish my shoveling snow and get back into my car, to comfortably drive back to work... where maybe I'll exercise again. Oh the paradoxes. We humans seem as stupid as we are smart.
 AS

*hat tip to Deep Zanzarakiya for the pic.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Chokehold of Industrialism

Nassim Taleb wrote something on Facebook this morning that really resonated with me. He stated:

"The reason fasting in its various forms is not practiced as the best medicine is because industry has not (yet) managed to make a profit from it. Try to generalize this very, very simple point to other substractive treatments and you will understand what we got ourselves into with modernity."

I think he makes a very strong argument and presents a perspective we are blinded of by the culture we live in. We have been so enculturated that we can "build" and ultimately "buy" ourselves out of any predicament that it becomes damn near impossible to perceive any other way.

In a culture of over-abundance, the answer is almost always less, not more.

And so much of our thinking is driven by the impact of the industrial revolution - as health and fitness professionals often call their expertise of work the "fitness industry", as if health is something to be manufactured and has a price tag. Also, look at my first sentence of this paragraph and my word use, 'my thinking being "driven" (mechanical)', and 'the "impact" (a very mechanical term) of the industrial revolution'; mechanical things can be pieced together on an industrial assembly line.

It requires some effort of me to see these ways of thinking being vocalized in our speech, but once I do, I see the tremendous bias of our culture. Every supposed "new" idea coming out of this bias will almost always have to go through the perspective of our modern economy, similar to what Taleb remarked.

Yes it's semantics, but not just semantics, as our thinking and words influence meaning and a very specific approach. And it appears to me as if this particular "industrial" mindset is becoming dated; with potentially harmful consequences arising all around and within us, like Taleb alluded to in the quote above.

AS

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Monday, February 13, 2012

Squats and Chin-ups

I understand generalizations can be risky, but I've wondered if there was one... would tremendous squat strength and the ability to perform a high number of chin-ups (let's just say for squat 2 x bodyweight for males, and 1.5 x bodyweight for females; for chin-ups 15+ for males and 10+ for females) be one generalization that is a fairly honest assessment of athletic potential in a high number of other demanding endeavours?

This is not a question about garbage squats of half depth and bowed spines, or flailing chin-ups where a person grows their neck to the length of a giraffe and barely clears their chin. I am talking about true deep squats and chin-ups of which the person's chest touches the bar and the bottom position is indicated by full extension of the elbow. It's also not really about just two exercises - it's more about using those two exercises to display the two qualities: tremendous leg strength, and upper body strength and control. It also just so happens that using those two exercises help leg strength, and upper body strength and control.

Do you see athletes that have a high level of physical ability in squatting strength and chin-up ability that really lack ability in other qualities? Or do those two measures indicate some serious ability as far as athletic potential?

Another way to think about it is take an athlete who can squat a tremendous amount of weight, which indicates great lower body strength. Ok, nice. That same athlete can also bench press or even overhead press damn near as much. Cool. However, this particular athlete can not do 1 chin-up without going into convulsions. Not cool.

Again, take that same athlete and only change one thing from above; replace the bench (or overhead) press strength and replace it with the ability to crank out chin-up after chin-up, chest touching the bar every rep... now, at least in my mind, this is a freakishly different athlete.

In my experience, the ability to do those two things well says a lot about what an athlete's other abilities might be... I know, I know... this is sounding like I am trying to narrow things down to 2 movements and to say just use the "corrective strategies" to fix the squat, or fix the chin-up and you're going to be great. No, I am not saying it's just squats and chin-ups, but I think in the world of performance training, too much is made of having a bunch of "tools in the toolbox". The weight room was first a place to enhance athletic ability, but now it has become a second sport for many athletes (at least we as coaches have made it that).

Squats and chin-ups... just a thought. Someone could maybe market a new manual "Squats and Chin-ups; all you'll ever need".

Of course it's not quite that simple; just squats and chin-ups. But those two say a lot.

AS