Friday, June 21, 2013


I work with collegiate age athletes for most of the year, but in the summer I have the good fortune to run a summer long training camp where I work with local kids ages 13-18. I love this opportunity because it keeps me connected with the younger athletes and challenges me in different ways than the collegiate athletes. It also keeps me exposed to the broad spectrum of athletic development, and while there are similarities, there are great differences.

I think playing tag scares performance coaches. It does me. The fear is probably two-fold; scary in that some organizational control has been given up, and scary that it carries a greater risk of an injury. Yet paradoxically, there is a plea for young athletes to engage in multiple sports. Just like it might be considered risky for a college level football player to engage in a bit of pick-up basketball in the off-season. I mean, he is on a scholarship!

But the problem is that as much as we (performance 'experts') would like to think so, a strictly organized, specifically structured "long term athletic development" plan hasn't or isn't likely to produce the greats we see in high level sport, alone. I've seen and used some of the agility teaching progressions out there, yet my frustration grows when these more or less controlled movements are rarely seen in true athletic settings. So, what does improve an athletes agility? Or broader yet, what really improves athleticism (in terms of coordinating all the different movements and qualities into one flowing orchestration)? What synthesizes great athletic movement?

It's also probable that too much controlled training does little for reducing the potential for injury. In sports medicine and strength and conditioning, we all feel more comfortable with the controlled environment within training, but is this always good?

Hormesis - at some point athletes have to be exposed.

That's also why practicing and playing sport is part of the injury reduction plan - the perception, cognition, and decision making is part of the exposure necessary. Additionally though, games of tag give athletes another competitive sport (multi-sport athlete), specifically for those that are involved in just one sport at the time... at least for me working under rules and restrictions regarding using certain implements in training. Of course, if an athlete is practicing their sport year round, this becomes an entirely different case, and often the tag games idea is mostly out the window.

A simple game such as tag does things that I can't as a coach. The whole point of tag is evading as quickly as possible with whatever creative move a person can utilize. It creates an environment more like that of team sport. Applying reactive agility in training is becoming more prevalent among coaches thinking, and the cumulative step is to create as much chaos while allowing for creativity in movement strategies. A simple game of tag also provides instant feedback for the athlete as to their success or failures of choosing a particular move strategy (did I 'tag', or  get 'tagged'). While simply performing a reaction drill such as a coach pointing out directional cues doesn't provide the same feedback for achievement of success (unless some sort of timing system is creatively utilized).

Playing area dimensions can be adjusted for specific stimuli, such as a larger or longer space for longer sprint chases. The number of those that are 'it' can be modified to create more or less chaos. At the very least, setting up the playing space and picking the 'its' keeps me feeling "in charge" as the coach.

Tag is simple but a very interesting and dynamical possibility. One that I think holds more potential possibilities than people realize. At least for court or field team sport athletes who rely on great change of direction skills. It's just a matter of being comfortable giving up some control.

I find it hard to explain in words, but I've seen athletes who appear as "slugs" turn into "ninjas" and "whirling dervishes" as soon as they are being chased in a game of tag. What's with that?! What does that mean in regards to the other aspects of my training?! Not to mention the level of engagement that occurs. Athletes really start paying attention. Maybe the cause is the engagement? The quick movements and speeds are impressive. Should I allow this manifestation to occur, or return to my authoritorial dictation of what, when, and how they move?

It's like the polarizing dichotomy that I hear of between using a game-based or skill-based approach in physical education curriculum. Should there be opposition? Train to play, or play to train? I like a nice blend of both. And unfortunately, the game playing is mostly relinquished from the neighborhoods anymore because kids are in lock down in daycares, or by the pull of technology.

For me, tag provides a nice boost in morale and overall intensity, while providing "rapid whole body movements with  a change of velocity or direction in response to a stimulus" (Sheppard and Young, 2006.)... with the feedback. Not to mention that it usually causes athletes to smile (genuinely). And this lowers RPE from what I've assessed, and read.

Now, don't go using tag in your training just because I thought it holds some possibilities. I know my athletes, and I deal in my own risks, and I might also be dreaming in Wonderland.


Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Athletic Compensation

"The best athletes are the best compensators"

Well... maybe we should work at teaching all athletes how to compensate then. Or is that too ironic?


Monday, June 3, 2013

Making Connections

Most of this blog surfaces on things regarding athletic development, but I will diverge a bit...

As with nearly anything in this culture related to health and fitness and sport, human physiology as we know it is very much a deluded study. Deluded, maybe, because of a great ignorance. Ignorance in awareness: Who are we? Where did we come from? Why are we the way we are? How do we "fix" afflictions?  Or even, does our current model allow us to fix things, or just patch things up? Where does optimal health, fitness, and well-being begin? What is optimal?

With the explosion of evidence and understanding in areas of study such as human evolution, biology, geology, climatology, anthropology, ecology, botany, oceanography, and so on, the picture is getting clearer... one would hope.

Hopefully, we might see the connection in it all. Yet ironically, because science works so well by isolating and reducing, it is also part of the problem of seeing the 'big' picture. Although, seeing this connection is kind of difficult in a culture that seems to create disconnection. Maybe because we've been able to afford the 'honeymoon' of supersession from the (untainted) natural world, built upon isolation and reduction. But nothing lasts forever.

The "paleo" proponents make a couple connections with regards to exercise and diet. Whether it's the best way of eating, is an argument that can extend for ages, but I do believe it gives the best framework from which to start (I said start, not follow); an evolutionary perspective.

But diet and exercise is a small aspect, and a very limited one. Because we (should) know there are many other contributing factors health and wellness.

Frank Forencich, who has been an excellent voice in connecting all things health for many years now, has discussed the limitations of a singular focus, such as the paleo diet.

Possibly lesser popular (unfortunately) is, Josh Leeger (also a good friend of Frank's). To me, Josh's blog is the best there is in making the connections (along with many other great philosophical insights). And as far as my logic and reason can get me (thus far), one of the most logically rational bloggers on the web. I believe his posts are the closest view of true reality to the questions I asked above. Josh is a great connector, and I really do think you should check out his blog. For those that view the world from an anthropocentrical ivory tower, his posts might be a challenge (which is cool).

Here are few recent posts that work to help connect the reader to a healthier, more sane view than one of isolation and reductionism.

Connect with the Earth – What does THAT mean?

Connecting t(w)o Earth(s)

Blood and mushrooms

My thought is that our incessant attempt to 'decode' human health, fitness, and wellness will ultimately have to go through many of the connected/embedded/holistic panorama of ideas Josh writes about on all this (*arms wide open*) to even get close to optimal (or at the very least, save ourselves from ourselves)... which beautifully takes care of more than just me (you, us, humans).

Alright, that's my big picture, philosophic point for the day. Back to deciphering training volume and intensities.


Monday, May 13, 2013

Manual labor training of the 1920's & 30's

Last week, while in Kansas City, I toured through The College Basketball Experience (of which I do not recommend for the $12 I spent to look around) and took the photo below of Ward "Piggy" Lambert's champion Purdue basketball team, that John Wooden was a part of (Coach Wooden is front row, fourth from the left).

It's unlikely that the Purdue Boilermakers had a strength and conditioning program in 1932. But that certainly didn't mean that the players were not strong or conditioned. Looking at the team photo, it's evident that many of the players grew up doing "chores" (as Wooden did); probably on the family farm. The picture reveals some pretty sturdy legs, and deltoids that experienced some serious work. They maybe didn't lift weights, but many of them 'worked' moving weight... and if they were on a farm... double-days.

It's pretty impressive what the manual labor of the day did for many of their physiques. Imagine if they had the training (not the namby-pamby stuff) and facility resources (although maybe the luxury is part of the problem) we have today, with the work ethic of yesterday.

Wooden in high school without a bar, bench, dumbbells, or TRX


Friday, May 3, 2013

Eyal Lederman Interview

I briefly mentioned the work of Eyal Lederman in my presentation regarding the opposing viewpoints on "core stability". Lederman certainly hasn't hesitated to challenge many of the common manual and physical training/therapy methods.

Mythical Methods?
More Mythical Methods?

This interview will almost certainly stir the pot.

I would say Lederman is very much a pragmatist. While I think there is a bit more of a middle ground with regards to movement standards in high performance arenas (than 'absolutely' what Lederman suggests), I agree with much of what he has to say.

"Overload, exposure (frequency), and specificity" as Eyal states, is the requirement to make change... which many of the "corrective" methods (and sadly, some folks ideas of actual training) seem to miss.

I also like his points on motor control, the importance of task-oriented activities, and that the body is robust with 'reserves' to deal with so-called imperfections and injuries. The body has millions of years of evolution behind it, and my opinion has the ability to self-organize without always needing isolated intervention (just desire and good coaching) - meaning compensations may not be exactly so, but simply beautifully functional adaptations.

Either way, I recommend watching the video (and reading his papers).


*Thanks to Joe Przytula for pointing out this video to me. Video courtesy of Dean Griffiths' youtube page.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Small words, big meaning

When I first started in collegiate strength and conditioning, one of the unique things I noticed was after every workout, many of the women's soccer players would thank me. It kind of caught me off guard at first, as I had never been thanked by an athlete after having just pushed them through some pretty physically demanding work. I also, as an athlete, had never really thought to thank a coach post-workout or practice (maybe after the season, but never during)... yet, the more I think about it, however small it is, the simple gesture can go a long ways.

Right now, I specifically know each athlete who genuinely shows their appreciation for your help. And I know that when I am coaching those particular athletes, I consciously up my coaching 'game'. Reflecting, I also realize I subconsciously elevate my coaching performance because of the strong sense of reciprocity I feel from these particular athletes. I've noticed there's great power in reciprocity.

This is just one of the many lessons that a few of the athletes I've worked with have taught me.

Now I try to pass this show of appreciation on to my children. I make sure to have them thank their teachers, swimming instructors, coaches, or anyone else that assists them in even the smallest of situations... and to make sure they know why they are thanking them.

I hope to convey to them the importance of letting their coaches, teachers, and supervisors know that their efforts in helping and caring for them are recognized. And, that they (my children) should be grateful to all people who are helping support their efforts.

There's no such thing as a self-made man or woman.


Thursday, April 25, 2013

Quality Control Coaching (2)

This is the second talk I gave at the Sanford Power Strength and Conditioning Clinic. A special thanks to their (Sanford Power) director Randy Martin for inviting me to give 2 presentations and a practical session.

I really enjoyed giving both of my presentations, but this one below was my favorite because I feel the pedagogy side of coaching is where training is made, or broken. I also see coaching pedagogy as severely lacking in the athletic development profession (in my opinion, and at least here in the U.S.), so I felt I would give my my take on it.

I have a teaching degree in physical education (I've blogged about some of my background in it before) and I recommend for any aspiring coach to get a degree in physical education; especially from a reputable program that puts students through the rigor as far as requiring the lesson planning, but specifically having to actually teach elementary, middle, and high school students, along with the final semester of 'student teaching'. In my undergrad program, we spent a few semesters teaching at local schools, and were graded by not only our instructor, but our peers... along with being filmed for us to review. At least at the time, I thought it was pretty demanding, but am so thankful to have been challenged to teach to a high level.

It's my opinion that the exercise physiology and mechanics is the easy part, and it's the attempt to communicate the methods and truly teach that is the ultimate difference maker. Having been in coaching for a few years now, I continually see the need for a teacher education background, because regardless of how much you know about what you are trying to do, it only matters if it is learned by the athletes.

The second half of the talk below is about being fully present when coaching - paying attention to the smallest of details; things that the athletes or no other person would likely see. From getting to know your athletes to them getting to know you, and the ability to decipher subtleties like that of a very in-tune mother and her awareness of her own child. As you will see, I also put a high premium on the warm-up and have the opinion that a quality and accurate warm-up is the best path to post-workout and inter-workout recovery (something to think about), and some of the different things I watch for throughout the warm-up component. Along with that, I also touched on how I try to instill an increased self-awareness in to the athletes; something I think is paramount of all that I do.

I finished up with how I try to evaluate myself, and how I approach each training session - just as I am trying to get athletes to improve their abilities and skills, so am I.

The following old blog posts do explain some of the concepts in the slides:
Physical Education 101
Quality Control Coaching
Warming up

I understand without audio it is hard to convey the entire message, so as with the other presentation slides please post any questions in the comments below.


Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Inquiry of the status quo

This past month I was fortunate enough to be asked to present at two different local conferences. Below is one of the presentations I gave, taking a critical look at some of the more popular methods, systems, and claims on the current landscape. Basically, the presentation was loaded with questions I have, and hoped to convey to the audience. I don't have a vendetta for anyone or anything, just a desire for free thinking and reality.

Throughout the presentation I was adamantly clear when I was interjecting my opinion, and was certain to not leave anything 'off the table'; myself and my philosophy of training too. The summation of my message was how I try to exercise logic and reason.

Maybe certain movement screens, corrective exercises, prehabilitation, dietary recommendations, methods, and systems really are flawless and are the panacea (I doubt it). But if I am never asking any tough questions, and just turning a blind eye, I would say I am awfully credulous, and would likely be struggling to navigate my way... compass-less.

Please post any questions in the comments below. I also have a list of references that went with this presentation that I would be more than happy to share.


Friday, April 5, 2013

The All-Purpose Ringmaster

Earlier this week, Margo and I took our two oldest kids (6 and 3... old I know) to the local circus, put on by a small, local circus company. It was a humble, low budget circus. The type that can perform in the smallest of venues. It was a circus of only a few performers, five dogs, and a little horse that the kids could stand next to for their picture: "$5 with your camera, $10 with mine".

The acts were simple (not necessarily easy) and traditional. Some of the performers looked beyond their prime, yet gave an effort and performance that I could completely respect (as if I am the expert circus talent identifier).

I also felt as if I should have purchased one of the generic circus coloring books, a few large balloons, and some cotton candy they were selling, in hopes that they didn't go broke and would be able to perform another day.

Even with all the antiquated props and sets, and a scant audience, they put on a show. And what really caught my attention and resonated with me was the ringmaster. As we were finding our seats, he was making his rounds making sure everything was in order, helping with the sets and performers. After opening with the classic, "Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages...", he was over adjusting the lights for the performers. Later, he was selling popcorn. Then selling souvenirs - no job too large or small. And with great dignity. His all-purpose-ness reminded me of one of my coaches when I was younger...

I grew up in a small community that paired with a couple local small towns for school and sports. This meant we had to often travel 10-15 miles to school or to practice at different times throughout the year. I had a junior high coach who would drive us by bus at 5:30 for our 6 am practices (not to mention he, himself, lived another 20+ miles away... in another state!). He would also drive the bus to and from games. He was the 'equipment manager'. He taped ankles. He got the water bottles filled. He coached us in multiple sports. He cut the football field grass and painted it's lines. He swept the basketball floor before and after practice. All the while teaching us discipline, humility, and the fundamentals of the games. I am sure... no, I know, he did a hell of lot more than we ever knew.

I know that some days after practices, he would be refereeing girls volleyball or basketball games. He also scouted high school football games, prepping scouting reports for the varsity team and coaches.

Not to mention, having to deal with all the damn parents who thought they were the coaching experts or thought their child was getting shafted in some way. Thinking of those parents that bitched or scoffed, pisses me off even more today than ever. We weren't elite athletes, and we didn't need elite coaching. We needed the basics and to be taught discipline and humility. My coach had the thankless job of being Mr. Utility, just so many of us could have the opportunity to play on the... small-time stage. I completely get it now.

He is still coaching junior high kids today - 20 years later - having had coached something like 20 years prior to me. All the while teaching at the high school, and raising and supporting his own family.

I deeply appreciate my junior high coach (as I did the ringmaster). Definitely way more now than I should have in my younger days, when all my thoughts were dreaming of the big leagues. Today, I call him one my coaching heroes.

No job too large or too small.

Thank you, Coach Keller.

And thank you to all the youth, junior high, and high school (usually multiple sports) coaches who have done, and are doing (often unrecognized) a great job teaching and leading. Especially those doing all the extra coaching 'dirty work' because of limited resources, but made up for with tremendous resourcefulness.

There's more to coaching than just being an expert in the X's and O's or techniques of a sport. More than the sets and reps. More than the programming. More than just the practice or training session.

I don't care what kind of salary a coach makes, what status they hold, or what 'big-time' school they are at; a coach is a person, and no person is beyond any job that must be done.

Even if that means driving the bus, filling the water bottles, or painting the field... and to me, that's a bad-ass coach and a leader who I want to follow.


Friday, March 15, 2013

Social theory for coaches

I enjoyed this paper. It's a conversation that we need to have with ourselves on this aspect of coaching.

Denison, Jim. "Social theory for coaches: a Foucauldian reading of one athlete's poor performance." International Journal of Sports Science and Coaching 2.4 (2007): 369-383.
This paper explores my "sense making" when a male cross-country runner I was coaching performed below expectation. My initial understanding of his poor performance was to blame him for "lacking" the appropriate mental toughness. As a result, I located the "problem" within him and subsequently ignored many of my own taken-for-granted coaching practices as perhaps contributing to his poor performance. In this paper, I provide an alternative reading of my judgement of this athlete's poor performance through Michel Foucault's theory of disciplinary power. I conclude by suggesting that many everyday coaching practices may have a number of "hidden" or problematic consequences attached to them that coaches should consider in an effort to evaluate the effectiveness of their coaching and to enhance their athletes' performances.

You can listen to an interview with Jim at The Canadian Athletics Coaching Centre site (for free if you register).

Coach the shit out of the athlete. But not so much to make it yours than theirs.


"300's" or "300's"?

A 300 meter sprint compared to a 300 yard shuttle. Roughly the same distance, yet vastly different in the effects. Sprinters will often perform 300 meter runs in workouts, without the detriment to speed (total volume and rest pending). Team sport conditioning coaches will administer 300 yard shuttles, and deter speed.

The difference is confinement. The shuttle format changes things.

The 300 yard shuttle

I am guilty of administering 300 yards of running in the past, but more guilty only by the way the runs were performed. A 300 yard shuttle at 25 (or 50) yard lengths with either 11 (or 5) turns changes the outcome tremendously. Not only does the duration of the run change from something in the mid 30 and 40 seconds to upwards of 50 to 60 seconds, but the musculature involved goes from the hips and back of the thigh in straight line, to the muscles on the front of the thigh. In a 300 yard shuttle with the many changes of direction, the separation of the hips is often less (decreasing range of motion), and the large volumes of lactate/H+ accumulation seems to 'stick' in the body's memory, holding the front of the thigh muscles tight for long after the run(s) have finished.

Consider this for any distance of runs; administration of "150's" in track vs. "150's" in field or court sports.

Variables of different runs

Distance and time of a run matter, but it's the total amount of space given to do the run that really speaks in different ways to the body. Tight spaces equals more front of the thighs, and open spaces more back of the thighs. The ground contacts are usually longer in tight spaces, while shorter in more open ones. The tight space, shuttle format, if trying to match distances of 100 meters plus, ends with the athlete looking like their tires have gone flat. The finish of a straight line run is usually a heck of a lot faster than the shuttle runs.

Anything that hurts running mechanics, is likely to hurt speed. Look and run fast

The other aspect is rest. I think a longer sprint/run is fine for a sprint athlete, in an attempt to push the conditioning window a bit. A linear (or curvilinear) 300 meter run would be possible if the athletes have developed running skills and are given a good amount of rest between reps to maintain those running mechanics throughout (the body is always adapting). Like I alluded to above, longer runs seem to "burn" into the body's posture and patterns more definitively, and with the way shuttle conditioning is prescribed (many turns), it usually doesn't enhance the posture and patterns a coach would look for many of today's bound-up athletes. The shuttle format creates a lot more intermediate level work, and requires a lot of energy to stop and overcome inertia repeatedly - there's not much for fast accelerations or velocities.

Personally, I am more comfortable with getting into zones of work that are outside of true speed and power, but only if it's with the longer, straight-line runs. I would much rather have athletes feeling the burn in the glutes and hamstrings, than the oft-overused muscles in the front of the thighs and hips. Certainly not too much of this work, but over time the longer sprints can work as a 'fix-up' for the student-athlete that spends a large majority of the day in a seated position.

An interesting side note to this, I suggest looking closely at the athletes' postures and gaits after performing longer sprints 50+ meters (so long as they were quality, because of adequate rest times and fast speeds)... from what I've noticed, they stand taller, with the shoulder blades back and relaxed down, with the front of the hips open, and the pelvis set nicely and flowing (nutation/counter-nutation, and rotation about the transverse axis) Quality, fast running seems to 'wake-up' the body.
Because of this, I believe running fast is a challenge to one's health (risk of strains), but also enhances overall health (open up movement / ranges of gait motion) - one of the many reasons I like getting small space sport athletes (ex. vollyeball) to 'get out and run fast' once and awhile.


Soccer coaches will use different size fields to practice different technical and tactical skills. I see the field changes as different stresses on the body, as discussed above.
In the warmer months (whenever that might happen in North Dakota), we have to take advantage of the opportunity of bigger spaces. For conditioning, I'll use tag games, where I find it more common to see 'game speeds' and involvement of the brain with reacting. In tightening up the spaces (playing field), we, again, get the front and sides of the thighs and hips conditioned, with the specific stability for the hips, knees, and ankles. With larger spaces you can condition the back of the thighs and hips better. The longer sprints, and varying accelerations and curves (speed 'cuts') within those sprints, can help strengthen the hamstrings, and expose the lower body joints to the velocities of top speeds and forces. The muscles, tendons, ligaments, and enzyme activity is different for the different spaces.

Being aware

It's not that the small space shuttles don't have their place... they can be used for the conditioning aspects discussed above. I just find it important to look at all the details of the physical actions of different runs, not just the measurables of distance and time. All movements strengthen the body, just in slightly different ways.


Wednesday, March 13, 2013

'Vicious' Angles

I vividly remember a former coach of mine reprimanding me for slipping on a hard cut at the line of scrimmage, "killing" the play where my body fell. I also remember being reprimanded again (for the same play) the next day watching the film of the scrimmage. I thought, 'it's not like I was trying to slip'.

Fast forward to today. Having put quite a few athletes through change of direction tasks, I think twice about reprimanding an athlete for slipping on a change of direction move - especially if it was one made out of aggressiveness.

Often, I don't say anything. Other times, I commend it. I don't coach an athlete loose their footing, but I do compliment them if it was caused by aggressiveness. Coaching is as much as what you don't say, as you do. Sometimes great abilities come with potential costs... costs that just need to be managed as best as possible.

The mechanics of effective change of direction requires instability - getting the center of mass to fall outside the body (to either push or resist it's velocity). With greater velocities, this means teetering the 'edge' of losing friction. The most agile athletes (in terms of changes in velocities) are those that are comfortable getting into these unstable positions; positions where there is no other option than using intense force production/reduction and rates to keep them from falling. And sometimes athletes are bold enough in their bodies that they will create such extreme forces and angles, that friction will be missed.

I've seen it happen to Adrian Peterson quite a few times, which is likely part of the reason he is the player he is. By mentioning him in this post along with myself, puts us in the same category, right?.

The "pro agility" drill, while artificial, is a test I like to use both quantitatively and qualitatively. Qualitatively, I assess athletes ability and comfort level of getting in and out of these acute angles (or lack thereof). For conditioning, multiple power, jump cuts and stops, and putting them to application in different tag and mirror games, are some ways of trying get the point across. The big message I tell them is to 'assaulting the ground', as opposed to 'tiptoeing through flower gardens'. Sometimes descriptive language helps too; "catch the ground", "on a dime", "vicious angles", etc.

Interestingly, I see the 'tiptoeing' more from the athletes that have specialized in one sport for much of their organized sporting careers as opposed to multiple. (It's funny that I call them 'athletes', when they are specialists)
Great agility is about getting athletes comfortable with getting their feet outside their line of gravity. I think it's important to get them doing tasks that reinforce this aggressiveness to the point where on occasion, they will fall. And using the times they slip as a teaching point - to encourage the maintenance of that aggression yet emphasize utilizing the tools on their feet (shoes with rubber soles or cleats) for friction, better.

Just as many of the tactical aspects of games are about angles, so are the technical in creating the appropriate angles for powerful movement - angles and Newton's laws

Don't squander aggressiveness, encourage an athlete to harness it.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Dorsiflex or Not?

The pretension concept of the ankle upon jumping is an interesting one. Pretension caused by ankle dorsiflexion during air time, is something that I (try to) teach for certain multiple double-leg jumps. But, is it the optimal way to perform a repeated jump? In coaching different athletes, I find that it doesn't seem to be very natural.

To determine the effectiveness of this technique vs. another strategy would require accurate measure to assess the impulse of the jump(s); something difficult to measure without the right technology. I think you can get a good visual idea of it, but obviously this is subjective.

The pretension theory makes sense in working to develop and increase foot/ankle stiffness and elasticity, especially as it relates to sprinting, just prior to the support phase, where this foot/ankle position is commonly found (although this is questionable for some sprinters). The idea with the pretension, I presume, is minimal ground contact time with maximal rate of force development. Simon Hunt's video below is nice demonstration of the ankle position and the reactivity of the rebound in these types of depth jumps.

The excerpt below is from Jim Radcliffe and Robert Farentinos's "High Powered Plyometrics". In this case the 'pogo' would be a learning exercise for the jumps, and the specific technique involves the pretension position: "upon takeoff, the ankle must lock the foot into toes-up position (dorsiflexion), maintaining this locked position throughout to ensure sturdy contacts and quick, elastic takeoffs."

Again, in my experience, dorsiflexing the ankles (pretension) after takeoff does not seem to be a natural method of preparation for the subsequent landing or repeated jump... I am thinking of a tip rebound in basketball or a repeated jump in volleyball. Is the toes-up/dorsiflexion position the most optimal one? Of course, the goal is not to land on the toes, but is it necessary to unnaturally pull the toes up after takeoff? Or is it just the easiest way for us coaches to explain, teach, and get the right effect - elastic conversion of kinetic energy?

The Maasai people of Kenya and part of Tanzania, are well-known for the adumu, a dance ritual of repeated jumps, attempting to jump as high as possible. I would be very interested in what sorts of impulses they create and heights of jumps they can attain. To me they seem to get pretty good heights with good elastic rebounds... without the same dorsiflexed position as taught in some plyometrics.

So does this mean that the dorsiflexed position is flawed, or could the Massai be more reactive if they adopted a more dorsiflexed ankle upon jumping? Or, do the Maasai possess better innate capabilities to modulate stiffness at the appropriate times? 

In my experience, certain athletes have this natural elasticity, and others are like flat basketballs and takes a great deal of work. Pretension is an interesting concept, and it's utilization in training should help make for better training, however, it's relation to ankle dorsiflexion is one I am curious to investigate further. 


Wednesday, March 6, 2013

40 Yard Perfection

Every year, I am amused by the football players coming out of high school and their precise, and extreme, knowledge (or at least what they think they know) regarding the start position for the 40 yard dash.

The athlete will walk up to the line and then step off every single dimension and angle possible, to position the front foot exactly so. When I watch these guys, I feel like I am watching the most complex algorithm playing out in real time right in front of my face... (A half a foot length this way, another foot length that way, back a half a foot length another way)

And then, they repeat the step off dimensions and angles process for the back foot.

After which the athlete has their feet placed, will crouch down, as if they are using starting blocks.

And then, start with the process of positioning the hand that will be placed on the ground.

And, then bring the hips up to set the angles of the legs just so.

And then, bring the hips back down, and do it again (sometimes going back to re-stepping off both foot positions.

So the whole process is done again, and sometimes a third. Finally, after what seems like about 10 minutes later, they are in ready, and cock the free arm back into position, with the finger tips fluttering - set to go.

AMAZING. The detail. The precision. Just AMAZING.

I did not know how such an athlete just out of high school, could have such a biomechanical awareness and detail of one specific skill.

I wonder how well they know their position on the football field?


Monday, March 4, 2013

Apathetic Warm-ups

Kelvin Giles' recent post got me a bit fired up. I am in complete agreement with his observations:

"Just watched an entire warm-up of a Premier League football team. It contained the foundations of a really good warm up with Stability, Lunging, Squatting, Running Drills being present. What I can’t comprehend is how the players were allowed to do such poor movements. A basic tenet of quality training is ‘variety – progression – precision’. They were just going through the motions – missing turns, moving badly, poor concentration and poor intensity – all in front of 40,000 people who probably thought it all looked OK. When the ball appeared so did a little more precision and pride. Elite performance is all about repeatable excellence in everything you do. If British Cycling has a strategy of continuous improvement by the accumulation of small gains and everyone is beating a path to their door for guidance – what a great example of a wasted chance by this football team. Repeatable excellence is an all-day, all-time trait and there is no room for the sloppiness on display today."

... so much agreement, that I have to rant about it.
I don't hate a lot of things, but I do hate a lack of mindful engagement in warm-ups. For workouts, I hate sloppiness and apathy in any part, but especially a warm-up. The beginning of the workout sets the tone for the rest of the work being done. Warm-ups are important.

I even hate to reference it as a warm-up anymore because of the connotations it seems to conjure up. I just tell the athletes "let's go!", and we get to work on different movements. If it's sloppy, we do it again. If it continues to be sloppy, we go to more extreme measures. Everything that we do, from start to finish, adds up, so crap is just going to lead to more crap. Warm-ups are not an audition for an extras role in "The Walking Dead"
'Oh, we're just doing some skips?'... NO! We are developing rhythm, foot and ground interaction, ankle/foot complex stiffness, postural coordination, relaxed stability - all with what should be a professional focus.

If a lunge is in the warm-up, it should look like a goddamn lunge. If it's a lunge walk, then each step should be a lunge, not a couple lunges inter-mixed with walking.

Lateral lunge... with a 10 degree knee bend? Hands on the thighs, like the elderly? With a spinal position of that of a dog going #2 on the lawn?

Warm-ups don't have to always be structured in drill style... for us, some days, in the beginning of our workouts we'll make things a bit more playful (sometimes adding in some type of ball) for the energetic effects - jostling, dodging, tossing and catching, shooting, kicking, etc... and I am very much ok with smiling and laughing, but there is a big difference between enjoying something and just jacking off (or slap-dicking, as a fellow coach of mine would say). I want the athletes to have the maturity to be able to be playful, yet fully engaged and trying. Once again, I loathe, looooatttthhhhe, the nonchalance.

Ironically, I've gotten the impression that movement quality, the phrase of choice the past few years, is what everybody is working on... Neat! How about those warm-ups?

Movement quality training isn't just about the ability to look pretty to a standard ideal, but also for the individual to be mindfully aware of their movement.

Within sport performance, we are learning and sharing a lot of information about so many different 'advanced' concepts and ideas in training... and yet, is it too elementary to be concerned about a focused warm-up? Is it too much to ask of the athletes? I don't even really care what is done in the warm-up (well, I do a little), than how it is done. And, not just the technique of it... are the athletes mindfully engaged - fully focused on the precision of what they are doing? Every bit of training, and how it is done, adds up.


Saturday, March 2, 2013

A Retrospective Training Lesson: Specificity

How much smarter am I really getting? I mean, I make a living being an athletic development coach, and spend a good majority my time reading, studying and corresponding with coaches about it, but when I think retrospectively, I wonder, 'has all this abstract study, deluded my understanding gained from my direct empirical experiences, especially those experiences I had before I possessed all this so-called training knowledge?'

Let me tell you a little story...

As far back as I can recall, I've had an affinity for trying to develop my physical abilities. And not just mine, I even tried to train my dog when I was 10 years old; making her run with a small log I tied to her... anyway...

When I was younger, I got to be a fairly decent jumper (at least I thought, by my standards), not because I was endowed with great genetics (sorry Mom and Dad), but because I liked to jump. A lot.

I remember my neighbor had a Jordan Jammer, and I'd wait by the phone for the call to come over and play. My neighbor was older and taller (I was about 6 or 7 at the time), so we'd have the rim set to the top height (7 feet, if i remember right; maybe it didn't even adjust lower), forcing me to really have to work to display my Jordan-esque moves.  I remember many hours of this, in his basement during the winter, and in the backyard during the nicer months.
A few years later my family moved to our newly built house outside of the small town we had lived (closer to our farm), and the cool thing was, a living room with vaulted ceiling (over 10 ft at the peak, which became a later goal of jumping and touching). The room was quite large and the one end was open into the dining room, which was not vaulted and had an eight foot ceiling. It made for a very nice imaginary, makeshift basketball backboard. I used it to go up and slap after making two-handed lay-ups, blocking my younger brother's shots by pinning them against this 'backboard', or just slamming the ball into the wall, with one of my many thunderous dunks (I thought I was Shawn Kemp, among other NBA stars). This would be a daily thing, every time I entered or left the room, but especially when I was watching NBA basketball on T.V. - dunks at commercial breaks, dunks during fouls and free throws, a full blown dunk contests at halftime.
My mother was plenty upset with me about the dirty hand prints on the beige wall. Thankfully she didn't put the kabosh on it though, or maybe it was my total disregard. Either way, the jumping went on. (I am sure it was a bit of a relief to my mom, and the house, after my younger brother and I grew up and moved out. We used that room as a stadium/arena of all sorts.)

Then in the 8th grade, I remember a kid a year older than me, who was able to jump and touch the "box" part of the rim (the spring loaded component) on a basketball hoop. This upset me. This kid could get higher than I could. Now my jumping got serious. So, I spent the next few weeks using my plastic, water-filled 5lbs. dumbbells and practiced repeated double-leg jumps in my bedroom. I jumped continuously as high as I could with those dumbbells, trying to hit my head on the 8 foot high ceiling (literally, that was my goal). I was probably about 5'8 at the time. The beauty of this jump training, by default, was that I did it in my bedroom where I didn't have much space, so I had to be be sure to jump and land with care: working on both my jumping and landing ability with accuracy.

Within a few weeks, I wasn't just hitting my goal of touching that orange box, I was touching the rim! Getting the rim - now that was an attainment: a measuring stick for the kids in high school. I thought I was cool. Thankfully not so cool where I quit.

As I went throughout my athletic career (high school and college sports), my jumping slowly, but progressively made more improvements, to the point where I was dunking (barely, but it was), at 5'10 (and a 1/2, I argue) - of no particular fashion or authority of the NBA greats I emulated in my early days, but I could do it.

Fast-forward to today...

Now, I sit and beat my head against the keyboard, trying to devise the world's best training program: concocting methods, to elicit, among other things, tremendous jumping ability - heavy strength training, plyos, mobility, etc. Yet, in my ignorance, as a kid, I skipped what might be, the superfluous stuff, and got to the point. I jumped. And jumped some more. Then I added a small amount of resistance (10 pounds to be exact) and jumped. Then I jumped more, this time 'aiming' for different objectives (the different ceilings in my house, the orange box, the rim, dunking...). I jumped off 2 legs, off 1 leg, reaching for the rim with my right hand, reaching with my left hand. Coming at the basket from this angle, and that... In the end, it was specificity at it's purest.

Jumping high did not start out as my goal. It was something that was a fun part of what I did. As time past, and I got older, there were aspects of jumping high that became a goal. For this, I used (maybe not the most effective way, but it's a hard press to find much more effective methods) jumping with weights. Surely, I didn't know it at the time, but by default, the resistance was just the right amount to stay in the right location of the force-velocity curve: 5 lbs. dumbbells maintaining the precise blend of coordinated force and velocity found in jumping. Dumbbells of such meager mass that I often scoff today... but not everything is so, and sometimes improvements take just the right 'nudge'.

The last thing I'd like to finish up this lesson with is, sociology and jumping. The ability to do something well certainly has a genetic component, but social influence is often the catapult to put potential into action. The saying "white men can't jump" is because, often times, socially, the white kids didn't have any social pressures to jump high. Many were not, are not motivated to jump because it doesn't bring with it any apparent increase in respect or achievement.

As Daniel Coyle has written many times in his book "The Talent Code" and his blog, it takes that 'spark' to get the fire going, and then the timing of the right 'fuel' to keep it going along way. Mine was my neighbor friend, Michael Jordan and the NBA high-flyers, a cool living room, and a pair of measly five pound dumbbells.


Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Creating A Shared Reality

Olympic lifting is the best way to develop power. (Stated as a fact)

vs. these options:

I think Olympic lifting is the best way to develop power.

I think Olympic lifting is one of the best ways to develop power.

Olympic lifting is one possibility for developing power.


We are more powerful because of our use of the Olympic lifts. (Stated as knowing causation)

vs. these options:

We've become more powerful in the lower body from the Olympic lifts.

We've become more powerful in the lower body from the Olympic lifts, as our measurements by vertical jump indicate.

Olympic lifts are part of our program, which as a whole, has been successful in enhancing our vertical jump ability, indicating some changes in lower body power.

Some people might think the above sentences are just semantics, but I believe, very strongly, that the language we use is one of the major problems in the field of athletic development. I feel that we could have much more civil discourse, if we simply acknowledged that most of what we say is opinion (this includes the "experts"). There are very few, if any, eternal facts or absolute truths. Not one coach or scientists holds the "holy grail" of making people faster, stronger, bigger, leaner, and better.
This is one area I am trying to get better at with my writing - to use more clear language as it relates to my direct experience. It will doubtfully allow me to sell anything, as it is hard to market anything saying "This might work for you", but the honest truth is that everything is relative, and the answers are almost always, "it depends". What it does allow though, is a shared reality from which to begin a conversation or debate.

Even if some method might have made a positive impact, or a program was associated with someone winning a championship or medal, this does not imply that it will work for everyone or anyone else... nor does it deem that the method or program was the only possible history that could have led to similar outcomes. Along with many possible causal variants, there are just as many outcome variations, that can be considered a success. Life, in general, is a dynamical system, and chaos is something we all must deal with.

For some, this might take the fun out of trying to be 'right', and it certainly has made my quest to become a guru much more challenging.


Thursday, February 21, 2013

Thrive or Die

What happened to training like this in professional sports? I am not asking specifically on the Olympic lifts, but aggressive methods (sprints, jumps, agility, throwing, demanding conditioning, intense strength training) that maintain and enhance an athlete's athletic capabilities, structure, and internal chemistry.

Million dollar bodies? Don't push them?

They are just athletic bodies, yet mortal like the rest of us. For most human beings, after the age of 25 the body begins it's slow decline in function towards death. Ironically, the general population is being told that vigorous exercise is the key to maintaining and improving health and vitality against aging, yet I hear of many professional athletes not training as hard because of the 'wear and tear' of pro sport. I get it, but also, could this mindset be a liability?

I understand training must change and evolve as an athlete ages, but moving vigorously is still the name of the game for many sports, and the principle of reversibility still applies (especially with the slippery slope of aging). The body is not a machine and ultimately break down with use. The right use should build the body up, especially to meet the demands of the game... so goes the principle of specificity.

If any athlete is not prepared or willing to train aggressively, then they must accept it that they will likely be sidelined by injury, or be overcome by an up and coming young hot shot. The way I see it, career success and longevity is just as much about being careful as it is being aggressive.

How about some of the previous generation athletes? Are there still athletes like Jerry Rice, in pro sports? Anybody pushing the envelope? Or just pussyfooting?

Rice Works for Hours And Defies the Years

"It is 7 o'clock and the early-morning clouds have produced a hard, steady rain. Still, the thought of canceling the first half of the daily morning workout doesn't even enter the mind of Jerry Rice.

On this day, five people have chosen to work out with him, to get a taste of one of the most legendary and rigorous workout routines in professional sports, one that normally lasts from four to five hours...

... After running through the rain, Rice makes the five-minute drive in his Mercedes to Fitness 101, a health club about 20 minutes from Candlestick Park. It is Jane Fonda's dream, with just about every piece of exercise equipment imaginable. Rice doesn't waste time and attacks the weights.

And that's what he does -- attack. For about two and one-half hours, Rice works out just about every muscle group there is on the body. He goes through about 15 different exercises, everything from the bench to shoulder shrugs. There are few breaks. The only time he slows down is to laugh at the writer trying to keep up with him.

It is about 11 A.M., and four hours after the workout began, he is done. Well, almost. To end the day, he does the StairMaster for 45 minutes.

The workouts are the key to Rice's longevity and endurance. They are brutal because they are so long. And there is no question that they pay off. When he sprinted up the middle and outran the San Diego secondary for his first touchdown in Super Bowl XXIX, he felt the accelerators kick in. When he separated his shoulder only to return to the game and then actually run over a Chargers player, that's when the weight training came in.

"I never have an easy day," he said, "because there is never an easy day when the playoffs begin."

It is what Rice says now -- sitting on a bench with ice draped around his shoulder -- that may symbolize the man more than anything. "I have to fight for everything," said the man who came out of Mississippi Valley State, a Division II school. "I always have. I have to prepare myself every year. There is always some young guy who thinks he can take me. And then when the day is done, he realizes he can't."

I also highly recommend checking out this video too (the entire video!). It was not by off-seasons of therapy and rehab alone that made Jerry Rice who he was...

Or Walter Payton: "I try to kill myself."
As Al Vermeil has said:
Aggressive and explosive training (with intelligence) is preventative and therapeutic (and anabolic). So is sleep and eating right.


Wednesday, February 13, 2013


I was cleaning (no pun) out my old video files... so I thought I would post some of a few soccer and volleyball athletes performing cleans.


Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Multi-Sport Foundations

This is the story I was told from a great conversation I had with Chris Stoks, an athlete who I've had the pleasure to work with as member of the track team at UND. Chris was a three-sport athlete in high school, playing hockey, football, and track. I asked him to write up a summary of the story and send to me to share (I didn't trust myself to paraphrase the conversation):

Chris: "This was told to me my junior year of high school hockey in the locker room when deciding whether to skip football my senior year to concentrate on hockey…

My high school hockey coach played hockey and football at the University of Minnesota-Duluth during the late 70's.  With 1980 right around the corner, he knew he would have a chance to make the Olympic roster for the 1980 Olympic hockey team.  Because of the Olympics being only a year away, he decided to concentrate on hockey and making the (1980 USA) team.  So he didn't end up going out for football in the fall to put more focus towards hockey.  Well, when the time for the tryouts rolled around, Herb (Brooks) and he had talked about a chance to try-out for the team.  Herb had known my coach from recruiting when coaching at the University of Minnesota and knew he was a two-sport athlete.  Soon after the conversation started, Herb had asked my coach if he went out for football this past fall.  My coach replied that he didn't… Herb stopped and told him to not even try out for the team because he would not select him - because he didn't go out for football in the fall.  Herb didn't only look for great hockey players, he looked for overall great athletes."

The story of the 1980 USA hockey team is a fabulous one... but not a miracle, as it's often referred to. Herb Brooks's assembly and preparation of that team was very calculated, and his great coaching mind was obviously not short on insight into the potency of the multi-sport athlete.


Thursday, January 24, 2013

Predicting or Preparing?

Is it one or the other? Or, can you do both?

As Carl pointed out in his latest blog, Nate Silver and prediction has gained popularity among sport performance coaches, possibly in hopes of predicting things, as we humans like to try to do. As well there has also been lots of discussion on recovery/readiness 'detectors' such as the Omegwave and using GPS to assess workload in practices and games, hoping to predict occasions when the athlete should rest and when he/she should compete or train.

I am not quite sure what to think with the number crunching, and am a bit skeptical (or fearful) of prediction (maybe because I don't fully understand it all). I also find it interesting that at the time that a statistician like Nate Silver, his book, and his (supposed) prediction prowess has become popular, Nassim Taleb has recently published the culmination of his two earlier books "Fooled By Randomness" and "The Black Swan", in "Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder":

"Nassim Nicholas Taleb, the bestselling author of The Black Swan and one of the foremost thinkers of our time, reveals how to thrive in an uncertain world.

Just as human bones get stronger when subjected to stress and tension, and rumors or riots intensify when someone tries to repress them, many things in life benefit from stress, disorder, volatility, and turmoil. What Taleb has identified and calls “antifragile” is that category of things that not only gain from chaos but need it in order to survive and flourish.  

In The Black Swan, Taleb showed us that highly improbable and unpredictable events underlie almost everything about our world. In Antifragile, Taleb stands uncertainty on its head, making it desirable, even necessary, and proposes that things be built in an antifragile manner. The antifragile is beyond the resilient or robust. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better and better. 

Furthermore, the antifragile is immune to prediction errors and protected from adverse events. Why is the city-state better than the nation-state, why is debt bad for you, and why is what we call “efficient” not efficient at all? Why do government responses and social policies protect the strong and hurt the weak? Why should you write your resignation letter before even starting on the job? How did the sinking of the Titanic save lives? The book spans innovation by trial and error, life decisions, politics, urban planning, war, personal finance, economic systems, and medicine. And throughout, in addition to the street wisdom of Fat Tony of Brooklyn, the voices and recipes of ancient wisdom, from Roman, Greek, Semitic, and medieval sources, are loud and clear.

Antifragile is a blueprint for living in a Black Swan world."

I like that coaches are trying to become better at prediction, and maybe I am behind the curve in not joining in the physiological and GPS measuring, but I also think we have to continue to work on the basic, upfront aspects of developing, as Taleb would describe it, robust athletes, or better yet, antifragile athletes - helping to develop athletes who are ever-increasingly immune to 'black swan' events: a physical/psychological reserve for the greatest of demands.

At times, I feel like we are walking on egg shells with athletic development, being scared of doing too much work. However, I believe, with smart coaching and progressions, we should push the process and grow in the antifragile direction, as opposed to training and playing in fear. Increasing antifragility requires exposure to increases in stress - nothing stupid, just smooth, yet aggressive, progression.


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Keep Moving Within Your Playground

I really like these two videos. Very simply, without consistent, and pinnacly (my made-up word) important, playful movement, we begin to fade away, ever faster towards our imminent death. But really, just keep moving and playing because it grows your mind-body-spirit, and it's a hell of a lot of fun.

Add in family and friends, good food, water, music, and lots of nature, and you've about got it made.

Or, in other words, just "never leave the playground"...

Keep moving.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Observing The Black Box

To clarify my previous post regarding the black box... within the fields of science and engineering, a black box is a system or object in which things can only be viewed in terms of the inputs and outputs, without any information regarding it's internal workings.

Many of the "hot" concepts in training regard inputs and internal workings of the body, yet for any athlete or performance coach, the most important factor is the outputs... or performance (or attitude/affect or any other outward physical signs). In the athletic setting, results matter, and although the internal workings can give a deeper understanding, ultimately, it rarely dictates outcomes.

Inputs and outputs: application of stressors and relaxers, intake and modification of nutrients, and accurate evaluation of the outcomes...

Advanced technical knowledge of internal details aren't necessary to train effectively, and in the wrong minds can delude the whole process - good, basic observation goes a long ways.