Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Old School Coaching is Cutting Edge Technology - Carl Valle

As a follow-up to the post I wrote on Saturday (Technology AND Coaching (not VS)), I am pleased to share a guest post on the topic of technology and coaching from Carl Valle. It's my opinion that Carl is one of the best critical thinkers in track and field and sport performance coaching today. As a recommendation, I would check out Carl's archived blog posts on EliteTrack.com and his most recent writing at Freelap USA. I might not be 'the most interesting man in the world', but when I make a recommendation...

Old School Coaching is Cutting Edge Technology
Carl Valle

No mystery that I am a fan of technology and love to design, experiment, and use the best tools for coaching. The problem is technology is seen as a solution to coaching or even a replacement, rather than something that is more of a continuum. I have had several coaches lecture to me about technology changing the game, yet their own workouts in 2014 would be pale to what some strength coach in Italy was doing in 1985. For some reason technology is polarizing and has a stigma, if you use anything beyond pen and paper you are not manly, or if you only use pen and paper you are clueless in preparing athletes. Technology is one of man’s achievements, but technology is still an extension of someone, not  a replacement. What is disturbing is now we are in an age of have and have-nots with many budgets in college and high school levels. Some high school teams in Texas have massive facilities and major budgets, while other teams are just trying to keep their uniforms from looking old with fundraisers. Many coaches to me have expressed their fear that they are stuck in the hiring process because some GA positions are getting jobs that most head coaches should get because they have GPS software knowledge, and Ads and GMs think this is a skill set. I would laugh if this was just an isolated event, but the truth is technology is anything made made really, and we have to appreciate all ingenuity, not just the ability to write a purchase order for equipment. Like barbells, it’s about what you do with it based on education and coaching, not just having a job that caters to big budgets and seeing a summary of what we all see on the practice fields. 

Skipping the basics or not polishing fundamentals is why with all this rise of data and technology we still have very paltry injury rates and poor performances. I don’t fault the technology or medical advances, I fault the practitioners not capitalizing on the available tools and the lack of execution in doing what should be a starting point.  I believe Technology is an escape for coaches who are sometimes bored and want fantasy. I think monitoring the ANS (autonomic nervous system) is important but if you are not doing basic speed and power tests, what is your goal? Performance is directly related to performance, and monitoring should be used to help it, not replace poor effort or fear of getting someone hurt. Dashboards and Leaderboards are useful, but if the numbers stink because your program stinks, eventually those outside yourself will use those lame numbers against you if they don’t trend well. I have spent years helping people use simple technology solutions better, but they are experiencing a very illiterate batch of young coaches who are at the age of 23 read business books instead of their anatomy books. They know the book Outliers but can’t create them in training. 

My philosophy is that technology is about what you do with what you have, and not about budgeting and popularity. Skinfold fat testing is not perfect, but coaches want dashboards to look at CNS fatigue but fail to see if guys are adding more mass. Coaches are talking about using regression analysis, but can’t even show attendance based on available times to train. We have coaches talking about body load on the computer screen, but can’t choose weights with simple exercises to improve power. The bad news is that more technology is coming down, and more data is going to flood the laptop and smartphones with wireless BAN (body area networks). While cheaper means greater adoption, with what people are juggling now I see more confusion and poor application.  The good news is that with any trend or change, all of this resolves itself over time.  One of my favorite coaching books is Jurassic Park, not because it’s “out of the box thinking”  like many pop books coaches read, but because it’s based on the attempt to be a little too smart for one’s own good. Overconfidence is a big problem and several coaches assume that things are to be true. For example every data set needs to be interpreted and seen as still a hint and not solution. I have seen this first hand with coaches trying to create workloads with GPS systems and have found that effort and speed don’t match, body load for offensive lineman are nearly useless, and acceleration must be compared to linear testing and video analysis. 

“Pablo are you tired today? Your high intensity runs are down?” 

Response: “ Yes I am tired because we lifted the day after the game and now I am sore”

Simple binary work and rest patterns are somehow lost with all of the information we have and  recovery / weight days after games, is sort of like having a recliner massage chair blaring death metal through Beats by Dre. Nice in isolation maybe, but like the tunafish smoothie other combinations are better.

Getting a bunch of athletes to respect the training process, show up on time because they have good attitudes and buy in is hard.  Full range pull-ups, optimal depth in leg exercises, and following directions is 90% of training. I do think technology is getting an advantage when one has all the elements in place and they want to get that last 1% people speak of, but the other 99% is always about the other guy, never about one’s own program.

Most of what I do with testing technology is to share to coaches not to buy it or to use it only for specific reasons. This isn’t popular and similar to supplements. Sure a few pills and powders help, like a Vitamin D supplement or protein for convenience, but Rock Stars or Monster Energy drinks don’t replace sleep and good food choices. Like supplements technology is supporting good coaching, not a quick fix to improving results if the basics are not done first. As a lesson I always use what my grandfather told me, get piece of graph paper and a good pencil first, before moving on to the more esoteric stuff. This way future coaches who intern during the summer see that thinking and preparing is always better than the next toy available. 

Note: Thank you to Bob Alejo for reminding me that you can win a D1 championship in soccer without any technology and for providing the title to this guest blog.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Technology AND Coaching (not VS)

How Florida State Hacked Football's Fitness Code

I saw this article shared a few times over social media in the last couple days (I really should stay away from the social media). It's an interesting article for sure and I believe Florida State, among others, are likely doing great things with the Catapult System and other pieces of technology, but there was one line in the article that I absolutely disliked - enough to motivate me to dust off this blog.

From the article:
"Instead of focusing solely on the players, however, his staffers are glued to an array of computer monitors that display a constantly updating stream of colorful numbers, bar graphs, and pie charts..."

Now, I know that this is probably a bit of journalistic embellishing and hope it's not truly how some are coaching, however having 'staffers glued to an array of computer monitors' doesn't necessarily make a strength and conditioning program the most elaborate or innovative. Good coaching is timeless and it involves always, ALWAYS, paying close attention to your athletes and everything they do, not watching computer monitors. Technology is definitely pushing things ahead in making much of what we do more objective (a positive), but it will never replace good coaching.

I am sure some will say I am hating on the new tech and that I am just jealous. I am not. But I do strongly believe you can do a good job without it. I know you can. Maybe it (technology) can make you better. Maybe not. It highly depends on the quality of the coach using it. Time and energy are finite and adding in something always detracts from other things; good or bad. Historically, all the coaching greats had to do without today's technology. Hell, I think you can still do a great job with pencil and paper. I think you should be good first without much.

Mostly though, I am vouching for the smaller school coaches as we constantly hear of the 'advanced' things the big schools are doing (which is usually highlighting the expensive stuff and I fully understand why), leaving those that don't have the gadgets to get the impression that we are dated or thought of as so. Not all of us have a budget that can afford a $100,000 product. But that doesn't matter. Like I said, a great program with good coaches can be done with minimal technology. It is being done. Good coaching is timeless. Good coaching can occur anywhere and at any level.

While we don't have a Catapult system at North Dakota, and even if I ever do use the system, I will continue look my athletes in the eyes, observe and test their abilities and track their performances in a traditional manner and do my best to connect with their heart and soul while I use mine.

Money can't buy everything. Keep coaching.


Wednesday, June 4, 2014

hanging, swinging, and brachiating

"All babies are born with a branch-holding reflex; in fact, infants are pound-for-pound incredibly strong, and are capable of holding themselves suspended by grasping a finger or bar." -Emma Pennock

We are primates, and our skeletal structure maintains remnants of times past when we were tree-dwellers, specifically the shoulder and wrist structure with it's fantastic mobility, and the latissimus dorsi muscle that spans from the shoulder down to the pelvis, among other structures our upper bodies are built for brachiation - hanging, swinging, and brachiation are skill sets to be played with in the overall development of the human body.

"Primates that are best at brachiation possess certain anatomical characteristics similar to those of humans and the great apes, such as a dorsoventrally flattened thorax, upright posture, and wrist specializations. Brachiators have a unique ability to move below their support as opposed to over it (as we do in bipedalism or gorillas do in knucle-walking)." -Emma Pennock "From Gibbons to Gymnasts: A Look at the Biomechanics and Neurophysiology of Brachiation in Gibbons and its Human Rediscovery"

As the importance of this 'monkey business' is evident in our structure, genetic history, and the grasping reflexes that infants present, young children will often exercise this birthright when given the right opportunity and environment. But unfortunately that's decreasing as we opt for more sterile playgrounds and frown upon kids partaking in even the slightest of risky behavior such as climbing trees. And as we get older we usually resort to machines that walk us or other less monkey-like business (or quit moving all together). When's the last time you saw a grown adult brachiating at the park?

In sport, many athletic development programs resort to the more rigid and quantifiable forms of movement... but I am going to advocate for a bit of 'monkey business'.

The most common 'distraction' exercise that we often find trainers and coaches using is the pull-up or some variation of such. We (myself included) are quick to prescribe pull-up variations (which are great movements) and have a number of creative ways to regress them for those who can't complete one on their own, yet most of these regressions are a scaled down version of the pull-up itself; utilizing bands, eccentric lowerings, isometric holds and so on...

Is there a prerequisite to the pull-up? How often do we check to see how well one simply hangs from a bar? I see very few exercises done hanging, swinging, and then brachiating... prior to trying to achieving an actual pull-up. My belief is that an individual should be able to support their own bodyweight hanging from a bar for a good amount of time, and then brachiate with ease before really worrying about pull-ups. I know my daughter can not complete a dead-hang pull-up but she can 'gibbon' the monkey bars with ease. (gibbons are arguably the best brachiators in the world)

Unfortunately, in our modern times, this might be a necessary regression as further evidenced by the recent news of a top hockey prospect who could not complete one pull-up at an NHL scouting combine. (I know, I am cherry-picking this one, but c'mon man.)

Nearly gone are the days when most playgrounds looked like this (the near bar set, of course):

or this
photo courtesy of the New York Times
There's the obvious health and fitness component to this, but more specifically the strength in the grip and forearms is improved, along the improving stability at the full ranges of motion needed in the shoulder to swing from bar to bar/ tree limb to limb. The torso is challenged in an open-chained sense (feet not in contact with the ground) to provide stability for the shoulders and arms to do the work. The diaphragm may actually have to work more singularly (which is good) as the upper extremity muscles that can get caught up in dysfunctional breathing patterns (upper chest breathing) are now occupied in an overhead stretch grasping and locomotion. There's also hand-eye coordination, shoulder stability, torso and pelvic stability with extension mobility needed in the so often locked-up thoracic spine... and it's good fun... and it forces one to pay attention - engaged, mindful movement! (Not to mention the possible brain connections and the reason brachiation ladders are also used in therapy for neurological disorders)

Additional, since we are bipedal animals with a vertical spine (whereas nearly all other animals are quadrupedal and with horizontal spines), hanging, swinging, and brachiating gives our spine a much needed decompression that we rarely get, if ever (some while sleeping, I suppose).

There's tremendous possibilities for variations of movements with hanging, swinging, and brachiating - basic hanging for time (2 or 1 arm), knee-ups for reps or holds, different torso flexion and rotations with knees bent or straight (it's ok, the spine is decompressed!), two arms or one arm, swinging front to back, side to side, diagonal, to brachiating forwards, backwards, sideways, arms straight, arms bent; or lache as they call it in parkour, to swing and let go, leaping from bar to bar. Many possibilities and ways to progressively overload the movements. Gymnastics is a good sport to look for ideas.

Of course all this would be much simpler if kids participated in more free play (and had *gasp* DANGEROUS playgrounds and places to do it) -  To Protect Against Injuries, Young Athletes May Need to Play More Just for Fun.

If you have kids, get them started young. As Katy Bowman puts it:

"Hanging and the much more challenging action of swinging from object to object, use upper body strength in a general sense. Swinging requires the full participation of every bit of tissue from the fingers to the lower body. The largest contributing muscle force-wise, is the latissimus, which connects the arm bone to the pelvis. When we work our lats as adults, we’re used to fixing the pelvis and pulling the arms toward the ground. This way of training creates an entirely different load (and motor program) than when you pull the pelvis toward the arm as you do during brachiation. The resulting tone of a muscle regularly used in this whole-body fashion can aid in shoulder and sacral stabilization, which in turn are essential for the mechanics of breathing and pelvic floor function. We don’t typically associate 'monkeying around' with lung inflation and bladder support, but mechanically speaking they are directly linked."

And, as Katy states in the article with regards to fostering infant reflexes:

"For the last hundred years, infant reflexes have been presented as vestigial; artifacts of our ancestral past. Many a scholar has written a paper on how these relics disappeared after a few months because they are unnecessary. Real development comes later, according to these papers, after the modern brain (implied as superior to our ancestral counterpart) was ready to be developed." Which begs the question: Are infantile reflexes simply the leftover residue from our inferior ancestors, or are they something to be cultivated?"


"Early cultivation of these reflexes is essential to the health, strength and survival of children - even today. With skyrocketing bouts of children’s asthma and allergies, low muscular tone, abdominal herniations, diastasis recti, and just general malaise, a child’s development requires much greater attention than we are currently giving it."

... and her comments about hunter-gatherers...

"Data shows that modern H-G tribes like the !X un and Ju/‘hoan work specific exercises, multiple times a day, with their children in the first few months of their life. These children walk much more quickly (seven to nine months) and  can hold their entire body early on. A deeper literature review reveals earlier research into the gripping reflex (1930s) and their conclusions that it was indeed a lack of practice early on that reduced the appearance of the reflex. They raised the question 'What result would the practice of this function have on its retention?' They found with cultivation, four-day old babies could hold their weight for a periods of time ranging from seconds to a full minute."

Check out the full article here, The Necessity of Monkey Business.

Here's some ideas of how we do it at our house:

Our backyard brachiation ladder, aka monkey bars
Chyles, who's now 16 months, has been playing this game for a long time now. She grasps my thumbs and holds as long as she wants. By her initiating and maintaining the grasp (as opposed to me holding her hands), she's able to play within her abilities. When she gets tired, she lets go.
Pulling her legs up, trying to be like big brother.
Reggie still likes to play this game (only because he's a bit of a runt and I can still lift him), but I am a bit more challenging on him as I will swing him around and side to side. Again, the grasp is on him so there are no excessive forces/stresses placed on his arms and shoulders.

And now Chyles is on to the 'big kid' stuff:

That full diaper is really working her strength.

We also just like to hang around any which possible way.
There's many ways to do it, and many different options for equipment. Gymnastics rings are great. The kids are able to find the TRX suspension trainers to be of good use for something. Trees are awesome, too. Ropes can work. Whatever... just hang, swing, and brachiate.


Friday, May 30, 2014

a coach's battlefield

I recently posted this photo on Instagram and began to discuss some of the great things about hill sprinting and using hills for training purposes.

cute, huh?!
But as I tend to do while coach thinking, I added cautions to all the great possibilities that sprinting and training on hills presents, knowing full well the athletic development profession is full of hooligans inbreeding in an absolute universe - it's all good, or it's all bad. Whatever 'it' may be.

Here are the hill sprinting/training thoughts I posted:

Hill sprints - not the 'end all, be all', but hey, Walter Payton did them! 

NOTICE - Sprints (or walking/hiking). Not run. Not jog. Sprints (or walking/hiking). That middle ground purgatory isn't good for much. 

Good for some acceleration abilities but be wary of excessive inclines causing extensive ground contact times. 

Good for hip flexor (quad and hip/glute) work but be wary of chronic, hill sprinting-induced, shortened stride lengths... which then again may be ok for someone progressing back to function from a muscular strain (specifically hamstring) occurred during flat overground sprinting. 

Potential pedagogical enhancement of arm and leg drive and foot contacts for acceleration but be wary that it could be a detriment if the connection/bridge is not made to flat land acceleration. 

Good for the achilles/gastroc complex but be wary of the potential tendonitis(es) and subsequent tendinopathies from ill-timed progressive overloads. ... but also the potential to help with tendinopathies; eccentric loading from backwards walking down the hill or backwards double-leg hops down for the achilles and forward walking downhill for the patella tendon. 

Soccer shoes for maximal traction and minimal foot and ankle restrictions. 

And sometimes it's just a fun change-up from the horizontal earth. 

To name a few things about hill sprints... 

To say that my mind is a constant battlefield of arguments being shot back and forth regarding exercise prescription, sequencing, volume and such, is a massive understatement. MASSIVE.

Although, as a coach I think it is my major responsibility - to know about as many of the potential outcomes possible in order to make sound decisions with what I am asking other's physiologies to do; which then subsequently mold and adapt to. Sometimes (relatively) permanently.

As other great coaches have said before, "At what cost?". Every individual training stimulus has it's outcomes, but for every sport and individual, those outcomes can be anywhere on a spectrum from negative to positive. So many possibilities. So many decisions to be made. What are the consequences? What will be the end result? The anti-pattern of analysis paralysis...

But then, a good friend posted this statement (on Instagram):

"I like sprinting, but I hate being wary."


Especially when sprinting.


Tuesday, May 27, 2014

"Moving is probably just very pleasurable."

"There are at least two exploratory motives. The first one has to do with learning about one’s own action capabilities. For example, before infants master reaching, they spend hours and hours trying to get the hand to an object in spite of the fact that they will fail, at least to begin with. For the same reason, children abandon established patterns of behavior in favor of new ones. For instance, infants stubbornly try to walk at an age when they can locomote much more efficiently by crawling. In these examples there is no obvious external reward. It is as if the infants knew that sometime in the future they would be much better off if they could master the new activities. The direct motives are, of course, different. Moving is probably just very pleasurable. According to Adolph and Berger (2006), infants who have recently started to walk take, on the average, over 9,000 steps during a day. Expanding one’s action capabilities seems extremely rewarding. When new possibilities open up as a result of, for example, the establishment of new neuronal pathways, improved perception, or biomechanical changes, children are eager to explore them. At the same time, they are eager to explore what the objects and events in their surroundings afford in terms of their new modes of action (Gibson & Pick, 2000). The pleasure of moving makes children less focused on what is to be achieved and more on their movement possibilities. It makes children try many different procedures and introduces necessary variability into the learning process."

... from Action, the foundation for cognitive development by Claes von Hofsten.

... and Frank Forencich in a recent interview:

"I am mystified by the modern “motivation problem.” Many people report having poor motivation and believe that a trainer can supply it. Or, we resort to hyper-normal stimuli like loud music to get our bodies moving. Or, we sign up for boot camps so that coaches and trainers will force us to get moving. But this is all based on a flawed assumption: that physical movement in inherently unpleasant. We see this assumption at work all across the medical-fitness-public health world. In many cases, public health leaders have simply given up. Exercise sucks, so we’ll have to apply more interesting carrots and more fear-based sticks to get people to move their bodies.

This, of course, is nonsense. Every child and every dog knows that movement is inherently pleasant. They move, not for some ulterior motive, but because it feels good. That is, the motivation is in the movement, nor in something external. The art lies in finding movements that make you feel good, not in being driven by externals.

As trainers, we need to offer more interesting and pleasant movement experiences. The reason that people hate exercise is that we give them too many rigid, single plane drills. We’ve forgotten the bounce and the dance that animates our bodies and our lives. We’re so busy calculating numbers and tracking results that we forget how much fun we can have. So put down the clipboard (iPad), grab a few medicine balls and start creating. Free yourself from the notion that your clients have to suffer. Instead, help them to fall in love with movement."

... moving is probably just very pleasurable...

Jump yo!
Margo's loving this. Really.
full engagement.
intense vestibular action is a bit scary... which is a great reason to do it
don't let that serious face fool you, she's locked into some intense crawling fun.
... your's truly.
No need to always conquer, master, suffer, survive, whip into, grind, crush, suck, slay...


Monday, April 21, 2014

history worth repeating

 The glorious and immortal medicine ball - 3000 plus years of potency.

The story goes, the Greek physician Hippocrates would gives his patients animal skins filled with sand to throw around - essentially, healing them.

From Persian wrestlers and the ancient Greek athletes and physicians, to the Roman Gladiators, to Renaissance physicians, as well as the US Military Academy at West Point for over 200 years and "Hoover Ball", which was a game President Hoover's physician prescribed him to stay fit... 

"As long as there have been athletes, there have been medicine balls." - Istvan Javorek.

"Exercises with the Medicine Ball" by William J. Cromie. 1906.
UND Volleyball throwing the healing ball around in the early morning hours.


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

It may 'look' dangerous...

- James Garrick, MD. Orthopedic Surgeon and Medical Director of the Centers for Sports Medicine. San Francisco, CA.

Lubell, A. 1989. Potentially dangerous exercises: Are they harmful to all? The Physician and Sportsmedicine 17(1), 187-192