Friday, July 31, 2009

I have a great article to end the week with that was brought to my attention and holds some great information for those of us around sports and especially youth sport. The article is from USA Hockey and it asks how a parent would address a coach with a bad reputation. The article can be found here:

If you didn't believe in a coach's philosophy or methods, but they coached the "best" team within an organization, would you let your child play for them? My favorite part about this article is the idea of discussing youth sport goals with parents, athletes, and coaches alike and see if these are lining up correctly. If everyone is not on the same page and working toward a common goal I think there will be some severe complications. Of course we all know the saying... Assume something and you are making and ass out of you and me.

Have a great weekend and thanks for reading.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Strength in Numbers

Today's topic relates to practice planning and management. Often times when I plan a practice session, one of the first things I ask myself is: how many atheltes will I be working with? This seems like a vary easy question, but for any youth sport coach you know that the number of athletes you expect is not always the amount who show up. As can be the case at just about any level.

The reason I want to know how many atheltes I will be working with is because that number has an influence on the drills I will be running and the set-up I will be using. There have even been times when I had to modify a practice because an unexpected amount of athletes (either more or less) arrived at the practice session. On a few ocassions, I have even unexpectedly lost an athelte mid-session, and consequently had to change a practice session.

What this is all boiling down to is efficiency. By using the amount of atheltes in a session to my advantage, I can plan a more efficient practice session. For example, I was recently observing a coach who lined up nine athletes on a line to run some warm-up drills that varied in skill level. All the warm-up exercises were performed within a 10 minute time frame and the group moved on. After the session, I asked the coach how many atheltes he thought he could give personal and direct feedback to at one time and he told me about 2 or 3. Then I said, well with the way your warm-up was structured, you were ignoring 6 or 7 athletes! The coach couldn't believe what I was saying and I said next time organize three lines of 3 atheltes in each line and I think you will be able to concentrate more on each athlete giving them the attention they deserve because only three will be going at a time. I think this coach liked the change in organization and to me, he became a more effective coach because of it.

These sorts of managerial decisions can be made at any level to help a coach more effectively run efficient practices. Obviously, I encourage all coaches to look at your practice set-up and think about ways you could be more efficient or make things run smoother.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Wednesday Review: Elliptical Trainers

Here's what I think about elliptical trainers: they really have no place in a Strength and Conditioning facility, fitness center, etc. Ok, so I don't want to be overly harsh on the elliptical trainer at least it has a hip name...

The reality is I can not find a good reason to use an elliptical trainer for a healthy individual. Treadmills and stationary bikes work perfectly fine to accomplish every goal in the book in my mind. Now, if your argument is low impact training I would say use the bike or walk on a treadmill to accomplish the same thing. If you or your client doesn't like the bike, then swim. If you want a low impact exercise, but the client has some kind of limitation or dysfunction in the hips and they need to be in an upright position I think they will still benefit greatly from swimming. If this dysfunctional client is hydrophobic, then you may need to use an elliptical.

Here's the point- Elliptical trainers really aren't doing anything special and I think too many people have become overly obsessed with the elliptical phenomenon. There may only be a rare population that actually "needs" to use an elliptical trainer, otherwise they are obsolete. IF YOU ARE A HEALTHY FEMALE DO NOT USE AN ELLIPTICAL! (especially those under age 30) You need to benefit from weight bearing exercises to stimulate bone development and increase bone mineral density to help reduce your risk for osteoporosis later in life. It's like planting a good health seed in your garden, you may not see any benefits now, but the seed will bloom and blossom in the future. Osteoporosis is already a problem among aging women and I suspect it will continue to haunt those who are inactive or do not perform weight bearing activities in their lifetime.

If I ever own or build a facility, I am looking forward to buying maybe one elliptical training machine and using the money I saved on others toward more effective tools in the weight room. I am interested to hear your thoughts or opinions...

Also, you may always feel free to e-mail me at, Thank you.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Static Stretching

Over the last few years there has unfortunately been a bad cloud sitting over static stretching and I think our ignorance as coaches is directly hurting atheltes. There was some research done regarding static stretching and power output I'm not sure how long ago, but basically the series of studies showed that power output in a vertical jump (or other maximal power related activity) was decreased after static stretching was performed. This is a classic example of a fad because at the time, Strength and Conditioning coaches looked at this research and decided static stretching was a thing of the past and should be scrapped because it was decreasing athlete's power output. As a result came the invention of a dynamic warm-up which became the new and improved method of stretching a muscle through it's entire range of motion.

Now, dynamic stretching is very important in preventing injury in power related activities and don't get me wrong, a dynamic warm-up needs to be performed, but a lot of experts in the field are now looking back at this old research and sadly living with the effects of our over-reaction away from static stretching- atheltes with increasingly tight muscles. There is plenty of evidence showing that tissue length is improved more significantly and for a longer duration when held at least 30 seconds. This is static stretching!

Our lack of emphasis on static stretching over the years has most likely caused plenty of imbalances within the body and resulted in a lot of injured athletes for the simple fact that research was published (with unrealistic methods) with results showing the dynamic method of stretching was better for creating power in these specific activities. In order to prepare our clients or atheltes for lifelong success and reduced incidence of injury, we need to incorporate static stretching.

In the grand scheme of things, static stretching would most likely come before a dynamic warm-up and after foam rolling. Yes, thats right, you will static stretch a cold muscle. This is also done to promote long term tissue elasticity. When a muscle is warm of course it will stretch, so you will not be getting the same benefits as stretching a cold muscle. Lastly, you need to stretch all muscle groups equally, this means stretches that feel good for you and ones that don't.

Thank you for reading and please come back tomorrow

The Effect of Static Stretch and Warm-up Exercise on hamstring length Over the Course of 24 Hours , Journal of Orthopaedic and Sports Physical Therapy Vol 33, Number 12, Dec 2003. P 727-733

Sunday, July 26, 2009

U.S. Obesity

So I've been tyring to go to the grocery store more often rather than eating out so much so I can start practicing what I preach on the nutrition side of things. Today, when I went to the grocery store I was looking for some potatoes in the frozen foods section so I could cook something up quickly later tonight. Yes, I know potatoes are not the best food you can eat in this world and they are starchy and blah blah, but I haven't had them in a while and so I felt like cooking some up.

Naturally, I checked by the vegetable label first. I saw some carrots (picked those up), beans, corn, etc. but no potatoes (perhaps because we could probably better classify potatoes under the carbohydrate family, but thats a whole different discussion). Anyhow, I looked farther down the isle and what did I see? A whole label for potatoes! That seemed very convient for me and I was very excited, I would have my last item in my cart and be ready to go home- what I saw in that freezer was astonishing...

The entire "Potato" section was different kinds of french fries! Different brands, different styles, different seasonings. I could not believe there was no where in the freezer section I could buy some seasoned potatoes, but french fries made up and entire two freezer food doors. I decided I was content with my purchases walked toward the register. With many thoughts going through my head at this point, I passed the "soda isle" (which is one isle all by itself). Now, I obviously don't want to be rude or offend anybody, but the soda isle was the busiest isle I saw today, and it was full of overweight customers. What I witnessed today during my grocery store extravaganza was an extreme lack of nutrition and at least two of Dr. Bohn Berardi's 7 Habits of Effective Nutrition (May 31st Post) being blatantly broken:

#5- About Fat Consumption- Fried foods are not a good choice when trying to control your fat consumption.

#6- Drink Non-caloric beverages- The soda isle was the most crowded in the store! See something wrong here???

Ok, thats enough ranting, I love grocery stores and I hope everyone had a great weekend. Thank you for reading and please check back tomorrow ( I promise there will be a post).

Monday, July 20, 2009

Imbalance= Injury

For a quick anatomy lesson, it is understood that everything in the body is connected, meaning muscles connect to bones where other muscles are also connected from head to toe. Given this knowledge, the above statement would seem pretty logical. When muscles increase in size and tightness, they have an increased ability to pull force. This force being pulled against the bone can cause imbalances within the overall system and directly influence injury.

When designing programs, we need to take into account this balance and work muscle groups equally to decrease the risk of injury. I think this concept is pretty self-explanatory, but I still see programs that are actually promoting injury in my opinion. Too many similar movements are increasing the risk for injury and can be problematic. In my opinion, a variety of different movements and training different muscle groups simultaneously during a workout will give you the best results while also contributing to the balance of your musculoskeletal system.

The one exception in athletics is when playing a sport directly contributes to muscle imbalance. For example, baseball players throwing arms are obviously more likely to become injured, because of the extreme repetition through the course of a season or career. In a case like this, I would write a program that specifically targets the opposite muscles involved in throwing to create a more balanced arm and hopefully reduce the risk for injury. On paper, this program would look unbalanced, but that would be very deliberate. As coaches, lets work to building balanced athletes for better performance and reduced risk of injury.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Psychology Always Beats Physiology

I was very fortunate to sit in as part of a live audience for Mike Boyle's 3rd DVD, "Functional Strength Coach Volume 3", today and needless to say it was a great experience. About 30 great coaches came in to watch the filming and take part, talk shop, etc. about what is going on and it was basically a day long conference about what Coach Boyle has been doing with training since last Summer (when Volume 2 came out).

Of course I can not give away all the details, but one thing that definitely stuck out to me was a quote I think he got from Alwyn Cosgrove that states "Psychology Always Beats Physiology", or in short, the mind is stronger than the body. Of course we've all heard this before, but let's put it into real World practice. I think the best example of this occurrence in the weight room is on testing days. Coach Boyle stated that team testing really boils down to order of testing. For example, if one of the strongest athletes tests first, they will set the bar higher for their teammates to reach. For example, if the first athlete squats 200 lbs, the next athelte who normally tests at 185 may be more inclined to try 200 as well.

Although this may seem like a recipe for disaster, I think the mental side of testing and using competition to your advantage can also be beneficial in reaching new heights in the weight room and other areas of sport as long as safety isn't compromised. There are so many ways to incorporate competition into our workouts to increase motivation. Implementing a different mindset elicits different results. You may be amazed when you see the effort you get from athletes trying to be the best in part of a competition rather than just practicing a skill as part of a practice.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Wednesday Review: Standing Bench Press

For this week's review I will write a little something about an exercise I have begun to use as a replacement to the standard bench press. I have personally had success with this exercise and one of my clients, David, has particularly liked this variation as part of his workout. 

The standing bench press is performed using a cable column with standard handles for grips. The motion performed is exactly the same as a standard flat bench press, the only difference is you are standing in a vertical position the entire time. Maintain an upright posture, and a split stance before beginning the exercise. The benefits of this exercise over a standard bench press are the ability to engage the core muscles in a vertical position while executing a strength-oriented movement with your limbs. I think one commonality we understand as Strength Coaches is that core muscles fail before major muscle movers such as the quadriceps and in this case, the pectorals. 

The solution to this problem for athletes then is to simultaneously train both groups by moving in a more functional movement pattern like upright rather than lying on a bench. For example, I may not be as concerned with how much weight a football lineman can bench press if they can only push a marginal amount of weight in an upright position because their core is underdeveloped. In their sport they need to push while standing upright, not lying down (unless they are being knocked over frequently).

On the flip side, when personal training the general population, it is almost surprising how many people can not do 10 body weight pushups with correct form. If someone can not successfully move their own body weight, there is almost no sense in putting them under a loaded bar or with two dumbbells in hand. I think you are undoubtedly going to cause more harm than good over time. Throw in a phase of standing bench press and try it for yourself.

If you are unfamiliar with the exercise here is a video:

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Developing Power

If anyone watched the MLB Home Run Derby last night, you witnessed a great display of power in athletics. For an athlete to contact a ball at such speeds and make it travel far enough to leave the playing field, obviously a lot of power needs to be produced. I'm sure all coaches know that power is the key to most athletic success.
The question is how do we develop this power?
Power= Force/Time

The NSCA's Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning (Baechle, 2000) says that the most important method to develop power in the weight room is by using a medium-heavy load somewhere in the repetition range of 3-6 reps. This is derived from the Force-Velocity Curve which measures the amount of force a muscle can create at different speeds of contraction. The 3-6 repetition range is the range typically involving the most power production. Basically, if you can move 50 pounds at 10 mph and a week later at 12 mph through the same range of motion, you have become stronger.

Charles Polliquin, a well respected Canadian Strength and Conditioning coach, has theorized that to become more powerful, you in fact want to work the entire length of the Force-Velocity curve. Therefore, you would have some days of moving light weight with a lot of speed, some days moving a lot of weight slowly, and other days spent anywhere in between. I think this premise is based on developing both muscle tension potential (amount of force potential) as well as contractile speed (time for muscle contraction). The resultant of these two phenomenon is a more powerful curve overall, and thus a more powerful athlete.

The next question you may ask yourself is: What is the appropriate time of year to strength train for increases in Power?

I think you can work on power development in the weight room at many times during the year, but the most appropriate time would be during the preseason. This seems like a good time to decrease the overall load slightly (who cares about maximum strength), and concentrate on moving with speed in preparation for competition. with that being said, if you are a coach trying to develop Power, I certainly hope you are also devoting time to overall strength, strength maintenance, hypertrophy, and recovery during you're athletic season. In addition, a periodized plan needs to be implemented for each of these phases.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Sample Workout and Post Revisited

I wanted to give everyone a sample workout I have used with clients for personal training purposes and get some feedback as your thoughts, and I know you're all curious as to my methods, so here we go:

A. Power exercise- Jumps, KB Swings, etc.
A. Core exercise

B. 2-leg exercise- Squats, Deadlifts, etc.
B. Horizontal Press- Bench press or any variation
B. Vertical Pull- LAT Pulldown, chinups, pullups, etc.

C. 1-leg exercise- Lunges, Step-ups, etc.
C. Horizontal pull- Rowing variations
C. Accessory- core, or something else needed
C. Accessory- core, or something else needed

D. Cardio- Bike, treadmill, etc.

E. Stretch/ Foam Roll

This is usually what I use for my base format for workouts, so on most days it's basically 3 mini-circuits. I can always add more exercises if needed (one in the A circuit and one in the B circuit), and this usually allows for some variation in volume (set X rep scheme).

The circuit format allows us to move fairly quickly (about 30 minutes) and provides some cardiovascular benefit at the same time. The time devoted to the cardio session itself is usually around 20 minutes and therefore allows 5 minutes at the beginning and the end for stretching as part of a warm-up and cool-down. Total workout time is around 60 minutes although we frequently go 65 minutes in duration. I hope you enjoy!

Post Re-visited:

On June 11th I posted about training the core in a vertical position as opposed to laying on the floor such as when performing crunches. The three exercises I explained were the Belly Press, Landmines, and Stability Bar press. Here are the videos for each*:

Belly Press:


Stability Bar Press: Looked for 15 minutes and couldn't find one...

One extra video for this post- Push-Pull: I would perform this exercise kneeling before standing.

* I do not endorse any of the trainers, coaches, companies, or websites shown in these videos.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Wednesday Review: Medicine Balls

For our Wednesday review this week, we will discuss the use of Medicine Balls in the weight room. I am a huge advocate of medicine balls in the weight room because of their versatility. I use medicine balls the most for power development in athletes, but I have also used them for personal training to add some resistance to all kinds of movements and I find that sometimes clients and athletes alike can handle the medicine ball easier and are able to complete a wider variety of exercises.

For Power: One example of a medicine ball exercise that can be used to enhance athletic performance is a simple medicine ball throw, shown here:
This exercise is essentially an Olympic lift, such as a clean or snatch, but does not require the same amount of skill to teach or perform. I would highly recommend this exercise for athletes especially if you as a coach are not comfortable (or unqualified) teaching the Olympic lifts. The only difference here is that I would limit lumbar hyperextension by instructing the athlete to throw the ball forward or focus on height above not distance behind. We never want the lower back to extend past 180 degrees.

Anther advantage of using medicine balls for power development is that we can train athletes in any range of motion with a medicine ball to develop poser in sport specific movement patterns. This is a huge limitation when using free weights and is nearly impossible using machines.

For General Strength: Medicine balls can be used to supplement free weight exercises or even in place of them in some cases. This video shows some examples of things you can do with a medicine ball: Get creative with your movements and use a medicine ball in place of dumbbells to switch up your normal routine.

Thank you for reading and please come back tomorrow!

* I have no idea who is performing the exercises in these videos and do not endorse everything they do, I just thought the videos would give you some ideas.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Strength Training Youth Athletes

I will preface this post by saying, there are a lot of different views out there regarding the proper age to begin strength training, and many people claiming to know what's best. I am not going to be one of those people, but I would rather like to give my opinion toward the subject and you can take it or leave it for what it's worth (I look forward to hearing your comments).

I do not believe there is one particular age where athletes should begin working out using weights. I think it is very obvious that young people develop at various speeds and different chronological ages. Therefore, I think the only generalization that can be made in this instance is that a young athlete should begin a controlled and moderated weight training program somewhere around the onset of puberty. What I mean by a controlled and moderated program basically means under the guidance of a certified coach that will effectively be able to teach and progress the young athlete appropriately.

With that being said, I think an athlete can begin strength training using body weight exercises at any time during their careers. This includes anything from push ups & planks to chin ups & squats. As long as the athlete is moving their body weight through a safe range of motion, I believe the exercise will be performed safely.

Now we've all heard the effects of lifting weights at an inappropriate age: everything from damaged epiphyseal plates (growth plates) to your hair turning green and everything in between. I'm not sure we can strictly adhere to these beliefs, especially the green hair one! This topic will be argued based on the safe range of motion principle again and I'm not sure if there is any evidence that has shown young athletes become injured from weight lifting in a safe range of motion. Problems typically occur when they lift too much weight, demonstrate improper form, or do not follow safety precautions in the weight room. So people will argue that you can weight train by gently loading at an earlier age than puberty, my opinion just likes to error on the side of caution as I would never want to negatively affect any athlete's career.

Thank you for reading today, tomorrow is another Wednesday Review Day!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Wednesday Review: The Swede Spot

I apologize for not posting in three days or so, things have been kind of busy and i haven't spent much time around the computer outside of returning e-mails and that sort of thing. Anyway, I did have time to read an article from The Washington Post sent to me from a friend, and after watching the NHL draft this weekend, there is definitely something about youth sport coaching we can learn from the Swedish model.

Although I have yet to witness anything they are using over there, from the Washington Post article and at a USA Hockey coaching seminar I attended last Fall, it is apparent that they are taking a wholly developmental look at coaching, which I think is very beneficial for the athlete. When compared to the system here in the United States, Swedish youth play less games and practice a lot more, allowing for more skill development.

If you look on the USA Hockey website's Puck possession analysis from the 2002 Olympics, you may be surprised by the amount of time players possess the puck during a game. The results of this study concluded that the average time players held the puck on their stick was 1:01 per game! Yes, that's one minute and one second on average. Now nobody in their right mind would tell you they became more skilled by practicing for one minute every two hours. In contrast, during practice, an athlete may possess the puck far more. The message from the Swedish system here is that if we want to become better coaches and develop essential skills for an athlete, we need to hold more practices/less games. Sweden is a country of 6 million people, yet they had more players drafted in the first round of this year's NHL draft than any other country.

Here's a link to the article if interested:

Thank you for reading and please come back tomorrow.