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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Why My Athletes Don't Use Lifting Gear

One thing I believe in above all else when training athletes is to ensure what we are doing in the weight room will benefit them on the field, court, etc. While I can't teach a pitcher how to throw a sinker or improve a golfer's stroke, my goal is to give them better tools to build with. Does a baseball player who deadlifts 400 pounds play better than one who only pulls 300 pounds? Not necessarily, and certainly not because of the discrepancy of a single lift. Strength and conditioning is an important aspect of developing athletes, but to pretend it is solely responsible for leaps in ability is fictitious and overvaluing my worth as a coach.

I believe it's important to train the entire system of an athlete rather than focusing on just improving weight numbers. For example - if a baseball player is losing his deadlift because of a weak grip, it would make sense to have him use wrist straps to eliminate the grip issue and allow heavier lifts. If the goal is to train for a powerlifting competition, this is an excellent strategy. However, I don't know of any baseball players that moonlight as powerlifters - the goal is to prepare them best for the baseball diamond. A weak grip is a sign of an inability to successfully transfer force through their arms. Baseball, along with most other sports, relies on the ability to generate massive amounts of force, minimize energy leaks, and direct this force in a controlled manner.

Take the baseball player example - when swinging a bat, all of the force he generates from his legs must travel through his entire body before reaching his hands and the bat he is swinging. Just like the expression, "You are only as strong as your weakest link," the weakest part of the kinetic chain will limit how powerful the swing will be. As important as generating force is, being able to maintain tension to allow the force to reach its endpoint is equally important. While most muscles are trained for force generation and movement, there are several body parts which must be trained to resist movement and maintain their rigidity to allow force to pass through them, like a cord passes electricity from the outlet to your computer.

I've found the following three areas to be the most common energy leaks and improvement in the ability of these muscle groups to transfer force can lead to substantial improvements in performance.


Grip
As any baseball player will tell you, grip strength is paramount to success. While this may not be entirely true (as found by studies like this one), it still has an important purpose, but as a means to an end and not an end in itself. When it comes to grip strength, there is a point of diminishing returns and you only need to be "strong enough" to reap the benefits. It might be nice to have forearms like Popeye, but dedicating entire training sessions to grip work is a waste of precious gym time. Athletes should work on active gripping with exercises like weighted wrist rollers, wrist curls, and rice bucket drills, but also program in static grip strengthening exercises such as plate pinches, farmers walks, and dead weight holds.

Shoulders/Scapular Stabilizers 
This is for injury protection as much as enhancing performance. A stable shoulder girdle can help keep the humerus in proper position and reduce the chances of an injury to the rotator cuff or labrum. Extra work with the scapular retractors, specifically the rhomboids, will help negate the effects of sitting in front of a computer for hours every day. Some of my favorite exercises include reverse planks, batwings (which can also be very effective when done with a TRX instead of dumbbells), waiter's carries, and wall slides.

Torso/Spinal Stabilizers (Anti-Rotation/Flexion/Extension)
Methods for training the abdominal muscles have changed drastically with the contributions of John Pallof and Dr. Stuart McGill. More coaches are shying away from spinal flexion and the potential risks it poses to intervertebral discs and gravitating towards core training that prevents spinal movement. Ab rollouts (stability ball, wheel, barbell, etc.), Pallof presses, and many of the Cook Bar half-kneeling exercises are excellent choices when training core stability.

If you find your performance stagnating, try incorporate some of these ideas into your training. It's quite possible you're losing some of the force you are generating because of an energy leak in one or more of these areas.

If there is ever anything I can do to assist you or your program, please do not hesitate to contact me via email, Twitter, call, or text.

All the best,

Drew Henley, CSCS, USAW, FMS-1

480-241-4112
Drew@HenleySP.com
Twitter.com/DrewBHenley


Sunday, February 9, 2014

My Goals as a Strength Coach

There are countless ways to improve athletic performance, and in the words of Dan John, "Everything works...for about six weeks." I've mentioned before my training philosophy and some of the methods I use to coach my athletes, but I've never listed my goals. These goals help shape my coaching style and programming methods.

1. Get the maximum results with the least amount of work possible
This may seem counter-intuitive, as the basic concept of strength training is to continually complete tasks more difficult than the one before in an attempt to elicit an over-compensatory response, increasing strength. While it is important to progressively increase resistance and other variables to continue to make gains (remember, everything works for about 2-6 weeks...then nothing works), it is also important to factor in other stresses on the system. If an athlete is practicing 20-40 hours per week, competing another 10+ hours, while committing another 5 hours to strength training, the cumulative fatigue can hinder performance or possibly result in injury. Factor in emotional stress, such as school, relationships, family life, etc. and it becomes clear that efficiency in training is key.

I can create a program that will bring the most hardened athlete to his knees with dizziness, hugging the nearest trash can, and wondering when he'll be able to stand again, that is simple. What are the benefits of this? How will the athlete perform at practice or in a game following that workout? Now, imagine if I can have the same athlete complete a different workout, one with inter-set rest periods, some mobility work, and a reasonable amount of volume. After the workout, he feels tired, but strong, able to continue on with his practice schedule and keeps his lunch down. If both workouts produce similar results in increased strength, why choose to make an athlete feel miserable? The idea that an athlete needs to be dead after every workout is ridiculous and dangerous. Put the same situation in different areas: If you can drive a 1 mile stretch of open road to get to the grocery store, or a 15 mile roller coaster of peaks, valleys, merging traffic, and reckless drivers, which would you choose? The point is, athletes have too many demands outside the weight room to punish them with every workout. If a program is efficient and properly designed, a single workout shouldn't produce incapacitated athletes. (Note - this is a general rule, and I have written before on the importance of "gut-check" workouts and the benefits they produce)

2. Provide the head coach with the proper type of athlete
I once had a coaching change with a football team I was working with that put me in an interesting situation. The first head coach had been with the team for a few years, knew his athletes, and built his system around big, slow athletes and preferred a ground and pound approach. The workouts fit that description - athletes had high levels of absolute strength, a decent amount of power, and minimal aerobic conditioning. The new coach came in, installed his air attack scheme and said he needed fast athletes that can run an up-tempo game plan. While this wasn't the best use of the athletes we had on hand, the coach wanted to run what he had success with, so we changed the training to accommodate the new demands (this was early in my coaching career when I thought total overhauls were necessary). The athletes lost some of their maximum strength, but maintained their power and improved their conditioning as well as speed with the new program. As a strength coach, it's important to remember where you fall in the grand scheme of things. We are support staff - we are there to work with the head coaches and within their framework. It is our responsibility to prepare athletes for the demands of their specific program. Give them the tools to produce in their sport, given their coach's game plan, and with the specific demands of their position, and you are positioning them for success.

3. Get athletes to understand "why"
This ties together the above two points. Why are we doing Exercise A instead of B? Why are we performing reps at Weight X instead of Y? Why can't I do extra work on my off-day tomorrow? The more an athlete understands the "why" of a training plan, the more they can dedicate themselves to it and achieving the goals of the program. If they can see the big picture - factor in practice schedule, competition, and recovery time - then they can control their urge to do what they want to do at the moment, and focus on what they want over the long haul. A championship trophy is worth more to an athlete than an extra ten pounds on the bar today.

These are three of my goals as a strength and conditioning coach, which help shape my interactions with my athletes. I recognize not all coaches agree with these ideas, and I respect that. Again...everything works, and everything has its place, these are just some of my observations from coaching.

All the best,


Drew Henley, CSCS, USAW, FMS-1
480-241-4112
Drew@HenleySP.com
Twitter.com/DrewBHenley 


Sunday, November 3, 2013

Conditioning vs. Cardio

Chris Shugart put up an entertaining article last week on T-Nation about conditioning vs. cardio. This got me thinking of some of my favorite conditioning exercises and how I implement them into my athletes' training. Rather than calling it predator conditioning (though I could be persuaded with a kickass name like that), I generally stick to metabolic conditioning, METCON, or blitz workouts.

1. Ropes - Two hand slams, alternating slams, jumping jacks, mini waves, side to side, internal/external rotation, and wax on/wax off circles are some of my favorites to use with an anchored rope. Other drills I like are rope rows (with a sled or heavy kettlebell), fireman's carry, rope chin ups, and tug of war, but these typically require a lot of space.

2. Sleds - Great for pushes, forward drags, and sprints. Sleds become an even greater conditioning tool when combined with a TRX - walking TRX rows, chest presses, rotations, and walking anti-rotation holds. 

3. Sledgehammers - Overhead and rotational slams are great for developing upper body power while taxing the entire body.

4. Sandbags - A 50 pound sandbag always seems heavier than a 95 pound barbell. Front squats, offset (on one shoulder) squats, Zercher squats, lunges, or even just carrying the bags without handles are excellent ways to incorporate sandbags into conditioning.

5. Slideboards - Great for lateral shuffles, they can also be used for push up variations, ab rollouts, body saws, reverse lunges, and mountain climbers. 

These are just some types of equipment I use with athletes, depending on their ability level, sport demands, and time of season. If you're looking to build a strong conditioning plan, start with the basics (push, pull, squat, carry), try a variety of tools (any of the above, plus dumbbells, barbells, TRX, landmine, etc.), and make a circuit out of it. A simple solution is to pick a couple of exercises and go :20 on, :10 off for a few rounds. Other work:rest ratios I like to use are :15/:5/:15 with :30 between exercises (so two rounds of one, then switch) and :30/:10/:30/:60. One other way is to pair up and go for a specific number of reps, but when in doubt, I stick with the Tabata protocol. 

Personal Favorite METCONs (with rounds before switching exercises and reps/rest or time on/time off/time on/transition):

Upper Body Blast (:20/:10/:20/:10)

  • Overhead Rope Slams
  • TRX Rows (or TRX Sled Pulls)
  • Slideboard Push Ups
  • Rotational Med Ball Wall Slams

Legs & Lungs (1 set of marked reps/distance, then next exercise, resting after each round. Can also be done with partner, 2 sets, switch exercises, then 2 minute rest after each round)

  • Heavy Sled/Prowler Pushes - 25 yards
  • Zercher Sandbag Walks - 20 yards & back
  • Stadium Farmer Walks - 3-5 flights (partner goes at same time, no second set)
  • Sprint - 50 yards, walk back
Total Body Shredding (best with partner - as many sets as possible in 5 minutes per exercise, 1:30 to switch)
  • Over the Shoulder Sledgehammer Slams - 5 each side
  • Zercher Hold Walking Lunges - 20 yards & back
  • TRX Sled Rows - 25 yards
  • Rope Jumping Jacks - 20
There are an infinite number of possibilities to play around with, which should help eliminate the boredom typically associated with conditioning. It's important to remember to recover - if you're training heavy & hard every day, and trying to add in these METCONs, it can result in overtraining or worse. Be smart in your training and allow your body to recover between training sessions. 

All the best,


Drew Henley, CSCS, USAW, FMS-1
480-241-4112
Drew@HenleySP.com
Twitter.com/DrewBHenley 


Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Simple Strength & Size Workout

One of the best lessons I've learned is simpler is almost always better. With that in mind, here is a program I have used off and on with pretty decent results. I call it "On the 5's and 10's" and it's pretty simple - pick two exercises and do one for 4 sets of 5, the other for 4x10. I have also played around with 5x5 & 5x10, which works, but I don't notice a big enough difference to dedicate the extra time for the sets. If I have the time to do two lifts for five sets each, I can usually make a better workout.

There are two common ways this can be utilized - either you're pressed for time each day and can't spend an hour in the weight room, but still want a quality lift, or you want to improve a movement/muscle group that is lacking. 

Example 1
You can get to the gym every day, but only have about 20-30 minutes, but still want to focus on mass and strength.

Set Up - After a warm up, these two lifts are done as a superset, with only as much rest as needed between rounds to get the reps at your weight.

Lift 1: Deadlift - 4x5
Lift 2: Military Press - 4x10

Lift 1: Bench Press - 4x5
Lift 2: RDLs/Glute Bridge - 4x10

Lift 1: Squat - 4x5
Lift 2: TRX Rows - 4x10

Lift 1: Chin Ups - 4x5
Lift 2: RFE Split Squats - 4x10

With Lift 1, we hit the king exercise of each movement, then use less demanding exercises for reps. Is it perfect? Absolutely not, but if you only have time for two exercises, you can do much worse than deadlift and military press.

Example 2
For whatever reason, you're not where you want to be for your squat. You can deadlift a semi, but struggle coming out of the bottom of your squat. 

Set Up - In addition to your normal workouts, add this in on an extra day where squat isn't emphasized (while still allowing recovery - remember, the issue may be overtraining and under-recovering anyway).

Lift 1: Barbell RFE Split Squats to Airex Pad - 4x5
Corrective 1: Hip Flexor Stretch

Lift 2: Dual KB Goblet Squat w/ Pause at Bottom - 4x10
Corrective 2: Ankle Mobility

In addition to improving strength out of the hole, the corrective work will help with mobility and limit internal resistance during the movement.


All the best,

Drew Henley, CSCS, USAW, CES

Drew@HenleySP.com
Twitter.com/DrewBHenley

Monday, June 24, 2013

A Better Way to Test Power

Two weeks ago, I was fortunate to attend the Perform Better Summit in Providence, RI and was constantly putting pen to paper in an attempt to bring as much to my training as possible. One of the most fascinating lessons I picked up at the conference was from Greg Rose of Titleist Performance Institute. During Greg's hands-on session, he showed us four power tests he uses with his athletes, how they relate to performance, and what they reveal in the athlete. 

Important note: for male athletes, use a 4kg med ball and for female athletes, 2kg.

Test #1 - Seated Med Ball Chest Pass
This is a common exercise that I have used with hundreds of athletes, both as a test and in training. Have the athlete sit on a plyo box (about 18" seems to be right for most people), and throw the med ball as far as possible while keeping their hips on the box the entire time. Distance in feet = #1


Test #2 - Supine Chop Throw
Begin in a sit-up position while holding a med ball, arms extended overhead on the ground. Perform a crunch/sit-up/chop throw, while keeping feet and hips on the ground throughout the throw. Distance in feet = #2

Test #3 - Vertical Jump
Nothing fancy here, a standard counter-movement jump for height. Feel free to use whatever equipment you have at your disposal - Vertec, Just Jump, etc. Height in inches = #3

Test #4 - Rotational Shot Put
Similar to the MB chest pass above, this is one of my favorite upper body power exercises (though, as a former thrower, I always hesitate when labeling it as a shot put...feels wrong on some level). With the athlete in an athletic stance, body perpendicular to the direction they will be throwing, have them throw as far as they can. There is no step into the throw or jump while throwing, the feet can turn and the back leg can come forward, but remember this is a test - tests are only beneficial if executed properly. Repeat with each arm. Distance in feet = #4

Here is where things get interesting, those numbers should all be connected. #1, #2, and #3 should all be equal or close to it, and #4 should be about 1.5 of the other numbers. For example, if an athlete has a 20" vertical, they should have a chest pass and chop throw distance of 20', and their shot put distances should be right around 30'. This shows a well balanced power profile of an athlete. If one or two of these numbers are below this ratio, it shows where training should be modified to improve total body power.

This is another demonstration of the body being a single unit instead of a collection of pieces - everything is connected. If you want powerful athletes, be sure they are powerful throughout their body and not just in common movements. If an athlete can generate sufficient power with their legs (let's say a 30" vertical), but are unable to transfer that power to their upper extremities (due to weak core/rotational power), their performance will suffer. We will always be limited by our weakest link, these tests can help reveal and remedy those weak links and improve performance.

All the best,

Drew Henley, CSCS, USAW, FMS-1
480-241-4112
Drew@HenleySP.com
Twitter.com/DrewBHenley