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Thursday, October 6, 2011

This or That?

Yesterday, Mike Robertson put out a good article on T-Nation, The Truth About Single Leg Training (if you haven’t read it yet, I recommend it). I really enjoyed the main point Mike focused on – all methods of leg training have their purposes, and it’s best to utilize them according to individual needs and goals. I want to expand on this idea and show it applies to much more than choosing between unilateral or bilateral leg training.
·      Barbell Bench vs. Dumbbell BenchThis comes up a lot with some of the baseball players I work with. “We did barbell all the time in college” seems to be the main argument. I’ve removed almost all barbell benching from my programs because the strain on the rotator cuff isn’t worth it, especially when the same gains (and more stabilizer activation) can be made with dumbbells at less risk. I try to limit barbell bench to football players, mainly to prep them for max rep tests. My general rule – if they’re overhead athletes, they don’t touch a barbell bench. Exceptions can be made if you’ve got a multi-grip bar and can utilize neutral hand position, eliminating some of the strain on the shoulder.
·      Spinal Flexion/Resisting Spinal Extension -  Many strength coaches/ATCs/physical therapists have jumped on the anti-crunch wagon. The belief is that the spine has a finite number of flexion/extension cycles before resulting in disk herniation. I disagree with this belief, mainly due to the fact most of the studies were conducted in vitro on porcine cervical spines. I would go into further detail, but Bret Contreras and Brad Schoenfeld have written some excellent pieces on this, one available here that do a good job of summing up the pro-crunches argument. I mix in both for better development of the core musculature, however I limit spinal flexion in athlete’s with lower back pain as a precautionary measure.
·      Rotation vs. Rotation Resistance Many sports demand rapid change of direction and trunk rotation (e.g. basketball, baseball, football, soccer) and a strong core is vital for both of these. Rotational exercises serve as a useful tool in training these movements and can have tremendous carryover to sport. Since movements occurring in the transverse plane are usually forceful, it’s best to train them in the same manner (medball work is my preference). However, it is important for a well rounded program to include low-to-high and high-to-low lifts as well, training the serape effect and linking opposite shoulder to hip. Rotation resistance is most beneficial in providing stiffness in the core, providing support for the spine and allowing force to be transferred from the lower to upper extremities. Being able to transfer energy from one extremity is vital in almost all sports, and as such is a primary focus for training. All the leg strength in the world is useless to an offensive lineman if he can’t transfer it to his opponent, and in order to do that, it needs to travel through his core. Pallof presses and walkouts are excellent exercises to develop core stiffness (Pallof presses in a half kneel position even add in some hip stabilizing for additional benefit).
·      Flat Ground vs. Unstable Surface Balance Training BOSU balls, Airex pads, and Versadiscs are all great tools…for the proper jobs. However, the trouble is many people mistake standing on a BOSU ball for two minutes as having excellent balance. “But it’s functional training!” Really? What’s the function it’s training? Balance? Maybe if you live on a small boat and the ground you stand on constantly shifts, but most of us live on dry land and WE are what constantly shift. Now, I’m not saying death to all instability training, I actually think it’s incredibly beneficial in the right circumstances (which I’ll get to in a second), but it shouldn’t be the first recommendation. If an athlete has trouble standing on one leg, the answer isn’t to throw them on an Airex pad, that’s like telling someone to bench 225 because they can’t do a pushup. It’s backwards – conquer the basics, then move on to the more challenging exercises to improve upon a solid foundation. The table below shows the progression I use in balance training. The benefits gained by using instability products is wasted if the athlete doesn’t possess balance on flat ground, where almost all sports are played.

Flat Ground
Static
Unstable
Static
Flat Ground
Dynamic
Unstable
Dynamic

Almost everything has an appropriate time and place in a training program, it’s our job as coaches to determine when and where that is. Putting baseball players under the bar in bench because it’s “how we’ve always done it” is a poor excuse. Have a reason for everything you do and be able to explain why it’s the best choice. At the same time, it’s important to resist throwing aside an exercise as soon as something new and popular comes along. Single leg training is incredibly beneficial and puts less stress on the lumbar spine than traditional back squat, but it pales in comparison to the endocrine response generated by bilateral leg training. All of these are tools to have at your disposal, and the more tools you have the more jobs you can complete.

Let me know any thoughts you have on this matter, or what I’ve missed. If I can ever be of assistance, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

All the best,

Drew Henley, CSCS, USAW
480-241-4112
HenleySportsPerformance.blogspot.com
Twitter.com/DrewBHenley

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