Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Developing a Proper Warm-Up

“If it’s important, do it every day.” – Dan Gable

I first heard (or I should say read) that quote in Dan John’s book Never Let Go. I recently read through it and found it very enjoyable and a great resource for coaches. On several occasions, John mentions this quote as his rationale for his warm-ups (in which he utilizes a variety of complexes and technical lifts to make sure there is enough repetition), which made me look over my own warm-up philosophy. First, I agree with both Dans (Dan’s? Dans’? I have no clue how to pluralize Dan, or if pluralize is even a word…irrelevant, back to the point) in that if something is important, it should be evident in your training. It makes sense. If ankle mobility is important for your athletes, then they should be getting hammered with ankle mobility work.

While I like the use of complexes, and even include them myself sometimes, there are many other factors that go into my warm-up routines. There are three basic goals of any warm-up I create – ready the nervous system for activity, prepare the tissues and joints for action, and address any imbalances in the kinetic chain.

Prepare the Nervous System – Ever try to function at a high rate the moment your alarm goes off in the morning? We all know it’s difficult to go from 0-100 instantly (unless you’re an “early bird” type, but no one likes you anyway. Let us hit snooze and drink our coffee in peace). Why would it be any different for training? Walking into the gym, my body isn’t ready to jump into a set of heavy presses or pull a few hundred from the ground. Prep the CNS/PNS with similar movements at lower intensity to reintegrate the proper firing pattern and activation of the muscles. Complexes are great here, grab a barbell and move through a few lifts you’ll be doing in the workout, allowing your body to recognize the proper firing pattern.

Prepare the Tissues & Joints – Same concept as above, only now we’re focused on the musculoskeletal system rather than the nervous system. There’s endless debate about static and/or dynamic stretching prior to activity, but I’m not going to get into that here. The truth is, what works for some, doesn’t work for others. Act accordingly. I prefer a dynamic warm-up that allows the body to go through full range of motion in a controlled setting. I’ve found it helps get the proper amount of ROM and flexibility – not too much, but ensuring a safe range.

Address any Imbalances – This is something I recently added after learning the NASM Corrective Exercise material. There is a pattern of common muscles that are chronically overactive/tight, which has led their antagonists to become inhibited/lengthened. These imbalances typically lead to overuse injuries or other chronic issues. The warm-up is an excellent time to address these imbalances with inhibition or activation exercises in order to teach proper muscle firing patterns. If an athlete’s knees cave in during a squat, then their adductors are likely overactive and external rotators (i.e. glute med) are underactive. Inhibiting the overactive muscles with foam rolling and activating the weakened muscles can lead to improved movement patterns. These activation exercises allow the normally inhibited muscles to be integrated into more complex movements and maintain the integrity of the kinetic chain.

The concept is the same – if it’s important, do it every day – however, what I determine to be important is slightly different from Coach John. Many of the athletes I work with are in football, basketball, and baseball – all of which have high rates of overuse injuries (hamstring strains, jumper’s knee, rotator cuff impingement, etc.), which can hopefully be minimized by proper training. Grey Cook and Michael Boyle both stress the importance of proper movement patterns and that most injuries are due to a deficit or imbalance elsewhere in the kinetic chain.  Therefore, it’s important to train the body to be able to properly handle the stresses and movements of the sport.

These are my areas of focus when preparing an athlete for a training session. Pre-game or practice warm-ups share the same principles, but through different actions, as the athletes are preparing for different movements and actions. As always, if I can ever be of assistance to you or your program, please feel free to contact me at anytime.

All the best,

Drew Henley, CSCS, USAW, CES

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Find the Strength

“Give me forty minutes of effort, that’s all I’m asking for.”

This was what I recently asked of from one of my basketball players before his workout. I knew he was elsewhere mentally (focus and work ethic weren’t high on his list), but I also knew he needed to get his work done or else his head coach would sit him without hesitation. This kid is talented (I mean big time, could be playing on ESPN in two years talented), but as the saying goes, “Nothing is more common than unfulfilled potential.”

Some people get it, but unfortunately many don’t. Once you’ve grown accustomed to getting by on natural ability, it can be hard to swallow that you have to WORK to advance. It may be cliché, but it’s true that nothing worth having comes easy. This isn’t limited to sports or athletes either. Hell, I want to become the best professional I possibly can, and in my efforts lose out on several small joys – TV, movies, going out every weekend, etc – so I can bury my face in a book or research journal. At times, it’s awful and I question whether I truly want to succeed that badly or if it’s worth it. After all, above average is still pretty good, right? Why not settle for that? It’ll free up an hour or two a day that I can spend vegging out in front of the TV or going out for a drink. Why not?

It’s simple – because anyone can do that. Anyone can say, “This is too much…I don’t feel like it” or any of a million other excuses. It takes strength and determination to deny those voices in your head and do what must be done. Two thoughts enter my mind whenever I am exhausted and question whether I really want to finish this workout or that chapter.

Find the Strength
Pretty simple really. Find the strength to do what’s necessary, when it must be done, and the best way possible. Dan John made a great point in his book Never Let Go, many recovering addicts (or anyone attempting to make a life change) face a challenge as a whole and get overwhelmed. Break it down to small pieces and, as cheesy as it sounds, take it a day at a time. Dan summed it up best by basically saying – “tomorrow I’ll break from my new routine and go back to my old habits, but not today” (I say basically because I forgot the exact wording and couldn’t find the page with it). Give in tomorrow, but not today. Find the strength to get through today, and when tomorrow comes, find the strength again.

Average is Below Me
This may come across as egotistical, but I believe that if I am merely average in what I do, I’ve failed. I hold myself to higher standards than that and except the same from all of my athletes. If you settle for average, then you aren’t worth my time to train. If I settle for average, I’m not worth your money to pay for my services. Anybody can do average, bust your ass and do something special.

This isn’t to say that every workout has to be a record breaker to be a success, or that I believe I am perfect in any way (far from it, in fact), but rather the focus should be to strive for excellence instead of settling for mediocrity. Some days, the absolute best you have to give will be less than ideal (sick, stressed over work or loved ones, sleep deprived, etc), but still get everything you can from that day under those conditions. With the athlete I mentioned above, that was not the case. He was being lazy and didn’t want to work. There is nothing more frustrating in this field than watching a young talent blow an opportunity because he or she failed to put in the effort. On the flip side, there is nothing more rewarding to me as a coach than to see one of my less genetically gifted athletes take their lazy counterparts opportunities after busting their ass. It’s the difference between recognizing that doors close and expecting them to be held open indefinitely.

I can’t tell you whether that basketball player will ever figure it out and recognize his potential – only time will tell – but I can tell you that for forty minutes, I had his attention and effort and got every bit out of him that I could. If athletes can take anything from this, it’s two thoughts – 1) It doesn’t take any skill to work hard, and 2) Just because you’re not at 100% doesn’t mean you can’t give every ounce of effort you do have.

If I can ever do anything for you, your athletes, or your program, please don’t hesitate to contact me at anytime.

All the best,

Drew Henley, CSCS, USAW, CES