Random Thoughts: October Edition

Every month I try to put out a post with 10 or so random thoughts in regards to strength and conditioning. Here is the October edition.

  1. As Pablo Picasso famously said, “Good artists borrow. Great artists steal.” Look at every single performer better then you and see what they’ve got that you can use. Then make it your own. Steal without apology.
  2. The most important aspect of strength and conditioning is transfer. If the exercises you are doing isn’t transferring over to the sport your athletes are playing and helping the athletes you coach get better at their sport, it might not be the right exercise.
  3. Our field is notorious for arguing over the best training practices, the value/worth of specific exercises, and basically fighting over who is right and who is wrong on every little detail in the world of sport performance. But in reality, at the end of the day the only thing that really matter are results. Are the athletes you coach healthy, successful at their sport, and getting stronger/better in the weight room and enjoying the time they are spending with you? If the answer is yes to all of those questions, I don’t know how anyone can argue with what it is you are doing.
  4. “The point of lifting weights is to force stress into movement patterns.” Gray Cook
  5. To slightly piggyback off the previous thought , so many people complain about certain exercises that hurt them, aggravate them, or don’t feel great when doing them. Here is a real simple thought: eliminate movements/exercises that bother you. People/coaches are way to stuck on certain exercises and think you ‘have’ to be doing them. Again, the point of lifting weights is to force stress into movement patterns. Train the movement pattern, progress it from week to week, and watch people get better.
  6. If a movement is something that you consider functional and you have athletes getting injured in the weight room, either the movement isn’t really functional, it is being performed with too much external load, or the movement is being performed off of a non-functional base. Either way, you shouldn’t be getting hurt in the weight room.
  7. ‘Why’ should be at the center of your circle, not ‘what’. Think about that when programming.
  8. Hamstring injuries are typically because of one of two things; one, people have a weak anterior core and two, they don’t use their glutes well in conjunction with their hamstrings during movement. Think more anti-extension core work like plank progressions, rollouts, and body saws to improve a weak anterior core. Think tennis ball hip bridge with an exhale to (in through the nose at the bottom, bridge, 5 second exhale at the top of the bridge) to improve rib and pelvic positioning (helping people bridge with the hip as opposed to the low back) along with better core contribution when trying to get the glutes and hamstrings to work more synergistically.
  9. Simplicity and systems make coaching extremely easy. Keeping things simple and having a well thought out system of progressions and regressions makes things work extremely well and smooth.
  10. Force is not just expressed concentrically. Isometric and eccentric strength is critical for overall athletic development – yet is overlooked constantly.

30 Gray Cook Quotes

Anyone that knows me knows that I am a huge fan of Gray Cook – I think the guy is brilliant. Gray is the creator of the FMS, has written a book called Movement, and is generally regarded as one of the leaders in the physical therapy and strength & conditioning professions.

Over the years I have read most of his work and listened to him speak at various conferences and on various podcasts. As a result, I thought it would be good to put together a handful of some good tidbits that have come out of his mouth. Enjoy!

1. First move well, then move often.
2. Exercise is nothing more then stress on an organ.
3. Don’t add strength to dysfunction.
4. Moving isn’t important, until you can’t.
5. Maintain the squat, train the dead lift.
6. Don’t look at my workouts, look at my outcomes.
7. Stabilizers don’t do their job by being strong, they do their job by being fast.
8. If mobility is stiff in one position or pattern but wasn’t in a different position or pattern its not a mobility issue
9. A good leg lower is a precursor to a good dead lift. A good dead lift is a precursor to a good swing.
10. Do what people need, not what they want.
11. The missing link in most strength & conditioning programs are carries.
12. Your brain is too smart to allow you to have full horsepower in a bad body position, it’s called muscle inhibition
13. If you have an issue with your active straight leg raise or shoulder mobility, you don’t have the right to go anywhere else in a corrective strategy. Don’t worry about your squat, clean up the active straight leg raise and shoulder mobility FIRST!
14. When someone leaves your weight room they should have a stamp of durability
15. Don’t rehab the injury, rehab the person.
16. When someone hits the end on a carry, the carry is over because the prime movers can’t take over
17. The best athletes are the ones that can use their resources the most resourcefully
18. Why do you need to screen? Because you need to be in-tune with the group that you are training. Not everyone deserves the same program.
19. 1 in 5 individuals have pain in a movement on the screen – that’s a health problem, not a fitness problem
20. If you can’t do a bodyweight squat or push up you shouldn’t load a squat or a bench press
21. The movement screen won’t change injury rates, it changes the way you train
22. FMS isn’t about decreasing injuries…everything we do should be about decreasing injuries
23. Pain screws everything up.
24. The more complex the movement, the easier it is to find a way to compensate
25. Elevating your heels isn’t just about giving you more ankle mobility, it gives you an anterior weight shift that makes it easier to sit back when you squat.
26. Making people use their stability muscles to keep them stable instead of their global muscles will make a huge difference when it comes to injury prevention
27. Before you worry about adding correctives, stop and figure out why/what you are doing is causing these issues
28. Loaded carries show you the limiting factors with your stabilizers instead of your prime movers – how long can you maintain postural integrity under load.
29. The KB Bottoms Up Press will be huge for shoulder health, integrity and proprioception because it is a self-limiting exercise – if you don’t control the small things you can’t perform the press.
30. The number one risk factor for musculoskeletal injury is a previous injury, implying that our rehabilitation process is missing something.

Overhead Pressing Overhead Athletes?

“Just because an exercise doesn’t hurt it doesn’t mean it’s not causing harm.” Eric Cressey

Would I overhead press an overhead athlete (volleyball in this case) with a barbell or even a dumbbell, even if it is pain free? No, the risk is not worth the reward – your probably playing with fire in the long term when it comes to shoulder health.

Would I do it with a kettlebell? Yes, we do bottoms up all the time and is a staple in our strength program.

Why the Bottoms Up KB Press:

1️) It allows the shoulder to find the path of least resistance. Not all shoulders work the same, especially overhead athletes.
2️) It helps to facilitate more rotator cuff activation. The rotator cuff is a reflex driven group of muscles built for stability, not strength. KB bottoms up press demands stability. If the rotator cuff isn’t stabilizing, the KB will fall over.

3️) It also teaches the core and the shoulder to work together as a unit. If you lose core stability, you’ll again probably lose the kettlebell.

4) Overhead athletes tend to have cranky shoulders with pain in certain positions. Simply flipping the KB over turns a typically painful movement into a non-painful movement. Training through pain is a terrible idea. On the other hand, not training through pain is always a good thing.

4 Quick Thoughts on Coaching

Over the course of the last week I spent some time reading Daniel Coyle’s The Little Book of Talent. The book is essentially 52 different tips that Daniel Coyle has accumulated over the course of his work studying how people that are exceptional talents in their field and what it took for them to get there. This sparked me into thinking what it takes for a coach, more specific a strength coach, to be great at their jobs. Here are four quick thoughts on what it takes to be great in our industry.

The first thing a coach should try to do is connect with their athletes when they first see them. The field of strength and conditioning is less about science and exercises and more about relationships, connecting with people and earning their trust.

In the world of strength and conditioning connecting with your athletes on a daily basis can be relatively easy. For example, as our athletes walk into the weight room the first thing they do is grab a foam roller to foam roll and then go through a series of stretches and mobility drills – this is a perfect and easy time to coach less and connect more. You have to show that you care before you teach and/or coach.

Be Quick & Direct
When it comes to actually giving direction make it short, sweet and direct. No one wants to hear a long winded speech or some long description of the exercise or exercises that you are about to perform – plus we know attention spans leave a lot to be desired. Explain it and explain it quickly. Explain it to them in a direct manner. John Wooden was known to show something correctly, then not what to do, then show it correctly again – a shit sandwich. Do this, not this, do this is what Coach Wooden’s philosophy was. Be quick, direct and to the point as often as you can.

Aim to be Useless
At the end of the day, I want the athletes I work with to be able to do exactly what I want, with great form/technique, without me standing by their side taking them through it. I should be able to sit there and watch them take themselves through the program and do it 95% correctly. Why do I aim for this and essentially make myself useless? Because this means I have done a great job of teaching them what they need to do to be successful and how they should be doing it. Is this every going to happen? Probably not as programs continue to evolve as we learn more about the human body as well as a new set of freshman coming into the program every year, but its still a goal that I keep in the back of my mind.

Catch People Doing the Right Thing
As coaches we are essentially around to help athletes improve both as athletes and as people. In doing so we spend a ton of time correcting what it is that they are doing wrong. If you are coaching a big group like a football team, you know you can literally walk around from platform to platform correcting something – and this is a good thing. However, I think as coaches we don’t spend enough time praising things that athletes are doing well. As hard as you work to fix things

Frontal Plane Power Development

“Power development is extremely plane-specific.” – Eric Cressey

Research has shown that sagittal plane power production doesn’t carryover to frontal/transverse/rotational power nearly as much as people would like to think. To develop power outside of the sagittal plane and have it carryover to sport, you need to specifically train it.

The sport of hockey is a great example of this. The skating stride in hockey is a frontal plane dominant movement that is extremely single leg in nature. Goalies live in the frontal plane by explosively going post to post.

So how do you develop this hockey specific/frontal plane power? It’s not rocket science  train both frontal plane power and single leg strength.

Frontal plane power: Lateral bounds

One of the ways we training frontal plane power is through a simple lateral bound. The lateral bound allows for specific frontal plane power development, something that you don’t get from traditional power exercises like cleans or snatches.

Frontal plane power: Cross-Behind Side Toss

You can also develop a great deal of power outside of the sagittal plane with medicine ball work. Generally speaking, many different med ball exercises are phenomenal for developing power in non-traditional ways. A Med Ball Side Toss are great at accomplishing this.

Single leg strength: 1-leg Squat

Finally, single leg exercises are also key when developing strength and power in the frontal plane. At first glance, many people believe that single leg exercises are performed in the sagittal plane, but in reality you are asking the hip to perform quite a bit of stabilization in both the frontal and transverse plane. A true single leg exercise like the 1-leg squat (completely unsupported) or split squat variations (single leg supported) are two of my favorite single leg exercises.

10 Random Thoughts

Every once in a while, hopefully about once a  month, I try to put out a few of the random thoughts that are going through my head which is usually sparked by various podcasts, interviews and books that I’ve been reading.

1. This isn’t a direct quote from Charlie Weingroff, but he did say something along these lines in an interview he did a while back and I think he hit the nail on the head. “More people would rather do it their way, the way their comfortable, the way they were first taught, instead of doing what’s right.”

2. How someone moves determines how well you do at your job. – Mike Boyle

3. Most people are visual learners. The best coaches demo exercises/movements better then other coaches. Even when you think you demo too much, demo more.

4. Why do some many strength coaches waste their athletes’ time with some much unnecessary dumb stuff? Exercises/drills either fix/rehab/prehab something or help make an athlete a savage and will help them be better at their sport. Everything else is a waste of time.

5. If the core is stable the shoulder will have a better platform to work off of. Case in point: most of the smartest people from the world of rehab are telling anyone that will listen that breathing is probably the number one corrective for shoulder issues.

6. Developmental movements like gets up and crawling have a ton of carryover to moving better. Add them to the program in some way, whether it be as a filler between sets or in the warm up.

7. Elite athletes are just better at the basics then everyone else.

8. Compression and distraction is huge for shoulder health, more specifically getting the rotator cuff to stabilize properly and efficiently. And because of that, get ups, dead lifts, and heavy carries like suitcase, farmers and bottoms up carries are great for shoulder health.

9. Eric Cressey spoke about this briefly in his talk at the CSP Fall Seminar, but all you have to do is look at the research on FAI and you’d quickly realize that a lot of hockey players should not be squatting to 90 degrees or greater. The risk:reward and the cost of doing business is way to high. You could potentially be doing much more bad then good.

10. “The Functional Movement Screen won’t change injury rates, but it should change the way you train.” – Lee Burton

25 Quotes from Joel Jamieson’s ‘Ultimate MMA Conditioning’

The last week or so I decided to dig back into Joel Jamieson’s Ultimate MMA Conditioning for maybe the third or fourth time. Why am I digging into again? Because I am reminded of something I may have forgot and I also learn something new every single time I read the book – its chalked full of great information on conditioning.

1. There is a difference between building bigger muscles and building muscles that can perform.
2. Strength and power are only as good as your ability to use them.
3. You could have the strength to squat or bench a Mack truck, but it won’t do you any good in the ring or cage if you can only do it for one rep.
4. You can have great strength and power, but without proper cardiovascular development and muscular endurance, you won’t have the energy you need to put your strength to good use as the fight wears on. Likewise, you might have great endurance and be able to run a marathon, but if your weak and have no explosive power, you can end up getting pushed around and controlled by a bigger, faster, stronger opponent.
5. If you want to improve your conditioning and turn it into a weapon then you must work on it year round.
6. The true role of strength and conditioning is to develop the physical preparation necessary for an athlete to effectively utilize their skills as fast and as long as possible.
7. The vast majority of injuries happen because of either A) a lack of physical preparation, or B) a poorly managed training program.
8. What really matters most is not the exercise you choose or the method you use, but rather the adaptations that result from using and applying them.
9. The better your level of conditioning, the more fuel your muscles have and more power they’re capable of generating, plain and simple.
10. Conditioning is a measure of how well an athlete is able to meet the energy production demands of their sport.
11. The goal of training is to increase how fast your muscles can contract and relax (power) while also simultaneously improving their ability to do so for prolonged periods of time.
12. Conditioning is about how fast you can produce energy, how long you can produce it for, how much total energy you’re capable of generating, and of course, how efficiently you use it.
13. Sports that last more than a couple of minutes invariably rely on aerobic energy production and it’s also the system you rely on to fuel your muscles and vital organs in everyday activities and at rest.
14. The aerobic system also serves the role of “refueling” the anaerobic system.
15. Without a well developed aerobic system, your body’s anaerobic systems are also limited because it takes much longer before they are capable of producing energy again.
16. Your goal in training should be to maximize how much power your alactic system can produce while subsequently improving how fast the aerobic system can refuel for repeated use.
17. More important than what exercises you select, is how you choose to use them to create specific demands on your different systems.
18. You always want to use the lowest intensity and least amount of volume that will stimulate adaptation.
19. The more muscle your nervous system can use at once in a coordinated fashion, the stronger you will be.
20. Never use more advanced methods than necessary or you will not get the most out of them and they won’t be as effective later in your training.
21. If there’s one overriding principle I’ve come to learn over the years of coaching, it’s that everyone is different and has different needs.
22. There is no one size fits all program, no sample workout, and no magic exercise that everyone can use to get the best results.
23. The longer you spend developing something, the more stable the result adaptations become and the longer they will stay with you.
24. Developing the heart correctly is an extremely important component of conditioning because it serves as the engine that drives the entire aerobic system.
25. All the training in the world won’t do you any good if you can’t recover from it.

Our ‘Core’ Training

Our ‘core’ training. No crunches. No sit ups. No leg lifts. No quick “core/ab” session to start or finish a workout.

We use exercises that resist extension, flexion and rotation, loaded carries (suitcase/farmers) and get ups. We use exercises that demand core stability not core strength, exercises where the goal is to not move the presence of movement…which is the same demand placed on the core during sport.

Like everything else we do, the overall goal is that these exercises will help build a resilient athlete that can withstand the demands of an entire season…then we progress the exercise in some way each week.

Top Left: DB Plank Row
Top Right: Anti-Rotation/Belly Press
Bottom Left: Body Saw
Bottom Right: KB Drag

Change of Direction

Does your sport require the ability to change direction? The answer is yes. No matter what sport you play, change of direction is going to be a big component of being successful. Whether it is putting your foot in the ground to cut, putting the breaks in quickly to slow down, or quick stops on the ice, you are continually decelerating and changing direction.

The bad news: the majority of non-contact injuries occur when decelerating and/or changing direction.

The good news: a well thought out strength program including the following three qualities can go a long way to improving deceleration and the ability to change direction.

Single Leg Strength
Single leg strength is huge for change of direction. When you change direction, you are doing it on one leg…every single time. If you aren’t training and pushing single leg strength hard in the weight room, don’t be surprised when you get hurt or are very slow in your change of direction in competition.

The ability to Decelerate
Eccentric strength might be the biggest key deceleration, especially single leg eccentric strength. Every time you slow down or cut to change direction it requires large amounts of eccentric strength to decelerate your body weight. Add 3-5 second eccentric lowering to your programming periodically in the weight room. A good rule of thumb would be to including some eccentric work for at least 3 weeks during every 12 week block of training. Athletes hate it because it’s hard and they become extremely sore because of it, but it’s better then the alternative; injury.

Stable Landing Technique
This is as simple as it sounds. You need to be jumping, more importantly landing, in a good stable position. Far too often we look at plyo’s as a way to develop more power but they are equally as important a tool in developing the ability to land in a stable position. I actually look at plyo’s as a way to teach athletes to land properly first, and a tool to improve power second.

Remember, if you aren’t training it in the weight room, don’t be surprised when you can’t do it competition.

Benefits of Ring Chin Ups

The biggest benefit to the ring chin up that you don’t get with any other chin up variation is that you can freely internally and externally rotate your shoulder (much like a TRX row), which is great for any overhead athlete (baseball, volleyball, swimming) or anyone that might have a cranky shoulder or two.

A simple and small change like using the rings and allowing your shoulder to determine the path it wants to move through can go a long way for shoulder health.