Better Tissue Quality, Better You

Every time that I walk into a commercial gym I am amazed at what I don’t see. I rarely, if ever, see any type of dynamic warm up which I thought was an aspect of strength and conditioning had worked its way into programs of weekend warriors. I hate to break it to you, but the 5 minute walk on the treadmill or ride on the bike isn’t cutting it – but that’s an argument for another time and place.

It’s even rarer to see someone performing any type of mobility or stability work, and it’s safe to say that I never see anyone performing any type of activation work – I’m sure weekend warriors will pick up on these issues from physical therapists and strength coaches in due time, but at this point I’m not surprised these issues haven’t reached the masses yet. Again, this is an argument for another time and place.

What really amazes me is the lack tissue work people are performing (or not performing). I truly believe that if people, whether an athlete or a weekend warrior, wants to move better and feel better, attacking their tissue quality is paramount, yet virtually no one performs it. It can help with tight muscles, mobility issues, and recovery from previous workouts. Furthermore, I contend that many injuries could be avoided by simply having quality tissue.

At both UNH and MBSC all of our athletes spend ample time working on their tissue quality before each training session and many spend time on their own trying to improve their tissue quality. The athletes actually look forward to it and don’t need any prompting from coaches, especially in-season when their bodies become more and more beat up.

What makes it even more bizarre to me is how effortless and easy it is to improve tissue quality. All you need is a $15 foam roller and/or a $2 lacrosse ball and a couple of minutes. You can do it while watching television or while you’re waiting for dinner to come out of the oven. Jump on the foam roller and find those trigger points/painful spots and go to work. If you’re a little more advanced and need a little more than the foam roller, grab a lacrosse ball and really target those trigger points – and trust me, you’ll never get to the point where a lacrosse ball doesn’t get the job done.

Long story short, improving your tissue quality is one of the most important things you can do if you want to feel better and move better. I have yet to find someone who has a massage and walks away feeling worse than they did when they walked in – they feel and move better than they did before the session. Do yourself a favor and make it a priority to spend at least 15 minutes improving tissue quality on a daily basis – you won’t regret it.

Overhead Athletes and Pressing

Okay, I’m going to open a big can of worms with this one, and you may think I am crazy, but I don’t know if an overhead athlete (baseball/softball/swimmers ect.) should be allowed to press with a barbell, whether it be overhead pressing or bench pressing. The more and more I think about it, I’m just not sure it makes sense.

can of worms

The problem is that there is no real consensus on whether an overhead athlete should be allowed to press with a barbell. Some strength coaches and physical therapists will tell you that overhead athletes should be pressing overhead. They’ll explain that if the athlete is going to be put in an overhead position during competition they need to be strong in that position. Fair enough.

On the other hand, others would argue that the overhead athlete should not doing any type of training overhead – they do way too much of it already. Think about how many times a college aged swimmer has been put in this overhead position throughout the course of their swimming career – the number is staggering. Again, fair enough.

I understand both sides of the argument, but I keep going back to the same thing; risk vs. reward.

risk versus reward

My issue with the traditional barbell bench press locks the athlete into a certain position, not allowing a free range of motion while the athlete presses. This also places an athlete in a fixed scapula position (lying on a bench) as opposed to a free scapula position where the scapula is not pinned down, like a push up.

If you don’t believe me, take a look at some of the work Eric Cressey (the king of shoulders) is doing and you will find many of the same thoughts. Cressey has seen overhead athletes that complain of pain while bench pressing (fixed position) immediately stop and perform push ups instead (free position) and report zero pain while doing so.

My other issue is that most overhead athletes can not get into a correct overhead position. These athletes have such poor tissue quality around the shoulder and/or such poor shoulder mobility that it doesn’t allow them to get into a proper overhead position, creating much more un-needed stress on the shoulder joint.

Since I am advocating not performing any barbell pressing with overhead athletes, the question remains what would I recommend?

As simple and basic as it sounds, I think push ups are king for most overhead athletes. I think you should aim to exhaust push ups and progress them in every way you can think of. Weighted push ups, feet elevated push ups, weighted feet elevated push ups, chain or band resisted push ups, TRX push ups, and whatever else you could think of would work. Clap push ups probably don’t fall into this category, they typically look terrible and do nothing but cause wrist pain in a lot of athletes.

A close second would be Landmine Presses and various cable presses. Landmine presses and cable presses have an additional bonus of allowing you to perform them uni-laterally, which creates a great functional carryover for an overhead athlete (or any athlete for that matter). Also, these exercises can be performed tall kneeling, 1/2 kneeling, standing or even in a split stance to allow for more options when programming. Finally, cable presses can be performed in a push-pull fashion, adding a little more variety and fun.

Finally, if you have to, Alternating DB Presses or 1-arm DB Presses would come last. These exercises are exceptional for most all athletes, just not overhead athletes because they don’t allow for that free scapula motion. However, if you insist on having some type of heavy horizontal pressing in the program, these movements are much better options then the traditional bench press.

Last but certainly not least, I would take an aggressive approach to trying to keep the shoulder healthy year-round. Adding shoulder mobility, rotator cuff strength/stabilization exercises throughout the program is essential.

  • Shoulder mobility: Alternating Shoulder Flexion on a Peanut, 1/2 Kneeling T-Spine Rotation, Bench T-Spine and other mobility drills you have in your training toolbox.
  • Rotator Cuff Strength/Stability: Bottoms Up Kettlebell Presses, Bottoms Up Kettlebell Carries, Floor Slides, Bear Crawls, Lateral Crawls, Band Pull Aparts, Seated External Rotation, Cable External Rotation, Cable Internal Rotation, ect.

Long story short, I would stay away from the barbell with an overhead athlete, simple because the risk:reward isn’t worth it. There are so many more options to train pressing strength that have a much lower risk for injury and/or pain that it seems the barbell should fall to the bottom of your list of training tools, maybe even off your training list all-together.

Simple Recovery Strategies

Anyone that trains hard and often will preach to you about how important recovery is from session to session. As fun as it is to beat yourself up each day in the weight room or on the field, you need to do something to turn the ship around for the next days workout, practice, or competition. Here are a few quick and simple ways to help promote recovery from day to day.

Foam Rolling

As simple and as obvious as it is, spending more time on a foam roller will do wonders in making you feel a little better and recover faster, yet many people don’t spend enough time foam rolling. Training hard creates trigger points and knots within your muscles, knotting your muscles up and making foam rolling a somewhat painful experience at times. Spending 5-10 minutes a day on a foam roller would be an absolute minimum in my eyes, and if your a college athlete, there is no reason why you shouldn’t have a foam roller in your dorm room/apartment.

foam rolling

Mobility/Flexibility

Thanks to Kelly Starrett of MobilityWOD, stretching and mobility can now be fun. Taking 15 minutes at night to go through some type of mobility or flexibility drills can not only help you recover from the days work, but can help you turn the ship around for the next days training session or competition. Anyone can find 15 minutes to make themselves better a day, so make it a priority.

Get More Sleep

It seems simple, but getting more sleep is crucial for an athlete or weekend warrior training hard. Aim for 7-8+ hours a sleep a night, and try to get to bed and wake up around the same times each day so that your body can get into some type of cycle.

Post Workout Nutrition

An often overlooked aspect of recovery is proper nutrition after training, whether it be strength training, conditioning, or a practice/game. Getting some quality sources of carbohydrates and protein within an hour after your session will help to promote the healing and recovery process. Something as simple as a glass of chocolate milk or a protein shake mixed in fat free milk is a great, easy and effective post workout shake.

protein shake

Take Days Off

We have become a culture of “more is better” which isn’t the case when it comes to strength training and conditioning. You need to take some days off and let your body rest. A rest day is a great time to spend extra time with your foam roller and working on some mobility, taking the dog for a walk, or jumping on the bike for an easy ride.

HRV

If you really want to take your recovery to the next level, buy yourself the BioForce HRV app. Simply put, the BioForce HRV app allows you to track your recovery from day to day by taking your HRV each morning. The app will allow you to track your recovery over time and readiness every day. With the app you can take the guessing out of the equation and train when your body is ready to train and take rest days when your body needs a little break.

bioforce hrv

Incorporate one, two, three or more of these ideas into your daily schedule and watch your recovery improve and performance in the weight room or on the field increase. Take care of your body, you only have one.