The New KISS Principle

“KISS. Keep It Simple & Safe.” – Joe Kenn, Strength Coach, Carolina Panthers

As a strength coach you should ask yourself one simple question; what is the best exercise(s) to SAFELY get the adaptation that you are after? Whatever the answer is, do that.

For many of the athletes I work with it’s very simple and there is always a reason for the things that we do or don’t do. There is a ‘why’ for everything that we do. Our ‘whys’ also change depending on who we are working with. Training an overhead athlete is different from training a hockey player. Additionally, depending on the time of the year and the injury trends and demands that a specific sport we might change what we do. The ‘what’ part of our ‘why’ changes at this point.

“Don’t fit athletes into programs, fit programs to athletes.” – Eric Cressey

We also choose exercise/movements that train the quality we want, trying to get the biggest return on investment as we can without burying an athlete. This is especially true during the in-season period. Charlie Weingroff wrote something along these lines called The Concept of Lowest System Load. Essentially, Charlie advises to pick movements that train the adaptation that you are after while keeping the stress to the system as minimal as possible, if you can.

“The point of lifting weights is to force stress into movement patterns.” – Gray Cook

A few real world examples of this;

For our volleyball team the majority of our lower body work revolves around a handful of lifts. Without a doubt the Dead Lift is the lower body lift that we will push the most from a strength perspective. Yes, we focus more on the dead lift then we do the squat. For starters, many overhead athletes don’t have the requisite shoulder mobility to place a bar on their back. Second, if you analyze the dead lift what you will see is a bilateral hip hinge. Sport = hip hinging. If you ask an athlete to show you their best vertical or broad jump but stop them in the bottom of the movement before they actually jump, you will see a perfect hip hinge 99% of the time. Another benefit to dead lifting is that it demands the athlete be strong in their upper back and works on grip strength, something that an overhead athlete like a volleyball player will benefit from. Additionally, the Trap Bar has the lower barrier of entry when compared to a bilateral squat or a straight bar dead lift. We train the adaptation we are after, in a simple and safe way.

Women’s Hockey
In the off-season the RFE Split Squat is our biggest lower body lift with women’s hockey. However, once we reach the in-season we slowly get away from the movement as it demands a high degree of hip flexion. Deep hip flexion is something that many hockey players don’t handle well especially in-season when skating has picked up due to FAI issues. Even if RFE Split Squat is something that the athlete can handle during the in-season period, it’s a very demanding lift that can really chew someone up. At this point we will toss the RFESS out and focus more on 1-Leg Squats, Split Squats, Dead Lifting. These exercises the require much less hip flexion to perform properly and as a result are much more user friendly for a hockey player in-season.

The moral of the story is this; remember what is really important and how you can be the biggest asset to your teams/athletes as possible. The number one reason athletes come to the weight room is to develop physically in order to reduce the potential for injuries – and no one should ever get hurt in the weight room.

“Getting hurt training to not get hurt is as stupid as it sounds.” – Mike Boyle

Yes, there are certain qualities that we as strength coaches and sport performance coaches need to develop in our athletes. It is our job to not only help to develop strong athletes that are able to perform well on the field/court/ice, but our job is to build resilient athletes that can withstand the rigors of their sport. Because of this, we need to pick exercises/movements that will not only train the quality that we are trying to develop, but pick exercises/movements that will develop these qualities in the safest manner possible. The best teams at the end of the year are usually teams that have their best players playing.

3 Keys to Hamstring Health

There is no question that hamstring injuries are one of the most common injuries seen in athletes. While a hamstring strain is not nearly as severe as a torn ACL from a rehabilitation and loss of playing time standpoint, the recovery can and will still take several weeks which could lead to an athlete missing a large portion of their competitive season.

Before we go any further, it should be noted that the greatest number of hamstring injuries occur in the pre-season period with all the running and training the team is doing, which is typically simply too much, too soon for most athletes. The problem is this is a period that is crucial for both player and team development. Proper progressions in both the amount of running and the type of conditioning leading into the pre-season period can go a log way to avoiding many of these hamstring issues.

To further complicate the problem, the re-injure rate for hamstring injuries in athletes is very high. When the number one predictor of future injury is previous injury you have to call our means of rehabilitation into question.

The good news is hamstring issue can be avoided with proper progressions and training. The bad news is they don’t seem to be avoided in most programs.

With that said, here are what I feel are a few of biggest issues that we as strength and conditioning/sport performance coaches need to focus on to keep the hamstrings of athletes healthy and allow the athlete to stay on the field all season. I can confidently say that these things are important because I have seen them work firsthand. In this part competitive season, the teams that I personally work with and program for had a total of zero games missed due to a hamstring strain and we followed these principles throughout both our off-season leading into their competitive seasons and during the in-season period.

1. Proper Plyometric Training
Nothing earth shattering but something that seems to be overlooked and put on the backburner when it comes to programming. Just like anything else, plyometric training should be specific and well thought out yet often times I don’t feel that it is.

As an industry it is clear that we do a great job making athletes more powerful, but what we do a terrible job is making athletes more resilient. We give athletes huge accelerators and terrible brakes. Our plyometric program and less concerned with making athletes more powerful and more concerned with teaching athletes how to land properly and controlled deceleration. Controlling deceleration is going to go a long way in keep athletes healthy – most injuries occur in deceleration.

When it comes to the actual plyometric training, I stick with the KISS principle. We start off by jumping on to something with a stable landing. Move to jumping over something with a stable landing. Once we can land stably we then jump over something with a bounce. Finally, move to a traditional explosive plyometric.

Additionally, it’s important to jump in various planes/directions. Depending on the day, we will typically perform either a bilateral hurdle jump, a 1-leg hurdle hop, a 1-leg medial/lateral hurdle hop, and a lateral bound.

As an example would be a 1-leg linear hurdle hop progression. Phase 1 = to a box. Phase 2 = over an object. Phase 3 = over an object with a mini bounce. Phase 4 = continuous. The same progression holds true for our other various plyometrics.

2. Picking the Correct Exercises
To me, this may be the most important aspect from a training standpoint when it comes to avoiding hamstring issues. Running is a single leg movement. Running, in the simplest sense, is a result of bounding from one leg to other. Soccer, field hockey, ice hockey, lacrosse and most other sports are essentially sports that are played on one leg.

For example, striking a soccer ball is a single leg movement, as the athlete plants one leg while the trail leg follows through and strikes the ball, resulting in a massive amount of eccentric hamstring strength in the plant leg, which is why its important to learn to absorb force eccentrically through a plyometric program. Furthermore, cutting, jumping, and decelerating are all single leg movements and essential to the success of an athlete but also commonly when hamstring injuries occur.

With this in mind, in my opinion all athletes need to be trained in a single leg stance the majority of the time. Exercises like the 1-leg RDL, 1-leg hip lift, and slideboard/Valslide hamstring curl need to be included and make up the majority, if not all of the athletes glute/hamstring training protocol. All the bilateral squatting and RDL’s in the world aren’t going to fix the hamstring issue. Simply learning to apply large amounts force in a bilateral stance in the sagittal plane is far from functional for an athlete.

If you still don’t completely buy into these exercises it may help to understand why we would include them in the program. For starters, the hamstrings work to extend the hip in a single leg stance in conjunction with the glute max and adductor magnus. The single leg RDL requires the athlete to extend the hip in a single leg stance in conjunction with the glutes and adductors. Pretty sport specific if you ask me.

Additionally, the hamstrings are asked to act eccentrically during sprinting. The hamstring is essentially what slows you down and stabilizes your knee during sprinting, cutting, jumping and other athletic movements. The slideboard/Valslide leg curl is one of the best exercises when it comes to developing eccentric strength.

3. A Progression Based Program
As with any solid program, hamstring injury reduction focused or not, there needs to be a progression. Far too often athletes are asked to do more then they are capable of doing in the present time leading to an injury. In most cases, it’s a simple case of too much, too soon and no one is to blame except the strength coach and/or the sport coach.

A simple and effective Single Leg RDL progression would look something like this;
• Reaching 1-Leg RDL
• 1DB 1-Leg RDL
• 2DB 1-Leg RDL
• Barbell 1-Leg RDL

And for the slideboard/Valslide Leg Curl Progression;
• Barbell Bridge
• Eccentric (bridging) leg curl
• Traditional leg curl
• Weighted leg curl

These are just a few of what I would consider the most important aspects of keeping the hamstrings of athletes healthy. Hopefully some of this will allow you to re-assess your own programming to make it better and keep your athletes healthier.

Random Thoughts: January Edition

1. Corrective exercise is the icing on the cake, not the actual cake. Various mobility and stability drills are great and they are needed in a lot of cases, but they aren’t as important as the big/core fundamental movements. Getting strong is still the best corrective out there. If the big/core fundamental movements you are using are the right movements, a lot of the corrective stuff will take care of itself. Focus on the big stuff.

2. Crawling, more specifically bear crawls, are underrated yet huge when it comes to shoulder health. Do more of them.

3. If you want to be the best and continually raise the bar you are going to ruffle some feathers along the way. Do it anyway. Maintaining the status quo simply breeds mediocrity.

4. Our number one goal as strength coaches is to keep our athletes healthy. Athletes can’t perform when they are injured. Athletes can’t make progress when they are injured.

5. To piggyback off the previous thought, the goal of strength and conditioning is not to bench and squat a ton of weight. The goal of strength and conditioning is to develop athletes that are durable and can handle the rigors of their sport while improving sport performance. If a teams best players are playing all year there is a good chance the team is going to be successful.

6. Dr. Andreo Spina’s 90/90 Hip External Rotation/Internal Rotation stretch is awesome if you are someone that works with larger group. We know a lack of hip internal rotation is a major cause in low back pain. We know a lack of hip internal rotation is common with most people. There are also very few hip internal rotation stretches that can be done in a group setting. The stretch makes the cut almost every single session with my groups.

7. Culture is everything and should be the biggest thing you are trying to develop as a leader of a strength program.

8. Strength coaches get so caught up on numbers and how “strong” an athlete is. I am a firm believer that athletes need to be strong/powerful relative to their own body weight – and I think chin ups and vertical jump might be the best indicators of relative strength/power.

9. Not everyone should be performing every single lift the same exact way. Biomechanics matter.

10. After spending close to a year working with volleyball and trying to learn as much as I can about the shoulder, I have reached the conclusion that the shoulder much more complex then people realize. The more I learn about the shoulder the more questions I have – it’s actually kind of exciting.