Rule #1: Do No Harm

“If it looks like shit, then it is probably shit!”

I love that Mike Boyle quote referring to training and technique. As professionals in the fitness industry, whether you are a personal trainer or a strength and conditioning coach, we have a RESPONSIBILITY to ensure the safety of our athletes/clients.

Do No Harm is Rule #1 is and always will be and probably the most important thing you can ensure as a coach. Ensuring proper technique, well thought out progressions, and appropriate exercise selection for their fitness level and health will allow the athlete/client to get the most out of their training. Improving athletic performance comes second.

No one should ever get hurt in the weight room!

Thoughts on Chin Ups

Over the last year or so one thing that has become increasingly apparent to me is that people don’t typically end up getting better when using bands for chin ups. It seems to me that the same athlete that is using a band to assist them with chin ups as a freshman is still using a band to assist them doing a chin up when they are seniors.

My question is; are the bands actually getting people stronger? I think my answer is no.

The solution? This year we have decided to have people perform eccentric reps instead. For example, if the training session calls for 3 sets of 5 chin ups, the athlete will do as many chin ups as they can and then perform eccentric reps to finish out the prescribed reps. Managed to get 3 chin ups – then you perform 3 eccentric reps to get a total of 5 reps.

Will this work? I don’t know, but I do think I know that bands aren’t helping people get better at chin ups and it can’t hurt to try and see what type of effect the change has on developing the ability to actually perform more chin ups.

Sample In-Season Program for Ice Hockey

I am a firm believer that as a field we get better when coaches are transparent. Attached at the bottom of this post is an exact template of what is going to be implemented with women’s hockey during this current in-season period, the next three weeks.

This is also almost identical as to what I have been implementing with volleyball during their in-season period as well. The movement patterns stay the same, the exercises that will be implemented will be more specific to the athlete/sport. For example, with volleyball our vertical pressing on day one will either be a variation on the Landmine Press or a variation of a Bottoms Up KB OH Press, while with women’s hockey will typically perform some type of incline pressing work, in this case alternating DB incline press. Our horizontal pressing with volleyball will typically be a push up where it is a bench press with women’s hockey. Movement patterns stay the same, exercises change.

No secrets here, always an open book. Help other coaches. Advance the field. Leave it better then you found it.

Womens Hockey InSeason P2

Health > Performance

“While an athlete’s reaching or exceeding individual performance aims and helping the team achieve its goals is fantastic in one sense, it’s completely undermined if this athlete is ruin in the process.” – Fergus Connolly

In the last few weeks I have slowly been making my way through Fergus Connolly’s new book Game Changer, which has been an outstanding read. One topic that really struck a nerve with me was the topic of health when it comes to student athletes. As Fergus states and something that I completely agree with is that health has to come before performance.

In my opinion, if there is one common denominator to success in sports it is that athlete health. Without a doubt, health is the single most important factor to success not only for the team but for individual athletes – it is hard to win important games when a key player or key players are sitting on the sidelines.

This is not to say that if a team is perfectly health throughout the entire competitive season that the team will have guaranteed success, but it is close to a guarantee that if a team is missing various players or certain key players that winning is going to be more challenging.

As a coach you have to have an understanding of the stress that you and all their other responsibilities as a student-athlete are placing on them on a daily/weekly/monthly basis. You can’t put athletes through high intensity sessions day in and day out and then wonder why they are broken down and/or tired all the time.

For example, our women’s hockey team has been reporting that they are very tired and a little run down over the course of the last 7-10 days. We have had very little injuries up until this point…then within a 48 hour span we had two groin strains. Neither of these issues have kept the athletes off the ice or are major in any way, but I found it interesting that both happened at essentially the same time and when many athletes were reporting being somewhat run down.

At first I looked at the volume/intensity of their on ice sessions…very similar to what they were experiencing in the weeks prior. I then looked at the volume/intensity of the work they were putting in during their off ice sessions. Again, the loads were consistent with previous weeks and not out of the norm or over the top by any means.

It then dawned on me that we are in the middle of mid-terms. The athletes have had increased demands and pressure through studying for all of their upcoming mid-term exams or putting the finishing touches on their mid-term papers. School, nothing hockey related, is currently adding a lot more stress to their system. As coaches, we have to remember that stress is stress – the body can’t and doesn’t differentiate between stressors.

As a result, we had to make some minor changes to our off ice sessions during this time to make sure we don’t ask too much of the athletes – health was put ahead of performance. Could we have pushed through what we originally had planned? Sure. Would we have stayed health? Maybe, maybe not – we have no way of knowing. But the point is this – as hard as it is for us as strength & conditioning coaches sometimes we need to realize that during the in-season period we are essentially stress managers and as a result need to place performance on the backburner so that we can do everything in our power to help the athlete stay as healthy as we can.

Arm Care Programs

When it comes to training overhead athletes a strength coach has to take into account the demands that are placed on the athlete through their sport. With overhead athletes, overuse injuries of the shoulder can be extremely common. Because of this many exercises that may not be contraindicated for most athletes are contraindicated for the overhead athlete.

In my opinion, good arm/shoulder care is more than just swapping a barbell bench press for DB bench press and adding some rotator cuff exercises into the mix – it’s about a well thought out, holistic strength program that appreciates the unique needs of an overhead athlete.

Here are a few thoughts;

    • Don’t overlook the importance of a strong lower body to work off of.
    • Don’t overlook the importance of a strong and stable core to work off of. Anti-rotation work (Pallof Press variations) and anti-extension work (rollouts, body saw, etc) are important for long term health.
    • Deadlifting > squatting. Both movements are a great bilateral lower body movement, but the deadlift has a few things that set it apart. Lots of upper back involvement which overhead athletes need. Deadlifting helps improve grip strength (more on that in a second). Also, volleyball and baseball/softball player won’t typically have the same degree of external rotation from one shoulder to another leading to issues with placing the bar across their back. Safety bar squatting would without a doubt be the best option when it comes to squatting.

  • Grip strength is strongly correlated to shoulder health. Suitcase carries. Farmers carries. Deadlifting.
  • Free the scap. Do as much pressing where the scapula has the ability to move freely. Push ups, landmine presses, bottoms up KB presses are all great pressing movements for overhead athletes.

    • Don’t just program sets and reps. Though traditional external rotation exercises make it into the program, the rotator cuff is built for stability and reflex driven which can be trained through compression and distraction of the shoulder. One is going to push the shoulder into the socket, one is going to pull it out of the socket. Think push ups and deadlifting, crawling and carries.

  • Med ball work is often overlooked for its ability to help maintain shoulder health. For example, a simple overhead throw is great for core/upper body power, but it also teaches the rotator cuff to decelerate just as it would every time an athlete throws a baseball or hits a volleyball.
  • Train outside the sagittal plane. Though this could go for any athlete in any sport, getting outside the sagittal plane is great for long term health, sport performance and proper movement. Single leg exercises, lateral squats, slideboard work for conditioning and lateral sled work all check these boxes.

Thoughts on In-Season Training

“The goal is to keep the goal the goal.” – Dan John

The goal of the weight room is to develop durable athletes that are able to withstand the demands of their sport through resistance training. With this in mind, it is important to remember that in-season strength training is still strength training and it is not a “maintenance” period, it’s about recovering as efficiently as possible while continually trying to get stronger/more powerful in a smart manner. Proper in-season training will lead to reduced injuries and we know strength is our number one protection against injury.

Three basic guidelines we adhere to:

1. Stick to the basics: push/pull/lower/core etc.

Nothing fancy in-season, just the basics…our main lifts remain our main lifts. For example, our off-season lower body training revolves around trap bar deadlift, rear foot elevated split squats, 1-leg RDL’s and 1-leg squats…and so does our in-season training. We still hang clean and snatch, we still bench and we still perform chin ups on a daily basis. The ‘important’ lifts never really change.

2. High intensity & low volume strength work 

Once we get to the in-season phase of the year, we continue to lift heavy with the goal of getting stronger, but the overall volume is decrease. We rarely get above 5 reps for our previously mentioned exercises and we look for 1-2 heavy sets per exercise. As an example, this last week women’s hockey performed rear foot elevated split squats for 3 sets of 2 reps each leg, with one set being a very heavy set – essentially the team performed two sets to get them ready for their one heavy set.

3. Incorporate mobility/correctives to counteract the demands of the sport

For example, with women’s hockey we know tight and weak hip flexors are a common issue so we incorporate stretches (spiderman, couch stretch, etc) and correctives (band hip flexor) to try to counterbalance these issues. Whatever the imbalance of the sport the goal should be to fight to maintain balance throughout the in-season period.

All that said, I think if we simply utilize our basic ‘important’ exercises, still continue to train heavy and try to get stronger, and perform these exercises extremely well, you’ll find many athletes will actually get stronger in-season.

Exercises You Should Be Doing: Suspension Fallouts

I am probably a little late to the party on this one, but the suspension fallout has become one of my favorite anti-extension core exercises. I have started to use it a little later in our anti-extension progression. We start with typical front plank work (regular, feet elevated, weighted feet elevated), progress into a swiss ball rollout, then the suspension fallout followed by a body saw. The movement is very simple but it is also a lot tougher then you may initially think.

Give it a try. Enjoy!

Random Thoughts: October Edition

New month, new list of random thoughts. Hopefully it sparks a little thinking. Enjoy.

  1. Every athlete has a trainable exercise menu. That menu isn’t necessarily the same for each and every athlete. We as coaches need to adapt and work with the athlete, not have the athlete adapt and try to fit them into our program.
  2. Deceleration is more important then top speed.
  3. Everyone likes to argue about basically everything in strength and conditioning, but at the end of the day the only thing that matters are the results you get. Whether you agree with the methods or not, the results don’t lie.
  4. Sometimes I wonder if strength coaches are training athletes to be better powerlifters or training athletes to be more resilient/better performing athletes.
  5. I become more and more of a med ball fan as the days go by for a couple reasons. For starters, Eric Cressey always talks about how power is plane specific – there is very little correlation between someone’s vertical jump and how hard they can shoot a hockey puck. Something like a med ball side toss can specifically train that rotational power that it takes to shoot a puck. Also, med balls allow you to train in various planes, something you don’t necessarily get from traditional Olympic lifts, which is important in developing an all around athlete. I think its extremely important to try to find ways to train power outside the sagittal plane.
  6. Integrating strength & conditioning with what the sport coach is doing at practice is something I think our industry needs to do better. We have a pretty good idea of the way the body deals with stress. Big stress days should be big stress days across the board. Low stress days should be low stress days across the board. Stay out of the middle. Integrate.
  7. Mike Boyle on deadlifting versus squatting: “Deadlifts involve flexion moments, versus extension and compressive forces. In squatting you are trying to produce extension and you are involved with a deliberate compressive load running down your spine. In deadlifts, none of those are present.”
  8. Coach when and if necessary. And that’s not all the time.
  9. I’ve completely eliminated loaded bilateral hip thrusts/bridges from all my programs. Too many people turn the movement into a lumbar extension instead of a hip extension, which isn’t a good thing. There are numerous better ways of training hip extension.
  10. If you are bigger stronger and faster but gave up movement integrity to get there, you’ll get hurt. – Gray Cook