Heels Elevated Bilateral Squatting?

Got a lot of engagement with various coaches on Twitter with this thought the other day. Though I am not a huge proponent of excessive loading of the bilateral squat (back/front squat) I do think it’s important to be able to perform the squat pattern well as it is a basic, fundamental movement pattern.

Heels Elevated Twitter Post

As a coach I think you should always be asking yourself if you like the way the any movement looks and I typically don’t love the way the squat movement looks. One of our most important jobs is to improve movement efficiency and with the heels elevated I almost find that the movement immediately looks better, for two big reasons;

  1. the biggest reason, the heel elevation essentially gives the athlete more ankle mobility
  2. elevating the heels gives the athlete an anterior weight shift that allows them to ‘sit back’ in the movement.

Beyond this, it’s important to be in tune and understand the group you are coaching – we know hockey athletes will typically present ankle mobility issues because they skate in a boot that eliminates most all ankle movement – so why would we try to jam a square peg into a round hole.

20 Thought Provoking Gray Cook Quotes

Recently I was skimming through Movement by Gray Cook as I typically do every once in a while with some of the better material out there. The first thing I noticed – Gray has a ton of good quotes that really make you think. And since I’m all about things that make you think a little and grow as a strength coach, I thought I would share some of the quotes that I found to be the most thought provoking. It should be noted that I also went back through a lot of my notes I have taken on podcasts that Gray has been a part of.


1. Unless you find the driver of bad movement and find the thing that changes it, you’re just guessing.
2. The essence of power is efficiency.
3. Poor movement can exist anywhere in the body but poor movement patterns can only exist in the brain.
4. Strength coaches should like qualities more then they do quantities.
5. Pain is not the problem it’s the signal.
6. Load a bad pattern and your just hitting save on a shitty document.
7. Are you moving poorly because you are in pain? Or are you in pain because you are moving poorly?
8. You can often prove stupidity, but you can rarely fix it.
9. Your brain is too smart to allow you to have full horsepower in a bad body position – it’s called muscle inhibition.
10. When someone leaves the weight room they should have a stamp of durability.
11. The point of lifting weights is to force stress into movement patterns.
12. The lift is over when your prime movers are smoked – lifting is not self limiting.
13. When someone hits the end on a carry, the carry is over because the prime movers can’t take over.
14. It’s not your lifting strength that matters, its how long you can maintain integrity under load.
15. Not everyone deserves the same program.
16. Many athletes are injured, they just don’t know it yet.
17. Our number one job is to improve efficiency of movement.
18. Don’t look at my workouts, look at my outcomes.
19. Stabilizers don’t do their job by being strong, they do their job by being fast.
20. Maintain the squat, train the deadlift.

Random Thoughts: May Edition

It’s a new month, so here are 10 quick and random thoughts that have been floating around my brain recently. If nothing else I hope it makes you think a little. Enjoy!

1. People need the simple stuff more then anything else. In my opinion, overcomplicating will just lead to undertrained athletes. Don’t underestimate the power of the basics because they aren’t as sexy as some of the other stuff.
2. Recently I heard Buddy Morris comment that his ‘skill’ guys with the Arizona Cardinals don’t squat during the pre-season period because of the eccentric load on their hamstrings through daily practice. To be honest I don’t know what to think about this, except that it does make me think.

3. General observation: if athletes are chatty and hard to focus through the warm up, it is probably a good indicator that they are recovered and ready to go. The reverse seems to also be true; if they are quiet with no energy, they probably aren’t ready and recovered from their previous training. This might sound obvious, but instead of trying to reign athletes in when they are chatty maybe we should try to use that to our advantage.

4. Athletes don’t buy into coaching, they buy into coaches. If you find yourself having to motivating a group every single day you might be better off looking in the mirror and trying to find out what you can do to make the group buy into you more. Motivating washes off like soap in the shower.

5. This spring in our ‘power’ block we paired two med ball throws, a plyo/jump and some type of speed/sled. The goal was to let the athletes recover completely after each speed/sled exercise through active recovery so that they could give a legit 100% when it came to the speed work. For what it’s worth, it seemed to work really well. We’ll see if this really did work as we thought it did when they have heart rate monitors next fall…

6. Blatantly stole this thought from ‘Strong by Science’ on Twitter…“Why do we label a 500lb squat strong and not a 36 inch vertical jump? One is arbitrary and the other is an example of power to weight ratio.” Really makes you think a little as to what is really important…

7. Sport specific training; move well, move fast, move strong, move for a long period of time. It’s that simple.

8. No matter what the sport, the best players are typically the fastest. So, does it matter how much weight we can move slowly?

9. Using the previous thought as a jumping off point, if max strength was the end all be all then power lifters would walk in and dominate sports, but they don’t. That doesn’t mean that being strong isn’t important, but at some point you are strong enough…I’m just not sure we know what that is quite yet.

10. If you are getting the training effect you are after with a ‘regression’, then why do you need to move on until that adaptation ceases?

Random Thoughts: April Edition

It’s a new month, so here are 10 quick and random thoughts that have been floating around my brain recently. If nothing else I hope it makes you think a little. Enjoy!

1. Most elite/above average athletes have more reactability then they do stability. For example, if you have them perform a 1-Leg Linear Hurdle Hop most elite athletes will do a better job performing a continuous hop then they will sticking each landing. They react to the ground well but can’t stabilize nearly as well. We also know the lack of stability is one of the major reasons athletes get hurt. Don’t get fooled by an athletes ability to react to the ground and spend ample time learning how to stabilize.

2. The more complex the movement, the easier it is going to be for an athlete to find a way to compensate. Keep things simple. Hammer the fundamentals. Be brilliant at the basic, big bang for your buck exercises.

3. As a coach, a little humility can go a long way.

4. The field of strength and conditioning isn’t about science, it’s about people. The best coaches are the ones that can interact with their athletes the best.

5. People should spend less time on their computers, phones and watching television and spend more time reading. Reading and getting better at your job is ridiculously easy, yet so many people don’t do it.

6. I think there is a place for more explosive lower body work year round for athletes. By that I don’t necessarily mean Olympic lifts, I mean more plyo’s to help maintain and improve explosiveness as the season goes on.

7. Diaphragmatic breathing is a game changer. It does wonders for core stability. It can go a long way in improving mobility. Tie it into anything and everything you can. Stretch for breathes and not for time or reps. Work it into the activation work.

8. The psoas may be the most overlooked muscle by our field. You would be shocked by how weak people are especially when their hips are above 90 degrees. Furthermore, simple band hip flexor work above 90 degrees is important for all athletes but it is a must for soccer and hockey athletes that spend very little time getting their hips into full flexion.

9. To keep field sport athletes healthy, hammer their posterior chain. Both bilateral and uni-lateral hip hinging along with bridging variations are going to go a lot further in keeping people healthy then anything else.

10. A lot of jumping athletes (basketball/volleyball) have patella issues. I think many of these issues goes back to a lack of ankle mobility. The ankle/foot is the first thing to hit the ground and absorb the force of landing and if it doesn’t have the mobility to do its job properly the issue will just travel up the chain to the knee. Improving ankle mobility might be an easy fix to patella issues.

Random Thoughts: March Edition

It’s a new month, so here are 10 quick and random thoughts that have been floating around my brain recently. If nothing else I hope it makes you think a little. Enjoy!

1. The trunk stability push up (TSPU) or anti-extension strength/stability is huge in female populations. There is actually some research showing that a poor TSPU has the strongest correlation to ACL tears then any other screen in the FMS. The TSPU can help tell you if an athlete is able to control spinal stability under load. If it can’t bad things are potentially going happen.
2. Corrective exercise should change movement immediately. If it doesn’t it probably isn’t ever going to.

3. Strength training is all about balance. Do you have balance between hip dominant and knee dominant exercises? Do you have balance between your upper body pushing and pulling? Do you have balance within these categories? For example, if you are training an athlete three days a week, I think its important for shoulder health to press vertically (OH Press variation), horizontally (bench press/push up, etc.), and somewhere between the two (incline press, landmine press, etc.). Focusing on one more then the others will probably lead to issues in the long run.

4. A good strength coach should be able to modify any movement/exercise in the weight room and make it non-painful.

5. Athletes need to move in three planes more often as we speed way to much time training in the sagittal plane. It’s not only great for hip mobility and injury prevention, but moving in all three planes is great for neuromuscular input – it’s like candy for the brain.

6. If you can’t do something well in the weight room but yet continue to do it anyway, you are eventually going to get hurt. It’s really that black and white. Regress and/or lateralize.

7. In strength and conditioning, if you wait for the research to prove to you that something is right, you’ll be way behind. Follow smart people, find the commonalities in what they are doing, and steal it.

8. When you keep things simple in the weight room I think you can actually get more done and get more quality work done.

9. To use the previous thought as a jumping off point, I’m not sure many athletes really need much more then basic movements. If you simply change the intensity and volume over the course of time I think you’ll find that most athletes are going to progress at a very good pace over their athletic career.

10. Very few people really actually want to get better and are open minded…they just want information that confirms what they are already doing is correct. These same people pretend they want to get better, but they don’t really want to hear the truth. These same people claim they are open minded until they find out everything they are doing is wrong.

Slide Board Conditioning

Slide Board conditioning is pretty standard in the sport of hockey but relatively rare in other sports. But should it be?

The Slide Board offers a host of benefits that any athlete would greatly benefit from. A handful of benefits would be;

1. It’s standing. Sports are played standing, not sitting on something like a bike.

2. It is performed in what looks like the general ‘athletic’ position with the knees bent and hips flexed position. Basically every sport spends time in this position.

3. It’s gets athletes moving laterally/in the frontal plane. We spend so much of our time going straight ahead and a huge amount of strength training is done in a linear movement pattern. However, much of sport is played in the frontal plane. Basketball is the perfect example of a sport that has a huge lateral component (think defense) and would benefit greatly from the Slide Board.
4. It allows the athlete to work both the abductors and adductors in a functional pattern. Would simply adding Slide Board conditioning prevent some of the groin injuries seen so often in pre-season camps?

5. The athletes feet never leave the ground. Sports like basketball and volleyball require a lot of jumping and landing even in the off-season when they are playing pick up games, spring practices, and spring tournaments. The Slide Board offers a great conditioning alternative to still work energy system development without adding considerably more stress on the athletes body like we would see with sprinting.

6. It’s hard. Anyone who doesn’t think the Slide Board is a legit conditioning workout hasn’t ever done it. Try 30 seconds on, 30 seconds off for a set a 10 and get back to me – you’ll have a new found respect for the Slide Board.

7. Lastly, the Slide Board trains the muscles that are directly involved in change of direction. Along with a well thought out strength program, could the Slide Board be beneficial in change of direction speed development and injury prevention?

Long story short – any and every athlete could and would benefit from conditioning on the Slide Board.

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.

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.

8 Random Training Thoughts

Once a month I try to put something out with some random thoughts that have been going through my head, which are usually a result of some podcasts I have been listening to or a book that I have been reading. Here is the latest edition with 8 thoughts to sink your teeth into.

1. Coaching, whether you are a strength coach or a sport team coach, comes down to three things: communication, trust and respect. If you as a coach do a great job of communicating with the athletes that you work with, in a respectful manner, you will earn their trust. When you earn their trust they will run through a wall for you – and that’s a good thing!

2. A broken athlete can’t win a team games. Our number one goal should be to do everything we can to keep each and every single athlete healthy, yet I see so much training online that doesn’t exactly fit that template. Everyone moves differently, has different limitations and as a result should have slightly different variations of the same program. Be willing to adapt the strength program to the needs of the athlete and/or sport you are working with.

3. Working off the previous thought, the best way to get rid of pain during a certain exercise is to eliminate the exercise. Don’t over-complicate things. If it hurts, just stop doing it. Its really that simple.

4. It’s not hard to be cutting edge, you just have to be willing to drop your ego and learn from other people and then implement some of their thoughts to improve your existing program. I don’t care who you are there are a ton of coaches out there that can teach something. The minute you think you can’t learn from another coach or have just decided that you no longer feel the need to learn more, you’ll slowly start to lose in this industry. Whether you like it or not, there is no such thing as standing still in this field, you are either getting better or others are passing you by.

5. Piggybacking off the previous thought, it is extremely apparent that many people, strength coaches included, are afraid of change even though they say they aren’t. Don’t be afraid to challenge the status quo – it’s the only way the profession or the world in general has ever moved forward. You are probably going to ruffle some feathers of people that are either unwilling to change or are afraid of change, but in the long run if you feel strongly that something is the right thing to do you need to do it. Doing the right thing is always the right thing.

6. “When you force an athlete to perform an exercise their joints are capable of doing, don’t be surprised when they get hurt.” – Dr. Andreo Spina. I feel like everyone knows and understands this. On the other hand, I feel like not everyone follows this.

7. Recently Eric Cressey recorded a podcast and had some thoughts about contraindicated exercises for athletes. He thoughts were something along these lines…”Just because an exercise doesn’t hurt, it doesn’t mean it isn’t causing harm for that particular athlete.” No matter what someone tells you, throwing a baseball, hitting a volleyball or performing the skating stide a ton of times over the course of many years is not good for your body. As a result, not all exercises, even if they are pain free, are good for those joints/the body depending on the sport or athlete that you are working with. Be proactive with your program and anticipate what potential problems athletes could have, then program accordingly.

8. “The body doesn’t differentiate between stressors.” Buddy Morris. This same thought process is also something that Charlie Weingroff has written about recently in an article that he had written for his personal website. For a long while I have thought this same thing but didn’t have any ammunition to back up my feelings. I don’t think the body knows the difference between a bench press or an incline bench press, a back squat or a front squat, a pull up or a chin up. What the body does know is the stress that you have placed on it. Chase the adaptation you are after. If you can get the same adaptation with less weight or less overall stress on the body, why wouldn’t you?

Moving Better is Step One

After recently attending both the FMS Level 1 and Level 2 courses over the last couple months I have a new found respect for movement. Like many, I always thought that improving movement is a worthwhile endeavor, but now more than ever am I convinced that correcting movement dysfunction is the more important thing any strength coach or fitness professional can do.

In case you need any more convincing or even a reminder, here are a handful of reasons as to why movement needs to be focused on in any program.

Performance Enhancement
The best soccer player, hockey player, football player or volleyball player all usually have one thing in common: great movement quality. These athletes have the highest quality of movement, the greatest coordination, and smooth movement quality. What makes LeBron James, Alex Morgan, or Cristiano Ronaldo better then their competition is not that they are necessarily stronger then everyone else, it’s that they move better then everyone else.

The perfect example of this is Kevin Durant who is by no means the strongest player in the NBA, he’s actually far from it. At the NBA combine they ask the potential draft picks to bench press 185lbs for as many reps as possible – Durant was able to manage zero reps, zero! There was a lot of talk about Durant not being strong enough to make it in the NBA, but what people failed to realize was that Durant moved incredibly well. Durant went on to average 20.3 points per game in his rookie year and was named the Rookie of the Year.

KD Movement

Injury Prevention
Great movement quality is also what helps most of these top performers stay healthier then many of their competitors. If you are training hard, whether it be in your sport at practice or in the weight room, you are putting through an incredible amount of mechanical stress on a daily basis. It stands to reason that the better you move, the less mechanical stress you will be putting your body through.

LeBron James is a perfect example of an elite performer that has stayed relatively healthy throughout his entire career. LeBron has played in 987 regular season games in his 13 NBA seasons, an average of 75 games a year. In addition to this, LeBron has played in 196 playoff games over this same time span for an average of 91 games a year – and he’s never had a serious injury in that timeframe.

LeBron Movement

***As a side note, though I am a fan/proponent of the FMS and think there is no better commercial movement screen available, this is by no means a promotion for the system. The point of the photos of both Kevin Durant and LeBron James being screened through the FMS is that their fundamental/functional movement assessed and a baseline established so that measures can be taken to improve their movement if need be. Nothing more, nothing less. I’m not telling you that you need to use the FMS, but I am saying that setting a movement baseline is extremely important. If you have a better system then the FMS, use it.

Improved Daily Life
The way you move can effect the way you feel and how you go through your everyday life. Everyone needs the ability to sit, stand, walk, run, reach, push, pull and many other different movements. Just like an athlete, if you can not perform these movements well you will create more mechanical stress on your body. Just because you aren’t an athlete it doesn’t mean you don’t need to move well. Being able to pick up a child, get in and out of a car or seat, or wrestle with your dog on the floor is something you may take for granted, until you can no longer do it.

Moral of the story; move better. This doesn’t mean we neglect strength training as getting strong makes everything better, just make sure you are getting strong on a solid movement foundation.