Turning Conditioning Into A Weapon

“If you want to improve your conditioning and turn it into a weapon then you must work on it year round.” – Joel Jamieson

In my opinion, one of the biggest mistakes strength coaches make in their off-season programs is not maintaining adequate conditioning levels throughout the entire off-season. In a lot of cases, conditioning gets overlooked for other qualities during the off-season period, with a conditioning only becoming a focus 4-8 weeks out leading into the season.

conditioning

I obviously understand that conditioning can’t be put at the forefront during the off-season as other qualities are ahead on the pecking order, but I do believe some level of conditioning needs to be maintained throughout the off-season. Simply put, to get into the appropriate shape that will be needed to get an athlete through the rigors of the entire competitive season, and get through it as healthy as possible, a handful of weeks of dedicated conditioning isn’t going to be enough.

As an example, any college strength coach will tell you that it takes time to develop the necessary strength and power to compete at a high level in college. Additionally, any sport coach will tell you that you can’t practice your sport for a couple of weeks and think that the teams’ tactical skills will be at an appropriate level.

Why would conditioning be any different?

As Joel Jamieson states in his book Ultimate MMA Conditioning:

“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 (sport) wears on.”

What coaches need to realize is that all the strength and power in the world won’t make a bit of difference if an athlete doesn’t have the needed conditioning levels to use it, especially as the game/match/competition moves to the later stages. If an athletes conditioning is a weapon for them, they’ll have more fuel and a greater ability to generate power and strength at all times throughout their sporting event.

As a result, giving an athlete to access their power and strength should be the goal of any well thought out and planned sport performance program…and most athletes need to produce power and strength for a prolonged period of time!

So what’s the point?

As a coach you need to perform conditioning year round if you want to have a team or an athlete competing at their very best. Generally speaking, aerobic and anaerobic-alactic work should be developed/maintained throughout the majority of the off-season. As the athlete or team approaches the start of the season, roughly 3-4 weeks out in most cases, the focus on the conditioning program should shift to anaerobic-lactic development.

Random Thoughts: June Edition

It’s June, so that means another edition of random thoughts for the month. Here are a few thoughts that have been going through my head. Enjoy!

1. “Our responsibility as coaches is to close gaps that limit performance not create them. Give athletes what they need not what we like/want.” – Ryan Horn

2. We as coaches are often too worried about numbers in the weight room, rather then the effect the training is having on the athlete.

3. Hip extension is very important for athletes…but we need to make sure how glutes are the ones driving hip extension. Far too often you will find athletes substituting lumbar extension instead of hip extension which will lead to various other issues.

4. Athletes must be strong, but only to the extent that it can benefit them in their sport.

5. A question to ponder: Does it matter how much weight we can lift slow?

6. Piggybacking off the two previous thoughts, generally speaking, I think for team sports power is the most important, most crucial quality we can help develop. But you can’t have power without strength. The goal should be to get athletes strong enough to benefit them as much as possible in their sport and then make them as powerful as we can.

7. The two biggest issues in our field are stupidity and ego. Simply pull up some YouTube training videos and you’ll soon realize that a lot of programs are doing a lot of stupid things. Ego, on the other hand, may be the reason coaches/programs continue to do stupid things and are slow to evolve. I firmly believe people would rather continue to do what they’ve always done then make changes because they would look ‘wrong’. You don’t know what you don’t know. There is nothing wrong with changing, change means you are evolving and getting better…change is a good thing.

8. The weight room needs to be a fun, exciting, positive atmosphere. You catch more flies with honey then you do with vinegar.

9. I am without a doubt, a generalist when it comes to programming. I would say that 85-90% of what I do is the same across all teams. The differences from sport to sport come in that other 10-15%, but the big rocks are the big rocks no matter what team I am programming for.
10. Great strength coaches adapt to the needs of the players they coach and the coaches they work for.

1-Leg Hip Bridge Progression

A lot of times it’s the little things that go a long way when trying to keep athletes healthy in the long term. A perfect example is a simple 1-leg hip lift.

The 1-leg hip lift is a great exercise to help an athlete use the glutes properly ➡ as a hip extensor, which most young or weak athletes are unable to do.

Because so many athletes can’t use their glutes properly we generally see the athlete substitute lumbar extension for hip extension, which can lead to lower back issues. Teaching an athlete to not use the lumbar spine to create motion will go a long way in low back health.

Another great benefit to the hip lift is teaching the athlete to use the glutes as a hip extensor instead of overusing the hamstrings. Using the glutes and hamstrings together as a hip extensor will play a role in decreasing hamstring injuries down the road.

Finally, the hip lift will help develop some flexibility in the hip flexors because of the reciprocal nature of the exercise – it is impossible to both contract the glutes while also contracting the hip flexors. As a result, we get a stretch on the front side hip flexor.

  1. Isometric Leg Lock Hip Lift
  2. Isometric Tennis Ball Hip Lift
  3. Tennis Ball Hip Lift (reps)
  4. Marching Hip Lift


Typically the hip lift is simply incorporated into the warm up period as an ‘activation’ exercise

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.

Enjoy!

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.

Shoulder Health for Contact Sports

In sports where there is a chance for potential collision-related shoulder injuries, whether it be a collision with an opposing player or a collision with the boards in the case of hockey, a well-rounded strength program that emphasizes upper body pulling strength is crucial. The key is strength. The function of the shoulder muscles during a collision is to simply maintain joint integrity. It’s highly recommended that upper body pulling exercises are emphasized as much, if not more, then the upper body pushing exercises.

Phase 1 Plyo’s

“We must learn to jump off the ground and properly land on the ground before we attempt to minimize the time spent on the ground.” – Mike Boyle

A key component to developing a more resilient and durable athlete is having a well planned out and well progressed plyometric program that teaches the athlete both jumping and landing mechanics. Before we get fancy we need to learn how to absorb force in stable landing positions, both linear, lateral, on one leg and on two legs.

This is exactly what our second phase of plyo’s are about; the ability to absorb force. We now jump over and obstacle (instead of landing on a box) while landing in a stabile position. Adding the acceleration of landing on the ground instead of a box increases the eccentric component which is critical to injury prevention.

Random Thoughts: February Edition

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. Athletes need to learn how to land before you worry about learning how to jump.

2. Just because an exercise doesn’t elicit pain it doesn’t mean it isn’t causing an issue. Great examples of this would be traditional bench press with an overhead athlete or bilateral squatting with a hockey player (hockey players are highly likely to have FAI issues).

3. Piggybacking off the previous thought, I don’t see any reason to do a lot of traditional pressing movements with overhead athletes. Kettlebell Bottoms Up Presses, Landmine Presses, various dumbbell movements and Push Ups can get the job done and are considerably safer.

4. For a long while I have been a big fan of the barbell bridge as I thought it was a great way to train hip extension in a dummy-proof way. I think I was wrong. If done correctly I think the barbell bridge is a good movement, but I think far too many people turn it into a lumbar extension pattern instead of a glute/hip extension pattern. From personal experience, I would always get a little bit of low back pain the days following using the movement and I could never figure out why. I think elevating the shoulders and performing 1-leg bridges loaded with chains/sanbags/whatever else you have at your disposal is a better bet.

5. Everything done in the weight room needs to be purposeful. As a field we spend way too much time doing things that don’t really make a bit of difference to sport performance or injury prevention.

6. Most of the athletes we coach don’t need anything more then the basic movements. They may be elite athletes, but generally speaking they aren’t elite lifters.

7. I think heavy bilateral lifting is great for straight ahead and vertical force production but isn’t great for any type of change of direction. I’m not saying you shouldn’t do it, I’m just saying I don’t think the end-all be-all that people want to make it out to be. Absorbing force and creating force on one leg in the frontal plane just isn’t the same as absorbing force and creating force on two legs in the sagittal plane. Eric Cressey preaches that power is plane specific and as usual, I think he’s probably right.

8. The most important muscle to the core is the diaphragm. It has a huge effect on movement and plays a key role in stabilizing the spine amongst many other things. I think adding some sort of diaphragmatic breathing to all training sessions is becoming close to non-negotiable.

9. I think it’s critical that athletes need to be strong relative to their own bodyweight. And I think the two best and simplest indicators of this are chin ups and vertical jump. I’m willing to be there is a strong correlation between a teams best performers at their sport and their ability to perform chin ups.

10. People don’t say ‘thank you’ enough.

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: 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.

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.

Connect
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