2013 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 4,200 times in 2013. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 4 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Warm Ups For Our Athletes & Getting Them To Buy In

Recently I was at a conference for strength & conditioning coaches.  During a hands on portion of the conference, different coaches were sharing ideas of what they like to do for warm ups for their basketball teams before practices and/or games.  There were many different and creative ideas shared.  However, there was one comment that one of the strength coaches (strength coach for an NBA team) made that got me thinking.  I’m not out to call anybody out specifically or anything like that, so I won’t share a name or team they work for.  I just want to talk a little about the thoughts that his sharing provoked. This coach prefaced what they were sharing by saying that they are always doing/they always have to do something different to warm their athletes up, because with how many games there are and how often they have to warm up in the NBA, they would lose the guys and their focus if they weren’t switching things up and doing something different all the time.  I want to discuss some issues that I have with his comment and his approach.

First of all, it’s obviously important to understand that in different aspects of our program design, we need to mix things up and have variety in what we do to avoid our athletes plateauing physically.  However, it’s also important to remember that we can’t take mixing things up and varying our workouts to an extreme, as there needs to be some consistency in what we do with our athletes so that progressive overload can take effect.  Progressive overload in the area of warming up comes more in the form of advancing our athletes in areas of increased range of motion or increased complexity of movement, not so much by adding more weight to a movement as in the strength training aspect of our programs.  However, the principle remains the same that if what is being done with an athlete is never consistent, the body won’t be able to progress, it won’t know what it’s reacting to and overcoming, and we won’t be able to build on anything.  So, even on something like warming up, if we are constantly changing what our athletes are doing, I don’t feel like they will get near the benefit out of it that they could if we were progressing them consistently through the same types of movements.  As with our strength training with our athletes, it is imperative to find that happy medium between doing the exact same thing warming them up all the time, and doing something different all the time.

Now to the idea that he needed to always do something different with his athletes to keep them interested.  I feel like this involves an equally if not more important concept, and that’s having the ability to get our athletes to buy into what we are having them do.  If an athlete trusts us and truly believes that what they are doing is going to benefit them more than anything else, it wouldn’t matter what we asked them to do, and they wouldn’t care if they had to do it every single day.  In fact, if they truly believe what we are doing with them is going to help them perform to the best of their ability and help them to avoid injury, it could be hard to get them to do anything else!  As an example, it’s been well documented that there are basketball players that will do the same warm up / same routine basketball wise when it comes to their shooting before every single game.  They obviously do the same thing before every game because they believe it works and will help them perform better in the game, or they wouldn’t do it all the time.  The situation could be the same when it comes to their physical warm up. I feel like the problem from this situation is the coach was not successful in getting his athletes to trust him and believe in what he was asking them to do.  I could be wrong as I don’t have all the details from this specific situation.  However, it just made me think that if a coach were ever in a situation where their athletes wanted them to switch things up ALL the time to keep their attention, that would mean they need to work on gaining the trust of their athletes and getting them to buy into the program and what the coach is asking them to do.  We all have our strengths and areas where we can really offer something beneficial for the athletes we have been entrusted with.  However, no matter what benefit we could potentially offer our athletes, it means nothing if we can’t get them to buy in.

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Core Training for Athletes

I think it’s safe to say that we all recognize the importance of developing the core of our athletes.  A powerful and athletic core can play a huge part in the performance of our athletes, and in injury prevention.  However, the manner and method in which we handle this development isn’t as straightforward as it may seem.  The traditional methods of laying on the floor and doing crunches or sit ups doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.  This type of training focuses mostly on flexing the trunk, and mostly only in the sagittal plane.  Another common traditional method to train the core is to hold a certain position for a certain amount of time just with bodyweight, or even with extra weight, such as holding a bridge/plank for inordinate amounts of time.  If we watch our athletes when they’re participating in their sport, and we examine the role of the core in these athletic situations, it’s very clear that these traditional methods of training the core can’t be the most effective way to help our athletes, and won’t have a lot of transfer to success on the field or court.  Not only are these traditional methods probably not the most effective, I would argue that this type of training can be detrimental to the performance of our athletes and their ability to avoid injury.  When in sport are our athletes just laying on their back flexing their core, or when are our athletes holding a certain position without any movement?…  We should do a better job of implementing exercises that are going to have a direct transfer to athletic performance than just using these traditional core training methods.  

The core’s most important role in most sports is not just simply flexing in the sagittal plane, but actually having the ability to decelerate the core and THEN move explosively in ALL THREE planes of motion – sagittal, frontal and transverse planes.  I would argue that the transverse plane is the most important plane of motion(and most powerful) for athletes, which makes it even more ironic that the transverse plane is probably the most under-trained or paid attention to with traditional core training methods.  You watch a volleyball player as they go up for a spike, a golf player or tennis player’s swing, a soccer player as they prepare for a header, or a basketball player as they go up for a rebound – you will see how important the core’s ability to decelerate in all three planes of motion is before exploding in all three planes of motion.

So, what are some of the principles that we should keep in mind as we design core training for our athletes?

1) Train the core in all three planes of motion, with extra emphasis on the transverse plane.

2) Focus on developing the core’s ability to decelerate and load before exploding.  

3) Make sure not to only have your athletes perform core exercises while sitting or laying on the ground.  When the core is utilized in sports situations, it is total body upright movement that usually occurs with the feet on the ground(golf, tennis, baseball/softball swing), or even up in the air(volleyball spike, soccer header, etc).  I’m not saying that some exercises down on the ground can’t be effective, however, make sure you are doing plenty of upright core movements as well.  

4) Never have athletes perform an exercise where they are just holding the same position for long periods of time,  Rather, tweak those same exercises to have the athletes MOVING.  For example, rather than just doing a regular plank/bridge, have the athletes constantly lifting arms or legs up and down so that the body is learning to stabilize while also moving, which will have much more transfer to athletic movements in sport.  

Here are a couple of videos from the master, Gary Gray, that discuss in depth the needs of the core in sports, and also gives some great examples of how to train the core athletically:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TObwtJgj8gI&feature=youtu.be

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eeTtV2lvQ3o

As strength & conditioning professionals, we must remember that in athletic situations the core is constantly MOVING in ALL THREE planes of motion, and we should train it accordingly to give our athletes the best chance at staying healthy and at success in their sport.

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The ACL – Part 2

Today I’d like to continue discussing last month’s subject, the ACL.  At the end of the last post, I said that I would discuss some specific methods to decrease the likelihood of knee injuries.  To be honest, if I were to go into great detail on the different and effective methods to prevent knee injuries, I could create an entirely new blog/website totally dedicated to that subject.  So, I won’t go into great detail or be super specific, but I will make some general statements and give some examples of things we can all incorporate in training our athletes that will greatly decrease the likelihood of injury.  

First thing I touched on last month, and that is that we shouldn’t try to instruct our athletes to always keep the knee in line over the foot at all times, as this is obviously not how it moves when they are participating in their sport.  With that in mind, I would say another extremely important method would be to make sure we always train our athletes in a three dimensional manner. For instance, if we are going to have our athletes lunge, we should have them lunge forward, laterally and transversely.  Another example could be step ups, and if we are going to have our athletes perform step ups, they should also perform them going forward, laterally and transversely.  Along with doing these exercises we should have the arms perform different movements that cause the hips, knees and ankles to react in different ways (ie overhead reaches, twists, lateral reaches, etc).  These are the types of movements they’ll be exposed to in their sport.  

We shouldn’t just limit our thinking to strength training either.  For instance, if we’re helping our athletes develop balance, we need to do it three dimensionally.  We should also make sure that when we are helping our athletes develop agility skills, these drills should be done three dimensionally – meaning we should train them going in any direction and changing any direction they may encounter in their sport.  One more example could be jump training.  No matter what our preferred method of jump training is, we should train the athletes to be able to jump three dimensionally – forward, back, to either side, twisting, etc.  It’s not very often that our athletes will be doing a perfect bilateral jump up and down. They are constantly jumping and landing in different directions with different foot placements, both double and single leg.  By training them to jump in all directions, both double and single leg, it will prepare the knee to be able to work(both load and explode – decelerate and accelerate) in all directions.  The list could go on of different examples.  

These are all great examples of how to develop the knee’s ability to move in all 3 planes of motion, which should in turn, lower the likelihood that our athletes get put into a position that their knee won’t be able to handle when playing.  Again, I could go into great depth with specific examples of how to train in such a way that we lower the likelihood of the knee being injured, but I hope this discussion will give you all some ideas that you could incorporate with your athletes.

Probably the best part of my post last month was the link I posted to Gary Gray and Joe Tofferi’s Part 1 of their discussion on ACL Prevention.  Here is Part 2 of their discussion.  Great stuff!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H5PXQRhIoaY&list=UUAi0s9wOn3KOE_RQP3Ml22Q&index=1

To finish up I wanted to give an example that I feel is a great demonstration of the importance of this discussion on the knee.  I love to play basketball and am currently playing in a semi-competitive city league.  About 3.5 weeks ago during one of my games, someone(a little on the heavy side…..) landed on the outside of my knee, causing my knee to dive in sharply.  When it happened, I heard a big pop as I went to the ground.  I wasn’t in a lot of pain, but as I was laying on the ground, I feared the worst after hearing the pop.  I was able to get up, and although my knee felt a little weird, I was able to finish the game.  Now to take a step back.  I started to really do a better job of incorporating this type of training of the knee with myself and my athletes over the last year.  I am 100% convinced that if this same situation had taken place a year earlier, I would have torn multiple ligaments in my knee.  The commitment to training three dimensionally has really made a huge difference for me performance wise, and in this instance definitely helped to make my injury much less serious than it could have been, and helped me to recover more quickly as well.  Back to my story.  The next day my knee was extremely sore.  However, by the time my game rolled around the next week, I felt almost 100%, and 3.5 weeks later I can’t even tell anything had happened.  Obviously I’m not an elite level athlete, but I’m totally convinced that if we put into practice these principles with our training, it will have the same type of impact on our athletes as it had on me.  

Lastly, I wanted to share one more thought from this experience.  Some strength coaches, physical therapists and others claim that the knee joint does not move three dimensionally. I would contend, especially after this experience, that the knee very clearly moves in all 3 planes.  I obviously did something to my MCL with this injury.  Whenever I did exercises in that first week that made my knee move in the frontal or transverse plane, I could barely stand it, as it obviously was making my knee move in different planes that targeted my sore MCL.

I strongly believe it’s important that we train our athletes in such a way that their knees don’t get put into positions while playing, that they have not experienced in their training with us.  It will make a HUGE difference for them both performance wise, and most importantly, in helping to lower the likelihood of injury.  

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The ACL – Part 1

One of the most common serious injuries that athletes experience are injuries to their ACL.  With that being the case, one of the most important responsibilities that we have as strength & conditioning professionals is to help our athletes be physically prepared for their sport in such a way that an ACL injury is less likely.  We obviously can’t completely prevent injuries from happening, but we can have a huge impact on the likelihood of an injury occurring, especially an ACL injury.  One of the most common techniques that is used to train the knee to supposedly prevent injury to it is to have our athletes always focus on keeping the knee over the foot/toe.  It’s what I was taught in school and different books, and it’s how most of us are taught to help prevent knee injuries in athletes.  However, when you look at athletes when they are actually playing their sport, it’s obvious that there has to be a better way, as the knee is very infrequently just in a straight line over the toe/foot.  Here are just a few examples:

 

 

As you examine these examples and others it becomes clear that the knee is constantly diving in and out as athletes are participating in their sport.  When not involving contact, the majority of ACL injuries come from the inability to decelerate the body before exploding in another direction.  This makes it imperative for us as strength & conditioning professionals to train our athletes with the understanding that as the athletes are decelerating their body like in the three examples above, the knee will never just stay over the toe/foot, and that we need to train the knee to be able to handle all the situations it will be put into during the course of competition.  Or in other words, the knee will move in all three planes of motion in sport(not just sagittal), so we need to train it accordingly.  Not only is instructing and training our athletes to keep their knee over their toe/foot not sufficient to help them avoid knee injuries, I would contend that by teaching their bodies to only move in such a way during training, when their knee is inevitabley forced to do something different in competition, it will be even more likely that they’ll experience a serious knee injury as their knee has not been prepared to be put in such positions.

This is a link to a video discussion with Gary Gray and Joe Tofferi on the subject.  They do a much better job of discussing this subject than I can, and are two of the best in the business.  In future entries I will discuss specific methods to help prevent knee injuries, especially ACL injuries, in an effective manner.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GWrZTj-1H_Q&feature=youtu.be

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Catching Up

Well it has been quite awhile since I posted on here!  I plan on getting back to consistently posting again.  Quite a few things in my life have changed since I last posted and I am now back in Utah working as the Head Sports Performance Coach at a place called Xcel in Salt Lake City.  I just have to take a few minutes to say how thankful I am for the experience that I had at the University of Detroit on Joe Tofferi’s staff.  One of the main reasons I went to work at Detroit was to be exposed to a new philosophy that was different than what I had been exposed to previously.  Well, I could not have asked for a better opportunity to LEARN and become a better strength & conditioning professional than I had learning from him.  I am so blessed to have worked with and learned from him and so many other great strength & conditioning coaches throughout my career that have shaped my ever-evolving philosophy.  I will probably be sharing many of the truths I learned from Joe at Detroit in upcoming entries.  I am also extremely lucky with my new position to have the freedom to put into practice all the amazing things I’ve learned over the last 5 years in trying to help the great athletes I’m blessed to be able to work with here reach that next level.  With the amazing things I was able to learn from Joe at Detroit, it just reminded me how important it is for us to all continually try to learn, improve and develop ourselves as strength & conditioning professionals.  If we are doing things exactly the same way we did with our athletes even just a year ago, we are not doing enough to learn and develop ourselves and our knowledge.  I’m not saying we need to make huge wholesale changes with how we do things all the time.  However, we should constantly be improving and making minor changes and improvements to how we work with our athletes – and this could go for how we do things programming wise and/or as coaches, leaders and motivators. 

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Enjoy The Process of Working Towards Success

With it being the beginning of a new school year, I wanted to share something I’ve been thinking about that I thought might be a good reminder for all of us.

Athletics are obviously results based, with winning being the name of the game.  Winning can be extremely rewarding for all involved, and we probably wouldn’t be involved in athletics if we didn’t enjoy winning and if competing didn’t motivate us.  Winning or not can also affect our employment.  Have said all that, I’ve decided going into this year that I’m going to try to appreciate and enjoy the process of working towards those wins a little bit more, regardless of how many wins actually take place.

For me, looking back, the relationships I’ve been able to build with athletes, coaches, and others I’ve worked with has been just as, if not more rewarding than the games won or even championships won that I’ve been fortunate enough to be a part of.  If we are in this solely to win, we won’t be able to make the impact we could make, and our careers won’t be as rewarding as they could be.  Talking specifically about the athletes we work with, if all we care about is winning, that will absolutely have an adverse effect on our potential to develop positive relationships with those athletes, be able to help them to buy into what we are trying to accomplish with them, and gain their trust so that they are confident that we have their best interest in mind.  If they feel like we treat them as just a means to an end – winning – we will not get very far with them.  If we have that type of shallow relationship with the athletes, it will also make the winning that we are fortunate enough to be a part of MUCH less rewarding than it would be otherwise.  They need to know that no matter what happens, we care about them as people and want the best for them.  By valuing the athletes we work with as people, and taking seriously the impact we could potentially have on their lives, we will be able to enjoy the process all the more.  It will also make the winning that takes place even more rewarding than it would be otherwise.

I also feel strongly that if we focus too much of what we get out of our careers on winning, we will often become extremely frustrated with the lack of control that we personally have over that positive result.  I’ve been studying the book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey(VERY highly recommended), and in the book it talks about putting less of an emphasis on things outside of our “circle of control” or our realm of control.  Covey goes on to say that we should keep our “circle of concern” inside of our “circle of control.”  I think this is imperative for us as strength & conditioning coaches.  It doesn’t take long to come up with a long list of things that we don’t have control of/that are outside our “circle of control,” that have a HUGE impact on the likelihood of winning games that our teams have.  For instance, we have a very limited role in the recruiting of the athletes that are on the teams we work with, we don’t determine who the sport coaches of our teams are, we don’t determine playing time or playing style, we don’t determine the funding for the programs/teams we work with, we don’t ultimately determine the quality of the facilities we work in, and the list could go on.  If we get too caught up in winning, and in turn, more caught up in these things that we don’t have control of, losing games can take its toll much more than it should.  We should focus all of our energy on the things inside of our “circle of control” in the process, making it so that the aspects of the team that we have a direct impact on are never the reason for lack of success in the win column.  If we do that to the best of our ability, we can take a lot of pride in the fact that we gave those athletes and the team the best chance possible of success on the field or court.  We should never let the negative things outside of our realm of control with a team have an adverse impact our effectiveness with the responsibilities that we have with a team.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t value winning by any means.  Winning, with all the hard work that is often involved and required, can be extremely rewarding.  However, that process of working towards potential success can be extremely rewarding, regardless of the eventual outcome.  We need to remember that we can take a lot away from the process of working alongside other great people in trying to overcome challenges and working towards potential wins.

I’ve been fortunate enough to coach athletes in a variety of sports and situations from junior high all the way to the the highest level of Division 1.  I’ve coached teams that were extremely successful and anything but successful, as far as wins and losses goes.  I’m not saying that I didn’t enjoy winning with the “good” teams.  However, regardless of the record and outcome of each team, I look back and value the relationships with the athletes and coaches I worked with more than anything.  I also was extremely proud of the teams that didn’t have as many wins, but kept competing with everything they had.  The bottom line is, no matter who we are working with, we need to remember how lucky we are to have the unique opportunity to work with young people.  These kids will recognize if we sincerely care about them as we do our very best to develop them and give them a better chance for success on the field or court.  As strength coaches, we are also able to work with the athletes in environments that can be perfect to teach them long-lasting life lessons like hard work, responsibility, accountability, team work, etc.  The athletes will be thankful to us for helping them learn and develop these qualities, and the relationships built in the process can be strong and lasting.  The relationships and lessons learned will be remembered far longer than games that were won or lost.  Enjoying this process can and should be just as rewarding as wins, so let’s enjoy and appreciate the process a little more.

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