Tag Archives: exercise selection

The Problem with High School Strength and Conditioning Programs

25 Aug

I am blessed with the opportunity to work with several area high school sports programs as a Strength & Conditioning coach/consultant, in the areas of program design, instruction, and supervision.  I have also observed dozens of area high school Strength & Conditioning programs.

Outside of the high school weight room, I train scores of student-athletes, at my facility, who are “products” of their high school Strength & Conditioning programs.  Unfortunately, most of what I observe is subpar – “under-strong” kids (given their size, age, and training experience), poor technique, and lack of appropriate supervision and direction.

Based on my experience and observation – and discussions with hundreds of high school athletes, parents, and coaches – here are some of the problems with high school Strength & Conditioning programs:

Lack of Knowledge

Strength & Conditioning is not rocket science, but it is (or should be) exercise science and training should be evidence-based.  A background that includes foundational exercise science and practical application/exercise technique should be a requirement.

Lack of Credentials/Qualifications

Most of the folks working with our high school athletes, in the area of Strength & Conditioning, do not have the experience or expertise required for the job.  Qualified individuals should have an educational background that includes exercise science; and certification, such as Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), from a nationally/internationally accredited organization like the National Strength & Conditioning Association (NSCA).

Inadequate Program Design/Management

Designing and managing a high school Strength & Conditioning program requires more than YouTube, Google, and other programs’ training templates.  There are several factors – including energy systems, demands and movement patterns of the sport, etc. that must be taken into consideration.  I know of a program that chose athletes’ exercise loads based on their ages.

Inefficient Time Management

Too little work and too much rest.  Lots of standing around watching, waiting, and socializing.

Inadequate Supervision/Instruction

Ratio of trainers to athletes is way too low, especially for sports with big numbers, like football.  Last year, I was in a high school weight room working with the girls basketball team (about a dozen players), and the freshman football team was also training – 40 kids, one coach (who spent the entire session sitting at a desk reading the newspaper).  I think I spent more time instructing, demonstrating, and correcting the football players than I did working with girls basketball players.

One Size Fits All

This one, admittedly, is a challenge, but it’s possible to develop an appropriate and productive program for all the sports programs at a school.  I’ve known of programs who use stuff like P90X or Insanity to get everyone doing the same thing at the same time.  This would be a great strategy if the high school football team consisted of adult men and women trying to improve their level of fitness.

Lack of Proper Warmup

Very little time spent doing programmed, dynamic (movement-based) warmup exercises.  Too many programs still warming up by stretching, and even doing very little of that.

Inadequate Periodization

Very few programs take into account training phases (off-season, pre-season, in-season) and, if they do, their training plans rarely address the needs (and challenges) of these phases.  Many programs have no plan whatsoever for the in-season (maintenance) phase.

No Real Plan for Progression

Most programs don’t have a good plan for making their programs progressive (increasing intensity) because they don’t understand the rules and guidelines that govern this process.  The NSCA has a “2 + 2” rule that is physiologically appropriate and can simplify the process.

Poor Understanding of Energy System Training

The energy system demands of the sport must be taken in to consideration when designing a Strength & Conditioning program.  Power sports require programming that incorporates short bursts of high-intensity activity, while endurance sports programs have different needs.  I know of several area basketball and volleyball programs whose cardio-metabolic training and fitness testing consists of a mile run.  Think about the demands and movement patterns of those two sports (especially volleyball) and let that sink in for a moment…

Inappropriate Exercise Selection

I’m not sure how some of these programs choose their athletes’ exercises.  Most of these programs pay little attention to areas like joint stability, landing mechanics, and overall injury prevention.  Focus on opposing muscle groups is often overlooked (for example, many programs love exercises like squats and leg presses, but pay little attention to posterior chain – glute/hamstring – development).

Poor Technique

Unfortunately, you have to know and understand (and be able to instruct, demonstrate, and correct) proper technique to be able to appropriately coach it.  I train lots of athletes who come to me with poor exercise technique (arching the back on the bench press, poor squatting mechanics, etc.) – which can be dangerous – who tell me their form is taught and encouraged by their coaches.

Poor Nutrition Education and Monitoring

Strength & Conditioning and nutrition should be connected.  Sports nutrition should be taught and viewed as something that complements and enhances the athletes’ training.

Adversarial Relationship

This is one of the most troubling aspects, for me.  It’s almost as if the coaches don’t – or refuse to – acknowledge that we are on the same “team.”  Our goal – to create a better student-athlete – should be aligned.  It’s disappointing to me when coaches disparage my training and discourage their athletes from participating in it.  Sadly, I think control plays a large part in this situation.  Communication and collaboration can improve this process.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

Your thoughts?

Advertisements

Sport Coaches Are Not Necessarily Strength Coaches

8 Apr

Columbia-High-School-coach-Phil-McCrary[1]One of the things I really enjoy about my job is the opportunity to travel to high schools, colleges, clubs, and other organizations to work with coaches and student-athletes in their athletic facilities and weight rooms.  Typically, my work involves the creation, design, and development of strength training programs, including explanation and demonstration of exercise selection and technique.  We also discuss pre- and post-workout nutrition, supplements, and a variety of other pertinent topics.  And, although the coaches I work with are very good at what they do, one thing has become clear: Sport coaches are not necessarily equipped or prepared to effectively function as strength and conditioning professionals (note to coaches: don’t take it personally; strength trainers aren’t necessarily sport coaches, either).

Here are some examples of what I’ve observed:

Inability to effectively manage big numbers.  This is especially prevalent among football programs.  I’ve seen coaches implement group aerobics and calisthenics, P90X, and other programs without any rationale (except for the fact that these programs make it easier to manage big numbers because they’re “one size fits all”).

Inadequate — little or no — qualified supervision.  Athlete to coach ratio is typically very high (sometimes the kids are supervising themselves!).

Poor program design and exercise selection.  No needs analysis or thought given to personnel, equipment, time, and/or resources.

Most of the coaches and athletes with whom I’ve worked are less than proficient at teaching and performing exercise technique (especially the Olympic lifts; some of what I’ve seen pass for proper form on even the most basic exercises is scary), and are unsure/unaware of appropriate selection of loads, repetitions, sets, etc.

I know of several programs whose workouts have come directly from internet searches, Men’s Health videos, and You Tube, without any consideration given to evidence-based strength and conditioning.  “Everyone does it,” “I heard about it from another coach,” or “I learned/observed it at a clinic or conference” do not constitute good reasons for implementing something into your program.

Coaches, you were hired by someone who felt that your experience and expertise were the best fit for building a program.  No one expects that your experience and expertise are all-encompassing (certainly you have assistant coaches to whom you delegate some of the coaching responsibilities).  You can improve the overall quality of your program by enlisting the direction and guidance of a certified strength and conditioning professional — there are lots of qualified individuals out there.  X’s and O’s, strategy and tactics, and sport-specific skill development are crucial to the success of any team or program.  Strength and speed are “difference makers,” and also important to the development and success of your program.  Let us help you, your staff, and your athletes.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

Your thoughts?

Get Stronger (here’s how)

2 Dec

LoadedBarbell[1]Everybody wants to look good, but the real benefit of strength training is… well… getting stronger.  Increasing your physical strength will serve you much better in the long term, whether you’re an athlete or not.

And, while the aesthetic result of working out is great, research shows that stronger people generally live longer (so there’s that).  Strength and functional fitness is the way to go.

Move better, function better, perform better.

Here are a few basic tips for improving your strength (with some information borrowed from our friends at ASD Performance):

Lift Heavy

Lifting heavy (90% 1RM) will improve strength by recruiting high-threshold motor units. The muscle fibers associated with these motor units have the most potential for increasing strength. However, they fatigue quickly.

Exercise Selection Matters

Maximal lifting is best applied to multi-joint exercises (e.g., squats, deadlifts, presses, and pulls). Even though the weight is heavy, your intent should be to move the weight as fast as possible. This will ensure you’re recruiting as many fast-twitch muscle fibers as possible.

Incorporate Plyometrics

Otherwise known as jump training, plyometric training involves hop- and jump-type exercises that train and develop what’s called the stretch-shortening cycle (SSC). The stretch-shortening cycle teaches the body to better utilize stored elastic energy to produce stronger and more forceful contractions. This improvement in reactive ability can also be explained by improvements in muscle-tendon stiffness. Body-weight or weighted plyometric can be utilized such as consecutive body-weight jumps over hurdles or continuous dumbbell jump squats.

Rest Longer

When bodybuilding or training for muscle growth, short rest periods are recommended between sets, such as 30-60 seconds. When training for strength, increase your rest to 2-5 minutes depending on the exercise. The loads lifted will require longer rest periods to ensure you complete the same number of reps in the subsequent sets. Your mental strength and ability to focus on the heavy set will also appreciate the longer break.

Get Your Protein

Most experts agree that active men and women should ingest 0.6-0.8 grams of protein per pound of their target body weight, daily.  Athletes and more experienced weightlifters may require more protein, as much as a gram (or more) per pound of their target body weight, daily.  Lifting heavy weight creates a lot of muscle demand.  Feed your muscles often, with lean protein from whole foods and a quality whey protein supplement.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

Your thoughts?

Getting Athletes to be Their Best

25 Mar

-678325aa59aad8ba[1]Eight years ago — after a 20-year career in the pharmaceutical industry — I began pursuit of a dream.  My dream was fueled by my four children, all capable student-athletes.  I wanted to help them train for their sports and improve their performance; teach them the value of working toward a goal; and help them develop a competitive edge.  I expanded my reach to their friends and teammates; interacted and learned from other trainers, coaches, and administrators; and got to work providing evidence-based Strength and Conditioning for anyone interested, willing, and committed to improving their athletic performance.  That was the beginning of what has now become my passion; working with hundreds of athletes in pursuit of stronger, faster, and better.  That was the birth of Athletic Performance Training Center (APTC).

Having recently expanded to our second facility, the APTC dream continues to grow.  We work (and have worked) with several hundred athletes as young as age 5, professional athletes, and everyone in between.  We are fortunate to have the opportunity to work with so many dedicated clients.

Over the past 8 years, APTC has helped prepare athletes for the “next level” whether that is high school, college, or the pros.  We have been called upon to prepare athletes for college and professional pro days and combines.  If you are an aspiring athlete, and looking to go to the next level, here is some advice  — stuff that I’ve learned over the past 8 years in the industry.  There’s more to athletic performance than you think.

It’s More Than Just Hard Work

It’s important to work hard, but you’ve also got to work smart.  Most athletes believe if they work hard — in the weight room and on the court or field — they can be successful.  Unfortunately, this antiquated way of thinking is probably not going to get athletes to the top of their game.  Working hard in the weight room won’t get you far if your plan — including exercise selection, intensity, sets, reps, rest intervals, etc. — is not aligned with your goal.  Likewise, you can practice your ball-handling and shooting in the gym all day; but if you’re practicing with flawed form, mechanics, and technique, your improvement will be limited, at best.  And, of course, in addition to physical training, factors like nutrition, rest, and mental preparation will have a considerable effect on your performance.  This is where a knowledgeable strength and/or skills coach can be an asset by providing quality guidance and direction.

It’s More Than Just Off-Season Training

Training is not a “sometimes” thing; it is an “all the time” thing — it’s year-round.  You need to train during the off-season, pre-season, and in-season (with appropriate intensity, frequency, volume, and rest along the way); and it’s important to have a periodized, progressive plan to address each stage of training.  This can become somewhat complicated when athletes play multiple sports throughout the year (and claim not to have the time), but a knowledgeable trainer can develop an effective plan to address each cycle to ensure optimal performance.  If athletes are not training, they are not improving.  And if they are not improving, they are compromising their potential.  During the season, it’s important to incorporate one or two lifting sessions per week to maintain the gains they made in the off-season.  In-season training helps athletes enhance recovery from their sport practices and games; protects against getting “worn down” over the course of the season; and helps keep muscles and joints strong to prevent against injury.

It’s More Than Just the Bench Press and Bicep Curl

Don’t get me wrong, the bench press is a great upper body exercise, but your training shouldn’t revolve around your chest and arms.  Strength and power — for any sport — emanate from the core, specifically the lower core.  The hips, quadriceps, and posterior chain — lower-back, glutes, and hamstrings —  are crucial to your performance.  If you are strong throughout your core, you have the potential to be a strong, fast, and powerful athlete.  If you are not strong throughout this area, there’s nothing you can do to compensate for it.  Weakness in the muscles of your core and posterior chain also puts you at a greater risk for injury.  Squats, deadlifts, glute-ham raises, and Romanian deadlifts are excellent exercises for the core and posterior chain musculature.

Warmup is More Than Just Stretching

Prior to every strength and/or speed training session, make sure you warmup properly.  That means more than just a quick lap around the track or a few quick stretches.  The best, knowledgeable athletes, trainers, and coaches know that performing a dynamic (movement-based) warmup — before training, practices, or games — is the way to go.  Dynamic warmup involves movements that mimic and reflect the demands of your workout or sport-specific activity.  It increases temperature of and blood flow to working muscles; improves mobility and range-of-motion; and decreases the chance of injury.  Static stretching is an outdated mode of warmup that has been found to reduce strength and power production in the short-term; relax and elongate working muscles (thus not preparing them for force production); and it does not reduce the incidence of injury, nor does it help minimize post-workout soreness.  If you absolutely insist on static stretching, do it after practice and training.

Speed is More Than Just Running

Speed is a skill, and speed development starts in the weight room.  Speed requires strength and power training.  The stronger and more powerful you are throughout your core and lower extremities, the more force you can generate against the ground, which translates to speed, agility, and vertical jump ability.  Additionally, technique is a vital component of speed.  When speed training, athletes need to perform exercises and drills with perfect form and mechanics.  Head position, arm action, leg drive, stride frequency, and stride length are all factors that influence running speed.  Without an understanding of the right way to approach speed and agility training, it will be difficult to achieve your potential as an athlete.

It’s More Than Just You

Finally, if you are committed to being the best you can be, you won’t be able to do it without some help.  In addition to the support of your family and friends, you should look to find competent, qualified individuals with experience and expertise in the areas of strength and conditioning, and sport-specific skill development.  It’s important to have a plan, and equally important for your plan to be aligned with your goals.  There’s a big difference between activity and productivity; all movement is not progress.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

Your thoughts?

Strength Training Safety and Specificity

6 Feb

adv_benchpress_03[1]One of the goals of strength training is to reduce the likelihood of injury during training.  Compared with other sports and fitness activities, strength training is actually quite safe — if and when athletes adhere to basic safety principles.

Specificity should also be an important consideration when designing an exercise program to improve performance in a particular sport activity.  Exercise selection should be determined in accordance with the demands and movement patterns of the sport.  A strength training program designed around sport-specific exercise movements can improve performance and reduce the likelihood of injury.

SAFETY

  • Always perform a dynamic (movement-based) warm-up activity — or warm-up sets — with relatively light weight in order to stimulate blood flow to the muscles and improve connective tissue (ligaments, tendons) function.  Avoid static stretching as a warm-up.
  • Perform exercises through a full range-of-motion.
  • When performing a new exercise, or when training after an extended layoff (multiple weeks), use relatively light weight and gradually increase as proficiency allows.
  • Don’t “work through” pain, especially joint pain.  Working through some muscle fatigue or post-exercise muscle soreness is usually okay, but severe and persistent pain may be a warning sign to have the injury examined and treated medically.
  • Never attempt maximal lifts without appropriate preparation, (technique) instruction, and supervision.
  • Avoid “bouncing” at the bottom of the squat exercise, as this type of movement can cause muscle injury.  Observe proper squat mechanics — keep the knee in a vertical plane through the foot and hip.
  • Athletes should build adequate lower-body strength before beginning a lower-body plyometric program.
  • Perform several varieties of an exercise to improve muscle development and joint stability.

SPECIFICITY

  • Exercise selection should reflect the qualitative and quantitative demands and movement patterns of the sport.
  • Joint ranges-of-motion should be at least as great as those in the target activity.
  • Utilize visual observation and video as tools to facilitate exercise selection and determine movements important to that sport.
  • Exercise selection should include the three major planes — frontal, sagittal, and transverse, in order to strengthen movements between the planes.
  • Training should be movement-based, and not muscle-based.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

Your thoughts?

Sport Coaches Are Not Necessarily Strength Coaches

15 Mar

Columbia-High-School-coach-Phil-McCrary[1]One of the things I really enjoy about my job is the opportunity to travel to high schools, colleges, and universities and work with coaches and student-athletes in their weight rooms.  Typically, my work involves the creation, design, and development of strength training programs, including explanation and demonstration of exercise selection and technique.  We also discuss pre- and post-workout nutrition, supplements, and a variety of other pertinent topics.  And although the coaches I work with are very good at what they do, one thing has become clear: Sport coaches are not necessarily equipped or prepared to effectively function as strength and conditioning professionals (note to coaches: don’t take it personally; strength trainers aren’t necessarily sport coaches, either).

Here are some examples of what I’ve observed:

Inability to effectively manage big numbers.  This is especially prevalent among football programs.  I’ve seen coaches implement group aerobics and calisthenics, P90X, and other programs without any rationale (except for the fact that these programs make it easier to manage big numbers because they’re “one size fits all”).

Inadequate — little or no — qualified supervision.  Athlete to coach ratio is typically very high (sometimes the kids are supervising themselves!).

Poor program design and exercise selection.  No needs analysis or thought given to personnel, equipment, time, and/or resources.

Most of the coaches and athletes with whom I’ve worked are less than proficient at teaching and performing exercise technique (especially the Olympic lifts; some of what I’ve seen pass for proper form on even the most basic exercises is scary), and are unsure/unaware of appropriate selection of loads, repetitions, sets, etc.

I know of several programs whose workouts have come directly from internet searches and You Tube, without any consideration given to evidence-based strength and conditioning.  “Everyone does it,” “I heard about it from another coach,” or “I learned/observed it at a clinic or conference” do not constitute good reasons for implementing something into your program.

Coaches, you were hired by someone who felt that your experience and expertise were the best fit for building a program.  No one expects that your experience and expertise are all-encompassing (certainly you have assistant coaches to whom you delegate some of the coaching responsibilities).  You can improve the overall quality of your program by enlisting the direction and guidance of a strength and conditioning professional — there are lots of qualified individuals out there.  X’s and O’s, strategy and tactics, and sport-specific skill development are crucial to the success of any team or program.  Strength and speed are “difference makers,” and also important.  Let us help you, your staff, and your athletes.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

Your thoughts?

Resistance Training, Part 2: Exercise Selection

1 Oct

Exercise selection involves choosing exercises for a resistance training program.  The Strength and Conditioning professional must understand and apply several factors to the design of a resistance training program, including types of exercises, demands of the sport, the athlete’s exercise technique proficiency, and available training resources (equipment, time, etc.).

There are literally hundreds of resistance exercises to choose from, using a variety of equipment, when designing a resistance training program:

  • Core exercises recruit large muscles (chest, shoulders, back, hip, or thigh) and involve two or more primary joints (multi-joint exercises).  Core exercises often have direct application to athletic performance.
  • Single-joint exercises usually recruit smaller muscles (arms, lower legs, etc.) and are considered less important to improving athletic performance.
  • Injury prevention exercises (for example, shoulder exercises for pitchers) are important because they develop muscles that are predisposed to injury from the unique demands of the sport.  These exercises often isolate a specific muscle or muscle group.
  • Structural exercises, which emphasize loading the spine directly (barbell back squat) involve muscular stabilization and strength.
  • Power exercises are structural exercises that are performed explosively, like Olympic lifts (power clean).
  • Sport-specific exercises correlate the training activity with the actual sport movement, increasing the likelihood that there will be a positive transfer to that sport.  For basketball and volleyball players, the power clean is a good choice because it’s specific to jumping.

Exercises chosen for the specific demands of the sport should maintain a balance of muscular strength across joints and between opposing muscle groups.  At Athletic Performance Training Center, we employ agonist-antagonist paired sets (for example, pairing a quadriceps exercise with a hamstring exercise) in our Strength training.  In addition to Strength development, this approach has been documented to help reduce the incidence of injuries.

The exercises selected for a resistance training program should reflect the demands and characteristics of the sport.  Exercises should be similar to the movement patterns and ranges of motion, and involve similar muscles (and muscle groups) as the sport.  The program design should also emphasize balance to reduce risk of injury.

Proper exercise technique should be observed and evaluated for all athletes.  If the athlete is incapable of performing an exercise with correct technique, the Strength and Conditioning professional should provide thorough instruction and demonstration.

Obviously, exercise selection will be dependent upon the availability of resistance training equipment.  Additionally, the Strength and Conditioning professional must weigh the value of certain exercises against the time it takes to perform them, given the available time for a training session.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

Your thoughts?

Next: Training Frequency

%d bloggers like this: