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How To Program Med Balls into Your Workouts

Today I have a guest post from a good friend of mine, Nick Esposito.  Nick is a strength and conditioning coach in Waltham, MA at Champion PT and Performance.  He also happens to be a pretty smart kid.  Here is a link to the original article if you have a chance to check out some of his videos too!

How To Program Med Balls into Your Workouts

 

Med Ball Exercises are a great way for a rotational athlete, such as a baseball player, to develop power and strength from their lower body to their upper body.

You often hear about rotational power or kinetic linking…but how do we maximize that?

How does that relate to athletes, especially baseball and softball?

Movements often found in sports are considered ballistic.

What is Ballistic Movement?

“Movements that are performed with maximal velocity and acceleration can be considered ballistic actions. Ballistic actions are characterized by high firing rates, brief contraction times, and high rates of force development.” -Department of Kinesiology, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario.

SO, WHAT ARE SOME OF THE BENEFITS OF MED BALLS?

  • Improved coordination in movements demanding high rate of force development in all planes of motion (rotational power)
  • Improved ability to control and decelerate rotational forces
  • Improved kinetic linking through which helps the ability to generate and transfer force through the body.
  • There is also injury prevention qualities as well. Controlling rotation and deceleration.

After seeing some of those benefits, you can see why Med Balls are commonly seen in sports performance programs.

SETS & REPS

When done right, med balls can be a very demanding on the body, and the central nervous system. We program all med ball work to be done BEFORE any lifting for that day.

We will pick 2-3 med ball drills per workout day that will benefit the athlete the most.

Taking that into consideration, here is a how we commonly program for our athletes:

2 Days a Week Strength Program:

  • 3-4 sets of 5-8 reps

3 Days a Week Strength Program

  • 3 sets of 5-8 reps

4 Days a Week Strength Program

  • 2-3 sets of 5-8 reps

TOP 5 CONSIDERATIONS FOR MED BALLS

STANCE

There are several positions you can begin your med ball exercises in. Typically, I work from the ground up with new athletes. This gives less room for error with form, and a progression to reach in the short and long term goals.

Tall Kneeling (TK)
1/2 Kneeling
Iso-Hold Stance
Split Stance
Athletic Stance
Single Leg

DIRECTION & BALL PATH

Where is the athlete and med balls intended path. Taking the stances from above, now add in the follow 3 items:

What direction the athlete is facing…are the facing the wall, or facing sideways, etc.
Where the ball is starting from. Is the ball starting above their head, at their side, at their hips, etc
Where the Ball is Going. What is the intended target or direction you want to slam/throw the ball?

INITIATION

 

There are typically 3 initiation methods for med ball exercises:

1. Non- Counter Movement

This will be your traditional slam method. Accelerate at the wall, floor or target from a specific starting point.
2. Counter Movement

This will be a movement initiated by a partner or a coil motion. The ball is moving in a against you so that you must stop, load, and then unload in your intended direction.
3. Continuous

This will be a rapid movement…quick and precise. You will commonly see a plyo based or rubber bouncy ball for continuous med ball exercises.

MED BALL TYPES

There are several types of med balls out there. Some have handles, some are large, and some are small. Here are the common types we use with our athletes:

Jam Balls – These balls won’t have much bounce. They are very dense, and can be on the heavier side.
Plyo Balls – These are commonly smaller, and offer a bouncing recoil when you slam it. These are great for continuous and rapid med ball type exercises, and even single leg stance exercises.
Soft Toss Med Ball – Commonly seen in gyms as Dynamax or PB Extreme Balls, these are great for slamming, tossing, and offer many uses.

INTENT

This may be the most important one. For athletes, one of the common goals is becoming faster, and quicker, something med balls are great for. However, many can check their ego at the door and grab the heaviest possible ball to throw or slam…VERY SLOWLY!

If the med ball is going slow, are you truly gaining the benefits of ballistics and what med balls have been proven to help develop…probably not.

You have to put full effort and intent into each throw. Med Ball exercises are truly a “You get what you put into it” exercise.

FIND MORE ABOUT NICK

For more articles like this refer to the link above.  There you can check out some pretty cool videos, articles, maybe even grab some swag.

 

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Why Do You Lift That Much?

So, this past weekend we made a trip to the wonderful vacation destination of Syracuse, NY for my sister’s graduation party extravaganza.  My sister, much like my father is a runner.  If any of you follow me on social media, you’ll know how I feel about the whole running cult.

Running Sucks
One of the coolest t-shirts

With that said, I should say that I do actually like to do sprints following a workout as nothing will make you feel like you’ve accomplished something more.  Not run for 9 miles because gross.  So if you do see me outside running then you should probably run in the same direction really quickly as I’m probably being chased by Sharknado, a lion, or Dunkin’ Donuts advocates.

I was lifting a large cooler out of the car by myself when my father told me to stop because I may hurt myself.  Checking my ego I said, “nah it’s not that heavy, I pull over 400 pounds off the floor”.  When in my habitat, that statement is usually met with some grunts followed by how much others pull.  To people who don’t lift heavy weights often that is a meaningless piece of information.  So he asked, why?

I’m generally pretty quick to fire back at my dad, the only person on the planet who has mastered the ability to find every single one of my buttons of irritation–and press them over and over again for the pure amusement.  This time I still fired back because I like a challenge.  But I stewed over this for a couple of days.

Part of me wanted to say, why do you run?  That’s a silly thing to do.  You can certainly develop your cardiovascular system in many other ways.  Nothing in your life requires you to be good at running.  But, this is more a look at why I like to lift things (don’t make that cliche statement from that stupid commercial about lifting things please!).

A couple of years ago I set a goal to bench over 315, squat and deadlift over 405, clean 275.  None of this is necessary in my day-to-day requirements, however, when demonstrating to my athletes it was important that I could lift a semi respectable amount of weight.  Otherwise they would think that I’m a phony (their words not mine).  Plus, doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results was some smart guy’s (Einstein) definition of insanity.  And I know with my education in physiology that I need to continue to push the status quo in order to achieve adaptation.

Loaded Bar
415 for a couple singles…

School threw my aggressive training routine into the toilet.  Basically, life happens.  Now I’m finally hitting those goals and striving for different ones.

So now I understand why my parents always told me to think before I spoke.  Not only does lifting my goal coddle the ego a little, make sure that the high schoolers don’t chirp, but mostly I lift it because I like to.  The feeling of accomplishing your goals is awesome albeit short lived.  Runner’s want to run for 4 days straight–go ahead.  If you’re goal was to do that and live, then awesome.  If I want to lift a 20 pound cooler out of the trunk of the car without hurting myself, then don’t bend and twist.

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Coaching Cue on the Deadbug

The dead bug is a great tool to use for both rehab and for improving performance in the athletic and general population.  Creating stability with the floor will help the trunk musculature brace appropriately with virtually anyone on the planet being able to figure it out.  There are a couple different ways that you can attack this exercise and I’ll cover that in this article.

The deadbug exercise is used for a variety of reason in strength and conditioning and PT.  In PT, we can use it to help develop the trunk musculature which will potentially give us a better brace for protecting our low back.  Or a better anchor for our hip extensors to fire from (by protecting the integrity of the pelvis).  In strength and conditioning we can use it in a beginner program to help someone find their anterior core.  We can also use it as an offseason type exercise to help the athletes reset.

Generally speaking, when thinking about strengthening the trunk musculature–or core–people immediately think about the 6-pack.  Sure that is an important piece of the puzzle, however, consider all the other parts too.  If you  don’t have the ability to engage that internal Transverse Abdominus you’re going to have issues.  The idea isn’t that you want to live in the 1980’s and make each muscle fire independent of the others (impossible by the way).  Instead, find a way to coordinate all these groups together.

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A common cue that is used to train the deadbug exercise is “push your low back to the floor”.  This will certainly get you to engage your anterior core.  But is it the best way to keep you in a neutral position and bracing?

 

 

 

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Instead, try using a different line of cues.  Let the patient/client use their fingertips to feel the brace.  Simply have them find their ASIS and move in roughly an inch.  As they brace appropriately they should feel their “core” push out into their fingertips.  This is different from trying to suck your belly button to your spine though.  It is more of a hollowing effect similar to that used in gymnastics.

 

This also has an impact on the rest of your body.  If you’re cued to push your low back into the floor you will invariably drive all force into the floor.  But what happens to your upper trunk, neck, head?  If you’re bracing hard enough they’ll come off the floor similar to a crunch.  Fine, if you’re trying to get the anterior core work.  If you’re trying to get those deeper muscles to fire more effectively though, keeping neutral is a little better.  It will allow the patient to keep their head and upper trunk on the floor with the neck finding the natural, neutral position.

Give it a try in your programming and find what works best for you.  Feel free to give some feedback.

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Quick Comment About Sleep

Today is a short post serving more as an addendum to the pool of recovery that we have already dipped our toe into.

Previously, I wrote about how sleep is such a vital component to the recovery process.  I was writing it from a perspective of athlete or performance without really thinking too much about how it also impacts aesthetics.

Sure, if you’re not getting enough sleep following a training session or day, it will take you longer before you’re able to go at 100% efficiency again.  Sure, if you’re not getting enough sleep you’re going to be crabby and probably make a lot of your coworkers/friends a little bothered.  You’re physiology will be a little off because you weren’t able to clear out all the gunk from your CSF.  Common knowledge now that we revisited the idea, right?

Now consider this scenario.  An individual works out 3-4 times per week expending a stupid amount of energy.  They eat mostly whole foods because they’re allegedly allergic to refined sugars and any gluten containing product.  They supplement with BCAAs, hydrolyzed cross-flowed microfiltrated isolate whey protein, organic greens, wild salmon oil, etc.  But they still have a beer gut? How?

They neglected to say that they sleep 3-5 hours a night on average.  That doesn’t really create a great internal situation for your hormone profile.  Cortisol (stress hormone) has received such a negative rep in the physiology world mostly for good reason.  It is necessary, however, in excess can be your own worst enemy.  High cortisol levels can be the result of high stress because you work 5 jobs totaling over 100 hours of work per week–stupid student loans.  You need to make yourself dinner and attempt to go grocery shopping.  Make appearances at family/friends/athletic events.  Even if you did get a perfect 8 hours of sleep per night (56 hours a week) with the 100 hour work week, that leaves you 14 hours to accomplish the other things.  Something has to give and it’s usually sleep.

Boom! Increased cortisol levels.  Not to mention the accompanying stress that tags with all this madness.  Feedback loop says: more cortisol.  Unmanageable levels and you’re left with a petit beer gut even though you haven’t consumed a carbohydrate in about 5 years.  What the what??

Get rid of one of the jobs (as long as you can pay your bills) and start getting some sleep.  Eight hours is recommended but some people need more, some less.  You’re body will thank you, and you’re results in the gym/practice facility will get exponentially better.

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Getting to Overhead Pressing

 

Today I wanted to share a quick breakdown of how we progress to pressing overhead.

A lot of our overhead athletes have difficulty owning the overhead position so we use a variety of methods to help get them there.  We start by reducing the amount of motor control that they need to use by putting them in a tall kneeling position.  This allows them to focus on what the torso is doing.  We also will use the landmine apparatus before they go straight overhead.  This allows them to continue to get strong before they’re truly able to own the overhead position.

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Hang Clean Progressions

Here is a quick video on how we coach athletes to get to a proper hang clean.

If we have a novice athlete in our facility, we generally try and teach them the hang clean first, however, if they aren’t able we will regress.  We will focus on using triple extension, then move to triple extension with the arms, then put it all together over the course of a training block.  These exercises are also great for athletes who do not want to use the hang clean because they’re under the impression that they aren’t good for them.

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Exercises You Love to Hate

We all have an exercise or two that we absolutely hate doing in the gym.  You see it on your program and immediately you want to go back into the locker room, change, and leave because of some made up 24-hour disease you make up to avoid doing that one exercise.  If only there was a way to add an exercise into the one you hate to make it a little more tolerable.

IMG_0105
Hmm…

So, I try to convince you all that you need this particular exercise.  It is something that you’re not good at, and you can’t always just do the things that you’re good at.  If you only do the things that you’re good at here then you’ll develop imbalances, pain, potentially long term injury.  Which is inevitably met with, “I know, but I still don’t like it”.

Unanimously, the Assault or Airdyne sprints are the least favorite.  Personally, I don’t mind the Assault bike, I will choose it as a preferred method of aerobic work because I don’t enjoy running mostly (unless it is after a ball).  I’ve heard it been called a number of different names with words consisting of “death” and “machine”.  I’ll stop and ask why people don’t like it and all I get in return is a shrug of the shoulders or no real reason at all.  I understand, if you told me to run for a prolonged period of time I wouldn’t really be too pleasant about it.  Even sprints, no thanks.

Split squats and rear foot elevated/bulgarian split squats are pretty high up on that list too.

Image-1
Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat

Personally, I have a love-hate relationship with RFE split squats.  I know they’re good for me, I know that I am getting stronger, I can readily see that carryover to performance in other lifts and sprint performance, but they absolutely wipe me out.  I’m virtually junk after doing these.  So the idea of doing anything else afterward is absolutely demoralizing.  Especially if I were to do some sort of HIIT–forget it.  But, like I said, it is a necessary evil. 

There are a few others that I get the mysterious 2 hour sickness report on.  What does everybody else say?

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Passion Fruit

No, this isn’t a plug for a new Drake track.  It is, however, another installment of the exotic fruit segment.  If you’re not familiar yet, I have a strange fascination with trying new foods when I go to the store, more particularly exotic fruit because I can have it at work as a snack.  Simply walk in the store, find the most bizarre thing that I haven’t tried before, buy it (or have the gf do it for me).

IMG_1816
Leah packed another gem recently, passionfruit.  This one is a little more messy to deal with so I suggest a spoon, bowl, and of course a knife.  At first glance it doesn’t seem like much, just a little green ball.  The more shriveled.., the more ripe.  There was more to the description there, but not very P.C.  Cut the thing in half and you get a neon goop that you scoop out.  It’s a very unique flavor, tart to say the least, but I personally like that sort of thing.

 

IMG_1817

Alright, it tastes good but what else?  It is a sweet treat having less than 100 Calories if you count those things.  Mostly consisting of sugar and fiber, but keep it context related here.  Natural sugar from fruit isn’t the same as an Oreo.  Contains a number of micronutrients like, Vitamin A, a few B, C, K also calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, sodium, and phosphorus to name just a few.

 

I guess there are a couple different kinds.  As long as they taste similar I’m good.  I would definitely enjoy this more at home than to look like a slob at work.

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Core is more than a 6 Pack

There are certain things in the strength and conditioning/personal training field that make you cringe every time you hear them.  Core is toward the top of that list, however, sometimes living in cliche phrases is what we need to do in order to communicate better with our patients/clients.

To better define what it is, let’s describe what connects to it.

First and foremost, when we think of the core, we think of the 6 pack–known as the rectus abdominus.  The muscle is essentially a sheet that connects the front portion of your ribs to the front of you pelvis.  It gets it’s shape from a central tendon–linea alba–and tendons that run horizontally from there.

But, if that was all there was, we would be in trouble.  We have external obliques, internal obliques, and transverse abdominus that all band together to create a lattice of protection.  This is great, because without this protection we would basically rupture our internal organs housed in the area.

If we all addressed the strength and endurance of this area we would probably all be a little better off.  However, that is definitely not all that represents the core.  We have these fancy postural muscles that help hold us upright.  Commonly referred to the erector spinae group which is composed of three different pairs of muscles along the spine.  There are little tiny muscles that run between each vertebra in the spine, there is the QL, which runs from the hips to the lower ribs.  There is the iliopsoas group that runs from the lower spine to the hips.  One of the bigger players, I feel, is the lats.  They run from the upper arm and course all the way down to the hips.  They can create shoulder stability and a great extension moment in the spine.

Clearly, it is difficult to find balance.  Any imbalance, if great enough, will create movement dysfunction and surely pain.  In my experience, the majority of kids coming in can’t do a pull up or even some sort of inverted row which is essentially a lesser version.  They also present with a great amount of anterior tilt showing that their abs probably aren’t working all that well.  How do they conquer gravity then?

When taking part in a workout program, especially in the lower training ages (you haven’t worked out in a couple of months) then make sure to keep it semi balanced.  Realize that all your big lifts essentially have an extension moment on the spine, really requiring those meaty lats to hold down the fort.  I would encourage you to find some sort of flexion moment at the trunk level.

Please leave any feedback below!

 

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I Thought Trunk Flexion was Bad?

I was sitting down the other day writing some programs out and got to thinking, which is usually dangerous.  Fortunately, my head didn’t explode.  Instead, I was thinking about how I like to program–balanced.  For a general population, I’ll make sure to keep the pushes and pulls pretty even, accounting for volume and intensity.  The knee dominant and hip dominant variety also remains pretty equal.  Of course we have to take into account how the individual presented in the assessment piece, but keeping things simple, that’s how it generally looks.

If I see an individual come in with downwardly rotated shoulders that are painful or not painful (without going into the physical therapy), I’ll start thinking that giving that individual some exercises to encourage upward rotation would be a good thing so that I can get them back to neutral.

Bottom line: if I can keep opposition/apposition balanced, things will be all good.

Now, let’s cannonball right into this rabbit hole.  Think about all those hip hinge and knee dominant exercises, those bench presses and those rowing patterns.  We are just encouraging extension.  Even if you consider the corrective exercises that you may or may not sprinkle into the program, extension of some sort…usually.  In fact, trunk flexion has such a negative stigma attached to it.  It was a witch hunt for a while I think.

IMG_1792
Most Basic Extension Pattern

Who doesn’t love deadlifts?  They’re tremendously basic, reinforce movement patterns for the future for jumping or olympic lifting.  Conventional, sumo, RDL, trap bar, single leg–so much variety.  But, they’re still extension in it’s most basic form.

So now what, just do crunches?  Not exactly.  We can still think smarter when it comes to this whole flexion thing.

IMG_1793
Rarely do I wear white sox, don’t judge

Taken straight from the “smarter people than me” playbook, the reverse crunch. Here you are getting some external oblique (because of the line of pull), rectus abdominus, and of course transverse abdominus.  We can further challenge the exercise by getting rid of the wall or weight to hold on.  Those pesky internal obliques are left out which is something beyond the scope of this article.

This is just one option.  There are a number of different exercises you can place in here to combat the constant stress of extension.

Add your favorite.