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Program Design

One of the first steps to designing a program for any athlete or client should be to answer the basic questions: Who, what, where, when, why, and how?  If we take the time to critically analyze each of these questions when writing out programs, it takes a lot of guessing out of the equation and makes exercise selection, volume, and intensity much more justifiable.

Who is this new client/athlete? Are they a 10 year old who needs to develop a better foundation, or an IT whiz who is great at what they do but doesn’t understand how to get results at the gym?  Whatever the scenario may be, there are a spectrum of exercises that may not be warranted for either individual in the beginning.  Here, our biggest bang for our buck is going to be exposure to as many simple exercises as we can in a logical manner.  It’s not until we get the college or professional/olympic athlete that we start to get very specialized with our programs, or the individual with a huge training age (consistent number of years training).

What is the client/athlete training for?  This will dictate what you’re going to do and how long your cycles are going to last.  If you’re dealing with a strict weight loss or general health client, there is no real competition to peak for unless they have a particular date in mind for a wedding or vacation for example.  Athletes may warrant a little more planning here based on their test performance in the beginning.

Where?  This question can be asked a couple different ways.  Where is the training going to take place?  Is it going to be at your facility under your guidance?  Or could they be doing this on their own either at their home or at a commercial gym?  This could take some serious critical thinking about logistics.  You may have all the equipment that you need, but their commercial gym may not.  It may require that we make tweeks here or there to make the program work.  The other way to read this question is, where does the client or athlete hope to be at the end of this?  Maybe you have an NFL prospect that expects to be a high draft pick based on the combine that you are helping them prepare for.  Or maybe it’s a 12 year old trying to make the club hockey team in town.

When?  When in the day is the training going to take place?  When in the week?  Will this individual fit in with a similar group of individuals?

Why is a huge question to ask throughout the whole periodization process.  It may seem like a redundant question in some respects, but bear with me.  Why is this client or athlete coming to you?  Why are you going to use a particular exercise?  Can we justify everything that we are going to do with this person or are we just putting in fillers?  Every exercise or task must have a reason.  With our overweight client it could be simply that this particular exercise is extremely metabolically demanding.  For an athlete it could be speed work.  For anyone, the correctives should be placed to achieve an optimal position for the joints in the body.

How are you going to make this come together?  Are you going to use any particular system to make this work?  Sit down and plan this thing out.  I was once taught by someone much smarter than myself to start at the end.  That’s how I personally start my program design and it seems to work.  If someone simply just wants to get bigger, how are you going to do that?  Faster? Skinnier?  Plan it out.

That’s the basic jist.  It helps tremendously to sit down and ask yourself all these questions when you write programs.  KISS-Keep It Simple S… is an acronym that one of my mentors likes to use often and it has been probably one of my best tools in the toolbox.  Putting someone on a physio ball balancing doing squats while performing some Harlem Globetrotter ball spinning isn’t going to make anyone better, but, it will probably get someone hurt.  If not physically then maybe emotionally for the trainer/coach because their clientele isn’t getting better.  I digress.  Keep it simple.


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Exercise Order & Selection Part II

As previously discussed, we need to think about what we are going to do with our clients/athletes based off whatever testing criteria you have used.  This will dictate the corrective exercise selection that we will use to make the movement better.  You can find the discussion here.

After we have done a thorough warm-up and have finished our movement and plyometric series, we can get into the lift.  The questions are: What exercises am I going to put into the lift?  What is the overall training effect I am trying to achieve?  How much volume/intensity/load am I going to place on the individual?  These and in addition to how much rest will I need to provide?  How much time do I have with said athlete/client?  These are all great questions which will hopefully be answered below.


When working with a general population or athletic population that is coming to your facility, the restrictions aren’t as great.  There is virtually an open window of time to work with these individuals depending on their schedule.  Generally speaking, you can take your general population through a balanced session in 45-75 minutes depending on the difficulty of the day.  However, working with a high school or college team the demands are quite different.  If the athletes are in-season, the coaching staff may not even want the athletes to be training in the weight room.  To performance/strength and conditioning coaches this is absolutely frustrating, but that is a different conversation.  There is a total coaching contact time that the NCAA places on the athletes on a day to day basis that really makes it necessary to have your sessions planned very well.  Additionally, at the high school level, some kids play multiple sports throughout the year.  If a kid plays all three seasons and all three of the coaches don’t want to lift during the season, that kid will potentially not lift unless they’re hanging out with their buddies at the local commercial gym doing curls.  On top of that, this same athlete is most definitely participating in one or more summer sporting camps or club teams.  This potential athlete will more than likely burn out or get injured really quick.


With the general population and younger athletes, pick the exercises that are most important.  Depending on who you follow, the exercises will almost always include some sort of squatting, hinging, upper body pushing, upper body pulling, and some even say carries and ground work.  Put the more demanding exercises toward the beginning of the workout when the athlete is fresh.  To save time pair the upper and lower body exercises in a series or circuit.  This will minimize how much time the athlete is standing around watching the clock.  Unless of course, you are working with a very specialized population of lifters such as powerlifters or olympic lifters.  Even then you can provide the athlete with some sort of active recovery to perform.  Maybe you have a powerlifter who can’t squat all the way into the hole, hip correctives!  Or an olympic lifter who is lacking full shoulder flexion, shoulder correctives.  This is of course broad and basic, but that is probably the most important lesson: Keep It Simple!!

Training Effect

The training effect should also be simple.  If you’re working with general population who just wants to lose weight then make them move using a variety of exercises mentioned above.  They just want to be healthy? Keep a balanced program with regular testing built-in, in addition to every 8-12 weeks.  For an athlete it is usually be faster, stronger, more powerful, or move better.  In the beginning this is really simple.  If you have a young athlete who has virtually no training age they’re an open book.  Develop the foundation with this population!!!  They do not need the same specialized training that the Division 1 or professional athletes are getting.  Instead, make them really good at squatting, hinging, pushing, and pulling.  The athlete will achieve all of their goals.  It’s when their numbers start to plateau that we need to consider different methods.  As the athlete gets older, keep them consistent with their strength and conditioning work.


This is where semantics get involved.  Having just been to Joel Jamieson’s Certified Conditioning Coach (CCC) course, there are a whole host of things that could contribute to an athlete or client not performing.  As human beings, life has a funny way of getting in the way.  Whether it’s breaking up with a significant other, midterms, poor nutrition, fighting a cold, or bad sleep there are a lot of variables that can influence the outcome.  Having the athlete or client fill out some sort of subjective report when they walk in the door will help you as the coach determine what potential they have.  If you’re rolling in dough, you can invest in a product like the Omega Wave that will give you as the coach huge insight into the state of the athletes nervous system/well-being.


I hope that this has provided some insight to the beginning of program design.  These questions as well as many more are constantly circulating in my head and in conversation between myself and other coaches.  Please provide feedback in the comments section.

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Mobility vs. Stability: Part 2

Previously I wrote an article discussing the importance of mobility and stability functionally.  To quickly recap, the joint-by-joint approach discusses where in the body we need stability and where we need mobility.  In the cases where we don’t have appropriate stability or mobility, the joints on either side will try and pick up the slack so we can still achieve our projected outcome.  It only seems fitting that the low back be discussed first as it is a huge disabling feature in our society.

Without even concerning the muscles and other soft tissue structures that surround our low back, we can take a look at just the bony anatomy.  In a number or cadaver studies they have found that the lumbar spine is capable of flexion and extension without damage to the bony structures in the area.  However, rotation is extremely limited totaling just five degrees of rotation on average throughout the entire lumbar segment of the spine.  In other studies to come up with better prediction rules in physical therapy, researchers wanted to know if movement is strict or if there is coupling that occurs.  Just like everything in the human body, there is often not just one strict movement that occurs.  For example, when an individual side bends their trunk in the low back area specifically there is also an associated rotation that must occur.  As we just learned from the bony anatomy, that can’t happen in excess without causing bony damage or even disc damage.

The muscles in the low back really are postural in nature.  Standing against gravity is pretty good strength training for these small muscles.  Sometimes these small muscles will go into protective spasm which will try to limit any movement in the low back.  This could be from years of faulty movement without addressing the issue, or it could be from a traumatic event like flexing or extending and twisting your low back trying to deadlift.  Complete violation of the crap test (if it looks, smells, tastes, or feels like crap it is probably crap).


The other soft tissue structures in the area are things like the ligaments, disc, cartilage, and other vessels.  There are a number of ligaments in the area that span either the entire spine or from one vertebra to the next.  They really protect the spine from excessive flexion and extension, but just like anything else in the body they can stretch or rupture.  The disc being one of the more notable ruptures (herniation) because it is filled with a material that causes local inflammation as well as the space between the vertebrae to become less.  This will in turn cause nerve root irritation, protective spasm of local muscles, potential stenosis (narrowing of the canal the spinal cord is in) for us stubborn individuals, pain, walking silly, not wanting to get out of bed, etc.


A lot of times low back pain is self inflicted with terrible mechanics.  Sometimes though, faulty movement patterns may be the result of poor mobility through not only the vertebrae in the low back, but also the hips or the thoracic spine (where the ribs connect to your spine).  It could also be from a weak abdominal musculature that doesn’t brace or stabilize the low back well.  If one has an abnormally large belly, this could cause a lot of stress through the low back as well.  The list goes on and on, but the screening tools we use should show us something.  Address the triplanar mobility of the hips, the rotation and extension quality of the thoracic spine, the strength and endurance of the abdominal muscles, and as a general recommendation to lose that Milwaukee tumor!  These are all generalizations of course, but it is a good starting point for most individuals.


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Exercise Order & Selection

Exercise order and selection are such a basic piece of programming, however, I feel that a lot of people in the field disregard these fundamental pieces.  Walk into any commercial gym, “box”, or even some strength and conditioning facilities and you will most likely witness clear violations of physiology.  In some instances this may be warranted, like when working with athletes or individuals with high training ages.  The bottom line is smart planning with your clientele will always pay off in the end.

The Rules

The rules are really quite simple and almost come off as common sense.  Would it make sense to do Hang Cleans at the end of a workout when you’re tired and have a limited energy reserve? Probably not.  Programming something like a clean at the end of a workout for a novice lifting population will simply increase the likelihood of injury.  As professionals in the field we should be aiming at total safety first.


Assuming that we have gone through an initial evaluation with our client to see if any deficiencies exist, our warm-up should include any correctives to address these deficiencies.  This section will include soft tissue mobilization, mobility work, turning on muscles that we want to use, and a dynamic warm-up that will mimic a lot of the movements that will be done in the session to come.  Simply getting on a bike and “warming up” for 5 minutes is not the same, but at least it will increase the body temperature–better than nothing, but very inefficient.

Why the Correctives?

We have to keep in mind that the most important exercises need to be done first in the workout.  Correcting any movement deficiencies is extremely important to our well-being especially if we will be lifting weights or performing anything in life from athletic events to simply walking our dog.  The bottom line is, that these corrective exercises are laying the foundation for our movement going forward.  Some will say that corrective exercises really aren’t that demanding and that it is more of a filler, and in some instances that may be correct, but I would definitely argue that if we are making someone do a corrective exercise for a range of motion they weren’t able to get in, especially because of motor control or positional faults, that it is extremely demanding for the individuals nervous system to try and coordinate this new-found position.

Owning the Deep Squat

Now the Movement

Depending on the time of year, the next piece of the puzzle is going to be to actually move.  This is the section that we can put our sprint progressions or lateral movement progressions in.  Things like agility ladder, wall sprints, partner chases, etc will be found here.  This is totally appropriate for athletes trying to get better for a sporting event.  But wait, everyone is an athlete, right?  That is the truth, but it may not be the most intelligent idea to make our 40+ year old clients run sprints or cutting maneuvers.  One could absolutely do that, however, the risk-reward ratio just isn’t that great in my opinion.  Instead, we can program in some sled marches and weighted carries.  I will do this for the younger population too, but, way more appropriate for our older adults than sprinting and cutting would be.

Here is also where you will find plyometrics, again, depending on the time of year.  Bounding, medicine ball throws, hurdles, etc are all good examples.  Be smart about programming for your older client base!  Choosing a lower impact plyometric may be a much more intelligent option then having them do single leg hurdle hops, just saying.


Why do I keep saying: “depending on the time of year”?  In the offseason and preseason phases it makes perfect sense to ramp up the intensity over time.  While in-season, the athletes will be practicing on the field, ice, or court and will not need any further work there.  The coaches will be doing sprint or running drills as they see fit. The coaches will also make the athletes live in game-like situations.  That is the best possible sport-specific activity an athlete can do.  That is not to say that we will not be lifting in-season, because we absolutely will.  More on that to come (Part II).

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Mobility vs. Stability: Part 1

The topic of mobility and stability seems to be a very popular one.  In the field we have a group of individuals who claim there is way too much corrective exercise taking place; and, on the other side we have a group of individuals who will spend an entire hour performing correctives.  So the question is, what do you need and how much time should you be spending on it?  The easy answer is you need both and you should spend time on whatever needs correcting, but don’t forget about what you’re training for in the first place.

Mobility and stability are at the crux of neurological physical therapy, the foundation.  In physical therapy, it is taught that everyone first needs mobility everywhere.  Without mobility one can never truly gain proper stability.  Once mobility is acquired we can now focus on stability, and then follow the continuum through dynamic stability and skill acquisition.

If we follow Coach Boyle, co-owner of Mike Boyle Strength & Conditioning as well as many others, and physical therapist Gray Cook, the co-founder of Functional Mobility Systems, we will know of the joint-by-joint approach.  Basically the joint-by-joint approach explains that there are certain joints that need mobility and certain joints that need stability in the functional model.  The hip for example should have three planes of mobility and the knee should have stability acting like a hinge joint.


When starting an initial evaluation with a new athlete, we should include some sort of movement screen that looks at the quality of movement at each joint.  Based on this knowledge we can assess what kind of corrective exercise is necessary.  For instance, if we are going to program an athlete to perform any overhead exercise, an overhead press or snatch for example, we should first make sure that the athlete can actively get their arm into that range without a weight first.  If they cannot, they will then sacrifice the stability of the necessary joints to attain the mobility they cannot already achieve.  If they are lacking shoulder flexion at the shoulder joint (glenohumeral joint) the will then subconsciously look to the next joint–scapulothoracic or thoracic (shoulder blade or upper back respectively)–to get their arm to get into the fully flexed overhead position.  This will create a cascade of issues both up and down the line like hyperextension in the lower back or flexion of the neck just to maintain their body within it’s base of support so the individual does not lose balance, which may also happen.


Another example, if the ankle joint does not have the proper amount of dorsiflexion (think toes toward shin bone) there is no way that they can achieve a proper squat without lifting their heel.  Simply coaching the athlete to keep their weight in their heels is ineffective in this instance.

Stability is necessary for the muscles performing an action to have a platform in which to push against.  In the case of the shoulder joint, the shoulder blade and it’s articulation with the rib cage (scapulothoracic joint) is a stable joint in which the muscles of the rotator cuff, the trapezius, the deltoids, biceps, and triceps, etc. all anchor to the shoulder blade.  If the shoulder blade doesn’t have proper stability then we can see a whole host of issues that will be created including rotator cuff tears, biceps tendonitis, trigger points throughout the upper traps just to name a few.

The complexity is in the instance when a stable joint must become mobile.  In life events and sport, sometimes it is necessary for that very same shoulder joint to move around to create a good angle for the shoulder to move.  The point is that the shoulder blade remain stable when a demand is in fact imposed upon it.

shoulder blade upward rotation and protraction

More on this post soon to come

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Why a Minimalist Solution for an Active Population?

There has been a popular movement as of late regarding the minimalist-type shoe for cross-training, sports performance, and general public use.  Like many products released for consumer use, it falls under the “shoot, ready, aim” category where the shoe brand will say that they have done numerous research studies (totally unbiased) and claim wonders for the near future—remember sketcher shape-ups??
Personally, I like to have my athletes choose a minimalist type footwear for their performance training, depending on the structure of their foot.  Mostly, I prefer to have them use the minimalist footwear with single-leg work, mobility/stability drills, and for movement prep.  The impact is lower on the system, and it also enhances the individual’s proprioception through the lower extremity.  I’ve written a previous article about this here.
In a recent research article released this June (2015), researchers were studying the acute effects of footwear on jumping performance.  There was a difference in the peak propulsion, horizontal ground reaction force, average muscle activity, propulsive duration, and duration of muscle activity during countermovement.  But, participants reported feeling more comfortable in cushioned shoes…shocking (1).
In August 2014, a study was done looking at mechanics of running on the foot using barefoot or shod conduits.  Bottom line of this research, when barefoot, individuals demonstrated more range of motion.  Not only did they demonstrate greater range of motion, it was range of motion in ideal ranges.  At foot strike, it is optimal for the foot to be pronated so that it is flexible and can absorb the impact forces (2).
May 2015, a study looking at loading response in barefoot vs. shod running found that there is less hip adduction, internal rotation, and opposite hip drop at impact and at a later point.  Increased adduction, internal rotation, and opposite hip drop is associated with knee injury giving another great reason to introduce barefoot style training to our athletes (3).
Many of the studies written about barefoot/minimalist training versus supported training/running are weak at best, in violation of some sort of error typically.  The studies I’ve cited here have a fair number of participants, however, it doesn’t fix the many extraneous variables that may have an impact.
Even with all of this information presented, I am not an extremist and don’t believe that it is all or none.  For instance, if you work on your feet all the time, maybe wearing some sort of support on your feet is a great idea.  If you’re a competing powerlifter or Olympic lifter, wearing appropriate shoes for your sport is necessary (outside the movement prep).  If your feet ache, wear some sort of support to relieve the soreness, just don’t come to rely on the support as the potential for the small muscles of the feet weakening, therefore, increasing the potential for injury.
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The Freshman 15

This guest post comes from my good friend Pat Donovan who has worked as a strength and conditioning coach and is currently a pitching/assistant coach at Assumption College in the greater Worcester area. Enjoy!
Going to college can be tough, especially for someone who is playing collegiate athletics. You are pretty much starting over, essentially hitting the reset button to everything you have done in high school. Being back at the bottom of the totem pole, and the new guy on campus. Being away from home, most student athletes will not have any experience about the college life, and how to handle themselves inside and outside of the classroom. As a former student athlete, and now college coach, here are 15 guidelines that will help all the “rookies” give them their best chance to succeed.
This is how you are going to life your life for at least the next four years of your life.  Family comes before anything! Blood is thicker than water, never forget that! If you do not do well in the classroom, you will not be playing your sport.
#2. GO TO CLASS!!!
I know this might sound ridiculous, but the fact of the matter is that most freshman are ineligible academically is because they do not go to class.  If you don’t go to class you are going to be lost when it comes to test and homework. Showing up is half the grade (believe it or not!). Mommy and Daddy are not here to wake you up, take responsibility for yourself and get to class.
Introduce yourself to all of your teachers the first week of school. Tell them that you play athletics at the school. Teachers will respect you for it, and most of them will work with you as best they can when classes have to be missed. Some of them are even ex-student/athletes themselves, and this is a great way to build a good relationship, connections, and well as a possible good reference.
Get into a routine ASAP when you figure out your school and practice/game schedule. Figure out what works best for you, whether it is before or after practice. Get as much accomplished in the offseason academically. Get your GPA as high as possible, because when in-season, you will miss class and might fall behind as a result. Keep that cumulative GPA high!
I know everyone needs his or her beauty rest, so get to bed early! Take as many early classes as possible. By doing this you will have less of a chance having a conflict with sports and athletics.  It will give you a chance to get more studying done. You will be able to attend more classes, and as a result you should get a better grade in the class. Lets be honest, no one wants to go to class after a tough practice or game.
#6. BE SMART                                                                                            
I mean be smart by having Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Reasonable, Timed goals for yourself academically and athletically.  Challenge yourself to be a better student/athlete.
Not only do you represent yourself, you represent your entire team. When someone gets in trouble, the first thing people say is, “Oh yea, he/she plays on that team.” Your team is your second family; treat them like one, since you will be with them 9 out of the 12 months of the year. Your actions have a bigger consequence that you think. Don’t embarrass yourself, your family, and your team by making dumb decisions.
You were a stud in high school, and were recruited to play at a higher level. Remember, everyone who is playing in college was all-conference, an all-star, etc.… just like you. Coaches will build up your ego to get you to come to the respective school. Now you have to work even harder to beat out the upper classmen that have done it already. Expect to play, but do not be discouraged or surprised when you don’t get as much playing time as you want. Do as much as you can to help the team on the bench, make the team better anyway you can!
The offseason is where most gains are made. In-season is maintaining what you have. The S&C program is going to prepare your body for the upcoming season. The program is designed to make you bigger, faster, and stronger for the respective sport. It is designed to help your body not to break down and help reduce injuries from occurring. It is not designed for you to look good at the beach! Would you rather look good or play good?
Athletic trainers are there to help you. One myth is that going to the trainer makes you a wuss, or that you are weak. This is absolutely couldn’t be farther from the truth. Trainers are there to help take care of your body and to steer you in the right direction of how to get back to 100% and back on the field/court as soon as possible.
It is good to have self -confidence, but people do not like arrogance. If upper classmen, coaches, professors, trainers, or anyone else who has been in your situation before is trying to help you, LET THEM DO IT. Even if you know the answer already let them teach you, be humble and receptive to constructive criticism. Ask questions when you have them, and be a sponge by watching how other people act and carry themselves. Remember, no one likes a smart ass!
Parents are not stupid, you are in college with minimum supervision, and you are going to probably see what a Bud Light tastes like.  It is ok to go out with the team and “bond”, and strengthen your relationships with your teammates. However, the longer you are out “bonding” the better the chance something bad is going to happen.  After 2am nothing good is going to happen, whether is be a fight, police coming, or having too much to drink. It is ok to go out and have a good time, but make sure you take care of #1 (yourself), and if you see any of your teammates about to do something stupid, step in and help out. They might be mad at you that night, but they will respect you in the morning.
Be smart when you are traveling on the road for games. Chances are there are other teams of the opposite sex that might be staying in the same hotel or complex that you stay at. Some kids might have some urges or feelings to hang out with them. It’s not as publicized in college as it is in the pros, but accusations of rape do occur. This can ruin your team, your career, and life. Also, no one plans to get pregnant while playing college athletics. So just a reminder to men and women’s teams to try to keep those hormones in check and channel it onto the field/court.
Surround yourself with good people. You should be smart enough to decipher between people who want to achieve and people who want to be complacent.  Surround yourself with people who are going to challenge you athletically and academically. If you surround yourself with good people, good things will happen. If you surround yourself with “bad” people, you are guilty by association.
College athletics is not Little League. You are going to have to earn everything you get. No matter how hard you thing you are working, someone on another team is working just as hard, if not, harder than you.  Hard work beats talent, when talent doesn’t work hard. You only have four years left to play the sport that you love, and it will fly by quicker than you think, so make sure you leave without any regrets.
To all other high school student/athletes that are not looking at colleges yet:
Don’t limit your athleticism, don’t specialize for a specific sport, as a result there is a higher chance that you will have an overuse issue. Coaches want athletes, not A baseball player, or A field hockey player, or A basketball player. They want someone who is well rounded, and as a result they will succeed at the higher level.
Donovan is a 2008 graduate of the UMass Lowell with a Bachelors degree in Exercise Physiology and Minor in Nutrition(Cum Laude). In his two years at Lowell, he was a two-time First Team All-Northeast-10 Conference Selection, as well as being a two-time First Team All- New England Selection. In his two years he set the program record for saves in a single season and saves in a career.
Prior to Lowell, Donovan played two years at UMass Boston, in which he was named Little East Conference Rookie of the Year and was a two time Little East All-Conference Selection as both a pitcher and outfielder.
Upon completion of his collegiate career, signed to play for the Ottawa Rapidz of the Independent Can-Am Baseball League for the summer of 2008
He coached at Lowell High and Dracut High from 2008-2010. After that he became the pitching coach for Lesley University from 2011-2013. In 2014 he was appointed to pitching coach at Assumption College in 2014, and is still currently coaching the Greyhounds.
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Chest Up, Ribs Down

Todays guest post comes from a good friend of mine who is a great Strength & Conditioning coach and on his way to becoming a great physical therapist.  We first met interning for UMass Lowell Sports Performance and continue to run into each other. Enjoy!
A Rib Flare

Having the rib cage in extension, or flared up is disadvantageous for numerous reasons. It is likely to cause excessive extension of the lumbar spine. It masks true shoulder flexion by compensating to achieve the full range of motion. The two diaphragms are not aligned, and therefore inter-abdominal pressure cannot be created as well as it could. It also puts the rectus abdominis and core musculature in a stretched state. Whether a client has an anterior pelvic tilt, back pain, tight hip flexors, a stiff t-spine or other similar issues from compensatory movements I believe it is important, and often overlooked to focus on the rib positioning first before implementing several corrective exercises.

The Problem with Cueing

While walking through most strength and conditioning facilities or gyms you’re bound to hear the cues “ribs down” and “chest up”. The issue is both of these cues cannot be used for the same exercise. Asking someone to put their ribs down and then their chest up will result in them looking very uncomfortable. Try it.

Why do we say ribs down? Many coaches are very cognizant about the rib flare and do not want their clients ribs to flare in any movement pattern. Coaches, trainers, and therapists today are becoming more and more aware of how important breathing is throughout movement as well. Whether we are incorporating diaphragmatic breathing, teaching our clients about tension and breathing or learning about PRI, we all know a rib flare signifies dysfunction. With the ribcage in extension, it is very difficult to contract the core muscles. If you stand up and exaggerate a rib flare and then try to contract your core muscles, or “get tight as if someone is going to punch you in the stomach” your rib flare will immediately disappear. Your core will now be truly braced by contracting the abdominals, the diaphragms are aligned to now incorporate proper breathing and generate inter-abdominal pressure and most importantly the spine (lumbar in particular) is in a neutral position. A rib flare and extension of the spine are the same position. One cannot be done without the other.

Rib Positioning Through a Squat and Hinge

Many coaches focus on the rib positioning when the client is standing or kneeling. For example, attention is focused here while watching people overhead press especially. When clients are hinging or squatting, suddenly the focus goes directly to how the spine looks and not the ribs. The back becomes the focus because we want our clients to protect themselves from injury. Looking at the back and making sure the spine’s not in flexion and has a “small lorodic curve” is simply not enough. Just because a client’s back looks flat, does not mean that their core can fire and brace properly to pick up a heavy load. The client can be in a good-looking hinge position, the back can be flat and the ribs can be flared. Now their spine will not have the assistance and protection from the core as they complete the deadlift. The focus should be put on having the client drive their ribs down as they exhale, that will automatically take care of putting the spine into proper alignment and then they can create tension AND contract their core to throughout the movement.

Continuing with the hip hinge and deadlift idea, what if the client still has slumped shoulders? I believe we cue our clients to have a big chest with the intention for them to retract their shoulders, the gleno- humeral joint, to take them out of that forward slumped posture. Chest up, and retracting the gleno-humeral joint are very different things. When we retract our gleno- humeral joints, we are able to keep our ribs down and fire our core all at the same time. If we instead cue “shoulders back” or “squeeze your shoulder blades” the clients traps and rhomboids will fire as they jam their scapulas together hard enough to come into spinal extension again.
Everyone knows the lats need to fire and create tension through a deadlift but I believe, and have witnessed that this has been somewhat forgotten because we are all trying to avoid flexion. The shoulder blades do not need to be squeezed together throughout a deadlift. Teaching the client to fire their lats correctly by squeezing their armpits, drawing their shoulders down, bending/breaking the bar to create tension through the lats, or squeezing their arms against the side of their body will take the client far. Firing the lats correctly will enable the client to keep their ribs down, core firing, shoulder joints retracted, take tension away from the traps, prevent spinal extension and let the scapulas sit and stabilize in their natural position through the movement. A great way to introduce a client their latissimus dorsi is to have them perform a cable row, then cue them to draw their elbow toward their hip as they row. Teach the client how to breathe, how to activate their lats properly, how to eliminate their rib flare and truly contract their core through a hip hinge and squat.
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BSMPG: Day 2 Notes

The first lecture was great as it pertained to changing behavior, and I don’t mean seeing a psychologist/psychiatrist.  Some fundamental ideas to consider are to involve the people in goal setting and what activities are going to better the outcome.  Allow failure. Focus on the challenge. Science will help. And something that has been said to me regarding athletic programming since the beginning is “build a plan that starts at the end”.  The data we collect isn’t very predictable, instead it is much more complex than that.  To find the solution–emergence–we must follow the lessons from above and create viable solutions.  This seems like a complex mash of words, but quite simply we need to, as coaches/clinicians, question everything that we do on a daily basis.  Doing this, we can reflect on the basic lessons to create a behavioral change in our athletes/clients.  There is a time and place to try “new ideas” to add to your programs, and that time is early in the novice training cycle.  This way we can decide early what will work and what will create a stagnant environment.
As promised from the Day 1 write up, collaboration is a great way to create success.  Listening to the Canadien Basketball Performance Team, the main takeaway was clearly that communication between the different fields of study was essential for a fluid environment, as it also eliminated most of the ladder effect which is created in most scenarios.  Nutrition is able to communicate with Strength & Conditioning to let the coach know that player may not be performing as well today because of poor diet choices, this way the S&C coach knows not to absolutely hold the athlete at the same percentile projected for the day.  This is a simple example, however, take away this communication avenue and the S&C coach doesn’t know anything about what is going on with the athlete other than that athlete isn’t able to achieve the same 5 rep percentage that was projected for the training that day.  The coach then believes that it has something to do with program design not meeting the needs for the athlete, and so goes the tailspin (among other reasons).
Finally, to wrap up this event, I was able to see the integration of some “new” tactics into the evaluation process for an initial eval with a patient.  This is something that is difficult in my young therapist mind to do because everything was so concrete in the evaluation process in school.  The follow through of what the information was saying is incomprehensible to some of my peers, however, it works–and there is plenty of research to support it.  When broken down, the body is absolutely assymetrical, and to achieve symmetry would require a new human design.  I digress.  Bottom line, Orthopedics is neuro and neuro is ortho.  One cannot exist without the other, therefore, both need to be considered in treatment.  And so to create optimal motor learning, especially in the beginning a blocked program must be used, rather than throwing everything against the wall to see what sticks.
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BSMPG: Day 1 Notes

What a great experience collaborating with experts in the field, learning from some of the most forward thinking professionals, and applying some fundamentals from both a physiology and therapy point of view.  This started off with a bang.
Day 1: The day started off with two awesome keynote lectures that were connected by a great point of stress and stress management.  The human body will ABSOLUTELY always have stress.  And as human beings we will always find a way to cope with that stress or develop pathology.  As humans there are a number of coping factors that will help to alleviate the “negative stress” that we encounter, mainly stress relieving activities like meditation and through friendship and communication, which are pretty safe and positive events that we can partake in.  However, we can teach all the stress relieving/meditation type activities we want to an individual, but the individual must “like” the activity if they’re going to actually use it—what good is yoga if the client/patient finds it tedious and annoying?
How Buster must feel during Pat's season
How Buster must feel during Pat’s season
By evaluating the client/patient, we can see exactly what state of stress the autonomic nervous system is in.  In athletics, basically every powerful movement is an explosive extension patter.  What if the person already lives in extension though (closing down the posterior mediastinum mainly the sympathetic trunk—T1-L1)?
Do we really want anyone driving into explosive hyperextension?  This is a great point, especially if we consider the huge movement to teach breathing techniques to our athletic population (athlete is anyone who walks really, not just the people you see performing on TV!).  If we as clinicians/performance coaches remember our anatomy, specifically of the diaphragm, we will remember that their exists an asymmetry in the size and shape from side to side.  This is necessary to accommodate the large filter/processor of the liver on the right side and the tremendously vital pump of a heart on the left side.  So, the right side takes on a much more “dome-like” shape while the left is “flattened”.  This makes the right side much more efficient for breathing as it has more potential to drive down during inhalation.  Don’t stop there though, the right side of the diaphragm also has its distal attachments ½ to 1 full lumbar vertebral level lower than the left.  So not only does the right diaphragm become more of the “breathing” portion of the diaphragm, but it also creates an internal torsional component—coupled with the traditional hyperinflated state of most individuals is a disaster waiting to happen.  We will be left with an athlete who is unable to breathe properly, rotate through their trunk, and hangs out with the bulk of their center or mass on their right heel.  Remember when your mother said: “stop making that face or it will stay like that”? That’s basically what the response is in the body, a left anterior tipped innominate (hip bone), an externally rotated left femur with an associated internally rotated right femur, right innominate hiked upwards jacking up the way the sacrum and lumbar spine are supposed to orient themselves creating a super lordotic lumbar spine and a flattened thoracic spine.  All that from not breathing properly, no way!  What do we do about it?  Well, that’s a complex answer that is basically: it depends. Reposition, Retrain, Restore.
What was also very interesting was how we can change our brain.  Basically, you can teach an old dog new tricks contrary to popular belief.  Experts in any particular field have an ability to create new connections in the brain.  This just confirms what everyone is thinking, we don’t know the brain like we thought we did.  “Ten thousand hours can’t always undo 100 dumb ones”.  This particularly sticks out to me because of how much importance we place on 10,000 hours as being a milestone for an expert in a field of study.  Not only must an individual perform 10,000 hours, but they must choose wisely because it’s so difficult to break already existing connections in the brain.  As a great side note to this point, sleep which makes up approximately 37% of your life, is absolutely important for more than relieving being tired, but also for consolidation of motor learning that occurs throughout the day.
In the classroom setting, there were some great points being made.  Here there was a case by case approach with the lectures I attended, and it regarded specifically to how high level athletes were corrected in a relatively short period of time (as little as 2 weeks!).  Understanding the biomechanics of a sport that your client/patient takes part in, or simply how people should be moving or breathing in general is a great start.  Collaboration is a key component to the success of any program, but more on that for day 2.