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Fitting the Puzzle Piece Together

I was recently golfing with a fellow strength and conditioning coach and had a fun little statement about what is going on with my swing.  Normally, I am long with my irons.  This isn’t to toot my own horn, it’s simply because I swing out of my shoes and throw a little extra bicep curl into the swing.  Here’s the problem:  I was falling way too short.  I was making great contact with the ball and everything looked the way it was supposed to (to my own standards), but I was way short.

I know that my infrequent visits to the golf course are part of the issue.  However, I have also not worked on any piece of the spectrum of lifting except strength for the last few months.  A little bit of bench, some accessory work, maybe sit on a bike and think about cardio for a few minutes, call it a day.

In the world of strength and conditioning, personal training, physical therapy, etc. there are some potential short-comings.  With PT, the general consensus is to get them long, get them strong, then get them fast.  That’s great, but you can’t really do that with your athletes efficiently.  Especially if you’re only going to see that athlete for 12-36 weeks.

If you want to be the biggest dude to walk the planet and still not be able to pick up a spare tire for your car, go get your pump on.  If you want to move a house, go lift the heaviest things you can.  But, if you want to be fast and explosive, you better train that too.

Traditionally with strength and conditioning and personal training, you would train absolute strength to develop a base to build off.  True.  But most people coming in off the street have some strength.  Quite the assumption I know.  Most athletes, believe it or not, can already jump or run.  The idea is to make them jump higher or run faster.  Program plyometrics, speed-strength, strength-speed, and power (not all in the same day perhaps) as well as your strength.  This way you’re a little more efficient with your programming.

You can allegedly hold 98 per cent of your strength for a month of not training it.  But, those numbers drop much more significantly with power where you can hold roughly 98% for about a week before you see large drops.

Don’t throw the kitchen sink at your athletes.  Still program intelligently.  But make sure to train some expression of power even if that isn’t your emphasis.  This will allow you to not swing a golf club like a nana.

Some of the speed-strength/power exercises that I like to use with my programming include:  olympic lifts, kettlebell swings, kettlebell snatches, loaded jumps, loaded bounds

You can also place an emphasis on speed with the tempo of the lifts that you are comfortable teaching or that you’re already using.  This would simply require that athlete to explode through the concentric portion of the lift.  I like to remember the “do no harm” phrase here.

I would love to hear what other coaches are using out there.  Please share if you have a different philosophy.

 

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Body Mass and Performance

I was asked the other day by one of my athletes what the ideal body mass was for helping his performance.  Now, this could be answered a number of ways.

According to “Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning” the text for the NSCA-CSCS, this individual should present with 11-13% body fat being a baseball player.  This will put him in the leaner than average category, but it doesn’t really define what position he plays.  This is based off normative data that a sample of baseball players who are considered to be a good representation of all baseball players present as.  I don’t think I would argue much.  However, you’re going to see a wide spectrum of body composition across the sport.

Some research looks to see how body fat% has an impact on performance.  Items like agility tests and sprint tests are the items in question.  In terms of performance markers for the sport, I think that they are a decent representation.  Assuming that the quality of the research was acceptable (few are), it almost seems like common sense that the more body fat I carry, the slower I will be.  Again, not really a good reflection of position.

Some other research was actually done to reflect positions in baseball.  That was cool to look at.  Finally something objective to the actual position with a large enough sample size to rule out error.  And…short stops are leaner than everyone (roughly 11%), pitchers are fatter (14.4%).  Now we’re getting somewhere with this.  Even if the research was exclusive to minor league baseball.

Another research article pointed to the direct relationship of body weight and velocity in pitchers.  So now we have a reason for pitchers to think big.  But that doesn’t necessarily mean to pack on the fat.

Anecdotally, if this baseball player is a pitcher and is working hard in his offseason training, he will be getting stronger which in turn will lay the foundation for him to also become more powerful.  Once January hits and he is in the cages pitching, he should see a nice improvement in his velocity.  At the end of the day that is what we are trying to accomplish with a pitcher.  Maybe his body fat% is hovering the 11-13% range, maybe it’s 20%, or maybe it’s 8% which has been reported by some as the standard.

Bottom line is, eat a diet centered around whole foods making sure to get enough food to stay in an anabolic range when recovering.  Get plenty of sleep keeping in mind that those hours of sleep before midnight are much more valuable and we should be aiming for 8 uninterrupted hours.  Put the time in the gym!  Don’t sign up for 4 days per week and make excuses as to why you make it 1-2 times.  The gym should be exciting and a grind all at the same time.

We are 3 weeks into our baseball offseason training program and it’s going great!  If you have any questions please feel free to reach out.

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How to Develop Power

At Young Performance, we use a number of tactics to create greater power output for the athlete.  Power, simply, is just the ability to produce force in an instant.  So when we think of power, we think of things like jumps in a variety of fashions.

In reality, I should start off by saying that we need to start by building a strong foundation of strength before we really dial into power.  Some key differences in strength versus power would be the amount of time you’re actually moving the weight.  For power, time is a variable that is measured; and, for strength time isn’t considered necessarily (of course we have our tables that measure relative time under tension, but for the sake of simplicity).  I know this is a huge dump of physics review and believe me I’m gagging just thinking about it.

Now you have a variety of options available to you to help enhance power.  There exists a continuum from general strength to speed/power.  Of course we can start to differentiate different movements into the continuum, but again for the sake of simplicity we will just say that strength-speed, speed-strength, and speed are all products of power.

IMG_0353When I think of my hockey, football, and rugby athletes I think of performing the Olympic lifts and loading them up to fairly high intensities.  The reason for this is to help the athletes absorb force as well as produce a lot of force in an instant to get the bar moving.  I will usually use Olympic lifts with my other athletes as well–baseball excluded mostly–but to a much less degree.  I like to spend my weekend evenings sifting through peer reviewed articles and I have been able to find some interesting statistics.  Mostly that you only need roughly 40% of someones 1RM, or 1 repetition max, to help develop power.  That’s particularly nice for my non-contact athletes who don’t necessarily see the value of a heavy hang clean.

IMG_0385For those athletes who have contraindications to Olympic lifting, or are baseball players, we have a number of other options that we can use.  Most simply, I like to use jump squats with either a weighted vest or dumbbells.  My next go-to would be the kettlebell swing varieties.  It helps to teach extension of the hips and knees in an explosive manner and it does well to keep most athletes in neutral.  I have also programmed things like RFE split squat jumps (RFE=rear foot elevated), split squat jumps, single leg jumps on a box/bench, and landmine push presses.  I feel that these different options help to reinforce the triple extension/jump patterns and offer a variety to the athlete.

We also have our own little built in showcase almost every day.  Especially for our general prep guys.  In our plyometric/power section of the day we include either box jumps or hurdle hops.  We have a number of ways that we can perform them–single leg, medial/lateral, stick, mini-bounce, etc–but the point remains clear.  I am not programming these exercises to weighted, instead, I want to see improvement with the power output.  In other words, I want to see how high they can jump today.

So there you have it, my take on programming for power.  Again, develop your foundation for strength first and then you can enhance your power output.  If you are in general prep or a new athlete to the performance world, you can still jump to enhance the movement pattern.

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Training Youth Athletes

A common question that I hear is, “how old do you have to be to start training at your facility?”  To me this is a pretty easy question to answer, but also a loaded answer.

When we talk about athletic development, there are a few windows of opportunity that we can expect to use to enhance performance in athletes.  Just because I have a window of opportunity to advance an athletes potential doesn’t mean I need to get all sport specific with it.  In previous articles I have eluded to spending a great deal of time developing the foundation for youth athletes, or general prep if that is easier to remember.  Just because I have an opportunity to improve athletic ability in a youth athlete doesn’t mean I need to make them proficient in 1RM cleans.  I “can” hold a firecracker in my hand and light it, but it wouldn’t be very intelligent.  Just like I “can” develop maximal cleans in a 10-year-old, but that still isn’t very intelligent.

The lost art of development, playing on the playground.  There are even schools where you aren’t allowed to run!  All because there is a fear of children getting hurt.  I could jump onto my soap box and have a complete rant, but I will stay on point here.  Kids in preschool, elementary, and middle school all are allotted time to go out and play.  They jump, run, bound, throw, play tag, etc.  If that isn’t athletic development I don’t know what is.  I spend the first 30 minutes of training sessions warming up and working on running, jumping, throwing, and agility.  These are the showcase items for my older athletes.

Specializing kids too early is a sure fire way to burn a kid out from ever wanting to play that sport again.  It’s also a great way for a kid to resent their parent.  Allowing a child to participate in a variety of events allows for better athletic development.  Experiencing movements outside of what is normal in their favorite sport will allow them to become more agile and athletic.

What can a child who hasn’t hit puberty expect to do and see?  There is no reason to take a prepubescent child and load them up under the bar.  Develop their ability to perform these exercises that you want to accomplish in the long term development plan.  Squatting, hinging, pressing, pulling are all exercises that can start off with simple body weight.  Once they become proficient in these bodyweight exercises you can consider handling a light weight.  Then slightly heavier.  And heavier.  The point is that these kids will become stronger (mostly through their nervous system adaptation), but not exactly larger.  How could they? They haven’t even hit puberty yet.

Once they hit puberty, the long term plan continues.  Start adding heavier weight and adding new challenges.  They will become more powerful, faster, stronger, insert any synonym.  They now have the hormonal profile to support what you are throwing at them.  But a word of caution: don’t throw the kitchen sink at them.  Allow for normal development.  The newest, coolest thing isn’t the best option.  Often times the new workout it either a fad or a new way of eliciting a response in an athlete who has already developed their foundation.

To sum up, kids can virtually start at any age, however, I wouldn’t really recommend them starting too early.  I have nine and 10 year olds at our facility, but realistically a mentor of mine said 11 years old is a great age to begin.  I’ll stick with that.