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Squatting: Good or Bad?

I was speaking a someone in a gym recently about squatting.  The conversation was more a list of excuses of why they couldn’t do a good squat.  So at the end of the day I was reflecting back on the conversation considering some of the points they were making regarding why squats weren’t good for them.

Before I get into the nitty gritty here, let me disclose some of my biases.

I like to lift things, so when the discussion comes to lifting or not my attitude usually sways in favor of lifting.

In discussing points of performance or health, I prefer to program single leg squatting/knee dominant activity versus the more traditional back squat or front squat.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ll still plug in the front squat and the trap bar (virtually a squat) where appropriate.  The back squat I’ll reserve for individuals who are competing in events that require it, for peeps who have a higher training age and are working in a more 1:1 setting, or for those that will go back to their college or pro strength coach who makes them squat.

Triple extension activity and hinge activity has more carryover to jumping as opposed to squatting in my eyes, but both are prudent.

Finally, Im generalizing here.  Squats are an awesome exercise, do them in some form within your training programs.

Good

When dealing with sport performance, squatting is absolutely necessary for a number or reasons.  But, beyond the performance world, squatting is important for general population and rehab as well.

Doing all hip dominant activity would eventually lead to overdevelopment of the posterior chain, and more than likely a poor quad:hammy ratio.  This would eventually lead to knee joint dysfunction, hip joint dysfunction, poor athletic quality, poor general purpose carryover, and more than likely injury.  Including knee dominant activity (squats in their variable forms) helps to keep the ratios balanced, injury down, and improves control of the knee in space.  The reality is that most high school athletes coming into the clinic have either overdeveloped quads or extremely underdeveloped everything.  For those individuals who are extremely underdeveloped, the best corrective exercise is going to be lift some weight.  Parents, even though you’re trying to do a good thing by protecting your kids, get out of the way.  You wouldn’t hire a mechanic to do your taxes, don’t hire an artist to train your kid.  Find a professional with a good reputation and the appropriate credentials.

Training a squat pattern is essential for basic activities of daily life….like sitting and standing, or going to the bathroom.  I would like to preserve these abilities personally.

Squat patterns are a great way to add variety to your general training programs as well.  It doesn’t even have to be the traditional back squat.  You can do so many different types of squats like goblet varieties, front squat, double kettlebell versions, single leg, split, etc. Not only do they add variety, but they also tend to be so much more of a usurper of energy, requiring the entire body to work.

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Bad

Just like with any exercise you potentially perform, squatting has the tendency to get ugly quick leading to injury.  If you have the ability to watch high schoolers squat either with their football team/coach or with their buddies it almost seems straight out of a cartoon.  Not being able to perform the action without weight they immediately put on 135 because they want to get faster and stronger.  It’s difficult to articulate the silly events that occur.  For that reason, putting a back squat in for groups of people is a challenge.  Front squats are also a challenge because you still have to be able to squat correctly and you need to be semi humble.

Not everyones levers are the same.  Simple.  Someone with extremely long femurs relative to their trunk will squat significantly different than someone with shorter femur length relative to their trunk.  Butt-wink is not a good place to be.  Not everyone is going to squat ass to grass, so please stop enforcing that.

People tend to get too crazy with things too soon.  Simplicity is such an amazing and under appreciated variable.  Monitoring your numbers becomes important so that you’re not exhausting your options too soon.  Adding bands, chains, weight releasers, etc are all cool things to post on the gram, but not always necessary unless you need to change the stimulus based on stagnation.  Keep it Simple.

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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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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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Two Things That Anyone Can Make Better

A common denominator for anyone and everyone walking in the door of our facility is a lack in strength or stability in particular areas of the body.  Aesthetically, people want to know if they’ll get bigger (insert body part here), but realistically, two that are tremendously important should get better.  Without further adieu, here they are:

1. Anterior Core

Almost everyone I see is tremendously weak here.  It becomes even more clear when you ask someone to perform a simple push up.  They literally just hang on the ligaments of the spine.  How have you made it this far in life without learning how to perform a proper push up???

When I say anterior core, I’m referring to the portion known anatomically as rectus abdominus.  Fancy latin.  It connects the front portion of the ribs to the pelvis and when contracting forces the hips into a posterior pelvic tilt.  Not always great to be in that position, but with proper opposition/apposition it is fairly balanced to our normal 13 degrees of anterior pelvic tilt.

When this is weak, you see a lot of extra anterior pelvic tilt.  Your body just hangs out on whatever it knows will create stability…ligaments of your hips and spine.  Is it any wonder that we have soo much low back pain!?

Strengthen the abs, it will help create stability.  It isn’t the only answer as there are a few other abdominal muscles that are needed to help create that apposition we are looking for (different topic for a different day).

2. Buttcheeks

This is something that we work on almost every day in the facility.  To create almost all athletic motion, you need the glutes.  When developed, they can also have an aesthetic side to them too.

Glutes are great players in power, stability, multi direction motion.  We all have a gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus.  The hip joint (where the femur articulates with the acetabulum of the pelvis) also has a great deal of mobility, three planes actually.  Contracting here will create an external rotation element on the femur (thigh) as well as an extension moment.  It can create stability to the pelvis in a closed chain contraction taking shear off the low back.  And it gives us great power and push off in the sagittal, frontal, and transverse planes of motion.

The right side is usually a little weaker, again, different conversation for a different day.

This is anecdotal at best on my part.  When we screen our athletes and adults though, we see this to be consistent across the board.  Maybe it is indigenous to the Merrimack Valley, but I highly doubt it.  Let me know what you think by leaving a reply below.

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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.