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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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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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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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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.