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Thoughts on Olympic Cleans

There are plenty of ways to coach and teach the clean and for a variety of different reasons.  What I mean is that you have the hang clean, power clean, olympic clean, etc as well as different grip options, lead up options, and accessory exercises.  That’s a lot to consider when planning how to develop power in a particular individual.  Here I’ll try and talk my way through the thought process I use.

For the most part, my primary demographic has been high school and college athletes.  I have worked with some professional athletes as well as general population, however, the primary is high school/college athlete.

With this population, I am trying to increase expression of certain qualities as well as increase performance on tests.  When it comes to how the coaching staff views a particular player coming in to preseason, the tests they’re going to perform is the window they use.  If you can wow the coaches with performance on these tests, there is a good chance that the athlete you’ve been working with will see the field.  It must be stated (I can’t believe that it does) that if the player is hurt because of bad coaching/programming/etc then it doesn’t matter.  That athlete would be a moron to return to your facility.

The tests that I have to improve my athletes performance on is usually some sort of sprint test as well as some sort of jumping test as it applies to the use of an olympic clean.  Of course the athlete will improve with performing the exact test, but that’s not good enough.  Of course the athlete will improve the test as you improve sprinting technique and jumping technique, but that too is still not good enough.  This is where knowing a thing or two about exercise physiology/exercise science comes in handy.  This is the why of using olympic lifts or loaded jumps, and as it pertains to this particular article, the hang clean specifically.

Why a hang clean vs. a traditional olympic clean or power clean?

Clean start (front)
Clean finish (front) With proper hook grip and all

A power clean or traditional olympic clean both start from the floor and can be too technical for the novice.  My job isn’t to create olympic lifters, it is to create an expression of power with athletes.  If I want an athlete to pull from the floor, I’ll simply add a version of deadlifts into their program.  Also, I like to measure power because I’m a nerd, and like physics.  If my start position and my end position are the same for my hips, what is the total displacement?  Makes it a little easier to measure.

The traditional Olympic Clean requires an individual to lift as much weight as they can from the floor to their shoulders in an effort to get them ready to Jerk the bar overhead.  The bar really doesn’t move all that far as you’re trying to minimize the distance that the bar has to travel, making it a little less challenging.  Also, you have to have amazing hip mobility to do well with this activity.  As has been stated before by many a famous pop artist, “hips don’t lie”.

The power clean is a crazy spawn between the Olympic clean and the hang clean.  You take the bar from the floor to the rack position as fast as you can.  Typically, this turns into back injuries and disgusting mechanics.

Hang Clean start (side)
Notice the hips

Hang Clean finish (side)

 

Depending on the sport, there are a couple of ways to load the clean as well.  Traditionally for all sorts of lifting, we meat heads like to load the bar with as much weight as we can perform while still using good form.  In certain cases this isn’t warranted.  For non-contact athletes–think soccer, baseball, basketball, tennis, golf, etc–we don’t need to use a huge weight to elicit a response.  Instead, we are able to use as little 40 per cent of what they’re able to use to still get adaptation.  This will virtually be a total expression of power here where these athletes are cued to move the bar as fast as they can.

For contact sports, like hockey and football, we need to add a little weight.  They will still get the expression of power that the other athletes are getting, but they will also get weight acceptance which is huge.  Think about a 200 pound man hitting you into a wall at 25 miles per hour.  That’s the sort of weight acceptance that needs to be encouraged.  You can get a little fancy and do a heavy hang clean day and a light hang clean day as well.  Personally, I like to have my lighter hang cleans, and my compound clean varieties be in the offseason where I am trying to improve the wear and tear from the previous season as well as movement composition.  Then I’ll get heavier as the season comes into view.

Hang cleans promote triple extension–ankle, knee, hip–as well as fast movement.  So does sprinting, and so does jumping.  Get really good at the hang clean for your athletes and you’ll be giving them that extra edge that they need to improve over the rest of the field.

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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.

IMG_4384

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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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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Hang Clean Progressions

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

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

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Exercises You Love to Hate

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

IMG_0105
Hmm…

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

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

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

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Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat

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

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

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Core is more than a 6 Pack

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please leave any feedback below!

 

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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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Outdoor Training in Cold Weather

It has been asked of me lately what my opinion is on training in the cold weather, or what precautions need to be taken to train outdoors in the winter months?  So here we go…

Aside from the nutrition and recovery side of things, there are certain things to consider when working in the cold.  First and foremost, don’t be a mouth breather.  You look ridiculous for lack of a better statement, and you’re setting yourself up for getting sick.

When you take a deep breath in through your nose, there is a particular pathway that the air must travel that is actually a longer route than straight through your mouth.  This gives the air a chance to heat up and become a little more humid, something that you’re lungs will appreciate.  Not only that, your nasal passageway has mucus and hairs that will trap particles creating a nice little filter for you.

That’s well and good when you’re just walking or standing around, but what if you start running–if you’re into that sort of thing–or moving things around or skiing/snowboarding?

Sure, you’ll have to breathe through your mouth just to keep up with the demands of the working muscles.  Of course it is always suggested to breathe in through your  nose, but let’s be realistic for a sec.  I’ve tried it, anecdotally, and can’t seem to be able to do it for a long period of time without thinking my heart is going to pop or my head explode.  Therefore, I wouldn’t expect any of my athletes to do it either.

Most people on the mountain wear ski masks.  This serves multiple purposes 1. protects your face from sub zero weather and wind 2. creates a barrier from mouth breathing.  Also why lumberjacks have beards, oddly enough, as I doubt they’re making a fashion statement.  There are also cold weather training masks you can purchase.  I myself received a fancy new ski mask that looks like a beard, 2 birds…

What else? In the past, people traditionally wore wool based clothing in the cold because it keeps you warm.  But, what about when you get really warm and start sweating? Then cool down?  The wool based material is now damp and you’re in a cold environment.  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what that will lead to.  Having a material that will keep the heat in, but wick the moist out is ideal.  The military has done great research on environmental extremes.  This one is pretty solid–minus in the case of fire as the material seems to melt.  Wicking material covered by a thicker material is solid.  In some cases, they even make a coat or pants with the dry wicking material built in.  Possibly the most amazing thing ever.

Footwear? Wear boots that are pretty airtight. Duh.

Leave comments below.  I would love to hear some other perspective.

 

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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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Guest Post: Time for a Change

This is a guest post from one of my interns from the summer and current sports performance coach.  Kathy is a very intelligent and driven individual who has donated her time around a hectic schedule to Young Performance.  She aspires to bridge the gap between PT and performance and has some really good ideas.  You can find more on her blog at blendingptandsc

             I’m a PT student who, like most people, has no solid idea of what field to practice in. After going on a few clinicals, I found out that my expectations of rehab didn’t really exist in the real world – at least not yet. Having this existential crisis, I decided to go figure it out. I began throwing myself into different jobs and internships in the health and fitness field. This summer alone, I’ve been a PT aide at 3 separate clinics, a personal trainer in training , a kickboxing instructor, and a strength coach intern – which has lead to the creation of this blog. There were two glaring problems that I kept noticing: 1. the health and fitness field is muddled with misinformation and 2. everyone is constantly trying to one-up each other.

1.  People are quick to believe what they hear or read without looking for evidence.

Carbohydrates are bad. All fats are bad. No rest during a workout is a good thing. There are so many health myths, so many “fads” backed with no scientific evidence, and, with the rise of social media, so much bad information posted by a lot of unqualified people. Not only is it dangerous, but it also creates another barrier for health providers who must spend their time re-educating and getting buy-in from their clients.

2. The health field, it’s a very “cut-throat” environment.

Everyone wants to have all of the credentials, the letters after their name in order to be the “best”. People also want to believe that their way of thinking is the right and only way. Hip vs foot, barefoot running vs orthotics – these topics cause a lot of frustration and bickering. It seems likewe’ve  all forgotten why we started in this field, forgotten that we are looking down on our peerswho are using their best judgement to get to the same goal. Just because their way looks different, doesn’t make it wrong. The first thing we learn is that everyone is different and something that might work for Joe Shmoe might not work for the next person – so why are we still stuck on trying to have one golden principle? It’s all theory at the end of the day and if it works, it works!

Long story short, everyone wihin the health and fitness field needs to come together and not only educate people but to encourage peers for their different perspectives and ways of thinking. Without that, we will not progress very far.Guest