Variety is the spice of life, right? Well that’s not always the case when designing a strength and conditioning program. Great training programs focus on certain main lifts throughout their athletes training career. Although the same exercises might be used there are variations that can be introduced that challenge the athlete in new ways without removing the specific exercise.
Changing the sets, repetitions, tempo and rest periods all have an effect on outcome of the training program. Switching the sets and repetitions will affect the volume and intensity of the exercise. Performing 10 sets of 2 repetitions at 80% of your 1 repetition maximum or 3 sets of 10 repetitions at 60% of your 1 repetition maximum will effect what you get out of that exercise. The tempo could change the time under tension, how much eccentric (negative part of the exercise) stress is placed on the body or even power development with the concentric (positive part of the exercise) phase being performed explosively. Rest periods will greatly affect the level of conditioning that can be obtained during your training session. If the goal is strength and power development a long rest period will be taken. If it is total body conditioning then a decrease in rest periods will be used.
Altering the exercise by using different equipment is another option. An example would be going from performing a lunge with dumbbells at your side to kettlebells in a racked position on the shoulders. This will slightly change the exercise which will give a feel of variety to the athlete while still accomplishing the main lift. Another example would be performing an overhead barbell lunge. The overhead barbell lunge will include a lot more strength from the core and shoulders. Simple modifications add variety to the same exercise while accomplishing the goal of the strength and conditioning coach.
The point is the “same” exercise can be programmed in different ways that accomplish the goals of the coach while adding a little bit of variety for the athlete. We want to avoid stagnation, while still using the best exercises for building strength and power. This should accomplish two things, first and foremost the athlete is getting stronger and second the athlete receives a little bit of variety in their training program because variety is the spice of life.
The biomechanical analysis is performed before even thinking about what sport performance program will be written for an athlete. It is literally the first step in figuring out what an athlete needs in their program. It is not a measurement of how strong or powerful they are. The analysis takes into consideration the mobility, stability and neuromuscular patterning of the athlete. We are looking at how well they perform basic movement patterns. The joint by joint approach which is taken by many of the top professionals in the field approaches the body as alternating mobile and stable joints. An example of this would be how the ankle is a mobile joint and the next joint up the kinetic chain; the knee is a stable joint. There has to be a balance of mobility and stability while performing movement to be efficient.
At SportPerformanceU we perform ten different tests during our biomechanical analysis. Each test encompasses the ability to be both stable and mobile as is the case with any athletic or functional movement that is being performed. The overhead deep squat is one of our ten tests that look at multiple things during one movement. We are examining the ability of the ankles, hips and thoracic spine to be mobile while the knees, lumbar spine, and shoulders are stable. This test also looks at the neuromuscular patterning of the body. This is the motor learning process, where the muscles learn to “fire” properly and efficiently. An example of this would be examining an athlete that has the ability to perform an overhead deep squat in the supine position, but when standing is not able to accomplish the same task. The stability and neuromuscular firing patterns needs to be cleaned up. This is just one of the ten tests we do to get a full picture of what each athlete needs. Everyone is an individual and desires a training program that is specific to them.
It is so important to perform this biomechanical analysis to have a starting point for each athlete. If an analysis is not done it becomes a guessing game. And I do not want the training programs I write for my athletes to involve any guess work.
Medicine ball slams are a great way to learn and develop power for a beginner all the way up to an advanced level athlete. They teach the athlete how to properly transfer power without having to learn a movement that is too difficult to pick up. I’m going to outline the main teaching points with some high resolution pictures of yours truly.
The first three medicine ball slams are done with the hip, knee and ankle in a static position.
Tall Kneeling Overhead Medicine Ball Slam
To perform this exercise start in a kneeling position with your hips fully extended, quickly bring the medicine ball overhead and immediately slam the medicine ball into the floor. Make sure to keep the elbows straight throughout the movement and do not let the shoulders round forward when slamming the medicine ball into the floor. The body should remain vertical during the whole exercise.
½ Kneeling Overhead Medicine Ball Slam
To perform this exercise start in a ½ kneeling position with one hip fully extend and the other flexed at a 90 degree angle, quickly bring the medicine ball overhead and immediately slam the medicine ball into the floor. Make sure to keep the elbows straight throughout the movement and do not let the shoulders round forward when slamming the medicine ball into the floor. The body should remain vertical during the whole exercise.
Standing Medicine Ball Slam
To perform this exercise start in a standing position with your hips, knees and ankles slightly flexed, quickly bring the medicine ball overhead and immediately slam the medicine ball into the floor. Make sure to keep the elbows straight throughout the movement and do not let the shoulders round forward when slamming the medicine ball into the floor. The lower body should remain in a slightly flexed position during the whole exercise.
The last two medicine ball slams are performed with dynamic movement coming from the lower body.
Standing Medicine Ball Slam
To perform this exercise start in a standing position with your hips, knees and ankles slightly flexed, quickly bring the medicine ball overhead and while doing so forcefully extend your hips, knees and ankles. Once the medicine ball is overhead immediately slam the medicine ball into the floor. Make sure to keep the elbows straight throughout the movement and do not let the shoulders round forward when slamming the medicine ball into the floor. The lower body will return to being slightly flexed when the exercise is complete.
Single Leg Medicine Ball Slam
To perform this exercise start in a single leg stance with your hips, knees and ankles slightly flexed, quickly bring the medicine ball overhead and while doing so forcefully extend your hips, knee and ankle. Once the medicine ball is overhead immediately slam the medicine ball into the floor. Make sure to keep the elbows straight throughout the movement and do not let the shoulders round forward when slamming the medicine ball into the floor. The single leg will return to being slightly flexed when the exercise is complete.
Master each movement before moving on to the next progress. You will notice your power numbers start to climb!
Every athlete wants to throw the ball farther and faster than they did the day before. Baseball pitchers want to see the radar gun go up and quarterbacks want the yardage of their passes to climb. It is a goal of all baseball pitchers and quarterbacks out there. The problem is that getting a “stronger arm” as most of them think is the solution is neither going to help the athlete throw the ball farther or faster. Let me explain, as I am sure most of you find that statement slightly confusing. Throwing athletes need both the right amount of stability and mobility at certain joints to complete the task of throwing. They also need a stable core that is able to transfer a great amount of force that has been developed from a sufficient amount of strength and power training modalities. Those attributes will give throwing athletes this “stronger arm” we are referring to.
When developing throwing mechanics the whole body must be considered. Two key attributes that I want to focus in on are the ability of the shoulders to be stable and the thoracic spine and hip region to be mobile. If both of these areas have the right amount of mobility and stability then the core will have the ability to transfer a greater amount of force from the ground through the release point. We also need the ability to disassociate our hips from our shoulders. It is with this rotation that we are able to create greater amounts of power. All of this is for naught though if we do not develop the strength and power necessary to increase our velocity. The performance training program is extremely important when trying to add speed and distance to your throws. Lower body double and single leg exercises that encompass both strength and power have to be a staple of this training program.
Focus on adding the proper amounts of mobility and stability along with increases in strength and power to get that “stronger arm” you are searching for. The results will speak for themselves.
Youth sport and athletic development has exploded in recent years. The introduction of sport performance training programs has led to greater increases in strength, power and speed while reducing injury rates. The sport performance community continues to learn better ways to make the complete athlete. This sounds promising for every up and coming athlete out there. The question is how do athletes, coaches and parents know when one sport performance training program is better than another. I am going to list three tips that should help you find the perfect coach.
First, what are their credentials? Did they attend a four year college or take a weekend seminar? Do they hold the most recognized and respected certifications in the field or did they get one off the internet? Is this there first go around or have they been in the trenches for years? Feel free to ask all these questions. It is your right and responsibility to know who is going to be coaching your athlete.
Second, ask about the sport performance program. Is there a physical assessment done before the athlete starts the program? Is it a one size fits all cookie cutter approach where large groups are poorly supervised or is it a small group with individualized programming specific to each athlete. A well written sport performance program should include the following:
1. Self Myofasical Release
2. Static Stretching
3. Mobility & Activation
4. Dynamic Warm Up
5. Speed & Agility
6. Power & Strength
7. Sport Conditioning
Third, does the facility have the proper equipment and tools necessary to execute the sport performance training program? Are there the basic necessities such as a squat rack, bench, barbell, Olympic plates and dumbbells? Additional tools that help are medicine balls, drive sleds, slide boards, kettlebells and plyo boxes. These are the important pieces of equipment for running a sound sport performance training program. Below is The University of Connecticut's football strength and conditioning facility.
These tips should help you decide where to bring your athlete for their sport performance training program.
The back squat is the king of strength development exercises. I do not think that anyone would dispute this point. This one exercise can put on a tremendous amount of lower body and core strength if preformed properly. It has been used by athletes of all sports and fitness enthusiasts, which has led to great speed and power development translating to improvements on the field of play. So why then has the back squat come under so much controversy over the last few years?
The fear that the back squat will lead to lower back injuries has dominated this conversation and lead to quite a few strength and conditioning coaches removing it from their training programs. The opponent says that the possibility that the back squat can lead to disc compression and/or herniation makes a great argument for taking the stance of removing it. There are also many alternative squat movements that can take its place which make sure that the back is spared, which include the front squat and rear foot elevated split squat. So with these options available it seems to make sense to say let’s just drop the back squat from our training tool box.
On the other side of the table the proponent would say the back squat, if done properly with the right population most certainly does not injure the back and it is by far the most superior exercise at building strength. As far as disc compression goes gravity is constantly applying compression to your discs and sitting down in your chair all day doesn’t help either, which you are most certainly doing at this very moment. As far as disc herniation goes herniated discs are taking place in the sedentary population much more than it does in the athletic or fitness population. The back squat should then be included in the training program of any serious athlete.
So how did the back squat receive such a negative connotation from a number of strength and conditioning coaches? It started in weight rooms with too many athletes and not enough coaches to give proper supervision, with athletes that had no right back squatting due to limitations back squatting anyways and with egos dictating loads that were inappropriate for the athlete. This is just three examples that have led to coaches removing back squats all together from their programs. The number one thing a strength and conditioning coach wants to make sure of is that their athletes stay injury free in the weight room and if that scenario is not being met things must change.
To be honest I have gone back and forward in my opinion over this debate. At this time I do believe back squats are appropriate for the right athlete. Can any exercise lead to injury, yes, but if done properly with the right population it is an appropriate exercise and should be done. It is a tremendous strength exercise that is matched by no other. If there is a qualified strength and conditioning coach supervising an appropriate number of athletes who have been deemed ready and properly coached to perform the exercise correctly the back squat is a safe and extremely effective option.
With the beginning of a new year upon us I figured now would be as good as any to reflect over the ten biggest things I have learned about being in this field.
1. Quality Nutrition & Sleep Are Key
If you are going to skimp on these two main components when trying to be the best athlete possible, you mine as well go for the trifecta and not even bother training. Seriously though, training improvements only take place if you are getting quality nutrition in your system and logging at least 7-8 hours of shut eye a night. Make it a priority to take care of business before you even enter the training room.
2. Be Consistent
There are so many different training programs out there, some better than others, but at the end of the day if you are putting in the work and being consistent that trumps just about anything. Do not get me wrong, there are some awful programs being written out there, I have seen them! Unfortunately these programs are not going to get you too far, but if the program is a good one, get the work in and the rewards will come.
3. Learn The Basics
There is a reason athletes are doing cleans, deadlifts, squats, bench presses, lunges and chin ups. They work! There is a progression to learning and mastering these exercises though. Chances are that you will have to develop proper movement patterns, build a base of strength and progress up to these main lifts. Do not rush the process. Be a master at these lifts rather than a jack of all trades at a bunch of lifts that probably won’t get you too far anyways.
4. O’ Lifts Get You Strong & Powerful
This one goes along with the previous mentioned basic lifts, but I think it’s that important that I wanted to make a point of it again. Olympic lifts teach power and strength development that nothing else can compare to. Just like the other basic exercises, go through the process of learning things correctly and developing an immense amount of power will follow.
5. Dynamic Warm Ups=Reduced Injuries
Preparing the body for the work it is about to do takes more than running on the treadmill for 5 minutes. There should be a planned out dynamic warm up that prepares you for the training program that day. This will not only reduce your chance of an injury it will also make your body primed for greater strength gains.
6. Psychology Trumps Physiology
Here are two scenarios; I want you to pick the one you would like to be a part of. Scenario one, you enter a poorly lit training room; there is no music on and it is just you. In scenario two, the training room is properly lit, the music in bumping and your teammates are alongside giving you encouragement and motivation. I think we would all most likely choose scenario two and chances are if we did, the training session might be more productive.
7. Relax With The Variety
Variety is the key to life, but not when it comes to your training program. I mentioned the basics before didn’t I; well I promise this will be the last time….maybe, but doubtful. When you want to add variety make it with the volume and intensity or a variation of the main lifts. There are a 100 different ways to do a squat, there is your variety.
8. Do Not Forget About The Conditioning
Some programs leave this component out or do somewhat of a skimpy job on it. Conditioning is an important component that should not be overlooked; the volume and specific conditioning will depend on the sport played though. A baseball players conditioning program will be vastly different then a soccer players. Just like the strength part of the program, make sure that the conditioning program is one, included and two, specific to the athletes sport.
9. Be An Individual
Every athlete has different strengths and limitations, they play different sports at different positions, some are tall some are short, some are going through growth spurts and some are as tall as they will ever be, the list goes on and on. The point is a training program should be individualized to the athlete if they are going to get the most out of it. One size does not fit all!
10. Turn Up The Tunes
I’m going back to the psychology part of training to finish. Walk into a training room with your favorite song on pumps you up right? Are you feeling slightly more motivated to get some serious work done? I sure am! From what I have seen from training athletes for quite some time it sure does seem to be a trend. Bump up the tunes and get to work!
There are ten things to think about the next time you start a training program. Work hard, be dedicated and success will come. Here’s to getting after it in 2013!
SPU's Alex Drayson and Matt Migiano write the SPU Athletic Performance Blog.
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