This has become one of my main strength exercises for the athletes I train over the last few years. Some might say that a unilateral exercise is inferior to its bilateral counterpart, but I would disagree. I actually prefer programming the unilateral movement. Don’t get me wrong, they are both great exercises, but I tend to favor the rear foot elevated split squat (RFESS). If you prefer the bilateral movement that is ok, but think about what is the best movement for the athlete that you are training.
Most athletes are in a unilateral position when they play sports so why not get them into that position in the training facility. I have a few reasons why I prefer the RFESS. Some of them have to do with performance and some have to do with injury reduction.
Side Note: If you injure an athlete while they are training they can’t play. This would be counterproductive.
Here I am performing the Front Squat and RFESS, while Alex discusses point number 2 below.
So here are a few reasons why you will see athletes at SportPerformanceU performing the RFESS as their main strength exercise.
1. Sport Specificity- I do think the term gets overused and abused in most cases, but for a higher caliber athlete where the term should actually apply, I’m all about it. If you are in a unilateral position during the high majority of the sport you play, mimicking that movement in the training facility is a great idea. Athletes that are sprinting while playing their sport would benefit greatly from using this exercise as their main strength movement.
2. Bilateral Deficit- Yes the elevated foot is helping, I get it, but not to the extent that you can ignore the significant difference when comparing the two. For example the highest RFESS I have seen done in my facility is 265lbs for 3 reps. This athlete's bilateral squat is nowhere close to doubling that number. End of story.
3. Neutral Spine- The number one role of a performance coach is not to increase an athlete’s speed, power or strength; it is to keep them injury free and ready to go on game day. One way to do this is programming exercises that will improvement athletic quality while minimizing risk of injury. The bilateral squat is a difficult exercise for many athletes to do properly. There are many reasons for this, but for the purpose of this point I will focus on the spine.
Maintaining a neutral lumbar spine is difficult for most athletes once their thighs pass parallel to the floor. I’m not going to go into the intricacies of this point, but it is clearly an issue. By performing the RFESS this becomes a mute point, the lumbar spine can no longer go into flexion. Risk vs. reward must always be considered when programming exercises for your athletes. When it comes to maintaining a neutral spine, the RFESS wins.
Agree or disagree that the RFESS should be your athletes main strength exercise, you have to agree that it is an exercise that most all athletes should be doing. If you prefer it to be an accessory lift, that’s fine, just make sure that your athletes are doing it.
Being an endurance athlete and I use the word athlete loosely; I just started mountain biking races this year, I have come to appreciate even more how important strength training is to those specific athletes. It is strength training that compliments an endurances athletes sport training in such a way that they will be able to push harder up the mountain, run faster up a hill or explode through the water and off the wall with greater power.
In all these sports strength training will help you compete at a greater level, but no more so than in swimming. In a sport where hundredths of a second mean everything, strength training should be a focus of any competitive swimmer. Dry land training for swimmers has come a long way in the last few years, but there is still much ground to be made. The old school mentality of dry land training for swimmers was to perform additional endurance exercise such as jogging or jumping rope. Although these activities in and of themselves are great to do, they are not going to help swimmers perform better in the pool. The new thought is that swimmers and other endurance athletes alike need a properly constructed strength training program to follow.
There are many things that would go into a comprehensive strength training program, but for the sake of this post I would like to focus mainly on the pure strength side of things. Strength training is really about force production. To move something faster, yourself or an object, you need to be able to create a greater amount of force against another object. For a swimmer, that would mean applying a greater force into the wall during turns and into the water during laps. Let’s say for example that a swimmer could cut .02 of a second off their time with each turn in a 25 meter pool while swimming the 200 meter free event from strength training for let’s say, a few weeks. If my calculations are correct this swimmer would take off .14 of a second. I’ve heard that is a lot in swimming. That is the difference between a swimmer being on a proper strength training program and cutting that .14 of a second off their time versus one that keeps their same time from not being on a proper training program.
Ok, so strength training is important, so what do I do? Unfortunately your specific program is not so black and white, there is a lot of gray involved, but there are many staples that should work for everyone if applied appropriately. This would include squat and deadlift variations, sled pushes, pushups, chin ups and rows. Most strength training programs will be built around these main movements.
Whether you are a swimmer or other endurance athlete make sure that you are following a strength training program that is best suited to your needs. Most endurance athletes should do well with training twice a week and some do like to bump it up to three times a week during their offseason.
How much time do you have to spend training outside of what you do for your sport specifically? After practices, competitions and the other daily life activities how many hours are there left to train? This is a question that needs to be answered thoroughly and honestly to take full advantage of being on a training program that is best suited to your time availability. Everyone’s time is limited so the question is how can we be the most efficient with ours.
With limited time during certain parts of the sports calendar there has to be laser like focus on what the most important things are that need to be done. When an athlete is in season their time spend in the training facility will be decreased compared to the off season. This is a probably the time of the year where their time will be the most limited. There is no room to be adding things to the training program for the sake of more being better. For that matter, during any part of the sport year more being better is nearly never the case that should be taken with few exceptions.
This will be vastly different when comparing a younger athlete to a veteran. And when I say younger I am referring to a 12 yr old and a veteran would be 18 yrs old if he had been training since he was 12. A 12 yr old that has no time constraints and has never trained before would probably do great on three training sessions a week no matter if he is currently in season or off season. That would be the best case scenario. If three times a week is not in the cards I would not go below training twice a week. Training once a week, no matter the time constraints, will produce limited results.
For a more seasoned athlete, let’s say an 18 yr old baseball player that has been training for 6 years now and is in season and pitches twice in the upcoming week has to schedule their training volume for the week. Now it gets a little trickier. This week might only be 1-2 sessions depending on how he is feeling. It might involve more soft tissue work. Maybe he is feeling great and wants to get a few sets of heavy deadlifts in relative to an in season program. The next week he might pitch once or have an off week. What happens then? There are many variables when it comes to scheduling and coaching a higher caliber athlete that need to be accounted for. There is also no way to predict how an athlete is going to feel in the middle of a season or how much time they have to commit to training on a given week, but a coach with a good eye will make the best of both situations.
The point being, do not get obsessed with hitting a certain number of training sessions every week for the whole year. Take into consideration the time of the year as it relates to the sport being played, how experienced the athlete is as far as training experience and how recovered the athlete is for the training session. With all these things taken into consideration a proper training program can be put together.
During my time in this profession I have had many young men tell me that they could not gain weight, it was impossible and only an act of God would suffice. Well I’m here to tell you that that is a load of you know what. Just like anything else in life, it comes down to how much work you are willing to put into it. There are two problems facing the supposed hard gainer. First and foremost they need to be eating enough quality food to actually put on weight. This would seem to be pretty straight forward, but most are missing the boat on this one. Second and just as important they need to be on a quality strength and conditioning programs.
Below you will find 10 simple tips for how to gain some quality size.
1. If you are eating all the right stuff and have not gained weight in the last month eat more of what you are eating. If you are eating three eggs, eat four instead. Having a quarter cup of rice, eat half a cup. Just having half an avocado, eating the whole thing. See if just adding more will do the trick.
2. If you are not eating the right things here is a small cheat sheet.
Protein-Eggs, Chicken, Turkey, Milk, Salmon, Steak
Carbs- Sweet Potatoes, Bananas, Rice, Red Potatoes, Black Beans
Fats- Eggs, Cheddar Cheese, Avocadoes, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Almonds, Salmon
Fruits- Bananas, Strawberries, Oranges, Grapes, Pineapples
Vegetables- Broccoli, Spinach, Eggplant, Tomatoes, Carrots
If you eat a lot of the things on this list you will gain weight.
3. Maybe all the meals are right, but you are missing what should be in between. Some might be able to gain weight with only two or three meals a day, but other need more. Here are a few options.
A. Jerky, Pecans and Banana
B. Hardboiled Eggs, Blueberries and Oat & Banana Cookies
C. Greek Yogurt w/ Homemade Trail Mix
4. Make sure to get a protein, fat and carbohydrate source at each meal. Missing either would be a big mistake when trying to put on size.
5. Meal Prep! If it is important to you, put in some effort! Don’t watch a 30 minutes of television that evening and spend some time prepping your food for the next day. Hard boiling a few eggs take a few minutes and putting a banana in your bag takes seconds. Putting some almonds in a plastic bag doesn’t take too long either. A little effort goes a long way.
Here are some tips I wish I had back in my day from a strength training prospective.
6. Stick to the basics! And don’t only stick to them, master them! Learn how to clean, squat, bench, deadlift and press properly. No, just doing bicep curls does not count as a training session. Stay away from machines and isolation exercises, you will thank me!
7. More is not always better when trying to get your weight up. Extra strength training sessions and large amounts of conditioning will put a quick stop to your efforts. Three or four solid strength training will work great.
8. If size is the goal, the majority of your training should focus on hypertrophy. There is still plenty of room for your 3-6 rep range, but you better be bumping it up a notch as far as reps are concerned if you want to put on size. 8-12 reps should do the trick.
9. Here is a question. When does your body actually build muscle and gain size? Is it when you are in the gym training? No, it is actually when you are home relaxing or better yet sleeping. When you train you are beating your body up. It will need a nap or two and 8+ hrs of shut eye a night to reap the benefits of all that training you just did. Get to bed early!
10. Be Consistent. This goes for everything in life and putting on size is no different. If you really want to put on size you have to be consistent with both your nutrition and your training. Don’t skip meals or training sessions and get to bed on tie every night.
There you have it. Ten tips for putting on size. Now get to work!
Many times when you walk into most training facilities, a large percentage of women will be found in yoga classes and men will be near the free weights. Women love holding those poses and men want to lift more weight. What if things were flipped one day? The women were using the free weights and the men were taking yoga classes. Did we just enter the twilight zone? Would this hamper any of the gains the men would see in the weight room? Would the women become bulky and lose all mobility? The answer to both questions is a resounding no. Both would actually move better and feel stronger.
Unfortunately we know something like this is unlikely to happen. Most people like doing what they are good at, not necessarily what they need. Overall, if we look at the sexes as a whole, women will have greater mobility than men and vice versa as far as strength goes. This is the case in most part due to our different hormonal profile. Men and women have different hormonal levels that contribute to certain fitness attributes.
So the question remains, how do you get people to work on their weaknesses? Does the twenty six year old female that can put her foot behind her head need more mobility? No, I don’t think she does. She would get a much greater benefit from spending her time near the free weights. And don’t get me wrong, yoga works on many other things than just mobility, but for the sake of the argument we are going to look at yoga as something that improves mobility.
How about the eighteen year old male that is squatting in the corner? It seems that his hips and shoulders could use a bit more mobility. Do you think he might benefit from some mobility work, perhaps a yoga class? Yes, that would help a lot! Many male squatters that do not take the time to work on their mobility have poor squatting form which will lead to a possible injury and less efficient movement. With less efficient movement usually comes less weight being lifted. Those are both bad things.
The problem is that we like being good at things. It is human nature to gravitate towards things that we do well and make us feel good. No one likes to struggle. As athletes and those still trying to maintain their athleticism we “forget” to include the things that are going to make us better, no matter how bad we might be at them.
If you are lacking mobility work on it, it doesn't necessarily have to be a yoga class , but it has to get done. If strength is a issue, go lift something heavy. The point being, if you do not work on your weaknesses, you will never be as great as you would have been had you done so. Challenge yourself to put your ego to the side and work on your weaknesses to become a better athlete. It will pay off in the long run!
There are exercises that are considered bad. Some because they can cause injury, others because they are just plain ridiculous. I’m sure you have seen some on YouTube that make you cringe! But there are also a lot of exercises that fall into a “gray” area. The gray area is more dependent on the specific individual performing the exercise. One exercise that is bad for one person might be great for another and vice versa. This is where exercises can get a bad rep. let’s review some common examples.
Most overhead pressing is considered a huge no no within the general population, and for good reason. Pressing a barbell from the front of your shoulders to an overhead position is usually contraindicative for much of the general population, which means from the back of the shoulders would be even worse.
A competitive weightlifter that performs exercises such and the clean & jerk and snatch will on the other hand most definitely have to be able to overhead press to compete at their sport. Athletes that have developed the ability to do this exercise safety will use overhead pressing as a staple of their training program.
There are two very different people, a desk jockey and a professional weightlifter. They probably will not and should not be performing the same exercises. It is much more important that the exercise is appropriate for the specific individual than just calling it a bad exercise. Again, there is a gray area for many exercises.
The back squat is the king of exercises. Just ask anyone that trains high school football players. The back squat is without a doubt one of the best exercises to develop strength and athleticism. This does not mean it is appropriate for everyone. There are more people who have no right back squatting than the other way around and that includes high school football players. Can the individual perform a bodyweight squat with their thighs pass parallel? If not, then the person should not be performing a back squat.
There are many things that an athlete can work on so they can perform the back squat, but those things have to come first. To find the true reason why someone cannot perform a back squat a battery of tests would have to be performed to assess the reason for the limitation. Once that is done and the individual performs the necessary steps then back squatting can be added to the training program.
A simple rule when deciding if someone is capable of performing an exercise is to have them execute it with just their bodyweight. If they pass, feel free to add that exercise, if they don’t, find a way to fix it.
There are also times when unfortunately you probably should not perform a certain exercise ever again. If you are a desk jockey and herniated a few disks, deadlifting might be out for some time, if not for good. I for one always look for variations of an exercise to see if it would work. With this example single leg deadlifts might be able to be added back in eventually. And if I had to choose between no deadlifting and the single leg variation I am taking the later every time.
What it really comes down to is if an exercise is appropriate for the certain individual, not if the exercise is good or bad necessarily. An exercise can only be bad if one is not capable of performing with proper form.
The deadlift is one of my favorite exercises for building raw strength. It is up there with one of the best exercises you can have your athletes perform. There are many options that you can choose from. You could always use the conventional deadlift with a barbell, Romanian deadlift, sumo deadlift or one of my personal favorites, the trap bar or hex bar deadlift. Either one you choose it is a win in my book.
Most young athletes walking into the training facility for the first time have no business even looking at a deadlift, let alone trying to perform the movement. They cannot even hinge their hips! So that leads to the question, how do we teach the deadlift to athletes that cannot even properly hinge their hips? There are many options that I like to use in unison and some by themselves.
Here are my top three ways to teach the deadlift.
1. Hip Hinge w/ Dowel & Bench. Have an athlete place a dowel along their spine. The dowel should run from the back of their head to their tail bone. One hand holds the dowel behind the head and above the tail bone. Have the athlete take a shoulder width stance with their feet underneath a bench. The bench is used to force the athletes to hinge their hips and not make the movement from their knees. The athlete should pack their neck, which means they should keep their chin tucked. Make sure the athlete keeps three points of contact with the dowel at the head, upper back and tail bone.
2. Pull Through w/ Band or Cable. Have the athlete grab the band or cable attachment (rope attachment). Take a few steps forward so there is tension on the band or cable. Have the athlete hinge their hips back while keeping a neutral spine. The hands should come to the middle or the athletes legs. The pull from the band or cable somewhat forces the hip hinge to take place if it is not totally there yet. Instruct the athlete to drive through their heels and extend their hips.
3. Kettlebell Deadlift. When this movement is used it should mean that the athlete is hinging their hips properly and do not need physical feedback or assistance. The athlete should set up the kettlebell between their ankles, hinge their hips back, grab the kettlebell and perform the deadlift.
This three step process can take one day, week, month or season. It does not matter how long it takes, but it must take place before any athlete is allowed to perform a deadlift using any bar. Your athletes will move better, reduce their chance of injury and get stronger if this progression is followed
Everyone loves doing what they are good at, whether it be push ups, squats, deadlifts or any other movement. But ask yourself, how much better are you making yourself if you always focus on your strengths. If you have a great looking squat and your deadlift is lagging behind try taking a few weeks or months to focus on bring your deadlift up to par. I’m not saying don’t squat, but make the focus getting good at deadlifts. Ask yourself what it is about the deadlift that you struggle with. Is it the lift off, lock out or something else? Make a program focused on bring up your weakest link.
As it pertains to the deadlift let’s say that you struggle with your lock out.
You might want to start with adding in more heavy rack pulls higher up on the thigh. What if you are a bit slow off the floor? Maybe you need to throw in some speed work with lighter weight. Is your upper back strong enough to lift big weighs? If not, throwing in some more rows and chins into your program will help.
At the same time there should always be balance in your training program. An example of this would be those that love to bench press (you know who you are!), but maybe sneak in a pulling exercise once or twice a month. This will lead to weaknesses and imbalances creeping in. The last thing you want is to be injured from a training program that is unbalanced and poorly written.
For our athletes out there this is also extremely important. During the season, depending on your sport, attention should be paid to what imbalances and weaknesses usually show themselves during your season. If you are a quarterback your plant foot and throwing arm will be getting more work during practice and games.
This could lead to overuse injuries if not cared for during the season. An in season training program needs to focus on preventing the opposite limbs from lagging behind and also making sure overuse injuries do not present themselves in the more active limbs.
Make sure you are working with your performance coaches to have the best chance at avoiding injuries. It is up to you to make sure your weakest links are brought up to par, if not you will always be held back from your true potential and possibly on the side lines with an injury.
Power is a quality that every great athlete needs to possess in order to excel at their sport. It is the final touches that propel good athletes into great ones. Without a doubt, this is an area that an advanced athlete needs to pay great detail and attention to. The questions that have to be asked are how and where does this power need to be applied. Does it involve rotational or linear movement? Those will be the questions that I look to answer for sport specific power development.
first things first, the greatest amount of power that can be produced is transferred through the ground up through the lower body. When an athlete exhibits a tremendous amount of power, whether throwing, kicking, hitting, tackling or any other form, that power is produced by applying explosive force through the ground. Power and force are inversely related but are still components of one another.
Bottom Line: Develop strong explosive wheels to produce tremendous amounts of power.
What you need to produce the power against will usually dictate what direction you need to train power. If you are tackling an opponent you will most likely train power in the sagittal plane or perform a linear movement. If you are moving an object such as swinging a racket or throwing a football you will be training power in the transverse plane which is a rotational movement.
Bottom Line: Power development should be sport specific for the advanced athlete.
Ok, so we answered the how it needs to be produced and where it has to be applied. How about what should we do to train those sport specific power movements. Training power in the sagittal plane could involve movements such as box jumps, power cleans and snatches. These movements are all preformed in the sagittal plane and would be great exercises for a hitter (volleyball), power forward (basketball) or offensive guard (football). Athletes that need to train power in the transverse plane would use a variety of medicine ball rotational throws, scoops and slams. These would be great for our pitcher (baseball), quarterback (football) or golfer (golf).
Bottom Line: Power exercises should be selected based on the sport and position you play.
Remember this topic is about advanced athletes. There is nothing wrong with a twelve year old quarterback working on rotational power, but let’s not get carried about getting to sport specific at a young training age. Let the athletes develop and learn, then master the basics. As for our advanced athletes sport specific training is key to their success.
Whether you are training top level athletes or the average soccer mom, chances are that knee pain has been an issue in some way, shape or form. Now the majority prefer to take it easy and not train while sorting out an injury. And depending on the injury that makes perfect sense. If you tore your ACL and MCL last week, I don’t plan on seeing you next week! But the majority with little nagging issues would be best suited to continue some form of training depending on the severity of the injury.
Always consult with your medical team beforehand to figure out what is actually going on in your knee. If the team gives you the ok to continue training then here are some ideas about how to still get a great training session when managing knee pain.
1. REDUCE THE AMOUNT OF CONTINUOUS FLEXION AT THE KNEE. Depending on what exacerbates the knee pain, reducing the amount of flexion (bend) at the knee could greatly reduce the level of pain. Avoid knee dominant exercises such as squats and lunges. Stick with hip dominant movements that focus on keeping the hips high. Exercises such as double or single leg Romanian deadlifts, lateral mini-band walks and supine bridge variations could all work.
Below I am performing a single leg Romanian deadlift with the assistance of a TRX.
2. FOCUS ON THE CORE. If there is a need to reduce the amount of volume in one area, focus on something else for the time being. The core can be trained from multiple angles and recovers quicker than larger muscles groups.
3. FOCUS ON UPPERBODY PUSHING AND PULLING. To somewhat piggy back on the previous point, focusing on the “real” core is also another option. The core has been said to be what lies between the shoulders and hips, which leaves a lot of room for pushing and pulling. Pushing does usually get a ton of focus from many programs, but there is usually room for improvement with the amount of pulling. Throw in some more rowing and chin up variations.
4. FOCUS ON THE HEALTHY KNEE. If there is still one healthy knee I suggest single leg variations such as step ups, single leg squats and single leg deadlift variations, all of which can be regressed to meet the needs of the athlete.
Below I am performing a single leg squat with the assistance of a TRX.
It goes without saying, but I am going to say it anyways. Consideration of the actual injury has to be taken before trying any of these recommendations. The training program will be based on the diagnosed injury and the results of the analysis. If there is pain during an exercise it should not be included in the training program.
SPU's Alex Drayson and Matt Migiano write the SPU Athletic Performance Blog.
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