Much of the population that participates in a training program does not know the difference between strength and power. While it is true that most of these individuals understand there is a relationship between strength and power, many of them may not be able to put their finger on exactly what that relationship is.
Strength is a measure of how much force is put into an object - essentially this measures how much weight you can move within a given movement pattern. If you have taken a physics class, you may recognize Work = Force x Distance. In a sense, strength is a measure of how much work you can do. We are measuring how much weight you can move throughout a given movement pattern.
Power, on the other hand, is a function of strength. In a strength and conditioning program, power can be thought of as Force x Distance / Time. Power measures how much of your strength you are able to recruit, over a given amount of time. Power can be associated with explosive movements or lifts, such as box jumps, hang cleans, or med ball scoops/throws/presses. It is extremely important to remember the explosive piece, and that power exercises are implemented with the intent to increase our rate of force development - which essentially means how fast our muscles can contract to reach a desired force output.
Some athletes may notice that their power block is always positioned near the beginning of their workout. This is on purpose, as it should be. It is vital to perform power movements before going on to strength work. This will allow the athlete to put maximal effort into their power movements, which will return the most benefit. In addition, if strength exercises were performed before power exercises, we would be limiting our power output. We would not be able to jump as high or cut as hard, which could be potentially dangerous for the athlete. Power exercises are to be done at the beginning of a workout, with strength exercises to follow.
Strength and power are both essential pieces to being a complete athlete. In theory, the higher your strength level, the greater potential for your power output. It is important to be strong as an athlete, but it is also just as important to properly develop power as an athlete, as this will help us run faster, jump higher, and cut harder.
Generally speaking, there aren’t very many bad exercises. However, there are a few moves we avoid at all costs. To be clear, this doesn’t mean the exercise that causes these moves are bad - it means the individual isn’t ready for the exercise, or the exercise is being performed badly.
Big Thing to Avoid #1 - Spinal Flexion
We joke sometimes that the only rule in our space is “Back Flat.” Being able to maintain a flat back (a neutral spine) is crucial to maintaining long term back health, and is also an indicator of hip function. For those who perform a deadlift or squat and end up curving their back at the deeper points of the exercise, we know that they are at a very increased risk of injury, potentially major injury, to their spine. That curvature also means they are substituting spinal movement in place of hip function, or in other words, because they can’t get their hips to tilt or hinge anymore, they curve their back. So, not only are they at an increased risk of injury, but they also aren’t getting the desired benefit from the exercise. The deadlift, for example, is a hip dominant exercise, meaning that it strengthens the glutes through extension. But, for someone who goes into spinal flexion, they aren’t really strengthening their glutes anymore (or at least not as much), they are using their lower back instead. Increased injury risk and decreased benefits lead to the obvious conclusion: avoid spinal flexion at all costs.
The reasons for spinal flexion can include:
1 - Simply not knowing the exercise properly yet, in which case we need to regress and teach the exercise before loading
2 - Lack of pelvic control, meaning we need use simpler exercise substitutes while we develop pelvic control
3 - A lack of strength, where an athlete is capable of doing the movement properly, but is just loading too heavy. As coaches, it’s important to make sure we train the athlete’s performance, not his or her ego
Big Thing to Avoid #2 - Anterior Glide
Anterior glide is when the head of the humerus pushes forwards to the front of the shoulder joint. The shoulder is a highly complex joint with a variety of functions and a huge range of motion. However, there are positions it can get into that don’t really serve to keep the shoulder healthy. If you imagine an athlete trying to lift their elbow up behind them and the upper portion of the arm tilts forwards, pushing the shoulder forward, you might be imagining anterior glide. This is dangerous, particularly for overhead and throwing athletes, as it puts a lot of pressure on the labrum and the musculature of the shoulder joint has very little leverage to help. A common exercise where we’d see anterior glide is the “dip,” one of the few exercises I find to be bad for everyone. Another example of anterior glide is when the barbell bench press is performed poorly, and the shoulders round forward. Causes of anterior glide are generally neuromuscular patterning, meaning it’s not as deep of an underlying issue for most athletes like spinal flexion is, it’s more about teaching, in which case we’ll eliminate most or all of the load, fix the motion, and then go back to the loaded exercise. We do, however, avoid barbell bench presses for overhead or throwing athletes, and athletes who have a history of shoulder injuries, and instead substitute dumbbell bench press. The ability to rotate our hands when using dumbbells means that the dumbbell bench press has a far lower risk of anterior glide than the barbell variation.
Big Thing to Avoid #3 - Valgus Shift
A valgus shift refers to when the knee sits inside of hip and ankle, commonly referred to as “knock-kneed.” This movement is more common in females than males due to anatomical differences, but equally dangerous for both. Generally, a valgus shift occurs through the early stages of knee and hip flexion when the athlete lacks either ankle mobility or strength in the external rotators of the glutes. The valgus shift, repeated over and over, can lead to lots of knee pain and injuries, including tendinitis and eventually, in extreme causes, ligament injuries.
The root cause of the valgus shift lies at the hip or ankle, which means when an athlete begins to feel the effects of the mistake, it is generally treated incorrectly. Let’s say an athlete has weak glutes, which means the femur rotates internally early during the squat, and creates a valgus shift. If that athlete begins to have knee pain, they go to the doctor and get prescribed physical therapy for their knee pain. The therapist then treats the knee pain, and when the knee feels better, they return to normal activity. But, the issue of the weak glutes remains, and the valgus shift continues, and the knee pain returns. This is a common refrain in sports.
To address the valgus shift, we need to do two things
Most non-contact injuries are preventable. They are really just the accumulation of movements done incorrectly until the tissue or joint eventually breaks down during a motion it should be able to complete. We see the player make a sudden cut on the field and the knee gives out - this isn’t a “freak” thing or an example of the cleat getting stuck in the turf. This happens when maybe a valgus shift has gone uncorrected for years, until it causes catastrophic injury. This happens with spinal flexion and anterior glide as well - years of built of dysfunctional movement, unaddressed by coaches, leads to serious injury. We prioritize correcting movement to prevent these injuries well before they occur.
Most individuals that participate in a training program are dedicated to tracking their progress throughout the program, which is generally monitored by strength gains. Many will find that increases in strength are easy to come by during their first couple months that they participate in a training program - whether that be for athletic performance, bodybuilding, or powerlifting. However, many of these same individuals will become frustrated when the progress begins to slow down, and eventually, in some cases, plateau.
Many athletes can become discouraged by this, however, it is important to keep this in mind; this is not a bad thing, it just means your body has adapted to the current training program you are partaking in. The beginner gains that your body has made have come from increased muscle fiber size and learning new movement patterns/becoming more efficient in those patterns. It is anticipated that athletes will hit this plateau at some point, and it is at this point in which exercise variability becomes important.
At this point, a strength & conditioning coach will make appropriate adjustments to the athlete’s training program. This may mean progressing the athlete's movements to a more advanced movement pattern, if it is safe to do so, or modifying the rep scheme that the athlete performs, usually meaning a higher intensity (heavier weight, lower reps). However, this can also work the opposite way, swinging the athlete into a hypertrophy phase, in which case they would be doing moderate intensity lifts with a higher rep scheme. These are just two of many tools that can be used to push an athlete through a plateau.
It is important to periodically modify your training program, as well as communicate with your coaches about your progress, and how you are feeling as an athlete. Plateaus will happen from time to time, however if you are having trouble breaking through that next plateau, it may be time to evaluate your training program as a whole, and make the necessary adjustments.
One of the common approaches to weight gain or weight loss is the caloric formula, which is the belief that simply subtracting calories burned from calories eaten gives you your net gain or loss. This formula, while an important tool, is woefully oversimplified, and when used alone it can really lead to poor results, whatever your goals might be.
"Calories Eaten - Calories Burned = Gain or Loss"
Before really digging into whether the formula is accurate, I feel it’s important to first point out that it is misleading. Many people believe that calories=weight, which they don’t. Calories are a measurement of energy, i.e. a particular nutrient contains a certain amount of energy per gram. And, different nutrients have different energy capacities. When folks wrongfully interpret calories as a measurement of weight, they tend to avoid all calories indiscriminately, rather than understand that calories are not created equally. 500 calories of broccoli have a different impact on your body than 500 calories worth of French fries. In the same vein, certain types of calories affect certain people differently. If I eat 500 calories of rice, and someone else eats the same 500 calories of rice, our bodies respond differently to those calories. In short, calories are not equal, and are not a measurement of weight.
Now let’s take a look at the “calories eaten” side of this equation. As mentioned above, calories are not created equally, and neither are people’s responses to similar calories. Beyond what’s noted above, eating fewer calories doesn’t always lead to weight loss. The body is going to look for an equilibrium, meaning it is going to adjust to what it’s given. For many, decreasing caloric intake might lead to one, or both, of two options:
1 - The body begins storing more food as fat in a desperate attempt to hold onto as much energy as possible. Since it’s getting fewer calories, it’s going to try to store energy.
2 - The body begins to feel sluggish as it tries to restrict energy output. Since the body is getting less energy, it’s going to try to expend less energy. For those looking to lose weight, this problem now compounds on itself, since less energy to use means less effective workouts or activities, and less tolerance of activity before release excess cortisol (more on that below).
Simply looking at calories eaten as a complete portion of the caloric equation is a severely shortsighted and ineffective approach. Calories are not the same, don’t affect people the same, and the body doesn’t respond to a decrease in calories as a stimulus to simply drop weight.
On the flip side, calories burned is also an incomplete picture. If I tell you that I burned 1,000 calories during my workout, you actually know very little about the ultimate outcome of that workout. Take, for instance, a marathon runner vs a powerlifter. They both might burn 1,000 calories during a training session, but the effect of that workout is very different. In one case, the burn was nearly entirely aerobic, depleting the muscle completely. In the other case, the work was completely anaerobic, meaning explosive strength/power based, tearing the muscle and setting it up to grow. The end result of that 1,000 calories worth of work is very different in each case. One might deplete both fat and muscle, while the other builds muscle and burns fat.
From another standpoint, the idea that more calories burned equals weight loss can lead many towards overtraining. If someone thinks the equation simply needs more calories burned, they can easily put themselves in a position where they over-train and release cortisol (a stress hormone), which causes increased blood pressure, fatigue, disrupted sleep, moodiness, and weight gain.
Ultimately, the caloric formula is a tool that can be used to illustrate some overarching principles, but it really is not a comprehensive picture. It is not enough to count calories if your goals are to gain muscle or lose weight. I could go on for a few more pages on this, but in an attempt to be succinct, I’ll just say that calories are not equal, on the eaten or burned side of the equation. Planning for nutrition and training regimens have to take into account the quality of the diet and the effect of the workout, beyond their total caloric value.
Strength training is important for a multitude of reasons. Of course the main focus is to get stronger. But how else does strength training help an athlete? A trained athlete will be stronger than one who is untrained, they will be more resistant to injury than an untrained athlete, and they typically have better body control/hand-eye coordination than an untrained athlete.
Strength training will result in larger muscles, stronger contractions, and faster rates of recovery. These three adaptations are results of physiological improvements due to an external stress - these adaptations occur because the muscles are performing a resistance exercise. However, actual increases in strength are driven by advancements in the neuromuscular system.
The Human nervous system is split into two parts, the central nervous system, and the peripheral nervous system. The central nervous system consists of the brain and the spinal cord, while the peripheral nervous system exists outside of the brain and spinal cord.. This is how the signal for muscular contraction travels from the brain to the corresponding muscle.
General strength training will result in strength gains when an athlete begins training. These strength gains typically will last for about 6-8 weeks, before the neuromuscular system begins to play a major role. Athletes that have not done a strength training program before will see some increases in strength, or ‘beginner gains’ for about 2 months, and then they notice they hit a plateau in their strength levels.
It is at this point where it is important to take into consideration the nervous system. In order to do this, a strength and conditioning professional will properly program an athlete’s training block. It is at this point where lifting percentages and rate of perceived exertion begin to play an important role in the training program. This part of the strength training program typically consists of heavier weights and lower repetitions. The neuromuscular benefit of this is that your brain and nervous system have to send an ‘all or nothing’ signal to the muscle being worked, so it will recruit the appropriate amount of force to complete the exercise. Programming this over time and completing scheduled workouts will then, in turn, improve the efficiency of which these signals travel throughout the nervous system. The more efficient it becomes, the stronger the signal will be at the neuromuscular junction. When trained appropriately, the athlete will be getting slightly larger due to the first 6-8 weeks of training, and then they will drive their neural connections in the added muscle mass. This cycle can be repeated and is a general principle for the training of athletes.
Coach Tim Treschitta
As athletes begin to move on from youth sports, into high school, college, and beyond, they quickly learn that the best players usually exercise outside of only the practice field. Many athletes want to be able to run faster, jump higher, or throw harder. These are just three examples of the many components to being an athlete. While it is important to lift weights in order to reach these goals, results will only be maximized when an athlete follows a carefully thought out and individualized training program that is followed on a consistent basis.
The word ‘workout’ is a very broad term. A workout is commonly thought of as exercise. Exercise is a period of time in which an individual's heart rate is elevated due to physical exertion. There are many ways to ‘workout’. For example, some people may choose to run or bike for miles, some may go for a hike on a nice day, while others may prefer to lift weights in the gym. Again, these are just a few examples of what a workout can be. I chose these examples because it is very easy to understand that they are very different examples of working out.
Running, biking, and hiking for extended periods of time are great ways to exercise. However, these types of workouts recruit energy from your aerobic energy system. Generally speaking, aerobic energy systems are used for exercise bouts exceeding 5 minutes in duration, and are usually at light to moderate intensity. In turn, sports are predominantly anaerobic. This means that they require repeated bouts of high intensity movements, oftentimes with a short rest interval between exercise bouts.
The human body has three main energy systems. As Strength & Conditioning professionals, it is our job to understand how our bodies utilize fuel in sports, and in turn, write a corresponding training program that is tailor fit to that one individual athlete - based on their individual needs. The program will be designed to help the individual move more efficiently, develop higher strength levels, and increase their power output. These three things will help the athlete run faster, jump higher, and throw harder. If an athlete does not take all of this into consideration, they will experience diminishing returns over time, and they will not optimize their athletic potential. It is important to train with a purpose; so the athlete will get the most out of each training session and reach their full athletic potential. These are some of the many reasons why it is so important for athletes to participate in a Strength & Conditioning program.
Coach Tim Treschitta
This is obviously focused towards our older athletes and some that are just leaving the game. It may come as no surprise, but when you get up in age your nutrition strategies have to be much more focused and attention to detail is paramount. When you are young you have more wiggle room for nutritional blunders. As long as you are getting the right stuff in, the extra stuff doesn’t matter as much. When you are a little bit older that is no longer the case. Below are some things I have begun to appreciate even more now that I am in my mid-thirties.
The less active you are and the older you get, the more focus has to be placed on what you eat. No matter how hard most of us try, we cannot maintain the time commitment that we once had to physical activity as when we were younger. Along with getting a bit older our metabolism starts to slow compared to our younger years. Now this is no time to start having an emotional breakdown, it is just time to make slight adjustments in your nutrition game. So here we go!
1. Watch your sodium intake. When you were a teenager that pizza didn’t give you dry mouth during the night like it does today. Why do you feel the need to put a gallon of water on your night stand after having a sushi feast? The combination of sodium and carbohydrate tends to pull water out of the cells at a much higher rate now as it did when I was younger. I’m not sure about the physiology, but I’m sure it is happening. Keep an eye on your sodium and carbohydrate combo intake and make sure to drink plenty of water. Let’s just say a gallon a day for a nice round number.
2. Reduce or eliminate refined grains. I’m talking bagels, cookies, pasta, pastries, rolls and anything else you can think of. I’ll stick my 2 cents on carbohydrates here. As you get older and become less active (You are not as active as you were when you were a teenager) you have to adjust the amount of carbohydrate you consume. On days when you are more active, have more carbohydrates and on days that you are less active, have less. And these carbohydrates should come in the form of high value nutrients such as sweet potatoes, steel cut oats, black beans, bananas and brown rice.
3. Avoid added sugar. This is probably the number one killer in the U.S. today and is consumed at alarming levels compared to past decades. Cane sugar is a carbohydrate and as mentioned before it decreases hydration level. It is recommended that the average American consume less than 20g of added sugar daily. There goes your morning coffee! Do yourself a favor and try to wean yourself off this stuff.
4. Fried food will no longer agree with you. Fried food has never been good for you, but it is amazing the things we can get away with when we are young. Your body no longer accepts junk food as a viable means of nutrients. This includes foods that have been fried and brought back to room temperature such as potato and tortilla chips. Anything that lists oil on its packaging has likely been in the fryer.
5. Limit your alcohol consumption. Since alcohol consumption is illegal until you are 21 yrs of age this would only be the appropriate time to discuss it. Alcohol turns off ant-diuretic hormonal which leads to dehydration. It also promotes increases in the hormone estrogen, in essence decreasing the ratio of testosterone to estrogen. This is a bad combination for any athlete that requires explosive speed and strength to perform at their best. Limit alcohol consumption to 2-3 drinks a week in your off-season, if at all.
That’s my top five. Comment below and let me know if I missed any of your favorites
So what can you do on a forced day off to stop from losing your progress? For most, they probably going to enjoy the snow day, which is fine - a day off every once in a while is good. Others are probably going to go crazy inside their houses all day. Either way, here are a few things you can do to keep yourself on the right track and still have a nice day off.
1 - Get some sleep. Rest is a vital component of recovery and progress. Hopefully most of you got to sleep in, and after a full day at home, you might be ready to go to sleep a little earlier than usual. Getting that extra rest will help your body recover from training and give you plenty of energy for the coming days!
2 - Eat healthy. Since you have plenty of time to cook for yourself now, go ahead and spend the time and effort to make a good meal. Get some vegetables, fruits, meats, etc, over the course of day. It's also an opportunity to make meals for future days and make sure you can eat healthy for the rest of the week. Nutrition is another vital component of your development as an athlete.
3 - Do your "developmentals." While getting rest is important, you can still take 15-20 minutes to do what we call your developmental exercises. On our workout sheets, these are the exercises between your foam roller work and your dynamic warm up, designed to improve movement quality and improve any restrictions we found on your biomechanical integrity analysis. These are things you can do at home, and really should do every day (even when you're not at SPU). But, being as it's a snow day, it's a particularly good day to get them done.
Stay safe, and enjoy the day off!
Performance training is a means to an end for most every athlete that walks through our door. That statement is sometimes difficult for sport performance coaches to always remember. Yes, athletes come to our facilities to get bigger, faster and stronger, but for the sole purpose of performing better at their sport.
When we write sport performance training programs we must keep in mind that the goal is for each athlete to be the best they can be at their sport, which in the majority of cases is not powerlifting or weightlifting. As coaches we sometimes fall in love with exercises and do not appreciate what we are really using a certain exercise for. We should always be able to explain why we are programming a certain exercise at a certain time during the season and how that applies to the athlete being better at their sport.
Whether training helps them make the high school team or gives them a shot at a college scholarship, as a coach you have to ask yourself what is going to help this particular athlete the most at their development and in their sport season.
When an athlete’s main objective is to get fast we still know that strength is a huge component to that end, but actual speed work needs to be focused on. How fast are you going to get if you never sprint? The answer should not blow you away. You will not get very fast if the whole session is only focused on strength development year round.
The athlete’s yearly template will dictate how much speed work is included in the program. For example, speed development will not be a huge focus for a baseball player a few weeks after the season ends, but it will be for a soccer player that is a few weeks out from starting their season.
There always has to be a focus on what the athlete needs, not what the coach enjoys coaching. Every coach has biases, but the best coaches can put that bias aside for the betterment of their athletes. Not only will this show on the field of play it will keep athletes coming back for more training. That is a win, win for everyone.
Where should we start with Carbohydrates? Once proclaimed to be the needed energy source of athletes and the fuel that is required for a successful start to your day, carbohydrates have now gotten somewhat of a bad rep as of recent years. From concerns that it is not the best energy source for endurance athletes to it is going to make athletes that are involved in the more power and strength sports such as football and baseball overweight, it has become the nutrient under the spotlight.
Without getting into too much depth today I wanted to answer some commonly asked questions. Are carbohydrates bad for us? Do they make us gain body fat? How do they affect our athletic performance? These are a few of the questions that as coaches we hear from our athletes on a regular basis. And if you have been unsure as of how to answer them make sure to read below.
Not all carbohydrates are created equal. Yes, as far as calories in and calories out, you will maintain the same bodyweight if those numbers are kept equal. Notice how I brought attention to the word bodyweight? I did not say your lean body mass and fat mass will stay equal, I said bodyweight! This is something that drives me nuts when talking to others in the nutrition community that harp on the calories in and out equation. You might keep the same bodyweight by following the math, but I guarantee you will not keep the same lean body mass and body fat percentage if this is your only approach. If you think having a sweet potato compared to table sugar where they equal one another from a caloric and carbohydrate standpoint are the same, then we can’t be friends.
The source of carbohydrate must been considered when discussing if it is a nutrient that is going to be beneficial to our health and performance or have a negative impact. Most of us would know that candy and soda are going to be a poor source of carbohydrates, but some might not know what a good source would be. Good carbohydrate sources would include starchy vegetables such as sweet potatoes, tropical fruits such as bananas and a few grains such as oats or rice.
The choice in carbohydrate that is good for you will depend on a few things. Mainly the energy you exert throughout your day, but there are also other things to consider. Are complex carbohydrates, which will be absorbed slower by the blood stream, a better choice than a simple carbohydrate that would be used if you are looking for a quick energy source? Faster absorbing carbohydrates would be white rice compared to a slower absorbing source such as sweet potatoes. How much fiber does your diet need? The more complex a carbohydrate is will usually lead to there being a higher amount of fiber. Also there will be a greater amount of water, vitamins and minerals found in complex sources for the most part.
No nutrient, including carbohydrates are bad for us. It comes down to making good choices. No nutrient should be demonized and if someone makes that calm I would strongly disagree. No nutrient makes us fat either, this again will include carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are easier to blame for overweight issues we see because the body is very poor at storing carbohydrates compared to protein and fat, but they by themselves do not make us fat.
When the right source of carbohydrates, in the right quantities, are consumed, the body uses that energy and those nutrients to accomplish the more physically demanding tasks such as would be found while playing sports. So let your athletes know that carbohydrates are a good source of nutrients, just make sure they are getting them from the right source.