Here at SportperformanceU, we needed something that would help us differentiate ourselves as an athletic performance gym from the others. With servicing countless student athletes, many of which are going through different stages of growth, we knew something needed to be done to help us help those athletes in a better manner. Understanding the body’s unique movements and fundamental functions was the first step towards making our program different from others.
Each athlete is different, whether it is a skill aspect, fundamental movement aspect, or even skeletal structure, there’s always a factor that makes them different. Biomechanical integrity is a way for us to understand how an individual's body performs doing the fundamental movement analysis. Our company founders Alex & Matt had thought it through and used a system derived from FMS to make what we have now. It tests the dominant knee movement, both bilateral and unilateral (in short, squats and lunges), dominant hip movement known as hinging or deadlift and eight other movements that challenges the fundamental functions of the spine, shoulders, scapula, pelvis, core, and lastly the glutes with subtests.
Filtering out the muscular strength imbalances, stability, neuromuscular firing patterns, and mobility issues that show doing the analysis helps us indicate the root cause of certain limitations. And if there’s a history of injuries, it would help us better understand how to best address those and prevent more injuries down the line.
Social media, which is a great tool, can also be deceiving when what you're seeing online, is labeled as “a good exercise,” can mostly be out of context to your body’s capabilities. The question, “Is this a good exercise?” needs much more information in relation to what your body needs and can do. That is why we take pride in making our athletes understand their individuality in a positive manner and properly teaching them exercises derived from their tailored program. That way, each athlete that walks through our door is doing a program that is tailored to their body’s capabilities and no one is doing the same thing unless they share the same case.
-Coach Andy Louis
How does our brain undergo various changes when doing consistent strength based training? It is well known that consistent strength training results in better longevity due to overall muscle mass and that high intensity interval training results in better heart health. However, those benefits aren’t the only effects of strength training on the body. Consistent strength training also affects our brain in various ways. We will discuss various cognitive adaptations that occur to the brain when consistently doing strength training.
Firstly, an improvement in the executive functions is an example of the cognitive adaptations that occur from consistent strength training. Executive functions are cognitive processes responsible for problem solving, decision making, and planning. A study on the “Effects of Exercise on Cognition” Sports Medicine , Volume 51 (12) – Dec 1, 2021 has shown a significantly improved performance on a “Stroop Task" - which challenges your cognitive flexibility and selective attention. The group consisted of healthy elderly women ages 65-75 training biweekly for 6 months. When compared to the controlled group doing light balanced based training the regular group had a better performance. It proves increased demand for focus and concentration during training can translate to improved cognitive control in daily life activity and also sports.
Secondly, the brain undergoes various neurochemical changes when doing strength training. The stress induced from strength training causes the brain to release endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin. Those chemicals are responsible for pain tolerance, mood and stress control. This can lead to a better performance as an athlete when managing in-game situations. The brain’s neuroplasticity also increases when you introduce the body to various new movements, specifically when constantly strength training, forming new neural connections, recognizing, and adapting to new patterns.
Lastly, the brain releases neurotrophic factors like BDNF stimulated by strength training. BDNF is a brain protein that supports the growth and maintenance of neurons. BDNF also contributes to neuronal plasticity, which is essential for learning and memory.
Thus, the more we involve ourselves into strength based training with controlled intensities the more room we create for the brain to adapt and improve our overall performance whether in our daily living activities or in a sport.
-Coach Andy Louis
Exercising is a vital component of a healthy lifestyle and it provides benefits to both men and women. Staying physically active can offer great advantages such as better cardiovascular health, weight management, and better mental well-being. Although those components are only the top layer of what really goes on when exercising. It is essential to recognize and understand the hormonal differences between men and women and their influence on how exercise affects the body from the aspects of reproductive organs, body composition/ metabolism, and exercise induced stress.
The first component we can think of when discussing hormonal release differences between men and women is their reproductive organs. Men will always have an abundance of testosterone due to their reproductive organs. This is why men tend to have higher muscle mass when going through full development and higher power output when exercising.
On the other hand, women who do not have testes (testosterone producer) therefore will have a lower count of testosterone in their body. Testosterone plays a key role in muscle growth, strength development, and overall athletic performance. Having an abundance of the hormone can boost your recovery time, and protein synthesis. So we can kill the myth of “Women will get bulky when they do strength training constantly”.
Another hormone that brings more differences between men and women and its effect with exercise is estrogen. Estrogen is primarily a complex hormone for women. It does have similar effects to testosterone but also goes into improving bone health, joint stability, and helping with fat storage. For women, high levels of estrogen leads to higher fat storage at the hips and thighs, affecting body composition. In comparison to the levels of testosterone in men, estrogen levels in women are much lower, and even much lower in men, hence why men tend to store less fat and have a higher muscle mass. Lets not forget women's menstrual cycle that affects their energy levels. The follicular phase which is before ovulation is associated with high estrogen levels leading to higher fat metabolism and improved exercise performance. In contrast the luteal phase which is post ovulation leads to high progesterone levels causing a decrease in carbohydrate utilization and reduced exercise capacity.
When we look at the metabolic system between men and women, the higher muscle mass composition in men leads to a higher metabolic rate, causing a higher caloric expenditure during exercise. For women, their lower muscle mass composition leads to a lower caloric expenditure during exercise and lower metabolic rate. Their higher fat composition serves as energy for longer bouts of exercises that increases the stress levels on the body. The body will release stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline which helps with energy mobilization and focus. However, the body composition along with the stress hormones also leads to recovery and overall performance differences.
Ultimately, hormonal differences between men and women have a significant impact on exercise performance. While men benefit from higher testosterone levels, resulting in greater muscle mass and strength, women experience unique hormonal fluctuations throughout their menstrual cycle that can affect energy levels and exercise capacity. Recognizing and understanding these differences allows coaches to tailor the workouts and still attain the goal at hand.
-Coach Andy Louis
How do injuries happen when playing sports? What are some factors that can lead to an injury? Generally speaking, when we think of injuries in the athletic realm, we think of hard contact and accidents. Injuries occur based on many factors and it starts with the athletes’ body. Is the athlete strong enough to handle the physical stress of their sport? We have seen all types of athletes go through injuries and that can already prove to us that it is a complex matter, but with a strong fact that strength is a key injury prevention tool.
When we’re looking at injuries, we need to understand how and why that injury happened. For instance, if a high performing basketball athlete tears an ACL that was not from hard contact, or a bad fall, you definitely need to reconsider why it happened. Each athlete has a unique body and physique that allows them to perform the way they intend to perform. However, a factor such as muscular strength imbalances can be the root cause for an injury to occur.
The ACL is responsible to keep the tibia and femur in line with the hips and it gets help from the surrounding muscles to keep the knee stable. When athletes have a lack of strength in their glutes, their knees become vulnerable when absorbing ground impact, otherwise, it goes into a valgus shift as the body gets into a squat position. When that knee takes on the hard cuts and turns, and the bad landings from the rebounds, it’s only a matter of time until it gives away. The best way to prevent that is to get the hips and the surrounding muscles stronger to work together and protect the knees.
The glutes are a very important muscle group that should be the strongest in our body. Lacking strength in the glutes can have great looking athletes spending most of their time on a physical therapy bed. The best way to stay clear of no-contact injuries is to keep your strength in check and train effectively for your sport. The stronger you are, the better the performance, the less you get injured.
Another factor we tend to neglect when looking at the root cause of injuries is the type of training we’re doing. Are you really training like an athlete should be training? Many athletes get blinded by the cool online exercises and tools they find and neglect training the fundamental movements that they do in their sport. You can be the best quarterback there is when it comes to playing football, but if you have a weak rotator cuff or an unstable scapular, that issue should be prioritized and addressed first in your training routine. Getting stronger and staying strong helps take out injuries as a limiting factor to your performance.
Relying on raw talent can’t always save you. You’ll be the athlete with a good arm and bad shoulder stability and mobility, beating the weak rotator cuff muscle each time you're throwing, leading to an injury. You’ll be stuck at half of your full potential because there are one or two important things missing in your training. If you keep the body in shape for the stress of your sport, you are more resistant to potential injuries because you’ve maintained an adequate routine.
-Coach Andy Louis
As youth sports have grown into a very robust machine, we have seen that the uptick in organized sport participation has had both positive and negative consequences. While on one hand so many young athletes have developed both sport skills and life skills that will carry them forward into the future, we’ve also seen that when done incorrectly, organized youth sports can create highly detrimental mental and physical side effects. Let’s examine the structure of youth sports, the risks that have developed over the last decade, and how to prevent the negative consequences.
The first thing to really look at is the play and practice structure. As youth sports have become far more structured and competitive, the frequency of practices and length of the season have grown significantly. Many kids are practicing 5-6 days a week, and their seasons are often close to 12 months a year. Swimming and baseball are notorious around our facility for having heavy practice schedules and long seasons. That by itself is problematic, as many young bodies simply aren’t ready for structured, maximal effort activities at such a high frequency. This issue is compounded when athletes are asked (or choose) to play for multiple teams, as is the case in some sports. For instance, in baseball, when a player wants to play on the town travel team, they are also required to play in the house league as well. This means the player has two teams to practice for, two game schedules, and in many cases is now pitching beyond what is reasonable. We’ve seen it happen in basketball, soccer, lacrosse, and other sports too, where the athlete is playing on multiple teams within the same sport at the same time, and the season begins to take a very high toll. Realistically, kids are not professional athletes - their seasons shouldn’t resemble professional seasons. They need fewer, shorter practices, and less total games.
Ultimately, we have to tackle the issue of youth sport coaches and programs trying to monopolize their players. When we’re looking at kids aged 5-12, they are still in a stage in which they should be able to try every sport they want to, rather than be pigeonholed into one or two sports. They should also be given time to just be kids - go outside and play, hang out with friends, and be with their families, rather than have sport turn into a nearly full time job. But, with sport becoming such a big business even at that age, so many coaches and leagues are determined to drive up participation hours and lengthen seasons in order to create an increasingly profitable financial structure. This issue of “control,” where leagues and teams really do end up controlling their players, is especially dangerous when we consider that many youth coaches are only slightly more educated than volunteers, and make decisions with a short term focus that leads to long term consequences. Now, I say that very carefully, because so many youth coaches are great people - they care about the kids, want to see them improve and thrive, and spend a lot of time trying to set up their players for future success. However, even well intentioned coaches have caused significant damage given the current structure, and the results are even worse when we see money driven coaches living vicariously through youth sports.
There are two main consequences to this systemic overuse of youth athletes - overuse injuries and mental burnout. Let’s tackle injuries first.
Across the youth sports world, we are seeing more and more serious injuries for kids below age 12. This is because a longer season, heavier practice schedule, and potentially multiple teams leads to significant overuse. The most common one is baseball. Coaches constantly want to put their best pitchers on the mound, but with a 6-9 month season, sometimes four or more games in a weekend, plus 2-3 practices a week, that can be problematic. We have seen numerous kids come in to us having had Tommy John surgery before high school (even as young as 10), or kids who have had to shut down throwing movements for months at a time due to significant stress injuries. We have kids who have told us they play over 100 games between Spring, Summer, and Fall baseball. That’s as much as minor league professional baseball. While we’re using baseball as an example, they are far from the only culprit. Swimming is perhaps the worst, with up to 14 hours of practice a week and an 11-month season. When we did an intake for a swim team that was beginning training with us, over 70% of their high school swimmers already suffered from chronic knee or shoulder injuries. Many sport movements are highly repetitive and specialized, such as swimming strokes or baseball pitching, and that leaves players at a higher risk of overuse injuries. In those cases, it is especially important to limit total repetitions, specifically maximal effort repetitions, and to control total volume.
The hardest part of these situations is that these injuries are preventable. From the youth infrastructure side, simply shortening seasons or reducing total time would be a great first step. But, because the industry of youth competitive sports is built around constant participation, we see injuries increase with revenue. The more money a team can make, the more willing they are to overlook injury issues. Ultimately, kids need breaks, need some degree of diversity, and need coaches who put the athlete’s health ahead of elementary school trophies.
The mental consequences of overuse are just as prevalent and negative. The number of kids who learn to hate their sport, who learn to look at sport as a job instead of a passion, who get turned off from sports altogether, is startling. Aside from their love of the sport, overuse does have other diagnosable side effects, like stress response and depression. While those occurrences fall outside our scope, we’ve seen them happen. Sometimes all it takes is a bad coach who drives the kids too hard, too often. Even though it’s hard to find youth sports coaches, it’s important to hold them to a high standard in their treatment of the kids.
There is no doubt that many youth sports programs need to tweak their structure. Too many practices, too many games, too long of a season, and too much overuse on specific movements has led to increased preventable injuries. Programs need to realize that they don’t own their players, and create their schedules in such a way that kids are still allowed to have non-structured play and participate in other activities.
Another factor that could help prevent some of these injuries, particularly in the middle school aged group, is proper training. As young athletes begin to develop better strength, better coordination, and better movement technique, they also increase their capacity for increased participation and decrease their risk of injury. The irony is that many kids do not have time to begin training, even twice a week, due to the commitments they have to their sports teams, therefore they get injured with their sport team. Ideally, kids would begin their strength training at around age 11, with a well-programmed, age appropriate workout system, allowing them to venture further into more competitive situations. From a time and schedule standpoint, this would mean committing approximately 2 hours per week towards strength training, while participating in sports practices for about 3 hours per week (probably two 90-minute practices), and one day each weekend for games (or a full weekend of games every other weekend). That way, the athlete has a reasonable balance of practice, training, and competition, as well as has time for other activities.
While this blog post really takes a harsh line on youth sports, that’s not the entire picture. I know so many youth coaches and programs that are doing fantastic things for young athletes, and who do a great job with their teams. The growth of sport has had an overwhelmingly positive effect on young people. That said, there is a trend of negative side effects that many parents have discussed with me and we have seen first hand, which is what this piece is meant to focus on. Ultimately, we have many well intentioned people doing unintentional damage, which is unfortunate. We also see many unethical people who see youth injuries as collateral damage in their quest for bigger and more profitable programs, which is evil. As youth sports continue to grow, it’s important to keep perspective on what those games mean, make sure time commitment is reasonable, and hold coaches accountable for acting in the best interest of their players.
-Coach Alex Drayson
Why must we always have a goal when training? Why is it important? A wise person once said “Trust and focus on the process and the finish line will get closer and closer through your consistency”. Thus, with a goal set in stone, you as an individual will take only the steps required to achieve it. With social media serving as a big distraction to all population types, both athletes and coaches can lose track of their priority and goal.
It can turn into a longer journey than it needs to be when we start losing our tracks, not staying consistent to taking things one at a time and getting distracted by other things that were not in our original thought process. Although we are used to a multitasking environment, it does not mean the same to cram all of our goals into one priority. At some point you will be overwhelmed. Sit down first, plan things out, and check them off one by one. That way, there won’t be any back and forth or set backs. If you’re training for a specific sport, there’s no need to start thinking about how many muscle ups you could do after you’ve seen someone of a smaller figure get it done effortlessly. When you find out that you can’t even do one and you let that bother you, they have succeeded at distracting you. If your job on the field is to be the fastest, strongest running back, then your training should only consist of exercises that will improve your performance for that position. You don’t need to worry about being able to dunk a basketball on your free time.
At SPU, we put our athletes through different phases of training based on their biomechanical needs first, and then their sport second. That is because our primary goal is to turn you into a better athlete through the fundamentals of movement, not how much you can squat or deadlift.
At SPU we value the basic needs that occur when training functional fundamental movement patterns. And when we say functional, we mean the way that your body would naturally work in a vertical, horizontal (through pronation/supination) rotational, and stabilizing aspect. Understanding how the body works fundamentally and applying that knowledge to our training programs is a huge part of what makes us different. All individuals are built differently, so does it make sense to have machines that primarily isolate joint function? Is that the way the body would function in its natural state nevertheless on the field performing?
For those who neglect the functional/fundamental training concept, it will always look normal to them that locking themselves up in a machine to isolate a specific joint during a workout is fine. For instance, sitting in a leg press machine to work the quads and glutes or laying on the stomach to perform hamstring curls in the machine is not as functional as you would think it is. Rather those vague choices can lead to injuries that you may recollect came from bad exercises. In the real world our joints don’t have all that leeway. The body works in unison which means that all the muscles are passively and actively working together to move us. Whether one is working concentrically while the other does all the eccentric stabilizing work, it all connects.
Ultimately, in prioritizing the way we naturally move, we can target what we’re lacking to improve whether in strength or mobility. If you have a core, ankles, or shoulder issue, working out in machines that takes away the function of those body parts won’t get you where you should be when you focus on treating your functional and fundamental needs.
- Coach Andy Louis
Scapula health is important to the longevity and resilience of an athlete, especially in overhead athletes. Almost every sport requires the athlete to use their arms but without healthy scapulae the chances of injury increase. Overhead athletes who lack scapular control may be at an increased risk of tearing their ulnar cruciate ligament (UCL), better known as Tommy John. They may also experience pain in both their glenohumeral joint and elbow joint due to increased demand on the muscles surrounding both areas. Learning to control the scapulae will lead to improvements on the field and a decrease in injuries. To first understand how healthy scapulae can improve the ability of an athlete, one must first understand how the scapulae work.
There are six ways that the scapulae (shoulder blades) move. The act of retraction occurs by squeezing the shoulder blades together towards the spine. Retraction is controlled by the rhomboid major/minor muscles, the trapezius, and the latissimus dorsi. Protraction is the opposite of retraction, where the shoulder blades move away from the spine. This movement is controlled by the pectoralis major/minor and serratus anterior. Elevation is raising the shoulder blades as if you were to shrug your shoulders. This motion is controlled by the levator scapulae and the upper trapezius. Depressing the scapula is bringing the shoulder blades down which is controlled by the latissimus dorsi, serratus anterior, pectorals major/minor muscles, and the trapezius, but is also aided by gravity naturally depressing the scapulae. The last two motions are upward rotation controlled by the trapezius and serratus anterior and downward rotation controlled by the rhomboids, latissimus dorsi, and pectoralis muscles with the help of gravity.
Before an athlete can improve upon their strength in the weight room, they must first learn to control these specific functions of the scapula. A great way to learn scapular control is to perform the six motions with added resistance. Resistance bands, body weight exercises, and light weights are great tools to teach the proper mechanics of shoulder blades. Exercises like scapula pushups teach protraction and retraction, chin-ups place the scapulae through all six motions and weighted carries can help improve the stabilization of the shoulder blades. Performing a proper warmup can also help improve the function of the scapulae making pushing and pulling exercises feel more natural and limiting the over-activation muscles. Once an athlete has mastered scapular control they will start to see an improvement in the weight room and a carryover to their sport. Eventually, pain will subside and movements will feel more fluid.
- Coach Matt Smith
To understand deceleration in sports you must first understand how it works in regularity. Deceleration/slowing down means an increase in speed opposite to the initial direction the body was moving. This occurs in running, throwing and kicking. In running, the body would have to initiate force production against the ground the opposite way to counter the given speed the body was moving at. Now when we look deeper into the biomechanics behind deceleration, we can see a high correlation to eccentric, concentric strength and ground force production and vice versa for other movements. As we already know Newton’s 1st Law of Inertia, both eccentric strength and concentric strength acts together on the body to initiate that change in direction otherwise you can not slow down efficiently. Outside of sports, deceleration happens all the time through the eccentric movements we do on a daily basis, like going down a staircase. However, in sports, specifically multi directional sports, efficient deceleration is a must skill.
When an athlete performs in a particular sport, the ability to increase speed then to spontaneously cut and turn for either recovery on defense or juking through a defensive back is a skill that will 100% bring the spotlight on you. That is called being agile, and to get agile you need to work on getting that quick force production and deceleration to be able to cut efficiently. To enhance your agility skills you would have to include both power and strength training in your routine. That would help the muscles in your body learn how to recruit more motor units for that power output that you need. However there is a big factor that is the muscle fiber types that the body comprises. The athletes with fast twitch muscle fibers will look quicker when doing the same movements compared to the slow twitch muscle fibers. The reason behind that is because fast twitch fibers are quick at recruiting all the motor units in your muscles to create either positive or negative force that you need for acceleration or deceleration.
For kickers, throwers, baseball, tennis, golf players and so on, the follow through of the swing is very important. The deceleration of the limb while transitioning the rotational force produced to the ball will not only equate to a better throw or swing but also prevent you from getting injured. You can easily hurt the vertebrae when twisting without good eccentric strength. This is where proper biomechanics training with stability becomes super important and a huge part of it includes decelerating in the transition when transferring power. When those factors don’t align, you will see athletes go all over the place with their body with no stability, trying to compensate for the intense movements they have to do.
- Coach Andy Louis
Generally speaking we often hear certain myths about resistance training and we tend to take that information out of context. All sorts of rumors about resistance training go around and it’s usually from people who did not get a proper introduction and just don’t know anything about it. Like, resistance training will stunt your growth/kids should stray away from lifting weights too early, or even adolescent girls and grown women thinking they’ll get too bulky. Now you can say there can be truth to some of those statements but the truth that we need to focus on are not even in our perspective.
When parents come to us professionals, they often worry about the system we utilize in the weight room with their kids. They’re worried about their kids squatting, deadlifting etc… Those moments are when we get that opportunity to break down our system to them and show the real truth behind resistance training. Resistance training at a young age won’t stunt your growth but it can damage your body with injuries if not done properly. Every kid grows differently and they all can be at different stages while being the same age. When we’re training kids we don't just give them a program full of exercises that aren’t tailored to their own body’s capabilities. We assess their movements on a fundamental basis prior to starting their program. Then we address the red flags by giving them movement prescriptions they need the most. Another thing we focus on is their level of maturity. Do they have that level of autonomy to start taking resistance training seriously? Are they at a stage where they’ll mostly benefit from a fundamental training environment and learning basics or are they going through puberty and growing superfast and need a mobility/balance based program? These thoughts really matter when we’re talking about kids doing resistance training and issues would only occur when the professionals don’t follow the right protocol. If you have that goal for your kids whether in sports or overall health then you can’t let word of mouth stop your kids from getting the advantage of being a step ahead.
In the women population, we often hear them worrying about bulking up and looking too muscular. Some women see the advantages of being strong and healthy, some are badly informed and focus on the wrong things. Resistance training for women is as good as resistance training for men. It’s not rocket science just because it’s women working out. There are hormonal and fundamental body structure differences to consider but that’s less than the other things you need to know/achieve just to bulk up consistently. Your physique is not just the result of the work you put in the gym, you have to consider how much work you put into nutrition and recovery/sleep. So yes, you can get bulky from working out but only if those other factors are not in check and if it’s not your goal then you’ll be far from being bulky. The choices you make are accountable for your results. When you set a goal, whether it’s losing weight, staying fit or bulking up, you will be the one making the choices that can lead you to that goal.
Ultimately, it’s all in the process. It’s always easy to assume and not choose to know the process when others are telling you the answers. Once you choose to know the process, you can save yourself time from focusing on the wrong side of things.
Coach Andy Louis