Let’s start by answering the question, what is the bilateral deficit? The bilateral deficit is the thought that one can produce more force, and power for that matter, on one leg rather than two, when both of the single leg totals are combined. So if that is the case everyone should drop bilateral movements and go with its unilateral counterpart, right? Before we make that leap let’s review the pros and cons of both.
Although you can discuss the bilateral deficit for both the upper and lower body I will be sticking with the lower body and using the squat for comparison. This is the most heavily debated area of the bilateral deficit so I see no reason to stray from the topic.
The bilateral deficit is now an additional part of an argument that has been being made for using unilateral squat variations long before it was even a hotly debated topic in the strength and conditioning world.
Below is my review of both squat variations.
-There is a greater amount of force produced during the movement with both legs pushing equally. Along with a greater amount of force being produced a greater anabolic hormonal response will take place.
-Having both legs working at the same time does not limit one’s ability to produce an equal amount of force on the second leg as with the unilateral squat variation.
-The unilateral squat, and for this discussion, the rear foot elevated split squat (RFESS) is the movement of choice when selecting an exercise from this category. The RFESS avoids the pelvis from going into a posterior tilt. This means your hips do not disappear underneath you. This will protect the vertebrae of the lumbar spine from any flexion taking place. This is my #1 reason for choosing this movement over the bilateral squat if I am only going to choose one version.
- The words “sport specific” gets tossed around like political correctness nowadays, but nonetheless it is worth bringing up. Is a unilateral squat more sport specific than a bilateral squat? That is certainly a possibly, although I think the term is grossly overused and should only be used when mastery of the basics takes place for any athlete. With that being said a split squat is one of the basics that an athlete should master. So is it more sport specific or not? I think if you polled 100 strength and conditioning coaches it would favor saying it is sport specific, maybe 70/30.
-Athletes, especially younger athletes and if we want to get even more specific, younger, male athletes struggle immensely with the bilateral squat. I am not referring to loading weight on the barbell, but a body weight squat. The athlete lacks the mobility and stability to perform a body weight squat in most cases. This is likely due to a number of factors, but a huge one being that puberty is taking place and growth is making things “tight”. At this time the split squat is a much better option.
So at the end of the day it is not necessarily the bilateral deficit that is going to make me choose a bilateral or unilateral squat pattern, but the athlete’s ability to do either movement. I personally include both variations for my athletes based on what I have previously mentioned.
What squat variations are you having your athletes perform?
Starting a new training season is an exciting time. Whether it is the off-season, pre-season or in-season there will be a new focus and a refreshing mind-set. This is a chance to focus on other training qualities that are important to your overall athletic development.
Although each aspect of a quality training program, such as power and strength, will always be taking place, there will be different variables that are being manipulated from season to season. For example the off-season is the best time to make gains in strength and power. The time to focus on training and quality nutrition is at its highest. It is also the time of year where your ability to recover will be at its best which will give you your best chance to make gains.
During the in-season you are trying to maintain your gains that you made during your off-season training program. Duration of training time and amount of training days will be reduced. This will allow for more focus being directed to practice and game time.
Performance training should take place during all seasons of the year, but different variables will be taken in to consideration.
Below is a list of variables to think about when looking at designing a year round training program with a few simple examples. This is by no means an all inclusive list, but it is some of the most important variables to think about.
Volume- How much work will be done in a given training session
Example: 5x5 at 275 is a greater training volume than 5x3 at 315
Greater training volumes are used in the off-season
Intensity- At what percentage of the repetition maximum is the set being done
Example: 5x3 at 315 is a greater training intensity than 5x5 at 275
Intensity reaches its peak before a sport season starts
Exercise Selection- What exercise is selected for the training day
Example: Split squat vs. slide board reverse lunge
Selection is based on the athlete, sport, ability, experience, etc
Repetitions – How many times a given exercise is performed
Example: 6 vs. 15 repetitions
Repetition Continuum Strength/Power Hypertrophy Muscular Endurance
1 5 10 15 20
This hopefully gives you a short example of some of the things that go into designing a year round training program.
If you would like to learn more above designing year round training programs let me know!
The power clean is a staple in most high school and collegiate training facilities. In my opinion it is the best option to develop explosive power while training with everything else being equal. Unfortunately it is a very coaching intensive exercise that requires a qualified coach to make the exercise useful and safe. Here are five coaching cues that will help you teach your athletes to perform the power clean more efficiently.
1. Do Not Start With The Power Clean. There has to be a teaching progression when coaching any new exercise, especially one as complex as the power clean. Does the athlete have a hip hinge, great, then how about learning the power shrug, how does that look?, good, great, how about teaching the squat jump next. Have they learned how to catch yet? That is important too. Start with the bar in the hang position first and not from the floor. Again, everyone wants to put the carriage before the horse. SLOW DOWN! Take your time teaching your athletes the proper way to do things.
2. Tell Your Athletes To Wrap Their Wrists Around The Bar. This cue helps tremendously with the athletes learning to pull the bar into their body. When the bar drifts out in front of the body you have to jump forward to catch it. This will also limit your ability to produce power because you are likely bending your elbows to soon, which leads to tip #3.
3. Once The Elbows Bend The Power Ends. This is why it is so important to teach proper progressions. A perfect time to work on locking the elbows out is when the athlete is practicing their power shrug or jump squat. This is huge for not leaking out energy during the 2nd pull.
4. Punch The Elbows Up As You Catch The Bar. I cannot tell you how many times I have seen athletes catch the bar with their elbows pointed down to the ground. This is an easy way to stress the delicate structures surrounding the elbow and put a great deal of stress on the wrist as well. The upper arm should be parallel to the floor when the catch is completed.
5. Catch The Bar In An Athletic Stance. For some reason most athletes when learning the power clean do a great job at getting their knees and hips in front of them. If you cannot picture that, imagine someone doing the limbo and trying to get under a rope. Cue your athletes to finish in an athletic stance, with a little bend in the knees and hips.
If you put these five tips into coaching your athletes to perform the power clean I promise you will see results.
Let me know if there are any other tips for the power clean that you incorporate into your teaching methods.
If you are an athlete you must understand the difference between performance training and working out. If you do not know how to answer the question that is fine, I am going to go over it. There is just a slight difference in terminology, which most people will pay no attention to, but this difference will produce greater results in the training facility.
When I use the term performance training I am referring to an actual program or plan that is put together for a certain athlete to accomplish their specific goals. It can be a weekly, monthly, quarterly, yearly or even a multi-yearly training program.
If you are just starting out begin with a weekly or monthly training plan. Focus on movement quality and getting stronger. Map out what your goals are each time you walk through the doors, what exercises you are going to do and the set & rep scheme you are going to use, among others things. There is a set of goals and plan to get those goals accomplished.
On the other hand, if an athlete goes to a training facility to get in a workout, there is no plan. It is total randomness. Sure you might know what exercises you like to do so chances are you will do them again, with the same reps, sets and weights. This will work for the novice that is just starting out, pretty much anything will. Then what? After awhile you stop seeing results and get discouraged. The results stop coming and you wonder why squatting 135 lbs for 10 over the past 6 months has not promoted any changes.
Let’s stop with all the working out and guess work and get on a properly designed training program that works!
A performance training program gives us direction and tells us what we are trying to accomplish in a certain time frame. For example a college football player in part of his off-season might be in a hypertrophy phase, where he is trying to add muscle mass. Depending on the time of year there will be certain focuses for higher level athletes. These athletes are most likely on a yearly training program.
In its simplest terms when there is a training program there is a plan. There are a set of goals that you are trying to accomplish each and every time you walk into the training facility. There is progress being made, even though at times it can be slow, it will take place.
When you go to school or work there is a plan and set of goals that need to be accomplished over the day, week, month, quarter and year. A performance training program is no different.
If you are serious about being the best athlete you can be, having a performance training program is a must. Set goals, map it out and get to work!
There must be structure within a high school weight room. If there is not proper programming, coaching and supervision bad things will happen fast! Things must be planned for and be appropriate for the athletes. Unfortunately having an ideal situation in a high school weight room is few and far in between. This is mainly due to budgeting issues. Hiring a full time performance coach and the proper training equipment does cost money. To get around the issue of spending extra money most high schools will have the physical education teacher or sport coach run the weight room. This is not an ideal situation, but it is where most high schools find themselves.
Here are five things you can do as a physical education teacher or sport coach to make your time in the weight room safe and productive for your athletes.
1. Have Structure. There must be a plan in place to follow so when the athletes show up you look like you know what you are doing. There has to be credibility on your part as the one that is the acting performance coach. Athletes should be paired appropriately with other athletes to make things run smoothly. Each athlete should have their own pen and tracking sheet. Each athlete should respect the space and equipment that they are using. This is not the time to be horsing around, that is how injuries take place. Every weight room will have its own needs based on numbers, space, equipment and coaches, but make sure there is structure and things run smoothly.
2. KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid). Teach what you know. If you do not know how to teach it DO NOT attempt to teach it! If you do know how to teach an exercise, but the athlete is not physically capable of performing the movement and you do not know how to fix it with other exercises DO NOT make the athlete perform the exercise! This seems like common sense, but is done 99.9% of the time. Teach what you know and keep it simple.
3. Program Appropriately. The majority of high school athletes could do quite well on a bodyweight routine for some time when starting out. Others might be ready for more challenging things. Whatever the case is make sure that the program is appropriate for the athlete.
4. Assign Weight Numbers or Percentages. The majority of athletes in the weight room will be boys. Every high school boy thinks they are stronger than they really are and want to lift the heaviest weights possible. When this takes place serious injury and missed playing time will likely follow. By assigning weights you will decrease the chance of an injury happening because a young boy will not be able to randomly choose how much he would like to lift. Percentages could be used for old athletes that have a few years of training under their belt and testing is more appropriate.
5. Track Progress. To make progress there needs to be a way to track training sessions to make improvements. This is as easy as having each athlete have their training program printed out and giving them a pen. This might seem obvious, but with high school athletes you need to stress to them that they actually have to fill in the sheet before they leave the weight room. Keep track of numbers and measure the progress that is being made so consistent gains can be made.
First off, before I get into the reasoning of why I think no athlete should clean from the floor, I would like to clean up the terminology that is often butchered by many sport coaches and performance coaches.
An actual clean that is preformed during an Olympic lifting competition is known as a squat clean or clean for short. It is when an athlete pulls the bar from the floor and catches the bar in a squat position. A power clean is when an athlete pulls the bar from the floor and catches the bar in a slightly athletic stance with a slight bent in the knees and hips. They are not the same exercise and cannot be used interchangeably. Either of these exercises can be done from four positions, the floor, mid-shin, right above the knee or mid-thigh.
There are times when the clean can be broken down to work on certain aspects of the lift. For example an athlete can perform a clean pull. The clean pull is a great exercise in itself that lets the athlete focus on developing a big pull and getting triple extension. The catch is left out of this exercise and a larger load is usually used. This can be used with a beginner to really focus on teaching triple extension or an experienced lifter that wants to work on pulling heavier weight, usually right before they perform their cleans.
Now that that is out of the way, let’s talk about why athletes should not be cleaning from the floor. If you think about it objectively, you will probably agree that an athletic stance looks very similar to the hang power clean. This is the clean variation that is performed from right above the knees in which you perform the catch in an athletic stance. Think about Tiger Woods, Derek Jeter, Ray Lewis and LeBron James for instance. All of who are amazing athletes. What do you visualize when you think of those athletes on their respected field of play? They are probably in a slightly athletic stance doing something extremely explosive and powerful. This is the stance that most athletes are going to be in when they are performing their sporting event. Why then would you have an athlete clean from the floor?
On that statement alone I think all athletes that are going to be performing the clean should be doing the hang power clean, but here are three additional reasons for good measure.
1. Most high school athletes lack the proper mobility and stability to get into the correct position to pull from the floor. So when a coach is telling an athlete that is physically incapable to get lower so they can get down to the bar bad things are going to happen. This athlete might not get injured that day, month or even year but repeatedly doing a complex exercise such as the clean wrong will catch up to everyone.
2. Let’s assume that a certain athlete can get down to the bar in the correct starting position. Highly unlikely, but let’s go with it to use as the next example. The transition from the first pull to second pull is something that most high school athletes struggle with. This transition takes place when the bar passes the knees. It is a coaching intensive part of the clean, which takes time away from other things that could be done that are probably more productive for an athlete focused on excelling at their sport.
3. The hang power clean produces almost TWICE as must actual power then the clean from the floor. Based on the work of Dr. John Garhammer the clean produces 2950W while the hang clean produces 5500W! This exercise is done to produce explosive power. The science not only backs it up, it blows it out of the water!
If you look at the information that I just presented objectively you will have to agree that your athletes should only perform the hang power clean. Once your athlete is done playing field sports, if they would like to compete in the sport of Olympic lifting, then by all means they can start working on learning the full squat clean, until then let them focus on what is going to make them a better athlete on the field which is the hang power clean.
Youth performance training provides a foundation of quality movement from which speed, power and strength will be built. These qualities are needed to perform at ones best in their athletic endeavors. Most of you would agree that to begin building a house you need a foundation, an area to build upon, something that everything else will be added to. It is the same thing with any athlete that starts a performance training program. We must build the foundation of the movements that are necessary to perform well in the training facility and on the field of play. You would be amazed with the inability of young athletes to perform basic movements such as skipping, jumping, hopping, shuffling, pushing and pulling.
The performance training program, if done properly, will make each and every athlete move better, get stronger, be faster and produce more power. These are things that most of you would expect to happen. The other side of things that is sometimes over looked is reducing the number of injuries. No one can prevent all injuries from taking place, but a great training program will greatly reduce the number of injuries that do take place. This brings me to the athlete’s specific goals.
Each and every athlete wants to be faster, stronger and more powerful, but they also want to be able to play their sport and not be sitting on the sidelines with an injury. There are specific goals that each athlete wants to accomplish. A first basemen playing baseball wants to produce more rotational power in the transverse plane from medicine ball work than a basketball player does. An offensive lineman playing football wants to produce more horizontal force in the sagittal plane from bench pressing than a quarterback playing the same sport does. These two examples are ones that are somewhat for more of an athlete that has already laid down the necessary foundation to proceed to a more specific training program, but I hope the point is getting across.
Knowing what each athlete needs at each point during their training cycle is key to developing an all around successful athlete. An athlete must first learn how to hinge their hips properly before any hip dominant movement is loaded. An athlete must be able to stabilize their torso before any lunge variation is added to their program. The list goes on and on. The point being, every athlete is treated as an individual with things that they need to work on that are specific to them.
Like I mentioned early each athlete has to lay the foundation before all the bells and whistles come out….they have to earn it. It is not given to them without them working hard and smart for it. Each training session builds upon the previous one. It is programmed and concise, it is not randomly throw together. There is always a reason why something is being done.
A great athlete is built over their career, not over the month before each sporting season starts. It is hard to be great, that is why so few do it and settle for a shell of what they could have been. Not everyone is born with the same physical gifts, but everyone is born with the ability to outwork their competitor.
Youth performance training not only teaches athletes to move better and be stronger, it teaches discipline, dedication, sacrifice and to have a work ethic that will help them succeed during their lives. It teaches them that they must put forth effort to see results, nothing is given to them. Not everyone will get a trophy for just showing up, it’s up to them to go out and earn it. Get your athletes committed to a training program that will help teach them all these qualities.
Speed is the most sought after commodity in the sport world. There is not a single athlete to have ever played sport that did not want to get faster. No matter the sport, they all wanted to increase their speed. I am still waiting for that first athlete that asks me to make them slower, that will be an interesting day. All kidding aside speed makes a huge difference in sport. It can be the difference between making the high school team, getting a college scholarship or signing a multimillion dollar contract. Speed is what separates the good athletes from the great athletes.
It seems that everyone wants to be faster, but there is some confusion about how to get it. So the question remains, how do we improve speed? I’m going to start with some basics physics to start answering that question.
Force=Mass x Acceleration
Force is the ability to accelerate an object.
Power=Force x Velocity
Power is how quickly we can accelerate an object.
Speed is how long it takes you to travel a certain distance.
Athletes that do not develop their ability to produce force and power will never be as fast as they would be otherwise. The greater your ability is to push into the ground (force production), the faster you will be. The faster you can apply that force into the ground (power production), the faster you will be. Developing the ability to produce force and power is what is going to make you a faster athlete.
All of these training qualities can be developed simultaneously to an extent; it is always on a spectrum no matter what the focus is of the training cycle. Force and power output should be developed significantly in relative terms before any large amount of time is spent on speed training.
So how do you as an athlete develop greater force and power production? Your training sessions should focus on multi-joint exercises such as squat, lunge and deadlift variations. It should also include clean and snatch variations, swings, medicine ball work and explosive jump variations. This is taking into account that you have been properly progressed to a point where you can perform these exercises.
Once force and power production is at a point where speed training should be focused on more heavily it is time to bring a more sport specific training protocol to speed development. Most athletes perform both linear and lateral speed specific movements during competition; the only athlete that focuses solely on linear speed would be a sprinter for track and field. Otherwise lateral speed most be developed.
Linear speed is pretty straight forward, run as fast as you can in a straight line. It can also include the ability to stop and start continuously with either a focus on a forward or backward run or both. Lateral speed involves the ability to change direction, make sharp cuts, and stop and start. Sprinters are the only athletes that will use linear speed a 100% of the time during their competitions. Everyone else will need to possess the ability to do both.
Training for linear speed could involve sled pushes, harnessed sled pulls and resisted sprints whereas lateral speed development would include lateral bounds, slideboard lateral sprints and crossover runs. These are just a few examples of what would separate our linear and lateral speed work.
Another interesting topic as far as sport specific speed training is that all speed specific work is done as a unilateral movement. There is never a time when both legs are producing an equal amount of force or power because only one foot is ever in contact with the ground. There is NEVER a moment when both feet are on the ground when we are sprinting, sure there are times when an athlete is making a cut or changing direction where both feet will be in contact with the ground for a split second, but when that happens there is still never a time when an equal amount of force or power is given by both legs.
So if the holy grail of sport training is speed why would we ever train in a bilateral pattern if we are seldom on two feet and never producing an even amount of force or power from both feet? There has been debate over this topic for years and will continue to be for some time. I am not going to dive into that debate today, but I will say I am not against bilateral training by any means. Unilateral and bilateral training are both training tools that should be used when appropriate.
Speed development will always be the first thing that an athlete wishes to improve upon, mainly because that is all they know. They do not understand that increasing their ability to produce force and power will in turn make them faster than any speed specific training program could. Specific speed training should be limited until the athlete develops the ability to produce a relatively significant amount of force and power. At that point a greater amount of time can be focused on speed specific training. Work on getting strong and powerful and your speed will increase!
How many athletes are required to perform a movement analysis before starting a performance training program? My guess is that most athletes are not. Let me ask another question. What happens when an athlete is asked to perform a back squat or any movement for that matter, which is dysfunctional in nature due to their physical limitations? Strength is added to that dysfunctional movement pattern, it is not added to the true functional movement pattern. I’m going to continue to use the squat as my main example because it is probably the most common exercise used in most high schools. The squat is an amazing exercise for building strength, but when it is performed before athletes are ready for the movement bad things can happen.
Below are some pictures that illustrate what an improper squat pattern looks like. These faulty squat patterns could be due to an array of reasons, some of which include short/weak hip flexors, imbalance of core musculature, excessive pelvic tilt, limitations with ankle mobility, weak glutes, etc. A complete movement analysis must be done to understand the complexity of these dysfunctional squat patterns.
All of the above pictures demonstrate a faulty squat pattern that needs some cleaning up. Below is a picture of a squat pattern that is ready to be loaded with external resistance.
If you are not performing a movement analysis of some sorts you are doing a disservice to your athletes. It is literally the foundation of any worthwhile performance training program.
How many unqualified lawyers have you had take on your law issues, how about unqualified accountants to take care of your taxes, anyone letting their kids go to school without qualified teachers? I’m sure you all answered none and of course not to those questions. Why would you use someone that was not qualified to handle your personal issues and take care of your child? You wouldn’t, yet everyday there are unqualified individuals acting as strength & conditioning professionals and attempting to coach your children.
A strength & conditioning coach is no different than anyone else that considers themselves a professional. A strength and conditioning professional should have degrees in a related field to strength & conditioning such as exercise science, kinesiology or physical education. They should also possess certifications from accredited and well respected organizations within the field. The Collegiate Strength & Conditioning Coaches Association, The National Strength & Conditioning Association and The United States of America Weightlifting are a few of the respected organizations out there. Experience is something else that you might want to find out about too. Who have they worked with, where have they worked, do they have references that support their efforts.
There are so many reasons why it is important to have a qualified strength and conditioning professional be the one that is actually working with your child, but I will only discuss a few here.
The first one is so blatantly obvious, but it bears repeating, they are qualified to do the job! They have done the schooling, received the certifications and have the work experience. Are you hiring someone that does not have the proper degrees and certifications to be an architect to design the building of your home? Of course you aren’t so why would you use someone that is going to help build and develop your most prized possession, your child? You wouldn’t, end of story.
Second, which plays off the first point somewhat. The biggest thing about being in a profession is you are continuing to learn new things about your industry on a daily basis. It has been said that taking a year off from the strength and conditioning field would put you years behind the rest. There is that much to learn every year! So if you are not continually learning and improving your skill set, you are falling behind. It is a consistently changing field that requires a deep understanding of the material and how to properly apply it. A 100% commitment is required to be a professional in any field, strength and conditioning is no different.
Third and I’ll finish with this point, when unqualified individuals attempt to run a strength and conditioning program the chance of injury goes up exponentially. One of the most difficult things to do is “give credit” to how some injuries present themselves. Chronic issues will not appear immediately (duh) and might not even develop until a few years down the road. A chronic issue could develop because an athlete might be asked to perform a movement they are not ready for; they shouldn’t be doing at all or are asked to do too much too soon.
Injuries, whether acute or chronic are unfortunate, but something that is caused due to chronic repetition of improper form due to poor coaching or the athlete not being able to physically perform the movement could take an extremely long amount of time to correct. There is a saying that goes, for every wrong repetition you do, you will have to do it properly five times. So think about doing something wrong for two years and add up all those repetitions, it’s not correcting itself over night. The proper movement pattern has been broken down so much that the repetitions that are needed to fix it will be substantial. Do not let these poor movement patterns lead to a broken athlete.
When it comes down to it, I want all young athletes to receive proper coaching and be able to increase their strength, power and speed while reducing their chance of injury. Every strength and conditioning professional should be able to tell you why they are doing everything in their program, if not, find someone that can. Make sure that your young athletes are getting what they need and deserve.