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.
Lots of people, young athletes in particular, put in a lot of work but don't necessarily get the results they want. The issue is that while sweat is required to get the gains you want, if you invest that sweat in the wrong exercises or programs you won't get the desired results. If a 100 meter sprinter wants to get faster, and spends his days running marathons, he is indeed working hard but his sprint times will probably get worse. This is the same premise for most team sport athletes - sweat doesn't always equal improvement.
I saw a video a friend of mine posted on facebook yesterday - it featured a few high school football players on a field doing a variety of different exercises in what he termed their "phase I" of the off-season. They were mixing in sets of flipping tires, jumping hurdles, running around cones, doing jumping jacks, sprinting, and a few other exercises, a crossfit style workout. I had two immediate thoughts - 1) it's great that these kids are willing to get to work and pursue their goals, and 2) it's a shame that their sweat could have been better invested.
Let's take a look at what they're getting out of that workout. They are most likely getting in better shape, improving heart health, and improving their conditioning. Also, they're bonding as a team and building trust between teammates, which can serve them well during the season. On the other hand, they probably aren't making big strength gains, or as good of strength gains as they could being on a more well structured program with basic tenants of progressive overload and strengthing specific movement patterns.
If we revisit the exercises shown in the video, we should note that nothing is wrong with any of the exercises. The question is, are they the right exercises for their particular goals? Are these exercises going to increase the players' maximal output and low rep max outs? Because for football players, that is largely what matters - how much force can you create in short bursts. Their workout doesn't match their goals, however, that workout might match someone else's goals. Each sport has different needs, and workouts can be catered to match. Generally, a good strength training foundation and progressive overload on the right exercises is the right path.
Working hard is a pre-requisite for getting reaching lofty goals, but it isn't the only pre-requisite. Working hard needs to be combined with working smart and directing your energy in the right direction. Don't just look for ways to make yourself sweat, look for ways to improve performance. Don't waste your sweat on the wrong exercises, and if you find a strength coach who's only looking for you to sweat and be tired, then keep looking. You need a strength coach who knows how to invest that energy to get the best returns.
This has become one of my main strength exercises for the athletes I train over the last few years. Some might say that a unilateral exercise is inferior to its bilateral counterpart, but I would disagree. I actually prefer programming the unilateral movement. Don’t get me wrong, they are both great exercises, but I tend to favor the rear foot elevated split squat (RFESS). If you prefer the bilateral movement that is ok, but think about what is the best movement for the athlete that you are training.
Most athletes are in a unilateral position when they play sports so why not get them into that position in the training facility. I have a few reasons why I prefer the RFESS. Some of them have to do with performance and some have to do with injury reduction.
Side Note: If you injure an athlete while they are training they can’t play. This would be counterproductive.
Here I am performing the Front Squat and RFESS, while Alex discusses point number 2 below.
So here are a few reasons why you will see athletes at SportPerformanceU performing the RFESS as their main strength exercise.
1. Sport Specificity- I do think the term gets overused and abused in most cases, but for a higher caliber athlete where the term should actually apply, I’m all about it. If you are in a unilateral position during the high majority of the sport you play, mimicking that movement in the training facility is a great idea. Athletes that are sprinting while playing their sport would benefit greatly from using this exercise as their main strength movement.
2. Bilateral Deficit- Yes the elevated foot is helping, I get it, but not to the extent that you can ignore the significant difference when comparing the two. For example the highest RFESS I have seen done in my facility is 265lbs for 3 reps. This athlete's bilateral squat is nowhere close to doubling that number. End of story.
3. Neutral Spine- The number one role of a performance coach is not to increase an athlete’s speed, power or strength; it is to keep them injury free and ready to go on game day. One way to do this is programming exercises that will improvement athletic quality while minimizing risk of injury. The bilateral squat is a difficult exercise for many athletes to do properly. There are many reasons for this, but for the purpose of this point I will focus on the spine.
Maintaining a neutral lumbar spine is difficult for most athletes once their thighs pass parallel to the floor. I’m not going to go into the intricacies of this point, but it is clearly an issue. By performing the RFESS this becomes a mute point, the lumbar spine can no longer go into flexion. Risk vs. reward must always be considered when programming exercises for your athletes. When it comes to maintaining a neutral spine, the RFESS wins.
Agree or disagree that the RFESS should be your athletes main strength exercise, you have to agree that it is an exercise that most all athletes should be doing. If you prefer it to be an accessory lift, that’s fine, just make sure that your athletes are doing it.
Most high school athletes want to play college sports. The road from playing on your local high school field to competing at the collegiate level is a potentially bumpy one. When kids ask me why some other kid got a scholarship offer, or why some great player doesn't have an offer, all I can is remind them that college recruiting isn't a perfect system. College coaches have subjective opinions and small windows through which they see each player, and all they can do is try their best to make the right decisions. The end thought is that don't tie your self worth or final judgement on your ability to college recruitment. Some great ones fall through the cracks, and some not-so-great ones get lucky. That said, here are a few points to keep in mind:
1 - Keep your grades up - if you let your grades slip, all you do is reduce the amount of schools that can recruit you. Let's you have a 3.5 GPA; most schools can recruit you, for this example we'll say 100. But, when your GPA slips to 3.0, perhaps only 50 of those schools can recruit you. When you get down to 2.5, now maybe 10 of those schools can recruit you, and you have to hope they want you and have money for you. Good grades are you best friend when it comes to college recruiting, and obviously the benefit of good work habits goes well beyond college sports.
2 - Focus on what you can control - when you play the game and practice, all you can do is work your hardest and play your best. You can't control outside opinions, press, criticism, etc, and when you begin to focus on those things, the weight of the task gets very heavy. You might want very badly to wear a college uniform soon, but remember that right now, you play for the uniform your high school gives you. Play within the context of the team, and help them win championships. That will reflect well on you in the mind of college coaches and do the most to help you have the best high school experience possible.
3 - Aim high, but don't exclude viable options - so many guys want to play division 1, which is great, go ahead and aim for the stars. Don't forget that there are tons of lower division schools with great educations where you might be able to play earlier, play more, play the position you want, etc. Don't get overly tied up in the division you want to play in unless you think you're going pro (and even then, there are pro athletes who didn't play division 1).
4 - Not all schools do "full scholarships" and you need other ways to get financial assistance - and even the schools who do have full scholarships tend to split them up. Say a team has 25 guys on it, but only 10 scholarships. They are unlikely to be able to offer full scholarships to many players, if any at all. In most cases, schools offer "packages," which include need based money (your family can't afford the school), merit based money (you got scholarship money for having good grades), and sport money (from the program's scholarship fund). This is part of the reason having good grades help. If a school costs $40,000, but they can get you $35,000 because of good grades, then they only have $5,000 left to cover, which they can either expect you to pay or try to cover with sport money.
5 - Don't buy into marketing schemes - if you want to be seen and recruited by a college coach, you need to be at their camps. Most "combines" do very little for recruiting. Same for recruiting websites. Most programs hold on-campus skill camps, sometimes advertised, sometimes not. This is how most coaches truly evaluate the recruits. If there are 300 kids at an advertised camp, chances are the coach has his eye set on 30 of those kids to evaluate. To get into that group of 30, have your high school coach call the college coach to let him you're going to be there and might be a good fit for his program. If you're not in the 30, you'd better be pretty damn good if you want to get noticed. Non-advertised camps (normally by invite only) are good bets to get seen by the coaches. Camps are really just fronts for recruiting forums where coaches can meet you, talk to you, and see you play in person.
6 - Don't be dumb - twitter, facebook, instagram, etc, are all fun and current. The number of athletes who hurt their college opportunities on these platforms is astounding. Don't post that inappropriate video, don't comment with crazy profanity at your buddy, don't post some picture of a party you went to. Obviously, we'd be better off just not doing anything wrong at all, so that's the goal, but if you do something wrong or act without class, don't advertise it on social media.
Getting to play college sport is a great privilege, and many have worked very hard to earn that privilege. Unfortunately, the process through which colleges select their athletes is far from perfect. It's up to you to everything you can to give yourself the best change possible.
Being an endurance athlete and I use the word athlete loosely; I just started mountain biking races this year, I have come to appreciate even more how important strength training is to those specific athletes. It is strength training that compliments an endurances athletes sport training in such a way that they will be able to push harder up the mountain, run faster up a hill or explode through the water and off the wall with greater power.
In all these sports strength training will help you compete at a greater level, but no more so than in swimming. In a sport where hundredths of a second mean everything, strength training should be a focus of any competitive swimmer. Dry land training for swimmers has come a long way in the last few years, but there is still much ground to be made. The old school mentality of dry land training for swimmers was to perform additional endurance exercise such as jogging or jumping rope. Although these activities in and of themselves are great to do, they are not going to help swimmers perform better in the pool. The new thought is that swimmers and other endurance athletes alike need a properly constructed strength training program to follow.
There are many things that would go into a comprehensive strength training program, but for the sake of this post I would like to focus mainly on the pure strength side of things. Strength training is really about force production. To move something faster, yourself or an object, you need to be able to create a greater amount of force against another object. For a swimmer, that would mean applying a greater force into the wall during turns and into the water during laps. Let’s say for example that a swimmer could cut .02 of a second off their time with each turn in a 25 meter pool while swimming the 200 meter free event from strength training for let’s say, a few weeks. If my calculations are correct this swimmer would take off .14 of a second. I’ve heard that is a lot in swimming. That is the difference between a swimmer being on a proper strength training program and cutting that .14 of a second off their time versus one that keeps their same time from not being on a proper training program.
Ok, so strength training is important, so what do I do? Unfortunately your specific program is not so black and white, there is a lot of gray involved, but there are many staples that should work for everyone if applied appropriately. This would include squat and deadlift variations, sled pushes, pushups, chin ups and rows. Most strength training programs will be built around these main movements.
Whether you are a swimmer or other endurance athlete make sure that you are following a strength training program that is best suited to your needs. Most endurance athletes should do well with training twice a week and some do like to bump it up to three times a week during their offseason.
Once the season rolls around, a lot of players stop taking the care of themselves that they did in the off-season. The truth is, the rigors of the season, practices, and games require just as much attention as the strength training of the off-season.
1) Drink and eat properly - if you don't fuel yourself right, you won't be at your best. Period. Try filling a car with soda and french fries and see how well it runs. Our bodies need complete foods, not pre-packaged sugar bars and snacks. Eat lots of fruit and vegetables, get some real proteins and healthy lipids (fats, like avocado and fish), and drink tons of water (no, gatorade is not as good as water. It's just sugar water).
2) Sleep - our bodies get to recover when we sleep. It's vital to our functionality, not just as athletes, but as people. Get some good sleep every night. This means planning ahead at times. Don't leave that paper to the last minute or cram for that test. Plan ahead, and get a bit done each night so you never have to compromise your sleep.
3) Lift - you don't need to lift four times a week with heavy sets and high volume like the off-season, but you need to maintain strength. When strength falters, injuries follow. Try to get at least 1-2 lifts per week, with low volume and moderate-high intensity. It shouldn't take more than a half hour to 45 minutes.
4) Recover - there are so many ways you can help your body recover with "active rest" - this includes using the foam roller and manual therapy to help promote blood flow and break up knots. It means doing what we call "developmental" exercises, which address any restrictions you might have in movement patterns. This means perhaps some static stretching in the evenings after practice, and more active mobility work as often as possible.
If you want to compete at the highest level, you need to prepare for it. Take care of yourself the right way, and you will be at your best on the field.
How much time do you have to spend training outside of what you do for your sport specifically? After practices, competitions and the other daily life activities how many hours are there left to train? This is a question that needs to be answered thoroughly and honestly to take full advantage of being on a training program that is best suited to your time availability. Everyone’s time is limited so the question is how can we be the most efficient with ours.
With limited time during certain parts of the sports calendar there has to be laser like focus on what the most important things are that need to be done. When an athlete is in season their time spend in the training facility will be decreased compared to the off season. This is a probably the time of the year where their time will be the most limited. There is no room to be adding things to the training program for the sake of more being better. For that matter, during any part of the sport year more being better is nearly never the case that should be taken with few exceptions.
This will be vastly different when comparing a younger athlete to a veteran. And when I say younger I am referring to a 12 yr old and a veteran would be 18 yrs old if he had been training since he was 12. A 12 yr old that has no time constraints and has never trained before would probably do great on three training sessions a week no matter if he is currently in season or off season. That would be the best case scenario. If three times a week is not in the cards I would not go below training twice a week. Training once a week, no matter the time constraints, will produce limited results.
For a more seasoned athlete, let’s say an 18 yr old baseball player that has been training for 6 years now and is in season and pitches twice in the upcoming week has to schedule their training volume for the week. Now it gets a little trickier. This week might only be 1-2 sessions depending on how he is feeling. It might involve more soft tissue work. Maybe he is feeling great and wants to get a few sets of heavy deadlifts in relative to an in season program. The next week he might pitch once or have an off week. What happens then? There are many variables when it comes to scheduling and coaching a higher caliber athlete that need to be accounted for. There is also no way to predict how an athlete is going to feel in the middle of a season or how much time they have to commit to training on a given week, but a coach with a good eye will make the best of both situations.
The point being, do not get obsessed with hitting a certain number of training sessions every week for the whole year. Take into consideration the time of the year as it relates to the sport being played, how experienced the athlete is as far as training experience and how recovered the athlete is for the training session. With all these things taken into consideration a proper training program can be put together.
James DeAndressi B.S, NASM-CPT has been interning at SportPerformanceU this summer and will be today’s guest blogger. James earned his bachelor’s degree in exercise science from Southern Connecticut State University and is planning on attending school this fall to become a physical therapist assistant. Below you will find his piece on why including a proper warm is so important.
It is clear based on research, observation, and comparison that a good warm up before a workout can increase the overall quality of how you spend your time in the gym. The question is however, what makes up a good warm up and why is the warm up part of the workout important? All trainers may have different opinions and different ways of training but for the most part, it is fair to say that most qualified trainers in any setting should agree with the warm up being a key part to an individual’s daily routine.
At SPU we will typically start a client with soft tissue work as well as some specific dynamic warm up exercises. Soft tissue work for a client will be mainly foam rolling or simple active massage unless the trainer is certified and/or licensed as a professional health care provider. They need to be legally bound to doing some type of manual soft tissue work on a client. Foam rolling is safe, effective, and backed by research to roll out fascia to fix cross linked muscle fibers. This will in turn make the muscles fire and perform the best it can for that specific person at that specific time.
Foam Rolling Techniques
A good warm up needs to consist of anything we as trainers believe will have a positive impact on our client during the workout. Mobility, or in other words, the ability to move freely through a given range of motion is one component to a good warm up. Exercises to increase range of motion include ankle dorsiflexion at a wall or shoulder wall slides. Corrective exercises are another key component. These exercises will be put on a client’s program depending on the results of some type of movement analysis. Corrective exercise is a broad topic but in the simplest of terms, they are specific exercises that will be targeting some type of human movement deficiency. Examples of some corrective exercises would be Unilateral or Bilateral Internal/External Rotation of the shoulder joint or hip joint and bird dogs to increase core stability as well as to strengthen a specific deep muscle connected to the spine which can cause pain. Trainers should take note of any types of movement deficiencies during every training session in order to progress or add/subtract corrective exercises. In other words, analyzing movement should not be an afterthought but should be constantly on a trainer's mind during sessions. To learn more about SPU’s specific biomechanical analysis, read our blog which gives some detail on this topic.
Dynamic exercises are another way we can prepare a client’s body for the upcoming workout. At SPU this is the final part of the warm up before going into our power, strength, speed, and conditioning blocks. According to Eric Cressey, in his book Maximum Strength “we are focusing on raising body temperature which in turn will raise muscles temperature. Lubricating muscles and joints as well as increasing mobility in key joints while enhancing stability in others in order to perform strength movements more efficiently” is also part of the equation. Some examples of dynamic exercises would be leg raises or a lateral shuffle.
Trainers who understand the importance of a well-balanced exercise program will have a warm up section that is not overlooked, rushed, or inefficient. For a client’s own personal well being, I would recommend changing trainers if they did not properly warm up a client before a workout. Fitness professionals should all look at the warm up as a line of defense, if you will, for decreasing injury. As fitness professional including a solid warm up is a necessity.
For as long as we can remember, static stretching has been considered a cure-all for injuries and maladies. What's the first thing your coach tells you to do when you get hurt? Most likely "go stretch it out." While static stretch serves a purpose, it's really not a cure-all.
First, it's not really a good warm up. Most folks are up to date on this and use a dynamic warm up, but I still see some teams do static stretching prior to activity. (Just as an aside, static stretching is where we hold a limb at the end range of motion of a particular joint for a set time; dynamic stretches include continuous movement). Using static stretching as a warm up has actually been proven to decrease physical outputs.
Second, most injuries don't require basic static stretching. Take a muscle strain, for instance - the muscle is damaged because at some point it took on too much force at too great a range of motion. Stretching the muscle even further doesn't really accomplish anything positive. There are some cases where physical therapists and doctors might use stretching during a rehab protocol to help regain a lost range of motion, but this is for much more traumatic injuries that have greater impact to function and require a more comprehensive healing method. But, speaking of range of motion...
Third, static stretching isn't always the solution to a "tight" muscle. In many cases, tightness is a symptom of something else, like neuromuscular patterning or stability in an adjacent segment/joint. In this case, stretching accomplishes very little. Have you ever met anyone who says they stretch all the time and still seems very tight? It happens fairly often - stretching isn't the answer to every problem. In some cases, it even makes the problem worse. A kid with limitation in the hip flexor might go to stretch the hip flexor and instead just arch his lower back giving the illusion of hip stretch, but really create low back problems without actually doing anything to the hip. In reality, the problem might just have been a weakness somewhere in the hip complex that made it not willing to move into a full range of motion.
The point of this article is just to point out that stretching isn't a cure-all - it's one of many tools that we have, and to be honest, it's one of the smaller, less useful ones. Stability work, soft tissue work, modified stretching with small movements and controlled isometric contractions, and strength all tend to get better results for increasing mobility than stretching.