Year: 2014

Why My Athletes Don’t Use Lifting Gear

One thing I believe in above all else when training athletes is to ensure what we are doing in the weight room will benefit them on the field, court, etc. While I can’t teach a pitcher how to throw a sinker or improve a golfer’s stroke, my goal is to give them better tools to build with. Does a baseball player who deadlifts 400 pounds play better than one who only pulls 300 pounds? Not necessarily, and certainly not because of the discrepancy of a single lift. Strength and conditioning is an important aspect of developing athletes, but to pretend it is solely responsible for leaps in ability is fictitious and overvaluing my worth as a coach.

I believe it’s important to train the entire system of an athlete rather than focusing on just improving weight numbers. For example – if a baseball player is losing his deadlift because of a weak grip, it would make sense to have him use wrist straps to eliminate the grip issue and allow heavier lifts. If the goal is to train for a powerlifting competition, this is an excellent strategy. However, I don’t know of any baseball players that moonlight as powerlifters – the goal is to prepare them best for the baseball diamond. A weak grip is a sign of an inability to successfully transfer force through their arms. Baseball, along with most other sports, relies on the ability to generate massive amounts of force, minimize energy leaks, and direct this force in a controlled manner.

Take the baseball player example – when swinging a bat, all of the force he generates from his legs must travel through his entire body before reaching his hands and the bat he is swinging. Just like the expression, “You are only as strong as your weakest link,” the weakest part of the kinetic chain will limit how powerful the swing will be. As important as generating force is, being able to maintain tension to allow the force to reach its endpoint is equally important. While most muscles are trained for force generation and movement, there are several body parts which must be trained to resist movement and maintain their rigidity to allow force to pass through them, like a cord passes electricity from the outlet to your computer.

I’ve found the following three areas to be the most common energy leaks and improvement in the ability of these muscle groups to transfer force can lead to substantial improvements in performance.

Grip

As any baseball player will tell you, grip strength is paramount to success. While this may not be entirely true (as found by studies like this one), it still has an important purpose, but as a means to an end and not an end in itself. When it comes to grip strength, there is a point of diminishing returns and you only need to be “strong enough” to reap the benefits. It might be nice to have forearms like Popeye, but dedicating entire training sessions to grip work is a waste of precious gym time. Athletes should work on active gripping with exercises like weighted wrist rollers, wrist curls, and rice bucket drills, but also program in static grip strengthening exercises such as plate pinches, farmers walks, and dead weight holds.

Shoulders/Scapular Stabilizers

This is for injury protection as much as enhancing performance. A stable shoulder girdle can help keep the humerus in proper position and reduce the chances of an injury to the rotator cuff or labrum. Extra work with the scapular retractors, specifically the rhomboids, will help negate the effects of sitting in front of a computer for hours every day. Some of my favorite exercises include reverse planks, batwings (which can also be very effective when done with a TRX instead of dumbbells), waiter’s carries, and wall slides.

Torso/Spinal Stabilizers (Anti-Rotation/Flexion/Extension)

Methods for training the abdominal muscles have changed drastically with the contributions of John Pallof and Dr. Stuart McGill. More coaches are shying away from spinal flexion and the potential risks it poses to intervertebral discs and gravitating towards core training that prevents spinal movement. Ab rollouts (stability ball, wheel, barbell, etc.), Pallof presses, and many of the Cook Bar half-kneeling exercises are excellent choices when training core stability.

If you find your performance stagnating, try incorporate some of these ideas into your training. It’s quite possible you’re losing some of the force you are generating because of an energy leak in one or more of these areas.

If there is ever anything I can do to assist you or your program, please do not hesitate to contact me via email, Twitter, call, or text.

All the best,

Drew Henley, CSCS, USAW, FMS-1
480-241-4112
Drew@HenleySP.com
Twitter.com/DrewBHenley

Posted by Drew Henley, 0 comments

My Goals as a Strength Coach

There are countless ways to improve athletic performance, and in the words of Dan John, “Everything works…for about six weeks.” I’ve mentioned before my training philosophy and some of the methods I use to coach my athletes, but I’ve never listed my goals. These goals help shape my coaching style and programming methods.

1. Get the maximum results with the least amount of work possible

This may seem counter-intuitive, as the basic concept of strength training is to continually complete tasks more difficult than the one before in an attempt to elicit an over-compensatory response, increasing strength. While it is important to progressively increase resistance and other variables to continue to make gains (remember, everything works for about 2-6 weeks…then nothing works), it is also important to factor in other stresses on the system. If an athlete is practicing 20-40 hours per week, competing another 10+ hours, while committing another 5 hours to strength training, the cumulative fatigue can hinder performance or possibly result in injury. Factor in emotional stress, such as school, relationships, family life, etc. and it becomes clear that efficiency in training is key.

I can create a program that will bring the most hardened athlete to his knees with dizziness, hugging the nearest trash can, and wondering when he’ll be able to stand again, that is simple. What are the benefits of this? How will the athlete perform at practice or in a game following that workout? Now, imagine if I can have the same athlete complete a different workout, one with inter-set rest periods, some mobility work, and a reasonable amount of volume. After the workout, he feels tired, but strong, able to continue on with his practice schedule and keeps his lunch down. If both workouts produce similar results in increased strength, why choose to make an athlete feel miserable? The idea that an athlete needs to be dead after every workout is ridiculous and dangerous. Put the same situation in different areas: If you can drive a 1 mile stretch of open road to get to the grocery store, or a 15 mile roller coaster of peaks, valleys, merging traffic, and reckless drivers, which would you choose? The point is, athletes have too many demands outside the weight room to punish them with every workout. If a program is efficient and properly designed, a single workout shouldn’t produce incapacitated athletes. (Note – this is a general rule, and I have written before on the importance of “gut-check” workouts and the benefits they produce)

2. Provide the head coach with the proper type of athlete

I once had a coaching change with a football team I was working with that put me in an interesting situation. The first head coach had been with the team for a few years, knew his athletes, and built his system around big, slow athletes and preferred a ground and pound approach. The workouts fit that description – athletes had high levels of absolute strength, a decent amount of power, and minimal aerobic conditioning. The new coach came in, installed his air attack scheme and said he needed fast athletes that can run an up-tempo game plan. While this wasn’t the best use of the athletes we had on hand, the coach wanted to run what he had success with, so we changed the training to accommodate the new demands (this was early in my coaching career when I thought total overhauls were necessary). The athletes lost some of their maximum strength, but maintained their power and improved their conditioning as well as speed with the new program. As a strength coach, it’s important to remember where you fall in the grand scheme of things. We are support staff – we are there to work with the head coaches and within their framework. It is our responsibility to prepare athletes for the demands of their specific program. Give them the tools to produce in their sport, given their coach’s game plan, and with the specific demands of their position, and you are positioning them for success.

3. Get athletes to understand “why”

This ties together the above two points. Why are we doing Exercise A instead of B? Why are we performing reps at Weight X instead of Y? Why can’t I do extra work on my off-day tomorrow? The more an athlete understands the “why” of a training plan, the more they can dedicate themselves to it and achieving the goals of the program. If they can see the big picture – factor in practice schedule, competition, and recovery time – then they can control their urge to do what they want to do at the moment, and focus on what they want over the long haul. A championship trophy is worth more to an athlete than an extra ten pounds on the bar today.

These are three of my goals as a strength and conditioning coach, which help shape my interactions with my athletes. I recognize not all coaches agree with these ideas, and I respect that. Again…everything works, and everything has its place, these are just some of my observations from coaching.

All the best,

Drew Henley, CSCS, USAW, FMS-1
480-241-4112
Drew@HenleySP.com
Twitter.com/DrewBHenley

Posted by Drew Henley, 0 comments