Self Myofascial Release for Improved Health and Performance

First off, if you don’t have a foam roller, go buy one. If you have one but don’t use it, start today. I believe everyone can benefit from self myofascial release (SMR), and foam rolling is the easiest and cheapest way of getting it done. The benefits are remarkable and can be noticed in a relatively short time (just about a week or two of daily use):
1.     Decreased pain
2.     Increased joint mobility
3.     Increased flexibility
4.     Improved circulatory functioning
SMR achieves this by doing two things – relaxing overactive muscles and breaking up muscle adhesions. When a muscle is under constant stress, trigger points typically develop, hot spots of a muscle with increased pain, discomfort, and sensitivity to pressure. There are a lot of ideas as to why these happen (instead of the entire muscle being in a compromised state), but what’s more important is how to fix them. SMR helps the body recognize this tension, relax the muscle, and release the trigger point, helping the muscle return to its natural state. A foam roller works well for this, but I prefer to use something with a smaller contact area, such as (in ascending order of intensity) a medicine ball, tennis ball, soft core baseball, or lacrosse ball. After relaxing the trigger point, stretches or exercises should be done to restore balance in the muscle to prevent the trigger point from coming back.
The second way SMR helps the body is by breaking up adhesions and scar tissue that develop within the muscles. Adhesions can increase intramuscular friction, decrease flexibility, and limit the range of motion through a joint. This is where the foam roller is king. Foam rolling along a tight muscle, covering as much of the muscle belly as you can without directly rolling on top of bone, can help break up these adhesions and allow the muscle to function more efficiently. There are different densities of foam rollers available, starting soft for beginners and increasing with experience. In order, these are white foam, EVA foam, black high density foam, and, for the brave, a 4” PVC pipe. My personal preference is the high density rollers, you can find one here from Perform Better, but they can be found almost anywhere. 3’ is most common and easiest to manage when you constantly change positions.
I recommend going through a full body SMR session, giving more attention to sensitive areas. I typically roll out my rhomboids, lats, and pecs for the upper body, then move on to the glutes, TFL, hamstrings, quads, and IT band in the thighs, as well as calves and tibialis anterior. The IT band is most likely going to be the most painful, especially when first starting out. Start small, short rolls starting at the hip and working your way towards the knee until you’ve covered the whole tissue. After rolling everything out, I go back with a tennis ball and work out any trigger points I found during rolling, usually in my rhomboids, external rotators of the hips – gluteus minimus, medius, and piriformis – and the TFL (less of a trigger point, but rather a deeper stretch). Again, this doesn’t require a big time commitment – a few rolls on each muscle group, spending extra time on noticeably tight areas and trigger points.
If you have fifteen minutes to spare, then use it on some SMR and you’ll notice remarkable improvements in comfort and performance. Anterior shoulder pain? Roll out the lats/rhomboids/pecs and follow it up with some scapular retraction exercises to regain stability in the glenohumeral joint. Lower back pain? Roll out the hamstrings and IT band, then attack any trigger points found in the glutes, followed by stretching the hamstrings and hips to maintain the flexibility gains, taking stress off the lower back.  This can go on and on with nearly any form of mild muscle imbalance and nagging pain. It’s a small commitment that should be made by athletes, coaches, and anyone else looking to improve their workouts and decrease nagging pain.
If you have any questions or would like additional information regarding self myofascial release, feel free to email me at DrewBHenley@gmail.com. If I can ever be of assistance, please don’t hesitate to contact me.
All the best,
Drew Henley, CSCS, USAW
480-241-4112
HenleySportsPerformance.blogspot.com
Twitter.com/DrewBHenley
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This or That?

Yesterday, Mike Robertson put out a good article on T-Nation, The Truth About Single Leg Training (if you haven’t read it yet, I recommend it). I really enjoyed the main point Mike focused on – all methods of leg training have their purposes, and it’s best to utilize them according to individual needs and goals. I want to expand on this idea and show it applies to much more than choosing between unilateral or bilateral leg training.
·      Barbell Bench vs. Dumbbell BenchThis comes up a lot with some of the baseball players I work with. “We did barbell all the time in college” seems to be the main argument. I’ve removed almost all barbell benching from my programs because the strain on the rotator cuff isn’t worth it, especially when the same gains (and more stabilizer activation) can be made with dumbbells at less risk. I try to limit barbell bench to football players, mainly to prep them for max rep tests. My general rule – if they’re overhead athletes, they don’t touch a barbell bench. Exceptions can be made if you’ve got a multi-grip bar and can utilize neutral hand position, eliminating some of the strain on the shoulder.
·      Spinal Flexion/Resisting Spinal Extension  Many strength coaches/ATCs/physical therapists have jumped on the anti-crunch wagon. The belief is that the spine has a finite number of flexion/extension cycles before resulting in disk herniation. I disagree with this belief, mainly due to the fact most of the studies were conducted in vitro on porcine cervical spines. I would go into further detail, but Bret Contreras and Brad Schoenfeld have written some excellent pieces on this, one available here that do a good job of summing up the pro-crunches argument. I mix in both for better development of the core musculature, however I limit spinal flexion in athlete’s with lower back pain as a precautionary measure.
·      Rotation vs. Rotation Resistance Many sports demand rapid change of direction and trunk rotation (e.g. basketball, baseball, football, soccer) and a strong core is vital for both of these. Rotational exercises serve as a useful tool in training these movements and can have tremendous carryover to sport. Since movements occurring in the transverse plane are usually forceful, it’s best to train them in the same manner (medball work is my preference). However, it is important for a well rounded program to include low-to-high and high-to-low lifts as well, training the serape effect and linking opposite shoulder to hip. Rotation resistance is most beneficial in providing stiffness in the core, providing support for the spine and allowing force to be transferred from the lower to upper extremities. Being able to transfer energy from one extremity is vital in almost all sports, and as such is a primary focus for training. All the leg strength in the world is useless to an offensive lineman if he can’t transfer it to his opponent, and in order to do that, it needs to travel through his core. Pallof presses and walkouts are excellent exercises to develop core stiffness (Pallof presses in a half kneel position even add in some hip stabilizing for additional benefit).
·      Flat Ground vs. Unstable Surface Balance Training BOSU balls, Airex pads, and Versadiscs are all great tools…for the proper jobs. However, the trouble is many people mistake standing on a BOSU ball for two minutes as having excellent balance. “But it’s functional training!” Really? What’s the function it’s training? Balance? Maybe if you live on a small boat and the ground you stand on constantly shifts, but most of us live on dry land and WE are what constantly shift. Now, I’m not saying death to all instability training, I actually think it’s incredibly beneficial in the right circumstances (which I’ll get to in a second), but it shouldn’t be the first recommendation. If an athlete has trouble standing on one leg, the answer isn’t to throw them on an Airex pad, that’s like telling someone to bench 225 because they can’t do a pushup. It’s backwards – conquer the basics, then move on to the more challenging exercises to improve upon a solid foundation. The table below shows the progression I use in balance training. The benefits gained by using instability products is wasted if the athlete doesn’t possess balance on flat ground, where almost all sports are played.
Flat Ground
Static
Unstable
Static
Flat Ground
Dynamic
Unstable
Dynamic
Almost everything has an appropriate time and place in a training program, it’s our job as coaches to determine when and where that is. Putting baseball players under the bar in bench because it’s “how we’ve always done it” is a poor excuse. Have a reason for everything you do and be able to explain why it’s the best choice. At the same time, it’s important to resist throwing aside an exercise as soon as something new and popular comes along. Single leg training is incredibly beneficial and puts less stress on the lumbar spine than traditional back squat, but it pales in comparison to the endocrine response generated by bilateral leg training. All of these are tools to have at your disposal, and the more tools you have the more jobs you can complete.
Let me know any thoughts you have on this matter, or what I’ve missed. If I can ever be of assistance, please don’t hesitate to contact me.
All the best,
Drew Henley, CSCS, USAW
480-241-4112
HenleySportsPerformance.blogspot.com
Twitter.com/DrewBHenley
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Motivating Athletes

We’ve all had athletes that blew us away with their work ethic, and there are some famous cases of the best going above and beyond what is asked of them, striving for perfection. Jerry Rice was known for workouts hard enough to grind diamonds to dust, Tiger Woods ends every practice by making 100 consecutive 9’ putts (pretend you’re reading this in 2007), and Kobe Bryant…well if you don’t know about Kobe’s work ethic, you should be watching videos of him instead of reading this.
While these guys are great to have, unfortunately players with that level of dedication even more rare than players of their superior talent. So what do you do when you have an athlete brimming with potential, yet lacking in drive? While every athlete (and person, for that matter) requires a different method to be motivated, there are a few trends that seem to help almost all of the time. As coaches, it is our responsibility to get the best out of our athletes and motivate them to reach their potential. Here are a few tricks I’ve learned to help get the most out of your athletes:
1.     Be Involved – Athletes will work harder for a coach that shows an interest in them. I can’t tell you how many “coaches” I’ve seen that are just yelling clipboard-holders. Be a coach you would want to play for. This is easily the most important item on the list, achieve it and most everything else falls into place.
2.     Small Groups – Want to get a fire lit under in your players? Get them competing. Groups of 2-5 have always worked best for me, and be sure the best workers are mixed with the worst. Try not to have the hard workers overwhelmed with lazy ones, attitude is contagious, you want to spread the positive. As soon as the competitive juices get flowing, suddenly the effort goes up and the players take pride in what they do. Most importantly, they get better
3.     Let Them Dictate Their Work – It’s the end of conditioning. You’ve run them for 5 (of ten) 40 yd dashes and each time guys pull up before the finish. Then you say the magic words – “Run these two hard through and we’re done.” Wow, amazing how quickly they recovered. My solution – give them that option at the beginning. I’m not saying offer them reduced conditioning if they run them all hard, but that can work. Instead, let them decide the distance on their sprints – as far as they can go until they feel themselves slowing down. I call these “Effort Runs” and use them if I notice guys have been going at subpar effort for short sprints. By shifting the focus from distance to intensity, it changes the mindset of the athlete from trying to run this far, to running this HARD. These work well for sports focused on power (most of them) and would obviously need to be modified if the goal of the training session is something other than power, but it’s a useful tool to have.
4.     Make it Different – Baseball players love run wide receiver routes and catch passes. Football players want to get on the hardwood and play basketball. The list can go on and on, but the point is that even players who love their sport more than life enjoy variety. Granted, the metabolic demands may not sync up perfectly with their sport, but that’s a small price to pay to prevent mental fatigue and increase attentiveness.
5.     Curls (to Look Good) for the Girls – What’s the easiest way to get a team of male athletes to enjoy the weight room? Make their guns huge. While it may not be beneficial to the sport, athletes want to be able to flex in the mirror and see some vascularity and bulging muscles, even if it’s only for an hour. Toss in an old fashioned bodybuilder style superset at the end of the workout every so often and enjoy the positive energy that follows. Everything has a time and place, but be sure this doesn’t happen at the wrong one and impair performance during competition.
These are helpful tips, but it’s also important to recognize that sometimes, players are just worn down and need a break. Don’t be afraid to give an unscheduled day off if you notice an athlete who normally attacks workouts is dragging. See if it’s just grogginess and goes away with a good warm up, but if it doesn’t, send them home and get after it tomorrow. Gains happen during recovery and I’d rather give an athlete the day off than see him/her overtrain and have their performance suffer.
Let me know any tips you have for motivating your athletes or if you try any of these out. If I can ever be of assistance, please don’t hesitate to contact me.
All the best,
Drew Henley, CSCS, USAW
480-241-4112
HenleySportsPerformance.blogspot.com
Twitter.com/DrewBHenley
 
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Introducing the Hybrid Model of Periodization

First off, I absolutely LOVE designing training programs for my athletes and think proper periodization is one of the most important factors in ensuring continued gains over the long term. When outlining a training program, the typical choice is usually between choosing a linear plan – progressing from one emphasis to another – or an undulating (non-linear) periodization which poses a different training goal each workout. Both methods have their places in a coach’s toolbox, but I believe there is another, better way to train. Introducing the Hybrid Model, which combines aspects of linear and non-linear periodization into a more effective and efficient work out plan.
Before I go into detail about the Hybrid Model, I’ll briefly explain the more common types of periodization. In a linear periodization, there is typically a progression from muscular endurance, advancing to hypertrophy, strength, and finishing with a power phase. I believe a linear plan is best used with younger or less trained athletes. It allows them a more comfortable transition  to heavy weights and complex movements, as well as providing more time to develop proper technique and muscular recruitment.
An undulating periodization is quite the opposite, with much less structure and more freedom at the hands of the coach and athlete. During season, this method has its benefits when used with better-trained athletes. The reason being that the type of workout (muscular endurance, strength, or power) is chosen immediately beforehand after establishing the athlete’s physical and mental state to determine which type of workout would be most beneficial. This freedom allows athletes to train harder when they are up for it, or pull back if need be, which can be beneficial during the course of a season.
Enter the Hybrid Model. Below is a program I designed for professional baseball players as their off-season training program. Workouts 1&3 were total body with a lower body emphasis, and workout 2 as a total body – upper body focus.
While each phase has a focus (commanding half of the total sessions), every training goal is addressed during each phase. This helps prevent losing any gains due to a prolonged period without a training emphasis, which is a common occurrence with a linear plan (such as maintaining hypertrophy gains during a power phase with much less volume).
Because the athletes using this program were relatively well-trained, General Conditioning workouts demand fewer sessions and serve more as recovery workouts. The players were young, in their late teens-early twenties, and many lacked ideal size and strength (though their power was above average usually). Because of these needs, hypertrophy and strength were the primary goals, each receiving 14 sessions, power as a secondary goal (12 sessions), and general conditioning serving as acclimation/recovery workouts (8 sessions).
Here’s a sample outline of the Hybrid Method:
Phase
Week
Workout 1
Workout 2
Workout 3
Phase 1
General
Conditioning
1.1
General
Hypertrophy
General
1.2
Strength
General
Hypertrophy
1.3
General
Power
General
1.4
Hypertrophy
General
Strength
Phase 2
Hypertrophy
2.1
Hypertrophy
Strength
Hypertrophy
2.2
Power
Hypertrophy
Strength
2.3
Hypertrophy
General
Hypertrophy
2.4
Strength
Hypertrophy
Power
Phase 3
Strength
3.1
Strength
Power
Strength
3.2
Hypertrophy
Strength
Power
3.3
Strength
Hypertrophy
Strength
3.4
Power
Strength
General
Phase 4
Power
4.1
Power
Hypertrophy
Power
4.2
Strength
Power
Hypertrophy
4.3
Power
Strength
Power
4.4
Hypertrophy
Power
Strength
By making three workouts for each goal (Hypertrophy Workout 1, Hypertrophy Workout 2, Hypertrophy Workout 3, Strength Workout 1, etc.), then plugging them into their corresponding places on the outline, you achieve a great amount of variability with an easy method of scheduling. To put that another way, the Hypertrophy Workout 1 in Phase 2, Week 3 is the same as in Phase 4, Week 4 (with greater loads, obviously). This allows a great amount of variety on a weekly basis, without the need to create new workouts each week. As you can see above, no two weeks of workouts are identical.
This is only one outline of a Hybrid Model Periodization, but it shows the potential and amount of flexibility available for coaches to manipulate to fit individual needs. The amount of workouts dedicated to any individual goal can easily be modified to meet the needs of specific athletes. Each phase can be lengthened, the number of workouts per week can be increased or decreased, and the specific training goals may be modified to suit the demands of the sport.
Any thoughts or comments are appreciated! Let me know how you would modify to train your athletes/teams, or if you’d like assistance in doing so.
All the best,
Drew Henley
DrewBHenley@gmail.com
480-241-4112
Twitter – @DrewBHenley
http://henleysportsperformance.blogspot.com/
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Important Resources

Here we go, time for the useful information to start. As I said in the last post, this blog will be composed of my own training thoughts and ideas, as well as pulling from a number of outside resources to provide a much more well-rounded experience.
As such, I’d like to provide you the following list of the sites/people I try to keep up with as they continually produce excellent work:
Alan Stein – blog.strongerteam.com
Eric Cressey – http://ericcressey.com/blog
Mike Robertson – http://robertsontrainingsystems.com/blog
T-Nation – http://www.t-nation.com/
Mike Boyle – http://strengthcoachblog.com
Drew Henley – http://henleysportsperformance.blogspot.com/
(shameless plug)
Now, I’m not saying I agree with everything all these guys write, or that this is anywhere close to a complete list of where to go for information, but these are who I check on daily because they put out excellent work. This isn’t including the countless books, journal articles, and twitter links I go through any given day, but if you’re lounging around and have your computer handy, these guys are definitely worth a look, I’m sure you’ll find something to incorporate into your training or practice time.
As I am sure I missed several great resources, PLEASE let me know who else out there I should all be checking regularly. None of us are ever too good/smart we can’t get better or learn more.
“There is no knowledge that is not power.” – unknown
Drew Henley
DrewBHenley@gmail.com
480-241-4112
Twitter – @DrewBHenley
http://henleysportsperformance.blogspot.com/
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