Assessment

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

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A Better Way to Test Power

Two weeks ago, I was fortunate to attend the Perform Better Summit in Providence, RI and was constantly putting pen to paper in an attempt to bring as much to my training as possible. One of the most fascinating lessons I picked up at the conference was from Greg Rose of Titleist Performance Institute. During Greg’s hands-on session, he showed us four power tests he uses with his athletes, how they relate to performance, and what they reveal in the athlete.

Important note: for male athletes, use a 4kg med ball and for female athletes, 2kg.

Test #1 – Seated Med Ball Chest Pass

This is a common exercise that I have used with hundreds of athletes, both as a test and in training. Have the athlete sit on a plyo box (about 18″ seems to be right for most people), and throw the med ball as far as possible while keeping their hips on the box the entire time. Distance in feet = #1

Test #2 – Supine Chop Throw

Begin in a sit-up position while holding a med ball, arms extended overhead on the ground. Perform a crunch/sit-up/chop throw, while keeping feet and hips on the ground throughout the throw. Distance in feet = #2

Test #3 – Vertical Jump

Nothing fancy here, a standard counter-movement jump for height. Feel free to use whatever equipment you have at your disposal – Vertec, Just Jump, etc. Height in inches = #3

Test #4 – Rotational Shot Put

Similar to the MB chest pass above, this is one of my favorite upper body power exercises (though, as a former thrower, I always hesitate when labeling it as a shot put…feels wrong on some level). With the athlete in an athletic stance, body perpendicular to the direction they will be throwing, have them throw as far as they can. There is no step into the throw or jump while throwing, the feet can turn and the back leg can come forward, but remember this is a test – tests are only beneficial if executed properly. Repeat with each arm. Distance in feet = #4

Here is where things get interesting, those numbers should all be connected. #1, #2, and #3 should all be equal or close to it, and #4 should be about 1.5 of the other numbers. For example, if an athlete has a 20″ vertical, they should have a chest pass and chop throw distance of 20′, and their shot put distances should be right around 30′. This shows a well balanced power profile of an athlete. If one or two of these numbers are below this ratio, it shows where training should be modified to improve total body power.

This is another demonstration of the body being a single unit instead of a collection of pieces – everything is connected. If you want powerful athletes, be sure they are powerful throughout their body and not just in common movements. If an athlete can generate sufficient power with their legs (let’s say a 30″ vertical), but are unable to transfer that power to their upper extremities (due to weak core/rotational power), their performance will suffer. We will always be limited by our weakest link, these tests can help reveal and remedy those weak links and improve performance.

All the best,

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

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26 Training Lessons from 26 Years: Part 1

In celebration of my 26th birthday, I have decided to blatantly copy use an idea from an excellent strength & conditioning resource, Ben Bruno (his second part can be found here). With that in mind, here are my first six lessons.

1. Simplify

Training doesn’t need to be complicated. Build your base with compound lifts, balance hip hinge with squat movements, upper body presses/pulls and you have the makings of a solid program. Add in the extras after these basic movements are established, not as the foundation. Master the basics before trying to get complicated.

2. Know Your Progressions/Regressions

This is especially important for coaches with athletes of different levels. Just because the workout calls for back squats doesn’t mean that’s the proper lift for all athletes. An exercise is only as effective as the athlete performing it. If an athlete can’t perform a body weight squat with proper form, don’t advance them to a loaded squat. Here’s a simple progression I like for the above example: body weight squat > goblet squat > front squat > back squat. Likewise, if you are working with a group of athletes that have a low training age, but an individual would benefit from more advanced exercises, it’s important to know the “next step” exercise for each movement.

3. Include More Unilateral Work

A lot of coaches have been switching to more single leg work in place of constantly programming heavy squats/deadlifts. The reason being the combined weight of each leg trained individually can be greater than with bilateral exercises. While you may be able to put more stress on the leg musculature, I prefer single leg work for its core activation and reduced stress on the lumbar spine. This goes beyond single leg exercises and includes the arms as well. Single arm dumbbell military press is a shoulder-friendly vertical press with a heavy demand on the trunk to prevent lateral flexion. I don’t program in much strict ab work, so being able to include it with other movements help improve time efficiency in workouts.

4. Plan Ahead…in Pencil

Even the greatest training program can fall apart if unexpected obstacles come up. Changing schedules, injuries, etc. can disrupt a training program. It’s important to be able to change on the fly and maintain progress towards your goals.

5.Plan Recovery Into Your Programs

I learned an excellent programming tip from Coach Mike Boyle – build recovery and mobility into workouts. Mobility is frequently overlooked as a part of training and can help improve results and performance. By including mobility work with your lifts allows enough time for recovery after heavy lifts or speed movements. Too often, power developing exercises, such as med ball work or jumps, athletes tend to move on to their next set before allowing proper recovery. By introducing mobility drills as interset rest work, it forces extra time for recovery and maximum force production.

6. Don’t Overlook the Warm Up

Looking back on my teenage years, what I miss most is the ability to jump right in to a workout without warming up. Maybe a light set or two before my working sets, if that, and I was at full blast. Now my warm ups take nearly as long, if not longer, than the working sets. Foam rolling, stationary mobility work, activation exercises, dynamic mobility work, then progressing to a complex or other self-limiting exercise to start with low resistance.

Next week, I’ll post the second part of the series. If you have any questions or comments, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

All the best,

Drew Henley, CSCS, USAW, CES

480-241-4112
Drew@HenleySP.com
Twitter.com/DrewBHenley
Facebook.com/HenleySP

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Changing of the Seasons

With winter break in full swing, many college athletes are either in the middle of their competitive season, or preparing for what is to come in the spring. Most of my current athletes are spring-season sports (such as baseball, tennis, etc.) and will be returning to school not only for classes, but preseason practices and training.

I came across an interesting article on Sports Medicine Research regarding injury rates during practice for collegiate sports, comparing pre-season, in-season, and post-season, as well as when during the calendar year (fall sports versus winter and spring sports). You can find the information here, and I highly recommend it for all coaches working with college athletes or teams. There are two key points I want to highlight:

  • Pre-season injury rates were nearly three times as high as in-season. I can tell you from my experience, too many athletes skip their off-season work and expect pre-season to get them into shape and prepared. However, going from no activity to pre-season workload often results in overtraining, overuse injuries, or even a surprise cut from the roster. Work hard in the off-season so you’ll be prepared for the grind of sport-specific work that comes in-season.
  • Fall sports have a much higher rate of injury than winter and spring sports (with the latter having the lowest incidence rate of the three). This coincides with my above point – off-season work is necessary to help reduce risk of injury during in-season training. Since this study focused exclusively on college sports, it makes sense that spring sports – teams that have an entire semester on campus to get work in before their season – would have the lowest injury rates. Granted, football plays a big role in this discrepancy, but I can’t help but feel the insufficient pre-season time on campus plays a role.

As you prepare your athletes for the upcoming semester, recognize that some are likely to be green and unprepared for the rigors of training. Whether you want to pamper them or put them through hell week as a reminder to stay on top of things during break, that is for each coach to decide based on their philosophy and athletes. As I mentioned before, almost all of my athletes compete during the spring season, so I have had several weeks of off-season training with them. We concluded with several performance tests, not only to mark their improvements, but to hold them accountable for their work over break. This sense of accountability, to themselves, to their teammates, and their program, is far more motivational than any words I could speak. They busted their tails off, and I reminded them how easily it could all go away if they were to take this month off.

If you have any questions or comments, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

All the best,

Drew Henley, CSCS, USAW, CES

480-241-4112
Drew@HenleySP.com
Twitter.com/DrewBHenley
Facebook.com/HenleySP

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Addressing Strengths & Weaknesses – Part II

First off, I hope everyone had a great memorial day and paid tribute in some way to our troops, past and present. They have done more for us than many ever dream to do. I paid my respects thanking those I know have served…and by nearly killing myself lighting up a grill for some bbq. We all have our own, unique ways of celebrating holidays. Anyway…

In part one, I mentioned it is important to train to your weaknesses instead of focusing on your impressive lifts, and doing so requires an imbalanced program focused on said weaknesses. Years of training “mirror muscles” (the ones you see when flexing in the mirror) can lead to deficiencies in other areas, typically upper back and posterior chain strength. These issues become more pronounced by poor posture, from activities such as sitting at a desk, hunched over a keyboard for hours at a time. This isn’t to say “never train your chest again” – instead, it is a reminder there’s more to training than what you’re doing. Specifically, what you’re not doing.


To recap, below are my strengths and weaknesses I mentioned last week – 

Weaknesses:

  • Ankle mobility
  • Lower body flexibility – primarily hamstrings & quadriceps
  • Unilateral leg strength
  • Transverse plane core strength – resisting rotation
  • Scapular retractors isometric strength
  • Rotator cuff activation & strength


Strengths

  • Bilateral leg strength
  • Posterior chain & erector spinae strength
  • Sagittal plane core strength – resisting spinal flexion
  • Vertical pulling strength


Again, it’s important to put the emphasis on weaknesses (as plenty of time and effort has likely already gone into building the strengths into, well, strengths). Now that we have gone through the humbling process of admitting we’re not perfect (still debatable), what’s the next step? How do we correct these weaknesses and shorten that list?

First, we address any soft tissue restrictions that may be causing problems. Go through a solid foam rolling program and note where you find any trigger points (they’ll likely be in the antagonist muscles to your strengths). One of the biggest detractors for a successful training program is pain, and if we can eliminate the source of pain (instead of simply avoiding training the area), we can develop a well-rounded program.

After improving the quality of the tissue, we want to essentially “reset” our body into a balanced state. How do we do that? Increase flexibility in areas that are chronically overactive and tight, while activating and strengthening muscles that are weak and/or “locked long” as Thomas Myers puts it in Anatomy Trains.

Given the above examples, we can figure that there is some tightness throughout my posterior chain (given the limited ankle mobility and lower body flexibility). So let’s increase the amount of time dedicated to flexibility and mobility work and less time under tension until ideal ROM is achieved. Notice I said less time, not no time – there can still be lower body strength lifts, however if I have a limited amount of time to train, the flexibility work takes priority.

This trade-off occurs with every strength/weakness pairing. If X is limited, then you’re probably doing too much Y and not enough Z. Increase Z and decrease Y until X is up to par. Simple? Yes. Easy? No. I’m no different than anyone else – I enjoy doing what I’m good at and shy away from my weaknesses, but if I want to be able to continue to make gains (and live with less pain from poor training habits), changes need to be made.

Weak rotator cuff and scapular retractors? See ya big weights, hello side-lying external rotations and bat wings. Balance an issue? Bye bye stable, two-footed movements, you’re being replaced with single leg, multi-planar movements. Sure, you’ll look awkward and weak for a while until your body adapts, but that’s the good news – you’re body is going to adapt. Those weaknesses will fade and be replaced with strengths.

Not only will your list of weaknesses shorten, you’ll move better and likely see an increase in your strengths. Weaknesses aren’t permanent, they are anchors that must be raised to allow your gains to continue. I hope you can get comfortable with being uncomfortable, it’s one of the best pieces of advice I can give. Once you’ve mastered a lift, movement, or skill, move out of your comfort zone and try something new. You’ll be surprised how quickly weaknesses can become strengths, once loathed exercises become staples in your program, and your ability increases.

As always, if I can ever be of assistance to you or your program, please feel free to contact me at anytime.

All the best,

Drew Henley, CSCS, USAW, CES
480-241-4112

YouTube.com/DrewBHenley 


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