Coaching

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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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

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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 – The 4 Rules

(Parts One, Two, Three, and Four, in case you missed them)

The following four lessons are what I refer to as my “4 Rules” of training and life. A key part of training all of my athletes is ensuring they learn the 4 Rules, in order, and can recite them at any time…which isn’t too hard because there are only four, they are quite basic, and I am frequently yelling “Don’t break rule number __!” In retrospect, I should have done a countdown style format building up to this post (as these are by far my top lessons), but hindsight is always 20/20.

Training lessons 23-26:

Rule #1 – Don’t Die

Simple enough. If you die, the game is over – it’s pretty tough to come back from that without luck, a defibrillator, or divine power.

How it applies to training: Push yourself, but don’t kill yourself. Remember, sometimes less is more, and more is too much. I’m as big a fan of gut-check workouts as anyone, when they are used in moderation and programmed appropriately.

How it applies to life: Pretty self-explanatory. But in a less literal sense, don’t kill yourself with stress or reckless decisions (smoking, drinking in excess, etc). Live a little, but don’t break Rule #3 (see below).

Rule #2 – Breathe

Another simple rule that most people do without worry for most of their lives.

How it applies to training: It amazes me how frequently people will hold their breath while training until their face turns red and they get light headed. Taking in and holding a deep belly breath is an excellent way of increasing intra-abdominal pressure while handling heavy, heavy weights, but working with 5+ reps is too long to hold your breath. If you’re working with 2-5 reps, take breaths between reps to make sure you don’t end up like this guy (skipping past the horrible deadlift technique).

How it applies to life: Other than a necessity of life, breathing can help control stress and anxiety. A saying I learned a long time ago was “Control your breath, control your mind.” Don’t forget to breathe through the tough times, it will help more than you think.

Rule #3 – Don’t Be Stupid Just Because It’s Easy

As mentioned above, it’s still important to take some risks, have some fun, and do some stupid things from time to time…but for the right reasons. What are the right reasons? If you’re going to be stupid, it better be for one of four reasons: it’s going to be fun, you have a chance to make some money (bet you twenty bucks you can’t _____), you are paying up on a lost bet, or you have a chance to get the girl. You can usually tell when someone was stupid just because they could be by how they tell the story. If it starts with “So this one time, I thought it would be a good idea to…”

How it applies to training: Don’t screw around in the weight room. Don’t try a max without a spotter. Don’t be reckless. There really isn’t a better way to put it than don’t be stupid.

How it applies to life: You’ll have plenty of opportunities to be stupid. Don’t take them all, avoid the unnecessarily dangerous or foolish opportunities. If it’s fun, profitable (not an investment that is just as likely to cost you money), or can get you a date, go for it. You only live once.

Rule #4 – Don’t Suck

An excellent quote describing rule #4 – “If you go outside, meet twenty people, and one’s a jerk, you met a jerk. If you go outside and meet twenty people, and they’re ALL jerks, then you’re the jerk.”

How it applies to training: Hold yourself accountable, be a good teammate, and apply yourself to your training. Don’t act better than everyone else, show up on your own schedule, or disrespect those your sharing the weight room with (rack your weights, don’t go around shouting, clean up after yourself).

How it applies to life: You won’t get very far in life if no one can stand being around you. If a friend asks a favor, don’t turn them down just because it requires you to get off your couch. The more you help and support those in your life, even casual acquaintances, the more likely you are to succeed.

I hope you enjoyed this series and 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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26 Training Lessons from 26 Years: Part 4

If you missed them, here are parts one, two, and three of this series.

18. Spend the Time & Money to Learn

This is a huge one. As I mentioned before (#14), everyone thinks they know how to be a strength coach. The truth is, there is an infinite amount of detail that can be seen in every rep of every lift. Learning to recognize these subtle cues requires experience and, more importantly, a teacher. I have been very fortunate to learn from some excellent coaches and mentors in this field. One of the best investments I have made as a coach was attending a USA Weightlifting certification course. Two days of hands-on experience, working with former Olympic Weightlifting coaches, as well as thirty other coaches with various levels of training the Olympic lifts, was an incredible learning experience that no amount of textbooks or videos could duplicate. If you want to become a better coach, invest in yourself and learn from everyone you can.

(With that said, I want to take this chance to thank those in the field who have helped me along the way thus far. Alan Stein (first mentor and helped ignite my passion for this, I can’t thank you enough), Brett Fischer (and his entire staff at Fischer Sports), Frank Renner (If anyone has taught me how to coach, it is Frank – couldn’t have asked for a better mentor), Taylor Kleinschmidt/P.J. Fabritz/Taylor Janowicz (being able to bounce ideas off you guys has helped tremendously), Mike Boyle (the resources he provided, in addition to learning from him for a month was unbelievable), Dan John (if you haven’t read Never Let Go, quit reading this until you do. Seriously, go buy it now.), Dr. Erson Religioso (who has amazing content over at www.themanualtherapist.com), Ben Bruno (your assistance/referrals with my site has helped more than you know), all of the ATHLETIC trainers and physical therapists I have been fortunate enough to work with, as well as my current colleagues – I learn something new from you every day and become a better coach with every bit of it. Thank you all for your help.)

19. Don’t Major in the Minor

Several athletes and coaches are interested in perfecting tiny details, but fail to see larger issues that demand attention. A quote I really like is, “Don’t be too busy mopping the floor to turn off the faucet.” and I think it’s an excellent way of saying fix the problem and the residual issues will take care of themselves. A good example is training accessories – weightlifting shoes, bands, chains, etc. These are great for the individual who knows what he/she is doing with them, but just frills. If you can’t deadlift at least twice your body weight, don’t worry about adding chains or bands to improve your lockout. Master these movements – squat, hip hinge, push up, plank, and rowing/chin ups to be able to retract your scapula. Once these are under control, then get more creative, but the secret to an effective program is simplicity – do the basic movements, do them well, and progressively increase resistance to improve.

20. Do More Ground Work

A couple months ago, I wanted to incorporate more ground work and became interested in learning more about Primal Move workouts. I found an amazing set of videos at Breaking Muscle by Andrew Read and starting implementing the movements into my own warm up. I noticed a big difference in my lifts with these warm ups – I felt like I got rid of my “old man syndrome” while I was rolling around and working my way up off the ground. I don’t have any research or evidence other than personal experience, but it’s something worth trying if you are looking for a change in your workout.

21. Give it Some Time

Training is an investment, not a pay day – it takes time to see the benefits. One workout is enough to make you a little better, but it takes several to see any real gains. If you are trying a new training program, commit to it for a few months to allow it to work. You can’t expect results if every other week you bounce from 5/3/1 to triphasic to Power to the People to whatever else catches your eye. If a program is going to work, it is going to require time – think big picture.

22. Learn to Schedule, You’re Going to Need it

I’ve worked in private business, professional, and college settings and can say the most consistent aspect of all three is time demands. Your daily schedule will be like Tetris – find the perfect slot for Team A or Person B, then realize Group X needs to get their time pushed back to that day because of Random Event Y… then flip your desk over and shout profanity at your computer screen. Basically, as a strength and conditioning coach, your rank of importance on some one’s schedule is pretty low. For an athlete it goes – games, practice, extra individual work, eating, training. Students are similar but add in their classes, enough time for homework, and group meeting times. Then team coaches have to take in these factors plus weather (if their sport is outside and susceptible) and availability of facilities. Your perfect schedule will get changed every way imaginable and if you can’t roll with it while staying on top of everything, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and lost in the mix. Learning to communicate with your athletes and coaches (and doing it consistently) is the best way of keeping everything humming along.

Next week, I will wrap up the series with my big four rules of training.

All the best,

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

 

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