Improve your workout

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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Simple Strength & Size Workout

One of the best lessons I’ve learned is simpler is almost always better. With that in mind, here is a program I have used off and on with pretty decent results. I call it “On the 5’s and 10’s” and it’s pretty simple – pick two exercises and do one for 4 sets of 5, the other for 4×10. I have also played around with 5×5 & 5×10, which works, but I don’t notice a big enough difference to dedicate the extra time for the sets. If I have the time to do two lifts for five sets each, I can usually make a better workout.

There are two common ways this can be utilized – either you’re pressed for time each day and can’t spend an hour in the weight room, but still want a quality lift, or you want to improve a movement/muscle group that is lacking.

Example 1

You can get to the gym every day, but only have about 20-30 minutes, but still want to focus on mass and strength.

Set Up – After a warm up, these two lifts are done as a superset, with only as much rest as needed between rounds to get the reps at your weight.

Lift 1: Deadlift – 4×5
Lift 2: Military Press – 4×10

Lift 1: Bench Press – 4×5
Lift 2: RDLs/Glute Bridge – 4×10

Lift 1: Squat – 4×5
Lift 2: TRX Rows – 4×10

Lift 1: Chin Ups – 4×5
Lift 2: RFE Split Squats – 4×10

With Lift 1, we hit the king exercise of each movement, then use less demanding exercises for reps. Is it perfect? Absolutely not, but if you only have time for two exercises, you can do much worse than deadlift and military press.

Example 2

For whatever reason, you’re not where you want to be for your squat. You can deadlift a semi, but struggle coming out of the bottom of your squat.

Set Up – In addition to your normal workouts, add this in on an extra day where squat isn’t emphasized (while still allowing recovery – remember, the issue may be overtraining and under-recovering anyway).

Lift 1: Barbell RFE Split Squats to Airex Pad – 4×5
Corrective 1: Hip Flexor Stretch

Lift 2: Dual KB Goblet Squat w/ Pause at Bottom – 4×10
Corrective 2: Ankle Mobility

In addition to improving strength out of the hole, the corrective work will help with mobility and limit internal resistance during the movement.

All the best,

Drew Henley, CSCS, USAW, CES
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 3

In case you missed them, here are parts one and two of my “26 Training Lessons from 26 Years” series.

13. Shut Up and Listen

I have been called a chatterbox, long-winded, and an annoying jackass who doesn’t shut up (among other things). It’s true – I enjoy talking and feel I can have a conversation with nearly anyone I share a language with, but at times it has been detrimental to my career as an athlete and now as a coach. When I was an athlete, I was certain I knew more than enough and could succeed on my own. It wasn’t until I learned to listen to my coaches that I began to truly succeed and my performance improved. As a coach, I have been fortunate to learn from some great mentors in the field. I never would have learned anything from them if I was doing all the talking – it’s not about showing off how much you know, it’s about taking in as much as you can.

14. You Don’t Know a Damn Thing

Going off of number 13 above, it’s unfathomable how much information is out there in strength and conditioning alone, never mind other related fields such as physical therapy, athletic training, etc. I have my methods and training preferences, but they are changing every year when new research comes out or I’ve added a few new wrinkles to my program. With that said, I trust my abilities as a coach to stay up to date with techniques and research, as well as rely on my support network of coaches, athletic trainers, and therapists to provide the best coaching I can for my athletes. Strength and conditioning is one of those professions everyone seems to think they can do, thanks to an occurrence called the Dunning-Kruger Effect. I like to relate it to an athlete telling an athletic trainer what their injury is and the form of treatment they need or a patient looking up their symptoms online and telling the doctor what medicine they need. If you are going to a professional, let them do their job – I wouldn’t be half the coach I am today if I stayed convinced I knew everything as an athlete.

15. Don’t Overlook Recovery Work

I touched on this with #5 – Plan Recovery into your Programs, but recovery work is not given enough attention. Training for an hour a day still leaves 23 hours remaining, this is when gains are made. Your training program is the spark of a match whereas the recovery is the wood and coal that actually burns. Individually, they aren’t useful at producing results, but when properly combined you can have a successful training career. Self-myofascial release, hot tubs, flexibility/mobility work, nutrition, sleep, and recovery aids like the EDGE Mobility Bands can help improve results by assisting with recovery from training.

16. Learn to Cook

I was fortunate enough to go to college away from my parents and began living on my own before assuming all of the responsibilities of adulthood. This gave me a few years of practice taking care of things around the house, paying bills, and most importantly, cooking. I am far from an elite chef, but after spending two years as a college student working in a restaurant and preparing my own meals for years, I can cook up my meals for the week without eliciting a gag reflex. For students, being able to cook for yourself will help you eat clean and healthy (aiding in recovery, as mentioned above) and save you money. Learn how to use a grill, oven, stove, and how to cook meat/vegetables properly – pink in a steak is fine, pink in a chicken breast is not – and you’ll be less likely to be stuffing your face with deep fried crap from a fast food restaurant when you’re hungry.

17. Make Every Rep Count

It’s easy to get distracted in the gym – cute girl on the treadmill, your teammate cracking jokes, the song playing on the stereo… – but it’s important to block all of that out when it’s time to do work. If you’re going to have a conversation, use your rest time. As soon as you approach the bar, lock yourself in on the task at hand and focus on getting the most from each rep. A wasted rep or set can never be gained back – have a reason for everything you do and be able to focus exclusively on that goal while training. Don’t let distractions ruin your training because you can’t block them out for thirty seconds.

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 2

Last week, I listed my first 6 training lessons and here are another 6 to help you in your training, programming, and coaching.

7. Learn the Olympic Lifts

Most of my training programs are designed around the O-lifts and their accessory movements. They are some of the most beneficial exercises for improving strength, power, and performance in sports, however they must first be properly learned. In order to fully benefit from the exercises, you need to learn the technical aspects of the movements. For example, a hang clean isn’t just getting a bar from mid thigh to a front squat position, it’s doing so with the correct muscle firing pattern. Hip hinge (not squat), pulling yourself under the bar (not jumping), pushing your elbows through (not perpendicular to the floor), and catching in the racked position (instead of landing on the wrist) are all important details to performing a proper clean.

8. Do More Turkish Get Ups

Other than the above mentioned Olympic lifts, nothing hits the total system quite like a Turkish Get Up. Ground movement, unilateral training, mobility, shoulder stability, and overhead work are all included in a single movement. In terms of programming efficiency, very few exercises hit as many categories as the get up.

9. Be Brilliant at the Basics

This goes hand in hand with two of my previous notes – simplify and know your progressions. The best powerlifters in the world base their programs around three lifts – squat, deadlift, and bench press. Everything else is supplemental and if you look at programs like Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1, you realize the importance of mastering the basics. Compound movements, varying intensity depending on goals, and giving the program time to work are the keys to successful training. If you can’t perform a push up with perfect form, you shouldn’t be maxing out on bench.

10. Battle Ropes are a Beautiful Thing

There are several ways to condition the lower body – Tabata squats, stadiums, hill sprints, etc. – and fewer options for the upper body that provide a similar effect. My personal favorite  is the battle rope. If you want to blast your shoulders like you’ve never experienced, 20 second reps of slams, alternating slams, circles, and jumping jacks can work the shoulder stabilizers and total body better than most alternatives.

11. Seek Balance

I don’t mean do all of your exercises on a BOSU ball or Airex pad. Balance means maintaining the relationships in your training program. The first comparison that comes to mind is upper body pulling to pressing. For athletes who spend most of their time focusing on their anterior musculature (mirror muscle/beach body workouts, sitting at a desk, poor posture, etc.) and it’s important to balance out everyday life by increasing posterior work in training. Likewise, balancing squats and hip hinge movements is important in developing lower body power and decreasing knee imbalances.

12. Don’t be Afraid to Try Something New

I recently started playing around with primal move workouts and realized something interesting…they make for an incredible warm up. I like how they can flow from one movement to another, building upon itself similar to a yoga/pilates flow. I was skeptical at first, but after playing around with the movements, I discovered a flow I like using as a warm up or mobility circuit. There are thousands of great ideas out there and without experimenting a little from time to time, you’re limiting the tools at your disposal.

I hope these help you in your training. Next week I will put up part three of the series.

All the best,

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

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