Injuries

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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Step Back to Move Forward: Looking at Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 Method

I was planning to write a long post, detailing the 5/3/1 method and then sharing my view on it, but I realized I kept referring to the same source. This article on T-Nation is an excellent piece on Jim Wendler and the 5/3/1 program. It’s an older article, but I have read it quite a few times and stumbled across it again the other day. I strongly urge you to read it, especially if you are looking to add raw strength to your powerlifts. 5/3/1 is a perfect example of the difference between simplicity and ease. Put another way, the 5/3/1 method is simple, but far from easy.

One of the key concepts of 5/3/1 is to calculate your weights off your 90% 1RM rather than using the actual 1RM. This demonstrates an excellent point of training – sometimes, you need to step back to move forward. Egos can get in the way of results; be honest with your abilities and allow them to progress. Strength training is not a wonder pill (those are illegal most of the time) with immediate results, especially if you’re an experienced lifter. It takes time to allow incremental gains to build into significant results. Too often, we’re focused on the quick fix for immediate gain to add 50 pounds to a lift in a month or make other drastic changes in a relatively short time. The truth is, outside of individuals new to training, rapid gains are hard to come by. Think of building a skyscraper – one I-beam may not be much, but look at what time and effort can produce using these relatively small pieces.

Injuries and over-training occur when you try to do too much in too short a time. Focus on longer term goals of at least six months, or preferably a year, and realize that it’s better to make steady progress than monumental gains followed by an injury.

T-Nation.com

If you’re an aspiring powerlifter, or just looking for pure strength in the powerlifts, than I suggest taking a look at 5/3/1 and giving it a try. Its simplicity makes it an easy program to implement and follow, while requiring very little equipment (if you’re in a facility with limited choices). Step back, analyze what you can actually do, then move forward with consistent gains.

If you are looking for more information on 5/3/1, you can purchase Wendler’s ebook here.

All the best,

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

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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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Addressing Strengths & Weaknesses

“It’s not enough to be good if you have the ability to be better.”

As you may be aware, I am big on quotes and that one tops the list (even on the link). An issue with several athletes and coaches is the belief that “good” is enough and they can hold steady and continue to succeed. Reflecting on yourself, your knowledge, and your skill set, then finding where you can improve and actually RECOGNIZING those areas as weaknesses is a difficult and humbling act. 

In the weight room, this is evident in athletes who hate stretching, or doing heavy leg work, or balancing their bench pressing with enough back work. The reason for avoiding certain work in training is usually simple – they aren’t good at it. They aren’t flexible so stretching hurts and shows their inflexibility, their weights on leg lifts aren’t as impressive as others or leaves them sore (due to lack of training), and nobody ever asks how many chin-ups you can do, the focus is on pressing big weight. Ask a high level athlete what his strengths are and you’ll likely get a well-rounded answer (depending on how modest the athlete is). Ask the same athlete about their weaknesses and you’ll likely get a half hearted response or one that starts with “Well, coach says I need to work on…” 

And therein lies the issue – athletes (and their coaches) attempt to distance themselves from their weaknesses and focus exclusively on their strengths. There is reason to emphasize strengths and hide weaknesses in competition (don’t plan to run the ball 90% of the time if your team is built to pass), but in training this leads to imbalances or worse, injuries. Most athletes have been training to enhance their imbalances most of their lives by drifting towards their strengths and avoiding their weak areas at all costs. By the time they recognize the importance of a balanced program, it’s usually too late or comes after rehabbing an avoidable injury.

In order to return to a physically balanced state, it is important to build the program in an IMBALANCED manner. More specifically, put a higher emphasis on improving weaknesses and creating a balanced (in terms of agonist/antagonist muscle forces) athlete. Eric Cressey does an excellent job describing how he addresses this in his training programs with this webinar

Many of these imbalances can be seen in an athlete’s posture or with a simple movement screen such as the FMS. Common imbalances such as Janda’s Upper-Crossed/Lower-Crossed Syndromes or any chronically overactive/underactive muscles can be noted by these assessments, but in order for an athlete to improve, a self-assessment is necessary. Below is my own self-assessment and next week I will show how the workouts have been built to address them.

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


It’s important for weaknesses to be addressed first in both assessment AND program design. When looking at weaknesses first, it becomes obvious what modifications must be done in programming. Next week, I’ll cover how the above weaknesses are addressed in my workouts. If you have completed a similar assessment and would like some ideas on how to improve them, feel free to leave a comment below or email me anytime.

As always, if I can ever be of assistance to you or your program, don’t hesitate to contact me.

All the best,

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

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5 Goals Every Program Needs

Last week, I posted three of my training principles (scroll down to #2) that help dictate the programs I write and how I work with my athletes. These principles help establish my mindset when I am writing workouts and act as starting point in program design. Since we have established some aspects that should be considered prior to beginning a program, today I am going to outline five goals every program should achieve by the end of the training cycle.
#1 Address any Injuries, Imbalances or Deficits – As I have said before (here and here), I believe it’s almost impossible to have a successful training program without a thorough assessment. It is necessary to find any muscular imbalances, range of motion deficits, and learn as much about previous injuries as possible prior to beginning training in order to maximize gains and performance. Athletes will become physically unbalanced over the course of a season, so it is important to restore them to their balanced state. For example, pitchers complete thousands of repetitions of shoulder horizontal adduction, internal rotation, and scapular protraction. To balance this, a program should contain plenty of shoulder horizontal abduction, external rotation, and scapular retraction. Also, a balanced athlete is less likely to be injured, which brings me to my next point…
#2 Minimize Potential for Common Injuries – It’s important to note I didn’t say “Prevent Common Injuries” because that is an impossible promise to fulfill. However, we can train in a manner to reduce the likelihood of an injury by strengthening the tissue that is commonly damaged. Think of a basketball player with weak ankles, instead of consistently wearing ankle braces except that one fateful day, train dynamic balance to strengthen the ligaments, tendons, and muscles of the ankle and foot.  Another example is female basketball and volleyball players and ACL injuries. Women are at a higher risk for non-contact ACL injuries (which, according to the National Academy of Sports Medicine, account for 70-75% of ACL injuries) due to their increased Q angle. A good way of training to limit this is to train more eccentrically to help the athlete learn how to properly stop and change directions safely.
#3 Train Movements, not Muscles – Great lesson I first picked up from Vern Gambetta’s book Athletic Development. The result is to improve how an athlete moves and functions, not just individual muscles. This keeps the focus on the big picture (sport performance) rather than looking good in the mirror or building impressive 1RM numbers. Movements are complex actions involving intricate coordination between several body systems (nervous, muscular, skeletal, etc) and precise firing patterns of muscles across the entire body. By learning to perform sport specific movements efficiently, athletes are able to…
#4 Achieve Automaticity – Don’t ask me to say automaticity because I stammer worse than Nemo trying to tell the class he lives in an anemone (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, you have lived a sad, sad life and need to stop reading this so you can watch Finding Nemo immediately). Thankfully, phonetics isn’t (always) a requirement to training athletes to achieve automaticity. As I mentioned before, Dr. Gabriele Wulf’s research has shown that an athlete is capable of improved reaction skills when handled on a subconscious level. When athletes are able to move without dedicating conscious effort to the specifics, they can act and react faster to their environment.
#5 Improve Sport Performance – This should go without saying, but the primary goal of a training program should be to improve the athlete’s performance in their sport. Training is a means to an end, not an end in itself. If an athlete adds 50 pounds to his squat 1RM, but does so at the cost of his agility, thus resulting in a decline in performance, then the training program failed. Athletes can always improve, it’s just a matter of choosing the proper areas to address. Be sure everything is geared towards improving the performance in the sports arena, not the weight room.
These are just the five universal goals of every good training program, with plenty of room for addition for individual needs. I hope your programs address all of these goals and your athletes are reaping the benefits. If not, I strongly advise you look through your programs and be sure you can say “yes” to everything listed above.
Let me know your thoughts on these five goals or how you work with your athletes to achieve them. If I can ever be of assistance to you or your program, please feel free to contact me.
All the best,
Drew Henley, CSCS, USAW
480-241-4112
HenleySportsPerformance.blogspot.com
Twitter.com/DrewBHenley
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