Research

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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Training for Power – Part I

This is the first in a series that I’ve wanted to write for a while, and was finally pushed over the edge to do it. I just finished reading an article on CrossFit and was frustrated beyond words as a strength and conditioning coach. Olympic lifts are not meant to be done for dozens of reps!!! They are a POWER exercise, not to mention the incredible amount of technique that is required to perform them properly (and safely). I won’t go into detail on my thoughts towards CrossFit (I’m not entirely against it, just parts), but I want to explain how athletes and coaches should use the Olympic lifts and why.

First off, a little basic information on the Olympic lifts – there are only two, the snatch and clean & jerk. Both start with the weight on the ground and end directly overhead, arms and legs locked out, and have several criteria to meet to be considered a completed lift (most of which I won’t discuss here because they only matter in competition). There are several supplemental lifts, which for training purposes can be grouped together so long as they are used in the proper manner, such as hang cleans, power cleans, push press, jerks, etc. These can all be used to increase power and force production, IF they are used properly. Dozens of reps in a fatigued state is (surprise!) not a productive use of these exercises.

So, how are the Olympic lifts and their derivatives best used to maximize power development? Low volume, high velocity, and a variety of loads. The main consideration for improving power and force production is time, specifically using as little of it as possible to complete a rep. Time is precious commodity in sports, where a fraction of a second can be the difference between an effective jam at the line of scrimmage and a DB getting burned for a long touchdown. As important as strength is, the ability to utilize that strength quickly is far more important to an athlete’s performance.

John Garhammer, PhD, who has conducted some of the best research in the world on the Olympic lifts, provided some amazing statistics regarding power development. Garhammer’s research shows the absolute power of the 2nd pull of Olympic lifts (when the athlete begins an explosive acceleration of the weight) is approximately 5 times as much as power developed during back squat or deadlift, and over 18 times as much as a 1RM bench press!

That’s great, but why is it bad for CrossFit type gyms to use these lifts? I mean, if less is more, just think how much more MORE is! The answer is, of course, too much. There’s a reason you don’t see drag cars going thru residential areas, that much power can only be safely utilized in short bursts. The Olympic lifts are very technical and require a lot of practice to be able to safely utilize, especially when moving heavier weights. As I said before, trying to navigate these technical lifts during a fatigued state is not only difficult, but very dangerous. Use these lifts properly, and you have an excellent tool for your athletes. If used recklessly, you’re risking your athletes’ progress and safety.

With that said, the Olympic lifts are not for everybody or every sport. In part 2, I’ll show some other methods of developing power when Olympic lifting is contraindicated. Let me know any questions, comments, or requests you have. 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
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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Articles & Videos You Should See – 10/31/11

First off, Happy Halloween to everyone, I hope your weekend treated you well. Today, I would like to introduce my first edition of “Articles & Videos You Should See” – a weekly roundup of articles, videos, and any other material I believe may be beneficial to other strength & conditioning professionals and their athletes.
Articles
How to Prevent Pitching Injuries – a Scientific Approach – While I disagree with the title (it’s impossible to prevent sports injuries, you can only hope to reduce their likelihood or severity)
Sandbags for Strength – I’m a big fan of sandbag (and sandbell) training and Matt Palfrey does a good job of detailing some of the benefits and common complaints associated with this method of training.
Videos
Creating an Effective, but Imbalanced Strength and Conditioning Program – Technically a webinar, but still qualifies as a video to me. Eric Cressey has begun releasing webinars with fantastic content and I’d recommend viewing this one while it’s still free.
Stuff That Must Have Happened – This is a new video series by my favorite non-sports/training site, Cracked.com. Their articles and lists are always a good laugh, and I think they are off to a good start with this video series (they’ve released two so far, and both have been hilarious). Just a fair warning – not all of the content on the site is appropriate for everyone, some inappropriate language and references, but nothing I’ve seen as extremely insulting.
Hopefully you enjoy and pick something up from the above links. If you find anything in the next week you would like to be listed, please let me know by sending me an email.
As always, 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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4 Things I Learned at the NSCA Arizona Clinic

This past weekend had two events demanding my attention – the NSCA Arizona State Clinic, and my Pittsburgh Steelers were in town (to beat the Cardinals 32-20). Since you can see highlights of Steel Town’s win on ESPN, I’ll focus more on the clinic with this post, but I do suggest you check out Mike Wallace’s 95-yard touchdown reception. With that, here are the top 4 things I took from the clinic:
1.    “Mark Verstegen” Thoroughly “Enjoys Using” “Air Quotations” – The Founder and President of Athletes’ Performance was the opening presenter for this year’s clinic and wow…does he love doing air quotes while speaking. Whether presenting, speaking with individuals, or asking questions of other presenters, it was rare to hear a sentence without seeing 2-3 air quotes. All joking aside, Mark is one of the most successful in the business, and it’s easy to see why. Mark preached “respect and humility” and genuinely displayed it at the clinic by taking time to speak with everyone who extended their hand and making every effort to learn each person’s name. While this may be considered common courtesy, it is increasingly uncommon among successful individuals, who overvalue themselves (and undervalue others).

Another important point Mark emphasized was to filter all the new tools/methods/exercises/etc. that we pick up every day and only apply what will work for your individual principles. We are constantly bombarded with these new approaches and it is our job as coaches to decide whether to integrate or avoid them. I liked Mark’s closing point – your principles should stay true to what you are trying to accomplish, and you should only add methods that work towards your principles. Do not let others’ methods dictate YOUR principles.

2.    Kinesio Capture is Amazing – Kinesio Capture is a new motion-capture software available for iPads and iPhones with incredible promise. If you’re not familiar with Kinesio Capture, you’re not alone – it’s only been available about three months – but I suspect that to change, and fast. Rob Harris was kind enough to give me a thorough explanation of the software and after testing it out myself I was blown away. I could go on and on about everything I liked about it, but I doubt I could do it justice. For more information, I recommend visiting their website, www.kinesiocapture.com, or contact Rob or any member of the Kinesio Capture team. Spend a few minutes looking into it, I promise you will be as impressed and excited as I am. Now, if I can only find someone to get me an iPad as an early Christmas gift…

3.    We Need to Rethink Coaching Cues – Dr. Gabriele Wulf presented some amazing research on utilizing external focus to improve motor skill learning and performance. Essentially, when subjects were instructed to focus on external cues (such as the floor or implement), the rate of motor learning and retention was much greater than when subjects were given an internal cue (focus on their hand, foot, etc.). To give a specific example – by instructing a novice golfer to focus on the swing of the club, rather than his arms, his accuracy improved. Given golf’s high technical demand, it is not surprising to see improvement in inexperienced subjects, however the results weren’t limited to novices. When the same instructions were given to elite golfers (split into three groups – internal focus, external focus, and control/no instructional cues), external focus was still more effective than no instruction or internal focus. Not only did performance improve, but muscular efficiency improved as well, as determined by EMG activity. The reason for this isn’t entirely clear, though the Constrained Action Hypothesis is the best bet right now. The constrained Action Hypothesis basically says that an internal focus results in an athlete consciously trying to control his/her body movements, limiting automated responses. By concentrating on an external focus, reactive abilities are allowed to properly function on a subconscious level, improving reaction speed.

What does this mean? For starters, our list of coaching cues needs to get a complete makeover. Instead of telling the athlete to drive through his legs, instruct him to drive his force through the ground. Instead of having a discus thrower keep her hand back during her spin, put the emphasis on the discus. This may be tricky at first, but after reviewing the information Dr. Wulf presented, it is by far more effective at improving motor skill learning and retention. As a coach, it is my duty to do what is best for my athletes. If that means relearning every instructional cue I’ve ever used, so be it. It benefits the athlete, improves development, and enhances performance.

4.    Escalating Density Training: Simple Doesn’t Mean Stupid – If you haven’t heard of Charles Staley’s EDT method, you can get the general idea from this original post of his from 2002. It’s an incredibly simple program that is challenging and produces results for all skill levels. It is very similar to my 60,000 pounds in 60 minutes challenge (which my good friend Alan Stein first wrote about here in 2009), only shorter in duration, volume, and exercise selection. Be sure to read both of the above articles, because both have good information and show two different models of total-volume workouts. EDT is designed to be used on a consistent basis (as the basis of a training program), where as the 60,000 in 60 is strictly a challenge and NOT to be used on a regular basis (but it is a terrific gut-check workout or plateau buster). If you work with individuals who are new to training, or just looking for a change in routine, give EDT a try. However, if you work with more advanced athletes who want a physically AND mentally demanding challenge, then try to lift 60,000 pounds in an hour. (60,000 isn’t impossible by any means, I’ve seen several work up to around 100,000, but on a first attempt, 60,000 is quite an accomplishment)
I hope you find this information as useful as I have. The information at these clinics, as well as the people and experience, is invaluable and always walk away a better coach.
If you have any questions about the above items, or 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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