Sport Performance

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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Simple Training Philosophies

“We’re not reinventing the wheel here.”

I can’t tell you how many times I have heard coaches (including myself) say that exact phrase to athletes, sport coaches, parents, etc. It’s true – nearly every break through in the field of sports performance happens when complex ideas are brought back down to Earth in a simplified context. Sure, we get new tools to use these ideas – such as TRX or Tendo units – but the ideas behind them are still simple. We want to be able to move and control our bodyweight (with devices like the TRX) and be able to train speed with a quantifiable result (I haven’t found anything comparable to a Tendo unit for this, but it is an incredible tool). Simple ideas, only with better technology to train with. Keeping that in mind, here are some simple training philosophies that help me get back to basics when I get too wrapped up in trying to, well, reinvent the wheel.

If It’s Important, Do It Every Day – Dan Gable (via Dan John) has provided me one of the best philosophies for my programs. While I don’t get to work with my athletes every day, I make sure to hit on the key aspects every training session. Lift heavy, train unilaterally, use the entire body at once, train basic movement patterns, lift/move your own body, stabilize what needs stability and mobilize what needs mobility.

If You’re Not Deadlifting, You’re Not Lifting – This is my favorite line from everything I’ve read from Pavel. Maybe it’s because deadlift was always my best lift (I am a little biased), but I’ve noticed a correlation between strong deadlifters and athletic ability. Maybe it’s the fact they have well-developed posterior chain musculature – recognized as an important piece of athletic performance and force production – or maybe it’s that athletes who deadlift usually take their training more seriously than their “bench and biceps” counterparts.

Have A Reason For Everything You Do – Since day 1, if I try something new in a program, I make sure I have a reason for including it (other than it looked neat on YouTube). If, once it has been introduced, doesn’t yield results, no matter how badly I want to include it in training, it is gone. This was a frequent point of discussion with Mike Boyle when I had the fortune of working with him last year. After his decades of experience, he still trains by the KISS mantra – Keep It Simple, Stupid.

Train To Perform On The Field/Court/etc. – Unless the athlete is a competitive Olympic lifter or powerlifter, their competitive is outside the weight room. With this in mind, lifting the most weight isn’t always the best sign of productive training. If I have a 6’8″ basketball player, I am less interested in improving his bench numbers and more focused on his agility, mobility, speed, and explosiveness. Simply making athletes stronger isn’t a job well done – those gains must apply to their sport performance.

Think Big Picture – Small Steps Lead To Big Gains – I covered this before, but I love Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 and the concept of small, continuous gains over a long period of time. Most of the workouts athletes see in magazines or online advertise “Add 50 Pounds to Your Bench in 6 Weeks” or “Bigger Biceps in One Workout” – immediate results. Other than making it difficult to coach athletes who see (and believe) these ads, they also shift the focus to the short term benefits. If I want a new car, I could sell my computer, tv, furniture, rob a convenience store, and drive off the lot with a shiny new truck by the end of the week.  However…that short term benefit came at a cost – I don’t have a bed to sleep in, money to pay for the gas my new car needs, and I’m probably a day or two away from being caught for robbery. The costs associated immediate benefits from training are only slightly less damaging – overtraining/injury – and result in prolonged gaps in training. What good is a huge gain if you’re forced to quit training and fall back to square one? Plan for where you want to be a year from now, not a week or month, and keep the goals realistic.

These are simple concepts, but when new research and ideas are introduced into the field on a weekly basis, sometimes simple is the way to go.

All the best,

Drew Henley, CSCS, USAW, CES

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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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Use Competitions to Drive Your Athletes

I was asked an excellent question last week – “How do you get lazy athletes to work hard during training?” What I usually rely on is his or her teammates to provide the motivation, and the best way I’ve found to do that is with competitions, especially during conditioning.  Here are a couple team-based competitions to put your athletes through if you’re noticing a drop in effort.

Timed Sprints

You aren’t timing their speed, but you give them a time limit. One good example is 30 yard (or 25, depending on the speed of your athletes) sprint they have 5 seconds to complete. After a short rest, 10-20 seconds, they sprint back, needing to beat the clock again. It’s really easy and efficient to have the rest be either 10 or 15 seconds, so you can have a stopwatch handy and have them start on the :15 or :20 mark. Keep doing this until only one or a few are remaining, declare them the winners, and have the losers do the real conditioning. Oh yeah, that part isn’t their actual conditioning, it’s the work they need to do to get them out of it. Make sure to schedule this with something all the athletes know and hate so they’ll put forth a good effort in the beginning. Whether you follow through with the planned conditioning after is up to you (and whether you’re pleased with the effort you see in your athletes).

A few variations:

  • Have a designated number of reps (let’s say 8) they need to complete in the given time to be done, otherwise they have to do the full amount (let’s say 12-15). Those who don’t finish the first 8 in time don’t sit out and run later, they keep running with their teammates, only with shorter rest periods. So in the above example, if an athlete is taking 7 seconds to complete the sprint, and need to go again on the :20 mark, they get 13 seconds of rest. Anyone who has done this before will know those extra two seconds mean a lifetime.
  • Split the team up into two groups, and for each round completed, the player gets a point for his/her team. So if there are two groups of five, they all make the first five rounds, the score is 25-25. It gets interesting when players start dropping off, whatever team has the highest score after the last man standing wins and is excused from conditioning. It can be really amazing to see one athlete left running by himself, trying to pull his teammates out of a deficit to help them avoid conditioning (essentially running it for them). It’s rare to see (because usually the team with the most left at the end finish off the other, and most athletes get tired and pissed at their teammates for quitting early), but it can be a great team experience.

Relays

These can be as simple as Prowler sled relays or more complex involving a handful of exercises with each athlete having his or her own responsibility to the team. If you’re looking to mix it up with a few exercises, and have them at your disposal, I’ve found these usually work pretty well.

  • Sled Drives
  • Hex Bar Deadlift
  • Goblet Squats
  • Push Ups
  • TRX Rows
  • Chin Ups
  • Box Jumps
  • Bear Crawl
  • Tire Flips
  • Farmers Walks

If your athletes are lacking motivation or effort, appeal to their inner competitor to get things back up to par. It may not work all the time, but having half your teammates yelling and screaming for you to go harder usually works better than any coaching tool.

Let me know if you have any other combinations or useful tips you use with your athletes. If there’s ever anything I can do to help out you or your program, please 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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