Strength

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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26 Training Lessons from 26 Years: Part 1

In celebration of my 26th birthday, I have decided to blatantly copy use an idea from an excellent strength & conditioning resource, Ben Bruno (his second part can be found here). With that in mind, here are my first six lessons.

1. Simplify

Training doesn’t need to be complicated. Build your base with compound lifts, balance hip hinge with squat movements, upper body presses/pulls and you have the makings of a solid program. Add in the extras after these basic movements are established, not as the foundation. Master the basics before trying to get complicated.

2. Know Your Progressions/Regressions

This is especially important for coaches with athletes of different levels. Just because the workout calls for back squats doesn’t mean that’s the proper lift for all athletes. An exercise is only as effective as the athlete performing it. If an athlete can’t perform a body weight squat with proper form, don’t advance them to a loaded squat. Here’s a simple progression I like for the above example: body weight squat > goblet squat > front squat > back squat. Likewise, if you are working with a group of athletes that have a low training age, but an individual would benefit from more advanced exercises, it’s important to know the “next step” exercise for each movement.

3. Include More Unilateral Work

A lot of coaches have been switching to more single leg work in place of constantly programming heavy squats/deadlifts. The reason being the combined weight of each leg trained individually can be greater than with bilateral exercises. While you may be able to put more stress on the leg musculature, I prefer single leg work for its core activation and reduced stress on the lumbar spine. This goes beyond single leg exercises and includes the arms as well. Single arm dumbbell military press is a shoulder-friendly vertical press with a heavy demand on the trunk to prevent lateral flexion. I don’t program in much strict ab work, so being able to include it with other movements help improve time efficiency in workouts.

4. Plan Ahead…in Pencil

Even the greatest training program can fall apart if unexpected obstacles come up. Changing schedules, injuries, etc. can disrupt a training program. It’s important to be able to change on the fly and maintain progress towards your goals.

5.Plan Recovery Into Your Programs

I learned an excellent programming tip from Coach Mike Boyle – build recovery and mobility into workouts. Mobility is frequently overlooked as a part of training and can help improve results and performance. By including mobility work with your lifts allows enough time for recovery after heavy lifts or speed movements. Too often, power developing exercises, such as med ball work or jumps, athletes tend to move on to their next set before allowing proper recovery. By introducing mobility drills as interset rest work, it forces extra time for recovery and maximum force production.

6. Don’t Overlook the Warm Up

Looking back on my teenage years, what I miss most is the ability to jump right in to a workout without warming up. Maybe a light set or two before my working sets, if that, and I was at full blast. Now my warm ups take nearly as long, if not longer, than the working sets. Foam rolling, stationary mobility work, activation exercises, dynamic mobility work, then progressing to a complex or other self-limiting exercise to start with low resistance.

Next week, I’ll post the second part of the series. 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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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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New Articles up on STACK

Sorry for the lack of posts this week everyone, I just accepted a new position and need to move across the country in three days, so things have been chaotic and likely will be for the next month or so.

Fortunately, I have two new articles up on STACK that I think you will enjoy, both on program design and getting freakin’ huge and terrifyingly strong (both scientific terms, by the way). In addition, I mentioned it last week, but I have put together an ebook of motivational quotes across a handful of categories, available at Smashwords. It is completely free, downloadable in a wide variety of formats (depending on your ereader, or can be read as a PDF), there are no advertisements and I don’t make anything money from it. Most of the words in it aren’t mine, so why charge? I use quotes daily (which you know if you follow me on Twitter), and have had a lot of requests for my quotes list, so there it is. You can download it here, and again, it is completely free with no ads or need to sign up for a Henley Sports Performance email list or anything.
Now, back to sports performance – here are the two newest articles I put up on STACK (with a third awaiting approval).

Bulk Up and Get Strong During the Off-Season

This article provides a 4 day/week training program that will build you up pretty quickly and help you break through any strength plateaus. Due to the word count limit, I couldn’t expand too much on it, so if you have questions feel free to email me and I’ll help you out.

Build Muscle with this Off-Season Baseball Program

This is another off-season program, only geared specifically to baseball players enjoying their time off (unless they’re playing fall ball or in the bigs). Slightly different, less intensity and a little more volume and a total body training format. Again, if you need more clarification, feel free to contact me via email, call, Twitter, or text.
Check out the articles and programs, if you have any questions or comments, 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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