Category Archives: Strength & Conditioning
I came across a few articles in the most recent Strength & Conditioning Journal regarding youth agility training & the factors that go into gaining and improving these abilities. It led me to an article from June 2012 that I found interesting and also encouraging in terms of the direction we’re heading regarding youth/adolescent training. Previously, most training recommendations were made based purely on age, with little attempt to quantify the true physical maturation of a child or adolescent. The old model clearly had many flaws, but this new YPD (Youth physical development) model takes a lot more factors into consideration, and is based largely on when a child reaches peak height velocity and peak weight velocity, along with puberty.
I don’t want to summarize the whole article, but I do have it downloaded in pdf for anyone that wants it [just shoot me a comment or an email]. I really just wanted to share these two graphics that help explain what areas a child’s “training” should be focused on in order to develop to their full athletic potential.
A similar chart for females:
The thing most noteworthy for trainers:
-FMS (functional movement screens / mobility) are important, but never the primary focus of a training program. Even in the early stages of development, where training has low structure, the child is learning to develop agility, speed, power and strength simultaneously – and all components are important.
-This spectrum helps trainers decide what category a late developing or early developing child would be in & what components might be more important to emphasize (vs just relying on physical age & “training age”)
-Agility is an under researched component, but may need to be trained & then re-trained after peak height velocity is reached. Agility requires a large neural component (decision making, reaction time) that develops with a child’s maturity. The patterns can be established and trained early, with repeatability helping to form those neural connections, but it may need to be re-visited later if there is a significant growth spurt or change in physical development.
-High intensity metabolic training/endurance training is very low on the priority list until later years/higher structure training. With all the bootcamp trends popping up lately, it is important to remember that children are not “mini adults” and therefore shouldn’t be trained in the same fashion. We have come to terms with the fact that strength training (when done properly) is not going to damage limbs or stunt growth, but it is important to focus on the needs of the development child/athlete and not give them a workout targeted at people looking to lose weight.
-There is predictably a shift in maturity & age when it comes to females vs. males, but the training necessities when they DO reach PHV remain the same.
I like that this model seems to have more of an individualized approach when it comes to assessing a child’s readiness for training and I hope it becomes studied more, tweaked, and eventually widely accepted as a new standard for training.
With summer FINALLY upon us, and amazing weather to take advantage of, most of us are ditching the dark gym for the outdoors. And, with everyone jumping on the HIIT and sprint bandwagon, that means lots of ugly track workouts and soccer fields being used for the first time in….ever.
I’m a huge advocate of getting outside and running around like a lunatic, but there are a few things to keep in mind when making the transition from treadmill/weight training to outdoor running & conditioning.
1. If you tend to program a lot of Romanian deadlifts (and also Good Morning’s) in your workout, you’re going to want to decrease these a bit and start adding some more glute/ham raises & leg curls. The RDL specifically targets the high hamstring, but tends to leave the belly of the hamstring neglected. If there is too much emphasis placed on this movement, it tends to create an imbalance. The result? The first time you go to run might just be the last of the summer. Be sure to adjust accordingly.
A little Anatomy note: As you can see, the biceps femoris is right in the middle. One head stretches from the ischium to the sacrotuberal ligament, and the other stretches from the linea aspera near the adductor to the high insertion near the glutes. It is the most commonly injured portion of the hamstring, particularly at that high insertion point.
2. If you haven’t been sprinting in awhile, start with stairs and/or hills. It sounds ridiculous, but hear me out. The hill doesn’t need to be dramatic, just a slight incline (~ <12% grade). The incline shortens the stride length which will protect the hamstrings and let them work up to full sprint capacity. Also, don’t worry about sprinting down the hill or down the stairs. The eccentric stress is too great & trust me – you’ll still feel it in your legs if you slow down your pace to walk down.
3. Not every workout has to be an all-out max sprint effort. In fact, it shouldn’t be. 1-2 of those a week is sufficient because they’re extremely taxing on the nervous system, even if you’re only out there for 20 minutes. It is the same as strength training. You’re not always lifting at your max, so don’t sprint at it either.
4. Stride workouts are pretty awesome. A lot of people have heard of 400m repeats, which are usually all-out sprints performed in a 60-90sec time frame with a large rest period (3-5 minutes). But for a lot of people I like using 400m repeats a bit above their mile pace with a 1:1 rest. Just take your mile time (for example: 8 minutes). This means each lap (400m) would be run at a 2 minute pace. Shoot for 2 minutes at first, with a 2 minute rest (4-6 reps).
It is less taxing on the hamstrings, helps build work capacity, and improves overall conditioning and running pace. Obviously, adjust for your goals, but if you’re just looking to improve body composition and get in running shape, these are great.
5. A dynamic warm up is important for running workouts. Get the body going & the hamstrings prepared with some drills and leave the static stretching to recovery days. Find a routine that works for you and that doesn’t take too much time. 5-7 minutes should be enough.
And last but not least..
6. RECOVER. Even if you aren’t as sore as you would be from lifting, let your body recover. You are hitting your body with a new (and intense) stimulus, and it needs time to adapt. Space out your lifting sessions and give yourself some time off. Your body – especially your hamstrings – will thank you.
Sometimes it is such an uphill battle fighting all the nonsense in the fitness/nutrition world that I just want to wave my white gym towel and say ‘Ok biggest loser…you win’. Obviously, I won’t ever do that, but the things people put on the internet – and worse, what people follow and share – is just mind boggling.
Take this little gem, for example.
Now, to be fair, this truly looks harmless enough. It gives a realistic look at what the calories in these items are comparable to, and sometimes that is necessary when deciding if something is really “worth it”. AND, frankly, the items listed are definitely treats that shouldn’t be consumed 24/7. But that’s as far as the compliments go.
First of all, whether we realize it or not, this attitude and behavior is the beginning of a very slippery slope to food restriction and over-exercising. If you literally think in terms of how many minutes you need on the stairclimber per piece of pizza, do you really think it will stop there? Every time you see a calorie label, your brain is automatically going to convert it into some ridiculous exercise plan that is going to have you going above and beyond the necessary (and safe) recommendations. Not to be offensive, but it is SO easy to rationalize poor decisions and putting junk in your body if you use exercise as your “morning after” pill.
Further, we are humans – not animals. And, contrary to popular belief with all this Paleo nonsense, I’m willing to bet most of us aren’t struggling to survive between meals. This adds an important component in regards to diet and exercise. You have control over what you eat, how much you eat, and why you’re eating it. You’re also in control of what you like to do for activity and what makes you happy. Using exercise as a “guilt trip” makes you resent food, and view working out as a punishment instead of something that can make you empowered and all around awesome. As well meaning as these charts might be, this really promotes the wrong kind of thinking. Dogs use the reward/punishment system. A brain as sophisticated as a human’s should be beyond that.
Lastly, just because you DO indulge occasionally, does not mean you have ruined all your efforts in the gym. This is a journey, and it doesn’t get ruined by a few cookies. It is so easy to get sucked into such negative thinking (ahem- refer to the above chart) when really you should be feeling proud of your efforts each and every time you eat something healthy, or spend time getting active. If you really made an effort to count your triumphs instead of your failures, by the end of the month, you’d actually see progress. This progress might inspire more progress, and then before you know it, you’re setting higher goals.
I’m just a big fan of everything in moderation. I also can’t stress enough that no matter what they look like on tv or on the competition stage, compensating social activity and occasional indulges for strict caloric intake and aesthetics is not healthy either. There are a lot of extremes out there, and too often we fall for them and then punish ourselves when we can’t keep up with ridiculous standards. Instead, take a step back, and start appreciating your body and yourself. Find people that motivate you, but don’t tear you down. And PLEASE don’t eat cookies and then do jumping jacks, because nobody wants to clean up after you.
First & foremost, I’ve been a little quiet since this all went down, but I want to just take a few moments to thank the first responders and all the unlikely heroes that helped take down the Boston bombing suspects. It frustrates and saddens me that we can’t even enjoy an athletic event – and one of the most historical, at that – without worrying about safety and security. But, on a positive note, Boston is definitely not a city that will stay down for long, and if anything, I know next year’s marathon will probably be bigger, better and more emotional than ever before. I might even have to make a trip just to witness it myself. And even though any other day it would pain me to say this, this week we are definitely all Boston fans.
On a related note, because of everything my little mini trip to Boston got canceled since I was going to drive out there on Friday and spend the weekend. I am fairly certain the conference went on anyway, but I just wasn’t able to get out there. I’m bummed but I know I’ll get to CP performance one of these days.
So today, instead of recapping some knowledge bombs, I am lucky enough to still have a gem to share withe everyone. I have an awesome little post from Juliet at Hey Joob! that really struck a chord with me, so I hope she doesn’t mind me throwing in my 2 cents (Check it out here )
I posted something a few months back that kind of referred to the hard work & dedication it takes to get to a certain level of fitness (or anything, really) and how it frustrates me when people shy away from wanting to learn from me or work out with me because I’m “intimidating”. First and foremost, I was in your shoes once. In fact, dramatically so, since I once spent an entire summer bedridden recovering from major knee surgery. Talk about starting from square 1. I also didn’t just hit the ground running with an abundance of fitness knowledge. I tried things, I learned, I failed, I succeeded, I did things that didn’t work, I did things that did, I mixed and matched and ultimately changed. The main thing, though, is that I was out of my comfort zone and still went for it….and I still do.
I love this part in Juliet’s post:
“I’m sorry, I can’t write because I’m not as good as JK Rowling.”
“I don’t want to snowboard because I’m not as good as Shawn White.”
“Nooooo, it’s okay. I’m not Gordon Ramsey so I’ll order a pizza.”
I’m not even competing in lifting or doing anything remotely competitive other than being a bad ass… but that’s the beauty of it all. You don’t HAVE to be the LeBron James of fitness in order to achieve personal goals.
I think this is a great kick in the pants for a Monday so whatever it is that you’re going after today, leave caution to the wind and attack it. You don’t have to be elite, you just have to try to be better than you were yesterday.
Here are a few articles from the past few weeks that I’ve found pretty interesting & useful! Check them out:
Lacrosse specific training: http://articles.elitefts.com/training-articles/ten-exercises-for-the-lacrosse-athlete/
How artificial light is ruining your sleep: http://chriskresser.com/how-artificial-light-is-wrecking-your-sleep-and-what-to-do-about-it < I downloaded the app for my laptop to adjust the brightness at night time (since I am too stubborn to stop creeping on the internet before bed) and I have noticed a major difference in my ability to fall asleep. I recommend it 🙂
Lately, as a result of my interim job (I’m a server – something I’ve always fallen back on since I was 16 for great money), I have been thinking about quite a few things.
1) Waiting tables is the ultimate work out. I don’t care how in shape you are – walk around with an asymmetrically loaded tray for 8+ hours and tell me how you feel. Holy core work. Also, most of the women I work with are capable of lifting trays with one hand that are heavier than the dumbbells most of them would consider lifting with two – and NONE of them look like Hulk. I think there is a future in personal training for servers. Hmm…. ideas, ideas.
2) Don’t go out to eat if you can’t afford to tip. Just…don’t do it. Please? 🙂
3) I’m heading to Boston on 4/21 for a seminar at Cressey Performance. This is literally a dream come true for me since I am such a huge Cressey/Gentilcore fan. I can’t wait to see their place and hear them in person. I am such a nerd that I am literally going to be starstruck, haha. I will definitely be writing about it when I come back 🙂
4) I am hoping to be more consistent with my blog posts – I think they are going to be a little more personal/anecdotal, but still as informative (and sassy) as possible 😉
Follow me on twitter (@sten06) or add me on facebook (facebook.com/sten023) and say hi!
It’s so weird to be back up north and suddenly have seasons to deal with – namely, winter. So with that, I figured I would defrost my workouts and write about some off-beat ways to focus on conditioning and still make progress while waiting for the snow to melt.
1. Ropes – Both battle ropes and traditional climbing ropes have always been useful to bust through plateaus no matter what the season. If you’re lucky enough to have access to either of these, make them work for you. Rope rows & pull ups with a traditional climbing rope are awesome variations, especially for the challenge in grip and stability. Using both have helped both my deadlift and my pull up numbers increase noticeably. I also love ending workouts with battle rope sessions because they’re high intensity and completely unforgiving. There is also a lot of variety in terms of work:rest ratios and movements.
2. Valslides – I invested in a pair of these bad boys, and they’ve added some major variations in training. They’re awesome because you can bring them anywhere and they fit into any program. I also love putting plates on them and pushing them across the ground. Normally you can get away with pushing the plates without them, but to avoid tearing up the gym floor/rug, the slides help. Plate pushes are great if you don’t have access to a prowler and/or if space is limited – in fact, they’re actually more challenging since they’re so low to the ground. I sometimes throw a couple of sets of plate pushes in at the end of a session or between exercises to keep my heart rate up. I also love adding the valslides to traditional exercises like reverse lunges, lateral lunges, and core work. They’re great add-ins for super sets, or perfect for circuits.
3. Super sets – Since my main goal has been to keep my strength but not increase body fat, most of my weight training has been using some form of a super set or contrast set method. My main goal with this is to do a strength movement (squat, deadlift, etc) followed by a total body cardio movement. For example: KB goblet squats s/s tuck jumps or OH bulgarians s/s snatch jacks. They keep your heart rate going the entire session, and you’re wiped out after 30-40 minutes. Amazing.
4. Treadmill pushes – Use with caution because I’m sure they tear up the machine, but again, if you don’t have access to a prowler, running against the resistance of the treadmill when it isn’t on is FIERCE. It’s a killer interval workout when you can’t get outside – I love running intervals and then finishing with some pushes to absolutely smoke a conditioning session. I typically go about 10-15 seconds on, 30 seconds off for 5-8 reps. I’ve also been experimenting with sprints on the treadmill using an incline of 10 & high speed running for 20 sec on, 40 sec off.
5. Jacobs Ladder- I know they’re not available in every gym, but if you have one, give it a shot. It’s perfect for intervals, and it is MUCH harder than it seems at first. I like the fact that it is a manually controlled total body movement that keeps track of your pace along with the time. Try to hit the same pace each time and mess around with different work/rest ratios (sometimes I just do a simple 1 minute on, 1 minute off, or 1 minute on, 30 sec off for example). It’s just something different from the same old stuff and it is fairly easy on the joints. All good things.
So, in my earlier post, I was singing the praises of the Olympic lifts & making bold claims that all their variations/regressions are the total package when it comes to training. Most coaches will gripe that the learning curve is simply too much and outweighs the benefits of the lifts. To an extent, I understand, particularly when it comes to full power cleans and snatches from the floor. But in this post, I’ll get into the specifics regarding certain lifts and how/where they would fit into a training program and still provide benefits.
(Again, if you’re more inclined to follow the Olympic lifting school of thought and want more, check out Wil Fleming’s new DVD – he’s the pro, I’m just an Olympic lifting minion in comparison)
Typically, after an initial assessment using whatever strategy you employ (that’s another post in and of itself) the most important movement to teach is the hip hinge – this is the foundation for all of the lifts and has to be perfected before anything else can be taught. Even if Olympic lifting isn’t on your agenda, all hope is lost if a proper hip hinge isn’t the goal of your program. This is accomplished in a variety of ways, but my favorite is using a PVC pipe and an RDL movement. The PVC pipe is great because it isn’t loaded, but when you’re forced to hold something and keep it close to (or, in this case, touching) your body, the movement pattern is much easier to accomplish. Once this is mastered, I like to throw in variations like KB hip hinges, band pull throughs, kettle bell swings, etc.
[See http://articles.elitefts.com/training-articles/teaching-the-hip-hinge/ for more on teaching the Hip hinge movement]
Another movement that is very telling as an assessment but that I like to keep in programs no matter what is the Overhead squat. This can be particularly unforgiving if you’re lacking flexibility or stability, but is a crucial movement should your athlete/client progress to catching a load overhead. If they are particularly lacking in the skills necessary to make this movement worthwhile, assisted variations should be used (cable or TRX OH squats) and unilateral work should be emphasized. For one, you can load the hell out of it, and two, you will see significant progress vs forcing a movement pattern that just simply isn’t there. This is where you can employ the use of OH bulgarians, OH lunges, and some of the TRX Y’s & T’s. In most cases, a lack of core stability is a problem as well, so your plank variations and roll outs are useful here too. Again, it is worth noting, that even if your athlete never needs to catch a load overhead, the ability to progress to a solid OH squat is a great goal because it corrects imbalances, improves posture, and makes you closer to being an actual human being (instead of a version of real life version of the QWOP game)
The front squat is probably the most useful component to teach for a variety of reasons. It is my favorite to work with because it builds a solid foundation, is easy to monitor (if an athlete is ever struggling, it is much easier to drop a bar from the front than the back), and demands excellent form. With the load in the front, the body is forced to maintain a neutral spine and upright chest, which is sometimes hard to constantly cue when using another variation. The learning curve can be tough, particularly for females who find the bar placement on the chest slightly uncomfortable and/or the stress on the forearms to be painful, but it does not take long for them to get used to it – plus there are a ton of variations in grip to use. To progress to the bar, front loaded KB squats/Goblet squats can be an option (to teach stabilization with a front load) and the PVC pipe can be used to teach that hand placement. Again, even if this is as far as you go, a solid front squat can be loaded substantially for awesome strength gains in a later phase of training.
Proper landing mechanics will need to be enforced simultaneously before loading the clean movement. I find it is really easy to teach the hip hinge, but once it needs to be done at speed (i.e. the catch portion of the clean), the athlete/client defaults back to a quad dominant pattern. In this case, I like using drop squats (that’s what I call them – essentially you start in an athletic position and drop into a squat as fast as possible. The key is to drop down without jumping first. The hips flex rapidly and the athlete gets comfortable sitting back). Once that is mastered, box jumps and plyo variations are awesome. Emphasis on landing silently through the heels will help enforce the proper hip hinge. Not only is this great prep for an eventual hang clean, but these exercises are neuromuscular necessities for athletes to improve speed and reduce the risk of injury. Doesn’t seem like a waste of time to me….
Finally, a full clean cycle will be used. This will be the 3 components that make up the hang clean and can be used as a neural prep once the athlete has mastered it. They start with the clean pull (a rapid jump shrug), then a high pull, and finally the full hang clean. This is usually done with just the bar for 2-3 sets of about 5 reps each. Eventually, you can start loading the cycle and emphasizing the clean pull and high pull in this phase.
There are also variations you can start to use – RDL with a hang clean receive, hang clean to step up, SA snatch, just to name a few. These are great total body “connector” exercises that improve athleticism immensely.
As you can see, a beginner is still doing a whole lot of work and getting stronger, more flexible, and also improving power using this method. Most of these exercises can be used in the beginning of a workout, and other movements, like loaded pushes/pulls and other circuits will complete the workout. As I mentioned earlier, the hip hinge/landing mechanics/and core stability are all components that need to be taught and emphasized ANYWAY – so that whole ‘learning curve’ thing is really just a poor excuse. Even if you stopped here, and didn’t emphasize heavy cleans or full snatches, the Olympic lifts still create a perfect base for most of the training. From there you can go on to teach some pretty awesome deadlifts with athletes that actually have the capacity to pull from the floor.
There are so many terms in fitness/training/strength & conditioning that are getting to be taboo. The most cringeworthy being “muscle confusion”, “functional training” (As opposed to dysfunctional training) and “core”….but the newest term to add to my list is “Corrective exercise”. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m all about correcting muscle imbalances and I start all my programs with circuits that address individual issues. However, I believe we are getting so caught up in being pseudo “physical therapists” that we forget the point of a work out: to do WORK.
One of the first days of grad school, (After already achieving a few training certifications at this point) I had a class strictly dedicated to programming. We were given a case study, and told to address the concerns & come up with a program for the particular athlete. I remember being pretty pleased with my corrective exercise strategies, but when my professor looked at it, he laughed and asked me, “so… when do they actually lift weights?”. I was taken aback for a few minutes because I felt like I had included some good stuff: a variation of the back squat, lateral lunges, inverted rows, etc. Excuse me, what???
I had been familiar with the Olympic lifts and used them in a lot of my own programming, but didn’t particularly know how or when to program them (and all their variations) into a solid training program, particularly in an early phase of training. So, when I was given a case study of a typical basketball player, with a variety of issues (tight lower back, tweaked hamstring, tight external rotators, susceptible to ankle rolls…) I could really only focus on a corrective intervention. Isn’t that what everyone says? “You’re only as strong as your weakest link” “Do no harm” “[Any other cliche comment about correcting problems here]”…and all I knew was that the Olympic lifts are really freakin’ hard…even for someone with great mobility.
Eventually, as we got deeper into the semester, it occurred to me, most exercises we have were originally designed to help with dynamic flexibility, stability and strength IN ORDER TO complete the Olympic lifts to their full potential. Understanding this mentality helped me to design better programs with more lifting work being done, because I could understand how these exercises related to a higher goal (not just a body part). Even if you do not subscribe to the Olympic lifting school of training, or your athletes never progress to doing full power cleans or clean/jerks (which is completely fine, because you may decide it just isn’t worth the time to teach), you will still use a variety of exercises that are just Olympic lifting regressions (OH squats/lunges, RDLs, Deadlifts, Shrugs, Split Squats, just to name a few…)…so it’s cool to know why they exist and where they belong.
What’s the point of all this? Basically, don’t be afraid of higher work. Do your assessments, figure out your limitations (or those of your clients), but don’t get so caught up in simple correctives. I know some will argue that corrective exercises are difficult, and I completely agree (we had a class where we only did correctives for about 2 hours – I was so stiff the next day I felt like I had run sprints)– but if you could combine interventions (flexibility & stability) with your strength & power work – you would, right?
Check out Wil Fleming (the Olympic lifting guru) ‘s DVD ‘Complete Olympic Weightlifting’ – I love his system because it is simple, effective, and for all athletes. It is similar to the way I was taught to approach teaching and performing the lifts and I think it’s useful for just about everyone. Contrary to learning the style of Olympic lifting for actual Olympic lifters (which, remember, is a true sport, and the %’s and volumes are usually written as such for those looking to compete) or Crossfit that simply abuses my beloved O Lifts, this shows a great progression from soup to nuts.
I’m splitting the post up to let this idea marinate, but in part 2, I will break down the components and show how to classify these exercises for use among all types of lifters and athletes.
Is this thing still on???
I’ve been on a bit of a blog hiatus because some crazy things have been happening – life in your 20’s is just a roller coaster of shenanigans. But I plan to have some cool stuff to share in 2013, along with a few new strength & conditioning endeavors / new professional opportunities [provided the world doesn’t end next week, in which case, it’s been real]. So to anyone that still follows me, enjoy your holidays & I’ll be blogging from NY starting in January!