About a week ago I posted a brief recap of my summer at SST and what I learned while I was there. I kept it fairly short just so that I wouldn’t have a novel length post for anyone to read through, so I’m creating another post to bring up more enlightening experiences (Ah-Ha Moments! if you will…) 

4. PERFORMING Activation exercises isn’t neccessarily enough:

In our warm-ups at SST, amongst other things, we include activation exercises for glutes, low traps, serratus, etc (sometimes even including these in the workout sheet too). This is nothing earth shattering for people who have trained at a place like SST, but I realized that performing them isn’t neccessarily enough. It goes back to the quantity over quality thing. Thats great that you did your glute bridges, but did you feel your glutes contracting first, or did you just feel your hamstrings getting tight?

This is something I realized after I suffered an injury during one of my baseball games. I pulled my hamstring, and basically that usually indicates the hamstring having to do too much work extending the hip or slowing you down during running and the glutes not doing enough work. So the day after I still worked out, just instead of my normal program, I did lots of activation stuff for my glutes. Amazingly enough as I performed them, I really focussed on feeling the glute firing, and lo and behold after a few reps I started feeling it where I wanted to. Now I’ve been doing glute activation exercises for close to 2 years now and I have never felt them to work like THAT…I basically was just performing  the exercises without realizing that that wasn’t enough to promote the adaptation I was after.

Long story short, activation exercises are great if you actually focus of making the muscles fire, not so much though if you just go through the motions.

5. Getting athletes to foam roll is like making them eat their veggies!:

As the summer wore on, seemingly more and mroe athletes would complain of this, that, or the other thing being tight after a few sprints or agility drills. One of my suggested remedies to them was get on a foam roller, so we’d both grab a roller and hit a few spots including and related to the area that they felt was tight. Then I would always close the impromptu session with a suggestion that they should roll the areas we just did before every workout for the next week or two.

A week later they come in on their running day and say something about still being tight, so I ask them about doing their foam rolling, and I get an “Um, no…” type answer. My thought then is “And you wonder why you’re still tight”.

Is it that they don’t like foam rolling, maybe because it hurts?? Or is it just the fact that we just didn’t consistently monitor an important aspect of the warm-up as closely as we monitor other aspects of a workout?? I think its more of the latter.

What I’ve learned from this scenario is that getting athletes early when they join the gym can help instill the habit of foam rolling as a normal and essential part of a warm-up, not just something to do once they feel they are too tight to perform exercises or drills properly and without any discomfort.

CB

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All trainers perform an initial assessment with an athletic client (or should be) so that they can see where they need to begin the training program regarding exercises, programming methods to be used, and of course if there are any imbalances or weaknesses present. Specifically, a number of performance tests will be included after any body composition analysis. These often include a vertical jump test, a straight ahead sprint (10 or 40 yds usually), the pro-agility test or shuttle run, etc.

Now the athlete has been training for several months — since its that time of year, let’s say they’ve been training with us for the summer and now are returning to school for training camp/tryouts.

In the 4 months or so they’ve been training with us, they’ve improved in strength, body composition, power output, and added some muscle mass.

Now, do we accept this as evidence of the program’s effectiveness, or do we take it a step further and put the athlete through some post-testing?? All the same tests that were initially performed that first day are performed again with the expectation that some improvement has occurred in some number or all of the tests (dependent on the athlete’s previous training experience).

Depending on the results are we now going to decide that the program was successful or ineffective??

I would argue no, not until we know how the athlete played during the season: Did they stay injury-free, did they move better, faster, more agile, better able to handle going up against bigger, stronger players than the previous season??

In fact, my experiences up until now lead me to not be a fan of any post-testing unless it is a test the athlete will encounter in training camp. (In this case it becomes less about post-testing and more about test preparation). The others, they don’t really matter if they improved or not because sometimes the results are misleading. 

For example at the initial assessment, an athlete vertical jumps 28 inches at a body wieght of 155. Come the post-test, the same athlete vertical jumps 28 inches this time weighing 170. Just interpreting his vertical jump scores, you might think that he hasn’t made any improvement since he started the training program. Take into account that he gained 15 pounds and you can see that his power actually increased! He was able to move his initial bodyweight PLUS 15 pounds the same vertical distance that he was able to move just his initial bodyweight.

My feeling is that the ultimate sign that a training program has been effective for an athlete is if the athlete’s performance improved compared to last season, not if they scored higher on a given test.

CB

What I Learned at SST

August 24, 2008

Here’s my reflection on three things I learned at SST this summer.

1. How to be a better people person: This was my #1 goal to achieve this summer. Naturally I’m quite a shy, introverted person…which isn’t the greatest personality for a trainer to have if they want to be successful. Plus how can a shy trainer expect their clients to open up to them if they don’t give anything about themselves to their clients? Now, this is not to say that I never opened up, just that it took me a while to do so, and in retrospect it hurt my ability to develop relationships with clients I worked with. I love Mike Boyle’s quote: “They never care how much you know until they know how much you care” So that’s what I spent this summer on, with LOTS of help from our ex-operations manager Pat. Accomplishing this goal of leads leads me to #2…

2. I enjoy coaching: This may seem obvious for anyone who gets into the fitness industry as a trainer, but there’s a difference between traininng and coaching IMO. As I became a better conversationalist and people person, I started to develop relationships with the athletes I coached. It became something more than me just offering exercise instruction. And the more I progressed with developing my interpersonal skills, the more I ended up enjoying my job. It really became fun to go in every day and coach the athletes.   

3. Getting out of my program design patterns: Just like many trainers out there, I have certain methods for a given result I want to achieve that I gravitate to more than others because of the personal experiences I have had. For instance, I’ve always been a low volume for hypertrophy kind of guy, and when I would make programs, this would be reflected in them. But one of the other trainers made me realize the error of my ways. One of our big differences was he was a high volume for hypertrophy kind of guy (I mention hypertrophy a lot since many high school athletes come in just needing to get bigger), so at first I sort of clashed with him early in the summer. I didn’t really like the programs he wrote because I had an ego and always insisted that low volume was the way to go to get these kids to put on muscle mass.

One of the smartest decisions I made all summer was to one day (almost two months after I started) drop my ego! From that day on I started learning so many things from him, and we’d always have good training discussions almost daily. Back to how this relates to program design. What I started realizing after listening to what he had to say, was that everything works at some time; that is BOTH are effective. So I re-adjusted my own workout program to reflect what I had learned, creating a more high volume phase, and voila I started to gain size again in areas that I’ve had a lot of trouble with in the past. Learning this has since made program design a lot easier, and I also worry less about making that perfect program, because I realize as long as its different enough, results will come.

I will probably have at least a Part 2 to this later this week. Truthfully, I have never felt that I have learned so much in such a short period of time. I am sure the experience of this summer will benefit me greatly in my future years. If you’ve made it all the way down here, thanks for reading :)

CB

Agility Ladder Training

August 22, 2008

First off, yesterday was my unofficial last day at SST for the summer *subtle tear*, as it was last summer full of good times and a great experience! More on this after the weekend when I’ll recap my summer there…

Anyways, moving on to some content.

Do agility ladders really train agility?? 

Before I answer, let’s look at agility from both a sporting context as well as the one we are training via the ladder.

In a sporting context, agility is seen as the ability to change directions in a quick and efficient manner. The skill of agility comes into play in an unpredictable way in reaction to an unpredictable opponent or object.

In the context of the ladder drills we put athletes through, they perform pre-planned movements with the goal of achieving the desired “foot in-foot out” pattern proficiently. We are not really training change of direction with many of these drills, but testing a coordination pattern of some level of complexity. If we are using it to train change of direction, can we really make it unpredictable?? I ask this because then we’d be probably asking our athletes to react to an unpredictable command or stimulus, but in such a way that they perform the drill “in” the ladder.

Then the question becomes, would this really transfer to agility in sport?? I would argue no for two reasons: 1) with agility ladder drills, we don’t coach change of direction technique, we coach “do this pattern and don’t knock the bars of the ladder” and 2) Because we want the athletes to step in and out of the ladder in a certain pattern, we are imposing a spatial constraint since each box is a certain size square. This will disrupt the natural movement pattern depending on how they go through the ladder (if they have to take a longer step or short step in order to be within a box).

As you can gather, I don’t believe that agility ladders really develop agility in a sporting sense. I think they develop coordination. Not any less important of a skill, just a different skill entirely.

CB

Coaching Warm-ups

August 20, 2008

No, this is not about getting “warmed up” to coach…

But one thing that I have noticed increasingly over the course of the summer is that as strength coaches, we tend to spend a lot of our time with exercise instruction, especially with new clients, but this exercise instruction tends to be focused within the client’s actual session.

What about the warm-up?

Now, with new clients we will show them the warm-up because there are often some drills that they haven’t heard of before, but after that spotting and observing squats and benches seem to become our main priority. I do understand though that we can only observe/critique/correct one person at a time. My thoughts just seem to be, if trainees go through the warm-up drills with crappy form, why don’t we worry about it the same as them doing one of their main exercises with less than perfect form? Does having external load all of a sudden make it a priority to correct and when no weights are involved “we can just let them be”? 

It doesn’t make much sense to me to warm-up with crappy form then focus on good form only during the day’s main exercises.

With all that said, this is not to say that every warm-up drill/exercise needs to be coaching intensive. Jumping jacks for instance don’t need to be, but if your warm-up includes bodyweight squats, this would require a little more attention to how it is executed.

If attention isn’t paid to their bodyweight squat technique, something like this usually occurs:

After doing so many poor bodyweight squats in their warm-ups, we then get frustrated and wonder why they can’t execute a proper squat once we formally teach it when they’re added into their program for the first time months later.

…just my 2 cents (in rant form I think :P)

CB

It sad but true, the men’s league team I play for lost last night amidst a million mosquitos, so its game over for another year. Fortunately as a trainer, I can realize things I need to fix and how to fix them.

For instance, for the past two years I’ve had some elbow (UCL) issues, so over last off-season I found out what I needed to do about it, and did it and after a full season of pitching this summer, my arm still has not hurt at all.

However last night a different issue cropped up: hamstring pull. Now I’ve never had hamstring issues before, soo this is going to be a good learning experience. So that is my “project for the off-season; get healthy and fix the cause of my hamstring pull. I’ve been including plenty of deadlifts, squats, and glute activation stuff in my program for over a year now so this was kind of surprising to me, (however I have an article coming out in the SST newsletter that covers my thoughts on why it happened…good timing I guess ;) )  

It’s times like these that I’m glad I’m a trainer and havd had the experience at SST, because when my teammates talk about their shoulders hurting, they often continue with something about doing more external rotations (the magic cure for baseball players right)… since that is the most popular and abundant information out there of the prevention of arm injuries in baseball players. I’ll think I’ll post mroe on this another day…

CB

Earlier today at work, I got into a discussion about how different biomechanics is viewed in a practical location (ie. a gym) and an academic institution (university in the case of the conversation).

Anyways, we were discussing how at a gym like SST, we think of improving our biomechanics knowledge as improving our knowledge of how to teach technical aspects of exercise and movement, as well as the correction of any deviations from the optimal movement pattern.

In an academic institution (the one I attend anyway), my biomechanics classes have focused not on movement execution, teaching, etc in a practical sense, but in a research-oriented approach. Basically, to prepare students for possible further academic research in the area.

Last summer after interning at SST, I was expecting a more practical approach to biomechanics at school, and I ended up being rather disappointed for it. The practical model of biomechanics is something I find much more interesting (obviously, since I work in a gym). But it just reinforces the difference between an academic education and a practical one; a university degree doesn’t necessarily prepare you for the practical world out there.

CB