Thinking about how versatile hurdles (especially the mini “banana” hurdles) are in a speed and agility program has been on my mind I guess for the last couple weeks. In programming, I know I have sued them for jumps and hops (plyometrics) and also for quick feet drills when I speed and agility sessions over the last two summers at SST. Needless to say, I thought of them as quite a useful piece of equipment for these sessions! However, this year my ideas on some of this have changed because of two reasons which are related to one another:

1) As my training philosophy has developed, I’ve realized that I need to design programs or speed/agility sessions so that sport performance is improved, not just that a training effect is achieved.

2) Reading Coach Mike Boyle‘s book Functional Training for Sports, I once again learned something that left me with the “how did I not think of this already” thought in my head.

So, here’s my take on hurdles:

  • They are great for plyometrics!
  • Using them for quick feet shuffling-type agility drills promotes a high-knee, step-over typer action (the Ah-Ha moment out of Coach Boyle’s book), yet in sport, athletes will keep their feet low to the ground when shuffling to their right or left or taking crossover steps. If I want to train lateral movment or agility via shuffling or lateral running then I would rather opt to use a piece of equipment which lies flat on the ground so that the movement can be performed as it is in the sport.

To continue with this thought, it isn’t that I feel that these quick feet type drills don’t develop the intended result, just that after considering the athlete’s sport, it appears that there are better drill choices or pieces of equipment to use.

Anyways with that said, I realize I haven’t blogged in oh, AGES, so I’ll do my best to get back on track!

CB

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Most people know the saying you’re only as strong as your weakest link. Once the weakest link is known (usually found through the assessment) though, how should we go about fixing it?? Relating this to athletes changes the options a coach/trainer has because there is always that ultimate goal of improved athletic performance to consider. With that said, what is the right thing to do?? Does a muscle need to be isolated? Does it just need to get stronger? Is more flexibility needed or is the muscle stiff?

If you’ve been reading this blog for any amount of time, you’ll probably guess my answer: It depends. Don’t you just love gray answers???

It depends on the nature of the weakest link — is a muscle just weaker than others, is there a motor control issue that needs to be addressed, do they lack the ability to perform a basic movement skill well.

What does this all mean??

If the weakest link can be any of these things listed in the above paragraphs, how can we try the same approach to fix everything?? Does a screwdriver equally work for both a screw and a nail??

CB

First off, just a quick note to celebrate my last exam being over as well as having my undergrad now completed — YAY!!

Alright enough feeding my ego. Here’s an interesting debate that just seems to go back and forth. I’ll actually come right out and say my stance on this isn’t the same as it was even a couple months ago. What  I used to think was teach the clean first then teach the snatch…so maybe you’re thinking “why did you change your mind?”

I think the snatch gets a bad rap as being excessively dangerous, and I was definitely in this boat until I tried them! Then until a couple months I just didn’t give it enough love to say that I’d teach them before cleans — I know my decisions are always changing (I prefer the term “evolving”) Anyways, let me be blunt: EVERY EXERCISE can be dangerous. The thing that worries many people about the snatch is catch a fast moving weight overhead. If you have never snatched before go read up on some form somewhere on the internet and try it next time in the gym, then please come back here and comment on your experience — did your arm fall out of its socket? did you get some shoulder injury that wasnt there before??

Your body naturally decelerates the weight, just as it would declerate the weight doing a shoulder press. As long as the athlete can get their arms up overhead, they can learn to snatch. Now does this mean I’m starting with a barbell?? — My experience until now says no. I would start with a 1-arm dumbbell snatch  because a) holding a weight in only one arm limits the amount of weight you can use (I guess I didnt need letters).

Now, just because I would dumbbel snatch doesn’t mean I would teach dumbbell cleans — I hate the idea of having dumbbells come crashing down on top of someone’s shoulders! So with the clean I’d start out with a barbell. Here’s how this plays into my decision: everyone wants to load barbells — especially adolescent males! If someone’s snatching a dumbbell overhead with one arm, they dont tend to be quite as obsessed with using the big weights, so in essence I can keep someone’s ego out of the equation to a greater degree with a dumbbell snatch than a clean.

On a final note, I have just personally found that dumbbell snatch allow me to focus on form easier than barbell cleans — I know, thats some  scientific data right there! Anyways, this has just been my observation. With the natural tendency to avoid the snatch as long as one can, I wanted to just point out that though it LOOKS dangerous, it really doesnt have to be and the learning curve might not be as long as many people think it to be.

Snatch away my friends, snatch away!

CB

Alright, I’m back at it now that I’m back at school to finish up exams and my 3 wisdom teeth are out of my life for good! Also with some time recovering from the surgery, I’ve been able to get back some energy which I really needed after writing 3 papers last week.

Since December one of the things I changed about by own training was adding in plyometrics. Now these were difficult to implement at my university gym, so I will talk about a more idea situation than what I did.

Basically we have 2 ways to make plyometrics more intense:
1. increase the magnitude of the effect of gravity
2. increase the demand on the Stretch-shortening cycle.

The first refers really to the hieght of anything you are jumping onto, off of, or over — this can be a box or hurdle usually. Anyways, when you jump onto a box there is a reduced effect of gravity since you are landing higher than your take off point. Think of when you jump, you go up and you come back down. Jumping up to a box obviously means your coming down part is shorter than the going up part, hence less of an effect of gravity on the landing. When you jump over an object your takeoff and landing will be at the same level and if you jump off an object there is a higher effect of gravity since your landing is lower than where you takeoff. Basically we manage this aspect of exercise intensity depending on safety and strength (which go hand in hand with eachother).

The second point is more sciency. The Stretch-shortening cycle is basically a physiological mechanism that allows your muscles to briefly store energy from a preceding movement to make the proceeding movement happen with less muscular demand. Using it is driven by the nervous system, so yes, we can train it. Oftentimes though athletes need to learn how to use this mechanism to be a benefit to their performance so we would start by doing consecutive jumps with a little bounce between that way theres not an excessive force absorbing demand on the muscles. Because the SSC happens very quickly, we just need to make individuals able to use it effectively — we can’t just throw them into the fire with the most advanced drill and hope their bodies will catch up before an injury happens.
Back to the progression — it will look like the above stage moving to consecutive jumps at a lower height which increases (think – jumping off a higher and higher box over time, or over higher hurdles — these make it more difficult to use the SSC efficiently).

Anyways I’m no Bill Nye the Science Guy (who remembers that great man??!!), but I hope you enjoyed this semi-science lesson on plyometrics. The reason I covered progressions is because most people generally can find where to start, but then results stop because they don’t progress difficulty or change things up.

Anyways its good to be back. With work starting up again in a couple weeks after school is finished, it should be nearing an exciting time for the blog since I’ll have much more hands-on stuff to write about!

CB

Today I’m going to try something new in terms of a themed blog post — if you guys like the idea, comment below and I’ll make it a weekly staple.

Remember, training for stability is only one component of the program — and only if an athlete needs it!

Today’s Tip of the Week: Use unstable surface training to improve stability

This sounds pretty common sense, however unstable surface training has kind of transformed to mean “functional training”. The emphasis switching from improving or rehabbing stability to the idea that performing exercises on these unstable objects will mean better transfer to daily activities and/or sport activities.

The truth is that when using thse objects (eg. a bosu ball), the stabilizer muscles work harder, but at the cost of less work by the main working muscles. An example is doing standing shoulder presses on normal ground vs. on a bosu ball. This means that the main muscles aren’t working as hard which means less strength gain compained to stable surface training.

That being said, there is a good use for unstable surfaces in training for improved athletic performance. However this is more of a post-rehab injury prevention context. Basically if someone has poor ankle stability, performing some lower body exercises on the unstable implement will be beneficial in improving stabilizer function — not general leg strength though!

You know, just in case the sport will be start to be played on the surface of a basketball!!

You know, just in case the sport will be start to be played on the surface of a basketball!!

Bottom line: don’t fall into the trap of thinking that using unstable surfaces will lead to better training benefits than training on stable ground. Like any other training method or tool, there is a time and place for them in the program, however they should not be the backbone of the program.

Anyways thats all for today’s 2nd post! Let me know if you like this tip of the week idea. I’m hoping to make it more of a practical tip since I often write about ideas without giving much practical information that you can use.

Have a good weekend everyone!

CB

So check this out>>

All I can say is WOW!!!!! Thats all a player needs to get that scholarship to UNC: they need to be able to throw a harder bounce pass or be stronger in their arms so they can dribble harder into the floor! What?!

Gotta love that concept of sport-specific training being taken so literally!! Who needs basic strength exercises to get better when they can just practice sport skills with resistance?! Unless you are an olympic weightlifter, powerlifter, strongman competitor, highland games competitor, etc, strength training is used as GENERAL preparation for competition.

Specific Preparation (ie. sport skills) should be practiced and refined in sport practices, not in the weightroom.

Since that was just a brilliant example of what not to do, here’s something which is actually helpful:

Kevin Larrabee, who is the man behind the Fitcast, has made a Fitcast youtube page with many excellent exercise demonstrations complete with the main cues. If you want to know if you’re doing exercises properly on your own definitely check them out, they are some of the best I’ve seen on Youtube!! (apparently)

CHECK IT OUT HERE>> Fitcast Youtube page

Anyways, thanks for listening to this Monday rant of mine :P Also if you guys know of other good youtube exercise videos that you already use, I’d love to hear em! Happy Bench Press Monday!!!!!!! :P

CB

Anti-sport specificity

November 30, 2008

My big project in my business class this semester was to create a business and make a business plan and do a couple presentations on it (elevator speech + presentation to investors). Anyways my group decided on creating a fitness company that specialized in training athletes. A few times during our conversations both amongst ourselves and with our professor, the subject of training and sport specificity came up. The general idea out there is that there are certain special exercises that you only do with athletes of a given sport because it mimics the sporting activity somehow. (When I used to train to play baseball, I thought the same thing, and that these exercises were somehow “magical” because they were specific to actions encountered in baseball).

Knowing what I know now, I was wrong!

Here’s the thing, anything an athlete does in the gym falls under general physical preparedness (GPP). Any strength training is purely GPP (unless they’re a powerlfiter or Olympic weightlifter)…obviously in field or court sports, sprinting can be specific.

Bench pressing = GPP

Bench pressing = GPP

The other thing is the idea that there are special exercises for athletes in certain sports. This comes from the idea that performing an exercise that closely mimics a specific sporting movement with weight will make you more powerful in the actual sporting movement in competition. Something I learned early in my time at SST a couple summers back was that adding load to a sport specific pattern (eg. throwing a med ball like a baseball) causes an altered motor pattern. That means that with the added weight, the nervous system doesn’t fire the muscles the same as in the actual sporting movement. Strike One.

Also here’s where we have a slippery slope: can sport specificity lead to imbalances??

At first glance the idea of using sport specific exercises seems like a good idea because the athlete will be spending more time practicing the movement desired in competition (with load no less). However between games and practices (especially at higher levels and in year-round team programs), the athlete is getting an ample amount of repetition of sporting movements, so the giving them exercises that mimic these sport movements ends up feeding this imbalance. In the spring I remember listening to Karen Wood, the University of Oklahoma volleyball strength coach, and she talked about how after the season is finished and off-season training resumes, they do not quarter squat; they deep squat. She said that in volleyball so much of the sport is performed in a quarter squat position, that she had players perform full squats in the off-season to restore balance. I thought this was bang on! A sport specific approach would have dictated that these girls just do quarter squats since thats what they encounter in competition, but this would just increase any quad dominance. So much for reducing injury risk…

Strike two.

The third strike is pretty straightforward. If an exercise worked to teach a baseball player how to produce force well, why would I withhold that exercise from a hockey player?? Muscles don’t know that they’re being trained for basketball or hockey or sumo wrestling. All they know is that a message is being sent to them telling them they need to contract an adequate amount of fibers to be able to do whatever is being asked of them. A common scenario that gets thrown around is you have to train the knee muscles for a soccer player. So for a baseball player or gymnast, it wouldn’t be important to do these exercises; they’re knees don’t have to be strong?? Strike three. Batter’s out.

The idea of sport specificity just doesn’t take everything into account. There’s more to improved athletic performance than performing sporting movements with weight in the hopes of creating improved strength in those movements.

CB