Why Junction Boys Syndrome Still Exists

The May issue of the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research has an excellent article called “The Junction Boys Syndrome”.  The syndrome title is based on the book and movie called “The Junction Boys”.  These both tell the story of the year that “Bear” Bryant took over as head coach at Texas A&M.  He took his players off-campus for a brutal pre-season camp.  Numerous players were injured and/or quit the team during the camp.

The article by Scott Anderson discusses the fact that modern football “training regimens are too often built on tradition versus based on science and place players at-risk”.  He then gives us information and facts about the 21 nontraumatic deaths in NCAA FBS football since 2000.  Sixteen of these deaths occurred during strength and conditioning activities.

Is Anderson right?  Yes,  Are many of these deaths caused by the “tradition” of intense work making tougher and better football players?  Unfortunately, yes.  Why is this?  There are numerous resources available to help people design safe and effective training programs.  There are also qualified Strength & Conditioning coaches to design and implement the programs.  We even have Certified Athletic Trainers who can help monitor athletes for signs of medical problems during workouts and then care for them if necessary.  So why do we still have deaths?  I think that there are three main reasons:

  1. Influence of the Football Coaches – The S & C world is full of stories of sport coaches dictating how they want the strength and conditioning program run.  While some of this has to do with trust and respect, if the S & C Coach is qualified and competent, let them do their job.  If they aren’t qualified and competent, then hire someone who is.
  2. The “I’ll Make You Puke Mentality” – While I understand the get tough mentality, I think that if a S & C Coach uses puking as the goal for the workouts that he designs, it’s sad.  With all of the research and knowledge at our disposal, there should be a better goal that they can come up with.  Vern Gambetta has discussed his thoughts on work and makes a good point “…puking at the end of a workout is not the measure of a good training.”
  3. Tradition – It is true that in some instances, football training is still in the dark ages.  Top this with the fact that there are still numerous veteran coaches who believe in doing things traditionally, and it leads to problems.  New research is published all of the time to help show what works and what doesn’t.  S & C Coaches should constantly be trying to learn and use this knowledge to make their programs better.  As for the football coaches, see #1 above.

Should we still have nontraumatic deaths during football training?  No.  The last thing that any of us want is for one of our athletes to die due to the training program that we have designed and overseen.  Scott Anderson ends his article by saying that it is time for these deaths to stop.  I don’t see how anyone could disagree.

Mark

P.S. If you want to know how we believe that training should be, click here to find out Sports Upgrade

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Plan Management

Planning Pic

Sometimes you've got to go to plan "b"

A Kink In The Plan

Have you ever been several weeks into a team’s off-season training program a new kid suddenly shows up?  Sometimes its a kid that has moved into the area, but a lot of times it’s a kid who is coming from another sports season.  He or she has been playing sport B while his teammates in sport A have been putting in time and effort in their strength and conditioning program.  We all like working with multi-sport athletes, but it does create some interesting challenges for us as coaches.

Things To Consider

There are several things to keep in mind while trying to get these “newbies” up to speed with the rest of the group.

  • Recovery – If these athletes are coming in from another sports season, they are probably already tired, worn down, and “dinged up”.  Oftentimes these kids are rushed into the off-season program for another sport.  As a coach, I’d rather give a kid a few days off before they get started on their training program with me.  An athlete who is worn down can’t give 100% and is more likely to get hurt.  Giving them even just a week off between seasons can be beneficial.
  • Differences in training levels – Even if these athletes are “in shape” for the sport that they just finished, they won’t be in shape for the sport that they are going to.  Each sport has different physical and physiological demands.  These athletes usually can’t be expected to start off at the same level as the athletes who are currently in the off-season program.
  • Adjust the plan – When we create an off-season plan, we put all of our knowledge and know-how into it.  And now we have to change it because of one kid?  Yes.  To build on the previous point, an athlete that is coming into your program will need to be eased in ,unless he is coming from a sport that has a solid in-season program.  He won’t be able to complete the same sets, reps, and intensities as the other athletes.  Just remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day.  He or she will catch up to the other athletes soon enough.
  • Focus – While it is sometimes difficult to do, try to find a way to focus on these kids.  If they haven’t been lifting regularly or doing the same program, there should be an emphasis placed on technique.  That way once they catch up to the other athletes, their technique will be good.  This is especially important in lifts such as the squat, clean, and snatch.  You should also get plenty of feedback from these kids on how they feel.

What To Do?

When you have a large group of athletes, it becomes difficult to integrate a new kid into the mix.  However, for the good of the athlete, you must pay attention to these “newbies”.  All too often they show up and just get tossed into the mix with the other athletes.  While it may take some creativity to integrate them properly and at the right pace, it will benefit them in the long run.

Mark

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Simple Workouts

Weightroom Pic

What do you do if you don't have all of this to work with?

All Of That Equipment

Sometimes we can become overwhelmed when we have a variety of equipment to use during training.  We discover exercises that we “must” include often.  We also have lots of others that we like but can only fit in occasionally.  Then we seem to have the “like them but never seem to work them into the plan” exercises.  Of course, we all have some exercises that we choose not to use for one reason or another.  I’ve been in situations before where we had so much equipment that we could never work all of it into a training program in a month’s time.  Was that a problem?  Not at all.  First, that’s much better than not having enough.  Secondly, I have a hard time believing that a solid training program would have found a way to use all of the equipment.  But the question is, what equipment do you really need?  Maybe not as much as you think.

Keeping It Simple

For example, today  I used a jumprope, a physioball, some steps, and a few medicine balls for all of my own workout.  I was able to include explosive exercises, plyometrics, leg work, and core exercises.  Throw in a few cones for speed and agility work and you could have easily created an effective workout for most athletes.  So I ask again?  How much do you need to be effective?

I have always liked the idea of including a variety of different drills and exercises in my programs.  Notice I said “the idea”. The use of variety in training programs is a delicate balancing act and it’s not always the best idea to add in new things. Obviously anything new has to be geared to your athletes’ needs and level of experience.  I also try to keep in mind that it’s better to master a few drills than to learn many and master none.  Even so, sometimes I will take a day and “change things up” somehow.  I may change the order of things in the workout or I may add in some slight variations of old exercises.  One of my favorite things is to go old school with the equipment that I use. I like to use jumpropes, med balls, and various bodyweight exercises. I also tend to keep the exercises and drills simple. This isn’t a day that you want to be teaching a lot of of new things. However, simple drills and simple equipment does not equal an easy workout. The workload and what the athlete gets out of the workout is up to the coach. These “simple” workouts can challenge athletes in new ways and break up the drudgery of the normal workouts.  It can do the same thing for coaches.

Sometimes it’s possible to focus on using everything that we have at our disposal and get away from the basics.  Don’t be afraid to simplify things sometimes.  It will be good for your athletes.

Mark

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3 Keys During The Football Off-season

Football Pic

For the football fans in the U.S., our glut of football excitement is about to run out. The NCAA football season ended when Alabama beat LSU.  The NFL playoffs are in full swing and soon the Super Bowl will be played and over.  So as to not forget our neighbors to the north, the CFL offseason is well underway.  Of course, just because the season is over doesn’t mean that things are any less hectic for the coaches, players, and support personnel.  No matter what level you are at, this is the period to get better.  Coaches are looking for better players through scouting and recruiting.  Even high school coaches scour the hallways looking to encourage a “diamond in the rough” to play next year.  As for players, they are all (or should be) working to get better.  This is the time of year to improve strength, power, and athletic skills so that they can be a better player.  This can be just in preparation for next season, or it can be to get ready for various combines and tryouts.  It is a very busy time of year for all involved.

If you are a player, right now you should be on a solid program to develop you strength, power, speed, agility, flexibility, balance, and coordination.  If you aren’t, you are going to miss out.  You will miss out on the chance to excel on the field and possibly miss out on a scholarship or pro contract.  Years ago most players didn’t train during the off-season.  Nowadays, if you don’t train during the off-season, you probably won’t see the field during the season.  If you ask the guys from Alabama, LSU, or any other major college football program, this is when they start to get ready for next year.  It doesn’t start in August, it starts now.  They lift weights, run agility drills, and do anything else that is necessary to get better.  So what should you (or your players) be doing during January?

3 Keys During The Off-season

  1. Evaluate, evaluate, evaluate – Every player should be evaluated at this time of year.  It is true that it helps to re-test them in their 40, vertical jump, clean, etc.  In addition, it is a good time to eval individual players for lingering injury issues, strength and flexibility imbalances, etc.  Whether you use a formal system like the Functional Movement Screen or do something different, you need to try to pinpoint any problems that each individual may need to work on.  If you don’t do it while you have time to, you won’t do it at all.  If these problems don’t get fixed, they will limit the development of the player.
  2. A solid program – Every player should be placed on a solid strength and conditioning program.  It should be well thought out and should include phases that will develop hypertrophy, strength, and power in the weightroom.  It should also include plenty of flexibility, speed, and agility work.  Just lining up to run sprints isn’t really speed work.  I mean form and technique work.  It takes a lot of reps to make a change permanent.  Get started now.
  3. Team bonding / competition work – This is also the time to begin to include some team bonding activities.  They don’t have to be every day, but there is a long time from now until August.  Start to include them now to help your team develop the chemistry that the need to succeed.  As for competition, that can be worked into drills and other off-season activities.  Some kids don’t have the competitive fire that they should.  This can be developed but again, it should start now.
Keep these keys in mind while you plan your program.
Mark
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5 Reasons Program Theft Won’t Work

I love to watch other strength and conditioning coaches in action.  I’m always looking to learn and better myself.  I’ve picked up new drills, better coaching cues, and many other ideas from these sessions.  It always puts your mind to work and makes you evaluate what you do and how you do it, which is never bad.  I feel that things like this make you a better coach in the long run.  Fortunately, most coaches are pretty good about sharing info with other coaches (although I did meet one recently who was VERY unwilling to discuss anything.  I guess they discovered the “holy grail” of coaching and don’t want us to know it). 

Did you steal your program?

Where did you get your program?

Of course, this can be taken to an extreme.  I’ve had sport coaches try to use a workout that they found somewhere else for their teams.  It may have come from a college coach, from a magazine, online, or anywhere else.  I don’t care how much ESPN you watch, how many issues of Mens Health or Muscle and Fitness that you read, or who you got it from don’t try to steal a program from somewhere.  This never works!!! 

 Here are 5 reasons why it doesn’t:

  1. It wasn’t designed for your kid(s) –  The program was probably designed for higher level athletes.  Most times these athletes are better prepared to participate in a physically demanding program.  They also have years of practice to develop the techniques required to execute the program correctly. 
  2. It’s not based on your kids needs – How can it be?  The person who designed the program has probably never met your kid.  How do they know what his/her needs are?  When you design a program you must account for the strengths and weaknesses of individual athetes.  Then you design the program around this information.  While this is difficult to accomplish in a group/team setting, it can still be done.  However, it can’t be done by a coach that doesn’t know your kid(s).
  3. It doesn’t have your personal touch –  Much like when it comes to X’s and O’s in sports, I can’t run your system and you can’t run mine.  We all have our own way of doing things.  Can I pick up a program designed by someone else and run kids through it?  Yes.  Am I going to be as effective of a coach?  No.  I have my way of doing things and I have a system that all of these things fit into.  The same can be said for other coaches.  We can all follow a plan but without fully understanding everything, it won’t work as well. 
  4. You don’t know the “Big Pic” – Maybe the stength coach at “We lost too many games last year U” was told to “bulk up the players”.  Maybe that played a role in his program design.  Maybe he realized that his players are plenty strong but need to be more flexible.  Once again, the program wasn’t designed for your kids. 
  5. It’s better to start from scratch than try to adapt a program – Sometimes when you try to adapt something you try to make as few changes as possible.  Unfortunately, this hesitation to make changes means that you aren’t willing to make the program fit your kids.  You are trying to make your kids fit into the program.  Again, not a good thing.

We all borrow ideas and incorporate them into our programs.  There’s no problem with that.  The problem is when it turns to using someone elses program entirely.  Remember, if you are a coach, this is what you are trained to do.  Don’t worry about having a perfect program.  There is no “perfect” program.  We’re all learning as we go and trying to make our program as close to perfect as we can for our athletes and our situation. The bottom line is this:  it’s much better to use a program that was designed specifically for the athletes who are using it rather than one that you “got from someone”.

Mark

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Active Rest – Part 2

Hopefully you read part 1 of the series on active rest.  Today, in part 2,  I thought that we would discuss some of the science behind the idea of active rest.

The concept of active rest originally came from the system called periodization that was developed by Russian sports scientists.  The system was primarily used with weightlifters.  It was used with great success during the Soviet Bloc years and led to many Olympic medals.  The basic idea was that a training plan was laid out for an athlete that adjusted the volume and intensity of their workouts over time.  By going through these different training phases it was believed that the athletes would get better results and be on track to peak in time for competitions.  The phase after a competition was called the “transition” phase.  In the American terminology this began to be called the “active rest” phase. 

Now to the real details about the science behind it.  I know, if you really hate lots of scientific stats and info you just want to get to the conclusion.  Guess what?  As much as people including myself believe in the concept of active rest, there isn’t a lot of scientific proof that shows how effective or ineffective that it is.  There have been some studies done testing the results of active rest right after a workout.  While these have shown a improvement in the amount of lactate in the blood after exercise, the studies were only looking at the immediate effects.  Two studies have been done that look at possible longer term effects – one on rugby players and one on soccer players.  The results of both studies found that active rest didn’t really help the athletes to recover any better than complete rest.  The rugby study noted that the players who participated in active rest did feel better psychologically than their teammates who rested completely.  

Since there isn’t a lot of evidence to prove the benefits of active rest, should you still include it in your program?  I think that you should for three reasons:

  • Active rest will help to circulate blood through the body.  This helps to clear waste and deliver more oxygen to the cells, which is always good.
  • Active rest will help you to feel better psycholgically
  • Active rest will allow your body to heal up many of the little sprains, strains, aches, and pains that we all pick up while training hard

So, there are some definite benefits to active rest.  I encourage you to give it a try.  Just pick a 1-2 week period and try some lighter workouts.  Your goal should be to do about 50-70% of your normal workout.  That percentage should apply not only to the amount (volume) that you do, but also to the intensity.  When planning your training, try to do exercises and activities that you don’t normally do.  It’s a good opportunity to change things up.  It’s also a good chance to spend a little time rehabbing an injury or focusing on a “weakness” (e.g., flexibility, core strength, etc).  Let me know how it works for you.

Mark

 

 

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Why we need experts

I’ve got to confess that I was planning this post last night.  At that time, I wasn’t aware of a recent Webmd article about sports training for female teens.  Fortunately, I saw a link for it on Twitter this AM.  The article is a great lead in to my post.  If you haven’t read it, I encourage you to do so.

I think that the article does a great job of touching on several points.  First and foremost, it addresses several things that females need to be doing to prepare and it explains why.  Anyone who works with athletes should be aware of the fact that female ACL injuries occur more often than they do to males.  They should also know how to train an athlete to try to prevent their occurance.  The article also emphasizes having a well designed plan to follow when training.  The article closes by discussing the imporantance of proper nutrition.  This is a subject that cannot be overemphasized when dealing with athletes at any level. 

By now you’re probably wondering what my original post was going to be about and how this article played into it. My original idea was to write about the training of athletes needing to be led by someone who is qualified to do it.  Too many times I’ve seen a sport coach decide to design a strength/speed/agility program for their athletes.  There are some sport coaches who can accomplish this and design a safe and effective program.  Unfortunately, there are a large percentage who cannot do this.  Just because someone coaches a sport does not mean that they have a full understanding of :

  • program design
  • safety
  • preventative (“prehab”) exercises
  • exercise technique
  • speed/agility mechanics
  • corrective exercises/drills

I have worked with some great coaches in my career (and a few not so great, but we won’t go into that….).  There is no doubt that some of those coaches understood their sport inside and out.  My favorite sport to watch is football.  I’ve watched it, played it, and worked around it.  While I might know some about it, I have worked with coaches who knew 100+ times more than I do.  They were the “experts” in their sports.  I could have never coached their sport as well as they did.  On the other side of that, I tried to make it so that they couldn’t do my job as well as I did. 

When you consider the training and development of your son/daughter or your athletes, please keep all of this in mind.  There are qualified people who can run a strength/speed/agility program.  Of course, there are also some who claim that they can.  Believe it or not, designing and running a fitness program is much different than training athletes to maximize their potential.  Find someone who has experience dealing with athletes, someone who has a degree in exercise science or a related field, and someone who has credentials from a credible organization.  Not only will these people understand how to train an athlete to get better, they will understand the biomechanical and physiological aspects of the sport so that they can design and implement a top notch program. 

P.S.  If you want to see what one training program for females looks like, check out the video of the Auburn Softball Team below.

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And The Feet Have It

As a follow up to my previous post on sand training, I thought that I would address a question that I was asked about running in the sand.  The question was about running barefoot in the sand and impact forces.  Here was my reply:

“It can actually be a great opportunity to run barefoot. Running without shoes tends to make people land on the balls of their feet more. This further decreases the impact forces. It also helps to work the muscles of the foot better and strengthen them. The only warning is to ease into barefoot running gradually.”

 There has been a lot of interest in barefoot running recently.  I’ve seen several articles in magazines and on websites recently so I guess it is a new “fad”. As Vern Gambetta wrote in his blog recently, it’s not a new concept.  It’s been around for a long time.  The main thing to realize is that there is benefit to running barefoot (or in socks or something less than a “normal” shoe).  To work this into a program before, I’ve had athletes do their warmup in socks to get the benefits.  This gives them a chance to ease into it so that we could incorporate more of it during other training sessions.  Anytime that I have athletes in the sand I try to have them do it barefoot.  I figure that they’e going to get sand in their shoes anyway so what not get even more out of the session.  

Footprint in sand pic

In a nutshell, whether it’s in the sand or elsewhere make sure that you plan some barefoot time into your program too.

 

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Put Your Feet In The Sand

Feet In The Sand Pic

Ahhhhh… the title of this post probably makes you think of the beach – the soft sand, the waves crashing, the sun warming your body.  Sounds like a great day.

Of course, since this is a blog about training athletes, we all know this post isn’t about fun in the sun.  While we usually think of the fun that we have at the beach, it’s also a place for your athletes to get some good speed & agility work in.  Now I know that you’re wondering “why would I take my athletes to the beach to train?”.  The question should be “why haven’t I been taking them?”. 

Benefits of Sand Training

  • Deceased forces on the body due to shock absorbsion of the sand
  • Increased use of muscles due to instability of the sand
  • Increased challenges to balance and coordination due to instability of the sand
  • Increased ankle strength

Once you read through the list most of it probably makes sense.  Many of the benefits do come from the fact that the sand is an unstable surface.  I have heard former NFL players claim that they never had ankle injuries in their career due to training in the sand.  That benefit in itself is huge for most athletes. 

I know that there are people on all ends of the “functional training” spectrum.  Some coaches design their entire program on balance pads and inflatable balls.  Others don’t do any exercises on either of them. I tend to fall somewhere in the middle.  The thing about sand training is that it can keep both sides happy.  It allows you to do “traditional” agility and speed drills while also incorporating an unstable component.

So how do you design a sand workout?

First off, I wouldn’t plan on using the sand every day.  It can be taxing on the legs.  Plus, when it comes to sport specificity, unless you play sand volleyball you need to spend time on the court, grass, etc.  As for what to do, almost any type of cone drill, mini hurdle drill, jumping drill, or speed drill can be adapted to the sand.  Let your imagination go wild!! 

What do you do if you don’t live near a beach?  If you don’t want to build your own sand pit, you will have to look around a little.  Many places have parks with sand volleyball courts that you can use.  Some lakes have a recreational beach that has sand.  See what you can find that will work for your training.

Good Luck!

 

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Top Notch Training

In the May/June issue of  Training and Conditioning, Matt Delancey explains how he designs the program for the Florida Gator Women’s volleyball team. 

This is probably one of the most interesting articles I’ve read in a long time.  I’ve heard Matt speak a couple of times at clinics and was fortunate enough to get to observe him conduct a training session at UF.  I think that he does a great job and this article explains why.  Matt puts emphasis on three things in the program:

  1. Developing sport specific athleticism
  2. Injury prevention training
  3. Addressing individual weaknesses

Obviously most of us try to design our programs in a way that the same 3 items are addressed.  I do admit that a volleyball team has less bodies to train than some other sports so some things are easier to plan for and incorporate.   Regardless, it is a good read and worth your time.  I encourage you to check it out.

 

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