Top 10 Posts of 2012 – Part 2

2012-13 Calendar Pic

 

Yesterday we started a list of Sports Upgrade’s top 10 most popular posts of 2012.  In case you missed it, you can see # 6 – # 10 here.  Today we give you # 1 – # 5.  Be sure to read any that you may have missed during the year.

Enjoy.

5.  Post Season Recovery For Athletes – How? – Want some ideas for what to do with your athletes during the post-season recovery period?  Here are some that you can use.

4. Post Season Recovery For Athletes – Why? – Why do athletes (especially teens) need a chance to recover after their season is over?  Here are 3 reasons.

3.  Gentle Reminders From Coed Softball – What did I learn from playing a season of coed softball?  Find out here.

2.  How Important Is Landing In Preventing ACL Injuries? – What can you do to help your athletes prevent ACL injuries?  Work on their landing skills

And now, for the top post from the Sports Upgrade Blog during 2012…..(insert drumroll here)…..

1.  Concussion Prevention For Football:  Strengthening The Neck – We’ve always believed that it was important to strengthen the neck to help reduce the chance of cervical spine injuries.  It may also help to help prevent concussions.  This post tells you how to effectively train the neck.

There you have it:  our top posts of 2012.  We’ll be bringing you more insight and info in 2013.  Be on the lookout for more blog posts, more newsletters, and more video posts.

Here’s to an awesome 2013 for you!!!

 

Mark

 

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The Right Way

I have been very fortunate to have some great influences in my life.  I have had numerous family members, friends, and others help me out and show me the way.  I was also blessed to have several incredible coaches when I was younger.  They not only taught me the sport, but they taught me about  life.

There are two coaches that I will probably always remember.  One was a youth soccer coach and one was a high school football coach/ strength coach.

The soccer coach taught me two important lessons:

  • Work hard – As young kids, we probably ran more sprints than other teams that we played against.  While hard work isn’t always fun, it is necessary to get you better.  We learned to accept that and we had good teams as a result.
  • Nothing is given – I had my first sports injury experience while playing soccer.  I hurt my knee and the doctor had me sit out for two weeks.  I had been a starting forward before the injury.  My first game back I was told that I was going to be a starting midfielder.  I said “Coach, I’ve never played midfield.  I play forward.”  His reply, “You’ve been out hurt and you lost your spot.  You have to earn it back.”  That may have been the hardest I ever played in my life.  By the second half, I had my spot back at forward.  Lesson learned.

From the football coach, I learned too many things to count:

  • Hard Work – As a player, I learned even more about the importance of hard work and never slacking off.  I also realized how many people don’t like hard work.
  • Structure – I was also very fortunate to be part of a well-structured strength training program.  There was an intelligent plan and we followed it.  It took me awhile to realize how rare this is in high school programs, even today.
  • Program Implementation – Later in life, I got to work with my former coach for 8+ years.  He taught me an incredible amount about designing and implementing programs as well as many of the finer details of strength training.  He did a great job teaching and explaining why certain exercises should be done a certain way.  He also made sure that the whole program was sound and done correctly.
  • Working Around Injuries- One of the greatest things that I learned was how to work around an injury when training an athlete.  I really learned to look for alternative exercises instead of just having an injured athlete sit out.
  • Faith – I also have to give him credit for teaching me about many things other than coaching.  Tops on the list has to be all that I learned from him about my faith.

After thinking through all of the things that I learned from these coaches, what is the most important life lesson that I learned?  It has to be to do things the right way.  In life and in coaching, it is important to do things with integrity, to work hard, to not slack off, and to do your best.  Every day we can find examples in the news and in our own lives of people not doing things the right way.  It’s easy to avoid adding your name to that list – just do things the right way.

Mark

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The Evolution of a Strength & Conditioning Program

crumpled paper pic

Is it time to scrap the old program for one that is better?

Looking Backwards

As the high school football and volleyball seasons wind down in many places, I thought that this would be a good time to address program design.  After a season, most strength coaches look back and see if there is anything that they should do differently the following season.  This evaluation process often forces coaches to look at the physical preparation of their athletes and their off-season programs.  Many times a team will have a series of injuries to it’s players and often many of these will be similar injuries.  Some seasons a team is hit with a rash of ankle injuries, sometimes it’s shoulder injuries, and other seasons it’s another body part.  Regardless, it forces the staff to evaluate their program and decide if changes need to be made to help prevent more injuries.  This is a great example of how strength programs should always be evolving.  There is no perfect program.  If there was, everyone would use it.

Evaluation Leads To Evolution

What things should you look at in your program?  While every sport & situation is different, you should evaluate your program for each of the following:

  • Injury prevention exercises
  • Muscular strength exercises
  • Power exercises
  • Speed work
  • Agility work
  • Sport specific conditioning
  • Flexibility/mobility exercises
  • Adequate recovery

In your particular sport or situation, not all of these may apply.  However, in most sports you should address each of these items to ensure that your program is complete.  So sit down and take an honest look at your program for the last few months and the last year.  How does it address each of these areas?  Do you spend too much time/effort in some areas and not enough in others?  If so, make adjustments for the next year.  It will make your program better and your athletes better.

Mark

Sports Upgrade

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Injuries Happen

marcus lattimore pic

Marcus Lattimore, Running Back for The University of South Carolina

If you keep up with sports, there’s no doubt that you heard about the injury to Marcus Lattimore this past weekend.  While I’m not a South Carolina fan, I loved watching him run the ball.  Even though he was coming off of ACL surgery last season, he was still a  great back with an incredible future in front of him.  While I’ve never met him, a lot of people have great things to say about him as a person.  I’m one of many people who is hoping a praying for a full recovery for him.

Now comes the really unfortunate part of things.  I’m sure that Lattimore lifted, ran, conditioned, rehabbed, and did everything else that he should have done to be 100% healthy and to prevent any type of injury.  I’m sure that his ATC’s, PT’s, and S&C Coaches did everything they could to prepare him for the physical demands of playing football in the SEC.  The unfortunate thing is that no matter how good of a job we all do to prepare the athlete, not every injury is avoidable in sports.  One of the major purposes of a quality strength and conditioning program is to help prevent injuries.  Unfortunately, we can’t prevent all of them.  Lattimore is a prime example of this.  He has suffered two knee injuries in the last two seasons. Both were contact injuries and I’m not sure that either could have been termed as “preventable”.

I had a discussion with one strength coach recently about this very topic.  He was frustrated because several of his athletes had recently had season ending injuries.  He knew that the kids worked hard in the off-season and he hated to see them have significant injuries.  I pointed out to him that no matter how good the program, sometimes injuries just happen.  Unfortunately, they are a part of sports.  I know that this didn’t really cheer him up, but I felt that it was accurate.

Of course, his feelings on the issue are a great example of how Coaches, Athletic Trainers, etc feel about their athletes.  We all want the very best for every athlete that we work with.  We want them to excel on the field, in the classroom, and in life.  We also want them to stay healthy.  When they don’t, we all take a look at the situation and wonder if there was more that we could have done or if there is more that we can do to get them well quicker.  That’s the nature of a good coach and a good person.  It’s also what fuels the fire for some strength coaches to never stop searching for a better way.  Because yes, injuries do happen in sports.  However, that doesn’t mean that we should just accept that fact and stop trying to eliminate all of the injuries that we can.

Mark

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All Of The Above

Links of Chain Pic

Which athletic skill is most important?  Speed, agility, balance, coordination, strength, power, flexibility?  It seems like a simple question, but there really isn’t a simple one-size-fits-all answer.  Why, you ask?  Because it all depends on the sport.  Actually, even within the same sport it can depend on the particular position of the player.  If I’m looking at football lineman, I probably place more value on strength and power.  What about football skill position players?  Maybe speed, agility, and some power.  A gymnast needs flexibility, balance, and coordination.  But even if we try to pick just a few key areas to focus on, doesn’t that often leave us missing a few.  Would it help a football lineman to have some flexibility (think about hip mobility and the ability to get low)?  While a lineman is never going to run a 4.4 sec forty yard dash, doesn’t it still help him to be faster than other similar players?  What about the gymnast.  If we limit our development to flexibility, coordination, and balance, aren’t we missing the strength necessary to perform certain movements?  Is it possible that all of these skills are linked together and contribute to athletic success in many different sports?

You see, each sport has different demands and necessities for it’s athletes.  Even within a sport, there can be different demands based on the position a player plays.  Even with the different demands, there is often a lot of crossover.  Just like in the examples above, many athletes do need some development in many or all of the athletic skill areas.  While a basketball player won’t ever have to run 40 yards, speed is still beneficial to have on the court.  While a volleyball player doesn’t have the same agility needs as a soccer player, it still makes them better if they develop the skill.

So, what is the most important skill?   ALL OF THEM!!!  You have to design training based on the individual athlete and the demands of the sport, but in almost all cases you should never eliminate any element of overall skill development.  You should base your drills and emphasis on the athlete’s sport and the it’s requirements.  However, remember that we are trying to develop better athletes.  Therefore, we should work to develop the total athlete and all of their skills.

 

Mark

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Football Might Have It Right

Football Has It Right Pic

Is football doing it better than any other sport?

Football might have it right.  What do they have right?  The sports development model.  The sport of football is probably doing it better than any other sport simply because they only have one defined season.  The American football season starts in August/September and plays out over the next several months.  There aren’t opportunities to play organized tackle football year round.  While college and some states do have “spring football”, that isn’t quite the same thing.  Spring football is generally about three weeks of organized practices.  It isn’t the same as playing a true spring season.  It’s not like soccer, softball, baseball, wrestling, volleyball, and lacrosse players that play travel ball and participate in tournaments during the 8 months that their school team isn’t in season.

So how does this help football player development?

  • It cuts down on overuse injuries – what do you think causes all of the arm and shoulder problems in baseball?  Year-round throwing maybe?
  • It forces coaches to work on other things during the off-season – lifting, speed, agility, etc.  According to most sport development models, there should be a defined “off-season” where these skills become the focus.
  • It makes the football season more special for everyone – when you play year round on multiple teams, how much does each win or loss matter?  The legendary John Wooden didn’t want his players playing in the off-season partially for this reason.

It’s too bad the so many other sports have taken other approaches to sports development.  I’m not sure that playing year-round is good for the athletes and is the best way to develop them long-term.  Unfortunately, there are a few youth football leagues that are starting to have a true spring season in addition to playing in the fall. Hopefully this concept doesn’t become the norm in football.

Mark

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Concussion Prevention For Football: Strengthening The Neck

Football Tackle Pic

Is this a concussion happening?

Concussions In Football

One of the hot topics in sports medicine the last few years has been concussions.  It seems that every where you turn, concussions are being discussed.  Many articles and news stories have been run covering all aspects of concussions – testing, treatment, prevention, even the possible limited lifespan of American football as we know it.  One idea that has received some mention is the concept of neck strengthening to help prevent concussions.  Since football season is underway, I thought that I’d address this topic.

Why is neck strength important?

Almost any type of impact in sports can cause a concussion.  These impacts can come from other players, the ground, or even a ball.  We usually think that you have to get struck in the head to get a concussion.  That’s not entirely true.

Youth Football Tackle Pic

Even a blow to the body can cause a concussion if the forces are great enough

Anything that causes a sudden movement of the head can cause the brain to accelerate inside the skull.  Of course, after it has accelerated, it strikes the inside of the skull which causes a concussion. Having strong neck muscles can help to limit the dramatic forces that can take place when struck in the head or elsewhere.  While not all concussions can be prevented, anything that we can do to keep the head more stable should help to decrease the chance of getting one.  Years ago, I was taught that it was important for football players to strengthen the neck to prevent neck injuries.  It’s also an important to part of concussion prevention.  Some college football programs have placed a renewed emphasis on neck strengthening.  Has it helped reduce concussions?  Several of these colleges have reported about a 50% decrease in concussions.  While these weren’t scientific studies, I think that  we should all take note and realize that include neck training in the programs for our teams.

What To Do

So, what should you do to train the neck?  You should focus on exercises that work the neck in six directions:

  • Flexion
  • Extension
  • Lateral Flexion (right & left)
  • Rotation (right & left)

These exercises should be done twice per week for 2-3 sets of 10.  If you have access to one, you can use a 4-way neck machine for everything except the rotation movements.  Other possible methods to complete the exercises include:

  • Manual resistance (individual or partner)
  • Resistance with a towel (individual or partner)
  • Resistance with an exercise band (individual or partner)
  • Neck Bridges

While it is important to train all of these specific neck motions, you must also train the trapezius muscle.  The trapezius helps to extend the neck and can help to add stability if it is strong.  The best exercises to use are shrugs and upright rows.  These exercises should be included twice per week also.  Shrugs can be done for 3-5 sets of 5-10 reps.  I usually keep upright rows to 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps.

One more thing that can be done is to add in some perturbation movements.  Many times in football, an athlete doesn’t see a block or hit in time to prepare his body for the impact.  These movements can help  improve neck stability during these unseen impacts.  To do perturbations, have an athlete in a seated position with their eyes closed.  Their neck should be held in a neutral position.  Have their partner suddenly but gently push their head in random directions.  The athlete should respond to the push by attempting to stop the head motion using their neck muscles.  I would suggest doing one set of 20 repetitions.

I have always believed in training the neck to prevent neck injuries.  With the  rash of concussions that seem to be happening in football, it has become even more important to train these muscles.  Make sure to find time in your program to include these exercises.  I know, none of us ever have enough time to fit everything in our strength programs.  Now there’s one more thing to include?  Just remember, while it may be important to do the bench, squat, clean, etc,  there is nothing more important than preventing potential injuries.  Make neck strengthening a priority in your program.

 

Mark

P.S.  While the info in this post was related to football, it applies to many other sports also.  The same program can be used for athletes that play soccer, lacrosse, and many other sports.  It can be especially vital for females to strengthen their necks.  Experts in concussions have begun recommending neck strengthening for females after realizing that they tend to have less neck strength than males.

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Post Season Recovery For Athletes – Why?

Rugby Tackle Pic

Do you think they might need some recovery time after a season of plays like this?

I’m a huge believer in athletes getting a chance to rest and recover after a season is over.  I’ve seen too many times when kids go directly from one season into another season or into hard off-season training.  Most often this happens when the kid goes from a school sports season right into a club season.  Many times people don’t see the reason for kids to take a break.  The reasoning is that the kid is young, they can handle it.  Many times they don’t handle it as well as we think that they do.  Giving them a break between seasons can help in numerous ways.  Why to the kids need a break:

  • Physically banged up – after a season, an athlete is physically banged up.  They have aches, pains, and injuries that they have played through.  Before they move into their next season (or heavy training), a short break can help them to heal up these aches and pains.  They won’t be able to perform or train at 100% if they don’t get well.
  • Mentally/emotionally tired – a sports season is also tiring in non-physical ways.  Several months of being on the go with practices, games, travel, homework, and everything else can wear on an athlete mentally and emotionally.  We often forget all of the stresses that happen during a season.  If you have a bad game or practice, it can be hard to just forget about it and move right into doing homework or whatever else you have to do.  Just like with adults, “bad days” can go home with kids and affect other areas of their life.  Add in the constant emotion of games (and the occasional “team drama” that occurs) and it can wear athletes out (and coaches and parents too).
  • To enjoy life some – I remember talking to one athlete who played her sport year round. She loved her sport and wanted to get a college scholarship.  To accomplish her goal, she played on her high school team as well as several travel teams.  She had to ride 1 1/2 hours each way to travel practice twice a week and then play on weekends. Part way through the school year she was exhausted, had numerous aches and pains, and wasn’t having much fun.  Look, even pro athletes take a break after the season to spend time with family and friends, travel, and relax.  If they can do it, why should we expect younger kids and teens to go year round without a break? Let the kids have a little fun sometimes.

Now that we know why athletes need to recover, the next questions are things such as how long?  What should they do during this recovery period?  What shouldn’t they do?  This will all be answered in my next post.

See you then.

Mark

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Don’t Skip The In-Season Training Program

Sometimes sports coaches amaze me.  Over and over again, I see them emphasize the off-season training program.  They push the kids to lift, run, and lift some more.  While most of these programs are “voluntary”, participation is always highly encouraged.  So what about once the season starts?  That’s a different story.  Guess what the first thing to get cut out is?  Yep, the strength program.  During the season, the priority is to spend time practicing and prepping for games.  However, why does the strength program always seem to get cut out?  Take a look at the average sports practice.  How much time is wasted due to poor planning & coaching?  A lot.  Yet instead of making practices more efficient so that a coach can fit in the in-season strength program, they just eliminate it.  So what does this do for the kids?  Nothing positive.  The two major things skipping the in-season program does are both huge negatives:

  1. Decrease in strength – During the season, an athlete is going to get worn down, banged up, and possibly lose some strength.  If they don’t lift during the season, they will definitely lose strength.  So what do you do?  Keep them lifting.  While the kid may lose some strength during the season, the stronger they stay late into the season, the better that they can play late in the season.
  2. The injury factor – It’s widely accepted that lifting weights helps to decrease the chance of injury.  Guess what?  It may also help to decrease the time missed if a player does get an injury.  Research on high school football players compared time missed by players who received similar injuries.  It was found that those who were participating in an in-season strength program missed 1/3 of the time of other players with similar injuries.  Not all injuries can be prevented, but most coaches, players, and parents should be willing to take steps to limit the time lost from injury.

I think that these two factors are good enough reasons to make the in-season program a priority.  Why don’t sport coaches feel the same?  I guess that S & C coaches just have to keep looking for opportunities to educate sports coaches.  Maybe one day things will change.

Check back next week for more on how to design a good in-season program.

 

Mark

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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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