How Far We’ve Come

Golf Pic

 

The Past

Earlier this week, a sucessful golfer from the 1940’s and 50’s,  Frank Stranahan, passed away.  I had never heard of Mr. Stranahan, but when I read the article about him, I was amazed.  What was amazing to me was that he was also a dedicated bodybuilder & fitness buff.  While bodybuilding wasn’t unheard of in that era, it wasn’t as common as it is now.  For a golfer, it was unheard of.  In golf, just as in baseball, the thinking was that lifting weights was a no-no.  Most felt that this would bulk an athlete up.  This would then lead to a decrease in flexibility and performance in their sport.  Now it is common for athletes in both sports to regularly lift weights during both the off-season and in-season.

I grew up in the 1970’s in Central Florida.  I remember going to the local high school with my Mom and Grandmother so that they could lift weights.  Yes, in the 70’s this was pretty much unheard of.  Women didn’t lift weights.  I was at such a young age that I didn’t realize until years later how rare this was.  However, we had a unique situation in our town.  Since I grew up near the headquarters of the Nautilus fitness company, some of our local coaches were influenced by them.  One of the local high school coaches began to open the school weightroom in the evenings for local people to workout. This was before the days of Planet Fitness, etc.  There wasn’t anywhere else to workout in our town.  The Coach was able to convince my Mom and Grandmother to lift weights to stay in shape.  I basically grew up believing that weightlifting was normal for everyone.  Heck, I remember walking into a bar on a bench and splitting my head open once.  I also remember falling off of a multi-exerciser (that I was goofing around on AFTER having been told to stay off of it lol) and getting the wind knocked out of me.  I saw my whole 6 year old life flashing before my eyes.  I thought I was a goner for sure lol.

Crossfit Woman Pic

You didn’t see things like this years ago

The Future

Obviously weight training wasn’t popular for most people in the past.  Fast forward to today.  Now I have some athletes that I can’t keep out of the weightroom.  I have female athletes that I tell to get in the weightroom more if they want to get better.  We look on TV and see women doing all sorts of things, some that many men can’t handle.  Isn’t it amazing how far things have come?

So the question is, what does the future hold?

 

Mark

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You Can Write It On The Board, But You Still Have To Coach It

Plate Push Pic

A few days ago, a friend of mine started an online discussion about coaching.  He made a statement that criticized coaches who just write the strength workout on the board and then don’t actually “coach” it.  He was referring primarily to high school sport coaches.  In an ideal world, this wouldn’t happen.  Unfortunately, it happens much more often than most people realize.
So why does this happen? Usually it’s due to at least one of the following reasons:

  • The sport coach does not have a great strength training background.  He/She knows that their players should lift weights but they don’t understand all of the details about technique and program design.
  • The coach is overwhelmed with the duties of their sport and uses the class to plan for practices and games, make phone calls, etc
  • The ratio of players to coaches makes it difficult to truly instruct the athletes in proper training techniques

While all of these do make things difficult for the coaches, it still shouldn’t excuse them from just writing the workout on the board and trusting the kids to follow it correctly.  So what are the drawbacks for the kids involved?

  • Safety – As we all know weight rooms can be dangerous places. Poor supervision greatly increases the chances of something bad happening.
  • Not following the plan – As most of us know, teenagers all think they have a better way of doing things. In many instances, they will choose to follow their own plan rather than the ones they are given. This can create problems related to recovery among other issues
  • Effort Issues – Obviously some people are not nearly as motivated as others. Without someone watching over them and pushing them a little bit, they will never achieve what they’re fully capable of. Of course the other side of things is that some people are super highly motivated. Sometimes somebody has to hold these people back a little because they don’t understand the big picture of the training plan.
  • Fails To Prepare Them For College – Besides the fact that the athletes are missing out on proper physical conditioning that will benefit them at the college level, they are missing out on even more.  They are not being taught that strength training is important.  They also are learning that minimal effort is acceptable.  I’m sure that their college coaches will just love that.

While there are possible solutions, I won’t go on a rant about the most obvious one – putting a qualified person in charge of the S & C program – or any other ones.  I will say this, it’s a shame that it happens.  In the end, it affects the kids negatively.  Hopefully this is a trend that will change sooner rather than later.

 

Mark

P.S.  Be on the lookout for our mobile site www.sports-upgrade.mobi to debut soon.

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Top 10 Posts of 2012 – Part 1

2012-13 PicSorry that it’s been a while since my last post. I’m finding out that having a new baby in the house tends to make things somewhat hectic.  It also tends to alter any type of normal routines that you have.

Since we’re at the end of the year, I thought it would be a good idea to look back at some previous posts from Sports Upgrade.  In case you missed any of them or want a second look, here are our most popular posts during 2012.  Today we’ll give you # 10 – # 6.  Check back tomorrow for # 5 – # 1.

Enjoy!

10.  More Isn’t Always Better – Monitoring For Overtraining – How can you monitor your athletes for overtraining?  Here are a few methods that you can use.

9.  Female Strength Training –  Why is it important to get high school female athletes into the weightroom?  Here is a list of reasons.

8.  Why Junction Boys Syndrome Still Exists – 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.  But it still happens.  Why?

7.  Good Nutrition is 24/7 – What can be done to help your athletes to eat smarter?  Here are some ideas.

6. Don’t Skip The In-Season ProgramWhat happens to an athlete if he doesn’t lift weights during his/her sports season?  Here are 2 big negatives.

Don’t forget to check back tomorrow for the top 5.

 

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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Female Strength Training

Barbie Pic

The cover says it all.

One of my favorite magazine/journal covers ever comes from an old issue of Training & Conditioning.  I love the title “Barbie Doesn’t Play Sports”.  To me, it promotes a hard working, tough image.  To me, that sums up my feelings about successful female athletes.  They aren’t afraid to work hard.  They aren’t afraid to work hard on the court or the field.  They aren’t afraid to work hard year round.  However, as important as it is, sometimes it is hard to get these same females into the weightroom.  Why is this?  I think that this is largely because of it being an area that they are unfamiliar with.  Strength training is scary for a lot of females.  Many of them have been bombarded by images from female bodybuilders.  These pictures always depict some lady who is loaded up on every supplement (legal & illegal) that she can pump into her body.  Unfortunately, this is the image of strength training that gets burned into many females minds.  They quickly decide that if lifting weights makes you look like that, they don’t want any of it.  Unfortunately, females need to be in the weightroom.  Why?

  • Injury prevention – Just like male athletes, females need to develop strength to help prevent injuries and limit the severity of those that they do get.
  • Improved performance – A stronger athlete can run faster, jump higher, accelerate quicker, and decelerate more effectively.  These all lead to better sport performance.
  • Correction of weaknesses – Females who haven’t ever taken part in a solid strength training program tend to have various muscular weaknesses.  These then add to injury problems and limit their performance potential.  Strength training can quickly start the athlete down the road to correction.
  • College preparation – Any high school athlete that wants to go on to play in college needs to strength train.  Not only will it help their performance (and therefore their recruiting), it will make them stand out once they get to college.  If the first time that an athlete has ever lifted is when they show up to college, they are already behind.  In my mind, if a female shows up on day 1 and is already comfortable and proficient in the weightroom, she has set herself apart from many of the other incoming freshman athletes.

So, how do you get females into the weightroom?  Educate and market.  You may have to teach them about the benefits and get them to realize that they won’t end up looking like the female Hulk.  You are also going to have to really make a motivated effort to get them started.  Once they start to see some benefits, the marketing should take care of itself.

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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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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The Sport Specialization Solution

Softball Catcher Pic

How many games has she played this year?

I found this article about sports specialization for softball players.  If you know me at all, you know that I’m not a fan of kids specializing in one sport.  Two points from the article did encourage kids not to specialize:

  1. College coaches want multi-sport athletes because they are more well rounded
  2. “…multi-sport athletes do tend to be more well-rounded and often out-perform those who focus only on a single sport. Often the skills from one sport translate into an advantage in another, such as explosiveness in basketball or agility in soccer.”
These two statements probably don’t come as a surprise to most strength and conditioning professionals.  Unfortunately there are numerous other things in the same article that try to discourage multi-sport athletes.  I won’t get into all of the details, but I do have one question.  If playing multiple sports helps a person to develop into a more complete athlete and makes them more desirable to college coaches, why are so many athletes still playing a single sport year-round??? To add to this, many of the athletes who specialize become physical trainwrecks before they ever make it to college. Lets also not forget to mention those that mentally burn out. So if it’s not benefitting the kids, who is this helping? There are only 3 parts to this equation – the athlete, the parent, and the coach. We’ve already decided that specialization isn’t helping the athlete. That only leaves the adults. When did sports stop being about the athletes themselves?
So, what’s the solution?  It’s very simple.  Stop trying to convince parents and kids that playing one sport year round is the only way to go.  Not only is there another way, playing multiple sports is the best way to develop athletes.   Maybe if athletes weren’t being “encouraged” (forced) to focus on one sport, it would solve a lot of issues.

Mark

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