The Whole Truth

Dumbbell Pic
The weights never lie!!!

 

“The Iron never lies to you…The Iron will always kick you the real deal. The Iron is the great reference point, the all-knowing perspective giver…two hundred pounds is always two hundred pounds.”  – Henry Rollins

I found this quote recently and it really made me think. How many times have we been around someone who says that they can lift this much, run this fast, etc.  They’re always fast and strong, at least according to what they say.  Once you get them in the weightroom (or on a stopwatch), the reality just isn’t quite what you’ve been told.  I think that a lot of the athletes that I have trained were “mistaken” about their strength and speed on that first day.  It’s almost become a running joke for me during the initial evaluation – how far off from the athletes perception is the reality?  I don’t think that I’ve done an eval yet where they ended up stronger than the thought they were.  I guess that’s part of the neat thing about our business – you can tell all of the stories to others (or yourself) that you want to, but in the end, the weights and the stopwatch will tell the truth.

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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3 Tips for Barefoot Training

I’ve written previously about training barefoot and the possible benefits.  It seems like the concept is becoming more popular lately.  There are more books being published and the concept is getting more coverage in the mainstream media.  Recently an article on barefoot training appeared in the Huffington Post.  With all of the recent interest, I thought it might be a good idea to mention a few tips before throwing away all of your training shoes.

What shoes to wear for training today? How about going barefoot!

Tips for Barefoot Training

  • Ease into it – Most of us haven’t spent lots of time barefoot since we were kids.  Keep this in mind when you start training barefoot.  Our feet have become used to the support and protection of shoes.  Since your feet will probably have to go through an adaptation process, don’t try to do everything barefoot right off the bat.  It might be a good idea to start going barefoot more around the house,if you don’t already.  Then start by doing your warm-up without shoes.  If you are doing a proper dynamic warm-up, it should take you 10-15 minutes to complete.  This should give your feet a chance to begin to get used to going without shoes.  After this, gradually add in more barefoot time.
  • Choose soft surfaces – Ok, maybe this one is common sense but I still thought that it was worth mentioning.  Soft surfaces give you cushioning when your feet land on the ground.  They also help to limit the amount of surface damage (small cuts, scrapes, etc) to your feet.  While this is a good idea in general, it is especially important when first starting out your barefoot adventures.
  • Be selective in your activities  Continuing along with the general idea of safety, you should probably choose activities that are fairly safe for your feet, especially at first.  This probably isn’t the time to work in some depth jumps, for example.  Stick with easier activities and remember that there are still some things that it might be a good idea to wear shoes while doing (e.g., weightlifting).

I’ve been wondering what the new training “fad” will be for 2012.  Maybe barefoot training will be it.  Ok, maybe not if Nike has anything to say about it haha.  Regardless, give barefoot training a try.  It will help your feet to gain strength and movement that they haven’t had since you were a kid.

Mark

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Football Fanatic Craziness

Football Warmpu

How good of a job does your S & C Coach do?

If you know me, it’s no secret that I love college football.  It’s much more exciting to me than watching the NFL.  As we get near the end of the season, it’s always interesting to hear the fans perceptions of their favorite teams coaching staff.  If a program isn’t heading in the right direction, it doesn’t take long for the fans to start calling for coaches to be fired.  Of course, if a team seems to fall apart late in games or gets lots of injuries, the fans always blame the strength and conditioning staff.  I have to say though, that the best comment that I have heard about this recently was that this is the staff member that fans are least able and qualified to evaluate.  I’ve got to agree with this.  Here are a few reasons why:

  • Fans have no idea what is involved in the day to day running of a strength program.  I could never begin to give an accurate assessment of the job that an insurance salesman does, why should he be any better at evaluating what a S & C professional does?
  • They also have no idea what level the players were at when they began the program.  We have all seen fantastic athletes who excel in high school purely on athletic ability.  Once they get to college, they aren’t the only big fish in the pond.  If they’ve never had to work hard in the weight room, they may be behind when they get to college.  It may take them some time to catch up.
  • Many factors go into the success of a team during a season.  Yes, conditioning level is important.  However, if a team has very few quality backups, it leads to the starters staying on the field even longer.  It doesn’t matter how many sprints that you run during practice, football is an intense game, especially for the big bodies on the O-line and D-line.  Eventually, everything will catch up with them and they will get tired.
  • Injuries happen.  I’ve worked with teams that did the same work in the offseason that previous teams had done.  Once the season starts, for some unexplained reason, they seem to have a rash of one type of injuries.  I’ve seen seasons where teams were hit by a string of shoulder injuries to players, or ankle injuries, or knee injuries.  These injuries took a toll and made it more difficult for the team to succeed.  Yet those players worked hard in the weight room in the off-season, not only to get stronger but to help prevent such injuries.  Sometimes that’s just the way that things happen.  I’ve also seen players get injuries that limit what a player can do in practice, yet they are able to heal up enough for the game each week.  Many times fans don’t know all of the details off what goes on behind the scenes.   Therefore, they don’t realize how this can affect a players play and development.
I realize that fans love evaluate everything about their team, especially if the season isn’t going well.  It’s part of what makes things interesting. However, when it comes to the S & C staff, fans might want to consider a few things before calling for peoples jobs.  Just something to think about.
Mark
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The Athletic Position For Sports

The Athletic Position

No matter what sport the athlete plays I’ve always been a big believer in teaching them the role of the athletic position (or stance) while training them.  It plays a huge role for athletes in sports such as volleyball, football, baseball, tennis, and basketball.  While I think that many coaches try to get their athletes into this position, I’m not sure that they try to explain the importance of this stance to them.

Beach Volleyball Pic

What is an athletic position?

An athletic stance is one in which your feet are about shoulder width apart, your weight is centered on the balls of your feet, your knees and hips are flexed, your torso is leaning slightly forward, and your head and shoulders are up.

Why Is It Important?

While for many athletes, being in an athletic stance my come somewhat naturally, that may not be the case for all of them.  Athletes need to be comfortable in this stance and they need to be able to get into (and out of) this stance quickly.  Why?  Because this stance is involved in many sports.  This stance is the one that athlete get into before jumping vertically, it is a defensive position in basketball, it is part of a power clean, and the list goes on and on.  If you look at the beach volleyball picture above, the 2 players that are on the ground are in variations of an athletic stance.  It’s true that neither one is a perfect example, but we are also looking at an isolated picture.  Think about the position that the two other players were in just one second earlier. Right before they jumped, they both would have been in an athletic stance so that they could maximize their vertical jump.  Athletes may only stay in an athletic stance for a brief time, but they must be comfortable getting into and out of that stance. If not, it will impact their speed of play and efficiency.

Make sure 

Make sure to include teaching of the athletic stance in your training.  It plays a vital role in many sports and your athletes need to be comfortable in the stance.  They also need to understand why this stance is important, not only for their specific sport or position, but also the role that it plays in jumping and other skills.  With today’s athletes asking “why” more and more, this may help them to understand the importance of this position better.

Mark

 

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Looking For Ideas From Old Stuff

As a coach, I’m always looking for ideas and trying to get better.  One thing that I’ve found useful is to go back and look at old handouts and notes from conferences that I have attended programs I have been given, etc.  It seems like you never get to see every presentation that you want to (or need to) at conferences.  Even if I do get to see a good one, I’m always trying to glance at the handouts, look at the slides, listen to the speaker, and somehow take notes.  That’s why I look to look back at this info at some point later in time.  I usually look at some of it in the days right after attending a conference but some of it waits until later.  That’s the info that I like to pull out when I have a question that I want to answer.  I might want to look for drill ideas, compare programs, or try to get better in an area that I want to improve in.  That’s when I go to the presentation handouts.  I know that some folks probably just toss most off this stuff out after a few years, but I view it as a valuable resource.  I very much believe that you can’t just copy someones program or way of doing something and make it work just as well for yourself.  However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t get some good bits of info from other people and add them to the knowledge that you already have.  This is part of becoming a better coach.  So, don’t just throw out those old notes – use them to get better!!!

Mark

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Go Speed Racer

Speedy
Is speed important?

The old saying is “Strength thrills, speed kills.  If he’s even, he’s leavin’ “. How true is that saying?  Is speed the most important skill for an athlete? It probably depends on the sport, but for most athletes, speed plays a huge role in how competitive they are.  Isn’t speed largely genetic?  Can you really make someone faster with training?  Yes!!!

Every year, potential draftees for the NFL, NBA, and other sports leagues spend lots of money to work with sports performance experts prior to the draft.  Their goal is to improve their strength, speed, and other measurable factors so that they can get drafted higher.  While some of these athletes have track backgrounds that have helped them out, many of them have gotten by on genetic speed ability alone.  Once they focus on speed training for 4-6 weeks, it isn’t uncommon for some of them to shave .2 of a second off of their 40 yard times.  Keep in mind that these are some of the best amateur athletes in the world.  They have been training hard for years and they are still able to make major improvements in their speed when they receive focused training on their form.

How does this apply to other athletes?  Try this for starters – the next time you go watch a youth sporting event, pay attention to how many times a kid gets beaten by two steps or less.  In soccer, how many times does a kid get beaten to a free ball?  In baseball, how many baserunners get thrown out by a step or two?  In football, how many times does a player need an extra step or two to get by (or catch) another player?  From watching all of the sporting events that I have in my life, I can say that it happens A LOT!! One or two steps often makes all of the difference.

So, is speed the most important skill for an athlete to have?  It is more important in some sports than others, but in most sports the fastest athletes have a distinct advantage.  When you compete don’t you want to have that extra step or two?  I’d bet that you do.  Keep this in mind when you train.

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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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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