Crossfit – As Seen On TV

There's a right way, and there's a wrong way....

There’s a right way, and there’s a wrong way….

 

The Film Doesn’t Lie

Last night I was flipping around the TV looking to see what was on.  I only had a few minutes so I didn’t want to get too involved in anything. I came across a show about the 2012 Crossfit Games.  I’ve watched a few minutes of these shows in the past but never really paid much attention to them.  During last nights show, one of the events included female athletes doing pull-ups.  When I started to watch the pull-ups, I was left almost speechless.  Their legs were swinging with each rep.  Actually, swinging is an understatement.  Their form was horrible.  It almost reminded me of a gymnast swinging on the parallel bars.  During the same competition, the athletes had to complete a combo lift that included a front squat.  They had judges observing the squats to ensure that each squat was to parallel depth.  What amazed me was the fact that they cared so much about form on one exercise but not the other.  While many people know what Crossfit is, many others don’t.  These national shows are a chance for them to reach a lot of people and show off what they are all about.  Unfortunately, what I saw is more likely to scare people off.  It scares potential clients because it seems unsafe.  It scares Strength Coaches and Personal Trainers because we can just see injuries waiting to happen.  I know that Crossfit has a lot of fans out there.  It also has a lot of detractors.  From what I saw, I can understand why it has so many of the latter.

 

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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Explosive Athletic Training Without Olympic Lifts – Part 1

Explosiveness

You often hear coaches, parents, and the media talk about how “explosive” an athlete is.  While some folks are born with natural explosiveness, most athletes need to spend time developing this valuable skill.  Strength coaches all agree that development of explosiveness (AKA – power), is important for athletes in almost all sports.

Developing Power

So how do you develop power?  One common method is to use the Olympic Weightlifting movements, the clean and jerk and the snatch.  While each of these lifts is an excellent way to develop power, they are very technical lifts that require a large amount of instruction.  In certain situations they are ideal to use, but not all.  If you have athletes that or inexperienced lifters or if safety is an issue, then you may have to find other alternatives to develop power in your athletes.

So what can you do if Olympic lifts aren’t ideal to use?  There are several options.  This post will look at the various types of jumps that can be used.  Part 2 will explore various medicine ball exercises.

  • Broad Jumps
  • Squat Jumps
  • Box Jumps
  • Bounds
  • Tuck Jumps

These jumps are listed in order from simple to most complex.  Anytime that you introduce one of the exercises, make sure to properly teach it and be a stickler about technique, especially on the landings.

Sets & Reps

Since the development of power generally involves all out effort on each rep, it is best to keep reps low for each set.  I like using sets of 5.  If you are only using one of these exercises for power development, you should use 3-5 sets.  If you are using several types of jumps in a session, Try not to go over 10 total sets.  This will allow your athletes to have plenty of energy left for the remainder of the training session.

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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Throwing Curveballs?

Little League Pitcher Pic

Is his arm in danger?

The 2012 Little League World Series ended yesterday, with Japan winning impressively.  Of course, with youth baseball always comes some debate about arm injuries.  Should young pitchers throw curveballs?  Should the pitch be banned in Little League?  Do pitchers throw too much?  Are neither of these factors to blame when a pitcher gets hurt?  Are both of them to blame?  It’s always interesting hearing the different sides of this issue.  Let’s look at a few facts:

  • Breaking Pitches – Many people place the blame for arm injuries on kids throwing curveballs.  Is this really a factor?  There is evidence that certain pitches (especially sliders) can place more stress on the elbow joint.  There are some who believe that the curveball argument is valid, and some that don’t.  In my opinion, while the curveball may not be fully to blame, it certainly isn’t helping things.
  • Round and Round –  Is year round baseball to blame?  It certainly seems to be a factor.  In my opinion, a major factor.  Kids need a chance for their arms to rest and recover.  They can’t do that when they play baseball (or softball) 10+ months a year.
  • Keeping Count – Do pitch counts help?  Most youth baseball leagues have some form of limit on how much a player can pitch in game and in a week.  These are steps in the right direction.  They also need to be in place since some youth coaches probably are less concerned about the long-term health of their players than they should be.  However, a short term limit on pitches may not solve all of the problems.  One study of MLB pitchers recently showed that the cumulative effect of high pitch counts affects the pitcher long term more than one outing may affect them in the short term.  This ties in with the whole year round argument.
  • Well Hello Tommy John – The number of “Tommy John” surgeries to repair elbow ligaments has risen dramatically in recent years.  This surgery used to rarely be done for young athletes.  Not surprisingly, it is now done much more often.

What To Do?

To save us all some time, I’m going to list three things that we can do to stop this arm abuse epidemic:

  1. Stop having kids play baseball/softball year round
  2. Get kids on a strength and conditioning program that will develop their overall athleticism
  3. Stop teaching young pitchers the curveball

Will this stop all arm and shoulder problems in young pitchers?  Probably not, but it should definitely help reduce them.

Mark

Here are a few related posts:

Year Round Sports – Agggghhhhhh!!!

Youth Training & Development

The Sports Specialization Solution

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Thoughts On The Olympics

Ryan Lochte Training

Just like many of you, I’ve spent part of the last week watching the Olympics.  There has been a big deal made about Ryan Lochte’s training and some of the unusual things that he does to prepare.  These include tire flips, keg tosses, and using ropes.  Some other S & C coaches have given their thoughts on his workouts.  Some of these were positive and some not so much.    Some of us might not feel comfortable putting an athlete through strongman type activities.  Ryan’s S & C coach, Matt Delancey, does.  I’ve heard Matt speak on a few occasions at clinics, including one lecture on the use of strongman exercises with athletes.  I also had an opportunity to watch him at work.  Matt is a former strongman competitor so yes, sometimes strongman exercises make it into the routines he uses with his athletes.  One thing that you may not know is how much Matt emphasizes correct form.  He is much less worried with how much weight someone can lift than he is with developing and maintaining proper form.  His number one rule for strongman exercises is that as soon as the athletes form breaks down, you stop the exercise.  I believe that having a full understanding of an exercise how to perform it correctly is crucial to being a good S & C Coach.  While many of us might not feel comfortable including strongman exercises, often that is due to our background and a lack of knowledge about the exercises.  While some might not agree with using these exercises with a swimmer, his coach is very comfortable with it.  He is also very competent to teach the exercises and keep them safe.  Whether we agree with the program that Ryan does or have some issues with it, we need to keep one thing in mind:  every coach is different.  Every coach has different backgrounds and experiences, different styles, and different levels of comfort with certain exercises or methods.  That’s one of the neat things about strength and conditioning.  While there is a lot of science that we rely on, there is also room for each of us to be unique and create our own program.  Just because a program is different than one we might design, that doesn’t mean that it’s bad.

Here’s a sample of Ryan’s Training.

Strongman Exercises For Everyone?

One post I read a few days ago stated that Lochte’s training would have a negative effect on many clients.  The author felt that many of their clients would come in begging to include tire flips, etc in their training.  He’s probably right.  I’m sure that due to the publicity, many athletes and coaches will suddenly want to include these in their training.  Guess what?  In general, that’s probably not a good idea.  Remember, training programs should be individualized based on many factors including what the athlete is capable of.  There also needs to be consideration given to what the coach can safely teach the athlete.  This is where my greatest fear is.  I hope that coaches stick with what is right and with what they can safely teach.  Unfortunately, some won’t and they will end up needlessly injuring some athletes.

Mark

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Don’t Be A Sucker!!!

Pic of a sucker

Don’t Be A Sucker!!!

The British Medical Journal just published an interesting study about sports performance products. They looked at a variety of products that are marketed in the sports performance world. No matter if the product was a supplement, a shoe, a sports drink, or any other item, the scientists checked to see what claims the product made. They then tried to find research that validated the claims. Guess what?  In many cases there wasn’t any published research that supported the product claims. Even if research did exist, many times it wasn’t enough to scientifically conclude that the advertised benefits were in fact true. Is this surprising? Probably not. While this study was conducted in Britain, I would guess that similar results would be found in the United States. Several notable American companies (Nike & Powerade) were included in the study because they market and sell in both countries.

In the U.S., the FDA thoroughly evaluates any new drug before it is approved for use. I’m sure that Britain has a similar process in place. Unfortunately, the FDA doesn’t try to regulate supplements. They only step in if there are numerous complaints and/or health risks (who remembers ephedra????).

Here are a few surprising facts from the study:

  • Over 50% of all product websites that made product claims did not provide any references for studies that would support these claims
  • When contacted, some companies were not willing to share their research (In reality, this may not be that surprising)
  • Once company believed that simply providing a video of their product being used was “sufficient”

So, what is the reality?  Just like with many other products, companies tend to make impressive claims about the benefits of using their products.  Unfortunately, these claims often aren’t supported by solid research.  Regardless, due to marketing to a gullible public, many people don’t question the claims and just buy the products without further investigation.  This tends to work out great for the companies who keep putting money in the bank.  So what should consumers do?  Remember the old P.T. Barnum quote “there’s a sucker born every minute”.  Don’t be a sucker!!!  Don’t believe everything that some company tells you about it’s newest diet pill, muscle growth powder, sports drink, shoe, shirt, or anything else.  Be smart and do some research.  While it is great to be able to just hop on the internet and Google something to get info about it, realize that not everything you read on the internet is true either.  Make sure to get info from good sources.  If you’re not sure where to start, Pubmed publishes abstracts from numerous scientific journals related to health, fitness, exercise, and medicine. Start there and see what you find.

Just remember, Don’t Be A Sucker!!!

 

Mark

Sports Upgrade

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Help For The ACL: Correction Of Poor Landings In Volleyball

Beach Volleyball Pic

More on the ACL

While writing my last blog post on landing mechanics and ACL injuries, I came across a study by Parsons & Alexander that was recently published.  The study attempts to discover if the use of one video coaching session can help to make positive changes in the landing mechanics of volleyball players.  I encourage you to read more about this study on modifying landing mechanics.

Here is a quick summary of the volleyball study:

The researchers took video clips of volleyball players completing a spike jump/landing.  They used Dartfish software to give the girls immediate feedback and also to analyze the results in further detail.  They measured numerous angles related to landing position at ankle, knee, hip, and torso.  The researchers found numerous improvements resulted short term from their video & verbal feedback.  While there were some decreases in the results during the 4 weeks prior to retesting, several of the variables maintained a significantly positive improvement.  Basically, the one feedback session did help the volleyball players to make and maintain positive improvements.

So, what are the take home points?

  1. Video can play a huge role in helping your athletes to make improvements.  Remember that some people are visual learners.  Using video can help them to truly understand what you are saying to them in your verbal coaching.
  2. The athletes were able to maintain some of their improvements over 4 weeks.  What if there was to be more of an emphasis on the changes in landing mechanics?  What if they took 15 minutes a week to focus on them?  What if they received visual feedback multiple times with constant verbal coaching everyday?  I’m sure that the results would be more significant.  As they say, “practice makes perfect”.  What would this do the the number of torn ACL’s in volleyball?  I’m sure it would decrease it dramatically.

Here are two other things worth reading:

More of my thoughts on ACL tears in volleyball

Predicting A Torn ACL?

More info on the importance of video analysis:

Wired UK Article on Dartfish 

Mark

Contact us for info on how we can provide a landing assessment for your athletes.

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How Important Is Landing In Preventing ACL Injuries?

Drag Racing Pic

No question that it will go fast. But how does it stop without crashing?

I have previously written about the role of a proper landing in the prevention of ACL injuries.  I thought that I would expand on that somewhat.  We often think about landing playing a role in basketball and volleyball injuries.  I’ve also had it happen to athletes playing football, soccer, and lacrosse.  If we take time to carefully evaluate our athletes, many of them in all sports display poor landing mechanics.  This can put the knee into an awkward position and can cause extra stresses to be placed on the ACL.  Since an ACL reconstruction generally keeps an athlete out of action 6 months, anything that we can do to help prevent these injuries can be huge for our athletes.

So, what can be done to help?  We often get into a hurry to get kids running and jumping too fast.  In my mind, when car gurus design a newer, faster car, they make sure to spend plenty of time designing and testing the braking system before they take the car on any test runs.  It should be the same with athletes.  We need to test and train the braking systems before we go crazy with the jumping and running.  The simplest way to help your athletes is to teach them how to land properly.  Now this isn’t just a 5 minute drill that you do once and never repeat.  You have to emphasize landing every time that you do a jumping drill.  We all want to see how high or how far the kid jumps.  However, it’s probably more important to watch how they land.  Yes, you should try to watch and coach everything.  Just make sure that you are putting emphasis on the landings.

Want to see the effect that proper landings can have?  Myers and Hawkins published a study in 2010 that looked at changes in tibial shear forces when they worked on landing mechanics.  They found a 56% decrease in forces when the emphasized proper mechanics.  The athletes that they worked with also increased their vertical jump about 2.5 cm.  The only negative was the fact that the athletes tended to revert to their old habits once they got tired (see this article on knee landings which discusses the study further).

I think that a 56% decrease in forces could make a huge difference in ACL rupture prevention for athletes.  Because of this, make sure to emphasize it during your training.

So how should the athletes land?

  1. Should land on their toes
  2. Keep their knees flexed
  3. Keep their head/shoulders up
A good way to check on their landings is to listen.  The athlete should “land softly”.  If you hear a loud landing, it’s a good sign they they landed on their heels and probably had their knees straight.  This type of landing puts too much force through their ankles, knees, and hips.

As for how to limit the return of bad habits once your athletes get tired, I have two suggestions:

  1. Repetition, repetition, repetition
  2. Make sure to do some of the landing training when the athletes are tired.  We all get sloppy when we are tired.  Putting them into this stage for some of the training will give you a chance to show them what happens and then correct it.

Happy Landings,

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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