Band tractions are a great tool to use to help with shoulder health. It helps mobilize the shoulder joint and you can use them in different planes of motions. The added tension from the band that kind of “pulls” the humeral head out of the socket while mobilizing the joint really helps loosening up the soft-tissue around it.
Band tractions are widely spread among powerlifters and really strong guys who bench press loads of weight. A lot of them, swear by it and say it makes their shoulders feel better. And honestly, until you try it you don’t understand how much better it makes your shoulders feel. Whenever my shoulders feel beat up I’ll just add a couple of sets of band tractions at the end of my training sessions.
Here are a couple different movements you can do with them in different planes of motion.
It should never be painful, nor hurt your shoulder at all. If this is the case, you probably have some bigger problems to deal with than just the need to mobilize your joint.
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This is an analogy that I stole from my colleague and friend Kevin Neeld (who’s breathing over my shoulder while I write this). I think it clearly illustrates the message I’ve been trying to spread for as long as this blog has been going on. I’ll explain in more details after…
As requested by Kevin, a (recent) picture to give him credit for the analogy
Think of injury threshold as a bucket. All the undesired stress and faulty movement patterns or positions you impose on your body are drops of water in the bucket. As you accumulate these “bad” things it adds drops of water, and the bucket keeps filling up. Sure, doing one thing wrong (e.g. deadlifting with a rounded back) might not hurt you by doing it once (water won’t spill). You might not even get injured by doing it 100 times, but it keeps adding drops of water in the bucket, and that bucket just keeps filling up, and eventually the water will spill. This is how most injuries happen: it’s an accumulation of stresses and faulty movements that will eventually lead you to threshold.
Somebody’s filling up his bucket…
This is why I find very stupid the argument “but I’ve done this or that for 5 years; it works and I never got injured”. My first response to that would be “you didn’t get injured…yet”. Everything might feel alright…until it doesn’t.
Training athletes everyday, I realize the importance of this concept and need to do everything in my power to avoid the water spilling out of the bucket with all of them. This is why I’m very picky with what my athletes do inside and outside the gym. I wanna make sure they do everything possible to stay healthy in the long run.
The first step is to try to remove everything from their training that might contribute to filling the bucket. Whether it is avoiding Olympic lifts with my baseball pitchers because the lifts are very stressful on their elbows and wrists, or making sure my athletes move well from their hips and don’t move excessively at the lumbar spine, it is my job to avoid those additional drops of water in the bucket. Also, strategies such as foam rolling, corrective exercises and the like can play a big part in actually removing drops from the bucket.
One thing that is equally important to understand is that some sporting movements such as the skating stride (that is pretty unnatural for the hips) in ice hockey and the pitching motion (that puts tremendous stress on the shoulder) in baseball are contributing to adding drops in the bucket. This is why it is ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL to do everything possible to limit additional unnecessary drops in the bucket, as well as contributing to take some water out with said modalities for the long term health of our athletes.
What are you doing to avoid the spill?
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As I’ve mentioned in the past, I’m a huge fan of smoothies as post-workout meal. They are much more nutrient-dense than any post-workout formula on the market (they’re usually loaded with sugar), they’re super quick and easy to make and it definitely goes down more easily than eating a whole meal right after you finished training.
This is one of my top 2 go-to, and it’s simply delicious! The ingredients are:
1 cup unsweetened chocolate almond milk (substitute with organic whole milk if you’re looking to bulk up)
1 scoop chocolate protein powder
1 cup of frozen dark cherries
1 handful of walnuts
1 Tablespoon of cacao nibs
1 Tablespoon of Chia seeds
1/2 cup old fashioned oats (optional, again if you’re looking to bulk up)
That is it. Just throw everything in a blender and mix for a minute. I usually prepare it in the morning, store it in our mini-fridge at work, and drink it right after my training.
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I came across a study yesterday (thanks to my colleague Kevin Neeld) on ice hockey and the relationship of physiological components with actual on-ice performance. Before discussing the results of the study, what I found especially interesting with this specific study is that they were interested in the actual on-ice performance during games. Most studies measuring physiological attributes (such as strength, speed, VO2 max, body fat, etc) usually relate these aspects to on-ice performance, but not very often to actual in-game performance; results will most of the time be compared to on-ice skating speed, endurance and the like.
In this study by Peyer et Al., the physiological measures were compared to in-game performance in the form of plus/minus scores. The characteristics measured were:
Body fat %
Repeated off-ice speed test (in the form of 12 x 110 meters sprints)
Strength tests (in the form of push ups, chin ups, leg press and bench press)
On-ice speed tests (dot-to-dot, short lightning, and lap sprint)
Plus/minus on the ice during games
A significant correlation was found between the repeated off-ice sprint test, 3 strength tests (chin ups, leg press and bench press) and the plus/minus scores. The players who performed the best on the repeated sprint test and the 3 strength tests had a better plus/minus score. What is equally interesting to me is that body fat percentage and Vo2 max, which are two highly rated and utilized tests in the hockey community, had no relevance whatsoever with actual in-game performance.
Good Predictor of Hockey Performance?
If you’ve been using a no-nonsense approach to training hockey players (prioritizing strength, using an interval-based system for conditioning, etc) you’re probably not very surprised by the results of this study. It’s interesting to me that the research world is actually coming up with concrete results that support and back some of the stuff we’ve been trying to spread in the strength and conditioning world.
It is obvious that there is a need for more research to be done on physiological components and their relation to in-game performance, as this study (like any study out there) has its flaws. The first one is the fact that the study has been done on only one college hockey team (NCAA D-1), so only 24 players were part of the study. In an ideal world we would want a bigger sample of players to contribute to the results. Also, the in-game measure that was used was the plus/minus score of each player. Although the plus/minus score gives a good idea about a player’s offensive and defensive abilities and reflects on-ice performance decently, there are other factors that affect this score. For example, the goalie’s performance can positively or negatively affect the outcome of one player’s plus/minus; if the goalie is really good and allows very few goals during games, even when he faces a lot of shots, it can positively affect a player’s plus/minus score. And the opposite is also true if the goalie is terrible and allows many goals, the plus/minus score will be affected negatively.
In conclusion, this study gives us a good lead on what might be more appropriate tests that actually co-relate to in-game performance and what physiological attributes might be more relevant for hockey players to focus on.
Peyer KL, Pivarnik JM, Eisenmann JC, Vorkapich M. (2011). Physiological characteristics of national collegiate athletic association division I ice hockey players and their relation to game performance. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 25(5):1183-92.
Sometimes we get too caught up in looking at the shoulder itself only and we forget what’s happening around and further down the chain. We all know that soft-tissue work, internal rotation ROM, scapular stability and flexibility are all important factors in shoulder health. But in my experience, the thoracic spine is by far the most overlooked aspect of shoulder health. It usually affects everything around. If you take the joint-by-joint approach to training, one general take-away you can get is that a lack of mobility at one joint (or lack of stability, if we’re considering a stable joint) will generally affect it’s neighbor joint (i.e. the one closer up or down the chain) in an unfavorable way.
The Joint-by-Joint Approach
Using this approach, every joint has a neighbor up the chain and one neighbor down the chain (e.g. the hip joint is connected with the lumbar region above it and the knee below it). When taking the thoracic spine and taking this approach one step further, we realize that the t-spine, as opposed to most other joints, has 4 neighbors instead of just 2. In fact, the t-spine is directly linked to:
the lumbar region
the cervical region
the scapula (and the clavicle)
Because of this, the implication of the thoracic spine are major ones, as it can affect scapular positioning and stability, gleno-humeral positioning and range of motion, breathing pattern, lumbar stability and neck function. And guess what? all of these things affect your shoulder’s function and health in general!
A lot of people will benefit greatly from t-spine mobility drills to improve extension and rotation ROM, especially people with kyphotic posture because they are stuck in thoracic flexion and it will affect the whole shoulder position and how the humeral head sits in the glenoid fossa.
Many times just incorporating t-spine mobility drills will greatly improve your shoulder function and health. I’ve seen this happen on multiple occasion with someone with shoulder pain, where incorporating a couple t-spine mobility drills in his program got rid of his pain in a matter of 1-2 weeks.
Here are 2 of my favorites:
Seated T-Spine Rotation:
Prayer Position T-Spine Rotation
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I hope everyone enjoyed Xavier’s guest blog post on Tuesday. Personally, I really liked it and it made me think about a couple of things coaches do with their athletes, where their priorities really are and that kind of stuff. So today’s post might sound more like a rant (which I don’t do very often as I try to stay away from negative stuff), but I feel like this needs to be said.
Like Xavier mentioned in his post, it’s important as strength and conditioning coaches to set our priorities straight when it comes down to the health and performance of our athletes. Yes, technically we are performance enhancement specialists, but when does performance enhancement becomes more important than having your athletes healthy (in other words, having your athletes playing on the field, instead of being sidelined with an injury)?
Let me explain myself. Having healthy athletes being our priority (or should be), it is our job to reinforce proper movement patterns, or re-train good movement patterns if these optimal patterns have been lost due to poor mobility, stability or other reason. As Shirley Sahrmann puts it, every non-traumatic injury is preventable. This means that most overuse injuries happen because there is a dysfunction somewhere, a faulty movement pattern. We can use all the foam rolling, all the stretching and all the corrective exercises in the world, if your form sucks when you lift, you’re not going anywhere. You’re just reinforcing those bad movement patterns and getting closer to that injury threshold. And when your athletes get back on the field, they’re doing the same thing and reinforcing bad movement pattern because they haven’t been corrected with proper training!
I understand that our job title is “strength coaches” and that it should be one of our priority to make our athletes stronger. But the key word here is “ONE of our priority”, and not THE only priority. And certainly not at the expanse of our athletes’ health. Even if they don’t get injured in the weight room, you still need to keep in mind that you are encouraging faulty movement patterns that will bring them closer to that threshold and lead them to injury eventually.
I don’t care how strong you are, and how impressive a strong deadlift is, when your form goes to trash, you increasing your dysfunction and increasing the chances of injury. I think there are too many coaches out there who neglect the importance of lifting with good form and are more focused on just putting more weight on the bar.
I have just seen so many coaches posting videos online about their athletes in the last couple of weeks in which they were either deadlifting or doing something with horrible form. The only thing I kept thinking about is: “how can they allow their athletes do even do that!”. It’s really cool when your female athlete can deadlift more than her body weight or when one of your football players can squat 405 for 10 reps, but seriously! We need to able to more strict about how our athletes lift. We need to realize that strength training is a tool in a toolbox for most athletes and not the end of everything. If lifting not only doesn’t help you to stay away from injuries, but actually gets you closer to one there is a problem.
Athletes lift to help them perform better on the field, or on the ice, or on the court. It’s not powerlifting. Lifting is not their sport.
Today I bring to you a guest blog post from my colleague Xavier Roy from Quebec. Xavier is a very smart guy, he has a no-nonsense approach to strength and conditioning, and he has the experience to back it up. This is a great post he originally wrote for his own blog, but since Xavier’s blog is in French I asked him if he wanted to translate his post and send it my way so I could feature it here for those of you who are not fluent in French, and he gladly accepted! So without further ado, enter Xavier:
This saying is used constantly by sport coaches and strength coaches in order to encourage athletes under their supervision to follow a training program and become more successful in playing the game (which is not necessarily a measure of success in sport by the way!). But does an athlete who is bigger, stronger and faster will have a marked advantage over his opponents and even teammates?
The answer is neither white nor black. It is certain that an athlete who spent the entire off-season lifting weights and running is more likely to see his performance improve compared with the previous year. However, it is possible that, despite all the effort he’s put in, he finds himself injured because of this training. Agreed, he’s bigger, stronger and faster, but was that done at the expense of his health? Does the athlete in question has self-limiting abilities that can negatively impact the long-term practice of his sport and that the training prescribed did not take these limits into consideration?
For my part, I often refer to a quote from Mike Boyle, who questioned whether it was better to have a Kevin Garnett with a vertical leap of 40 inches on his team (focus on performance) who is always injured or a Kevin Garnett with a vertical leap of 33 inches, but who is dressed for every game and contributing to his team’s success (focus on health). As a strength and conditioning professional and football coach, I’m in a good position to answer this question. My goal as a strength and conditioning professional is to enable athletes to optimize their preparation, which includes improving their movement health first to reduce the chances of injuries and then improve their performance. Often, the mere fact of restoring muscle balance and improving one’s performance in one or various motor patterns will be sufficient to improve performance. As a coach, I want to give the players under my tutelage a chance to learn and understand the game of football. If an athlete is sidelined due to a non-traumatic injury, I did not get to do my job.
In this regard. I think it would be more accurate to change the original adage Bigger, Stronger, Faster for Healthier, Stronger, Faster. Let’s define each component in detail.
* Note that in some cases, muscle mass can be useful and even essential. Take for example a football or rugby player looking a little frail. To successfully compete and go through a season during which he receives his fair share of hits, this athlete will increase his muscle mass to protect himself. A gain in muscle mass is also required for the aging population. Sarcopenia is a loss of muscle mass in favor of increased body fat that is present in aging people. These gains in muscle mass will therefore slow this process.
Healthier to characterize an athlete whose movements are fluid, an athlete who has no physical limitation which may result in compensation to other joints and body parts. The prescribed exercises are chosen based on the ability and level of skill of the athlete.
Stronger because I think it is a necessary step in the development of athletes and the general population. A stronger person will be able to produce more force in activities like weight training, she will be able to propel his body with greater ease when running and be able to perform her daily tasks without excessive fatigue (household chores, carrying bags, etc). Force development is also the prerequisite for the development of muscle power.
Faster in successfully completing movements like Olympic weightlifting. At even strength, the athlete who will move the load faster is going to express more power. Faster in a running a sprint, faster in his ability to accelerate his body while in a static position. An athlete being able to efficiently and rapidly transition from an eccentric to concentric action (i.e. ability to use the stretch-shortening cycle) will have a distinct advantage over the expression of muscle power. In technical and tactical sports like team sports, the ability to rapidly analyze the situation developing in front of you and react with an appropriate response to this situation will give the participant a clear advantage over his opponent.
So, Bigger, Stronger, Faster or Healthier, Stronger, Faster? My choice is clear. What about yours!
Xavier Roy (B.Sc, CSCS, HSSCS) is a strength and conditioning coach at Centre Performe+ Joel Bouchard and the owner of XR Performance. As a kinesiologist and strength and conditioning coach, he specializes in the athletic development of a vast array of athletes, ranging from teens to college players, who are engage in sports like football, basketball and lacrosse. Since 2009, Xavier has been the strength and conditioning coach, as well as defensive coordinator, for the Triades de Lanaudiere, a men’s CEGEP football team near Montreal. Starting in September of 2011, Xavier will also take charge of McGill University Men’s and Women’s basketball teams as strength and conditioning coach.
If your French is good enough make sure to check Xavier’s blog HERE!
As I’ve mentioned in the past, I think music is a HUGE part of your training sessions. It gives you that little extra kick in the butt when you need it, it helps you focus and if you train in a commercial gym it can help you forget where you are when you have your headphones on. If you missed it, I made a top 10 lifting songs compilation a while ago including all my favorite songs to lift to. Since it’s been a while, and there’s always great new stuff coming out, here are 5 new (or old) songs you should add to your training playlist (by the way you might not want to listen to this while at work or if there’s kids around because of the language):
- I’m Not a Human Being – Lil Wayne
- Monster – Kanye West
- Maria – Scooter (it’s not really new, but this is the new Flyers goal song, and it’s sick!)
- Not Ready to Die – Avenged Sevenfold
- All I Want – The Offspring (not only this is not new, but it’s actually quite old. But it’s one of the best Offspring song that too much people don’t know about, and I recently remembered how much I used to like this band!)
Make sure you add these songs to your playslist, and you’re guaranteed to hit a PR next time you hit the gym!
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Although my blog is mostly about strength and conditioning, this post could apply not only to strength coaches, but also to personal trainers, sport coaches or any kind of teacher in the fitness business.
The way we communicate to our athletes is one of the most important thing in our job. If we can’t get an athlete to execute an exercise or a drill the way we want them to, we failed to do our job, whether it’s because of inappropriate coaching or because of an athlete’s physical limitations or whatever other reason. In the end it’s still our fault if they don’t do something the right way.
That’s why coaching cues are so important and how we communicate them is of utmost importance. One of the mistakes I made as a young strength coach when I started in this field a couple years ago, like most coaches who want to help their athletes, is over-coaching athletes. You want to do everything the right way, and you want your athletes to perform everything perfectly right away. Because of that, we end up overwhelming our athletes with coaching cues. We tell them to get their chest up, shift their hips back, keep their weight on their heels, keep their chin tucked back, and keeping their shoulders packed back before they start a new movement. How do you expect somebody to apply all of those things at the same time? And then, when they don’t get it right away, we just cue them on every single rep they perform and stop them 3 times in the middle of their set to explain something. This will cause a couple of things:
athletes get confused by too many coaching cues
they can’t apply any of them because they have too much going in their head at the same time
they’ll get annoyed with you for talking too much, and not letting them lift
Over-coaching biceps curls…my favorite!
In the end, too many coaching cues will negatively affect the outcome. The KISS principle(Keep It Simple Stupid) applies very well here. When showing a new task (an exercise, a drill, a movement pattern, etc) you should give a very simple description (say as little as possible) of what you want the athlete to achieve and keep your coaching cues to 1 or 2. This will ensure that the athlete doesn’t get confused with what he has to accomplish and can focus on one thing or two and execute it as best as he can. Adjust your cues from there with how the athlete responds and reproduces what you taught him. When gaining experience teaching specific exercises or skills, you also learn which coaching cues work best for different exercises in most cases (I say “most cases” because there are always exceptions). Also, it’s okay to let your athletes do a couple reps wrong once in a while (as long as it doesn’t get dangerous for them), and just talk about it with them when the set is over; they need to differentiate what should feel “right” and what should feel “wrong”. And in some cases, they might just need a couple extra practice reps to apply what you cued them to do.
All in all, the more you coach, the less you coach. By that I mean, the more experienced you get, you’ll find yourself saying less and less; you’re not becoming careless, you’re just becoming a more efficient coach. Your athletes will get better quicker, and they won’t get annoyed with you for trying to over-coach them.
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