Archive for September, 2011
Thursday, September 29th, 2011
To you aspiring strength and conditioning coach,
Being a successful person in this business is a hard thing to achieve. Being considered an expert in this field is a hard thing to achieve. It doesn’t happen over night. You need to put your time in.
Of course, getting a degree in exercise science or kinesiology is a pre-requisite, but understand that it doesn’t make you better than the rest of us as soon as you get out of school. The biggest mistake you can ever make is thinking that you know everything when you get out of school. A wise man once said: “the day you stop learning is the day you start dying”. It’s very true, and even more true in the strength and conditioning field. Theoretical knowledge is an important thing to have, and something that is important to keep gaining through continuing education.
But continuing education alone isn’t gonna make you better than anybody else. In our field IT IS probably more important than any other field because of the numerous gray areas and the fact that the body is complex machine. But no matter how much you know, how much you think you know or how much you learn through continuing education, that still won’t make you a successful person in this business. You need to put your time in. If you’re already familiar with these names, odds are you shouldn’t worry about not doing enough continuing education: Eric Cressey, Mike Boyle, Charlie Weingroff, Postural Restoration Institute, Functional Movement Screen, Precision Nutrition, Alwyn Cosgrove, StrengthCoach.com, Janda. The point is, if you don’t apply what you learn, it’s worthless. “Knowing and not doing is not knowing at all.”
Putting your time in means doing actual work. Coaching, teaching, running groups, being involved with athletes. Mike Boyle referenced the 10,000 hours rule to become an expert in any given field that Malcolm Gladwell talks about in the book Outliers. It’s true. That’s how it workd in strength and conditioning, just like in any other sphere of life; you can’t expect to have success or be considered an expert if you haven’t put your hours in. Is 10,000 a discriminatory number? I don’t think so. Malcolm Gladwell gives plenty of examples of highly successful people in their respective field in his book, and every single one of them reached success around that same 10,000 hour timeline.
Putting your time in also means making sacrifices, being hungry to work more. You’re not going to get a perfect job where you work 9 to 5, earning 50,000$ a year, with paid vacations and insurance, training only professional athletes in the first 5 years of your career. You can keep dreaming and think that you are that much smarter and better than most coaches out there, but that’s just not going to happen. Period. This year at the Perform Better summit in Chicago, Mike Boyle was saying how he had been working for free for Boston University for years and had to bartend during the weekends to pay his bills before they even offered him a job with a salary! And guess what? He was 30 years old when he got offered that job! He said that most people quit this field before catching their big break.
One of my mentors, Todd Hamer, strength coach at Robert Morris University, once told me he had to work for 3 years full time without being paid and part-timing as a pizza delivery boy before having his first paid job as a strength and conditioning coach. What did these 2 guys do? They put their time in.
If you’re not willing to do that, maybe this job isn’t for you. It’s not easy and sometimes discouraging. Working in sub-optimal conditions, with groups too big, athletes too young, in a shitty facility (if in a facility at all) are all things that are part of the process. It’s called putting your time in, learning, gaining experience so one day you can reach a level of success that’s gonna make you say: “I freakin’ deserve it because I worked hard to get there!”. There are no Cinderella stories; ask any respected coach that are at the top of our business or anyone you wish you had their job. They all busted their ass to get where they are. They put their time in.
Who am I to tell you that? I’m no one special. I’m not trying to sound like I know everything or arrogant , and I certainly don’t pretend like I’m an expert or that I have reached true success in this business because the truth is that I am still working my way there. But I’ll tell you this: I’m putting my time in (note how I said that in the present time); I have worked with 8 years old group of kids, I had to make something out of nothing when I had to run sessions without equipment or any facility with my hockey players a couple years ago, I had to spend time as a personal trainer in a commercial gym for a couple of years because I had no other opportunities to train people at the time. But guess what? I learned a lot through every single one of these experiences and I wouldn’t change it for the world.
I have been in this industry for over 8 years at this point. I have struggled professionally and financially for a long time. Only for the last 1-2 years than I can say that I’m starting to be where I want to be. But I have been putting my time in. And I will continue to do so.
Tuesday, September 27th, 2011
It seems like it’s been a while since I last wrote a post about nutrition. I am no nutritionist and that’s why and I don’t write about it all that often. But we have to face the fact that nutrition has a huge impact on your training, no matter what your goal is (performance, muscle mass, fat loss, etc). Nutrition and sleep are probably the 2 biggest factors that affect our recovery.
But what’s good nutrition? For the most part, I think that most people have a pretty good idea of what eating healthy means. But I also think that we get caught too often in the macro-nutrient breakdown pitfall. What I mean by that is that we focus too much on the number of calories, ratio of protein, carbs and fat contained in each food we eat. I wrote a complete blog post a little while ago about that subject. Not to toot my own horn, but if you haven’t read, you might want to; I think it was pretty eye-opening for a lot of people.
Let’s Stop Over-Complicating Nutrition
The most important thing in eating healthy (and also the thing that is the most overlooked factor) is to have a plan! If good nutrition is about eating more natural food that are not transformed food products (read: everything that comes in a bag or a box), thin about what that implies:
- Food at most restaurants and take out place have ingredients that have been conserved in a fridge for days and even weeks, and therefore need a good amount of preservatives to not go bad.
- Trying to find a quick fix when you really hungry and haven’t planned anything for lunch will almost always lead you to poor food choices
- Skipping breakfast, and eating a small lunch will always lead you to over-eating at dinner or at night
My point, if you haven’t figured it out yet, is that it’s not so much about what specific food you eat, but how you plan your meals. You’re not going to be able to eat healhty if you never cook yourself (read: buy frozen dinner and the like). You’re not going to be able to have healthy nutritional habits if you never pack a lunch for work or for school.
The biggest mistake you can make in my opinion is to leave your house with your hands empty and not knowing what you’re going to eat during the day when you’re going to be away from home for 8-12 straight hours. You’re setting yourself up for failure, no matter how good your intents are. Even with the biggest will power in the world, you’re not going to be able to maintain good eating habits over a long period of time if you never plan ahead. Of course it does require some time, some effort, quite a bit of forward thinking (always thinking what all of your meals are going to be for the next day) and YES, you will have to set your alarm clock at least 15-30 minutes earlier in the morning. But what’s more important to you? Your long-term health or the extra 15 minutes of sleep you get 5 days a week?
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Thursday, September 22nd, 2011
I’m referring to movement assessment as one that assesses the way to body moves and how you can use such an assessment to identify possible injury risk factors. The Functional Movement Screen is probably one of the most popular ones out there, and for a reason. It is a system that has been proven very effective. You test a movement pattern; if it’s dysfunctional or asymmetrical, you give the corrective drills. And then you retest. Simple enough, right? And if implemented the right way it is an invaluable tool that works to reduce the incidence of injuries, plain and simple.
But other than just screening movement patterns to help prevent injuries, the FMS might be seen in a bigger picture of the health and performance continuum…or should I say ‘should be seen’. I don’t think that many people in the strength and conditioning and athletic training community even know about the FMS. A couple of pro teams and colleges have actually started using it in different teams, but that’s about it.
Let me explain what I’m talking about when I say the FMS should be included in the bigger picture. The basic evaluation in pretty much any setting whether you’re dealing with pro athletes or just recreational athletes, is the physical. Everyone needs to pass a physical before engaging in an activity, and athletes usually need to get at least one every year to make sure they don’t have physical or physiological restrictions that could limit their performance or be dangerous to their health (e.g. cardiovascular problems, respiratory problems, joint problems, etc).
There is also another type of evaluation that usually goes on with athletes of different levels, and it’s the performance testing. Teams want to collect measurements of strength, speed, power and conditioning levels of their athletes (e.g. lifting tests, jumping tests, sprint tests, etc). And this is understandable because it is a good way to determine the level of fitness of each player on the team, and it can also serve as a basis of comparison between players.
But when you think of each step of the evaluation process, you can clearly find holes in that continuum. Athletes first get a physical to clear any disease or incapacitating condition, and then….right on to the performance testing. Is it me or there is something between the two that’s clearly missing? If you think about it for a second, wouldn’t it make sense to assess the way an athlete move before throwing him under the bus with max intensity performance tests? What if an athlete has major knee valgus during knee flexion? It is a position that puts your knees at risk for a serious injury…and we’re going to throw him under a 405 pounds bar to attempt a max squat, without any consideration for the very high risk of injury related to the way this athlete moves?
Including movement based assessments in the health/performance evaluation protocol only makes sense to me. But it shouldn’t be limited to a couple individuals who know the FMS and are willing to implement it on their own; it should become a staple, a part of the process, just like the physical and just like the performance tests.
The problem then becomes: how do we go about this?
Food for thought.
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Tuesday, September 20th, 2011
Thursday, September 15th, 2011
Pelvic control is an important thing to have at the hips level. Anterior pelvic tilt is a common problem in the athletic population. With too much anterior tilt, also comes increased lordosis.
Neutral pelvis on the left. Anteriorly tilted pelvis on the right.
Both of these postural problems can lead to a number of injuries including back pain, hamstring pulls, quad pull, etc. The traditional approach to reestablishing neutral alignment is to stretch the hip flexors and strengthen the glutes and hamstrings to pull the pelvis posteriorly.
Although this is a good approach, there are other players that can contribute to pelvic control that are often forgotten. One really important player is the external obliques. The external obliques’ primary functions are to stabilize the trunk (in combination with the internal obliques, rectus abdominis and spinal erectors) by creating a brace around the spine and to create/prevent rotation at the trunk. A function of the external obliques that is often forgotten is posterior tilt/control of the pelvis because of its attachment on the illiac crest. When you’re stuck in anterior tilt the external obliques usually have poor control on the pelvis.
With their attachment directly on the pelvis, the external obliques play a big role in preventing anterior tilt.
Because of their role in posterior pelvic tilt, we could call the external obliques the lower abs. Not that the bodybuilding guys were right in training their upper abs and lower abs separately, but there might be some merit in making the distinction between the rectus abdominis (who felxes the spine and depresses the ribs) and the external obliques (who posteriorly tilt the pelvis as we’ve just mentioned) in some cases.
Stay tuned for part 2! I’ll go over exercises you can do to help improve pelvic control using the external obliques.
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Tuesday, September 13th, 2011
When we think about assessment, we often think about assessing range of motion at different joints and in different angles. The Thomas test to test hip extension, the Ober test (or adduction drop test as the PRI folks would call it) to test adduction, internal and external rotation both at the hip and at the shoulder are all examples of range of motion measurements. Although I can’t say these tests aren’t useful because they do have a purpose and they do give you valuable information about a client, do those tests should be the focus of our assessments?
I ask the question because I really don’t hold the absolute truth on the subject, but here’s something to think about with the way we approach our assessment protocols: are we more interested in isolated range of motion at different joints or how the body move as a whole? We’ve been big proponents of multi-joint exercises and training the body as a whole for quite a bit by now. We know that the body doesn’t work with in isolation, and with what we know about the fascial system now and with the work of brilliant people such as Thomas Myers we know that isolation pretty much doesn’t exist at all in the body. So if anatomy and movements don’t work in isolation and we don’t train the body that way, it would only make sense to assess the body the same way, wouldn’t it?
With all this fascia do you really think you can isolate one muscle at one joint?
A lot of you are already familiar with the FMS as an assessment tool. A couple of you might be familiar with the SFMA, which is another more advanced assessment tool geared more towards physical therapists and the medical crowd. As simple as those assessment protocols seem, there might be more to it than just ranking a client from 0 to 3 on different tests. I’ve been reading Gray Cook’s Movement book for the last week or so, and I just realized that an assessment like the FMS is much more than what it seems.
It assesses movements patterns and it can tell you a lot about how your clients and athletes move. It also assesses how the body moves as a whole, not in isolation and not by measuring isolated range of motions. Dysfunctional movement patterns are really easy to spot using that assessment and using correction strategies to fix those test might be all someone needs to move properly and stay out of the “injury risk” zone that we know can lead to bigger problems and injuries in the long run.
Again, I’m not suggesting that isolated range of motion measurements don’t have their place. But assessing movement patterns might be even more important because it’s the way your body moves as a whole that’s going to matter in the end.
Food for thought.
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Thursday, September 8th, 2011
It seems like there’s been a big issue going on on the internet in the last couple of months in the fitness and strength and conditioning world. The issue has been about people self-proclaiming themselves experts. People have called out other people about their expertise and/or experience in the field. It’s a situation that’s really hard to control in 2011 where starting your own blog takes 30 seconds, and with the right tools (Google keywords, SEO pack, etc), and a couple contacts one can gain a decent internet presence pretty quickly.
You don’t need to take a class…
With all the strength and conditioning professionals out there running a blog, I can say without a doubt that it brought our industry to a whole new level! Mostly for the better because we all have access to so much quality information; smart people can share their ideas, coaches can share their experience and we can all interact together more easily than ever before, especially we the networks being formed on Facebook and Twitter.
But as I just mentioned earlier, there have been quite a bit of controversy about the experts in our field on the internet, or should I say the “experts”. It is indeed easy to proclaim yourself an expert with very limited knowledge or experience. It is very easy to lie about your background, your clientele or claim achievements that you have never made . And I think this is what has been causing some waves.
This guy calls himself a fitness expert because he went to the gym once in 1991
I don’t think there is anything wrong with sharing thoughts, ideas or experience over the internet. Sometimes people will blame you for making statements, though, especially if you’re lacking the experience to back up your position. And to be honest, I feel pretty irritated myself when I see people write about training athletes when I very well know they don’t. We do need to understand that we all have different background; some of us are personal trainers and work with general members, some of us work in college or professional settings, some of us are more involved in the research side of things and we all have a different experience level. Some strength coaches seem to have a problem with research guys being considered experts because they don’t really train anyone, and some research guys will blame coaches for the lack of scientific evidence behind their methods. As a coach, I’m definitely biased in the way that I will sometimes have a hard time buying into what a research guy has to say about training athletes if he doesn’t train anyone, but I still understand that we need coaches and we need researchers to work together. And that’s what makes our industry evolve in the right direction.
In my opinion, we should all keep sharing information via our blogs, websites, Facebook, Twitter, etc. As long as you don’t try to hide yourself behind a wall of lies or pretend to be something you’re not, we should all share information and opinions with our own background and experience. However I do have a problem with people marketing themselves as “strength coaches” or “performance enhancement specialists” when they have little to no clients or if their clients are general fitness clients. You don’t specialize in sports performance training if you’re not training athletes, I don’t care what certifications you have or how athletic you are (and by the way, you can consider yourself an athlete, but can’t count that as training athletes). But luckily, it’s not the majority.
Bottom line: be yourself, share knowledge from YOUR experience (coach, personal trainer, physical therapist, researcher, etc), don’t market yourself as something you’re not and be ready to face criticism if you do. There is a way that we can all contribute to making the fitness industry a little better by taking advantage of what the internet has to offer to us in 2011.
What a beautiful concept
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Tuesday, September 6th, 2011
I wrote a blog post 2 weeks ago on corrective exercises being just one tool among others in your toolbox if you’re a strength coach. If you missed it, check it out HERE. Writing that post got me thinking about the other tools a strength coach should have in his toolbox, and quite frankly there are many! There are many different systems, training methods, pieces of equipment, injury prevention methods and much more that can be used in your programs, and in the end this is what constitutes your own unique system. Every coach’s system is different because we all learn from different people, have different backgrounds, have different mentors, different clienteles and educate ourselves through different resources. And it’s fine. Not every strength coach in the world needs to have the exact same system and have all the exact same tools in their toolbox.
How big is YOUR toolbox?
The more different tools you have in your toolbox, the better you will be as a coach. Or at least, you’ll have a greater potential to be. That’s why it’s important to not completely buy into only one system; you limit yourself. Using only one system means confining your athletes to one training method, and ignoring everything else. Because most training methods and systems that have been around in the business only focus on one thing.
For example, the Westside system is a great one. Powerlifters around the world have made tremendous gains using this system and a lot of the strongest men on the planet are following the Westside template. But there’s also a lot of strength coaches who use this method, and it’s great to get athletes stronger, but if you don’t have other tools in your toolbox to incorporate to your Westside template, your ignoring many important qualities that athletes absolutely need (speed, rotational power, injury prevention, etc). I am not shitting on the Westside method at all (because I use a variation of it myself); I’m just saying that it can’t be the only tool in your toolbox. The Westside method was created for powerlifters, so it’s important to keep that in mind. Just like every method or system is usually created for one specific population.
Same goes for the Crossfit. Personally I’m not a huge fan because the injury potential is way too high for high level athletes when you’re doing complex exercises under extreme fatigue. There are some merits to the method for their use of compound movements and lifting circuits to as a form of metabolic conditioning. And if you use some sort of Crossfit circuit to condition your athletes, it can be a good tool in your toolbox. But if you’re labeled as a Crossfit guy and do nothing else with your athletes, you’re definitely missing out on the specificity of the sport and the injury prevention component of your training program.
The take home message here is not to think that systems like Westside Barbells and Crossfit and bad, but that you probably shouldn’t use exclusively those methods, just like you shouldn’t use only a TRX, or only Olympic lifts to train your athletes. Every tool has its place (just like corrective exercises if you read my post), you just need to know how and when to incorporate each one of them in your programs. You’ll be a much better coach, and more than anything else, you’ll have your own unique system that will make you stand out from the rest.
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