Three of the most common and effective power training methods in my opinion are:
- Olympic lifts
- Medicine ball throws
There is no doubt in my mind that all 3 methods are extremely effective, and I’m not willing to say that one is superior to the others. The way I see it is there are different situations in which one method could be superior to another, depending on the training goal.
You might have heard of the speed-strength continuum before. It is a fairly simple concept that helps define the different types of power. Power being the product of the maximal amount of force you develop in the least amount of time.
Power = Force x Velocity
Although the equation is pretty simple, the outcome can be pretty different if the emphasis is put on either force OR velocity during a pre-determined exercise. The speed-strength continuum represents different levels of force production and velocity of movement. It could be represented as follow in a chart:
The terminology is a little different, but it’s basically the same concept as I explained above.
All of this to say that depending on what your emphasis may be in a training program, or with a specific exercise, there might be a more appropriate choice than another. Plyometrics are usually done bodyweight, which allows one to perform the movement quicker, although the total force production might be lower because there is no additional external load. This would put plyometrics more towards the speed-strength end of things. An Olympic lift like the hang clean on the other hand will use a bigger external load, but the speed or the velocity of the movement might be a little slower. That would put the hang clean more towards the strength-speed end of things. As far as medicine ball throws are concerned, they would be a little more towards the middle because they are loaded, but always with a low to moderate weight and the velocity of the movement is pretty high, but not quite like a bodyweight power exercise.
The other thing to take into consideration when choosing which power development method to incorporate is the segments of the body involved. To me, one of the main differences between plyometrics and Olympic lifts and med ball throws resides there. Plyometrics use only the lower body (or upper body if you’re using an upper body exercise) to develop power; as for the Olympic lifts and the med ball throws, they use a force transfer from the lower body to the upper body in the execution of most their variations, which in the end involves the whole body.
Total body power exercises should not be ignored from a program design standpoint because they will bring a lot of benefits for sports that require such force transfers. Tackling, blocking, pitching, swinging a golf club, taking a slap shot and throwing punches are only a couple examples of the athletic movements that require some sort of power transfer from the lower body to the upper body. To me this is a crucial component to sports performance and being able to transfer the gains from the weight room to the field or the ice.
And lastly, another component that is worth mentioning about power exercises is the plane of movement in which the exercise and/or the sport skills take place. Without going into too much details with this conversation, I’ll simply say that medicine ball throws offer a rotational component to power development, which is extremely important in rotational sports like baseball, hockey, lacrosse, golf and tennis. And you don’t find that same rotational power development component with Olympic lifts or plyometrics exercises.
Hopefully I broke things down enough so that now you understand better the differences between the 3 main power development methods, and that you’ll be able to make a better choice based on your training goals!
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Hopefully you’re familiar with the term knee valgus…otherwise you might just think I’m trying to impress you with big words.
I promise it’s not the case! But the good thing about knee valgus is it can be explained in one simple image:
But don’t look at the picture for too long your knees might start yo hurt!
Anyways, the knee valgus is a joint position that we’re trying to avoid. A lot of females are predisposed to it because of their structurally wider hips, and it’s a position that is at the origin of ACL tears and many other knee issues.
This is something that should be taken care in 2 different ways. First, you want to strengthen the muscles that are responsible to control that movement; the glute medius along with some other hip external rotator muscles are responsible for preventing the knee valgus to happen, either in a static posture or in a dynamic movement. And second, we want to improve motor control and make the connection between those same muscles and the brain, so that your body knows not to fall in that position. Whether it’s during lifting exercises, speed, agility, power exercises or any type of activity, your body should know how to prevent the knee valgus collapse.
In the beginning, this needs quite a bit of coaching for some athletes, especially females, to stay out of that position and know how it should feel like to jump, land and transition without letting your knees collapse in. During jumping exercises especially, this is something that should be emphasized. Teaching athletes to land with their “knees out” is crucial. But often times, the loading part of a jump gets overlooked and this just as important as the landing part.
Poor motor control of the hip muscles might look like this during the initial part of the jump, or the “loading” if you will:
Did you noticed how the knees were coming in during the loading part, even if the landing was good? Improving motor control and recruitment of the right muscles should make the loading of a jump look more like this:
This is something to be aware of, not only with jumps, but with med ball slams, Olympic lifts and most of the power exercises that require a “loading” phase.
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Working with young athletes, and trying to help them improve their health and performance, it is inevitable that we’ll have nutrition discussions with them at some point. There seems to be quite a few things that need improvement in kids’ diets nowadays. In most families, both parents are working and therefore have less time to prepare meals, which could in part explain why kids’ nutrition habits are not great. In my opinion it is the parents’ responsibility to instil good nutrition habits in their kids’ lives to make sure they grow up healthy and keep good eating habits all their lives.
One thing that literally blows my mind is that a ton of parents let their kids leave the house in the morning without eating breakfast! I come across SO MANY kids who don’t eat breakfast, it’s beyond ridiculous! And then there are more kids than ever with ADD problems…coincidence? I don’t think so. But I digress.
Getting kids to eat breakfast is usually the first step we’ll take in trying to improve eating habits with our young athletes. The complaint we’ll have to most is: “I don’t have time”. A lot of them wake up 5 minutes before leaving for school and imply they don’t have time for breakfast. The idea of waking up a half hour earlier never seems too appealing to them, and more often than not it’s a hard sell. Going from not eating breakfast whatsoever to waking up 30 minutes earlier and having them cook their own breakfast is a pretty big step, I will admit. That’s why we need to be able to come up with quick and easy solutions for them to make sure that they’ll stick with it. And then we can move to a more elaborate plan.
Now, that’s what I’m talking about!
I have 2 go-to recommendations to get someone started on breakfast. The first one is the smoothie option. Throw almond milk, protein powder, flax seeds, some nuts and frozen fruits in a blender and you have a breakfast ready in less than 5 minutes. And you can also take it to go and drink it in the car or on the bus if you’re really in a rush. I posted 2 delicious smoothie recipes on my blog HERE and HERE if you want some examples. Or you could simply use Precision Nutrition’s Super Shake Chart to make your smoothie.
The second option is to make a parfait with plain Greek yogurt, mixed nuts and berries (or whatever combination of nuts and fruits you like). You can even throw a scoop a protein powder in there if you want to increase the protein content. This option is extremely easy and even faster than a smoothie because you don’t have to clean anything.
With these 2 options you absolutely cannot give the answer “I don’t have time” anymore. Those are quick, easy and very good-tasting options. Once you’ve established a routine and you’re not skipping breakfast anymore, we can move to a more elaborate breakfast, if it’s appropriate. An omelette with plenty of vegetables is always a good option.
Or if you want more variety in your breakfast, you can also use the Metabolic Cooking cook book by Dave Ruel, which is an incredible resource for breakfast ideas. There’s over 20 different breakfast recipes that are all delicious and Dave sells the cook book (in e-book format) for a really low price. If you’re interested check it out HERE.
As you’ve heard all your life: breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Don’t skip it. Make sure your athletes don’t skip it.
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Being a strength and conditioning coach or a personal trainer requires many qualities. One of them is the ability to pay attention to details. When coaching exercises, there are many different body positions and subtleties in movements that one needs to be aware of. Just demoing the exercises and throwing a couple coaching cues up in the air is usually not enough to get the result we want from our athletes and clients.
A coach (or trainer) needs to be able to identify and understand the subtleties in the different movement patterns to be able to coach the exercises in the most optimal way possible. Here are some of the subtleties that a coach needs to be able to distinguish and correct (in no specific order):
1. Thoracic Spine Extension vs Thoraco-Lumbar (T-L) Junction Extension
I covered that in a previous blog post, but the “chest up” cue is not always interpreted the right way by the athlete or client. Basically what we want to see when calling “chest up” is an extension at the thoracic spine so that the athlete maintains a more neutral spine. Often times, the extension will come from the T-L junction which will put more stress on the lower back, will cause the anterior lower ribs to flare out and put the diaphragm in a less than optimal position. That pretty subtle substitution will too often go unnoticed if the athlete is wearing a loose shirt.
Barely noticeable T-L junction hyperextension because of a loose shirt
2. Hip Flexion Compensation
In most athletes the psoas ends up being the weakest hip flexor. The reason being that it is the only hip flexor effective above 90 degrees of hip flexion. In most athletic endeavors the hip ends up being flexed above 90 degrees rarely, if ever; that in turn causes a higher recruitment of the 2 other main hip flexors, the TFL and the rectus femoris, and the psoas ends up weak. It is a good idea to include psoas activation exercises in a training program to re-establish hip flexor strength in the end range of motion. When doing these drills, athletes will be tempted to compensate because they are pretty weak in that position. The seated psoas lift is one of my favorite psoas activation drill, but can be cheated pretty easily if not coached properly.
Often times, athletes will either lean back or hunch over to try to get the knee up as high as possible. But in both situations, you’re really avoiding the above 90 degrees end range of motion; the angle of the hip flexion will be less than 90, and therefore you’re not getting that psoas activation you’re going after.
Bad Form- Leaning back will prevent your hip flexion to be above 90 degrees
Bad Form- Rounding of the lower back will also avoid that end range of motion
The same problem can occur if you perform a standing psoas hold, or any other type of exercise of that nature.
3. Full Hip Extension Compensation
The complete hip extension is definitely something important in many different exercises that are part of a training program. An incomplete hip extension can expose some pretty serious problem going on around the hips. Whether the problem is caused by a hip flexor restriction, a lack of glute activation or just poor coaching, this is a problem that a coach needs to be aware of to be able to prevent injuries with his athletes. This is another movement that can be very subtle and if you don’t pay attention to it can be missed altogether. The incomplete hip extension can present in a wide variety of different movements, with posterior chain exercises (deadlift variations, pullthrough, slideboard hamstring curls, etc) being some of the most important ones. An athlete not being able to finish his movement at the top with full hip extension will usually compensate with a hyperextension at the lower back.
Again, if no attention to details are paid during a deadlift (or just from coaching from different angle) this is something that can easily be missed.
4. Scapular Protraction vs Elbow Extension
This is something even more subtle. The correct technique for pressing exercises is to keep the scapulae packed back together. If unable to get a full elbow extension, the athlete might compensate by protracting the shoulder blades to get the end range of motion at the top.
Good Form- The shoulder blades stay packed back while getting full elbow extension
Bad Form- Protracted shoulders compensating for incomplete elbow extension
The biggest problem I see with this compensation pattern is for the following reps; if you’ve lost your packed scapulae position, when going for the next rep your shoulders are not going to be in a stable position to press a heavy weight anymore. That can in turn have deleterious effects on the shoulders.
5. Feet Position
This is one that will go unnoticed more often than not. One of the main reasons is that the shoes your athletes are wearing might simply hide what’s going on at the foot and ankle. During lower body exercises like squats, deadlifts, lunges and the like a lot can happen at the foot that might be detrimental to an athlete’s health because it will either cause problems further up the chain, or it might be in itself the result of a problem going on somewhere else. An overpronation, or a loss of the arch of the foot are good examples.
Relatively neutral feet in the bottom of the squat
Feet overpronating at the bottom of the squat
In this last picture, it is easy to realize that it is something that be completely missed when the athlete is wearing shoes. (As a side note, I am not necessarily recommending that people squat without shoes on, but it clearly reveals a problem that might have otherwise been missed.)
This is really just a quick list of some of the most subtle body positions and compensated movement patterns you can see in athletes and clients. Paying careful attention to details is such an important part of a coach or a trainer’s job because in the end, it plays an extremely important part of the injury prevention component of an effective training program.
I like to do this type of posts once in a while to highlight some of the good stuff you can read on the internet through the blogs of smart fitness and strength and conditioning professionals. I don’t do it more often because quite frankly Ben Bruno does a much better job than me at this, and he does it on a consistent basis every week, so make sure you check out his website!
That being said here is what caught my attention in the past week or so:
There you go! You got 8 solid blog posts that you should definitely read because….well…they’ll make you smarter, plain and simple. And that’ll give you something to enjoy until I bring you some fresh new content next Tuesday!
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Sports training and strength and conditioning are becoming more and more popular with the younger crowds. Working in a private sports training facility, I’ve witnessed this trend firsthand. We’ll have requests for kids as young as 8 and 9 year old to start training with us to make them better athletes. I’m not sure what is the cause of that trend to push kids to start a structured training program younger and younger. It might be a result of the early specialization that is plaguing too many sports nowadays; it might be a result of pushy parents that are trying to re-live their sports career through their innocent children, and think they can make them become a professional athlete by forcing them to do what they never had the will and the dedication to do themselves.
Remind me when FUN started not being the main reason for kids to play sports? Yea, it’s spelled F-U-N.
As part of a company that is still developing and trying be as profitable as possible, it’s not easy to turn potential clients down because at that age you think they’d have better options than taking part in a structured training program. They’re still clients you’re turning down, and money you’re not making. And when you turn them down, the first thing they’ll do is sign up with your competitor a couple blocks down the road, who you actually know does a shitty job training young athletes. So what do you do? It’s a problem….how do they call that again….ethical problem?
So invariably we end up training kids younger than we would ideally want, but at least I have the conscience of knowing that we do something that’s actually going to benefit them. But what’s best for them? What do kids need training-wise when they’re under 13?
Even though we know from research that safe and supervised weight training is not dangerous for them, putting them on a structured lifting-only program might not be optimal. Again, remember that kids at that age need to have fun. Is putting them through endless sprint, agility and ladder drills until you’ve beaten them to the ground a better option? I don’t think so.
What they can benefit from is to learn how to move the right way through as many different movement patterns as possible; sprints, jumps, squats, push ups, lunges, DB chest press, etc. They also NEED to have fun. Drop the heavy structure, teach them new skills, incorporate games, organize small competitions between kids, etc. By the way, if you’re dealing with young boys, using small competition formats is a sure way to incorporate the fun in training.
Again, kids don’t need to be pushed like they’re pro athletes, being forced to play in every off-season league, and going to every camp imaginable. The first thing you’ll know is that they’ll burn out before they graduate from high school, and they won’t want anything to do with whatever sport they’ve been pushed into.
Think about the mindset you were in when you were 11 or 12 years old; chances are that engaging in a strength and conditioning program was the last thing on your mind, and you’d much rather have wanted to go play outside with your friends. Because, you know…..that’s what kid are supposed to do.
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I’m currently working on a project at work where I need make a detailed plan of our training system at Endeavor, which I could explain to someone who has no idea what we’re doing. Getting started on that project, I struggled just putting something down on paper, simply because I didn’t know where to start. I was trying to think: “What do you cover first? How do you make someone understand all the subtleties of how you build a training program? Why we do the things we do? etc.” After brainstorming for a little while and exchanging some ideas with Kevin Neeld, I was up to something.
But what are the steps to detailing a complete training systems?
To me the first step is to highlight the philosophies behind the system. This is what’s going to guide you in building programs and knowing what components to include in your training programs. Your philosophy doesn’t have to be extremely detailed and it doesn’t have be 5 pages long. It’s really just knowing what your goals are and what the underlying concepts of your systems are. To me, these are 3 ideas behind a good philosophy:
The priorities of a good training program are, and always should be:
The Joint-by-Joint approach to training
The Anatomy Trains concept; everything works together in the body and isolation doesn’t exist
Those 3 concepts help shape a mindset of what you’re trying to accomplish and what the general directions of your training programs is. Once a background philosophy is established, you can put the building blocks of a training program in place and develop the tools to use for each component:
Self-myofascial release (foam rollers, lacrosse balls, the stick, etc)
Dynamic warm up (mobility exercises, activation drills, corrective work, etc)
Power training (plyometrics, Olympic lifts, med ball throws)
Injury prevention strategies
Once this is established, the next thing to do is to incorporate all of these things in a structured training program, or what you may call the art of program design. Managing volumes, loads, recovery periods and the like is a task that’s not easy. This is something that is totally dependent on your athletes, their sports, training background, phase of the season, recovery capacities, genetics, and much more. Although the basics of program design can be taught, only will you become better at that with experience and by listening to your athletes.
And last but not least, is the coaching itself. This is an area that might seem pretty simple, but you really need to understand the fundamentals of functional movements in order to coach even the most basic exercises the right way. Athletes need to learn to move the right way before anything else; it doesn’t matter how good your program looks on paper if your athletes move like crap. Because in the end it comes back to the first 2 goals of the whole program: do no harm, and decrease the risks of preventable injuries. Such concepts as the neutral spine, the packed shoulder blades and the packed neck are just some the concepts of coaching that need to be understood in order to make your athletes move better.
There are many things to go over when detailing a whole training system. Sure there are probably things I haven’t mentioned that might be important, but in the end I feel like those are the basics to understand to build a good, efficient training system. This is how we do things at Endeavor.
Interestingly this is all stuff that Kevin Neeld goes over into his book Ultimate Hockey Training. He goes into great detail about every aspect of a complete training system that has been proven effective for years. And please don’t be fooled by the title; this book could’ve simply been called Ulitmate Training System because it goes far beyond the concept of training for hockey. No matter what sports you’re coaching, it is an invaluable resource to have.
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Isolation training really doesn’t exist, whether it’s in bodybuilding or in rehab. The concept of isolating a muscle has long been associated with bodybuilding purposes to increase the size of the different major muscle groups individually. This has led the whole fitness industry to follow stupid training principles for years, and even today if you step foot in a commercial gym, 90% of people, including most personal trainers, use bodybuilding concepts (working every muscle separately, using body part splits, etc). But I digress.
Even Spiderman is following the trend
You can also notice a certain muscle isolation mindset in most rehab protocols. One of the most popular ones is the isolation of the VMO in knee pain and injuries. How many times have we heard “he has knee pain because his VMO is weaker than his vastus lateralis”. In an effort to cure every knee problem imaginable, we started isolating the VMO…or should I say “trying” to isolate the VMO.
Because of our understanding of the fascial system and how muscle interact together at this point, we now know that isolating the VMO is a flawed concept. But somehow we’ve managed to keep trying to isolate small muscles in the hope that it would cure our shoulder, low back or hip problem.
This guy clearly needs some VMO activation exercises
As Charlie Weingroff recently said: “If you don’t believe in isolating the VMO, why are you trying to isolate the serratus anterior?” To me this is a quote that makes plenty of sense. It’s just how your body works, you can’t isolate just one muscle, whether it’s your VMO, your biceps brachii, the serratus anterior or the lower trap. Isolation just doesn’t exist.
Does it mean that you can’t reinforce a certain movement pattern that will facilitate the recruitment of certain muscles? No. But you shouldn’t think about “isolating one muscle” and think more in terms of movements. And in the end, the goal is be able to perform integrated movement patterns with optimal joint centration and the right muscles will do their job- as long as we don’t have movement restrictions.
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I’ve blogged about the importance of breathing patterns many times in the past, and for a good reason. Breathing patterns and the muscles responsible for breathing affect so many things in our bodies, yet we too often ignore their importance. In the presence of a faulty breathing pattern, accessory muscles will compensate for the diaphragm not doing its job properly. We then see hypertonic neck muscles (scalenes, sternocleidomastoids, upper trap, etc) which can also lead to neck pain and headaches, referred pain in the shoulder, etc. But this is only the superficial stuff.
If the diaphragm isn’t working properly, chances are that it’s also not positioned optimally. We could debate which one causes the other (dysfunction causing faulty positioning or faulty positioning causing dysfunction), but it would be a case of the chicken or the egg.
The thing to keep in mind is that when the diaphragm isn’t positioned properly there are also surrounding structures that are affected. The lower ribs flare out, the T-L (thoraco-lumbar) junction is stuck in extension, and the whole rib cage is positioned differently. This in turn will affect the positioning of the scapula because it sits on the rib cage, and therefore the positioning of the whole shoulder girdle will be changed.
Faulty breathing patterns can also affect structures lower down the kinetic chain. Because of the attachment of the diaphragm and its fascial connection through the psoas, that goes through the hips, the positioning of the hips can be affected. And if the hips are positioned differently, everything below (femur, tibia, foot) might be in compensated positions.
Not the best picture, but you can still see the convergence of the psoas and diaphragm
Before this turns into an anatomy course, I’ll stop here! The goal was just to make you understand how powerful breathing patterns can be and how it can affect the whole body. That is why school of thoughts such as the Postural Restoration Institute put such an important focus on breathing patterns and diaphragm function to treat all sorts of problems (overuse injuries, low back pain, shoulder pain, flat feet, etc, etc). All of their corrective work involve very specific breathing patterns. They have a bunch of different exercises incorporating breathing patterns to get you back into a “neutral alignment” as they would put it.
I have learned a great deal from PRI and started including a lot of their stuff with my athletes, which has worked almost like magic in many cases. Here is one of my favorite exercises that I stole from them to teach proper breathing patterns:
The position: Lying on your back with your feet up on the wall and your knees and hips at 90° angle, squeeze a foam roller or a small medicine ball between your knees. Dig your heels into the wall and posteriorly tilt your pelvis just enough to get tail bone slightly off the floor. Get your right arm straight up and reach with the palm of your hand towards the ceiling.
Execution: Take a deep breath trough your nose, Blow out through your mouth as hard as possible trying to inflate the balloon as much as possible. Blow all your air out in the balloon. When you have no more air in your lungs, pause for about 4 seconds while pushing your tongue against the roof of your mouth (your teeth should not be clenched). Then, breathe back in through your nose, and repeat the sequence. You can do anywhere from 5 to 10 breaths, but start on the lower end, and make sure you control everything.
Cues: Make sure that the tail bone remains slightly off the ground the whole time and the heels keep digging in the wall. When reaching up with your right arm, you only want to reach as high as your arm will go, meaning you don’t want to lift your upper back off the ground to reach higher. The pause with the tongue against the roof of your mouth is probably the most important step. Do not repeat on the opposite side.
We only do it on one side because the diaphragm on the right side and on the left side are shaped and positioned differently; we want to facilitate the air going into the right side to re-position you in a more neutral position. This is again part of the PRI philosophy that the human body is assymetrical for a host of different reasons; we have a heart on the left side above the diaphragm, we have a liver on the right side under the diaphragm, the left side of our brain manages motor control, etc. I’m not going to get too deep in the PRI philosophy as it could be the subject of an entire different blog post, but hopefully you get the concept a little bit.
Don’t overlook breathing patterns and make sure that it’s part of your assessment protocol with everything else you assess for.
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