The baseball off-season is coming to an end. We had a bunch of baseball players work their butt off during the last couple of months at Endeavor, and they’re looking forward to taking all the gains they made with their training out on the field.
The way I write programs, I usually separate the off-season into 3 different phases where each phase has a different focus; the early off-season, the mid off-season and the late off-season. The early off-season is usually the shortest one of all 3 phases and puts almost all the emphasis on recovering from the previous season, fixing imbalances, recuperate, etc. The mid off-season is usually the longest phase and is where the heavy lifting comes into play, and we keep the focus on increased maximal strength, power, and muscle mass for the players that need to put on size.
The late off-season phase, which is the one our players are currently doing, focuses on speed, power, and essentially maximizing the transfer from the weight room on to the field. The max strength volume comes down quite a bit during that phase to make sure the players don’t end up overtrained. Even if it doesn’t feel like it, lots of speed and power training puts a lot of stress on the CNS.
One thing that I focus on during that late off-season phase is to maximize the amount of training in both the frontal and transverse plane. If you think about most classic lifting exercises they all develop strength in the sagittal plane (squats, deadlifts, lunges, presses, rows, etc). The reality is that on the field athletes almost never need to develop force exclusively in the sagittal plane, whether it’s when they throw, when they chase a ball, or when they hit.
There is an increased need for baseball players, just like athletes in most other sports, to develop force in the frontal and transverse planes. This is something you might not have noticed if you don’t really include multi-planar exercises in your programs, but most athlete have a really hard time developing force in the frontal plane. It is not very natural for them, yet, it can boost their performance on the field like crazy!
So let’s drop the theoretical concepts of frontal plane and transverse plane. What does that mean concretely in a training program?
There are different ways to help develop force and explosive power in the frontal plane. My 2 favorite exercises for that purpose are probably the lateral sled drag and the lateral bound (with or with resistance).
As for the transverse plane, you can get pretty creative with all the med ball throw variations and speed drills with changes of direction.
These are just some examples, but there are plenty of other ways you can include exercises and drills to optimize force production and explosive power for your athletes in the frontal and transverse plane in order to have maximize transferability of your gains made in training out on the field.
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Triphasic training refers to Cal Dietz’s training method from his book by the same name. That training method is simply 3 phases lasting 2-3 weeks each that puts an emphasis on the eccentric muscle contraction in the first phase, the isometric contraction in the second phase, and the concentric contraction in the third phase. The purpose of this method is to improve the complete sequence of muscle contraction by improving each separate phase.
We have started to incorporate this training method with some of our athletes at Endeavor since reading the book. We’ve incorporated it with some of our semi-private training clients, and within our team settings as well. After seeing the results, I’m now sold on this training method.
Specifically, in a team setting this is something that is easily manageable. The directions are simple; it’s either go down in 6 seconds, or pause for 3 seconds at the bottom, or come up as fast as you can. When you have only one of these components to focus on at once, it is pretty straight forward and simple to perform. It is not overly difficult for the coach in a team setting to coach the whole weight room.
Another thing I really like about this method is that it’s a great teaching tool for beginners-to-intermediate lifters. If you ever feel like less experienced lifters seem to struggle to control their movement, whether it be lunges, squats, chest press, rows, etc; putting the emphasis on one phase of the movement seems to fix that problem pretty quickly, especially using the eccentric and the isometric phases. They both force the athlete to control the weight in phases of the muscle contraction they struggle with when they have less lifting experience.
While I don’t really have measures yet of how improved their muscle contraction is using the triphasic method, I can say that I can see improvements simply in how the athletes are moving the weights after the 3 phases. Almost all of the athletes on each team look more confident handling the load on all their big lifts, and they seem to control the weights better. The eccentric portion of the movement is the one I see the biggest improvements with, as this is common for a number of athletes to not fully control the eccentric part of certain movements, mainly with the dumbbell chest press, and the reverse lunge.
Does this look familiar??
As a side story to this (whatever it’s worth), I have been using it in my own training, and have noticed immediate effects on my performance on the ice. I play hockey in the morning twice a week, and a week and a half into the eccentric phase I could already feel a difference when I was skating, and changing direction.
All in all, I have been very pleased with the results I got from the triphasic training method, both in the training of my athletes, and my own. This is definitely something that will stick in my programs for a while.
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Speed-strength seems pretty self-explanatory, as a muscular quality. You want a good mix of speed and strength, but the emphasis should be a little more on speed than strength. Strength-speed, which is a different quality, also is a mix of speed and strength, but with a little more focus o strength. They’re both an expression of power, but with a focus more on strength, or speed, depending on the one you’re focusing on.
Strength-speed uses heavier weight and focuses on recruiting motor units. Speed-strength focuses on speed of movement and is closer to the actual speed of the sport.
In the end, both are important, but as you’re getting closer to competition you want to get closer to the speed of the sport- i.e. more speed than strength.
As you can see in the chart above, loads for speed-strength development are kept under 60% of 1RM. If you’re familiar with the application of percentages, you know that below 60% is pretty light. The focus should always be on the speed at which you’re moving the load. The quality of every single rep is important. You usually don’t get very tired from this type of work, and you might even feel like it does nothing.
Granted, it doesn’t create a lot of localized muscle fatigue. That’s why I always tell my athletes when doing this type of work that they shouldn’t expect a lot of fatigue, and that they should focus on QUALITY; every single rep should be done as explosive as possible.
One good way to develop speed-strength is to use timed sets. This is a very simple training method to use. You simply program sets for as specified duration, rather than a certain number of reps. This might look like this:
A) DB Chest Press 4 x 5sec Rest: 90sec
In this example, you would basically perform as many reps as you can in 6 seconds. Simple enough, right?
The thing that I really like about this method is that it challenges you to do as many reps as possible every time. If you’re even just a little competitive or have any will to get better (ehh…who doesn’t?) you’ll wanna try to do one more rep every time. Doing this will ensure that you’re moving the bar at the greatest possible speed.
As a warning, I wouldn’t advise that to anyone that is not an advanced lifter. There are obvious risks with this method. First of all, moving a load at a high speed is simply not safe for someone who doesn’t master the major lifts perfectly. Also, one might be tempted to “botch” reps simply to be able to get more reps in (compromise range of motion, use sub-optimal form, etc). When using this method you MUST understand that in no circumstances it is OK to sacrifice form for more reps. If you’re smart you’ll get it. It is not supposed to turn into Crossfit.
You know what I’m talking about….
The other thing I like about this method is that it can also be used to progress into speed-strength-endurance. You simply need to modify the prescribed time for the set to make it closer to the duration of your activity. For a hockey player you would prescribe 15 seconds per set and try to perform as many reps as possible.
Timed sets can have other purposes as well. It’s all a matter of how you incorporate it into your programs.
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Variety is usually one of the staple principles in designing training programs. Variety can be used for different purposes:
Progression – starting with a basic exercise and progress it to a more difficult variation.
Adaptability – varying the exercises frequently ensures continued adaptation of the muscles.
Interest – prevent the clients and athletes of becoming too bored doing the same exercises all the time.
While I’m not going to argue against any of these reasons for using variety, I will certainly make a point that variety is not always desirable.
Strength development is a good example. If you’re trying to improve strength, rotating exercises too often can be counterproductive. There is an important neural adaptation that takes place when you’re gaining strength that is due to your body getting more efficient at performing a specific movement pattern. When you switch exercises around too often you don’t give the central nervous system time to adapt, so you’re potentially limiting your gain.
As you become a more advanced lifter, there is more and more value to working with percentages of your 1 rep max (1 RM) to prevent overtraining and injuries. This is something that might be hard to do if you’re constantly changing your exercises around because it becomes pretty hard to know what you’re 1RM actually is for each of them.
Those are 2 pretty big factors to consider for any intermediate-advanced lifter.
But then, does variety becomes obsolete?
No. There is a way to get the best of both worlds. A way I have found very efficient throughout the years is to stick to your main lifts ( a small handful of them) in pretty much all of your programs, but use variety in your assistance exercises. For example, you would put a deadlift as a main lower body lift in 3, or 4 consecutive programs, but use different assistance exercises in each one of those programs; let’s say a Cable Pullthrough on the first program, a Stiff-Legged Deadlift on the second one, a Good Morning on the third, and a Rack Pull on the fourth. You can also use variety with your core exercises, and your corrective work if you want. That way you make consistent progress off of your main lifts, while getting variety from your assistance exercises, and therefore ensuring adaptability and interest in the program from the athletes or clients.
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Overtraining is usually something we perceive as being bad. Overtraining is associated with lack of recovery, injuries, suppressed immune system, plateaued results in the gym and on the field, low energy, low motivation, etc. I’m not gonna dismiss any of these side effects from a training volume too high, as these are very real effects from overtraining. Actually, I’m usually the first one to sensitize people to the effects of overtraining, and I encourage coaches and trainers to monitor training volumes and progress closely.
Then, why am I writing a post questioning the importance of overtraining?
I’m not really questioning the importance of overtraining. What I want to say is that if it is planned, monitored, and the appropriate amount of rest is planned consequently to allow overreaching, then overtraining might be an interesting tool to use. I’m not talking about the kind of overtraining that lasts for weeks, or months where you just bury your athletes in the gym without any consideration for obvious symptoms of overtraining that are just getting worse and worse.
If you know that your athletes are going on vacation for a week or two, or they won’t be able to train for that same amount of time, planning to have them reach an overtraining state before they leave might actually be beneficial. Because you know that during their time away they will have plenty of time to recover, which will allow them to supercompensate, which will be beneficial for their development. Upon their return they’ll have recovered and they might have reached new levels of strength, power, endurance, or conditioning.
This might also be a strategy that can be used even with athletes who are not going on vacation. You can plan overtraining in your program. As long as it’s followed by an appropriate deload period, you can definitely get some benefits from it.
After all, overtraining is essential to make progress. The system needs to be overloaded to create adaptation that will translate into gains in strength, power, endurance, aerobic power, or whatever you are trying to improve. If the overload is not sufficient, the body won’t create adaptation that will trigger improvement.
In the image above, you can see the importance of creating the right amount of training stress, and give the appropriate amount of rest before imposing a new stress. The red curve is the ideal one where the body is stressed enough to create supercompensation big enough that will lead to improvement. In that case it’s also important that the training stress is re-applied at the right time (as identified by the letter B in the chart). So the bigger the training stress (creating overtraining), the more time you will need to allow for recovery so the compensation reaches its peak.
If you ever talk to Cal Dietz, strength coach at the University of Minnesota, you’ll hear him say over and over again that he overtrains his athletes. For someone who doesn’t understand the supercompensation concept it may sound kinda silly, but the reality is that Cal plans his training volume and rest periods with his athletes as much as anyone I know. He takes into account the fact that his athletes are also students, that have Christmas break, Spring break, finals, vacations, and all that stuff that’s part of a student’s life. Therefore he knows that his athletes won’t train with him 52 weeks a year, which is why overtraining (or overreaching) at different time of year is a good option in his situation.
Like I said before, everything is relative. Nothing is all black, or all white, a lot of things fall into this good old gray area. It’s all a matter of understanding the context.
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It’s too easy to get caught into trying to cover too many things in a single training session. The result? Your session ends up taking 2+ hours. This is the best way to make anyone, athletes or non-athletes, lose interest and motivation in the gym. Even at the highest level, I don’t know many athletes who like to spend over 2 hours in the gym every day.
You know…when your session is just taking too darn long…
But how can you structure your training sessions when you have so many things to cover?
The first thing to consider is to try and trim all the fat around your program. By that I mean, drop the stuff that’s not essential. Ask yourself: what do I really need to work on? Drop everything else. That’s the first step.
Even after dropping the non-essential stuff you might realize that you still have a lot of stuff to include in your program with all the corrective exercises, mobility drills, activation exercises, and so on that one need to work on. And we haven’t even talked about the bulk of the program with all the speed, power, strength, and conditioning work yet!
One of the best ways to address this is to use rest periods wisely. Let me explain…
When working on qualities such as speed, power, and strength, the nervous system takes anywhere from to 2 to 5 minutes to recover optimally. That leaves a lot of time to just stare at the ceiling, some might think. But it’s actually a great time to fit in all your corrective, breathing, mobility, and activation work.
The only 2 rules to follow when it comes down to using corrective, or “filler” exercises between sets are:
The exercise(s) must not interfere with the main lift(s)
The corrective or filler exercise must have a low stress level on the CNS
For example, I wouldn’t pair a chest stretch with heavy bench press because of the potential loss of elasticity in the working muscles. But you could definitely pair the same bench press exercise with a scapular stability exercises, or even a hip flexor mobilization. These are just 2 quick examples, but there is no limit to the actual exercises you can use between your main lifts.
When you prescribe a rest period of 3 minutes between sets, that easily gives the time to fit in 2 corrective exercises. In the end you’ll realize that your training sessions was a lot more productive, it lasted only an hour and fifteen, and you were moving around the whole time, which makes it more motivating, and a lot less boring.
Make sure you maximize your training time by using your rest periods wisely!
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Although an imminent lockout will probably delay the NHL season for a couple months (dammit!), hockey seasons at the amateur level are still getting under way all around the country.
The beginning of the new season also means performance testing for a lot of those teams at the youth level. Performance testings have been around for a long time as a way to monitor progress, and (whether it’s right or not) to compare kids to each other. The goal is to monitor the progress throughout the season, but also to monitor the progress the kids made during the off-season, assuming they have been tested on those same performance tests at the end of the previous season.
If you look a little more in depth at what “monitoring progress” means, we want to ask ourselves the question: what are we measuring in the first place? Performance is way too vague of a term in this situation to limit the answer to that.
This could be looked at from 2 different perspectives (and I’ll explain what I mean a little later).
The first perspective we can take is the one of the performance enhancement coach, which is the most obvious one for most of you reading this post. In this situation, what we measure is different factors, or qualities that affect performance. This is where we need to get more specific because this is ultimately what will dictate the actual tests that we’ll use. For example, one could decide that strength, power, anaerobic power, lactic power, and aerobic capacity are the most appropriate performance qualities to measure with a given team in a given sport.
Based on those specific qualities you’ll then want to choose tests that will give you data that will appropriately represent the qualities you are measuring. Once you have your system in place (performance qualities, and specific tests to use), the next step is to perform those tests on the players, and establish what intervals you want to test your athletes at. For example, you might want to test your athletes at the beginning of the season, mid-season, and at the end of the season every year. That would give you a good idea of the in-season, as well as off-season progress for all of the players.
After running players through the performance tests, the next logical step is to put together a periodization plan, as well as designing specific training programs to improve those qualities, since they are the ones you judged relevant to your sport. It’s a lot of work, and there are hundreds of ways to go about this when you take into consideration all the different periodization models, and training methods out there.
Periodization can look a little confusing at times…
It’s by trial and error that you’ll find out what works well for your athletes, what needs to be adjusted, and what needs to be eliminated from the program. As you get more experienced, you’ll refine your approach; that might mean changing the qualities to develop, the performance tests to use, the periodization model you’re using, the training methods, the exercises, etc, etc, etc.
This approach seems pretty simple. And as Dan John would put it: simple doesn’t mean easy. What I mean is that all you’re trying to do is improve specific, measurable performance qualities in your athletes. It’s a simple, but not necessarily easy.
The man. The legend.
Now let’s take it from that other perspective I was talking about earlier. This is often going to be the perspective of a coach.
You want fast, strong, powerful, and well conditioned players, but ultimately you want players who perform well on the ice! And this is when performance enhancement becomes a little more tricky. There are other factors who come into play when we talk about on-ice, or on-field performance. Your skill level, the players you play with, the role your coach gives you on the team, and the psychological factor are all important factors that directly impact the game.
So what exactly is performance enhancement? Is it improving specific qualities in the hope that everything will fall in place once the athlete steps on the ice, or the field? Or is it simply improving performance (goals, assist, touchdown passes, etc) in a sport-specific context?
In the end, this is what matters.
Realistically developing specific qualities will contribute to develop a better athlete that has more chance to perform well in a sport-specific context, that’s a no-brainer.
But what if you have a player who keeps getting stronger, and more powerful in the weight room, but doesn’t seem to be improving on the ice. What can you do as a performance enhancement coach? Is there something you can do to help your athlete? Can we bridge the gap?
Honestly, I don’t know what the answer is…My will to help my athletes make me not want to stop there and say: “oh well he needs to work on his skills (or his mental skills, or whatever); he got stronger, I did my job.” Ultimately I want all of my athletes to do well in their sport before anything else; I could care less that he can deadlift 450, if he’s a healthy scratch for a half of the season.
I just know that there is more to developing an athlete than just developing his physical qualities. And I don’t want to sit there and wait to see what happens.
I would appreciate your thoughts and feedback on the subject. Please leave a comment below!
There are a lot of different schools of thoughts, and even more different opinions in the strength and conditioning community about what’s best, what’s optimal, and how you should train athletes.
There are a lot of people who think they hold the absolute truth on how to train athletes and that their way is the only way. Everything else is garbage.
Way to keep an open mind….
If there is one thing I learned throughout my years of training people is that everything is relative. Maybe it’s my very diverse background that lead me to think like that, but the more I learn the more I realize that there’s nothing (or almost nothing) completely wrong, or bad.
For example, as much as I dislike Crossfit in general, and how people who are in it think they’re so much better than everybody else, I will be the first one to admit that there are things good about it.
Yep, I just said it…
There are not many training methods that will create such a strong camaraderie and will make people push each other as hard as Crossfitters do.
The biggest problem with Crossfit is that it’s a sport in itself; an extreme sport that is. Just because of that I will never recommend it to any of my athletes. Just like I would never recommend MMA as a way of training; it’s not specific and the risk/reward is not worth it. But I digress.
My point is that it’s very easy to judge something with an outside perspective without really understanding what’s going on on the inside.
As strength coaches, we all have different backgrounds, level of experience, types of clients (sports, training age, skill level, etc), and settings we work in. This is why we have such different ways of implementing our own programs.
I don’t know that there’s a right way and a wrong way to train athletes. There are better ways, and less better ways, but I don’t believe someone who’s been in the industry long enough, and makes a dedicated effort getting better at what he does, can be doing everything “wrong”. If you have an open mind, you’re open to critiquing yourself and changing how you implement things, you can’t really be bad at what you do. As Todd Hamer, one of my mentors, once said: “if you’re successfully training clients or athletes, you’re doing something right.”
I learned a lot from this man.
Once in a while you’ll come across a trainer or a strength coach who’s been around for many years, yet it looks like what he’s doing is completely retarded. Even if I hate it, I’ll be the first one to admit that the guy is probably doing something right.
That’s why it’s important to keep an open mind about everything. If you read something or see a coach talking about stuff that you don’t necessarily believe in, try and find out more about the why and the how of those ideas. You might find out that you agree more than you’d think with those ideas once you understand the context. And who knows, you might even end up using parts of them in your own setting.
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When you train athletes you obviously have different goals and different qualities that you need to train. As you’re already pretty familiar with the concept, strength, speed, and power are extremely important qualities to train in most sports. Strength being the foundation for the other too, you would recognize its importance.
There are however other qualities that are also important to train. That means that in order to develop those qualities, sometimes strength needs to take a back seat to give the other qualities the training time they deserve.
You might be wondering what’s the best way to go about training different qualities without losing this oh so precious strength. Honestly, this shouldn’t be a problem because maintaining strength while training other qualities is pretty simple.
There are more than one way to go about it, depending on the type of periodization model you’re using. But generally speaking 2-3 set per week for a given movement pattern or muscles groups is sufficient to maintain most of your strength. I say “most” because there might be a 5% loss or so simply because you’re not practicing the movements as often, which is really due to a loss in efficiency of the nervous system at a specific movement pattern. This can usually be re-gained pretty easily when you start putting the focus on strength again in your next training block or cycle.
In a block periodzation model you could do a strength day where you do 2-3 max strength exercises and do 2-3 sets of each to maintain your gains. Even if you spend a full week without doing another strength day, you should be OK to maintain your strength.
Great exercise to maintain strength
In a concurrent model, you could do 1 lift focusing on strength at the beginning of your session, and then move on to working whatever other qualities you were planning on working for that day.
As you can see, maintaining strength doesn’t take that much volume. You just need to make sure that the intensity of the lifts is still high, but the volume can be very low and you won’t suffer much strength loss.
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I’m currently reading See to Play, a book written by Michael Peters, the optometrist for the Carolina Hurricanes. The book is about the importance of vision in sports, and how it can get trained. I’m not even half way through the book right now, but I’m already learning so much about the importance of vision in performance training.
Let’s be honest, vision is an aspect of physical preparation that gets highly overlooked. I just realized that although vision in any sports is arguably the most important aspect that directly relates to performance, I don’t know of many strength coach (including myself) who trains the visual system. And still, if vision is not developed to its full potential, we might be holding our athletes back.
How did we miss the boat on that one? I don’t know…
That being said, one of the things Dr. Peters mentions in his book that struck me is that all athletes have a a dominant eye, just like they all have a dominant shooting, throwing or kicking side. A lot of people are dominant on the same side as their shooting/trowing side; that’s called same-side dominancy. If you’re dominant eye is the one opposite from the shooting/throwing side, it’s called cross-dominancy.
Athletes who are same-side dominant are usually better at sports where aiming or shooting is required (e.g. soccer, basketball, hockey, etc). Athletes who are cross-dominant have a better advantage in a sport like baseball, where the ball comes from the opposite side of batter’s hitting side (think of a right-side batter- his bat his on the right side of the body, but the ball is actually coming from the left-side of the body).
Think about all the implications of same-side dominancy and cross-dominancy in athletes’ performances. If you’re cross-dominant in a sport that favors same-side dominant athletes, your accuracy might be off- and probably always missing on the same side. There’s plenty of examples in all sports of how it could affect an athlete’s performance. Golf would be the perfect example; in a sport where precision and perfection in the swing has such a dramatic impact on the outcome. Golf is a sport where same-side dominancy is more advantageous because of the way you line up over the ball. If you have a golfer who’s cross-dominant, he will need to readjust the position of his body over the ball so his dominant eye is in a better position to focus on the ball. That might mean tilting is head more, shifting his whole upper body back, etc.
This is just one example of why addressing vision as part of physical preparation would be so important. Making sure your athletes get checked for high-performance vision by a qualified optometrist is definitely the place to start. But there is much more you can do.
If you want to establish if you’re same-side dominant or cross-dominant, here’s a neat trick: extend your arms in front of you and place your index and thumb of each hand in a diamond shape. Move one hand slightly in front of the other one and make that diamond smaller until the middle is about 2-3 inches wide.
Stand in front an object that’s about 15 feet away. You want to see all of it in that small diamond created by your hands. Now close one eye. If you still see the entire object in the diamond, your eye that’s open is your dominant one. If you can’t see it, that’s your non-dominant eye! Hopefully I just blew your mind…
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