Overhead pressing can take a beating on your shoulders. Any overhead pressing movement usually puts more stress on your shoulders than horizontal pressing variations. Some people stay away from overhead pressing because it bothers their shoulders, while some others avoid it simply because they can’t get to the overhead position due to tissue restrictions or lack of mobility.
Personally overhead pressing has always felt weird on my shoulders. It doesn’t really hurt and I never had ensuing shoulder problems, but there’s always some cracking or grinding going on in at least one of my shoulders. Whether I use a barbell or dumbbells, it seems to be about the same.
That was until I started using kettlebells for overhead pressing. Because the handle is not in the middle of the center of mass of the implement like it is with a dumbbell, the weight is offset from where you hold the weight. That forces a higher recruitment of stabilizer muscles at the shoulder, and it makes the pressing motion feel more natural and more stable. Ever since I started using kettlebells to overhead press I haven’t had any cracking or grinding whatsoever when overhead pressing with a kettlebell; so I try to stick with the KB whenever possible.
The variations are endless as you can perform the overhead press with 1 arm, 2 arms, in a half-kneeling position, tall-kneeling, sitting, standing, etc. Also what’s very interesting with the kettlebells for overhead pressing is that you have 2 different grips you can use: normal/rack or bottoms up.
Give these KB overhead press variations a shot, and let me know how they feel!
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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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The squat is the king of all exercises….or is it the deadlift? Anyways, for a lot of of strength coaches and trainees out there the squat is the be all, end all of all exercises. And I used to think that, too. I used to back squat. A LOT. Just a couple years ago I was training like a powerlifter, squatting twice a week, week in and week out. Then I started having lower back issues, and I backed away from the squat.
Do I think the squat caused my back problem? Absolutely not. Did it make the problem worse because I was loading it on top of dysfunction. Most likely.
I’m not bashing the squat in any ways, and I can still appreciate it as an exercise and I totally recognize its value. But in a lot of circumstances, for a lot of people it’s not the best option. And THAT is what I learned with experience.
Although I would never consider the squat a “bad” exercise, here are some things to consider:
By putting a heavy bar on your back week after week, after week for years, there will be some cumulative damage on the intervertebral discs even though you have the most perfect squat form ever seen. That’s just a fact. I’m not talking about a serious acute injury, but you have to consider the degenerative stress over time when choosing to squat or not.
Some people (athletes and non-athletes) are simply not made to squat. We all have structural variations (length of torso, length of femurs, etc) that might make a squat look pretty awkward. For example someone with really long femurs might have to lean forward more while squatting. This is something you might be tempted to try and correct, but when the problem is structural, good luck fixing that.
Femoroacetabular impingement (FAI), which is very common in athletic populations, can seriously restrict your range of motion during the squat. And if this is a problem you’re unaware of, you will definitely be making the problem worse and get your client closer to the surgery table. FAI is also a structural problem, so there is no “fixing it” unless you get your hip bone shaved off.
There are safer options that can develop lower body strength just as well and might require less external loading. All single leg variations like reverse lunges, RFE split squats, 1-leg squats and the like are good alternatives that will also strengthen the lower body the way sports are played: on one leg.
That being said, the squat is an essential movement pattern that we acquire when we’re babies, but we lose over the years, thanks in part to our sedentary lifestyle.
So the question is: if it is such an important movement pattern, how do we train it so it is beneficial?
Enter the goblet squat.
The goblet squat is an exercise that we use a lot at Endeavor Sports Performance to teach our young athletes the squatting movement. But anyone can use the goblet squat, whether you’re a beginner or even an advanced lifter.
It can be done by holding a dumbbell (held vertically), one kettlebell, or 2 kettlebells against your chest. By loading the body in the front you unload the spine a lot compared to a regular back squat. It also fires the core like nothing else.
Dan John himself mentions in his book Intervention that the goblet squat is usually all the squatting most people will ever need. It can be very pretty tough too; try a double kettlebell goblet squat with 24kg KBs and up, and let me know how it feels.
It patterns the squat without excessive load, since the load is “light” you avoid compensations, it fires the core, and protects the spine. In my book that’s pretty darn good!
Sometimes it’s hard to get out of the mindset of always loading, and loading and training to failure. The thing is that you can get a lot of benefits from training the squat without using crazy heavy loads and maximal effort.
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I am in the middle of Dan John’s Intervention right now. I enjoy reading Dan A LOT! He is very entertaining, but there are always very important lessons to learn from his books and articles as well. The guy has so much experience and did everything possible in the strength and conditioning field.
Yet, his advice is always about simplicity.
He is one of the most knowledgeable people I’ve ever read. Yet, when you read what he has to say it is always ridiculously simple.
Just like he would tell you himself: Simple. Not Easy, though.
To me that’s what being extremely knowledgeable is about: putting good information in a format that is not only simple, but easy to understand, and most importantly APPLICABLE! I never finish a Dan John book or article thinking “WOW, my brain is spinning a 100 miles an hour, and I have no idea how to apply anything he’s talking about”.
Instead, I know exactly what I took away from the book– and more often than not, on top of the strength and conditioning material, I always take away important life lessons.
Intervention is about teaching, it’s about learning, it’s about simplicity. Definitely a must read for any strength coach and personal trainers. Make sure you check it out HERE.
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I’ve been coaching Olympic lifts for quite a bit now, but it’s one of these movements that take time to learn. Although the most athletic kids out there will be able to perform a pretty decent hang clean after their first session, in my experience there is a good 20-30% of the kids that just seem to struggle with it.
When working with those kids, I always feel like I over explain everything in a attempt to make them get it, but more often than not it’s not working too great.
But the goal really is to minimize the explanation and the number of cues you give to the athlete so he doesn’t have too many things to think about at the same time.
Working with a lot of large teams this year, I had to perfect my coaching approach for hang cleans so it’s direct, to the point, and it produces efficient results.
Here are my top 3 coaching cues that I’ve had the most success with. Usually just these 3 cues will make an athlete’s hang clean look pretty darn good whether he’s a beginner or not.
1. Shoulders in front of the bar. This is a cue for the set up position. I tell the athlete to shift his weight forward so his shoulders are slightly in front of the bar, instead of right above it. This helps the athlete use more hips as he initiates the movement.
2. Curl your wrists in. This is another cue for the set up position. This basically just ensures that the athlete keeps the bar tight in his hands and close to his body. And more often than not curling the wrists in will help in keeping the elbows locked and not bent. Not sure that it makes much sense, if at all, but I’ve noticed that my athletes just tend to keep their elbows locked when I tell them to curl the wrists in.
3. Pull your shirt up with the bar (assuming the athlete is wearing a loose shirt). This is probably my favorite cue for the hang clean. It teaches the athlete to keep the bar close to his body. Having coached the hang clean for a number of years at this point, I can say that keeping the bar close to the body is one of the biggest mistakes one makes when learning the hang clean. Most athletes are tempted to just curl the bar up to their shoulder. When telling them to pull their shirt up, it makes the curling motion almost impossible to perform, and instead it forces the athlete to shrug the bar up, which is an important part of the movement.
The hang clean is a very technical movement and a lot of coaches stay away from it because it is difficult to teach. I am not going to argue with that, as there are a lot of technical components that go further than the 3 simple cues I just highlighted.
It is really just a matter of finding the most efficient way to teach the movement so it doesn’t end up eating up too much time in your session. Personally these 3 cues are what have made the biggest difference to me in the way I teach the hang clean that have yielded the best results.
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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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Perhaps this is a question that a lot of folks in the strength and conditioning industry are asking themselves. I have myself wondered this for some time because I felt like a kettlebell was really just another tool that is slightly different than a dumbbell, and they didn’t have specific benefits. At first, kettlebells don’t seem that special; they have a handle that loops on top of the weight, instead of having a handle in the middle of 2 weights (dumbbells).
It’s not until I started to talk more with people in the industry who use kettlebells a lot that I started realizing the huge advantages that they can bring to the table. Hearing Pavel himself talk about kettlebells on the Sports Rehab Expert Teleseminar also helped me understand that yes, there is a difference between dumbbells and kettlebells.
The main difference is that because of the way the handle loops over the weight, and is not centered in the middle of the load, it offsets the center of gravity of the implement, and therefore requires more stability at the shoulder while performing different movements. No matter what movement you’re performing with the kettlebell, you’re holding it with one or two hands, and with the dynamic movement being performed the shoulder musculature has to work harder to stabilize the humeral head in the glenoid fossa than if you were using a dumbbell.
A good example of this would be during an overhead press. With a dumbbell, the weight is nicely centered on your pressing arm. With a kettlebell, the center of gravity is offset outside of your wrist which requires more stabilization from the involved structures; wrist, elbow, and shoulder.
Another benefit of using kettlebells versus dumbbells is that the weight doesn’t get in the way, especially as the weight becomes heavier for certain exercises. Sometimes when using heavy dumbbells for certain movements, it might become difficult to achieve a full range of motion if the weight gets in the way.
A good example would be when doing a swing. Although it’s possible to do a swing with a dumbbell, as soon as you use a weight that’s above 50 pounds, you’ll have to modify your stance and your movement pattern, so that the dumbbell doesn’t hit your crutch.
In the specific example of a swing, there’s a also the grip factor that becomes important. Your grip on an upside down dumbbell isn’t nearly as good as the handle of a kettlebell.
There are other benefits to using kettlebells in the weight room, but these 2 to me represent the main reasons of using kettlebells over dumbbells in some specific exercises.
Keep in mind that I’m not trying to say that dumbbells are inferior to kettlebells. They just have a different structures, and they both have different benefits and can be used in different situations. They’re both tools, and I don’t think one should use one implement in favor of the other one.
It’s just about knowing which one is best in which situation.
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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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