Monday, November 24, 2014

Knowledge vs Application

Strength and Conditioning is a pretty interesting field for a lot of reasons; one of the most interesting things to me is how a very large portion of what we learn in school was figured out decades ago. The total amount of information that is truly "new" to the people in this industry is pretty low. There's usually a couple of cool research studies published each year, but very rarely is it something that you would consider groundbreaking. The new strength and conditioning stuff put out each year is usually just the same "old" information organized in a different fashion.

The same stuff that helped get Paul Anderson as strong as a bull back in the 50's and 60's still continue to work better than anything else. Basic compound movements paired with progressive overload and consistent effort trump anything else that you can think of. However, that's not to say that the new books being put out each year are worthless; I continue to take the time to read all sorts of new info and literature that comes out each year because I know that each time I read something knew, there's a high probability that I'll be able to find something useful. I go into each new experience, whether it be a seminar or a book, hoping to find at least ONE thing that I can apply to my career.

With all that being said, this industry isn't terribly hard to figure out. At the end of the day, every well-studied strength coach out there know's just about all of the same information. We've all taken the same sorts of college courses, read the same new books and old Russian texts, receive the same research journals and attend the same seminars. Sure, there are some coaches who have a better grasp of functional anatomy than others and can tell you the origin, insertion and function of every muscle in the body but those people are outliers.

Your success in this field isn't dictated by what you know, since everyone pretty much knows the same shit, but by the manner in which you apply your knowledge. You do need to have a broad knowledge base to begin with, but if you're applying your information in the wrong setting then you're going to get falsely negative results. (Note: I'm not going to be so bold as to suggest that every single coach in this industry is working with the same base of knowledge, there are guys like Eric Cressey, Cal Dietz, Charlie Weingroff or Louie Simmons who are just working on a different playing field than the rest of us. While I am making a generalized statement, it doesn't exist in a vacuum.)

You need to familiarize yourself with a wide variety of training methods and theories, but you also need to remember that everything has a time and a place. Verkoshansky showed us how effective shock training could be in order to increase the rate of force development and reactivity in athletes, but if you take that information and think that it'd be great to try with your 12-year old soccer players then you are sorely missing the point.

There isn't a single thing in this industry that is set in stone. Every athlete and client that you come across is going to have a different needs analysis and will need something tailored specifically towards them. That's why we are called Strength and Conditioning COACHES and not Strength and Conditioning Applicators. If it was as simple as saying "this single program or theory is irrefutably infallible" then every athlete in the world would be following the same exact style of training.

Being a coach is about being able to apply your experiences to the benefit of your athletes and clients. Read everything you can find and attend as many seminars as you can afford. It's not always about new information being presented, but sometimes the way someone presents old information. Have the self-awareness to know when it's the right time to apply the right knowledge.

Have a great day and go lift some heavy shit!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Strong Enough?

Many coaches now-a-days will tell you to just keep increasing strength and that training that one aspect will keep you thriving as an athlete. Unless you're a strength athlete who has a weight class with records (powerlifting, weightlifting, strongman) the question of "how strong do I actually have to be?" will come up often.

Well, I'm going to piss on your cereal a little bit here and tell you that there's no hard and fast number for any sport. Truthfully, it all comes down to movement quality and what you can do with that strength.

Let's quickly define what I mean by "strength" in this context: I'm talking about your maximum numbers in any exercise that can be traditionally compared from athlete to athlete. Think squats, deadlifts, cleans, snatches, barbell and dumbbell pressing, lunges, rows and various upper-body bodyweight exercises. If you find yourself in a situation where you're talking to another coach and comparing athletes bosu ball squat numbers then excuse yourself immediately, pay a homeless guy five bucks to punch you in the neck and then pay him another five to go punch the coach with which you were previously speaking in the neck as well. If you're unsure that an exercise can be easily compared to other athletes then you shouldn't be worrying about that exercise quite so much. Don't major in the minors.

So, back to "how strong do you need to be?". Well, what's your sport and what's your position? This is an answer that can vary quite a bit. Does a basketball player need to be able to squat 500 pounds? What about a football offensive lineman? What's a good bench press number for a baseball player? What kind of numbers should you be trying to achieve with your athletes? Dan John has written several times about his Strength Standards for various populations, but do these always apply?

One of the first things that I should mention is that as long as you're working with athletes who are active in competition (i.e. someone in high school, college or post-grad athletics) you should essentially have no concerns about maxing out someones genetic potential for strength. If you're managing your athletes well then there actually won't be a ton of time to focus solely on increasing their maximum strength. When you're dealing with pre-season, in-season, post-season and early-pre-season meso-cycles you're going to need to spend time chasing a lot of different training adaptations. You'll need your athletes to recuperate, gain weight, get stronger and get faster all at different times of the year. If you find yourself chasing all-out max strength numbers for too much time each year you're going to be doing your athletes a disservice.

So, again, I ask the question "how strong do you have to be?", and the answer continues to be "strong enough to do your job". There are some outliers out there in team sport land who are freaks and can just move a ton of weight; don't worry about them. If you're a football lineman and your best squat is 300 pounds (and you weigh 300 pounds) then you should consider getting your strength levels up. If you squat 800 pounds (holy shitballs) then your strength levels are well above what you can realistically apply in a sport specific context and you should concern yourself with other aspects of training. With that being said "too strong" is something you rarely have to be concerned with.

That's 5'7" 165-pound pitcher Tim Collins doing a set of forward lunges with 300 pounds; not exactly baby weight. Is this too strong? While I'm sure that Tim is capable of squatting a ton more, his sport is a single leg sport and increasing his strength in a single leg pattern will certainly help increase his throwing velocity.

In keeping with the theme of strong-as-fuck baseball players, here's a video from my buddy Dave Rak at the University of Washington of his 3rd baseman hitting a fairly routine set of 3 RDL's at 160kg/352lbs.

The impressive thing about both of these lifts are that they are essentially accessory movements (true that they can double as main movements). An athlete that can RDL or lunge that much weight with a good movement pattern and crisp tempo (as exhibited) is certainly going to be able to transfer that weight into a sport specific context. Will it be beneficial for the coaches to spend the time working these athletes up to a 450-pound lunge or RDL? Probably not, and I know that neither of the coaches responsible for these athletes are writing programs designed with that point of increasing absolute maximum strength in just a few lifts in mind. They are, however, writing programs that will gradually and consistently increase those numbers over a period of time. There is no hard-and-fast strength number for athletes; you don't hit a particular benchmark and then just stop training because you're suddenly "strong enough". It's up to the coach to determine that you've achieved an appropriate quality of strength in one (or several) movements and that your time would best be used by focusing on increasing other qualities while maintaining that level of strength. 

Finally, there is really no such thing as "too strong", as Mark Bell says "strength is never a weakness". Nobody has ever said "damn, that athlete was just too strong to make that play". Focus the appropriate amount of time on making your athletes strong as balls and everything else will fall easily into place.

Have a great day and go lift some heavy shit!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Honest Personal Assessment and My Current Training

For the last 3 months or so, my training has been dogshit. Not dogshit because of the training itself, but dogshit because of the way my body has felt. Starting 3 or so months ago, I've been getting some pretty serious pain in my left knee. Not pain like "oh boohoo my near is sore", but pain like "oh my knee hurts so bad that I can't sleep". There were many days that it hurt so much to walk that I couldn't even consider training lower body.

I did what I despise most, and resisted the urge to squat for several weeks (I honestly don't know how many: 4-5?) and did what I could. The days that my knee felt good I'd wrap it up super tight and do some power snatches and hang high pulls. I even relented and did some upper body Bro work a few times a week to keep myself sane. The weeks dragged by, and when my knee finally started to feel better I started getting back into power snatches and power clean and jerks. I was still not really squatting because I was just scared of my knee feeling like shit again.

Then, my knee started feeling really shitty again. And so did my wrist, for no apparent reason. So, that's super. Two of the joints that take the brunt of weightlifting hurt just to touch. I, again, waited this pain out for 2-3 weeks and I'm at the point where it's pretty much subsided. Truth be told, the days that I'm squatting and stuff I take 3 Aleve in the morning but oh well!

When my joints were finally on the mend, I had to take a pretty strong look at myself and my training. For the last 3-ish years I've been training exclusively as a weightlifter. I love the sport and I love the training. It's intense and takes concentration and it's a skill that I could work on, which gratified the athlete inside of me.

The honest truth, though, is that I'm a pretty shitty weightlifter. In all honesty, I'm just not a very strong ATHLETE in the first place. Here's a breakdown of my best lifts: 90kg competition snatch (I snatched 95kg once a year ago at Ivan Rojas's birthday, where we also had Cuban cigars and 19 pounds of lobster), 115kg competition clean and jerk (118kg one day at Rubber City Weightlifting), 465lb deadlift, 365lb squat, 315lb front squat and 275lb paused bench press. I've push pressed (behind the neck) 110kg, I think my best stone load (I don't know the load height) was 230 pounds and my best farmers walk (on handles) was 250 per hand for maybe 30-40 feet. At CrossFit Resilience I stood up a 900 pound Yoke and got absolutely crumpled when I tried to take a step. I've done 2 non-consecutive ring muscle-ups and can't do a HSPU. I've only ever had legit abs for about a year and usually maintain a fantastically pedestrian bodyfat of 15% or so. My best ever vertical jump was 33" and I've never dunked a basketball.

(No, that's not 465, but it was a PR at the time)

What's the point of all of this self-deprecating information that I just laid out there? It's that, despite my love of weightlifting, I'm not good enough at it to be committed to a type of training that is currently causing me some serious pain (note: I'm not saying that weightlifting is the cause of my pain, but the volume of squatting and holding a loaded bar overhead is certainly not making it easy on my joints). I decided that I needed to change up my training to something that would allow me to continue to train consistently and pain-free

Very recently I read a great article by Chad Wesley Smith that outlined the type of training he has done as a competitive thrower. I then sat down and read the e-book HVIII by Matt Vincent, another guy who was a competitive thrower in college and is now an international Highlands Games competitor. While the training style outlined in both texts is nothing new to me, the concept of the training immediately hit me in my happy place. Pretty simply, I wanna get stronger, more powerful, leaner, jump higher, get faster and pretty much just be a fucking savage. 

The ideas proposed are pretty simple. If you want to jump higher and move faster, you need to do that. If you want to get stronger, you have to move heavy weights quickly and do it consistently. If you want to get leaner you need to do some conditioning (gulp; working on that) and if you want to stay healthy you need to do targeted auxiliary work. Again, this is all information that I've known for a while, but reading these two texts from these two guys put things into a particular perspective that I needed right now. 

Rather than write a very specific and detailed program for myself, I've organized my training week into a template where I can pick and choose some stuff based on how I'm feeling. Here's an example of my week. 

Monday: Squat Emphasis
- Seated Box Jumps 5x5 / MB Rockback Shot Puts 5x3/
- Power Snatch + 2 Hang Power Snatch (worked up to 75kg for 3x1)
- Barbell Squat Jumps 5x3 (worked up to 90kg)
- EMOTM Squat singles for 10 minutes at 140kg
- RDL's 4x6 at 110/115kg

Tuesday: Lower Body Auxiliary 
- Sled Marches (light) 4x40yards / Hip Circle Walks 4x10yards (monster and lateral walks)
- Barbell Hip Thrust 4x8 at 110/120kg / RB Pull-Throughs 4x10
- GH Back Extensions 4x10 with 10kg / Seated RB Abductions 4x10 w/ 3-second pause

Wednesday: Upper Body Strength and Power
- Pushup Box Jump 4x5 / MB Partner Drop 4x5 / MB Slams 4x5
- 2 BTN Push Press + 1 BTN Jerk (worked up to 4x1 at 90kg)
- Speed Bench (vs micro mini) worked up to 4x3 at 75kg
- Bench press singles up to 110kg
- Close Grip Incline Press 3x8 at 65kg / TRX Y's 3x10

Thursday: Upper Body Auxiliary
- Chinups 4x5 / Dips 4x5 / Feet Elevated Blast Strap Pushups 4x8
- Cable Flys 4x10 / Cannonball Cable Curls 4x10 / Cable Face Pulls 4x10 / Lu Raises 4x10

Friday: Deadlift Emphasis
- RB Broad Jumps 4x5 / MB Keg Toss 4x5
- Hang Power Clean (worked up to 3x3 at 100kg)
- Speed Deadlift vs mini bands (worked up to 4x2 at 120kg)
- Deadlift singles EMOTM 5x1 at 180kg
- 6" elevated deadlifts 3x3 at 170kg
- Various loaded carries

Truth be told, I've only been following this template now for two weeks but I feel really good. I'm enjoying everything so far and like the freedom that I have to add/subtract things as I see fit. I'm taking it easy on the plyo's so far because I want to take some time to let my knee adjust and see how it handles the jumping. Over the next few weeks I intend to add a second set of plyometrics to the start of my three main lifts. The total volume of lifting that I'm doing feels good so far and having two days off from heavy stuff to focus on auxiliary work is going to make a big difference in the way I both feel and look in the long run. 

One of my goals over the next few months is to get my vertical jump and max touch up a few inches. About a month ago when we were testing our boys basketball team, I stepped in and tested my vertical at 31" and my max touch (with approach) at 10'6". Neither number is bad, but my max touch needs to get up. Kids who had verticals 4" lower than mine were max touching 3-4" higher than mine. Here's how the math works: my standing reach is 92" and my max touch was 126"; that's a 34" difference which means that there's only a 3" difference between my standing vertical jump and a jump with a full approach. This all means that my strength levels are fine but I need to get more reactive. This is the reason I want to include more plyometrics and will be doing a lot of weightlifting work from the hang position. 

My strength goals all, honestly, remain pretty vague: I haven't seen a PR in any main lift in about a year and I'd like to see some of those numbers get moved around a little bit. Squatting 183kg and deadlifting 226kg would awesome in 2015. I'm still hoping to compete at the Arnold this year (it was a fun experience) so I'd love to be able to get on the platform and make some competition PR's. 

That's where I've taken my training as of late and I'm pretty excited about it. Thanks for reading! Have a great day and go lift some heavy shit!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Perfect Program

The "Perfect Program" is something that has been sought after by strength coaches and athletes since the dawn of physical culture. People want to know the quickest and most efficient way to get bigger, faster, stronger and leaner. Everyone wants to believe that there's one perfect way to achieve these things, so what is it?

The big secret is that there is no perfect program. There's no secret to achieving all those things besides consistency and hard work. Damn near any program (well written or not) that you give to someone will result in some sort of progression when performed with the appropriate intensity and consistency. One of the industry quotes that coaches love to throw around is that "everything works...for about 6 weeks".

Here's where it gets interesting though; the most perfectly-written, over-analyzed, constructed and reconstructed program that follows all the parameters set forth by your favorite coach/idol is going to be dogshit if you don't apply it to the right athlete at the right time.

The best program you've ever written is still very capable of being crap if you don't use it when the time is right. If you take your amazing program and give it to an athlete who's not ready for it, in the wrong part of their annual plan, or it just doesn't fit their overall training then you're going to get poor results.

All of the best ingredients for apple pie are going to taste like dogshit if you put it into your beef stew. (analogy game = strong)

Take, for example, the program that I wrote for Cleveland Elite Development. It is, all in all, one of the simpler programs that I've ever written. It's a low-volume, low-intensity program that is intended to minimize training stress and have little (if any) recovery period where the athlete is experiencing muscle soreness or fatigue. Basically, I wanted to introduce strength training to a group of athletes who have an extremely high training load as it is and provide juuuust enough stress to induce the minimal amount of positive training adaptation. I also wanted to utilize specific exercises that would help reduce/minimize injuries. For this particular group of athletes, any positive adaptation is going to be a step in the right direction.

Would I have induced a much more significant training adaptation by giving them banded deadlift singles contrasted with hurdle hops, Anderson front squats and power snatches from knee height blocks with heavy-ass-sled-drags? Totally. Their strength increases would've gone through the roof! But at what cost?

Each of the girls would've seen a monster increase in the perceived exertion of their running program, would've missed their weekly mileage and would've spent more time flirting with soft tissue injuries caused by fatigue and soreness from their training. The goal of the program should always be to get the athlete a positive training adaptation while allowing them to get better technical/sport specific skills for their sport. These girls are runners and need to be out there running.

When writing your perfect programs please make sure that you are writing a program that is perfect for those athletes at that point in time. It's easy to become over-excited about all the awesome shit that you can apply to an athlete, but sometimes that's going to be counter-productive. Sometimes athletes are going to be primed to come in and dominate weights every day and there will be other times that they need to just get a training effect and go home. Make sure you know which is which.

Have a great day and go lift some heavy shit!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Stress Reduction

As a strength coach one of the most important things you can do for your athletes is manage their stress effectively. While you can't necessarily help them deal with their parents or significant other, there are several training techniques you should take into account when developing your athletes programs.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention "talking to your athletes" in a discussion about reducing stress in athletes. Mental stress and physical stress go hand in hand, so you need to be aware if an athlete is going through something personally, has a ton of schoolwork or happens to be feeling under the weather. You should also have an idea of what the athletes sport load is like at any given time of the year. It'd be great if you could get the sport coaches to pay attention to what you're doing in the weight room, but the chances of that happening are as good as Tony Gentilcore going on a date with Tracy Anderson. If your athletes are under significant mental stress or getting smoked down at their sport practice, then it just doesn't make a ton of sense to beat the piss out of them in the weight room. Something is eventually going to give, and unfortunately it'll probably be their body. You can avoid that by simply communicating with them.

Now here are some tips you can use in your programming to help keep your athletes strong, healthy and performing well.

1)  Utilize Unilateral Loading Patterns

When you apply a unilateral load to any exercise you change stabilization requirements significantly. You can do this with just about any exercise and any level of athlete. Doing a squat with 1-KB racked at your chest will allow you to train a squat pattern with a much lower intensity (weight) and a different requirement for the rest of your body. Personally, I don't often use uni-lateral loading with the main movement in my programs, but I'll apply it extensively to auxiliary work. Loading movements like lunges, RDL's, horizontal/vertical presses and rowing variations is a really good way to get an awesome training effect while using a relatively low weight.

Let's use the reverse lunge as an example. If your athlete is able to do a set of 8/leg reverse lunges with two 50-pound dumbbells, they are using 100 total pounds to get their training effect. Now if you give that athlete one 50-DB and have them hold it contralaterally (the opposite hand as the forward leg in this example) they'd have to work quite a bit harder to maintain a vertical torso and not fall over, with 50% of the weight. To make it even harder, you could have them hold the DB ipsilaterally (same hand as the forward leg). The next progression would be 1-KB racked at the chest (both contra- and ipsi-laterally). The variation that will challenge your athletes stability the most would be 1-KB in the overhead position. A significantly under-utilized variation would be one (heavier) side-loaded KB with one (lighter) KB in the overhead position. This gives you the ability to load the exercise more without coming anywhere close to your maximum effort. All of these variations allow you to give your nervous system a break while learning to develop some total body tension that will benefit you when you go back to heavy bilateral loading.

2) Ditch Some of the Fancy Things

There are a ton of tricks that coaches are using nowadays to get people strong; chains, bands, tempos, partial reps, dead starts and specialty bars all come to mind. These tricks work really well and with good reason. They, generally speaking, add quite a bit of stress to your central nervous system. Yes, applying a tempo to a squat will reduce the overall load on their body and could be considered stress reliever for a general population client. An athlete who has a ton of stress being put upon their bodies from other sources is going to find a tempo squat to be very fatiguing. Bands, too, are a great way to get somebody strong and fast, but because of the way your body handles accommodating resistance athletes will find exercises utilizing bands to be quite difficult to recover from. While these may all be great tactics to develop powerful athletes, if they increase the fatigue and physical stress on your athletes too much then you'll never be able to see their benefits. Theres nothing wrong with good old fashioned progressive overload once in a while.

3) Keep It Short

At the end of the day, athletes are athletes. While you may now just how much improvement they will see in their sports by focusing on training for a while, it's tough to make that happen. Your job, as a strength coach, is to get them more prepared for their sport. Putting your athletes through a 90 minute lift when their sport demands are high is just a good way to create an injury in the weight room that could otherwise be avoided. You may have written a beautiful and fantastic program that would otherwise be perfect, but when they are smoked it's not an awful idea to cut it down and let them do their "big money" exercises and then go eat and sleep. It doesn't mean you wrote a bad program, it means that you were able to see that it wasn't the right time to apply it.

The idea for this post came to me recently because I had just written a training program for Kelsis distance running team, Cleveland Elite Development coached by Glenn Andrews. Kelsi has been running with him for right around a year and during that time I've noticed a trend in the types of injuries that the girls have been experiencing. The most prominent and debilitating injury is stress fractures; often in the shins, hips and feet. These keep the girls from running at all and are a major setback. I wrote them the program so that they can start getting some weight training in to help counteract and hopefully diminish the bony and soft tissue injuries that plague runners. I needed to make the program such that they would have time to actually do the lifts (between being real people and running 70+ miles per week) and still feel good enough to get in their miles at the appropriate paces (they are runners, after all, and not lifters). Is it a "perfect program"? Probably not, but it is pretty much exactly what they need right now. Sometimes what the athletes need "right now" is the most important.

Have a great day and go lift some heavy shit!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Athletes and Attitudes

Being a strength and conditioning coach is interesting (for several reasons), but for me one of the best parts of the job is the impact that you can personally make on an athlete. I don't mean the impact you can make physically on them, but the impact that you can make on them as a person. Fairly often, athletes will start to look towards their strength coaches as mentors/friends and will develop a pretty close bond with them.

I think a lot of it has to do with the S&C coach's role in making athletes stronger and healthier and the athletes understanding of that. They can often see how we are helping them build towards their goals as an athlete and they appreciate that.

However, once in a while, you get an athlete (or athletes) who are just butt-holes. There's any number of reasons that you end up working with an athlete who's a turd. Sometimes they think they know what they really need and you don't, sometimes they don't see the benefits derived from training and think it's a waste of their time, and sometimes they are just self-entitled products of this generation and don't understand why your stupid rules should apply to them because they are clearly better than you and everyone else in the vicinity. Regardless of the reasons or the way that it manifests itself, their shitty attitude towards training and being in your gym will be readily evident to everyone else that's around. 

I currently have an athlete like this that I work with. He's a prep-year basketball player which automatically puts him a step behind many other athletes. I think it's safe to say that many coaches within the strength and conditioning industry would agree that basketball players tend to start off with a much more lackadaisical attitude towards the weight room than athletes from other sports. On top of that, he's from a family that is apparently able to afford a fairly expensive prep program, which might explain some of the entitlement issues that he apparently has. You would think, though, that having all the schools he wanted to play basketball at pass over him as a senior in high school would alert him to the fact that he is, in fact, not the best basketball player since Michael Jordan. If he was as good as he thinks he is, then he wouldn't be here in the first place. 

His complete apathy for everything revolving around strength and conditioning has manifested itself in a few ways. The first was that he consistently took upwards of 2 minutes to go from his A1 exercise to his A2 and then again to A3. It wasn't a break he took due to fatigue; he simply would stand there and look around at the other athletes. The next significant exhibition of not having a single fuck to give was when the director of my gym was down at the basketball court putting the whole team through some hellish conditioning for leaving the weight room littered with water bottles for a few days. Despite being instructed to touch the lines every single time, this particular athlete continuously didn't even make an attempt to touch his lines. When singled out and confronted about this at the end of the workout he responded with "I didn't think it was important". 

The most glaring example of this athletes poor attitude is seen by me on a thrice weekly basis. Three times a week his training group comes in. Each time I say "guys, let's go, on the turf!" to start their warmup, I know without a doubt who's going to be last off of his foam roller and who is going to take the slowest walk to the turf. He consistently bullshits his way through the warmups and no matter what I say to him in front of the other athletes he continues to repeat the behavior. I finally had enough of it and sort of lost my shit on the entire group of athletes the other day (whoops).

I'm not suggesting that it was the CORRECT way to handle the situation, but I think it was an EFFECTIVE way to handle this particular situation. Were I able to go back and re-do it, would I handle it differently? Yes, I probably would. I'm not a coach who yells very often, so I feel like the one time I do it, it will shake some things up. Unfortunately only time will tell if what I did was effective or not. The next measure I take will end up being a one-on-one meeting where I lay out the issues and expectations just a little more personally.

Coaches, how else could this situation have been handled differently? Does anyone else find this to occasionally be an effective way to handle a particular athlete?

Thanks for reading and for the feedback; have a great day and go lift some heavy shit!

Friday, November 7, 2014

Thoughts on Sport Specificity

"Sport Specific Training" is something that I've written about here before. It's something that coaches often use to try and sell their product to parents who just don't know any better. The idea is that these coaches know all the tricks to training athletes from one specific sport and are able to help you (the athlete) better than other coaches.

The reason that sport specific training is a myth is pretty simple; all athletes essentially move the same way. As athletes we all run, jump, twist, land, hit and cut; all while receiving and producing force. Athletes from different disciplines just do these things in different ratios. The most basic aspects of a sports training program should encompass the same things; get stronger, get faster, get more resilient. It's the next level that shows which coaches are better than others. When you train basketball players you have to deal with obscene limb lengths, when you train a pitcher you have to worry about shoulder stuff and

If a coach is teaching you "sport specific exercises" (aka holding a cable and swinging it like a baseball bat or mimicking throwing a dumbbell like a football) then chances are good that they won't be able to achieve a ton of success with their athletes. I like to think of sports training more in the context of positions the athletes put themselves in during competition.

NOTE: The above picture was taken from the Instagram account of the guy who did Lebron's off-season training in Miami. For what it's worth, thats a miserable looking 65-pound front squat with 3 bands attached to the athlete. What in the actual fuck is the training effect that is supposed to be achieved?

Again, despite the varied priorities of different sports, these positions and movements all end up being pretty much the same. Tennis players have to move laterally very quickly. So do football, basketball, baseball and rugby players. Weird, right? Softball players need to be able to sprint forward and put the brakes on in a do volleyball, basketball, badminton and hockey players. Golfers have to be able to keep their lower body pretty stationary while producing a ton of rotational force via their trunk and hips...wait, so do baseball, football, tennis players and every other athlete. So, basically, the demands of every sport (at the most basic level) are the same.

The basics of the programming for most athletes remains the same: heavy bi-lateral barbell lifts (the 5 basic human movements), heavy uni-lateral lifts requiring high body tension. A variety of anti- core exercises and a handful of corrective/prehabilitative exercises. Add in jumps, sprints and throw some things (tires, MB's, KB's, whatever) and you've got yourself a pretty solid "sport specific program".

The real magic happens when you deal with a coach who has a more intimate knowledge of your sport. They are able to manage your annual programming around the stress of your sport and have you feeling good every time you need to compete. Too, you get coaches like Eric Cressey who have a cyborg-like knowledge of the anatomy of the shoulder and are able to keep athletes healthier and training for a bigger percent of each year than other strength coaches. When I think "sport specific training" I think of guys like E.C. (baseball), Joe DeFranco (Football, specifically the combine), Mike Boyle (Hockey) and Tracy Anderson (MMA).

GTFO Tracy Anderson

Beware of any trainer or "system" claiming to have unlocked the secrets to your particular sport that no other coach or trainer knows. There aren't really any more secrets to be learned, just good solid programming applied at the right times in the fashion to the correct athletes. If it seems too good to be true, then it probably is.

Have a great day and go lift some heavy shit!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Stuff I Like A Lot

Every once in a while I like to do a random post about things that I've recently discovered or started to utilize that I think are awesome and would recommend to other people.

I find or learn about things all over the place. Anything that can make my daily life or training (or Kelsi's training, for that matter) easier or more effective then I'll give it a shot to see what it's all about. I like forming my own opinions rather than just relying on other people.


Nuun (pronounced "Noon") is an electrolyte tab that you can drop into a bottle of water that adds a bunch of electrolytes and just a little bit of flavor. Kelsi has been using it for several months and feels great with it, but I always thought it was just something that endurance athletes could benefit from. I just started using the product a month or so and enjoy it a lot. When you train and sweat a lot, electrolytes are obviously important. That's why Gatorade and Powerade talk about having them in every ad you've ever seen. However, they don't talk about how much sugar and shit is in those drinks, and Nuun doesn't come with that.

I'm really bad at drinking water, so anything that adds a little flavor and will make it more "enjoyable" to drink is a huge plus for me. With Nuun I'm able to get water, electrolytes and no carbs: that's a win!

Levi's Athletic Fit Jeans

Someone out there is gonna try to pull my Man Card for being stoked about finding these jeans, and that's just fine. However if you've been lifting for enough years then you know the plight of not being able to fit into jeans from most common stores at the mall. Lately there's been a few private companies that started selling jeans that were specifically cut for athletic bodies, but those jeans are selling for $150 a pop.

I've been wearing the same 2 pairs of poorly fitting jeans for about 2 years now. One pair is just a smidge too tight and I'm uncomfortable in them, but they are "nice". The other pair is comfortable but is way too big around the waist and are just beat to hell. I finally decided to sack up and go try and buy some jeans, and wandered around the store aimlessly for 15 minutes. After speaking to a salesperson I was pointed in the direction of these Levi's and was SUPER stoked when I actually tried them on; happy enough that I went back out into the store and grabbed a second pair.

If you're like me and have spent too much time looking like a schlepp in bad fitting jeans, run out and buy a pair of these ASAP.

These jeans. No bueno.

Strength Wraps

I'm a bit of a gear whore. I love training and I love getting new shit related to training. I have two barbells, a trap bar, prowler, grip tools, shoes, belts, rollers, bands and assorted weight plates. Since I started weightlifting I've also ran through several pairs of wrist wraps. I started off with the regular old red Rogue wraps (two pairs, the velcro gave out) and then moved up to their white wraps when they came out (two pairs, the velcro again). When we were training with Ivan at Risto Sports he gave us all a pair of their leather wraps to try out. After a week or so of breaking them in I actually started to love them. I found them to be super comfy and very supportive without cutting off the circulation to my hands like the Rogue wraps would do when I wrapped them uber tight (as I was prone to doing). This would necessitate me taking off the Rogue wraps after every lift, which is why the velcro wore out so fast. The Risto wraps were awesome for everything except wiping sweat off of your forehead; the buckle closure scrapes the shit out of your forehead.

I've seen a lot of people wearing cloth wraps and finally decided to try a pair. I went with Strength Wraps and I really really really like them a lot. They are pretty easy to put on (don't take any more time than the Risto's) and you can make them looser or tighter with just a twist of your wrist. I liked them so much I recommended them to an athlete I work with who uses them when he throws shot. As much as I like my leather wraps, the Strength Wraps are the most all-around comfortable to wear. Grab a pair.

Slow Cooker

Kelsi is going to laugh at this one (if she even reads the post) because I've only used the slow cooker once in the last however many months. I always suggest to people that they use it because it's so easy, but the handful of times I tried using it my food came out awful. However, I was talking to my co-worker Nick about using them and he convinced me I needed to start using it more. I made a 4lb pot roast on Monday night and it's fucking amazing (If I do say so myself). Here's what I did:

- cut little slits in the meat and filled it with chunks of garlic
- rubbed both sides with olive oil, salt, pepper and garlic powder
- seared the shit out of it on 4 sides
- put it in the slow cooker on a bed of roughly chopped onions
- dumped in 1.5 cups of beef stock mixed with a package of beef stew mix
- turned it on low for about 9 hours (overnight)

I've been eating it just as is for lunch all week, but it'd be really good over some rice or with a potato or something. Sunday night I'm going to make some chicken in there that Nick told me about too. Should be amazeballs.

That's all for today. If you know of anything awesome that I need to check out, give me a shout! Have a great day and go lift some heavy shit!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Utilization of Partial-Range of Motion Lifts

Despite the fact that most articles out there would have you thinking that you would be forced to commit seppuku with a frisbee if you don't squat ass-to-ankles, there is indeed a time and a place for partial range of motion lifts.

First, there is a distinction that I need to make. When I use the phrase "partial range of motion lift" I mean that the lifter/coach system is intentionally changing the range of motion for a particular exercise for a specific reason. The guys at the gym doing quarter squats and half-bench presses because they don't know any better still need to find a qualified trainer or coach so that they can learn to perform the lifts without looking like a doucheturd. 

The partial ROM lifts that I'm referring to should be utilized by coaches and lifters to 1) work around a contraindication 2) ingrain correct and healthy movement patterns 3) strengthen the lifter through a particular range of motion or position. Let's go ahead and break down these down a little bit.

Introducing / Correcting Movement Patterns

The first reason you're going to be utilizing partial ranges of motions for most people is to ensure that they are performing an exercise with the proper technique. If you're a S&C coach who is presented with a 6'10" power forward who can't do a deadlift off of the floor because of his anthropometrics, there's no reason you can't just elevate the bar to the appropriate height and have him go from there. If you are training a desk jockey who has miserable mobility and can't get a bar off the floor without looking like a human question mark, then why not just elevate the barbell to the correct height and have him go from there. With the desk jockey you're going to want to work on mobility and stability at the same time, but there's no reason you can't get them to do a heavy hinge pattern while you're working on it.

If your athletes have unfortunate limb lengths for lifting, poor mobility or they are just new lifters then utilizing partial-ROM lift's is going to be one of the best ways to teach them the right movement while getting them stronger concurrently.

Pulls from the knees. Squats to a high box. Touching your chest to a block during pushups. Split squats to a pad. These are all acceptable ways to teach someone a proper movement pattern without entirely sacrificing the load they are able to use. You can progressively remove or change the height of the assistance being given to the athlete as their mobility and/or strength improves. For instance, many young female athletes struggle to do a pushup where their chest touches the floor; this isn't a mobility issue but a strength issue. If you give them an 8" block to touch for 4 weeks and then drop it by 2" each phase then it's only a matter of time before they are comfortably doing pushups to the floor with a tight core and neutral lumbar spine.

Working Around a Contraindication

The more time you spend in this industry, the more you're going to have to deal with clients and pain. Wether you're working with a D1 athlete or a radio-oncologist from a world class hospital, everyone is in some sort of pain. It could be a bum knee from the game last Sunday or chronic shoulder pain, but you're going to have to learn how to deal with it.

The obvious and appropriate first answer is to refer the client to the right person to ascertain what the source of pain is and develop a course of treatment to correct it. This is the correct decision and will yield great results in terms of pain management, but not everyone is going to be happy with that course of action. People are coming to you to get stronger or fitter somehow and one of your jobs is to get them a training effect. Utilizing the appropriate partial-ROM lifts can possibly allow you to do just that.

An appropriate partial-range movement for someone in this category is something like a squat-to-box, a pin/board/floor press, elevated- or trap bar deadlift, or even a low-box step-up. These are exercises that will allow the client to move through a specific pain-free ROM that is specific, purposeful and re-produceable.

An inappropriate choice for someone dealing with pain is letting your client bench press with a random range of motion (i.e. not touching their chest or another implement) that will change from rep to rep and set to set. Doing squats that don't have a set depth (hip crease below knees, touch the box, ass to ankles) will create poor habits and a faulty movement pattern that leads to more pain. Just saying "squat until you feel the pain, and stop just before then" is going to result in the client squatting higher and higher and higher.

Maintain a consistent range of motion and work on strengthening that while doing the proper therapy work to fix up whatever the underlying issue is.

Strengthen a Particular Movement or Position

While the other two reasons may seem similar (while being entirely different), this reason is where you get to start playing Strength Coach. Changing the range of motion for an advanced lifter is a good way to achieve several different outcomes. The most common reason to change the ROM for an advanced lifter is to help develop strength in a disadvantageous position. Powerlifters have long used block/rack pulls to help strengthen their lockout or to get used to handling a heavier load than they were used to.

This specific exercise can be easily butchered, as can any partial ROM lift. It's very easy to put yourself in the most advantageous position to lift the weight rather than forcing yourself into the position you would be during the full lift. You'll often see meatheads doing rack pulls with obscene amounts of weight that will never transfer to their full lift because the positions just aren't the same; they lean way back on the bar with a vertical torso and just leg press the weight off of the pins. If you're not careful, partial ROM exercises for advanced lifters can simply turn into ego lifts.

Weightlifters will use blocks of various heights to put the barbell in several different positions for a lift. For a weightlifter, using higher blocks will often result in lifting at lower percentages of your max, so a crafty coach is able to use these lifts as part of a down week or a lighter weight day to give the athlete a little bit of a break. 

A special note here is that I believe that advanced athletes are able to perform reduced ROM overhead pressing. If you're a strength athlete who has a sticking point in their overhead press, it will be beneficial for you to do some pin presses from various positions. I don't reccommed doing partial overhead presses to either teach the motion or to avoid pain; those situations call for either light weight (to strengthen/teach the movement) or not even performing the exercise in the case of pain.

The important thing to remember is that most advanced athletes will use these lifts simply as a part of training for a full lift rather than in place of it. Board presses or block pulls after they finished their traditional lift; weightlifters will use high block snatches and then work their way down to the knees or lifts from the floor later in the workout or on another day. 

As stated before, a good coach can utilize these types of lifts for a fatigued athlete who needs to get a training effect but is just too smoked to do their full competition lift. A 3 board bench press is much less taxing to your CNS than a full bench (unless you overload it a ton).


There are some exercises that I truly don't think should ever be performed with a limited range of motion. Row variations and pull-ups/chin-ups should always be done for a full range to achieve appropriate stimulation, if pain is an issue then you should be fixing the pain, avoiding the exercise or de-loading it with bands or something. A limited ROM row, in my opinion, just sucks.

I would like to reiterate the importance of finding out the cause of the contraindication in any situation where pain is limiting the range of motion. Being able to achieve a training effect is important, but returning to a full, healthy movement pattern is more important.

Thanks for taking the time to read this wordy post, if you have any questions just give me a shout! Have a great day and go lift some heavy shit!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Maintain Control

Life is chaotic. Despite some peoples thought that "everything happens for a reason", I think the chaos theory is far more applicable. There are so many things that happen to each of us every single day that we just can't control.

During my time as a personal trainer in Boston, I experienced dozens of people who would let their stressful days affect one of the few situations they could control: their time in the gym. People would come in for a session with me and be so flustered and exhausted by their shitty day that they wouldn't get any actual work done, they would just complain and complain and complain. For some people, this was an important quasi-"therapeutic" part of their day. Sometimes you just want someone to listen to you complain about everyone you work with and your spouse so that you can go home and chill. In that regard, personal trainers have become the new bartenders. We listen and listen and listen and if we are lucky we can get you warmed up in time to go home.

Many people, though, would be better off at the end of the day if they were able to get in a solid workout and get some endorphins going. Being able to put yourself in the right frame of mind to work out for an hour at the end of a long day is a difficult but necessary task. I find it much easier if you instruct your clients to worry about the only three things they can control throughout each day.


By focusing on these three things before and during each training session, you should be able to get yourself to where you need to be mentally.


This one is pretty easy to understand. If you had a bad day at work and you walk into the gym with a surly, shitty attitude and you're already dreading your workout, then what are the chances that you're going to have a good one?

Your trainer isn't being paid to deal with your shitty attitude. Get your mind right and tell yourself that you're going to a good place where you have fun and blow off steam. Ask yourself why you're in such a bad mood when you're no longer at work, and make the changes you need to make to leave it at the door. Being with your trainer is an hour that you're paying for, don't let your work/personal stress take that away from you too. 


Where is your head at? Are you worried about the meeting that you have tomorrow, or what your boss thought about the project you dropped off on their desk? Are you thinking about if that person you met on Tinder is going to be THE ONE, or are you wondering who sent you 

Every single thought that's going through your head can be dismissed for 60 minutes. Put all that shit aside, because there's nothing that can't wait for you to finish working out. Every little thing that takes your concentration away from your lifting is hurting the amount of work that you put in. It's also putting you at a great risk of injury, because mistakes happen when you're not focused. 

Clear your head. Focus on the task at hand; it's only an hour, your email will survive if you don't check it. None of your friends need you so badly that you can't miss their texts for a little while. You're paying for an hour of someones time, make it worth you're while. 


You're a grown-up, right? Fucking act like it. If you're paying someone for their time and expertise then utilize it. Give them the appropriate amount of respect and display some effort. If you don't feel like giving the level of effort required to train that night, then stay home. There are few feelings as frustrating as having someone in a training session who very visibly doesn't give a fuck.

I like the quote "fake it till you make it". Just pretend like you give a shit about what your trainer is putting his or her time and effort into, then maybe some good things will happen and you can salvage that session. 

Just because you put a ton of effort into your personal and profession lives doesn't mean you get to take a break from caring when you get to the gym. If you've picked a good trainer then they are going to be very invested in seeing you succeed, you need to be invested too.

Have a great day and go lift some heavy shit!