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!

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