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Archive for May, 2011

Sports Performance Series – Hip Flexors

This is the first video in a new series where we look at common muscle imbalances found in youth, high school, college and professional athletes. We will go over how to test and assess these imbalances, how to mobilize and stabilize these areas and finally what exercises can be used to strengthen these muscles.

Optimal Hip Flexor mobility, stability and strength assist in many athletic movements including sprinting, jumping, cutting and kicking.

Get your hip flexors in check and be a better athlete now.

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Five Mistakes when Training Young Athletes

It seems more and more that younger athletes are not only starting to specialize in specific sports earlier but that they are also beginning to complement their sports with outside strength and conditioning.  While this is potentially positive for the athletes and the coaches that train them, with younger athletes there runs a great risk of not exposing them to a proper program and actually making them perform worse or even set them up for injury down the road.

In this article I want to expose some of the potential pitfalls that may occur when dealing with athletes who are pre or early teens and being exposed to strength and conditioning for the first time.  My goal is to not only give coaches some insight but to help parents understand what they should look for in a coach and what they should expect when they are looking for the right strength and conditioning coach.

Assuming Everything is A-Ok

You have an 8th Grader coming into the gym today and you know that he is brand new to training, never had an injury and is all excited to go.  Like a blank canvas; a coach might assume that everything is pristine and just waiting for any type of movement to create an athletic masterpiece; however not doing some form of initial assessment will be setting up your young athlete for failure down the road.

A basic medical history from the parents and a candid interview of the athlete is a good place to start.  After I get familiar with the young athlete’s background, I like to run through some mobility and body-weight drills. These drills are not only a good warm up; they also give me a chance to evaluate how the athlete moves.  In my experience, a young athlete and their parents will not have a reference point of how well they move relative to how they think they should move.

Can they do a body-weight squat without the knees shooting forward or the legs caving in?  Can they raise their leg straight up to 90 degrees while lying on their back? Can they extend their shoulders directly overhead?  Are there differences in movement patterns between the right and left sides of their bodies?  These are just a few of the things I look for before I design a program to help correct poor movements patterns, flexibility issues and increase strength and conditioning.

Ignoring Stretching and Rehabilitation Work

I always get a chuckle when I ask the young athletes whether or not they get sore after all of the physical activity they do.  Many say “no” and some say “a little.”  As I brood in jealously pining for my lost youth, I remind myself not to assume that because the new athletes don’t really get sore, have injuries or poor movement patterns that they do not need to do some preventative rehabilitation work.

Foam rolling, corrective exercises, and stretching are essential in every athlete’s program.  Not only do they make up a complete program they also prevent any unforeseen problems that may occur if these modalities are neglected.

These modalities also create proper training habits.  As athletes get older they tend to get tighter in the muscles, especially in male athletes.  By consistently incorporating these rehabilitative modalities, athletes are more likely to turn them into good habits as they progress through their athletic career.

Ignoring the Proper Movements

Young athletes look up to older athletes as their guideline for how they want to act, play and train.  Grinding bench press sessions, eye popping squat reps and walking around with chains strapped to your body look impressive and potentially serve a quality purpose; but they are most likely not right for the young athlete.

Stress the basics and by basics; we are talking mastering complete body control (mobility, stability and strength) through a full range of motion of primarily large, full-body movements.   Basic bodyweight movements like pushups, squats, lunges, planks and pull ups are great movements to focus on and mastering them can lay the foundation for success in other movements down the road.

Ever see the young boy that is 5ft.1 and has a size 12 shoe? Many young athletes are not only growing into their bodies they are still learning how to move themselves efficiently.  Mastering full body movements allows for great neuromuscular coordination which not only makes the athlete stronger they gain more balance while going through the movements.

Progressing too Quickly

To piggyback on the previous point, when an athlete is new to training the learning curve is much larger than a more seasoned athlete. Generally speaking when the newer athlete is exposed to a specific stimulus, after a brief period of learning and small failures, there is a steep increase in task performance success.  This rapid growth of success can be validated through exercise progression success, weight lifted and work volume done in a certain amount of time.

This quick success should lead to some caution as to not get over aggressive with the progression of the program.  If an athlete is doing well with the kettlebell goblet squat it still might not be a good idea to move right into barbell back or front squats.  Essentially they are the same movements, however barbell back squats puts the load in a different position causing more spinal compression and barbell front squats cause much less spinal compression but demand much more flexibility in the wrists (depending how the bar is held) and also a much larger demand in core strength and stability to keep the weight in its proper place.  Another component to consider is that neurological muscle adaptations occur much faster than ligament and tendon strengthening.  The young athlete may have enough strength to move a particular amount of weight, however the supporting structures might not be able to properly handle the external loads and therefore fatigue, a compromise in technique and potential injury could occur.

Smaller progressions are usually more beneficial for younger athletes.  Keeping the same movement with a safe increase in weight and a decrease in repetitions is an easy way to get your athlete to progress.  I also prefer slight changes in the exercise movement, for example, going from using one kettlebell in the goblet squat and holding it with two hands to using one kettlebell and holding it in the racked position on one side of the body.  The racked position requires more balance and core stability than the goblet squat, yet it is not such a dramatic shift between the two movements.

Expecting too Much

This one goes out primarily to the parents.  Parents put their kids into strength and conditioning programs to help them in some way.  Whether it is to gain strength, size, speed, or to increase athletic performance; the reason is there.  All of those qualities take time to build and take time to transfer towards athletic success.  It is important to see improvements due to the training that you are paying for; however, it is more important to focus on the smaller gains rather than the optimal end results.  Is your child getting stronger overall, are they moving better, gaining more flexibility, are they more confident when playing and during life in general?

Also, another point to consider is that training should be considered a long term accumulation of the positive qualities of movement and mentality working together to create a more complete athlete over time.  Much like investing in the stock market, slow steady gains assure greater success over the long term rather than peaking quickly only to reach the inevitable descent just as rapidly.  Is your child’s goal to enjoy their sports and work their way to a college scholarship, or is it to be the best soccer player in the 8th grade?

To have fully well-rounded athletes that perform well in their sport, strength training alone may not be enough.  A well balanced program should incorporate some appropriate conditioning protocol to get the most out of training and athletic potential.

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Sunday, May 29th, 2011 Sports Performance Training 4 Comments

Selecting a Strength and Conditioning Gym for Young Athletes

Every year around this time I get asked the following question more than once: “Are you going to have any training camps for kids this summer?”  Summer camps are really popular around my part of the woods and some of them make me wish I were a few years younger so I could attend.

The thought of having 20+ kids running around for six hours a day throwing medicine balls and kettlebells at each other while I make a batch of bologna sandwiches on white bread sounds financially appealing but I am sure I would put myself into a panic-induced coma.

The large group model may prove popular among the youth for the need to be with their friends all day long and participating in activities that don’t involve text books and tests.  Parents like the model so their kids gain exposure to different areas of learning while at the same time having large group all-day babysitting provided during working hours.  For these two reasons the summer camp model works well, however, for truly specialized learning, a more succinct, specialized and long-term approach is more conducive for getting results.

You Can’t Cram it all in Quickly

Most summer camps, or even the popular Speed, Agility, Quickness (SAQ) camps are really not long enough to instill large measurable gains.  Strength, speed and stability are skills that need to be frequently trained and accrue small results over time to ensure maximal retention and lasting gain.  Many of the summer camps are only a few weeks long at most; which is only enough time to learn proper technique for many movements and gain a taste of what proper strength and conditioning programs involve.  They usually are too short in duration to completely enhanced sports performance and proper mobility and stability.  Only longer, progressively specialized programs carry over to the sports performance gains that many parents seek.

With limited time these large SAQ camps also try to subject the young athletes to as many different strength and speed movements as they can within the allotted time they have to work with them.  By constantly changing the stimulus there is usually not adequate time to learn and master the proper movement patterns necessary to progress to the next step.  Like trying to cram for a final exam, when too many different stimuli are thrown at you all at once maximum retention and execution are rarely achieved.

Your Child is Just another Number

This heading may sound a little harsh but with these large SAQ camps, no sooner has the coach learned a child’s name that the camp is over.  It is just the nature of the beast.  Usually the coaches are newer to the strength and conditioning game.  They could be high school or college athletes looking for a summer job or internship to supplement their courses.  These camps want to fill up with as many kids as possible and that is why the more successful camps can have large groups of kids and possibly only one or maybe two coaches working with the group.  As I mentioned in my previous circuit training article I was a summer intern at a local, and popular, SAQ facility when I was in college working on my Master’s degree and the athlete to trainer ratio, if you included me, was about 15:1.

With such a large group of athletes it is almost impossible to provide the personal attention and program specificity that different athletes need.  At the SAQ facility I interned at, there was no initial movement assessment done on the athletes, only specific quantifiable tests like vertical jump, broad jump and 40-yard dash time.  They also didn’t divide the athletes into comparable groups based on sports, age or previous training experience.  It was common to have 13-year old female soccer players grouped with college football linebackers; not exactly ideal for the individual athletes’ needs.

Large groups, different athlete needs and limited time frames also put the training protocols at sub-par levels.  It was common practice for the SAQ facility that I interned at to have a binder that had all the workouts in them.  The binders were labeled by weeks and inside the binder each day of that particular week was mapped out with specific exercises.  All the athletes did the same exercises without variations or modifications necessary for different skill levels.  Sure these programs might seem progressive but they are less than optimal because they are not specific enough.  They did not take into consideration the current qualities of the individual athlete mentioned above.

One can also assume that the more skilled and experienced athletes gain less from these limited time only, large group SAQ programs.  These programs are usually at the mercy of the lowest common denominator of the group.  No intermediate or advanced movements are shown for fear of isolating the newer, less experienced athlete.  Athletes who have more training experience are forced to comply with the remedial routine of the whole group and not gain as much out of the program as they could with a progressive strength and conditioning program designed specifically for them.

What You Seek is What You Get

Parent should realize exactly what they are looking for when it comes to strength and conditioning camps.  Do you want an all-day session filled with a large number of peers and other athletes? Or does your child have the drive and potential to benefit from something more?

The summer camp experience might be a good way to expose their teenager to the world of strength and conditioning and they must understand the results gained will be minimal at best due to the time constraints and the limited amount of personal attention received in many SAQ camps.   If the athlete shows the desire to progress more, they should look into gyms and coaches that offer year-round programs suited for their needs.

Through my experience I have found that progressive strength and conditioning programs that factor in the athlete’s age, experience, sport, physical strengths and limitations have far superior gains than any of those massive SAQ camps could ever provide.

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Sunday, May 29th, 2011 Sports Performance Training No Comments
 

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