Today's guest post comes from former Cressey Sports Performance intern, James Cerbie. Enjoy! -EC
I’m going to let you in on a little secret:
Your body has its own bank account.
It’s an account full of what we’ll call adaptive currency, and it’s responsible for buying you different fitness qualities. For example, say you want to add 10 pounds to your deadlift…well, that’s going to cost you.
In fact, every decision you make in both life and training impacts the size of your bank account and influences how much “money you have to spend” at any one time.
For those of you out there who have aspirations to perform at a high level, and stay healthy doing so, it’s vital to understand this concept.
Stress and Adaptation
We all have training-related goals:
look like a Superhero
cut your body fat down to 6%
deadlift 500 pounds
have a 30-inch vertical jump
bench press 300 pounds
win a competition in the sport of your choice
Whatever your goal, you're relying on one of the most basic survival/evolutionary mechanisms to make it happen: adaptation.
And let's make one thing perfectly clear: while we may come across as sophisticated humans, deep down, we're still biological animals who survive to pass on as many of our own genes as we can. That's really the name of the game: do whatever you have to do to survive, so you can pass along more genes than the next guy or girl.
It sounds barbaric because it is, but deep down, it's a driving force we can't escape.
Thus, our "system's" number one goal is survival, and it's going to do everything it can to make sure that happens. Enter adaptation: the way in which we react to stressors in our environment to improve our likelihood of survival.
Before we talk about how it works, here are two definitions with which you need to be familiar:
1. Homeostasis: the body’s desire to stay within normal ranges needed to function and survive. For example, your blood prefers to stay within a pH range of 7.35-7.45 because that's where it's happy, that's where it functions well, and that's where we have the best chance of survival.
2. Allostasis: the body’s adaptive response to maintain homeostasis. In other words, how the body manages to maintain homeostasis in the face of a stressor. Think of it like those bumpers you set up in the gutters at the bowling alley: you need to stay within those set limits or else all hell will break loose.
When considering adaptation, this is the basic process* it follows:
*Please know that adaptation, stress, allostasis and everything we're talking about today is an incredibly complex topic. In order to make it more approachable, we're going to dumb it down a bit so you can focus on the big picture. Thus, if you're a big science person, please don't get all worked up because I know there's way more to this than what we're going to talk about today.
Step 1: You provide a stressor.
Step 2: Stressor threatens homeostasis and thus survival.
Step 3: The body, via allostasis, works to maintain homeostasis in the face of this stressor.
Step 4: You adapt to the original stressor in order to limit the amount of stress it can place on your system in the future.
Here's what that would look like in a graph (notice how it resembles a training cycle?):
As you can see, there's a decrease in performance while your body attempts to manage the unfamiliar stressor. Remember, it's trying hard to maintain homeostasis so you can stay alive.
Eventually, however, you adapt (supercompensate) above a level you were at previously. This is to ensure that the same stressor in the future won't have as large of an impact on your system.
Here's an easy example of this process in action: think back to when you first did back squats...what happened?
For starters, they were probably pretty ugly, but I'm also willing to bet you were sore the next day.
What about four weeks down the road when you squatted the same weight as you did on day one; were you as sore and/or beat up the next day?
Absolutely not. Why? Squatting was an incredible stressor the first time you did it. It's something your body had never encountered. But after a few weeks of exposure, your body had started to adapt to the new and repeated stressor to limit its overall effect on the system. This is the reason you must periodize your training; stimuli must change over time to continue the process of adaptation.
To review: your body’s goal is to limit the impact a stressor can have on your system to increase your likelihood of survival, and improve your chances of passing on copies of your own genes.
The way our body makes it all happen is via adaptation and the adaptation reserve.
The Adaptation Reserve
In a far-off land, behind desert and mountainous terrain, guarded by an army of manticores (do yourself a favor and Google that), you'll find your adaptation reserve.
While the adaptation reserve may seem like a mythological creature you've never managed to catch, it's really just your own personal bank account. It represents the resources your body uses to buy new things (adapt).
You have to keep in mind there's a finite amount of resources in this reserve. Think back to a time when you were a kid and saved up money to buy something you really wanted: you passed on buying other goods because you knew you needed to save up "X" amount of dollars to purchase "Y" toy.
Great. However, what happened after you did by the toy for which you’d been saving? You had no more money.
Does that mean you'll never be able to buy a new toy again? No. It just means you have to save up and make deposits into the account until you have enough resources to do so.
But what determines the size of the bank account? How do you make withdrawals and deposits? Is there more than one account?
Your Body's Bank Account
Below is a fictional image of your body's bank account (adaptation reserve), and it's full of your body's adaptive currency.
Feeling good after a restful weekend, you head off to the gym to crush a deadlift session, because you really want to pull 500lbs.
The following morning you wake up and take a look at your imaginary body bank statement to realize you made a big withdrawal the previous day. Hitting deadlifts over 90% of your 1-rep-max must have really used up a lot of your adaptive reserve because the account is vastly diminished.
This, in a nutshell, is what's happening on a daily basis: you introduce or encounter different stressors that act upon your body in a certain way, and then your body uses its adaptive reserve to respond/adapt.
Remember, your main goal is survival, and in order to increase your likelihood of survival you have to limit the impact stressors have on your system.
A More Realistic Story
For as awesome as it would be for your training session to be the only stressor you encounter, that's simply not the case.
Our life is full of stressors: work, relationships, traffic, etc. Each of these has an impact on your system and it's ability to adapt.
It's not as simple as, "Oh, I lifted today, and that's the only stressor I encountered."
Do I wish for both you and me that that's the case? Absolutely. Unfortunately, it's entirely unrealistic.
There's a good chance you’re stressed about a project at work. Perhaps you didn't sleep at all last night because you had too much caffeine late in the afternoon. Or, maybe you think your significant other is cheating on you and you spend all day and night stressing about it.
The point is this: there are an infinite number of stressors in our lives which all detract from our adaptive currency.
The Size of the Bank Account
An obvious question to consider is: how do I increase the size of my bank account?
Besides genetics, which you have no control over, we can relate the size of the bank account to your overall fitness level. Another way of saying the same thing is to improve your GPP or work capacity.
If you've read anything I’ve written in the past, then you should be familiar with the concept of building a pyramid. In order to one day achieve high, optimal levels of performance, you must put in the time and groundwork to build yourself a monster base. That means attacking things like movement quality, base strength levels, aerobic fitness, and a host of other factors.
Depending on where you're at and what your goals are, you'll have to focus on different fitness qualities.
For example, are you a heavily extended stress ball posture with a resting heart rate in the low 70's? If so, you need to spend a fair amount of time doing low-level aerobic work and working on full exhalation because your body could never handle the type of work required to perform at high levels.
As your work capacity improves, however, you give yourself the potential to one day attack a more aggressive training program because you have the adaptive reserve in place to actually be able to handle large levels of stress.
Do you think Zach Hadge (with a 700+ pound deadlift) trained the way he does now eight years ago? Absolutely not. He spent a ton of timing building himself up to handle the volume and intensity levels he trains at now.
Ultimately, if you have aspirations to be a monster in both training and life, you have to put in the work on the front end to build yourself a large bank account.
Withdrawals and Deposits
We began touching on this concept earlier, but when you look at your training program you have to consider what's making withdrawals from your bank account, what's making deposits, and how big of a deposit/withdrawal you're making.
At the end of the day, you're not making progress if you don't have any adaptive currency to spend. To keep this simple, rest and recovery makes deposits to your account. This includes things like active rest days, sleep, and quality nutrition.
Withdrawals, on the other hand, involve all forms of stress.
For example, let's consider three different training loads and the impact they'll have:
1. Stimulative: a very moderate training load from which one can recover quickly.
2. Developmental: this can be broken down further into high, medium and low, but for today just know that a developmental load triggers the adaptive responses and takes 2-3 days to recover from. For reference sake, a developmental load will fall somewhere between a 6-9 on an RPE scale out of 10.
3. Maximal: this is all you have. A true, "I have to do this or I die" type effort. It crushes your system (especially central nervous system) and takes a long time to recover from.
Here's another thing to consider: different types of fatigue. For example, there's a big difference in CNS fatigue (running a sprint) and local muscular fatigue (doing a bunch of curls). In all honesty, you're probably starting to look at separate bank accounts all adding up to one master account – but let's not go down that path today. Just focus on one bank account, and nail down this concept of stress and adaptation in broad terms (you have to see the forest before you can look at the individual trees).
Hopefully this is all beginning to make sense: training is really just an advanced form of stress management. All forms of stress will have an impact on the body, but the extent of that stress depends on things like volume, intensity, training history, genetics, nutrition, sleep, and a host of other factors.
If you take one thing away from this post, please let it be that you view your training goals as goods you have to buy with money.
It doesn't matter if you want to lose weight, gain weight, have bigger arms, squat more weight, run a better 40 etc. etc. because each of those qualities requires an investment from your body, and your body only has so much to give at any one time.
You have to be methodical in the way you apply stress if you ever hope to see big improvements from your training. Just doing high-intensity work for the sake of doing high-intensity work is a waste of time without figuring out where it falls in the grander scheme of overall development.
Ask more questions, don't be afraid to push the envelope, and structure your training and life in a way that sets you up to succeed.
About the Author
James Cerbie (@JamesCerbie) is certified by the National Strength and Conditioning Association, Precision Nutrition, USA Weightlifting and Crossfit. He works with athletes from the middle school to professional level, is the founder of Rebel Performance, and works as a strength and conditioning coach at Pure Performance Training in Boston, Massachusetts. You can also connect with James on Facebook.
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I'm a big believer in the importance of the "Assess, Don't Assume" mentality. However, it's crucial that assessments be approached the right way in order to deliver optimal results in strength and conditioning programs. Here are ten thoughts on the subject:
1. Assessments are an easy way to differentiate yourself.
With this era of semi-private training and bootcamps, there are still a lot of coaches and facilities out there that pay no attention whatsoever to pre-participation screenings. On one hand, it's a sad commentary on our industry, as one could argue that omitting assessments sets clients up for injuries. On the other hand, it creates an excellent opportunity for skilled coaches and trainers to differentiate themselves in a low-barrier-to-entry industry. If you're not assessing, you're just guessing! Make it a priority to start learning more about your clients/athletes.
2. Thorough assessments include both specific and general components.
In my eyes, every assessment can be categorized as either specific or general. Specific assessments may be anything from single-joint range-of-motion (ROM) assessments to the provocative tests physicians and rehabilitation specialists may use. They identify specific things like elbow extension ROM or whether a particular test elicits pain.
Conversely, general assessments look at global movements and evaluate multiple joints at the same time. Examples include overhead squats and push-ups.
The problem is that both kinds of assessments can fall short. As examples, you may see unstable young athletes who pass all ROM assessments (specific) with flying colors, but fold up like lawn chairs when they do an overhead lunge walk (general).
You may also see athletes with perfect overhead squats, but significantly limited knee flexion ROM that would make you concerned that they'd pull a quad (rectus femoris) while sprinting. These are just two examples, though; there are countless more we could cite.
3. You must always be willing to refer out.
You're better off being a great trainer/coach than you are trying to be an incredibly subpar physical therapist or physician. Even if you had a tremendous knowledge of provocative tests and rehabilitation techniques, as a trainer/coach, you don't have the same resources (e.g., diagnostic imaging equipment) these professionals have. Furthermore, diagnosing is outside your scope of practice, anyway.
I refer out every single week. It creates great opportunities for collaboration that will benefit our clients/athletes, and for our staff to learn from related professionals. If you see something on an assessment that raises a red flag, it's better to be safe than sorry.
4. Don't assess just for the sake of assessing; make it to the point.
My biggest assessment pet peeve is when the process takes too long. You can do an incredibly thorough evaluation in about 30 minutes, and most shouldn't even take that long. The only ones that would require more time would be those with extensive injury histories or other unique circumstances.
The sooner you're done assessing,
the sooner you can get to training.
5. Assess in the context of both injury history and functional demands.
As a follow-up to point #4, you never want to go into a movement assessment "blind" with respect to the person in front of you. Rather, it's best to first review a health history and have a discussion about training history, goals, athletic demands, and expectations. I find that it's best to perform an evaluation with a better knowledge of an individual's history than it is to look at movement and then work backward from it.
For example, if your pre-assessment discussion reveals that an individual was a baseball player growing up, you can expect to see more external rotation on his dominant shoulder. That might lead you to look more closely at whether he has adequate anterior shoulder stability, and whether his scapula upwardly rotates enough. It also might help to explain a low right shoulder.
Basically, you need to see the big picture; the "answers" are usually a combination of a bunch of tests, questions, and observations.
6. You have to emotionally separate yourself your personal biases when it comes to assessments.
Baseball players are the largest chunk of my clientele. As a result, I evaluate shoulders and elbows in a ton of detail.
Recently, we started training an NFL punter, though.
I did a thorough assessment with him, but let's just say that we didn't spend a ton of time worrying about verifying that he had perfect elbow ROM. Instead, we spent a lot more time looking at his core and lower extremity; otherwise, the assessment would have taken all day, and we'd acquire a lot of information that wouldn't have a significant impact on his programming.
7. Don't let hypermobile clients/athletes "cheat" assessments.
Just like you need to have both specific and general assessments, you also need to make sure to include both mobility and stability assessments. Hypermobile (loose-jointed) individuals are notorious for cheating assessments that are biased toward ROM. Comprehensive assessments need to also evaluate stability.
In this vein, the Functional Movement Screen does a good job of looking at both sides of the equation. The shoulder mobility, overhead squat, and straight leg raise tests are general assessments largely biased toward mobility, but the trunk stability push-up, hurdle step, rotary stability, and in-line lunge screens are all predominately stability challenges.
8. Have some feel; don't make new clients (or any clients) uncomfortable.
If a man is overweight and uncomfortable with his body, it's probably not a great idea to have him take his shirt off for a scapular screen. If a woman is seriously deconditioned, it's probably not a good idea to put her through a lunge assessment that she'll fail miserably. And, it's an even worse idea to do these things in front of a crowded gym.
Remember that the first day is as much about
building rapport and starting a friendship as it
is about evaluating how an individual moves.
As has been said in the past, "They have to know how much you care before they care how much you know."
9. Don't forget to highlight what individuals do well, too.
In How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie wrote, “It is always easier to listen to unpleasant things after we have heard some praise of our good points.” This point applies to fitness and movement assessments, too. Think about it: would you like to be criticized non-stop for 30 minutes? Probably not.
By contrast, if someone highlighted what you did well while also covering some important growth areas for you, wouldn't these suggestions be more well received? Absolutely.
Again, your goal is to establish a great relationship, not just analyze movement.
10. Remember that training is a never-ending assessment.
Every exercise is an assessment. Each time your clients and athletes move, they're providing you with information. The more you pay attention, the better you'll be able to individualize their programs and coaching cues moving forward.
If you're looking for more information on the assessment side of things, I'd encourage you to check out our Functional Stability Training series. These resources go into great detail on evaluating the lower body, upper body, and core.
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Today's guest post comes from former Cressey Sports Performance intern, John O'Neil. I'd like to devote more attention to long-term athletic development here at EricCressey.com, and John will be helping me do so.
This article is geared towards working with a youth athlete who is in a gym for the first time. I have identified steps that I believe to be important with getting the ball rolling toward the athlete’s long-term athletic development, both from a physical and a mental standpoint.
1. Establish Point A.
While athletic goals can be diverse, they all fall under the simple structure of getting from point A to point B in an efficient and appropriate manner. We need to be able to address the biggest differences between what an athlete’s current Point A is and what their potential Point B is, and provide them the skills to achieve them. It doesn’t matter what assessment system you use--just that you have the ability to identify where an athlete is the first time they are standing in front of you. For youth athletes, who may not know where their Point B is yet, it’s important that we give them a variety of motor skills that allows them succeed in a number of potential athletic goals years down the road.
It’s our job to determine what lies within the arrow, and understand that if an athlete’s goals change, we have still put him closer to his new Point B than he was at the original Point A.
2. Give the athlete success.
Success is not something you can learn about on paper and enact. It is something you have to experience. While I understand it is not always practical depending on the schedule of your facility, in my opinion, it is important to give the athlete some type of training effect on Day 1. As a beginner athlete in the gym, success is given via the instant gratification of knowing that you got better today--in essence, you are one (small) step past Point A where you started. The sooner we can give an athlete confidence in their ability to execute the necessary motor skills in a gym to build strength, move more efficiently, and perform on the field, the sooner they will take ownership of their program and be able to convert what you are teaching them from their short to long-term memory.
3. Know which motor skills you want a youth athlete new to the gym to have in place.
Dan John’s basic human movement skills are a great place to start. Every advanced athlete, regardless of their sport, should be able to hip hinge, squat, push, pull, carry, and perform single-leg movements. While not all of these are always realistic to truly pattern in on Day 1, give the athlete the knowledge of and the physical basics of what you are trying to get them to do. In a baseball population, some of the most important movements will also include teaching the athlete true external rotation, scapular control, and the ability to safely get overhead. As an example, here’s a basic drill (usually included in the warm-ups) to educate athletes about where they should and should not be feeling exercises in their shoulder as their arm goes into external rotation.
4. Know which practical weight-room skills you want the athlete to have in place.
Identify the basic implements, grips, and stances used in your programming, and select exercises to teach these while also teaching the basic movement skills. A perfect example is an Anterior-Loaded Barbell Reverse Lunge, which teaches the athlete to get strong on one leg with an efficient lunge pattern, and also teaches them a front-squat grip with a barbell. We have to ask: How much of the overlap in the Venn Diagram can we get athletes proficient in, or at least give them a comfort level with, on Day 1?
Another great example is a kettlebell goblet squat, as the athlete learns both the goblet grip and the squat pattern. As Eric has written in the past, barring any contraindication, a majority of Day 1 Cressey Sports Performers learn the trap bar deadlift, but many athletes new to lifting may need more direct work to effectively pattern the hip hinge component of a deadlift. One of my favorite exercises is a tall-kneeling banded hip hinge with a dowel. This teaching tool puts the athlete in a position where they cannot fail without knowing it, thanks to having a physical external cue in both places that are important to the hip hinge--hinging at the hips (the band) and maintaining a neutral spine (the dowel).
1. Put the athlete in an environment where they are comfortable and want to be.
For someone who has never been in a gym, it is important to schedule their assessment and first training session at a time when the gym is not busy. In order to really promote athletes taking ownership of their programming and truly wanting to pursue long-term athletic development, the gym needs to feel like a safe haven rather than an overwhelming place of chaos. The athlete could be coming from a difficult situation at home or in their personal life and it is our job to make the gym a place of comfort and enjoyment. If the gym is very slow/quiet, you might even have the athlete choose which music they want to listen to. The places we learn the best are the places we are the most comfortable and the happiest being in.
2. Assess the athlete in a way that tells them that you’ve seen, dealt with, and given success to many, many people just like them.
A majority of your athletes won’t have a clue what you’re looking at, but they’ll know if you come across as confident and sure of what you are seeing. In the baseball population at CSP, this is easy to portray to an athlete because they know the success that professional baseball players have had while training there. During the assessment, you might even be able to figure out whether the athlete is a visual, auditory, or kinesthetic learner, which will be invaluable when you are cueing the bigger movements.
3. Create context with the athlete that allows you and your staff to optimize your relationship with them, both as a person and an athlete.
Athletes are comfortable with coaches they know truly care about them, and, they respond best to cues that are already within their existing schemas. As coaches, we are always working to expand the amount of schemas we can tap into because we need to know what clicks best with the athlete. If talking about video games makes the athlete want to be there and listen to you, relate to them that way. If talking to a 14 year-old about why they don’t use Facebook anymore and how they only use Snapchat and Instagram is the best way to make them think you’re someone who’s cool to be around and worth listening to, then that’s the route you should take. The best time to create said context is when you are showing the athlete how to foam roll. The correctives/warm-ups and the lifts will be more task-oriented, and hopefully by that point you know what to talk about and how to talk to the athlete.
The challenge as a coach is choosing how much information you can give the athlete that they can actually retain. One of my favorite ideas to think about as a coach is Miller’s Law--the idea that a person can only hold approximately seven items in their working memory. At the end of the day, you can’t expect an athlete of any level to retain everything from their first training session, but you can give the athlete a concept of a few basic motor patterns and a few different grips, implements, and stances in the weight room. Most importantly, you can send that athlete home with the knowledge that they are one step closer to their goals.
John O’Neil is a strength and conditioning coach at Drive495 in New York, NY. He previously interned at Cressey Sports Performance and Ranfone Training Systems. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter.
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Here are some good reads from the past week in the strength and conditioning world:
Forget Calorie Counting - Brian St. Pierre and Ryan Andrews present a great perspective on portion control and meal planning for Precision Nutrition.
Left Out - I thought this was a really well written piece from Andrew McCutchen for The Players Tribune. While I don't agree with the notion that you have to do the travel ball circuit and attend every tournament to get noticed as an up-and-coming player, I do think his message of improving baseball development opportunities in underprivileged areas is incredibly important.
I just wanted to give you a heads-up on one-day seminar with me at Cressey Sports Performance in Jupiter, FL on Sunday, March 29, 2015.
We’ll be spending the day geeking out on shoulders, as the event will cover Shoulder Assessment, Corrective Exercise, and Programming. The event will be geared toward personal trainers, rehabilitation specialists, and fitness enthusiasts alike.
9:00AM-9:30AM – Inefficiency vs. Pathology (Lecture)
9:30AM-10:15AM – Understanding Common Shoulder Injuries and Conditions (Lecture)
10:15AM-10:30AM – Break
10:30AM-12:30PM – Upper Extremity Assessment (Lab)
12:30PM-1:30PM – Lunch
1:30PM-3:30PM – Upper Extremity Mobility/Activation Drills (Lab)
3:30PM-3:45PM – Break
3:45PM-4:45PM – Upper Extremity Strength and Conditioning Programming: What Really Is Appropriate? (Lecture)
4:45PM-5:00PM – Q&A to Wrap Up
Cressey Sports Performance
880 Jupiter Park Drive
Jupiter, FL 33458
Continuing Education Credits
The event has previously been approved for 0.7 NSCA CEUs when I've presented it elsewhere, and we expect the same to be the case here in FL as soon as the paperwork goes through.
Early Bird (before March 2) – $149.99
Regular (after March 2) - $199.99
Note: we'll be capping the number of participants to ensure that there is a lot of presenter/attendee interaction - particularly during the hands-on workshop portion - so be sure to register early, as the previous offering sold out well in advance of the early-bird registration deadline.
A huge majority of sporting outcomes are heavily dependent on speed, agility, and quickness. The fact that these athletic qualities are such "game changers" also makes them a fun topic to cover in lectures and writing. To that end, I thought I'd pay specific attention to speed, agility, and quickness in today's post. It's especially timely, given the great introductory sale on Complete Speed Training that's going on this week.
1. Footwear matters.
To me, all speed, agility, and quickness training discussions need to begin with footwear, as it directly impacts how you produce and reduce force with respect to the ground.
If you're in heavier sneakers, good luck trying to "feel" fast.
If you're in shoes with huge heel lifts, just try recruiting your posterior chain effectively during your movement training.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, if you're in sneakers without the right amount of lateral support, have fun trying to change directions. This has been a huge issue with some of the minimalist sneakers on the market; athletes will actually roll out of the shoes during changes of direction in spite of the fact that they have sufficient neuromuscular control to execute the exercise perfectly. It's one reason why I was so glad to contribute to the discussion when New Balance was designing the newest versions of the Minimus.
Before you worry about cutting-edge training programs and meticulous coaching cues, make sure you've got the right stuff on your feet.
2. Don't overlook individual differences.
It's incorrect to assume that all athletes need to be coached the same with respect to movement training drills. Different athletes have different builds, and there will be subtle deviations from "the ideal" positions we envision in our minds. Obviously, limb and torso lengths play into this, but joint structure may impact things as well. As an example, someone who lacks hip internal rotation - whether it's because of a bony block, capsular changes, or hip retroversion - might need to work from a more "open" (toes slightly out) athletic stance.
Understanding what "normal" looks like is important, but don't think "abnormal" is necessarily always inappropriate.
3. It's easier to make a fast guy strong than it is to make a strong guy fast.
I heard this line so long ago that I honestly don't even remember where it originated. Still, I wish I'd really appreciated just how true it really was back then!
Many athletes are blessed with natural reactive ability. They're really proficient at using the stretch-shortening cycle to create awesome athletic movement - even in the absence of what one might consider "good strength." These athletes thrive when you simply get them stronger.
At the other end of the spectrum, you'll find athletes who are very strong but completely unable to display that force quickly. They need to spend more time training speed than they do working on continuing to build (or maintain strength).
If you compare these two scenarios, though, the former (fast guy getting stronger) takes place much quicker than the latter (strong guy getting fast). There are a lot of different reasons this is the case, but at the end of the day, I think the biggest one is that it's difficult to teach an athlete to relax.
Guys who are naturally fast seem to "accidentally" know how to turn off unwanted muscular tension. Guys who are naturally strong usually resort to brute force to try to solve every problem. If you need further proof, just watch me (or any other powerlifter) play golf!
4. Movement quality falls off with a growth spurt - but good training can help attenuate that drop-off.
When kids hit puberty and their adolescent growth spurt, it's not uncommon to see some seriously uncoordinated athletes on the field, ice, or court. Beyond just the range of motion limitations that may have emerged overnight as bone growth has outpaced that of muscles and tendons, we also have to appreciate that the center of mass has moved further up away from the base of support - and that creates a more unstable environment.
This dramatic shift in the 12-15 age range explains why kids who dominated the youth ranks often don't pan out as high-level high school or collegiate ranks. Just being a Little League all-star doesn't really predict being a Major League Baseball all-star very well at all.
The good news is that we can attenuate - or minimize - the drop-off in athleticism that takes place with the adolescent growth spurt by incorporating effective training principles. As always, playing multiple sports and engaging in activities that provide a wide range of movements is essential. Moreover, we can integrate mobility drills and coach athletes on proper movement quality. And, finally, not to be overlooked is the role of strength training. Put 10-15 pounds of muscle mass on a young athlete's lower body, and his center of mass will definitely be much closer to the base of support, creating a more stable environment. Of course, the strength that also emerges from that training will also go a long way in improving movement quality. This is why I think ages 11-12 are some of the best times to get involved in entry-level strength training programs, even if it's just 1-2 times per week.
5. Moving well is as much about "reads" as it is about speed.
If you talk to most up-and-coming baseball players, they're generally concerned with their "60 times." If a player runs below a 6.5, he'd be considered elite caliber speed. Running between 6.6 and 6.7 would be excellent speed, 6.8-6.9 average speed, and 7.0 and below would be sub-par. These numbers are testing pretty regularly at various events in the high school ranks, but not much thereafter.
As a result, we don't really have a true frame of reference for how "fast" guys are in the big leagues. Well, I'm here to tell you that you'd be sorely disappointed if you tested 60s of all MLB players. There would be a lot of 6.8-7.1 speed among position players, and you might only find 2-3 sub-6.7 guys on each roster. Game-changing speed really isn't as common as you might think, and for every Billy Hamilton or Jacoby Ellsbury, there are a lot of guys who have become good baserunners more because they have learned how to run the bases, get good jumps, and understand situational baseball.
Baserunning is very much an art as much as it is an athletic endeavor, so you can do all the speed, agility, and quickness drills you want, but they won't have nearly the effect you desire if guys simply don't understand how to read and react to the game around them. This is surely the case in every other sport you'll encounter short of track and field, too.
6. Good movement training programs need a mix of coaching and competition.
If you want to get faster, I think it's crucial to have both coaching and competition elements in your training. With respect to coaching, you obviously have to cue athletes into higher quality movements; otherwise, you're just further ingraining faulty patterns. This is analogous to driving an out-of-alignment car as fast as you can.
Conversely, I think there is something to be said about shutting up and just letting athletes run fast and compete with each other. Most elite sprinters train as part of groups, not individually. The same can be said of the best NFL combine preparation set-ups; guys push each other to get better. Timing and mirror drills are great ways to cultivate this competitive spirit in the training environment.
Ideally, you get a little bit of both competition and coaching in every movement training session. As I look at our typical week with our pro guys, our heaviest speed, agility, and quickness days are Wednesday and Saturday. Wednesdays tend to be less coaching intensive and more competition as the athletes sprint together. On Saturdays, things are more coaching intensive as we work indoors with everything 30 yards or less in distance. I'll do more video work, and rarely have more than one guy sprinting at a time. As the season approaches, we'll integrate more of the coaching intensive work prior to strength training on Mondays as well.
7. Video has changed the game.
Video - and more specifically, slow-motion video - has changed how we coach movement training dramatically. We spend a lot of time coaching proper angles - whether it's torso lean or shin positioning - and being able to freeze-frame videos and show athletes where they are at various points in time can help an athlete to acquire or hone new skills much quicker than in previous years. If you're not videoing speed, agility, and quickness work, start!
One word of caution, though: don't let video interrupt the "flow" of the session. If you're not careful, you can wind up watching and discussing video for 5-10 minutes between each set. It's important to use the video as a resource, but not rely on it so heavily that it interrupts quality work.
Speed, agility, and quickness training are incredible broad topics, so I'm really just scratching the surface with these seven observations. If you're looking for a more exhaustive resource from one of the best coaches and teachers in the strength and conditioning field, I highly recommend Complete Speed Training from Lee Taft. This excellent product is on sale for $100 through this Friday at midnight.
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Today's guest post comes from speed and agility expert, Lee Taft, who is the creator of the awesome new resource, Complete Speed Training.
One of the benefits of being in a profession for over two decades is that I’ve made all sorts of mistakes and continue to learn from them. I want to share what I see as the top five mistakes coaches make when coaching speed and agility.
Mistake #1: Training Conditioning Instead of Speed!
It still amazes me how often coaches say they are going to work on speed, quickness, and agility, but fail to recognize the importance of recovery and duration. If an athlete is going to increase overall speed and quickness, at some point, they need to train at high speeds. In order to this repeatedly to achieve sufficient volume for a training effect, the energy system demands need to be appreciated. I typically stay in the 3-7 second range so I can get massive speed and quickness while the ATP-CP system can still pump lots of energy. Plus, I know most athletic plays only takes a few seconds to occur before lower intense movement or a stoppage takes over. My goal is to master movement efficiency with as much speed, agility, and quickness as possible.
The other issue of which I have to be cognizant is recovery between bouts. My goal in a typical training session is to not to get 100% recovery, although that would be nice! Unfortunately, full recovery on every single rep or set just isn’t practical in most settings (when it is practical, then I go for it!). My goal is to allow the athletes be in roughly an 8:1 to 12:1 rest to work ratio. I know I am getting enough ATP recovery so my athletes can go hard the next rep or set.
Coaches need to realize that when their athletes are performing the next bout and are still breathing heavy, they are not recovered enough to achieve maximum speeds. This simply becomes a conditioning session and not a speed session.
Mistake #2: Just Doing Drills Instead of Developing Skills!
Far too often, coaches make the mistake of designing their program around various drills. These drills frequently come from a quick search on YouTube for drills for speed and agility. The problem is the drill may have very little to do with what the athlete actually needs. I like to call it “Drill Surfing.” Coaches’ Google drills and when they find cool and exciting ones, they think their athletes might like they implement them.
Coaching is about executing a plan. The plan for coaching a speed and agility session needs to revolve around the skills the athlete needs developed. Once these skills are identified, then the coach can search for drills that will help improve the skills.
Always remember that drills are a conduit to skills and only serve the purpose of fulfilling a need.
Another way coaches like to use drills instead of skills is to use tools like speed ladders, dot drills, agility rings, etc. There is absolutely nothing wrong with these tools, but what often occurs is that the coach gets more concerned with making sure the athlete flies through the drill and misses the opportunity to teach or reinforce proper mechanics of athletic movement.
Mistake #3: Not Getting Strong!
You won’t find many coaches in the world of sports performance who find it more essential to teach multi-directional speed skills to athletes more than me. If athletes are not schooled in proper mechanics, they may never reach their true movement potential. Having said that, I know where the true gold can be found for speed and quickness. It is in the weight room!
Fortunately for me, I was exposed to many forms of strength training as a kid. My dad was big into fitness and taught me how to lift when I was young. I started working out with a guy who was a bodybuilder and power athlete and he taught me the bare-knuckles approach to hard lifting when I was 18 years old. I also learned over the years from studying strength training methods from around the world. I gained strength by training hard and the result was an improvement in my speed.
If you really want to increase speed potential, the weight room is a must. Get your athletes’ horsepower up and you will see the benefits in their speed.
Mistake #4: Not Paying Attention To What The Athletes Are Telling You!
I don’t really mean what the athletes are saying verbally; I mean what they are saying with their bodies when they move. Far to often, we coach based solely on what we were taught by our coach. We never question if it is right or wrong; rather, we just do it. The problem is many of the techniques and coaching strategies we were taught years ago don’t actually match up with pure human reactive movement.
The truest of multi-directional speed and quickness can be seen when athletes play their sport and react to the situation. They don’t think about how to move; they just react and do it. The sympathetic nervous system kicks in its “fight or flight” response, and athletes act based on perceived threats. When this occurs, the athlete tends to quickly position the body in an acceleration posture to escape or chase the opponent. Stored energy is released in the muscles via the stretch-shortening-cycle during the quick force production applied by the push-off leg going into the ground.
None of this is coachable, but it can be cleaned up with proper mechanics. I encourage coaches to realize the body has protective, effective, and efficient innate actions that should not be messed with just because your former coach said something like; “That’s a false step.” Educate yourself on pure human reactive movement and you will be surprised what the athletes are telling you…
Mistake #5: Thinking Short is Better Than Long!
I still remember my high school football coach yelling at us to take short choppy steps when we take off during sprints at the end of practice. I also remember many of my teammates stumbling in the first few steps due to the cleats getting caught in the grass because of these short choppy steps. This still rings true today. I hear youth coaches all the time encouraging the kids to take short steps when accelerating.
Remember in Mistake #4 when I talked about how the body has innate abilities? Well this is one of them. When an athlete goes through acceleration, the ability to push hard into the ground so the body can move forward quickly is vital. Well, when the push-off leg drives down and back hard, the front leg has to match the intensity (this is called “action-reaction”). The front leg will drive forward powerfully to allow the back leg to stay grounded longer; this helps to push the mass of the body forward further.
The other area we need to focus on is the arm action. The arm swing during acceleration is very long, especially in the back swing. This is, again, due to the fact we want longer foot contact so more force can be applied. The arm swing must match the leg action so coordination can exist. The process of accelerating is based on long powerful leg actions that never become over-strides, but more piston-like leg actions. The piston-like action always allows a down-and-back shin angle, so pushing is in order and pulling is not.
We all have to remember that, as coaches, we took a silent oath to help our athletes become the best they can be. In order to do this, we must understand performance qualities like speed, agility, and quickness – and how the body needs to harness those abilities. By understanding these athletic traits better, we can avoid common mistakes that might be slowing your athletes down.
If you’re looking to take your knowledge of speed, agility, and quickness training to the next level, I’d highly recommend Lee’s new product, Complete Speed Training. In addition to being an extremely bright guy, he’s also an excellent teacher and coach. To sweeten the deal, this resource is on sale for $100 off through this Friday, February 13. Check it out HERE.
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Today's guest post comes from Cressey Sports Performance pitching coordinator, Matt Blake. Matt is a key part of the Elite Baseball Mentorships team.
It happens every year. Inevitably, I talk to college coaches about players with whom I work, and without fail, the conversation always comes back to the question: "what type of kid is he and how hard does he work?"
These are two loaded questions and they’re becoming incredibly important in the evaluation process for college coaches. Because the recruiting timeline is getting faster paced every year, coaches are dipping into increasingly younger talent pools to get commitments. This process is forcing coaches to become more reliant on their ability to project what a 15 or 16 year old pitcher is going to look like three years down the road and project what that player might become at ages 18-22 in a new environment. If this is the case, then it becomes essential for coaches to be able to balance who the teenage boy is that he is currently watching, with the man he’s inherently going to become in a few years under his watch.
In order to do this, you need to have the ability to look at the individual’s actions and behaviors, as movement patterns that you think indicate potential for continued growth as this player moves forward. This topic could expand into a entire book, but I’m going to simplify this thought and condense the discussion down to one athlete to help demonstrate the point I’m trying to make.
In this instance, I want to highlight an athlete I've coached over the last few years and show what a drastic difference a year can do in the context of mechanical development. I think it will bring to the forefront how important it is to allow a player to grow into himself and not force the process for these athletes. While doing that, I want to flush out some of the character traits that are involved in refining this process on a larger scale.
Here’s a video of the same athlete one year apart (we’ll break it down in detail later in the article):
To give you some context, you have a 5’9 150lb sophomore on the right and a 5’10” 170lb junior on the left. The 150lb sophomore version of this pitcher pitched around 78-82mph with an above-average change-up and above-average command. This allowed him to develop into a consistent high-level performer on the 16U summer circuit playing in national travel tournaments, but yet the phone isn’t ringing off the hook for this type of 16U player unless he shows “projection” in the body or above average velocity now (neither of which apply to him).
I can understand how it would be very easy to write this type of player off as "average," because every high school RHP in America throws 78-82mph. As such, how could you possibly see this player and offer him a scholarship to play in college? Well, if you’re paying attention, and look at this pitcher one year later with an additional 20lbs on his frame and see that the delivery has continued to refine itself, you’re going to begin to gather a positive sense of direction for this athlete and realize that this RHP is going to conservatively throw 84-87mph this year with a very good chance to throw harder.
Now, 84-87mph still may not get a lot of people excited in this day and age, but I would go out on a limb and say that by the time this athlete is physically maturing in college, you’ll be looking at an 88-90mph RHP with three pitches, who knows how to compete in the strike zone at a high level because he wasn’t blessed with velocity from an early age. There’s a spot for that type of pitcher on any college staff; I don’t care who you are.
One could also certainly say that’s a large leap to make in projecting a 5’10” 170lb pitcher, but it all comes back to knowing what type of person they are and how hard they work. That’s why I think intimate knowledge of their overall training activity is crucial, because you can find out if this player is willing to go away from the “fun” part of developing their skills and identify that they’re willing to buy into a much larger process to make themselves a more technically proficient player on the field.
This is important, in my eyes, because there are only so many reps you can expect a thrower to execute, due to the stressful nature of the activity. So, in order to maximize the efficiency of their development, they have to be able to handle concepts that transcend the actual throwing process itself to be able to refine their throwing motion. If they can grasp why learning how to create stability is important, or why learning to manage their tissue quality on a daily basis will increase their training capacity, then you can give them larger and larger windows to create adaptation as an athlete on the field.
Take the athlete in the video, for example. He’s becoming one of the most consistent performers on the field, and it’s no surprise, because he’s learning to become one of the most consistent athletes in the weight room as well. If you are familiar with the pitching delivery, you’ll notice that he has upgraded at least four critical components of the throwing motion:
Postural control of his leg lift/gather phase
Rhythm/timing of his hands and legs working together during his descent into the stride phase
Lead leg stability and postural control from landing to release
Ability to maintain integrity and directional control of his deceleration phase
The interesting piece of these four components is that three of these are reliant on the athlete improving his overall ability to create stability in the delivery. At Cressey Sports Performance, I talk with our athletes all the time about understanding if their adjustments are mobility, stability or awareness issues. In this instance, we probably had both stability and awareness issues to resolve. The thing is, once you’re aware of the issues, it still takes deliberate work to iron out a stability problem in the delivery, which is why the athlete’s training habits are so important. Simply throwing the baseball over and over again may help you with your timing and repeatability, but we need to actively attack the strength training if we expect to impact an athlete’s pattern of stability in the throw.
In order to examine this a bit further, let’s walk through each of these components and identify a couple key things in video form:
Postural Control during Leg Lift/Gather Phase
Rhythm of Descent into Stride Phase
Stability from Landing to Release
Control of Deceleration
Now, don’t get me wrong: there’s obviously a long way to go for this athlete to get to 90mph. However, when you look at the development of this individual in the last 365 days, and you consider that there are over 730 more days before this athlete will even play his first college baseball game as a freshman, it becomes that much more important to know who the athlete is. Will the player you’re recruiting be comfortable with who they are, and become stagnant in their development, or will he use his time efficiently to keep improving both on and off the baseball field?
In the short time that I’ve been doing this, I’ve found that there’s usually a progression for athletes that involves learning how strength training can benefit them. It usually starts with showing up to the weight room from time to time thinking that’s good enough. Once they start plateauing there, they realize they actually need to be consistent in showing up to the weight room to make gains. The problem is, they eventually start plateauing there as well, and if they decide they really want to be good, they proceed to make the all-important psychological jump, and realize it’s not good enough to just show up to the training environment anymore. They realize they need to make positive decisions in their daily routines in order to make the most of every training session, whether it’s on the field or in the weight room. If they’re not willing to do that, there’s always someone else who is, and it doesn’t take long before these athletes are passing them by and they’re left wondering what happened?
When the athlete makes the jump from simply showing up to giving a consistent effort to make positive decisions for themselves inside and outside of the training environment, it becomes real easy to tell a college coach, "This is a guy you want, not only on the field or in the weight room, but in your locker room as well."
If you're interested in learning more about our approaches to long-term baseball development, be sure to check out our Elite Baseball Mentorships; the next course will take place in January.
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I hope everyone's week is going well. It's a bit late, but here is a collection of recommended strength and conditioning reading for the week:
How and Why to Make the Perfect Super Shake - We're big fans of "super shakes" for getting in healthy calories in a convenient way, especially if you're a teenage athlete who hates waking up early for breakfast. Check out this great "how to" infographic on the topic from our friends at Precision Nutrition.
Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers - This is a book I should have read a long time ago, but for some reason, I never got around to it. I'm now halfway through listening to it, and I regret not doing so sooner. It could have made my education regarding stress and the autonomic nervous system a lot more efficient!