Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training: Installment 6
Written on September 25, 2014 at 3:38 am, by Eric Cressey
It's time for this month's sports performance training musings. Many of these thoughts came about because we have a lot of our professional baseball guys back to kick off their off-season training, so I'm doing quite a few assessments each week. In no particular order...
1. There is a difference between "informative" assessments and "specific" assessments.
I recently spoke with a professional baseball pitcher who told me that his post-season evaluation included a 7-site body fat assessment, but absolutely no evaluation of scapular control or rotator cuff strength/timing. Skinfold calipers (especially in the hands of someone without a ton of experience using them) are hardly accurate or precise, but they can at least be "informative." In other words, they tell you something about an athlete.
However, I wouldn't call a body fat assessment a "specific" assessment. In other words, it's really hard to say that "Player X" is going to get injured because his body fat is 17% instead of 15%.
Conversely, we absolutely know that having poor scapular control and rotator cuff function is associated with a dramatically increased risk of injury in throwers. Checking out upper extremity function is a "specific" assessment.
This example, to me, illustrates why good assessments really are athlete- and sport-specific. Body fat assessments mean a lot more to hockey players than they do to baseball players, but nobody ever attributed a successful NHL career to having great rotator cuff strength.
Don't assess just for the sake of assessing; instead, assess to acquire pertinent information that'll help guide your program design to reduce injury risk and enhance performance.
2. Extremes rarely work.
Obviously, in a baseball population, most athletes have at least some kind of injury history. It's generally a lot of elbows and shoulders, but core and lower extremity injuries definitely show up on health histories. When I see these issues, I always try to ask plenty of questions to get a feel for what kind of training preceded these injuries. In the majority of cases, injuries seem to come after a very narrow focus - or specialization period.
Earlier this week, I saw a pro baseball guy with chronic on-and-off low back pain. He commented on how it flared up heavily in two different instances: once in college, and the second time during his first off-season. In both cases, it was after periods when he really heavily emphasized squatting 2-3 times per week in an effort to add mass to his lower body. Squats were the round peg, and his movement faults made his body the square hole. Had he only squatted once a week, he might have gotten away with it - but the extreme nature of the approach (high volume and frequency) pushed him over the edge.
I've seen command issues in pitchers who threw exclusively weighted balls, but rarely played catch with another human being. I've seen plenty of medial elbow discomfort in athletes who got too married to the idea of adding a ton of extra weight to their pull-ups.
General fitness folks, powerlifters, and other strength sport athletes can get away with "extreme" specialization programs. Heck, I even co-created a resource called The Specialization Success Guide!
However, athletes in sports that require a wide array of movements just don't seem to do well with a narrow training focus over an extended period of time. Their bodies seem to crave a rich proprioceptive environment. I think this is why "clean-squat-bench press only" programs leave so many athletes feeling beat-up, unathletic, and apathetic about training.
3. Consider athletes' training experience before you determine their learning styles.
I'm a big believer in categorizing all athletes by their dominant learning styles: visual, kinesthetic, and auditory.
Visual learners can watch you demonstrate an exercise, and then go right to it.
Auditory learners can simply hear you say a cue, and then pick up the desired movement or position.
Kinesthetic learners seem to do best when they're actually put in a position to appreciate what it feels like, and then they can crush it.
In young athletes and inexperienced clients, you definitely want to try to determine what learning style predominates with them so that you can improve your coaching. Conversely, in a more advanced athlete with considerable training experience, I always default to a combination of visual and auditory coaching. I'll simply get into the position I want from them, and try to say something to the point (less than ten words) to attempt to incorporate it into a schema they likely already have.
This approach effectively allows me to leverage their previous learning to make coaching easier. Chances are that they've done a comparable exercise - or at least another drill that requires similar patterns - in previous training. As such, they might be able to get it 90% correct on the first rep, so my coaching is just tinkering.
Sure, there will still be kinesthetic learners out there, but I find that they just aren't as common in advanced athletes with significant training experience. As such, I view kinesthetic awareness coaching as a means to the ultimate end of "subconsciously" training athletes to be more in tune with visual and auditory cues that are easier to deliver, especially in a group setting.
4. Separate training age from chronological age.
This can be a difficult concept to relate, so I'll try an example.
I have some 16-year-old athletes who have trained with us at Cressey Sports Performance for 3-4 years and have great anterior core awareness and control. I'd have no problem giving them the slideboard bodysaw push-up, which I'd consider a reasonably advanced anterior core and upper body strength challenge that requires considerable athleticism.
Conversely, I've had professional baseball players in their mid 20s who've shown up on their first day with us and been unable to do a single quality push-up. The professional athlete designation might make you think that they require advanced progressions, but the basics still work with the pros. You might just find that they picked things up quicker - and therefore can advance to new progressions a bit more rapidly than the novice 13-year-old.
Quality years of training means a lot more than simply the number of years a young athlete has been alive, so make sure you're working off the right number!
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