My topic for our 5th Annual Cressey Sports Performance Fall Seminar is "Forecasting Fitness." I'll be talking about where I think the fitness industry is headed in the next few decades. While I've been pulling together my PowerPoint, I've come up with some good odds and ends that I feel warrant reflection here in a blog. Before I get started, though, just a quick, friendly reminder that today is the last day to get the early-bird registration discount on the event. Hope to see you there!
Without further ado...
1. Humility is a must.
Over the past week, I've listened to podcasts interviews with three of my good friends in the industry: Brijesh Patel (head S&C coach at Quinnipiac), Mike Irr (S&C coach and physical therapist for the Golden State Warriors), and Josh Bonhotal (S&C coach at Purdue). I'm a huge believer (both in life and continuing education opportunities) in the importance of finding common ground. [bctt tweet="Focus on the 90% of things successful people have in common, not the 10% upon which they disagree."]
In all three of these interviews, the coach - in one way or another - stressed the importance of humility. Josh, in particular, commented on how he knew absolutely nothing about training divers (or even the sport itself) when he first started training divers with Olympic medals under their belts. And, rather than trying to employ a "fake it 'til you make it" strategy with them, he was very honest with them about his lack of experience, but also committed to learning as much as he could by observing and asking tons of questions. I think athletes and clients appreciate that humility - and certainly prefer it over a "know it all" demeanor.
2. There are four predominant ways to win over a potential customer in the fitness industry.
Last month, an intern asked me what I felt made some fitness writers successful while others struggled to gain a following. It got me to thinking about the qualities of the prominent fitness writers I know, and the more I considered it, the more I realized that these are the same qualities that make for a good in-person trainer or coach. Here are some of the four primary things the best writers (and trainers) do:
Innovate - These are new ideas that you can't find elsewhere. Think of what Nick Tumminello and Ben Bruno do with the introduction of exercises you haven't seen before. It's what we've tried to do with our baseball-specific approach to strength and conditioning. Ron Hruska did this with the Postural Restoration Institute approach to restoring optimal movement, and Dr. Stuart McGill has done it with his research on back pain and spine biomechanics. In the in-person training realm, this is the trainer at the commercial gym who picks up clients because they see him/her always introducing new drills with clients to keep things fresh. Or, it might be the reason baseball players move from across the country to train at Cressey Sports Performance in MA or FL.
Translate - This is someone taking an innovator's ideas and making them more user-friendly for the masses, and it's often necessary because not all innovators make great teachers. I think Mike Boyle has done a tremendous job of this over the years because he's very well read and a good teacher. In a presentation in Charlotte earlier this year, Mike joked that he has "no problem being the dumbest person in the room." In other words, he asks questions, and in doing so, learns how to best teach the material he's acquiring. Ultimately, this also leads to innovation, too.
In the in-person training world, this is the trainer who has great knowledge, but can "dumb things down" to create an efficient training program without overwhelming clients (who may not be interested in the science behind the training, anyway).
Entertain - This approach finds ways to make otherwise mundane content more palatable. If you read Tony Gentilcore's content, he does this really well; you hear about his cat and the movies he's seen as you're digesting content on shoulder mobility. These are also people who bring to the forefront entertaining stories that you might not have seen, but also offer social commentary (think of Barstool Sports or The Onion). In-person, these are the trainers who make things so fun that you actually forget you're working out.
Relate - This skill creates a sense of acceptance or unity. It's what Girls Gone Strong has done for females who like to lift weights, and why many powerlifters enjoy following other lifters' training logs that are posted online. The exercises aren't necessarily unique or hard to understand, but it gives a glimpse into someone else's reality that feels like your own. In-person, this is why some clients seek out trainers who are more like themselves. Smaller females usually don't want to train with huge bodybuilders, and guys who want to be huge bodybuilders don't want to train with smaller females. Baseball players don't want to train with guys who look like 300-pound offensive linemen, and 300-pound offensive lineman are usually skeptical of little guys who don't look the part.
Keep in mind that all successful writers and trainers do a combination of a few of these things; they never happen in isolation. If you look at EricCressey.com, I have a whole lot of innovation and translation, but less entertainment and relating. Conversely, you can get those latter two things on my social media offerings (particularly Instagram), as I post pics of my kids and own training, plus loads of self-deprecating humor and comical hashtags.
Let me preface this point by saying that you can be a great coach even with poor writing skills. What I will say, however, is that having unimpressive writing skills will make it dramatically harder to a) get a job and b) acquire clients.
For me, writing is a "tripwire." The second I see an email or resume with horrendous punctuation and loads of typos, it flips the "evaluate this under a microscope" switch. In other words, if someone writes (especially in a professional context) carelessly, it makes me wonder how far their lack of attention to detail extends. Will they show up on time? Will they swear in front of clients? Will there be typos in the programs they write?
In a world where 95% of fitness resumes look almost identical, polished writing can actually be a strong distinguishing factor.
4. Switch "ABC" to "ABCD."
This is borrowed from a slide in my 2016 Perform Better talk, but it's so important that I think it warrants reiteration.
Many business coaches have written about the ABC approach to selling: "Always Be Closing." I happen to think that's the short-term-gain, long-term-pain approach to building a business, especially in the fitness industry. People are constantly getting pitched on something, and it sure gets old.
I favor the ABCD approach: "Always Be Creatively Delivering." As Pat Rigsby has said, you want to find ways to add value, not extract it. Go out of your way to find avenues through which you can add more value to a client's experience and you'll have a much higher likelihood of fitness industry success.
That'll do it for this month. I'd love to hear your thoughts and questions in the comments section below. And, we'd certainly love to see you at our fall seminar!
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Today's guest post comes from Virginia-based strength and conditioning coach, Todd Bumgardner. I think it's very useful material for all the trainers and strength and conditioning coaches out there. Enjoy! -EC
It’s rare that large successes are accomplished without an idea of what success will look like. Sure, there are the occasional one-off miracles that happen when people swing hard with good intentions, but I don’t believe even those were truly accomplished without at least a loose plan that existed in the action taker’s head. It’s far more advantageous, and consistent, to materialize an actionable plan, with clear objectives, in the real world.
We often think in terms of plans and objectives when examining our businesses, or our financial goals, but a lot of coaches and trainers miss on the powerful outcomes elicited by setting training session objectives. I’m not just talking quantitative outcomes for our clients, but objectives that guide our coaching behaviors. Defining a list of session objectives, for you and your coaches, can dramatically improve your clients’ experience and results.
How We Did It
Chris Merritt and I own and operate Strength Faction together, while also tag teaming the leadership roles at Beyond Strength Performance NOVA—our small slice of semi-private training heaven in Dulles, VA.
The gym’s been running strong for five years now and has a great culture that’s focused on continual progression toward improvement. So we were inherently doing a lot of coaching things right. That set the context for our objectives discussion. We held it at one of our Friday in-services and we opened the floor to all the coaches. Then we simply asked, “What should our objectives be for running a successful training session?”
We involved the guys in the discussion because they coach just as many sessions as we do; who are we to stand in dictatorship? Besides, the opportunity to give input creates buy-in. When folks feel like they have responsibility, and that they’ve contributed to a cause, they’re more likely to take things seriously and give optimal effort.
The outcome: a lot of what we were already doing correctly ended up on paper and we sprinkled in a few more bits to improve our process.
Here’s what we ended up with.
Personal Interaction with each Client by each Coach
We schedule no more than six clients per time slot, and maintain a coach to client ratio of one to three, so we have innumerable opportunities for personal interaction. We have to capitalize on that.
Each coach must, at least briefly, interact with every client that walks through the door during his shift. Our goal at BSP NOVA is to continually improve our interconnectedness and sense of community, so we prioritize actions that help us accomplish that end. It’s not too much to at least ask how someone’s day has been.
Sure, this might sound like a no-brainer, but any coach that’s worked in a busy semi-private training gym knows how easy it is to lose focus and miss out on connecting with people. So we make it a focus and set the intent on connection at the beginning of every shift.
This speaks to our vigilance. Are we paying attention to what our people are doing? Are we checking positions? Are we updating programs based on the clients’ current readiness and ability?
If we’re answering yes to all of those questions there’s a high likelihood that we’ll avoid injuries during that shift. If we answer no, the chance of injury creeps up. Training injuries should be a rarity; maintaining focus keeps it that way.
Be the Best Part of Someone’s Day
We want our gym, our little slice of semi-private training heaven, to be a place of respite from the outside world, where folks can lay down their burdens, train, and have a good time. We’re ever aware that people don’t have to train with us, that Northern Virginia is rife with fitness options, and that we have to give them a reason to choose us over and over again.
Beyond that, our job as coaches is to lift others up. Every day, we have an opportunity to make the world a better place one interaction at a time. Making someone laugh, showing them that you care, or listening to a story that they really want to tell goes a long way toward improving someone’s day. Do that over and over again, with all of the clients that walk through the door, and we’ll make great strides toward making the world a better place.
Focus On Getting Better at One Aspect of Your Coaching
Kaizen, baby! We’re getting one percent better every day. This requires continual self-assessment and acknowledgement of our weak points. Each day we set a focus that toggles between what am I good at, and, where do I need to improve?
It begins with being open to constructive criticism from your leaders and peers and comfort with self-honesty. Nail those, make honest self-assessments, and attack improvement at one aspect of coaching every day.
Sweep the Sheds
I’m personally a huge All Blacks fan, and as a staff we love the book Legacy, James Kerr’s book about their culture, so we’ve focused hard on integrating the lessons from their phenomenal organization into our every day actions. We’ve incorporated “sweep the sheds,” The All Blacks humility-promoting mantra, into our everyday mindset.
Here it is:
"Sweeping the sheds. Doing it properly. So no one else has to. Because no one looks after the All Blacks. The All Blacks look after themselves."
Their point is to never be too big to do the small things while taking personal responsibility and acting with self-reliance. We’ve internalized the same point—but we’ve also extended it to mean something personally for us.
For us, sweeping the sheds also means taking as much as you can off of your teammates’ plates. If you can do a job that helps everyone else out, do it; don’t leave it for the next guy—even if it’s not necessarily “your job.”
Put Clients in the Best Positions to be Successful
Mentally and physically, it’s our job to put our clients in the best positions to be successful while they’re under our supervision. This means checking in with their state of mind and training readiness. It also means altering exercise selection if a given movement doesn’t fit for a certain person right now.
Checking in with clients first thing, and as the session continues, is a must. Without those continual assessments we can’t know whether or not we’re putting people in the best positions to be successful. And we can’t live with not doing that.
Progress in Form and Exercise Proficiency from Set to Set
Our last objective fits nicely with the one that precedes it. If we’re paying attention to our people, and they’re getting better each set, even minutely, we’re doing something right. Not every rep is going to be perfect, and the same is certainly true for every set. But if we’re improving incrementally each time we commence movement, all is right with our tiny, little world.
Set Some Objectives
These six points are by no means the end-all-be-all of training session objectives, but they’re solid examples and they work for us at our gym. Now, sit down with yourself, or your people, and list the objectives that make your training sessions successful.
About the Author
Todd Bumgardner, MS, CSCS is a co-founder of Strength Faction, an online coaching program for strength coaches and personal trainers that helps fitness industry folks transform their bodies and their coaching. He and his partner, Chris Merritt, just released a great, free E-book on how to keep your training on track, even while you’re training all of your clients. You can download it here: Train Yourself…Even While You’re Training Everyone Else.
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I hope everyone had a great weekend. Here's some recommended strength and conditioning material to kick off the new week:
Physical Preparation with Josh Bonhotal - Josh has been a friend for close to a decade now, and he's doing some great stuff with Purdue's men's basketball and diving teams. I noticed a lot of parallels to what we do with our up-and-coming baseball players from a long-term development standpoint.
It's time for the August installment of this popular series, and with the Olympics in full swing, MLB season in the home stretch, and the NFL season rapidly approaching, there's plenty of material rattling around my brain.
1. Don't criticize what you don't understand.
Maybe it's just because all the aforementioned sporting events are taking simultaneously and we're on sports social media overload right now, but it seems like a lot of people are ranting and raving about high-level athletes' preparation. They're cranky about Usain Bolt's hamstrings issue and how it's being managed. They're shocked the Kerri Walsh Jennings has had so many shoulder surgeries. They're flustered about Michael Phelps using cupping. They're floored by Prince Fielder's retirement after a second cervical fusion surgery. And they're cranky because they're confident that they can do a better job in spite of the fact that they have exactly ZERO knowledge of any of these situations.
If there's one thing I've learned from a lot of work with professional and Olympic athletes over the years, it's that nothing is ever as simple as it seems. What you read in the media is usually a partial truth (if that). For instance, I know of pitchers who have gone on the disabled list with calf strains or neck stiffness when they just needed to iron out mechanics or rest up from a high workload. I've also known athletes whose performance has suffered tremendously as they tried to plow through nagging injuries. They're getting blown up on Twitter when they should be getting commended for putting the team's needs ahead of their own personal health.
The point is that if you don't have any knowledge of the unique situations, blindly criticizing athletes and their sports medicine teams is a cheap shot. And, in my eyes, it makes you look incredibly unprofessional.
I'd also add that it's important to remember that you never know who is reading your criticism. Burning that bridge because you "just had to get it off your chest" could interfere with future job possibilities, or even the opportunity to work with the athletes in question.
So, sit back, chill out, and just be a sports fan, but not a Monday Morning Quarterback. You can't rehab someone on Twitter.
2. Use the bottoms-up get-up to remind hypermobile athletes to avoid elbow hyperextension - and cue "grabbing"the floor.
I love using Turkish Get-ups with athletes for a host of reasons; this drill really trains whole-body mobility and stability and delivers a great training effect without insane external loading. That said, one thing you have to be really careful of with using get-ups is that hypermobile (loose jointed) individuals will often wind up with elbows hyperextended - both on the support and overhead arms.
With that in mind, I like the idea of using a bottoms-up Turkish get-up because it's more grip intensive and strictly mandates a more neutral wrist position. This activation of the flexors of the fingers, wrist, and elbow gets the muscles that prevent elbow hyperextension a little more "pre-tensioned," so it's a lot harder to slip into bad patterns.
The bottom arm is a bit trickier, but I have had some success with the cue, "grab the floor as if you're trying to palm a basketball." That same activation of the flexors can help to keep a slight flex in the elbow.
3. A training effect prepares you, but an education sustains you.
This morning, I woke up to this article about Cubs pitcher Jason Hammel "reinventing himself" this past offseason. Part of that process involved getting started up with Cressey Sports Performance, and we've be really cheering him on as he's put forth a career year to be a big part of the Cubs' success. As the article details, one of Jason's biggest struggles was fading in the second half of the season. This was something he and I discussed at length during his initial evaluation last November. Even though it was 8-9 months away, we started talking about in-season training approaches and how to sustain performance well into the second half of the long MLB season. Thus far, he's done a great job of it; in five starts since the All-Star Break, he's 5-0 with a 1.16 ERA.
I often tell our athletes that the training effects we deliver in the off-season gets them through the first half of the season, but it's the education we impart that should sustain them through the second half of the year. The MLB calendar spans from mid-February (spring training) all the way to early October (and even longer if a team makes the playoffs). Nothing we can do in the offseason is guaranteed to last for eight months, but education certainly can. We need to work hard to help athletes understand what is unique about their bodies so that they can be advocates for themselves - and their own best coaches.
Jason's success has been a good reminder:
[bctt tweet="Coaching isn't just about building athleticism; it's also about educating."]
4. I still don't like Olympic lifts for baseball players.
By this point, most of you have probably heard (or seen) an Armenia Olympic lifter end up with a gruesome elbow injury on the jerk portion of a clean and jerk. It was a combination valgus stress - elbow hyperextension injury - which just so happens to be the exact same kind of stresses that lead to most pitching injuries at the elbow. Keep in mind that this was on a jerk - and the valgus stress is actually magnified on a snatch because of the bar path and distance traveled prior to the attempted catch.
I've written previously at length on my feelings about the topic: Should Baseball Players Olympic Lift? I think there are much better ways to train power in a specific context and with less injury risk.
Some coaches will argue, "But this is a max attempt in the Olympics! Our technique is much better than this and we aren't taking those kind of chances!" The truth is that video doesn't lie; you see a lot of ugly Olympic lifting technique all over the 'net. And, athletes will always want to push the limits and hit personal records. Moreover, baseball players have a lot more funky presentations (valgus carrying angle, medial elbow instability, and joint hypermobility) that muddy the waters further.
Perhaps more importantly, I know of very few high level arms who Olympic lift. We've demonstrated over and over again that you can build huge arm speed without snatches, jerks, and cleans, so why take the chance?
I should reiterate: I think the Olympic lifts are absolutely fantastic for other athletes. Baseball is just a different beast.
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I'm wrapping up my California trip tonight, but didn't want to leave you hanging on this week's recommended strength and conditioning reading/listening. Here are some good ones to check out:
EC on "The Impact Show" with Jim Kielbaso - This might have been my favorite podcast I've ever done, as I feel like Jim and I covered a lot of ground on the business and coaching sides of the equation. He's got some quality stuff in the archives of this podcast, too, so I'd encourage you to check some of his previous episodes out as well.
Invisible Influence - I've become a big fan of Jonah Berger's writing in a similar way to how Malcolm Gladwell won me over years ago. If you're interested in the factors that govern behavior and decision-making, Berger's stuff will be right up your alley. His commentary on "social facilitation" has immediate utility for those in the fitness industry.
Softball and Humeral Anterior Glide - If you like my baseball writing, you'll also enjoy CSP coach Nancy Newell's blogs on training softball players. This is one such example.
I'm out in Long Beach, CA for my fifth annual trip to the New Balance Area Code Games. Now in its 30th year, this event brings together the top 230 high school baseball players in the country. Friday night, I spoke as part of the opening ceremonies.
I wanted to be succinct with my message, and with that in mind, I chose to emphasize the importance of differentiating between processes and outcomes. This is something I try to hammer home with all our in-person athletes at Cressey Sports Performance, but I feel it's an important differentiation for all players to make.
An outcome is - for lack of a better term - a result. It's going 4-for-4 at the plate, getting selected for an all-star team, or getting an "A" on a final exam. It may also be negative: going 0-for-4, getting left off the team, or flunking that final exam. There is never growth in an outcome alone; it's just something that happens after all the work is done. Unfortunately, it's been my experience that far too many people - and particularly young athletes who have had considerable success at a young age - become very outcome-oriented. They devote too much time and energy to celebrating their successes instead of recognizing the processes that got them to that end (good or bad).
Conversely, a process constitutes all the habits and actions that lead to an outcome. It's the hours you spent in the cage fine-tuning your swing before those four at-bats. It's your efforts and attitude that predated that all-star selection decision. And, it's your study habits that culminated in your final exam preparedness (or lack thereof).
[bctt tweet="There is growth in every process, but not in ANY outcome."]
Not surprisingly, there's evidence to suggest that outcome-oriented parenting is an inferior approach to process-oriented parenting. You're far better off praising efforts than you are outcomes, because it's those efforts that remind your kid to bust his or her butt in everything the future holds. Your work ethic and demeanor from tee ball can sustain for decades to help you in your job as an accountant when tax season is upon you, but don't expect your 20-year-old trophies to help you out when the going gets tough in adulthood.
Interestingly, though, this message actually has significant parallels to some conversations I had with respect to the fitness industry just last weekend, when I delivered a shoulder seminar to a room of 105 trainers, strength and conditioning coaches, and rehabilitation specialists in Chicago.
At the conclusion of the event, I had several young trainers inquire about how I wound up where I am. In fact, one even asked, "What do I need to do to be you in ten years?" I always find these inquiries challenging to answer because I rarely reflect on success, and frankly don't consider myself successful because it's too early in my career (age 35) to determine that. Perhaps more significantly, though, I can't vividly describe where I plan to be in five (let alone ten) years. If I can't be sure of exactly where I'm headed, who am I to tell an up-and-coming fitness professional how he should get to where he thinks he wants to be a decade from now?
With that in mind, my answer is usually necessarily vague:
[bctt tweet="Embrace processes, but let outcomes take care of themselves."]
The problem is that the fitness industry is unique in that none of these processes are clearly defined. In other words, there is no strict foundation upon which a large body of work in the field is entirely based. There aren't many industries like this.
For example, my wife is an optometrist, and she had four years of undergraduate education, followed by four years of optometry school (including clinical rotations), and then board exams before she could become a doctor. There was a set curriculum, and then measures to determine competency in the areas emphasized in that curriculum. And, even after that proficiency was established, Anna did an additional year of residency where she specialized in cornea and contact lens. You can't just declare yourself an optometrist one day and start a career - but individuals do that all the time in personal training because the barrier to entry is completely non-existent.
So, how do we take this lesson and apply it to our fitness professionals who really want to be great? I think the first step is to heavily emphasize a minimum standard of education: a foundation upon which a career can be built.
While the skill sets needed to be a successful NFL strength and conditioning coach are obviously different than what one would need to do cardiac and pulmonary rehabilitation in a clinical exercise physiology setting, there are surely many commonalities across these domains (and everything in between). Here are a few things I think everyone in the fitness field needs to know to create a solid foundation:
1. Anatomy, Kinesiology, and Biomechanics - Structure dictates function, and you have to know what good movement (function) is before you can structure a program to create, preserve, or reestablish it.
2. Physiology - I'm not saying that you need to be able to recite the Krebs cycle by heart, but you should have a clear understanding of energy systems development, the endocrine response to exercise, how various disease states impact exercise, the role of various medications your clients may be taking and a host of other physiological considerations.
3. Coaching Approaches - I'll be blunt: I don't think that anyone should be allowed to train someone unless they've first completed internships under multiple other credentialed coaches. Massage therapists need to complete hundreds (and sometimes thousands) of hours before they can go out on their own, and I'd argue that a bad fitness professional can hurt people a lot faster than a bad massage therapist. Good coaches understand how to not only deliver effective coaching cues, but also do so in the most efficient manner possible. The only way to get to this point is to get out and coach individuals from all walks of life - and then fine-tune when things don't work the way you expected.
4. Interpersonal relations - I've always been surprised at how little formal training in psychology the aspiring fitness professional gets in the typical exercise science curriculum. And, honestly, I think that the psychology lessons taught in a classroom by a "typical" college PhD (and I don't mean that disparagingly at all) are likely a lot different than ones you might learn from successful personal trainers who've had clients for decades, or strength and conditioning coaches who've thrived in college weight rooms for generations. Motivation is a very complex topic. Multiple times in my career, I've had a client walk in and start the session with (paraphrased), "So, I'm getting a divorce." Maybe deciding between a reverse lunge and Bulgarian split squat just became a little secondary?
What These Meant for Me
As I look at these four foundational educational processes, I feel like I was really well prepared on both #1 and #2 when I entered the industry. Having a class in gross anatomy during my undergraduate experience was a game-changer, and I was also fortunate to have some excellent kinesiology, biomechanics, and exercise physiology professors that went above and beyond simple memorization challenges.
Early on, though, I struggled with my coaching approaches. I spoke too quickly, blurted out too many cues, and likely confused a lot of athletes. It wasn't until I got to watch some great coaches at the University of Connecticut do their thing that I learned to be more clear and concise, and make the complex seem simple for our athletes.
Interpersonal relations seemed to come more naturally to me, likely because I worked at a tennis club for eight summers while I was growing up; I was constantly interacting with members across multiple age groups. However, this has actually been my biggest area of study over the past 3-4 years (particularly because I now have employees), and I always have an audiobook in progress with respect to leadership, communication, motivation, and related areas.
What These Mean for You
Everyone in the fitness field has unique preparation. Some folks are very good technical coaches, but not great communicators. Some trainers have a knack for making movements look good even if they don't know the exact anatomy governing that clean movement. Some professionals have delivered outstanding results even if they can't explain the underlying physiological changes that occurred. These successes (outcomes) don't mean that they shouldn't constantly be seeking out ways to improve (processes), so I'd encourage you to do a "self audit" to determine your biggest growth areas.
You can shore up a lot of these knowledge gaps with books, DVDs, and online mentorship programs, but I'm of the belief that the fastest way to learn will always be in-person, as you can pick up information on all four components and see how the fit together. Internships and mentorships are phenomenal in this regard; there is real-time application and feedback. Seminars are also be fantastic, particularly when you have both lecture and practical (hands-on) components.
Speaking of seminars, we just announced the lineup for our 5th annual Cressey Sports Performance fall seminar in Massachusetts. It's September 25th, with an early-bird registration deadline of August 25. For more information, click here. Hope to see you there!
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I receive the following inquiry via email the other day, and thought it might make for a good Q&A post:
I've come to the unfortunate realization that 15 years of sitting at a desk - combined with the simple fact that I'm almost 40 - have left me severely lacking in mobility. And, it's something I now want (and need) to really address. However, I'm also a realist and know that with a busy work and family schedule, getting to the gym is hard enough - but adding a lot of mobility work on top of that could be really challenging. So, I'm wondering what the best way to efficiently tackle this problem is? Should I do a little bit each day? Is it better to go to a yoga class 1-2 times per week? Or something else? I'd like to make some positive changes, but ideally without completely overhauling my weekly schedule. Thanks for any direction you can provide.
The short answer to this question would be a blunt one:
[bctt tweet="If it's really important, make time instead of finding time."]
That wouldn't make for much of an educational blog, though, so let's explore this in more detail. Here are ten things I'd consider if you'd like to really dedicate yourself to improving your overall mobility as efficiently as possible.
1. Frequency is everything.
Remember that - simply stated - mobility is your ability to reach a certain position or posture. It's different than flexibility in that mobility necessitates stability within a range of motion, not just the range of motion of a joint (or series of joints). In other words, you need motor control to have motor control.
Think back to when you were learning to ride a bike. Did you go out and try for 5-6 hours every Saturday morning, or did you put in several runs every day for a few weeks? If you're like most people, it was definitely the latter option.
[bctt tweet="Frequent exposure is key for motor learning, and you can't improve mobility without motor control."]
What does that mean in the context of mobility work? You need to do something every day - and possibly even multiple times per day.
For most folks, a quality pre-training warm-up is an important first step. If you look at my High Performance Handbook as an example, each pre-training warm-up consists of about five minutes of foam rolling and ten mobility drills that should take about ten minutes total.
2. Find new planes and ranges of motion in your strength work.
Most training programs are very sagittal plane (front-to-back) dominant. In other words, a lot of exercisers do very little in the rotational (transverse) and side-to-side (frontal). While you do have to do work in these planes during single-leg work, that doesn't mean much for actually taking them close to their end-range of mobility. Simply adding in some lateral lunges to your warm-ups and strength work can go a long way.
3. Sign up for classes if you really need the accountability or the instructor is absolutely fantastic.
Yoga and Pilates can be absolutely fantastic tools for helping you to improve your mobility if:
a) They improve your accountability so that you're more likely to actually make this a priority.
b) You have an outstanding instructor that both motivates you and teaches you about how your body works.
These options can also be terrible approaches if you have unqualified instructors or attending them absolutely destroys your schedule - and therefore becomes a burden more than a blessing.
4. Mix in a little work at night before bed.
This piggybacks on the aforementioned "frequent exposures" theme. I know of a lot of people who'll do a bit of foam rolling and stretching at night while watching TV or getting ready for bed. Anecdotally, it does seem to help some people unwind - possibly by kicking the parasympathetic nervous system on (especially if combined with a good focus on breathing during this work). If getting in some stretching and rolling before bed doesn't exactly thrill you, just pick 1-2 high priority drills and do them. Or just stretch out your calves while you're brushing your teeth!
5. Break up prolonged periods of immobility.
Each spring, I drive from Florida to Massachusetts. Then, in the fall, I drive back to Florida. It's a lovely 23 hours in the car over two days.
The first time I did it, I tried to be a cowboy and just plow through it with as few stops as possible. My hips hated me for about three days after the trip was done.
Since then, I make sure to stop every 2-3 hours. In fact, on my ride back this spring, I even stopped twice to train along this journey. I felt dramatically better in the days that followed.
I think you can extend this logic to how we break up our days, too. If you have to be at a computer for the majority of the 9am-5pm work day, try to get up and move around every 20-30 minutes. Walk to get some water, or do a doorway pec stretch.
It's a lot easier to do a little to maintain your mobility than it is to lose it and try to get it back.
6. Incorporate a bit more unilateral work.
When you take a lifter who's never done much single-leg work and start incorporating these unilateral movements, good things always seem to happen. I suspect that it has to do with the fact that a lot of these individuals are actually extending their hips past neutral for the first time in years, but I doubt that's the only mechanism.
To be clear, this doesn't mean that the hardcore squat/deadlift enthusiasts need to drop (or even tone down) these movements. It just means that it'd be a good idea to work in some more single-leg drills to the warm-up period, and to do some as an assistance exercise. They don't need to be loaded like crazy, either, particularly early-on. It's not uncommon to see groin strains (or very pronounced soreness) when someone incorporates single-leg work to a previously 100% bilateral program, so incorporate them gradually in terms of loading and volume.
7. Be patient and don't skip steps.
Getting transient (quick) improvements to range of motion isn't particularly difficult. You can get that from manual therapy, increased body temperature, or "tricks" to the nervous system. After these initiatives, we need to incorporate some stability training to make these changes "stick."
They won't magically improve dramatically from one session to the next, though. In fact, you may only hold 5% of that change from one session to the next - and that's why you need to stay patient and persistent with these drills over an extended period of time to see pronounced results.
With that said, it's important not to skip steps in this process. Just because your squat pattern improved a little doesn't mean you're ready to sink a 500-pound front squat to the "butt-to-heels" position the right way. And, just because you experienced subtle improvements to your active straight leg raise doesn't mean that you're ready to run a sub-10-second 100m dash. Own the changes before you try to challenge them in more chaotic environments.
8. Manage your breathing.
We'll keep this one really simple and watered-down:
Inhale = tension = stress
Exhale = relaxation = destress
If you're holding your breath while doing your mobility drills, stop! You're just stretching your lats, not attempting a 700-pound deadlift. Control your breathing, and think about fully exhaling at the lengthened position to give your system a chance to perceive it as a "new normal." The yoga folks have been preaching this for thousands of years, but us meathead strength and conditioning coaches have only started to figure it out in the past decade or so.
One drill I love for teaching this is the TRX deep squat breathing with lat stretch. Just sink down into this bottom position and exhale fully on each breath. Give it a "two-one-thousand" count before inhaling again. I usually program five breaths per set.
9. Choose comprehensive mobility drills.
If you only have 10 minutes per day to devote to improving your mobility, you are best of focusing on drills that provide plenty of bang for your buck. In other words, you want drills that challenge multiple joints and planes of motion at the same time. Here are a few good options as examples:
10. Balanced programming and optimal technique help to improve mobility.
Sometimes, the best thing you can do is "audit" your programs and training technique to see if they're pushing you further into your mobility deficit. Maybe you're benching too much and rowing too little? Or, perhaps it's been a lot of squatting and not enough deadlifting? Could it possibly be that you've been board pressing a ton and omitting full range-of-motion benching that could actually be really helpful for your shoulder? There are countless programming pitfalls into which one can fall, but you'll never identify them until you take a step back to review what you've been doing.
Moreover, crappy technique under load reinforces bad patterns and loss of mobility. Additionally, it can turn soft tissue and neuromuscular control restrictions into joint restrictions (laying down bone that shouldn't be there). You can't just fix reactive changes to the joint with stretching, either. Train hard, but train smart and with solid technique.
These are only ten thoughts off the top of my head, and there are surely many more. At the end of the day, though, most of the mobility improving strategies come back to common sense. Your body desperately wants to move, and you need to make time for that movement - and approach it with a plan as you would any other priority in your life.
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I hope everyone had a great weekend. Here's a little recommended reading from the strength and conditioning world to get the week started off on the right foot:
EC on the Movement Fix Podcast - Dr. Ryan DeBell had me on his podcast a few weeks ago, and we talked about everything from business to evaluations and programming for overhead athletes.
Recap of the 2016 Perform Better Functional Training Summit - Harold Gibbons wrote up this great review of the Perform Better presentations he attended recently in Providence. I've been presenting on the PB tour for ten years now, and I can honestly say that these events are the best value in continuing education in the fitness industry today. I'd highly recommend checking them out, if you haven't already.
It's hard to believe that we're 20 installments deep on this series, but I'm glad they've been so well received and definitely plan to continue to write them. Before I get to the meat and potatoes, just a quick friendly reminder that the introductory $100 off Elite Athletic Development seminar DVDs ends tonight at midnight.
1. Tall athletes are usually longer term projects.
When you have a 15-year-old 6-6, 150-pound kid with size 17 shoes, you have your work cut out for you.
These athletes are challenging for a number of reasons:
a. Their bone growth has usually outpaced their flexibility (except in kids - usually those who haven't finished puberty - who have preserved their childhood joint laxity). This often means that they have to do a fair amount of "preliminary" work just to get into good positions to benefit from big bang exercises.
b. Their center of mass has rapidly shifted up away from their base of support, creating a constantly unstable state.
c. A longer spine is a lot harder to stabilize than a shorter one.
d. You can put 20 pounds on one of these athletes and barely notice. As a frame of reference, in the picture below, the 6-6 athlete on the left added 31 pounds between September and February (when this picture was taken) to get to approximately 200 pounds. Meanwhile, Greg Robins (the CSP coach in the middle) actually weighs more than him even though his about eight inches shorter.
e. Even if you put that 20 pounds on them, it might not be enough to have a "grounding" effect on the athlete. Unless an athlete is very gifted in terms of reactive ability (as you might see with lighter weight NBA players), you might need to add a lot more weight for them to learn how to properly load the lower extremity to create athletic movement using the stretch-shortening cycle.
f. At younger ages, they're often put in positions that don't require as much movement (first base, DH, or pitcher in baseball; center in basketball; goalie in soccer; etc.). This may rob them of crucial exposure to movement "education."
The take home points?
[bctt tweet="In tall athletes, push patience, consistency, calories, and perfect technique on fundamentals."]
2. It's not your job to have all the answers.
Earlier this week, I sent along a nutrition question to Cressey Sports Performance's first employee, Brian St. Pierre. Brian is now Director of Performance Nutrition for Precision Nutrition and a tremendous resource we have at our fingertips on everything relating to nutrition and supplementation. Within 24 hours, Brian had sent along a 244-word reply that covered his anecdotal experiences on the topic in question, along with some recommended reading in case I was interested in what the peer-reviewed evidence demonstrated.
I'd love to have all the answers, but I simply don't. As such, I refer out all the time - whether it's a question like this on the nutrition front, or sending a client to a physical therapist. Your job is to deliver the best possible outcomes for your athletes/clients, and referring out regularly usually leads to those ends - and creates learning opportunities for you via the collaborative efforts that occur during the referral.
It's not your job to have all the answers; it's your job to know where you can find them.
3. It's important to understand how much relative strength an athlete needs - and that is sport and position specific.
I'll use my experience with baseball to make this point.
Pitching is a combination of absolute and relative strength and power. From an absolute standpoint, more body weight equates to more force to push off the mound, and more momentum moving downhill; that's why gaining weight can have such a profound impact on pitching velocity.
On the other hand, from a relative strength and power standpoint, you eventually have to "accept" all the force you create. We know that there are substantial ground reaction forces taken on by the front leg, and research has demonstrated that they are (not surprisingly) directly impacted by body weight. Additionally, according to 1998 research on professional pitchers from Werner et al., at ball release, the distraction forces on the shoulder are approximately 108% of body weight. You could also make the argument that these forces are even higher now, as average fastball velocity has crept up significantly since 1998, and the subjects in that study averaged only 89mph. As is the case with body weight increases, as arm speed rises, so do shoulder distraction forces.
In hitting, "accepting" force on the front side isn't as stressful because we don't hit downhill on a mound. However, batters have to run the bases, and that's a significant relative strength challenge.
With all this in mind, you it's important to realize that some athletes need to gain weight, some athletes need to lose weight, and some athletes are good right where they are. Obviously, body composition plays into this as well, but speaking in general terms, understanding strength-to-bodyweight ratios in sport-specific contexts is really important for all strength and conditioning coaches.
4. Use upper body drivers in your lower body mobility work.
This video from Mike Robertson got me thinking a lot:
We've done quite a bit of upper body reaching in our warm-ups with drills like the lateral lunge with overhead reach, but typical, this motion has really only occurred in the sagittal plane:
Conversely, if you look at the bowler squat, the upper body reach drives hip internal rotation, adduction, and flexion on the support leg.
Moving forward, I plan to get a lot more creative with using reaching to challenge folks in the transverse and frontal planes during our warm-ups.
Speaking of Mike Robertson, along with Carolina Panthers strength coach Joe Kenn, he's the co-creator of the Elite Athletic Development 3.0 DVD set. It's a fantastic resource that I'd highly recommend, and it's on sale for $100 off through the end of the day today. Click here to learn more.
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