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Making Movement Better: Duct Tape or WD-40?

It's often been said that anything can be fixed with duct tape and WD-40. And, as a guy with extremely limited handyman skills, I really like this flowchart.


Source: http://laughingateverydaylife.com/2016/07/duct-tape-vs-wd40/

While this might seem like a dramatic oversimplification with respect the human body, I think there are actually some noteworthy parallels. To prove this, let's take a look at a study my buddy, Mike Reinold, co-authored back in 2008. While they looked at range of motion changes in professional pitchers after an outing, the findings of the study that I always keep coming back to have more to do with the absolute range of motion numbers in the data set (moreso than the changes). Take a look:

Looking at the mean shoulder total motion pre-throwing, MLB pitchers averaged about 191 degrees. However, when you look at the standard deviation of 14.6 degrees, you'll see that there were guys down around 175 degrees (very hypomobile or "tight"), and others up around 206 degrees (very hypermobile or "loose").

Speaking very generally, the tight guys need more WD-40 (range of motion work), and the loose guys need more duct tape (stability training). Now, here's what you make your mark as a coach: identify the exceptions to this rule.

For example, when you have an otherwise "tight" guy who comes back from a long season in with a significant range of motion increase at a joint, it could mean that he's developed instability (e.g., blown out a ligament). Or, maybe you see an otherwise "loose" guy who has lost a considerable amount of range of motion, it could mean that he's really hanging out in a bad pattern, developing musculotendinous shortness/stiffness that "overpowers" his ligamentous laxity. Or, he might be really out of alignment, or have developed a bony block.

Identifying outliers - exceptions to the rules - is a crucial part of evaluation success and subsequent programming. As I've often said, don't just focus on average.

Speaking of lessons to be learned in managing overhead throwing athletes, this will actually be a topic I expand upon at the upcoming fall seminar at Cressey Sports Performance - Massachusetts. We've got a great lineup, and the early bird registration deadline is this Fridya, September 21. You can learn more HERE.

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Last Day to Save on Sturdy Shoulder Solutions!

Just a friendly reminder: today is the last day to get $50 off on my new resource, Sturdy Shoulder Solutions. You can learn more and take advantage of the discount at www.SturdyShoulders.com.

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Case Study: Shutting Down Scapular Depression

I just posted this little "challenge" on Instagram. What do you see? 

I see some of the lowest shoulders in history. This is a well-muscled guy who looks like his upper traps are non-existent because he sits in such significant scapular depression. Take note of the angle of his clavicles; normally, they should have an upslode from the sternoclavicular joint to the acromioclavicular joint, but in this case, they're actually downsloped. Wherever the scapula goes, the collarbone follows. In this presentation, expect to see tissue density in lats, subclavius, and scalenes (among other areas).

The most interesting discussion point, though, is what to do about that upper trap tightness. That tightness is protective tension: his body doing anything it possibly can to avoid dropping any lower into scapular depression. The upper traps are working to elevate the scapula against gravity all the time. If you give him a bunch of massage and stretching, it's like picking a scab; he'll feel better for 15 minutes, and then in rougher shape over the long haul. You never want to stretch out protective tension.

He'd had previous bouts of unsuccessful physical therapy, and while I had the benefit of hindsight here, it was clear that the unifying theme of these approaches was an emphasis on the one-size-fits-all "pull the shoulder blades down" cue that gets thrown around all too much and usually leaves this presentation in a tough spot while helping a lot of senior citizen rotator cuff pain cases. You can't one-size-fits-all cues because everyone moves differently.

We modified his training to avoid anything with heavy weights tugging the shoulders down (no deadlifts, walking lunges, farmer's walks, etc.) and instead trained the lower body with lots of front squat and goblet set-ups, plus sled work, glute-ham raises, and barbell supine bridges/hip thrusts. We cut back on lat dominant upper body work and instead chose drills like push-up variations and landmine presses that drove scapular upward rotation (and even prioritized elevation, which is borderline heresy in some rehab circles). We got his arms overhead more often during the warm-ups and integrated some manual therapy in the areas I noted earlier. I even encouraged him to do less unsupported sitting at work, too, because his upper traps were competing against gravity all the time (yes, there are actually times that standing desks make things worse).

Today, two weeks to the day after the evaluation, he's feeling significantly better - and training hard. Posture is the interaction of structure and function, and if you can't identify aberrant postures, you're simply guessing with how someone is going to respond to a given exercise.

Interested in learning more about what I look for when evaluating the upper extremity - and how my findings drive our programming and coaching cues? Check out Sturdy Shoulder Solutions (which is on sale for $50 off through Sunday at midnight) at www.SturdyShoulders.com.

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Building Mobility Efficiently: Modified Pigeon with 1-arm Child’s Pose

Here's another Sturdy Shoulder Solutions sale inspired post. The Modified Pigeon with 1-arm Child's Pose is another new drill we've busted out in our warm-ups to get a little more bang for our buck. It's particularly useful for pitchers, who need to get into their lead hip (adduction) while getting lat length, scapular upward rotation, and apical expansion on the throwing shoulder.

A few big coaching points:

1. You should feel a stretch in the outside of the front hip, but nothing in the knee (particularly the inner part). If you're feeling it in your knee, you've probably set up incorrectly.

2. Think of a stretch along the entire outside of the torso and arm: quadratus lumborum, lats, and long head of triceps, especially. If you pinch at the front/top of the shoulder, ease off it a bit.

3. Breath in through the nose and exhale fully through the mouth as if you're blowing out birthday candles (and hold for a count of three before inhaling again). You should feel your abs turn on as the shoulder stretch increases. Do five breaths.

You can learn more about how I assess, program, and coach at the shoulder girdle - and save $50 through Sunday at midnight - at www.SturdyShoulders.com.

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Video: When Should You Train Shoulder Internal Rotation?

With this week's $50 off sale on Sturdy Shoulder Solutions, I did a Q&A on my Instagram page the other day, and one of the questions was whether it was ever useful to train shoulder internal rotation. With the lats and pecs (both internal rotators) always getting blasted in a typical strength training program, is any specific work for internal rotation ever recommended? My response warranted a three-part video, which I've compiled into one here:

To learn more about how I assess, program, and coach at the shoulder girdle, check out Sturdy Shoulder Solutions. It's on sale for $50 off through Sunday at midnight.

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Exercise of the Week: Wall Slides with Upward Rotation and Lift-off to Swimmer Hover

With this week’s $50 off sale on Sturdy Shoulder Solutions, I wanted to introduce a new drill I’ve started using. The wall slide with upward rotation and lift-off to swimmers hover effectively blends two schools of thought: Shirley Sahrmann’s work and that of Functional Range Conditioning.

1. With the wall slide portion, we drive scapular upward rotation.

2. With the lift off portion, we get scapular posterior tilt and thoracic extension (as opposed to excessive arm-only motion).

3. With the swimmer hover, we lengthen the long head of the triceps and even drive a little bit more serratus anterior recruitment as the scapula rotated around the rib cage.

Get exposure to multiple philosophies and have an appreciation for functional anatomy, and the exercise selection possibilities are endless. Learn more at www.SturdyShoulders.com.

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What Research Can Tell Us About “Super Champion” Athletes

Today's guest post comes from Matt Kuzdub.

Wouldn’t it be great if we had the magic formula when it came to building the ultimate sporting champion? Or how bout a step-by-step recipe? Just add 10 years of skill training, a half-decade of physical development and a sprinkle of mental skills...and voila, a world-class competitor is served!

Jokes aside, this topic of ‘what it takes to get to the top’, is eternally interesting. Whether you’re a coach, parent or athlete, achieving high levels of success in your chosen sport, is often a lifelong dream. But very few actually get to realize these dreams.

Why is that? Why do some achieve greatness while others are left wondering where it all went wrong? Coaches and athletes aren’t the only ones asking themselves these questions. Researchers also want to gain more insight into this puzzle - now more than ever.

This article will explore some of the newest research on this topic - particularly by a group of applied researchers, Dave Collins and Aine MacNamara. Their work will help us attempt to solve the perpetual question - what separates the greats from the almost greats?

In particular, we’ll look to their research to aid us in distinguishing between, what they classify as ‘Super Champions’ (SC), ‘Champions’ (C) and ‘Almost Champions’ (AC). A secondary aim of this post is to explore their claim - that adversity (whether related to sport or life), plays a pivotal role in the success (or failure) of an athlete. In revealing their findings, we’ll look at how each class of athlete responds to setbacks, how a support team ‘should’ act and the characteristics necessary for athletic excellence.

Super Champions Have a ‘Learn From It’ Attitude Towards Setbacks

Note, before we continue, it’s important to know that SC were defined as athletes who not only competed at the highest level, they won multiple international championships at that level. Conversely, C competed at the highest level, but did not have the same pedigree of success (1 or none when it came to championship victories). AC consisted of athletes who achieved well at the youth level but only competed at the second tier professionally.

According to Collins et al (2017), the biggest factor that separates SC from C and AC is a ‘learn from it’ attitude. There’s no argument that all athletes, at some point in their careers, experience adversity, challenges and what Collins calls “the rocky road” - these setbacks aren’t reserved for the chosen few. Ultimately, it’s the response to this that enables some to flourish while others to wither away.

Take for example, what one Almost Champ recalled of a serious injury:

“I sort of lost enthusiasm for it because I did not feel like it was – I almost felt let down, especially before the second operation. . . why was my injury different from anyone else’s, how come mine had to be 14 months for the same surgery that someone else had done for 3 months.”

Even Champs - those who competed at the highest level of their sport - echoed similar sentiments, blaming injury for their lack of progress:

“Well the sort of 10 to sort of 17, 18 years should be a natural yearly progression. But because I broke my arm, I wouldn’t say I didn’t improve but I just stood still. Well I’d say I didn’t improve, I just sort of stood still for 18 months. And it was an issue because when my arm got fixed I hadn’t grown, and everyone else seemed to have grown.”

Super Champs had a completely different outlook when it came to a traumatic setback, like an injury. By no means was it an easy situation - they also felt the disappointment, the frustration, but rather then blaming and projecting to external factors, they framed the incident as an opportunity for growth:

“That injury was pretty crucial I think. . .I was going well before it but the disappointment. . .the pain. . .it just kicked me where it hurt and I was determined to get back.”

And another SC had this to say about the prospects of throwing in the towel after an injury:

“No never, never ever thought about giving up. There was days when I was like ‘Why is this happening to me? I’m so frustrated, what am I going to do? How long is it going to take me to get back?’ But then the other days were like, ‘right what do I need to do? I’m going to do this, do this and get back’. But I never ever thought I wanted to quit. I think I still would have worked hard and still trained and done everything I could have done. But I think it gave me a different mental capacity. Because I’d never had to deal with anything like that before, so I definitely did think it changed me and made me achieve what I then went on to achieve.”

Given these reactions, you get the sense that Super Champs use setbacks as motivation, a driving force that catapults them to not only get back to where they were pre-injury, but to learn from the experience and to be better than ever. It’s difficult to explain exactly why that is - researchers (Collins et al 2016) suggest that high achievers may have better inherent coping habits. But further to that, they argue that these SC either don’t acknowledge the setback the same way as low achievers OR they don’t perceive the ‘trauma as traumatic as others do.’

On the flip side, this self-defeating attitude, most commonly typified by the behaviors of Champs and Almost Champs, inhibits growth. For instance, instead of putting things into perspective and finding solutions after a setback, low achievers would do the opposite:

“rather than staying at training and thinking ‘right I’m going to work hard, I’m going to really focus on my crossing, or really focus on that,’ I did no extra work. I didn’t go in the gym, I didn’t eat the best foods.”.

High achievers, on the other hand, saw the same challenge in a completely different light:

“Not making that selection, especially after all that work. Several others just said f*#! it, but I was never ever going to let them beat me. I just did double everything!”.

And beyond the setbacks, even when things were going well, Super Champs were striving for more:

“I was never kind of satisfied, I was never like ‘Oh I’ve done it now’ I was always like ‘This is the first step of my journey’”.

Many factors contribute to the above responses to setbacks and challenges. One area where researchers seem to point the blame are Talent Development (TD) pathways. The argument being that these centers for excellence are actually ‘smoothing’ the road for young up-and-coming athletes. The adversity necessary for growth, from their point of view, isn’t seen until later in a TD athletes’ career, when it’s perhaps too late. To resolve this, they propose that ‘structured traumas’ be strategically implemented into the programs of emerging sports stars.

These ‘manufactured traumas,’ according to Collins, could include training with a new group, being de-selected from a camp or a temporary increase in training load. Is this the answer? Whether it is or not is still up for debate - but one thing’s for sure, the path to the top is anything but linear.

Sure, many young athletes excel and progress rapidly early on. As they get older, however, and begin competing with others of similar class, that progress comes to a sudden halt - at times, it can even mean a step or two back (not something youth super-athletes are accustomed to).

How many Michael Jordans, Roger Federers and Tiger Woods’ are there? Not many. Some of the greatest athletes of all-time had to overcome adversity, naysayers and their own internal demons just for a shot at competing at the highest levels of their sport. Tom Brady is just one example - drafted at no. 199 in 2000.

It’s not that the AC can’t make it, it’s that they lack certain mental traits and skills to stay the course, especially in the face of adversity. The best of the best, on the other hand, according to Savage et al (2017) perceive their personal potential as significantly higher, following a setback. Those ‘rocky road’ moments leave a lasting impression on Super Champs - propelling them to learn and grow.

While this attitude by no means guarantees their spot in the history books….it at least gives them a fighting chance.

Quiet Leaders - The Role of Coaches and Parents

But perhaps it’s not the athlete’s fault. Research seems to indicate that there’s both a nature and nurture element to coping with adversity. Some athletes are born with personality traits that favor key mental aspects like optimism, hardiness and resilience. That doesn’t mean that these attributes can’t be developed. So instead of throwing in the towel, support staff should frame these ‘tough’ moments as opportunities for skill building and character growth.

But according to Collins, a big difference exists between the involvement of coaches and parents of SC versus those of C and AC. Interestingly, SC recalled their parents being supportive but not very closely involved in the process. In other words, they would encourage their children to pursue their goals, drive them to and from practices, attend games and cheer from a distance but they would leave the nitty gritty details to coaches. Here’s one account from a SC:

“[my parents were] not really pushy, it was kind of just gentle encouragement. They were never really involved, they’d just come and watch me, support me. But they never wanted to know what I was doing training wise and they never really got involved in that way, and that helped.”

ACs, on the other hand, were constantly being pushed by parents and coaches. To the point where one athlete actually felt as if the joys of sport were taken from them:

“My parents, dad especially was always there. . .shouting instructions from the touchline, pushing me to practice at home. Really, I just wanted to be out with my mates, even though we would still be kicking a ball around. I felt like [sport] stole my childhood.”

A few years ago, coaching Britain’s next female tennis hope, I encountered a similar experience - a father who attended every session, not as a casual observer, but as a vocal distraction. He would shout when he thought his daughter’s effort was lacking, grimace when she missed a forehand by mere inches and not once did he have a kind word to say. The result of this constant bombardment...at 15 years old, this rising star left the game and never returned.

This isn’t just a one off example, this happens all too often in youth sport today - parents obsessing over their children’s every sporting move.

What About Coaches?

When it comes to coaches, there was a clear dichotomy between the experiences of Super Champs, and Champs/Almost Champs. These mid to low achievers seemed to work with coaches who were either always in their face or looking for a way to ‘ride the athlete to the top.’ One athlete stating - coach was ‘always wanting to dissect my performance...He was very intense and, as I got older, it really started to antagonize me.” An Almost Champ had a similar recollection:

“X was the driving force. When I was younger, he would collect me from home, drive me to the club, train me then drive me back. . .talking about [sport] all the way. Let me tell you it was f∗∗∗∗∗ intense.”

Contrast these experiences to that of Super Champs:

“I think [coach's name] was great in the fact that he never wanted to rush anything whereas I always did. I wanted to be better, and I wanted to start winning things straight away. He always had in his mind that it was a long journey. And that’s the sort of thing that worked so well, he developed me as an athlete really slowly so I would always achieve the things I wanted to achieve later on in my career.”

Many successful coaches across a variety of sports realize the commitment involved at the top. They understand that athletes are devoting their lives to sport and this constant analysis and over-analysis of practices & games can be too much. It’s another form of stress. One pro hockey coach says that most of the time, he’s talking about anything but hockey with his players. That’s not to say there isn’t a time and place to ‘dissect’ a performance, but when it’s constant, that’s when it can be detrimental.

Perhaps a better option, one that ALL elite coaches use, is to simply engage in regular debriefs. After a practice, a game or a season, it’s absolutely vital that athletes sit down with a member of their support team for a review. These debriefs, according to elite coaches and researchers, can be more important than practices - the key is to know your athlete and when the right time to talk is (it can happen directly after a practice/game or several days afterwards...each athlete is different).

But it is a time where full transparency and honesty are at the forefront. Didn’t have the right mindset at practice, the athlete has to know. Focus and concentration on relevant tasks were absent, that’s a talking point. The truth has to come out. The important thing to remember here is:

[bctt tweet="Critique the behavior, NOT the individual."]

Overall, it’s a facilitative approach, rather than a directive one, that seems to contribute to that ‘learn from it’ attitude seen in high-achievers while low-achievers, having too much info thrown their way, have a poor time coping with adversity. Thus, coaches and parents can adapt their involvement to fit the needs of each individual athlete. While researchers agree that an expert (like a mental skills coach) is likely needed to help shift the mentality of many athletes, they still advocate that coaches be a big part of the process - echoing the words of experts because of their day to day involvement with the athlete.

The ‘Unique’ Traits of Super-Champs

These findings are taken from only a handful of studies - and less than 100 athlete responses. So there’s still a lot we can learn - but some of the early signs are promising. For one, we now know that high-achievers internalize setbacks, go through a reflective process, which ultimately drives their behaviors in a positive manner. Low-achievers, on the other hand, seem entirely ‘reactive’. As we noted above, this is likely a combination of Super Champs ‘learn from it’ approach to challenge and their encouraging (but not overbearing) support structures.

Furthermore, at this level, all athletes have at one point (whether at the youth or senior level) been internationally successful. We can’t tell for sure whether a gap in skill or physical stature existed - if it did, it was likely small. The main differences between the best and the rest, according to Collins, were the psycho-behavioral characteristics of Super Champs - including commitment, coping with pressure, self-awareness, goal setting, effective imagery and more (for the full list, here is a link to the study itself).

Researchers once thought these characteristics were solely developed after a traumatic event - the literature terming this ‘post-traumatic growth theory’. The premise being that athletes need regular opportunities to deal with traumatic events and that these events in themselves, build the necessary mental skills & behaviors, over time. In other words, ‘talent is caused by trauma.’

Recently, however, autobiographies from several Olympic swimming champions (Howells and Fletcher 2015) found that they didn’t have to learn anything new when coping with a trauma, rather, they used skills that were already established. Other Olympian medalists (Sarkar et al 2015) supported this and concluded that “performers should be given regular opportunities to handle appropriate and progressively demanding stressors, be encouraged to engage with these challenges and use debriefs to aid reflection and learning.”

The take-home, athletes need to possess some of these skills and traits before being encountered with a trauma or setback. As Savage et al 2017 exclaim, talent isn’t caused by trauma per se, ‘talent needs trauma.’

Inevitably, what this tells us is that even when things are going well, coaches should be constantly seeking to improve all facets of an athlete’s game - including aspects that aren’t necessarily as noticeable as a player’s batting skills or squat strength. But how often do we take part of a training session to improve imagery skills? Or to improve one’s self-awareness? Overall, mental toughness isn’t a result of suicide drills and grinding training sessions. As coaches, we must plan the development of these skills just as meticulously as we would a block of strength & power training.

Lastly, from a research perspective, we’re only scraping the surface of what we know about ‘super champion’ performers. A lot of the same can be true in practical settings - even elite coaches aren’t always sure why a certain athlete had great success, while another didn’t. This, however, is a starting point - if we have an idea as to which behaviors are championing vs those which are defeating, we can devise a proactive plan to facilitate the growth of the latter. For the moment, it’s up to coaches to facilitate rather than direct, the athlete’s growth - mental, physical or otherwise - and treat the training process as a playground for learning.

References

Collins, D. and Macnamara, A. (2017). Making Champs and Super-Champs—Current Views, Contradictions, and Future Directions. Frontiers in Psychology, 8.

Collins, D., Macnamara, A. and McCarthy, N. (2016). Putting the Bumps in the Rocky Road: Optimizing the Pathway to Excellence. Frontiers in Psychology, 7.

Collins, D., MacNamara, Á. and McCarthy, N. (2016). Super Champions, Champions, and Almosts: Important Differences and Commonalities on the Rocky Road. Frontiers in Psychology, 6.

Howells, K., and Fletcher, D. (2015). Sink or Swim: Adversity and Growth-related Experiences in Olympic Swimming Champions. Psychol. Sport Exerc. 16, 37–48.

Sarkar, M., and Fletcher, D. (2014). Ordinary Magic, Extraordinary Performance: Psychological Resilience and Thriving in High Achievers. Sport Exerc. Perform. Psychol. 3, 46–60.

Savage, J., Collins, D. and Cruickshank, A. (2016). Exploring Traumas in the Development of Talent: What Are They, What Do They Do, and What Do They Require?. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 29(1), pp.101-117.

About the Author

Matt Kuzdub, MSc, (@CoachKuzdub) is the content creator at Mattspoint, an online tennis and strength and conditioning resource for coaches, players, and tennis enthusiasts. Matt has helped tennis players at all levels—from juniors to the professional ranks—achieve high levels of performance on both the national and international stages. Mattspoint is steadily establishing itself as a go-to source for cutting-edge tennis and fitness research, articles, and training videos.

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If You Could Only Pick One…

Each time I run a Q&A, I get questions along the lines of:

If you could only pick one hip mobility assessment, what would it be?

If you could only pick one exercise to build pitching velocity, what would it be?

If you could only pick one shoulder exercise to fix my shoulder pain, what would it be?

You know what's awesome? With respect to all of these questions - and many more - I've NEVER in my entire career had to choose just one.

There may be no such thing as a stupid question, but there are stupid lines of thinking - and this reductionist approach to solving health and human performance problems is a big issue in our industry. In my experience, we see far more chronic issues develop because individuals fail to see the synergy among many factors, as opposed to their inability to hone in on the most important one. I'll give you an example.

Earlier this year, we saw a pitcher with a cranky ulnar nerve. He'd had mixed results with anti-inflammatory medications.

As it turns out, he had a subluxating ulnar nerve, which would predispose him to this issue during a motion like pitching that involves repeated flexion/extension, especially when combined with valgus stress (which stretches the nerve).

He did some extensive manual therapy with my business partner, massage therapist Shane Rye, who treated everything from his neck down to his forearm. This alone gave him a ton of relief - and he even commented that he felt a lot better with respect to some shoulder and neck issues he'd had previously.

In his movement screen, we'd noticed a lot of glaring scapular control issues. At rest, he sat in considerable anterior tilt and depression. Upon initiation of overhead reaching, he pulled into retraction instead of initiating smooth upward rotation. Most of his "external rotation" was actually scapular retraction and lumbar extension. In short, he was getting a lot of motion in the wrong places during several upper extremity assessments - and when we went to watch his arm care exercises, they were reaffirming all these faulty patterns. As an example, he was pulling down with the lat on horizontal abduction work, going into forward head posture on a lot of lifts, and banging out push-ups that looked a lot like this. 

Morever, the exercise selection in his strength and conditioning programs were contributing to these aberrant patterns. His program was very lat dominant, and he wasn't doing enough work above 90 degrees of shoulder elevation to drive better patterns of upward rotation with good scapular posterior tilt. And, if that wasn't enough, he was using blood flow restricted training on his upper arm regularly in hopes of optimizing recovery. In reality, the compression was probably "snagging" his nerve even more.

We made a bunch of changes - picking lots of very easy, low-hanging fruit - and he hasn't had issues with the nerve all season. I can't tell you exactly which ONE of these interventions had the biggest impact on him staying healthy - but the good news is that it doesn't matter. Success is a function of over a dozen assessments and several interventions from multiple people.

With that mind, quit looking for a quick, easy, reductionist answer. It's not about a single assessment, exercise, or coaching cue any more than it is about a magic pill. Rather, it's about how all the pieces fit together. If you look around at the best coaches and rehabilitation specialists in the industry today, they're usually very well rounded in terms of their knowledge base, skill sets, and referral network. As a result, they can appreciating multiple disciplines and provide comprehensive care to the athletes, clients, and patients they serve.

Looking for a diversified educational experience? Be sure to check out our 7th Annual Cressey Sports Performance Fall Seminar. It'll take place on October 14 at our Hudson, MA location. You can learn more HERE.

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Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training – Installment 31

It's time for this month's installment of my random thoughts on sports performance training. In light of this week's $50 off sale (ending tonight) on Mike Boyle's outstanding resource, Complete Youth Training, I thought I'd focus this edition on the training of young athletes.

1. Puberty changes everything.

The best players at age 11 usually aren't always the best players at age 18 for two reasons:

a. They're usually the ones that get heavily overused by an overzealous coach who wants to win now - and end up injured, missing crucial developmental time periods.

b. Puberty changes absolutely everything. The hormonal and biomechanical changes that kick in during adolescence massively impact how one controls the center of mass within the base of support.

Prepubescent training is all about having fun and establishing solid foundations of movement that set young athletes up for future success.

2. Some training practices are more about establishing routines as they are about creating adaptation.

All our athletes begin their training sessions with self-myofascial release work: foam rolling, lacrosse ball trigger point work, the FMR Stick, and the Acumobility Ball. This includes younger athletes who honestly probably don't really need it.

Why do these youngsters do it, too? Because I want it to become a habit. I want them to realize that the gym isn't just about lifting heavy stuff, throwing med balls, and running fast. Rather, it's also a place where you can go to take care of soreness and actually leave feeling better than when you arrived. This proactive approach at age 13 helps us tremendously when they're age 18 and have more legitimate stresses on their bodies.

Just shorten that rolling series up and get right to the good stuff!

3. Youth training should be all about linear progress for the first two years of organized strength training.

It drives me crazy when kids have to re-gain initial strength. As an example, let's say a kid comes in at age 15 and takes his trap bar deadlift from 135 to 225 over the course of three months. His technique is pristine and he's learned how to put force into the ground.

Then, his sports season starts and he disappears for six months. At the end of the season, he comes back in and starts all over at 135 pounds. Sure, this time around, there's a bit of a technical foundation, and he makes those gains a little bit faster than the first time around. Really, though, we're talking about a situation where he wasted 1/8 of his high school development window.

We've all seen this graphic in the performance realms before, but the truth is that the image on the right applies to intermediate and experienced athletes. The goal is to never have setbacks in beginners because the positive adaptations are so easy to come by with consistent training, even if it's only two days per week of in-season work.

This is one reason why I've added a new component to every young athlete evaluation I do: a discussion about expectations and timelines. Every kid who walks in our facility will say that they want to play Division 1 sports. Very few truly appreciate the consistency and work ethic it will take to get to that point.

4. Make sure your medicine balls are the right weights.

I'm often asked what weight medicine balls we use for our training - and I always respond with a range: 4-8lb for our rotational work, and 4-12lb for our overhead work.

This range accounts not only for the type of exercise, but also the size of the athlete. A 13-year-old athlete will do best with a 4-pound ball for rotational med ball scoop tosses, whereas a 250-pound MLB player will handle a 8lb ball much better.

This, however, might be the most impressive med ball video you'll ever see from a 13-year-old, regardless of weight!

5. With skinny young male athletes, competition works amazingly on the nutrition front.

If you're training teenage male athletes who want to gain weight, nothing works better than having weekly weigh-ins that are charted for everyone to see. We've done it two years in a row with our college development program, and it's also proven extremely successful in our high school athletes. These quantifiable changes not only help to evaluate progress, but they also drive camaraderie among your athletes. Since we starting doing this, we see more guys going out to meals together, chatting each other up on the nutrition front, and discussing what has been working well for them.

Another interesting observation on this front: young athletes are often very out-of-touch with huge swings in body weight. As an example, earlier this week, I had an athlete tell me that he was 145 pounds during an evaluation. When we actually weighed him in, he was 133 pounds. That's an 8.3% loss of body weight! I'm 183 pounds, and if you dropped me by 8.3% to 167.8 pounds, I'd feel absolutely miserable. Young athletes aren't in-tune enough with their bodies to recognize this, though. It's up to us to make them consciously aware of how big swings in body weight are bad for not only performance, but also health and academic performance (dehydration has a massive impact on brain function).

Wrap-up

I could go on and on about lessons learned in training young athletes (and I might, at a later date), but in the meantime, I'd strongly encourage you to check out Mike Boyle's new resource, Complete Youth Training. I loved this product as both a strength and conditioning coach and a parent. Mike did a tremendous job of outlining the problems in the current youth sports landscape while also including practical solutions to these concerns. You can learn more - and get $50 off through tonight at midnight - HERE.


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Why Rhomboids Probably Aren’t Your Best Friend

Today, I've got an excerpt from my new course, Sturdy Shoulder Solutions. I discuss the functional anatomy of the rhomboids, a commonly misunderstood muscle group with big implications.

For a lot more functional anatomy insights like these - as well as a comprehensive look at shoulder assessment, programming, and coaching - be sure to check out Sturdy Shoulder Solutions.

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