Home Posts tagged "Sports Performance Training"

Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training – Installment 34

It's been a while since I published one of these compilations, so I've got quite a "brain dump" for you today. Here goes!

1. Correct "overhead lifting" work is especially important for volleyball players.

After this Instagram post on the importance of correct overhead lifting exercises and coaching cues, a volleyball coach reached out to ask if I felt the same overhead principles would apply to volleyball as with baseball. His point was that the arm-swings are very similar, but being in the air may make a difference.

The short answer is that YES, these strength training principles would apply to volleyball players as well. I'd even argue they'd apply MORE for two reasons:

a. Volleyball players are generally a hypermobile population who can benefit even more from the enhanced motor control that proper weight training affords. Effectively, you're giving them stability through the (potentially excessive) range of motion they have.

b. The fact that the violent arm actions happen in mid-air means that you don't have a lower half to help with deceleration (as is the case with baseball players). The upper extremity needs to be that much more well timed and strong.

2. Red light therapy might be the next big sports science breakthrough.

I first came across red light therapy when some clients commented on how they'd utilized it for a variety of health and human performance initiatives - both focal (sore wrist) and diffuse (chronic disease). I dug deeper, and the research was super compelling. There are clinical applications for everything from sleep quality/quantity, to cognitive function, to migraines, to improved hormonal status, to exercise recovery. I've started utilizing it myself and I can see it becoming an integral part of our sports science approach at Cressey Sports Performance.

Joovv is a company that's at the forefront of the application of red light therapy, and they actually sponsored this week's podcast. If you head to www.Joovv.com/eric, you can learn more - and get a free gift with your purchase.

3. Sports are random practice.

I've been a big advocate for avoiding early sports specialization if your goal is not only a positive experience with exercise to build lifelong habits, but also long-term athletic success. Supporters of playing multiple sports rarely outline the specific "mechanism of action" for why multiple sports really works for development, though.

In my opinion, these benefits are mediated because most sports are the very definition of random (unpredictable and varied) practice. You change direction a ton with soccer, basketball, and tennis - but you're usually responding to an opponent or making strategic calls on the fly on your own. You use both hands and feet in unique ways. These experiences are markedly different than going out and just throwing 30 pitches off the mound in baseball, something that's entirely closed loop and only has a small amount of variance: blocked practice. The research on motor learning has clearly demonstrated that random practice outperforms blocked practice with longer-term retention tests and the associated skill acquisition.

Also, this should serve as a good reminder of how awesome playgrounds are.

 
 
 
 
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Watching our daughters grow up has been a remarkable lesson on when to coach and when to take a step back and observe. Early on in parenting, you watch your kids take big tumbles where you think they have a concussion or torn ACL. Then they giggle, get back up, and keep playing. They’re far more resilient than we think, and it demonstrates that failure can often be the best teacher. Coaches - once you’ve established rapport and foundational movement quality with your athletes, seek opportunities for them to fail SAFELY in training, when there aren’t physical or psychological consequences. Parents - don’t protect your kids from failure. Rather, embrace its remarkable ability to teach and prepare them for whatever challenges await them in sports and life. Kids - don’t let your parents pave the way for you so that you avoid failure. And be sure to seek out coaches who consistently challenge you even if it results in the aforementioned failures. Swipe left to watch our girl crushing it on the playground in spite of a little taste of failure.💪 #cresseytwins #cspfamily #coaching

A post shared by Eric Cressey (@ericcressey) on

4. Our rotator cuff care approaches have three broad components.

I recently hopped on Mike Robertson's podcast, and one topic we covered was how we structure our arm care programs with respect to rotator cuff training. The whole interview is a good listen, but tune in at the 39:20 mark for this specific section.

Speaking of Mike Robertson, he's launching his own certification really soon. I've reviewed it and it's outstanding. He's got an early-bird list going to get folks a discount when it's launched; you can learn more HERE. Highly recommend!

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The Best of 2018: Strength and Conditioning Features

I really enjoying creating features with multiple installments because it really allows me to dig deep into a topic that interests both me and my readers. It’s like writing a short book, with each post being a different chapter. That said, here were a few of my favorite features from 2018 at EricCressey.com:

1. Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training

This is definitely my longest standing active series, and while I don't update it every month, it'll always include some gems.

Installment 30
Installment 31 

2. Random Thoughts on Long-Term Fitness Industry Success

This series touches more on the business aspect of fitness.

Installment 9
Installment 10

Installment 11

3. Performance Programming Principles

I made it a goal to write more about program design this year, as I think it's a big hole in the market.  These were a few steps in that direction:

Installment 2
Installment 3

The Best of 2018 series is almost complete, but stayed tuned for a few more highlights!

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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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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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Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training – Installment 30

I haven't written up a new installment in this series since last June, so it seemed like a good time to do so. With the professional baseball season underway, I've got plenty of stuff rattling around my brain.

1. The MFR Stick is an absolute game changer.

In the past, we used "The Stick" for self-myofascial-release of the forearms, triceps, and biceps.

It works pretty well, but we've broken a number of them over the years when certain meatheads got a bit overzealous with their soft tissue approaches, and it exploded. Additionally, guys always seem to want to take dry swings with it, and the beads would invariably come flying off and wind up all over the facility.

Luckily, Perform Better came through in the clutch this offseason with the release of the MFR Stick.

Athletes have raved about how much better it is, from the greater feedback provided by the steel, to the reduced "give." And, it's far more durable. This is a must-have for any gym, in my opinion. Pick one up here.

2. Not surprisingly, music selection matters - but with a few key considerations.

It's hard to overlook the beneficial effects of music on exercise performance, whether considering your own anecdotal experience, watching Michael Phelps throw on his headphones before a big race, or actually reading the research. If you actually dig a little deeper, a few important "asterisks" emerge:

a. The benefits tend to be more significant in shorter, more anaerobic tasks, as opposed to lengthier aerobic endeavors (study).

b. Music is more impactful if it is self-selected (study).

c. Males tend to be more impacted by musical selection than females are (study).

d. Motivational music can lead to greater risk taking (study).

The take-home messages are that:

a) if you're a male powerlifter looking to make some really aggressive lifting decisions, you should select your music accordingly.

b) if you're a female cardio enthusiast going out for a leisurely jog, why are you reading this blog? music probably doesn't matter all that much.

c) everyone will continue to disagree over the musical selection at every gym for the rest of time.

3. The most successful coaches and rehabilitation specialists I know understand how to find the commonalities across various disciplines.

The Postural Restoration Institute and Dynamic Neuromuscular Stabilization approaches both utilize flexion-bias movements to restore normal function.

Both Muscle Activation Techniques and the Selective Functional Movement Assessment emphasize the importance of differentiating between passive and active range-of-motion, and understanding how to enhance motor control in the “gap” between the two.

Various pitching coaches may disagree on the utility of weighted balls or extreme long toss, but everyone agrees on the importance of quality catch-play.

My point here is that the best professionals have good filters to not only weed out the garbage, but to identify the best components of every discipline they encounter. And, they have the foresight to make sure that they don’t get married to a single school of thought, as doing so prevents you from identifying these important unifying themes.

Have a great week!

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5 Quick Tips To Enhance Coach-Athlete Communication

Today, I have a guest post from Brett Bartholomew, an outstanding strength and conditioning coach who has taken a huge interest in the art of "getting through" to athletes. I find the motivation aspect of coaching to be fascinating, and that's why I enjoy Brett's stuff so much. This post is timely, as enrollment in Brett's new online course, Bought-In, is open through the end of this weekend. I'm reviewing it myself and it is absolutely outstanding; I highly recommend you check it out. Enjoy! -EC

Coaching is teaching. And one’s level of effectiveness in teaching is not evaluated solely by what they (the instructor) knows, but rather by what their students understand.

Successful behavioral interventions are anchored via successful social interactions. Seems simple enough, right? Wrong. While the mantra may be straightforward, the reality is that communication and human behavior is a complex subject. If this were NOT the case, we wouldn’t have researchers in the space of behavioral economics and/or psychology who are awarded the Nobel Prize. It just doesn’t seem as important to many of us as strength and conditioning coaches because the topic has not been a focal one in our industry.

You see, we have been focused on trying to optimize human movement (and rightfully so), but we have forgotten to also emphasize human behavior.

We do still actually coach people, right?

In general, people are puzzles of needs, wants, drives and insecurities. It's our job as coaches to find or even be that missing piece for them. And in doing so, we can gain their trust and respect all while augmenting engagement and effort which will only help our training programs become more effective in the long-run. This is not manipulation; it is adaptation! Personalized coaching strategies are the most direct way towards driving the behavioral interventions that we need to take place, so our athletes have a better chance at reaching their goals.

Below are some quick and easy-to-use tips that you should abide by whenever you are leading a session. They may seem obvious, but common sense is not common practice, and learning how to communicate in a versatile manner requires just as much fine-tuning as any other aspect of our craft.


1. Listen!

This is by far one of the most neglected communication strategies in the world – which is why a lack of it has contributed to everything from failed relationships, to people losing their jobs, to major catastrophes throughout human history. Sound a bit dramatic? Good, because the ill-effects of not being willing to close your mouth and open your ears are parallel to you as a strength coach writing a program without being aware that an athlete under your care has sickle-cell trait or cardiac issue.

[bctt tweet="Coaching is a partnership between you (the coach) and the athletes you serve."]

That means flexible communication is a must. Besides, everything we do as coaches is a screen of some sort, which should provide us with data (both objective and subjective) that we can use to enhance the quality of care we provide to our athletes. We spend so much time learning about the history of an athlete’s body, but far too little time learning about their mind. You may be the training expert, but only they know what it is like to be them. You will also learn far more from them than you think.

I know that Stephen Covey quotes have been worn out, but there is a reason for that. Perhaps one of his most powerful phrases is, "most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply." There is often no guiltier culprit than the strength coach as they often feel rushed due to the time and logistical constraints placed upon them while working with large groups or in general. Ask strong, open-ended questions, listen to the answers and write them down or record them just like you would data in a performance profile. Drawing upon this information will help you out in more ways than you think.

2. Speak Their Language

Great coaching is about figuring out an athlete’s purpose and matching it with an evidence-based process. To do this, build off of what your athletes tell you and relate everything you do back to their goals and specific drives. Ask yourself: what do they say they care about most? Why does that matter to them? Learning how to do this efficiently and effectively takes more practice than some care to admit. It is, however, especially effective since you are showing athletes that you are attuned to their goals and have an understanding of what matters most to them. When you speak their language, you scale your message by essentially “talking in color” and painting a vivid picture in their own mind’s eye. This is what leads to increased efficiency while you are on the floor coaching or when you are reviewing their performance results from a previous phase and getting ready to set new goals. It will also help them learn since the information is “stickier” and more personal, which both saves you time as a coach and adds greater significance to the very task you are trying to get them to perform.

3. Know Their Sport

As a strength coach, you should be doing this anyways, since the unique demands of their sport are in part what will influence the training programs that you write as well as some of the skills that you teach. However, even if you do understand the biomechanical and physiological aspects of the sport, there are still various cultural and psychosocial aspects to consider. Every sport has its own unique "cultural" aspects that can affect player personality as well as their perception of what constitutes success. This is where a better understanding of human nature becomes even more critical.

Going back the previous tip, it is hard to "speak a language” if you don't understand the geography of its origins. This metaphor has real meaning since aspects of their upbringing will also influence how they behave in groups, especially as it pertains to working with individual sport athletes vs. team sport athletes. Just as you need to be aware of the myriad of variables that can throw off the success of your training program (poor diet, time constraints, sleep issues etc), you need to keep a keen eye on the "not so obvious" elements of performance which can often be neglected in favor of the typical or more focal aspects of what we do.

4. Be Transparent and a Bit Vulnerable

This can be an uncomfortable one for many, but all I am saying here is that building trust is not a one-way street. You cannot expect to be able to bombard your athletes with both questions and information and expect them to never ask you questions in return, or for you to have to volunteer some information about yourself as well. Not doing so leads to a parasocial relationship, which is the antithesis of what you want when aiming to become a more effective coach. A true professional always welcomes mutual inquiry. By its definition, coaching is a social process; coaches are at the epicenter of it. It was the researcher Pierre Bourdieu who in 1997 first ascertained that the coaching process (as well as coaching practice in general) is to be considered a form of "regulated improvisation." In his 1996 text, Sociological Theory, Dr. George Ritzer observed that effective practice is neither entirely objectively determined nor the unbridled product of free will. Yes, you heard that right: it is an imperfect practice that can only be refined by your willingness to get your hands dirty and enhance your social skills as well as your technical skills.

5. Alter Your Perspective

It is not uncommon for strength coaches to be viewed by their athletes as someone who "doesn't get it." Not every athlete likes lifting weights or various other forms of physical training and can often view the performance side of things as just another task to "check off" so they can get back to playing their sport or living their life. You don't have to agree with this point of view, but you need to be cognizant of it if you are going to have any hope of reaching your athletes on a truly meaningful and influential level.

One of my favorite movies that I used to watch with my father growing up was "Trading Places," which starred Dan Akroyd and Eddie Murphy. In the movie, Akroyd played a wealthy commodity broker and Murphy was a broke hustler always looking for his next con. Through both an odd and humorous turn of events, the two ended up switching places and throughout the rest of movie eventually learned the error in regard to their previous biases and behavior. The movie ended with the both of them in a far better place than either were in the beginning, imbued with a renewed sense of perspective, compassion and wisdom. I bring this up because right now it seems like one of the biggest things that coaches like to incessantly complain about is “millenials” and how they behave/interact. I get it, but at the same time, it’s my opinion that grumbling about how it’s hard to coach someone from a different generation is akin to whining that you can’t write a good program because you don’t have enough equipment. Be creative, get outside of yourself and find a way.

These tips serve as only a small thumbnail of the communication strategies that you should be using throughout your coaching career. In my 5-week online course Bought-In, I discuss over 25 more research-driven influence techniques, coaching strategies and behavioral interventions that you can call-upon while working with athletes of any age, any sport and anywhere in the world. All of which will help you become a better coach.

The course will only be open until midnight this coming Sunday (3/12), but by joining you have lifetime access to all content and all other materials on my Art of Coaching site. Other topics include:

• The influence factors that shape athlete behavior
• How we ourselves get in the way of becoming better coaches
• Frameworks and models to get a better understanding of your athletes + how to engage with them
• Influence tactics that can help you change people’s attitudes, beliefs, values and behaviors

The applied section of Bought-In also includes coaching evaluations, staff-development manuals, and a number of other resources which allow you to actually put the information to use as opposed to mindlessly consuming it.

I hope to see you there!

References

Bourdieu, P. (1997). Outline of a theory of practice. London: Cambridge University Press.

Ritzer, G. (1996). Sociological theory. Singapore: McGraw Hill
 

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The Best of 2017: Product Reviews

To wrap up my “Best of 2017″ series, I’ll highlight the top product reviews I did at this site in the last year. Here they are:

1. Complete Sports Conditioning - This resource from Mike Boyle is top notch, and he does a great job of simplifying complex topics for up-and-coming strength and conditioning coaches. Since it was the most popular product I reviewed this year, I reached out to Mike to see if he'd be up for running a quick promo sale for my readers, and he kindly agreed. From now through January 3, you can get $100 off on the resource. No coupon code is needed; just head HERE.

2. American Sports Medicine Institute Injuries in Baseball Course - Mike Reinold compiled this great list of webinars from accomplished surgeons and rehabilitation specialists to create an excellent sports medicine resource for those in the baseball world.

3. L2 Fitness Summit Video Series - Dean Somerset and Dr. Mike Israetel released this video of a one-day seminar back in November, Dean offers a nice glimpse into some assessment components that go beyond typical movement screens, and Mike's presentation on hypertrophy mechanisms and strategies was insightful as well. These are some seemingly minimally-related topics, but they did a good job of pulling everything together.

Also in 2017, the Cressey Sports Performance team released CSP Innovations. This resource highlighted a collection of different topics from the CSP staff, so there's something for everyone at a price much cheaper than attending a seminar.

We're back to the regular EricCressey.com content this week. Thanks for all your support in 2017!

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The Best of 2017: Baseball Articles

With baseball athletes being the largest segment of the Cressey Sports Performance athletic clientele, it seems only fitting to devote a "Best of 2017" feature to the top baseball posts from last year. Check them out:

1. 6 Key Factors for Developing Pitchers - In this article, I look at some things I've learned from some of our peak performing pitchers at the MLB level - and how they can help up-and-coming players.

2. Are Pitching Mechanics Really That Repeatable? - We hear the phrase "repeat your mechanics" pretty often, but you'll be surprised at how hard (or impossible) that really is to do.

3. Sports Performance: Study the Majority, and Stop Cherrypicking Exceptions to the Rule - The baseball community loves to try to build theories off of small sample sizes when we all should be looking at the majority to see what works.

4. A Letter to This Year's MLB Draft Picks - There are lots of life lessons in here for more than just baseball players.

5. Overlooked Uses for a J-Band: Part 1 and Part 2 - Here are some innovative ways that we use this awesome piece of equipment.

We've got one last "Best of 2017" list running tomorrow, so stay tuned for the closer!

Sign-up Today for our FREE Baseball Newsletter and Receive Instant Access to a 47-minute Presentation from Eric Cressey on Individualizing the Management of Overhead Athletes!

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The Best of 2017: Strength and Conditioning Features

I really enjoying creating features with multiple installments because it really allows me to dig deep into a topic that interests both me and my readers. It’s like writing a short book, with each post being a different chapter. That said, here were a few of my favorite features from 2017 at EricCressey.com:

1. Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training

Installment 26
Installment 27
Installment 28
Installment 29

2. Random Thoughts on Long-Term Fitness Industry Success

Installment 5
Installment 6
Installment 7
Installment 8

3. Periodization for Teenage Athletes - I thought this three-part article from Cressey Sports Performance coach John O'Neil was outstanding. If you work with athletes, it's a must-read.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

The Best of 2017 series is almost complete, but stayed tuned for a few more highlights!

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Random Thoughts on Sports Performance – Installment 28

It's time for the April installment of Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training. In light of this week's $30 off sale on The High Performance Handbook, I wanted to write a bit about the importance of versatility in any strength and conditioning program. I firmly believe that The High Performance Handbook is the most versatile program on the market; in other words, it's been used with great success by folks from all walks of life. This is because of the self-assessment component, various programming options, and exercise modifications it includes. You can learn more HERE

HPH-main

With that in mind, here are some thoughts on versatility in programming.

1. Psychosocial stress impacts joint loading.

Back in February, I went to a great seminar with Dr. Stuart McGill, and he alluded to some excellent research from Dr. Bill Marrus at The Ohio State University. It's almost 20 years old, but still fascinating. You can read about it HERE, but here's an interesting excerpt:

"An experiment was performed that imposed psychosocial stress on people performing standard lifting tasks and compared this with situations where no psychosocial stress was present. Under the stress conditions, significant increases in spine compression and lateral shear were observed, but not for all subjects. Gender played a role in that females moved di􏰘fferently in response to stress, thereby causing an alteration in muscle coactivation patterns. More surprisingly, when the personalities of the subjects was considered, it was found that certain personality traits, such as introversion and intuition, dramatically increased spine loading compared with those with the opposite personality trait (e.g. extroversion and sensing). These di􏰘fferences in personality were closely associated with differing trunk muscle coactivation patterns and explained well the di􏰘erence in spine loading (and expected risk of LBD) between subjects. These increases in trunk muscle coactivation are believed to in ̄uence spine loading more at low levels of work intensity than at high levels where the biomechanical demands of the job probably overpower any additional loading that may be due to responses of the musculoskeletal system to psychosocial stress."

In other words, the more Type A your personality type, the higher your spine stress, and the different your muscular recruitment patterns. This shouldn't surprise anyone who has looked at injury rates in athletes during stressful academic periods, but it is interesting to see that there doesn't seem to be a "desensitization" occurring with those who are always more stressed. With that in mind, chance are that the training stress needs to be managed more conservatively in those who have very stressful personality types, not just lifestyles.

2. There are many different ways to fluctuate training stress.

Speaking of reducing training stress, there are many different ways to do so. We all know that you can reduce intensity (load), training frequency, and/or volume (sets x reps x load) to give people appropriate deloading periods. 

Sometimes, though, simply changing exercise type can reduce the training stress. As an example, changing to more concentric-dominant exercises (as I wrote HERE) is one way to reduce training stress. Most people won't feel really banged up from a session of deadlifts, step-ups, and sled pushes even if there is a fair amount of volume and intensity.  

3. Versatility implies the ability to quickly and easily progress and regress.

When I think of versatile programs, I immediately think of the ability to quickly change something on the fly - and that usually refers to exercise selection, usually because something is too advanced or basic for someone.

If you lack the hip extension needed to do a Bulgarian split squat, you're better off regressing to a regular split squat or a step-up.

bss-3

It's also important to understand how to move laterally. An example would be if a program called for a piece of equipment an individual doesn't have. For example, if you don't have a cable column, maybe you could use dumbbells, bands, or a TRX suspension training for your rowing variation.

4. There is a point of diminishing returns on variability.

Check out this image I created for a presentation I gave on long-term athletic development.

bellcurve

If young athletes have low variability in their lives, they make very little progress. Obviously, the risk of overuse injuries is higher, but just as importantly, without adequate movement variability, athletes don't have opportunities to build "predictive models" to which they can resort amidst the unpredictable challenges sporting environments throw at them. In other words, some exposure to controlled chaos prepares you for a lot of unpredictable chaos down the road.

To the far right of the column, though, we realize that too much variability can be problematic as well. There simply aren't enough high quality reps to build an firmly ingrained pattern. If an athlete throws a football in week 1, baseball in week 2, tennis ball in week 3, and shotput in week 4, he won't really have built one pattern any more than another. This is why athletes ultimately do benefit from an element of specialization; it brings them back to the center for more "focused progress."

These same ideas can be applied to the everyday gym-going lifter. Early on in a training career, we need to expose these individuals to just enough variability to prevent overuse injuries. In many cases, we can get this just by having comprehensive mobility warm-ups and assistance exercises - single-leg work, horizontal pulling, push-up challenges, carrying variations, etc. - that complement the big bang exercises like squats, deadlifts, and presses. If we just do a few big multi-joint exercises, though, injuries can often creep up, and we may encounter plateaus. However, there are also scenarios where specialization programs (less variability) may be needed to bring up specific lifts by pulling us back from the far right of the curve.

The take-home point is that the relationship between training progress and exercise variability is always in flux, and it's a good place to look if you're struggling to make progress, chronically injured, or just want to better understand why you're getting the results you're experiencing.

Looking to see how I create both versatility and variability in the programs I write? Check out The High Performance Handbook, which is on sale for $30 off this week.

highperformance-handbook-banner

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