Home Posts tagged "Strength and Conditioning"

The Biggest Mistake in Program Design

Today's guest post comes from former Cressey Sports Performance intern and current Boston Bruins Head Performance Coach Kevin Neeld. It's timely, as he's a co-creator of the new Optimizing Adaptation and Performance resource that was just released. I've reviewed it and it's outstanding; definitely check it out HERE, as there's a $50 off introductory discount in place this week. -EC

My programs look at a lot different now than they did ten years ago. This is true despite my “big rock” principals and general exercise progression-regression strategies changing very little.

The evolution of my programs has come largely from acknowledging my own biases, recognizing parallel paths to the same training adaptation, and generally trying to avoid the major program design mistake of training the sport, not the athlete.

[bctt tweet="All athletes competing in the same sport do not have the same needs."]

This may seem like a simple statement, but the overwhelming majority of training programs are designed based on the demands of a sport, and not the specific needs of the athlete.

More Than Just Exercise Selection

My first exposure to this concept came early in my career when athletes showed up with a unique injury histories that required finding substitutions for exercises that provoked past injury symptoms.

This is certainly a step in the right direction, but effective program design involves a lot more than just picking exercises that won’t hurt.

Simply, exercise selection does not determine the physiological adaptation; loading parameters do.

The table below displays several common loading parameters, and the adaptation stimulus each creates within the athlete.

The same exercise can be used to groove a specific movement pattern, develop muscle size, increase maximum strength, and improve power.

Using movement-based assessments in conjunction with injury history to find exercises the athlete can perform correctly and safely is an important foundational step, but it won’t dictate the athlete’s training outcome.

Acknowledge Individual Goals

Each athlete trains for a different reason.

Some want to get bigger and stronger. Most want to get faster. Some simply want to be healthy (i.e. durable).

A general program with well-thought out phase progressions may lead to improvements in each of these areas, particularly in young and untrained athletes.

However, a general program is unlikely to optimize the development of the qualities the athlete is most interested in improving.

Several years ago, I started asking myself a simple question: “How would my approach change if my entire career depended on the success of this one athlete?”

Prior to wrestling with this question, I had overlooked opportunities to further individualize training programs because I over-emphasized logistical constraints to athletes following different programs within the same group, and frankly, I didn’t realize the results the athletes were getting weren’t as significant as they could be.

Consider two athletes that both have a 12-week off-season. One has a goal of putting on size and strength, and the other just wants to get faster. Will the same program lead to optimal improvements in both areas?

Unlikely.

Fixating on the Destination, Ignoring the Starting Line

Every time I’ve added a new assessment or test to my intake process, I’ve learned something.

For example, early on I thought all that was required to get an athlete to perform an exercise well was good coaching and a little practice.

When I first started implementing movement assessments, it became immediately apparent that athletes had wildly different structures and movement capacities, and that certain athletes simply could not get into optimal positions to perform specific exercises correctly.

Of course, unique characteristics don’t only apply to movement capacity, but to all physical qualities. This became really apparent when I started analyzing team/group test results using aggregate scores.

Aggregate scores combine performance in different tests of the same quality to create a score for that quality. For example, if a testing protocol involves 3-RMs in three different exercises (e.g. Trap Bar Deadlift, Pull-Up, and Bench Press), performance on the three tests could be combined to create a single “Strength” score.

With an appropriately comprehensive testing battery, these aggregate scores provide a very simple and effective tool for identifying the athlete’s performance profile, and communicating areas of need to the athlete.

The graph below presents four different athlete profiles. From left to the right, each column represents performance in Movement Capacity, Speed, Power, Upper Body Strength, Anaerobic Conditioning, and Aerobic Conditioning.

Red and green bars represent position averages and best performances, respectively.


Should these athletes follow the same program?

This process is extremely important for two reasons.

First, the athlete may not be communicating the most optimal training goal.

Athletes express training goals for different reasons. Ideally, the goal would be based on identifying a limiting factor that is preventing the athlete from earning an opportunity to compete at their desired level.

But frequently training goals are arrived at much more arbitrarily. For example, an athlete may want to get bigger and stronger because they have a friend (or older sibling) that is stronger.

Or they say they want to get faster…because that’s what everyone says, even if it’s not their most pressing need.

A comprehensive testing process can help illustrate the athlete’s strengths and weaknesses so decisions about the best training target can be discussed with better context.

Second, the athlete may not possess the fundamental physical capacity to make optimal progress in their desired training goal.

This comes back to a very straight-forward idea: even if the destination is the same, the starting point is not.

In the most simplistic terms, expressing speed requires creating high amounts of force, quickly, in efficient movement patterns.

If an athlete wants to improve speed, but lacks sufficient strength, creating a program that emphasizes improvements in the athlete’s ability to produce force will be the most effective “speed training” program for that athlete.

Alternatively, an athlete with above average speed but severely limited movement capacity may have the right “engine” to be fast, but can’t get into the optimal positions to express that engine’s capacity within efficient sport movements.

As a third example, another athlete may have above average strength and appropriate movement capacity, but simply can’t apply force quickly. This athlete will benefit from a program that emphasizes speed, power, and rate of force development.

Finally, an athlete may simply be under-trained and benefit from a more general program that addresses multiple qualities of need.

This may seem like a hypothetical scenario, but these are the exact cases presented in the graphs above.

Top Left: Lacks sufficient strength.
Bottom Left: Lacks sufficient movement capacity.
Top Right: Lacks speed/power
Bottom Right: Under-trained

Wrap Up

Optimizing an athlete’s training progress requires having an individualized target, and an in-depth understanding of the athlete’s current capabilities. It’s only with a clear vision of both the starting point, and destination that the most effective path can be determined.

The biggest change to my training programs came when I stopped thinking about how I could design the perfect program, and started asking how I could design the best program for a specific athlete to achieve a specific goal.

I’ll leave you with the question that still guides my program design decisions today: “How would your approach change if your entire career depended on the success of this one athlete?”

To learn more about Optimizing Adaptation and Performance from Kevin, Mike Potenza (San Jose Sharks), and James LaValle (authority in nutrition and supplementation), head HERE. It’s on sale for $50 off as an introductory discount, and I’d highly encourage you to give it a watch.

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5 Strategies to Avoid Overthinking Strength and Conditioning Programs

I frequently run Q&A sessions on my Instagram stories, and sometimes, I'll get an inquiry that warrants a detailed response that goes beyond a 15-second time limit of the small amount of text I can squeeze into a respond. This question is one such example:

The more I learn, the more stressful I find programming for athletes. Any tips for this?

First off, I should acknowledge that this is an incredibly common problems for not only new trainers, but experienced coaches as well. The curse of knowledge is a very real thing that can lead to a lot of frustrated tapping on the keyboard as you write up programs for clients that really don't require things all that advanced. Here are a five strategies I've found to help:

1. Identify the biggest rocks and circle them.

After I write up all my notes on an evaluation, I go back and circle 2-3 things that I view as the highest priority items. Maybe it's very limited cervical range of motion, or brutal single-leg strength. If it's a resting heart rate in the 80bpm range, maybe we need to hammer aerobic capacity. Regardless, I find that when you definitively identify and highlight the highest priority items, it makes it easy to get the ball rolling on the program and build some momentum in the "don't sit in silence and overthink things" direction.

2. Think quality movement first.

When joints move efficiently (work from "neutral"), it impacts a host of other systems. You take longer to shift from aerobic to anaerobic energy systems strategies. The length-tension relationship is optimized to enhance strength and power. The lymphatic system works more efficiently to optimize recovery. Effectively, moving efficiently has a "trickle down effect."

These downstream benefits are why we take so much pride in our warm-ups. They shouldn't just get your body temperature up, but rather, they should also work to reduce bad stiffness and improve good stiffness. For instance, with a back to wall shoulder flexion drill, we're reducing bad stiffness in the lats, scapular downward rotators, and lumbar extensors. Meanwhile, we're establishing good stiffness in the anterior core, deep neck flexors, and scapular upward rotators.

3. Acknowledge that you very well may never use some of the tools in your toolbox.

If you're working with post-pregnancy women who are just looking to lose their baby weight, don't expect to use French Contrast Training. And, if senior citizens are your niche, your extensive knowledge of plyometric progressions probably isn't going to have much of an impact (sorry, bad pun).

If you hire a contractor to fix something at your house, he rolls in with his toolbox, but isn't emotionally attached to the idea of using a chainsaw, hammer, screwdriver, or any other specific tool. Rather, he matches the right tool to the job in question, even if it means all the other tools are unused that day. You have to be willing to recognize that a ton of the things you've learned over the years may, in fact, be completely useless for you.

4. "Batch" your programs.

Believe it or not, I have an easier time writing a program for a professional baseball player with years of training experience with us than I do writing a program for an untrained female. The reason is very simple: I write a lot more programs for baseball players, so it's familiar and I have a lot of related cases from which I can draw perspective ("X athlete is similar to Y athlete, so I can build on the success I had with that athlete instead of reinventing the wheel"). For this reason, try to write multiple programs for similar demographics in the same sitting instead of breaking them out to different programming sessions. As a general rule of thumb, I never sit down to write a program unless I'm doing at least 3-4 programs in that sitting.

5. Build on the previous program.

Most of the time, when I write a program, I'm writing it right over the top of the previous month's programs, as doing so allows me to contemplate progressions and regressions quickly and easily. Never, ever start by staring at a blank programming template!

Wrap-up

In closing, remember that program design is only as complex as you make it. When in doubt, simplify!

This post delved into programming strategies, but the truth is that our programming is just one aspect of the systems that make our two Cressey Sports Performance facilities what they are. In our upcoming Cressey Sports Performance Business Building Mentorship, CSP co-founder Pete Dupuis and I will pull back the curtain on these systems to help other gym owners improve their systems. Our next offering will be April 7 at our Jupiter, FL location. For more information, click here.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 12/1/18

I hope you've had a good week and are looking forward to the weekend. To kick it off, here's a little recommended reading and listening:

Relationship Between Range of Motion, Strength, Motor Control, Power, and the Tennis Serve in Competitive-Level Tennis Players: A Pilot Study - This research study was just published in the past few months, and it once again demonstrates that sagittal plane power exercises (e.g., broad jump) don't predict performance in rotational sport activities (e.g., tennis serve). I've been saying this for close to a decade: power is plane-specific! If you're looking for more details on this topic, here's where I first put it out there: What I Learned in 2010.

Andy McCloy on the Physical Preparation Podcast - I was a huge fan of Andy's first appearance on Mike Robertson's podcast, and this sequel didn't disappoint, either.

Frank Duffy on the Robby Row Show - Cressey Sports Performance coach Frank Duffy was a guest on Robby Rowland's podcast to discuss Functional Range Conditioning concepts and how we apply them with our baseball players.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 9/3/18

Happy Labor Day! I hope you're enjoying a long weekend with family and friends. In case you get a few quite minutes to catch up on some reading and listening, here are some good things to check out:

International Youth Conditioning Association High School Strength and Conditioning Certification - I was one of the contributors on this resource, and it's on sale for $100 off using the coupon code HSSCSFLASH through Tuesday at midnight.

9 Ways to Help People Change While Staying Within Your Scope - I thought Krista Scott-Dixon did an excellent job with this article for Precision Nutrition. As she notes, sometimes, the line between "coach" and "therapist" gets very blurred.

Stacey Hardin on Purposeful Collaboration in Pro Sports - I loved this podcast from Mike Robertson, who interviewed Stacey Hardin of the Minnesota United soccer club. There was some great information on how sports medicine teams should collaborate for the best care for the athletes they serve.

Forget About Squat Depth - This was an excellent JL Holdsworth article about why squat depth should be individualized to each lifter.

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The adductors (groin muscles) have a complex structure, but a solid knowledge of functional anatomy in two specific regards can help you to keep these tissues healthy. 👇 First, stretching into abduction alone isn't enough. You have adductors that flex the hip, and others that extend the hip - so you have to account for both in your mobility work. Second, they have a large cross sectional area that runs from just above the knee all the way up to the pelvis, so you need to use both broad and specific approaches to self myofascial release. Swipe left to check out some approaches you can implement to cover all your bases. 👍 1️⃣Adductor Rolling w/Med Ball on Table: Just don’t make eye contact with anyone while doing this one. 2️⃣Adductor/Ab Rolling on Lacrosse Ball: You’re working on the adductor tendons as they attach on the pubis (bottom of the pelvis). 3️⃣Split-Stance Kneeling Adductor Mobilizations: Stretch the hip into both flexion and extension without substituting low back motion. 4️⃣Half-Kneeling Adductor Dips: This “open” position can be more comfortable for those with limitations to hip internal rotation. This option also provides ankle mobility benefits. 5️⃣Split-Stance Hip Abduction End-Range Lift-offs: Here’s a good @functionalrangeconditioning inspired movement to build some motor control at end-range hip abduction to make ROM changes “stick.” Don’t let the hip “fall out.” 6️⃣Lateral Lunge w/Band Overhead Reach: Get the arms overhead without arching the lower back to integrate some core stability with your hip mobility changes. 💪 Give these a shot and let me know how they went in the comments below! #cspfamily

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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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Crossfit and Confirmation Bias

Last month, I published a blog about the importance of building strength in the teenage years. In case you missed it, you can read it here.

The gist was that strength is foundational to many other athletic qualities: power, stability, endurance, and even mobility. In short, building strength in untrained lifters is low-hanging fruit that can have a massive impact on other domains. However, if you train many of the qualities higher up on this pyramid early in a training career, you don't see very profound changes to athleticism. It's why the kid who just does agility ladders doesn't get much more agile, and the cross-country runner can't go faster just by running slow.

As is always the case with my new articles, I sent it out to my newsletter list - and there are always a dozen or so people who'll reply to the article. One, in particular, stood out for me:

"This reads as an incredible endorsement of multimodal training like Crossfit! Which highlights the very different skills in the article! Thanks for sharing!"

This is an incredibly well-intentioned person, but unfortunately, he could not be any more incorrect. And, it's a nice illustration of the confirmation bias we often encounter in the training world.

This gentleman really loves Crossfit, and that's fine. He can train a bunch of different qualities and have a lot of fun. That does not mean, however, that concurrent training of all these qualities is a way to optimize long-term athletic development in teenagers (or any age of athletes).  His confirmation bias leads him to believe that what he enjoys (and likely what has worked for him) will be good for every scenario he encounters.

Sure, you can build a lot of these qualities simultaneously, especially in untrained individuals. However, you are not going to develop a 95mph fastball or run a 10-second 100m dash if you're consistently rowing 1000m, doing sets of 15 power cleans, or rocking kipping pull-ups like they're going out of style. And, you're going to have a much harder time staying healthy as you embark on these goals, as each sport has unique energy systems requirements and position-specific demands. How often do you see aggressive hip-shoulder separation, appreciable single-leg work, and end-range shoulder external rotation in the typical Crossfit program?

Again, if you want to do these things, by all means, go for it and have fun - but don't confuse them with a plan that's optimized for athletes. Random programming might keep training novel, but it delivers random results - and athletic success is much more the result of targeted efforts to meticulously address the growth windows one can identify. In short, you can't take general solutions to specific problems.

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Strength in the Teenage Years: An Overlooked Long-Term Athletic Development Competitive Advantage

Earlier this week, I posted this Tweet, and it got a pretty big response:

Of particular note to me, though, was one reply:

"The worst thing youth developmental athletes can do is to max out one biomotor ability and save themselves from developing ALL abilities. A long term program must develop all, not just strength. Strength, endurance, speed, flexibility.... No exploitation allowed."

This is one of the most glaring misconceptions about long-term athletic development, and I think it warrants a thorough response.

To be clear, I am all for prioritizing a host of biomotor abilities at a young age and continuing to develop them over the course of the athletic lifespan. You can't just turn athletes into powerlifters.

However, where I do disagree with this statement is that it implies that all these separate qualities are their own unique domains that must be trained separately. In reality, we have to look at things as a pyramid, not a collection of separate silos. The foundation of that pyramid is undoubtedly maximal strength.

I cover this in great detail in my e-book, The Ultimate Off-Season Training Manual. Here's a quick excerpt with respect to power development:

"...maximal relative strength has a “trickle-down” effect to all things athletic. If you took your best squat from 200 pounds to 400 pounds, a single body weight squat would feel a lot easier, wouldn’t it? How about a single vertical jump? You have about 0.2 seconds to exert force on a classic vertical jump test; you’ll never make use of all the strength that you have, regardless of how good your rate of force development (explosive strength) is.

"However, let’s say (hypothetically) that you can put 50% of your maximal strength to work in that short time period. If we keep that percentage constant, isn’t an athlete with more maximal strength automatically at a great advantage? The 200-pound squatter can exert 100 pounds of force into the ground; the 400-pound squatter can exert 200 pounds. Is there really any question as to who can jump higher?"

This assertion has been consistently validated in the research world: a lack of maximal strength limits one's power potential. Having a strength foundation allows you to make the most of your plyometric, sprint, and agility progressions.

There are implications on the endurance end of the continuum as well.

"Now, let’s take this a step further to the endurance end of the spectrum. If you go from 200 to 400 pounds on that 1-rep max squat, wouldn’t a set of 20 body weight squats feel easier?

"If you could do lunges with 100 pound dumbbells in each hand, wouldn’t running five miles with just your body weight feel easier? You may have never thought of it, but every athletic endurance endeavor is really nothing more than a series of submaximal efforts."

Obviously, these strength numbers are unrealistic for the overwhelming majority of high level endurance athletes, but they aren't for competitive athletes from other sports requiring a blend of strength, power, and endurance. If you need further proof, check out the research I cited in my article, 5 Resistance Training Myths in the Running World.

Strength has implications for how well athletes move, too. The initial reply mentioned flexibility, which according to Wikipedia) is "the range of movement in a joint or series of joints." This is a static measure, whereas athletic success is more governed by mobility, which is one's ability to reach a position or posture. The difference is the presence of stability in a given circumstance, and that's impacted by muscular control. In fact, I would actually argue that the biggest "trickle-down" effect of maximal strength is joint stability, which in turn impacts mobility. As an example, this 6-11 athlete couldn't squat well when he first came in, but after eight weeks of training built a foundation of strength, he was able to do this:

All athletic qualities are important, but to say that they should all be trained equally at all times - especially in young athletes with a huge window of adaptations in front of them - is extremely short-sighted. Imagine a child that tried to take math, science, and history courses before mastering language skills. If you can't read and write, you will struggle to pick up these more progressive challenges. Strength is foundational in this same way, and this is the pyramid through which I view it:

The closer the items are to the bottom, the more heavily impacted by strength they are. We can debate where each of these items should be positioned on the pyramid (and it likely depends on the athlete in question), but nobody can debate that strength is an important foundation for all these other qualities. It's rooted not only in anecdotal experience of many elite coaches, but also in loads and loads of research.

As a closing thought, several months ago I reviewed Mike Boyle's great new resource, Complete Youth Training. After reviewing it, I told Mike that I enjoyed it not only as a strength and conditioning coach, but also as a parent of twin daughters. I think the most compelling statement Mike made in the entire resource is that one of the most impactful things he's done with his daughter (an accomplished D1 hockey player) was to strength train a minimum of two days per week since she was 11 years old. When you've got strength at a young age - and you preserve/build it over the years - the rest of your training becomes that much more productive.

Mike's put this resource on sale for $50 off this week, and I'd strongly encourage you to check it out, whether you're a strength and conditioning professional, rehabilitation specialist, sport coach, or parent of a young athlete. There's some excellent information in there for everyone. You can learn more HERE.

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Why You Shouldn’t Look Up When You Lift

To tuck the chin or not? It's one of the most debated topics in the world of strength and conditioning and sports medicine these days. If you've read any of my stuff (including the detailed presentation, "Nuances of the Neck," in my new resource, Sturdy Shoulder Solutions), you'll know that I prefer tucking it - the so-called "packed neck position" - to preserve a more neutral cervical spine positioning, whether it's on deadlifts, squats, or push-ups.

One of the most common arguments against this packed neck position is that Powerlifter X and Olympic Lifter Y look up during lifts, and they're really strong. I'd encourage you to consider that:

1. Most of your clients/athletes have no interest in being Powerlifter X or Olympic Lifter Y. They just want to be fit, healthy, proficient in their sport. They value quality of life over weight room PRs - so movement quality takes place over absolute loading.

2. Good outcomes don't necessarily equate to good movements, so it's difficult to always draw population-wide conclusions from elite athletes. As an example, Cressey Sports Performance athlete and Cubs pitcher Steve Cishek is an accomplished MLB pitcher, yet he has some "high maintenance" pitching mechanics that you would never teach to another up-and-coming pitcher. He's just found a way to make them work, even if they do put his body in some funky positions. 

 

Slooooooow moooooo Cisshhheekkk. #cspfamily #cubs

A post shared by Eric Cressey (@ericcressey) on

Just because someone is strong doesn't mean that they're getting to those big numbers via the most efficient or healthy avenues.

3. We have no idea what Powerlifter X or Olympic Lifter Y's necks will look (or feel) like in their 60s.

4. Especially under load, it's never a great idea to take one joint close to its end-range at the expense of motion at other joints. A common example is getting too much low back movement when the hips are stiff. Well, when it comes to cervical extension, most people get far too much in the upper cervical region and far too little in the lower cervical spine. So, not all "look ups" are coming from the same place - and some will certainly create more pathology than others.

5. When you go into upper cervical/head extension, you're shortening levator scapulae, which is a downward rotator of the scapula.

If you're looking to set up an overhead squat or snatch, it's probably not a great idea to encourage downward rotation of the scapula when you need upward rotation for quality overhead motion. Here's a video that delves into this a bit further:

6. You're also shortening sternocleidomastoid, which is one of the biggest muscular contributors to chronic headaches.

So do yourself a favor and just tuck your chin a bit. And, if you'd like to learn more about the functional anatomy and unique challenges we face with the neck, be sure to check out Sturdy Shoulder Solutions.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 5/18/18

Happy Friday! I'm a few days late with this post in light of our spring sale as well as some speaking-related travel I had this week. The good news is that the travel gave me some time to do some reading/viewing/listening and come up with some additional recommendations for you. Check them out:

Complete Youth Training - This is Mike Boyle's great new resource for those who work with young athletes. He touches on everything from the problems with early specialization to age-specific training stages. It's a good investment for parents and coaches alike. I loved how his perspective as a parent coalesced with his commentary as a strength and conditioning coach and business owner. It's on sale for $50 as an introductory discount.

The Best Team Wins - This was a recommendation from my buddy Josh Bonhotal, who's spent the past several years at the Purdue basketball strength and conditioning coach. Whether you're a coach or involved in a business in any way, this is a great book that'll teach you a lot about your interactions with athletes, fellow coaches, employees, and co-workers.

Prioritization and Success for Strength and Conditioning Success - I was reminded of this older post of mine this week when chatting with an up-and-coming strength and conditioning coach about how I've approached career development since I entered the industry.

Top Tweet of the Week

 

I think the long head of the triceps is a really overlooked structure in the development of both shoulder and elbow pain in throwers. Many people forget that it crosses the shoulder joint - and therefore effectively links the scapula to the lower arm. 🤔 In the late cocking phase of throwing, it's working eccentrically to prevent excessive elbow flexion while storing elastic energy that can be released on the subsequent elbow extension of the delivery. In other words, you can view the long head of the triceps as somewhat of a "mini-lat," as the lat serves this similar store-release function (albeit with different functions) - and they both work as shoulder extensors. 💪 It's also interesting in that it's one of the few muscles where the trigger point referral patterns can work up and down, as opposed to just down. I've seen some throwers where treating triceps has been a game changer in terms of everything from elbow, to shoulder, to neck pain. 👇 The long story short is that you have to give the triceps some love with quality self-myofascial release/manual therapy and make sure that you preserve tissue length (by stretching into shoulder flexion and elbow flexion simultaneously). Swipe right for some ideas. Thanks to @andrewmillettpt for the dry needling and manual therapy and @oneilstrength and @sooo_deep for the exercise demos. #cspfamily

A post shared by Eric Cressey (@ericcressey) on

Top Instagram Post of the Week

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5 Important Lessons on Balance Training

You'll hear the terms "stability" and "balance" thrown around a lot in the personal training, strength and conditioning, and rehabilitation communities, but they're often covered in very vague terms - and with hastily thrown together exercise progressions. With this week's spring sale on The Truth About Unstable Surface Training (enter coupon code SPRING for 40% off), I thought I'd cover some things you need to appreciate to be more informed in this regard.

1. Balance and stability are not the same thing.

In Basic Biomechanics, Susan Hall (2003) defined stability as "resistance to both angular and linear acceleration, or resistance to disruption of equilibrium.” Conversely, she defined balance as "the ability to control equilibrium” or “the process of maintaining the center of gravity within the body’s base of support within a given sensory environment.”

In other words, stability is  a state, and balance is a proficiency. Your level of stability is constantly changing based on environmental factors, external influences working on you, and your positioning. Balance is something you have (or lack) to varying degrees; neural factors such as muscular strength, kinesthetic awareness, coordination, and proprioception all contribute to one’s balancing proficiency.

In training, we often reduce stability (e.g., go to unilateral instead of bilateral stance) in order to train to improve our balancing proficiency.

2. Static and dynamic balance are only loosely correlated.

All the way back in 1967, Drowatzky and Zuccato observed little carryover from static to dynamic balance skills, and it was proven again decades later by Tsigilis. With that in mind, it makes sense to train a "continuum" of balance challenges ranging from static to dynamic:

3. Balance is an easy and "free" adaptation to acquire.

If you watch all of the exercises I just outlined along that static-to-dynamic continuum, none of them are particularly taxing. In other words, they can be trained every day without having to remove a lot of other stuff from your programs out of concern for exceeding recovery capacity. The best way to improve balance is to train it frequently and with small exposures, even if it's as simple as telling athletes to brush their teeth on one foot. Nobody will overtrain on balance work.

4. Balance is skill specific.

Having great balance on hockey skates doesn't mean that you'll have elite balance on a basketball or tennis court. This is why it's so important to challenge balance in a variety of ways (by manipulating stability scenarios) in training; it increases the likelihood of "overlap" to the chaos that athletic participation throws at us.

5. Unstable surface training is simply one means of modifying stability in a given situation - but that doesn't mean that it's an appropriate or safe method of training balance.

I spent two years of my life studying unstable surface training (UST) for my master's thesis, which was published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research in 2007. Suffice it to say that there are a few scenarios in which UST can be very useful, most notably the rehabilitation of functional ankle instability. Usually, however, over avenues of stability manipulation are much better ways to enhance balance.

With that in mind, if you'd like to learn more about not only unstable surface training, but all the different ways you can alter stability to enhance balance in your training programs, I'd strongly encourage you check out my e-book, The Truth About Unstable Surface Training. It's on sale for $40 off as part of our spring sale; just enter the coupon code SPRING at checkout to get the discount.

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