Home Posts tagged "Strength and Conditioning"

Programming Principles: Installment 5

With my current sale on Sturdy Shoulder Solutions (use coupon code ST2021 to get $40 off through tomorrow/Thursday at midnight), it seemed like a good time to update this series on program design strategies. Many fitness professionals and strength and conditioning enthusiasts have looked to this resource as a model upon which to base some of their program design efforts, so I thought I'd dig in a bit deeper on a few useful principles you'll find in it that should be consistent across all programs.

1. Use your "pre-work" to address the most pressing issues.

In Cressey Sports Performance programs, you'll see five distinct "components" to each day in most programs:

a. Warm-ups
b. Pre-Work
c. Strength Training
d. Metabolic Conditioning
e. Cooldown

Of course, there's always some variation included. For instance, not every day will feature metabolic conditioning, and there may be training sessions that don't include strength training. All that said, when folks come to observe at CSP and take a glance at a program, they're often most intrigued about our "pre-work."

This section of the training session comes at the end of the warm-up and before the strength training for the day. Typically, it's power training that'll include some medicine ball work and sprint/agility/plyometric work. However, we'll often take it a step further and include some single-leg balance work, or even mix in some technique practice on something like a Turkish get-up. Basically, it's a bridge from the warm-up to the heavier lifting; we want this period to be all about athletes actually being athletic: moving fast, and being challenged in a rich proprioceptive environment. 

Typically, in this time period, there are some rest periods that athletes have a tendency to rush through. Since they don't feel very fatigued from a set of 6/side rotational medicine ball shotputs, they tend to rush from one set to the next. To get the most of these drills, though, we need to slow them down - and if we're going to have them rest, we might as well make it productive rest. To that end, we use the pre-work period as a great time to mix in some fillers. Here's an example we might use for an athletes with a flat thoracic spine and poor end-range external rotation control:

A1) Step-Behind Rotational Med Ball Scoop Toss: 3x4/side, 6lb
A2) Alternating TRX Serratus Slides: 3x6/side
B1) Side-to-Side Overhead Med Ball Stomps: 3x4/side, 10lb
B2) Prone External Rotation End-Range Lift-off: 3x(3x5s)

The secret is to pick the 2-3 highest priority movement struggles for each athlete and attack those in the 2-3 fillers you have each day in the pre-work. Over the course of a week, this could be an additional 15-20 sets to help get things moving in the right direction.

2. Proximal-to-distal almost always works great...almost.

Anyone who's followed my work knows that working proximal-to-distal is a strategy I like to employ when addressing movement challenges. The principle is simple: work on something toward the center of the body (e.g., neck positioning) and it'll often yield downstream benefits (e.g., shoulder range-of-motion) as we work our way to the extremities. One time you might backtrack this strategy, however, is when there is a known pathology more distally. I'll use myself as an example. I had a left knee meniscus repair (the first orthopedic surgery of my life) just over six weeks ago, and it has actually been a great learning experience for me.

As part of the surgery, my medical-collateral ligament had to be loosened (the equivalent of a Grade 2 sprain). There are some very specific post-op contraindications: I can't flex the knee beyond 90 degrees in weight-bearing right now, and any of the classic drills that take my hip into external rotation (like a cradle walk) and abduction (split-stance adductor mobs, or lateral lunge) can easily irritate the medial (inside) aspect of my knee. Additionally, when you're a bit limited in how much you can flex the knee during the gait cycle while in the brace, you tend to "cut off" hip extension on each stride. What does all this mean? The hip on my surgery side feels tighter than normal.

Sure, I can get creative with my hip mobility drills and even do some soft tissue work to settle down some muscles that can't be lengthened, but the best solution is actually a distal to proximal one: get my knee right! Sure enough, getting the swelling out of the joint early on and hitting all my ROM targets immediately improved the hip symptoms because my weight-bearing strategies improved.

The take-home message here is that before you look to integrate a proximal-to-distal approach, be sure your assessment picks up on any unusually "sticky" joints. And, where appropriate, refer those cases out to someone who can get them "unstuck."

3. Make your warm-ups more efficient so that you don't have to "sell" them as much.

Let's face it: people don't typically enjoy the warm-up period. It's without a doubt the "most likely to be skipped" part of any training session. We probably aren't going to change people's perspectives on this, but we can change the situation in which they operate. In other words, we can adjust our programming to make it logistically easier to complete for our clients/athletes. One way to accomplish this is to just structure the program in a more convenient context. To that end, here's how I like to structure a warm-up:

a. Ground-based (e.g., positional breathing drills, supine/quadruped mobility drills)
b. Standing, stationary (e.g., wall slides, bowler squats)
c. Standing, moving (e.g., classic dynamic warm-up drills like lateral lunges, spidermans etc.)

This approach saves the time of having athletes get up and get down over and over again; it's a more efficient flow.

Once you've incorporated this strategy, you can make them even more efficient by considering the location of any equipment - bands, benches, TRX straps, etc. - that they may need to complete the drills. In an individualized warm-up, putting these implements in convenient spots helps athletes keep their body temperature up while they're moving from one spot to the next.

Finally, you can always use "combination" exercises to attack multiple qualities in the same drill. As an example, an adductor stretch with extension-rotation gets you both hip and thoracic mobility.

I'll be back soon with another "Programming Principles" installment, but in the meantime, be sure to check out my popular resource, Sturdy Shoulder Solutions, at a great $40 discount through tomorrow (Thursday) at midnight. Just enter coupon code ST2021 at checkout at www.SturdyShoulders.com and it'll be applied.

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The Best of 2020: Strength and Conditioning Articles

With 2020 winding down, I'm using this last week of the year to direct you to some of the most popular content of the past 12 months at EricCressey.com, as this "series" has been quite popular over the past few years. Today, we start with the most popular articles of the year; these are the pieces that received the most traffic, according to my hosting statistics.

1. What Do You Think of XYZ Method? - Often, I’ll get inquiries where folks ask what I think of a specific method. It might be yoga, Crossfit, Pilates, or a number of different disciplines. These are always challenging questions to answer because there are actually a number of variables you have to consider - and that's what I cover in this article.

2. Accidental Strength and Conditioning Success - I often joke that some of the biggest training successes of my career came about when I was trying to develop one athletic quality, but actually wound up accidentally developing something else that yielded a great return on investment. Medicine ball training might be the absolute best example of this.

3. Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training - Installment 36 - This series is among my most popular, and I was long overdue for an update.

4. Efficient Programming, Better Warm-ups, and Combination Exercises - This feature outlined some programming principles you can employ when designing strength and conditioning plans.

5. Variation Without Change - For long-term training success, there are certain exercise categories that have to be mainstays. However, underneath those broad categorization schemes, there are a lot of opportunities (and a great need) for variation.

I'll be back soon with another "Best of 2020" feature. Up next, the top videos of the year!

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 10/9/20

Here's some recommended content to get October rolling:

Darcy Norman on the Value of Working with Interesting People - I really enjoyed this multi-faceted podcast by Mike Robertson with Darcy Norman, who has a lot of experience in the elite soccer world.

Digital Minimalism - I've enjoyed each of Cal Newport's books, and while this one wasn't as big of a hit for me, it does provide some important discussion points about how technology excessively shapes our existence - and what to do about it.

Play, Practice, or Train? - This was an awesome article from Gray Cook that provides some insights on how to improve organization of our training among these three key classifications. They all have their place, but we have to know how to best fit each one into our planning.

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Creative Conditioning: Installment 2 – Proteus Circuits

As a follow up to my recent Creative Conditioning post (here), here's another good one I've been using - this time featuring the Proteus Motion units we have at both our Cressey Sports Performance facilities. This is just a three-exercise 30s on: 30s off interval approach, but you really could utilize a number of different options.

Here's why I like it:

1. Similar to a medicine ball medley, Proteus is concentric-dominant, so you won't elicit much, if any, soreness the following day. That makes it fit more easily with the rest of your strength and conditioning programs. Unlike with med balls, however, you can vary the loading the resistance in the line of motion. This is a key differentiation; just going heavier with a med ball changes the patterning; that isn't true of the Proteus, where movement quality is preserved.

2. Traditional cardio approaches typically get you "stuck" in sagittal plane, repetitive initiatives like cycling, elliptical, and even sprinting. Similar to hopping on a slideboard or doing change-of-direction movement work, this exposes you to reps in different planes to stimulate different body systems (fascial, lymphatic, etc) to unique patterns. As you can see, I need more of this in my life!😂

3. Depending on the exercises you choose, there are limited ground reaction forces, which can make this helpful if you have heavier athletes/clients who may not be able to take the pounding of sprint/change-of-direction work.

You can learn more about Proteus Motion by visiting www.ProteusMotion.com.

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A Coach’s View on Internal vs. External Cueing

Today's guest post comes from Matt Kuzdub.

Stay on top of the ball. Extend the arms. Stay tall. Finish high. Stay back. Follow-through. Use your legs. Snap your wrist...

You’ve probably heard these cues before. Maybe you’ve even used them yourself. From individual sports like tennis, to team sports like baseball, and even in the weight room, coaches have been using verbal cues like these for decades.

While some may be effective, many have issues. For instance, if I tell an athlete, “use more of your legs” when trying to jump higher, what does that really mean?

You see, most of these cues are a bit vague and leave room for ambiguity. But the root problem is this: the types of cues we give an athlete will direct their focus and attention. And this, in turn, will impact their ability to change a movement and learn a new skill.

So the question becomes: what should coaches bring their athletes’ attention to during practices and drills? The same question can be asked about the gym; does cueing differ on the field vs in the gym? Surely learning to hit a 95mph fastball with the game on the line isn’t the same as setting a bench press PR in the weight room.

That’s what we’ll explore in this post. We’ll set the stage by outlining the difference between two types of cueing strategies: internal and external. We’ll then present additional focus of attention research (a branch of motor learning theory) - and suggest a rebuttal to that research. Finally, we’ll provide additional examples to gain some clarity from a coach’s perspective.

One caveat before I continue. I played competitive tennis (the equivalent of the minor leagues in baseball) and hold a MSc degree in sport science. Given this, my role is often one of bridging the gym with the court. In other words, I can relate to both sides of the coin: the technical and tactical elements of the game, along with the off-court elements needed to be physically prepared. Eric, who I have admired for years, is someone who not only can relate to these two elements, but can also bring sports medicine into the mix.

I’m bringing this up because, first, I think that no matter where you lie on the spectrum - on the field as a skills coach or in the lab as a researcher - knowing a little bit about cueing and learning is probably a good thing so that you can have at least have a meaningful conversation about it.

Second, a lot of these principles are interchangeable with different branches of the performance world. Even physios can apply some of the research on attention and motor learning with their patients, just in a slightly different context.

Lastly, because of my experiences in tennis, a lot of the examples you’ll see in this post will stem from there. I’ll do my best to tie in other sporting examples, especially from the baseball world, but please don’t be too hard on me if I’ve made a baseball nomenclature mistake along the way.

What’s the Difference Between External and Internal Cues?

Internal

Remember the cueing examples in the intro? In tennis, we see similar ones. Things like "turn your shoulders" and "move your feet." The commonality here is that each instruction is focused on a body segment or part.

Gabriele Wulf - prominent researcher in attention and motor learning - would say that these cues are bringing an athlete’s attention to internal factors. More specifically, she defines internally-focused cues as “where attention is directed to the action itself” (2007).

But how does a player interpret a cue like, “bend your knees?” How low should the athlete go? Is a 90-degree knee bend as effective as a 100 degrees of knee flexion? At what point in the swing/movement? Should one knee be bent more than the other?

As you can see, this cue can be interpreted in a number of different ways, depending on the athlete and the context.

Now, I’m not saying this cue can’t be used or that it’s not effective. The fact is, however, it’s got to be much more specific. For example, perhaps I want my player to load the rear leg on the forehand side to initiate a more forceful hip and trunk thrust towards the oncoming ball. So, instead of “bend your knees,” you might say, “put more weight on that rear leg during your set-up, then use it when accelerating to the ball.

See how much more specific that is compared to “bend your knees”? You might be saying to yourself, “but that’s a pretty long cue”. Yes, it is. But we may only have to use that entire cue once (or periodically). The athlete will now understand a shortened version of it like "load that rear leg" or "add pressure to that back foot" or some similar alternative - and we’ll still end up at the same outcome.

External

Here’s an example of an athlete practicing their serve (and missing a lot) using external cues only (i.e. a target):

Orienting your attention externally, on the other hand, is described as “where the performer’s attention is directed to the effect of the action” (Wulf 2007).

To clarify, external focus instructions are aimed at factors outside the body, like an implement, support surface, the trajectory of an object, or a target. A baseball batter, for example, could direct his/her focus to the bat (its path, velocity etc), the ball (its spin, speed, trajectory etc.) or to the area of the field they’d like to hit into (target).

In tennis, hitting with depth (i.e. getting the ball to land near the opponent’s baseline) is a pretty important skill. Because in today’s day and age, if you hit just a touch short, you’ll soon be on defense. To practice this ability, we often use an externally-focused cue, and it’s usually a target. For instance, with our elite guys, we might mark a line three feet from the baseline and get them to focus on hitting the ball past the line. With younger players, a starting point for "depth training" might simply be to get the ball to land past the service line.

In this example, the cue is not only external, but it’s also distal and has an environmental component - meaning that the focus is further away from the athlete. An example of a proximally-oriented external cue would be focusing on the movement of the racquet. This would not fall under the environmental component, but what researchers call skill-oriented (i.e., we’re directly attempting to target the skill of swinging the racquet - or some sort of technical outcome).

On the gym side, as we’ll see below, there’s been a fair amount of research suggesting the benefits of cueing athlete’s externally to produce more force, more power or during speed training. For example, instead of asking an athlete to use more of their legs during a countermovement jump, you might ask them to “push the ground away” or simply pick a spot on the wall (or use a basketball hoop) and see how high they can touch. I like the latter as a form of competition amongst a group of athletes (see vid below) it’s also more distal/environmental vs. proximal/skill oriented.

Here's an example of athletes trying to touch the highest part of a ceiling during a jump.

The Theory

If you haven’t figured it out already, a lot of the recent evidence points to bringing an athlete’s attention to external - instead of internal - factors. But why is that?

According to Wulf (2013), internal focus of attention instructions contribute to a conscious awareness of the desired movement. And if we’re more conscious of what we’re doing, this will inhibit automatic processes. The opposite is true for externally-focused cues - they almost deliberately facilitate a subconscious control of movement.

One theory behind this - one which Wulf (2013) suggests - is that directing attention to a particular limb for example, will provide a neural representation of the self. The result, according to Wulf, is we over-regulate our actions.

So instead of moving with more grace, we end up increasing tension. Instead of effortlessness, our movements are rigid and more mechanical. We’ve all been there before, right? You’re given feedback to keep your wrist locked at impact, for example, and what happens? Your entire arm, shoulder, neck, etc. get tight, and you can’t even make clean contact with the ball.

But perhaps there’s a place for being more aware? To consciously move the elbow into a certain position. At least for some period of time.

What’s the Research on Attention and Motor Learning Have to Say About This?

If you’re like me - and get really hyped up about this sort of stuff - then you’re probably eager to find out, what’s the research suggesting? Which is best for learning and ultimately, performance?

In a review article by Wulf (2013) where close to 100 studies were investigated, significant differences exist between externally and internally-focused cueing across a variety of sports and disciplines

Specifically, it’s externally-focused cues that significantly and consistently outperform internal cues. Apart from a few studies that showed benefits to internal cueing - or no significant difference between the two types of cueing strategies - external seems to be the way to go.

But here’s the thing, most coaches use internally-focused cues most of the time. In fact, Porter (2010) found that 84% of track & field athletes reported that their coaches gave instructions that were specific to the movement of a body part or segment. Van der Graff et al (2018) reported a similar finding in elite Dutch league pitchers; they only heard externally-focused cues 31% of the time. If collected, I’m sure data would reveal similar findings across many sports.

Specific Research Examples

In a 2007 study on golfers, Wulf and Su found that external instructions were superior in both novices and experts. When attention was directed at the swing of the club or a target (instead of a specific movement of the arms), performance was better. Conversely, Perkins-Ceccato et al. (2003) found that internal instructions were more beneficial with less skilled golfers than more skilled golfers.

In baseball, the results vary based on a number of factors, including the skill being coached. Out of four different attentional conditions, Castaneda and Gray 2007 found that highly skilled batters performed best when attention was focused on “the flight of the ball leaving the bat.”

These same batters performed worse when attending to “the movement of their hands” where the focus was internal. Interestingly, however, the less-skilled batters performed worse when attending to environmentally-oriented external cues. These batters fared best when the attention was aimed toward the execution of the skill - and there was no significant difference between external and internal instructions. So, in less skilled performers, both internal and external cues benefited performance.

In other sports, we see more of the same (Wulf 2013). Basketball free throw shooting accuracy benefited more from external cueing vs internal - i.e. focus on the trajectory of the ball instead of the flexion of your wrist. On the performance side, agility scores were better after external cues versus internal ones (Porter et al 2010).

There’s a host of other studies that have reported better results for externally-focused groups versus internally-focused ones (Wulf 2013). Benefits include greater maximal force production, more reps being performed during a bench press test, reduced 20m sprint times, increased broad jump distances, further discus throws, and a host of others. For specifics, I direct you to Wulf’s review, Attentional focus and motor Learning - A review of 15 years.

My Counter-Viewpoint

By now, you’re probably ready to throw all your internal cues out the window and completely switch over to external cueing strategies. Before you do, hear me out.

Let me be candid for a moment. Yes, there’s some compelling evidence suggesting that directing an athlete’s focus externally is more effective compared to internally. But after dissecting some of the research, conversing with world-class coaches - and testing it with my own athletes - I’m not sure that I’m completely convinced.

Because there’s an issue with a lot of the research. First, most studies are short lived. Learning is similar to typical training adaptations; there’s often a latency period (and at times, a pretty lengthy one at that). So, we’re still not quite sure if long-term retention and learning would be better served by using external versus internal cues.

Second, most seasoned coaches employ a combination of these two cueing strategies. They assess the situation and the athlete, and then provide a cue that corresponds to the needs of that particular moment/setting.

Do you really think a basketball player will become a better shooter, in the long run, if the only thing they focus on is the target (i.e., the basket)? That improving elbow position, and sequential extension of the elbow and flexion of the wrist won’t help the player perform better, eventually? If so, I’m sorry but you haven’t been around sport enough; and in particular, you haven’t seen less skilled athletes evolve their skills.

Sure, tell the basketball player to “flick the wrist” after releasing the ball and you’ll probably see them tense up certain muscles...initially. But over time, as that movement becomes automated, and they now have the ability to add spin and height to their shot, those muscles will eventually relax. And now tell that player to focus more on the hoop.

Personally, I believe there's a constant tug and pull, a back and forth, a mix and match type scenario that should occur. Sometimes, we need to focus on the positioning and/or execution of a particular body part. Other times, we should focus more on an external factor like the flight of the ball or a target. But this will all depend on the athlete, their preferences, their skill level, the time of year, the complexity of the task, the sport in question, and probably a host of other factors I haven’t yet considered.

My Experiences and Personal Observations with Cues

1. With beginners, I’ve used a mix of strategies from day 1. I have never been a fan of a kid standing in line waiting to hit a tennis ball from a stationary position. So instead, we would try to get kids rallying as quickly as possible. And a good way to do that would be to get them to focus on some external cues first. Drills that would help with the perception of an oncoming ball, the trajectory of the ball, a target, focusing on bouncing the ball off the string bed and so on. Then, we would try to tie in some interna’ cues to help them rally with more power, get more spin and so on. Things like “get your chin to touch your front shoulder” to facilitate more of a shoulder turn worked well.

2. In certain cases, external cueing can be more beneficial when approaching competitions. Many tennis players I’ve coached don’t want to hear anything about “traditional” technical cues (e.g., arm position, leg drive) when a big match is around the corner. In these instances, I’ve found that talking more about targets and trajectories works well. Things like “add shape” (using my hands to show the shape I’m looking for) to the ball might help to get more height (and safety) over the net. “Aim for the baseline” might help achieve more depth on shots when players are hitting short. Those types of external cues are also more distal - which get players thinking even less about their bodies (and letting automation take over).

3. While most players I’ve worked with don’t want to hear much about technique during competition time, there are some that need that type of feedback. In most cases, keeping cues familiar and simple has worked best. The key though, is that it should be specific to that player, and what you’ve been working on (and reinforcing) of late. For instance, one of my “minor league” pro guys was getting stuck with his forehand. He just wasn’t creating enough space between his elbow and his torso, which took some power off the swing (less leverage). We tried many cues but what worked for him was the feeling of getting his elbow “straighter” at contact (even though it was never completely straight). This actually forced him to prepare a little sooner, so that he could strike the ball earlier (more in front), which led to more distance between his elbow and torso (and all the other benefits - kinematically - that come with that) and which resulted in more speed on his forehand. This internal cue (“get that elbow straighter at impact”) worked for this player, no matter the time of year (even hearing it during the warm-up before a match helped).

4. I believe that some of the externally-focused cueing has been blown way out of proportion. On certain tasks, do we really need to bring an individual’s attention to an external source? Here’s an example I heard recently that a coach was cueing an athlete’s stance during a squat and said, “Imagine you’re standing on two railway tracks.” Really? Can we not just say, “stand shoulder width apart”? Is that going to make a big difference? Perhaps a cue like “I want to see your shirt logo during the entire squat” could help an athlete maintain better trunk positioning...but some athletes might be just fine with, “Keep your chest up”. As you can see, a lot of this is probably very athlete-dependent, which means a coach needs to know their athlete. And a lot of the cueing will be trial/error. And I think that’s completely fine!

5. One cue in, one cue out. This has been a game-changer for me, as I believe certain athletes are intelligent individuals and can process more than one cue at a time. For this to work well, tell the athlete to focus on one cue at the beginning of a movement - usually internal. And then one cue after that movement, or during the execution portion - usually external. For instance, during a jump, you might tell an athlete to “swing the arms back” as they are loading the movement and then ask them to “push the ground away” just prior to the propulsive (jumping) phase. The same can probably be done with swinging a racquet and hitting a baseball - keep the elbow [insert internal cue] during the prep phase and aim for the [insert external cue] when in the midst of striking.

6. The type of sport matters. Running, track, strength training, all have less opportunities for external focus cues compared to open-skilled sports like tennis and baseball. Therefore, it’s no wonder that more track coaches employ internal vs external cues with their athletes; there’s logic to that. Tennis and baseball, on the other hand, probably allow us to use a bit more externally-focused cueing strategy and just let the athlete go at it for a while.

Wrapping it Up...And What’s Next

I’ve heard the argument from researchers before - because most coaches use internal cues instead of external cues, athletes are accustomed to them and prefer them. But I’m not entirely convinced of this. Many elite settings - like Cressey Sports Performance, Altis, and others - have coaches who understand and employ both.

Either way, as you’ve noticed, I don’t believe we should use one type of cueing exclusively. Both have their place. Dan Pfaff, an elite tack coach (and mentor of mine), offered me this advice: “Most successful coaches are the ones that know when to use one over the other, and how to tread that line.”

He also mentioned that the timing/frequency of cueing - when, how often, etc. – is equally, if not more important. And when it comes to internally-focused cues, maybe that’s the issue. Maybe it’s tough to learn when you’re hearing five different cues in the span of ten seconds? But that’s a whole other can of worms...one we’ll explore in a follow-up post.

Note from EC: if you're looking to dig a bit deeper on this topic, I'd highly recommend you check out this podcast I did with Nick Winkelman:

 About the Author

Matt Kuzdub, MSc, (@CoachKuzdub) is best known for creating www.mattspoint.com - an online platform for all things tennis training - including coaching, resources and ebooks. He also coaches a small group of elite players (college & pro), both on and off the tennis court. Previously, Matt was the lead sport scientist at 'Train with PUSH' and holds an MSc in Strength & Conditioning from the University of Edinburgh. You can follow him on Instagram at @mattspoint_tennis.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 5/4/20

Here's a list of recommended reading/listening since our last update on this front.

EC on the Vigor Life Podcast - I recently joined my buddy Luka Hocevar on his podcast to talk about career development and the skill sets fitness professionals will need for the future.

Athletic Shoulders with Eric Cressey - I was also a guest on the Science for Sport Podcast, where we discussed preparing shoulders for competition, and touched on the difference between the private sector and working for a team.

Youth Single-Sports Specialization in Professional Baseball Players - This study was recently published in the Orthopedic Journal of Sports Medicine, and it shows the early specialization isn't the right path for developing a professional athlete. I thought that the most interesting part of the study was Figure 5, the Reasons for Single-Sport Specialization. It's implied that pressure from parents and coaches isn't a leading cause of early specialization, but I have a hard time believing that kids specializing before age 14 make that decision all on their own, and without outside influence.

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Everything works - until it doesn't. And, pushing maximal strength is certainly no exception. 👇 Early on, building strength is an absolute game changer. A little strength goes a long way in providing the foundation for joint stability, power, and endurance. Over time, though, added levels of strength don't provide the same significant return on investment (point of diminishing returns). Instead, you need more specificity to develop these qualities. And, the stress of continuing to push for maximal strength effectively squeezes out other training initiatives because it's competing for a limited recovery capacity. Eventually, pushing maximal strength actually interferes with the development of those qualities because it's such a massive toll on the body to preserve. And, the risk of injury during training rises exponentially. Quality of life goes down dramatically as lifters are constantly banged up in their quest to gain 5-10 pounds of bar weight in an entire training cycle. "It is what it is" if we're talking about a strength sport athletes where all that matters is what's on the bar. It's a terrible path to be on if we're talking about an athlete or just someone who wants to feel, look, and perform well in their daily lives. #cspfamily

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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 in an online format September 22-24. 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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