Home Posts tagged "strength training program" (Page 5)

5 Reasons You Have Tight Hamstrings

There might not be a more obnoxious and stubborn athletic injury than the hamstrings strain.  When it is really bad, it can bother you when you're simply walking or sitting on it.  Then, when a hamstrings strain finally feels like it's getting better, you build up to near your top speed with sprinting - and it starts barking at you again.  In other words, a pulled hamstrings is like a crazy, unpredictable mother-in-law; just when you think you've finally won her over, she brings you back down to Earth and reminds you how much more she liked your wife's old boyfriend.

However, not all hamstrings pain cases are true strains; more commonly, they present as a feeling of "tight hamstrings."  If one is going to effective prevent this discomfort, rehabilitate it, or train around it, it's important to realize what is causing the hamstrings tightness in the first place.  Here are five reasons:

1. Protective Tension of the Hamstrings

This is readily apparent in someone who has a crazy anterior pelvic tilt, which puts a big stretch on the hamstrings, which posteriorly tilt the pelvis.  When someone is extremely anteriorly tilted, the hamstrings are constantly "on" to prevent someone from ending up with extension-based back pain, such as spondylolysis (vertebral fractures), spondylolisthesis (vertebral "slippage"), and lumbar erector tightness/strains.  This is a problem most commonly seen in females (greater anterior pelvic tilt than men) and athletes:

APT-250x300

Doing a lot of longer duration static stretching for the hamstrings in this population usually isn't a great idea, as you run the risk of making someone more unstable - particularly in the case of females, who have less rigid ligamentous restraints (more congenital laxity) to protect them.  To that end, our approach with these folks is to use the warm-ups to foam roll the area, then do some hamstrings mobilizations to transiently reduce stiffness in the hamstrings.

After this reduction in stiffness, we work to build stability in synergists to the hamstrings in posterior pelvic tilt.  In other words, there's a heavy emphasis on glute activation and anterior core recruitment both with a strength training program and postural reeducation for the other 23 hours of the day.

At the end of the training session, with the male athletes, we may do some shorter duration hamstrings stretching just to "dissipate" a little eccentric stress.  I like ten seconds in each of these three positions:


 

 

 

 

 

The thing to remember is that while you can do everything right with these athletes in training, what they do with their posture during the rest of their lives is of paramount importance.  If they continue to stand around in anterior tilt and don't help the new stiffness they've developed "stick," they'll continue to over-rely on their already tight hamstrings.

2. Neural Tension

Just because you feel hamstrings tightness doesn't mean that the hamstrings are actually the source of the problem.  In fact, it's not uncommon at all for those with lumbar disc issues to present with radicular pain, tightness, or numbness/tingling into the legs - especially the hamstrings.  The symptoms may also come from nerve entrapment (most commonly the sciatic nerve) on soft tissue structures further down the chain.  Just aggressively stretching the hamstrings can actually make these symptoms worse, so it's important to see a medical professional to rule out causes further up with the appropriate clinical exams, such as the slump test.

3. Truly Tight Hamstrings

In order for hamstrings to really be short, one would have to spend a lot of time with the knee flexed and hip extended - so just imagine the position you're in at the top of a standing leg curl.  That's a hard pose to hold for an extended period of time, much less do so on a regular basis.

That said, some folks do get somewhat close to that on a daily basis in the sitting position, and are therefore the most likely to really have "tight hamstrings." They have to be in posterior pelvic tilt and knee flexion for a considerable chunk of the day - and even then, it's still pretty tough to be truly short, as they are still in hip flexion.

These folks usually can't distinguish hip flexion from lumbar flexion, so if you do a standing hip flexion assessment, rather than maintain the neutral spine we see in this photo, they'll go into lumbar flexion (butt will "tuck under").

The same trend will usually be noticeable with any kind of squat unless they have a tremendous amount of core stiffness to overcome the posterior hip stiffness that's present.  If you test these folks on an straight leg raise, it isn't pretty, as the pelvis is already posteriorly tilted.  In a pelvis that starts in "neutral" on a straight leg raise, roughly the first 1/3 of movement that you see comes from posterior tilt of the pelvis before the femur ever starts to flex on the acetabulum of the pelvis.  These folks are usually already posteriorly tilt, so that 1/3 is already used up; you're really only measuring hip flexion and not hip flexion PLUS posterior pelvic tilt.  And, as you can imagine, if someone is truly short in the hamstrings, that straight leg raise isn't going to be pretty. Obviously, these folks usually have a terrible toe touch pattern as well.

This should also educate you on why you can't treat all hamstrings strains the same.  In the protective tension example earlier, we needed to work to regain stability to hold a position of a bit more posterior pelvic tilt.  We'd cue glute activation, and use exercises that draw folks back into posterior tilt (e.g., reverse crunches).  If you have someone has a pulled hamstrings because they are truly short from already being in posterior pelvic tilt, though, some of these cues and exercises would be contraindicated. You'd be feeding the dysfunction.

While manual therapy and stretching for the posterior hip is valuable, again, it must be followed by stabilization work at adjacent joints with the pelvis in a neutral position.  These folks can benefit from training hip flexion above 90 degrees as well, as it educates them on how to flex the hip without rounding the lumbar spine.  This is one reason why I think a lot of the chop and lift exercises we've learned from Gray Cook are so fantastic; they teach us anti-rotation and anti-extension stability in various positions of hip flexion while the pelvis is in neutral.  They make changes "stick" better.

4. Previous Hamstrings Strain

Not to be overlooked in this discussion is the simple fact that the single-best predictor of hamstrings strains is a previous hamstrings injury.  One you have an injury, that area may never be the same from a tissue density standpoint - whether it's the surrounding fascia or the muscle or tendon itself.  A previous injury can leave athletes feeling "tight" in the region, so regular manual therapy can certainly help in this regard.

Anecdotally, the athletes with the long-term problems seem to be the ones with the pulls up on the gluteal fold, right where the hamstrings tendons attach to the ischial tuberosity.  The area gets "gunked up"in a lot of athletes as it is because of all the tissues coming together and exerting force in a small area, but it's especially problematic in those who have a previous injury in the region.  Perhaps more problematic, though, is the fact that we sit on our proximal hamstrings attachments - and that isn't exactly good for blood flow and tissue regeneration.

Semimembranosus_muscle-2 

I haven't seen any research on it, but I have a feeling that if you looked at this region in a lot athletes with ultrasound (similar to this study with patellar tendons), you'd find a ton of people walking around with substantial degenerative changes that could be diagnosed as tendinosis even though they haven't actually hit a symptomatic threshold.  My guess is that it's even worse in the posterior hip region because a) we sit on it, b) the ischial tuberosity is a more "congested" area than the anterior knee), and c) the study I noted above used 14-18 year-old athletes, and degenerative problems will get worse as one gets older (meaning this study likely undercut the true prevalence across the entire population).

Very simply, an athlete with a previous hamstrings strain needs to stay on top of quality manual therapy on the area, and be cognizant of maintaining mobility and stability in the right places.  They have less wiggle room with which to work.

5. Acute Hamstrings Strain or Tendinosis

Of course, the fifth reason you hamstrings might be tight is because you might actually have a hamstrings injury!  It could be an actual hamstrings strain, or just a tendinosis (overuse issue where tissue loading exceeds tissue tolerance for loading).  There is no one perfect recommendation in this regard, as a tendinosis or grade 1 hamstrings strain is going to be much more tolerable than a grade 3 hamstrings strain where you have bruising all along the back of your thigh.  

In terms of maintaining a training effect with the less serious ones, here are a few suggestions:

a. When you are ready to deadlift, use trap bar deadlifts instead of conventional or sumo deadlift variations.  I explain a bit more about how the positioning of the center of gravity makes this more hamstrings friendly HERE.

b. Shorten up your stride on single-leg exercises.  This makes the movement slightly more quad dominant, but allows you to still get the benefits of controlling the frontal and transverse planes with appropriate glute and adductor recruitment at the hip.

c. Go with step-up and reverse sled dragging variations.  Eliminating the eccentric component can take a considerably amount of stress off the hamstrings, and both these exercises get the job done well.

d. If you're going to squat, start with front squats at the beginning, and reintegrate back squat and box squat variations later on, as they will be more hamstrings intensive.

e. Understand anatomy.  If you are in hip flexion and knee extension, you're going to really be stretching the hamstrings and likely irritating them in the process.  Select exercises that don't hit these painful end-ranges, and then gradually reintroduce more dramatic ranges of motion as the issues subside.

f. Do hill sprints before you do regular sprints.  Your stride is going to be a bit shorter with hill sprints, and that'll take a considerable amount of stress off the hamstrings at heel strike (pretty good research on uphill vs. downhill sprinting HERE, for those who are interested).  Just don't go out and run as hard as you can the first time out; propulsive forces are still quite high.

Of course, this just speaks to how to train around a pulled hamstrings; there is really a lot more to look at if you want to really understand why they occur and how to prevent or address them.  In my eyes, this post was necessarily "geeky," as it is important that we don't dumb down complex injuries to "just stretch it out."  This recommendation is analogous to a doctor just telling someone to take some NSAIDs for regular headaches; it doesn't get to the root of the problem, and it may actually make things worse.

For more information, I'd encourage you to check out the Functional Stability Training series.

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Quick and Easy Ways to Feel and Move Better: Installment 6

Here are some strength and conditioning and nutrition tips to help you lose fat, gain muscle, get strong, and scare obnoxious kids off your lawn, compliments of Cressey Performance coach, Greg Robins.

1. If you're going to use kettlebells, hold them correctly:

2. There's "strong," and there is "strong enough."

In our strength and conditioning programs, we focus on the improvement of three main strength qualities: maximal strength, explosive strength, and reactive strength. Strength is basically the ability to produce force. Potential force finds its ways into different equations that represent qualities executed on the field, court, diamond, ice, etc.

I look at maximal strength as a pool of potential force that can be called upon, while explosive and reactive strength are a measure of how efficiently and quickly this potential force can be utilized. At a certain point, improving one strength quality without another is a futile effort. The amount of each quality can be determined by the demands of the athlete's sport, and position within that sport; how does the athlete need to move themselves, or someone or something else?

At a certain point the continued increase of maximal strength at the disproportionate increase of explosive and reactive strength is not productive. In other words, how beneficial is it to take a pitcher's squat from 315lbs to 405lbs when he is asked to throw a baseball that weighs about 5 ounces? Do not get wrapped up in maximal strength numbers, be weary of assigning arbitrary numbers as benchmarks for your athletes, and make sure to train different qualities in a strength training program.

3.  We were given two legs and two arms, don't forget to use them together.

I am not dismissing unilateral work from a solid strength and conditioning program. I am offering that the dismissal of bilateral exercises, injury cases/movement issues withstanding, is not necessary. In fact, I would argue that it is detrimental to your purpose.

Strength coaches often use the analogy that "weight lifting is not your sport", and I have written on this forum on how the only necessary activity to an athlete is actual sport practice. As coaches, and everyday people, we all know the last thing we want to do is get hurt in the weight room. So if weight lifting is an added benefit to sport performance, and not used to replicate the sport itself, why is uni lateral work considered more functional to our goal? Additionally, if the idea is to keep people healthy, why would we not use the best mechanical positions to move heavy loads in our strength training programs?

I realize an argument can be made for unilateral work in both of these cases, and thus I am not saying it shouldn't be included; rather it shouldn't be included at the expense of bilateral work. Instead of looking for ways bilateral lifts aren't great choices, you are better served to look at how they are, and then find ways around their shortcomings. This is what we do at CP, via specialty bars, elevated trap bar settings, and so forth. Do yourself and your athletes a favor and include bilateral exercise selections in your strength training programs; they are safe, effective, and very "functional".

4. When squatting, create outward pressure from the heel.

When I teach someone how to squat I am careful in how I cue pressure on the foot. I like people to imagine "spreading" when going down AND when coming up in the squat. However, I find that when you tell someone to spread they will often supinate and lose a neutral position of the ankle.

The good news is that this cleans up when you tell them (or yourself) to create outward pressure on the heel. In this position the ankle joint will remain centered, and you will produce better force through the ground. Make sure to keep contact with the ground with the front of your foot as well. The two points of contact there will be just below the big and little toe. This creates the "tri-pod" effect and gives you power through the lateral heel and control through the front foot. Give it a try and watch your squat improve right away!

Additionally, think about what this means in the context of your footwear selection.  If you've got a huge heel lift, there is no way you'll be able to get the appropriate weight positioning through your feet.  That's why a minimalist footwear option is a better bet for performing various strength exercises (and just about everything in life).

5. Cue up some music; it helps!

I don't know about you, but I love to have some great music on when I train. I honestly prefer to listen to music I actually enjoy when training, not always something that just makes me want to put my head through a wall. Furthermore, it has actually been shown that music does improve performance in activities requiring high muscle outputs.

A recent study published in the International Journal of Sports Medicine found that music actually improves muscle power output.

"...peak and mean power were significantly higher after music than no music warm-up during the two times of testing. Thus, as it is a legal method and an additional aid, music should be used during warm-up before performing activities requiring powerful lower limbs' muscles contractions, especially in the morning..."

While external sources of motivation should not be relied upon, make it a point to charge the iPod the night before big training sessions. It actually WILL make your strength and conditioning programs more successful!

My top five favorites on the playlist these days include Rage Against The Machine, Skrillex, Metallica, Jedi Mind Tricks, and "Call Me Maybe" by Carly Rae Jepsen. Yes, I went there.

What are your favorites? Leave a comment below!

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Strength Training Programs: 8 Strategies for Easily Maintaining Strength

In a post a while back, I made a comment that intrigued quite a few people:

I'm always surprised at how much volume it takes to attain a level of fitness, but how little volume it takes to maintain that level of fitness.

If you train yourself to run a six-minute mile, then take two months off from running, you can usually come back and get pretty darn close to that same time in spite of the detraining.  However, chance are that you had to bust your butt to get to that six-minute time in the first place.

The same can be said of a 600-pound deadlift, appreciate level of mobility, or world-ranking in water chugging.

In short, once you've hit these milestones, they stick around pretty well, provided you don't completely screw up and allow yourself to detrain.  As a frame of reference, my best deadlift is 660, yet even though I don't pull over 600 all that frequently (my competitive powerlifting days are likely over), I know I can do so just about any day of the week.

I'm always amazed at where my strength levels stand at the end of a long baseball off-season.  I work some absurdly long hours from September through February when all our professional baseball players are around - and this definitely impacts how frequently I do much work in the 1-3 rep range with my lower body training.  And, frankly, I don't squat at all during this time of year because my knees are usually cranky from being on the hard floors all day.  Interestingly enough, when I get some down-time when the pro guys go in-season, my squatting numbers haven't fallen off much at all.

I don't just think this is a valuable lesson for lifters who anticipate life interfering with optimal training dedication; I also think it's a tremendously important message to older lifters who may not be able to load as frequently as they could in their younger years.  To that end, here are some strategies for sustaining the strength one has built up over the years.

1. Avoid significant weight fluctuations (particularly down).

Nothing every sapped my strength more than losing five pounds.  Maybe I was just hyper-sensitive to it because I competed at a lower weight class and always had to monitory my weight to the point of being neurotic, or maybe it was just because it slightly changed my range-of-motion and leverages on the squat and bench press.  Regardless of what it was, a five pound drop in body weight equated to a 30-pound drop off my squat and 15-pound drop off my bench.

To that end, if you're trying to keep your strength up during some down time in your strength training program, make sure to keep your weight up, too.  It's not the time to be skimping on calories (unless, of course, you have a lot of fat to lose as part of your fitness goals).

2. Eat right.

"Eating enough" and "eating right" are two completely different things.  It would be very easy for me to just live on fast food during our busiest season.  Instead, I still set aside time to prepare food for the long work day.  I'm also fortunate to have a cafeteria 100 feet down the hallway, and they'll cook me up whatever healthy food I need on the fly.  I've got Athletic Greens, fish oil, and probiotics in my office, plus beef jerky and almonds in case I need solid food on the fly.  "Busy" doesn't have to mean "unhealthy" as long as you plan ahead.

3. Lift heavy at least once a month.

If you want to get strong, you need to put in at least 2-3 heavy lifting sessions per month for the lift in question. And, if you're trying to trying to bring up a bench press, squat, deadlift, and chin-up simultaneously, you've got a lot of competing demands and overall training stress.

If, however, you want to stay strong, getting in just a few heavy sets of a particular movement each month can get the job done.

4. Get sufficient sleep.

No matter how busy life gets, I am pretty good about getting at least seven hours of sleep each night - and usually a little bit more. I'm typically in bed by 10PM and asleep by 10:30, then wake up between 6 and 7AM each day.  I (like many others) have noticed that sleep before midnight makes me feel a lot better than trying to catch up by sleeping in the following morning.

5. Forget the deloads.

I'm a huge advocate of deloading periods in one's training; in fact, I wrote an entire e-book about the topic!

 However, if you're going through a time when your normal training volume is compromised, you really aren't "loading" enough to require a deload.  You're better off getting in your work whenever possible.

The obviously exception to this rule would be older lifters with appreciable levels of strength; they need to set aside specific deloading periods even if they are training with heavier sets less frequently.

6. Still crush your assistance work.

Just because you're not feeling up to crushing a personal best squat doesn't mean that you can't still get after it with your single-leg work, sled pushing, glute-ham raises, or any of a number of other assistance exercises. Do your best to keep the resistance up on your assistance work instead of just getting your reps in. Sets in the 5-8 rep range are outstanding in this regard, as they're heavy enough to have strength benefits, and the volume can help keep muscle on you, too.

7. Stick with multi-joint exercises.

If you maintain your strength on compound movements (e.g., chin-ups), you'll maintain your strength on "sub-category" isolation movements (e.g., biceps curls) just fine.  It doesn't work the other way around, though.

If life is busy and you're dragging when you get to the gym, you're much better off hitting a set of deadlifts than you are doing some leg curls.

8. Consider rearranging your schedule or changing your strength training program split.

One of the biggest appeals of The High Performance Handbook I introduced was the versatility it provided via its 2x/week, 3x/week, and 4x/week strength training program options.  Being able to shift from one approach to another as your schedule gets busier or lighter is valuable flexibility.

Additionally, it may be advantageous to plan your training for your less stressful days.  If you work crazy hours Monday through Friday, try lifting Saturday and Sunday, then picking 1-2 days in the middle of the week for short sessions consisting of just assistance work.

These are eight strategies you can easily apply even when life isn't easy and you want to maintain strength, but there are surely many more.  I'd love to hear your experiences with maintaining strength during busy times in your life in the comments section below!

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5 Things that Might Surprise You about our Baseball Strength and Conditioning Programs

We have quite a few baseball coaches, athletic trainers, physical therapists, and strength and conditioning coaches who stop by Cressey Sports Performance to observe our training.  While they are the ones visiting to learn, I actually learn quite a bit about the "norms" in the baseball strength and conditioning field by listening to them tell me about what surprises them about what they observe at CSP.  Here are some of the areas that seem to surprise quite a few people:

1. They're surprised we don't do more sprint work and change-of-direction training.

The competitive baseball season essentially runs from mid-February all the way through early September, and during that time, guys are sprinting, diving, and changing directions constantly during fielding practice.  They're also on their feet in cleats for an absurd number of hours each day.  To that end, when the off-season rolls around, most guys want a few weeks away from aggressive sprinting and change-of-direction work.  Once they get their rest, we typically go to 2-3 movement training sessions for October through December, usually on off-days from strength training.  I prefer to break them up so that we can get more quality work in with our strength training program, and also so that the sessions don't run too long.  Once January 1 rolls around, the volume and intensity of sprinting increases, while the strength training program volume is reduced.  

Summarily, because we often separate our sprint/agility work from our resistance training, many folks get the impression that we don't do much movement training - but that couldn't be further from the truth.  It's a big part of our comprehensive approach to baseball development; we just fit it in a bit differently than most coaches, and emphasize or de-emphasize it at different point in the year.

2. They're surprised how much medicine ball work we do.

One of the reasons there is a bit less movement training than you might see in other strength and conditioning programs is that we do a ton of medicine ball work, particularly during the months of October through January (for our pro guys).  

Medicine ball drills are great for not only training power outside the sagittal plane, but also because it helps to iron out excessive asymmetries while maintaining pitching- and hitting-specific mobility.  Our guys may do 240-360 medicine ball throws per week during their highest volume phases.

You can learn more about the medicine ball exercises we incorporate in our program by checking out Functional Stability Training of the Core.

3. They're surprised that we don't Olympic lift our baseball guys.

On multiple occasions, I've written at length about why I don't like overhead pressing and Olympic lifts in light of the unique demands of throwing and the crazy adaptations we see in throwers.

While the Olympic lifts might have great power development carryover to the sprinting one encounters on a baseball field, the carryover to power in the frontal and transverse planes just isn't as pronounced.  In other words, power development is extremely plane-specific.  I'll take medicine ball work and non-sagittal plane jumping exercises over O-lifts for baseball players in a heartbeat.

4. They're surprised we don't do more band work.

It's not that I think bands are useless; I just think most guys use them incorrectly, and even when used correctly, they just don't really offer that much advantage other than convenience.

The fundamental issue with bands is that the resistance is generally so light that guys can quickly develop bad habits - poor humeral head control, lumbar hyperextension, etc. - while doing them.  They'd be much more effective if guys would just slow down and use them correctly.  I am also not a fan at all of using the bands to get the arms into all sorts of extreme positions; you're just using a passive implement to create more laxity in an already unstable shoulder.  If you want (and need) to stretch a shoulder, do so with the scapula stabilized.  

Additionally, I'll take cables over bands whenever possible simply because the resistance is heavier and it matches the strength curve for external rotations better.  Throwers are generally weakest at full external rotation, yet the band has the highest tension in this position; meanwhile, the cable's resistance remains constant.  Obviously, manual resistance is ideal, but bands are a distance third.

5. They're surprised how "aggressive" our throwing programs are.

The overwhelming majority of our guys long toss, and most of them throw weighted baseballs at certain points of the year as well.  They pitch less and throw more.  They all still get their 2-3 months off from throwing each year, but when they are throwing, they work hard.

This is in stark contrast to some of the throwing models I've seen in professional baseball, where many organizations limit players to 90-120 feet with their long tossing, and the only time a baseball is "weighted" is when it gets wet on a rainy day.  Guys take so much time off that they never have any time in the off-season to actually develop.  I firmly believe that while you have to have strict limits on how you manage pitchers, you also have to stop short of completely coddling them.

These are surely just five areas in which we deviate from the norm with respect to baseball development, but important ones nonetheless.

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Tips for Long-Term Triceps Health

I’d wager that if you chatted with 100 lifters over the age of 30 with more than five years of strength training experience, they’d tell you that their triceps exercise selection has increasingly diminished with each passing year.

It's sad and disturbing, but not unexpected.

Barbell and dumbbell triceps extension variations can kill the underside of the elbows.

Dips can irritate the medial aspect of the elbow in the bottom position, or just bother the AC joint at the shoulder girdle.

Continue Reading...
 

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5 Great In-Season Lower-Body Strength Exercises that Won’t Make You Sore

One of the biggest concerns players have when it comes to in-season strength and conditioning programs is whether or not a particular exercise will make them sore.  It's a valid point, when you consider the profound effect soreness can have on a baseball athlete's performance - both physically and mentally.  As such, it's important to select exercises that provide a great training effect, but won't necessarily create a lot of soreness for a player.

The first important point to recognize is that strength exercise familiarity will minimize soreness.  In other words, if an athlete has already done an exercise in the previous 7-10 days, it shouldn't make him very sore (if at all).  This is one reason why I like to introduce new exercises in the week prior to the start of the season; we can "ride out" those exercises through the first 4-6 weeks of the season without worrying about soreness.

Of course, once you get past that initial stage, it's a good idea to change things up so that athletes will continue to progress and not get bored with the strength training program.  One way to introduce new strength exercises without creating soreness is to minimize eccentric stress; so, essentially, you're selecting exercises that don't have a big deceleration component.  This is tricky, as most athletic injuries occur from poor eccentric control (both acutely and chronically).  So, we can't remove them completely, but we can shoot for a 50/50 split.  To that end, we'll typically introduce our more intensive lower-body eccentric strength exercises (e.g., Bulgarian Split Squats) on a day when an athlete can afford to be sore (e.g., the day after a pitcher starts) for a few days.  If that isn't a luxury, we'll simply go much lighter in that first week.

To that end, here are five "general" strength exercises I like to use in-season with many of our athletes.

1. Step-up Variations - I'm normally not a big fan of step-ups for off-season programs because they don't offer a significant deceleration component, but they can be useful in-season when you're trying to keep soreness out of the equation.  Anterior-Loaded Barbell Step-ups are a favorite because they still afford you the benefits of axial loading without squatting an athlete.

2. Deadlift Variations - It goes without saying that I'm a huge fan of the deadlift (check out this tutorial if you need suggestions on How to Deadlift), as deadlift variations afford a host of benefits from strength, power, and postural perspectives.  They're also great because there isn't much of an eccentric component unless you're doing stiff-leg deadlift variations.  With that in mind, we utilize predominantly trap bar and sumo deadlift variations in-season.

3. Sled Pushing/Dragging - A lot of people view sled training as purely for metabolically conditioning guys, but the truth is that it actually makes for a great concentric-only strength exercise while helping to enhance mobility (assuming you cue an athlete through full hip extension on forward pushing/dragging variations).

Just make sure to keep the load heavy and distance short.

4. 1-leg Hip Thrusts off Bench - This is a great "halfway" exercise with respect to eccentric stress.  For some reason, even if you lower under a ton of control and with additional load (we drape chains over the hips), this exercise still won't make your posterior chain sore. A big shout-out goes out to Bret Contreras for bringing it to the forefront!

5. 1-arm DB Bulgarian Split Squats from Deficit - The asymmetrical load to this already asymmetrical (unilateral) exercise allows you to get a training effect without a ton of resistance (especially with the increased range of motion provided by the deficit).  It'll still create some soreness, but it's another one of those "halfway" exercises where the soreness isn't as bad as you'd expect, especially if you phase it in a bit lighter in week 1 of the new strength training program.

These are just five of my favorites, but a good start, for sure.  Of course, we still need to do a better job of educating "the masses" about how important it is to even do an in-season strength training program!

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Workout Routines: 6 Tips for Adjusting to Exercise in the Morning

We are creatures of habit - not only psychologically and socially, but physiologically as well.  If you need proof, all you have to do is read up on shift work disorder, which shows that simply changing one's sleep and work schedule can have some profound consequences for our health.

With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that changing the time of day when one's workout routine takes place is a huge deal for everything from mood to performance.  Perhaps the most common adjustment that takes place is when someone decides to exercise in the morning.  It may be because a long day at work is too exhausting to be 100% when you hit the gym after it's over, or you may just not want to wait for equipment access in a crowded gym at 6PM.  Or, it could be because a parent is super busy with kids' after-school activities, so first thing in the morning before they wake up is the best bet for getting in a strength and conditioning program.

Whatever the reason, the adjustment to exercise in the morning is without a doubt the toughest "time change" one could make.  With that in mind, here are five keys to making it a smooth transition:

1. Get to bed earlier.

This seems like a no-brainer, but you'd be surprised at how many people complain that they can't get results from exercise in the morning without realizing that they're still going to be far too late at night.

If you're someone who is accustomed to sleeping 12AM-8AM, then racing to be to work at 9AM, it's going to be an adjustment if you want to start training at 6AM before you head to work.  You're only making it tougher if you decide that you're simply going to sleep 12AM-5AM. It's also going to crush your productivity for the rest of the day, as you'll be sleep walking rather than enjoying the post-exercise energy boost most people experience.  If you want to be up at 5AM or 6AM to train, you've got to be in bed by 10PM.  In fact, I always tell my athletes that an hour of sleep before midnight is worth two hours after midnight.

2. Stand up for a bit.

Dr. Stuart McGill has made some fantastic observations on spine stiffness first thing in the morning. In a nutshell, when we lay down to sleep at night, our spine is decompressed, so the intervertebral discs actually collect water.  This increased hydration status builds annular tension within the discs, and makes the spine stiffer overall.  This isn't a good kind of stiffness, though; more stress is placed on the ligaments and discs than the soft tissue structures that typically protect them.

Simply standing upright and moving around decreases the hydration status of the discs - and, in the process, actually makes us shorter as the day goes on! While I don't know of many people that want to get shorter, the good news is that this height reduction reduces the spine stiffness and allows us to move the spine more safely and effectively.  While disc hydration diminishes over the course of the entire day, the majority of it occurs in the first hour that we're awake.

With this in mind, you're someone with a history of back pain, you're probably best off not incorporating exercise in the morning, especially if your workout routine includes a lot of bending and rotating.  If you're going for a walk or light jog, though, it's probably not a big deal.

Conversely, if you're someone who plans to use some of these more challenging compound movements and have to exercise in the morning, I'd encourage you to get up 30 minutes early and just focus on standing up, whether it's to read the paper, pack your lunch, or take the dog for a walk.

3. Take a hot shower before exercise in the morning.

One of the biggest struggles a lot of folks encounter is getting warmed up in the morning.  Folks usually turn the heat down at night while they're asleep, and it's obviously colder outside at nighttime.  You might think I'm nuts, but hopping out of bed and into a hot shower is a great "body temperature transition" strategy that bridges the gap between bed and exercise.  And, since you'll be standing in the shower, it also helps to accomplish tip #2 from above!

It only has to be 25-30 seconds to get your body temperature up a bit, and then you can take your "real" shower after you sweat up a storm.  As an alternative to shower #1, you can always splash some hot water on your face and drink a cup of coffee.  There's no way you're getting out of shower #2, though, Smelly.

4. Extend the warm-up.

In line with points #2 and #3, it's a good idea to add a few more dynamic warm-up drills to your pre-exercise routine.  Typically, our athletes do between eight and ten drills, but those who exercise in the morning are better off with as many as 15.  It might add five minutes to your dynamic warm-up, but that's far better than spending far more than five minutes in physical therapy for an injury you got from insufficiently warming up!

In line with tip #2 from above, you likely want to focus on more standing variations in your mobility exercise selections.

For some additional options on mobility drills, check out Assess and Correct: Breaking Barriers to Unlock Performance.

5. Tinker with various nutrition approaches.

I've heard thousands of different nutritional strategies outlined for those who want to exercise in the morning, but the truth is, everyone is different.  I have known folks who will throw up anything solid that they consume prior to exercise, and others (myself included) who could eat a giant breakfast and keep it down just fine.  For most, I think sipping on a shake as you start the training session is a good place to start.  If you handle that fine, you can consider having some solid food before the training session, if you find that you're hungry in the middle of the training session.

6. Recruit a training partner.

A training partner is almost always a good idea, but this is especially true when you're up at the buttcrack of dawn and not necessarily in the mindset to really push yourself.  Plus, when you're awake for exercise before the sun rises, you're far more likely to hit the snooze button if someone isn't waiting for you at the gym.

While training first thing in the morning isn't exactly ideal, it may be your only option for staying consistent with your workout routine - and consistency is the name of the game.  Implement these strategies to get the most out of your early morning training sessions.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 4/6/12

Here's a list of recommended strength and conditioning resources for the week: Elite Training Mentorship - This continuing education resource we introduced last month has started off with a bang, as we've gotten a lot of great feedback.  It'll update twice per month, and the first happened yesterday.  Content came from Dave Schmitz (two in-services and two exercise demonstrations) and me (two in-services and two exercise demonstrations).  My in-services this month were "Understanding and Managing Congenital Laxity" and "Understanding the Hip Adductors."  Updates from Mike Robertson and BJ Gaddour will come later this month.  Click here for more information.

9 Strategies to Train Around Lower Body Pain - Speaking of Mike Robertson, this is a great article he had published at T-Nation this week. Pressing Considerations for the Older Lifter - This was a super-detailed post from Jim "Smitty" Smith on what the seasoned veteran of strength training programs needs to keep in mind when doing a lot of pressing. Sign-up Today for our FREE Newsletter and receive a four-part video series on how to deadlift!
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Mobility Exercise of the Week: Bowler Squat

I was introduced to the bowler squat originally by Dr. Stuart McGill at one of his seminars back around 2005.  Beyond the endorsement from one of the world's premier spine experts, the fact that it's been a mainstay in our strength and conditioning programs for about seven years should prove just how valuable I think this combination mobility/activation exercise is. Before describing it, though, I should mention that the name is a bit misleading.  While it does look like a bowler's motion, the truth is that it's more of a "rotational deadlift" than it is a squat.  There is some knee flexion involved, but the shin remains essentially vertical, and most of the motion occurs at the hips - and that's what makes it such a fantastic exercise.  Have a look:

We talk all the time about how important glute activation is, but most folks simply think that a few sets of supine bridges will get the job done. The problem is that this exercise occurs purely in the sagittal plane, while the glutes - as demonstrated by their line of pull - are also extremely active in the frontal and transverse planes.  The gluteus maximums isn't just a hip extensor; it is also a hip abductor and external rotator.

As such, the gluteus maximus is essential to properly eccentrically controlling hip flexion, adduction, and internal rotation that occurs with every step, landing, lunge, and change-of-direction.  You can even think of it as an "anti-pronator."

A bowler squat effectively challenges the glutes to both lengthen and activate in a weight-bearing position in all three planes.  And, for the tennis and baseball players out there, check out how closely the bowler squat replicates the finish position from a serve and pitch (I noted this in a recent article, Increasing Pitching Velocity: What Stride Length is and How to Improve It).

To perform the exercise, push the hips back as if attempting a 1-leg RDL, but reach across the body with the arm on the side of the non-support leg.  The "hips back" cue will get the sagittal plane, while the reach across will get the frontal and transverse plane. Make sure to keep the spine in neutral to ensure that the range of motion comes from the hips and not the lower back.  Keep the knee soft (not locked out), but not significantly flexed, either.  Be sure to get the hips all the way through at the top, finishing with a glute squeeze.

A few additional cues we may use are:

1. Tell the athlete to pretend like he/she is trying to pick up a basketball with the support foot; it can help those who keep tipping over.

2. Provide a target - a medicine ball or dumbbell - that the athlete should reach for in the bottom position (this keeps folks from cutting the movement short, or making it too sagittal plane dominant).

3. Encourage the athlete to keep the chin tucked (to keep the cervical spine in neutral).

4. Put your hand a few inches in front of the kneecap and tell the athlete not to touch your hand with the knee; this keeps an athlete from squatting too much when he/she should be hip-hinging.

Typically, we'll perform this drill for one set of eight reps per side as part of the warm-up.  However, in a less experienced population - or one with very poor balance - this may serve as a great unloaded challenge that can be included as part of the actual strength training program.

Give it a shot!

For more exercises like this, be sure to check out Assess and Correct: Breaking Barries to Unlock Performance.

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Strength Training Programs: The 7 Most Common Power Clean Technique Mistakes

In response to my article, The 7 Habits of Highly Defective Benchers, I had a few reader requests for a similar article on power clean technique.  Fortunately, I knew just the guy to write it for us: my buddy Wil Fleming.  Wil did a tremendous job writing up the International Youth Conditioning Association Olympic Lifting Course, and he shares some of his knowledge along these lines with us below. 

I had the unbelievable good fortune of learning to Olympic lift under the guidance of a former Olympian and a couple of national team coaches. Unfortunately, many athletes learn how to do the Olympic lifts from a coach who hasn’t had that type of training.

As a result, the power clean may be the single worst looking lift in most weight rooms.  Seriously, I know you can picture it.

Walking into many high school weight rooms, and you’ll invariably see some kid who has WAAAY too much weight on the bar getting ready to show off what he thinks is pristine power clean technique.  He’ll roll it around for a minute on the floor, then muscle it up and catch it in a position that makes you wonder how he has so much flexibility in his adductors (history in gymnastics?).

I am by no means the most explosive athlete; in fact, I definitely wasn’t at one point, but I learned from the best.  And, just as importantly, I learned to not make some of the mistakes that plague athletes trying to do the power clean.   Let’s look at some of the most common ones.

Power Clean Technique Mistake #1: Missing too many lifts

I actually had a coach recently tell me about his plan for having athletes max out. It went like this.

“Well we put about 15-20 lbs more on the bar than the athlete can do and then have him try it. He usually misses it, then we do that same thing again. Once they miss it a second time, we drop about 5-10 lbs and try it a 3rd time.  Sometimes they get it.”

Wait, what?

Exactly.

The sad part is that I think this is the mode that a lot of athletes get into when training. They think that just a basic overload in the lift is a good thing.

In truth, the power clean is a really complex pattern and overload isn’t always rewarded; technique is rewarded.  If you train knowing you are going to miss lifts, you are…drumroll here…going to miss lifts.

Something I learned – and something I instill with my athletes – is that missed lifts are a part of training, but they are not a consistent part of training. You’ll learn far more by completing lifts than by missing lifts.

Power Clean Technique Mistake #2: Starting from the floor when you can’t make it there in good position.

Is a power clean a power clean if you don’t start from the floor?

This is a mistake that I see all too often and with serious consequences.  Athletes are told and made to start from the floor with the power clean when in truth they have no ability to get down to the start position and maintain any semblance of structural integrity.

The true start position for the clean is uncomfortable, to say the least.  It requires hip mobility, ankle mobility, thoracic spine mobility, and tremendous trunk stability.  Most athletes are lacking in at least one of these areas.

Lacking the mobility and stability to actually achieve these positions means that an athlete will default to easier patterns to get to a bar resting on the ground. Typically, this will mean that they will achieve the movement from lumbar flexion, and then the cycle of back injuries occur.

As you can see in the photos below, this isn’t a position that you often see in the local high school weight room. (Photo Credit:  http://nielpatel.blogspot.com)

Fortunately – especially in young athletes – working to improve mobility in each of these areas can help tremendously in getting lifters in the right position.

In the meantime, just beginning the lifts from a slightly elevated (but static) position (A low block or another bumper plate) can help athletes get into a start position that does not include lumbar flexion.

Power Clean Technique Mistake #3: No consistency in the start position

In any movement – from a golf swing to a bench press – we preach consistency. The pattern that we create time and again is the one to which we will default when the going gets tough.

The power clean is no different, but if I walk into most weight rooms and training facilities, I see something entirely different.

Roll the bar around for a minute, hop up and down, roll the bar around some more and LIFT!!!

“But wait, I do three rolls every time, so my pattern is the same.”

The approach to the power clean should be the same every time you approach the bar.  Early on in training, I sought to eliminate inconsistency by crouching by the bar before beginning the lift.  Still, I found difficulty achieving a consistent position in my lift off from the floor.

My training really took off when I took a three-step process to get the bar in my hands.

1, Cover my laces with the bar, brace the core and lock in the lats.
2. RDL to my knees.
3. Squat to the bar.

The first step is really about verifying that I have the proper relation to the bar and that my body is prepared to maintain a stable position throughout the lift. Keeping the bar close to the body on the initial lift-off will allow for the most efficient bar path while maintaining the right position.

Making an RDL movement to the knees allows my hips to be behind the bar. Getting the hips away from the bar will allow the hips to remain loaded throughout the lift.

Squatting to the bar maintains a consistent torso angle down to the start position, meaning that on lift-off the shoulders will remain forward of the bar.

With this three-part pattern, I am able to guarantee that I, or any athletes I coach, make it to the start position consistently.

Power Clean Technique Mistake #4: Pulling the bar too fast off the ground.

Lots of weight on the bar? Only one way to pull it: HARD. Right?

Not really.  The first pull off the ground is all about maintaining consistent position and gaining momentum into the second (more aggressive pull).

As a beginning lifter, I don’t think that there is any mistake more common than pulling too fast off the ground.  Speed is king in the Olympic lifts and coaches preach it from day one.

There is only one issue. A bar that is moving too fast will inhibit an athlete’s ability to make an aggressive second pull.

Think of it this way: If a car were driving past you at 90 miles per hour and you were asked to push on the bumper to make it go faster, you would have very little time to improve upon the speed of the car and therefore have no effect on its acceleration.

Imagine the same car moving past you at 5 miles per hour.  If you were to push on the bumper of this car, you could greatly improve its acceleration and velocity.

The same is true with the Olympic lifts. Pulling too fast before reaching the mid-thigh will make your second pull much less effective.

Power Clean Technique Mistake #5: Pulling around the knees

This is another really common problem among novice lifters.

The bar trajectory off the floor should be back. Struggling with this is pretty easy to do because the overall “feel” of the power clean is straight up.

The bar must always start in front of the center of gravity (on the floor away from the hips), and the first pull should be used to align the bar with the center of gravity.  Aligning the bar even more to the front of the center of gravity is a common problem that leads to a lot of missed lifts and poor catch positions.

If the knees do not go back on the first pull, the athlete will be misaligned forward of the toes in the above the knee position and not be able to put the full power of hip extension into the lift.

Power Clean Technique Mistake #6: Not finishing the Second Pull

Pretty early on, some athlete that you train will realize that the lower they can go to catch the bar, the greater likelihood they will have in being successful in catching the lift.

Not finishing the second pull (the fast pull) from the mid-thigh upwards means that the athlete did not reach full hip extension and did not close the gap between their body and the bar.

Not reaching full extension with the hips is a big no-no because it is the primary reason that athletes do Olympic lifts in the first place.  Explosively pulling on the bar to hip extension in the point right?

The Olympic lift happens fast, and as coaches we can miss things like this.  Assuming you don’t have Superman vision, the easiest way to spot this problem is watch for an athlete jumping forward in the catch.  A complete hip extension will result in the athlete catching the bar in the same position on the platform or slightly behind the starting position. Jumping forward is the red flag for an incomplete pull.

Power Clean Technique Mistake #7: Catching the bar like a starfish

The starfish is a magnificent creature, but it likes to spread its appendages all over the place, and that has no place in the power clean.  And, we all know that we have seen a starfish in the weight room before.

We talk and talk about the force production that is such a valuable part of Olympic lifts, but equally valuable is the force absorption that must occur at the moment of the catch.

When an athlete catches like a starfish they are putting themselves in a position that will lead to injury.  If this pattern is the reaction to absorbing a stress on the body, then I really fear the moment when they come down from a maximal effort jump in competition.

So, do yourself a favor and don’t allow any starfish appearances in the weight room.

Conclusion

Try as we might, some of these things will always occur when you have people doing power cleans. Eliminate the majority of the problems and you will have people safely pulling a lot of weight, fast.

About the Author

Wil Fleming, CSCS, is a member of the International Youth Conditioning Association Board of Experts, and co-owner of Force Fitness and Performance in Bloomington, IN.   To learn more about Wil's teaching system for the Olympic lifts, be sure to check out the IYCA Olympic Lift Instructor Course. To follow him on Twitter, click here.

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LEARN HOW TO DEADLIFT
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