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The International Youth Conditioning Association
Updated: 18 hours 52 min ago

How Physical Activity Enhances Brain Power – Erica Suter

Wed, 03/13/2019 - 16:34

If you’re a sport parent or coach, chances are, you enroll your kids in strength and conditioning programs so they become stronger, faster, and more resilient.

Of course, you want kids to perform at their best physically, whether that is by scoring goals, blowing by defenders, shooting three pointers, outrunning opponents, bodying off defenders, or making the audience “ooh” and “ahh” with sharp agility jukes. Expounding further, you want your kids safeguarded from injury and able to enjoy their sport, instead of being sidelined.

While performance and injury prevention are the backbone to youth strength and conditioning programs, I’d argue mental development is just as important.

Most of us have heard that physical activity improves cognitive function, but what exactly is going on at a neural level? How exactly does movement enhance memory, learning, and creativity? How can physical activity maintain or enhance brain function for a lifetime?

Without going into too much of a neuroscience discussion, here’s what you need to know: the brain establishes neural networks based on our experiences, from learning to roll over as a baby, to building the core strength to lift our heads up, to walking on different surfaces, to connecting the two hemispheres of the brain to perform sport-specific movements.

Movement, then, is the impetus for the expansion of new neural pathways in our nervous systems. Looking back to our elementary school days, we were able to learn skills in school because of the integrative dance of the muscles and brain.

When you learned cursive, your eyes moved to look at the chalkboard to see the letters on the board. Then, your brain sent a message to your hand to write what you saw on the paper.

Or how about learning a musical instrument? Your eyes followed the notes on the page, and the dance of your fingers and flow of your breath brought music out of your instrument.
Movement is a miracle. A gift. And something we should not take for granted. Movement leads to tremendous skills and rebuilds the plasticity of the brain for a lifetime.

Unfortunately, kids are being pulled away from magic of movement. Schools are cutting recess, video games are on the rise, phone and TV distractions are endless, strength and conditioning programs are not prioritized by sports clubs, physical education teachers are being laid off, and street pick-up games are waning. Because of all this, kids are becoming sedentary drones of society whose brains remain stagnant, close-minded, and distracted.

It’s sad because as we know that the brain is capable of restoring itself and rebuilding new pathways so long as we keep moving and challenging it with our movement.

Alas, to provide hope, there are several solutions to get the most out of your kids’ fitness and boost their brain power.

Let’s dive in:

1. Give them movement autonomy.

More often than not, physical activity for kids nowadays is under an organized setting. While some structure is needed for kids learn, I’d argue that free play is just as beneficial.

This doesn’t mean you should let kids run around with absolutely no guidance, but it’s totally okay to sprinkle in activities that give them autonomy. In fact, it’s highly encouraged.

As an example, for my middle school soccer players (ages 11-13), I will teach them a skill, then design a fun game around it where they have to problem solve on their own. My favorite game is “Soccer Break Dancing.” I give my kids a diverse menu of flashy soccer skills, then I tell them to get a partner and create their own dance together. Eventually, we all get in a circle and have a “dance-off.”

Not only is this activity one that inspires creativity, but it also allows them to create on their own and tap into the right side of their brains.  Find more conditioning games here.

2. Do cross-body movements daily.

Speaking of brain hemispheres, it is important for kids to activate both the left and right sides of their brains. The integration of the hemispheres allows humans to be optimally proficient in every life activity. Many people will argue, “oh, well they are a creative. They are just right-brained.” While some people may tap into one side an itty bit more, the left side is needed to analyze, sequence, and plan to jump-start the the creative process.

To give another soccer example, Messi is a “creative” player, but he needs the foot coordination and technique (left brain) in order to spontaneously (right brain) execute his skills. This is just one example of optimal interplay of both hemispheres.

With that said, research shows that cross-body movements maximize the functioning of both hemispheres. These movements are special because they cross the mid-line of the body, and allow the muscles of each side to work in concert together. Here are a few examples of cross-body movements you can perform daily to keep building neural pathways (adults included):

Cross Crawl

Crawling Coupling

3. Make fitness fun.

In order to inspire kids to be active in the digital age, fitness must be fun. The less of an obligation and chore it is, the more they develop a passion for movement and play.

Whether you are a parent, sports coach, or strength coach, there has to be a nice balance of structure and free play. However, for kids under age 8, free play is your best bet. Want them to get stronger? Take them to climb some trees. Want them to become more conditioned? Play tag. Want them to become agile, balanced, and aware? Take them to the playground.

Taking the conversation back to the “Break Dance” competitions I use for my athletes to hone in on autonomy, this is also a drill that allows kids to have fun and be carefree to come up with their own flow of movements:

Oddly enough, yes, coaches are there to instruct, but at the same time, we are also there to set up our kids’ environment so that it elicits certain physical results. Set things up properly, and let the drill do the work.  Over-coaching might look good from the outside (especially to over-bearing parents), but it doesn’t produce great results.  Kids need to learn and explore on their own.

Give these pointers a try and I promise the results will be nothing short of amazing. Your kids will not only have increased energy and focus, but also, increased confidence and creativity. And last I looked, these are things we want kids to have even outside of sports. After all, their sport careers will be over one day, and all they will have left is their brain power.

To that end, their mental development extends far, far beyond their athletic endeavors. It permeates into friendships, relationships, academics, career achievements, and creative pursuits.

Erica Suter is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and soccer performance coach at JDyer Strength and Conditioning in Baltimore, Maryland. She works with youth athletes across the state of Maryland in the areas of strength, conditioning, agility, and technical soccer training. Besides coaching, she is a passionate writer, and writes on youth fitness as well as soccer performance training on her blog www.ericasuter.com. She also is the creator of the Total Youth Soccer Fitness Program, which is a comprehensive guide for coaches and parents on how to train youth soccer players both safely and effectively. Her mission is to inspire a love for movement and play in kids, and motivate them to stay active for a lifetime.

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Athletic Scholarships & Dream Teams – Greg Schaible

Mon, 03/11/2019 - 16:21

The allure of earning athletic scholarships drives people toathletic scholarships take massive action.  This phenomenon has been around for years, but it seems to be intensifying.  This article will address some of the factors involved in earning athletic scholarships and will use my personal experiences to illustrate the challenges of this process. 

Competition vs. Talent Stacking

First it was the Dream Team!

Then it was the Big 3 with Lebron, Wade, and Bosh.

Now it’s the Warriors or pretty much anywhere Lebron is playing.

It seems to be most prevalent in the NBA but certainly it happens across all pro sports to a certain extent. For TV ratings and viewership this is probably just going to become the new normal within professional sports. It’s starting to happen more and more at the collegiate level with recruits teaming up and all heading to one school to play ball. I even see this to some extent in high school with players transferring schools just to play on a different team.

While it certainly can make for some exciting teams. I think we need to be cautious of how much we let this mindset start trickling down into high school and especially youth athletics.

Before I give my argument against the Dream Teams, I want to first give a reason why they can be beneficial for an athlete.

Competition creates improvement. Without competition complacency starts to set in. If you are constantly competing against (or practicing against) someone just as good as you, if not better than you, it will force you to up your game.

I’ve experienced this first-hand running track in college. My event was the 400m. We had five really good 400m runners on that team, but only four were going to make the relay team. It pushed all five of us to be better and continually push ourselves in practice. Practice, as we all know, is where the improvements are made, so if practices are not competitive, nobody gets better.

Going to a “Dream Team” where you would get to practice and compete with the best of the best only makes sense then….right?

Possibly… If that is your mindset going into the move.

However, if that competitive mindset isn’t already established. The athlete may just be taking the easy route to wining a championship and perhaps college exposure and earning athletic scholarships.

A big part about youth and high school athletics is developing a competitive mindset.

Some would call it grit or resiliency.

Giving athletes the easy route to championships at an early age may do more harm than good both in that athlete’s career, and their approach to life.

And, for most kids, that is what athletics should be about – learning about life and how to deal with adversity through lessons learned in sports.

Coaches and parents need to encourage a developmental process for kids. They are certainly not going to have that outlook initially, especially in the day and age of social media showing highlight reels but never highlighting the process.

Obsession with D1 Athletic Scholarships

Kids (and parents) have a love affair with D1 athletic scholarships. In my opinion, the whole D1 scholarship is over-glorified. If you or your kid has the opportunity for a D1 scholarship, that is an awesome accomplishment, and you should take pride in that! However, it shouldn’t be the reason you pick a school, and it’s not the end of the world if you don’t receive any D1 offers.

I grew up in a small town (graduated with just over 100 kids in my class). Needless to say, my high school isn’t the first stop on a big D1 school’s recruiting trail.

I played football, basketball, and track in high school and received interest from a number of DII and DIII school to play different sports. It was my dream as a kid though to go D1. I eventually did get a couple letters from D1 programs saying I could be a preferred walk-on in Track, and if I scored points in the conference meet, that I could work myself into a scholarship.

With aspirations to go D1, I jumped at the opportunity!

A couple lessons here: 1) If you are good enough, schools will find you….usually.  With social media, YouTube, and highlight tapes being passed around, it’s very easy for a school to catch wind of you. 2) I was extremely naive in high school, assuming that colleges would find me.  It may sound contrary to point #1, but you have to be pro-active about the process.  

I sent out zero highlight films to schools and went to zero showcases for any sports. Schools still found me, but I would have received many more offers if I’d done a little more work to be seen. If you are serious about wanting to play at the next level and earning athletic scholarships, you need to make it a point to be seen. Go to showcases, send film to schools you’d like to go to even if you don’t think they’d watch. I’ve heard of several athletes getting athletic scholarships by doing this. It shows the coach you care, and if they offer you a scholarship it’s usually because a specific intangible they see in you or you fit well with the system or coaching scheme they run.

But again, don’t forget about YOUR ability to develop as an athlete and a person. This is what I did not understand when choosing a university.

I ended up going to that D1 program as a preferred walk on, only to be cut from the team at the end of the very first semester on campus. People from relatively small towns are not exposed to how many great athletes are actually out there. Up until that point, I was always the best on the team and had never been cut before. I thought athletic scholarships were pretty easy to get. 

Getting cut sucked! But looking back, it was the best thing that could have ever happened to me.

I ended up transferring to a DII school and ran track at the University of Findlay. Like I mentioned before, we had five really good 400m runners on that team and many other very talented athletes. This taste of adversity forced me to work harder to get better. When all was said and done, I ended up running faster times than anyone from the D1 school I was originally cut from. I also had the opportunity to compete nationally at the DII level earning All-American honors. I received an athletic scholarship in undergrad, and, after my athletic career was over, I worked as a graduate assistant for the athletic department as I finished my doctorate degree.

I say none of this to brag, but to only bring your awareness to the possibilities elsewhere!  It’s all about finding the right fit.  I feel very fortunate that I found the right fit.  

Most athletes who play a sport in college are going to be doing it for the love of the game, the competitiveness inside of them, and the perks that come along with being an athlete at a University. Some will have the ability to take it to the professional level. Like I said before, if you are good enough, someone will find you no matter if you are DI/DII/DIII or junior college.

Select an environment that allows you to develop as an athlete but also a person. Go to a school where you can both compete and play (in practice and games). Choose the opportunity to play, and as a result, you will get better!

One final aside.

The ability to go somewhere to play a sport you love, and possibly receive athletic scholarships for it, is a privilege (no matter the level) that not many people get. I see way too many athletes waste the opportunity by not taking advantage of it with their academics. I didn’t know it at the time, but being cut and transferring also saved me 10-20 years of paying down student debt.

Sports can bring you countless opportunities if you choose to look at it that way. It’s important to recognize that it’s an opportunity to grow as an athlete and person, so don’t put up blinders and have tunnel vision to what may seem glamorous at the time.

Dr. Greg Schaible is a physical therapist and strength coach specializing in athletic performance and a regular contributor the the IYCA. Greg is the owner of On Track Physiotherapy and owner of the popular online education resource Sports Rehab Expert. Greg works with athletes and active individuals of all ages. As a former athlete himself, he attended The University of Findlay and competed in both Indoor and Outdoor Track & Field where he earned honors as a 5x Division II All-American and a 6x Division II Academic All-American.

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Muscle Clean & Muscle Snatch Variations – Jordan Tingman

Mon, 03/04/2019 - 15:00

Add the muscle clean and muscle snatch to your toolbox

As a collegiate strength and conditioning coach, we deal a lot with rookies coming into the weight room with little-to-no technique with regard to the Olympic variations.  Many people think the Olympic lifts are simple, but we spend a great deal of time teaching them and cleaning up errors that have been developed as a result of poor instruction.  Take your time when teaching these lifts to young athletes so they learn good habits, and progress slowly instead of focusing on how much weight is on the bar.  muscle clean

In order for an athlete to reach his/her full potential in executing a great Olympic lift, bar path is absolutely critical.

During my time at Eastern Washington University, I have had the opportunity to work under, and learn from, Coach Nate Barry. As much as I thought I previously knew about the Olympic lifts, he has really helped me understand exactly how much the technique and bar path can differentiate between a great and poor lift.  Teaching athletes how to perform the lifts is one thing.  Recognizing mistakes is another.  But, having the skills to correct faulty technique is one of the most important skills coaches can learn.   While they are certainly not the main portion of our program, we use “muscle” variations (muscle clean & muscle snatch) as a way to teach and correct certain aspects of the clean and snatch.  

As much as I knew about the muscle variations of lifts, I never thought to incorporate them into my athletes’ programs, until I recognized how well they can reinforce correct weightlifting positions as well as reaching full extension in the second pull.  Other benefits of the muscle variations include staying balanced (for better bar path) and improving the rack/lock-out positions when either of these is an issue.  

We can take an athlete with very little weightlifting experience, and regress them back to a muscle variation in order to learn proper positioning.  We also include the muscle variations in barbell warm-up routines or in programming to reinforce correct positioning and triple extension.  Of course, athletes can still mess things up, but having the muscle variations in your toolbox gives you another way to teach positions and extension with athletes who need extra work.  

BARBELL Working on Position 1 with the Muscle Clean or Muscle Snatch

Teach from the “high hang” position or “Position 1.”

  • Have the athlete find their correct grip, reinforcing utilizing a hook grip
  • The athlete will maintain an upright torso, hinging slightly at the knee and hip joints, leaving arms long, but lats engaged
  • Reinforcing this position with a pause to correct torso, knee or hip angles can lead to better execution later in the movement
  • Once Position 1 has been established, cue the athlete to violently extend knees and hips without jumping off the ground to their rack position.
    • This reinforces an aggressive triple extension in the 2nd pull of the movement, and can translate to a better understanding of timing and when to extend the knees and hips together.  This is a very common problem with inexperienced lifters, so this exercise can help athletes understand the timing and full extension of the 2nd pull.
    • Ensure that the athlete keeps the bar as close as possible, shrugging up and letting the bar float until pulling into the rack position is necessary.  This feeling is often uncomfortable or foreign to new lifters, so this can help them experience it.
    • Cueing “push through the floor” can allow athletes to create more force when extending the bar.  Because the first pull is eliminated in the muscle variations, athletes must feel the entire push in order to move the bar.  If they lack this push, they’ll end up using their arms too much which will ultimately lead to other issues.  

Ways to progress this exercise:

  • Add a front squat after the muscle clean
  • Add an overhead squat after the muscle snatch

This video demonstrates the muscle clean:

This video demonstrates the muscle snatch:

KETTLEBELL Muscle Clean Variation:

If your athlete is not quite ready to utilize a barbell, or equipment is limited, a great way to get movement patterns started is by executing the same sequence as listed above utilizing a kettlebell for the muscle clean.

Ways to Progress this exercise:

  • Add in a goblet squat following the muscle clean
  • Pull the kettlebell from the floor
  • KB Muscle clean from the floor + Front squat

DUMBELL (DB) Muscle Snatch:

Another option for reinforcing the movement is the DB muscle snatch. This exercise can be utilized alongside a snatch variation in a program to reinforce extension and unilateral balance.

This video demonstrates both the KB and DB muscle variations:

The Olympic lifts can be a great way to develop strength and power, but we need to teach them thoroughly so that young athletes can properly progress and stay safe.  The muscle variations give you another way to improve areas of the lifts such as the second pull and rack position.  These are just one small part of the process, but having them in your toolbox will give you another teaching option the next time you work with an athlete who needs to clean up certain areas of the lifts.

 

Jordan Tingman – CSCS*, USAW L1, ACE CPT, CFL1 is a graduate of Washington State University with a B.S. in Sports Science with a Minor in Strength and Conditioning. She completed internships with the strength & conditioning programs at both Washington State University and Ohio State University, and is currently a Graduate Assistant S & C Coach at Eastern Washington University.

 

 

The IYCA High School Strength & Conditioning Specialist is the only certification created specifically for coaches training high school athletes.  The course includes several hours of video instruction (including the Olympic lifts) and two textbooks with contributions from some of the top strength and conditioning coaches in America.  Click on the image below to learn more about how to become a certified high school strength & conditioning coach.

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Training Kids With Autism: The LDD Approach – Eric Chessen

Wed, 02/27/2019 - 15:00

“Okay so we’re gonna do squats so what I need you to do is first go to the ball and then feet out and look forward and remember…”

“Hold up. You want to see how I do it?” (coach nods)

“Squat.” (Then I demonstrate the squat)

It’s one of those crossover moments where a coach might find me during a bathroom break and tell me that there are striking similarities between coaching young athletes and coaching athletes with autism. Yup.

We talk about simplification in coaching and there is the constant pull to give more information. The art of coaching, in my experience, is a practice in providing as much verbal information as is useful and absolutely no more. I refer to this process as Label/Demo/Do (LDD).

When I say “Squat” the exercise is labeled. The goal is to have the athlete associate the word with the action. With the autism population, this may take a few dozen practices. With the neurotypical population glued to phone screens, this may take a few dozen practices. Yes, there are some similarities. Performance, whether in activities of daily living or sport, is about independent mastery. I get adamant about labels because I want to be across the room and be able to give directions that are then followed to the best of current ability.

Labeling is pouring concrete; we say it and it sets solid. During our Autism Fitness Certification seminars, attendees will practice coaching a medicine ball push throw. I’ll hear “Good push pass. Do another chest throw. Great chest push throw.” Turkish getups are not from Turkey. Bulgarian split squats were not smuggled out of the Eastern Bloc, but the labels stayed and we have a common language for these exercises. Our athletes, particularly those with autism and related disorders, need consistency and repetition. A push throw is always going to be a push throw. We should adhere to a Lord of the Rings rule; “One label to rule them all.”

Labeling also leads to opportunities for choice and autonomy. If I ask Karl whether he wants to do push throws or overhead throws first, he has a distinct understanding of each exercise. He can demonstrate a preference. For many individuals with autism, this is a highlight of independence and as close to free play as it gets. Because the labels “push throw” and “overhead throw” have been repeated consistently, practiced, and reinforced, Karl can understand the differences and elect his choice.

Introducing exercise is predominantly visual. We can easily show what a movement should look like. A long explanation tends to translate poorly towards performance and takes away from practice time. Demonstrating the exercise allows the athlete to have a visual reference for the movement. Also, some of my athletes genuinely enjoy watching me perform squats. I don’t know why.

Demonstrating is also a great opportunity to set up contingencies or if/then relationships. This is simply translated into “I go, you go.” Our athletes may require a demonstration of a new exercise multiple times during the teaching process. This is much easier and effective than explaining hip position, neutral spine, and every other abstract aspect of movement.

Doing is practice. When our athletes are doing we can assess and address whatever compensations or deviations arise. In the doing phase, we can coach and correct. When our athletes are doing, we can change the variables so that the press is more overhead, the heels are on the floor during squats, and that bear walks don’t deviate into pyramid shuffles (rear up in the air with hands and feet merely gliding across the ground).

Label/Demo/Do is about efficiency. In the 45-60 minutes I have with an athlete (often only 1x/week), I want more time practicing and moving, and less time explaining. Copious amounts of information do not enhance the experience.  Here is a very brief example of the LDD method in practice:

Where I will provide robust information is when providing Behavior-Specific Praise (BSP). My favorite concept and practice from the field of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), BSP follows the successful completion of a task and illuminates exactly what the individual did successfully. Rather than saying “Great job,” which I could say while staring at the wall, “Great job keeping your feet on the floor” during a push throw tells the athlete that I was watching and reinforces exactly what he/she was doing correctly. There’s a much greater chance they will repeat that behavior after using BSP.

BSP also allows me to give feedback that is descriptive but not overwhelming. When information comes in as instruction, it’s often just noise. When it is praise, there’s a higher chance it will connect with the athlete, neurotypical or otherwise.

The Label/Demo/Do approach seeks to optimize the time spent practicing and refining movement quality. It mitigates the dreaded “stand and wait while coach explains” and enables our athletes to transition quicker. For those working with the autism and special needs population, LDD decreases the opportunity to engage in off-task or problematic behaviors by, in technical terms, giving our athletes something better to do. It takes some practice to say less, but it enables us to coach more.

 

Eric Chessen, M.S., is the Founder of Autism Fitness and the Co-Founder of the strength equipment company StrongerthanU.com. Autism Fitness offers certification, online education, and consulting worldwide. For more information visit AutismFitness.com

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Conditioning Games for Young Athletes – Brett Klika

Mon, 02/25/2019 - 15:00

Working with children at any age is an art as well as a science. As coaches, we aim to push our young athletes out of their comfort zone so they can grow physically and mentally within their sport and beyond. Science continues to provide methods by which we can do this effectively. However, we must also find ways make the process enjoyable and engaging for the kids involved.

Many of us remember the “lines, laps, and lectures” that marred our experience with youth sports. We also remember that special coach or training environment that brought out the best in us. This situation was usually created by coaches who understood the inner workings of children in the development process. They acknowledged the role of pushing our limits, but also created an environment that was positive and engaging.  And yes, FUN!

The “conditioning” aspect of training is probably the least popular amongst athletes at any age. However, it’s a necessary evil when it comes to physically and mentally preparing youngsters for competition.  Fortunately, conditioning does not have to be a Bear-Bryant-esque death march. By using gamification, creativity, and just plain old fun, it can be a tool to keep kids smiling while they sweat.

Consider combining the specific conditioning protocols you use for your individuals and teams with the more engaging, gamified versions below. Watch how the context of play brings out higher levels of effort and resilience, both indicators of high performance!

Letter Agility 

This activity is ideal for individuals and teams when space is limited.

  1. Spread athletes in the space, providing ample room around each to move.
  2. Call out a letter, and they have to re-create that letter on the ground by moving their body in the specific pathway as fast as possible.
  3. The letters should cover roughly a 6-foot area.
  4. Progress from letters to words and/or shapes.
  5. Provide time constraints.
  6. Have them face a partner and race.

Dirty and Clean 

This is a great activity for large spaces and teams.

  1. Randomly place cones throughout a large area. The larger the area, the greater the distance each athlete must cover to play the game.
  2. Assign one team to be the “dirty” team, the other the “clean” team.
  3. Prior to beginning, make sure to have a count of how many cones are being used.
  4. On the whistle, the “dirty” team must disperse and continue to knock over as many cones as possible with their hands.
  5. The “clean” team must set the cones back up as fast as possible.
  6. Athletes must move throughout the space. Neither team can knock down or set up the same cone two times in a row.
  7. At the end of the time (20-30 seconds) whoever has the most cones either knocked over or standing is the winner.
  8. Repeat, switching roles.
  9. For added challenge, change the body parts that can be used to knock over cones.

Compass Calisthenics 

This simple concept is great for individuals and teams when space is limited.

  1. Create a list of 10 bodyweight exercises that can be done in place.
  2. Familiarize the athletes with the compass directions (East, West, North, South).
  3. Athletes perform each exercise for 30 seconds.
  4. During this time, the coach will frequently call out one of the compass directions and the athlete has to re-orient their body and movement to that direction. For example, “Push-ups EAST, NORTH, WEST”, etc.
  5. 10 Seconds of rest is provided between exercises.

Human Cone Drill (Jumping Jacks) 

This is great competitive activity for moderate to large spaces and teams.

  1. Split athletes into teams of 5.
  2. Set up cones for each team, separating each by roughly 10 yards.
  3. Have teams stand in line behind a cone, facing a corresponding cone roughly 30 yards away (distance can be shortened for different ages, and training spaces).
  4. Athletes stand in a single file line with arms outstretched onto the person’s shoulders in front of them.
  5. On the whistle, athletes begin doing jumping jacks.
  6. On a second whistle, the athlete in the back of the line must weave through their teammates while avoiding the jumping jack arms.
  7. Once a teammate has moved to the front of the line, they can call “go” and the next person in the back of the line weaves through.
  8. The goal is for a team to reach their distant cone before the other teams.
  9. When the coach blows a whistle during the race, the last person in line must stop and put their hands out in front of them.
  10. The entire line must re-form so all participants can place their hands on the shoulders in front of them.
  11. When all teams have accomplished this, the whistle is blown again and competition continues.

Partner Mirror Drill 

This is a conditioning activity for partners when space is limited, or when reaction speed is a goal.  

  1. Create partners.
  2. Partners decide who the “leader” and who the “follower” will be.
  3. On the whistle, the leader begins to perform activities of their own choosing, i.e. shuffling, jumping, calisthenics, etc.
  4. Instruct athletes to use a relatively small 6-8-foot area for movement.
  5. The follower must try to mirror exactly what the leader is doing in real time.
  6. On the coach’s whistle, the roles switch.
  7. Continue for 30 second intervals.
  8. Encourage creative, varied movement, i.e. dance moves, calisthenics-to-locomotion, etc.
  9. To increase difficulty, a movement cannot be repeated while someone is a leader.

All of the activities above function to challenge the metabolic system. However, by gamifying the experience, kids actually enjoy the process. The more the enjoyment, the greater the effort.

Integrate these fun and challenging conditioning activities into your youth programs and beyond. Never be afraid to create an environment where athletes smile while they sweat.    

Brett Klika is a youth performance expert and a regular contributor to the IYCA who is passionate about coaching young athletes.  He is the creator of the SPIDERfit Kids youth training program and has run successful youth fitness programs all over the country.  Brett is an international speaker whose passion for youth fitness has helped thousands of people learn how to create exceptional training experiences for young athletes.

 

 

If you want to be better at coaching young athletes, the IYCA Youth Fitness Specialist certification is the industry gold-standard for youth fitness and sports performance.  Click on the image below to learn more about the YFS1 certification program.

 

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In the Fast Lane – A Speed & Agility Roundtable

Mon, 02/11/2019 - 17:07

Having quick, agile athletes is vital to most sports, so it should be a focus for every strength and conditioning program. We asked a roundtable of experts how they satisfy the need for speed in their training.

When thinking about speed and agility, many people picture the highlight-reel moments—an Olympic sprinter blazing through a 100-meter dash, a wide receiver breaking away down the sideline, or a baseball player stealing second. What do those three scenarios have in common? The athletes are running in a straight line. However, as strength coaches know, speed and agility training is not so straightforward.

Linear speed is undoubtedly important, but the ability to stop, start, and change direction is just as crucial, say the strength and conditioning coaches in our roundtable discussion (See “Our Panel” below). They don’t agree on everything, though. In fact, a few of them hold opposing views on the merit of equipment like ladders and dot mats.

Clearly, there is a lot to consider when putting together an effective speed and agility program for athletes. Here, five performance training experts give their varied takes.

OUR PANEL

Andre Bernardi, CSCS, USAW, PES, is the Head Strength and Conditioning Coach at North Greenville University. He is a certified specialist in speed and explosion through the National Association of Speed and Explosion and holds a sports conditioning specialty certification through the American Council of Exercise. Bernardi is also a certified specialist in sports nutrition through the International Sports Science Association.

Sean Edinger, MS, SCCC, USAW, is Assistant Athletics Director for Athletic Performance at Syracuse University, working specifically with the football team. He is responsible for conditioning players for new Head Football Coach Dino Babers’ up-tempo style of play. Prior to Syracuse, Edinger served as the Director of Strength and Conditioning at Bowling Green State University for two seasons.

Jeff Kipp, MS, CSCS, RSCC*D, is Head Strength and Conditioning Coach at Strake Jesuit College Preparatory in Houston. Before Strake Jesuit, he was an Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach for the University of Kansas and spent 10 years as a Strength and Conditioning Coach at the United States Air Force Academy. He presents often on speed development at conferences and has authored many books for the NSCA about the topic.

Adam Linens, MS, CSCS, ATC, PES, CES, is an Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach at the University of Oregon, working specifically with the men’s basketball team. Previously, he worked with the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks and Cleveland Cavaliers and the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream.

Josh Robertson, SCCC, is the Strength and Conditioning Coach at Conway (S.C.) High School. He was the Assistant Director of Speed, Strength, and Conditioning at Appalachian State University from 2006 to 2010 and served as Head Strength and Conditioning Coach at Wofford College from 2004 to 2006.

What’s your overall philosophy regarding speed and agility?

Jeff Kipp: Speed is important to almost every sport. For instance, I tell my soccer players, “How many balls are there on the field? Only one. So what’s everybody doing out there? They’re jostling for position, trying to get into an open spot on the field, or trying to stay with their man.” Being able to run fast and change directions efficiently is imperative to all of those activities.

When I’m putting together speed and agility programs, I incorporate exercises that will teach athletes how to load and control the body effectively, as well as generate force. However, I look at strength, speed, and agility equally, so I don’t focus all my effort on weightroom or acceleration work and then forget things like lateral movements. Programming this way makes for a balanced approach to all aspects of athletic performance.

Adam Linens: In my experience, all athletes want to do is go fast. But speed and agility training is not about how fast a player can accelerate, it’s about how fast they can stop and then reaccelerate multiple times. When NBA players get to the final years of their careers, they have no problems starting—they have problems stopping, landing, and changing direction. Those skills require the most eccentric strength, so I try to instill them early in my players’ careers.

That being said, much of what I teach is based on linear speed development. Although basketball athletes don’t need a ton of linear speed training—since they play a change-of-direction sport—good technique for linear speed will transfer to change-of-direction work and other movements.

Josh Robertson: When you focus on speed and agility, you get better athletes. Combine the correct weightlifting methods with the correct speed and agility rest periods and drill distances, and the result will be a great speed and agility training program.

Sean Edinger: First, there’s pure genetics—some kids are just fast. Then, there’s the ability to move efficiently and quickly stop, start, and change direction, which can level the playing field and raise up players who might not have as much God-given talent.

Andre Bernardi: We want our athletes to be able to put their feet on the ground and get from point A to point B faster than their opponents. Skill sets aside, if they do that enough times over the course of a game, they are likely to come out on top.

How do you improve speed and agility?

Edinger: Athletes, particularly when they first get on campus, need to get stronger in terms of horsepower. A lot of them have a limited amount of force they can produce, and I help them develop it in training.

The real trick when you’re talking about speed is getting athletes to engage their fast-twitch muscles: How quickly can they display force? To work on this, we do bounds, skips, box jumps, lateral jumps, and lateral movements and take-offs. We only do a few per set because I want maximum effort on each rep.

Spending too much time on plyometrics for speed work can be counterproductive, though. If you do plyometrics and athletes get tired, they’ll start spending a lot of time in contact with the ground, and you won’t get the benefits you want. A huge part of this is a lack of conditioning. If players are out of shape or think they’ll struggle to get through a workout, they’ll hold back.

As far as agility training, I don’t place a lot of stock in ladders, dot mats, and things of that nature because football players don’t use any of that footwork on the field. For example, remember when swing dancing was a big thing a few years ago? People looked like they could dance, but they just memorized the steps. It’s the same thing with ladder and dot drills. Athletes might look like they’re getting more agile, but they’re simply memorizing the footwork and executing it at a high rate of speed. There’s no momentum buildup, and they don’t have to stop and change direction.

Kipp: I have standard plyos that I use. I start with a snap-bound into base positions to teach athletes how to load the body. Then, I move into jumps where players drop into a position, hold it, and generate force. Over a longer period of time, such as an entire offseason, we’ll get into faster response exercises that incorporate the stretch-shortening cycle. This will include true plyometrics—multiple broad jumps, multiple squat jumps, and scissor jumps—that accentuate explosion.

Linens: I like to use ladders and hurdles to instill proper balance, body positioning, linear speed, and lateral quickness. We start with specific ladder drills to teach forward-to-backward change of direction, hip rotations, and pivoting. Then, I’ll get into more advanced drills with hurdles and cones. After that, we progress to reactionary training, where I use numbered cones, colored cones, or pointing in different directions to get athletes to react. During these sessions, I also like to use lateral resistors around their ankles to strengthen their hips.

Bernardi: We focus on the basics. We’ll warm up, and then we’ll do something I call “rapid response,” which is a quick-feet drill where players try to pick up and put down their feet as fast as possible. After that, I may do something like a mirror drill.

With agility, I’m pretty simple. I’m a big ladder and footwork guy. I stick to pro-agility drills, zigzag drills, and a lot of activities where athletes react off a partner. This really represents the demands of most sports because athletes constantly have to react quickly during competitions.

What role does technique have in speed and agility training?

Linens: Technique trumps everything. Some coaches overload athletes with repetitions or resistance when their movements aren’t correct to begin with. This only ingrains bad habits.

Instead, I’ll teach a drill and make sure athletes have good technique before moving forward. After they’ve gotten proficient in the drill, we’ll add some resistance. However, I don’t add so much resistance that it makes the movement look sloppy. My general rule is: The more sport-specific a drill, the lighter the resistance.

Edinger: It’s important to remember that less is more. If you can only get 10 technically perfect reps out of a player, then 10 is what you’re looking for. Don’t make him try to do 15 or 20. When you’re talking about movement and speed in particular, never train a player after his form starts to falter. As soon as there’s a breakdown in technical proficiency, you need to stop—cut the drill, change the drill, or stop the session.

Bernardi: Teach technique work—foot placement, knee drive, and arm swing—before you do anything else. Once that’s accomplished, you can instruct athletes to put their feet into the ground and increase stride length or stride rate to maximize speed development.

To instill these movements, we’ll do a lot of quick shuffles where athletes claw the ground with their feet. From there, we may progress to a bound and then to a sprint, all the while emphasizing foot contact.

One of my favorite drills to stress technique is a march progression with a sled. Players start off like they’re doing a wall drill and switch to a slow march to emphasize their knee coming up and the ball of their foot driving to the ground. They do that a couple of times, and then it goes into a fast march. The drill ends with athletes pushing a sled, which really highlights the knee drive.

How do you make speed and agility training sport specific?

Kipp: I’ve always thought that you don’t train speed and agility for the sport—you train athletes to become faster, more agile performers at their sport. There are going to be times in every sport when an athlete is out of position and needs to react. If you didn’t train them to be versatile with their body positions and able to move through a full range of motion, it will affect how well they can react.

Edinger: I don’t subscribe to a sport-specific training mindset. Rather, I slant things to be like the sport I’m training. The drills that we use with Syracuse football are very specific to the sport and specific to what my coaches want players at each position to do. There are certain steps and movements for each position, and it’s important that the athletes practice them over and over until they become second nature.

For example, since wide receivers run routes where they push a defender, stop, come back, and run a hitch, we have them do a drill where they work on stopping in three steps. Throughout the action, their shoulders must be over their knees, and their knees must be over their toes. This way, they get the correct portion of their cleats into the ground and remain balanced. This drill is included in all their individual agility sessions.

Linens: I take the sport, break it down into different movements, and then teach corresponding pieces of it through a drill. I’m not teaching basketball skills, but our speed and agility training can focus on footwork related to an open step or crossover step that will help players drive to the basket or shuffle on defense.

Robertson: When I train an athlete on speed or agility, that is the training—not sport-specific speed and agility exercises.

What role does strength training play in your speed and agility work?

Kipp: It takes strength to slow the body, stop the body, and then reaccelerate in any given direction. So the stronger athletes are, the more easily they can stop themselves and create force against the ground to accelerate.

Linens: Strength training enhances speed and agility, and speed and agility enhance strength training. If you think of different concentric and explosive speed movements, they all require triple extension. We focus on triple extension in a lot of the exercises that we do, such as squat variations, dumbbell variations, kettlebell swings, arm dumbbell snatches, and clean variations.

To enhance change of direction, we emphasize single-leg exercises in the weightroom. I try to get athletes comfortable with balancing, exploding, controlling, and decelerating on one leg. Some of our exercises include variations of step-ups and lunges, single-leg Romanian dead lifts, and rear-foot elevator squats, as well as dumbbell split jerks.

Bernardi: Any opportunity I get in the weightroom to have athletes drive their knees and cycle their feet is going to make them faster. So I like doing speed squats and different lunge variations where athletes are focusing on their knee drive. We also do a lot of step-ups to develop speed.

Robertson: Going down below parallel in the back squat is the foundation of how we move. When athletes can lift more than their bodyweight in the back squat with speed in the movement, their speed and agility will go through the roof.

What advice would you give strength coaches who are starting to build their speed and agility programs?

Robertson: Don’t try to do too much. In America, we think you can take a zebra and run him in a thoroughbred race. We believe training will improve him or running him into the ground will change something mentally to enhance his performance. But this approach is detrimental because it attempts to do too much.

Some strength coaches have what I call “a box of hammers.” They pull out a small hammer and beat on the athlete and tear him down. When that doesn’t work, they get a bigger hammer. The next thing you know, the athlete is broken. They might say the athlete wasn’t good to begin with, but I’d say they didn’t train him right.

Kipp: Create a road map. Have a plan for where you’re going and how you’re going to get there, but understand there are going to be bumps along the way. Also, keep your eyes and ears open for new ideas. When it comes to speed and agility training, every coach out there can benefit from listening to their peers.

This article brought to you by our partnership with Training & Conditioning Magazine.  For more great articles, visit their website.  

Pete Croatto is a freelance writer based in Ithaca, N.Y. He can be reached at: pscroatto@gmail.com.

 

If you’re looking for more information on speed training, the IYCA recently released a new course called Speed Testing Mastery.  This couse walks you through all the details of how to get athletes to run a faster 40- or 60-yard dash.  The course includes 10 instructional video modules and a detailed 8-week training program.  Also included is video analysis of 7 athletes that clearly show you exactly what to look for when coaching athletes.  Learn more about Speed Testing Mastery.

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Set the Bar – Allen Hedrick

Mon, 01/21/2019 - 14:07

At Colorado State University-Pueblo, strength coach Allen Hedrick uses historical lifting averages to establish weightroom goals and guide players’ offseason programming.

I often tell my athletes: You can get strong enough, but you can never get powerful enough. What I mean is that depending on their sport and position, athletes can reach a point where further strength gains won’t benefit performance. When that happens, it’s best to shift the training emphasis from increasing strength to increasing power.

At Colorado State University-Pueblo, we have developed a system that allows athletes to make this transition seamlessly. It’s centered on a set of historical lifting averages that we categorize by sport position, and we test athletes in these lifts every offseason. Those who test below the historical averages are placed in a strength-building group, while those who test above go into a power training group. When the strength-building athletes raise their scores sufficiently, they join the power group.

We’ve been using this model at CSU-Pueblo for years with several teams, including football. On the gridiron especially, we’ve experienced great results, including seven consecutive conference championships and a national title in 2014. These, and other similar outcomes, indicate that our system is having the desired effect of maximizing sport performance.

SUPPORTING THEORY

Although we’ve had great anecdotal success dividing our players’ workouts into strength- or power-based training, there is also evidence behind it. I’ve found support for this approach through years of research.

To start, as all performance coaches know, the need for strength varies by sport and position. For example, in football, interior linemen require higher strength levels than wide receivers.

The problem is that many traditional weightlifting programs focus too much on building these strength levels. As a result, athletes spend more time improving strength than developing power.

That may not seem like a bad thing in and of itself. However, as Vern Gambetta pointed out in his 1987 NSCA article “How Much Strength is Enough?” the primary objective of a strength and conditioning regimen should be to enhance an athlete’s ability to express strength for improved sport performance. And improved performance results more from increased power than increased strength.

So if power is the ultimate goal, why don’t we emphasize it from the start, instead of initially putting some of our athletes in a strength-building group? As explained in a 2011 Sports Medicine series of reviews, it’s because there’s a fundamental relationship between strength and power. Strength is a basic quality that influences maximum power production, so an athlete can’t have high power levels without first having a good strength base.

Then, once they reach a certain strength threshold, a shift in emphasis from strength to power is warranted and will be more effective at enhancing athletic performance. Therefore, the overall philosophy behind our historical average system is to get strong to get powerful and then get powerful to be more successful in competitions.

USING HISTORICAL AVERAGES

Two obvious questions then arise: How do you know when an athlete is strong enough? And what are the optimal strength levels necessary for high-level performance? We answer these questions by collecting the historical lifting averages of our players by position. I did this for seven years before I implemented the system, and I would recommend at least five years’ of data to others. Although I have used historical averages with multiple sports at CSU-Pueblo, I’ll focus on how we tailor them specifically for football in this section.

We test all of our football athletes twice a year—once in the spring and once in the summer. At both sessions, we measure their one-repetition maximums (1RM) in clean, squat, and bench.

Using our athletes’ final testing results from their senior years, we track what the average score is in each lift by position. Each year, the averages are updated to reflect the latest testing performances by our seniors. For example, our most recent averages for the squat were 550 pounds for a nose tackle, 352 pounds for a wide receiver, and 308 pounds for a quarterback.

When we test each football athlete at the beginning of the offseason, we compare their results to our historical averages. Those who test below the historical averages go into the “standard”—or strength—group. Most of our younger players fall into this category. Athletes who are at or above the historical averages are moved to the “advanced”—or power—group.

Although there is no “good” or “bad” group, we want the athletes to be pleased if they are testing at or above the averages. If they are testing below, we tell them not to be discouraged. This is simply an indication that they need to make further progress.

When athletes are placed in the standard group, they follow that program until the next testing time. Then, if they test at or above the averages in two out of the three lifts, they move to the advanced group.

DIFFERENT PLANS

The best way to understand how we manipulate our lifting regimens to either emphasize strength or power is to compare the football workouts for our standard group (below) and our advanced group (below). These two plans are for players in one of our “big skill” positions, which comprise offensive and defensive linemen, tight ends, and linebackers.

The first difference you may notice between the two programs is that there are more weightlifting movements for the advanced group. These athletes perform the more technical clean and power jerk right off the bat because they’ve already established the correct technique necessary to do the full movements. In contrast, the standard group performs two sets of a more basic lift first on Mondays and Fridays. This allows them to establish correct technique before moving on to more complex movements. So the standard athletes will do a push press on Fridays before advancing to power jerk.

Why the focus on the Olympic lifts for the advanced group? Because Olympic-style weightlifting can produce a much greater power output than traditional exercises, such as the squat or bench press. In addition, Olympic lifts significantly improve power output against a heavy load. And as explained in a 2011 Sports Medicine series of reviews, these movements are ideal for football athletes, who often have to generate high power against heavy loads.

A second difference between the two workouts is the advanced group’s use of contrast loads for barbell weightlifting movements. For example, on sets one, three, and five for the power jerk on Friday, the load is set at 65 percent of 1RM, while sets two, four, and six are performed at 80 percent. We do this because, according to the Sports Medicine article mentioned above, contrast loads target all areas of the force-velocity curve to augment adaptations across a broad spectrum. The result is a superior increase in maximal power output. In contrast, the standard group uses a nearly constant training load for all sets.

A third variation between the two programs relates to their use of plyometrics. Both groups are exposed to plyometric training to develop maximal force as quickly as possible, but the standard group performs plyometrics as a stand-alone activity.

Meanwhile, the advanced group utilizes complex training, which pairs a weightlifting movement and a plyometric activity. Athletes then perform the two exercises consecutively with little to no rest between them. Completed first, the weightlifting movement trains the muscles’ ability to produce high levels of force. Then, the plyometric activity enhances the muscles’ ability to exert force through rapid eccentric-concentric transitional movements. As a result, this method trains the neurological and muscular systems at both ends of the force-velocity curve at much higher levels than traditional modalities. The result is significant increases in peak power levels.

By using historical averages to assess our players’ strength and power levels every offseason, we can get a better idea of what areas they need to improve in. Then, by splitting them into standard and advanced lifting groups, we can ensure athletes follow the appropriate program to get strong, get powerful, and, ultimately, meet our goal of enhancing athletic performance.

Sidebar:

STANDARD GROUP

Below is a sample four-week offseason workout program for Colorado State University-Pueblo football players whose test scores have indicated they need to increase strength. All lifts are to be completed as explosively as possible, with controlled movement down. There should be a two-minute rest between all sets and exercises.

Note: “TB” stands for total body, which includes any of the weightlifting movements performed with a barbell or dumbbell. “CL” stands for core lift and comprises any exercise involving movement at more than one joint.

Week Sets and Reps

Week 1 TB=4×3, CL=4×4

Week 2 TB=4×5, CL=4×6

Week 3 TB=4×2, CL=4×2

Week 4 TB=4×3, CL=4×6

 

MONDAY WEDNESDAY FRIDAY Speed Training

Wall drills

Form running Speed Training

Lateral hop

Lateral hop and back Total Body

Push press, 2x TB

Power jerk, 4x TB

Box jump, 3×4 Total Body

Hang power clean, 2x TB

Hang clean, 4x TB

Drop jump, 3×4 Total Body

Dumbbell power clean, TB Upper Body

Incline press, CL

Med ball seated chest pass, 3×6 Lower Body

Deadlifts, CL

Side lunge, CL Upper Body

Dumbbell front squats, CL

Dumbbell straight-leg deadlift, CL

Dumbbell incline press, CL

Dumbbell row, CL Trunk

Med ball twist throw, 3×8 Trunk

Two-hand bar twist, 3×12

Dumbbell back extensions, 3×10 Trunk

Dumbbell press crunch, 3×20 Neck

Manual resistance flexion/extension, 2×8 Neck

Manual resistance lateral flexion, 2×8

 

Sidebar:

ADVANCED GROUP

Below is a sample four-week offseason workout program for Colorado State University-Pueblo football players who are aiming to increase power. All lifts are to be completed as explosively as possible, with controlled movement down. There should be a 90-second rest between total-body exercises and a two-minute rest between all others.

Note: “TB” and “CL” have the same meanings as in Figure 1.

Week Set/Reps:     

Week 1 TB=6×3, CL=4×4

Week 2 TB=6×5, CL=4×6

Week 3 TB=6×3, CL=4×4

Week 4 TB=6×2, CL=4×3

 

MONDAY WEDNESDAY FRIDAY Speed Training

Wall drills

Form running Speed Training

Lateral hop

Lateral hop and back Total Body

Power jerk, TB

     Sets 1, 3, and 5 at 65 percent of 1RM

     Sets 2, 4, and 6 at 80 percent of 1RM Total Body

Clean, TB

      Sets 1, 3, and 5 at 65% of 1RM

      Sets 2, 4, and 6 at 80% of 1RM Total Body

Dumbbell clean, TB Complex

Depth jump, 3×4

Med ball standing chest pass, 3×6 Complex

Keiser squat, 3×5

Sled push, 3×10 yards Lower Body

Dumbbell one-leg squat, CL

Med ball back extension throws, 3×10 Upper Body

Incline press, CL Lower Body

Deadlifts, CL

Side lunge, CL Trunk

Med ball overhead throw, 3×10 Trunk

Med ball standing twist throw, 3×8 Trunk

Two-hand bar twist, 3×12

Dumbbell back extensions, 3×10 Upper Body

Jammer, 2×6

Dumbbell incline press, CL

Dumbbell row, CL Neck

Manual resistance flexion/extension, 2×8 Neck

Manual resistance flexion/extension, 2×8

 

Allen Hedrick, MA, CSCS*D, is Head Strength and Conditioning Coach at Colorado State University-Pueblo. He formerly held the same position at the NSCA’s national headquarters and the U.S. Air Force Academy. He can be reached at: allen.hedrick@yahoo.com

This article originally appeared in Training & Conditioning magazine.  The IYCA is proud of our relationship with Training & Conditioning, and we encourage you to view more great articles at Training-Conditioning.com

 

The IYCA High School Strength & Conditioning Specialist is the only certification created specifically for coaches training high school athletes.  The course includes several hours of video instruction and two textbooks with contributions from some of the top strength and conditioning coaches in America.  Click on the image below to learn more about how to become a certified high school strength & conditioning coach.

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Concussion Awareness & Prevention for the Strength Professional – Joe Powell

Mon, 01/14/2019 - 14:41

Part 1 of 2 on concussion awareness and mitigation for the S&C Professional focuses on defining the injury and its primary root causes, as well as clearing up common misconceptions about the injury. The article focuses in on published research to define prevalence and rate of instance among popular sports. 

The term concussion has long been feared, yet largely misunderstood by both athletes and coaches alike. However, as of late, concussion awareness in athletics has been at an all-time high. Increases in clinical diagnoses of the injury as well as research devoted to the cause, effects, and preventative strategies have helped spearhead awareness and thus increased prevention attempts. High profile athletes have begun to step forward into the public eye to raise awareness on concussions and the subsequent consequences that can accompany the injury and, unfortunately, plague their everyday lives. Controversial debate has even taken place in professional sports among league officials and referees to change the rules of the sports where concussions occur at high rates. Sure, concussions have always occurred in the sports that we love, but only recently have they garnered the mass attention necessary to begin the prevention process at all levels. Like any other injury commonly sustained by athletes, it is our job as strength and conditioning professionals to help lead the movement on mitigation and make it a priority in our training.

The first step in creating a program to help our athletes minimize the occurrence of any injury is to better understand the nature of the injury and everything that accompanies it.

What is a concussion and how can it occur?

A concussion is the result of external force being applied upon the body wherein the result of the impact causes a sudden acceleration or deceleration of the head, resulting in a collision between the brain and the skull. Sustaining a concussion can result in severe cognitive, psychological and structural damage to an individual. Common symptoms of the injury include headache, dizziness, nausea, fatigue, and even loss of consciousness. The injury may last days, weeks and in some cases even longer. The severity of the injury is dependent upon many factors. How it was caused, the force of the trauma that occurred, the amount of previous head injuries the individual has sustained, and even the time it took to report the injury to a licensed health care provider are just a sampling of factors that influence the severity of a concussion.

From Children’s Hospital Oakland

Head injuries such as concussions are most commonly thought to occur due to a direct blow to the head via another athlete. These are your big highlight reel hits in football or the massive check into the boards in hockey. This scenario is certainly one of the most common causes of concussion in sport, however it is far from the only one. The direct contact hits by another individual that result in a concussed athlete are easy to recognize because the signs and symptoms of a concussion are usually immediately on display. It has almost become the norm to expect an injury when a vicious hit is sustained during play. However, these types of concussions may partially explain why the injury is so misunderstood. When an athlete displays concussion symptoms to themselves or others, yet cannot trace the symptoms to an event where a large collision took place, they may not actually think they’ve suffered a concussion. This results in athletes failing to report their injury and thus do not get the treatment needed to be placed on a proper rehabilitation protocol.

Other common scenarios where concussions are sustained in athletics may not be as recognizable as the highlight reel hit or direct head contact. Yet these events are every bit as serious, even if though go unrecognized initially. These situations may include when an athlete suffers repeated low-level blows to the head, when an external object (not another human) hits an athlete in the cranial region, or when a player gets wrapped up and their head becomes susceptible to hitting the environment around them, even if at a low velocity. To put into perspective how common these injuries can occur, look no further than specific examples of routine plays that happen in almost any game or match. Instances may be when a soccer player attempts a header and strikes the ball with great force, when a baseball or softball strikes an athlete on the helmet, when a wrestler is taken down and cannot brace themselves before hitting the mat, or a lineman in football colliding against defenders for the duration of a game. The possibilities are numerous. The root cause of concussion can certainly differ, but the injury remains incredibly serious regardless of how it is sustained. Now that the injury and some of its causes are better understood, more effective strides can be made to minimize its prevalence.

Which athletes are at risk?

For many years the primary concern around concussions was based around contact sports, such as football, hockey, rugby and lacrosse, and the high-velocity collisions that accompany them. These contact sports are primarily male-dominated, which meant if you were female or played a non-contact sport you were likely safe from getting a concussion. Even youth athletes that played contact sports were not seen as a high risk of concussion since they could not typically generate the high-velocity impacts that are usually seen at the high school level and above. Those assumptions are actually quite false according to numerous studies on the topic and given the circumstances previously mentioned, it is now better understood that athletes of all ages, both male and female, across all sports, can be at risk of sustaining a concussion in their sport. The goal of bringing awareness to parents and athletes of the potential injuries in sport is not to scare them off and prevent them from playing the games they love, rather it’s to educate with the hopes of increased prevention methods, as well as understanding the proper steps to report and treat an injury if it does indeed occur.

Concussions and youth sports

Research has emerged within the last several years that paints a better picture on the prevalence of concussions in youth and high school sports. The CDC estimates that 20% of the roughly 1.7 million concussions that are reported each year are sports related, with the majority of those stemming from participants in youth and high school sports. It was reported that youth athletes who sustained a concussion from participation in contact/collision sports account for 3-8% of all sports-related injuries reported to the ER (Kelly, et al. 2001). Given the high number of participants in youth sports, those statistics are staggering. For years, concussion instances in youth sports was long an afterthought, yet studies show that young athletes are in fact likely more susceptible to concussions than adults. Concussions represent 8.9% of all high school athletic injuries compared to just 5.8% at the collegiate level (Karlin, 2011, Boden, et al. 2007). Possible explanations for higher percentages of concussion rates in youth athletics include youth and adolescent athletes possessing a larger head to body size ratio, they possess weaker neck muscles, and have an increased injury vulnerability due to the brain still developing (Sim et, al. 2008). To make matters worse, research suggests that children and adolescents take longer to recover than adults (Grady, 2010).

A systematic review and meta-analysis done by Pfister et. Al. examined the incidence of concussions in youth sports. 23 articles were accepted for systematic review (out of 698 considered for review). The accepted research focused on both male and female athletes under the age of 18 and included the following sports as part of the research: football, rugby, hockey, lacrosse, soccer, basketball, baseball, softball, wrestling, field hockey, track, taekwondo, volleyball, and cheerleading. The data compiled from the studies demonstrates concussion prevalence in terms of what the researchers refer to as an athletic exposure, or AE. The researchers define an athletic exposure as “one player participating in any game or practice, regardless of the amount of time spent playing and therefore at risk of sustaining an injury.” In this analysis, the data shows concussion prevalence out of 1000 athletic exposures across the 12 sports. The average incidence of an athlete sustaining a concussion across all identified sports was 0.23 per 1000 athletic exposures. The numbers range drastically dependent upon the sport. Rugby was the highest at 4.18, whereas volleyball the lowest at 0.03. The average incidence of an athlete receiving a concussion may seem low when thought of at 0.23/1000 AE, however when taken into consideration that as of 2011, 30-45 million children, and an additional 7 million high school students participated in athletics, that ratio (.023/1000) is actually incredibly startling. The following chart taken from the systematic review by Pfister et. Al shows the reviewed sports and their rates of concussions in order from highest to lowest, as well as the studies the data was taken from.  

The popularity of youth and high school sports are at all-time highs in today’s society. Parents, coaches and athletes alike are constantly vying for any edge in performance they can find. While the constant desire for improving sports and fitness related skills is great for the field of strength and conditioning, it’s imperative that athletes, parents, and coaches allocate time on injuries and preventative methods. Understand that injuries do occur, and will keep occurring, however the better understanding of how and why they occur, the better we can aim to mitigate them. This is especially important in regards to the serious injuries such as concussions where the long term effects are still unfortunately largely unknown.

In Part 2, we will examine some of the preventative measures and how strength & conditioning professionals can assist in protecting athletes from brain injuries.

References

Boden BO, Tacchetti RL, Cantu RC, et al. Catastrophic head injuries in high school and college football players. Am J Sports Med 2007

Grady M. Concussion in the adolescent athlete. Curr Probl Pediatric Health Care 2010;40:154–69.

Karlin AM. Concussion in the pediatric and adolescent population: “different population, different concerns”. PM R 2011;3(Suppl 2):S369–79.

Kelly KD, Lissel HL, Rowe BH, et al. Sport and recreation-related head injuries treated in the emergency department. Clin J Sport Med 2001

Pfister T, Pfister K, Hagel B, et al The incidence of concussion in youth sports: a systematic review and meta-analysis Br J Sports Med 2016;50:292-297.

Sim A, Terryberry-Spohr L, Wilson K. Prolonged recovery of memory functioning after mild traumatic brain injury in adolescent athletes. Neurosurgery 2008

 

Joe Powell is an Assistant Strength & Conditioning Coach at Utah State University.  He formerly held a similar position at Central Michigan University where he also taught classes in the Department of Health and Human Performance.  Joe is a regular contributor to the IYCA Insiders program and has been a huge part of bringing the Behind the Science series to the IYCA.  He is also the author of the IYCA Guide to Manual Resistance Strength Training.  Get more of Joe’s contributions in the IYCA Insiders membership.

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Top 10 Posts of 2018

Wed, 12/19/2018 - 15:54

The IYCA would like to thank you for another incredible year.  We have several amazing things coming in 2019, but before we get there, let’s take a look back at the Top 10 posts from 2018.  

Find a nice place to read (or watch videos) and spend a few minutes during the holidays to go through anything you’ve missed.  There is a TON of great information from some of the best in the profession (These are NOT necessarily in order of “importance”):

#10 Power Clean Progression – Tobias Jacobi – Tobias was named the High School S & C Coach of the year, and his exercise progression series was a great addition to our Free Content area.

#9 Early Sports Specialization: Getting Them to Listen – Brett Klika – Brett is clearly one of the best youth trainers in the world, and this article gave advice on how to educate parents/coaches.

#8 Rethinking Long-Term Athlete Development – Jim Kielbaso – Sometimes the status quo needs to be challenged so that we can move forward.

#7 Bodyweight Training Progressions – Jordan Tingman – College S & C Coach, Jordan Tingman, joined the IYCA community with some awesome content that incorporates written and video material.

#6 A Strength Coach Career Path: A Winding Road – Joe Powell – A long-time contributor, and another college S & C coach, Joe uses his personal experiences as a backdrop to developing a career in sports performance.

#5 You Can’t Microwave an Athlete – Jim Kielbaso – One of the most “shared” articles of the year, this piece is very helpful for educating parents/coaches about why our approach works.

#4 The Stretching Conundrum – Dr. Greg Schaible – A talented and well-respected Physical Therapist, Greg has been another great addition to the IYCA community this year.  This article gets you thinking about how to best utilize stretching/flexibility work.

#3 Strength Coach’s Guide to Achilles Tendinopathy – Dr. Greg Schaible – One of Greg’s most popular pieces, probably because we all work with athletes who experience Achilles pain at some point.

#2 Plyometrics: 3 Ways They May Be Hurting Your Athletes – Phil Hueston – IYCA Advisory Council member and long-time member of the community, Phil is one of the most entertaining writers in the industry.  This article explains how many coaches mis-use plyometrics.

#1 The #1 Predictor of Coaching Success – Karsten Jensen – International S & C expert Karsten Jensen created this post after a conversation about surface learning began.  It turned out to be one of the most important pieces of the year because it creates a framework for expanding your knowledge.

If you just can’t get enough, here’s one more for you:

Bonus Practical is the New Functional – Jim Kielbaso – Most of us don’t coach in a vacuum.  Athletes are doing a million things, and we usually don’t get to control all of it.  This article discusses how important it is to create programs that are practical instead of “perfect.”

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Sprinting Mechanics – How to Run Faster: Paul Aanonson

Mon, 12/17/2018 - 16:01

Coaching Sprinting Mechanics must not be ignored in speed training!

SPEED’, the buzzword in the world of sports. Those who have mastered the art of sprinting dominate those who have yet to develop it. Speed wins, every time.

Top speed sprinting is one the most complex, high-velocity human movements in sports. Top speed means 10+ yards after acceleration. Sprinting is a skill and it CAN be learned. To coach a skill, you must first seek to understand the movement and then master the mechanics.

True speed can be an elusive skill to master, and as a result, is often not strongly emphasized in programming. All too often, I hear the phrase, ‘you can’t coach speed’. This statement is likely made because many coaches simply don’t know how to train speed, never mastered the skill themselves, don’t seek to understand its full value or have never been properly educated on how to include proper sprinting mechanics and athletic movement in their coaching. More familiar methods, such as strength training, provide visible weight room results and PRs that look good on paper and pass the ‘eye test,’ but don’t always translate to the field. An athlete with impressive weight room stats, who can’t move quickly and efficiently, will not succeed on the field.

Why does learning sprinting mechanics matter?

As coaches, we need to create well-rounded programs that focus on all aspects of athletic development. Sprinting is a pillar of sports performance. The foundation for ALL my performance training is ‘Building Better Athletes, Not Weight Room All-Stars’.

Teaching Sprinting MechanicsWhen developing athleticism, one question must be answered. What type of movements are performed during the sport and how can we develop speed, power and explosiveness within these skills? Once we determine this, then we can program to improve movement skills, like sprinting, with drills and exercises focused on mechanics, mobility, power and strength.

Unfortunately, lost in the obsession of building bigger and stronger athletes, is the mastery of skills like sprinting, jumping, cutting and improving overall movement. An athlete’s ability to squat 400 lbs (even if the bar speed is explosive), only matters if they can actually apply their strength and power to on-field movements. If it doesn’t transfer, it doesn’t matter.

I’m certainly not here to say that strength doesn’t matter. Strength training is undoubtedly another pillar of athletic development. Speed and strength go hand in hand to create a successful athlete. Instead, I’m here to challenge and bring awareness to the amount of energy and importance our industry places on strength. Think about the amount of training time that is allocated to learning Olympic lifts like the power clean. Compare that to the amount of time spent on coaching and developing movements like sprinting mechanics. One skill (sprinting) is performed on every play of every game, and one is not (i.e. power cleans). If the time dedicated to learning how to properly move and sprint does not outweigh, or at least equal, the time dedicated to learning Olympic lifts, we are failing our athletes.

Learning how to sprint requires breaking down the movement into steps (as seen in the video below), developing good habits and efficient fluid movements. SPEED CAN BE LEARNED by training posture, body position and mechanics and utilizing specific drills, along with teaching athletes how to efficiently produce force during the action of sprinting. Drills help athletes simplify the complex skill, allowing them to focus on just one aspect.

The goal when coaching sprinting mechanics is not perfection. Every athlete will have slightly different quirks and movements, but the question to always ask is whether or not they are efficient efficiently.  Perfection is the enemy, while efficiency is the ally. Everything from how and where the foot lands, to the position of the head, must be performed with intent and purpose. Most athletes never learn to run correctly and the result creates bad habits during their developmental years. It is our job as coaches to determine if they need to relearn the skill of sprinting or just improve a few aspects, then communicate it with simple cues during speed workouts.

Not every athlete is born with equal natural abilities and each individual has a genetic ceiling. As coaches and mentors, it’s our responsibility to help athletes reach their full potential by providing the tools, confidence, and skills to reach peak performance on the field. I have successfully coached the art of sprinting to well over 2,000 athletes. It is a process, it takes time, and you must be confident and able to break down movements and sprinting mechanics for each individual.

Teaching proper sprinting mechanics does not have to be intimidating. Take the time to fully understand the movement and break down the individual steps. Like any other skill, the more you practice, the more confident you’ll become coaching, cueing and helping your athletes develop into proficient, powerful sprinters.

Along with the Simple Speed Coach ‘How to Sprint’ video, I’ve included a simple overview to help you follow my 9 coaching cues shown in the video.

How to Sprint Video Overview:

Step 1: Neutral Head: Chin neutral, eyes up.

Step 2: Sprint Posture: Neutral pelvis w/ forward lean, rod from ear through hip.

Step 3: Hip Flexion: Thigh slightly below parallel to the ground.

Step 4: Knee Extension / Flight Phase: Violent motion of leg extending towards the ground.

Step 5: Ground Anticipation: How the foot strikes the ground.

Step 6: COG: Where the foot lands.

Step 7: Recovery Leg: Action of the leg as it drives up and in front of the body.

Step 8: Arm Action: Powerful and efficient arm swing.

Step 9: Relax: Utilize only the muscles needed for fluid motion, breathe.

*STRIDE TO TURNOVER RATIO

Stride is determined by recovery leg action (Step 7) into Hip Flexion (Step 3). Turnover is the velocity through the leg cycle.

Teaching sprinting mechanics can be an incredibly enjoyable and fruitful process as you develop athletes.  Take the time to thoroughly understand sprinting mechanics before you begin your instruction, and enjoy watching your athletes get faster and faster.

 

Paul AanonsonPaul Aanonson, MS, CSCS, FMS – Paul is the owner of Simple Speed Coach and has directed the sports performance program for North Colorado Sports Medicine since 2008, training over 2,500 athletes. He oversees the return to sport rehab program and has mentored and prepared over 130 collegiate graduates through his internship program. Aanonson graduated from South Dakota State University with a B.S. in Exercise Science and received a M.S. in Sport Administration from The University of Northern Colorado. He was a four sport all-state athlete in high school and a FCS All-American return specialist for the South Dakota State University football team.

 

For even more detailed information about sprinting mechanics and speed development, check out the IYCA Certified Speed & Agility Specialist course.  The CSAS is the most comprehensive and scientifically sound speed certification in the athletic development profession.  It truly prepares you to teach and develop speed.  Click on the image below to learn more.

speed & agility certification

 

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Metabolic Conditioning for Athletes, Part 2 – Phil Hueston

Wed, 12/12/2018 - 16:06

In Part 1 of this series on metabolic conditioning, I explored what energy is and how the body’s energy systems work. In this article, let’s have a practical look at what metabolic conditioning is and why we should do it with athletes.

The 3 Forms of Metabolic Conditioning

Metabolic Conditioning comes in three basic forms, two of which relate directly to exercise and training:

1. Anaerobic-based – According to Plisk, this is “Motor unit activity, substrate flux and force-speed production patterns such that anaerobic bioenergetics pathways are preferential.” (1) In other words, this form is based on muscle and system functions that prefer the ATP-CP system. Using it preferentially tends to lead to further preference. Your systems will get better at using this form, with a preference for it.

It’s peripheral in nature. We’re talking about muscles and the movement systems of the body. This includes voluntary and involuntary movement, so that twitch or tic you get is also dependent on this system. Think of it as the conditioning that strengthens muscles as well as the endurance of the body.

It buffers the hydrogen ions that accumulate in cells via the production of lactate (not lactic acid, as most folks like to say.)

As fast-twitch, or Type 2X fibers begin to fatigue, we see a slight transference from the ATP-CP system to the Glycolytic system. So, you can remain in an anaerobic metabolic conditioning state even as the principle energy system begins to fail.

2. Aerobic-based – Aerobic energy production is more “central” in nature and provides overall work capacity and endurance for activities of varying speed, intensity, and duration. While arguably more critical to quality and span of life, it can be accomplished through means that are not traditionally “aerobic.”

Aerobic metabolic conditioning integrates cardiovascular parameters into the conditioning process. These include heart rate, cardiac output, blood flow distribution, arterial pressures, total peripheral resistance, left ventricular stroke volume and arterial & venous blood oxygen content.

3. Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT) – All energy expended for all activities other than eating, sleeping, and exercise or sports.

According to Levine “changes in NEAT accompany experimentally induced changes in energy balance and may be important in the physiology of weight change.” (2)  It can account for 270 to 480 calories per day, on average.

Energy. Metabolism. Energy metabolism. They’re all neighbors. Co-workers. You get the idea.

Why metabolic conditioning for athletes, anyway?

Yeah! Isn’t metabolic conditioning really for older, chubby people who are sick of looking like whales at the beach?

Yes and no. Yes, it helps with fat loss. No, it’s not just for the crowd trying to avoid the Porky Pig look.

What are the real benefits of metabolic conditioning for athletes?

Let’s take a look.

For a lot of coaches, metabolic conditioning is just a way to “kick the asses” of their athletes. Some athletes have even been conditioned to buy into this idea. I, for one, would greatly appreciate if those coaches would find work in another industry. Waste management, maybe.

Metabolic conditioning can be tough, and it probably should be, if it’s really going to be effective. Your metabolic conditioning program should challenge your athletes, but it should also make them better!

A quality metabolic conditioning program can provide the following benefits to athletes:

1. Serious calorie burning – While probably a bigger concern for the fat loss athlete than for competitive athletes, it’s an important consideration. While calorie burn during your training session is important, it’s really the boost in metabolic rate after the session that’s important.

Excess Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC) contributes to the “afterburn effect.” This occurs because the body is in an oxygen debt after intense exercise and is in the process of repairing muscle tissue. Add to this the lactate factor and EPOC becomes a pretty big deal. Metcon can enhance EPOC and keep the metabolism jacked.

Improvements in lean mass for athletes come with several other benefits. When an athlete’s metabolism is more efficient, he/she uses nutrients more efficiently. Protein and nitrogen uptake are improved and the rate of calorie expenditure per unit of work performed is positively affected.

Athletes can also become more “metabolically flexible.” (3) This means their bodies become able to perform at high levels using either carbs or fats for fuel. Conversion of fats to usable fuel gets more efficient and energy levels don’t vary as much.

2. Improvement to cardiovascular capacity – While steady state, low intensity exercise like jogging or a bike ride can have real impact on cardiovascular function and aerobic capacity, metabolic conditioning has been shown to improve VO2 max better than traditional aerobic exercise.

Perhaps more important, recovery times from high-intensity activities improve. That means when your athlete goes all out, they recover the ability to go all out again in a shorter time.

3. Improvements in hormonal profile – Metabolic conditioning has been shown to improve the profile of hormones that are involved in lipolysis, or fat burning. Metcon seems to intensify the positive hormonal profile results from just strength training. Recent research has shown an improvement in free testosterone in men who perform HIIT, or high-intensity interval training. (4)

4. Improvements in lean mass – Metabolic conditioning can help spur dramatic improvements in lean mass. While you’re unlikely to see large-scale increases in total mass or muscle size, metabolic conditioning contributes to reductions in body fat.

One benefit of the lean mass changes resulting from proper application of metabolic conditioning is one that many athletes understand, but few really talk about. After all, it’s become a little bit politically incorrect. I’m talking, of course, about the intimidation factor.

Few things are more intimidating to a less-conditioned athlete than the raw, hungry look of a lean, muscled athlete. Even athletes who aren’t “huge” look far more intense and scary when their muscles are showing. Any football player who has lined up across from someone whose muscles are on full display can attest to that…

5. Sport – or context-specific skill development – Especially with metabolic conditioning targeting the ATP-CP system, sport- and context-specific skills are often ideal for inclusion in programming. Because the work time is relatively short and the rest time fairly long, athletes can focus on perfecting skills like jumping, landing mechanics and direction change without losing any of the other benefits of metabolic conditioning.

If you have athletes preparing for combines, showcases or other recruiting-related or similar events, using metabolic conditioning to improve those skills is ideal. Drills like the Pro Shuttle, 40/60 yard dash starts, 10 yard splits, L Drills and others can be connected with other activities to increase metabolic conditioning while perfecting important skills.

You can even tie in sports skills like hitting a ball, ball handling skills, shooting or sprawling for wrestlers or shooting for soccer, lacrosse or hockey players with other conditioning activities to achieve the desired met con effect.

6. Improvements in brain chemistry – After accounting for stress and other life factors, we know that intense exercise like metabolic conditioning will improve the neurotransmitters in the brain, CNS and even the gut. Endorphins are released during and after intense exercise. Serotonin and dopamine levels are improved through exercise that pushes us near the point of physical exhaustion.

With regard to gut hormonal health, metabolic conditioning may be just what your athlete needs. Shorter duration, higher intensity exercise is believed by some alternative medicine doctors to “shock” serotonin receptor cells in the gut lining and improve the flow of gut serotonin. Long duration exercise, however, has been shown to damage gut linings and potentially lead to leaky gut syndrome. (5)

7. Improvements in cognitive function – There is so much research showing how exercise, particularly intense exercise, improves the cognitive function of the human brain that it should be a “no-brainer” by now. Sorry, bad joke. Neural pathways involved in working memory, recall, analysis and problem-solving all benefit from exercise. Some of the influence is hormonal, while some is structural and energy-related.

Another important way cognitive improvement happens is via an increase in Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor, or BDNF. BDNF is a brain protein which acts on specific neurons to improve long-term memory. It also has positive effects on the hippocampus, cortex and forebrain. All these areas are crucial to learning, memory and higher thinking. BDNF also has the ability to stimulate neurogenesis, or the growth of new brain cells from stem cells.

Moderate to intense exercise has been shown to have a positive impact on levels of BDNF in the brain and blood. This indicates a neuroprotective function for metabolic conditioning. (6, 7)

Are you with me that metabolic conditioning isn’t just for overweight, swimsuit model wanna-bes yet? You should be, or at least open to the idea.

Metabolic Conditioning workouts should be designed with the needs of the user in mind. The activities in which the exerciser will engage outside the gym should influence what is included in the training program. In the next part of this series, I’m going to show you how I use metabolic conditioning in my athlete’s programs.

We’ll review some general guidelines for designing these modules. I’ll also give you some sport-specific examples of skill-building through metabolic conditioning and a few ready-to-use programs for you to swipe and try.

Bio: Coach Phil Hueston is not just another pretty trainer. With over 18 years of in-the-trenches experience with athletes ages 6 to 60, he brings a unique skill-set to the improvement of his athletes. The author of the Amazon best-seller “Alchemy; Where the Art and Science Collide in Youth Fitness,” his client list includes professional athletes, collegiate athletes as well as thousands of youth athletes. Phil has been the co-owner of All-Star Sports Academy in Toms River, NJ, one of the largest and most successful youth and family fitness centers in New Jersey since 2008. He was named “Coach of the Year” by the IYCA for 2012-2013.  A contributor to IYCA.org and coach to other coaches, Phil provides unique insights and ideas that can help other coaches accelerate their clients’ progress and performance. Phil is married to the woman responsible for his entry into the fitness profession, MaryJo. Between them they have 2 grown children, Nate and Andrew, and 99 problems.  Phil’s personal website is coachphilhueston.com, and he can be contacted at phil.hueston@hotmail.com

 

The IYCA High School Strength & Conditioning Specialist is the only certification created specifically for coaches training high school athletes.  The course includes several hours of video instruction and two textbooks with contributions from some of the top strength and conditioning coaches in America.  Click on the image below to learn more about how to become a certified high school strength & conditioning coach.

 

  1. Plisk, S.S. (1991). Anaerobic metabolic conditioning: A brief review of theory, strategy,
    and practical application. Journal of Applied Sport Science Research, 5(1), 22-34
  2. Levine, J.A. (2004). Non-exercise activity thermogenesis. Nutrition Reviews, 62(7), S82-S97.
  3. Brooks, GA, and Mercier, J. Balance of carbohydrate and lipid utilization during exercise: The “crossover” concept. Journal of Applied Physiology 76(6): 2253-2261, 1994.
  4. Herbert, P., HIIT produces increases in muscle power and free testosterone in male masters athletes. Endocrine Connections, Vol 6, Iss 7, Pp 430-436 (2017)
  5. R. J. S. Costa, R. M. J. Snipe, C. M. Kitic, P. R. Gibson. Systematic review: exercise-induced gastrointestinal syndrome-implications for health and intestinal disease. Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics, 2017
  6. Szuhany KL, Bugatti M, Otto MW (January 2015). “A meta-analytic review of the effects of exercise on brain-derived neurotrophic factor”. Journal of Psychiatric Research
  7. Phillips C, Baktir MA, Srivatsan M, Salehi A (2014). “Neuroprotective effects of physical activity on the brain: a closer look at trophic factor signaling”. Frontiers in Cellular Neuroscience.

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Fun Core Exercises for Young Athletes – Erica Suter

Mon, 12/10/2018 - 15:55

“Okay kids, it’s time for core work!” says the team coach.

After these words are uttered, young athletes might sigh in frustration or dread the countless reps of Sit-Ups ahead.  It’s like they’ve been programmed to expect core training to be boring and difficult.  

While I am not totally against Sit-Ups, we must ask ourselves as youth coaches, ‘what am I trying to accomplish?’ when programming core exercises. Moreover, ‘how am I helping these young athletes become more resilient for their sport?’

Core training must be approached in a multi-faceted manner, which takes more than just instructing kids to do countless Sit-Ups. Since the core encompasses muscle groups beyond the “six pack abs,” all muscles must be attacked when programming core exercises for kids, so we are improving their performance in sports, and reducing the chance of injuries.

Think of the core as the foundation of an athlete’s body – it allows kids to maintain balance, transfer force, sprint with clean mechanics, and perform sport specific actions with power. Multiple muscle groups must be activated in order for these actions to be optimized.

In soccer, for example, if a kid wants a stronger shot, the core must stabilize the spine in order to for the hips to work efficiently, then rotate correctly so there is enough power produced when the ball is struck. Not only will the core produce power, but it needs to stabilize the spine in order to minimize the stress on the low back. More core stability, then, equals less low back compensation for many sport-specific actions.

With that said, core training must ensure kids are strengthening all of the muscles that wrap around the torso, from the hip extensors, to hip flexors, to the anterior core muscles, to the internal and external obliques.

While core training may be difficult, it can also be enjoyable. Eventually, Sit-Ups may prove too easy for kids, or perhaps too monotonous. To that end, kids enjoy challenges. Kids enjoy variety. Kids enjoy games. Kids enjoy the novelty of new exercises.

Here are four fun core exercises you can do with your youth athletes (and get creative with):

1. Resistance Band Chaos Dead Bug

The Dead Bug is an excellent exercise for anterior core activation as well as stability through the lumbo-pelvic region. Once athletes master the conventional Dead Bug, here is a fun, yet challenging partner variation to try:

Perform 2-3 sets, 15-30 seconds.

2. Chaos Ball Dead Bug

This is another way to add more external “chaos” to the Dead Bug. The more force your partner applies to the ball, the more it ups the ante. Youth athletes love this one because they have fun challenging their partner.

Perform 2-3 sets, 15-30 seconds.

3. Bird Dog High Fives

The Bird Dog is a stellar movement for contralateral coordination, as well as anterior core and gluteal activation. However, sometimes, the conventional Bird Dog can become too easy as well as monotonous. Here is a fun game to try to spice up the Bird Dog movement:

Perform 2-3 sets, 6-8 reps each side.

4. Pull-Up Hold

The Pull-Up Hold is not only an excellent upper body strength exercise but also a difficult anterior core and gluteal exercise. Being able to maintain full body tension by squeezing the glutes and bracing the core is extremely challenging, and will help kids to build serious strength. To make this drill more fun, I like to do Pull-Up Hold Battles and have two athletes face off on who can hold the Pull-Up the longest.


Perform 2-3 sets, for as many seconds as possible.

So which one will you give a whirl first?

I promise your youth athletes will be inspired by the challenges these exercise present, as well as look forward to performing them. Additionally, they will feel stronger, more resilient, and more confident to play their sport. Fun, yet challenging core exercises that work all the muscles in the torso and hone stability are a win-win.

Erica Suter is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and soccer performance coach at JDyer Strength and Conditioning in Baltimore, Maryland. She works with youth athletes across the state of Maryland in the areas of strength, conditioning, agility, and technical soccer training. Besides coaching, she is a passionate writer, and writes on youth fitness as well as soccer performance training on her blog www.ericasuter.com. She also is the creator of the Total Youth Soccer Fitness Program, which is a comprehensive guide for coaches and parents on how to train youth soccer players both safely and effectively. Her mission is to inspire a love for movement and play in kids, and motivate them to stay active for a lifetime.

Connect with her here:
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Twitter
Website

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#1 Predictor of Coaching Success – Karsten Jensen

Wed, 12/05/2018 - 16:03

This brief article is inspired by a recent newsletter posted by Jim Kielbaso on the topic of diving deeper with respect to educational knowledge.  If you’re not getting the newsletter, sign up HERE.  

For some individuals, diving deeper into a topic appears as natural as walking. If you fall into this category, you may question the usefulness of an entire article on the topic.

At the other end of the spectrum, however, are coaches and trainers for whom diving deeper does not seem to come as easy. How can that be?

There appear to be at least two pre-requisites to diving deeper.

  • Motivation and willingness to learn and grow – without this element diving deeper will not happen.
  • Skills to ask the questions that guide the process (the dive) – without this skill, there might be uncertainty about what books to read, which courses to take, etc.. Trainers/coaches might feel that they read a lot but that it is not helpful in their work.

This article discusses practical tools to: 
1: Increase motivation to learn and grow as a coach or trainer.
2: Determine how to dive deeper.

1. How to increase motivation and willingness to grow

A component of my work is to teach a fundamental certification course for the Certified Professional Trainers Network in Canada. Within the first hour of the four-day workshop, I typically mention the following quote:

I jokingly say, “If you truly live and apply this, then we can all go home.” ☺

Do you accept the idea that a willingness to learn is a powerful attitude? If so, consider the following statement that takes Zig Ziglar’s quote one step further and applies it in a training context:

Make the next program better (than ever before).
Make the next session better (than ever before).

If you truly live this attitude, you might experience a couple of really cool benefits:

  • Your growth as a coach/trainer skyrockets from daily incremental improvements. It is really the law of compound interest applied to the learning process.
  • Your motivation during program creation and the sessions with your athletes may increase. It is no longer: “I have done this before.” It is now, “What am I going to learn today? How am I going to grow today?”

If you are still not–on a visceral level–excited and committed to the idea of constant learning and growing, then fill out a pain-pleasure diagram. This form of diagram relates to the saying:

“If you have a big enough WHY, then you will figure out the how.”
Jim Rohn
(Please check the work of Anthony Robbins for more information).

To execute the exercise, make 4 big squares on a sheet of paper, and label them as in the example below. Begin by writing the components that come with the strongest emotional drive. Next add elements that you intellectually agree with, but do not necessarily feel on an emotional level.

Your goal is to reach a point of an emotional shift that “locks you in” to constant learning and growing. Below is an example:

Learning Just showing up PLEASURE
  1. Faster growth as a trainer
  2. Increased motivation
  3. Potentially higher compensation due to increased skills
  4. Increased referrals due to better client experiences
  5. Learning skills that might be useful if you ever leave training/coaching
  6. More fun
  1. It is easy
  2. More free time in your schedule to do other things
PAIN
  1. Time commitment
  2. Cost of books,  workshops, etc.
  1. A subtle feeling that you are winging it
  2. Frustration because you don’t understand why the athletes are not motivated to follow your program
  3. Frustration because you don’t understand why the athletes cannot execute the cues you give
  4. Lack of results and lack of promotions
  5. Boredom during sessions because you feel it is just a chore and you don’t really know how to be involved
  6. Frustrated with program design because you feel it is just about getting it done

One of the big challenges for many self-employed coaches is that they have to be both a coach and a business person. On one hand, they want to learn and grow as a coach. On the other hand, they may find their coaching growth is sacrificed in order to stay on top of the business side of things.

Personally, the coach/business dichotomy has never really sat well with me. On the deepest level, I feel like a coach or a teacher. For that reason, I absolutely love the following sentence that merges the objective of the coach and the businessperson into one.

“Be so good that they (the athletes) can’t stop talking about you.”

I first heard this quote ascribed to Disney and I do know a couple of very successful businesses that are built completely on living that statement.

Let’s assume that you are motivated and locked in on learning. The last part of the article discusses a process for actually doing it and diving deeper.

2. How to Dive Deeper and Learn Every Day

In some of his workshops, Paul Chek talks about how his career in fitness and healing began.

He was stationed at Fort Bragg as (I believe) a paratrooper and was simultaneously boxing and doing triathlons. He did well and his superiors said that if he trained the other soldiers he would get extra time to train on his own.

He accepted that premise and started training the other soldiers, even though he had no formal education at the time. Thus, during this early stage in his career, the sequence he experienced was:

1: Someone presented him with a specific problem.

2: He had to figure out how to fix it.

The point is not that learning in advance (such as through longer formal education) is not useful. The point is, regarding your continued education, one of the best approaches is to choose education (books, workshops, conferences) based on where your biggest questions are with respect to working with your athletes.

The approach is the opposite of trying to “stay updated” (impossible) or to follow what is “new” (big risk of wasting time). To help you determine your areas of focus, download my continuing education self-assessment here.

The 5-hour rule

With the overall approach laid out, the first thing to do is to schedule time weekly to learn. The 5-hour rule is great, but something is better than nothing.

Whatever time you assign should be divided between:

    1. Reading
    2. Thinking about and structuring what you read so you are able to apply it to your program design, sessions and career

Learning during sessions

From my experiences, there are three sources of learning during the session that can be used as guidance for how to dive deeper:

    1. Direct questions from athletes or clients.
    2. You instruct an exercise in a certain way and the athlete is not able to execute it correctly.
    3. The session goes as planned but you get a subtle feeling – or you consciously ask the question, “What could be improved?”

Always take quick notes and address them during the designated learning time.

Learning after the session

The following questions tie into the three areas above. However, additional insights may arise when you sit down with time to think. The sooner after the session you get the time to sit and contemplate, the better. Ask yourself:

  • Is there any aspect of the program that did not work and must be adjusted?            
  • Is there any aspect of the program that is not adequately defined and should be refined?                                                           
  • Is there any aspect of the program that works but could be improved?       
  • Are there any questions that could provide the basis for future research?

If it is not natural for you to ask questions, you might not feel that there are any answers to the questions listed above. If that is the case, you must be more aggressive and put your subconscious mind to work.

Ask the following questions with complete awareness, but don’t force an answer:

  • What is the most important question about < insert topic> that I have not asked yet?
  • What is the most important insight about < insert topic> that I have not had yet?
  • What is the most powerful strategy or tactic with respect to <insert topic> that I haven’t applied yet?

The answer will appear as an idea popping into your head seemingly out of nowhere, from a fellow trainer mentioning a specific book or workshop, or a Facebook post that “magically” seems to be just what you were seeking.

When you read, watch videos or attend workshops, one of the easiest traps to fall into is the thought that “I have heard this before. I know it already.”                                                        

If you feel that this applies to you, then contemplate the following:

  1. Does the fact that I have heard something before make my programs better? (No.)
  2. Does the athlete/client benefit from me having heard something or “know” something? (No.) 

Only information that is applied to creating, supervising, instructing or evaluating training programs is beneficial to your work and to the client. Therefore, after reading material/attending lectures or workshops, ask yourself:

  1. Have I heard this before?
  2. If I have heard this before, am I applying the principles, and if so, how well am I applying the principles?  
  3. How can I apply these principles better?

Don’t ever accept the idea that you can’t execute a particular element of your work better. One of the worst situations you could be in is to not have a clear vision and plan of action for how to get better.

There is a great story told about legendary Spanish cello player, Pablo Casals. At 86, he was asked:  Why do you still practice?

He answered with the trademark of a true master, “I think that I am still improving.”

We find the same type of thinking within our own field. I spoke to Dr. Stuart McGill after the recent SWIS Symposium in Mississauga, Canada. He said:

The best assessment that I will ever do is the last one before I die, because I will be the wisest and most experienced.

Karsten Jensen has helped world class and Olympic athletes from 26 sports disciplines since 1993. Many of his athletes have won Olympic medals, European Championships, World Championships and ATP Tournaments.

Karsten is the first strength coach to create a complete system of periodization, The Flexible Periodization Method – the first complete method of periodization dedicated to holistic, individualized and periodized (H.I.P) training programs.

Karsten shares all aspects of The Flexible Periodization Method (FPM) with his fellow strength coaches and personal trainers through The Flexible Periodization Method workshop series (Levels I-VIII).  Find more information at www.yestostrength.com.

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Metabolic Conditioning for Athletes, Part 1 – Phil Hueston

Mon, 12/03/2018 - 16:31

Metabolic conditioning has been a “buzz phrase” in the fitness profession for many years now. Before that, it was the subject of research dating back at least 40 years.

So when I hear a certain “Biggest Loser” trainer telling the world she coined the phrase, I just have to shake my head.  Ummm, yeah….I’m gonna need you to stop that. If you could just go ahead and remember it’s a science phrase, that’d be great. Thanks!metabolic conditioning

Metabolic conditioning (metcon) has been defined as the use of exercise to increase the storage and delivery of energy for any activity.

Bergeron defined it in 2011 as “exercises that impose a moderate to high demand on the cardiovascular system and energy metabolism of the active muscle fibers to meet with the muscles’ repeated high energy requirement.” (Current Sports Medicine Reports, 2011)

Essentially, metabolic conditioning is the improvement of energy storage, delivery, and usage through the application of activity to the movement system of the body.

What is energy, exactly?

We’ve all felt a little less than energetic. We’ve probably all been in a room full of people brimming with energy. Little children seem to have endless amounts of it.

But what is energy as it relates to the human body? Where does the energy to run our body systems come from? What fuels movement? When we run low or need more, where does it come from?

The truth is that energy is all around us. All matter is energy, in all its forms. We use energy to workout and we use energy to drive our cars and heat our homes.

The first law of thermodynamics says that energy can be neither created nor destroyed. It can only change phase or form.

Einstein figured this out when he postulated his theory about energy. He used the formula E=mc² to explain it. E is energy, m the mass of an object while the c² represents a constant, in this case, the speed of light in a vacuum. By his formula, we can ascertain the amount of energy inside any mass. A change in the energy of an object would result in the mass changing and vice-versa. He created his now-famous formula to quantify the way in which mass releases energy, and how a huge amount of energy can be released from a relatively small amount of mass. He also realized that there is a lot more energy inside an atom than in its valence electrons (unpaired electrons in the outer shell of an atom.) So if you split an atom, you release an amount of energy many times that contained in the electrons in the shell.

But, let’s talk about how this applies to us and the energy our athletes need – the energy for movement and cellular activity. To better understand metabolic conditioning and its impact on energy storage, delivery, and usage, let’s, as the King said to Alice, “begin at the beginning.” 

Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) is the secret sauce for physical activity. It’s been called the “molecular unit of currency.”

Nucleoside. Ribose.

All energy in the human body comes from the conversion of this high-energy, badass phosphate to lower energy, less-badass phosphates. In the simplest form of energy transfer,  a hydrolytic process takes place (meaning water is required,) and ATP is converted to ADP (Adenosine Diphosphate) or AMP (Adenosine Monophosphate – this occurs with far less frequency.) Some energy, some heat, and one proton are released. Then, the ADP molecule connects with an inorganic phosphate to resynthesize the ATP molecule.

Here’s an easy way to put it. A ball with 3 legs and a hat gets splashed with water. A spark flies out (energy,) there’s a short burst of flame (heat) and the hat (hydrogen) and one leg (phosphate) fall off. After the water clears, the ball goes looking for a fresh hat and a new leg, which are apparently pretty easy to find. And just like that, we have another 3-legged ball and the whole dance starts again.

But even with a cool, easy visual like that, the process of energy production is not that simple. Since we use muscle and body systems in different ways and for different periods of time, using different muscles and types of muscles, we need different energy delivery methods to match the needs of each.

There are 3 different energy systems we work with. Which one takes the lead depends on how long, and how hard, we ask the body to go.  Let’s explore how these work and how they relate to metabolic conditioning.

Blast off – Phosphagen (ATP-CP) System

If you want to go hard and fast, but not very long, it’s all about the ATP-CP. The ATP-CP system, also called the Phospagenic pathway, is the system of choice when full power or intensity is needed for a short period. When maximal or near maximal power is needed by muscles, the demand for ATP goes through the roof. Just gotta have it and gotta have it now!

The ATP-CP system is the quickest way to resynthesize ATP and deliver the goods. Creatine Phosphate, or CP, is stored in muscle and is happy to donate a phosphate to the cause in order to facilitate the resynthesis process. At least, nobody’s heard CP complaining about it to date. When muscles use ATP for energy and leave behind ADP, CP provides a phosphate so ADP can become ATP. So, ADP + CP = ATP + C. That Creatine molecule will then pick up an inorganic phosphate and re-form CP.

It’s a real Jerry Maguire kind of moment…

This is an anaerobic energy system, as no oxygen is needed to resynthesize ATP. No fats or carbohydrates are required, either. Because of the speed of the process, it is ideal for high-intensity activities lasting no more than about 30 seconds. But there is also a limited supply of stored ATP and CP in skeletal muscle, so fatigue hits fast, and often hard.

To recap, the Phosphagen energy system is ideal for short-duration, high-intensity muscular activity because:

  1. It requires no oxygen for completion
  2. The ATP resynthesis is rapid
  3. All the components required are stored in the contractile proteins of muscle (but in limited quantities), and
  4. Few chemical reactions are required to split off the phosphate groups from either Creatine Phosphate or ATP to fulfill the energy requirements of the cell.

Sprints, Olympic and maximal lifts come to mind. Sports like football, baseball, softball and track and field events like the 100m dash, throws and jumps also fit this pathway. Due to the massive, rapid power output here, recovery can be anywhere from 1 to 5 minutes, depending on the current conditioning level of your athlete or client.  Typically, coaches refer to this kind of training as more explosive in nature, but it can have a role in metabolic conditioning if programmed correctly.  

The “in-betweener” – Glycolytic System

But what happens when we want to go at it a little longer, but still put some oomph in the work? Well, we have an app for that. Okay, an energy system.

The Glycolytic energy system is designed for activity between 30-60 seconds and up to 4 minutes, depending, of course, on which studies you believe. It’s the next fastest method of resynthesizing ATP.

Here, carbohydrate is broken down through a series of chemical reactions to form pyruvate. The first of these is a process called glycogenolysis, where glycogen is broken down into glucose. Each molecule of glucose that is broken down to pyruvate in this process yields 2 molecules of ATP.

metabolic conditioning for soccer

The trade-off here is that not a lot of energy is really created, but the process is pretty fast. When glucose breaks down to pyruvate, it can go one of two ways: it can be converted to lactate or converted to a metabolic intermediary known as acetyl coenzyme A, or acetyl-CoA. Acetyl-CoA is sucked up by mitochondria for oxidation and production of more ATP.

The conversion to lactate happens when the need for oxygen is greater than the supply, like during anaerobic exercise. When oxygen is plentiful and muscles are oxygen-happy, like during aerobic exercise, pyruvate (as Acetyl-CoA) enters the mitochondria and goes through aerobic metabolism.

Sometimes, though, this method of energy problems has issues. When oxygen isn’t supplied to muscles el rapido, anaerobic glycolysis takes place. Anaerobic glycolysis is a dirty slob. It leaves behind a mess of hydrogen ions, causing muscle pH to drop. This is known as acidosis. But that’s not all. We also get a buildup of other metabolites like ADP, inorganic potassium and free Potassium ions.

As you might imagine, all this metabolite trash causes trouble. Here’s some of what can go wrong:

  1. Inhibition of specific enzymes involved in muscle contractions and in metabolism
  2. Inhibition of calcium release from muscle storage sites. Problem! Calcium is the trigger for muscle contractions
  3. Interference with the electrical charges in the muscles

This all contributes to a reduction in the ability of muscles to contract effectively. As a result, muscle force production falls and exercise intensity decreases. In other words, you lose strength and power.

Working sets of weightlifting, jump rope sets and running distances of 400m and up come to mind as representative of activities needing this energy system. Sports like hockey, soccer, lacrosse and basketball also fit this pathway. Recovery time here is generally 1 to 3 minutes.  When most people talk about metabolic conditioning, it is usually the anaerobic energy system that gets challenged.  

Going the Distance: Aerobic System

The aerobic system is quite complex, the most complex of the three systems. This is likely an outcropping of the long-held understanding that the human body evolved for aerobic activity. Aerobic metabolic reactions, which happen with oxygen, are the genesis for the majority of cellular energy in the body. This form of ATP resynthesis is the slowest of the three types.

The aerobic system does its work in muscle mitochondria. For this reason, it is sometimes referred to as mitochondrial respiration. Blood glucose, glycogen and fat fuels are used to resynthesize ATP within the muscle mitochondria. The aerobic system includes the Krebs cycle (Citric Acid or TCA cycle) and the electron transport chain.

(Photo by Terry Pierson, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

Here’s how it happens:

For carbohydrates, glycolysis metabolizes glucose and glycogen into pyruvate. This is used to create acetyl-CoA, which makes its way to the Krebs cycle. The resulting electrons are transported along the electron transport chain, with ATP and water being produced.

When glucose is completely oxidized via glycolysis, the Krebs cycle and the electron transport chain, the resulting yield is 36 molecules of ATP for every glucose molecule metabolized. So for those of you keeping score at home, that’s 18 times the amount produced by anaerobic glycolysis.

When the aerobic system relies on fat for energy, things are a little different. Fat is stored as triglyceride and can be found in skeletal muscles, where it’s called intramuscular triglyceride, and in adipose tissue under the skin. Fat represents the most plentiful source of energy in the body. Yes, even if you’re not “fat.”

Triglycerides are broken down through lipolysis into free fatty acids and glycerol. The free fatty acids are shipped off to the muscle mitochondria, where carbon atoms swing into action to produce acetyl-CoA in a process called beta-oxidation. Once acetyl-CoA has been formed, fat metabolism looks just like carb metabolism. Electrons go to the electron transport chain and form water and ATP, acetyl-CoA gets crammed into the Krebs cycle.

The result? Fatty acid palmitate produces 129 molecules of ATP. This helps explain why low-intensity activity in the “aerobic zone” can be continued for such long periods, often until the exerciser nods off and tumbles off the treadmill…

For activities lasting longer than 5 minutes, the Aerobic system is the energy provider of choice for the body. Capable of handling easy to moderate intensity activity for hours, it can generally also recover quickly.

Coming next…

If we’re going to use metabolic conditioning with our athletes, I think it’s important to have a basic understanding of energy systems and their application for our athletes. In the next part of this series, we’ll take a look at some of the questions and issues surrounding metabolic conditioning as it applies to athletes and their training.

In Part 3 of this metabolic conditioning series, we’ll put it all to use. We’ll explore sport- and context-specific programming variables for metabolic conditioning and other concepts that may just put your athletes “ahead of the game.”

Bio: Coach Phil Hueston is not just another pretty trainer. With over 18 years of in-the-trenches experience with athletes ages 6 to 60, he brings a unique skill-set to the improvement of his athletes. The author of the Amazon best-seller “Alchemy; Where the Art and Science Collide in Youth Fitness,” his client list includes professional athletes, collegiate athletes as well as thousands of youth athletes. Phil has been the co-owner of All-Star Sports Academy in Toms River, NJ, one of the largest and most successful youth and family fitness centers in New Jersey since 2008. He was named “Coach of the Year” by the IYCA for 2012-2013.  A contributor to IYCA.org and coach to other coaches, Phil provides unique insights and ideas that can help other coaches accelerate their clients’ progress and performance. Phil is married to the woman responsible for his entry into the fitness profession, MaryJo. Between them they have 2 grown children, Nate and Andrew, and 99 problems.  Phil’s personal website is coachphilhueston.com, and he can be contacted at phil.hueston@hotmail.com

 

The IYCA High School Strength & Conditioning Specialist is the only certification created specifically for coaches training high school athletes.  The course includes several hours of video instruction and two textbooks with contributions from some of the top strength and conditioning coaches in America.  Click on the image below to learn more about how to become a certified high school strength & conditioning coach.

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Understanding How Thorax Position Impacts Scapular Orientation – Dr. Greg Schaible

Wed, 11/28/2018 - 15:38

We understand the body can move in three planes, giving us many options to move with numerous degrees of freedom.

Most can then appreciate how each joint will have different amounts of freedom based on the type of joint.

The scapula is one area in which many people are able to name all the movements, but not necessarily appreciate all its movement capabilities. Performance professionals often work with athletes who either perform overhead movements (i.e. throwing) or suffer from shoulder pain that can often stem from thoracic/scapular issues.

The main purpose of this article is to call your attention to how manipulating body position can impact the outcome of a movement based upon the athlete’s presentation.  Once you read the article and watch the video, you should have a better understanding of how the scapula, rib cage, and thoracic spine interact.

(Note:  Somewhat different than many of my other articles, this article is not as much about fixing a specific problem as it is to enhance your understanding of how the thorax and scapula interact so that you can make more appropriate suggestions and programming decisions with your athletes.)

The scapula moves in any combination of the following:

  • Elevation & Depression
  • Protraction & Retraction
  • Upward & Downward Rotation
  • Anterior & Posterior Tilting
  • Internal & External Rotation

What we like to see with the overhead position is scapula upward rotation (wrapping around the thorax), posterior tilt, and external rotation.

It’s usually not that simple though.

First, we want to ask ourselves what position is the scapula resting in?

The easiest way to generalize that answer is to figure out if the scapulas are in a protracted or retracted position? Protraction and retraction tend to be a recognizable trait which will include some coupled movements into upward rotation (protraction) and downward rotation (retraction).

The reason for asking this question is that we need to know if the scapula is starting “ahead” or “behind” the starting line.

While it’s important to make sure the scapula is moving properly when taking the arm overhead, it’s just as important to recognize their starting position as it will impact the timing and congruency of the ball and socket joint during overhead motion.

The simplest way to address this is by looking at how the resting position changes when the body position changes.

Consider the following examples:

  1. Wall Slide – The wall gives some assistance and proprioception to the movement which often facilitates better mechanics from the start. However, while standing there is going to be a tendency for some individuals (not all) to display a flat t-spine or increased lordosis to perform the activity. This could impact the scapula’s static position or dynamic position.
  2. All-4s on Elbows Reach Roll Lift – This increases the amount of proprioception. Demands more anterior core engagement, and takes gravity out of the equation until you perform the lift-off. For certain individuals, this will look and feel the best for them.
  3. All 4s on Hands Reach Roll Lift – This position you will often find people with flat T-spines struggling to manage gravity and the thorax position. As a result, you may see a noticeable medial border of the scapula.
  4. All 4s on Stability Ball for Ribcage Retraction – The sole purpose of this is to use bodyweight and gravity to apply pressure into the sternum so that the ribcage passively retracts back toward the scapula. Which for a flat t-spine individual can be a useful starting point to work on scapular coordination and strength. Many people will place the ball at waist level which would facilitate more extension to occur. Which if the individual is starting from an extended flat thoracic spine state. You should be monitoring how much the athlete relies on extension to complete the task.

None of these exercises are inherently right or wrong, but each one may be helpful depending on the person’s needs. 

This video gives you more in-depth information on these movements, and should help you understand positioning better than only reading about it:  

This very brief video from Dr. G. Bhanu Prakash of Medical Animations will give you a clear view of the motions discussed above and an understanding of which muscles produce each movement:

 

Dr. Greg Schaible is a physical therapist and strength coach specializing in athletic performance. Greg is the owner of On Track Physiotherapy and owner of the popular online education resource Sports Rehab Expert. Greg works with athletes and active individuals of all ages. As a former athlete himself, he attended The University of Findlay and competed in both Indoor and Outdoor Track & Field where he earned honors as a 5x Division II All-American and a 6x Division II Academic All-American.

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