Intern Stew

Today concludes another semester of interns so here’s a quick video of our spring 2010 interns performing a challenge put together by one of our coaches.  I only got about half of the exercises and it was by far the easier half of the challenge.  Two of our kids weren’t able to participate but I’m sure they would have had they had the opportunity. 

The semester was successful in that we have placed one intern as a Graduate Assistant at the University of Texas-Arlington, and another has interviews for GA positions with several Division I programs.  A third has chosen to go the sport coach route for the time being, and the final two will catch on somewhere soon. 

Strength and conditioning isn’t an easy route to go.  There just aren’t that many jobs out there for entry-level coaches.  It makes it extremely tough working several years for little to no money.  The ones that are successful stick with it through all the incredibly difficult times early on in their career. 

We wish the interns leaving us good luck, and look forward to the summer incoming class.


Single Leg Exercise

Single leg exercises do one thing especially well and that is hit the quatratus lumborum.  One of the QL’s main functions is to laterally stabilize the pelvis in a single leg stance.  One place this is important in everyday life is just simply walking.  Each step requires the QL to hold the pelvis up so to speak.  If the QL doesn’t do its job the pelvis will drop.  When this begins to happen, low back problems aren’t far away. 

There has been a lot of talk lately about choosing single leg exercises over bilateral exercises such as the squat or deadlift.  Mike Boyle is one of the huge proponents of single leg work over double leg.  One of the reasons stated for this change is less stress on the low back.  Mike believes the low back is the weak link in all bilateral exercises, and by performing single leg work you eliminate the low back in the equation.  In reality, according to Dr. McGill single leg exercises actually require much more out of the lumbar spine due to the higher levels of stabilization that have to occur.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying Coach Boyle is wrong in the training of his athletes, I’m only trying to provide a different perspective.  He has been training athletes far longer than I have and has concrete reasons as to why he utilizes single leg work.  You can find his opinions on the above topic in the link below.  It’s a great video and I give Mike a lot of credit for his critical thinking. 


Single leg exercises such as the split squat with the back foot elevated (Bulgarian Split Squat) require high levels of pelvic stabilization from the QL. 

Bulgarian Split Squat by one of our interns Daniel

Another exercises that is great for QL as well as the surrounding torso musculature are suitcase carries.  These are just like they sound.  Athletes pick up a heavy dumbbell and walk with it.  This is great exercise for lateral torso stabilization. 

Suitcase Carry

Having a strong QL is just one part of the equation when it comes to lumbar stabilization.  Single leg exercises will always have a large part in the training of athletes and can go a long way in helping develop stabilization patterns for future health throughout the spine.

Random Friday Fun

Since it’s a Friday I thought we might have a little fun and watch a few good videos that I happened to stumble upon this week. 

This kids in this video are pretty impressive and goes to show what good imaginations can achieve.  I only wonder how this was all coreographed during this rain delay.  Seems like there may have been some prior planning.  It’s still impressive. 

Who says baseball isn’t a vertical sport?  This kid makes a good case for the implementation of jump training. 

If you didn’t know I’m all about funny mascots, especially the inflatable ones.  I can’t get enough.  I’m not big on the serious mascots that do crazy stunts and what not, just the funny ones.  I sometimes wonder if I picked the wrong profession and should’ve crawled into a hot, sweaty, monkey suit to make people laugh.  Ok, not really.   But, on a serious note I used to train one of the most famous mascots in professional sports, and the money they make is no laughing matter as he regularly pulled in over half a million dollars.  I’m guessing the mascot in the last video doesn’t make a 500k but he does a good job at making people laugh.  Enjoy your Friday, and GO FROGS. 

Sport Specific

I read an article recently that stated “sport specific exercises for pitchers are multi directional lunges, squats, single leg squats, and step ups.”

I didn’t know weight room movements that are general in nature to any sport are sport specific to pitchers.  I have a problem with everything being sport specific.  The only way step ups are sport specific in my mind are if you are in a step up competition.  So with that in mind lets determine what makes an exercise specific, or at least in my mind. 

Dr. Yuri Verkhoshansky developed the Principle of Dynamic Correspondence.  These were criteria for exercises to be used that would enhance the actual sport skills aka: sport specific.  Dr Verkhoshansky did extensive research in the are of these specialized exercises which were used extensively in the Eastern Bloc countries.  Much of their success has been attributed to the  development and usage of these sport exercises.

The criteria for these exercises were as follows:
1. Amplitude and direction of movement.
The exercise should take into the consideration the joints used, and proper motion of the body segments, proper muscular regions of work taking place, and proper direction of the actions.  Linear sports should use and train with linear exercises.  Rotational sports should train with rotational exercises, and so on.  Movements used in the skill should be the movements that are used in training.

2. The accentuated region of force production
Force should take be developed in the same region as the sport skill.  For example, throwing a baseball, or any object involves a ballistic motion where force is developed in the beginning part of the movement and carried through to the release of the object.  Force isn’t generated over the entire phase of the motion.  Many coaches believe that reproducing a throw with a band is “sport specific.”  However, the region of force production with a band occurs at the end of the motion as the band tension becomes greater, not at the beginning of the movement. 

3. The dynamics of the movement
Verkhoshansky states that the training should be of the same or greater intensity than what is encountered during the sport activity.  This relates to effort during the training.  Training with less effort than is used during the sport will not increase results relative to the sporting activity. 

4. The rate and time of maximal force production
Development of strength must be developed based on the speed of execution.  The faster the movement the less time available to apply strength.  A powerlifter can focus on the application of maximal strength in an environment that doesn’t require a time component.  As long as the lift is executed it is successful no matter how long it takes.  Compare that to a shot putter.  Up to a certain point maximal strength will benefit his sporting results, but not forever.  At some point the athlete must raise his explosive strength abilities to continue to raise his sporting results as the shot put is an explosive movement in which the athlete doesn’t have the available time to utilize maximal strength. 

5. The regime of muscular work
The muscular contractions used in the sport skill must match the training means used.  Athletes such as sprinters are highly dependent on reactive strength, whereas a thrower would focus more on upper body concentric strength for a single explosive effort with a loaded implement. 

Exercises that are believed to be sport specific that are actually general in nature can do more harm than good when it comes to performance.  I believe all exercises done in a weight room are completely general in nature unless the competitive skill is weighlifting, or powerlifting.  A quick example of what most coaches would consider sport specific  is sprinters towing a heavy tire.  This can actually be counter-productive to increasing a sprinters speed.  Towing a tire doesn’t match all of the above criteria in Dr. Verkhoshansky’s Principle of Dynamic Correspondence.  Technique can be altered by towing too heavy of an implement.  Muscular contractions speeds are slowed compared to full-speed sprinting.  Doing too much of this type of training would reinforce alternative motor skills than those warranted during sprinting and could cause negative changes in the sport skill. 

In a nutshell, exercises should duplicate the same technique, muscular contractions, and range of motions that occur during the competitive skill.  Don’t get confused into thinking that increasing a lift will always translate to increased sport performances.

Cardio for baseball???

Since today is Friday, I thought that I’d share another piece of gold for all the baseball people out there.  The video below is just magic and will turn anyone into a competitive baseball player if you didn’t already know.  I’ve posted on a previous video from this amazing coach HERE  so if you haven’t had the chance feel free to check it out. 

Any of you that have seen my programming probably know that I’m not a big fan of aerobic training in baseball.  When you look at the energy system used in the game none of it comes from the oxidative (aerobic) energy system. Virtually no form of the energy system exists in baseball.  Many sports need to have a great aerobic base because it increases the efficiency to shuttle lactic acid out of the muscles at a more rapid pace.  This isn’t the case with baseball.  Baseball is almost entirely played in the alactic (ATP-PC) energy system, which is generally 10 seconds and under. 

Coaches often believe that pitchers are aerobic athletes but again this isn’t the case when we fully look into the process of pitching an inning.  Each pitch is an explosive total body effort with around 15 seconds of recovery.  The recovery all depends upon the pace of the game, the pitcher, etc.  Foul balls increase the time between pitches as do signs from coaches, etc.  Pitchers never tap into the oxidative system.  So why do we train these athletes with long, slow, distance type work?  The body always adapts to how it is trained.  What part of pitching is slow, and unexplosive?  None of it.  I don’t train our pitchers in this fashion and never will.  We train to be fast, powerful, and explosive at all times. 

A lot of coaches will say that pitchers have to have a good aerobic base to go deep into a game, but this is skill specific.  Pitchers build the ability to throw more pitches by. . . . you guessed it throwing pitches.  You can find any number of highly trained athletes in greater physical condition than that of a pitcher but that sure doesn’t mean they can go out and throw 120 pitches in a game.  The act of pitching is a very specific skill and athletes build the ability to throw more pitches by throwing.  Running all you want won’t give you the ability to go out and dominate for 8 innings. 

I get asked a lot as far as what conditioning I actually do with pitchers.  In the off-season our guys train to be fast.  As the pre-season nears we switch over to more game like conditions by doing a high volume of medicine ball throws.  These are total body throws with lots of rest to help replicate game like conditions. 

In-season our pitchers do some form of recovery training based on their heart rate after they throw.  This is most often walking at a specific heart rate on the treadmill.  Once the season starts, our conditioning really takes a back seat.  By the start of the season, most of our work has been taken care of.  Coaches shouldn’t forget that baseball is a game of speed and power.   Train your athletes to be fast and don’t look back.

Random thoughts on the Speed Ladder

My quick thoughts on the speed ladder; the good and the bad.  Many coaches believe that the speed ladder is an effective way to develop increased foot speed.  I’m not even sure what foot speed is since explosive, quick movement comes from the power of the hips, and stability of the torso to keep energy leaks to a minimum.  The glutes, hamstrings, hip flexors, etc. are the power houses associated with quick, explosive movement. 

I do believe there are some good uses for the speed ladder but they are more appropriately applied to young kids.  They can be great to help young athletes develop, coordination, body control, and learn how to coordinate arm movements with leg movements.  The ladder can be a great tool for prepatory jump training with kids, as well as with some older athletes as well. 

Now one of the reasons I don’t like speed ladders.  We’ve all seen athletes who could run circles around others in a speed ladder but do nothing of any sort on the playing field.  They basically have become super efficient at the closed ended, pre-programmed motor patterns.  That’s all a speed ladder pattern is.  Sports aren’t played in that format and that is why the speed ladder essentially has no carry-over what-so-ever to any type of sport.  Sports are played using open-ended motor skills based on reaction to a one or many stimuli.  Don’t buy into thinking that the speed ladder is really doing anything for speed or “foot quickness.”  When does an athlete move their feet 100 mph without their body going anywhere?  If they are their probably getting run by or run over.  In any case it isn’t good. 

Any tool can be used for small time frames but if a speed ladder is one of your main tools throughout the year then it may be time to re-evaluate your program.  Wouldn’t it be much better to get athletes performing movements that simulate what they perform in competitions than to just mindlessly run through ladders believing this will increase your third baseman’s ability to get to a ball down the line. 

Train your athletes how they play.  Design agility patterns that incorporate movements similar to their position requirements.  Then add variety by making them have to react to a stimulus such as a coach pointing different directions or calling out numbers that each stand for a different cone.  The variations are only limited by a coach’s imagination.

Speed and Strength

So I came upon an article the other day about speed development. In this article the author states several times that increased strength development always results in increased speed development if their weight and technique remain the same.  So an athlete that only lifts 300 lbs. will be faster if he gets his lift to 400 lbs., and faster at 50o lbs., and so on. 

Not one of the fastest humans!

At novice levels there is a high correlation between all motor abilities.  I remember Coach Joe Kenn use to joke that he could take a young kid and do walking lunges for a quarter-mile everyday and he would get faster.   This just speaks to the extent of how easily a novice athlete can make gains. 

Early speed training

As an athlete advances there becomes less and less correlation between maximal strength and speed.  At some point there is no correlation and it can actually become a negative correlation.

Maximal strength work can be a hinderance to speed developement in the slowing down of the nervous system.  The human body adapts to how it is trained.  When athletes focus on slow heavy lifting day after day, the body can and will adapt to the slowness it continually repeats. 

Wasn't known for his strength

Coaches must always remember speed and maximal strength are separate motor abilities.  Earlier on the correlation is high, as the athlete moves higher in advancement the correlation becomes less and less.  If you were to take Usain Bolt and increase his squat 50 lbs., many individuals think this would make him faster.  If it were only that easy.   Taking him from a 450-500 lbs. squat would yield no improvement in his world record times.   At some point,  continuing to train maximal strength for an athlete is not worth the time of training invested.  When an athlete reaches a certain point, energy should be directed towards maintaining that strength, and focusing towards raising other key motor abilities. 

Many coaches believe that olympic type lifts have a direct correlation with speed since the O-lifts are performed with such speed.  This correlation is only to the novice coach as the speeds achieved in the lifts compared to speed of contraction at maximal speed are nowhere close to one another.   A good Olympic lift velocity may reach 1.3 meters per second, where-as speed usually hangs around 7 meters per second. 

It takes time to develop maximal force.  This has always been an area of misunderstanding.  Sprinting ground contact times are measured in the hundredths of a second.  This is the time that an athlete has to display force in sprinting.  Being able to grind through a four-second rep means nothing when your foot has .08 seconds to display as high a force as possible.   Like I have stated throughout after a certain level of strength has been achieved, the focus should change.  Athletes should be more worried about the speed at which they can display strength than at the sheer magnitude of how much more they can lift. 

Take a competitive powerlifter, or an elite level Olympic lifter.  These athletes would be world record holders in speed  if it were that were the main determinant of speed.  While these athletes may be fast they do not progress in speed at the same level their maximum strength progresses over the course of years. 

There are so many more things involved in speed, than just strength alone.   Speed is more dependent on the stretch-shortening cycle, reactive ability, elasticity, nervous system efficacy, tendon attachment, and limb length, among many others.