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Archive for “Youth Strength Training” Category

Single Leg Squat Variations – Jordan Tingman

Single Leg SquatUnilateral exercises, or single-leg squat variations, are beneficial for a variety of reasons including that they require stability, they have the potential to eliminate imbalances, and they can help create awareness of weaknesses. The single-leg squat has been utilized commonly in knee rehabilitation settings such as with individuals experiencing patellar tendinitis or going through a return-to-play protocol with knee surgeries. Considering the stress that sport has upon the knees themselves, implementing exercises that stress the knee joint is imperative when preparing the body for these demands. The single-leg squat is a great way to strengthen not only the larger muscles of the leg but also all of the stabilizing muscles of the hips due to the nature of the unilateral exercise.

Though there are many benefits of the single-leg squat, they can be fairly difficult exercises to perform. Here are some ways to progress and strengthen the single-leg squat movement pattern:

Important things to note:
Some of the variations in the video emphasize the eccentric portion of the single-leg squat.  At first, many athletes struggle to perform the concentric portion of these exercises, so performing the lowering portion will help build the strength necessary to eventually control the full range of motion.  Focusing on the eccentric portion of the exercise is beneficial not only to strengthening the muscle fibers but it creates tension on the tendon structure of the knee joint itself. Challenge the eccentric portion with time under tension spending around 3-5 seconds on the descent during the exercise vs focusing on the concentric portion.  Athletes will still reap the benefits of utilizing the variation and will eventually increase their strength to a great enough degree to perform full range of motion repetitions.

If utilizing a longer eccentric time, perform around 4-8 repetitions on each leg for 3-4 sets.

If focusing on a normal tempo, utilizing higher repetitions (8-10) may be more appropriate. Determining the repetition ranges will depend on the athlete’s ability or what phase of training they are in.

You can also perform the single-leg squat variation in multiple planes using a variation of the Y-balance test:

Performing these movements can be done utilizing sliders or standing on a single leg and tapping the toe to each of the same positions. You can challenge this position by having the balancing leg on a foam pad to add more of an ankle stability component.

Since the Y-balance test holds validity in assessing an athlete’s limb-to-limb symmetry, adding these movements into a warm-up may also prepare the body for all the different planes associated with many sports.

Utilize these single-leg squat variations in conjunction with other exercises, including bi-lateral squats, to create well-rounded programming that addresses many needs.
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, as well as a Graduate Assistantship in S & C at Eastern Washington University.  Jordan is a competitive Olympic weightlifter and is currently training athletes of all ages near her home in Seattle, WA.

 

 

The IYCA High School Strength & Conditioning Specialist is the only certification created specifically for coaches training high school athletes, and it has recently been updated!.  The course includes several hours of video instruction (including a complete Olympic lifting instructor course) 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.

Top 3 Hip Hinge Exercises – Jordan Tingman

The ability to properly perform hip hinge exercises is a very important movement concept for any athlete, and every program needs to include a hinge exercise at some point.  This is a hip dominant exercise and utilizes a combination of the glutes, hamstrings, quads, lower back, and core muscles.  Not only will hip hinge exercises improve strength and power, but an inability to adequately perform this movement can lead to many other issues as Jason Goumas pointed out in his article about Overuse Injuries.

In this video, I break down three hip hinge exercises that I commonly utilize in my athlete’s exercise programming.

The first exercise I break down is the kettlebell swing. The kettlebell swing can be utilized anywhere from power to endurance. It is a ballistic exercise that requires proper sequencing of multiple muscle groups in order to be performed correctly. If the kettlebell swing is done correctly, I think it is a very beneficial exercise when increasing hip strength.hip hinge exercises

My second favorite exercise is the Romanian deadlift. Just like in the kettlebell swing, the hinge pattern is the same, however this time it is done in a slower more controlled matter. This movement can be done with a barbell, a kettlebell, dumbbells, resistance band, and many other implements. The RDL is more of a strength-building exercise that strengthens both the hinge pattern and hip extension.

The third exercise I included is the banded broad jump. I enjoy this exercise because it’s a plyometric hinge exercise. The band really reinforces the hip hinge, but also challenges hip extension when jumping. I like this exercise because it’s different and honestly, it’s fun!

Of course, there are many other hip hinge exercises that can be done, but these are my favorite variations that I use with most of my athletes.  I believe that starting athletes with these three exercises will develop a foundation and allow you to work towards single-leg versions and will improve move complex movements as athletes progress.

 

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, a Graduate Assistant S & C Coach at Eastern Washington University, and is currently training athletes of all ages near her home in Seattle, WA.

 

 

The IYCA High School Strength & Conditioning Specialist is the only certification created specifically for coaches training high school athletes, and it has recently been updated!.  The course includes several hours of video instruction (including a complete Olympic lifting instructor course) 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.

The Basis of All Training Programs – Joe Powell

When the human body receives a stimulus, it adapts to it in preparation to receive that stimulus again. The next time, you make that stimulus slightly stronger to continue the adaptation process. That’s progressive overload!Dumbbells

While it’s way more complicated that that, this process should be top-of-mind when choosing ANY exercise and implementing ANY strength program.  Of course, there are thousands of ways to implement progressive overload – periodized programs, linear progression, multiple-set schemes, HIT training, etc. – but the principle of progressive overload should be taught to every athlete so they understand how small improvements made over time will produce great results.

Listen briefly to what Michigan State Strength & Conditioning Coach, Joe Powell, has to say about the importance of making this a priority.

 

To learn more about progressive overload from 20 of the top coaches in the profession, check out the IYCA book Principles of Athletic Strength & Conditioning.  Chapter 5 by Arizona Cardinals Strength & Conditioning Coach, Mark Naylor, explores this topic in great depth and goes into detail on how to most effectively use this principle in training programs.

How to Get Better at Push Ups – Jim Kielbaso

It’s no surprise that many athletes want to get better at push ups.  It’s a foundational exercise that requires no equipment, and How to get better at push upscan be done anywhere.  Many coaches also look for ways to help athletes get better at push ups, but simply doing them more often isn’t a great way for many people to improve, especially those who aren’t capable of performing many good push ups.

When I work with athletes who struggle with them, but want to get better at push ups, I take a three step approach that has worked for hundreds of athletes.  This approach is outlined here and demonstrated in greater detail in the video below:

  1.  Teach them proper technique.  Often, I see young athletes use poor form because they either can’t or haven’t been taught.  I like to start the process by giving some instruction and cues that I can build upon as we train.
  2. Take advantage of negative (or eccentric) push ups.  Humans can produce about 20% greater force eccentrically than concentrically.  That means that we can perform the lowering phase of a push up much easier than the raising phase.  We can take advantage of this phenomenon by utilizing negative push ups in an effort to gain enough strength to perform full reps.
  3. Slowly progress from negatives with good form to full push ups with good form.  Having a slow system of progression can really help athletes get better at push ups in a fairly short amount of time.

Watch this short video to learn more about these steps:

Of course, effort and consistency are key to making progress, but taking advantage of this 3-step approach gives you a simple system than can help just about anyone get better at push ups.  By teaching proper technique, reinforcing it through the use of negatives, and slowly forcing the body to adapt (get stronger), you can give athletes the ability to take advantage of this foundational exercise.

Athletes that struggle to perform push ups often struggle with other exercises and movements because they lack the postural strength & stability to maintain main positions.  Once athletes can perform quality push ups, it will open up a plethora of variations and options that can be utilized when training for improved sports performance.  Learning how to use free weights, sprint faster, and improve a variety of sports skills will be enhanced by the ability to perform push ups.  Take advantage of this method to not only help athletes get better at push ups, but to improve their ability to control their bodies in sports.

 

Jim Kielbaso is the President of the IYCA and owner of Impact Sports Performance in Novi, Michigan.  He has authored multiple books, articles and training products and has spoken at events around the world.  He holds a BS in Exercise Science, an MS in Kinesiology and has gone through multiple certifications through the IYCA, NSCA, NASM and more.  Jim is a former college strength & conditioning coach and has trained thousands of athletes at every level of competition.  He runs a successful NFL Combine training program in Michigan and has been hired as a consultant for major sports programs like the University of Michigan Football Program and the University of Kentucky Basketball Program.

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 a complete Olympic lifting instructor course) 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.

Politics and Athletic Development? – Jim Kielbaso

This election season has really gotten me to think about things in a way that relates to athletic development and the business of strength & conditioning. Now, before you get upset thinking I’m gonna talk about politics, I’m not!  Instead, I’ve noticed that the way we consume politics is very similar to the way we consume information about strength and conditioning, and it’s probably not the best way for us to make decisions.

In my opinion, one of the most important traits we can have is the ability to keep an open mind, research facts, and not get swept up in feelings, half-truths, and people saying whatever they feel like.

I’m talking about strength and conditioning right now, not politics!

I’m talking about understanding complex training concepts and knowing the facts.  But, the only way you’re going to know the facts is by digging deep and finding out what actually works, not what people SAY works or what you FEEL works.

A lot of people make programming decisions based on things like “well, so and so said this” or “I’m doing this program because this other coach or sports figure does it” or “I really think this looks cool.”  I also hear A LOT of people say things like “in my experience….” Well, experience certainly matters, but if you haven’t been in coaching for years, trusting your limited experience could be a mistake. You may want to count on the experiences of people who have been doing it for 20, 30, 40 years.

And, saying you read something doesn’t automatically make it a fact. If you read it in a magazine, on a blog, or on Twitter, that is NOT the same as reading it in a scientific journal, taking a course, or learning from a coach who has been in the trenches for 20 years. These are big differences and the election cycle kind of got me thinking about this because I’m noticing a lot of people also making both their political AND training decisions based on small bits of information without getting more details.

We see something on Instagram from someone with a bunch of followers, and we instantly think it must be the truth instead of digging deeper, doing our own research and getting the whole story.  So, whether it’s politics or strength & conditioning, it’s important to get the whole story before you make a decision.

I think we need to think about foundational concepts and ignore too much hype or what “everybody else is doing.” We don’t need to pick sides and follow people blindly based on who your friends like.  Do you really decide who to vote for by seeing signs on the road? Or do you make up your mind based on facts and digging in and actually learning about what’s going on?

Are you able to sift through the garbage on the internet? In both cases, politics and strength and conditioning, we are on absolute overload with garbage.  In politics, they call it fake news.  In S & C, it’s called bro-science.  There’s too much out there and it’s hard to sift through it all. How can we sift through it all? We can’t. It’s impossible. But you can’t check social media and call that education. It’s not. It’s just social media where there are no fact-checkers, and there’s just too much out there to keep track of everything.

It has really become a challenge for many professionals to dive deep into a topic because we’ve gotten so used to short blips of information. Many coaches make training decisions based on a YouTube video or Instagram post. If you see something on social media, that should prompt you to dig deeper into what you’re doing, what you’re thinking about, and how you’re making your decisions. It shouldn’t be your only source of information.

Unfortunately, I don’t really have a perfect way of telling you to sift through the garbage other than explaining what I do. First, I find lots of different sources of information. Of course, I use social media, but I also go to scientific journals, I take courses, I have multiple degrees, I read lots of books, I attend conferences, and I go to people who have many years of experience in the industry who put out quality information and who are in the trenches daily.  These people have been doing it for years, documenting the results, analyzing their experiences and their programs, and then making decisions based on those analytics.

I try hard to determine what the actual training effect is going to be from any exercise or stimulus.  You need at least a basic background in anatomy, physiology, and kinesiology to understand how the body might adapt to a particular stimulus, but this is very, very important.  You also need to have an understanding of HOW MUCH of a stimulus is necessary in order to elicit an adaptation.  We also know that our nervous system can learn new skills, but if we don’t know a little about motor learning, we may not understand exactly how to get the nervous system to learn quicker.

Yes, you actually need to understand the processes involved in adaptation. Otherwise, you’ll watch a cool looking exercise on Instagram and decide to use it just because it’s new.  New might look cool, but it is not always good or useful.  There may be a reason that no one has ever seen this exercise.  Maybe it’s fluff.

Along with the effectiveness of a training stimulus, you have to weigh the risk vs. benefit to help determine whether it’s the right choice to include in a program.  For example, when I see kids standing on stability balls or doing circus tricks, I feel like the training benefit is incredibly small while the risk is fairly high.  Or, I’ll see kids stacking a bunch of plates up on top of boxes to see how high they can jump.  Again, the training benefit of jumping onto a box is no greater than jumping in the air as high as you can and landing on the ground, but the risk is MUCH greater.  So, I personally don’t feel like the risk outweighs the benefit.

I will also try to determine if something is economical.  Basically, is this new exercise or training method worth the time an athlete will have to put into it?  Does it give you a good “bang for the buck” or is the potential benefit so small that it’s basically wasting time.  And, every time you choose to do an exercise, you are simultaneously deciding to NOT do every other exercise in the world.  So, it better be worthwhile.

Finally, I have to decide if a particular method is right for every athlete or just for certain athletes.

I like to find multiple people or sources to discuss training so I can understand several angles. I try to take in as much as I can and keep an open mind while I’m doing it.

It is okay to change your mind. It’s certainly good to question the validity of new things, but it’s also OK to learn something new and admit that you’re either wrong or didn’t know something.  Mike Boyle is one of the most respected coaches in the profession, and he has changed his mind many times.  In politics, it would be called a flip-flop.  In training, it’s called learning and evolving….which is good!

So, I hope you can see that this wasn’t supposed to be political at all, but the way we consume politics has many parallels to the way we have been consuming training information.  I think it’s time to take a step back, slow down, and dig deeper into topics.  We should have a thorough understanding of training methods before we use them with athletes.  If we don’t, we are walking blindly through the forest, hoping to find a path home.

And, I think we can all agree that we can be better than anything happening in politics.

 

Jim Kielbaso is the President of the IYCA and owner of Impact Sports Performance in Novi, Michigan.  He has authored multiple books, articles and training products and has spoken at events around the world.  He holds a BS in Exercise Science, an MS in Kinesiology and has gone through multiple certifications through the IYCA, NSCA, NASM and more.  Jim is a former college strength & conditioning coach and has trained thousands of athletes at every level of competition.  He runs a successful NFL Combine training program in Michigan and has been hired as a consultant for major sports programs like the University of Michigan Football Program and the University of Kentucky Basketball Program.

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 a complete Olympic lifting instructor course) 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.

Top 3 Upper Body Pulling Exercises – Jordan Tingman

Upper body pulling exercises are one of the most neglected movements in poorly designed programs, but they are absolutely vital to creating well-balanced athletes.  It’s also common to see these exercises performed very poorly with very little attention given to correct posture, control, or form.  Because many athletes enjoy pushing exercises so much (like bench press, push-ups, etc.), adequate pulling is necessary to provide balance.  Many coaches adhere to the rule that the volume of pulling should match the volume of pushing, and some like to perform a greater amount of pulling.  While vertical pulls like pull-ups, chin-ups, and pulldowns are all outstanding exercises, this article will focus on horizontal pulls or rows.

Pulling exercises can be done utilizing a variety of equipment, and changing up the implement can often keep training more interesting and engaging.  The rest of this article will focus on three pulling variations that I enjoy including in my programming.

The first variation is fairly common, but a staple in any rowing progression – the prone dumbbell row. This is a great exercise because it allows for the athlete to focus on the important upper body postural components of rowing. Telling the athlete to maintain an upright chest on the bench allows for them to naturally eliminate the use of the upper trap/shoulder. This allows athletes to squeeze the shoulder blades when pulling, which is difficult for many athletes to do when learning how to pull. Ensure your athlete is reaching a full range of motion in these exercises, allowing them to protract and retract the scapulae while rowing. This often needs to be addressed separately with specific scapular retraction reps/exercises in order to help athletes learn how to control this movement.  Cue “elbows back” and rowing “low to the pockets” to again, make sure that they are utilizing the proper musculature.  You can also place your hand between the scapulae and cue the athlete to squeeze your hand with their shoulder blades as they lift the weight.  Many athletes will actually push their shoulders forward as they row, so time must be spent on this.

Pausing at the top of each rep is also difficult for many athletes.  This obviously makes the movement more challenging, so many athletes take the easy road and neglect the pause.  This is particularly true when heavier weights are used.  Pausing at the top allows you to focus on scapular retraction and builds strength at the peak of the contraction.

The second variation I include in my top 3 pulling exercises is the single-arm ring row. This is a challenging exercise, especially with those lacking a lot of core stability or upper body strength. This is a progression of the normal ring or TRX row. Begin by making sure the athlete has adequate core and upper body stability and strength to perform the exercise. You can make this more challenging by inverting it.

The last variation I include is the half kneeling single arm banded row. This can also be done with the athlete being directly under the band, gbut can also be done with the band attached at a higher angle to create a more vertical pull compared to the variation shown. The half-kneeling position challenges posture and core stability in addition to performing the rowing exercise.

Using just dumbbells, bands, and rings allows you to perform these exercises in most settings, and they give you enough variety to keep athletes interested.  I also like using these variations to space out larger groups when super-setting exercises.  For example, you may super-set the banded row with an upper-body pushing exercise or a squat.  You can set up the band away from the other exercise to create space and to keep traffic moving.

Try these three pulling exercises in your programs to help create balanced upper-body strength and use them as part of a progression to more difficult exercises.

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, a Graduate Assistant S & C Coach at Eastern Washington University, and is currently working at D1 Sports Performance in Boise, ID.

 

 

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 a complete Olympic lifting instructor course) 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.

Overuse Injuries in Athletes – Jason Goumas, PT

Overuse Injuries in Athletes – A Real Pain!

Youth sport injuries are responsible for not only pain felt by an athlete, but also lost time on the field enjoying the sport, and in certain cases career-ending injuries. It is estimated that annually 12 million individuals between the ages of 5-22 will suffer a sport-related injury and result in 20 million lost days of school(1) and $33 billion in medical expenditure(2). This article will discuss overuse injuries in athletes that primarily affect the knees and ankles of young athletes – specifically the patellar tendon and extensor mechanism of the knee, and the Achilles tendon and plantar fascia of the foot.Overuse Injuries in Athletes

As a physical therapist, coach, and referee in both soccer and basketball I’ve worked with many athletes over the years with various knee and ankle issues. While I will include some information regarding certain medical conditions that can affect young athletes, it is not intended to serve as medical treatment. What I hope to accomplish is help coaches, parents, and athletes understand the relevant mechanisms which drive the development of these problems so they may be avoided.

What Makes the Young Athlete Unique?

The injuries I will be describing happen frequently in adults, but are called by different names which you likely know: patellar tendonitis, jumper’s knee, patellofemoral syndrome (PFS for short), Achilles tendonitis, and plantar fasciitis. Each of these problems (with the exception of PFS) is an overload of the attachment of tendons and fascia to their bony attachments. Because children are in the process of growing some of these attachments also include growth (epiphysial) plates which are the active parts of their bones which may be disrupted when subjected to either sudden or repeated excess tension. In extreme cases, surgery may be necessary to reattach the bone fragment.

The good news is that the treatment of these problems in both adults and youth is actually very similar. Rest, ice, and anti-inflammatory agents (NSAIDs, etc) all work, but these actions are only a small part of not only helping athletes overcome these problems, but also to help avoid them altogether! One component which I see overlooked or not addressed FAR too often are the biomechanical factors that contribute significantly to the overload of the painful tissues. Offending movements and activities are usually blamed such as running and jumping, but if the athlete’s movement pattern(s) is also causing increased stress is it really the activity that is to blame or how it is being performed? More on this later as we will first go over some of the more common youth overuse injuries in athletes.

Issues involving the knee

Osgood-Schlatter Disease (OSD), Sinding-Larsen-Johansson syndrome (SLJS), and Patellar Tendonitis

Both these problems involve the attachments of the patellar tendon, but which end is the defining characteristic? With OSD it is the involvement of the distal attachment of the patellar tendon into the tibial tuberosity. If there is sufficient tension to cause some disruption of the growth plate in the region it can begin to detach. The resultant attempts of the body to heal this by bone growth (similar to the bone callus which forms at other fractures of long bones) causes the classic lump that is often seen below the patella. SLJS on the other hand involves the proximal attachment of the patellar tendon at the patellar base, and the mechanics are similar in nature. Patellar Tendonitis is simply irritation of the patellar tendon itself, or either of its attachments, but without the involvement of the growth plate. As you can see, these conditions are very similar and are sometimes misdiagnosed. The good news is that the process of correcting them is actually the same!

Athletes will typically complain of pain with squatting, stairs, jumping, and running. With OSD there will also tend to be significant pain when attempting to kneel on the affected side.

Chondromalacia Patella/Patellofemoral Syndrome (PFS)

Rather than involving the patella tendon, this condition is actually an irritation of the cartilage lining the posterior surface of the patella as it contacts the femoral condyle. As with the above problems the athlete will report pain with squatting, jumping, etc. There may be audible crackling and popping (crepitus) with loaded knee flexion and extension, and one unique complaint is usually pain and a burning sensation with prolonged sitting. PFS is also a result of excess tension moving through the patella except that instead of the patellar tendon becoming irritated, it is the cartilage that breaks down.

Sever’s Disease and Achilles Tendonitis

Like the knee problems above, Sever’s disease is a result of excessive and/or repeated tension generated by the calf muscles into the heel (calcaneus) via the Achilles tendon. In growing children, there is a growth plate which like with OSD can become disrupted and painful. If only the Achilles tendon is involved then it is technically Achilles Tendonitis.

Plantar Fasciitis

Plantar fasciitis is caused when there is irritation of the tough plantar fascia where it attaches to the calcaneus (heel bone). Most often this a result of tight calf muscles, but weak intrinsic foot muscles as
well as biomechanical issues will also contribute to the overall loading of the tissue.

Tracking Down the Root Problem

While proper stretching is important (and you’d be surprised how many people are not stretching effectively), as mentioned earlier one of the most often overlooked factors is how the athlete moves. Almost without exception, the youngsters I’ve seen with these issues (especially the ones who have had one or more conditions for years, have been to PT, ortho, etc.) have significant movement deficits where they are not effectively using the hips. The net result is that greater force development and absorption demands are now required of the knees and ankles and causing the issue. Until certain movements are corrected it is much more unlikely that the problem will resolve; especially if the athlete is actively competing. This is where youth coaches can really play a huge role in helping athletes avoid these issues altogether.

What Movements are the Keys

From the Barbell Physio

There are two movements that are essential in getting the hips in the game: the hinge and the squat. I want to see athletes hinge to 90 degrees of hip flexion with the knees slightly flexed. If an athlete cannot perform a hinge properly, then it is quite unlikely the squat will be correct. There are various methods to train these movements, however, I will share my favorite techniques.

For the hinge, my go-to technique is using a dowel along the back to cue the athlete into proper position. The dowel helps the athlete get the lumbar spine under control because if they allow the back to round, the dowel will lift up from either the upper back or from the sacrum. The goal is to keep a bit of wiggle room for the fingers at the low back. I’ll have athletes practice sitting down and standing up holding the dowel. Every now and again an athlete really struggles with this, and I will have them practice moving the trunk as a unit in sitting which eliminates the need to worry about the knees and ankles. Then they can progress to the squatting movement.

When it comes to the squat, the deficits are typically the knees moving forward excessively as well as moving inward. When they are allowed to move forward excessively this is what functionally creates the extra tension in both the knees and ankles as they are in a more flexed position. If a simple squat has deficits, then you can be sure that jumping, landing, and direction changes will have similar motion. My favorite exercise to correct the squat is the Chinese Wall Squat. It’s actually quite amusing to watch athletes attempt this! Have them stand 2-3 inches from a wall with feet forward and about shoulder-width apart. The goal is for the athlete to squat to maximum depth without touching the wall. The knees should not be allowed to flare out (a common “cheat”). The beauty of this exercise is that it absolutely forces proper form, and I’ve told many athletes that I don’t want to see them with weight on their backs until they can perform at least 20 reps of this exercise. It is acceptable for the athlete to stand further away to begin. One alternative I will use is to have them squat while facing a chair so that the seat is just over the toes which will prevent the knees from moving forward. This is easier because they are able to lean forward a bit more to focus on the knees.

Conclusion

I hope that this information helps you understand some of the most common overuse injuries in athletes and gives you some ideas on how, through training movement deficiencies, they can be resolved and prevented! I am currently filming and hope to soon offer an online program for parents, players, coaches, and trainers. The pilot, which has been live video calls with several families around the world whose children suffer from OSD, has been very well received with several athletes reporting significant improvement in their pain in under 2 weeks. 

References:

  1. Janda D, The Awakening of a Surgeon: A Family Guide to Preventing Sports Injuries and Death,The Institute for Preventative Sports Medicine, 2004, p. 208.
  2. “Summer sports top injury list,” Orthopedics Today, 2002; 22(6):13

Jason Goumas

 

Jason Goumas is the owner and Director of Physical Therapy at New Direction Wellness and PT in Kentucky.  In addition to being an excellent PT, he is also a youth sports coach, referee, and a Certified Speed & Agility Specialist through the IYCA.  Jason prefers to treat injuries using exercises that can be done at home, and believes that education is the key to both rehabilitating and preventing injuries.  It is Jason’s mission to prevent overuse injuries in athletes.

 

To learn more about how to address overuse injuries in athletes and 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.

Top 3 Core Exercises – Jordan Tingman

Core exercisesContinuing our Top 3 series from Jordan Tingman, these are her Top 3 Core Exercise Variations.

While core exercises are certainly necessary in a comprehensive program, keeping core exercises exciting means trying different variations.  Athletes are always wanting something new or different, but variety has additional benefits beyond keeping athletes engaged.  Because the core is so complex and supports every movement we make, using a variety of exercises creates a greater challenge for the athlete, which will in turn provide greater transfer and gains. 

The first exercises I go over in this video are various Palloff variations. As stated in the video, the Palloff variations are great because they allow for the athlete to maintain an athletic position in the lower body whilst moving the upper body. You can make the Palloff press more complicated by adding in variations including chops and rotations. Feel free to mix these up and make up combinations. You could even cue each repetition. You can say “press,” “chop,” or “rotate,” and the athlete performs each variation according to your cuing, mixing it up and also challenging their mind to respond to the directions.

The next set of exercises are the crawling patterns. Crawling patterns are an excellent challenge because they not only address core posture and stability, but also challenge proprioception and scapular stability. The athlete has to maintain the crawl position with a neutral spine with knees one inch off the ground.  Simply holding this position poses a challenge for many. Have the athlete get comfortable with holding this crawl pattern first before adding in the variations. As explained in this video, you can change the variations with the crawl patterns. You can do leg lifts, shoulder taps, forward, backward, and sideways crawls, bird dog variations and more. 

Finally, the last group of exercises that I go over in the video are the Val Slide variations. These can be performed on a slick surface in socks, or with towels below the feet on a smooth surface.  Get creative with what you can use to perform the exercises if you don’t have Val Slides.  There are many core exercises that can be done utilizing this tool, but the ones included are plank sliders and mountain climbers. Ensure that your athlete can maintain a great plank position before adding in these dynamic movements. 

Enjoy the exercises, and leave comments about different variations you come up with or different ways you utilize each exercise.

Look for more Top 3 lists soon.

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 a complete Olympic lifting instructor course) 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.

5 “Non-crunching” Core Exercises for Kids – Brett Klika

It’s hard to have a discussion about athletic performance and injury prevention without mentioning the “core”. Despite what many have been lead to believe, the core is not so much a handful of specific muscles as it is a relationship of muscles involving the upper and lower body that work together to properly transfer energy and maintain the integrity of the spine.

When coaches are able to help young athletes properly develop this relationship of muscles involving both the anterior and posterior hips, shoulders, and torso, it creates a strong foundation for athleticism.

This requires much more than doing crunches.

It’s important to understand that in order for the core to do its job, the involved muscles must coordinate to stabilize and mobilize properly. The more we can facilitate this coordination with young athletes, the better.

Isolation-type exercises (think crunches and back extensions) do have a place when it comes to activating muscles involved with the core. However, movements that force kids’ brains and bodies to “figure out” how to coordinate the mobilization/stabilization actions of the core have a lot more ROI when it comes to athletic development.

The five exercises below are examples of movements that require young athletes to coordinate the muscles involved with their core as they move in different planes of motion and orientations with gravity.

Bear, Crab, Butterfly
This movement series not only challenges aspects of reaction and coordination, it provides a 360-degree challenge for the muscles involved with the core relationship.

Instruct athletes as to the following movement cues:

  • “Bear”: Athletes hold a crawl position with the knees off the ground
  • “Crab”: Athletes turn over into an inverted quadruped position with hips parallel to the ground
  • “Butterfly”: Athletes support their body weight in a “standing side plank” position with their legs apart

Alternate between the 3 cues in random order for 20-30 seconds.

Crab Rolls
In addition to providing a 360-degree core stability challenge, Crab rolls challenge and activate a young athletes vestibular system. This helps in improving balance and body orientation.

  • Begin in a “bear crawl” position with the knees of the ground.
  • Without letting their hips touch the ground, the athlete turns their entire body over so their hips are now facing the sky in a reverse quadruped position.
  • The athlete then continues to roll back to the “bear crawl” position without letting the hips touch the ground.
  • Continue for 15-20 yards
  • As the athlete rolls to change body orientation, cue them to keep their hips as high as possible

T-Birds
Proper movement of the scapula is often neglected in regards to its contribution to the core relationship. Many kids struggle with proper protraction, retraction, elevation, and depression of the scapula due to poor posture and thoracic muscle tone. This makes it difficult to stabilize the thoracic portion of the torso effectively, decreasing the amount of power than can be translated through the core.

This exercise engages the muscles of the scapula and thoracic area, both important components of posture and core strength/stability.

  • Begin with the athlete lying prone on the ground with arms out perpendicular to the upper body. Thumbs should be facing upward. The chin should be “packed” as if to be holding a large orange or small grapefruit between the chin and throat
  • Keeping their feet on the ground, cue the athlete to raise their thumbs towards the sky
  • After holding for 2 seconds, return to the bottom position
  • Repeat for 10-15 repetitions

Weighted Spelling Bee
The muscles involved with a young athlete’s core must be able to initiate and control movement in a variety of planes of motion. This exercise challenges core stability and strength in a variety of constantly changing planes of motion.

  • Provide a weighted implement (appropriately weighted Sandbell®, medicine ball, weight plate, etc.)
  • Instruct the athlete to begin in an athletic position with feet even with or slightly wider than shoulder width. The narrower the stance, the more challenging the exercise becomes
  • The weight should be held out away from their body
  • Cue the athlete with letters, numbers, shapes, and/or words that they must “spell” with the weight, using a range of motion from the ground to above their head
  • Repeat for about 30 seconds, or when you witness fatigue

Bird Dog Rodeo
This exercise is a dynamic, advanced version of the standard Bird Dog exercise.

  • Begin with athlete in a quadruped “all 4’s” position
  • Cue the athlete to extend their opposite leg and arm until they are parallel to the ground.
  • While the athlete attempts to hold this position, alternate pushing on their outreached arm and leg, attempting to knock them off balance
  • If there hand or foot touches the ground, the coach receives a “point”
  • Repeat for 20 seconds each arm/leg
  • If the coach cannot score any points, they do 20 push-ups after the activity is over

Consider these core movements and others that go beyond crunches to help your young athletes develop the tools they need to perform for life!

 

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.

 
 

The IYCA Certified Athletic Development Specialist is the gold-standard certification for anyone working with athletes 6-18 years old.  The course materials were created by some of the most experienced and knowledgeable professionals in the industry, and the content is indisputably the most comprehensive of any certification related to athletic development.  Learn more about the CADS certification here:

Top 3 Squat Variations – Jordan Tingman

In this article & video I go over the ways that I personally coach each of the 3 squatting variations I chose. I understand that some of these may be done by other coaches, and while I respect other coaches opinions, this article outlines how I personally like to coach these exercises. 

While most people think about the back squat as their top squatting variation, I’ve taken a slightly different approach in this article.  Please don’t take my list to mean that I don’t love the back squat, but the three exercises I’ve listed are my personal favorites, and all of them give coaches plenty of ways to coach, assess, and progress.  I’ve also decided to choose three different bilateral movements because I wanted to stick with bilateral variations rather than get into all of the unilateral options that can be done.  Of course, I love unilateral squat variations, but I stuck with my Top 3 favorite bilateral options here.

Front Squat

The first exercise in this video is the front squat.  As mentioned in the video, this is a great exercise because you get so much from just one movement. Challenging core strength, posture and position while strengthening the lower body.  The front squat is the first squat variation, other than a goblet variation, that I utilize with my athletes, because it truly develops great movement mechanics and understanding of an upright posture with a barbell while squatting. 

Barbell Box Squat

The second exercise I go over is the barbell box squat. This is an exercise that can be done so many ways, but I cue my athletes to maintain tension in the core and legs throughout the entire exercise. This can be a great progression exercise when dealing with an athlete struggling to reach depth. Have the athlete start at a higher box height as shown in the video, and then progress them downwards by using lower boxes or pads to change the height they are squatting to. Controlling the movement down to the box, pausing slightly above the box maintaining tension, then exploding out is a great way to incorporate speed training into a squat pattern. 

Overhead Squat

The third exercise is an overhead squat.  I understand that this is potentially the most advanced squat variation, and I do not use this very often in my programming, but it is another exercise that you can get a lot out of if done correctly. This challenges posture and position, upper body strength and stability. This can be used as an accessory exercise or in a warm-up if performing movements like the snatch.  It can also be utilized as an assessment as explained in the video. If programming this for your athletes, ensure that they have good quality movement before loading the exercise itself. 

Look for more Top 3 lists soon.  In the meantime, give these a try in your programming.

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 a complete Olympic lifting instructor course) 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.

Top 3 Power Exercises – Jordan Tingman

This is the first installment of a short “Top Exercises” series from strength coach Jordan Tingman, where she will break down some of her favorite exercises from different categories.  This is more than just her personal favorites, as she’ll be providing explanations and rationale for the selections and how to best utilize each. 

Power exercises are important in any strength and conditioning program, however the Olympic lifts may not always be the correct or most effective exercises for an athlete. Though the Olympic lifts are near and dear to my heart, over the last year I have started to broaden my programming and exercise selection and focused on utilizing other exercises that may better suit the needs of a team or athlete.

Power exercises are defined as exercises where an athlete exerts maximal force in a short amount of time. Exercises that are commonly associated with power include the Olympic lifts, jumping and throwing. I have included in this video some of the exercises that I have been recently utilizing in programming with my athletes at Eastern Washington University.

Trap Bar Jump

The first variation I chose for my top 3 exercises is the trap bar jump. I have loved utilizing the trap bar because it keeps the weight in the center of mass of the athlete, and can be a great tool for overloading a plyometric movement like a vertical jump. The athlete is forced to apply maximal force in order to jump the trap bar off the ground, but also achieves triple extension. The stick at the end of the jump is a great deceleration exercise and can be an excellent reinforcement for landing. Individuals with valgus collapse of the knees can really benefit from this movement if done currently. 

Split Jerks

The second exercise I chose was the power and split jerk. These are not commonly utilized exercises, however I feel like they challenge athleticism in a great way with power, balance and coordination. Utilizing implements such as the landmine and dumbbells remove a lot of the discomfort and fears associated with barbell split jerks and power jerks. The split position requires both coordination and balance in addition to the power benefits. You can perform this exercise with the dominant leg forward, or you can change it up and have the athlete perform equal reps with each leg forward. 

Lateral Medicine Ball Rotational Throw

The third exercise I selected for my Top 3 was the medicine ball lateral rotational power toss. Med balls are such a great explosive throwing implement because they can be utilized by ANYONE! I love this exercise because it’s such a great combination exercise –  rotational core and rotational hip power in a 2-for-1 type exercise. As mentioned in the video, when performing these exercises for power, make sure your athletes are performing these exercises at MAX effort every rep in order to reap the benefits of maximal force.  

I’ll be bringing you more Top 3 lists soon.  In the meantime, give these a try in your programming.

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 a complete Olympic lifting instructor course) 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.

A Deeper Look Into the Squat – Joe Powell

The squat is often considered the most important exercise an athlete can perform in the weight room. It’s frequently performed by world-class athletes, the most novice of lifters, and everyone in between. Strength and conditioning professionals have long relied on the squat, and its variations, as a cornerstone of their programs, but its acceptance has not always been well received outside of S&C circles. It’s not uncommon for strength and conditioning coaches to receive push-back from people trying to vilify exercises in their program, with the squat being the target of the attacks. Whether it be sport coaches, athletic trainers, administrators, parents, or even athletes themselves, the squat is always surrounded by questions and opinions. It has been blamed for unrelated issues it hasn’t caused and even termed “dangerous” for reasons that many don’t know nor care to find out. To learn where all of this came from, it’s important to understand the history of the squat in America and how one particular researcher sparked a debate that continues today.

One would be remiss to discuss the history of squats in America without mentioning the name Henry “Milo” Steinborn. Steinborn is often credited with popularizing the squat in America. Prior to his arrival in 1921, the popular lifts in America were known as “power-type” exercises and consisted of lifts like bent presses, deadlifts, two-arm presses, and curls. After arriving in America, he quickly helped popularize the “speed’ and “quick” lifts that were more commonly performed on European shores. Among these lifts was the squat. Steinborn quickly garnered attention in the public eye by performing heavy lifts that were quite impressive, even by today’s standards. While Steinborn is notable for many reasons, it’s the way in which he performed the squat that will still shock many lifters today. Steinborn performed squat sets, as heavy as 550 pounds for 5 repetitions, without having any supports, wraps and most remarkably, no access to a squat rack. He simply stood the barbell up tall on one end, leaned under it and hoisted it across his shoulders. This style of squatting is aptly known as the “Steinborn Squat”.

While Steinborn helped bring the squat to America in the 1920s, it wasn’t until the 1950s where it became widely performed by weightlifters. Up to that point, the split stance was more commonly used to lift heavier loads. The squat was used, but more as a supplementary lift to help build leg strength. After 1950 the “odd-lifts,” which are now known today as the power-lifts, became vastly popular. Squatting, of course, became one of the main lifts. Lastly, those who performed what we now think of as the Olympic lifts used split stance squatting as their main method of lower body training because the rules dictated that a lifter could not come in contact with the bar during the lift. The rules changed in the early 1960s and thus the squat style of Olympic weightlifting took over as the predominant method as it was easier to perform heavier loads and was much more efficient.

By the early 1960s, the majority of Americans still did not partake in resistance training. The small minority who actually lifted weights were most likely bodybuilders, Olympic weightlifters, and odd-lift/power-lifters. Very few athletes who participated in mainstream sports lifted weights at that time. It was actually feared that it would make them bulky, slower and less competent at their respective sport. Outside of the fear of being a performance decrement, lifting weights and performing the squat specifically was thought to be harmful.

Around that time, K. Karl Klein, a corrective therapist, led the crusade hoping to prove that squats were harmful to the body and led to an increased risk of injury. His rationale being that full depth squats would actually stretch the ligaments of the knee, making them more “lax” and thus more susceptible to significant injury.

While enrolled as a graduate student in 1959, Klein conducted a study that altered the public’s perception of the squat for decades.  Klein’s study featured 128 experienced weightlifters who included full squats as a part of their training regiment, as well as 386 subjects who did not lift weights or perform squats of any sort. Klein’s study utilized a device that was built by Klein himself and was supposed to “objectively” measure the amount of medial or lateral “give” within the knee. The device was designed to brace the lower limb/shin region while the upper portion stabilized the quadriceps giving Klein the ability to manipulate the MCL and LCL manually.

After following up on his thesis, Klein published a series of articles on his research that concluded: “Full squats (where the top of the thigh is below parallel of the floor) damages the knee by stretching the knee ligaments.” His recommendation thus became: “No more than ½ squat should be used. In squatting the thighs should be slightly less than parallel.” His study and recommendation went on to be published in some of the most recognized journals for not only coaches but medical professionals as well. Publications such as Scholastic Coach, Texas Coach, Coach & Athlete, as well as The American Journal of Surgery featured Klein’s study.

Klein’s findings led many groups to deem the squat dangerous and thus unnecessary. Sport coaches saw it as a confirmation that lifting weights, in general, would make their players muscle-bound, and become slower, less flexible, immobile and more susceptible to injury. The medical community deemed it harmful and orthopedic surgeons and physical therapists, in particular, vilified the movement. Even the US military had a negative view of squatting. A letter sent to Klein from the US Marine Corps stated: “Our consultants agree that the type of exercise you condemn should probably be eliminated from physical conditioning programs.” The Army physical fitness test omitted anything that resembled a squat, and until recently, stayed the same for decades. While Klein had convinced many communities that the squat did more harm than good, there was still a strong contingency of professionals that saw Klein’s study as more subjective than objective.

As the years started to pass, new researchers began to conduct studies to determine if Klein’s claims were in fact true. With improved technology and a better anatomical understanding, the results began pouring in that in fact, Klein’s stance on the squat was incorrect. Between the 1960s and through the 1990s, researchers were coming to the agreement that squatting (and deep squats where the femur was below parallel to the floor) did not cause laxity in the knee ligaments and were safe to perform. These findings led to position papers put out by the NSCA and ACSM to help dispel the negative connotations that were set decades prior.

The Position Paper by the NSCA (1993 Chandler & Stone) states: “There is no objective evidence that full squats are harmful to the ligaments of the knee or the patellofemoral joint. When done correctly and under the supervision of a strength and conditioning specialist the full squat is safe and beneficial to athletic endeavors.”

The Position paper of the ACSM states: “In summary, the squat exercise is important to many athletes because of its functionality and similarly to athletic movements. If appropriate guidelines are followed, the squat is a safe exercise for individuals without a previous history of injuries. The squat is a large muscle-mass exercise and has excellent potential for adding lean muscle mass with properly prescribed exercise.”

Negative perception of the squat still exists to this day, and much of that perception can be traced back to a singular study performed by a graduate student in the late 1950s. By providing factual based evidence and understanding where the misconception arose so many years ago, strength and conditioning coaches can better defend the movements, including the squat, that they use in their program. The best way to defend a program is by educating. Continuing to do so will assist in showing others the benefit that a properly performed training program has in the world of athletics.

 

Joe Powell is an Assistant Strength & Conditioning Coach for football at Michigan State University.  He held a similar position at Utah State University and has been an advisor to the IYCA for several years.  Before his stint at Utah State, Joe was an Asst. S & C Coach 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 is one of 20 strength coaches who helped create the High School Strength & Conditioning Specialist Certification.   Join IYCA Insiders or get the HSSCS to learn more from Joe.

 

What We Can Learn About Athlete Development From Elite Athletes – Jim Kielbaso

As our NFL Combine Training program gets started, it is always exciting for me to get to know and help a group of talented, motivated athletes. It’s also a time that makes me examine athlete development in a different way.

Most coaches discuss athlete development in terms of working with young athletes in an effort to help them prepare for the future. With these guys, I get to look at the process backward and evaluate what they may have missed at some point in their development. So, it’s amazing to see these guys in the morning, watch 8-year-olds in the evening, and think about everything that happens in the years between.

Through the years, I’ve seen some interesting trends, and the training we do with the older guys always helps us train younger athletes more effectively because we have a chance to “look into the crystal ball” a little and see what they will need as they get older.

Sometimes you’ll hear coaches say things like “If he had used my methods, he would have been so much better.” I don’t look at it like this at all. So many things go into athlete development, that we don’t know exactly what would have happened if their training was different.

So, without judgment, I simply notice some trends in these guys that help me do a better job with younger athletes in an effort to clear up some issues before they are a problem down the road. While many of these guys will play professional sports, their development isn’t always as pretty as you’d expect.

Four things that I have noticed are:

  • Misunderstanding of strength & size
  • Lack of attention to movement quality
  • Lack of attention to flexibility/mobility
  • Under-appreciation for recovery

What’s interesting about this is the fact that we, as coaches, can help younger athletes avoid these errors before they become a problem. Let me briefly address each area so you understand what I’m thinking:

Misunderstanding of strength & size

Many high school and college-level athletes feel like they either need to get as big and strong as possible or they don’t value it at all. Some of that depends on the sport they play, and some depends on their environment or what their coaches value. We need to help athletes put strength/size into perspective, and teach them that these qualities should be developed as a PART of their overall development. In some cases, it’s a small part, and in other cases, it’s more important. But, concentrating ALL of your effort on lifting weights if usually not what athletes need.

Don’t get me wrong, MANY athletes lack strength, so they need to make this priority.  But, many others simply don’t understand how strength training fits into a comprehensive athlete development program, and it’s our job to teach them.

Lack of attention to movement quality

I’m always surprised at how few elite level athletes have gotten much coaching on the way they move. They often haven’t been taught footwork, running technique, or posture, and it’s incredibly rare to meet an athlete who has been coached on their overall quality of movement.

We spend a ton of time teaching acceleration and sprinting mechanics as we work on the 40-yard dash. In many cases, this is the first time they’ve ever gotten this kind of in-depth instruction.

We also give them feedback on the way they look when they move because scouts want to see fluid athletes who can move through space effortlessly. This is about footwork, posture, and the subjective qualities that make them appear to be more or less athletic. I’m talking about things like taking too many choppy steps, heavy feet, rounded backs, flailing arms, or robotic movements. These qualities need to be taught at an early age so athletes feel more natural moving this way. Trying to teach 23-year-olds how to change this in six weeks is not ideal.

This always makes me realize how important it is for us to teach kids these things when they’re younger, and I hope you do the same.

Lack of attention to flexibility/mobility

College coaches tell me all the time that their athletes come in stiff, and they wish there was more of a focus on flexibility/mobility in high school. Then, I hear high school coaches talk about how tight their kids are, and they wish they would have done something about it earlier.athlete development stretching

I see the same thing when training guys for the NFL – a lot of athletes simply don’t give enough attention to this.

So, we need to recognize this pattern and make sure we spend enough time keeping athletes mobile and supple. That doesn’t mean we need to turn kids into contortionists, but flexibility/mobility should be a part of every program. Whether that comes in the form of quality strength training, movement training, or direct flexibility/mobility work is up to you, but make this a priority before it’s a problem that affects everything they do.

Under-appreciation for recovery

Athletes often think that more is better and they believe that they can handle much higher volumes than they should. They rarely take recovery seriously. Instead, they have poor diets and severely lack sleep. The combination of high-volume training and poor recovery is a recipe for disaster.

Sometimes that disaster is obvious and athletes get sick or hurt. More often, it’s discreet and manifests itself as a lack of progress. Athletes train, train, train, but never get the results they desire because they simply don’t understand that recovery is the key to progress.

Athletes usually think that the stimulus (i.e. training) is where are of the gains take place. They don’t realize that the stimulus is simply a way to get their bodies to adapt and improve during recovery. Without adequate recovery, the stimulus won’t elicit great results.

We need to teach athletes the value of recovery, and how to schedule their training to maximize the results. We also need to teach them that all activity dips into their recovery, so their practice schedule, individual skill lessons, physical education classes, and performance training all need to be considered together not by themselves.

I hear athletes say it all the time – “I’m OK. I can do more.”

Yes, I know you CAN do more, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be helpful. Trust me, I’d rather have an athlete want to do more than one who doesn’t do anything, but motivated athletes just keep doing more until there is a problem. We can teach them the value of appropriate scheduling and how to maximize their recovery.

There are many things that go into athlete development, so I find it fascinating to examine the process from the top down just as much as from the bottom, up. We will always need to give young athletes variety, teach them a love for moving, and give them quality training at the right times throughout their development. Hopefully, understanding these trends will help you create programs that allow athletes to avoid these issues and become the best versions of themselves as they develop.

 

Jim Kielbaso is the President of the IYCA and owner of Impact Sports Performance in Novi, Michigan.  He has authored multiple books, articles and training products and has spoken at events around the world.  He holds a BS in Exercise Science, an MS in Kinesiology and has gone through multiple certifications through the IYCA, NSCA, NASM and more.  Jim is a former college strength & conditioning coach and has trained thousands of athletes at every level of competition.  He runs a successful NFL Combine training program in Michigan and has been hired as a consultant for major sports programs like the University of Michigan Football Program and the University of Kentucky Basketball Program.

 

The IYCA Certified Athletic Development Specialist is the gold-standard certification for anyone working with athletes 6-18 years old.  The course materials were created by some of the most experienced and knowledgeable professionals in the industry, and the content is indisputably the most comprehensive of any certification related to athletic development.  Learn more about the CADS certification here:

Beginners Guide to the Hip Hinge – Brett Klika

The hip hinge. 

While this is one of the more foundational movement patterns for young athletes to learn for both the field and weight room, it’s often one of the hardest to introduce.

The fact is, young athletes naturally hip hinge during horizontal jumps and other movements with a horizontal component. It’s when we break down the movement and make it a conscious pursuit that kids struggle.

Struggling with this myself for many years, I developed a step-by-step series to help athletes as young as 6 years old develop the basic foundations of a really good hip hinge. 

Step 1: Sensory Prep

Doing any athletic movement correctly requires a working knowledge of the parts of the body and what these body parts can do.  As coaches, we call this “body awareness” and this ability is necessary for our athletes to respond effectively to our coaching cues. 

It’s easy to make the mistake (like I did) in assuming that the kids we work with are well versed in body awareness.  While they have the basic ability, it’s not sharp and refined when they are young. 

To remedy this, I started to integrate the basic movement cues of the hip hinge and other movements into “Simon says” type of warm-ups and games. These would be introduced during warm-ups and games independently of teaching the hip hinge.  

For example:

  • Feet inside/outside/shoulder width
  • Weight on toes/heels/midfoot
  • Knees locked/bent/soft
  • Hips forward/ back
  • Chest down/ up
  • Back rounded/straight

Notice the pairing of contrasting movement. This helps the athlete develop a proprioceptive “3-d model” of space and body orientation in their head before it’s put into the context of a single coordinated movement like the hip hinge.  With these coordination pathways now wired, coaching cues for a movement become easier to understand and execute when it comes to teaching a specific skill. 

Step 2: Practice the Gross Movement

Play is a great teacher, so I found that before I would introduce the specifics of any movement, I would introduce games and other activities that would create the movement naturally. For example, activities like broad jumps require kids to hinge their hips horizontally back in order to get more distance. 

Even simple horizontal “reaching” activities like found in the video below offer a great introduction to the hinge. 

Over/ Under Wall Touches

 

Step 3: Learn to Move the Hips Horizontally

When it comes to teaching the specifics of the hip hinge and other movements, I’ve found that breaking the movement into various components and introducing/reinforcing each individually is much more palatable for young athletes. I also found it’s important to be patient and spend as much time with each component as necessary. 

For example, the first step in teaching the hip hinge is to have the young athlete consciously move their hips horizontally back. For a single training session, week, or even cycle, the next step shouldn’t be introduced or coached until they mastered this. 

While other components of the hinge will be demonstrated and likely executed to a degree, the focus of coaching cues, drills, and activities should be moving the hips back horizontally. I’ve found most young athletes can master this pretty quickly with activities like those below.

3 Cone Reach

 

Hips to Wall

Step 4: Keep the Knees Soft

Once an athlete can consciously move their hips back horizontally on cue, the focus then goes to controlling the knee angle. For weight room movements involving the hip hinge, it’s important for kids to understand the “soft knees” concept. Kids generally default to completely locked knees or full positive- shin- angle squats.  I’ve found that teaching kids to understand and control knee angle helps set up the mechanics of the rest of the hip hinge movement.  

The concept of “soft knees” is best introduced during sensory prep activities where they experience the immediate contrast between knees that are bent, locked, and soft. This can be reinforced during activities similar to the ones for step 3. For “3-Cone-Reach” instead of a cone on the ground, have them reach towards head-hi points on a wall while hinging their hips back. 

Step 5: Keep the Chest Up

While most young athletes will master the previous steps fairly quickly, this is where things slow down. Young athletes’ lumbar and thoracic extensor muscles are generally pretty deconditioned. 

Days spent in classrooms slumped over desks and hours spent hunched over electronics weaken this aspect of the posterior chain.   As they hinge their hips back keeping their knees soft, their lumbar and thoracic spine will often flex forward. It’s like as humans, we’re always trying to get back to the fetal position. 

Before reinforcing this specific aspect of the hip hinge, it’s important to make sure the extensor muscles of the trunk and posterior chain are adequately strong. This can be done with activities like those below.

T-Bird

Bird Dog

After these, the drill below has worked well for teaching proper thoracic extension for both the squat and hip hinge. 

Elbow Knee Squat

Once young athletes master these components of the hip hinge, they are ready to learn the more advanced/refined versions. It’s important to note that perfect movement is not the daily goal. Helping young athletes to develop better movement over time while maximizing fun and minimizing frustration is. In the latter, we increase athlete buy-in, engrain long term movement patterns, and increase the likelihood that our athletes will become active and athletic for life. 

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.

How to Perform Face Pulls – Greg Schaible

Face Pulls are on the top of my list for upper back exercises to help develop healthy shoulders, backs and necks.

The problem is that a lot of people do them poorly and actually irritate the shoulder or upper back when performed incorrectly.

This article and video will help you understand some of the key considerations when performing face pulls, and how to avoid the most common errors.

 

Many people choose to use bands, especially in rehab because so many physical therapy places just have bands. However, you must consider that the tension of the band increases as you get further into the movement where the hardest point of the exercise is. This means the most tension is at the highest position of difficulty.

For that reason, going lighter then you’d think is a good idea when starting out using bands. Also, the resistance should never compromise form.

A better alternative as you increase the load is a cable machine with the proper attachment because the resistance will be equal throughout the exercise.

To keep safety on the rotator cuff and not irritate the shoulder we should also be aware of the attachment point. Which when done correctly is at about the level of your forehead. Too many people use a low attachment point which causes an awkward upright rowing moment. This almost removes the rotator cuff from the exercise and makes it more rear delt. But also places the arms in more of a internally rotated position generally. Which more times than not just irritates the shoulder when done for sets and reps.

Be sure to use a thumbs back grip as this drives supination which leads to external rotation which helps us open our chest and use the muscles of our back and rotator cuff.

The biggest error people make is leading with their elbows and leaving their wrist behind.

The elbows and wrists should move together! This again helps you avoid an internally rotated position with the elbow above 90 degrees helping you avoid impingement at the shoulder. If you cannot coordinate the elbow and wrist moving as a unit you are either using too heavy of a band. Or you are trying to force yourself into a range of motion that you don’t currently have.

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.

 

Dr. Schaible was instrumental in putting together the completely updated version of the Youth Athletic Assessment Specialist 2.0 course that covers a wide range of screens, performance assessments, and advanced assessment techniques.  Learn more about the YAAS 2.0 by clicking the image below.

Letter to Parents – From Jim Kielbaso: What Did They Do When They Were Young?

Dear parents of young athletes,

I know you want your child to be the best, so I can understand why you like to watch training videos of world-class athletes so you can have him/her do what they’re doing.  You’re probably assuming that whatever the best athletes are doing is what your child should be doing, so they will end up like them.

I get it.  And, I know you just want to give your child the best, so they can be their best.     

Unfortunately, it seems like you’re missing one key component here – your child isn’t a world-class athlete yet, so he/she has different needs.  

World class athletes train a certain way because they have built a solid foundation of movement, strength, mobility, work capacity, power, skill, etc.  Their needs are more about refinement than development, so their training is very different than what they did when they were younger and trying to get to where they are today.  

Instead of looking at what the pros are doing NOW, look at what they did when they were your kid’s age.  This will give you insight into what helped them develop the foundation of athleticism they have today.  

Most world-class athletes participated in many sports/activities when they were young.  They typically engaged in more hours of various activities than less successful athletes, but they almost always did it because they loved it.  Athletes who achieve high levels of success have an internal drive at a young age to play sports. They wanted to go to the back yard or playground and practice because that’s what they loved doing. 

You can also look at professional sports clubs in other parts of the world where they start developing athletes at a young age.  In addition to playing plenty of soccer with amazing coaches, European soccer clubs have young kids doing all sorts of different activities like gymnastics, calisthenics, etc. that essentially act as their “second sport.”  Those coaches have seen the process play out through many years of coaching, and they don’t want their young athletes doing the same movements over and over again because it leads to injuries and a lack of overall athletic development. 

They don’t do these same things with their elite players because they understand that athletes at different ages/levels need different things.  The older athletes are lifting weights, doing structured speed work, and in the case of their elite professionals, fine-tuning their bodies to ensure longevity and optimal performance.  Training changes at each level because the needs are different. 

So, while it’s really interesting to watch videos of Stef Curry, Usain Bolt, Mike Trout, and Cristiano Ronaldo training, try to remember that they have very different needs than your child.  What you see them doing now is not what they did when they were your child’s age, so it would be inappropriate for you to copy their training programs.  

Instead, focus on fundamental motor skills, give them physical activities outside of their main sport, keep sports fun, and teach them to value the slow process of constant improvement.  Have them play other sports, and let them explore the full capacity of their bodies.  While you might not see the payoff this weekend, this is the path that most world-class athletes took, so have patience, and enjoy the experience of watching your young athlete slowly develop.   

Sincerely,

Jim

Jim Kielbaso is the President of the IYCA and owner of Impact Sports Performance in Michigan.  He has authored multiple books, articles and training products and has spoken at events around the world.  He holds a BS in Exercise Science, an MS in Kinesiology and has gone through multiple certifications through the IYCA, NSCA, NASM and more.  Jim is a former college strength & conditioning coach and has trained thousands of athletes at every level of competition.  He runs a successful NFL Combine training program in Michigan and has been hired as a consultant for major sports programs like the University of Michigan Football Program and the University of Kentucky Basketball Program.

 

Overlooked Keys to a Great Push Up – Greg Schaible

The push up is one of those exercises that everyone loves to do, but few athletes or clients do them exceptionally well….

This video goes over three of the most important technical aspects of the movement: 

Most people understand the first point. The elbows should be at 45 degree angle or slightly under. Not too in close to the body or flared out really wide either.

Scapula thoracic positioning is a high priority during a push up. Rib cage retracted at the top of the push up with scapula sitting flush on the thorax. 

An important part of the serratus is to protract the scapula but also retraction of the rib cage. At the top of the push up, you should not see a medial border prominence of the scapula. At the bottom position of push up the scapula retracts. push up

Ensuring the athlete is avoiding hyper extension at the low back and anterior pelvic tilt will go a long ways to help this. The body should move as a unit up and down from the ground. A common analogy I use is “imagine your body as an elevator moving up and down together.” Keeping the position of the torso sturdy with the ribcage stacked over the pelvis helps locks in the mid-section, making it easier to move as a cohesive unit.

A final and often overlooked aspect of a push up is a slight forward lean when dropping down toward the ground so the chest is in line with the hands. Then pushing slightly backwards while pressing back up to the top position so the hands are directly underneath the shoulders. This angle of pressing is very similar to the bar path you should use while doing a bench press.

Pressing back is also an important component that helps the serratus become more active as you are pushing up towards 90 degrees even slightly above at top position of push up. Those who struggle with getting the medial inferior border flush on the thorax tend to benefit greatly from this aspect. As the shoulder moves to 90 degrees of flexion and slightly past the serratus becomes most active. So if you imagine pushing up and back, the shoulder starts moving through more flexion which often results in better usage of the serratus with the exercise.

Most people understand the first point. The elbows should be at 45 degree angle or slightly under. Not too in close to the body or flared out really wide either.

Scapula thoracic positioning is a high priority during a push up. Rib cage retracted at the top of the push up with scapula sitting flush on the thorax. 

An important part of the serratus is to protract the scapula but also retraction of the rib cage. At the top of the push up, you should not see a medial border prominence of the scapula. At the bottom position of pushup the scapula retracts. 

Ensuring the athlete is avoiding hyper extension at the low back and anterior pelvic tilt will go a long ways to help this. The body should move a unit up and down from the ground. A common analogy I use is “imagine your body as an elevator moving up and down together.” Keeping the position of the torso sturdy with the ribcage stacked over the pelvis helps locks in the mid-section, making it easier to move as a cohesive unit.

A final and often overlooked aspect of a push up is a slight forward lean when dropping down toward the ground so the chest is in line with the hands. Then pushing slightly backwards while pressing back up to the top position so the hands are directly underneath the shoulders. This angle of pressing is very similar to the bar path you should use while doing a bench press.

Pressing back is also an important component that helps the serratus become more active as you are pushing up towards 90 degrees even slightly above at top position of push up. Those who struggle with getting the medial inferior border flush on the thorax tend to benefit greatly from this aspect. As the shoulder moves to 90 degrees of flexion and slightly past the serratus becomes most active. So if you imagine pushing up and back, the shoulder starts moving through more flexion which often results in better usage of the serratus with the exercise.

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.

 

Dr. Schaible was instrumental in putting together the completely updated version of the Youth Athletic Assessment Specialist 2.0 course that covers a wide range of screens, performance assessments, and advanced assessment techniques.  Learn more about the YAAS 2.0 by clicking the image below.

11 Ways to Manage Challenging Parents and Coaches – Brett Klika

When youth strength coaches discuss their barriers to success with young athletes, dealing with difficult parents and coaches is often high on the list.

In nearly 20 years as a youth strength and conditioning coach, I’ve had thousands of positive experiences with parents and coaches. It’s amazing to work as a team to create a 360-degree support system that functions to amplify a young athlete’s success in sports and life.

I’ve also had experiences that left me questioning if I wanted to remain in this profession. Overbearing parents, undermining coaches, and a dysfunctional interaction of all of the above can derail the unique opportunity we have to positively impact a child’s life.

Over the years, I’ve developed some powerful strategies to solidify and improve overall cohesiveness with parents and coaches. It’s important to realize that for the most part, everyone involved with the development of a young athlete is acting on what they believe to be the best for their child. Engaging in a constant battle of “who is right” always ends poorly.

A far more effective approach is to establish clear communication and expectations, so everyone involved understands the intended outcome and their values with the process are aligned. It’s also important to evaluate the role our own ego plays in making or breaking a relationship.

Below are 11 different strategies that have proven successful for me in my career to create a functional, positive relationship between myself, parents, and coaches.

1. During the initial consultation, focus the questions and conversation towards the athlete. At times, this may require respectfully and artfully “cutting off” the parent if they try to answer a question directed towards the athlete.

Even though this appears to be dismissing the parent, I have received repeated feedback that this made the parent feel at ease because they knew I was focused on the needs of their child. It also helps establish an initial dynamic without being confrontational.

2. When talking to parents and coaches, prioritize a “how can we help you?” tone as opposed to “this is what we do with athletes” tone. Ask questions like “What do you value in a coach?” “What do you see as the ultimate outcome of your child playing sports?” This not only provides valuable insight, it helps parents and coaches feel heard vs. spoken to. This makes them more confident that you have their best interests in mind.

 

3. Listen to the language that parents, coaches, and athletes use when describing what they need/expect from a program. This is the language they understand, even if the semantics are off a bit. Whenever possible, use their language when sharing the details of your program. Don’t’ start a battle of egos by coming off condescending. There will be plenty of time for semantics while training.

4. Develop an understanding of where their points of concern may be with your program before it begins. You may use play and games frequently. You may take time to build a progression. You may focus on general aspects of conditioning vs. sport specific training (as you should). While these represent the best approach to training youth, the parent or coach’s lack of understanding of the process may cause reason for question.

Address these concerns out of the gait. “We use a lot of games to teach athletic skills because…” “You’ll see them doing a lot of things you may have seen in physical education classes. We do this because…” Addressing these at the onset of a program both verbally, and in a concise take-home document helps establish an expectation. They may decide that your approach isn’t in line with theirs, right or wrong. This saves headaches down the road!

5. Communicate frequently with coaches and parents. Most parents and coaches start to become overbearing when they don’t know or understand what you are doing with their child. Learn to keep things brief and specific. If parents are not present at training, take video whenever possible. When a child is training in a group, make sure to check in with each parent at least once per week. A quick face- to- face or text puts their mind at ease and lets them know you are on top of things.

6. When a parent brings an athlete to train, get their coach’s email address and let them know you are working with the athlete. Ask questions and frequently update the coach. When the coach is in the loop and respects your work, parents (even difficult ones) are more likely to as well.

7. If working with a coach and his/her team, make sure you have a line of communication to parents. This could be an occasional email, newsletter, or other way to create value for your services. When you have parents support, coaches often follow suit. After all, most coaches are ultimately hired and fired by some form of parent intervention.

8. Consider the “optics” of your training environment to coaches and parents. Even if you’re doing what would be considered the “right” stuff, if athletes aren’t engaged, challenged, and moving it doesn’t look good. You may be practicing great squat technique but if the training room is silent, your athletes are dead-faced, and there’s no sweat on their brow, it’s a hard sell to everyone involved.

Learn how to do the right stuff in a way that leaves young athletes sweating, smiling, and smarter.

9. Don’t undermine a coach, even if you don’t agree with their approach. There is no positive outcome in this scenario. If differences arise, immediately have a discussion. If a solution cannot be reached, part ways ASAP. From experience, I can promise this will actually save time, money, and headaches. There are a lot of kids that need and want your help.

10. The same as above goes for a coach that undermines your work. Have a discussion and make a decision ASAP. Don’t go to war. Attempting to bash one another’s reputation can have nuclear implications to everyone’s ability to help kids. Take the high road and prove them wrong in your community with action and reputation. Trust me, they will sink their own ship.

11. Check your ego. I’ve witnessed so many strength coach/sport coach/parent relationships go south due to semantic arguments and over-dogmatic convention. The same bad experiences we’ve had with parents and sport coaches, they have probably had with professionals like us.

Resist automatically dismissing parent and coach concerns about your program. This is hard to do. It’s true that some relationships just aren’t going to work, but it’s important to evaluate your role in increasing or decreasing the likelihood of this.

While all of the above will dramatically decrease the obstacles you face with parents and coaches, “toxic” individuals still exist. Make sure you’re not contributing to the sludge, cut them loose, and move on. These decisions can be difficult because we truly care about their kids and we may depend on the income.

From experience however, I can attest that the time and energy drain from these relationships create a drastically negative net result on impact and income. A single parent or coach can derail your ability, energy, and interest in helping kids.

When we communicate, listen, and check our own ego more often, we have a greater opportunity to help more kids become active and athletic for life.

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.

 

Cluster Training, Part 2 – Karsten Jensen

In Part 1 of Karsten Jensen’s article on Cluster Training, he explained many of the elements that lay the foundation for cluster training.  In Part 2, he goes into more depth on the 5 steps to effective use of cluster training so that you can immediately begin to utilize this concept in your training programs.  Be sure to go back and read Part 1 before your begin reading Part 2.

SECTION 5
Tactic #3: Auto-regulated Training

The definition of the word auto includes self and spontaneous, used  in  the  formation  of compound-words. (24) 

Thus, auto-regulated training is self-regulated – or athlete/client regulated training, which could take two basic forms.

  • The training is regulated based on the immediate performance of the athlete-client (but the decisions are made by the coach)
  • The athlete-client is given guidelines for how to adjust specific aspects of the training based on their perception and/or performance.

Self-regulated training has also been termed Cybernetic Periodization where

“the original preplanned Periodization scheme is regularly modified by subjective and objective feedback obtained from the lifter’s current performance state. The feedback from the output of the system is used to modify the input to the system.(25)

The subjective and objective feedback from the athlete-client may include components such as

  • Rate of Perceived Exertion
  • Exercise form
  • Lifting Velocity

Choice is considered an inherent biological necessity and may (28)

  • Enhance motivation and adherence to training sessions.
  • Increase motor learning and performance.
  • Increase velocity and force production.
  • Postpone fatigue.

Thus, self-regulated, the training is fundamentally important to achieve the optimal training load —and thus, the optimal stimulus of the stress-response—because the moment-to-moment state of the athlete-client is fundamentally unpredictable. 

Self-regulated training is an important aspect of the application of progressive overload of Periodization systems. (26)

The last section of this article integrates the three described tactics: cluster training, drop sets and auto-regulation into a powerful approach to resistance training. 

SECTION 6
5 Steps to Effective Cluster Training

Section 6 describes a 5-step process for effective cluster training.

Step 1 – Program Objective

Determine the strength quality  you wish to develop with the program: stabilizer endurance, structural strength (including hypertrophy), maximal strength, power or muscular endurance.

Associated with each quality is an approximate level of optimal fatigue:

 

At Step 4, intra-set rest criteria is chosen with the purpose of performing the program with the optimal level of fatigue.

Step 2 – Intensity Zone and Total Repetition Volume

Choose the intensity zone and total repetition volume corresponding to the chosen strength quality. 

Below is an overview of the guidelines for the Repeated Effort Method (short duration) that are used with the Flexible Periodization Method. The Repeated Effort Method (short duration) is the primary method  used when the objective is hypertrophy.

Example (Combination Exercise) =

Powerlifting Style Back Squat + Olympic Style Front Squat + Zercher Squat, 2 x 10+10+10

Step 3 – Start Load

Choose the start load based the training background of the athlete-client and the specific emphasis on mechanical stress or metabolic stress within in the program.

The start load will be within or slightly above the primary intensity zone for the specific type of training. As the load is dropped throughout the set, it approaches the lower end of the primary intensity zone for the type of training.

Example: Powerlifting Style Back Squat + Olympic Style Front Squat + Zercher Squat, 2 x 10+10+10

Start load (beginner) = 7RM

Start load (intermediate) = 5 RM

Start load (advanced) = 3 RM

The Flexible Periodization Method incorporates the advanced option as a way for advanced athlete-clients to maintain maximal strength in phases where the primary load is lower. (28) 

Step 4 – Choose Intra-set Rest Criteria 

John Brookfield can’t count…And that makes him one smart coach. John’s primary focus is work capacity, task management, and technical efficiency. He uses fundamental patterns and simple equipment to create loads. Sets and reps don’t really apply to the exercise equation. Persistence, patience, and safety are hallmarks of John’s work. Don’t just watch – do what John does. You will learn from both ends – his coaching and your movement experience.

Gray Cook, MSPT, CSCS http://powerropes.com/brtestimonials.html

Most Cluster Training research uses a short, pre-determined cluster length. However, a pre-determined cluster length could make the training too easy. A performance based threshold might be a better solution. (4) A performance-based threshold makes the cluster length auto-regulated (See Section 4).

Performance-based objective and/or subjective criteria for:

  • taking intra-set rest 
  • the length of the intra-set rest 

are chosen with the purpose of achieving an optimal level of fatigue in relation to the program objective  (See Step 1).  

Objective Criteria
If the goal is to minimize fatigue, the cluster length should be 4 repetitions or less, to be able to complete each cluster within the phosphor – creatine stores. (1) 

As mentioned above, force, power and velocity drop from the 2nd repetition of a continuous set. Different targets (for example, 10, 20 or 30% velocity loss) can be used to achieve specific levels of neuro-muscular fatigue. (30)

Velocity loss can be measured through a variety of technologies. For example, the PUSH Armband.  See Table 6.3 below.

Subjective Criteria
Velocity loss is associated with an increase in rate of perceived exertion. (1) 

Rate of perceived exertion (RPE) is a classic and valid way of self-estimating the training load. However, utilizing the RPE to evaluate the training load may divide attentional focus between 

  1. Optimally executing the movement.
  2. Evaluating the perceived exertion.
  3. Counting the number of repetitions.

credit renee.jones@startribune.com

A divided focus may have detrimental effects on the performance of the athlete-client. Thus – even if it is not always possible, the Flexible Periodization Method aims to create a set up around each exercise that allows the athlete-client to focus their attention on one element

From a mental standpoint, strength is moving awareness. (31) As long as awareness moves, you move. Thus, the primary instruction is to.

Focus on executing one repetition at a time, with perfect form and the awareness of being strong throughout the body.

If your awareness wanders from the awareness of being strong, bring it back on target. At some point, the sensory experience of fatigue will start to become stronger and overshadow the experience of strength. Will power is applied to maintain an awareness of strength despite the evidence of the senses. Even further into the set, the body stops without a conscious decision to do so. This approach aligns results in moderate to high fatigue during a set.

Table 6.3 describes objective and subjective criteria for taking intra-set rest and intra-set rest duration. 

Don’t have the athlete-client look at the clock during the intra-set rest. Give absolutely minimal corrections. Focus on recovery and getting ready for the next cluster. Gauge the time in number of deep breaths. 

Below is an overview of different rest durations that appear in the Cluster training literature.

Minimal, but does have effect = 5-10 sec (let go of weight, stand up, lower again, set up and repeat)

Incomplete = 10-20 sec (let go of weight, stand up + 1-3 deep breaths, lower again, set up and repeat)

(Close to) Complete (for singles) = 20-30 sec (let go of weight, stand up + 1-5 deep breaths, lower again, set up and repeat)

Close to complete (for doubles, triples, etc.) =   30-60 sec (let go of weight, stand up + 1-10 deep breaths, lower again, set up and repeat)

As the coach or trainer, check your watch to ensure that the rest periods stays within approximate time frames. 

Step 5 – Decide On any Load Reduction

As long as the athlete-client can start the next cluster and the awareness of being strong, the load is kept the same. 

If the client cannot start the next cluster with perfect form or the awareness of being strong then

    1. The load is reduced by 5-10% (intra-set rest stays the same).
    2. Intra-set rest is increased (See above).

SUMMARY

This article outlined a suggested 1st Principle of Physical Training and Strategies to Achieve it. Additionally, three program design tactics were discussed: cluster training, drop sets and auto-regulation were described. Last, a 5-step approach to cluster training was detailed.

Take advantage of this incredible concept to achieve excellent results with athlete in need of improving their strength.  Be sure to understand why cluster training is being utilized and follow the 5-step approach to optimally utilize each approach.

 

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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25.Siff M. Organisation of Training. Supertraining. Chapter 6, p 331. Supertraining Institute. Denver, USA. 2004.

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27.Jensen K. Periodization of Program Variables For The Development of. Maximal Strength: How To Manifest Untapped Potential For Strength Using The Flexible Periodization Method. Chapter 3, page 21-90. www.yestostrength.com. 2015.

28.Suchomel TJ, Nimphius S, Stone MH. The Importance of Muscular Strength In Athletic Performance. Sports Medicine, 46(10) Feb. 2016 DOI 10.1007/s40279-016-0486-

29. Halperin I, Wulf G, Vigotsky AD, Schoenfeld BJ, Behm DG. Autonomy: a missing ingredient of a successful program? Strength and Conditioning Journal, Published Ahead of Print. DOI: 10.1519/SSC.0000000000000383

30. Weakley J, Ramirez-Lopez C, McLaren S, Dalton-Barron N. The Effects of 10%, 20%, and 30% Velocity Loss Thresholds on Kinetic, Kinematic, and Repetition Characteristics During the Barbell Back Squat. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance. DOI: 10.1123/ijspp.2018-1008. 2019.

31.Jensen K. At the most fundamental level, everything that appears solid is pure energy, vibration and mostly empty space. I AM Strong: How To Align Thought beliefs and emotion to reach fitness goals faster than ever before. Section 1.b, page 7-10. Yes To Strength. 2016.

Cluster Training: Break Down the Set to Build Up the Body, Part 1 – Karsten Jensen

A few years ago I consulted briefly with a young woman who wanted to learn Olympic Weightlifting. From our first session it was clear that she had great motivation, adequate flexibility, solid coordination but little muscle mass.

At the end of the first session she was given technical exercises to work on as well as Front Squats that were to be performed in the following way:

  • The safety pins were placed corresponding to the height of her shoulders in the bottom position of the Front Squat.
  • She was to perform one repetition at a time by stepping under the bar, setting up for and executing the squat before stepping back from the bar and repeating. 
  • She was instructed to do 30 repetitions one at a time – essentially 30 x 1 repetitions.

Our next session was two weeks later. Upon entering the gym, I saw the shape of what looked to be an experienced lifter with smooth technique and muscular thighs. When I got closer I saw that it was this girl who had worked diligently on the exercises  I had suggested for her.

A major reason for the choice of this cluster style approach is the easily observable fact that cluster training can help athletes and clients maintain good form throughout the training of an exercise, particularly if they are relatively new to lifting. 

Why? In some cases, we are able to perform the first repetition with good form but then, as fatigue sets in, the form deteriorates. With cluster training, each rep is the “first” rep.

I had known about and used Cluster Style training before, but the experience with this young girl convinced me that cluster style training has applicability both for beginners and for advanced athletes.

Cluster training is not new. The quote below is from The Rader Master Bodybuilding and Weight Gaining System, originally published in 1946 (on breathing methods during deadlift training for weight gain). (5)

Another preferred method is to stand up after each repetition (after placing the weight on the floor) and take 3-6 deep breaths between each repetition. Then grasp the weight and take a deep breath and make another repetition.  

Later, renowned Olympic Weightlifting Coach, Carl Miller used Cluster Training in the 1970s. (6)  

Cluster training is still used today (for example, by Dr. Stuart McGill, world renowned back specialist from Waterloo, Ontario). (7) Mc Gill uses clusters to achieve 

Maximum Neuro drive during a chin-up from every part of the back and it starts with grip. Instead of sets of 6-10, consider sets of 1, 10 or so times, and working up to 15-20 singles, over time. Take about 10 seconds of rest between. 

The cluster tactic can also be used to break a larger amount of work into smaller chunks. Here is an abbreviated description of 50 rep sets from the classic Steel Tips by Dr Ken Leistner.(18)

Start weight = 20-25RM

Execution: Do as many reps as possible. Then rest 10 seconds. Repeat until all 50 Repetitions are completed.

As a strategy, cluster training is an extension of traditional training. Imagine that you were told to do 30 repetitions with 70% of your 1RM. However, you were not told that you could break the work down into 3 sets of 10 repetitions. (See Graph 1) You would stop after about 10 repetitions, frustrated that you could not complete the 30 repetitions.

Cluster Training is an example of the saying to train as much as possible, while staying as fresh as possible. (8)  The real difference between traditional training and cluster training lies in the size of the chunks.

This article begins by suggesting a so-called 1st Principle of physical training. Based on the 1st Principle, strategies to achieve the Principle are discussed. Last, specific tactics for applying Cluster Training are laid out.

 

SECTION 1
1st Principle of Physical Training

A “principle” is a basic truth, law or assumption (thefreedictionary.com).  first principle is a basic, foundational, self-evident proposition or assumption that cannot be deduced from any other proposition or assumption. (21)  

How could a 1st Principle of physical training be defined?

Athletes or fitness clients approach strength coaches and personal trainers to achieve a certain objective. Achieving this objective always requires 

  1. A structural change in the body.
  2. A functional change in the body.

Thus, the 1st Principle of physical training could be defined as, to stimulate structural or functional adaptations specific to the athlete’s or fitness client’s goal.

 

SECTION 2
Strategies to Achieve the 1st Principle

Overall, it could be stated that the higher the intensity, volume and workload while still maintaining the ability to recover, the greater the potential for structural and functional changes. 

Challenging the boundaries of adaption through the best possible balance between stress and recovery necessitates that training program is truly based on the individual abilities rather than generic standards.  

Two strategies behind a broader group of research include:

  1. Break down the total work load into smaller chunks. 
  2. Match the load to the capacity of the athlete-client as closely as possible, repetition by repetition throughout a set.

 

SECTION 3
Tactic #1: Cluster Training

The dictionary’s definition of a cluster is, a group of similar things or people positioned or occurring closely together. In the perspective of a full session, this definition also applies to a set in the traditional sense.

The research on cluster training is focused on the effects of taking rest periods within a traditional set. (9) 

“Inter-repetition rest” involves rest between each repetition.

“intra-set” rest involves rest between groups of repetitions.  

Rest periods between sets are referred to as inter-set rest.

Based on the terminology above, cluster training is not limited to a particular length of a set, or a particular length of a cluster. Fundamentally, all qualities of strength could be developed with cluster training. 

3a. What are the Benefits of Cluster Training?

Of special interest are the results from studies that compared longer sets with longer rest between sets, with shorter sets and shorter rest between sets but a similar work: rest ratio. Such a re-distribution of rest periods to more frequent intra-set and inter repetition rest results in two core benefits of Cluster Training:

  1. More repetitions performed with a given intensity. (1,4,10,15)
  2. Better maintenance of peak power, force and velocity across a session (11,12,13,14,15)

It is currently less well known how these two benefits may translate into better long-term adaptations. (15)

Additional benefits of Cluster Training Include:

  • Lower session RPE. (1)
  • Better maintenance of exercise form across the total repetition volume.

3b. Why Does Cluster Training Work?

Force and power tend to drop from the 2nd repetition in a continuous set. (13, 14) 

Partial recovery of ATP-CP stores may happen in 15-20 seconds, which may explain how force and power output can be maintained over multiple repetitions and multiple sets. (14) The (partial) recovery between repetitions allows the lifter to handle near maximal weights for many repetitions with a possible beneficial effect on hypertrophic and neural adaptations. (11, 12)

In summary, the benefits of cluster training can explained with a reduction in both central and peripheral fatigue to include the maintenance of phosphor – creatine stores and help avoid lactic build up. (1, 2, 4, 15)

Cluster training works for both dynamic and isometric contractions. 

3c. Are There Any Disadvantages to Cluster Training?

  • Too little fatigue. 

Paradoxically, the upside of cluster training (the prevention of fatigue) is also its potential downside. Fatigue plays a role in maximal strength development through increased activation of motor units, concomitant contribution from synergistic and antagonistic muscles and metabolic fatigue related events. For example, lactate that triggers muscular adaptation. (14)

  • Less efficient with respect to work per unit of time.

Extra-rest cluster training might be less efficient compared to longer sets with respect to work per unit of time. These point to the need for making rest periods the shortest duration needed in order to maintain the load and/or velocity. (3) 

SECTION 4
Tactic #2: Drop Sets
‘Right now I could do more.’

What is the definition of drop sets? 

With drop sets, the load is reduced within a set. Additionally, the exercise can be changed within a set, a strategy that is termed mechanical drop sets. Thus, drop sets are a form of Cluster Training where intra-set rest-periods are used to reduce the load used.

What is the purpose of drop sets? 

A drop set is the tactic used to execute the strategy of matching the load to the capacity of the athlete-client as closely as possible, repetition by repetition, throughout a set. (See above.) As strength drops throughout the set, the load is reduced or there is a switch to a stronger range, position or contraction type.

Conceptually, two types of drop sets can be described: (23)

  1. A higher load is used from the beginning of a longer set (of more than 1 rep).
  2. Additionally, repetitions are performed at the end of a set.

If – for example – the goal is to perform 6 repetitions with a 6RM load, then the athlete-client could have a higher load on each of the first repetitions of that set. Thus, there is a gap between the force that is produced and the force that could have been produced. Beginning with a higher load and reduced, the load gradually closes that gap.

 

 

After performing a set of 6 repetitions with a 6RM load, the athlete-client can no longer lift a 6RM load. However, the athlete-client could perform additional repetitions with a lower load. Such a strategy is also termed multi-poundage training or break down training. (24)  

Thus, the application of drop sets centers around the question: Why would you lift less than you could have at any point in time? In the same non-technical vein, drop sets relate to the statement – I could do more right now.

4a. What are the Benefits of Drop Sets?

The examples above illustrate that drop sets theoretically could result in a 

  • higher average load
  • higher # of repetitions
  • higher volume load 

across one set and, thus, effectively stimulate strength, hypertrophy and muscular endurance.

 Below is a brief overview of research findings on drop sets:

  • Drop Sets that begin with a heavier load may the increase the firing rate of motor units and recruit high threshold motor units. (20)
  • Drop sets may promote a higher total workload and subsequently increased mechanical and metabolic stress. (19, 21)
  • Drop sets may result in greater hypertrophy compared to traditional training. (21) However, when volume and intensity are equated, there is no difference in strength or hypertrophy gains between traditional sets or drop sets. (16,17)
  • Drop sets may result in lower RPE and similar strength and size gains for similar volume of training.  (16)

Thus, the most prominent take-home message is that the power of drop sets lays not so much in the structure of gradually reducing the load. The power of drop sets lies in the possibility of using a higher average load and achieving a higher number of repetitions and volume load. 

We will continue this discussion of Cluster Training in Part 2 of this piece.

 

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.