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Utilize M.O.L.D for Programming Youth

In developing programming for youth, it is important to utilize the IYCA’s four-part programming guideline, easily recalled by the acronym “MOLD.”

Under this guideline, movement must dominate, the coach must be open to communication variances and learning style variances, and should avoid training and instead teach.  Let’s break these down.

M-Movement Must Dominate:

Young athletes are dynamic and ever-changing creatures. Development and optimization of motor control requires both depth and breadth of movement experiences. Specific skill instruction must take a back seat to general movement skills, particularly during the more foundational years of development.

Far too often, coaches attempt to integrate far too technical aspects of instruction into programming at the expense of activity that is more focused on the acquisition and refinement of general motor skill.

O-Open to Communication Variances:

Just as instruction can oftentimes be inappropriately geared toward specific skill acquisition, the manner in which coaching cues and non-verbal coaching feedback is delivered can tend to be nonspecific in nature. Young athletes are unique individuals with broad-ranging variability with respect to preferred communication styles. 

Coaches can sometimes assume that an athlete who does not respond favorably to their coaching is lazy or unmotivated. However, a reflective practitioner is committed to exploring potential barriers to instruction, which in many instances may be directly linked to differences in the athlete’s preferred communication style. 

L-Learning Style Variances:

Young athletes do not vary only with respect to communication styles. Learning styles vary considerably from person to person. Unfortunately, in cases in which a teacher’s instructional style is not compatible with a student’s preferred learning style, the student will experience a significantly more difficult time in acquiring the intended information.

Developing a broad-based instructional style and being attuned to individual differences is the best way that a coach or teacher can optimize athlete learning. 

D-Don’t Train; Teach:

Too often, conditioning programs for youth are geared toward eliciting the “best” performance improvement by applying adult based exercise prescriptions with only slightly decreased volume and/or intensity. However, programming for youth should be fundamentally different. At the same time, the most basic goal of programming for youth should not be to train the body to peak physical performance. 

Instead, the goal should be to teach the young athlete both how to move most efficiently and effectively and to develop a fundamental love for physical activity. Unfortunately, programming that is too heavily focused on training, introduced early in development, can lead to physical injury and/or psychological fatigue. 

If you want to learn more about the development & programming of athletes through the ages and what to consider as a coach/trainer check out this free Video- where IYCA CEO and LTAD Expert Jim Kielbaso breaks down Training athletes from Start to Finish 

Source: Essentials of Youth Fitness & Conditioning Text by Toby Brooks, PhD, David Stodden, PhD & Jim Kielbaso, MS

High School Strength and Conditioning: How to Get Started – Jim Kielbaso

Because the IYCA has the only certification designed specifically for high school strength and conditioning – the IYCA HSSCS – I get a lohigh school strength and conditioningt of questions about how to get your foot in the door or how to become a high school strength and conditioning coach.  I also happen to work in several high schools, I post a lot of content from weight rooms, and I love working in high school strength and conditioning, so it makes sense that people ask those questions.  But, is this job really right for you?

Through the years, I’ve answered these questions individually, and this video breaks down just about all of the advice I’ve given and everything you need to know to get your foot in the door or get started in high school strength and conditioning.

Keep in mind that this article/video is not covering how to be a great coach or any of the science and training methods needed to do the job.  This video is about understanding the job and how to get started.  I also explain how different each job can be depending on the situation at the school.  Some schools are very well funded, have great facilities, and have supportive coaches and parents.  Other situations are the complete opposite where just about everything is a struggle. You need to fully understand each situation and know which ones fit you the best.

The two most important things to understand are:

  1. There are both tremendous challenges and opportunities in high school strength and conditioning.  Funding, schedules, facilities, group size, skill level, motivation level, demands from coaches, safety, and constantly changing coaches and athletes are all part of the job.  But, being able to make a difference in the lives of hundreds of young people is an amazing opportunity.  Before you jump into this demanding job, make sure you understand the pros and cons and decide if this is the right position for you.
  2. You have to be a really good coach, teacher, and role model to be an effective high school strength and conditioning coach.  Just because you like to lift weights or were a good athlete does not qualify you to be a great S & C coach.  This is a demanding job and kids deserve to have a great coach working with them.  The mission of the IYCA is to help educate coaches in an effort to create exceptional training experiences for athletes, and we feel that this is very important.  That means that the days of unqualified and sub-par coaches in high schools should come to an end.  You need to have great knowledge, great energy, great coaching skills, and a passion for developing athletes at all levels and in all sports.

In the video, I discuss:

  • Is this the right job/situation for you?
  • Qualifications
  • Funding
  • Challenges & opportunities
  • Relationships
  • Creating a job vs. being hired

There is obviously a lot to understand before you get started in high school strength and conditioning, but this should help you understand what is necessary and give you a sense of what you can do to make things happen.

 

Jim Kielbaso IYCAJim Kielbaso is the President of the IYCA and Owner of Impact Sports Performance in Novi, MI.  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, 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.

Effective Communication: Starting the Conversation – Jill Kochanek

Effective communication is based on the needs of each player and team. When coaches give players voice, we can more fully understand what our athletes need to feel optimally supported. This post offers coaches useful activities for addressing what effective communication means for their team and athletes. Though just a starting point, this session is an example of how coaches can start a conversation with players to glean valuable information about their needs and co-create team standards for effective communication.

As many of us finish up the winter season, I want to bring up a topic, which comes up a lot in my work with athlete and coaches: effective communication. This entry explores what effective communication means for your team and athletes. To do so, I offer a recap of a session on effective communication that I’ve facilitated with my high school student-athletes. You might consider integrating any, or all, of these activities as an off-the-field preseason session. These activities are meant to draw on team knowledge and co-create communication standards with your athletes. Reflection and discussion centers on several questions: What type of communication does an athlete/teammate need and when? What constitutes effective communication on our team? What does effective communication look like in action? Feel free to use, leave out, or adapt any aspect of this session to best fit you as a coach, your context, and athletes.

Before I overview the session, let me give some background on what led me to the “communication” drawing board. Last year, communication became a point of emphasis for my high school girls’ team. We started the season with a young squad, only one senior, a sizable freshmen class, and several returning players who had only joined us the year prior. Some might call this a “rebuilding year.” I cringe when I hear that statement because it can shift a coach’s focus from improving based on where athletes are at to a preoccupation with proving oneself (as a coach or team). When coaches adopt this mentality, doing so can come at the expense of athlete development. Optimally challenging (and raising the bar for) players becomes a more difficult task when we safeguard against defeat and lower expectations before our players even step onto the field. As coaches, let’s not fall into this trap!

Young teams might lack the foundational skills that you wish they possessed, but these groups present a unique opportunity for coaches as culture creator to establish—and reinforce—good habits. If coaches plant these seeds with athletes early on, they are more likely to internalize those behavior patterns and model them for new and future players.

As a younger group, we not only lacked on-field communication but also clear standards for what effective communication meant on our team. The mix of inexperience and diverse player personalities led to instances of ineffective communication: younger players feeling as though older players were bossing them around, and older players feeling as though younger players were not listening or committed. After a few conflicts between players, our coaching staff decided that the group would benefit from more an explicit conversation on effective communication.

Here is a breakdown of the session—keeping this caveat in mind: as with technical/tactical skill building, culture building and behavior change are on-going processes. One session on effective communication will not be a complete cure-all. Consistent reinforcement is essential for players, and coaches, to internalize desired values and actions. As coaches, we not only need to model these behaviors. And, we need to encourage players when they effectively communicate and own our mistakes when we fall short of doing so.

Effective Communication Session Synopsis

Activity I: Effective communication on our team
I started by asking the girls to think of a recent moment in which a teammate effectively communicated to them (e.g., encouragement, instruction, suggestion, or criticism). They wrote down who that teammate was, what happened, and why the communication was effective for them. This was meant to guide athletes to self-reflect on their needs, but also gave them a chance to recognize their teammates.

Debrief: As a group, we discussed their responses. I did not have each girl share their who-what-why, but took notice of which players spoke up (or did not) and who was actively listening. Several girls offered their responses, and I probed players to consider commonalities and differences across examples. We distilled these anecdotes down to key characteristics of effective communication on our team, which were honest, direct, & positive. With this definition, I emphasized to players that it’s not just what we say that is impactful, but how we communicate—that communication needs to be honest and selfless. Praise that is not earnest can undermine our legitimacy as the communicator and backfire. At the same time, our communication should aim to help teammates be successful—to build each other up—not break us down. When players know that teammates mean well, and are genuinely trying to support our success, they will be more open to receiving corrective instruction (or constructive criticism) and less likely to take feedback personally.

The first reflective activity helped our group established what effective communication means for our team. While we might define communication that is honest, direct, and positive as our team standard, I asked players to consider if, and how, effective communication might depend on the individual and context. Though we might defer to honest, direct, and positive feedback in most teammate interactions and team situations, how we communicate may depend on who we are working with and how they show up on that day.

Activity II: Effective communication as individual and context specific
I asked each girl to write down what kind of communication they need from their teammates (or coaches) when they are having a good day versus bad day. I clarified that the good-bad day scenario could be for a host of reasons, including but not limited to sport-related events. I invited each player to share her perspective with the group in this second activity. In this case, I wanted to give each person the opportunity to speak to her needs, and likewise teammates (and myself) the chance to listen and gain insight into how to best support each player. Here were some of common responses from our group:

“I am motivated by the little things. It’s a huge boost when you catch me, and let me know, that I doing the little things well.”

“I want limited feedback on my bad days.”
“Hold me accountable when things aren’t going my way.”
“I just want you to tell me what to do!”

“I need positive reinforcement no matter what kind of day I am having. I had a bad coach when I was younger. He would always scream at us, and it’s still hard for me to shake that.”

Debrief: Once players shared what they need in terms of communication, I identified some of the common themes and differences across our responses. Then, I circled back to our team captains and asked what they thought were key take-home messages from our activities for us, as a team, to take away from the session and how we put that information into action. Give them the space and agency to communicate to their teammates, establish expectations, and define actions. After they spoke, I validated their responses and asked if anyone else from the group has something to add.

Conclusion
This session is one example of how to start a conversation with your players to glean valuable information about their needs and co-create team standards for effective communication. Effective communication is individual and context specific—based on the needs of each player and team. When coaches give players voice, we can more fully understand what our young people need to feel optimally supported. At the end of the day, it’s not about us – it’s about them.

Facilitating a session on effective communication, however, is not a quick fix—it’s a starting point. Consistent reinforcement of effective communication when coaches catch players doing so is necessary for all team members to internalize those behaviors. Along with praiseworthy actions, coaches need to attend to “challenge moments”: when players (or coaches themselves) fall short of effectively communicating based on team standards. Coaches can use “challenge moments” as opportunities to reinforce desired behaviors (or acknowledge their own mistakes) and encourage athletes to see mistakes as a part of the learning and culture-building process.

Helping Your Kids Cope With the COVID-19 Pandemic – Phil Hueston

The novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 which causes COVID-19 has taken over the news. For adults, the news is frightening. For children, it can be terrifying and may leave real scars. Parents can ease kids’ fears and help them cope with this pandemic, if they have the tools.

How can we, as parents and caregivers, help children understand this pandemic without living in constant fear of it? How can we support their developmental needs while helping them understand the COVID-19 coronavirus and the news surrounding it?

How can we share the hope of a bright future when the present seems so dark and scary?

Some very smart people have been thinking about these questions. I’ve been thinking about them, too.

I’m around children ages 6 and up in my facility daily. They see the world differently than adults and can often get overwhelmed by the onslaught of news, information and disinformation they are exposed to daily.

Here are some thoughts on how to help them through this challenging time.

Clear up the terminonlogy

Some of the terminology thrown around by the news media sounds terrifying, if you don’t understand it. Spend some time with your kids and ask them what they think some of those terms mean. Try questions like these. “What do you think COVID-19 is?” “What do you think the word ‘quarantine’ means?” “Do you know what ‘social distancing’ means?” The answers will help you understand what your child knows, what they don’t know and how they think about the disease.

Jennifer Rodemeyer, manager of the Child Life Program at Mayo Clinic, suggests clearly defining the terminology around COVID-19 coronavirus. There are key phrases and terms that, when clearly defined, will help your children cope better with what they are hearing.

COVID-19 – Your kids should know that this is a virus that can make them sick and cause them to feel sick. The symptoms include a cough, fever, chills and body aches. While they should know that these aren’t exclusive to COVID-19, it is important to tell you if they feel them, especially during this pandemic.

COVID-19 is so tiny that children can’t see it and won’t know it’s on their hands or on surfaces they touch. Since it can enter the body when we touch something that it’s on and then touch our faces, mouths or eyes, hand washing is really important. Keeping surfaces clean is also very important. Both of these practices are simple ways to give your children a measure, and a sense, of control over something that might hurt them.

COVID-19 can also enter the body through tiny droplets expelled when we cough or sneeze. So by covering their sneezes and coughs with a tissue or by coughing or sneezing into their elbow (called the “Vampire sneeze,”) they can help to limit the spread of the virus. Again, offering a technique for gaining control over a scary thing offers a sense of power they otherwise don’t have.

Explain that the reason this virus is everywhere in the news and on social media is because it’s new, or “novel.” Everyone on earth, including doctors, nurses and other health and medical professionals, are learning about it together. As they learn more, we’ll have more ways to limit its’ spread and how to treat it. Let your kids know that some of the smartest experts around the world are working as hard as they can to learn about the virus and keep us all safe.

Social Distancing – This is a fairly new term that is being talked about everywhere. Medical and public health professionals are asking people to practice this in an effort to slow or stop the spread of the virus. It means avoiding close contact with other people when outside the home. It doesn’t mean avoiding contact with family members inside the home, unless they are ill. 

Rodemeyer suggests telling children to use the imaginary length of a bicycle as a means of understanding how far to stay from others in public. Instead of high fives, fist bumps or hugs, a simple wave may be better. What we also want our kids to know is that if the six-foot rule of social distancing is accidentally “violated,” they shouldn’t panic. It’s a guideline, not an iron-clad rule whose violation is cause for punishment or self-loathing.

Quarantine – This is just a scary word for anyone, but especially kids. Sub-conscious fears of isolation and abandonment go hand-in-hand with this one. Explain to your kids that quarantine may be as simple as staying in your house for a period of time up to 14 days. Let them know that only if they come in contact with someone who definitely has COVID-19 would they possibly need to be concerned about this. They also need to know it doesn’t mean they’d be separated from their family.

Build some new home routines to support your kids.

Giving kids the ability to predict what’s next gives them a sense of control and direction over the unknown. Post your family schedules and what, if any, different rules or guidelines need to be followed. If staying in the house is called for, make that clear, along with a clear explanation of why. Same thing for social distancing.

Help your kids feel accomplished by identifying clear expectations and acknowledging them when they meet those expectations. Include all important aspects of your children’s lives when establishing a schedule. What time is bedtime? When do they wake? Include meal times, household chores and responsibilities, outdoor play and exercise times, other play times and anything else that impacts their lives.

Stuck at home more? Play a little, or a lot!

Play is a great tool for teaching. It’s also a great tool for stress management and improving cognitive ability. Play will give your child the tools to help understand the nature of the COVID-19 situation and what they can expect for themselves. It will also give you time to interact with your kids and communicate with them in a low-pressure atmosphere. You may learn quite a bit about how they’re feeling!

Reading together, playing games, doing puzzles, exercising together, listening and playing music together and working on projects together will all provide great bonding and relaxation opportunities for the whole family. Try creating some theme nights like movie night, karaoke night, game night or indoor camping night. You have an opportunity to create some positive memories in the midst of a difficult time.

Use technology to connect with friends and loved ones

Your kids are most likely more tech-savvy than any other generation, maybe even more tech-savvy than you. Use that to help them connect and talk with grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles and friends. Include the people they normally interact with, too. Using connectivity apps will allow your kids to keep and build relationships and avoid feeling isolated by talking to loved ones and people who matter to them.

Social games can also help. Many games and game systems have the capacity for children to play together even when they are far apart. Virtual play dates are a possibility. There are a myriad of ways that virtual connections can support your kids’ social development.

Cut off the constant stream of news 

While we want our children to understand the COVID-19 virus and what it means for them, they don’t need 24/7 access to every news source. Explain to them that you are going to help them understand the realities of the virus by helping them find a small number of reliable news sources and then helping them absorb and understand what is being reported by them. The Centers for Disease Control, the Mayo Clinic, state and federal health agencies, Johns Hopkins University and a handful of others are examples of reliable, evidence-based news sources for the COVID-19 outbreak.

Cover the basics – and handle the unexpected

Teach your kids how to wash their hands. Give them fun tools to make sure they wash long enough. Singing the “ABC’s” or “Happy Birthday” twice while soaping up will ensure about 20 seconds worth of scrubbing.

Hang signs in your home that say things like “Welcome home! Don’t forget to wash your hands first thing!” Tell them the times they should wash their hands: before meals, after using the toilet, after blowing their nose, coughing or sneezing and after being out of the house.

When an event your child was to attend gets cancelled, take the time to explain how that unhappy event will help stem the spread of COVID-19. Children will tend to see and appreciate an event from their own perspective. Letting them understand that this is a temporary way to help others will give them a fresh way to look at it. Let them know that when the COVID-19 virus is under control, those events will be safe to attend once again.

Who’s the boss?

Let your children know that when they are in someone else’s care, they should listen to that person. When a teacher, grandparent, caregiver, day care provider, etc. asks them to wash their hands or gives other hygiene instructions those instructions should be followed.

If the virus strikes, reassure them

If your child gets sick, remind them that they are being cared for by someone to whom they are infinitely important. Let them know you will be watching them and caring for them until they have recovered and that the best doctors are also caring for them.

If a friend or loved one gets sick, let your kids know that they are getting medical advice and care and are getting the best instructions on how to beat the virus and get better. Encourage your kids to send the afflicted person a note in the mail. Explain that receiving such a note will let the person know that others care for and are thinking about them and looking forward to when all of them can be together again.

Don’t lie

Parents often feel that a “little white lie” is okay when the truth my hurt or frighten your child, especially a younger child. While this may be true in some cases, be honest with your children about COVID-19. Letting your kids know that you’ll be honest with them and that being honest is important to you will build their trust. While your honesty may cause some worry or anxiety, the same truth-telling will make it easier to allay those fears or anxieties.

Have daily conversations with your kids about this. Let them know you’ll keep them up to date on changes regarding the virus. Let them know that you are the one to come to for new information and that they can ask you anything about the COVID-19 virus.

Share your own feelings about all that’s happening. Let them know that you have questions about COVID-19 and the situation. Share those questions with them, if appropriate. Let them know you are following the advice of some of the smartest medical and public health experts in the world and that their advice is going to help us all stay safe.

You are the authority in your children’s lives. In uncertain times, your kids need certainty, love, strength and a sense of control. I hope these ideas help you deliver those things for your children. I hope that you all stay safe, healthy and happy.

Keep the faith and keep after it!

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

 

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

T-Spine Mobility – Jordan Tingman

Incorporating a small amount of mobility each day will eventually turn into great gains over time.

Mobility can be easily thrown into a complete warm-up, within the workout or at the end of a workout. It is much more important to do a little of something, than doing nothing at all.

The upper back/thoracic spine is made up of a lot of different musculature. The muscles surrounding the thoracic spine tend to tighten up, and often get neglected when working on mobility. When ignoring working on mobilizing these areas, the upper back can get tight, limiting overhead exercises and movements.

When thoracic spine mobility is compromised, athletes will unconsciously compensate by creating excess movement in other joints.  This typically means that the lower back has to create excess movement or stability because the T-spine is not functioning adequately.  It’s not uncommon for low back pain to be the result of issues in the T-spine/scapula, so taking a pro-active approach by spending a little time on this area can pay dividends you may never even know about because the athlete will be healthy.  While we’ll never get credit for it, that should ultimately be the goal of all performance coaches.

t-spine mobility

There are various reasons why we need to work on t-spine mobility:

-Overhead and throwing movements can be limited due to tightness

-Tightness can affect posture in the various squat patterns

-Mobilizing any especially tight areas can lead to injury reduction

To warm up for t-spine mobilization, foam rolling the entire upper body can be very helpful in warming up and stretching the muscle belly.

:30 seconds of each area

  • UPPER BACK-Starting with an upper back roll, crossing the arms in front of the chest
  • LATS-Roll out the lats, by keeping the hand palm up, arm by the ear, rolling all the way from the armpit to the mid rib cage area
  • PEC/SHOULDER- roll out the pec/shoulder area using either a foam roller or even better a lacrosse ball to really dig into the troubled areas
  • T-SPINE PEANUT- utilizing a mobility peanut, roll out the erectors or focus on t-spine extension using the peanut.

There are a variety of exercises that can be used to mobilize the t-spine in extension and rotation. You can use everything from foam rollers and kettlebells to bars and bodyweight exercises.

Here are a variety of exercises that can be used for t-spine extension:

Here are some exercises that can be used for t-spine rotation:

These exercises can also be used as an assessment. When you find an athlete who struggles with these exercises, you can spend additional time with them to address the issue.  If you never perform these exercises, you may never know it’s an issue.

Hopefully, this gives you several options to include in your programming.  It’s not necessary to perform all of these exercises in every session, but inserting them into an overall plan will help you address these issues in a pro-active way.

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.

PNF Stretching – Joe Powell

PNF Stretching is one of the most effective, yet often overlooked, training techniques that coaches can employ to enhance flexibility.

For being recognized as an essential pillar of strength and conditioning, flexibility seems to lack the same attention and interest generated by other physical qualities that are developed through training. For example, look no further than the world PNF Stretchingof strength and conditioning on social media. You’ll be much more inclined to find strength coaches showcasing impressive feats of strength, power, speed or even balance.  How often do you see coaches talking about amazing flexibility routines?

It isn’t the fact that coaches don’t see value in increasing an athlete’s flexibility, it’s more to the effect that there are so many other athletic qualities that garner the spotlight, and thus have a higher emphasis within a training program. Luckily for us there are ways to improve flexibility that happen almost organically. Static stretching is universally known by athletes of all ages, and is typically found in some regard in any warm-up or cool down. A well-rounded strength training program featuring exercises performed throughout a full range of motion will even increase joint flexibility. However with flexibility, as well as other training effects like strength, power, speed, etc, in order to improve and display lasting effects, there needs to be a direct training stimulus occurring regularly.

So how can a coach utilize their allotted time with an athlete effectively and work to improve flexibility beyond simply static stretching at the end of a workout? Three letters: PNF.

What is PNF and how does it work?
Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation, or PNF, is a stretching technique that is used to improve muscle elasticity, and thus increase flexibility. For years PNF primarily existed in clinical settings, utilized by therapists to restore or increase joint range of motion in patients who were going through rehabilitation. Currently it has gained a lot of traction and is practiced within athletic and even therapeutic settings. The reason why it has gained popularity and should be included in a coach’s repertoire? It works. Research supports its effectiveness in increasing joint ROM.

While research has been conducted on PNF and its possible effectiveness for decades, it is still ongoing to determine what the exact mechanisms behind this form of stretching are. Four theoretical physiological mechanisms for increasing range of motion exist. They are: autogenic inhibition, reciprocal inhibition, stress relaxation, and the gate control theory. These four mechanisms are reflexes that occur when the golgi tendon organs in the tendons of the agonist or antagonist muscle detect harmful stimuli. Between them, these four theoretical mechanisms likely define why increases in joint range of motion are seen when using PNF.

There are two methods of PNF that are typically the focal points of any research on the topic. These two methods are also most commonly practiced in the athletic, clinical and therapeutic realms. They are known as the “contract-relax method” (CR) and the “contract-relax-agonist-contract method” (CRAC).

Contract-Relax Method (CR):
1. The target muscle is stretched and held passively
2. An isometric contraction of the target muscle is subsequently held for an allotted time
3. The target muscle relaxes and is re-stretched passively.

Contract-Relax-Antagonist-Contract Method (CRAC):
1. The target muscle is stretched and held passively
2. An isometric contraction of the target muscle is subsequently held for an allotted time
3. The antagonist of the target muscle is subsequently contracted while the target muscle is passively stretched

When performed regularly, PNF has been shown to have a positive effect on active and passive range of motions. This occurs by increasing the length of the muscle while also increasing neuromuscular efficiency. These results can be seen in healthy individuals, but also in those going through a rehab program to regain strength and ROM after sustaining soft tissue damage.

PNF Guidelines
The manner in which PNF is performed greatly dictates the results yielded. Just like any training program or exercise prescription, there are guidelines to follow that will enhance results and prevent any decrements in performance.

When to Perform PNF
Studies have shown that in order to increase muscular performance, PNF needs to be performed after exercise, or without exercise. However, when completed prior to exercise, doing a bout of PNF stretching will actually decrease performance in maximal effort exercises. Therefore, PNF is best utilized when placed directly after a lifting/conditioning session, post practice, during an athlete’s downtime (ie. Before bed) or on a true rest day. The research states that it is in the athlete and coach’s best interest to avoid using PNF in any capacity before a game, practice, lift, or conditioning session. When performed before any of these events, there is evidence of decreased performance in anything where maximal muscular effort is required, such as during sprinting, plyometrics, weight lifting, etc.

How to Perform PNF
Just like resistance training, results from PNF stretching can differ depending upon how it’s administered. While the passive stretch will differ depending upon the flexibility levels of each individual, it is important to give guidance on how much of an isometric contraction is given, as well as the duration of each stretch and contraction. The isometric contraction given by the individual being stretched can be 100% maximal, however if this is the case the athlete must be aware that muscles soreness and a potential contraction induced injury is possible. Giving a high, yet sub-maximal effort is recommended. In a healthy individual around 80-90% effort will suffice, and with an injured individual the contraction needs to be more individualized based upon nature of the injury as well as pain tolerance.

The typical time spent passively stretching an athlete when using PNF will range from about 6-10 seconds, where as the muscle contraction can produce effects when held anywhere from 3-10 seconds. The literature states that 6 seconds is preferred and will yield the appropriate response. Consistency and simplicity with athletes is crucial, so whatever time frame parameters are chosen need to be kept and utilized. As far as how many repetitions or bouts of PNF per muscle group are recommended will depend upon the individual, yet three seems to be an effective and appropriate number. After three repetitions, the ROM that is “unlocked” decreases significantly and the athlete has reached their so called finish. This ROM can improve but each rep seems to access around 15-20% increases in ROM and those increases just simply cannot keep occurring after each rep.

There will be varied affects when performing PNF, and while many stem from controllable variables such as the intensity and timing of the contractions and stretches, some changes in ROM will also depend on biological age, training age, and gender. The best results will come from a properly administered protocol that occurs several times a week.

Where to Perform PNF
PNF can be used on many muscle groups, however some remain easier to administer than others. As mentioned simplicity is key and it’s crucial to remember that majority of strength and conditioning professionals are not therapists. Majority of the following don’t require additional set-up, however if access to a massage/therapy table or anything to elevate the athlete off of the ground may make some muscle groups, like the hip flexors, more accessible.

Common Muscle Groups
• Hamstrings
• Quadriceps
• Hip Flexors
• Hip External Rotators
• Hip Internal Rotators
• Calf muscles
• Shoulder External Rotators
• Shoulder Internal Rotators
• Lat/Upper Back
• Chest Muscles

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

Competence: Building Relationships & Buy-In – Jared Markiewicz

In the first installment of this mini-series surrounding the Self Determination theory, we discussed using relatedness to better motivate your staff, athletes you coach and structuring a system so you can teach your staff how to better motivate athletes.  It’s highly recommended to go over Part 1 first, so take a few minutes to review that if you haven’t already.  

The second part of this mini-series focuses on competency and using it in the same way to drive motivation. So let’s dive in!

Competence: Coach to Staff

Motivating your staff to continually improve can be challenging at times. They may seek out education on a regular basis,  but the question is: How do they actually take what they learned and apply it?

Our solution for a few years now has been a weekly “Trainer Talk”

It occurs every Thursday and all coaches are expected to attend or have a damn good reason why they can’t be there. At the beginning of every quarter, each coach chooses one week in which they will present on a topic of their choice.

Having a set date early in the quarter allows the coach the ability to discuss:

  1. Key topics in our training systems or the industry
  2. Key takeaways from clinics/workshops recently attended
  3. Specific topics of interest that can evolve our training programs 

Once they get comfortable, it allows them an opportunity to teach everyone on staff, head coach included.  As a result, when a coach who has largely been in the student role is given the teacher role, motivation skyrockets!

Additionally, it gives our coaches the ability to seek out training philosophies that excite them and then collectively think tank on how we could implement pieces into what we already do.

Action Step: Implement a version of “Trainer Talk” with your staff at least 1x/month that involves your entire coaching staff.  

Initially, it might be difficult to get volunteers to step into the teaching role so I suggest starting with a mini TED talk day where you and a few other coaches present short education pieces. 

Goal: Bring to light the vast competencies on your staff to foster growth and development of professional knowledge.

Competence: Coach to Athlete

What would your answer be if someone asked you what your biggest strength is athletically? Harder yet, your biggest weakness?

Tough questions, right? 

Self-awareness is such an important part of any athlete’s ability to achieve the best they are capable of. 

Asking difficult questions like this during the initial conversation with an athlete provides 3 advantages:

  1. Create a framework of process vs. outcome based goal setting
  2. Recognize who they are as an athlete and develop a continuous improvement mentality in ALL facets of athleticism and sport skill
  3. Help them understand what they excel at, while recognizing other teammates likely excel at something different, catalyzing high level teamwork

As a coach, understanding their answers can provide a foundation to build an individual’s motivation while training.

During training, we can coach an athlete up on how a particular program or movement will help them overcome their weaknesses. Make sure when you reference this, it’s about them getting better, not matching those that already excel. 

More importantly, when they are performing something they excel at, empower them to be a leader. They have the competence, so acknowledge it and encourage them to help teammates and lead by example. 

Action Step: Implement a question or series of questions early on in the process with a young athlete. The big key here is to keep revisiting it. Part of self-awareness for a young athlete is the coach reinforcing competencies. 

Goal: Improve self-awareness for your athletes

**If you coach in a team setting, asking these questions will provide you the knowledge to position athletes in a role they will be comfortable with. Then you have set them up to thrive individually and collectively!

Competence: Staff to Athlete

Martial arts has this down to a science: if you achieve a set series of skills and can demonstrate them repeatedly, you will earn the next belt. 

Why is this such a motivator?

  1. It’s cool as heck to progress to the next level, developing a sense of PRIDE
  2. Athletes want to keep growing and learning by continuing their progress to the coveted Black belt!

At FIT, we use colored rubber bands in a similar fashion.

Our athletes need to demonstrate competency and proficiency of the core lifts: bench, squat, press, deadlift and clean, to earn the next band.

Testing week is exciting and motivating because if they have put the work in, there is a good to great chance they will level up in the band they have. 

Consistency builds competence, building performance enhancement!

HOWEVER, not all athletes are motivated by this. Many are, but almost every group will have one outlier, maybe more. 

That’s the human element we as coaches have to ALWAYS take into account.

So engage and ask those athletes how they are motivated. And then follow through on that during testing periods. (Just don’t let them tell you they are motivated by money, I only fell for that once!)

Ultimately, it’s about the athlete visualizing a path to “level up” and working to achieve that. Athletes will buy into a good training program over time, but it’s helpful early on to give them opportunities to achieve success, via bands or belts or whatever. We have found this significantly helps motivation when they plateau slightly or even lose some strength during a sport season.

Action Step:  Enlist the help of your staff to identify what structure already exists and figure out where there is the potential for levels or progressions to be created. It’s highly likely you already do something where you have pre-requisite steps that must be completed to get access to doing a movement. For example, to power clean, an athlete must demonstrate the ability to deadlift well and show the ability to get into a good front squat rack position and do a balanced front squat.

Then display it prominently to your athletes and give them SOMETHING as recognition of leveling up. It can be really simple until you get great buy in from them and your coaches.

Goal: Improve ADHERENCE to the training and therefore the speed of skill development by formally recognizing an athlete’s ongoing mastery.

 

jared markiewiczJared Markiewicz is the founder and CEO of Functional Integrated Training, in Madison, WI.  Jared has worked with a wide array of athletes including middle schoolers, collegiate and professional athletes, as well as adults – all looking to find the best version of themselves.  He sits on the IYCA Advisory Board, has gone through many IYCA certifications, and is a regular contributor and speaker for the IYCA.

Jared holds a Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology with an emphasis in Exercise and Movement Science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He’s also a Certified Personal Trainer through the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM-CPT), an Advanced Sport Performance Coach through USA Weightlifting, a Level 2 Functional Movement Screen Specialist, a Precision Nutrition Level 1 Coach (PN1) and a golf fitness instructor through Titleist Performance Institute.

 

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.

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.

Relatedness: Building Relationships & Buy-In – Jared Markiewicz

Setting the Foundation for Motivating Athletes

I want to walk you through a situation that happens to me often in the gym:

I see my athlete, Drake, and his heels are coming off the floor as he transitions from the eccentric to the concentric portion of the squat.

So I cue him: “drive down through the floor to stand up.”

Now I walk away to coach someone else since his set is done. 

A few minutes later, I am watching from a distance and I see after his second rep, his heels come off the floor. But then rep 3, 4 and 5, he adjusts and plants that foot hard into the floor, not only coming up more balanced, but faster!

I’m PUMPED!!!!

So after the set I go over, give him a big high five and ask, “Man Drake, did you feel that? You came up so fast and stable, that was great!”

And he goes, “Um yeah I guess I felt that…”

Ever happen to you?

Here’s the thing, almost no one we train is going to get as excited about squatting or a perfectly executed wall drill as we are.

But motivation, or “buy-in” as it’s been termed, is CRITICAL if we want our athletes to excel and stick with us for the long haul.

And if we want to improve “buy-in,” with ANYONE, we need to satisfy three components on a regular basis: relatedness, competency and autonomy.

  • Relatedness: our ability to connect with the individual’s interests, desired outcomes and pain points
  • Competency: providing the structure to develop knowledge and skill sets beyond their current baseline, ideally with carryover to performance and resiliency
  • Autonomy: establishing guidelines and boundaries so the individual can take ownership in achieving the desired outcome

These basic needs were recognized by Dr. Edward Deci and Dr. Richard Ryan, as important factors for increasing motivation levels in individuals and necessary for optimal growth and function. (see Self-Determination Theory)

For the typical coach, you are going to have three scenarios where it is your job to make sure motivation levels are consistently improving i.e. “increasing buy-in”:

  • Coach to Staff
  • Coach to Athlete
  • Staff to Athlete

This short video will help explain these concepts and scenarios, and set up a series on how to implement this information.

In the following video,s and the upcoming series on this topic, I will walk you through some simple action steps and the goals associated to create better buy-in.  We will explore the differences between how you will approach each of the scenarios (coach-staff, coach-athlete, staff-athlete) for the three components (relatedness, competency, autonomy) so that you can slowly apply these techniques for each situation.

By taking and applying these concepts, you will develop stronger, long-lasting relationships with both your athletes and staff – the key to making a big impact on our industry!

Let’s begin with the concept of Relatedness.

Relatedness: Coach to Staff

When creating “buy in” from your staff, it’s important for them to understand your past: where have you been, what have you done and what have you learned.

You want them to know you can relate to them. More importantly, you want to shorten the learning curve.

You have career capital to call upon, both good and bad. Give them a jump start by emulating your good experiences and applying the lessons behind the bad ones. As the Golden Rule states, “do unto others as you would have done unto you.”

And since we are talking the Golden Rule, listening and learning is a two-way street! EVERYONE loves to tell their story. So ask where they came from, what they have done and what they have learned. You will go further faster than ever before.

Action Step: Consistent conversations with your team or staff. Schedule them if necessary. We call ours “Huddles”

Goal: Learn and apply the knowledge you have gained to strengthen the common ground you all stand on TOGETHER!

Relatedness: Coach to Athlete

Scenario #1:

Coach – “Hey, how was school today Camryn?”

Camryn – “Good” –without ever looking up from her phone…

Scenario #2:

Coach – “Hey Camryn, I see you are on your phone, who is your favorite person to follow on Instagram?

Camryn – “Huh? You really want to know? Um, well it’s this hockey player but you don’t probably know her”

Coach – “Probably, but if you like her, I’m curious why. What makes her interesting to follow?”

Pretty easy to see which series of questions is going to stimulate a conversation and develop a level of relatedness not often achieved between adult and teenager.

When conversing with your athletes, you have to meet them where they are. We are NOT working with mini adults, despite what they might want you to believe!

Asking questions relevant to things they care about may take some work on your part. But aren’t the greatest teachers and parents making that kind of effort everyday? Why wouldn’t you, if you are a great coach?

Additionally, technology interrupts every social setting a teenager encounters. So when you do get an answer from them, give your undivided attention and ask follow up questions. You will be amazed how effective this can be!

Action Step: Have five go-to questions to create a conversation (adjust and replace as needed)

Goal: Achieve a response that leads to a brief conversation (at least) from all of your athletes in a reasonable amount of time. If possible, jot down some notes to study and recall later.

For some coaches with only a few athletes, the goal above might mean you need to get creative and you should have a conversation like this multiple times a week. For other coaches, who are in charge of 200 athletes across various sports, this may take some time.

Know your situation and adapt to it!

Relatedness: Staff to Athlete

“Oh man, Coach Jared is training us today! Where’s Coach Max, he’s way more fun!”

Music to my ears ☺

As you transition off the training floor, you don’t need to go out of your way to be an a$$hole coach. Let’s face it, there are plenty of a$$holes in this world already.

Instead, if you empower your staff to develop stronger relationships with your athletes, the above scenario will become more and more common over time.

So how do we get through the double whammy of getting coaches to “buy in” to the idea of getting our athletes “bought in?”

My answer: coCompetition and prizes!

Action Step: Create a challenge where the staff member is expected to get and recall responses from Athletes. To get started, you need three things

What your staff values for prizes
Parameters set: time, amount of touches/recalls, information expected
Opportunity to test and measure it!

For Example:

Performance coaching staff loves burritos (wait what coaches DON’T love burritos!) So the prize is a $25 gift card to Chipotle
Parameters:
Duration: Month of June
Info: Favorite pet/Favorite show/Favorite food
Goal: Ask 75% of their athletes (you calculate the number for them) and expect them to recall five of them at the end of the month.
Give them a spreadsheet to write these down but tell them they can track the info however they like
Test it: Any coach that gets all 75% and recalls the five randomly selected athletes gets a gift card to Chipotle

Goal: Increase trust level between athletes and staff without your involvement.

These videos and descriptions should give you a fairly thorough understanding of how to integrate the concept of Relatedness to multiple situations.  Stay tuned for the rest of this series when we address Competence and Autonomy.

 

jared markiewiczJared Markiewicz is the founder and CEO of Functional Integrated Training, in Madison, WI.  Jared has worked with a wide array of athletes including middle schoolers, collegiate and professional athletes, as well as adults – all looking to find the best version of themselves.  He sits on the IYCA Advisory Board, has gone through many IYCA certifications, and is a regular contributor and speaker for the IYCA.

Jared holds a Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology with an emphasis in Exercise and Movement Science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He’s also a Certified Personal Trainer through the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM-CPT), an Advanced Sport Performance Coach through USA Weightlifting, a Level 2 Functional Movement Screen Specialist, a Precision Nutrition Level 1 Coach (PN1) and a golf fitness instructor through Titleist Performance Institute.

 

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.

Is Olympic Lifting a MUST? – Jim Kielbaso

Power/explosiveness is one of the most important attributes a strength & conditioning professional (SCP) can develop in an athlete. One of the most important decisions the SCP can make is how power development will be accomplished in his/her program. For years, coaches have debated over the need for Olympic lifting to develop power.

Proponents of Olympic lifting cited huge power outputs and the importance of power being generated with high force production, or against high external loads. Loading the triple extension in an “athletic” movement like an O-lift was a staple of many programs.

On the flip side, other coaches cited the huge power outputs generated from plyometric exercises and saw no need to teach their athletes “another sport” as part of their training. These coaches discussed the difficulties of teaching such complex movements to young athletes or large groups, and felt like unrestricted movements (like jumping, sprinting, etc.) were much more “athletic” than O-lifts.

For a long time, SCP’s dug their heels in and defended their positions.

Fortunately, the debate may be over. Both coaches and researchers have found that, while Olympic lifting produces huge power outputs, there are alternatives that produce just as much power and are easier to teach. We’ve also found that bodyweight movements are a critical piece of the puzzle for many athletes.

It seems that a combination of methods is the key to developing a complete power production profile in athletes.

Several years ago, researchers found that the mid-thigh clean pull (without a catch), produced the highest power outputs of any Olympic lifting variation (Comfort et al 2011). This sparked more investigation and others found that both the hex power pull and weighted squat jump (weight held at the side or with weighted vests) also produced power outputs higher than full cleans or snatches (Swinton 2011), and allowed athletes to develop power against higher loads than just plyometrics.

Here is a video of a high pull from the floor. The mid-thigh clean pull would simply start from the hang position instead of from the floor.

Here is an example of a hex bar (or Trap Bar) high pull:

The research certainly did not show that Olympic lifts were bad or unhelpful. Not even close. In fact, the mid-thigh clean had very high power outputs as well, showing that it is a very viable method of generating power. While the full clean from the floor had lower power outputs than other variations, it still generated A LOT of power and is a good alternative for certain athletes and coaches.

At the same time, the research has found that unloaded exercises develop a slightly different kind of power needed for athletes who don’t have to produce power against an external resistance, i.e. sports that require athletes to move other athletes.

British researcher Paul Comfort recently started showing that different power alternatives should be used for different parts of the power continuum (light/unloaded up to very heavy/loaded movements) and has suggested that using combinations of light, medium and heavy movements may create the most complete “power profile.” (Comfort 2017) He has also suggested that coaches remember the principle of specificity, and use loads that most closely resemble the requirements of the sport. For example, a track athlete may not have much of a need for high external loads, while a football lineman has a much higher need for these variations.

For the coach who considers Olympic lifting dangerous or isn’t skilled at the intricacies of teaching them, the weighted squat jump, mid-thigh clean pull, power shrug and hex bar pulls offer excellent alternatives to full O-lifts. These exercises are typically much easier to teach athletes because they do not require the catch phase of the lifts.

For Olympic lifting aficionados, it appears as though adding some bodyweight plyometrics and moderately resisted (about 50% of a clean 1RM) exercises may help round out their athlete’s power profile. These coaches may also want to use the mid-thigh clean pull or hex bar pulls for their heavy work because weights above the clean 1RM can be used, and they offer less risk if a heavy attempt is “missed.”

The bottom line is that we need to open our minds to everything that’s available and have a thorough understanding of how to develop athletes. Whether you choose to use Olympic lifts or not, you must understand the needs of each athlete and address them in the most appropriate way possible. After all, training isn’t about US, it’s about doing what’s right for the athlete’s you have the honor of working with.

 

Jim Kielbaso is the President of the IYCA and Director of the Total Performance Training Center in Wixom, MI.  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 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.

Narrow Your Niche, Increase Your Impact – Brett Klika

We’ve all heard the old adage “A Jack of all trades is a master of none”.

This holds true to nearly every aspect of life, including the role many of us have assumed as a youth strength and conditioning coach.

In becoming a youth coach, we’ve definitely narrowed down our focus of mastery. However, within “youth” there are now more varied needs than Youth Fitness Coachever. Sport coaches, classroom teachers, and parents are now looking for specific solutions to the specific needs of niche populations within youth.

These niche populations may not be served effectively under the “come all” strength and conditioning program model many offer within their facilities and institutions.  Strength and conditioning coaches willing to be in tune with, and master, solutions to specific needs within their community have an opportunity to change the message of their program from “We can help A child” to “We can help YOUR child”.

As you can see, the latter is a much stronger message and mission if I’m a parent or organization selecting a program for my young athlete(s).  This makes your program not merely “A” program available. It makes it “THE” program available for a specific demographic. The result is an ever-growing, long-term, successful program with a uniquely positive impact on the community.

Consider the 4 youth niches below that may represent underserved needs within your community.

5-8 Year Old Athletes

Despite the ages of 6-12 representing some of the most critical years for motor development, few quality development programs are available for the youngest cohort in this age range. There was a time that physical education took care of these kids, but statistics suggest that is no longer the case.

Many professionals shy away from working with young children due to inexperience, lack of patience with short attention spans, and children’s largely unfocused, endless energy. With proper training, resources, and experience however, this energy can fuel a fun and engaging program for this demographic of kids who need it the most.

While many shy away, tremendous opportunities exist for those who are knowledgeable, passionate, and focused on helping grade school age children.

Female Athletes

Fortunately, sports are not the “boys club” they once were. Sports participation amongst young women and girls is at an all-time high.  Despite this increase, young women’s access to quality strength and conditioning programs is often limited compared to their young male counterparts. Due to an inaccurate cultural convention, misinformed coaches, and a variety of other factors, strength training has not traditionally been embraced as part of young female athlete culture.

Coaches that create exclusive opportunities to educate young female athletes and their communities about the importance of strength training for performance and injury prevention have the opportunity to stand out in a crowded market.

Athletes with Special Needs

A growing number of youngsters are being diagnosed as “special needs” due to behavioral or developmental pathology. These kids benefit greatly from exercise programs, however, few coaches have experience or expertise with this demographic.

A variety of courses, certifications, and other educational opportunities are becoming available for those looking to help these kids.  Programs that specialize in working with athletes with autism, ADHD, and other special needs offer a much-needed service to an underserved population.

Homeschooled Children

Nearly 2 million children are homeschooled in the United States. These kids have standard academic requirements that include physical education. They also participate in sports. Parents of homeschooled children often struggle when it comes to creating a physical education curriculum for one child.

Additionally, homeschool parents are challenged with finding opportunities for their kids to socialize with other kids during school hours.

Coaches and facilities that are in tune with the needs of homeschooled kids and parents have an opportunity to offer a needed service with little to no market competition. Additionally, these kids are not bound by the hours of the typical academic day. Groups and classes can be run during the typically “slow” hours in the morning or early afternoon.  

Serving these special niches requires more than merely adding a class to your schedule. Parents, coaches and communities value experts. An expert will prompt a parent to overcome the barriers of money, transportation, and time to bring their child to a program.

If you are looking to grow your programs by becoming an expert that serves a niche, ask yourself these questions:

  1. What are the specific aspirations/fears of the parents/athletes associated with this niche?
  2. What education/experience is necessary to serve this niche?
  3. Why are you passionate and committed to serving this specific population?
  4. What are the needs outside of exercise that could be addressed with these kids/parents?
  5. What key organizations could you create a relationship with that could act as a referral or endorsement for your program?
  6. Who are others that have created programs for this specific demographic?

The answers to these questions can help you and your business increase your success and positive impact within your community.

 

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.

Empathy in Coaching – Jim Kielbaso

Many coaches pride themselves on having high expectations and holding athletes to them. Setting standards and holding athletes accountable is a great way to raise their levels of performance and maturity. But, as the concept of emotional intelligence (EQ) grows in the coaching world, we’re finding it more and more important to understand what’s underneath the way athletes act rather than always taking the “my way or the highway” approach.  While a balanced approach is optimal for most situations, it’s important to understand how EQ can positively contribute to many coaching situations.  

In Daniel Goleman’s book Working With Emotional Intelligence, he determined that there are five fundamental features of EQ, each with their own benefits:

  1. Self-awareness
  2. Self-regulation
  3. Empathy
  4. Motivation
  5. Social skills

While all of these are important, empathy may be the most difficult for coaches to utilize. To be empathetic means you are able to identify and understand others’ emotions i.e. imagining yourself in someone else’s position.  It does not mean you have to take on their feelings or change your expectations.  

Coaches often have a difficult time with this because we are focused on processes, strategies, solutions, and outcomes. Anything that might get in the way of progress is to be demolished so the goal can be accomplished. Having empathy seems like it’s going to slow everything down which often makes coaches feel like they’re lowering their standards. That’s a misapplication of empathy, and usually suggests a lack of understanding.

Let’s take a look at the benefits Goleman laid out and some ways he suggests for developing empathy (these have been altered slightly for coaches):

Benefits of empathy:

  • Provides you with an understanding of how an individual feels and why they behave in a certain way. As a result, your compassion and your ability to help someone increases because you respond genuinely to concerns.
  • Especially helpful when delivering constructive feedback.
  • Being empathetic shows your team that you care. For example, if a coach reacts angrily after finding out that an athlete has been arriving late because a family member is unwell, the team is likely to react negatively towards the coach. It would be more favorable for the coach to be understanding and agree on a plan of action with the athlete.
  • Athletes will respect you more and subsequently, performance, unity, and cohesiveness will improve.

How to develop empathy:

  • Imagine yourself in someone else’s position. Even if you have not experienced a similar situation, remember a situation where you have felt the same emotion an athlete is experiencing.
  • Practice listening without interrupting. This can be very difficult when you are angry, so self-control must be practiced.
  • Observe the athlete and try to gauge how they’re feeling.
  • Never ignore an athlete’s emotions, for example, if an athlete looks upset don’t disregard this – address it.
  • Try to understand first, rather than form a judgment immediately. For example, you may initially feel annoyed by an athlete who seems cold or disinterested. However, after discovering they suffer from social anxiety you may feel more sympathetic, which can help you communicate more effectively with that person.
  • To communicate your empathy, keep your body language open and regulate your voice to show your sincerity. This does not mean you take on the feelings; you simply understand them.

Because empathy seems “soft” to many coaches, it can feel like you’re giving up a lot of control and lowering expectations. Coaches often (incorrectly) assume that they have to take on the burden of an athlete’s emotions. This is not the case at all.

Understanding feelings and taking them on are two very different things. Coaches should strive to understand, but you rarely want to take on the emotions of others. That’s not only unhealthy, it will cloud judgement and your ability to lead and make decisions.

While you’re understanding one athlete, you also have to be aware that the rest of the group still needs you, so you have to learn how to address emotions without disrupting everything else around you. Sometimes you’ll need to wait until there is a natural break in activity. Other times, you can pull an athlete aside while the others are completing a task that doesn’t require as much direct supervision.

Coaches also make the incorrect assumption that they have to fix everyone’s problems if they listen to them. Again, this is not the case. Understanding emotions does not mean you are responsible for fixing whatever created them. This can be difficult because coaches love to solve problems, but that is not usually recommended.  In fact, it is often appropriate to explain to an athlete that you are not there to “solve” their problem.  Instead, you may be able to adjust your approach based on the knowledge you have about what they are dealing with.  

Having empathy may be most important with younger athletes who have yet to experience true “ignition.”  Ignition is essentially a potent experience that causes a person to fall in love with their passion.  For athletes, that can be experiencing success, having fun, or meeting someone impactful.  Daniel Coyle wrote about ignition in his book The Talent Code, and wrote an excellent essay called Rules of Ignition that is a highly recommended quick-read if you’re not familiar with the concept.  

Once a child falls in love with a sport, he/she will go to great lengths to participate and improve their skills.  This is what drove Wayne Gretzky to practice shooting hour after hour or Magic Johnson to dribble and play from sun-up to sun-down.  Unfortunately, most young athletes never experience this.  Without a passion for a sport, it makes it very difficult for kids to fully enjoy practicing and makes it nearly impossible for them to spend the energy necessary to achieve great success.  

When we recognize that an athlete has not experienced this kind of ignition, we may be able to take a slightly different approach than we would if the athlete was 100% bought-in.  Because we know how important passion is to athletic success, we may even try to be the catalyst that creates that passion.  Simply knowing that an 11 year old athlete had a bad experience with a sport may be enough for us to realize how important it is to create an exceptional experience in order to get the “train back on the tracks.”  A properly timed word of encouragement, an honest compliment, or a little extra time spent 

On the other hand, knowing that a 15 year old athlete is fully engaged and motivated may prompt us to turn up the intensity and raise the demands in order to accelerate progress. 

Other times, a good coach can use EQ to actually motivate an athlete.  By putting yourself in the athlete’s shoes, you’ll have a better understanding of what might motivate them.  You’ll know what to say, how to say it, and when to say it.  Rather than using generic motivational statements, you’ll be able to personalize the message because you’ll see each athlete as more than a science experiment. 

Seeing the whole person through EQ allows a coach to use a much wider range of coaching, teaching, and motivational tools.  It will help strengthen relationships and open up more opportunities to make a positive impact.  Taking the time to develop empathy and EQ can pay off in ways that other coaches will never experience, and should be seen as being just as important as technical skills.  Practice the tips above, and over time, you’ll notice positive changes in both yourself and your athletes.  

6 Reasons Your Athletes Shouldn’t Deadlift – Phil Hueston

Deadlifts are the worst. Let’s face it, everyone hates them. They’re not fun. They’re not cool. They’re hard. Doing them is just a grind.

I think your athletes should skip the deadlifts. Find something better, easier and cooler to do in their place like some fancy, new piece of equipment or the sexy new exercise variation you just saw on Instagram.

Just don’t include the deadlift in your athlete’s training plans. Here’s the reasons why your athletes shouldn’t deadlift.

1. Everyone loves an anterior pelvic tilt – The glute and hamstring activation stimulated by the deadlift helps correct anterior pelvic tilt. But why would we want that? The resulting lumbar lordosis from an anterior pelvic tilt places your athlete at greater risk of low back strain or injury. Of course, anterior pelvic tilt also results in tight hip flexors and dominant quads. Those will help prevent the glutes from doing their job and allow your athlete to enjoy some knee pain and maybe even a serious knee injury.

2. Why prevent injuries? – While we’re on the subject of injuries, I think we can all agree that athletes love to spend time on the trainer’s table or the sidelines. And what athlete doesn’t love doctor visits, MRI’s, surgery and long stints in rehab?

Deadlifts strengthen the core. We know that. But they also assist in strengthening anti-rotation by activating the obligues, deep abdominal stabilizers and quadratus lumborum. Add to that the improved strength of the spinal erectors and multifidi that comes from the increased requirement for spinal stacking support and the deadlift has real potential to prevent back injuries.

Deadlifts improve glute strength, leading directly to improved knee stability and fewer injuries in that joint. But they also reduce the likelihood of injuries in the shoulder girdle as a result of the high degree of shoulder traction needed to manage the weight. The increased grip strength and activation of the thoracic spine also aids in the improvement of shoulder health and injury prevention. Why would we want any of this?

3. Who needs a foundation for other lifts and movements? – Skip the deadlift and move directly to snatches and power cleans. No hinge improvement necessary. The athlete will figure it out on their own eventually.

Conversely, if you teach proper hinge technique and improve pull strength from the floor, when your athlete does move to Olympic lifts, he or she will make everyone else feel bad about their anemic training weights and spastic looking lift technique. And we don’t want to make anyone feel bad, now do we? Trigger alert!

4. We don’t need a true measure of total body strength – We can just guesstimate how strong your athletes are overall. After all, nothing shows off total body strength like a single leg dumbbell curl, right?

5. We don’t want athletic skills to improve too rapidly – After all, rapid gains in vertical leap, broad jumps, acceleration or deceleration/direction change just make it look like your athlete is either showing off or cheating.

While we’re on the subject, I think your athletes can live without large-scale improvements in sports skills like throwing, shooting, tackling and checking, too.

6. We don’t need any one exercise to own the title “best and most versatile exercise” – I mean seriously, do your athletes really need one exercise that trains just about every joint and every major muscle group?

Deadlifts are highly effective at improving posterior chain strength and activation. Not only would this level up your athlete’s deceleration and acceleration skills, it would help them rehab and correct a whole collection of imbalances, kinetic chain dysfunctions and deficiencies.

Since they have lower compressive stress on the knees than squats and no negative impact on other joints when done correctly, you’d be much better off choosing the cooler looking exercises instead. After all, your athletes need to post all their training on “the ‘gram,” don’t they?

Your athletes certainly don’t need an exercise that can be adapted to virtually any body type and adjusted in intensity and volume to meet a variety of training goals.

So it should be clear by now that your athletes really don’t need to deadlift. Besides, we’ve all heard that deadlifts are dangerous, yada, yada.

You may also have noticed that I’ve been arguing that your athletes don’t need to and shouldn’t deadlift. Because despite my arguments about your athletes and deadlifts, my athletes will continue to do them. They’ll also continue to outperform athletes who don’t, as well as stay healthier than those who don’t.

If you heed my really terrible advice in this piece, my athletes will have less to worry about if they ever meet your athletes in competition. Let’s hope, for the sake of your athletes, that you ignore my advice and let your athletes deadlift. Frequently.

Keep the faith and keep after it!

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

 

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

Progressive Overload: Training vs. Exercise – Jim Kielbaso

The principle of progressive overload is perhaps the most important concept for coaches to understand when developing athletes.  It is one of the most basic differences between training and simply exercising. Unfortunately, this concept is often misunderstood and misapplied, especially when working with athletes under 18 years old.  While developing athletes can be a very complex undertaking, I’d like to simplify the concept of progressive overload and discuss how to most appropriately apply it as part of an overall training program.

The most simplistic way to explain progressive overload is to slowly challenge yourself to do more than you’re currently capable of doing.  Without some system of progression, we’re just burning calories and making athletes tired. Sure, they may benefit from exercise, but the process of training or developing athletes should be more systematic so they progress in the safest and most efficient manner possible.

The variables that can be manipulated when applying overload include:

  • Frequency – how often the stimulus is applied
  • Intensity – either the percentage an athlete’s maximum capability or the degree of effort that goes into an exercise
  • Duration – how long the workout takes
  • Volume – the total amount of work performed.  This is generally represented as the weight x reps for strength training, but it can also be represented by the total amount of sets, number of reps or distance traveled.

Most of this article will focus on progressive overload for strength development, but speed & agility will also be discussed briefly.

Linear Progression

The essence of progressive overload is that your body adapts to a stimulus and slowly grows stronger or more efficient, depending on the goal.  For example, if you can currently do 10 push-ups in a row, you would try to do 11.  You would try to complete 11 push-ups until you can achieve that goal.  The stimulus of attempting to do 11 forces the body to adapt and grow stronger.  When you can complete 11, you begin working toward 12.

This is a very simple version of linear progression.  Linear, meaning one variable, constantly moving in one direction.  Many experts turn their noses up at this basic concept because progress eventually stagnates with most people, but it is a simple way to understand the underpinnings of progressive overload.

The story of Milo of Croton is another simple example of linear progression.  Milo was a 6th-century Greek wrestler who picked up and shouldered a young calf when he was a young man.  He picked up the calf every day as it slowly became a full-grown bull.  Because he had lifted it every day, he gradually became stronger and was able to impress crowds of people by picking up bulls as an adult.  The slowly increasing size of the bull provided a constant challenge that his body adapted to, and the concept of progressive overload was born.

Many athletes were developed through rough versions of this basic concept, and this was the inspiration for the adjustable barbell where small weights could be added to a bar in order to provide increasingly challenging stress.

Many coaches still take advantage of this simple strategy with relatively new trainees as they have athletes perform as many reps as possible of a single set of certain exercises.  The results are recorded each day, and they are asked to “beat their score” in the next training session.  This has the potential to turn into high-rep sets, but it works well when there is limited equipment and/or beginner lifters who will respond to even the lowest volumes.  A basic workout for a young athlete could be one set of each of the following:

  1. Push-ups
  2. Chin-ups
  3. Sit-ups
  4. Single-leg squats
  5. Goblet squat
  6. Hanging leg raise
  7. Curl & press with dumbbells
  8. Inverted row

Something as simple as this routine could be a great way to teach beginner lifters how to slowly progress, execute quality reps, and push through the discomfort of strength exercises.  Many coaches use a “20-rep set” where they prescribe one set of 20 reps of each exercise.  Instead of giving the athlete a weight that can be lifted 20 times, they pick a weight that can only be lifted 10-12 times.  Once fatigue sets in and no more reps can be completed, the athlete puts the weight down, rests for a few seconds, then attempts a few more reps.  This is repeated until the athlete has performed all 20 reps.  Only the first “set” (when the weight was put down the first time) is recorded, but the athlete stays with the exercise until all 20 reps are performed.  If the athlete performed 13 reps on the first set today, the goal is 14 at the next session.

This is a way to utilize linear progression but also add extra volume to the workout because the athlete is essentially performing multiple sets.  When the athlete can complete all 20 reps in one set, weight is added, a new exercise is prescribed or something else changes to increase the demands placed on the athlete.

Double Progression

This system gets at the essence of the “double-progression” method of progressive overload in which the resistance is increased when a certain number of reps is attained.  A typical example would be to select a range of 8-12 reps.  You could choose a weight that could be lifted at least 8 times, but no more than 12.  Let’s say you can complete 10 reps today, but cannot do 11.  In the next training session, you attempt to complete 11 reps.  Once 11 reps can be completed, you attempt 12 reps at the next training session.  When 12 reps can finally be completed (which is the top of the rep range we selected), the weight is increased the smallest amount possible, and you start the process over again, gradually trying to perform one more rep than you were able to get in the last workout.

This is an excellent way to help young athletes choose appropriate weights for their workouts, which is actually a very common issue in many weight rooms.  Beginner lifters usually have no idea what an appropriate weight would be for each exercise, so they end up choosing weights based on what others are using.  Testing is another way to help athletes choose weights for certain exercises, where a 1RM is established and percentages of that number are prescribed.  But, this takes a lot of time, can be dangerous with inexperienced lifters, and often isn’t very accurate with young lifters.  It’s also difficult (and not recommended) to establish 1RM’s for every exercise.

So, this system of gradually increasing the number of reps performed, then slowly increasing the weight, is a great way to help athletes learn how to choose appropriate weights.

Multi-Set Double Progression

Another way to implement this system is by using multiple sets of each exercise.  Using multiple sets gives athletes more opportunities to practice technique, and the additional volume can provide a great training stimulus, especially for athletes who cannot push themselves hard enough to get maximum benefit from a single set.

In this case, prescribe a number of sets and reps for each exercise, for example, 3 sets of 8 reps or 3 x 8.  In this example, athletes will use the same weight for all three sets and attempt to perform 8 reps on each set.  When all 3 sets of 8 reps can be completed, the athlete gets to move the weight up the smallest amount possible at the next workout.  If an athlete using 100 lbs can only perform 8 reps on the first set, 7 on the second, and 6 on the third, he/she will stick with 100 lbs on the next workout.  

Many coaches will encourage athletes to perform as many reps as possible on the final set as a way to challenge athletes to push a little harder.  This will also help you determine when they’re ready to increase the weight and how much the increase should be.  In the above example, an athlete who performs all three sets of 8, but cannot do 9 reps on the last set, should increase the weight the smallest amount possible.  On the other hand, an athlete who performs 15 reps on the final set is probably ready for a slightly larger increase in order to provide a more appropriate stimulus.  

Different versions of this scheme have been used by intermediate and advanced lifters for many years with exceptional results.  The idea is that the first set should end up being fairly easy, and allows for some technique practice.  The second set becomes more challenging, and the third set is where the hardest work is done.  

It’s also important for athletes to record their results somewhere so they can look back at how many reps they performed in the last workout as a way to set goals for the current session.  Most young athletes aren’t going to remember they did 7 reps on the second set of bench press with 115 lbs.  Most young athletes already have enough on their minds, so that needs to be recorded.  A workout card or training software like TrainHeroic are great options for recording workout results.  

Super-compensation

Teaching athletes about progressive overload is also an excellent way to teach the value of slow progression so they begin to understand the concepts of gradual adaptation, recovery, and super-compensation.  Many young athletes think that they are going to get big and strong very quickly.  Teaching them the value of consistency and gradual adaptation is an excellent concept for young athletes to understand so they begin to value small gains and how to schedule their workouts.

The graph below should be drawn out and explained to every athlete beginning a strength training program so they have a basic understanding of how the process works and why consistent training is so important.

Teaching athletes about progressive overload also gives coaches the opportunity to explain the value of recovery in the process of adaptation.  Understanding how the cycle of stimulation – recovery – adaptation – super-compensation works is an invaluable lesson for athletes to learn.  Most young athletes simply do not understand this cycle, and they end up either training inconsistently or too often.  This also gives us the opportunity to explain how performance training fits into their overall schedule with sports practices, competitions, and other commitments.  They need to see that all stress should be accounted for so they can create schedules that lead to progress in all areas.

Speed, Plyometrics, and Conditioning

While most of this discussion has been about strength training, progression should also be used with speed training, plyometrics, and conditioning. With plyometrics and speed training, progression is not quite as simple and easy to explain because technique and volume are so important to progression. You’re not adding another rep in every workout or increasing the number of repetitions every day. You can learn more about this type of progression in the IYCA’s Certified Speed & Agility Specialist course.

Conditioning programs are a little easier to quantify because coaches can easily manipulate variables such as number of reps, work;rest ratios, and total volume to gradually increase the demands placed on an athlete. It’s important to gradually build this volume rather than creating dramatic spikes just to make it extra difficult. Of course, there can always be a case made for making training difficult, but coaches need to be aware of how athletes will respond to large spikes in volume or intensity, and ensure that there is adequate recovery after this kind of session.

Periodization

As athletes get more advanced with their training, or enter their competitive seasons, we need to think about the concept of periodization.  Through the years, I’ve seen coaches try to overcomplicate periodization and progressive overload with crazy set/rep schemes, charts, graphs, spreadsheets, and percentages that require a calculator.  While certain systems of periodization can get very complicated for advanced athletes, we can (and should) keep things more simplified for most athletes who haven’t even entered college.

Most of these athletes would be considered beginners in the world of strength training, and some could be considered intermediate lifters at the very most.  These trainees don’t need overly complicated programs, but we should definitely change the demands placed on them throughout the year.  Off-season training programs (when athletes are not engaged in daily sport practice) can include a higher volume of strength training and the overall demands can be greater.  During the pre-season, the amount of conditioning and sport-specific work will increase.  Once daily practice begins during the in-season phase of the year, it’s important that we continue to train, but in a way that does not induce unnecessary fatigue.

This phase of training is difficult for both coaches and athletes to understand.  Both groups often feel like brief training sessions are difficult to schedule and not worth it.  Education is crucial here so they understand the importance of maintaining their strength gains without overly taxing their bodies.  Inducing unnecessary fatigue will have a negative impact on both practice and competition performance, so the volume and intensity will be reduced.  For example, an in-season athlete who has been training consistently for several months may still be able to squat during the season, but instead of doing multiple sets at a high rate of exertion, he/she may do only 1-2 sets, stopping each set before maximal fatigue sets in. This athlete also won’t train as often during the in-season phase. 1-2 training sessions per week are about all that’s possible during a demanding season.

Once athletes have a substantial training base, periodization becomes much more critical because experienced lifters will not make progress as easily as beginners. Complete books have been written on periodization, and many popular training programs have been devised, but most of these programs are unnecessary until athletes have trained consistently (without interruption) for at least a year and are no longer seeing significant progress. That doesn’t often happen before college, so we can do a much better with young athletes by simply monitoring training volume and intensity and understanding that strength training is meant to supplement a sport, not be the sport by itself.

Keep It Simple

When working with young or inexperienced athletes, it’s important for coaches to teach them about the training process so they have a better understanding of how they will make progress. Teaching athletes the basics of progressive overload, and using basic systems of progression, will give them an understandable framework in which to work from. They’ll be much better able to make consistent progress, choose appropriate weights, and train safely. They will also be much better prepared for more complex systems they may encounter if they advance in their athletic careers. It will also help them understand how to train for the rest of their lives.

Most coaches also see themselves as teachers or mentors, and teaching athletes the value of progression can be a gift that will pay dividends for the rest of an athlete’s life.

 
Jim Kielbaso is the President of the IYCA and Owner of Impact Sports Performance in Novi, MI.  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 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.

Improving Strength to Weight Ratio with Your Youngest Athletes – Brett Klika

According to the Centers for Disease Control, it appears that roughly 32% of children are either overweight or obese. Compound this with large scale youth inactivity and the result is a growing number of young athletes who will struggle with poor strength to weight ratios beginning at a young age.

As youth strength and conditioning coaches, we are in a position to help these children improve this important component of health and athleticism while minimizing frustration with our youngest athletes. While bodyweight exercises may prove troublesome for these youngsters, there are other effective movement strategies that can help them build the strength to move with more confidence and competence as they get older.

Consider the movement strategies outlined below when working with young children whose bodyweight stands in the way of their ability to move effectively.  

Strength implements

Exercises with dumbbells, kettlebells, Sandbells, medicine balls, etc. can be performed with weights well below that of a child’s body. While a 100-pound child be not be able to move their entire body mass effectively during a push up, they may be able to perform a dumbbell bench press or med ball throw with a 10-pound implement.

Consider an inactive and/or overweight child’s joint and muscle proprioceptors. When a large amount of load is placed on, such as bodyweight, they are quickly overloaded and send the “abort” signal to the surrounding structures. Using implements with lighter loads not only improves coordination and strength, it preps their proprioceptive system to manage load more effectively.

Not only will these exercises help them improve their strength to weight ratio over time, they will most likely enjoy them and be willing to perform them with a greater level of intensity.

Sandbell Spelling

https://vimeo.com/263813820

Overhead Press

https://vimeo.com/263813812

Vertical Slams

https://vimeo.com/263813876

Pushing, Pulling, Gripping, Carrying

Pushing, pulling, gripping, and carrying activities can be done at sub bodyweight loads, but have a tremendous positive impact on the proprioceptive system. Pushing and pulling can be done without the impact of gravity. Pushing/pulling sleds, pulling ropes, and similar exercises minimize the negative impact of increased bodyweight and allows for heavier loads to be used.

Gripping activities like farmer walks and suitcase carries not only impact the hands and forearms, they aid in improving shoulder stability. As proprioceptive strength and stability improves at the shoulder, exercises like pushups and pull ups become more attainable.   

Pushing, Pulling, Carrying

https://vimeo.com/232071640

Suitcase Carry

https://vimeo.com/263813849

Alternate Grabber

https://vimeo.com/263674832

Assistance exercises

While improvement in strength are usually observed with increases in training load, actively assisting movement can help develop motor coordination patterns that slowly translate to strength in “under-strong” young athletes.

For example, a child may not possess the hip, leg, and core musculature strength to stabilize and mobilize everything necessary for a lunge or squat.  Suspending an elastic band overhead and placing it under a child’s arms or having them hold it to unweight their body as they move can allow them to perform the movement correctly. Over time, slowly decrease the thickness of band that is used until it becomes unnecessary.

During assistance exercises, kids are able to go through full joint range of motion and their brains and bodies learn the proper neuromuscular sequence. For overweight children, this may be the only way they can perform these movements initially.

Isometrics

While isometric exercises still involve a child’s bodyweight against gravity, removing the complication of dynamic movement can help their proprioceptive system develop the proper stability needed in a given body position.

For example, a pushup requires not only the stability of the hips and spine to integrate the whole-body movement, it requires the concentric and eccentric strength to control the body moving down and up. Focusing on merely the aspect of stability in the static position, children can then slowly add the additional component of movement either against gravity or with some form of assistance.

It is important however to monitor a child’s ability with these exercises. If they prove too difficult, consider using implements, etc. to improve strength.

Push Up Plank

https://vimeo.com/263813852

Wall Sit

https://vimeo.com/263674927

All of the movement strategies above not only help inactive and/or overweight children improve their strength, they contribute to an increase in physical activity. Strength goes up, bodyweight goes down. The result is improved athleticism, success, and enjoyment with physical activity 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.

Concussion Awareness & Mitigation, Part 2 – Joe Powell

Part 2 of 2 on concussion awareness and mitigation for the S&C Professional discusses when and how to program strength training for the neck, as well as exercise variations that can fit any program.

Strength Training the Neck and Its Associated Musculature

Neck training and its importance is not a new-found fad or focus in the strength and conditioning community. However, as part 1 detailed, what has emerged recently is concussion awareness and hopeful prevention has spread from not only the contact sports, but to the non-contact type as well. Clinical diagnosis along with research-based studies are showing athletes in sports that are largely non-contact in nature are at a higher risk of head injury than what may have been previously thought. As we begin to better understand the mechanism and origins of concussions, health care practitioners, S&C professionals, sport coaches, and parents are learning that athletes of both sexes and of all ages and sizes can be affected. Proper understanding that head injuries can, and unfortunately, do frequently occur, is the first step into emphasizing prevention programs and strategies for athletes that were once maybe deemed safe from an injury of this nature.

To hopefully mitigate the number of head-based injuries to their athletes, many strength and conditioning professionals include neck-based training within their programs. Exercise selection to train the neck musculature is quite diverse. Dependent upon the coach, exercises may include machines, plate loaded harnesses, resistance bands, or even a plethora of manual resistance techniques (See IYCA manual resistance video library). There are no shortages of variations of neck training, as coaches utilize training the musculature in all three cardinal planes of movement, as well as focusing in on concentric, eccentric and isometric muscle actions. A well-developed neck training program will emphasize strengthening the musculature through many of the joint actions.

The main joint actions in regards to the training of the neck and shoulder girdle are as follows:

Cervical spine:

  • Flexion
  • Extension
  • Lateral Flexion
  • Rotation
  • Protraction
  • Retraction

Shoulder Girdle:

  • Elevation
  • Depression
  • Protraction
  • Retraction

When choosing exercises for neck strength training specifically, it is best to perform exercises that directly work the cervical spine, and to use exercises focusing on the shoulder girdle as more secondary exercises. Training both regions are important, but targeting the neck musculature via cervical spine movements should be performed first and more frequently.

Utilizing the equipment available (or no equipment at all if using a manual resistance variation) and training through an array of both joint and muscle actions will better equip athletes to face the unknown rigors that are in play in athletics.

How, when and where to program neck exercises within a program

Training of the neck and its associated musculature should be placed within a strength training program year round. However, a heightened emphasis should occur during pre-season and in-season periods. These are the times when practices and games are at the forefront and thus more contact/risk of incident of neck related injuries. Even though athletes have limited time in the weight room during these periods of the year, neck training should never take a back seat. What should take place is multiple sets during each workout and even different variations on the other training days of the week. This may include performing different muscle actions each day or changing the joint action performed.

During the off-season is when coaches receive the most time with their athletes and this is the time period where it is imperative to teach the athlete exactly what is expected when performing exercises involving the neck. Our athletes are only as proficient in an exercise as we choose to make them, so it is crucial they receive carefully detailed instruction. Building a great base of exercise knowledge as well as baseline strength in the off-season will in turn provide the blueprint for effective neck training during the pre-season and regular-season.

Like the other major joints in the body, resistance training for the neck can be done multiple times a week. There are many exercise variations possible due to the magnitude of musculature on the cervical spine and shoulder girdle. A balanced approach that encompasses multiple joint actions of the neck and each of the muscle action phases several times a week is recommended.

There is a great degree of variability when choosing on where to program neck exercises into a training block or training session. Regardless of where they take place within a workout, neck associated exercises should be performed in a very careful manner and not ballistic or in a rapid fashion. Because of that fact you’ll typically see coaches perform them at the beginning of a workout in conjunction with movement prep type exercises. This is when athletes are in a non-fatigued state, both physically and mentally, and are more likely to maturely and properly perform the exercise.

It is also common for neck exercises to be done as part of a superset with another lift as a sort of active recovery for a more taxing multi joint exercise or at the end of a workout as an accessory lift. Coaches employ the superset tactic to train neck to utilize their time given with athletes in the weight room. If time is a factor, pairing neck training up with various exercises can be effective. When allowing athletes to pair neck training with other exercises, it becomes difficult to oversee every athlete at once, especially if you a short staffed or even a solo coach. Here it becomes important that the athletes understand exactly how to perform the exercise and they have gained the coach’s full trust.

Modes of Resistance Training for the Neck

Simplicity can be key when choosing exercises to train the neck. Athletes are thrown many multi-joint and difficult exercises at them in a training session. Keeping the neck exercises simple can often yield better results. When training a youth demographic simplicity almost has to take place. Young athletes may not understand the risks associated with head related injuries and may not understand why they are performing these exercises in the first place. In a society where running faster, jumping higher and getting bigger are the expected results of an S&C professional, it’s hard to sell exercises that do not check any of those boxes, even if they are just as, if not more important. Understand your clientele and understand what works best.

Bracing and isometrics for training the neck musculature are both great for simplicity sake, but also because they are incredibly effective. Research by Dempsey et, al (2016) showed that athletes who have displayed higher levels of isometric neck strength exhibited a decrease in acceleration of the skull after an impact, and Collins et al (2014) concluded isometric neck training resulted in an outright decreased overall risk of sustaining a concussion. As unpredictable as sports as a whole may be, so too are the positions the body can be placed in during a game or training session. Because of this, it is wise to include dynamic movements to the neck training repertoire and include both the concentric and eccentric phases when performing an exercise. While isometric holds and bracing both can provide great training residuals for athletes it is best to utilize all three muscle actions within a program. Having increased strength through a greater range of motion can minimize injuries in every joint, and that includes the neck and shoulder girdle. By preparing the athlete to accelerate and decelerate through resistance they better equipped they will be to take on the rigors of sport. Whatever the modality of neck training may be, the goal remains the same. To minimize occurrence of concussion. Such an emphasis is put into dedicating time into sets and reps for the neck because research justifies that it can prevent the occurrence of concussion.

Manual Resistance Exercises

Neck Flexion:

Lateral Neck Flexion:

Isometric Lateral Neck Flexion:

Machine Neck Exercises

Machine Neck Flexion:

Machine Neck Extension:

Machine Neck Lateral Flexion:

Machine Neck “Nod”:

Machine Neck Retraction:

Shoulder Girdle Exercises

Band Pull Apart:

DB Side Raise:

DB Shrug:

DB Upright Row:

Single Arm DB Shrug:

Plate Upright Row:

Band Scapular Retraction:

 

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

Exercise Stimulates The Brain – Karlie Intlekofer Ph.D.

Exercise Programming that Maximizes Brain Benefits

As young athletes develop, part of their growing skillset includes the ability to follow verbal instructions and make good decisions. This challenges kids to direct their attention and remain organized as they carry out goal-directed behaviors, using an ability known as executive function. Young athletes have an advantage in developing executive function because the brain regions that help us stay on task are highly sensitive to aerobic exercise. In fact, a child’s executive function is immediately improved by a single bout of physical activity.1-4 There is also a long-term cognitive improvement after regular exercise training,5-7 indicating that each season in which a child participates in regular practices may confer additive benefits to their executive function.

Why is executive function so important?

Part of every child’s potential for athletic success is based on their ability to focus, respond quickly, and adapt to new situations. While these skills certainly serve them on the field or court, it may come as no surprise that a child’s level of executive function predicts their success in school.8 Executive function develops slowly and matures during adolescence or early adulthood.9 This is why teams of older individuals can handle more complex tasks and follow directions more reliably.  

Exercise primes the brain for improved executive function

The two major features that predict whether exercise will boost executive function are engagement and intensity.

Aerobic exercise that is highly engaging benefits executive function because more brain regions are activated, resulting in more blood flow to the brain. For instance, when teammates work together to complete a task, they show more activity in brain circuits important for listening and verbal communication. Practices that feature plenty of social interaction are a reliable way to keep athletes engaged and significantly improve their executive function.10 Beyond social interactions, higher brain activation also occurs when hand-eye coordination is challenged by complex tasks compared to simpler movements. Engaging forms of physical activity provide a longer lasting cognitive enhancement compared to repetitive and familiar types of exercise.11

Secondly, only moderate to vigorous exercise consistently improves brain blood flow and executive function.6 When this threshold of intensity is not reached, some studies failed to detect cognitive improvements, for example, treadmill walking in 7-11 year-olds,12 and stationary bicycling in 13-15 year-olds.13 For exercise to reliably improve brain function, it seems that the heart rate must be sufficiently increased. Intensity correlates to the athlete’s release of adrenaline (epinephrine), as well as the degree of neurochemical changes (in brain-derived neurotrophic factor) that optimize brain function.14,15 Selecting exercise intense enough for adrenaline release is also advantageous in terms of improving an athlete’s fitness and also closely matches the release of adrenaline that comes with competition during the athlete’s event or game.

Coaching for maximum benefits

As coaches, we are hopefully already structuring practices to include plenty of opportunities to cooperate and to adapt to new situations. These findings on brain benefits may convince you to introduce more variety to your warm-ups and conditioning exercises to ensure that your young athletes are reaping the full cognitive advantages. Some additional ideas to consider are shown in the video kindly provided by Jordi Taylor and Rona Guggemos:i

https://youtu.be/6tmEw5SJkxc

Exercises featured in the video:

  1. Dowel Run
  2. ISO Squat Ball to Cone
  3. Tennis Ball Throw Single Ball
  4. Tennis Ball Throw Double Ball
  5. Box Jump Hands on Head
  6. Box Jump Hands on Hips
  7. Sprint to Decel
  8. Plyo Box Sprint

 

Dr. Karlie Intlekofer earned her Ph.D. in Neuroscience and Behavior. She is a published author, researcher, and popular speaker. Karlie is also an expert on how exercise influences the brain and pediatric neuroscience. She currently works as a Global Wellness Researcher at Johnson Fitness & Wellness.

 

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.

 

References:

  1. Budde H, Voelcker-Rehage C, Pietrabyk-Kendziorra S, Ribeiro P & Tidow G. Acute coordinative exercise improves attentional performance in adolescents. Neuroscience Letters (2008) 441: 219-223. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neulet.2008.06.024
  2. Ellemberg D, St. Louis-Deschenes M. The effect of acute physical activity on cognitive function during development. Psychology of Sport and Exercise. 2010; 11: 122-126. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psychsport.2009.09.006
  3. Hillman CH, Pontifex MB, Raine LB, Castelli DM, Hall EE & Kramer AF. The effect of acute treadmill walking on cognitive control and academic achievement in preadolescent children. Neuroscience. 2009; 3: 1004-1054. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuroscience.2009.01.057
  4. Pesce C, Crova C, Cereatti L, Casella R & Bellucci M. Physical activity and mental performance in preadolescents: Effects of acute exercise on free-recall memory. Mental Health and Physical Activity. 2009; 2: 16-22. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.mhpa.2009.02.001
  5. Davis CL, Tomporowski PD, Boyle CA, Waller JL, Miller PH, Naglieri JA & Gregoski M. Effects of aerobic exercise on overweight children’s cognitive functioning: A randomized controlled trial. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport. 2007; 78(5): 510-519. https://doi.org/10.1070/02701367.2007.10599450
  6. Davis CL, Tomprowski PD, McDowel JE, Austin BP, Miller PH, Yanasak N, Allison JD & Naglieri JA. Exercise improves executive function and alters neural activation in overweight children: A randomized controlled trial. Health Psychology. 2011; 30(1): 91-98. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0021766
  7. Hinkle JS, Tuckman BW & Sampson JP. The psychology, physiology, and the creativity of middle school aerobic exercisers. Elementary School Guidance & Counseling. 1993; 28: 133-145. https://psycnet.apa.org/record/1994-31406-001
  8. Blair C & Diamond A. Biological processes in prevention and intervention: The promotion of self-regulation as a means of preventing school failure. Development and psychopathology. 2008; 106: 461-472. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0954579408000436
  9. Best JR, Miller PH & Jones LL. Executive function after age 5: Changes and correlates. Developmental Review. 2009; 29: 180-200. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.dr.2009.05.002
  10. Serrien DJ, Ivry RB & Swinnen SP. The missing link between action and cognition. Progress in Neurobiology. 2007; 82: 95-107. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pneurobio.2007.02.003
  11. Carey JR, Bhatt E & Nagpal A. Neuroplasticity promoted by task complexity. Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews. 2005; 33: 24-31. https://journals.lww.com/acsm-essr/Fulltext/2005/01000/Neuroplasticity_Promoted_by_Task_Complexity.5.aspx
  12. Tomporowski PD, Davis CL, Lambourne K, Gregoski M & Tkacz J. Task switching in overweight children: Effects of acute exercise and age. Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology. 2008; 30: 497-511. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2705951/
  13. Stroth S, Kubesch S, Dieterle K, Ruchsow M, Heim R & Kiefer M. Physical fitness, but not acute exercise modulates event-related potential indices for executive control in healthy adolescents. Brain Research. 2009; 1269: 114-124. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.brainres.2009.02.073
  14. Winter B, Breitenstein C, Mooren FC, Volker K & Knecht S. High impact running improves learning. Neurobiology of Learning and Memory. 2007; 87: 597-609. https://doi.org/10.16/j.nlm.2006.11.003
  15. Ferris LT, Williams JS & Shen C. The effects of acute exercise on serum brain-derived neurotrophic factor levels and cognitive function. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 2007; 39: 728-734. https://doi.org/10.1249/mss.0b013e31802f04c7

 

Training Muscles vs. Movements – Karsten Jensen

Regardless of which process strength coaches use to create training programs, such a process must have a step where exercises are selected.  Exercise selection is always executed based on certain criteria that include:

  • Scientific research
  • Foundational bio-mechanical principles
  • First person experience with athletes.

It is logical to assume that the better the criteria, the greater the likelihood of a positive outcome of the training program.

Criteria include principles, strategies, and tactics. This article suggests the 1st Principle of exercise selection, followed by a description of primary exercise selection strategies. Last, current research findings on the effects of single-joint vs multi-joint exercises are discussed and concrete guidelines for exercise selection are suggested.

1 First Principle of Exercise Selection
The first principle of exercise selection could be that:

Any exercise ever performed must – in the short or the long run – improve the athlete’s ability to practice or compete.

If these criteria are not met, how do we explain that the exercise is in the program?

Even exercises that might be included for fun and variation can be said to meet the above criteria.

Why would we include an exercise in the program where the purpose is “just” fun? The answer is that we would include exercises for fun so that the athlete stays in our program. What is the outcome if of the athlete staying in the program? With practice, over time, the ability to practice and compete is improved.

Exercise Selection Strategy (Part I): Bio-mechanical specificity
For athletes, the ability to practice and compete involves the ability to safely, effectively and repeatedly sprint, cut, kick, throw or perform any other sporting movement.

How do we know which strength and conditioning exercises will improve the above abilities?

The primary strategy is to select exercises based on biomechanical specificity which means that there is a certain biomechanical resemblance between the training movement and the sporting movement. (10)

This strategy is often misunderstood. Correctly used the exercises should stimulate, not simulate the sporting movement. (7,8) More accurately, the exercises must always stimulate the ability to practice or compete in the sport. The most foundational exercises do not necessarily look that much like the sporting movement. As the movement patterns are built the resemblance to the end goal become gradually more obvious.

Example: Especially eccentric knee-flexor strength may be important for preventing hamstring injuries during sprinting. The first video below shows a more foundational hamstring exercise that does not really look like sprinting. In contrast, the second video shows a hamstring exercise where the resemblance to sprinting is more obvious

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6-JrwG9CpAs
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1JQnRD5kUN0

Exercise Selection Strategy (Part 2): Intra- and inter- muscular coordination
Train the movement, not the muscle – one of the original taglines of functional training – is a logical proposition when the end goal is to improve the ability to perform a sporting movement.

However, the body is only a strong as its weakest link. (6) Further, the basic phenomenon is that the body avoids positions of weakness and seeks positions of strength. Thus, practicing complex movements with identifiable weak links may inhibit long term progress as far as that particular movement.

Therefore, a longer training cycle has an early phase where the primary focus is to develop any identified weak links. In this early phase, there is a secondary focus on practicing a version of the final movement that challenges the identified weak link. As the weak links become strength’s the focus is reversed and practicing the complete movement is the first priority. Train the muscle, then the movement is the (over)simplified tagline for this dynamic that is also expressed as “first isolate, then integrate.”

How could we describe the benefits of exercises that focus on weak links? How could we describe the benefits of exercises that focus on practicing the movement?

The concepts of intra- or inter-muscular coordination describe which exercises that focus on weak links aim to do. (9)

Intra-muscular coordination
“Another possibility for improved power results from improved intra-muscular coordination. The term “intramuscular coordination”, describes in the author’s opinion the relation between excitatory and inhibitory mechanisms for one muscle for a specific movement.” (93)

Inter-muscular coordination
“A further way to improve power results from improved inter-muscular coordination. Inter-muscular coordination describes the ability of all muscles involved in a movement, agonists, antagonists, and synergists to corporate wholly with respect to the aim of the movement.”
It is obvious that inter-muscular coordination requires the use of multi-joint exercises. However, intra-muscular coordination can be developed with both single-joint exercises or targeted multi-joint exercises.

3 Tactics – Single-joint or multi-joint exercises.
The following section offers some research-based guidelines regarding the benefits of single joint vs multi-joint exercises.

The most foundational aspect of the choice between single-joint and multi-joint exercises is the ability to develop intra- or inter-muscular coordination:

  • Single joint exercises are more effective to strengthen a weaker muscle group, but the single joint exercise must eventually be replaced with a multi-joint exercise to obtain more impressive strength increases. (3)
  • Multi-joint exercises offer an increased opportunity to develop inter-muscular coordination through the involvement of multiple segments of the body. (6)

Example – Frontal Plane Stability in for sprinting

Early phase 6 weeks:

A1. Forward Walking Lunges with a pause to demonstrate balance as the trail leg passes the stance leg. The exercise can be vertically loaded with a vest, dumbbells or a barbell.

B1. Standing Hip Hike

Later phase (6 weeks)

A1. Forward Walking Lunges Dragging a Sled, explosive execution. Add vest if needed.

B1. Standing Hip Hike is included with low volume as a warm-up or finisher exercise.

Structural strength, including hypertrophy (muscle mass), is a foundation for developing maximal strength:

  • Single joint exercises and multi-joint exercises for the same target muscle group – with similar RM loads – results in similar levels of electromyographic activity. (1)
  • With the use of multi-joint exercises, synergists might fatigue before prime movers and limit the stimulus of the prime movers OR synergists might not be sufficiently stimulated due to the dominance of the prime movers. (1)
  • To the extent that the same fibers of a target muscle experience the same stress (load) the hypertrophic response from single joint and multi-joint muscles is likely going to be similar. (2,5) However, due to different patterns of muscular hypertrophy between single-joint and multi-joint exercises (so-called regional hypertrophy) a combination of a single joint- and one or more multi-joint exercises may be required for complete muscular development. (1,4)
  • Compared to using multi-joint exercises to develop the same target muscles, single joint exercises may result in faster increases in muscle mass due to a shorter duration of neural adaptations (1,2)

With respect to the development of maximal strength and Vo2max:

  • Multi-joint exercises may result in a greater training stimulus due to greater load lifted. (2)
  • Multi-joint exercises may have greater potential as a tool to develop V02max due to a higher muscle mass involved. (5)

Application Summary
To utilize the information presented in this article strength coaches must work from a needs analysis of the sport and assessment of the athlete’s strengths and weaknesses. (10)

The body can be understood as a kinetic chain that is not stronger than its weakest link(s). For this reason, there is an initial emphasis on developing weak links through targeted multi-joint exercises or single joint exercises.

Once the weak links have become strengths the emphasis switch to practice the final, key movement.

References

  1. Gentil P, Fisher J, Steele J. A Review of the Acute Effects and Long-Term Adaptations of Single- and Multi-Joint Exercises during Resistance Training. Sports Medicine 2016
  2. Gentil P, Soares S, Bottaro M. Single vs. Multi-joint Resistance Exercises: Effects on Muscle Strength and Hypertrophy. Asian J Sports Medicine. 6(2): 1-4. 2015.
  3. Giannakopoulos K, Beneka A, Malliou P, Godolias G.Isolated vs Complex Exercise In Strengthening The Rotator Cuff Muscle Group. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 18(1):144-148. 2004
  4. Ribeiro AS, Schoenfeld BJ, Sardinha LB. Comment on: A Review of the Acute Effects and Long Term Adaptations of Single and Multi-joint Exercises During Resistance Training. Sports Medicine. 2016
  5. Paoli A, Gentil P, Moro T, Marcolin G, Bianco A. Resistance Training with Single vs. Multi-joint Exercises at Equal Total Load Volume: Effects on Body Composition, Cardiorespiratory Fitness and Muscle Strength. Frontiers in Physiology. Vol 8. Page 1-8. 2017.
  6. Teixera CVS, Evangelista AL, Novaes JS, Grigoletto MES, Behm DG. You are Only as strong as Your Weakest Link: A Current Opinion about the Concepts and Characteristics of Functional Training. Frontiers In Physiology. Vol 8, page 1-8. 2017
  7. Stone MH, Stone M, Sands WA. Principles and Practice of Resistance Training. USA: Human Kinetics; 2007. 243-253 p.
  8. Siff M. Supertraining. 6th Ed. The Means of Special Strength Training. USA: Supertraining Institute; 2004. 240-246 p.
  9. Schmidtbleicher D. Training for Power Events. In Strength and Power in Sport, Chapter 18, p. 385-395. Blackwell Science; 1992.
  10. Jensen K. Needs Analysis of Sports. The Foundation of Success With The Flexible Periodization Method. https://yestostrength.com/fpm-move-better.html

 

Action Potentials, Plants & Paul Revere: The Spread of LTAD & A Call to Action – Joe Eisenmann

Currently, there is considerable interest, discussion and debate about long-term athlete development (LTAD) in America. The IYCA is one of several groups educating and creating awareness on this topic, and there have been several excellent blogs and resources made available.

My entire life has been dedicated to the growing, maturing, exercising, and performing youngster. In the past year, I have given several talks along the lines of ‘LTAD: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly’ that cover a range of topics and concepts such as the current issues in youth sports and physical activity; the history and underpinnings of Long Term Athlete Development; the USOC American Development Model and the NSCA Long Term Athlete Development position statement; athleticism, physical literacy, and fundamental movement skills; training and sports science; and implementation.  Along the way, I unearth the Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

(If you are interested in hearing the full story consider attending the 2019 IYCA Summit, May 3-4 where I will be presenting a more in-depth analysis of LTAD.)

Since several other IYCA articles have outlined the basic tenets of LTAD, I’m not going to repeat them here. Likewise, most of us, if not all, are familiar with the ills of youth sports (e.g., over-competition and undertraining, early specialization, bad coaching, ‘microwaving’ young athletes, the win at all costs culture, overzealous parents, pay to play, etc.), along with inadequate school physical education and the resultant low levels of physical activity and fitness in today’s youth. Collectively, these issues add up to a repulsive grade of ‘C’ on the Aspen Institute’s Project Play Report Card on Youth Sports and the US Physical Activity Report Card. And, many consider this “grade inflation”!

So if I’m not going to write about principles of LTAD, what do I want to convey in this piece?

I’ve said this many times – we have the framework – a blueprint for athlete development and quality coaching. Now, we just need to implement it and hold the adults running youth sport programs accountable! And yes, that is easier said than done. But if we truly want to realize the human potential and outcomes of a physically active and fit culture and a youth sports system that provides a positive experience than it’s worth our time and energy.

Action Potentials, Plants and Paul Revere

So what the heck do action potentials, plants and Paul Revere have to do with LTAD? There is a word that ties these things together – propagation.

An action potential generated at the axon hillock propagates as a wave along the axon. The current spreads out along the axon, and depolarizes the adjacent sections of its membrane.

Plant propagation is the process of growing new plants from a variety of sources: seeds, cuttings, and other plant parts.

And Paul Revere? Recall from elementary school history and the Revolutionary War – One, if by land, and two, if by sea. These were the words penned in the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem of Paul Revere’s midnight ride to alert the Patriots how the British were coming.  

But still, what does this have to do with propagation? And LTAD?

Paul Revere was a propagator of information as he rode north towards Lexington alerting colonial militias along his route. In turn, by the end of the night about 40 riders were spreading the news and alerting others about the British Redcoats.

Think about it – an action potential, plants, and Paul Revere. From 1 signal, 1 piece of a plant, and 1 man grew a vast wave that impacted many.

spread of ltad

A call to action and a challenge….to propagate

So the good news is that there is increasing attention and interest in LTAD (or at least the ills of youth physical development) – we see it in news media, social media, and the USOC and its National Governing Bodies are beginning to push the American Development Model.  

However, we need to propagate and spread the message. If I am Paul Revere, you – the youth sports performance specialists, the physical educator, the strength and conditioning coach – are the next set of riders equipped to carry the message.

There are several reasons that the strength and conditioning coach can have an impact on LTAD in the community. First, the general skillset of the strength and conditioning coach includes the ability to teach the fundamental movement skills of body control, locomotion and object control and also the foundational movements of squat, lunge, pushes, pulls, rotation, sprinting, jumping, and change of direction.

Another important role the strength and conditioning coach (especially those with sport-specific acumen and experience) can fill is that of a coach educator and coach developer in the community. An off-season and/or pre-season coach education clinic that goes beyond the X’s and O’s (tactical) and provides a framework for quality coaching is well within the abilities of most strength and conditioning coaches. This clinic may include topics such as: the role of a coach, effective communication, motivating young athletes, teaching skills, designing effective practices, character development, and leadership. In addition, this is a good opportunity to discuss the general principles of LTAD and fundamental movement skills acquisition.

Beyond this one-time coach education, the strength and conditioning coach could potentially serve as a Coach Developer – educating, mentoring and overseeing the volunteer coaches in terms of appropriate coaching behaviour, practice planning, and conducting a practice with the overall goal to develop and improve coaches so that players maximize their potential at all ages.

So, this is my challenge – put this article done and start thinking about how you can impact your community. Who are the stakeholders that need to be involved? How will you communicate and work collaboratively with the coaches, parents and other stakeholders? You have the understanding of LTAD and the skillset to educate and implement fundamental movement skills and proper strength and conditioning activities that develop athleticism, and you have the ability to lead. What are you waiting for? Let’s go, you are Paul Revere – spread the word and prepare the foot soldiers for battle!

Men are mortal. So are ideas. An idea needs propagation as much as a plant needs watering. Otherwise both will wither and die.

B.R. Ambedkar

joe eisenmannJoe Eisenmann, PhD has dedicated his entire career and lifestyle to the physical development of young people in the context of physical activity, youth sports and fitness. His diverse roles have included youth sports coach, professor, researcher, strength and conditioning coach, sport scientist, Director of Spartan Performance and Director of High Performance and Coach Education at USA Football. Currently, he works with Volt Athletics, SPT, the NSCA, Leeds Beckett University and the UC-Irvine Pediatric Exercise and Genomics Research Center. He can be reached at joeeisenmann@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @Joe_Eisenmann

For more detailed information about Long-Term Athlete Development, get the IYCA’s Long Term Athlete Development Roadmap – the most complete and practical guide to enhancing athleticism through every stage of development.

How Physical Activity Enhances Brain Power – Erica Suter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s dive in:

1. Give them movement autonomy.

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

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

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

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

2. Do cross-body movements daily.

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

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

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

Cross Crawl

Crawling Coupling

3. Make fitness fun.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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