The load and/or force the body imparts into the ground can be focused through the forefoot, the heel or the mid-foot when standing, running, accelerating and landing. In my experience women and elite strength/power athletes tend to slightly front side to mid foot load in many single leg exercises such as lunges and step-ups. Let’s examine some differences in loading the foot when training.
Acceleration– When starting from a standing or stance position, the load will seem to be more front side due to the lower the
center of gravity and the lean into the direction of movement. However, in elite athletes, the load will be on the fore foot with the backside chain tremendously engaged. Many true front side loaders and less elite athletes will tend to impart force through the forefoot with less than maximal/optimal backside chain involvement. Think of jumping rope for example. Many poor jump ropers will plantar flex and keep the heels off of the ground and just use the lower leg and foot to jump rope. Accomplished rope jumpers will flex at the hip, knee and ankle, using the entire lower body to absorb and produce force in order to jump rope. Many start drills and technical warm-up drills are front side mechanics emphasized in terms of coaching cues. For example, in A skips, the emphasis is in knee up/toe up front side action rather than force into the ground via the support leg. Another example; in wall drills the common coaching cues are knee up/toe up rather than back side chain emphasis via glute extension and force into the ground. Emphasizing backside chain involvement and focus via glute activation, recruitment and focus is a key to improving performance as greater force into the ground will improve acceleration. One way to do this is to emphasize backside recruitment and full/mid-foot loading over forefoot loading. This stands true and includes jumping, change of direction drills, sprints and plyometric training.
Running – This has come to the forefront in the popular media via the minimalist shoes and the book “Born to Run”. Forefoot/mid-foot running as opposed to heel force absorption jogging/running is a huge debate. For most runners, I feel the load of the fore foot strike over distance is much too great for many runners/joggers due to the fitness level, lower leg and foot strength as well as the size of the athlete combined with the lack of force absorption properties of the minimalist shoe. If you have spent much of your life running on the forefoot/midfoot as many barefoot runners in the warmer climates and poorer parts of the world, your ability to forefoot run has not been compromised with hundred dollar running shoes, too much sedentary time and too much food. For most of the people that we as fitness professionals come into contact with, minimalist shoes are great for walking around, warm – up and maybe even short interval training. But, most of the population that wants to run distance in minimalist shoes will find the foot unprepared and unable to handle the trauma of force absorption without an extended transition period of weeks and even months in order to prevent injury.
Strength Training– In strength training the load is full footed in many/most cases. The load is distributed fairly evenly,
50/50 from the heel to the forefoot. Full footed is much different than flat footed as flat footed is relaxed and collapsed while full footed utilizes an active arch and foot and is expanded. If the load is too fore foot, especially with the resistance distributed on or through the shoulders, the resulting transfer of force through the spine transitions from compression force to greater and greater sheer force. This places greater forces on the ability of the front side core to resist collapse and the resultant spinal flexion, which is the mechanism of injury for disc trauma. In squatting and dead lifting, it is common training cues to turn the foot out 7-15 degrees and impart the force down and laterally by pushing out through the feet as the loads increase in order to lessen the load on the lower back and increase force through the hips and glutes. In Olympic lifting it is also common to turn the feet out 7-15 degrees and push out, as the pattern of the lifts begin with a squat/deadlift type movement. The difference being the acceleration of the bar and the technique after the pull as the load is less in terms of the absolute strength level of the athlete compared to the power lifts such as the squat and deadlift. In each case, the load will be full footed. In less accomplished Olympic lifters the load will shift through the forefoot at the top of the pull.
Landing– When absorbing force as in landing after a jump, sport skill, plyometric or Olympic lift it is critical to absorb the force in the same pattern as the lowering phase of the squat. If the force absorption phase is so great that the athlete goes lower and lower into a squat, the pattern should mimic a normal squatting pattern. When the load is centered in the mid-foot the backside chain can assist in force absorption and the load is closer to the center of gravity. As the force is absorbed increasingly on the front side and through the fore foot, the knees and lower back will be forced to become more and more involved. For an example, when doing multiple loaded step ups as in the Javorek Dumbbell Series which use 10-15% of fat free body weight, the inventor, Istvan “Steve” Javorek emphasized the
full foot loading of the foot on the bench as when this does not occur, the athlete will have back discomfort. Gymnasts are coached to land on the forefoot for dismounts and when tumbling. Talk to multiple national class gymnasts in their 40’s and older and inquire as to their back and knee health. Even though it happens fast in gymnastics, the force absorption is much the same as when the load drifts forward in a squat and dead lift, which occurs slow enough that we can see it and we are all aware of the consequences of losing your form forward in a squat and/or dead lift.
Gender – Women tend to front side load more than men. Why? In my opinion it is cultural and well as gender related. When women wear heels, the load when squatting will tend to drift forward with the increasing height of the heel. When wearing a skirt, women are precluded from using optimal squatting technique with the knees out and the hip hinging, so women learn to squat loading the forefoot and flexing the knees first. In addition, many women tend to have relatively weaker glute utilization in my experience than comparable elite level male athletes. This glute weakness will lend itself to dependence on the quads for greater force absorption/application.
Full footed, toe out 7-15 degrees, lateral pushing the feet while hinging at the hip is the optimal way to load force. Bracing the front side core, keeping the chest up and leading the movement up with the heart is the key to jumping, squatting, dead lifting and force absorption/force production for optimal patterns, power and long term health.
Most novice lifters train from a canned program which usually consists of bilateral lifts using two arms and/or two legs. These exercises traditionally are presses, pulls, squats and occasionally bendovers. The compensation pattern for these lifts are to move the core forward or backward as the load increases or fatigue begins to set in. Most people are more challenged in terms of core strength and stability in the lateral plane, let alone the challenges of diagonal/rotational motion. In order to increase the core challenge on one side or through one hip to the same side or opposite side shoulder, consider adding single arm and/or single leg training.
Single Arm Presses
Single arm presses will make the core stabilize in order to prevent rolling off of the bench when doing decline, bench or incline.
When doing single arm overhead presses, the stance should be with one foot elevated onto a short box. This will unload the hip compensation pattern front to back and load the hip side to side compensation pattern. If the pressing arm is on the straight leg side, the load will seem heavier. On the bent or elevated leg side, the load will seem lighter as the hip will shift underneath the pressing shoulder. Most of the core training will take place above the hip when using a bench for support. Standing as in the shoulder press or when using a cable trainer or tubing for incline, the bench pressing pattern will engage the glutes and depending on the stance, other parts of the hip and core musculature. The decline will place more front side core load than normal single arm pressing while in a standing stance.
Single Arm Pulls
Single arm pulls will also add to core training while training the back and shoulder musculature. When standing the entire posterior core from the hamstrings, glutes, QL and erectors will definitely be involved to provide stability as the pulling motion is engaged. The stance (parallel, diagonal, linear) will influence the amount of stress through the posterior core as will the angle of the elbow in relation to the floor. The wide elbow, abducted away from the body will cause relatively greater stress through the core as the resistance is farther from the midline. An elbow near the body will feel stronger on each rep as the resistance is near to the midline. The linear stance will be easiest to execute one arm pulls from as it is in line with the line of stress. The parallel stance will be perpendicular to the line of stress and will cause a feeling of greater stress through the body.
When seated and doing one arm pulls as in a lat pull or low row, most of the core stress will be above the hip. To counteractthis, a small ball can be placed between the knees and squeezed to engage the inner sling adductors and low abs or an ankle band can be put around the knees and pushed out in order to stress the outer sling. I personally prefer training the inner sling with this exercise for most of my people. The opposite arm should punch forward as the pulling arm pulls back and the posture should be emphasized with a big chest attitude.
Single Leg Squats
The single leg squat is excellent for training the legs while not stressing the back. If the single leg squat is prescribed as a split squat with the rear leg elevated rather than as a pistol type squat, the balance is better and the core training can be pretty intense. In order to elevate the core involvement, I will assign a weight held in front, much like a steering wheel. This will make the front side core engage. If I want to stress the lateral core, I will assign a weight held in one hand at shoulder height on the opposite side of the leg squatting, as if preparing to do a shoulder press. This will create resistance above the hip on the opposite side forcing the hip, core and shoulder to stabilize against the forces. The front foot of the squatting leg should be turned in slightly in order to add more balance and the back knee should almost touch the ground, enhancing thigh separation needed for acceleration and sprinting. In addition, with the weight held in front, the resistance can be pressed to the right or left by a partner which will add rotational stress through the core.
The single leg sit back squat is executed just like a normal sit back box squat, the difference being the stance is very narrow and the opposite leg is extended in front to create a counter balance. The weight resistance is loaded in front in the hands or in the case of extremely strong athletes, the addition of a weight vest. Additional stress can be added by pressing right and left on the weight held at arms length, thereby adding rotational stress as in the split/pitcher squat. The addition of a partner will create vertical resistance as well as rotary resistance to the person doing the exercise which, at the hip, knee and ankle will cause the lower limb system to stabilize against this rotational resistance and familiarize the nervous system with this type of feedback. Rotational stress at the hip, knee and ankle is a prime cause of injury when coupled with a loss of stability in this system.
Step – ups
Step – ups are an excellent exercise to add opposite arm, diagonal core stress through the body in order to foster strength and stability on single leg movements such as running, walking, hopping, bounding and jogging. The weight will be held at shoulder height and at the conclusion of a short (4 – 8 inch), medium (12 – 16 inch) or tall (above 16 inches) step up, the weight will be pressed or just held at the shoulder pressing position. The hip is not allowed to “drop” upon the step down portion of the movement and is encouraged to drive through the shoulder in order to execute the step up and press portion of the pattern. Most people just limit their training to linear step ups. Lateral step ups and crossover step ups will enhance hip and ankle mobility and help to spare the knees and low back.
Single Leg Bendovers
Single leg bendovers are one leg good mornings, one leg RDL’s or one leg stiff legged dead lifts. No matter the range of motion,
the knee is flexed to some degree, the load is in the hand(s)s or on the shoulders and the hip is pushed back with a hinge motion in order to foster the hip hinge action, braced core, pillar posture that is a key to low back health. Single leg bendovers (as opposed to double leg bendovers) are usually much more stressful to the inside hamstring adductor area (especially when lifting the swing leg up for thigh separation) and much more challenging to the balance and stability system. If the weight is in the opposite hand and the swing leg is moved out in order to move the weighted hand inside the support foot the rotational stability and strength required is very demanding, even with very light loads. Posture is paramount. The back should be flat, the abs braced and the pillar core maintained throughout the movement. The foundational movement pattern of the bendover should have been mastered prior to assigning this exercise. If the swing leg is rotated the other way and the hand(s) go outside the support foot, this move is similar to the follow through on a throw and is slightly easier to accomplish.
Adding some single leg and single arm training to your workouts will accomplish many things. It will add core stress, lower loads, are safer, creates a greater neural load, will increase balance/stability and are more functional, more akin to the normal movement patterns of the body in normal life skills as well as sport skills. Try it – you just might like it!
Many people like to resistance train 3 days per week as a part of their lifestyle training program. I believe that 3 days per week of resistance training done in the giant set or circuit style training program which will keep your heart rate up while you are training for strength, thus accomplishing two things at once. If the Giant Set philosophy is utilized, where a push, pull, leg and sometimes core and/or total body exercise are added to the training session, strength and power can be emphasized at the same time fitness is being improved. The key is how to periodize the strength training program when not using percentages of your max.
When resistance training (using bodyweight, DB’s, KB’s, bars, etc.) and not using a one rep max to figure the percentages OR with a mixed group showing up to train that are at a variety of strength and fitness levels this system is relatively easy to implement. It does not utilize a set time per set, rather it uses the fitness of the athlete to determine the pace and tempo of the circuit. The fitness level, exercises and loads will determine the pace of the circuit for each individual. Next, the ingenious part of the formula for maximizing the strength gains for each individual without spending hours on programming.
Each day will have an emphasis based on the exercises selected and instructions imparted to the group. The heavy day will use big muscle group, heavy lift type exercises such as squat or dead lift (basically the same lift), bar bench press, pull – ups, for example. The rep scheme will be moderate such as 4-6 reps, a pyramid (8-6-4-2-4-6-8), work up/work out sets (10-8-6-4 5×5), etc. The loads will be determined by the individual as they move from the squat/deadlift to the bench to pull-ups (usually done with rubber band assistance for the weaker people and with added load or pauses on the way up and way down by the stronger people). This is the heavy day of training.
The medium day utilizes medium loads, but the time under tension for the muscle will go up. The athlete will control the tempo of the lift by pausing/holding half way up and halfway down on the movement as well as at the top/bottom of the lift. The load is medium, so posture, form and quality of the pattern should not be an issue but as always is critical. For example, the pause/hold workout will be written 3 hold bench press 5 x 5 – 4 second hold. In this workout the athlete would lower the bar halfway, hold for 4 seconds, lower to the chest, holding for 4 seconds, come ½ way up and hold for 4 seconds and then finish the rep. This will make the time under tension for each rep 12 seconds, much longer than most 1 rep max attempts. As the reps go up as in 4 x 8 hold for 3 seconds, the hold/pause time will go down. As the rep scheme prescribed goes down, the hold time will go up as in 8 x 4 hold for 6 seconds. This will also control the load the athlete puts on the bar. These giant set circuits will also be controlled by the athlete and their choice of loads. If the load is too heavy and/or the form is compromised, then the athlete will lag beyond the group and have trouble finishing.
The light day will utilize much different implements for resistance. However, the pattern and angle of the exercise will remain essentially the same. The bench press would become medicine ball bench (where the athlete will lay on their back with their legs bent and as a partner drops the ball to their chest, the athlete will catch the ball, bring it to their chest and punch it up to the ceiling), clap push-ups (done on their knees if they are not strong), tubing punches from a standing position, etc. Air squats or squat jumps will replace back squats or the dead lift and tubing pulls for speed will replace the pull-up. The pattern of movement is the same, but the stimulus will be quite different. This is the day the timer is used and the work bout is controlled by the instructor/coach. The work bouts should be no more than 20 seconds with up to 60 seconds to recover. Why such heresy? They won’t get fit you say? This is not about fitness by the work bout, it is about quality of the work bout and can the athlete recover in the time allotted to have great quality in the next work bout. As time progresses, the work bout remains 10-20 seconds and the rest can be squeezed down to 40, 30 and for short sets, even 20 seconds.
Why do such training for “normal” clients?? I believe we can all agree fast twitch fibers have been proven to respond quicker to hypertrophy training and are designed to contract quickly and with high force for short bursts of time. Slow twitch fibers respond poorly to hypertrophy training and contract with relatively low force for long periods of time. Intermediate fibers can mimic either fast or slow twitch fibers, correct? Now, just based on looks alone, which type of fibers will make you look better – slow twitch or fast twitch? Do you want to look like a muscled up, cut up sprinter or a smooth, skinny long distance athlete? Easy answer – muscled up, cut up for any of our people, whether they are athletes or soccer moms. So, if we always train at the same speed, using relatively the same loads, the fast twitch fibers never get stressed and the intermediate twitch fibers will begin to take on the characteristics of the slow twitch fibers. So, the programming, over time, will create fit people that can work for 30 – 60 seconds at a time that have fewer and fewer fast twitch acting fibers to call upon in training, performance and life.
So, to summarize, have a heavy, slow big lift day; implement a medium load day with extended pauses and holds; and have a fast explosive day with light, fast explosive exercises and reps done for short burst intervals (think Tabata style training, but with breaks if needed for fitness levels) and the emphasis is on quality, quality and quality!!
After just a month of this change in quality and emphasis of training, you will find your muscles thicker and dense (thanks to the holds and explosive reps) and your fitness and strength levels breaking through to new plateaus due to the giant sets increasing the tempo of the workout and training all the muscle fibers!!
Remember . . .
In the 80’s, when I began my career as a collegiate strength and conditioning coach, the field was new to college and on the private side powerlifting, bodybuilding, jogging and aerobics ruled the world. Strength training technique in the weight room was everything. Outfits, shoes and beats per minute were the keys to jogging and aerobics. The legends were in their prime in power lifting and bodybuilding. Amazing as it sounds, people worked out without personal music and ran without any music at all back in the “olden” days. The Walkman was just beginning to be the thing for personalized music on the move. As the 80’s evolved, the National Strength Coaches Association was growing from its inception (1979), created a certification and began to court the non-strength coach, thus evolving into the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Several other organizations began to pop up to serve the private side of the industry that was based on memberships and fitness rather than performance and winning. However, everyone still seemed to be focused on the technical aspects of what to do and how to actually do it properly. In performance, the big argument was powerlifting, bodybuilding and Olympic lifting versus Nautilus H.I.T. (High Intensity Training) or one set to failure that was the training style at various universities, most notably Michigan and Penn State. The inference was since Michigan and Penn State were good, H.I.T. had to be good, regardless of the fact that H.I.T. was a style of training unique to the United States. The NSCA decided to wage a scientific battle against the “HIT” philosophy and ran the coaches at the “HIT” programs out of the organization.
Steroids were a part of the sports culture of the 80’s. Some football athletes dabbled in them or used them at one time or another. Were they isolated to football athletes or running rampant in colleges? In my opinion and experience, no. However, they were being used by some and a very few collegiate coaches were even jailed or sent to prison for possession or allowing their distribution.
Toward the end of the 80’s and early 90’s, the importance of nutrition and speed began to become apparent in performance. The winning teams in football (most notably the University of Washington at the turn of the decade and Miami University throughout the 90’s) were extremely focused on recruiting speed and Nebraska had retained a nutritionist on staff to assist the dining hall in refueling the players at meals as well as creating a refueling station in the weight room for immediate pre- and post-workout protein and carbohydrate ingestion. The better the nutritional support, the faster the athletes recovered. The faster the athlete recovered, the more quality work they could do which in turn led to better quality performances and fewer injuries. Many performance-enhancing drugs lead to better quality recovery and are not for the performance itself. The private side of the industry was beginning to realize that gyms that were franchised (Gold’s, Bally’s, etc.) were opportunities to sell memberships and make lots of money. A few privately owned gyms were beginning to realize the opportunity that existed with the death of Physical Education in the school systems, but the concept of performance training for hire had yet to make it into the mainstream of our culture or the private side of the industry. Certifications for strength coaches and fitness professionals began with the introduction of a certification by the NSCA. A written test without a practical test (the NATA had both written and practical), it was designed by P.hD.’s and some coaches that had some weight room knowledge, but was rapidly changed by P.hD.’s that had less and less actual coaching and fitness training knowledge. However, as it was first and the NSCA had the money to get it accredited, it became the gold standard.
Periodization become huge with the introduction to the industry of computer programming that can control exercise selection, sets, reps, rest time and even rep execution time. Periodization became the buzzword as it came out of the former USSR, which had great success in the training and competition of their athletes. The USSR also had complete control of their athletes 24/7 and a cutting edge drug program. They selected for talent, trained the selected athletes and those that survived were national, world and Olympic champions. With the fall of the wall and the collapse of their system, several of their coaches and sports scientists came to our country and Canada and began to teach and write. This information enlightened performance coaches that with great quality of repetition execution and additional volume over time, the athletes could indeed get bigger, faster, quicker and stronger. However, the problem with true periodization as espoused was that in our system, we do not have control, only influence over the athlete and drugs are outlawed and tested for by the NCAA, USOC, etc. In the private industry, there is even less influence so the ability to sequence and order the exercises on any given day in order to create a training effect become paramount to the training process.
The 90’s saw the advance of the association focused on servicing the needs of the members of the fitness, private performance and rehab/reconditioning industry. The medical trainers had the National Athletic Trainers Association, which with the backing of the team physicians had tremendous influence with the National Collegiate Athletic Association. The collegiate strength coaches were now beginning to feel the pressure that could be exerted when they had no voice and no one to support them. By now, virtually every pro team and university had at least one strength coach. 70-80 hour weeks were the norm and the coaches were not only in the weight room but out on the track, field and court teaching speed development, plyometrics, agility and conditioning for a variety of sports in addition to football.
The National Academy of Sports Medicine became an organization focused on the health and well being of the individual for
movement as well as performance. The NASM created education based on injury prevention for coaches and trainers that came from the world of physical therapists rather than from the world of sports and its coaches. The collegiate strength coaches were fed up with being used by the NSCA and broke off to found the Collegiate Strength and Conditioning Coaches Association – the CSCCA, which was later changed to the CSCCa due to pressure from the NSCA of the threat of a lawsuit for name infringement. Since the CSCCa had little in terms of resources, they changed the big A to a little a. This action by the NSCA was followed in the early 2000’s by a lawsuit to force the separate NSCA certification agency to come under the wing of the NSCA, effectively ending the NSCA’s presence in Lincoln, NE after almost 30 years. IHRSA, IDEA, ACE and other organizations began to support the private side business owner and trainer, thus diluting the field and creating a myriad of certifications, many of which became accredited by the 2000’s when the accrediting agencies began to realize that volume creates revenue.
The 90’s were also the era of the supplement. Supplements were running wild. From supplements that were laced with steroids to steroid pre-cursers, speed mixes for weight loss and various proteins for weight gain to the latest supplement that had that secret ingredient (always from another country, usually in a difficult to reach area that no one had visited and backed by a guy from that country with a sweet accent). Today that secret ingredient is termed a proprietary formula if you read labels. Some ingredients were outlawed (such as ma huang) and several were banned by organizations due to knee jerk reaction (androstenedionne – (doesn’t really do much if anything) and creatine (has many positive effects and no known negative side effects)) due to public or organizational pressures. Drug testing and suspension became a common headline as noted by the even the most casual sports fan.
During the late 90’s, franchising of performance venues began to be introduced. By the early 2000’s they were beginning to gain traction as they gained support by investment capital or by word or mouth. Velocity, a big box concept was sold to many franchisees but died a death of natural causes, as the box was too big to generate the volume/revenue needed for sustainability. Parisi Speed School, an additional revenue stream of curriculum and some equipment that could added to or built into many an existing club has become very strong in the private industry. Athlete’s Performance has become a leader in the performance industry. This company was founded on the business model goal of training the top 5% of athletes in any given sport. It has grown over the past several years to a handful of franchises scattered across the Sun Belt from LA to Florida. Perform-Better, an equipment company that added an educational component with great speakers, great service and top notch content began to make huge inroads in the educational market of performance, fitness and business in the industry as Perform-Better let the market set the speaker line-up.
The business of combine’s and combine prep became very strong in the 90’s. Training the young stars of college to perform well at the NFL Combine first burst upon the scene with the performance of Mike Mamula at the NFL Combine when he sprinted, jumped, and drilled at a level of performance that scored so well he created a huge buzz. Today, the combine training concept has infiltrated the NBA, MLB and the NHL and trickled down to the high school level as athletes prepare for the opportunity to pursue their dream of scholarship at the school of their dreams.
By the 2000’s, certification became the key to additional revenue. Kettle bell certification, NASM Certification, CSCCa certification, Titleist Performance Institute, NSCA – Personal Trainer Certified, Idea, ACE, etc. had all created certifications as well as several high profile trainers. While the NSCA still felt they were the gold standard, many professionals began to question the validity of a test that had no practical aspect and an organization that was centered on the squat and power clean as the answer to many if not most (all?) training protocols.
In the 2000’s, it became apparent that salary caps, luxury taxes, scholarship reductions, and Title IX had made quality athletes a premium in any sport and keeping them healthy became a priority. Injury prevention, screening (both the NASM Body Map and the FMS – Functional Movement Screen) became a tool in which the patterns of the body could be quantified and qualified in a subjective – objective scoring system. Thus, a baseline could be found and the concept of “corrective exercise” could be introduced to the warm-up, cool-down or exercise session in order to keep the athlete healthy. The corrective exercise toolbox is still developing for all health, fitness and performance professionals. The key, knowing when to refer the client, patient or athlete to the proper professional in order to stay centered on correcting the problem rather than treating the symptom.
In the 2000’s, a new organization came to the forefront in which high intensity circuits are the foundation of the training. As it evolved, certifications were rolled out in several areas and Crossfit became the hottest new franchise opportunity. Crossfit attracts highly motivated individuals and is executed as a group exercise concept, which makes it attractive for gyms and trainers. The tactical community is attracted as it is an intense “smoke session” that takes relatively little time. The only drawback at this point (in my opinion) is when it is done with poor technique or when technique breaks down due to a lack of fitness or endurance, either of which can lead to problems.
Finally, the era of allowing the athlete to have it all whether it was in terms of guaranteed money, no cut contracts or work hours and jobs and time off in college have created a situation in which the coaches are under pressure for performance of the team and athlete. The athlete in college and the pros (in many cases) wants to do as little as possible in terms of physical preparation. Collegiate strength and conditioning coaches are only allowed 8 hour, 8 weeks in the spring and 8 optional weeks (for the athlete) in the summer and are not allowed to punish the athlete outside that 8 hours of work. Therefore, some athletes are not prepared for the volume or intensity of the workload in a given workout. Athletic dorms were outlawed decades ago so many student athletes live off-campus and eat poorly, under sleep, under recover and try to force their body to improve in off-season. Sadly, in some cases, the athlete is caught in a situation in which the workload overloads the body to such an extent that the athlete cannot handle it and gets into a life threatening state in which some young men have even died. Was the workout too much? It was not for the other young men and was not over the course of the career of the coaches involved. Why this young person on this particular day? In my opinion, too much regulation by people in charge that do not understand, no voice by the professionals in dealing day to day with this in many/most cases (collegiate strength coaches) and mainstreaming of the intercollegiate athlete. In pro sports it just ruins the sport. Guaranteed money makes athletes lazy, selfish and bad team members.
In 2010, the United States Special Operations Command began to hire strength and condition professionals for each and every Special Forces team in order to keep the warrior athletes healthy. Looking at the professional and elite (BCS) collegiate model, they understand that with better physical training methods, quality recovery and optimal nutrition, the warrior athlete will better be able to execute his/her job and fulfill the mission. With the amount of training the SF community receives over the course of his/her career, many of these warrior athletes are truly million dollar athletes, just like our sports “heroes”.
The tools the fitness professional learns over time that when put into play can influence, recondition, train for performance or prevent injury in the population that the trainer or coach comes into contact each and every day is the key. In my opinion, it has become a time in which you study, practice and train to learn the skills needed to become a proficient coach or physical trainer in order to serve your population. Your ability to understand and lead, train and groom a business is different than the ability to lead, train and groom a staff at a university or in the Special Forces community. The tools needed (periodization, reconditioning, speed, weight loss, client recruitment, marketing, speaking, teaching, technical expertise, etc.) may be similar in many cases, but while some are sharp and shiny from use other will rust due to lack of use, as some tools are not needed in a particular arena.
Much as a professional martial artist or MMA athlete may study with a variety of teachers and coaches over their career in order to learn various skills, it is time for the coach and trainer to study and learn from a variety of professionals in order to learn skills, concepts and techniques in order to better serve the community in which he or she practices.
What is the next concept, franchise or era of performance training? I think it is just that . . . performance training. Using all the
tools at our disposal to train, recondition, prehab, teach and inspire our scholastic, collegiate, professional and amateur athletes to greater heights and more enduring careers.
I just finished reading an excerpt from a book about Special Operations Doctrine. It reads like a theory of sport. Here are the basic 6 steps to achieve success over a numerically stronger opponent (or in sport, a physically superior opponent).
1. Simplicity (of the plan – which improves the odds of success)
2. Security (of preparation and practice)
3. Repetition (focused, game speed reps encompassing/addressing all most likely scenarios)
4. Surprise (game planning specific for this opponent)
5. Speed (of execution – which is a relative speed – speed of play calling, processing and execution, transition)
6. Purpose (Goal – Marty Schottenheimer called it the game with in the game – the goal for Offense, Defense, Special teams and individuals limited to no more than 3 items, that if achieved, will result in success).
If you counsel or interact with sport coaches, give them this simple checklist for examining their strategy for the season. It may pay off big if applied to individual situations by astute coaches.
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Look, if you had one shot or one opportunity,
To seize everything you ever wanted,
in one moment . . .
Would you capture it,
or would you let it slip . . .
One shot, one moment, one opportunity is easy. Everyone in the world has the ability to go for it, let it all out, give it their best for the big chance with no regrets. But that moment comes only with hours, days, months and sometimes even years of preparation to create the opportunity, that instant in which for a fleeting moment of time the window is open, the stars are aligned and the moment is ripe to seize the day and become recognized as the winner and even champion that you have become. The grind of preparation creates the winner, the focus and execution day in and day out creates the opportunity and knowing in your heart of hearts that you have earned and deserve the mantel of winner, of champion, will determine the outcome of the moment.
Talent is a precursor to success in any field in which physical skill is the dominant trait. However,
talent alone is greatly overshadowed by a willingness to grind out preparation in the form of quality, focused practice repetitions. Several different studies as well as a book by Malcolm Gladwell have documented many elite musicians and athletes that chose to practice basic fundamental tasks such as musical scales, core training, footwork and balance drills in order to keep the foundation solid on which the talent is allowed to flourish. This commitment to repetitive, daily basic skills is the key for successful elite artists and athletes. As legendary pianist Vladimar Horowitz was quoted, “If I don’t practice for a day, I know it. If I don’t practice for two days, my wife knows it. If I don’t practice for three days, the world knows it.” On the Today show when ask what it takes to be such a prolific writer, John Grisham responded that you must write a page a day, every day. Some days it may take five minutes, some days five hours, but you must write a page a day.
To become accomplished in any endeavor, practice is critical. But how much practice, what kind of practice? It has been theorized in many articles, books and studies that it takes 10,000 hours of focused, deliberate practice effort to become accomplished or elite in any endeavor. Your ultimate success is influenced by genetics, timing, opportunity and location. Several studies in piano, swimming, violin, diving, weightlifting and other sports have found that 10,000 hours of practice over 10 years is the minimum time required to achieve international levels of expertise. National levels were recognized at 7500 hours of deliberate practice and regional champions were crowned after 5000 hours of practice over 10 years time. This means that an athlete intent on becoming world class would need to commit an average of 1,000 hours per year, 20 hours per week (assuming 50 weeks of training) and 3-4 hours per day (assuming 6 days per week – 5 days would require a solid 4 hours per day). This is focused, deliberate practice not including competition. The intensity of training preparation will build layer upon layer of skill, one quality repetition at a time in order to make seemingly impossible execution look effortless. Practice does not make perfect, only perfect practice makes for perfect execution.
In today’s society another challenge is to find time to recover. Many elite athletes studied engaged in a full eight hours of sleep each night as well as a 30 minute nap between practice sessions in order to maximize recovery. Many times overtraining is a function of under recovery rather than too great a stimulus in terms of volume and/or intensity. For today’s athlete, this recovery means shutting down the laptop and phone and resting. In addition, quality nutrition is also a challenge in our hurry up, fast paced society. Fast food is also fat food if you drop the s – which means many times athletes must take time to prepare snacks and pack food and water with them in order to have quality choices throughout the day. As the athlete ages and the quality of training increases, finding time for active means of recovery is vital. From various massage styles and hydrotherapy baths to post training stretching and tempo running, recovery is the vital compenent for elite athletes in heavy training phases. In fact, recovery at the end of one training session sets the stage for and is the beginning of the next training session. When the stress of our culture, intense training volumes, lack of adequate recovery and poor nutritional choices collide, that is when injury and illness rear their heads and put the process off course for days, weeks and even months.
Desire, even passion, burning white hot in the belly of the performer day after day makes preparation a joy, not a chore. Many champions relate stories
of despair in the journey, setbacks in training, injuries, and lost opportunities in which they contemplated just quitting. Many times it was at this critical time a coach, mentor, parent or chance meeting with a person of stature in their endeavor who said just the right thing at just the right time to reignite the flames of competitive passion and rekindle the fire of preparation.
In order to become a world class performer it takes a lifestyle commitment by the athlete and their family and at least 10,000 hours of focused, deliberate practice over a full decade. It is easy for distraction, lack of will, loss of desire, injury, and just plain old life to interfere with the path to the prize. However, overcoming these obstacles is what separates a guy from THE guy, a winner from a champion. Being a winner is a daily choice. Becoming a champion is a journey, expressed in a moment of confluence of preparation and opportunity that only a few will ever experience, which is why we find it so compelling.
The keys to weight loss and muscle gain is three things. Those are proper nutrition fueling at the correct time, the burning of calories and resistance exercise. We all know some or all of those principles. Let’s look at them a little closer.
Proper nutrition – Protein First
Proper nutrition is protein first. Many people do not eat breakfast. We KNOW it is THE critical meal, but many people choose not to eat first thing in the morning. Ok, how do we overcome this for real people in the real world? Have a snack. Then have another mid-morning. This will make up for no breakfast at all. The patterns of eating fall into two general paths. Three meals and a snack or two OR two to three snacks and two meals would be the best of choices. Both of these patterns will allow for optimal fueling patterns for the body IF the proper food is chosen in terms of quality. The key is protein first. Every snack should have a minimum of 10g of protein and every meal should have 20g of protein. That is the key. Why only 20g at any given meal? The body can only metabolize and utilize about 20g at any given time. So the excess is excreted or stored. The quality of the protein is the next critical factor. Breakfast meats, many protein bars and other choices will have too many other ingredients that will overload your system in terms of sugar, fats or calories. READ THE LABELS!! If you have three snacks and two meals with the minimal optimal protein content you will ingest a minimum of 70g of protein. If you choose 3 meals and two snacks of the minimal optimal protein content you will have 80g of protein. Keep your protein levels constant throughout the day, much like when you have to take medicine 2 – 3 times per day in order to keep the levels high enough in the blood stream to create an effect! If you just keep your protein levels optimal and your sugar levels optimal throughout the day, your health will improve almost immediately in terms of how you feel, energy levels and frame of mind. Here are some common foods with calories and protein content listed.
PEANUTS, OIL ROASTED, SALTED 1 CUP 840 39
CASHEW NUTS, OIL ROASTD,SALTED 1 CUP 750 21
ALMONDS, SLIVERED 1 CUP 795 27
CHICKEN, STEWED, LIGHT + DARK 1 CUP 250 38
ICE CREAM, VANLLA, REGULR 11% 1/2 GALN 2155 38
TUNA SALAD 1 CUP 375 33
CHICKEN, CANNED, BONELESS 5 OZ 235 31
COTTAGE CHEESE,LOWFAT 2% 1 CUP 205 31
HAMBURGER, 4OZ PATTY 1 SANDWH 445 25
TURKEY, ROASTED, LIGHT MEAT 2 PCE 135 25
PORK CHOP, LOIN, BROIL,LN+FT 3.1 OZ 275 24
BEEF STEAK,SIRLOIN,BROIL,LN+FT 3 OZ 240 23
GROUND BEEF, BROILED, LEAN 3 OZ 230 20
OYSTERS, RAW 1 CUP 160 20
ENG MUFFIN, EGG, CHEESE, BACON 1 SANDWH 360 18
REFRIED BEANS, CANNED 1 CUP 295 18
When choosing to eat what we eat, this will give you a great idea on how to choose protein first.
Proper Nutrition – Portion Size
There are many little tricks to eat less. One of the best is to drink lots of water each and every day. Many times when we are hungry, we are really just thirsty. Drink a large glass of water before any meal or snack. The second trick is to make sure that the first meal or snack of the day has the optimal amount of protein. If you have carbs first then your body will want carbs first the rest of the day! Another trick is to eat a small salad first. This will tend to fill you up with less caloric dense foods. Watch the dressing choice! When you finish eating, get up and get busy with something. Don’t linger and graze as you will end up eating more as you talk and watch others eat. The last trick is when eating, just eat, do not ever eat and do something else (especially something quiet like read or watch tv!!). This is a killer for max caloric intake. Finally, order the smaller portion. Sounds easy, but it can be difficult to do. If it is not available, share one entre as this will cut the portion size for both of you!
Set your watch and have a snack or a meal every 3-4 hours. Eat when you are NOT hungry, but eat small portions with adequate protein numbers. When you workout, make SURE that you have protein and sugar available for the muscle cells and get some protein and sugar back into your body as soon as the workout is over. Try half of a bar or drink before and half after, as this will be more in line with what your body can utilize. MORE IS BETTER – but it is more often, not more quantity!
The key to adding muscle mass is resistance training. Just getting up and moving will tend to add mass to your lower body which are some of the largest and dense muscles in the body. You can choose to lift weights or just do body weight resistance training as either will tend to add muscle to your body if the volume of the training is more than you are used to and adequate nutrition is available to the cells during and immediately after the workout.
The key to resistance training is to do circuits that push you beyond your comfort zone. If you do a long run, a long bike ride, a long elliptical session you will certainly burn calorie during the session. However, AFTER the session, your body will quickly return to homeostasis and its’ resting state. If you choose to do a circuit or interval sprints then not only do you burn calories during the session, but for HOURS after the session, the body will need to repay the debt incurred during the intense training session in terms of increase heart rate, increase metabolism and increase respiration. You can actually DOUBLE the amount of calories burned in one half hour session in an intense circuit or interval workout over a steady state “distance” workout. Yes, you read correctly – DOUBLE!! The trade off is that the intensity is difficult to maintain. So, how do YOU incorporate this into your exercise program? Do a circuit 1-2 times per week and keep up your normal long, slow, mental health session. Then, after your work capacity and ability to recover gets better, then do 2-3 circuits in one week and then 1-2 sessions the next, so every month you go from 4-8 circuits up to 8-12 circuits. Now you will see big time results IF you combine it with your optimal nutrition program. Remember guys and girls, it is thong and speedo season!! Good luck!
The clean should be taught from the top down. The human mind can only focus on one cue at a time when learning new skills. I prefer to keep it simple in order for the athlete to internalize the cues quickly and remember them easily. When teaching any ground based skill it is critical to teach the base of support/stance first.
The stance can be taught several ways. Have the athlete jump up 3 times and land in a quarter squat on the third jump. Have the athlete assume their high bar squat stance. Have the athlete place their heels under the hips and externally rotate the feet out at 7-15 degrees. External rotation of the feet is important any time the athlete has load through the spine. Being able to squat with the feet straight ahead is a function of hip external rotation mobility. Squatting with the feet straight ahead with load is an excellent way to cause back strain and injury. Back to teaching the clean stance. This stance is the basic athletic stance for jumping and landing.
The knees are flexed with the kneecaps even with the toes. The torso is upright at this time. The abs are braced, the shoulder blades are retracted and the wrists are turned straight down OR the elbows are turned out. Why are these the cues and why are they important? The knees are flexed so that they are in a position to jump, but will not move/flex in the slide of the bar down the legs. The abs are braced in order to protect the lumbar spine and transfer force. The shoulder blades are retracted in order to better transfer the power from the legs and hips through the shoulders to better move the load on the bar with speed. The wrists turned down/straight OR the elbows are turned out in order to create an upright row path of the bar in order to keep the bar close to the center of mass, a much stronger position to impart force.
When the athlete understands and can execute the stance and the posture, the hang clean techniques can be introduced. The first is to hinge at the hip and execute a bend over. The body weight should stay centered on the foot with the load being full footed but NEVER “on the toes”! The body weight can be SLIGHTLY forward on the forefoot (I will grab the athlete and let them feel their weight centered on the foot, back on the heel and forward on the forefoot by having them lock their body and rocking them back and forth so they can understand how slight the change is in their center that can change the entire movement). I have them bend over, bend over and then jump. We will execute this movement several times. Then the athlete will execute an upright row, putting the “hands in the armpits” with a grip so that the hands are outside the edge of the legs. The elbows will be high and wide. This can be done with body weight, a dowel rod or a bar. Next I will have them put it together so that they will say OUT LOUD “Feet”, “Knees”, “Chest”, “Wrist” in order to set up and then they ONLY NEED TO DO 2 MOVEMENTS – ONE AT A TIME! The movements are “Bend Over” and “Jump” and the jump should be HIGH! The bar should remain close, go to the mid-chest area and the elbows should be high and wide. The jump will cause the athlete to leave the ground, but the stance upon returning to the ground should be the normal clean stance, which is also the normal squat stance.
The RackThe rack is a rack – NOT A CATCH! Many times people will “catch” the bar, and it will land on them with a thud on the shoulder, which is very uncomfortable for young athletes or very lean athletes, both of which have very little muscle mass on the upper shoulders. The key to the rack is to keep pressure on the bar at all times. The pull converts to a push as the bar passes the upright row phase into the rack onto the shoulders. This in turn allows the athlete to rack the bar at a position in which the load is absorbed at the highest level of the front squat. If the rack is smooth, the load will be absorbed by the legs and hips; with the torso being stabilized and braced for protection. When the load is heavy, the rack will be accomplished with a low front squat where if the load is light, the rack will be in a high front squat position. In other words, the load will determine the depth of the squat on the catch.
Flaws, Problems and Corrections –
Weight misplaced in the base of support – Too far forward and the athlete will have to jump to the bar, lean back on the rack or reverse curl the load up to the rack position. Too far back and the bar will hit the belt or belly on the way up or there will be no power transferred into the bar.
No Shrug – The shrug is a key component of the high pull and the last bit of force imparted to the bar on the upward path before the pull force changes to the push force of the rack.
Lazy Elbows – The elbow quite often gets lazy and the bar will begin to drift away from the center or torso, requiring the athlete to again reverse curl the bar or lean back on the rack.
Rounded upper back or lazy shoulder blade retraction – This results in a portion of the power generated in the hips and legs being lost in the upper back as the torso flexes and the taps stretch, absorbing force that should be transferred into the bar. If the flex continues down the torso into the lumbar spine, injury can occur and could be quite serious.
Soft Core – Many times a beginner will not maintain a braced core, and the body will look as if it is flexing through the torso as the lift is executed. This flex is wave like in appearance and is due to the abs not being braced. While not too dangerous in terms of injury (unless it is excessive or the load is great), the resultant lack of transfer of force will seriously limit the ability of the athlete to generate force into the bar and move the weight with speed.
Landing in a wide stance after the pull/jump – this denotes a lack of leg strength in the ability of the athlete to squat with load. This is remedied by prescribing more squatting activities.
Teaching Drills –
Slide, Slide and Shrug, Slide and Hang Clean – This drill is just like it sounds. First, slide the bar down to the hang and then up; Second, slide the bar down to the hang and then up with a shrug; Third, Slide the bar down to a hang and then clean it.
Hang Clean and Front Squat – Again, Just like is sounds. Do a normal hang clean and follow it up with a squat – or multiples of both the squat and/or the clean. If they are weak in the squat, do 1-2 Hang Cleans and 2-5 Front Squats.
Slide, Pause and Hang Clean – This is for starting strength. A normal hang clean is elastic (think rubber band/ball – elastic). Do a normal slide and then hold the hang position for up to 5 seconds before executing the hang clean. This will train the athlete to have excellent form, great back side chain strength in the hang position and good explosion out of the hang or athletic position.
Bar – the traditional implement for use in the hang clean.
Dumbbells – ok to use but will change the elbow position and foster a lazy elbow, which is a common error.
Kettlebells – a somewhat “new” implement for hang cleans and this does mimic the general hang clean pattern that a bar requires for optimal execution.
Ground based trainers – such as a bar type implement that is anchored on one end (think land mine set-up). This is ok in general, but can restrict the ability of the bar to move naturally in the “S” shape if the anchor point does not rotate in a 360 degree ROM but it does enforce good mechanics.
Summary – The hang clean is the usual starting place for learning the clean from the floor, blocks and with other implements. Once the hang clean is mastered, it is relatively easy to introduce the clean from below the knees and then the clean from the floor. The hang snatch is super easy to learn when the hang clean becomes natural as the hang snatch is really even easier to learn.
I have had the honor of contributing as a speaker on the Perform Better Tour every year since its inception save 2010. (In 2010 I was told by the President and the Executive Director that I had to chose between my job and Perform Better – even though I had vacation time approved to go and speak). Anyway – I feel the best, most usable, unbiased source of information for performance coaches in the land is the Perform Better Summit series.
The speakers are top notch, the service is great, the support of the Perform Better team is without equal and the entertainment combined with the educational content is unparalleled.
If you are involved in rehab or reconditioning, sport coaching, performance training or personal training, I can highly recommend, without reservation attending a P-B Summit. If money is an issue and you are a CSCS and NSCA member, drop your membership (unless you can find value in it) and use that money to help fund your trip to the Summit. You will not regret it.