Posts Tagged ‘football’

As both a ‘personal trainer’ and strength & conditioning (S&C) coach into my 4th decade of work, my view of the profession is broader than what any “soundbite” or general observation can provide.

A recent article from USA Today (from August 19, 2015) highlighted a common aversion that sport team coaches, especially in football, have regarding their players training with personal coaches to improve their individual performance and potential. I am going to present a balanced, counterpoint to the “case” made in that piece.

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I’ve addressed the role of a personal S&C coach on podcasts, in articles, and even recorded an audio product a few years back about the ‘state of the union’ in today’s fitness and S&C fields and the benefits of a qualified private coach.

Editor’s note: For sake of this article, coach and trainer can be used interchangeably although there can certainly be a discernible difference in the two. As well, it is known that there are both  men and women as qualified coaches.

Though we’ve made undeniable progress in the field of athletic preparation, in regards to attaining scientific validation of many of our chosen training methods, and in ‘program design’ for greater work/recovery efficiency, there’s also a most evident downside that has “progressed” as well—

The dilution of a field, once consisting of a streamlined group of coaches in it for the primary purpose of developing a healthier and better performing athlete.

As with most any vocation that involves personal service, ulterior motives such as image, ego, and financial gain will be the attraction for those who are purely self-serve-driven. For more than half a century, the world of competitive sports has attracted plenty of “characters” into an athlete’s entourage so this is certainly nothing new or surprising. The place where the line is crossed is when any professional outside the structure of an organized team or individual sport is thrown into the same category as a posse of opportunists.

Make no mistake, one of the incentives of a personal S&C coach is ‘to be in business’ to make money, to handle their personal, family, and business financial responsibilities, and that’s certainly not a problem. The problematic issue arises when a coach is using an athlete, or athletes, to create an “image of relevance” and build a career that would not be there otherwise. When this is the case, there is a certain conflict-of-interest that occurs as the personal coach becomes a “pimp” of sorts and a subsequent divisive component in the athlete’s development and relationship with his/her team.

Fortunately, this scenario is not the rule but the exception, yet it is becoming increasingly more common. And, when it does occur it gives credence to team coaches for being suspicious, and often times downright antagonistic, to any coach in private practice.

As with most career choices, when quantity substantially increases, quality substantially decreases. In my assessment, nowhere is this more evident than in the S&C industry. And, reality is that it’s an industry where someone can learn just enough technical jibberish and apply a heavy dose of charisma and marketing to deceive a large percentage of young athletes and their parents into thinking they are the answer to fulfilling their dreams.

Considering that “trainer certifications” can be obtained literally in a matter of hours at a weekend workshop, and considering anyone who “benches and squats a lot”, does 50-inch box jumps on YouTube, has a few tattoos along with the Mr. Clean hair style,  and a social media account can call themselves an “expert”, it’s easy to understand why we are headed on a clear path of compromise in an ever-increasing, watered-down genre of performance coaching.

As I’ve sincerely stated many times, I can teach a 5 year-old how to just wear someone out.

I realize that bringing up this issue will necessitate a “well, what’s the solution?” response. The answer lies in awareness and accountability. It’s the responsibility of each authentic S&C professional to uphold personal standards of commitment, integrity, humility, respect for colleagues, and the insatiable desire to be a better coach with continuing education. And, this continued education has little to do with letters after your name and everything about understanding that you never stop learning.

Adhering to the above principles will insure that we keep industry standards where they need be, and that itself can go a long way in warding off those with less than the respect, dedication, servility, and diligence essential for true success and longevity in the field of athletic preparation.

As well, the coaching circle must tighten-up. Coaches are better when viewing each other as associates, a part of the progressive process, where each of us brings unique qualities and assets to the coaching continuum. The childish criticism, biases, jealously, and back-biting often seen tends to manifest when there’s a gap of insecurity in the coaching circle.

Social media and marketing has plenty of positives, yet can also lead to an atmosphere of who can throw around the most technical, yet confusing and inapplicable, terms, “recruit” the most followers, bash the most competitors, and pander to people’s sense of ambition through their feelings of insufficiency and inferiority. As tempting or justified as you may deem it, success in the S&C field is never about impressing people with what you think you know or trashing other coaches or their methods, but about minding your work with a spirit of humility, clarity, and confidence.

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As cliché as it may sound, coaching is best when it’s a brotherhood. It’s a mature coach who understands that we train the person first, then the athlete.  This coach will have trusted go-to colleagues to call on to help produce a more complete product, a better result, and be quick to return the favor when called upon.

Every training principle in existence has been around long enough that only a fool would believe otherwise. Thus, egos can take a rest when someone thinks they’ve originated anything along the lines of training methods and techniques. The individuality is purely in the realm of application of these principles.

Individual coaches may have developed certain “systems” and programming that are more proficient or efficient than another, and each coach has areas they are more skilled in as well as those aspects of the athletic preparation spectrum they need more assistance in. The tighter the circle, the stronger the circle. This can obviously lead into an entire topic of its own for a future article. Suffice to say, confidence is needed in coaching though it’s value is entirely dependent on humility and mutual respect for colleagues.

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Exhibit A: There are people in ‘any’ personal service profession that are in it for self-serving reasons and the S&C industry is not immune to that.  It may sound self-righteous to point out there are those in “training business” purely  for the incentives of making money and making-a-name. Notice I did not say these reasons are “wrong”, as for those individuals it may in fact be their best rationale. That’s reality…and simply put,  ‘client/athlete’ beware.

Exhibit B: There are people in a specialized personal service business with the primary incentive being to serve the specific needs of others. There are potentially major performance-enhancing, injury-preventive, and yes, psychological advantages and benefits in hiring, and working consistently with, a qualified personal performance coach. There’s no arguing that a sport like football is a team sport, however, the best teams are made up of individuals that are at their best for the team by taking accountability to be at their best.

Even the best ‘in-team’ training programs– at the most elite high schools and colleges– are limited in what they can address for the individual in regards to optimizing their fullest potential. Qualified personal coaches can assess and address specific attributes of the athlete in a way far beyond the scope of a team setting. Key areas like mobility, speed and agility mechanics, and even lifting technique get little to no attention in the team environment due to logistics or fact that even the best football coaches are not necessarily qualified S&C coaches and lack the skills to teach these techniques.

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That said, the value of ‘in-team’ workouts at school need not ever lose their significance. It’s not an “either or” issue. I prefer to call the training an individual athlete does “on their own” as beyond the team responsibilities as opposed to “outside” of it. Consider it in the same perspective of an athlete staying after practice for extra work while his teammates may have hit the showers. It should not be a divisive measure, but observed as one that inspires teammates and positively impacts the team.

It’s understandable that a team’s head coach, and other members of the coaching staff, will be hesitant to jump on board with someone “on the outside” influencing their kids. This is especially true in football as the in-team weight room and conditioning workouts are used, to a large extent, as a place to galvanize, discipline, and even punish the kids.

Over the years, I’ve had a relatively small group of head coaches who take the time to actually investigate the benefits of a non-staff S&C coach. Much of this hesitancy comes from failure to differentiate between a team’s performance and discipline. It’s similar to how any parent would feel if someone ‘outside the home’ came in to discipline their kids. It’s an understandable misperception, yet with a solution better than ignorance and settling for sub-optimal performance.

A qualified personal coach will understand the necessity of designing the athlete’s work done beyond the team in a way that complements the in-team workouts and never compromises the authority of the team’s coaching staff or the unity of the team. I personally communicate with each of my athletes that they are not to standout in any fashion that alienates teammates, but to take accountability as a leader to a whole new level.
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The personal coach can be a significant asset to not only individual players but also the team in general with a greater presence of leadership. As well, the coaching staff can benefit by focusing more on what their speciality is, the actual sport. Again, it’s not an ‘either or’ dilemma but a healthy integrated approach, with communication that eliminates the unnecessary confusion and conflict. And, this all begins with the maturity of the personal S&C coach and willingness of team coaches to become better educated. When this understanding is in place, the bottom line is:  a better prepared individual will not only be helping their future but also be a stronger component for the team.

–VM

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As I’ve mentioned previously, the purpose of this weekly page is to give you information you can use…NOW…on key topics of interest in the field of performance and physique training.

I will touch briefly on the “why?” ,and follow with information, and examples, of the “how to” part of the solution equation. There are plenty of reliable informational resources available on the “science” of what I present so I’m going to focus on what I specialize in– the applications of sound, and proven, training principles, techniques, and their many variations and combinations.

Now onto this week’s topic: One of the most often neglected aspects of an otherwise solid strength training program is the implementation of single-side, or unilateral lower body training (ULBT). Even with the more frequent coverage of the topic via training blogs and other articles on the Internet, there remains a lack of understanding of its value, and application in a large percentage of training programs, especially at the high school and collegiate levels.

In actuality, it can be argued that ULBT is more important than performing exercises with both legs at the same time (re bilateral). (For the contrarians: YES, I know there’s some definite benefit at certain stages to load the body in bilateral fashion as “part” of an optimal training program)

Most all sports, and their specific demands, are unilateral of the lower body, or alternating, in nature. When there is a significant ‘imbalance’ there is at least some degree of compromise. That known, in reality, there likely does not exist a perfectly-balanced pair of limbs on any individual. However, that fact is not justification for ignoring the benefits of striving for as much balance as can be attained.

The benefits of minimizing single leg strength differential include both injury-prevention and performance. There’s plenty of science to back up the issue of ‘bilateral deficit’. This is where the force produced by each leg individually, added together, surpasses what the force would be with both legs working together. No matter if training to increase speed, enhance agility, or heighten jumping ability, ULBT is an invaluable component to a training program for any athlete. And this does not even take into account the inestimable benefits regarding less compression of the spine, and the potential decrease of joint and connective tissue stress.

Beyond just plain old “traditional bias”, the typical rationale of forgoing ULBT exercises in favor of more traditional bilateral drills is: “it’s too time-consuming” or “we can’t use as much weight”. Translation: “I’m too lazy to teach the new exercises”, “I’m too impatient for my athletes to do 2 sets for every 1 they’d do otherwise”, or “my job is to get my athletes’ numbers up… lifting as heavy as possible and they can do more with 2 legs than with 1”.

Obviously there is a practical aspect to how much time is available for training but with unilateral ULBT being such a valuable modality in an overall training program, there needs to be some allowance for any extended time a unilateral exercise may take. In regards to the other “excuses”, I’ll refrain for now and leave that for an upcoming topic of the week.

Below I’m including several video clips demonstrating key variations of progression in ULBT. The first 2 drills are utilizing resistance bands that I prefer to start athletes with in developing key mechanics for the higher-load exercises to come.

Band Overhead Split Squat

This application helps identify, then resolve, weak links in the mechanical chain that would otherwise impair performance in other unilateral LBT drills. The integration of the hips and scapulae builds a foundation for all the higher loads to come.

Band Unilateral Glute/ Ham Deadlift

This drill assists in learning optimal hip hinge that is essential to optimal performance in all lower body training. The resistance is less where most people who have difficulty…have it: the bottom 1/3 of ROM. The resistance increases the remainder of the ROM making this drill an excellent “teaching tool”.

Rear-Foot-Elevated Split Squat

A now-popular exercise that is probably the most common of all of these drills listed. Single leg strength is the priority here as the drill lends itself to higher loading capabilities. Adding intensification techniques such as “1 1/4’s” make this a standard single-leg strength exercise worthy to be in any effective program.

Unilateral Good Morning-to-Reverse Lunge Hybrid

A posterior chain all-star. This exercise hybrid combines an optimal hip hinge with a hip-dominant (re neutral spine while leaning forward) lunge. Utilizing the ‘Ultimate Sandbag‘ in the Zercher position is optimal here due to the engagement of the core region, and thoracic extension, throughout. One of McConnell Athletics’ go-to lower body exercise combination.

Alternate Front Lunge w/KBs in Rack

Many of the benefits of the previous exercise with added emphasis on quad region as the lunge has you stepping forward into a deceleration for the quadriceps. Holding kettlebells (or sandbag) in the “rack” position engages the entire core region for stability throughout spine. Make certain to “make a footprint” with each rep to ensure proper muscular involvement and less demand on knee joint.

Sandbag/ Band Lateral Lunge contrasted w/ Lateral Bounding

A frontal plane combination that employs contrast of higher load with the Ultimate Sandbag with a less-loaded, yet more explosive, band drill which includes a “plyo effect”. Excellent combination for athletes whose sport has lateral, change-of-direction demands and for any rotational sport.

Even with the above demonstrations, this only scratches the surface of valid possibilities in single leg training. Give these exercise applications a legitimate trial and see for yourself the benefits to health, performance, and development for you and/or your athletes or clients. As always, your comments and questions are welcome. As well, any topic you’d like to see covered in future articles please shoot me an email at mcconnellathletics@gmail.com

And, another reminder to check out MOVEMENTLECTURES.COM where you can find my audio lecture The Role of a Personal Strength & Conditioning Coach

In health, performance, and physique–

VM

http://www.mcconnelltraining.com

It’s unlikely that ‘sprint work’ will be eradicated from team sports training programs any time in the near future. There’s little doubt about the benefits of performing sprints for conditioning purposes (NOTE: this is different than sprints performed in speed training where the volume of work SHOULD be considerably less).

With little argument, winning programs and elite athletes have proven ‘running sprints’ (i.e. 110’s, 40’s, gassers, etc) “works” time and again. With that being known, however, it must be acknowledged that there are some liabilities to this particular application when done with little regard to the specific demands, and stresses, placed on the athlete’s specific muscles and soft tissues.

At McConnell Athletics (MA), we spend a significant amount of time on mobility and activation drills prior to each workout. However, even with such diligence to preparing joints and soft tissues, the specific wear on an athlete’s body from a given workload must be taken into account.

With the higher rate of occurrence of ‘overuse’ injuries (i.e. sports hernias) in high school and collegiate athletes due in large part to high-volume linear sprints, adding a slight variation can go long way in eliminating these issues.

We, at MA, implement a variety of drills in addition to ‘sprinting’ to create the necessary demand on an athlete’s energy systems to achieve the desired training effect for optimal performance in athletic competition. However, I also understand that when looking at a team environment with up to 100 athletes working in the same session it’s not always practical to include other drills that may require equipment, and not to mention set up time.

I’ve found a simple alteration with sprint training that serves our needs extremely well on both ends by keeping the sprint training intact while giving just enough variation to minimize the “negatives” of repetitive work in the saggital plane. By performing sprints on a slight incline, itself,can lead to less specific tissue stress in the hip flexor area while placing more demand of the posterior chain. And, by also implementing a ‘downhill’ lateral shuffle as an “active recovery” we are working in the frontal plane which, to the soft tissues, is a healthier manner of dealing with the stress of rep after rep of high exertion linear sprinting.

This is a brief clip of this particular variation in action (NOTE: stay low on the lateral shuffle deceleration and avoid crossing feet, keeping hips and shoulders squared to front):

In Health, Strength, & Performance–

VM

McConnell Athletics
http://www.mcconnelltraining.com