WHY WE FOCUS ON MOVEMENT PATTERNS BEFORE MAX EFFORT

Say you just bought a used car that you planned on fixing up as a weekend project. The car needs a ton of work. Regardless of your experience, intuitively, you may begin with getting the engine to run, change the brakes out, and change the tires. What you wouldn’t do is go directly to adding a turbo to the engine that doesn’t quite run yet. What we can come to realize from this article is that strength and conditioning can be thought of in a very similar way to working on a vehicle.

On “Just Fly Sports Performance Podcast”, I listened to Joel Smith interview French performance coach Jerome Simian on how he built a world record holding decathlete. There was one section of the interview where Jerome notes his viewpoint on how he is able to increase performance through movement rather than through strength and power maxes. While he would agree, there is a time and place for heavy strength lifts, I thought it was a fantastic point made that we can increase the performance of the athlete through creating better movement patterns. This can be thought of like the car mechanic. If we pursue max effort strength movements before addressing competent movement patterns, it’s as if we are increasing the horsepower of the engine while driving on bad brakes and tires. In both the human and the car, the expression of the engine’s horsepower must be facilitated by a structure that is optimal. If structure and movement is not addressed first, we are giving an athlete an engine that is way too powerful for what their frame can handle. This is how countless injuries occur in even the best athletes. Even for an athlete in a strength based training program, we must continually come back to movement focused work; just as we would bring our car in for an oil change and inspection from time to time.

Just yesterday on the training floor, Coach Matt was breaking down a lateral shuffle technique with one of our highest level athletes. I noticed him quietly observe the movement patterns of the athlete’s lower body and feet. I asked him what he was looking for. He noted how he did not like how this athlete was stacking their trail leg during a lateral shuffle as they went to change direction. He felt it placed the athlete in a compromised position. What they did was break down the movement into simple holds, allowing the athlete to feel the exact adjustment that they both agreed that her body should be in. Even though this was a very high level athlete, they struggled in making an adjustment to correctly aligning her body. I couldn’t help but think what a catch this was by Coach Matt. With the naked eye he was able to notice just the slightest leak in positioning of the athletes lower body during a high speed lateral shuffle.

Whether we admit it or not, many humans have this innate belief that more is better. Oftenly in the strength and conditioning field we fall into this trap of trying to squeeze more speed, more power, and more strength out of our athletes. After all, we call ourselves performance coaches. How can we know if we increase performance without a quantitative number to tell us that we are improving? The adjustment Matt made to his athlete’s lateral technique was more beneficial than any pro agility (a baseline agility test commonly used by strength and conditioning professionals) or sprint time. He facilitated a technique that increased the integrity of this athlete’s frame, allowing massive room for the addition of more horsepower. Like I said before, adding horsepower to a car that is out of alignment, is a recipe to end up back in the mechanics shop. When people come into our facility for the first time, this is not always what they want to hear. Most people come to us and say “I want to get faster”, “I want to build strength”, “I want to increase my agility”. Regardless of the athlete’s goal, it must be initiated with fantastic movement patterns. In turn we will develop a machine that runs reliably, efficiently, and will have a tremendous amount of room for after-market additions.  

WHY ANTI-ROTATION IS MAKING OUR ATHLETES BULLETPROOF

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It has become conventional wisdom that training the core is an essential part of every strength training program. From the world’s best athletes to the average Joe at your local gym, everyone is obsessed with training the CORE! But what is considered the core and how can it be trained optimally?

The core consists of more than just the 6 muscles that you would consider your abs (the six-pack). The whole core is actually made up of over 20 muscles including obliques, which are the muscles on the sides of your abdomen and deeper muscles that wrap around your spine and midsection. The core can include or be considered anything besides your arms and legs. The main purpose of the core muscles is to stabilize, not to move. Core strength comes from the ability to stabilize both the upper and lower parts of the body. So given all of that, why do so many people train the core in only one plane of motion? They shouldn’t!  Training the core should be done in multiple ways since the core is used in almost every movement we do as humans. Anti-rotation is a type of core training that has recently become more popularized in sports performance. It is especially good for athletes who generate a lot of power through their core such as baseball players, tennis players or any sport that requires a lot of rotational power. It can also be used for anyone who is looking for different ways to effectively strengthen and stabilize their core.

So what is anti-rotation and how can it be used to improve my overall performance?

An anti-rotation exercise is generally an exercise where the core is contracted and its job is to hold the rest of the body still in a singular plane, direction or motion. It is essentially a tug of war but instead of you pulling back on the resistance, you are holding still, trying to keep the resistance from moving or pulling you. Unlike crunches and sit-ups or other general core exercises, anti-rotation movements maintain the body in a still position as opposed to moving through a range of motion. The ability to resist or prevent motion (or rotation) may be just as important as it is to create motion (or rotation). It is important to understand that athletes should be able to resist rotation before they are able to produce rotation. Too many times you see athletes injured because they are able to produce more force than their body can resist.  That’s why when training to throw a punch or swing a baseball bat, it is essential to train the core in multiple planes of motion. Anti-rotation movements such as the paloff hold or press and difference plank variations are examples of different anti-rotation movements that can be used or added to any core training routine. Improving the core improves stability, balance and prevents injury. Try adding a few anti rotations movements to your workout to improve overall core strength and prevent injuries. The key to optimal performance is to stay healthy with a solid core.

STATIC STRETCHING VS DYNAMIC STRETCHING

Recent research has argued against static stretching before competition/training in favor of dynamic stretching.  I remember static and dynamic stretching as part of the pre-game warm-ups all the way back to my pee-wee football and tee-ball days. I can still clearly recall running a lap around the field and then lining up and performing a variety of stretches with my 6-year-old buddies. Was it so wrong?

STATIC STRETCHING

Static stretching is a technique of stretching that involves holding a challenging position where a muscle is stretched to the end range of the motion for 10 seconds to 2 minutes.  Static stretching is a commonly practiced in the fitness and health industry with the intent of promoting flexibility and decreasing injury risk. Static stretching can be an effective way to improve range of motion in a muscle or joint and increase flexibility throughout the entire body.

DYNAMIC STRETCHING

Dynamic stretching involves moving joints and/or muscles through a repetitive range of motion measured generally by repetitions or distance. Dynamic stretching involves more active and sports specific movements that can increase blood flow to active muscles, increase heart rate and reduce stiffness. Dynamic stretching has also been shown to increase nerve-impulses in the active or contracting muscle.

Which One?

Static and Dynamic stretching both play a part in overall performance. Although recent studies have shown static stretching before or after performance and/or competition may actually decrease power output and may not be effective against delayed muscle onset soreness (DOMS), it still has its place. Static stretching benefits are maximized when stretching occurs in bouts separate from competition or training regiments. On the other hand, dynamic stretching benefits are best utilized before competitions or any type of training. Adding dynamic stretching to a warm-up can mentally and physically prepare the athlete(s) for the demands of the upcoming event. When it comes to stretching, it is important to understand the difference between the two stretches and when they can be best utilized.   If implemented properly, both static and dynamic stretching both have their place in sustaining and increasing overall performance.

The Importance of the Warm-Up

I would like to take this opportunity to remind our athletes and coaches of the importance of a proper warm-up.  With many of our athletes currently in season, we need to stress that warming-up, as part of a pre-game routine, is essential for both training and game days.  Athletes don’t only need to warm-up but they need to do it properly.

Let’s start with why we warm-up?  The overarching reasons are the warm-up prepares you both physically and MENTALLY!  Additionally, an appropriate warm-up can reduce the risk of injury. Lastly, the right warm-up has been proven to ENHANCE PERFORMANCE.  

So how to warm-up?  To start with, going out and throwing a ball for 5 minutes is not a proper warm-up.  If you forgot or you just don’t completely understand how to properly warm-up, here are some key elements to focus on when designing a warm up.  

 First, we want to get the body moving with exercises such as short sprints or jumping rope.  For lacrosse athletes a typical line drill is perfect. Baseball / Softball players can start with some short sprints or jump rope before just putting on your glove and throwing the ball.  The purpose of this portion of the warm-up is to simply raise the body temperature, heart rate, blood flow, respiration and even joint viscosity. This does not need to last any longer than 5 minutes.  

Second,  this part of the warm-up would be more geared towards the activation of muscles and mobility exercises. This is when we would use mini bands, do shuffles, squats, lunges, thoracic mobility, etc.   Again, no longer than 5 minutes needs to be spent on this. Think about the joints and be sure to be hitting specific exercises to activate the muscles around those joints.

The last part of a good warm-up would be to mimic something close to the activity you are about to be involved in, whether that is a game, practice or workout.  For lacrosse players, something with a change of direction, cone drills, start-stop drills. You could finish with some reactive drills, 1 on 1’s. Baseball / Softball this is when we could do infield-outfield drills.  This final part will obviously take longer than the 5 minutes. Try to keep it under 15 minutes, remember we are getting the body and mind ready to perform not trying to fatigue it.

One final note, just as we individualize our prehab/workouts at Athletes Warehouse, the warm-up does not need to be the same for every athlete.  For example, one athlete might need to spend time warming-up change of direction and the other might need to spend more time warming-up catching and receiving.  Be smart, understand the value and importance of the warm-up as part of your pre-game routine, it will only serve to benefit you throughout the season!

Matt June

Recovery Routine

What can I be doing to aid in my recovery?

Recovery is as critical to performance as training itself. The idea of training is to provide the body with a stimulus or stressor. As the coach, the greatest training program is to provide an optimal amount of stress to the human system; meaning it is enough stimulus to push a strength/speed/power adaptation, however, it is not a stressor that is too large for the athlete to adequately recover from.

As a former athlete, and currently as an avid weightlifter, here are 3 tips I have found to aid in my own recovery:

    1. Sleep. Sleep is by far the most important thing to aid in my recovery. Find a routine. As an athlete, you crave structure whether you know it or not. I challenge all the readers to ONE thing and see if it improves sleep quality. Associate the bed with only sleep, that means only get into bed when you are ready to sleep. If you read, watch TV, do homework, find somewhere else to do it. This is trick that a psychology professor from my undergrad taught me and it has gone a long way. FIND WHAT WORKS FOR YOU.
    1. Nutrition. I am not a nutritionist, but here is what I found works for me. When I eat the same thing each night before bed it primes my body for my routine. It also is what I have found works FOR ME, to aid in my recovery. Since my freshman year of college, each night I have a whey protein shake in about 10oz of water, and a bunch of spoons of peanut butter. Again, FIND WHAT WORKS FOR YOU.
  1. My pre-bed Mobility total 10 minutes (all found in the athletes warehouse youtube library): 1 minute of couch stretch each side, 1 min of pigeon stretch each side, 2 minutes of frog stretch, 1 minute of t-spine foam roll, 1 min of QL foam roll, 1 minute of scorpion stretch. For the last time, FIND WHAT WORKS FOR YOU.

There are my three tips. Give it a go! As always, stay strong.

-Jack G.

How PEP Bands Changed Our Training

WHY WE USE PEP BANDS / HIP CIRCLES

PEP Bands and Hip Circles are two pieces of equipment that get some heavy use here at AW and for good reason!  The PEP Bands were invented and sold by Shea Pierre of Pierre’s Elite Performance in Canada and according to Shea were designed to activate and challenge athletes to use their lower body to help increase their fast twitch muscle fibers through speed and strength.  The Hip Circle was invented by Mark Bell [a professional powerlifter] and according to Mark, the Hip Circle can be used to for hip and glute activation/strength as well as a dynamic warm-up.  Both of these pieces of equipment have become vital to Team AW’s approach towards training pretty much any athlete that walks in our building.

The PEP Bands are an interesting tool that connects very securely to some portion of the upper thigh of the athlete.  The resistance for the PEP Bands is just that an elastic band, which means that the tension with this equipment is going to be varied based on the intensity and range of motion [ROM] with which the athlete applies force.  What is interesting about this equipment is that it can provide both a resisted concentrically and assisted eccentric load on the hip and leg complexes if utilized during any gate pattern.  Due to this not only do we value the potential for strength development through a deeper ROM but we also are very cognizant of the eccentric power development and transversely the injury preventative aid this can also provide the athlete.  Due to the dual serving nature of this device we are often utilizing it with many of our ACL patients trying to return to play at a faster and safer place. The PEP Bands have become an integral part of our Pre-hab/ warm-up routine for several of our athletes and essential in the teaching proper running mechanics to several of our younger athletes.  

The Hip Circle has quite possibly been the greatest minimum effective dose in our facility [thanks Tim Ferris for that one]. Why do I say this?  The Hip Circle literally cost $25 and is about the easiest thing to put on an off an athlete, yet, has one of the largest ROI’s in the facility. We use the Hip Circle both in a Pre-hab/ Warm-up capacity and from a strength development perspective.  The primary role for the hip circle is to provide a resisted concentric load to lateral abduction at the hip [meaning it makes it difficult to do lateral side shuffles…especially when done slow].  This resisted load causes an elevated activation in the musculature of the hip that is responsible for the lateral abduction.  Why is this important? Well, it just so happens that same musculature is also involved in stabilizing the hip, knee, and ankle during almost any sagittal, frontal or transverse plane movement [they’re really important].  Again, another tool that we heavily utilize with our athletes coming off a hip/leg injury [i.e. ACL surgery] and with several of our athletes to help strengthen these immensely important muscular zones.

To close these two pieces of equipment we view as vital to our approaches for working with youth and elite athletes and next to a sled, barbell, and kettlebell are probably the most influential pieces of hardware any coach or person interested in getting stronger should invest in.