CHAPTER 2 PART 2: Physical Assessment

An Excerpt from the College baseball Career of Dr. Brett Poniros

“During my College Baseball Career, I developed an infatuation with weight lifting. I had just come off of a high school career where I moved from football to hockey to baseball in consecutive seasons, without any real time to focus on getting bigger and stronger. The off season had previously been a foreign concept to me. As I got stronger and saw noticable benefits in my game, I also began to experience chronic pain and injuries for the first time in my career. This went against everything strength and conditioning coaches had preached regarding benefits of training. I had chronic left side low back pain and throughout my career I had experienced two hamstring injuries that were significant enough to sideline me from playing. It really didn’t make sense to me, as the “common” knowledge was that the stronger you are the less apt you are to non-contact injuries and pain. There clearly had to be more to training that I was missing. 

During my sophomore year my back pain had reached its pinnacle and I finally sought help. I saw a handful of practitioners who were unable to provide long term relief. It wasn’t until I walked into a Strongman gym where my cousin was training, and I mentioned my back pain to him. He proceeded to ask me some questions and then asked if he could analyze some of my movements. To this point nobody had done this (which looking back is absolutely mindblowing). Any professional I had seen simply treated my symptoms. He then proceeded to have me get into a crawling position (hands and knees). He asked me to lift one limb at a time for a total of 3 seconds each only moving that limb and nothing else. At the time, I had pulled deadlifts upwards of 425#, cleaned 270#, and could Front Squat mid of 300#. My strength was well above the standards for a college baseball player. I smirked to myself as I attempted the seemingly easy exercise, but was absolutely exposed. 

THE ASSESSMENT DRIVES THE PROGRAM

Everytime I hear this story about Brett, It reminds me of my true role as a strength and conditioning professional. “Strength” in terms of barbell lifts and moving high loads is sought after because of its appeal. Many in this industry get caught up in cornering themselves into programming styles such as, “My system is based around Olympic Lifts” Or “My system is based around ‘functional’ movement” (intentional quotes around functional… more on this later). But really, what does this even mean? There will be a time and place for any movement based on the results of assessment. Like Dr. Poniros’ story, our assessment of an athlete, and inevitably our decision of how to program is based on attacking the low hanging fruit first. The idea is, “What movements can I have this athlete perform that are going to make the most immediate impact on their performance in their SPORT?” The true goal of the assessment is not to find out every area that this athlete needs work (this will happen throughout the course of the training process), it is simply to find our starting place in training. In Brett’s scenario, the assessment exposed contralateral stability. While his bilateral strength numbers were incredible, continually increasing these numbers was not what would take his performance in sport to the next level. 

Brett was a strong and well trained athlete. This is sometimes, but rarely, the case when we perform an assessment on a new athlete.

Here’s another application of the low hanging methodology in terms of an untrained individual…

Say you have a 16 year old basketball athlete. In your evaluation this athlete presents with limited t-spine extension, scapular depression, and overall poor stability during the landing phase of a repeat vertical jump. Not to lay insult to the holistic approach of the body being a unit, but what is truly the most important thing to attack first? By addressing the landing mechanics first, we provide the athlete with a tool they can immediately begin to utilize in their sport. For any coach or trained athlete reading this. Think about the movements that we will deploy into a program to address this athlete’s needs. It will most certainly have a decent amount of volume, usually beginning with box jumping, drop landing, and hurdle hops. Our strength work will begin to focus around squat, and hinge patterning, beginning with bilateral work first and then moving the athlete onto one foot via a lunge or single leg hinge. From here we can begin to implement more variety and implement different apparatuses such as a kettlebell, a med ball, or sandbag, and inevitably to a barbell. And while this is just one example of how an assessment will drive specific movements, this process happens across all human movement patterns that we will observe throughout an assessment. Like I said before, to pigeon hole yourself into an “olympic lifting system” or a “functional system” (I still don’t know what this means) is to neglect the ability to program so many different movements that will have direct transfer to the performance of an athlete in their sport. Our assessment drives the program. The program must transfer to sport.

It is NOT my job to make them better at the skills that relate to their sport.

Now you must be confused. After you just read all that. If you are, you were probably actually paying attention. Because it seems as though I just contradicted myself. I just said word for word, “Our assessment drives the program. The program must transfer to sport.” Let me explain…

We must understand the movement’s of a given sport. We must watch our athletes practice and compete in their sport. However, as Charles Poliquin has said, “The only two sports that allow for true sport specific training in the gym are gymnastics and weightlifting.” The point is, it is not our job to apply movements that will transfer directly to the coordination of their skill. Leave that to the skill coach. This is about strength coaches. Our job is to apply an assessment and subsequently a program that will allow them to be stronger and more efficient through the positions and patterns that they play in.

ALLOW OUR COACHES TO EXPLORE

Okay. We made it through all the gritty methodology stuff. Here’s how we actually implement an assessment. Except, I have one more unfortunate piece of information. Some professionals out there are also not going to like this. Over the years, we’ve tried time and time to create a rigid protocol to how assessment is done. We’ve attempted to create an assessment that you could replicate time and time again across every athlete. The problem is, no one does what we do in regards to programming. No one is truly performing an assessment with the sole intention of figuring out what an athlete needs from a physical, psychological, and social standpoint. WHY WOULD WE PROVIDE THE SAME ASSESSMENT TO EVERYONE WHEN WE DON’T HAVE THE INTENTION OF GIVING EVERYONE THE SAME PROGRAM? The greatest assessment we can provide is one that is approached by a semi blank canvas, and leaves room for the coach to explore what the athlete needs. With that being said, I know everyone in our world wants to be fed information on a spoon, so i’ll humor this. Below i’ve provided a list of movements that a coach MAY utilize to explore the athletic potential of an athlete through 4 different categories. 

As a coach, I am going to utilize the MINIMUM number of these assessment tools necessary to provide me with the information I need to develop this athlete’s program. The end goal is to expose the lowest hanging fruit with the minimum number of repeatable tests to reference improvement. THAT is how we find our starting place to training.

  1. How well does this athlete CREATE force?
    1. 10 yard sprint
    2. Standing Vertical Jump and Repeat Vertical Jump
    3. Standing Single Leg Vertical
    4. Depth Jump
    5. Standing Broad Jump and Repeat Broad Jump
    6. Single Leg Broad Jump
    7. Power Skip
    8. Alternating Bounding
    9. Pushup
    10. Chin Up
    11. Jump Rope
  2. How well does this athlete ABSORB force?
    1. 10 yard sprint to breakdown
    2. 5-10-5/Pro Agility Drill
    3. Drop Landing 
    4. Single Leg Drop Landing
    5. Depth Jump
    6. Broad Jump
    7. ISOMETRICS
      1. Lunge
      2. Squat
      3. Pushup position
      4. Hanging from a bar
  3. Is this athlete MOBILE where they need to be?
    1. Knee Forward Lunge (Dorsiflexion)
    2. Seated Terminal Knee Extension Test
    3. Prone Knee Flexion Test
    4. Anterior/Posterior Pelvic Control
    5. Thoracic extension and rotation
    6. Shoulder Flexion/Scapular Upward Rotation
    7. Joint Specific Testing 
  4. Is this athlete STABILE where they need to be?
    1. Bear Crawl/Quadruped Variations
    2. Single Leg RDL Variations
    3. 20 rep Single Leg Calf Raise Test (More on this later)
    4. Single Leg Step Downs
    5. Drop Landings
    6. Manual Muscle Testing on hip Abductors and External Rotators
    7. Manual Muscle Testing on Shoulder Internal and External Rotators

After we address these questions, we can begin to assess PERFORMANCE METRICS.

Here is a list of performance metrics that we may look at on the initial assessments…

  • 10 yard dash
  • 20 yard dash
  • 40 yard dash
  • 60 yard dash
  • Standing Broad Jump
  • Single Leg Broad Jump
  • Standing Vertical Jump
  • Single Leg Vertical Jump
  • Seated Vertical Jump
  • Standing Triple Jump
  • Single Leg Lateral Broad Jump
  • Depth Jump Vertical 
  • Single Leg Depth Jump Vertical
  • Chin Up
  • Push Up

Future Chapters will go into more detail on why we would choose certain tests for certain athletes across a variety of sports.

TAKE AWAY MESSAGE.

Here lies just a slim list of exercises and tests that can be performed on an athlete when they enter AW. If you are an AW athlete and you are reading this, your assessment was completely unique to you. The end goal is if we can answer the 4 questions above we can get a really good idea of where to begin training with a new athlete.

CHAPTER 2 PART 1: Assessing the Needs of an Athlete

Chapter 2 is quite dense and broken down into two parts

What you will read today is“Part 1”, which will talk about how we utilize the “biopsychosocial model” in determining needs of the athlete based on things such as genetics, personality, mindset, and maturity.

“Part 2” will provide details on specific parameters, tests, and metrics we are evaluating when conducting a movement screening.

Whether you are a longtime AW athlete, or someone who has just signed up for our program, we are assessing you daily in some capacity. 

With our primary demographic being “youth athletes”, these kids are changing at such a rapid pace. Even if I have worked with an athlete for months prior, they could walk through the door next week and seem to have grown 2” and gained 10 pounds. This makes constant assessment crucial. It allows us to make adjustments to training at a very accurate rate in accordance with the athletes development. 

During “PART 1” we will sit down with Dr. Brett Poniros, DC, CSCS to talk about how he has taken charge of our ever changing evaluation process. Dr. Poniros take it from here…

“PART 1” 

In 1977 George Engel coined the term “biopsychosocial” as it pertained to medicine and psychiatry1. This, in his mind,  was an upgrade from the biomedical model that had been used for years prior. The biomedical model looked at each human as being broken in some way, and that the exam and treatment should be designed around finding and remedying that one abnormal physical finding. For example, a runner with a stress fracture in their foot. This model would treat by simply putting the foot in a boot and giving it time to rest (i.e. treating the symptoms).

The biopsychosocial model instead considered the whole person, including their mentality, outlook, support systems, belief systems, self-image, etc. Using our example of the broken foot, this both encompasses treating the structural issue of the broken bone (i.e. putting the foot in the boot), but also looking into other factors such as, what type of movement error may have caused the injury? Did this injury occur as a result of a rapid change in training demands? You can see how this model encompasses a much more holistic approach and gives the practitioner or coach a tremendous amount of information to base training around. While the biopsychosocial model has now become the supposed standard of care across a host of fields, at Athletes Warehouse we have embraced it both as our evaluation standard as well as our training standard.

What does this “Biopsychosocial” Model look like in terms of assessing the needs of the athlete?

If we break it down for what the word really means…

BIOLOGICAL TRAITS… PSYCHOLOGICAL STATE… SOCIAL CHARACTERISTICS

BIOLOGICAL TRAITS- What are your physical, genetic traits given to you that can determine how you may function as an athlete. This includes questions about previous participation in sport, height, weight, or body type. Other questions are in regards to your parent’s activity level or previous athletic experience. This can give us an idea about expectations, and what to expect with an athlete. We can find out more information on  previous, and future growth spurts. In fact, we have found that by timing properly executed strength training during peak growth spurts we can dramatically change the gene expression of a young athlete. The term of this is “Peak Height Velocity” and this will be a chapter in itself to come.  Finally, we can also hone in on genetic predisposition to injury tendencies.

When dealing with the injured athlete…  if they came from a referral from a physical therapist or sports medicine practitioner, we look to gain as much information as possible in terms of the physiology of their injury. This includes the injury, the recovery time, the rehab they were prescribed, who did the rehab. You get the point.  Communication with the referral doctor or professional is paramount to allowing us to understand exactly where the athlete is at in terms of their return to sport.

Psychological State- This starts from the very first interaction we have. Bluntly put, our professionals have found that training can be awkward and sometimes even anxiety filled for a youth athlete. Youth athletes usually have never had exposure to training, especially not training in front of someone they have never met. On top of that, we’re often performing movements which are designed for them to fail. Within the first few minutes of our eval, we try and have an idea about the general personality of the person that we are working with. After creating an open space for the athlete we can begin to pull out information in regards to their level of dedication to their sport, and their readiness to train. Is this person outgoing? Shy? Uncomfortable? Are they going to be somebody that needs to by pushed? Pulled Back? And all of this is noted and factored into our eval notes. The sooner that we can answer these questions, the sooner we can understand how to interact with that individual athlete. 

When dealing with the injured athlete… Physical problems heal, especially in young people. A torn hamstring will eventually heal. It is what our body does best. However, what recent literature has brought to light is the importance of outlook in the presence of an injury, and the capability of pain mechanisms to become ingrained within the central nervous system2,3. When you are an athlete, sport can be a large part of your identity. When injury occurs, your identity gets called into question. The mind begins to question “how long will I be out”, “is this going to inhibit my future performance”, “am I ever going to be the same”, “is this season ending”, “is this career ending”? Injuries are traumatic and stir up real anxieties in many athletes. This is why we take extreme precautions when talking and interacting with our return to sport athletes (For more on this, here is the link to Coach Brett’s article “Words Matter” http://aw-blog.com/uncategorized/words-matter-why-coaches-have-a-unique-position-in-return-to-sport-after-injury-by-brett-poniros/).

Being that the psychological approach to physical rehab is ever changing, here are some recent findings…

-Inflammatory responses can be completely driven and perpetuated by the brain and negative thinking 4,5

-Research is moving in the direction of exploring the relationship between the perception of pain and actual pain experienced.

-Professionals working with athletes are as much educators to young athletes as anything else. We can spur curiosity and ingenuity in them. 

Social Characteristics: The final portion that we take into consideration is the athlete’s social background and tendencies. Above all else, this allows us to better relate to the athlete and to respect cultural or ideological values that they hold dear. Within minutes of meeting an athlete we attempt to start a “normal” conversation; gauging what their interests are, their level of comfort in a gym, their level of comfort around us, and their social support system. Do they use sports as a release? Do they use sports as a social gathering? Are they more comfortable training with a male or female coach? While brief, this information is so important to us setting up an environment for the individual to train in. 

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS

In the end, much of our initial evaluation has nothing to do with strength and conditioning. We are utilizing the biopsychosocial model to begin to formulate the environment in which we are going to be placing our athlete into. Rather than deciding what movements we are going to perform, we start by figuring out how we are going to interact and build a relationship with an athlete. By creating this environment first we begin to set the stage for an athlete to begin their pursuit of success in whatever it is they are looking to accomplish.

THINGS TO IMPLEMENT TODAY:

FOR COACHES: 

  • If you have a younger athlete, provide them the opportunity to explore strength training during their peak growth periods.
  • Start to ask your athletes what their parents’ athletic background is.
  • Figure out the personality tendencies of each individual you train and adjust your interaction with them in accordance.

FOR ATHLETES

  • While your biological potential is widely determined by your genetics, the right strength prescription can be the greatest factor in how they are expressed.
  • Changing your outlook on your current state and of the world around you vastly impacts your performance and your recovery.
  • Decide why you play sports and why you train. Once you answer this question, your focus towards what you really want out of sports becomes very accurate.

STILL TO COME IN CHAPTER 2 PART 2

In “PART 2” we will cover every detail in regards to how we conduct a movement assessment. Part 2 will go into more detail about how we begin to design programs and select exercises to meet the needs of each athlete.

1 Engel GL. The need for a new medical model: a challenge for biomedicine. Science. 1977 Apr 8;196(4286):129-36.

2 Schlereth T, Birklein F. The sympathetic nervous system and pain. Neuromolecular medicine. 2008 Sep 1;10(3):141-7.

3 Cavanaugh JM. Neural mechanisms of lumbar pain. Spine. 1995 Aug;20(16):1804-9.

4 Rosenbloom BN, Khan S, McCartney C, Katz J. Systematic review of persistent pain and psychological outcomes following traumatic musculoskeletal injury. Journal of pain research. 2013;6:39.5 Holmes A, Williamson O, Hogg M, Arnold C, O’Donnell ML. Determinants of chronic pain 3 years after moderate or serious injury. Pain Medicine. 2013 Mar 1;14(3):336-44.

CHAPTER 1: Methodology, Environment, and Culture: The foundation of a training methodology begins with the platform is it performed upon.

Another busy day on the training floor. Coach Matt June found a $5 bill on the indoor turf of our fitness area. So he put it on top of the plyo boxes right next to where he found it… assuming that whoever was looking for it would go back to the spot they had lost it. One week goes by, and the $5 still remains in its exact place upon the plyo boxes. So Coach Matt takes notice and informs me how the money has still not been claimed. This area of the gym being a very high traffic area, people are constantly pulling the boxes out and putting them back. Not to mention we have hundreds of athletes who enter our doors each day. We decided to leave it and simply observe. Two weeks go by, the money is still there. At this point we just thought this was hilarious, so we added a couple dollars to create a small pile of cash. Three, Four, Five weeks go by, and the money has not been taken. We noticed athletes would need a plyo box for training and would actually move the money, take the plyo box, and then replace the money on top of the box beneath it. The money ended up being there for over two months before we finally were sick of looking at it. This taught us something about our facility but also about young humans. It illuminates how they will act in accordance with their environment. How easy would it be for someone to walk by and grab the money and continue on with their day? The lesson learned from this story was how much respect our athletes have for Athletes Warehouse. And this brings us into our first discussion of how the right environment is the platform to shape success in whatever it is a young athlete chooses to pursue.

Located in Pleasantville, NY, Athletes Warehouse is a 17,500 square foot athlete oasis. The design of this facility is based around the idea that it could provide an athlete with everything they could possibly need to reach their performance goals. Speciality services here include strength and conditioning, baseball and softball skills, nutrition, chiropractic service, massage therapy, rehab and return to sport, and mental skills. Each team member who brings forth their respective services and expertise is a full-time member of Team Athletes Warehouse. Collaboratively we make up the Performance staff. Our inevitable goal through everything we provide is to drive top level performance coaching to our athletes.

What is a PERFORMANCE COACH?

We don’t use the term trainer. We rarely use the term strength coach. We consider ourselves performance coaches. While many of us provide the service of strength and conditioning, labeling ourselves as strength and conditioning coaches does not fully encompass what we do. For now, I’m going to leave it at that. In the coming paragraphs and chapters you will see why our service provides WAY more than just strength and conditioning.

The Athlete-Coach interaction…

Training at AW always starts with the person first and athlete second. We look to create an environment and culture that allows athletes to succeed in sport but also in everything else they choose to pursue. Our team of coaches act as gatekeepers into a safe space where an athlete can truly explore what it is they want to achieve as an athlete and as a person. Through our time we’ve had the opportunity to send student-athletes into the top division 1 athletic programs in the nation, as well as sending students-athletes into the top academic institutions in the world. Our team of educated coaches facilitate an environment that commands and produces excellence in all areas of an athlete’s life. Like I stated before, I intend to hide nothing and be completely transparent. So from my perspective, there are a couple characteristics that our coaches share that facilitate a culture that produces success. 

RELATABLE

You just put a 5×5 squat on an athletes program, do you know what that feels like yourself? Your athlete has been battling a chronic injury over the past few months, do you know what that feels like yourself?  When interns ask me what my number one tip is for them as a coach my answer is to never stop training like an athlete. Going off my last statement, I am by no means telling anyone to go out and seek a sports injury just so you can relate with the athlete. But being completely transparent,  the hard truth is that it is very difficult to work in an industry with high level athletes when you have not yourself competed at a high level. The daily rigors of being a high level athlete are very hard to relate to when you have not experienced such. With that being said, regardless of whether you were a high level athlete or never played a sport in your life, if you are a coach working with athletes you must always continue to train like an athlete. This allows a coach to relate to an athlete on a different level. Having the immediate reminders of what training feels like allows a coach to program more effectively as well. WE TRAIN LIKE ATHLETES!

NURTURING

The age of the belittling coach is gone. Creating a safe space allows an athlete to devote their energy into their physical and psychological development. The age of the belittling coach is over. We do not believe that this style of coaching creates the most efficient path to growth. Performance coaches are not responsible for “toughening” kids up. We are responsible for getting athletes to move well, be focused and aware, and achieve whatever it is they want to achieve. If you’re looking to harden someone, keep it out of sport. Yes we must facilitate a relationship with our athletes that commands respect, however this is accomplished through a genuine relationship. DO NOT MISTAKE, this is not saying we just dish out high-fives all day and tell everyone it’s going to be okay. Which leads me to the next point of “honesty”. WE GO OUT OF OUR WAY TO MAKE ATHLETES FEEL AS THOUGH THIS IS THEIR HOME!

HONEST

Growth can never take place if someone is not aware of their flaws and failure. Honesty is the only way we can get an athlete to see when they need improvement. It provides direction and clarity for both the athlete and the coach. It’s easy to tell an athlete when they’ve succeeded. We must have the ability to tell an athlete when they are not good at something, when they fail, or when they are not putting forth their best. While these sound simple, it’s not an easy thing to tell athletes who you have just met. We have found that the earlier honesty can be established in the coach-athlete relationship, the less personal and more constructive it will be. UPON FIRST INTERACTION WITH AN ATHLETE WE SET THE INTENTION OF BEING COMPLETELY HONEST.

RELENTLESS

(RE-LENT-LESS) showing or promising no abatement of severity, intensity, strength, or pace (1). A coach must possess a relentless demeanor and accept nothing less of their athletes, because in sports, we are all about the long term game. It’s easy for an athlete to push through one, two, three, or even a dozen hard training efforts. It’s the job of the coach to mitigate training in a way that allows an athlete to reproduce this over the course months or even years.. 

FINALLY…

PROVE IT

Now this is what it’s all about.

Everytime we get a new athlete, we approach them with the mentality of, “Let me PROVE to this athlete what we can achieve together.” This creates a level of trust where the athlete’s and coach’s efforts are truly collaborative. I’d love to share a story about a high school lacrosse player who we trained this past off-season. This athlete came in with an absolutely flying 40 yard dash of 4.58 seconds. Being that this athlete was division 1 bound in a year, we were definitely looking to build strength. Yet, the end goal was to see if we could push his speed boundaries as we got closer to season. As we began volume strength training protocols, naturally the athlete gained weight. This was the plan. We utilized principles of 1×20 and then even principles of german volume training (more on these later). A decent understanding of physics can tell you that through a simple mass equation, this athlete was going to slow down. That he did. While the athlete showed moments of frustration as he was flashing slower times every week, we simply brought him back to the process. We showed him the plan. We continued to earn his trust. Little by little we began implementing more power work and contrast training and bam… two weeks out of season he flashed a 4.42 second 40 yard dash.

This story was not intended to show off our ability to train speed. In fact, his program could have been designed by anyone who has a basic understanding of periodization. Yet this is to display communication with an athlete, show them the plan, earn their trust, then PROVE IT with the outcome they are looking for. This is how you build clients for life.

Things to implement immediately into training from this chapter:

For coaches: 

-Do not talk “at” your athletes, but communicate with them. 

-Create a safe-space for athletes and allow them to be able to devote more energy and focus into training.

-Practice what you preach. Train as if you are preparing for an event or sport.

-Constantly address and re-address the athletes goals and how they line up with your plan for them.

-Test your athletes.

For Athletes:

-Find a coach who you genuinely appreciate the presence of. This does not mean they are your best friend, but if you enjoy being around them, that means they provide you the right energy to succeed.

-Understand that the coach to athlete relationship is one that is 50/50. What this means is that the athlete and coach bring equal energy to a training session to create a full effort. Do not expect a coach to put forth more than their ½, and do not entrust a coach who does not put forth their ½.

-Carry a relentless approach with everything you do. 

COMING UP NEXT…

CHAPTER 2: Assessing the Needs of an Athlete

This chapter will discuss more specifically…

-The process by which we decide what an athlete needs.

-How the athletes needs lines up with their own personal goals.

-An introduction into early stages of training.

Sources: 

  1. relentless. 2020. In Merriam-Webster.com.Retrieved May 12, 2020, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/relentless 

INTRODUCTION: Book of Athletes Warehouse

Prelude (Part 0/8)

Welcome to an Eight Part Series (0/8). Over the course of this series you’ll be introduced to an open look as to what goes on behind the scenes at Athletes Warehouse (AW). This will cover everything from overall training methodology, how we’ve developed a state of the art sport performance facility, our perspective on rehabilitation and injury prevention, how we carve resilient and sharpened minds of young athletes, and basically anything an athlete or coach would need to facilitate training for themselves or others. The goal of this series is to be completely transparent with our readers, hide nothing, and share what we do. In the end, we do not fear someone “stealing our secrets”. Much of our methods are original and created in-house, yet we’re humbled to admit that we’ve had the pleasure of being influenced by so many amazing professionals who consider themselves a part of the sports performance industry. This humble and open attitude will be highlighted in our vast and broad use of so many different training methodologies. In all honesty, we do not fear you stealing our secrets, because there are just some things that we do that simply cannot be recreated. Our team, our personalities, and the way we communicate is something that cannot be learned through reading this series, but can only be experienced by spending time in our facility.

WHO am I? And WHY am I writing this?

My name is Jack Gladstone, and I am a Strength and Conditioning Coach at Athletes Warehouse as well as a Licensed Massage Therapist. While I am the writer of this series, I am simply a scribe. You’ll recognize my constant use of the word “We”. This is because everything written in this manual is a by-product of every single coach that has walked through the doors of Athletes Warehouse.  The reason I have elected myself with writing this is I’ve had a unique perspective over the last six years to experience the progression of training at Athletes Warehouse. 

Let’s take it back to the BEGINNING.

Let’s go back to when I was 19 years old and the place where the foundation of Athletes Warehouse methodology was created; “The Shop”. “The Shop” to some is a legend, only to have heard about it through the tales of athletes who hit some of the most epic training sessions there. I feel as though all great training facilities have some of the barest beginnings. This was AW’s bare beginning. The Shop was a barn that was half a training facility, half an equipment and repair shop for Michael Serio’s (Coach Nick Serio’s Father) Arborist company. In the shop were 2 squat racks, a pull up rig, a bike, and a set of olympic jerk blocks. Along with some kettlebells, that’s about it. No AC, no tech savvy equipment that Athletes Warehouse utilizes today. That summer I was home from my sophomore year of college lacrosse, and heading into my junior season, Coach Nick had the plans of putting me through the most rigorous training schedule of my life. 

Here was a typical day…

6AM: 45-60 minutes of mobility, followed by 20-30 minutes interval conditioning session or sprint work.

8AM: Meal #1

11AM: Meal #2

12PM: 20 minute warmup, followed by 60-90min of strength work (Squat/Press/Deadlift), followed by another conditioning session in the form of an EMOM (Every Minute on the Minute). 

2PM: Meal #3

4PM: Quick warmup, followed by 60-90 minutes of Olympic Weightlifting, followed by accessory lifts to fill in the gaps of what had not been accomplished from the beginning of the day.

7PM: Meal #4

9PM: Attempt to recover.

This was my introduction to the field of strength and conditioning and knew at that point that spending my day in a training facility was not work, but true passion. To this day Coach Nick and I look back on this time (note: he did every single rep alongside me), and laugh at how over-trained we were, but how a passion for training and desire to find the boundaries drove us to massive performance gains. Fearful of nothing, we executed training as a test of self limits, rather than the meticulous prescription of volume and intensity that we utilize with our athletes today. Our methodology has come a long way. And as a direct result of surrounding ourselves with the smartest coaches, our methods transformed into what our athletes experience on a daily basis. The Athletes Warehouse methodology is a culmination of everyone who has ever entered our facility. No matter if you are an athlete, a coach, an intern, you have helped shape the methodology of Athletes Warehouse. The next coming chapter will go into more detail regarding methodology.

Words Matter: Why Coaches Have a Unique Position In Return to Sport After Injury. By Brett Poniros

“Brett Poniros is a Performance Coach at Athletes Warehouse. He was an NCAA Baseball player for Franklin and Marshall College. He is currently studying at the University of Bridgeport School of Chiropractic. In this article he talks about his unique outlook on how to work with an athlete who is returning to sport after an injury.”

Strength coaches have this incredible role to bridge the gap between the rehabilitation facility and the playing field. It is far too often that we see athletes leaving rehab and being sent back onto the field without having addressed many important foundations of sport. They leave being structurally sound, however not prepared for the physical or psychological demands to return to the playing field.

It is hard to deny that compared to rehab offices, a strength and conditioning facility simply offers a different environment that is critically important for an athlete when they are transitioning back to sport. The majority of rehab offices fail to provide an environment that mirror the energy of sport leaving an emotional gap in an athlete’s return to play. Physical injuries can often impact athletes on a psychological level as they can threaten the identity of being an athlete. There is a tremendous amount of uncertainty with an injury as it can endanger the longevity and future of an athlete’s career. Contrary to the typical rehab facility we work to create an environment that is focused on them as an athlete and not centered around the diagnosis that they were given.

At Athletes Warehouse we have a very unique way of communicating with our athletes who are returning to their sport after an injury. Words matter, and that’s the bottom line. Your choice of words as a coach can not only set the mindset of a training session, but can alter the way in which an athlete perceives their injury. We’ve observed athletes who have a more positive outlook on their pain and injury have a more rapid and successful return to sport. This becomes tough for our coaches, because we will not be the first person to make contact with the athlete after an injury or surgery. An athlete’s athletic trainer, MD, PT, DC, DO, etc. will be the person who sets the tone for their recovery process, and while understanding the pathophysiology of an injury is the most important step toward diagnosis and treatment plan, poor communication strategies during this process can often set a threatening outlook on the athlete’s path to recovery. Hearing terms like, “there may be a tear”, “you won’t be able to play this season,” or “you probably shouldn’t perform _________ activity for a couple of months,” while accurate in some sense, can be traumatizing to the athlete. During the return to play process, our coaches communicate with athletes in a way that eliminates the idea of “cannot” and “should not”. While we remain honest with our athletes, we utilize different language. Rather than saying “you can’t do a box jump with your knee right now,” we’d say “we’re utilizing a controlled landing drill in order to progress you to a box jump”. This projects the future as positive and progressive rather than threatening and degenerative.

The return to play process is complex beyond structure and function. As a coach we are accounting for physical and psychological variables that can manifest themselves in a variety of ways. At the end of the day energy and emotions play an integral role in preparing an athlete to return to the field. The combination of the right professional and the right facility can change the way that we bring athletes back from injury.