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.

In-Season Training

Are we trying to sell you on our in-season training product? That’s exactly what we’re doing. We’re trying to sell you because what we want our athletes to understand is that Athletes Warehouse is our passion and our livelihood. When you all step out of our facility and onto the field, you are a representation of Athletes Warehouse. Therefore you represent our passion and our livelihood. Over the past off-season, watching all of you excel and completely transform yourselves into the athletes you are is the fuel to our passion. It is why we invest every waking hour of the day in preparation for your performance. The thought of any one of our athletes being put in a situation of potential injury or deterioration is what our coaches lose sleep over each night. With that being said, we cannot express how important it is that training is a year-long process. Furthermore, instilling a positive relationship with training, fitness, and health is a lifelong skill that we strive to ingrain in each one of you. This article intends to air out some commonly asked questions and concerns regarding in-season training.

Why should I train in-season? If I stop training, how quickly do my strength adaptations from the off-season begin to deteriorate?

After training in an optimal state of overload these last six months and then immediately starving yourself of such stimulus, the body becomes complacent. The athlete quickly begins to lose the performance benefits that they had received from a progressive overload over the last six months. A lot of these benefits are not necessarily referring to muscle loss or atrophy. These performance determinants are first felt from a hormonal and neurologically based level. In short, they are the first benefits that athletes receive when beginning their first several weeks of training, and these benefits are the first ones to go in a matter of weeks after depriving the body of training. By continuing training in season, we are attempting to provide the athlete with optimal levels of stress that enable them to maintain a high level of performance on the field while avoiding overly stressing them in a way that hinders their sports performance. The number one goal of all training (not just in-season), is injury prevention. The major commonality from all of our athletes who train in-season is that they stay healthier more often than those who do not. And for our superstitious readers, we are beyond confident in stating that.

Aren’t I going to be too sore to perform in my sport if I train during season? What does my program look like to avoid this?

Program design when coming to Athletes Warehouse in-season is a different experience than coming during the off-season. For all our current and former athletes reading this, you may understand this terminology. For our parents and other non-strength-and-conditioning related readers, it all starts with programming different muscle contractions. In a simplified explanation our training will focus on three types of muscle contractions: eccentric (lengthening of muscle tissue), isometric (no change in length of muscle tissue), and concentric (shortening of muscle tissue). What is important to note during an in-season program is the emphasis on isometric and concentric muscle contraction, as these are movements that allow us to provide a neurological stimulus at relatively high intensities, without the athlete being tremendously sore. On the latter, we avoid a large volume of eccentric muscle contraction as this is the culprit of the commonly sought after delayed onset muscle soreness that our everyday gym-goers pursue as a token of hard work. An example of how we make this adjustment is exchanging a traditional squat for a concentric squat, where the athlete simply stands the bar out of power rack and drops back down from the top.

How do I fit training into my practice/game schedule during the season?

While this answer can be drastically different depending on the sport, there are some overarching themes that span across all sports. Most would expect to see less weight room time as they approach the late season. When people think of the late season, they think of being dinged up; just holding onto their bodies hoping to make it through playoffs with whatever injuries have plagued them that year. Our athletes don’t experience this. Not only are they healthy from training year-round and throughout a season, but they are actually increasing the amount of time they spend in our weight room as the season goes on. Their practice volume and intensity tends to drop off since coaches are trying to preserve them. It creates a situation where most other athletes who are not training in season are deteriorating, our athletes are just getting ramped up come the time when it counts the most. How often an athlete trains depends greatly on the athlete themselves too. We have had lacrosse athletes who have come in for a squat session a day out of their state championship game, and baseball pitchers who are doing arm care and plyometrics a day before the biggest start of their season. Commonly, athletes tend to be hesitant to train during season out of fear of fatigue. Quickly, their in-season training becomes an integral part of the preparation and pre-game rituals as they feel the performance and health benefits over the duration of a season.

It has been an absolute pleasure to train every athlete who has come through our doors this winter season. With this spring season approaching, our coaching staff is excited to continue to be a part of your athletic domination. We cannot wait for each one of you to test out the newly acquired strength, speed, and power gains you’ve earned this off-season. If you had any doubts, you’re soon going to prove to yourself how your training has taken you to another level.

Controllables – Attitude and Effort

In life, it is my belief that there are two things you can control in any given situation – your EFFORT and your ATTITUDE.  This concept speaks true to everything in your life – from your school work to your sport, even to your relationships with others and yourself.  No matter the circumstance, the only two things you have control over is the effort and attitude which you put forth.

Often times when speaking on a topic such as this, it is difficult for the athlete sitting in the crowd to truly absorb this concept without providing some meaningful metaphorical connection.  Here is an example for you to use while reading the rest of this article: 

You are trying out for a sports team. Due to the competitive nature of the team, you must be invited to try out. You go to that tryout to find yourself 1 of 50 athletes trying out for two teams. There is a mix of athletes who have participated with that same team before and some who are trying out for the first time. The individuals trying out for these teams are very talented and you were selected to be one of these individuals.

You see with competition (whether against another team or within a team) comes with one guarantee, there will be those who win and those who lose, and SOMETIMES YOU WILL LOSE.  There it is! Not sugar coated, not gentle, and certainly not deceitful. Start understanding now rather than later that there will be players on both sides of this battle.  

So now that you have read that and it is hopefully beginning to sink in, let’s explain what you may be feeling. 

PLAYER A

Immediately some of you will feel this heat rise inside of you as this incredible wave of stress ripples over you and fear engulfs your conscious thoughts.  You begin to experience fear of failure; you begin to use “what if” statements, (‘What if I don’t make it?’ or ‘What if I don’t start?’) or even worse, you begin to give these statements life by justifying them (‘Well, this is only my first year trying out’ or ‘They were on the team last year so I don’t stand a chance’).  All of this floods your mind at amazing speeds, so fast you can’t even stop them from cascading on top of each other and before you know it, they have formulated a new self-image.

PLAYER B

On the other hand, there are those of you who feel comfortable in your position on the team. You graze over this entire document with little interest, with an attitude of almost superiority as if the concepts discussed are beneath you and are truly meant to just impact those who are not at your level.  While this could be a one-off occurrence and potentially just an oversight, it likely is not.  You see, it’s likely not just an oversight and more of an apparent pattern that is occurring because we are what we repeatedly do and this transfers across all domains (academics, sport, relationships, etc.).  Thus, it is likely that with many of these topics and even perhaps with this article, you may be reached on the surface or your interest is mildly peaked. But, like many things in life you take the opportunity for sacrifice for granted, this too will pass you by.

You see, both these athletes are experiencing a lack of control over one of their two controllable’s (attitude and effort). As a result, this will begin to affect their effort, which in turn, affects their performance. But in this current scenario, all is okay with the world, right?  I mean look, PLAYER A did what they were supposed to do…they conceded before even competing against PLAYER B. And for PLAYER B, they are fine to keep forgoing the opportunity for sacrifice and just continue plugging along as their complacent selves. 

But what if there is a shift that occurs?  What if PLAYER A takes heed to this article?  What if they decide to internalize their focus?  What if they push twice as hard and become comparable to PLAYER B?  What if they shock everyone and become better?  PLAYER B is screwed because they have lost that understanding for sacrifice, for hunger, for competition because they were satisfied with their position and per history, nobody was coming for their spot.  EXCEPT PLAYER A JUST CAME AND TOOK IT!

But wait…

My intent is not to make this feel like a David and Goliath talk or underdog and favorite discussion.  The purpose was to show you how to poorly adapted attitudes have spiraled into creating an immensely damaging team environment!  PLAYER A stepping up and taking PLAYER B’s role is great and all, but only if PLAYER B was trying like hell to keep that from happening.  The goal is not to lay down to a teammate, it strengthens them as you are both forged through fire as opposed to through chanced opportunity and complacency.

Thus, as a team, as individuals, we must focus on our attitudes and effort towards everything in life, for it is these two controllable’s that will shape our future.

In-Season Training

Are we trying to sell you on our in-season training product? That’s exactly what we’re doing. We’re trying to sell you because what we want our athletes to understand is that Athletes Warehouse is our passion and our livelihood. When you all step out of our facility and onto the field, you are a representation of Athletes Warehouse. Therefore you represent our passion and our livelihood. Over the past off-season, watching all of you excel and completely transform yourselves into the athletes you are is the fuel to our passion. It is why we invest every waking hour of the day in preparation for your performance. The thought of any one of our athletes being put in a situation of potential injury or deterioration is what our coaches lose sleep over each night. With that being said, we cannot express how important it is that training is a year-long process. Furthermore, instilling a positive relationship with training, fitness, and health is a lifelong skill that we strive to ingrain in each one of you. This article intends to air out some commonly asked questions and concerns regarding in-season training.

Why should I train in-season? If I stop training, how quickly do my strength adaptations from the off-season begin to deteriorate?

After training in an optimal state of overload these last six months and then immediately starving yourself of such stimulus, the body becomes complacent. The athlete quickly begins to lose the performance benefits that they had received from a progressive overload over the last six months. A lot of these benefits are not necessarily referring to muscle loss or atrophy. These performance determinants are first felt from a hormonal and neurologically based level. In short, they are the first benefits that athletes receive when beginning their first several weeks of training, and these benefits are the first ones to go in a matter of weeks after depriving the body of training. By continuing training in season, we are attempting to provide the athlete with optimal levels of stress that enable them to maintain a high level of performance on the field while avoiding overly stressing them in a way that hinders their sports performance. The number one goal of all training (not just in-season), is injury prevention. The major commonality from all of our athletes who train in-season is that they stay healthier more often than those who do not. And for our superstitious readers, we are beyond confident in stating that.

Aren’t I going to be too sore to perform in my sport if I train during season? What does my program look like to avoid this?

Program design when coming to Athletes Warehouse in-season is a different experience than coming during the off-season. For all our current and former athletes reading this, you may understand this terminology. For our parents and other non-strength-and-conditioning related readers, it all starts with programming different muscle contractions. In a simplified explanation our training will focus on three types of muscle contractions: eccentric (lengthening of muscle tissue), isometric (no change in length of muscle tissue), and concentric (shortening of muscle tissue). What is important to note during an in-season program is the emphasis on isometric and concentric muscle contraction, as these are movements that allow us to provide a neurological stimulus at relatively high intensities, without the athlete being tremendously sore. On the latter, we avoid a large volume of eccentric muscle contraction as this is the culprit of the commonly sought after delayed onset muscle soreness that our everyday gym-goers pursue as a token of hard work. An example of how we make this adjustment is exchanging a traditional squat for a concentric squat, where the athlete simply stands the bar out of power rack and drops back down from the top.

How do I fit training into my practice/game schedule during the season?

While this answer can be drastically different depending on the sport, there are some overarching themes that span across all sports. Most would expect to see less weight room time as they approach the late season. When people think of the late season, they think of being dinged up; just holding onto their bodies hoping to make it through playoffs with whatever injuries have plagued them that year. Our athletes don’t experience this. Not only are they healthy from training year-round and throughout a season, but they are actually increasing the amount of time they spend in our weight room as the season goes on. Their practice volume and intensity tends to drop off since coaches are trying to preserve them. It creates a situation where most other athletes who are not training in season are deteriorating, our athletes are just getting ramped up come the time when it counts the most. How often an athlete trains depends greatly on the athlete themselves too. We have had lacrosse athletes who have come in for a squat session a day out of their state championship game, and baseball pitchers who are doing arm care and plyometrics a day before the biggest start of their season. Commonly, athletes tend to be hesitant to train during season out of fear of fatigue. Quickly, their in-season training becomes an integral part of the preparation and pre-game rituals as they feel the performance and health benefits over the duration of a season.

It has been an absolute pleasure to train every athlete who has come through our doors this winter season. With this spring season approaching, our coaching staff is excited to continue to be a part of your athletic domination. We cannot wait for each one of you to test out the newly acquired strength, speed, and power gains you’ve earned this off-season. If you had any doubts, you’re soon going to prove to yourself how your training has taken you to another level.

Cultivating Impenetrable Buy-In

Buy-in as a construct

Buy-in as a construct is an elusive amoeba that is magnificently apparent both in its void and presence; unfortunately, the elusiveness is illuminated through the fleetness with which it can come and go.  Managers, coaches, captains, and several others in leadership positions have long been enamored by the struggles attached to the cultivation of this ideal amongst their team and more often the sustainable nature of it’s being once initially realized.  But why such contention about a seemingly homogenous construct? If we look at buy-in from 10,000 feet, isn’t this a desirable trait for all mankind? Do not all want to believe in something? Believe in a concept? A goal? An ideal by which we should live our life or drive our purpose?  Well, yes, it’s true we all do have that innate need to belong; to have purpose; to have a concept with which we can attach value, direction, and goals to in our life. But then why for leaders is it so difficult to cultivate impenetrable buy-in amongst their team? The answers lies in the leaders ability to be vulnerable, cultivate emotional investment, and resolve the three most basic human needs, autonomy, relatedness, and competence.

It starts and ends with trust

Potentially the most influential criteria of buy-in lies in the concept of trust among not just the leader and the team but between members of the team and each other.  This trust can not simply align with the traditional definition, of which is centered around being able to predict a persons behaviors based on past experiences; because this definition does little to describe how the trust is formed? Why is it formed? Or even how is it sustained?  Without these contextual understandings the potential for future growth among the team is blunted by veiled discussions and refrained conflict. The culture is missing the interjection of vulnerability among team members.

Vulnerability based trust is cultivated in an environment in which team members are encouraged to never fear judgement, attack, or deception from another member.  Instead their viewpoints are vehemently requested with the hopes that it will cause moments for positive conflict to occur that result in the adoption and transcendence of new ideas into the fabric of the unit.  Conflict is essential to the productivity of a successful team!!

Tell a story and interject them into the story

The ability to tell a story is potentially the most influential tool a leader can possesses!  In the end a story is all that we are; it’s what are lives are made up of; it how we remember people; its why we believe in things; and most importantly its how we become emotional invested.  Emotional investment is the goal of every commercial, motivational speech, and even religious sermons. Emotional investment is what causes us to get lost in a story; its what causes us to loss objectivity, the ability to critically think, or even often times loose touch with reality.  Its what helps us fall in love!

A leader must utilize the powers of story telling to create emotional investment in their vision, in the vision of the company or team.  They must harvest this emotional investment by not only telling a great story but by interject their team into their story. The emotional investment created by the leader is critical to the not only the productivity and culture of a team but also the resolve of that team.  An emotionally invested team will be able to remain naive to how challenging certain obstacles, how large the potential for failure is, and how often they may struggle. However, no story is powerful enough to overcome a leader who is not equally or superiorly emotionally invested to that of their team members.

Resolving the three basic human needs

The highest quality work is generally derived from those who are self-determined and possess high quantities of intrinsic motivation.  Thus, all leaders should desire to have a team that is comprised of individuals who are extremely self-determined. The self-determination theory (developed by Deci & Ryan, 2000) describes three basic human needs that when resolved can elicit high levels of self-determination among individuals.  The three basic human needs are relatedness, autonomy, and competence.

Be Relatable…humanize leadership

A leader who desires to have a lasting effect on an athlete or team member must be prudent to develop a relatable ground with that individual and or encourage a culture that enriches relatedness.  The relatedness of the leader is bolstered by their ability to humanize themselves. This humanizing act removes the hierarchy structure of the relationship and allows for vulnerability to further present itself.  Ultimately the more relatable a person feels towards a culture, team, story, or leader, the greater the opportunity for emotional investment.

Provide Competencies and challenge those competencies

A leader must constantly provide opportunities for growth and development at both the personal and tactical level.  It is important for leaders to appreciate the need people have to work on themselves and improve not only their skillset but improve upon their own personal growth.  Thus, training or personal development opportunities should not be special occurrences but should be engrained into the common practices of a company or team. Individuals’ need is to be possess the skill set and competence necessary to achieve success in the task they are being asked to do, yet they also yearn to be continually challenged to learn and advance upon the skill sets.

Provide Autonomy and Handle the consequences well!

A team without conflict cannot be successful because they will have only experienced veiled interactions due to the lacking expressions of vulnerability.  To be in conflict is to be vulnerable and to be vulnerable is to trust. The greatest way to generate conflict is to provide autonomy and decentralize some of the command within a company or team.  With team members having control over certain decisions there will undoubtedly conflict between the leader and their team members, yet, it is how the leader handles this conflict that will create the buy-in.  If the leader shuns their decisions or affirms their authority, the satiated feelings towards autonomy will soon disperse for the team. A leader must cautiously tread in times of conflict to avoid the pitfalls of micro-management and the dissolving of trust.

The Elimination of The Back Squat

In the depths of a primitive powerlifting gym, the strongest men and women in the world performed displays of strength in the back squat that pushed we know as human limits. I was only in high school, so my exposure to strength training was just beginning. What amazed me the most about these men was not how much load they squatted with 100% of their max, but how fast and explosive they could lift 85%. It only made sense to me that this would translate over to my lacrosse game. If you’ve ever seen the physical stature of some elite middleweight powerlifters, one can only imagine the dominant physical beast they could be with the addition of lacrosse skills, speed, and agility. I had no reason not to perform such a lift in my training, and as a 16-year-old kid, could you blame me? I am about to provide you with a methodology we’ve adopted at Athletes Warehouse that will make you question back squatting with your youth athletes in the future.

The back squat has been a staple movement in strength and conditioning since athletes and coaches began utilizing the barbell during training. In all honesty, it’s a shame to see such an exercise so automatically prescribed by so many coaches. Just as most American strength coaches understand the potential dangers and technical skills it takes to safely and effectively complete a snatch or clean and jerk, we believe the same applies for the back squat. Here’s why:

    1. The body awareness one must possess to truly find a braced and neutral spine during a back squat is a technical barrier for a youth athlete to display strength. Very few of our youth athletes possess the experience under a barbell to brace their body in a manner that we would deem safe and beneficial to the long-term health of the athlete. The most common fault we see when youth athletes begin a back squat is overextension through the lumbar spine without having the extension capacity or development to handle these positions. Most commonly we find athletes reporting lumbar joint discomfort. EMG studies showed that even just a simple prone spine extension exercise (commonly referred to as a “Superman”) elicited 6000N (roughly 1300lbs) of compression to facet joints and spinous ligaments (1). With the amount of lumbar extension based injuries that we see occurring in youth sports today, it guides us to more extension sparing exercises that load the anterior side of the athlete such as the front squat, goblet squat, or even dual dumbbell or kettlebell front squat.
  • With the number of overhead athletes in our building, one must consider the compromised position the back squat places on the shoulder and elbow joint. An overarching principle to our program design here at Athletes Warehouse is to remember that we do not train a tremendous amount of professional athletes. While our athletes may prioritize their sport over anything else, we must not neglect that they are kids. They have no other choice but to sit in a chair during school throughout the day, and we’re kidding ourselves if we believe kids are going to reduce their screen time because we tell them it will prevent them from developing a kyphotic upper back and forward rounded shoulder position. These chronic positions limit their shoulder external rotation and abduction; both positions which are critical in performing the back squat in a safe manner. We are in a constant battle with the athlete to correct these limitations and dysfunctions, as they are critical ranges of motion for their overhead sports. Therefore it is worrisome to believe that these athletes possess the capabilities to handle large loads in such limited ranges.
  • Research fails to provide evidence that would cause us to declare the reward of the back squat to outweigh the risks involved. When comparing EMG studies on front and back squat variations, it has been found that there are no significant differences in activation of glute max, bicep femoris, or vastus lateralis (2). Research studies have highlighted the only consistently greater EMG activation is semitendinosus during the concentric phase of the back squat during near maximum loads. This, however, could be explained by the commonly increased forward torso angle the occurs during the back squat movement (3). Consequently, this forward torso angle can be incredibly dangerous in a young athlete who does not have the physical development or capacity to handle such forces to the lumbar spine. Regardless of the movement, there is an inherent risk to everything from a max effort back squat to even simply sitting up out of a chair. As professionals, we are constantly weighing risk:reward ratio of certain movements. It is our responsibility to prescribe appropriate exercises that both satisfy a fulfilling training program, but also maintain a safe long-term development of the athlete.

The back squat has been a utilized movement since the early days of strength and conditioning. Research has failed to provide any information that would prompt us to declare the reward of the back squat to outweigh the risks involved. There is no doubt that the back squat is a greater platform than the front squat to handle high loads. The back squat is a fantastic display of human capabilities, as men and women have trumped human limits by squatting multiple times their own body weights. I challenge the reader to question what weight room numbers mean to the transfer to sport. The overarching training goal of our program design is for our athletes to outperform the opposing player or team on the competition platform. This starts with a selection of exercises that will provide them with the greatest transfer to their sport, but also put them in the safest position for their long-term athletic development.

    1. McGill, S. (2017). Ultimate Back Fitness and Performance. 6th ed. Ontario: Back Fit Pro, p.227
    1. Contreras, B., Vigotsky, A. D., Schoenfeld, B. J., Beardsley, C., & Cronin, J. (2016). A comparison of gluteus maximus, biceps femoris, and vastus lateralis electromyography amplitude in the parallel, full, and front squat variations in resistance-trained females. Journal of applied biomechanics, 32(1), 16-22.
  1. Yavuz HU, Erdag D, Amca AM, Aritan S., (2014)  Kinematic and EMG activities during front and back squat variations in maximum loads. J Sports Sci. 2015;33(10):1058–1066.