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.

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