My Profession Makes Me A Better Person: An Ode To Strength And Conditioning

My profession makes me a better person. How crazy is that to say? Such a miniscule percentage of the world genuinely feels that way about their jobs. As I begin a new phase of my career journey, I cannot help but pinch myself and wonder how this has happened? For the past couple years, I found myself answering a frequently asked question much differently than when I began my career. The question is “What are your goals in this industry?” I used to give the standard issue answer that went something like “I want to be a director at a college or own my own facility”. Although both of those goals are phenomenal, I have found that as I envelop my life more and more around this profession, the goal does not revolve around a position.

I believe that our skill-sets will continue to play a larger role in human health and wellness. I believe that we will inevitably work together to develop a new iteration of educating the future generations of this profession to have a broader range of skills. I believe this education process is essential in order to move beyond performance, health, and wellness and into having a more formulated impact on ailment alleviation and prevention. I believe the proverbial bar representing the quality of work being done across the board is much too low. I believe this because of the impact I know we can have on all demographics.

We complain about the inactivity of today’s youth and society in general. We complain that pharmaceutical companies and doctors have created a population quick to resort to pills to provide a band aid over a deeper problem…or over no “problem” at all. We complain that personal trainers don’t know what they’re talking about. We complain that our certification processes are less than stellar. We complain that nobody knows how to move properly anymore. We all know these things to be true, therefore we know we need to raise the bar. Raising the bar is not rude, its not abrasive, and it shouldn’t prompt the social media mob to call for someone to be fired. We are currently starving for our politicians to raise it from the depths, yet we are frightful to even say what we want to say about the CSCS.

Each of us has been exposed to the gluten controversy, which provides a perfect example of our affinity for lowering the bar. Gluten democrats and republicans shout from the rooftops about celiac disease, neurological functioning, paleo diets, and even what gluten actually is (hint: all you have to do is watch the South Park episode on gluten…surprisingly informative but definitely NSFW). Why have blue and red, when we can all agree that we currently do not readily have access to quality forms of wheat and grain in general, foods that we know are unhealthy like pizza, pasta, and bagels contain gluten, and that most of the time when we do not include gluten in our diet we feel pretty good and body composition usually improves. Instead, we lower the bar and try to argue that gluten sensitivity is a myth, pasta parties are awesome for athletes, and, the biggest societal absurdity of all, that breakfast foods are cinnamon toast crunch, doughnuts, pancakes, etc. all washed down with a tall glass of OJ. It’s like going green. We can dance around the politics all we want and argue about glaciers all day, but we all know it would be beneficial for everyone if we just did it (a bit naïve to the process involved, but you know what I mean).

Raising the bar in our industry seemingly follows this same logic. We use phrases like “there are a million ways to skin a cat”, “squat deep get money”, “#beastmode”, and “I’m a strength coach not a PT”…when talking about learning yoga. These notions hinder our potential impact and force us to have the wrong conversation. As the old adage goes, if you don’t like what is being said…change that shit.

Here is where I circle back to that question about my future goals. I want to continue to find a way for us to make a greater impact on the health of human beings. I want to find people who believe we can make that type of impact and have the desire to do so. Because of this, I know I have won the lottery with my new job. I would have moved anywhere in the world to be a part of this staff and am humbled that I would even be a person considered. Being blessed to now work from such a strong platform as professional sports, I feel it is a responsibility to use this reach to be an educator, to listen, and to inform as many people as I can of the importance of our impact.

I want to continue to be able to learn, document, and provide an avenue for everyone to view or listen to my version of what I have learned for FREE (It takes an hour to shoot a video with your iphone, put it on your computer, and transfer it to YouTube…that shouldn’t cost someone $100). If I meet awesome people, I will make sure others know they are awesome. Secrets have never been fun and as Hozier so sarcastically put it, “That’s a fine looking high horse”, and I’m telling you man, that high horse doesn’t need to squat deep; it’s a horse…he’s going to be beastly with or without going below parallel. We need less grey and more black and white. There is right and wrong in our profession and we are responsible for knowing the difference.

I’m currently called a strength coach, so I apologize if this stuff sounds a bit negative because that is NOT what we are about. What I do know is that doing the dirty work, raising the bar, and holding each other accountable does not change how unbelievably fun it is when that whistle blows and our sessions start! I still wake up knowing I am a better person because of what I get to do everyday; the least I can do is make sure I can give back whatever I can to a profession that has given me so much.

12 Clean Variations You Need To Know

Understanding the sport of weightlifting well enough to utilize it as a programming option takes commitment and time. These 12 variations of the clean will provide a base to build upon. I will explain why these are the necessary variations to know, how to properly name them, and how to perform each one.

Power Clean Mechanics & Drills – Part 1

If attempting to use Olympic weightlifting to train athletes, it needs to be respected and intricately understood. If it is not understood, then it is not a tool in your toolbox…and that is ok! There are many modalities that can serve as interchangeable tools to obtain similar training effects. If Olympic weightlifting is something you want to use, hopefully this video can provide some helpful information to begin building the necessary understanding!

8 THOUGHTS ON THE CURRENT STATE OF STRENGTH & CONDITIONING

It’s alllllllll coming together. 3 years as a full time coach. Entering my 3rd year at one University. Life is great, and I am more confused than ever before. I have come to realize I am not the most important member of the support staff. I am just one member of a support team that includes athletic trainers, physical therapists, doctors, nutritionists, psychologists, etc. Depending on the individual, I may not be the most critical member of that staff. We are the only support staff branch of which every athlete is required to see weekly. Because of that, I know I need to figure out the role I play for each athlete. It is a continuous learning process, but, as the dalai lama of motivation Simon Sinek says, start with why, then how, and the what will take care of itself. As I begin another semester of getting kids dialed in, I figured I would share a few “whats” that have stemmed from a lot of “why” examinations.

Drink the PRI milkshake. Drink it up!!

As with rap, in the beginning…there should have been the Postural Restoration Institute. I had the pleasure of taking PRI’s Myokinetic Restoration course over the summer under the tutelage of Ron “The Adductor” Hruska. I felt like the anatomical wool had finally been lifted from my eyes and I was absorbing the material in a manner in which it was meant to be understood. I have to thank a fellow coach for the encouragement to take the first step. As he put it, the teachings of PRI are what we should be learning from the jump. Admittedly, I have only just begun the fellowship of the ring, so shop talk is always welcome so I can steal some of your applications!

Only being a few miles out of the shire, here is what I believe an athletic performance coach can start doing with PRI. First, thoroughly understand the concepts, and this alone will improve how you coach your athletes. My very simplistic consolidation of my learnings so far are to enhance the ability of my athletes to get out of extension, figure out how to find neutral, and give them the tools to then create tension in order to maintain neutral throughout the entirety of a controlled challenge. Next, sift through the gauntlet of “correctives” and figure out the ones you can apply. Use them in your performance prep. If this process sounds familiar to another pendulum swing we have been camping out in for the past several years, you may be right, but I think this may serve to make more significant positive changes. I believe this because the concepts just make sense. As scientific as that statement is, it coincides with a growth in my programming due to a realization that all limitations will not be “corrected”. Foam rolling, ankle and hip mobilizations, and the like are not correctives. They are great ways to prep for subsequent loaded movements, but we cannot pretend we are facilitating significant permanent changes. PRI, on the other hand, is position based. This novel concept is certainly something we have all had in the back of our minds, but PRI clearly systematizes the acceptance that we have certain predispositions and affinities towards undesirable biomechanical positions and neurological innervations. Know which need to be corrected and those that can be worked around. Remember, not everyone is meant to do every movement, and you are certainly not Gandalf the Grey.

Just like big food, I want to make sure I caution everyone prior to accepting that cereal may not be the healthiest option, but it’s only a matter of time until the grainless brains prevail. We have a tendency to swing the pendulum way to far in one direction. Tread lightly, sip it slow, and apply this the right way, knowing it is simply another tool to be used that can enhance what you are already doing.

I LOVE the Olympic Lifts, but they are not to be implemented with everyone

After having some great resources to learn from over the past couple years, I am pretty confident in my ability to apply and coach all variations of the Olympic lifts. It may be because of this process that I now believe I have been guilty of prescribing them to people that were not meant to do them. This may sound blasphemes to the purest, but remember, I provide strength and conditioning services for Olympic sports. If I cannot facilitate a process by which these athletes reach their athletic potential without the use of Olympic lifts, I don’t know if I’m in a good spot as a coach. I still believe in them, I still use them with the athletes who are strong enough, biomechanically sound, and frankly, those who have the desire to do them. Without great technique, I do think most benefit is lost.

This notion is coming from an audit of my programming and realizing my plyometric periodization was truly lacking. Plyos are a huge part of what I do, but I found my Olympic weightlifting periodization to be so much of the focus that I may have lost some of the growth I could have facilitated. There has been so much chatter on Olympic weightlifting in the last couple years. Crossfit has a lot to do with that, which is fine, but can we get a couple more articles about really dialing in our programming when it comes to rate of force development, impulse, elasticity, and the bunnies you need to exhibit when you step on the field or court? (I’m sure they are out there, so maybe selfishly I want someone to send me a few…not the ones with exercise options, as I know progressions, but I’m talking periodizations…triphasic has provided some great ideas for me!)

Most of the “mobility” and “stability” exercises I have been doing for the past couple years were garbage

Garbage may be a strong word. I use it more out of frustration than anything else. I told myself my ankle and hip self mobilizations were making a difference. So much of a difference, that I would simply have to move onto stability work after a couple weeks and I would be set. It may be the milkshake talking, but I have a feeling there is more to it, and it has something to do with position.

Provide more opportunities for freedom of movement

Nothing has had as much of an impact on my programs more than the implementation of movement flow. Check out the full article I posted a few months ago, but I really do hope it provides for some good ideas moving forward. It is way easier to implement than it looks. It stemmed from a dissatisfaction in the structure of my warmups, and a notion that I was almost being hypocritical. Like most, I found myself continuously talking about how specialization is an epidemic and athletes are so mechanical. I felt like I only exacerbated that by continuing with the mechanistic nature of training without giving the chance to move freely in a way that we all talk about athletes needing. Trust me, throw in a sequence of movement flow and your athletes will be more focused, get way more out of it, and highly enjoy it…O, and give me ideas of more stuff to throw in there please!

Admit it…not many of you in the college realm know where Omega Wave, Catapult, Bioforce, and the like are going to take us, but I’ll f*#ks wit em because at this point, in the very least, its a resume builder

I am lucky I have some of these toys to play with, but I still have no clue what is going to be worth it. Like PRI, I do believe in the use of these toys to the fullest, so I hope smarter people than myself start coming out with books on how to use these things to program in the team setting.

My speed work has had way too little of a reactionary component

Don’t get me wrong, a good chunk of my SAQ programs are devoted to auditory and visual reaction versions of many drills. It’s just that I have seen way to many great “technique” guys turn to gumby during testing or competition. Nowadays, I always make sure to ask myself, “Is it worth the time?”. Knee up, toe up is only going to take you so far. From there, you have to make sure you are getting from point A to point B faster than the other guy or ball.

If you ain’t pushing for smaller groups, you ain’t gluten free

I realize it is not feasible for some coaches, but if you can do it…DO IT! I have had coach to athlete ratios close to 1:50-60. That should be illegal.

The first step is admitting we have an extension problem

My only goal in life is to take athletes out of extension, find neutral, and provide the tools to allow them to dominate that position. I just cannot see athletes that are stuck in extension benefiting from the acceptance of technique that sees the exacerbation of a faulty pattern jammed into a bony block of false stability, and expecting externally resisted work to be done from that position.

Final Thought: Can we form an organization that teaches the world how to do a proper push-up? #dynamicsealstretches

THE END OF SUMMER STRENGTH AND CONDITIONING PACKETS AND THE BEGINNING OF SOMETHING BETTER

Making summer programs is not fun. There is no worse feeling as a collegiate strength and conditioning coach knowing that the excitement you have while developing a phenomenal summer plan will inevitably be trumped by the reminder that only a small percentage of your athletes will perform the program the way it is intended. The inherent S&C coach mentality then leads to feelings of disappointment and a desire for more discipline from all of your athletes. You work tirelessly to create a desired culture during the year, only to have it crack because of a lack of observation and forced requisite during the summer.

Each year I find myself wracking my brain to figure out better ways to promote adherence to these summer programs. This year was no different, and during that process I was reminded why we train. I have always trained because of the positivity surrounding it. Growing up you went to the gym because you wanted to; you wanted to do things that made you feel stronger, faster, and of course build the aesthetics needed to make an impact on the exotic Connecticut shoreline. That mindset is still a big part of why our elite athletes train. We provide an escape, a positive environment meant to facilitate not only physical development, but a mental break from the daily pressure of their sport. The question is, how can we allow for this feeling towards training to continue throughout the summer, while still returning at a necessary level of performance?

Another novel and sometimes forgotten concept I was reminded of is that summer training is meant to benefit the athlete. Strength coaches get fired up about a lot of things. One of those things is formulating and printing out shiny new summer packets complete with pictures and bound up at the local Kinkos. If your athletes are similar to mine, they could not care less about the appearance of that packet. We add pages and pages consisting of introductory letters, explanations, motivational quotes, lists upon lists of exercises, etc. Sometimes it seems like the program is inadequate unless it is over 50 pages. Where was that during the year? Why do we, all of a sudden, expand our handouts from the common 1-2 sheets per phase, with necessary information, to seemingly an achievement in modern literature?

…SO WHAT WAS MY TAKE-HOME?

-Packets are not the answer, especially ones that have more than 10 pages

-Programs must cater to the athlete’s training skill-set, needs, logistics, resources, location, mindset, etc.

HOW CAN WE DO BETTER?

1.) EXIT INTERVIEWS

Each athlete can voluntarily contact / visit with his or her coach in order to determine what the summer program will look like. This conversation is meant to assess the athlete’s goals, where they will be living, what facility they will have access to (if any), how many days / week they will be able to train, summer organizations/leagues they will be a part of, etc. As their coach, the goal is to take all of this into account and formulate a program that will allow our requirements to be adhered to. Make no mistake, they are still expected to meet certain quality requirements over the summer in order to return at a necessary level of performance capabilities. If an athlete does not communicate with his or her coach, a program will not be sent.

Example: An athlete may express a need for conditioning to be the primary focus of the summer, even more so than other athletes. That goal is expressed, and the subsequent phases will be catered to that goal. Another athlete may speak to the limitation he or she may have because of traveling and inconsistency in being able to get to a facility. The program would then provide options for training without equipment in addition to training when a facility can be taken advantage of.

2.) TRAINING KNOWLEDGE ASSESSMENT

Each athlete is encouraged, prior to our exit interview communication, to come up with a list and summary of known or desired exercises and training modalities. With this knowledge, a coach can compile a better menu of exercises, drills, etc. that the athlete can perform safely and have success with.

Example: An athlete may express knowledge of a hip mobility series that a coach may not have thought to put in the warm-up, but will now do so because it is something the athlete is comfortable with. An athlete may talk about his or her lack of confidence with the Olympic lifts, but is comfortable with the kettlebell work we have done. That athlete may be put on a structured plyometric program or kettlebell routine depending on his or her resources.

3.) WRITING ONE PHASE AT A TIME

The athlete will only receive 1 phase at a time. Once that phase is completed, he or she can voluntarily contact his or her coach in order to receive the next phase of training.

Example: An athlete may continue to compete over the summer, as is common with various sports like baseball, volleyball etc. This athlete may arrive at a site and realize training resources are scarce. That athlete may communicate to his or her coach the situation at that time. The first phase of the program can then be sent based on the present resources. Once a phase is complete, the athlete can voluntarily communicate any successes or road blocks with the program, and the next phase can be manipulated in order to facilitate further success.

I know we have such a desire to make everything the same, as it looks great and it is easy to compile into a packet. The reality is that if we preach individualization, then that should include all aspects of an athlete’s situation. Individualization speaks not only to the athlete’s strengths, weaknesses, or limitations, but also to the athlete’s environment off-campus at home, his or her skill in performing certain lifts, his or her mindset when it comes to strength and conditioning, etc. An athlete with a summer ball assignment in the middle of South Dakota, with a host family he does not know, and a gym that is 30 min away with no car, will have a tough time adhering to the standard program. In this situation, hold off sending his program. Wait until he gets to the site, let him communicate his situation, and shoot out the first phase from there. Similar to an athlete playing on a national team who is still competing like it is in-season. That athlete will have a tough time adhering to the 4 days per week of speed, resistance training, and conditioning they are prescribed. You must then prescribe a modified in-season program until the national team obligations cease, at which time that athlete’s off-season program can begin.

It may sound like too much freedom to be given to the athlete. It may sound like you are giving them a way out, when in actuality, you are empowering them with greater responsibility and opportunity to take ownership over their own advancement. I contest that the athletes who do not communicate or do not receive a summer program, will be held accountable at some point, whether that is by teammates or lack of performance upon return. It may sound as if you would be setting them up to come back ill-prepared. I do not think this to be the case, as fostering a belief that the program is for the individual and encouraging communication will lead to a greater chance of buy-in and to a better prepared athlete returning to campus. Remember, these concepts stemmed from thoughts of what my own desire was while training. I could be missing the boat, but when I trained, the plan revolved around targeting my OWN weaknesses in order to improve and prepare myself to meet the physical requirements of the team upon return. All of this was written on a tattered, torn-up journal or on one sheet of paper full of exercises, sets, reps…and a couple notes.

BLENDING PRIMAL MOVEMENT PRACTICES INTO MOVEMENT FLOW

As I continue journeying through the web of training modalities, I find myself becoming more enlightened, but even more confused. Strength and Conditioning is an industry dominated by extreme pendulum swings. We are excited by each new training revolution that seemingly trumps the previous. New modalities tend to saturate our training programs immediately, replacing others, instead of being used in complement. Eventually, a greater understanding occurs and the pendulum settles in its appropriate spot. While this may sound like the opposite of what the process should be, I believe it inevitably serves to benefit our world of performance enhancement.

This process is more evident now than ever. Strength and conditioning coaches continue to blend scopes of practice with other members of the support staff as we become more knowledgeable, passionate, and critical to an athlete’s well-being. We are in a proverbial renaissance of performance enhancement training, with some thinking they have found the answer, while many lacking the perspective necessary to realize there is none, but rather the continued pursuit of greater understanding.

I am glad I can be a part of this movement. Recently, my journey through the rabbit hole has taken me into the realm of primal human movement. With training modalities and concepts such as PRI (Postural Restoration Institute), FMS (Functional Movement Screening), DNS (Dynamic Neuromuscular Training), Movement Restoration Project, Animal Flow, FRC (Functional Range Conditioning), Yoga, etc. becoming common language amongst strength coaches, athletic trainers, and physical therapists, I found myself in a competition of understanding where I did not know the rules or even if I had the credentials necessary to play.

I have been minimally learning and experimenting with several of these modalities for most of this past school year. I have dabbled in crawling and rolling patterns because of my experience with the FMS. I have worked with wonderful PT’s that have enlightened me on concepts related to DNS. I have had the pleasure of diving into the twisted mind of Pat Davidson who has confused me even more when it comes to PRI (Don’t worry Pat, I do have a desire to not be confused). I have practiced Yoga sporadically for a few years, and have made it a greater part of my cornucopia of training in the past year. I have watched as Stuart Mcgill eloquently explains some of America’s misinterpretation of many training practices, most of which revolve around our desire for MORE and, in some cases, our unnecessary use of added resistance. All of this has lead me to a mindset conducive to first empowering body control and ownership through movement, manipulation, transition, breathing, activation, relaxation, pressure creation and release, etc. Instead of only thinking of myself as a practitioner meant to add external resistance to movements as my means of performance enhancement, I have, as is our common practice, reverted to techniques that have been around longer than any of us, but only now are finding their way back into our practice.

Enter in what my athletes know as Movement Flow. The fall semester was spent primarily experimenting by blending together primal movements and implementing them into my “warm-ups”. After such a positive response, in conjunction with a desire by some coaches to contract out a Yoga teacher for in-season recovery sessions, I began conducting voluntary Movement Flow classes throughout the spring semester. In my short career, I have never had a more positive vocal response and appreciation towards a training modality.

Movement Flow is influenced by many body weight oriented training practices. It contains common primal movements such as crawling and rolling. It contains breathing practices over various movements from things I have learned from PRI. It contains movements I have stolen from guys like Dr. Andreo Spina, Dewey Nielsen, and Ido Portal (on a much more amateur level at this point of course). It contains movement practices from Yoga in that we own proper positions, activation patterns, and transitions. All ingredients are sequentially blended based on concepts from DNS. In other words, we begin by performing movements in supine, transition into sidelying, then prone, then kneeling, squatting, and finally standing. That is the overall map, with the beauty being that so much of this happens organically and it is continuous. Yes there is a plan, but there are so many times during which we freestyle our way into things that might feel right at the time, or are desired by the athletes based on a challenge they want to conquer, or a movement that they must do to feel good or ready at the time. We get so engrained into sets and reps, that we forget the attention and excitement we can achieve through being unexpected, spontaneous, and engaged enough to assess what is right at that moment.

To understand where I am coming from, the following is a demonstration of a flow session performed as a total body “warm-up” that takes approximately 7 min depending on your time spent in each movement.

I have learned so much from implementing Movement Flow. With our primary role being educators, I have learned that this modality has allowed me to educate my athletes more than any other technique. They now have a greater understanding of what high level pinpoint activation means, how to be proficient at transitioning from one position or movement to another, how to breathe properly during a highly intense, uncomfortable movement, and, most importantly, being humbled by the challenge of one’s own body weight.

PRI talks about the importance of position. A slight change in the position of a muscle can cause a cascade of negative biomechanical effects. Now take that position and add external resistance, and we move towards facilitating a problem instead of enhancing a training quality. Technique may sometime seem subjective in our industry, but the reality is each time we accept technique leaks, there is a negative event taking place somewhere within the body. We see this during so many of our extension activities. We know a lot of our athletes are camping out in improper pelvic positions, most of the time locked into extension. Movement Flow provides for a means of potential relief from future or existing position flaws through understanding. Education related to understanding neutrality by owning crawling patterns, warrior poses, or simply learning how to traverse a range of flexion never explored before through a cat-cow exercise, forward bend, eagle pose, happy baby with breathing and posterior tilt promotion, etc. They began to know why it’s important, how we get there, and how we control it. It has played a critical role in improving our resisted movements. Applying this to a clean or deadlift, we have seen athletes with the greatest improvement not being in the lift itself, but being driven by the increased skill in creating tension and pressure through grip and breath or driving an activation pattern through specific joint manipulations to allow certain things to stablize or work, while other things are spared from being used as drivers.

Coaching in group settings, I have found this to provide a successful means of allowing learning and benefit to be had by most. There is greater focus vs. other warm ups structured into separated exercises and specified reps. The emphasis on transitions and continuity forces even greater attention and skill throughout. Transitions force the athlete to maintain so much of the tension, stability, and integrity we seem to always lose during our lifts. The higher threshold of the movements also makes for the applicability to mimic more of what is coming, greater than a mini band walk or half-kneeling ankle mob can provide.

As is the case with a renaissance, I do not know where this may go or the inevitable place for the pendulum, but I believe it is important. Ido Portal talks about how people really do have that desire to move around, invert yourself, crawl on the ground, lift, climb, brachiate, twist, and have that freedom of self-dominance. We know that we have to challenge our athletes in so many ways. Some of those ways make sense, but some, if we are being honest, do not have any bearing on whether or not that athlete will be better at his or her sport. Make no mistake, I still implement higher threshold movements that utilize added external resistance…for those who can do them and for those who need them. I simply believe that dominance of certain primal movements should happen first as assessments or baselines, while others can happen in conjunction serving as warm-ups or advanced challenges. For my colleagues who may say this is not at a level stimulating enough for a high level athlete, I say that I have found it to serve to enhance my externally resisted movements immensely. Movement Flow is movement education at its finest.

Below is a more elaborate example of what occurs during a full 60 min session that happens during voluntary classes or as recovery sessions for some teams. This is only some of the movements that occur, with many others occurring depending on the experience of the group I am with.