Training: Separates the Winners from the Not-Winners

“The more you sweat in training, the less you bleed in battle.”

From what I could gather from a quick interwebz search, this is a quote taken from General George Patton (though swap “training” for “peace,” but the spirit of the quote remains the same.) I strayed across it this morning and it accurately portrays the life of an athlete. There is the competition season and there is the off-season. The off-season should be reserved for rest and recuperation from competition and building up strength for the next round of competition. (Charlie will delve into this in the coming weeks.)

*sigh* Often, though, we see kids (as young as 9 or 10!) competing all. Year. Round. For the ENTIRE YEAR. (For more on this topic, click here.) There are a plethora of problems with this (overuse injuries at young ages, burning out, peaking to early in life, not to mention having zero social life…) but I’ll focus on an aspect that frustrates and saddens the SAPT coaches, one which we are constantly lamenting: total lack of training in favor of competition. Everyone wants to compete but no one wants to train to prepare for competition. (this goes for big boy and girl athletes too. You can’t compete all year-round.)

Competition season often has erratic schedules and can wreck havoc on eating habits, sleep schedules, and the ability to train regularly. That’s expected for a few months, but if an athlete is competing all the time, when will he/she recuperate and grow stronger? How will the joints (and their surrounding tissues) that get abused and overused during the season ever recover? Strength training not only strengthens muscles, but the tendons and ligaments too, which helps prevent overuse injuries because the tissues are more capable of handling the competition performance.

Taking an off-season (a TRUE off season, not playing on a club team) is crucial for long-term athletic success, both in the sport of choice and life. We see a lot of baseball players and volleyball players at SAPT. We’ve definitely seen an increase in the number of players with shoulder/elbow issues and (more the ladies) ACL repair surgeries. And NONE of these kids have even completed high school yet. That’s not supposed to happen. Here’s an article about the retirement of Dr. Frank Jobe, the first surgeon to perform a Tommy John surgery (reconstruction of the ulnar collateral ligament in the elbow). The quote that stuck out to me the most was:

Jobe and John are alarmed by the numbers of 12- to 17-year-olds who are having the operation.

“It’s like an epidemic, and it’s going to grow exponentially,” John said. “These kids are rupturing the ligament. They’re playing year-round baseball.” Justin Verlander, he argued, does not pitch-year round. Why do teenagers?

“The ligament needs rest,” Jobe said.

And that doesn’t just apply to baseball players. It’s an example; apply this across the athletic spectrum to athletes who compete in year-round sports. It’s insane and as a coach, it breaks my heart to see athletes hurt and unable to compete (or function in daily life) in the sport they love. The frustrating aspect? Most of these injuries could be prevented if athletes just strength trained in the off-season with a dedicated focus on getting stronger and building an athletic foundation upon which their specific skills would only flourish (not diminish as some people are wont to think).

Worried the sport specific skills would evaporate over a “long” off-season? Fine, twice a week, work on a few specific skills, for example, lay-ups, volleyball serves, hitting (baseball)… but don’t compete. Get stronger, eat well, sleep well, and I guarantee that the next competition season will be stellar.

Off-Season Training: Overhead Athletes


Last week, we laid out some general guidelines for athletes heading into their off-seasons. You should read it, if you haven't already. Today, we'll delve into some specifics for overhead athletes (i.e. baseball, softball, javelin, shot put, swimmers (though it seems as if they never have an off-season), etc.). Shoulders are rather complicated and annoyingly fickle joints that can develop irritation easily which is why proper attention MUST be paid to shoulder mechanics and care during the off-season. There is nothing "natural" about throwing a heavy object (or a light one really, really fast) and shoulders can get all kinds of whacky over a long, repetitive season. I'm going to keep it sweet and simple.

1. Restore lost mobility and improve stability

- Hips: they get locked up, especially on athletes that travel a lot during the season (helloooo long bus rides). Restoring mobility will go a long way in preventing hip impingements, angry knees, and allow for freer movements in general. Locked up hips will prevent safe, powerful throws and batting, thus, now is the time, Padawans, to regain what was lost!

- Lats: Usually tighten up on the throwing side and create a lovely posture that flares the rib cage and makes breathing not-so-efficient. Loosen up these bad boys!

- Breathing patterns: Those need to be re-trained (or trained for the first time), too. Breathing affects EVERYTHING. Learning proper breathing mechanics will do a lot to restore mobility (T-spine, shoulder, and hips), increase stability (lower back and abdominal cavity), and create a more efficient athlete (more oxygen with less energy expended to get it). I've written about it before HERE.

- Pecs and biceps: These guys are gunky and fibrotic and nasty. Self-myofacial release is good, finding a good manual therapist would be even better, to help knead that junk out! One caveat: make sure that as you release these two bad boys, you also add stability back into the shoulder. This means activating lower and mid-traps and the rotator cuff muscles to retrain them to work well again. Why? Most likely, the pecs and biceps are doing a LOT of stabilization of the shoulder (which they shouldn't be doing so much) so if you take that away through releasing them, one of two things will happen: 1) injury will occur since there's nothing holding stuff in place, 2) no injury, but the pec and/or bicep will tighten right back up again as your body's way of producing stability. So, mobilize then stabilize!

2. Improve scapula movement and stability

Along the lines of restoring mobility everywhere, the scapula need particular attention in overhead athletes as they are responsible for pain-free, overhead movements. Below is a handy-dandy chart for understanding scapula movements:


Now, over the course of the season, an overhead athlete will often get stuck in downward rotation therefore at in the early off-season (and throughout really) we want to focus on upward rotation of the scapula. Exercises like forearm wallslides are fantastic for this.

Eric Cressey notes that the scapula stabilizers often fatigue more quickly than the rotator cuff muscles. This means the scapula doesn't glide how it should on the rib cage, which leads to a mechanical disadvantage for the rotator cuff muscles, which leads to impingements/pain/unstable shoulders.

We need a freely gliding scapula to get overhead pain-free.
We need a freely gliding scapula to get overhead pain-free.

As we increase the upward rotation exercises, we want to limit exercises that will pull the athlete back into downward rotation, i.e. holding heavy dumbbells at their sides, farmer walks with the weight at sides, even deadlifts.(whoa now, I'm not saying don't deadlift, but limit the volume on the heavy pulls for a few weeks, and like I said in the last post, training speed work will limit the amount of load yanking down on those blades.) Instead, athletes can lunge or farmer carry in the goblet position (aka, one bell at their chest). 

There is more to be said, but let us move on, shall we?

3. Limit med ball work

At SAPT, we back off on aggressive med ball throwing variations for the first couple weeks post season as the athletes have been aggressively rotating all season. Instead, we'll sub in some drills that challenge the vestibular such as single-leg overhead medicine ball taps to the wall. (I don't have a video, sorry.)

Or, stability drills such as this:

If we do give them some low-intensity throws, we'll have them perform one less set on their throwing side than on the non-throwing side.

4. Limit reactive work

We don't usually program a lot of sprint work or jumps the first few weeks. If we do program jumps, we'll mitigate the deceleration component by adding band resistance:

5. Keep intensity on the lower end

As mentioned in the last post, instead of piling on weight, we enjoy utilizing isometric holds, slow negatives, and varying tempos to reap the most benefit from the least amount of weight. We also maintain lower volumes over all with total program.

There you have it! Tips to maximize the off-season and lay a strong, stable foundation for the following season!

Summer = Off Season = TRAINING!!!

Summer is nearly upon us, spring sports are over (or nearly so), school is winding down, and the sun is waking us all up quite a bit earlier. **DEEEEEP BREATH*** I love summer.

Not only is it fantastically warm and I finally sweat profusely during my workouts (contrast that to the winter to where I'm lucky to break a sweat, in my sweat pants...I get cold pretty easily) but it's the off-season for high school sports. I know some of you play your sport year-round in clubs and stuff (see my thoughts on that HERE), but seriously, the summer is a perfect time to start training and getting stronger for next year's season.

So, it's time to hit the weight room, right? Start smashing PRs and moving heavy iron bars around, right? Not so fast, cowboy.

A huge flub athletes commit in the beginning of the off-season is training too hard, too fast. Think about it, you just spent 3, 4, even 5 months in-season with practice after practice, games, and no-so-much lifting. Your body is probably weaker (even if you trained during the in-season, it still isn't PR shattering material) and you've been performing the same, repetitive motions to the point where you've probably developed at least one sort of wacky asymmetry.  For overhead athletes, they've been throwing or hitting on the same side, soccer players kick with the same leg, track athletes have been running in the same curve (to the left), and lacrosse players have been whipping their upper bodies around the same direction. Show me an athlete coming out of the season that isn't crooked somewhere (that's the technical term) and I'll show you a One Direction fan that isn't a female teenager. Oh wait, they don't exist. (if you don't know who they are, keep it that way, it isn't worth your time.)

To keep it pretty general, as the two subsequent posts will deal more with specific sport recommendations, here are some thoughts on the first 3-4 weeks of off-season training:

1. Keep the volume down- You've pounded your body all season, high volume work will only stress it out more. Stick to 15-20 reps total of your main lifts (squat, deadlift, bench, etc.) and 24-30 reps of accessory work, total. There should only be 2-4 accessory lifts and 1 main lift per workout.

2. Keep the intensity reasonable-- I'm not advocating lifting 5 lb dumbbells for everything, but again, you've pounded your body for several months, starting at 60-75% of your maxes is not a dumb thing to do. Get some quality, speedy reps in of the main lifts. For you accessory work, move weight that will get your blood flowing, but leaves some gas in the tank (a lot of gas in the tank). If you really want to burn, adding negative reps or isometric holds can increase the intensity without overloading your joints. For example, we like Bulgarian split squats with a :06 negative, or pushups with a :05 isometric hold at the bottom.

3. Take a week away for the barbell-- It's just a week, calm down, but replacing barbell squats with some goblet squats or deadlifts with some swings are excellent ways to give your body a break and still train those movements.

4. Work on tissue quality- Foam roll, use a lacrosse ball, or better yet, go see a manual therapist to dig out the nasty, knotted tissue that resides in your body. Mobility drills for the tight bits and stability drills for the loose bits should be prevalent in your workout. For example: soccer player's hips will be pretty tight and gunky, so that requires some attention to tissue quality of the glutes, quads, and TFL and mobility work. Contrast that to a baseball player's anterior shoulder (front side) of his throwing arm, that this is probably much looser than it should be, so he'll need some stability work to pull his humerus into a more neutral position.

5. Sleep a lot and eat quality food-- I bet both of these have been in short supply over the course of the season, huh? Yes, these two are SUPER important for recovery purposes as well as muscle growth. Shoot for 7-9 hours of sleep per night and load up on the vegetables!

The sole goal of the first couple weeks after the season is to restore the poor, asymmetrical, beaten-up body and allow for some recovery time. Keep the volume and intensity low to moderate, work on tissue quality and mobility as needed, and sleep! Then, and only then, mind you, can you attack the rest of your off-season like the Hulk.