injury risk reduction

Overtraining Part 1: Symptoms

This month's theme is in-season training since the spring sports are starting up.  All the  practices, games, and tournaments start to add up to over time, not to mention any weight room sessions the coachs' require of their athletes. Lack of proper awareness and management of physical stressors can lead, very quickly in some cases, to overtraining... which leads to poor performance, lost games, increase risk of injury, and a rather unpleasant season.

The subject of overtraining is a vast one and we won't be able to cover all the aspects that contribute, but by the end of this two part series, you should have a decent grasp on what overtraining is and how to avoid it. Today's post will be about recognizing the symptoms of overtraining while next post will offer techniques and training advice to avoid the dreaded state of overtrained-ness. (Yes, I made that word up.) Li'l food for thought: quite often the strength and conditioning aspect of in-season training is the cornerstone of maintaing the health of the athlete. Too much, and the athlete breaks, but administered intelligently, a strength program can restore an athlete's body and enhance overall performance. Right, let's dive in!

Who doesn’t like a good work out? Who doesn’t like to train hard, pwn some weight (or mileage if you’re a distance person), and accomplish the physical goals you’ve set for yourself? Every work out leave you gasping, dead-tired, and wiped out, otherwise it doesn't count, right? (read the truth to that fallacy here)

We all want a to feel like you've conquered something, I know I do!

However, sadly, there can be too much of a good thing. We may be superheroes in our minds, but sometimes our bodies see it differently. Outside of the genetic freaks out there who can hit their training hard day after day (I’m a bit envious…), most of us will reach a point where we enter the realm of overtraining. I should note, that for many competitive athletes (college, elite, and professional levels) there is a constant state of overtraining, but it’s closely monitored. But, this post is designed for the rest of us.

Now, everyone is different and not everyone will experience every symptom or perhaps experience it in varying degrees depending on training age, other life factors, and type of training. These are merely general symptoms that both athletes and coaches should keep a sharp eye out for.

Symptoms:

1.  Repeated failure to complete/recover in a normal workout- I’m not talking about a failed rep attempt or performing an exercise to failure. This is a routine training session that you’re dragging through and you either can’t finish it or your recovery time between sets is way longer than usual. For distance trainees, this may manifest as slower pace, your normal milage seems way harder than usual, or your heart rate is higher than usual during your workout. Coaches: are you players dragging, taking longer breaks, or just looking sluggish? Especially if this is unusual behavior, they're not being lazy; it might be they've reached stress levels that exceed their abilities to recover.

2. Lifters/power athletes (baseball, football, soccer, non-distance track, and nearly all field sports): inability to relax or sleep well at night- Overtraining in power athletes or lifters results in an overactive sympathetic nervous response (the “fight or flight” system). If you’re restless (when you’re supposed to be resting), unable to sleep well, have an elevated resting heart rate, or have an inability to focus (even during training or practice), those are signs that your sympathetic nervous system is on overdrive. It’s your body’s response to being in a constantly stressful situation, like training, that it just stays in the sympathetic state.

3. Endurance athletes (distance runners, swimmers, and bikers): fatigue, sluggish, and weak feeling- Endurance athletes experience parasympathetic overdrive (the “rest and digest” system). Symptoms include elevated cortisol (a stress hormone that isn’t bad, but shouldn’t be at chronically high levels), decreased testosterone levels (more noticeable in males), increase fat storage or inability to lose fat, or chronic fatigue (mental and physical).

4. Body composition shifts away from leanness- Despite training hard and eating well,  you’re either not able to lose body fat, or worse, you start to gain what you previously lost. Overtrained individuals typically have elevated cortisol levels (for both kinds of athletes). Cortisol, among other things, increases insulin resistance which, when this is the chronic metabolic state, promotes fat storage and inhibits fat loss.

5. Sore/painful joints, bones, or limbs- Does the thought of walking up stairs make you groan with the anticipated creaky achy-ness you’re about to experience? If so, you’re probably over training. Whether it be with weights or endurance training, you’re body is taking a beating and if it doesn’t have adequate recovery time, that’s when tendiosis, tendoitis, bursitis, and all the other -itis-es start to set in.  The joints, muscles, tendons, and ligaments are chronicallyinflamed and that equals pain. Maybe it’s not pain (yet) but your muscles feel heavy and achy. It might be a good time to rethink you’re training routine…

6. Getting sick more often- Maybe not the flu, but perhaps the sniffles, a sore throat, or a fever here and there; these are signs your immune system is depressed. This can be a sneaky one especially if you eat right (as in lots of kale), sleep enough, and drink plenty of water (I’m doing all the right things! Why am I sick??). Training is a stress on the system and any hard training session will depress the immune system for a bit afterwards. Not a big deal if you’re able to recover after each training session… but if you’re overtraining, the body never gets it's much-needed recovery time. Hence, a chronically depressed immune system… and that’s why you have a cold for the 8th time in two months.

7. You feel like garbage- You know the feeling: run down, sluggish, not excited to train… NOOOOO!!!!! Training regularly, along with eating well and sleeping enough, should make you feel great. However, if you feel like crap… something is wrong.

Those are some of the basic signs of overtraining. There are more, especially as an athlete drifts further and further down the path of fatigue, but these are the initial warning signs the body gives to tell you to stop what you’re doing or bad things will happen.

Next time, we’ll discuss ways to prevent and treat overtraining.

Tackling Technique: How to (Safely) Pummel Your Opponent

Today's special guest post comes one of our athletes, Dumont, who's played Rugby professionally and currently coaches for the Washington Rugby Club. Given his past history and present involvement in Rugby, and the fact that the dude is a monster, it stands to reason that he knows a thing or two about pummeling an opponent. He graciously offered his expertise on tackling to share with everyone here on SAPTstrength. Here he provides many practical tips on not only executing an EFFECTIVE tackle, but also how to do so in a safe and concerted manner. Hit it Dumont!

The NFL combine is just days away, and many aspiring athletes will be jumping, running, and lifting in an attempt to impress potential employers.  One skill that not showcased at the NFL Combine is tackling. Some could argue the tackle is a lost art in today’s NFL game.  Yes, we see plenty of big hits each week, and as a result of those big hits, the NFL is attempting to regulate the tackle zone in an effort to protect its players. However, with the increase in big hits, what we are actually seeing as is many defenders forgetting the fundamentals and failing to finish the tackle. The result is we see a lot of missed tackles on Sunday, and a lot of needless injuries. The art of the proper form tackle has been lost.

What is a proper form tackle? A form tackle requires the tackler to use their entire body.  Eyes, arms, shoulders, core, and legs are all engaged in an effort to bring a ball carrier to the ground in an efficient and safe (well as safe as a tackle can be) manner.   While it may not result in the big “jacked up” highlight hit we’ve become accustomed to seeing on television, a form tackle will bring a ball carrier to the ground, and stop them in their tracks every time.

Before we break down the parts to making a tackle let’s point out the first step, take away a ball carrier’s space.  The closer a tackler can get to the ball carrier the less opportunity they have to shake and get out of the way.  Close the space to within a yard, of the ball carrier and now the tackler is in the tackle zone.  Closing the space also allows the tackler to use their body like a coiled up spring that can explode into contact at the right moment.

Let’s break down the tackle into parts and make it easier to digest.  The first part is the eyes.   Before one can make a tackle, a player needs to spot their target, and know what they are aiming for.  The tackler must remember to keep your eyes open and spot their target.  This will also help to keep their head up.  Keeping their head up is key not just so they can see, but also for safety.  It keeps the back in a straight line and helps to protect the neck.

Two keys a tackler should remember when using their eyes:

  • Keep them open- sounds simple but you’d be surprised at how easily they close just before impact
  • Focus on the ball carrier’s core- they can move their legs, arms, and heads, but where their core goes, the entire body goes.   Focusing on the core will lead to the tackle point.

The second part of the tackle is the arms and shoulders.  Many people have different ideas of what to do with their arms when making a tackle.  Often times tacklers start with their arms out wide and it looks like they are trying to bear hug their opponents.  While this is effective in making a tackler look big and fierce, it’s actually inefficient when it comes to making the tackle and dangerous as it exposes the weaker muscles in the arm.  When a tackler’s arms are out wide it creates “weak arms,”   we teach ball carriers to run towards those open arms because it’s much easier for them to break through.  By keeping the arms in tight and the hands above your elbows the tackler engages the shoulders and the arms creating a strong base to enter the tackle zone.

Here are the keys for the arms when making a tackle.

 

  • Imagine creating a TV screen with your hands, and the ball carriers core is the show you want to watch.

The next part to the tackle equations is the legs. First we’ll focus on the feet.  The lead foot is most important.  Step towards the ball carrier using the lead foot.  This brings the tacklers body with them, and allows them to use their entire body and keeps the body compact and coiled like a spring.

Keys to good footwork

  • Step towards the ball carrier taking away their space
  • Do not cross your feet
  • Take short controlled steps not to overextend yourself.

Once the feet are in position, we need to focus on getting the rest of the legs into proper tackling position.  This is done by bending at the knees, and creating a powerful base. By bending at the knees a tackler engages their legs and they are coiled and ready to explode.  This will also keep the tackler low and allow them to attack the ball carriers core and legs.  We do not want to tackle ball carriers up around the chest and arms, it’s too easy for them to break through when we get that high.  Bending at the knees also gives the tackler the agility to move left, or right should the ball carrier change direction.   Remember to keep your head up and your eyes open during all this.

So far we’ve covered a lot of stuff, so let’s take a moment and give a quick rundown of everything to make sure every is on the same page.  

  • Eyes Open
  • Arms in tight, hands up
  • Lead foot forward
  • Bend at the knees
  • Heads up

This puts an athlete into the perfect tackling position.  To make contact the tackler wants to pick a side of the ball carrier’s body and attack that with their shoulder.  The head should be placed on the side of the ball carrier’s body, not across it.  This protects the tackler from being kneed or elbowed in the head, and reduces the possibility of injury.  Using your lead foot step in, make contact with the shoulder.

A good rule to remember is “cheek-to-cheek.”

The next part of the tackle is the arms.  We already have our arms in tight and our hands are up.  Once the tackler makes contact with the shoulder we want to punch with the arms. Bring the arms up keeping them close and wrapping them around the ball carriers body, pulling the ball carrier in tight.

The final part is engaging the legs and drive forward.  Once the tackler made contact with the shoulder and wrapped up the ball carrier with their arms, start pumping the legs. Drive forward and force the ball carrier to the ground.   Use the ball carriers body as a pillow to land on. This will bring the ball carrier to the ground.

Form tackles are effective.  The main key is putting the body into the correct position. Take away the ball carrier’s space, head up, eyes open, arms in, hands up, knees bent, then explode into the contact point, wrap the arms and drive the legs.

Thanks Dumont! Hopefully you all learned a li'l sumthin' sumthin' about tackling (safely and effectively... as opposed to just mindlessly throwing your body at your opponent). Proper technique will go a long way to both helping prevent injuries and winning games. And just for fun, here's a video of football vs. Rugby:

And if you want to smile: *Note* I love our soccer players! I just thought the video was funny.

Femoroacetabular Impingement and Football Kickers. "That's Why My Hip Hurts!"

Femoroacetabular impingement (FAI) syndrome has become more widely recognized thanks to folks such as Kevin Neeld, Eric Cressey, Mike Reinold, and a plethora of other smart coaches.  FAI is a common* syndrome/injury in athletics and football kickers are especially susceptible due to the nature of the violent hip flexion during the kick off/punt.  At the end of the article I'll put some links for more information regarding testing for FAI, research regarding FAI, and other resources. The last two posts have been marathon length, so we'll keep today short and to the point. What is FAI?

FAI is essentially:

Femoroacetabular impingement or FAI is a condition of too much friction in the hip joint.  Basically, the ball (femoral head) and socket (acetabulum) rub abnormally creating damage to the hip joint.  The damage can occur to the articular cartilage (smooth white surface of the ball or socket) or the labral cartilage (soft tissue bumper of the socket).

from www.hipfai.com.  Athletes that participate in activities that include repetitive hip flexion and internal rotation or folks who have super crappy mobility in their hips are at a higher risk of developing hip issues. Also, athletes who are constantly in a state of anterior pelvic tilt (aka: nearly every one of them) are also primed for some impingement.

Now, look at a football kick off. Check out the crazy hip flexion and internal rotation (when his leg crosses over the midline of his body around the :29-:31 mark).

Can you see how a kicker might develop a problem? Especially if they're not a physically STRONG kicker?

Just so you know, FAI comes in three flavors, none of which include chocolate or vanilla:

     CAM- bony overgrowth on the femoral head (ball)

     Pincer- body overgrown on the acetabulum (on the socket on the pelvic bone)

     Mixed- a lovely combination of both.

How do I spot FAI?

IMPORTANT: Remember, unless you're a doctor, you CANNOT DIAGNOSE. The following are merely indicators that something is amiss. A visit to the doctor and possibly the Wonder Machine (MRI) will be the only sure way to diagnose any pathology.

Now, as a coach/player it's important to be aware of FAI and be on the look out for the symptoms. FAI will most likely manifest on the kicking leg simply because it is subject to that the crazy-hip-flexion. Bilateral FAI is found more often in sports with bilateral hip flexion such as hockey or powerlifting. However, this doesn't mean that both sides can't be affected, so be on the vigilant!

There are two simple tests that you can do yourself (though I STRONGLY recommend you see a professional..cough, cough.)

One is the Faber Test.

The other is a supine hip flexion with internal rotation of the femur.

If this lights you up, and you're also experiencing the symptoms below, you should probably high tail it to a person with the initials, "M.D." after there name.

A few other symptoms that as either a coach or a player you should be on the watch for (and probably perform the aforementioned tests):

1. Pain with squatting below 90 degrees. Speaking from experience, it feels "pinchy" in the front of the hip, just a smidge medial (inside) of the pelvic bone.

2. Pain with internal rotation and hip flexion. For example, getting into a car leading with the affected leg (one has to flex the hip to sit and internally rotate the hip to slide into the car).

3. Another potential, but not always present, is a history of repeated sports hernias or groin pulls.

4. As a coach, if you're watching a player squat, if one hip seems to drop more than the other. The hip that DOESN'T go as low, will be the affected hip. The player will also weight shift towards the affected side as they stand up from the bottom of the squat.

Don't be stupid and keep training through this pain (again, I speak from experience). Some of the associated symptoms/pathologies of FAI include: cartilage damage, labral tears, (the labrum helps keep the hip stabilized. It's really important.) early on-set osteoarthritis of the hip, sports hernias, and low back pain.

Speaking as someone who has bilateral FAI (and the labral tears), it sucks. Don't be a hero, go to the doc if you're experiencing these symptoms.

What are the Implications of FAI?

An athlete the has impingement of their hip will have limited hip flexion range of motion (ROM) on the affected side. What does this mean for a football kicker?

- No more squatting. Think about it: 1) hip flexion ROM is going to be limited on one side. 2) If you're bilaterally loaded, as in a squat, one hip will drop lower than the other, and if the hips can't move independently, as they could in a lunge, you're going to impose some wonky forces on the spine. 4) Wonky forces on the spine eventually lead to injuries and pain.  Not the best game plan. (You could get away with squatting above 90 degrees, but no sense in playing with tigers if you don't have to.)

- There's a study found here that looked at hip flexor strength a group of people with diagnosed FAI. The study found that those with FAI had weaker hip flexors than the controls. (I can personally attest this is true.) Whether the people had FAI because their hip flexors were weak, or the hip flexors became weak with FAI onset, doesn't matter for this discussion. What does matter is that the HIP FLEXORS ARE WEAK! Now, in a football kicker, what's the main group of muscles used to kick? HIP FLEXORS! Do you see a problem? If a coach is oblivious to this, yelling at a kicker to kick harder isn't going to do much. Also, without proper training (perhaps some focused work for the hip flexors such as SL marches or hanging leg raises), other muscles are going to take over for the lack luster hip flexors and then you have a whole new set of problems.

- Hip dominant exercises (deadlifts, RDLs, glute bridges, and swings) and single leg work (split squats, step back lunge variations, step ups (as long as the hip stays >90 degrees), and single leg RDLs) must be the bulk of lower body work. All of these tend to keep the hip out of excessive hip flexion + internal rotation. They also hammer the glutes, which will help keep the femur from gliding forward in the socket and causing more ruckus in the pelvic region. Food for thought: I've personally found that walking lunges/forward lunges tend to make my hip ache as do back-and-feet elevate glute bridges.

- As far as corrective work goes, hammer hip stabilization and anterior core. Low level glute work such as double- and single leg glute bridges, monster walks, and bowler squats will challenge the smaller stabilizers of the hip. This in turn will keep the femoral head from gliding around and causing more damage. Anterior core is necessary to, hopefully, control anterior pelvic tilt (which most athletes sit in anyway) and even, possibly, pull the pelvis a little posteriorly. This will, again, keep those bony overgrowths from grinding on each other. Here's a great video by my better half on anterior core progressions.

Another note: I've found that single leg anterior core exercises (such as a single leg plank) bother my hips. Be mindful and if it hurts, don't do it.

Wow, so I broke my promise of writing a lengthy post. However, this is an EXTREMELY important issue that many kickers are faced with (we've had one walk through our doors, not to mention the other handful of other athletes from a range of sports).

*Just chew on this; a recent study of asymptomatic people found that  of the 215 male hips (108 patients) analyzed, a total of 30 hips (13.95%) were defined as pathological, 32 (14.88%) as borderline and 153 (71.16%) as normal. That means potentially 1 in every 3-4 males have some sort of underling hip "thing" going on. (thanks Kevin Neeld!) That's a lot.

As promised here are some links for more information:

Post on Mike Reinold's site with more in-depth diagnoses.

Kevin Neeld has a bunch: 1, 2, and 3 (and the one linked above)

And Tony Gentilcore, who does a fantastic job communicating a complex topic to the lay population, while adding some humor to boot.

Whew!

The Fallacy of More Is Better

Let us travel back in time... not that far, just to Monday's post. Building on the theme of "Magic Bullet" fitness, there's another fallacy that runs alongside Magic Bullet, kinda like those weird fish that attach themselves to sharks:

It's the mentality that more is better, if you're not gasping for breath and barely able to stand after the workout, then all is for naught! Oh, ho my friends! How far from the truth does that little fish swim.

This is not to say that I don't enjoy a good heart-pounding, sweat-pouring workout now and again (they're fun) or that you should never push yourself beyond your comfort zone. What I am saying is that progress and the value of a training session should not be measured on a) soreness b) tiredness c) vomiting. Matter fact, if the last one does occur, that's the signal your body gives you that you were an idiot and pushed it beyond it's ability to recover (both during the session and possibly after, depending on other stressors). Way to go, bucko.

Let's clear the air a bit and distinguish between soreness that leads to progress and soreness that leads to poop. (that's a technical term by the way.)

Most people, at some point or another, have experienced DOMS (the "Jaws" theme always plays in my head when I hear "DOMS"). DOMS is delayed onset muscle soreness. It usually manifests any where from 12-72 hours after a training session. There's a couple different theories on what contributes to DOMS  but for the most part, it stems from microtrauma (itty bitty tears) to the muscle fibers during movements. The body repairs these tears to be more resilient to tears in the future, thus the muscle becomes bigger and stronger. It's similar to forming a callus: the skin is sore and tender, but eventually toughens up to prevent future damage.

This type of soreness is the kind we want for it leads to progress. Think about when you first start training again after a break or introduce a new exercise, at first whoooo buddy! Your muscles are pretty tender, but after a couple more sessions, those same exercises no longer leave you incapacitated afterwards. Those who train regularly, be it lifting, running, lightsaber dueling, will rarely be sore after a workout. This is a sign of progress since the muscles are now more resilient to the training stimulus (and they're stronger to boot!). Do you see how gauging a good workout on soreness is a rather inaccurate measure? The opposite is in fact true: the lack of soreness (over time) is an indication that the training program has a stellar balance of tearing the muscles and repairing them.

In contrast, workouts that cause soreness (or, one step further, real pain) either during or immediately after, are NOT ideal. Immediate soreness/pain is an indication that the body has been pushed too far, and potentially incurred more serious damage to the muscles, joints, or tendons that in can recover from. Over time, if the body isn't allowed to fully recover between training sessions, this could lead to actual injuries. This is bad. Instead of spending energy to repair the microtrauma of the muscles, the body is going to direct resources to repair the more serious damage.

For example, let's say you do a workout of 100 burpees, 400 m sprints, and 100 pushups. Your muscles will incur the microtrauma mentioned above (the kind that leads to strength gains), but you probably also had some damage done to the muscles and tendons surrounding your shoulders, elbows, ankles, and spine. All of which the body will prioritize in healing before dealing with the smaller tears in the muscles. Overall, you're probably not going to get much out of this workout in terms of strength and/or performance gains as your body is spending it's time with emergency repair crews at the joints and tendons (which, from your body's standpoint, are more important).

 Therefore, if a workout that causes immediate soreness that's an indicator that the body has been pushed beyond it's limits (either at the muscles or joints or both) and will have a harder time recovering from the workout. As we learned from above, the recovery process is KEY to growing stronger and increasing performance. Thus, if recovery is impaired...fill in the blank, folks. (hint: progress is impaired)

So if you're feeling beat-up, exhausted, and shaky after each workout, I would say it's time to reevaluate your training. Sessions that lead to that are not sustainable over time. If the body can't recover, stress will pile up (even if you don't feel mentally stressed) the physical stress can actually inhibit your fitness goals by either a) cortisol, a stress-related hormone, is jacked up which hinders overall recovery (if it's too high. A little coritsol is part of the recovery process, but chronically high levels can eventually mess everything up). b) injury. Your poor body is just pooped. Bummer.

Take-Away:

1. Soreness is ok, especially in a new program or after a new exercise is introduced. Over time, the soreness will decrease and that's a mark of progress (the body becoming stronger and more resilient).

This is not to say that you should NEVER be sore; part of progressing is stressing the system a bit beyond what it's used to. There should be days throughout your lifetime of training that soreness occurs. But, it should not be....

2. Immediate soreness/pain, particularly around joints or the spine. This means the workout was perhaps more than the body could handle and, despite no actual injury you can see, the body IS injured and will require a longer recovery period. If that recovery time is absent, eventually injuries will manifest.

3. Basing the effectiveness of a workout on "soreness" or "tiredness" is not a fair gauge and often the wrong measuring stick. Instead, one should track progress by strength goals, clothes fitting (or not fitting. Growing some hamstrings can cause pants to be tighter), aerobic markers (such as, running a 100m faster, or the ability to rest less during a weight circuit), and other such performance markers over time.

A witty remark escapes me at the moment, therefore, just assume I said something that would be of a high caliber wit.

Should Baseball Players Olympic Lift? 5 Reasons Why Ours Don't

The snatch and the clean and jerk are amongst the most impressive feats a human being can perform.  These two events are so highly regarded that every four years countries from all over the world showcase their best lifters to compete for national pride in the Olympic games. Many of us have seen it on TV or YouTube: An athlete grabs a heavy barbell that's placed motionless on the ground, then creates enough tension throughout their body to break inertia and throw the barbell overhead with inhuman ease, speed, and fluidity.  This is a breathtaking display of the perfect blend of mobility, explosiveness, technique, and overall stability.

These “O-lifters,” when compared to athletes of other sports, are often associated with having increased numbers of type II muscle fibers, greater ability to produce power, superior vertical jumping ability, and greater levels of hypertrophy.

One may thus conclude that practicing these movements may lead to adaptations towards becoming a bigger, stronger, faster, more powerful athlete… and one would be correct!  Who wouldn’t want that?

Baseball is one of the most “power-based” sports around, due to the stop-and-go nature of the game.  Power is a key component in a successful baseball player, and each year SAPT excels at augmenting our baseball players ability to harness and produce power during their hitting, sprinting, and throwing.

Are the Olympic lifts a phenomenal tool to develop power and explosiveness? Absolutely. Is a strength coach wise to employ them with many of his or her athletes? Of course.

However, ask any of our baseball beasts how often they snatch, clean, or jerk during a training cycle at SAPT and you will probably find that the range of frequency falls between “never” and “0 times a week.”

Why? Well, here are 5 reasons why SAPT baseball players don't Olympic lift:

1. Plane-Specific Transference of Training Qualities

(Note: In general, movement is categorized into three different planes: sagittal, frontal, and transverse. Sagittal plane movement involves anything going front-to-back, without any involved rotation or leaning side to side. So, things like lunges, squats, sit-ups, deadlifts, sprints, box jumping, and Olympic lifts, all occur in the sagittal plane. Frontal plane movement examples include side lunges, side shuffles, and side raises. Transverse plane movement involves anything with a rotation component; a perfect example of this is the stroke Obi Wan used with his lightsaber to kill Darth Maul.)

To an extent, strength and power development is very specific to the plane of motion in which it is trained.  Sure, there will be a bit of carryover from one plane to another when it comes to transference of athletic qualities, but to truly maximize potential in a given plane, you need to train that plane, specifically!

Guess which planes of motion a baseball player remains in to hit, throw, and/or pitch? The frontal and transverse planes.

Now, guess what plane of motion the Olympic lifts exclusively take place in? The sagittal plane.

So, for the baseball athlete, how can they train outside of the sagittal plane in order to best enhance power production in the frontal and transverse planes? Which exercises will provide them the most bang for their buck, be time efficient, and have the most carryover to their sport?

It is here I argue that the answer doesn't lie with the Olympic lifts, but in med ball work and lateral jumping variations. These become an enormous asset to the baseball player; they are fun (few things beat throwing a medicine ball into a wall as hard as you can), fairly easy to learn, allow the athlete to demonstrate and forge power output in a concerted manner, and they're downright effective!

Here are just a few of the med ball variations and lateral jumps we use at SAPT. (We have over 30 variations in each category to cycle through.)

MB Cross-Behind Shotput

MB Cross-Behind Shotput w/Partner Pass

MB Heiden to Side Scoop Throw

MB Cyclone Overhead Throw to Wall

MB Hop-Back Side Throw

In-Place Heiden with Stick Landing

Single-leg Depth Drop to Heiden with Stick Landing

The options are virtually limitless.

Assuming they are already proficient in the sagittal plane - as one DOES need to learn to master that plane before attempting to train frontal and transverse, similar how one should learn to add and subtract before performing algebra - roughly 80-90% of the "power" development we utilize with our baseball guys takes place outside of the sagittal plane. The remaining 10-20% we will fill by having them perform sagittal-based movements such as KB swings, broad jumps, and speed deadlifts and speed squats.

2. Faulty Movement Patterns Overhead

Watch the majority of people put their arms overhead, and, if you know what you're looking for, you'll often find nothing short of a multiplicity of grody compensation patterns taking place along the entire kinetic chain. Yes, even in overhead athletes.

Tony Gentilcore has said that the majority of trainees must "earn the right" to press overhead, and I continue to nod my head in agreement with him. Watch someone press a bar overhead (or snatch or jerk it, as one would during an O-lift), and, using a classification system I learned in my college biomechanics class: their mechanics lie somewhere between poop and utter poop.

I hope it goes without saying that it'd be far from prudent to have these folks continually throw a loaded bar overhead at high speeds. However, the strength coach can't freak out about ALL overhead movements for the baseball player, as their sport does, in fact (get ready to have your mind blown....), necessitate them going overhead.

While we can certainly improve a baseball player's overhead mechanics by having them perform core stabilization drills, thoracic spine mobilizations, shoulder "corrective" drills, and improving lat length, there's still something to be said for doing a few, shoulder-friendly, loaded overhead activities to complement the corrective drills and give the athlete a chance to further ingrain solid overhead mechanics.

One of our favorites is the landmine press, as the neutral grip position opens up the subacromial space - giving the rotator cuff tendons more room to "breathe" - and the natural arc of the press grooves some nice scapular upward rotation. Not to mention, the core musculature has to work like crazy to keep the pelvis and ribcage in a stable position. I've yet to work with anyone - including myself, and I have a REALLY beat up shoulder - who has shoulder pain while landmine pressing.

Another option is to use the single-arm bottoms-up KB press, as many of the benefits of the landmine press still apply (scapular upward rotation, core stabilization, etc.) yet you get to train through an even greater degree of humeral elevation (flexion+abduction), and also receive some nice "reflexive" firing of the rotator cuff due to the kettlebell wanting to shake back and forth in your hand.

Both of the above exercises can be performed half-kneeling, tall-kneeling, standing in parallel stance, or standing in a staggered stance.

There are a host of other options as well, but the point is there are much less "dummy proof" methods of training the overhead position without resorting to a jerk or snatch. (Even though the O-lifts do look way cooler.)

3. Wrist and Elbow Concerns

To say the success of a baseball player's career is at least partly contingent upon the health of his wrist and elbow is akin to saying that Superman derives his power by absorbing and metabolizing solar energy from the Earth's energy; both are platitudes.

As Dan John aptly put it, the "Rule #1" a strength coach needs to live and breathe by is Do No Harm! 

To rely on Olympic lifts as the primary tool for developing the baseball athlete would make about as much as much sense crossing the the Atlantic Ocean in a one-man canoe. Or using a canoe of any size, for that matter. Could it be done? Sure. But do there exist other ways to accomplish the same goal, with a much lower risk of something undesired occurring in the process? You bet.

Given that, day in and day out, baseball players' wrists and elbows already take a wicked beating from pitching, throwing, and hitting, why compound the issue by performing lifts that stress those same bodily structures more than perhaps any other lift? Especially given that, as you saw earlier in this article, there exists a host of other training modalities one can employ to enhance athletic power.

Regarding the power and hang clean, most baseball players have a hard enough time even being able to comfortably get into the clean position for front squatting, without the mere position causing their wrists or forearms to scream, so why we would choose to add velocity and then CATCH in that position is beyond me. And, if we're discussing the snatch: the top, catch position places considerable levels of strain on the UCLs (ulnar collateral ligaments) of both elbows; if you follow professional baseball to any capacity, then you for sure know how important the UCL is to a baseball player. Tommy John Surgery, anyone?

One last point I'll add is that not only do you have the wrists and elbows taking a beating during cleans, but the AC (acromioclavicular) joint, as well, due to that poor fellow living smack dab in the middle of the barbell's landing zone. The AC joint is located just inside of the index fingers during the catch phase of a clean, and while professional Olympic lifters often "flow" into the catch phase with minimal impact, it's far from uncommon to find high school and college baseball guys literally slamming the bar onto their shoulder during the catch, as it can take years to make it a fluid transition.

Now, just because baseball players overuse their elbows and wrists, and we don't recommend the inclusion of cleans and snatches in their programming, does this mean they are to be babied, forever relegated to pilates as the most intense training they're "allowed" to perform? Don't be silly!

As demonstrated earlier, we use the countless other methods at our disposal for their power training, and then have them perform plenty of heavy lifting to develop strength, structural integrity, and throwing speed.

4. Sagittal Plane Dominance           

A typical training program for our baseball guys are rich with lifts such as squat variations, deadlift variations, lunges, glute bridges, step-ups, and the list goes on. Notice a pattern?  These are all movements that occur in the sagittal plane.  (We can argue about frontal and transverse stability components in the single leg exercises, valid points indeed... but let's save that for another day.)

The point is, although we dip into the other planes of motion, the majority of the work is sagittal.  Throwing in Olympic lifting variations just adds to the volume of sagittal plane work and takes time away from working the other planes of motion.

To build a properly balanced athlete, we have to save some room in the program for some work in the frontal and transverse planes which can include tons of variations of: lateral step-downs and step-ups, lateral lunges, single arm farmer’s walks, anti-rotation/pallof presses, prowler side-drags, jumping, hopping, and, as exhibited earlier, medicine ball drills.

5. Time

I hate to beat a dead horse, but I am going to have to bring up the token argument against Olympic lifting: It takes too long to learn.

When it comes to training competitive athletes, time is the major limiting factor.  With most of our baseball guys, who typically have 3-5 months of off-season training with us, we opt for a program consisting of exercises that don’t require such a significance prerequisite time-commitment for the learning process.  The price in time we must pay to proficiently learn and perform the snatch, clean, jerk, and their variations safely and effectively (as it doesn't do them any good to perform the lifts poorly) is often more costly than we care for.  Instead we use the modalities shown above in point #1, for supreme power development.

Another critical focal point we attend to for baseball power development is sprint work.  We spend a significant amount of time working on our athlete's sprint technique, stride length/frequency, change of direction speed and starting speed.

With such limited time (and not to mention recovery capacities; many of these guys are still in leagues or camps throughout the off-season) it is simply impractical to throw in the O-lifts into the mix.

If a baseball player never learns to snatch during his athletic career, does it really matter?  I’d be more concerned with his on-base percentage, runs, stolen bases, strikeouts, consistency, and health.

Designing Practical Warm-ups for the Overhead Athlete

To give a brief recap, if you missed Stevo's post on Friday: August is dedicated to training means, modes, and methods for overhead athletes (these are sports like baseball, softball, volleyball, swimming, and javelin). 

The pre-practice and pre-competition warm-up is extremely important for any athlete, but to an even greater degree for those athletes who need to give special consideration to the shoulder complex. As a strength coach, I've given numerous warm-up protocols to numerous athletes over the years and while, in a pinch, I could easily produce one that would be well-balanced and comprehensive, I've always preferred to plan my warm-ups in advance.

Preplanning ensures that every muscle, joint, angle, whatever has been taken into consideration and a decision has been made about how to address it for that day (or not). The important thing here being that you must give yourself the chance to make a decision about something ahead of time vs. simply overlooking the area.

Most coaches plan warm-ups on the fly, but like most things at SAPT, we tend not to do what "most" do... that's usually the easy way... and we know the right way! Thus, why we're the premier strength and performance training facility in the Fairfax, Tysons, McLean, Vienna areas.

Getting back to the practical warm-up: Over my time working with college athletes, I ended up developing an ever-evolving template of warm-ups that I would rotate and match to the first 15- to 30-minutes of the practice plan. For example, if the start of practice was going to be ripe with sprinting, the I would choose the plan to match. On the other hand, if practice was starting with quite a bit of hitting (volleyball) where I knew the shoulder needed to be totally warm and ready, then that would inform my warm-up choice.

http://youtu.be/IfJi8KLhtlg

This video is just showing the team warming up... keep that in mind while you watch the power + the height the guys are getting on the ball off one bounce. What's the warm-up look like before this part of the warm-up??? I bet it's a pretty good one.

Anything is an option: body resistance only, bands, medicine balls, actual sporting equipment (i.e. a baseball), weights, etc... Shoot, you can even use a sled/Prowler to do a fantastic total body warm-up that fully addresses the shoulders.

So, when planning a warm-up (or your own set of templated warm-ups) make sure you are addressing all the primary movers and in all directions - planes of motion - plus weaving in extra prehab that may not occur in the weight room and copious amounts of shoulder friendly mobilizations, stabilizations, and drills.