Coaching Tips

Common Beginner Mistakes - Part 3

Part 3 of the "Common Beginner Mistakes" series is underway!  Like all the great series' out there (Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, Star Wars...), it's important that you check out each and every single one.  Take a look back at Part 1 and Part 2.  I'm sure you'll find a hidden gem or two in there that will help you make better progress in the weight room. As you may know, I'm a creature of habit.  I tend to order the same meal from Taco Bell (6 crunch tacos), dry my body off in the same sequence after taking a shower (I know... I'm weird), and I always choose the color blue while playing Settlers of Catan. With that, let's check out a couple of videos of incredible feats of strength.

Mistake #7 - Program Hopping

"Programs Hoppers" are a severe annoyance to all experienced strength and conditioning coaches out.  They typically suffer from a mild case of ADD, commitment issues, and a severe lack of gains.  These individuals can often be seen at your local Crossfit gym, never performing the same workout twice.  These people need a lesson in the mechanisms of musculoskeletal adaptation.  Mentioned in part 2, a major principle behind strength training is called the SAID principle.  This states that you body will form Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands.  In other words, your body will adapt to the stimulus that you apply to it, HOWEVER, it's critically important that you apply the stimulus for a sufficient period of time. If you're constantly changing the stimulus, the training effect will be negligible, and your body won't experience enough of the same stress to adapt and grow stronger.

This is why most of the established training programs are designed in blocks.  The exercise selection inside of a single block is typically static, and each block typically lasts 3-4 weeks.  This way your body has enough time to experience and adapt to the method of training.  Now, I'm not advocating doing the same exact thing for 3 weeks straight.  Another important principle of strength training is termed the Repeated Bout Effect.  This principle states that as you apply a stimulus and your body recovers and adapts to it, the same stimulus will not elicit an equal amount of adaptation.  Your body experiences a point of diminishing returns, and this is the reason we apply progressive overload and increase the weight on the bar over time.  In this way, we're applying a slightly greater stimulus, but maintaining the movement and allowing our body to adapt to greater and greater amounts of the same stress, and grow stronger because of it.  Here at SAPT, we program our clients in 4 week blocks, increasing volume over time, which in turn elicits progressive and consistent adaptation.

Mistake #8 - Sticking to the Same Program Too Long

Now, this may seem a bit contradictory to our previous point, but hear me out.  I touched briefly on the Repeated Bout Effect above, and this point of diminishing returns applies to whole strength programs/methods of training as well. Eventually, if you continue to do the same thing over and over and over again, you'll reach a point where you just aren't making measurable amounts of progress.  Once this occurs, you need to change the stimulus that you're applying to your body.  This doesn't mean do 1 week of 5/3/1, 2 weeks of the Cube Method, and follow it us with another week of Starting Strength.  You need to stick to a program to actually elicit the adaptation you are trying to achieve, and then mix it up and change the program once you've gotten all that you can from it.

This is a tricky concept, but in reality, you should be grateful for these training principles!  They allow you to gain valuable training experience.  All these programs are created using different training philosophies.  They utilize different methods of manipulating volume over time to elicit strength gains.  We're all unique human beings, and, because of this, we respond to stimuli in different ways and to different degrees.  Some people respond better to high frequency training with low to moderate intensity loads, while others adapt more efficiently to lower volume, high intensity training plans.  You may not respond to a training program in the same exact manner as your best friend, and you also may not adapt as well the second time you perform a program.  As you become more and more experience in strength training, you'll discover what works best for you.  You'll discover the style of training that meshes with your personality, lifestyle, and preferences, and, with a little bit of patience, you'll develop a system of eliciting strength gains progressively.

Powerlifting Training for Sports

You must clearly understand the difference between basic training and special physical preparation. [SPP] is different for everybody; one beats up on a tire with a sledgehammer, another does figure eights with a kettlebell, and someone incline presses. Basic training is roughly the same in all sports and aims to increase general strength and muscle mass. Powerlifting was born as a competition in exercises everybody does.

— Nikolay Vitkevich

Don't you want to know more?

I wrote a guest post over at Concentric Brain you can read it HERE.

Volleyball Performance Training: The Other Skillz

Following the loose theme we've had this month of volleyball training (but really, let's be honest, all of this can apply to most sports), I thought it would be beneficial to highlight a few other athletic skills/movements that are woefully under-trained in volleyball players. It's all about the vertical!

But not really.

It drives me nutso that coaches and parents and the players focus singularly on improving the vertical jump. Yes, it's important, but how does one get to the net to jump? How does one move fast enough to get behind the ball to pass it well?

I've worked with dozens and dozens of volleyball players and I've seen terrible movement quality all the other planes of motion. Great volleyball players are more than their vertical jump heights! (tweet that) I've listed a handful of movements that would behoove any volleyball player, and coaches, to implement in a regular training rotation.

Side Shuffle

I can, without exaggeration, tell you that I've seen volleyball players side shuffle with the grace of a new-born giraffe. How in the world can a volleyball player move around the court while keeping their eyes on the game, without side shuffling? Answer: Not possible. Side shuffling is the most efficient and most strategic way to move around the court.

Transitional Movements

Above are just a few examples of transitional movement drills. Along with side shuffling, there are times when players need to sprint forward or backpedal quickly and then run in a completely different direction. The ability to change directions rapidly is essential in volleyball, especially if there's a wild pass or tip off the net.

Heidens

Yes, I know volleyball consists of jumping up and down, and not side-to-side, but reinforcing lateral movements is a boon for volleyball. Heidens also teach force absorption and production in the frontal (lateral) plane. Most of volleyball consists of lateral movements, so if a player is strong side-to-side, not only will it reduce injury risk but she will be more confident moving sideways and will thus do it more.

Rolls

There are a lot of opportunities to dive, roll, and fall on the ground in volleyball. Learning how to do so safely is imperative. Learning how to pop back up again after a quick "hello" to the floor is vital for scoring points. Because rolling and tumbling is not a part of our everyday lives (at least, most of us) the vestibular system might be a bit slow in re-orienting. However, if you train rolls, you're also training the vestibular system and strengthening its ability to readjust quickly.

Add these into your training arsenal and there will be a guaranteed bump in performance.

Teaching and Improving the Vertical Jump- Technique

Here at SAPT volleyball players abound. Volleyball players (and their coaches) often come to us with one goal: to increase their vertical jump height. Personally, I think there are several other skills that are just at important, i.e. upper body strength/power, ability to shuffle sideways- you'd be surprised how many girls I see who CANNOT do this- core strength and force transfer, and improving overall athleticism. But I digress.

While there are whole books devoted to increasing vertical jump, I'm only going to focus the basic technique that will, honestly, improve the jump considerably. I think it should be obvious that to increase height, one must also increase their strength (ahem, lift heavy things) but that's not today's focus. Next week, we'll look at specific strength training exercises.

Our typical age range for VB players is 13-18 and this is the typical jump technique we see:

Yes, this is RGIII, and yes I'm comparing his jump form to a 15-year old volleyball player's form.

Similar to the above picture, when we evaluate a volleyball player 99% of the time we see valgus collapse (knees coming together- helloooo ACL tear!), knee-flexion dominance, loosey-goosey core, and usually, minimal arm swing involvement.

All these work against the poor girl and her goal of leaping high aloft to spike the ball into her opponent's face. I'm going to briefly break down the mechanical flaws previously mentioned and then present a few drills we use to re-pattern the jump to create leaping, jumping, ball-spiking machines.

1. Valgus collapse- When one's knee caps touch, it results in a decrease in power since the quads, hamstrings, and glutes are at a mechanical disadvantage. Try it, you won't get up very high. What's worse, is it dramatically increases the risk of an ACL, or two, tear. As you read this, stand up, bend your knees, then put them into valgus collapse. Do you feel a little bit of torque on your knees? Now imagine launching into the air and landing again (which landing is roughly 2-4x bodyweight force) in that position. Yikes. Is it any wonder that many volleyball players have knee pain? The knees should be neutral, aligned directly over the 2nd or 3rd toe.

2. Knee/Quad Dominance- Most girls are quad dominant. It's not their fault, that's just how they grew up. At SAPT we aim to change that. As any long-time reader of our blog knows, it's all about dem glutes!

deadlifting
deadlifting

The posterior chain, that is, the glutes and hamstrings, are where it's at when it comes to lower body power production. The glutes and hamstrings are way, way, WAY better at extending the hip than the quads (mostly because, the quads can't do it at all). Quads are important in the vertical jump- as is knee extension- however, the power comes from the back. Athletes who don't tap into their posterior chain will remain on the lower end of the VerTec.

3. Loosey-Goosey Core- That is a technical coaching term by the way. A lot of our VB players don't know how to stay tight during the take-off. All the power they applied to the floor disseminates and leaks out at all the loose points so they wind up going nowhere. Imagine a cooked spaghetti noodle trying to jump and that's what it looks like.

4. Little to no arm swing- How people learn to jump without using their arms is a mystery to me. The arms help increase velocity at take off by storing potential energy in the arms and then releasing it upon take off. They also help "pull" the body upwards. Don't believe me? Some one did a research study and you can read the abstract here.

So, how do we fix all this?

First we teach hip hinging without knee valgus collapse. The easiest way we've found is employing a dowel rod. 

Coaching points: 1. The athlete should maintain contact with the dowel rod at three points: head, mid-back, and tail bone. 2. Knees should be behind the toes. I will put my hand in front of their knees to ensure they sit back in the hips and not bend forward from the knee. We also coach neutral knee alignment here.

Next, we put the hip hinge in context of a take-off/landing, but no jump. By eliminating the jump, the athlete can focus on his/her form.

Coaching points: 1. Arm swing, arm swing, ARM SWING! I tell the athlete to pretend she's pushing through water. The arm swing should be forceful. 2. The hip hinge should be there, the knees should be neutral and behind the toes, just like the dowel rod hip hinge drill. I use the analogy of booty-bumping their friend. Girls get this, guys don't. I guess fellas don't booty bump. 3. This is a perfect time to teach tightness. The athlete's core should be taut and the spine should remain neutral. This is where the limp noodles happen, so be vigilant!

After the athlete masters the arm swing + hips, we move to a paused vertical jump. Again, the pause is there for the athlete to focus on the form before taking off. If they're not in the right position, they can fix it- or rather, you the coach can fix it.

Coaching points: 1. Stress to the athlete that it's NOT about the height of the jump, but the technique. I've seen girls with great technique fall to pieces as soon as the jump is part of the equation. 2. The landing should look like the take-off 3. Hammer all the above mentioned technique points.

Practice makes permanent, not perfect. 

These three drills are SAPT's basic jump technique teachers. We've seen great results and many girls add inches to their vertical just by becoming more efficient at the jump itself. I'd also like to point out that none of these use fancy equipment. So often it's the simplest way that is the most effective!

Next week we'll take a look at both strength exercises to increase vertical and some more specific drills for power production.

Breaking Down The Broad Jump

In the second portion of our football testing series we will take a look at the standing broad jump. This test is a fantastic assessment of lower body horizontal power. This tool works great for football players, who have to explosively move of the line of scrimmage once the ball gets snapped. A common misconception is that you merely stand on a line and jump. Don’t be fooled by the simplicity of this assessment. Horizontal jumping can be a complex coordination pattern because the upper and lower extremities must move harmoniously in order to achieve optimal results. Let’s take a look at a few factors that can help you or your athletes add a few inches.

The Arm Swing

It’s no surprise that lower body power is what propels you forward during this test but the arms play a vital role in projecting you higher off the ground and further down the tape measure. The most efficient swing technique would be to start in a standing position with your arms out in front of you. As you drop down to “load the spring” your arms should sweep back, followed by an immediate, powerful swing forward as you takeoff.

http://youtu.be/lqc_pyG7ELk

Build Those Glutes

The hip complex packs a lot of useful muscles that are crucial in just about every sport and activity of daily living. Unfortunately, many people do not train this area of the body as much as they should. We often sit in chairs, whether at school or work, and that equates to hitting the “off” switch for this important muscle group. Driving through hips during the jump and getting this area fully extended will propel the athlete further. Simple hip extention exercises like glute bridges, whether bodyweight or weighted, will help bring life back to your butt. Below are a couple videos to help with the exercise selection:

http://youtu.be/pMQV6A8F8Qw

http://youtu.be/8j4kWFHRq9o

Own The Descent

Does it matter how awesome the take off was if a plane crashes near the end of its flight? The same theory (obviously to a lesser extent) holds true during the broad jump test. Height and distance are all based upon the action taken prior to take off but this in no way omits an individual from having to properly land each jump. When landing a jump it is important to land in a position that allows the force to dissipate. This is achieved by bending the knees and sinking back the hips. An athlete should never land in a stiff-legged position. When landing, it is also important that the knees land in a position stacked in-line with the ankles and do not collapse or cave medially. Both of these habits place a high amount of stress on the joints and can lead to serious injury.  Below is a chart with normative data to see how football players stack up in this test and other common tests by position. Check back next we as we move on to discuss the bench press.

Val
Val
Data
Data

References:

Lockie, R. G., Schultz, A. B., Callaghan, S. J., & Jeffriess, M. D. (2012). PHYSIOLOGICAL PROFILE OF NATIONAL-LEVEL JUNIOR AMERICAN FOOTBALL PLAYERS IN AUSTRALIA. Serbian Journal Of Sports Sciences6(4), 127-136.

5 Not-So-Common Tips on Finding and Cultivating a Mentorship

  When pursuing excellence in a particular discipline - athletics, business, academics, music, “life” in general, you name it - finding and procuring a mentor to guide and sharpen you is not a nice-to-have. It’s a must-have.

I’m not going to delve into the why of the matter, however, as I believe you already know the why.

Besides, if the one and only Gandalf had mentors during his time on Middle-earth, then you and I both need them during our time on Regular-earth. The equation is simple.

Now, while the why may be simple, the how is a different matter entirely.

Many individuals recognize the supreme value of mentorship, but often feel stymied in their attempts to actually make it happen. This could be due to a variety of factors: lack of direction (“where do I even begin?”), fear of being turned down, or, quite frankly, laziness.

In my own life, while walking down the path of attempting to identify suitable mentors and enter into fruitful relationships with them, I’ve made no small number of mistakes. Fortunately, these mistakes have birthed many valuable lessons and insights which have enabled me to, eventually, experience some pretty amazing and invaluable mentorships that I am forever grateful for.

Here are a few fundamental principles and essential ground rules that I’ve picked up during my own personal journey.

1. It’s not necessary to find the highest-level expert in the field

Say what?

This statement may catch you by surprise. After all, why wouldn’t you want an unrivaled expert in your field of interest to be the very one who personally teaches you, nurtures you, guides you, challenges you during the process of honing a specific skill set or discipline?

There are many answers to that question, but one of the most important is this: they may not be the best teacher.

[As an aside: while mentor and teacher are not synonymous, all mentors are teachers to some degree, which is why I raise this point.]

The interesting thing about true masters of a specific domain, is that they’ve been so deeply intertwined with the subject for so long that the fundamentals, the critical information that a beginner must learn during the early stages of skill acquisition, have become so deeply internalized that these basic principles are now seamlessly integrated into their actions without even having to think about them.

As Josh Waitzkin aptly put it, the foundational steps are no longer consciously considered, but lived.

“Very strong chess players will rarely speak of the fundamentals, but these beacons are the building blocks of their mastery. Similarly, a great pianist or violinist does not think about individual notes, but hits them all perfectly in a virtuoso performance. In fact, thinking about a “C” while playing Beethoven’s 5th Symphony could be a real hitch because the flow might be lost.”

~Josh Waitzkin (8-time national chess champion and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt)

What’s the point to all that? Well, this can make it very difficult for a well-seasoned maven to dig back down into the depths of their mind, in order to extricate, section out, and then teach the basal yet essential principles they learned long ago but now employ unconsciously.

It’s not that they can’t teach or mentor a student in the ways of their craft, but they may not be able to do so as well as others in the field. There’s a large difference knowing and teaching. For example, I’m sure many of you can recall a prior physics or math teacher, or sport instructor, who may have been brilliant within their craft but yet you had a difficult time learning while under their tutelage.

This concept even carries over to reading books. As I’ve sought to improve my chess game, I’ve actually found it quite helpful to not exclusively buy books written by Grandmasters (the highest achievable title in chess). You would think that a Grandmaster would be the best person to learn chess from, but, for reasons mentioned above, this isn’t always the case. For example, I have found treasure troves of insight within the works of Jeremy Silman, an International Master (one step below Grandmaster) who has built a strong reputation for his ability to teach beginners, despite the very fact that he is not a Grandmaster. It’s his knowledge of the game, in concert with his gift of teaching, that makes him shine, not the standalone fact that he’s a highly ranked chess player.

Ergo, when you seek mentorship from someone: they don’t have to be the absolute best; in fact, it may very well be optimal if they are not. You don’t need to head straight to the tip-top of the skill pyramid. Often you can find someone who is still extremely proficient (way more so than you), who will be able to instruct you and augment your learning process in a manner much more effective than even the “best” within that discipline.

Find a great teacher. Not necessarily the unparalleled expert.

2. Mentorship doesn’t have to be a formal, official arrangement

Probably one of the worst things you could do upon discovering a prospective mentor is to call them up and ask, “Hey, do you want to mentor me?” This is tantamount to you calling and saying, “Hey, do you want to take on an unpaid, part-time job?”

While I’d be remiss to assert that no successful mentorship has ever been started this way, this doesn’t change the fact that it’s still an odd way of asking. Even if they do say yes, it puts them in the awkward position of feeling like they need to plan out regimented meetings and send out a syllabus or something.

Here’s one of the most important things to know about mentors: a mentor is anyone you can learn from, who can impart wisdom upon you, who can directly or indirectly help to guide the decisions you make and actions you take. He or she can be a family member, a coworker, someone you already interact with quite regularly, or perhaps someone you only speak to on a quarterly basis. It also helps to ensure this individual is not a fool.

Some of my best and most fruitful experiences with mentors have risen out of informal relationships. From time to time, usually without it being planned in advance, they’ll provide me with a gem of seminal insight, or a particularly profound nugget of wisdom, which permanently alters my course for the better.

Should some mentorships be formal? Absolutely. But more often than not - at least during the beginning stages - it’s best to just let mentorship “happen.”

Don’t be the weirdo who comes right out and asks for it. That would be like my clumsy, ill-fated attempts to date a few women I fancied back in high school and college; rather than allowing our relationship to nurture and grow for a bit, and giving them subtle yet clear context clues of my interest, I just came straight out and asked, “Hey, would you like to be my girlfriend?”

Yeah, that rarely ended well.

3. Take a break and do something else together

Talk about things and do random crap that don’t at all pertain to your usual subject of study. Enjoy sarcastic banter and making fun of one another; grab a beer together; play a video game or chess; go on a bike ride; travel or go cliff jumping; play a sport; go see a movie or simply take a walk around town.

This accomplishes a couple things. First, it will help you connect to one another as human beings. It’s not rocket science: the more you get to know them, laugh together, and share a broad spectrum of experiences, the more you’ll be able to dismantle any personal barriers that you - often unintentionally - assemble and put up between you and other people. Within the context of mentorship, these personal barriers serve nothing other than to ultimately impede the learning process that could otherwise flourish unhindered between the two of you.

Second, and I can’t overstate this enough: it will nurture your creative processes in a profound way. Oddly enough, remaining singularly fixated on only the subject of study is not the optimal approach, even if your only goal is to learn that specific subject!

Steve Jobs knew this very fact, and summed it up well in an interview with Wired back in 1996:

“A lot of people in our industry haven’t had very diverse experiences. They don’t have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions, without a broad perspective on the problem. The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better designs we will have.”

~Steve Jobs

Broaden your experiences, not just as an individual but also with your mentor. It may seem like a waste of time, especially if you’re someone who becomes intensely obsessive with that one thing you’re trying to master or accomplish, but it will be more than worth it.

4. Remember they are not infallible beings

When you highly esteem someone, heavily admire their work, and love receiving advice from them, it can be easy to arrive at the subconscious conclusion that this person is without error or character flaws, to elevate them to something of a deity and hang on every word they speak or write as if it were inerrent ideology.

Then, when they inevitably crack (or shatter) the standard of perfection you’ve set for them - say, by making a mistake, or by slighting you in some way - it’s as if the ground crumbles beneath your very feet as the world comes crashing down around you. You either become pissed off at them and write off anything they ever said as fraudulent and worthless, or stew in despair and disbelief because the person who you believed would never mess up or upset you, just did.

Like anything in this world, when you make a good thing into an ultimate thing, it becomes an idol that will eventually enslave you, let you down, or both.

Nobody is perfect, and the privilege of being mentored by someone you highly respect is always an extremely delicate balance of trusting their wisdom and yet continually remembering they are nothing more than human; at the end of the day, they are prone to the very same pitfalls and character flaws as you. If they screw up, or irritate you in some way, just relax. Take a few deep breaths, forgive them, get over it, and get back on course.

5. Your personal network: don’t ignore the power of it, and don’t neglect to broaden it

While the maxim “it’s not what you know, but who you know” may be a cliche, that doesn’t make it untrue.

Everything from crucial internships, to the job I currently hold and love, to incredible opportunities I’ve experienced, to being connected with some crazy awesome and widely-respected mentors, have all been fruit I was able to pluck and enjoy as a result of seeds planted long ago in the form of interpersonal relationships.

This is one of the many reasons it’s imperative not only to refrain from burning bridges, but also to form as many as possible. You just never know how a friend, a prior coworker, or even an acquaintance, may be able to help connect you with a reputable individual who would otherwise be all but inaccessible. You can never have a network that is broad enough.

In fact - and I’m sure I speak for my fellow introverts when I say this - keeping in mind the above sentence is one of the primary tonics that keeps me going during formal social gatherings and conventions. You know, those dreaded events which require one to endure that insufferable affliction otherwise known as small talk. I would rather swallow a live hand grenade than spend a few hours small talking with strangers who I’ll probably never see again. But again, you really never know what may come as a result of it - they may be able to help you, or you may be able to assist them, in remarkable ways.

While by no means exhaustive, I hope the above points provide a small window of clarity into the often cloudy and undefined realm of mentorships.

Agree? Disagree? I’d be curious to hear anything you’ve found helpful, be it with the actual finding of mentors, or nurturing the relationship once it’s already formed.