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Strength and Conditioning for Field Sports

Every strength coach will tell you the same thing.  If you are stronger, you are faster.  That is a fact.  However, there is one part of that equation which is left out.  Your body weight.  If you are stronger at the same weight then you are faster.  For example, if a 200 pound athlete can squat 400 pounds he will be faster than a 200 pound athlete who can only squat 250 pounds.  Acceleration is force divided by mass.  So how does this change our training programs?  Or Does it?

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Football has always been ahead of the game when it come to strength and conditioning.  They adapted it in the 1980’s under the legendary coach Boyd Eply at the University of Nebraska.  Football athletes need to carry mass in order to take the pounding and at the same time they need to be as quick as possible. They need to take a large body and accelerate rapidly in a short amount of time.

While football set the standard other sports have slowly come along as well.  It just took them a little longer.  Sports like baseball, lacrosse, soccer, basketball, field hockey, ice hockey and many others now have combine type activities to measure levels of fitness in comparison to others in the same league.

So let’s get back to getting stronger.  Speed is required for whatever sport you play.  I can’t think of a sport where speed is a negative.  However, for several sports body mass is a negative.  You don’t often see 200 pound soccer players or lacrosse players. These field sports require more endurance and the large body mass will hurt that athlete on the playing field.  But we still want them to get stronger.  So the question becomes how do we get them stronger without adding mass and how much mass is an acceptable amount.

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Now let’s get back to football and how they are ahead of everyone in strength and conditioning because they adopted it much earlier.  There are a lot of strength and conditioning coaches that come from either a football background or a powerlifting background.  That is why training needs to be sport specific and position specific.  That is also why group classes or any gym that tries to to group athlete in large sections are missing the boat.  Let’s take hockey for example.  A defensemen might be able to carry a little more mass on his frame and does need to be adequately strong to take and dish out some hits.  At the same time the forwards want to be as quick as possible and too much mass will count against them.

As a coach I know I can put 8-15 pounds on any athlete in a short amount time who has at least one year of training under their belt.  I say one year of training because this program is going to require more advanced lifts such as squats and deadlifts.  I have to make sure that the athlete is physically prepared to undertake such a program without risking injury.    As long as I feel comfortable with that athlete alternating between high volumes of back squats and the other core lifts such as deadlifts, front squats, bench press, and pull-ups for maximum strength. 6 sets of 2 at about 80-85% seem to do the trick.  Using this formula I can easily have an athlete put on that weight in 2 or 3 months.

So what about those previously mentioned field sport athletes who need to get stronger without putting on mass?   Well there are two ways to do it in my experience:

The first is you can write long term programs into periodized blocks with an emphasis on an individual skill set for each block.  For example if you have 8 months of training.  You could do 8 periodized blocks where in two of those blocks you focus strictly on strength building.  That leaves you with 6 blocks to dedicate to speed work, injury reduction, agility, power, and all the other qualities that are needed for that athlete.  Two months out of an 8 month period will only serve to increase strength while reducing weight gain even if it is muscle gain.  Overall mass whether it is muscle or fat will slow down the athlete as previously mentioned.  Obviously muscle is the better of the two options.  These two month long blocks will also serve as a metabolic boost which will increase the athlete’s testosterone levels and allow for lean tissue gains whereas if you had the athlete in a strength / hypertrophy program like I mentioned above for more than a few weeks you run the risk of slowing down the athlete and decreasing endurance capabilities.

The second way to do this is to get rid of the high volume days and instead focus your strength training on heavy weights as long as the athlete can handle it.  Remember I recommend at least one year of training under their belt before attempting to go anywhere near a one rep max.  The high volume days will serve as hypertrophy training which is what we don’t want.  Remember we are looking for strength without size.  So in scenario two we want to focus on speed training, deceleration, agility, injury reduction, power training, and strength all at once.  On the strength days we want to be around 80% of a max and above for multiple sets of low reps.  A good programs that I like is 6 sets of 2 @ 85% then on the last set do max reps.  If you are able to get 5 reps you need to increase the weight.

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A lot of times when an athlete goes to the gym by themselves or they just enlist the help of a personal trainer who uses bodybuilding style training methods.  That athlete will often neglect speed training and conditioning.  Once you develop a tolerance it is easy to just go to the gym and lift weights and do nothing else.  However, when that happens you fall into the same trap of putting on mass and thus slowing you down.  That is why you need to look for a certified strength and conditioning specialist who can help you create the ideal program for you.  Just because a trainer is jacked and looks like a bodybuilder doesn’t mean that their training style is right for you.  Think back to the example of a soccer player.  Do soccer players need to look like football linebackers.  Of course not!

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At inception sports performance we create programs based on the individual’s evaluation as well as their sport and their positions within that sport.  To find out more go to www.MyOffSeason.org

5 Reasons I Like Training Guys Better Than Girls:

Guys are not afraid to “bulk up” With female athletes there is often a selling job that I have to give. “Lifting heavy weights will not make you bulky. In fact, if you are stronger you will become faster and leaner.” Even after explaining that there is a lot of give and take with female athletes. Guys generally don’t have a problem being told to get to the squat rack and lift heavy.

Guys usually have at least attempted to lift before coming to me. Even if their form is not great or they have no clue how to write a workout program if someone comes to me that has already been training for some time it makes my job easier. At that point we just need to tweak a few things and make some minor adjustments.

More guys think they have a chance at playing in college or professionally. Even though the percentages are stacked against them guys often grow up dreaming of playing basketball at Duke or playing football for the Giants. If they have that in them they also have it in them to work for it and do what is necessary.

Guys can survive on less.If I have a male client and all we have to work with is a giant rock, a large tire, and dirty kettlebell in a non air-conditioned hot and sweaty gym they generally will be fine with it. As long as they get results and there are no girls around.

 Guys have the pure ability to throw around bigger weights.Sometimes it’s just fun to lift big weights. Enough said

Strength and Conditioning Thoughts

Olympic lifts are a highly technical movement and a lot of athletes use them to develop power We know that Olympic lifting develops that power in a vertical plane but are they really the end all be all for power development for athletes?   I can find you a lot of really good athletes who are division one athletes and even professional athletes who either have never done Olympic lifting like hang cleans or snatches or they’re not very good at them. There are 6’8″ basketball players at the University of Kentucky who if you watch them do a hang clean it looks really ugly.  At the same time you take a 5’9″ compact kid who played Division III football and he’s placing in the CrossFit games and competing in Olympic competitions. The second guy is a really good weightlifter the first guy is a really good athlete. So what does that tell us? That tells us that Olympic lifting and power development is a means to an end for athletes and not the ends to the mean. Olympic weightlifters who compete that is the end product.  Someone who plays basketball, football, soccer, or baseball yes we want to get them more powerful but are we going to sacrifice important time in the gym to teach the highly technical skills that the Olympic lifts require.  Some coaches will tell you that completing an Olympic lift is not that important for an athlete. So what are we trying to get out of our Olympic lifts? We’re trying to get to that triple extension position of the ankles knees and hips. So that being said all we really have to do is get to that High pull where the bar reaches your sternum before dropping under the bar. The catch is not as important to me when I’m working with athletes.  If an athlete can complete the clean yes that’s great! We’re  going to work on that but if they’re not there yet I’m not going to spend weeks or months working in the catch.  When they get to the triple extension position that’s enough for most athletes. Don’t get me wrong I am not advocating bad form. I will still stress back tight, hamstrings engaged, straight bar path and all the things that are required in a good Olympic lift. I have just found that the drop under the bar and the catch are the most difficult for a lot of people so I will not spend weeks and months drilling technique. There is some benefit in completing the Olympic lift mostly in deceleration and controlling the bar as it comes down to and you drop under it but it’s not nearly as important as that triple extension position. I would say 90% of the work is done once you get that bar up to about your sternum as far as an athlete is concerned. Remember this is a means to an end. We are training football players, basketball players, soccer players baseball players.  We’re not training Olympic lifters so if their technique is not 100% spot on as long they’re not going to hurt themselves and they are getting power development that is all we want.  Strength coaches don’t always want to hear this but our best athletes in the gym are often not our best athletes on the field.  Our job is not to create the best workout warrior but to aid the athletic process and keep the athlete on the field.

When training an athlete we try to develop the complete athlete so we work on speed. we work on injury prevention. we work on stabilization, we work on mobilization. All of  these things are important factors so do we have that much time to really go over fine-tuning the clean and power clean positions? Probably not. There’s a lot more better use of our time. So we create programs for the athlete keeping that in mind.  Remember a means to an end and not the other way around. Olympic lifts are important and we do use them but as a part of the whole overall program.

When you’re working with mostly high school and college kids their schedules are really tight. High School kids have practice they have homework they go to school all day. You don’t have a lot of time so what gives you the most bang for your buck? When working with college kids the NCAA restricts hours that the strength coach can put in with the kids so that becomes an issue as well if you are working in the university setting.  A factor in a private setting is money.  Athletes pay per session so they’re not going to come in five days a week most of the time. They’re playing in the off-season and playing in the summer so if they’re playing games two or three times a week plus they go to practice then they have to show up for the weight room there probably only with you two times or three times a week maybe four depending on the time time of year. Keeping that in mind we don’t have time to develop the weight room skills. The more important skill work has to be done within their sport working on becoming a better baseball player, fine tuning their swing and things like that. I would rather put a kid through a one hour hard workout where the kid works really hard then sit there and have them work on skills of a hang clean.  It is just more effective because you have so little time and you really have to give them a good work out that’s going to number one keep them injury free and number two improve performance.

I’ve seen trainers that can dissect anatomy, they can tell you what energy systems are being used, and they can write a program that looks like a work of art. I’ve also seen other trainers who don’t have an exercise science degree really can’t tell you why they’re doing something but their athletes keep coming back because they feel motivated, they feel inspired, they get a good workout, and they know that what they’re doing is working.  Sometimes coaches can really outsmart themselves they try to be too precise they try to get every athlete to be a carbon copy mold of the ideal standard. The reality is there is no ideal standard. Every athlete moves differently every athlete has different body types, different injuries, different pasts that are going to affect their movement patterns.

I try to learn every day. This field is always changing. As a coach if you stop learning then you are doing yourself and your athletes a disservice. Sometimes I look at my programs and wonder what was I thinking but then I remember when all else fails give the athlete a tough workout and motivate them and they’ll come back for more.
Joe Lopez CSCS

Why certifications matter

There are a lot of options out there for people who want to bring their fitness to the next level.  There are personal trainers, strength coaches, strength and conditioning coaches, and even speed coaches.  One of the things about all of these options that a lot of people don’t know is there are literally hundreds of certifications that will give these coaches their license to train you.  Most of these certifications require you to do nothing more than pay a fee and they will send you a take home test with the text book.  Once you pass the easiest test in the world you are a certified personal trainer.  I would say that most personal trainers at one time had a certification.  However, most of them are not current.  They expire from year to year so if a trainer doesn’t want renew by taking continuing education credits then the certification will expire.  Why does that matter to you?  Well the fitness industry is always changing.  There is new science and research all the time which should change the way a trainer approaches his or her clients.  If a trainer is not staying current with their certification then they are probably using out of date procedures and potentially putting your health at risk.  Or at the very least putting your progress at risk.

The first thing you should do when you sign up with a trainer is to ask the gym do they require their trainers to be certified.  A little known dirty little secret in the fitness world is most “trainers” have no such type of current certification.  A gym who employs trainers should pay for their continuing education credits or at the very least check annually.  It is kind of don’t ask don’t tell because the gym owners don’t want to pay the extra money and neither do a lot of trainers.  The general public has no idea what the “good” personal trainer certifications are versus the “bad” ones.  So in most trainers’ eyes why should they be certified.  I wouldn’t even take the trainer’s word for it.  I would actually ask to see the sheet of paper that says they are certified.  If you are paying good money you want every reassurance that your money is being spent on a quality professional who is dedicated to the study of anatomy, physiology, kinesiology, and the exercise sciences.

Now that you know about the dirty little secret that is rampant in the fitness industry you should be aware of which certifications to look for.  These certifications are strenuous in nature and the exams are taken across the country at independent sites without the use of any study aids.  Some of them have a prerequisite of a Bachelor or Science in a health science related field.  Basically you need four years of undergraduate education to even take the test.

1.  NSCA  The National Strength and Conditioning Association has two distinctions.  CSCS for training  athletes and the NSCA – CPT for training the general population.

2.  ACE  American Council on Exercise.

3.  ACSM.  American Academy of Sports Medicine.

4.  NASM.  National Academy of Sports Medicine.

5.  CI  Cooper Institute.

Keep in mind even if your trainer says that they are certified in one of these categories, don’t hesitate to ask them to see the certification card.  While it is impressive that they at one point passed these test and became certified they still should be staying up to date with their research.

Major League baseball recently mandated that all of their minor league strength coaches be certified CSCS and RSCC.  No doubt this is to attempt to eliminate some of the shady characters who lurked around their clubhouses during the “steroid era.”  Most of the Universities have full time strength and conditioning coaches for their athletic programs.  The CSCS distinction is one of the largest governing bodies to certify these coaches.  If a coach has two years working with and designing programs for athletic teams then he or she can earn the distinction of RSCC.  There are also separate distinctions for ten years of staying current in that distinction and twenty.  The trickle down effect has brought strength and conditioning to the High School level.  During these years it is probably even more important to have a quality certified trainer working with these kids.  Unfortunately, many High Schools just have a weight room supervisor or a member of the coaching staff supervising.  If you suspect this is the case then you might be better off finding a facility near you that specializes in athletic performance.  These facilities have popped up all throughout the country.  Just make sure you ask to see that certification before signing up.

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Some people just don’t get it

1. BMI
I read an article yesterday that discussed more people being obese than ever before. This seems like something we hear all the time in the News. My problem wasn’t the premise of the article. I know that Americans are heavier than ever. I also know that diabetes, heart disease, and cancer are at an all-time high. My problem was the fact that they had a picture of a young boy doing squats. After I read the article I saw that their main point was that the average BMI of Americans has increased by 3 pts in the last 15 years. Fpr those of you who do not know BMI is a formula that basically takes into account height and weight. It does not consider bone density, body-fat percentage, or Vo2 max as health indicators. Let me give you an example of how this can be a faulty way of determining healthy weight. Adrian Peterson, the all-pro running back from the Minnesota Vikings is 6 feet 1 inch and 217 pounds. Which put his BMI at what is considered overweight. He is in fact a small NFL running back. In doing a quick google search I fond that average NFL running back in 5’11 215. This puts the average NFL running back at a BMI that is in the obese category. How many of us would consider and NFL runing back obese? NFL running backs are the prime example of speed , power, and explosiveness. More Americans have gym memberships than at any other time in history. People lift weights which increases muscle size and bone density which can prevent osteoporosis. People don’t smoke or drink nearly as much as they did in the 1960’s and 70’s.

2. Old school coaches
Being a coach I have spoken with a lot of coaches in various sports. I am always amazed that in 2011 I hear them say things like this:
Lifting too much will make players inflexible.
Do you think he gets hurt because he lifts weights
How is lifting going to help him hit a baseball
I don’t want him to be too tight and hurt his performance.
I can go on and on and on. Most older coaches come from a time when some of these things were believed to be true. To date there has never been a study that has concluded that lifting weights decreases flexibility or hinders performance in any way. If lifting weights would hurt baseball players than why did the “steroid era” come with such an explosion of offense. It even came with middle relievers throwing 95 mph. If you look at the game now those guys have dissipated. While they were doing it illegally the point remains the same. Lifting weight can help you in every athletic endeavor. Distance runners lift weights for a kick at the end of a race. That was unheard of many years ago.

3. Combines.
One of the biggest events of the year is the NFL combine. I constantly hear people talking about what a waste of time it is. While it is very true that if a player can’t play in the game a coach probably wouldn’t draft him. However, how would you find the diamond in the rough. The guys who played at a lower level school but never got the chance to compete against the best. The combine evens the playing field. Stopwatches become our judges. There is a test for quickness, agility, strength, and explosiveness. If an athlete simply doesn’t measure up then how can he compete on a field. The coaches who don’t like the combine remind of the baseball coaches and scouts who want to rely on their own two eyes even when all the saber-metrics and statisticians disagree.

4. strength and flexibility.
One is not the enemy of the other. The two can go hand in hand. Movement prep is a term used by several strength and conditioning coaches for teaching the athlete to take their body through a full range of motion. Many strength coaches use movement prep instead of an old fashioned stretch to warm the body before competition. Many trainers also use a style of training called functional. Functional training means simply training movements rather than individual muscles. The athlete is coached to move a certain way which is more of a real world type of movement rather than completely isolating a specific muscle such as the bicep by doing a curl.

5. Conclusion
I wonder when we as trainer’s will stop fighting this battle of mis-information. Many people just don’t get it but there is a science to it. The science is there but it is also ever changing as new studies are done. If human’s are evolving then we need to change with the times. Being a member of the NSCA I get access to the largest database of studies regarding physical activity in the country. The NSCA is the National Strength and Conditioning Association. It is the official and only fitness trainer certification used by Major League Baseball. One of the great tools I have found for being healthy and training properly is Twitter. There are so many people and organizations that promote fitness on Twitter. Try following some of them and find the ones you like. I promise they will inspire you and give you credible information that you can use in your everyday life. Some of my favorite are MensHealth, Runners World, Erik Cressey, and of course myself. JoeLopez55@twitter.com. So in conclusion, our ever changing bodies need to be trained to adapt to modern times. But most importantly our mindsets need to change. And stop using BMI!

Mr. Universe doesn’t have a jump shot

Ever wonder why bodybuilders are never known for being great athletes? It’s because there is a difference in lifting for maximum definition and training for functional fitness. Sometimes athletes get so obsessed with their bodies looking good in the mirror they forget that rarely in sports and in life do muscles fire singularly. Not only do our muscles often work in groups but there is a thin layer of connective tissue called fascia. If you have ever cut into a piece of chicken just beneath the skin you may have seen this fascia. Until recently most scientists thought it was just another layer of gook that really served no major purpose when it comes to human performance and movement. In fact this connective tissue is interwoven throughout every major muscle in your body. It also helps connect each individual muscle fiber into bundles. It helps connect tendon to bone and bone to muscle. In fact the fascia is made of the same material as your skin and skeleton. It is just a different structure. Think ice to water. A study in 2008 found that the tissue even had conductive properties. When a trainer talks about muscles “firing” this fascia allows that to happen. This stuff almost wraps our bodies into one unit. Thus the reasons our bodies work as a unit instead of as individual muscles designed to flex and extend. Our bodies instead have what trainers refer to as a kinetic chain. For example, when a runner is having IT Band issues weak glutes are often the culprit. The glutes or in many runners cases the prirformis is a muscle running diagonally in the hip to but region. When this gets tight from running it can effect the IT Band and cause pain there. When the IT Band becomes inflamed the knee can start to hurt. So, if our bodies break down and feel pain as an overall unit then shouldn’t we train our bodies as an overall unit? Our bodies don’t recognize muscles, they recognize movement. Find a trainer who specializes in functional training and movement prep. Other than myself of course, I am a big fan of Core Performance. It is a website dedicated to athletic movement. It’s founder Mark Verstegen trains countless professional athletes for their sports and for combines and professional workouts. I would recommend the section called Movement Prep. It is a modern day version of stretching. A type of warmup that is designed to wake up the body’s fascia and release the tensions built up by the sport itself. If you are new to this I would recommend finding a trainer to help you execute these properly.

Super Bowl strength and conditioning

Take a look at this video. Todd Durkin is the trainer who works with the Green Bay Packer’s Quarterback Aaron Rodgers. He also works with last year’s Super Bowl winning quarterback Drew Brees. Wow what a resume. In this interview he talks about his basic components when training an NFL quarterback. He mentions having great core strength. Any athlete generates 60% of their power from what we call the core. Think of a fishing pole. Your spine is just like that. When a fish is on the line it can bend the pole to one side or the other. When your muscles are out of balance, your spine is misaligned. All of the muscles that act on the spine need to be even distributed so that your spine is in it’s natural alignment. Each muscle group that makes up your core is a line on the pole. They have to be pulled evenly tight. Todd talks about making sure his athletes are trained symmetrically. If you only did chest exercises without strengthening your lats you will be out of balance. Your shoulders will be pulled forward because the front muscles are tighter than the back ones. Aaron Rodgers uses these principles to get him ready for an NFL season but the average person can use them in their every day lives. Symmetric training and core strength and key factors for everyone who steps foot in a gym. It doesn’t matter if you are an NFL quarterback or an average Joe.

Patrick Willis

This guys is a beast on the football field. He is also a smart guy in the gym. Watch this video to see he works his butt off. He starts by warming up his body. This enables you to get your blood flowing to the muscles you are about to work. It will lesson the chance of an injury. The other thing he does is work his core during breaks in weight training. In between sets he does crunches with weight and core work. His quote was “strength starts from the middle in.” Mr. Willis couldn’t be more right. Just check out his body and you will see that his athleticism is a direct result of his powerful core.