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The rise of boutique fitness classes and gym culture.

As a CSCS I am good at what I do which is prepare athletes for their sports. I know what progressions need to happen for youth athletes and I know what programs need to be implemented for older athletes.   That doesn’t mean that I am not still learning and implemented new principles as situations arise. It also doesn’t mean that I am not open to new ideas and suggestions. As a fitness enthusiast I have run several marathons, half marathons, obstacle races, and the like. I have done kickboxing, yoga, and boot camp classes. I currently do CrossFit and enjoy it quite a bit. I love the fact that there are so many classes for fitness enthusiasts such as myself to choose from.  However, as a strength and conditioning specialist all of these specialty classes that keep popping up create mixed messages for athletes.   Sometimes the messages come from YouTube and social media where everybody is an expert. Sometimes the athlete’s parents go to a class and love it so they influence their children to attend. We happen to live in an area where there are lots of high process fitness optons. Things like Barre Mathod, Bari, Soul Cycle, CrossFit, SLT, OrangeTherory, Pilates, PowerFlow Yoga,, and the list goes on and on. I am not saying these are not great classes for general fitness. I am saying that they are not for athletes. Athletes need to train for a purpose with a specific goal in mind. Most often that goal is a combination of strength and/ or speed. Strength and Speed are the two most important factors in determining overall athleticism. At Inception not only will they get the program in place to help them reach their goals they will also get a program that reduces injuries. If an athlete is not on the field then nothing else matters and with the rise of year round sports injures happen at a higher and higher rate among youth athletes.   There are things that can be implemented to help reduce that risk. I incorporate ACL tear reduction drills as part of my warm up for all my athletes.   When baseball players come in I always work on arm care. The shoulder is such a complicated joint that you need to give it specific attention in order to reduce the chances of an injury. The one thing that the entire specialty classes have in common is they are group classes. When you have a group setting you automatically will not get the attention you need because everyone in the class is doing the same thing. It doesn’t matter if you are a baseball player, a soccer player, or someone coming off an injury. If you are an athlete it is in your best interest to find a qualified CSCS to work with to get better for your sport and not just rely on general fitness classes or personal trainers.

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Strength Coaches vs. Personal Trainers

I have been in both industries.  I have worked with clients whose goals were to look good, lose weight, drop body fat and I have also worked with athletes looking for performance on the field.  I can honestly say that I feel like strength coaches can venture into the personal training world a lot easier than personal trainers can work as strength coaches.  I feel like it is a totally different work environment.  Strength coaches have a lot more to focus on.  They have to make sure they periodize properly as well as provide adequate recovery.  They also have to think about which exercise that particular athlete should not do based on his or her sport or body type.  They also have to think about what position the athlete plays within a sport.  A Football lineman is going to train a lot differently than a wide receiver.  So experience, education, and science play a large part in what a strength coach does.  While being a personal trainer has it’s own unique set of demands as well.  I have worked with a lot of clients with mobility issues.  These issues force you to be part physical therapist before you can begin a weight loss or a fat loss program. When you get someone who is not in very good shape the reality is anything they do will work in the beginning.  It is after that initial plate where the hard stuff begins.  Each field does have it’s own unique set of demands however, I feel that if you can train athletes you can also train general fitness.  In fact, I often used athletic protocols with my general fitness people and they saw great results.

In the past I have written about the dirty little secret of the fitness industry.  https://jerseystrong.wordpress.com/2012/01/14/why-certifications-matter/   There are so many different “certifications” out there.  Some are take home that you can send in and as long as you pay the money you are a certified personal trainer.  The industry is filled with personal trainers who don’t know and don’t use one shred of scientific evidence in their programming.   Another thing to be aware of is trainers who are more focused on being celebrity trainers than trainers who are celebrities.  Obviously we have to be market ourselves and drive business but as Martin Rooney said when I met him last year.  “The moment my career changed was when I realized that I was training athletes and that I wasn’t the athlete.”  If your trainer is more focused on his or her own success than yours you should get a new trainer.

As a strength coach I read everything and anything on the subject.  I attend conferences and clinics.  Not only do I read what my colleagues put on Twitter and their own personal blogs but as a member of the National Strength and Conditioning Association I read the journals every month.  Yes people there are scientific published journals from actual research that we as strength coaches are supposed to use in our programming.  Now, some of what we do is art and not science and some is based on things like the athlete’s training age and even the space and equipment available.  That being said, if your trainer is not keeping up with up educating themselves then they are doing you a disservice.

Another difference between a personal trainer and a strength coach is the ideal body that the client is after.  As a personal trainer everyone who stepped in my door said the same things.  I want to lose weight.  I want to drop body fat.  I want to get ripped.  Or for the ladies I want to get toned and not be too big.  (More on how much I hate that later)  There is no such thing as toned ladies.  For the athlete the body ideal is often very different.  For one it depends on what sport and what position your play.  To go back to the same example I gave before a Lineman in football will have a very different body type than a wide receiver.  A lineman might aspire to become as strong as possible and not care about storing body fat as long as he can still move quickly.  The wide receiver on the other hand will need to focus on top speed, acceleration, and the ability to jump to get a ball at its highest point.  I have never once talked to my athletes about defined abs or quad separation.  If you as an athlete go to a trainer who is focused on any of those things walk away immediately.  Athletes are not bodybuilders.  An athlete should never aspire to be shredded.  Instead, the programing should be focused on performance only.  Often with this approach the athlete will get the body he or she wants or more importantly needs for their sport.

Of course I am a little biased but I believe that the National Strength and Conditioning Association is the cream of the crop when it comes to strength and conditioning and personal training.  The CSCS is the certification standard in the NCAA.  You will not find a college strength and conditioning coach without one.  Also, there is the NSCA-CPT for general fitness population which is also a great choice. Go to NSCA.com to find a qualified coach in your area.

How I Write Programs For Athletes

One of the questions I get a lot is how do I write programs for my athletes.  Most people don’t seem to understand how much effort goes into this.  There is a lot of research involved when you work with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. I read the journals every month to keep up with the latest information that is currently in the field.  I am not going to pretend I read every article every month but I pick out the ones that I am interested in or that pertain to an athlete I am working with and make sure I read it. I also like to read blogs of other coaches I respect and websites like T-Nation to keep up not just with the science need of things but what is actually going on in the field. So creating a program for an athlete is not just throwing a few exercises together and see how much they can lift and help them get stronger.  One of my favorite quotes I have heard is “Anyone can make you tired.  A strength and conditioning coach teaches movement and improves performance.” So this post is about exactly what goes into writing a program for an athlete.

What Sport and what position does the athlete play: This is a crucial first step not necessarily because of what exercises you are going to do but also because of what exercises you are not going to do.  For example, I will place a lot of restrictions on an overhead throwing athlete such as a baseball pitcher, volleyball player, or a swimmer.  The Shoulder is the most complex joint in the body and it has to be treated with care.  I also look the sport to see what type of metabolic demands it places on the athlete based on their sport but also their position. Take Football for example.  A Wide Receiver needs to train differently than a lineman.  If you were to give the two the same workout plan.  Chances are the wide receiver would be getting slower or the lineman would be getting weaker.  With metabolic demands I have to consider is the sport highly aerobic or more anaerobic in nature.  Baseball players for example don’t need much in terms of aerobic conditioning but a Field Hockey player would need quite a bit more.  Within aerobic and anaerobic constraints there are also different energy systems that come into play.  The ATP-Pc or phosphogen energy system allows for approximately 12 seconds or less of work capacity.  An sport where this is the primary energy system would be softball.  A softball player would never have to work for more than 12 seconds at a time during a game.  The glycolytic energy system is one of moderate power and moderate duration. After 12 seconds peak power drops and some amount of aerobic capacity is needed.  A sport which demands this energy system would be soccer.  The soccer player needs short bursts of sprinting speed but also a continious motor throughout the game.  Lastly is the Oxidative system which is your highly aerobic athletes.  An example of this kind of athlete would be a cross country runner.  In plain English there is no need for a football lineman to run 2 miles during training just like there is no need for a cross country runner to work on his or her 1 Rep. Max Squat.  Each athlete has different needs in training.

Think about the Individual:  I evaluate every athlete who steps in the door.  Whether that means a formal evaluation before training starts or just by watching them complete the dynamic warmup.  Movement quality is so important not just in term of injury prevention but for growth within training.  Movement quality can mean an injury that is not quite healed or it can just be a result of years of pervious poor movement patterns.  From the ages of 1-5 almost all humans move in similar ways.  These dysfunctions occur later in life from the lives we lead.  So when I write a program for an athlete who has a poor movement pattern I will try to correct that first before I overload that movement pattern with weight.  If an athlete can’t get his shoulders to full flexion overhead.  I wouldn’t have that athlete do heavy shoulder presses.  To be honest an athlete with a poor movement pattern probably would not be able to execute a dynamic and coordinated movement in that pattern under load anyway.  This is something called muscular inhibition. The brain simply won’t allow the body to put itself at risk of injury.  The second part of the evaluation is athleticism.  Is the athlete strong?  Are they quick?  Are they explosive?  My general rule of thumb is to attack weaknesses with training.  For a strong kid who has heavy feet I would program a lot of speed drills and a lot of plyometrics. For a kid who can run all day and has a high motor I would train strength.

Exercise Sequence:  I always start with a  thorough and lengthy warmup that includes dynamic movements, injury prevention drills, core, and glute activation exercises.  Then I have the athlete work on corrective exercises if there are any.  These will include specific mobility or flexibility work that is geared toward the individual.  Finally I will almost always have the athlete perform a core lift first.  I believe bench press, squat, and deadlifts are every athlete’s foundation for strength.  On 90% of my programs written the athlete is doing one of those three exercises first or at least a variation of them and doing multiple sets of at least 4 or 5.   If the athlete is doing an Olympic lift I may substitute that for one of the core lifts as well although some athletes don’t olympic lift and others are just at the point of working on olympic lifting skills. That first core lift is the only one where I have the athlete complete all of the sets without starting another exercise.  I think this sets the tone as to how important this is and requires the athletes full attention.  I also try to incorporate all of the basic movement patterns into the programs.  I believe that for a complete strength training program you need to incorporate squats, presses, pulls, hip hinges, and carries in a equal fashion.  I think this creates a balanced athlete who has total strength and makes them less likely to get hurt. After the initial core lift all of my strength training is usually done in circuits that may include a mix strength training, conditioning, skill work, and mobility.  I will most often save anything that is high intensity for the end of the workout as to not fatigue the athlete for strength training.  So if I program a high intensity interval of wallaballs and burpees or I have an athlete push a sled I will make sure those are done towards the end of the program.  I usually save my core and abs work for a period where I want a programmed break to help the athlete recover and catch their breath.  Sometimes this is in the middle or sometimes it goes last.  At the end of of the workout I have the athlete foam roll and static stretch for at least ten minutes.

Periodization:  Traditionally as a CSCS you are taught that to have an athlete peak for a season you need to follow a linear periodization model that might look something like this:  General Prep period where the athlete is introduced to the basics and is usually performing a mix of strength training work while being re-acclimated to training.  That would be followed by a hypertrophy / endurance phase lasting anywhere from 3-6 weeks. During this phase the athlete would be performing 3-6 sets of 10-20 reps at 50-75% of their one rep max. Then a basic strength phase where the athlete would perform 3-5 sets of 4-8 reps between 80-90% of their one rep max.  That would be followed by a strength and power phase where the athlete would perform 3-5 sets of 2-5 at 75-95% of their one rep max. Then there would a transition period during pre-season followed by peaking where the athlete will perform 1-3 sets of  1-3 reps at 93% and above.  Then in season the athlete would be doing maintenance work  at 2-3 sets of 6-8 at 80-85% of their one rep max.  Lastly that would be followed by another transition period of active rest during post season.  This sounds all well and good if I am training a one sport athlete with a training age of at least two years with no movement deficiencies and lots of free time to dedicate to training.  However, that is not often the case.  An athlete who is new to strength training no matter their chronological age might be better served in a general prep period for maybe almost a full year.  Within those first two years of training I will often program a less traditional non-linear training approach.  I will use those same phases as the linear approach but instead change them from week to week.  The non linear approach instead of building towards a season will have the athlete go up and down throughout.  For example one week the athlete could be in a strength power phase and the next week in a hypertrophy / endurance phase.  This non linear approach allows for athletes to deload from time to time and it allows for active recovery which might be necessary for an athlete who is new to training.  The research shows that non-linear training programs are effective but there is also more research needed.  You can also work your way up to a peak in the non-linear approach as well because your peaking and transition periods would still be written into the programs.

So there it is.  Everything that I take into consideration when writing an athlete’s workout program.  There are a lot of trainers who just show up to the gym and wing it and perhaps this can work for a young athlete for a short period of time.  If you want to find a coach who will use scientific principles, practical information, and has the experience to create a thorough workout program for you as an individual come see us at Inception Sports Performance in Madison, NJ or go to NSCA.com and find a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist in your area.

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Is Crossfit the best way to train for your sport?

Let me start by saying that this is not an article bashing crossfit. If you want one of those there are plenty online for you to find. I love crossfit. I do crossfit. I think crossfit has upped the game for the average Joe who wants to bring his or her fitness to the next level. No other fitness movement has gotten so many people to train with high intensity like crossfit.
This article is about training for a sport and why you need a qualified strength and conditioning specialist. Crossfit sells Constantly varied, high intensity, functional movements. Those are great attributes for your average person who wants to get into the best shape of their life. I can honestly say that since I started crossfit I am stronger than I have ever been.
My point is that crossfit is not for athletes. People who do crossfit do crossfit to get better at crossfit. Crossfit will even tell you that it is not a workout but a sport itself.
When you are training for a sport you have to consider things like metabolic conditioning. Would a golfer really benefit from crossfit? The workouts would be too high intense while risking injury so the risk vs reward just would not be there. Another thing that you need to consider when training for a sport is when your season is. A qualified CSCS will emphasis the proper phases of training so that you peak going into your season. Typically there will be a strength – endurance phase, a strength phase, a power phase, and a tapering period. Crossfit kind of throws all of those phases into all of their workouts. If you do 4 crossfit style workouts then you probably will develop all of those aspects in a short amount of time. The last thing that you need to consider is which exercises are contraindicated. Every athlete is different and every sport is different and every position within that sport is different. Without considering the individual you can’t program properly for him or her. Crossfit creates programs for the masses. Don’t get me wrong, thee are quality coaches within crossfit that can help you scale down but at the end of the day you are doing the same workout as everyone else that day. Rule number one of being a strength coach is keep your players on the field. Because of that the industry has shifted towards injury prevention with screening like FMS and corrective exercises to alleviate imbalances and asymmetries. The last thing a strength coach will consider is the player’s sport. A baseball players because of the overhead throwing will have a vastly different workout program than a lets say a football linemen.
In the end training is supposed to help you perform on the field. The field is not in the gym. As it said it last month’s Men’s Health, “big biceps don’t mean better trainer.” Go to NSCA.com to find a trainer near you. Then when your playing days are over join crossfit and maybe I’ll see you at next year’s open!

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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