Where a young athlete should begin

3 parts

As I can recall going into high school, I had a lot to think about that didn’t include playing sports. Yet, playing sports ended up taking up most of my time throughout high school. But when you are a young athlete and your plate keeps growing, it’s important to simplify in order to be successful. You’ve got to cut down all the excess things that aren’t important and won’t get you to your goals. Some days, going out to the field for a workout is what needs to be done and the 3 hours you spend on Call of Duty will not. If you want the prize, you have to pay the price. So it’s important to decide what are your goals for your 4 valuable years of high school, and then simplify how to get there.

Every athlete, where collegiate or even professional, has certain things that they need to do in order to be successful. The difference between these groups is what role each thing plays and how important each one is at that particular time in their career. Lifting weights is incredibly important for a young, developing athlete and continues to be all the way through college. It becomes less involved (not less important) during professional sports simply because the sport itself is played much more often. But for the youth athlete playing once or twice a week, this is the time you have to build the foundation. There are things that you can to in order to get ahead and stay ahead. There is nothing anyone can do for a young high school kid that simply doesn’t have what it takes to play. But if you find that a sport seems to come naturally, and you’re jumping higher than all of your friends or outrunning everybody in class this could mean a free education somewhere if you really put hard work into what you do. Here are 3 things to make sure you do in order to simplify your path to success:

1.Develop physically

In order to beat the best, you’re going to need a lot of strength. These kids you are facing are getting huge somehow. Offensive linemen are coming out of high school over 300 lbs. and 6’4″ and above. That means at some point you might have to run away from a small bull with a helmet and shoulders pads. High school basketball players are growing to 7′ tall, so you better make sure you can jump too. High school baseball pitchers are throwing over 88 mph almost consistently in areas known for baseball like California, Texas, and Florida so get ready for some muscular coordination and while your at it generate some freakish torque. No matter what sport you decide to play, your competition is getting more and more talented. It all starts at 6am in that high school weight room with your droopy eyed teammates who also don’t want to be up that early. But you have to realize the prize and get the team to pay the price that day. Learn the basic movements. Everyone on your team should be learning how to squat, hinge at the hip, push with the upper body, and pull with the upper body. Notice I didn’t mention that you should learn to curl the barbell 100 times? That’s because I’m trying to simplify the road to success. You need to cut off what you need and what you don’t in order to beat the competition. The competition isn’t that girl in 6th period that you want to impress, it’s a 6’3″ linebacker named LeRoy that wants his helmet to go into your sternum at some point in the game. So think more about LeRoy’s helmet not getting there and less about the girl in 6th period, she flirts too much with everyone anyway. Squat, Hinge, Push, Pull, Sprint, Jump. Learn those and make sure everyone else does too. It takes a team to win anything, ask present day Kobe Bryant.

team running

2. Nutrition & Supplementation

School lunch doesn’t exactly provide options that are good for what we’re trying to accomplish. You train hard in the mornings and are starving getting to lunch only to find salisbury steak with carrot sticks as your fuel for the day. It’s not exactly “cool” to have your mom packing your lunch anymore, so you’re going to have to man up and learn a little something about nutrition. A growing person in high school needs lots of fuel to feed the furnace that’s constantly burning. Your metabolism is running on all cylinders most of the day and it runs on calories. So, while we want lots of them, we don’t want these calories to come in the form of Big Mac’s. Sorry, but you have to sacrifice the joy a Big Mac brings at age 14-15 for the things you need to develop better. Peanut butter and jelly’s are an option, so I’m not saying it’s all vegetables and no fun. But, you have to make sure whatever you eat is high in protein and carbohydrates. Fat is not really an issue at this point, so don’t avoid it like the plague but don’t embrace fatty foods like milkshakes as a staple of your eating habits. I understand a kid at that age is going to want to have some fun and eat foods he or she isn’t supposed to and that’s fine. Just make sure when it’s lunch time in the cafeteria, you have packed a lunch that is going to give you fuel for practice after school. Chocolate milks are a great way to get some fats, proteins, and carbohydrates so chug those little cartons until you can’t drink another one. Fill up a water bottle all day and continue drinking fluids that don’t have a fizzy sound when you open it.

Supplementation is included in here because we want to supplement your diet with things you aren’t able to get easily. Things like protein are very important and carbohydrates to fuel you during long, hot practices are important. No, I am not saying go to GNC and ask the sales person what your kid needs. Chances are that person is just going to read the labels and pick what sounds the best not really knowing what’s in it or even the organic chemistry behind it. Supplements can be as simple as a gatorade or chocolate milk, technically. You are just supplementing your diet with carbohydrates from gatorades and protein, carbs, and fats in chocolate milk. But people tend to associate the word “steroids” with supplements, due to the media’s portrayal of them in order to make it an issue worth boosting their ratings. Supplements are not harmful when researched and selected carefully.

TruMoogold standard wheygatorade

My suggestion for parents of a young athlete would be to make sure first water is the go-to drink all day long. This is a really difficult task because kids hate water at a young age until their sweating to death in 100 degree heat. So, keep in nearby and convenient for the kids with a water bottle they can take with them and it makes it much easier. Second, make sure the diet is consisting of fruits, vegetables, and meats. Try to limit the amount of bread and sweets that they have around the house. If there are Little Debbie cakes in the pantry, they will eat them and not hold back on eating the whole box. Pringles are a high school kid’s favorite snack and you do not want a kid’s favorite snack to be the one with a slogan involving “once you pop, the fun don’t stop”. It’s better to influence them to try things like apples, celery, and oranges rather than give them the freedom to crush gushers. This is a case of you knowing more than them and they’ll appreciate it later. Third, you can entertain the idea of a sports supplement like gatorade, chocolate milk, or the more specific supplements like whey proteins or fish oils if the first two things have been satisfied. Parents and young athletes make the mistake of starting with number 3 and never handling #1 or #2. This creates a bad habit and ultimately ends up in the athlete being disappointed in the results of the supplement he or she purchased. Simplify what you put into your body and get used to foods that are better for your body than better tasting for the moment.

3. Everything in between

This is probably the most significant thing that affects and influences the daily life of a young high school athlete. Girls, homework, parties, driving, and popularity just some of the things going on for high school kids. To add a sport on top of that only means more stress and less time to handle all the things. This makes it extremely important that you as a young athlete mature quickly and realize what’s important in getting you from point A to point B. Going to a batting cage on a Saturday morning is one of the last things a young kid wants to do, but thank god my Dad made me do it because it put things into perspective. There were many things that I “missed out” on when I was younger because I was practicing a sport. Then, you get older and look back at all of the things you were so lucky to have “missed out” on. Most of those things just led people to problems and getting into trouble. You will have so much time to experience whatever you want to in life later on that for that moment in time, devoting some time to your sport or to your schoolwork is the best thing you can do with your time. Get out of bed early on a Saturday because somewhere there are a few kids that are too. You do it because it’s hard, and when there is something that’s difficult it also means there’s an opportunity to be a part of a small group or a way to separate yourself from those that don’t. You don’t get as many situations like this as you think. This Saturday you decide not to get up because there are so many more and then boom it’s game time and you know deep down you didn’t put the work in. Don’t let that happen to you, because you were blessed with talent to use and not to waste.

team huddle

Last word

Remember that not everyone can be a starter on a varsity team in high school. You can buy every supplement in the world and train with the best professionals in your sport and never be a great athlete. That is the way it works for some people. But, there are some kids who start to notice that their abilities are growing with age and they have a real shot at being a good athlete. Those kids need to realize the opportunity they were born with and make an attempt to use that talent for something great. It can lead to an education and an opportunity to travel and grow with other productive people. To work towards something greater than yourself and to win a championship with other guys or girls is something you will never forget. But it takes the ability to see past the present and focus on what will lead you and your teammates to that trophy. Simplify and then go after what is yours. Pay the price to get the prize.

About the Author:

My name is Cory Ritter and I am strength and conditioning coach in professional baseball. I believe that young athletes are underdeveloped and undereducated in strength and conditioning and need a go-to resource on developing. I am a graduate of Florida State University with my Masters in Sports Sciences and a Bachelors in Exercise Science from there as well. I am also a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the National Strength & Conditioning Association. I have 2 years of experience in professional baseball working in the Seattle Mariners organization.

Follow me @crittfit7 and check like my Facebook page titled “Helping youth athletes”

Training your body as a system rather than components

For the past 6 years, I have spent hours and hours each day reading research, writing papers for professors, and watching athletes work towards their goal of improving performance. I’ve learned from some wonderful people and read books by people much smarter than myself.

But with the amount of work I have devoted to the field of strength & conditioning comes a mental burden. Every time I go inside of a gym whether it be a commercial facility or private, I see things that make me cringe. Sometimes it’s seeing lifts with poor technique, sometimes it’s terrible coaching, but much more often it’s because of total ignorance for the way the human body works.

Mark Rippetoe is one of my favorite writers because of the genuine way that he writes and communicates his feelings towards a subject. The guy will tell you if what you’re doing is bulljive, plain and simple using other types of words. My dad was the same way and it really is the most efficient way to get to the point and get to fixing the issue. Recently, I was digging through some archives during my daily reading time and came across an article where Rippetoe sounds off on a huge training mistake. This huge mistake happens when people work the small components that make up the body, rather than working the body as a complete system. This is a problem with the world of “working out” and cannot be stated enough! START LEARNING THE WAY THE BODY WORKS PEOPLE!!! In the words of Ron Burgundy, “I’m sorry that I just wanted to shout it out from the top of a mountain”. You can read more about this article from Mark Rippetoe on T-Nation, check it out here. I want to discuss this topic using examples from what I’ve seen myself and the long-term effects I see in the future.

burgundy

But seriously, how important is this concept? How many times do you as a personal trainer or strength coach deal with this issue? I see it all the time and want to strike up a debate with the person committing the workout foul. I completely understand the idea that anybody can do what they want and train however they think best. But if only they knew. If only they cared to actually see what a waste of time most of the exercises they choose are and how much more efficiency they could have. I am a really big on efficiency and making the best use of your time. I went through a grad program where I would be at a team’s workout from 6-7:15, run to class across campus that started at 8am, run across campus to class immediately after that, grab lunch in the 25 minutes that I had, run to another lift at 1:15, etc. When this schedule becomes the daily routine, it’s hard not to start figuring out where you could probably use your time more efficiently. I can’t help but carry this over to my profession and how I structure my time now.

I have worked in professional sports for the last 2 years and at times seem to lose faith in the way we perform our jobs. The direction that we develop our athletes, at times, completely goes against the way the body truly works. The body is an unbelievable system that can perform feats such as dunking a basketball or hitting a baseball 430 feet. The number of muscles, joints, and even neurons involved is ridiculous. And to think that all of the muscles located in different parts of the body all connect and coordinate in a systematic fashion to perform the thing we do when our brain says “jump”. Without trying to dig too deep into explaining how through neuromuscular properties, I just want to introduce the idea that after years of practicing a movement we take for granted how many different things are going on during this execution of movement. Jump shots, throwing a baseball, hitting a golf ball, kicking a soccer ball, and cutting in football are all extremely complex tasks we ask the body to do at an incredibly fast rate of synchronization. All of the parts of the body are working together as a system to get the task done. So why is it that when we go into the gym to enhance these tasks, we isolate each part and give that one body part an exercise that makes it work all on it’s own. Are we hoping there is some magic science connection in which that one part will pop back into working together again with more strength? By making this one part now stronger, could you have thrown the whole system out of wack and taught the new body part to dominate a movement that it isn’t supposed to? These are all questions that are the tip of iceberg that will cause us future issues advancing as a profession.

One of the biggest issues that really makes me upset and disappointed in our profession is that we neglect actually heavy strength training as if it’s not the answer to most problems. This athlete is “dysfunctional”, he can’t hold the proper position in his or her respective sport, and they are underdeveloped in certain areas. Let’s give them a 3 pound dumbbell and isolate the external rotators of the shoulders. Pull-ups aren’t the answer because they’re hard. Truth be told, this is the world of strength and conditioning now. There are still people out there who believe in true strength training like Mark Rippetoe and Dan John. There are even CrossFit gyms there helping their clients improve overall strength better than what we give our athletes. What if the fact they can’t hold a single leg squat during your assessment isn’t because of a hip dysfunction, but because they aren’t strong in their glutes? What if after a 6 month period of lifting they come back and can hold that position for you? Maybe the simple answer of “strength deficient” needs to be the answer more often than not. Is a 17 year old kid back squatting 400 pounds not strong in his “core”? If you say no, have you ever back squatted 400 pounds? If he has no injury history and is cleared of dysfunction, would improving his back squat not improve strength, mobility of the hip, and core strength simultaneously? But we don’t. We prescribe bird dogs, front bridges, and goblet squats with a 20 pound kettle bell.

So why would we as coaches do something like that? Because we want our jobs more than we want to help our athletes and because lifts that make you stronger and more powerful are harder to coach. That’s the truth. The kettle bell goblet squat is tough to teach to a completely green gym member and then it’s not. It’s hard for someone who has never seen it and then it is extremely easy to perform after that point. Exercises that improve a single muscle group aren’t hard to coach, but exercises that improve the system together involves a great eye and a deep understanding of biomechanics. These are things the average personal trainer do not have. The glute bridge, the single-leg pistol squat, and the movement you made up to address thoracic mobility won’t do jack for you if you aren’t on the field because you’re too slow to play. Understand that point.

light dumbbell

Safe is being defined as anything that doesn’t cause discomfort. I define safe as developing athletes to be strong enough to withstand the rigors of the torque in golf, the torque in baseball, the power to outrun the 250 pound linebacker in football, and the ability to jump higher in basketball. Will injuries happen? Absolutely. But physical contact or in-game injuries will happen forever no matter what new therapy move you create. In the meantime, kids are getting bigger out of high school and the need to get stronger in order to be on the field is increasing. You either get stronger or you don’t win. A good strength coach should be able to effectively coach the lifts that do that and coach them safely at the same time. It’s not as hard as the guru’s make it out to be. And they make it out to be because half of them don’t know how to coach the lifts themselves. So direct attention towards other things that are easier to coach, smart business move.

We don’t train with heavy weights to look like Sylvester Stallone, we do it because strength is what you need to produce force. More strength=more force output. Think of strength as your car’s engine and power or force output as the horsepower from that engine. If you want to play football, you probably want a Dodge Charger capable of lots of horsepower. Lifting with 10 pounds on the bar for 8 weeks straight means you will have the horsepower capabilities of a Toyota Camry. A fine car, great gas mileage, and definitely riding the pine in the context of this analogy. Train your body first by building a bigger engine and only then will you start to produce the horsepower you need to keep up. Coordination spawning from the whole system will allow the cylinders in the engine to fire correctly. Exercises using lighter weights are easier to coordinate, but we don’t need easy we need difficult in order to improve from our current state of coordination.

Don’t touch that barbell…your dysfunctional

x out

I want to go back and talk about the athlete that was considered “dysfunctional”. As my mentor used to say, “everybody’s really good at making the correct diagnosis, but only a few are good at making the correct prescription to fix it”. There are so many assessment tools and ideas out there to analyze what the athlete’s issues are. I think this part is great because it allows us to see what specific ways this athlete is different from the next and we should avoid and add to a program. But seeing these assessments with my own eyes I have noticed a big gaping hole at the end of them. Almost none of the assessments point to gaining more strength and power and actually how to achieve this. People are so wrapped up in their fancy assessment tools and diagnosing because they don’t really know what to do next.

Me: Hey man, cool assessment program you got on that computer…..does it tell you how to get his deadlift stronger?

Assessment Professional: Well, he can’t deadlift because he has right hip tightness and core weakness.

This is the dialogue that is happening all over the country.

Assessment Professional:”I just diagnosed him with issues, stay away from compound lifts because it will hurt him.”

And there lies the problem. If that athlete is “dysfunctional” working as a system, then why is your answer to work the problematic part in isolation only to throw it back into the system when you feel this problematic part has improved? Alakazam. Voila.

Listen, I don’t think someone with dysfunction should be loaded up on a back squat right now either, but that is the end goal of the program. We want them to deadlift, squat, and press heavy friggin’ weights because strength means more power and more power means you don’t get trucked every play. So if that athlete can’t squat now because of an issue with his lower back, everything we do is to fix this issue so that he can get to deadlifting and front squatting soon.

Assessment Professional : “I realized the one specific muscle in the rotator cuff was weaker than the rest, I worked it with a 5 pound dumbbell for 5 weeks, and now will work better with the rest of the muscles in the movement.”

Translation: The subscapularis was weak in assisting a movement, so I isolated and taught it to work as a primary mover in an exercise, and now I’ve thrown it back into the system to work assisting the same movement.

It’s not that simple. You don’t just pop out the fuel injector of your car and replace it with a new one. You need to teach it how to work together better as a system. If one part isn’t working correctly, it’s probably your poor coaching that has put them into a bad position and made a link in the chain get cranky. Look in the mirror and improve your coaching.

Majoring in the minors: The Muscle Imbalance must be banished

Time after time, this results in another injury in that athlete who is scratching his or her head in the training room wondering if they’re broke for good. We have become a profession that sets out to find every issue, termed deficiency or imbalance, and create a list of exercises to correct the problem. These exercises are called “correctives”. But I can sit you down and have you speak face to face with athletes who went through 6-8 weeks of corrective exercise programming only to have the same result and wind up injured again. I actually believe some correctives can serve a purpose if placed in the hands of a good strength coach. That is not at all saying I would use them frequently, but very minimally in cases that were exceptions such as after surgery. Instead of programming and coaching lifts that would fix a strength deficiency first and foremost, we attack small imbalances for 2 years with a client wasting important development time they could’ve spent getting faster. We are majoring in the minors.

What exactly are you going to fix by identifying all of these imbalances or asymmetries? One by one conquer them all and then throw some magic science dust on the person and they’re a better athlete? One great thing I was told during a talk with people who worked with athletes a lot longer than I have said that you need assess issues with athletes and decide which imbalances to fix and not to fix. There are times when athletes excel at their sport because of an asymmetry they have had their whole life. Your assessment will show an imbalance, but fixing this imbalance would take away the effectiveness. So what do you do then? You have know what to fix and what to keep an eye on instead. You do the assessment to record baseline’s and then wait and watch from there.

“You’re not firing your glutes”

I have heard this way too much times to not upset typing it. Someone coaching the athlete that is doing exercises prescribed for an athlete that can’t “fire his/her glutes”. When someone says this, they are referring to the nervous system not able to either contract the muscle voluntarily or more often do it efficiently. The nervous system controls muscular function and is extremely important for athletes. But as I said, most of the time the diagnosis is correct but the exercises prescribed are done incorrectly. I’ve seen a similar scenario like this in which an athlete with “poor glute activation” was given glute bridges and banded lateral walks to “improve glute activation”. While doing so, the person prescribing these things was pushing the target area saying, “Your glutes aren’t firing, you need to fire the external rotators”.

So let’s take a deeper look at this whole interaction going on. You prescribed someone who clearly just has a weak set of glutes that doesn’t allow them to run fast or jump high while standing up a pair of exercises requiring nowhere near the amount of force running or jumping requires. And when this athlete performs a bridge on the ground, you are telling me that they’re glutes aren’t firing? What are the glutes primary function? Hip extension and external rotation/adduction? Okay, so if they are in a bridge, that means the glutes are absolutely “firing”. Just because the contraction isn’t strong, doesn’t mean we call it “not firing”. Instead, you need to determine how to get the gluteals stronger. And if your honest prescription for weak gluteals is a bridge on the floor and a banded walk, then you probably won’t have much success with athletes getting better. They sure won’t get hurt bridging on the floor like that, but you can bet they will struggle when they need one of the most important muscle groups on the body that has such a major role in movements. Until you get serious and get them lifting, they will never fix that issue. And for pete’s sake, stop cueing people to “fire the external rotators”, and start giving effective physical cues like “push the knees out”. Not everybody went to school as long as we did and the athlete’s respond much faster to things they understand. I promise you they won’t think any less of you if you don’t explain how much you know about hip musculature. I bet if you get that athlete to work hard and squat 450 pounds that the glutes will be forced to fire.

Last word

Most of the issues I see now with young athletes arise not from too much strength training, but the abandonment of it by guru masters. We have made corrective exercise the primary focus and created a bunch of really excellent lifters with 55 pounds on the bar. This creates a strength and power deficiency that leads to injury under excessive forces caused during competition. Barry Bonds might have been aided by steroids, but don’t forget that steroids led to greater strength and power. How Bonds got the strength and power was illegal, but the newly acquired strength and power caused the ball to go further and allowed him to accomplish something big. The lesson isn’t to takes steroids, it’s to find a way to get that newly acquired strength and power without them. And the only way to do this is to strength train. Put down the 10 pound kettle bell and pick up a Mark Rippetoe book. Read authors like Dan John, Tudor Bompa, Verkhoshansky. The trends will come and go, but the thing that has withstood the test of time is gaining absolute strength through the barbell.

Writer:

Cory Ritter, MS, CSCS

References:

http://www.t-nation.com/free_online_article/most_recent/rippetoe_goes_off

Strength tips for long legged lifters

To long-limbed, string bean athlete,

Learning lessons

When I hit 16, my legs got longer and everything I knew about coordination and athleticism started to leave me. Suddenly, kitchen counters were much closer than they appeared and I remember running into the corner of the hallway so many times because my shoulders were broader and my arms now spread out wider. These are the consequences of a growth spurt. My mom couldn’t put enough food on the table for me to eat and I was literally inhaling my dinner. But what nobody told me then is what science has finally shown me now.

With long limbs and a short torso, I started realizing the things I probably wouldn’t be so good at anymore and some things that I might be better off doing. Unfortunately, I’m the kind of person that when I struggle with something, it only makes me try harder. Being tall and skinny automatically put me into basketball, but having a short torso leaves you mismatched a lot. So I found myself playing a lot of basketball, jumping at the rim with the others guys, only to realize their arms were always longer and their reach a little further than mine would ever be. Football can be difficult, too, because the kids running at you shoulder first can be hard to avoid when you are struggling with coordination problems. There were so many times football made me think to myself, “Am I not athletic anymore?”. Baseball seemed to be the best fit because you don’t have to be too athletic, long limbed allow you to create some serious torque, and if David Wells can do it then a tall lanky kid can too.

On a side note, I would argue it might even be better to be a shorter, smaller player than it is to be a medium height athlete with a short torso. Limb angular velocity and everything you skip over in the textbooks about disadvantages and advantages of muscles explains this. While short limb lengths won’t be able to produce as much force as long ones, they will be able to move much faster. This can be reflected by a Darren Sproles or Nate Robinson type of athlete, someone who is small but still can find a place in elite level sports because their limbs can move at such high speeds they end up producing as much force as their longer limbed counterparts that are capable of producing more force at slower rates.

I digress.

Being long-limbed has its pro’s and con’s in sports. But, it can also create a really interesting issue in the strength and conditioning field as well. Strength and conditioning coaches assess players before working them and decide what is best for them based on the needs of their sports. Golfers, baseball players, and tennis athletes need power in the form of torque because of the rotational nature of the sport. Basketball and volleyball players need more of a vertical increase in power capabilities. Football and soccer need short sprint burst acceleration and the ability to cut and turn on a dime while also having the strength to stand their ground. Since height in most of these sports can create a disadvantage of some form, taller athletes are highly sought after. So, instead of the strength coach getting 4 new recruits that are 5’5″ Naim Suleymanoglu’s frame and body type, they receive 6’0-6’5″ lanky kids who blow over with a slight breeze. Time to brainstorm, right?

Luckily, I know a thing or two about being this person. I mentioned my growth spurt and playing sports in high school to explain that highlight the fact I played a lot of sports. But I didn’t mention lifting a lot of weights during that time. Sadly, a lot of kids that jump through growth spurts don’t either because of all they have enough on their plate. What can weights do for me? I just went to bed and woke up and I’m an inch taller. They start thinking the phrase “I’ll fill out when I stop growing”, because that’s what everyone tells them. What I didn’t know back then was that a well thought out strength program could’ve brought me better coordination and increased strength I needed with this newfound length and range of motion. So not only are these tall lanky athletes flooding through the doors as wide-eyed freshmen, but they also couldn’t tell you a front squat from a hang clean from their lack of experience. Once my time was done as an athlete, the lack of strength work that led me to a training table and eventually a rehab clinic after injuries put a fire underneath me. How could I be so unaware of my own well-being that I would neglect my future? Never again. So I’ve set out since then to gain strength, gain power, and gain knowledge in the process. That process has brought me some insight and tips that I want to share with long-legged lifters to save them time and skip the things that I’ve had to find out the hard way.

Tip #1: Learn, practice, love the deadlift

In college, I tried to follow all of the most popular programs out there. I tried the Russian squat routine and walked crippled to class a lot. I tried the high-frequency routines for the bench press and had a hard time sitting up straight in class because my shoulders rolled forward so badly. But one thing I never seemed to do much of was the deadlift. Why? I sucked at it. The bar is all the way down THERE. My 5’8″ friend I lifted with could reach down and deadlift 225lbs. like it was a pillow. I would get into the starting position and be done for the day. The deadlift wasn’t nearly as gratifying as the bench press, the seated shoulder press, or the mighty skull crusher. Those lifts gave me feedback, they give me something I can go home and show girls when I go out with my friends. “What could the deadlift do for me?”, I thought. The deadlift is a Mr. Miyagi exercise, it makes you wax on and wax off for years with no understanding of when you get to really show off. But as I have learned with all training through the last 6 years I’ve spent in this field, everything you hate doing is probably what you should work the hardest at.

The deadlift is an exercise in which you get into a crouched position and with your arms extended you pull weight off the floor to a standing straight up position. Longer legs can make the distance the bar travels longer, so this is where the not so fun part comes into play. But before you decide curls are better, look into what physics teaches us. I used to see the distance I had to travel in the back squat and deadlift unfair when I’d lift next to a short squatty guy. But the truth is, WE HAVE THE ADVANTAGE! The short squatty guy can create faster speeds in the lift and doesn’t have to move the bar as far, but by getting more possible distance traveled in the lift we have a greater potential for gains.

So, if increasing power is the goal (which is of almost every athlete’s programs) and Power=Force x Distance/Time, then having more distance to travel actually is an advantage allowing you to produce force for longer and spend more time under tension during each rep. Huzzah! Science is fun.

huzzah

Tip #2: Single leg lifts are essential

This doesn’t sound like anything new, because single leg lifts have been all the rage ever since Mike Boyle became popular. And rightly so. Working a leg individually makes sense for athletes since they typically will be producing force one leg at a time in their sport anyhow. While I do still believe lifts like the back squat and deadlift trump any single leg pistol squat in terms of what they can do for a young developing athlete, I think for the long-legged lifter the single leg lifts are essential. In my own experience, my longer legs made my center of mass higher off of the ground and made it more important for my legs to take up the responsibility of keeping me stable. The hips are the center of the body so they are key in fixing the “wobbling” coordination problems kids have during growth spurts. As my legs got longer, I started feeling the wobbling. Running through a defense with a football in your hands is not my idea of a fun friday night when you’re struggling with coordination. As I got older, I noticed that my balance had gotten much worse despite playing collegiate baseball as a pitcher where balance is a big part of pitching. As a result of my loss of balance, I began compensating. Compensations happen as a result of the body doing whatever it takes to help you work as efficient as possible with whatever task you give it. I was forcing my body to work with unstable joints, bad balance, and a changing center of gravity. So, in return it gave me a way to make sure I wouldn’t fall down standing up through compensations.

Now, from a biomechanics standpoint, my center of gravity was changing so quickly that my body and brain had no opportunity to adapt my spatial awareness. The slightest little bit in changing center of gravity can cause that “wobble” feeling I was having. My body then built in a compensation pattern by basically installing crooked pillars that would get the job done. What I should have done then is what I am telling you to do now. During that time, start isolating each leg and give it the task of being a strong pillar able to hold up the brick house on its own. Acquire better spatial awareness by implementing single leg exercises paired with your big lifts. This method allows you to make sure that each leg is well equipped and prepared to be a strong pillar by itself as well as together to hold up the upper body and provide a solid foundation. Examples include doing split squats, Bulgarian rear-foot elevated squats, single-leg RDL’s, and even single-leg squats. The body learns to move better with longer limbs if you help it understand through practice.

Tip #3: You will probably be a “hard gainer” until you get serious about nutrition

Nutrition has grown so fast that what you learn this year could be old news in 5 years. There is literally a new diet every month and new supplements that promise a whole slew of things. But you won’t stop being a string bean until you get serious about what you are eating. The pitfalls of being tall and skinny is that you feel like eating everything is okay and you can get away with it. You are told by family and friends how lucky you are that you can eat all the birthday cake you want and not have any weight issues. What they don’t know is that all when you go to football practice, the coach sees you as “too skinny to play”. What seems like a blessing to adults is actually detrimental to a young athlete in power sports. You see guys like “The Rock” in magazines and see that Dwayne Johnson is a tall guy like you too. The problem with that is that you aren’t Dwayne Johnson. Some people can be tall and pack on mass. But we have narrowed this down to the thousands of kids that can’t pack on that mass. So since you aren’t Dwayne Johnson, go get a notebook. In this notebook, write down what you eat each day leaving out nothing. Find out how information on the food you eat by reading the label and write that down too. Calories, fat, protein, carbs. Total those up with a calculator each day and decide if what you’ve been doing is really helping you get where you want to be.

Chances are, you get this notebook and write everything to find that on Tuesday you ate a lot of calories and carbs. Since you ate so much on Tuesday, you were full on Wednesday and ate half of what you ate the day before. This is a problem because these a big variations. Your body will become what you consistently tell it to be. And if you aren’t consistently telling it to be bigger, then it won’t listen. I can’t stress this enough, get a notebook and keep track of what you are doing and make a plan how to fix what you aren’t doing.

Tip #4 Stop forcing yourself to do certain exercises

Through my time in college, I interned with one of the best strength coaches in the country. He is a well-kept secret by choice, because he’s not in this field to be on Dr. Oz or write for T-Nation. Regardless, the guy is the gospel when it comes to advice on just about anything. I learned olympic lifting was the best way to acquire athletic abilities through him and developed an interest in these lifts because of him. It was the greatest thing I could’ve done for my career because it led me to learning about the world of weightlifting that I had no previous knowledge of before. I was so fascinated by olympic lifting that I wanted to be good at it myself. I tried and tried only to continue finding dead ends and frustration.

I remember trying so hard to be good at some lifts only to see people who I worked with getting better faster. His advice was simple, “Maybe you aren’t cut out to be an olympic lifter”. I was disappointed at this advice because I was so interested in this method of development. I wished I was shorter, I wished my numbers were better, I wished my overhead squat was better. And then, it finally hit me. Maybe I should stop chasing lifts that I would forever struggle with and start working on lifts that I could really excel at like the deadlift. Maybe some lifts are great for some body types and not so great for others. Lifts that require a lot of quickness and speed might not be best suited for tall people. In olympic lifting, the longer the bar has to travel the harder the body has to work in order to make the lift. The deadlift is the same concept, but the longer distance doesn’t necessarily contribute to you missing the lift.

Sure, there are some long-legged guys who can clean and jerk with the best of them. Some of the strongest olympic lifters in the world were tall guys. But I’m focusing on the tall lanky athletes who could try 5 years and never get anywhere with the snatch when they could’ve saved that time and energy on pulling 500 lbs from the earth. Would they not have a strong foundation then? Would they not still have better posture as a result? Could they develop power another way than the olympic lifts? Couldn’t they just perform variations of olympic lifts like high pulls? You see, my mentor knew from experience that you can’t beat a square peg into a round hole. He said that good coaches can find multiple ways to develop athletic qualities without being forced to one way. Good coaches find another way by taking what the athlete gives them.

A last note to the long-legged lifter:

If you are struggling with your body type and can’t find a way around the issues that come up, use these tips to help. I have spent a lot of time learning the hard way hoping that maybe something would magically change after I poured in my effort and outworked the truth. There is a lack of material on this topic creating a need for this article. Why the lack of material? Because long-legged athletes suck at lifting as overall. You can debate me all day, but Dikembe Mutombo ain’t back squatting 500 lbs. And if you forced him to do heavy back squats, you might not be coaching him much longer. But could Dikembe Mutombo have lifted weights? He has a whole list of problems that strength training could’ve possibly addressed with the right program and understanding of the body.

The problem is that most tall athletes just use the old form of HIT style training to pack on mass because it’s easier. It’s either too difficult to teach them to deadlift and back squat, or it would take too much time the strength coach doesn’t have. But what about that athlete needs? What does he or she do when you give them what’s easiest for you? What about the tall baseball pitcher that actually WANTS to learn and develop into a powerhouse? Or the tall high school volleyball player that wants a scholarship to go to college? Hopefully by using these tips that athlete will save some time and start in the right direction. We can’t ignore the fact that kids are getting taller every year and the amount of 7 foot basketball players coming out of high school is growing. Golfers, swimmers, baseball pitchers, football linemen, basketball players are all growing and we need to start looking deeper into biomechanics in order to stay a step ahead. Stay smart, don’t be these guys.

dont do this

 

How to decide which personal trainer is right for your child

What can parents do?

Well first, talk to people and try to find out if it’s possible that there is a qualified personal trainer or strength and conditioning coach in the area. Ask the athlete’s sport coach what are his or her thoughts on getting your child someone that can help develop them physically. Chances are the head coach won’t say, “I am completely against your kid working on getting stronger so they can swim faster”. But this is not to say you should go to your neighborhood YMCA and hire the first personal trainer you see. Training an athlete to improve performances and develop them to succeed takes experience, specialization, and a great deal of education. Once you find a list of names it’s time to do your homework. Here are some questions you need to ask:

1. What is your education background?

2. What are your currently held certifications?

3. What experience do you have working with athletes?

4.What kind of success did those athletes have?

5. What is your philosophy of training?

These questions really get the most bang for your buck when trying to find the right match.

Education is huge because chances are, if they have an education in the field they have spent a lot of time reading and working towards sitting in front of you now. Education isn’t everything, as there are many great strength coaches out there who are “self-made” because of their drive and ambition, but it’s less likely.

Currently held certifications tell you that the trainer has done the minimum required to be hired and is definitely at least qualified to have the conversation. NSCA, NASM, ACE, ACSM are the most popular certification you will see and at least show the fitness professional has gone through a testing process to prove an understanding.

Experience with athletes is now where you really find out if this person can help. Having an education and certifications is great gets you into the conversation, but in order to help your child develop into a better athlete they need to have previous experience actually dealing with an athlete. Not a Crossfit WOD athlete, not a tuesday night bowler, and not someone who casually exercises….I mean an athlete that needs to be able to run fast or they will be tackled, jump high or they will be blocked, throw harder or they will be hit, etc. There is nothing wrong with training the weekend warrior, but there is a very big difference in developing a program that literally makes a human being run a second faster and making a program to do more pull-ups by December. Experience with athletes ensures this person has had to make a program that actually makes someone better, which brings you to the next question. Finding out what kind of success this strength coach had in the past tells you a lot about them also. Lots of people get opportunities to work with athletes and after 2 months get fired for making a cookie cutter fluff program that didn’t cause improvements. Make sure you know what to look for and if this person was any good at doing it in the past.

Finally, finding out the training philosophy or even if the coach has one will let you see how passionate the strength coach is and what they hang their hat on. If his philosophy is “I make everyone big and strong” and your daughter is 13 years old wanting to be a collegiate soccer player, it’s probably best you stop the conversation there. Regardless, these questions give you a blueprint and some kind of idea whether who your speaking with can deliver on whatever promises he or she makes. If your son is a scrawny football player and your personal trainer is promising flexibility and “toning”, save your money for buying your son more chicken breasts at the grocery store.

Using these 5 questions, you should have a pretty good idea if you will be saying “that was money well spent” when hiring a strength and conditioning professional.

Should young athletes lift weights? Part 1-The support system

This topic has been around ever since I can remember. The cautious parent worried that weight training early on will “stunt growth” or “cause injury” to their baby. From the outside looking in, this makes sense because weights are heavy and their child is only a teenager with lots of life ahead of them. But from where I stand as a performance coach seeing champions being crowned as early as 18 years old now, the earlier you start the better.

First of all, nobody wants to force a young kid to lift weights to sacrifice health for winning. Not anyone that I have been around or heard of. Does that exist? Sure. But if you make an argument that lifting weights can hurt your kid, you better start naming 50 other things they did that day that would’ve caused an injury. In fact, research done by MH Stone all the way back in 1990 showed training with weights caused a substantially lower number of injuries caused by sports such as football, gymnastics, or basketball. So if research states that you are far safer weight training than you are playing basketball with friends, why does the negative view still remain?

Research is not just for researchers

My answer to this question is that there is a huge disconnect between parents, coaches, and performance coaches as far as research and science is concerned. Finding a head coach that understands some exercise science is like finding $400 on the ground. Could it happen? Yes. Does it? Very, very rarely. It is because this disconnect between what the caregivers of the athlete that there are so many missed opportunities. A highly skilled baseball player that has great vision, great work effort, but lacks the physical ability to match up with elite athletes could soon be left behind once he leaves the friendly confines of high school. That is why it is so important for parents, coaches, and strength coaches to learn a little bit about each other and get on the same page. There has to be a level of trust that each respective side must have for what the other one does for the athlete. Young athletes will be spending about 40-50% of time with their parents, as opposed to about 20% towards school and 20% towards sports. If you analyze the percentages even further, that 20% spent on sports is realistically more like 15% with the actual sport skill coach and probably 5% with the strength and conditioning coach. So for an athlete like the one mentioned early that has reached his or her peak in the specific sport skill and has so much left to gain physically, it sounds like another story of a player that would’ve got a scholarship or played in college but couldn’t get over the hump. Parents that don’t know where to begin can check out my checklist on what to ask a strength coach before hiring them here.

Facts should trump hearsay

Something that drives me crazy is how unaware people are of their bodies and exercise science. I am constantly in amazement of how much people think they know and how little they actually do. I’m not saying that I blame them, but I’m telling you that once you go through years devoted to learning about the human body it really is like you swallow the red pill and can never go back.

red pill blue pill

I can never unlearn the fact that running everyday for an hour on the treadmill is terrible for the body. But there are parents and even sport coaches out there who will religiously day after day hit that treadmill for an hour and then reject the strength coach’s idea because lifting weights will hurt someone. We need to all get on the same page.

What you don’t need to know

I think everyone should have some sort of idea of what each respective side can do. But, I’m not saying that the parent working 50 hours a week struggling just to drop their daughter off at practice needs to know how the lymphatic system works. I’m not saying that the high school science teacher that also coaches volleyball needs to know the in’s and out’s of family problems. And I don’t think that the strength and conditioning coach needs to throw batting practice and teach the correct arm slot to a pitcher. Once you try to learn too much of someone else’s job, you start overstepping boundaries and issues can arise. I think I can speak for every party involved in this scenario when I say it’s hard enough to do each job without someone else trying to butt in. This is why my advice to each side is to decide general things you believe and hope for the young athlete and then try to find some overlap that each person use their own specific skills to help with. Starting from a general perspective, I think all of these things are reasonable goals every parent, head coach, and strength coach would want for a young athlete. This diagram below gives a good general idea of what I mean:

what we want 2

After sitting down and discussing these things, maybe you realize that the strength and conditioning coach doesn’t have it at all in mind to hurt your child by training them. Also, maybe you start to learn more about the process that it takes to develop a youth athlete and have a greater chance of success.

In reality, there is so much more going on in a middle school/high school aged teenager and it’s going to be in the parent’s best interest to do some homework. This is such a valuable age to start developing physical qualities to help build a foundation for later. But it starts with the support system that the kid has in their corner. So many things are getting poured into their day that what actually comes out depends on what kind of support system they have.

funnel

With boyfriends and girlfriends, popularity and social media, homework and pop quizzes and all other things that go into being a kid these days the quality of what we give them and send them to is up to us. To really dig into finding more out about what the research and science has to say about young athletes lifting, check out Part 2-Research, Science, and what all of it means here. The first step is an open line of communication and an effort to learn a little bit.

References:

Stone MH (1990). Muscle conditioning and muscle injuries. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 22(4):457-462.

Why should you hire me?

I have been educated on the body, the movements, the way it should be. Yet, everyday, I am reminded that exercising the body is something that is constantly overlooked. The question I keeping asking myself is “Is there really a “best” way to do things?”. Any educated person in strength and conditioning would say absolutely. However, when I watch someone who knows very little about angular force of pull or the length-tension relationship, they still seem to do alright. Yes, knowing the length-tension relationship definitely gives us an edge or a faster route to gains and progress. The fact that the football style bootcamp type of neighborhood fitness guru still gets returning customers and somehow gets results points to the idea that progress can be made simply from taking action. Even the most unscientific ways of working the body will cause change. And for those people that are stuck in a 9-5 job with no way of mustering up enough energy to possibly go walk after work, that is good news. It shows me that the body will react positively even if you jump around and do a one-handed one-leg squat pushup 3-ball juggle exercise that the neighborhood guru tells you burns fat off of you. As long as he doesn’t manage to hurt multiple parts on your body, chances are you are burning calories. Heck, Tony Little had a business for years from yelling at you in your living room because he got you to burn more calories than you would’ve without him yelling at you in your living room.

Burning calories is the key to a healthier lifestyle. So why do you need the personal trainer over the neighborhood guy? Because we only have so many days in the year. And what that neighborhood guru masters in is motivation. But it will be very difficult to motivate you out of the sling you’re in. It will be extremely difficult to motivate you when the injuries pile up and his lack of understanding about the body’s adaptive properties kick in. You see, the body is one of the most miraculous things that can be studied. The body will literally adapt to anything you do to ensure that it has found the most efficient way to do that. In the athletic world, this is known as a “compensation”. In the everyday world, this can be explained by the terrible soreness in your hip flexors located on the front of your hips. Why do they always ache in combination with your lower back. Is it a lack of stretching? Sure, let’s try that. But chances are the yoga classes you religiously attend won’t change the fact you spend the better part of the day cramped into an office chair explaining to your body “this is what I want you to make me efficient at”. So what does the body do? Say yes. Hip flexors located at the front of the body shorten as a result of bent knee position a chair puts you in as an acute response to make the body more efficient at sitting. Sitting there long enough, with enough practice, and your hip flexors become chronically shorter. Good luck fixing that with the neighborhood drill sergeant.

What we need is a program that targets the issues that have resulted from your life. Someone who says “what do you do all day?”, and when they hear “Sit in my office chair” they know right away “lower back strength, core strength, hip flexor flexibility, hip mobility” as the things that are most important things you can gain from a workout. 1000 pushups, the 7 minute ab challenge, the squat burpee 3-ball juggle 1-handed cartwheel exercise done on a bosu ball won’t get this done. And that’s why the education is important. Could you shed some pounds doing it on your own? No doubt. But can you be honest from the start and realize you are the reason that you are in the position you are in now? Ouch. It is tough, because rarely are people able to look at themselves in the mirror when they need to. When do you really need to get it done? Now? 10 years from now? Can it wait? Can your family wait? That is up to you. But we will be here when you’re ready.

What is “strength” in Strength & Conditioning?

Define strength.

Depending on who you are, what education you have, or what type of training you do has everything to do with the answer to that question. In school you’re taught strength to be one specific answer that is definable by the textbook you’re working all semester to pay off. That textbook costs so much money, it better be right. Right? But for the people who instead choose to pursue other avenues of strength and conditioning might define it completely different because experience has molded them that way. A personal trainer who has worked with weight loss clients will see that word much differently than the guy working at an olympic training center. The discrepancy between these two people, who at a glance work in the same field, causes lots of confusion between how we evolve as a group. Articles online are available to anyone and everyone looking to continue their education and become better. Yet, even two consecutive articles on the same website will define strength differently based on what group of people the article centers around.

So is strength not an absolute? Does improving strength depend on whether weight loss is also a goal? What if I want to gain the most possible strength at all costs including body fat percentage, aerobic conditioning, mobility? The simple answer to most of these questions is “it depends”. Everything most definitely depends on your goals, and that’s something everything strength & conditioning professional knows. Sometimes, you can be lucky enough to avoid the unclearly defined concept of strength by coaching a group or a team. The group comes in with an understanding that they are in a bootcamp style session and this is what type of training they will receive. Teams involved in competition all need maximum power which is preceded by gaining a foundation of strength to which they can draw that power. But even then, each client in that group class and each athlete on the roster has different needs and different levels at which they can optimally train. Strength training for a 225 lb. linebacker would be different than strength training for a 110 lb. butterfly stroke swimmer.

But I’m not writing this is not to say things that we all know or to give the caffeinated personal trainer reading material that will finally give them a good nights rest. I’m voicing my opinion on a topic that really needs help in our field. I am sick of hearing the word strength used in sentences in which it should not. A brand new client in a gym is working on strength when doing almost any exercise because of the level they are currently at. But, even someone brand new to a gym with some time and hard work will start to need actual strength building exercises. So after we “fix poor movement patterns” and then TRX exercises start to run their course, then what kind of strength do we develop? Ah, functional strength. The common answer for everyone nowadays is that we now give them functional strength. In truth, I think every strength & conditioning coach/personal trainer would agree that we want them to have our clients use the strength they gain out of programs putting us all into the category of wanting “functional strength” for our clients. But again, what the heck does that mean going forward?

I’ve seen people doing 10lb. kettle bell walks and other clients learning the correct technique to pull  weight from the ground. And this my friends, is where we reach out fork in the road. We all were in the same boat when it came to gaining strength for our clients and making sure that they had they gained strength they could use in their daily lives and help them move better and yada yada. But then a barbell with bumpers got dropped a little too loudly and half of our crew jumped on the life boats and headed towards the ever popular way of strength training that includes do extremely difficult movements and finding a way to fit a 10 lb. weight into the movement. When I see someone using a 20lb. kettle bell doing a handstand and scissor kicking like street fighter all at the same time, I think “wow, looks like you worked really hard and got really good at doing a handstand and scissor kicking with a 20lb dumbbell”. I never think of how wonderful a feat of strength that is because if you take that same exact individual and throw them into something else they would have a really difficult time for 6 weeks and then eventually get the hang of it.

I choose to define strength as the amount of lbs or kg’s I throw around. I do this because there is no argument with the bar whether I got stronger using a program. If my program is great, I add more weight to the bar and the bar tells me if I pass or fail. A barbell with plates on it is a lot like a gatekeeper at a toll when you’re driving on the highway to strength. When you’re driving along and you’ve gone the right way and taken the right route, the bar moves and you can continue to the next one. If you’re program consists of one-footed bosu ball jump lunge kettle bell deadbugs….the bar might say “you shall not pass”.

The movement quality enthusiasts might argue that just because you get stronger doesn’t mean you feel better or that are more fit. True, that doesn’t mean that at all. In fact, I’ve never said lifting a barbell isn’t going to actually make you move a little worse in some areas because it probably will. But I would argue that by putting in time and effort into gaining strength that leads into more anaerobic power, I am doing so much more for my overall well-being than any TRX or sub-maximal balance exercise ever will. Lifting a barbell or even heavy dumbbells in the correct exercises not only enhances my body’s physiological system more, but gives me a better opportunity to be successful in whatever life throws at me. Your new trendy exercise on the new trendy equipment that targets my secondary moving gluteal external rotator that looks tight during your analysis won’t matter when push comes to shove and my body as a unit needs to push something heavy. And it won’t matter that my left piriformis is tight, inhibiting my from a completely symmetric way to push my car to the side of the road or whatever the case may be.

So what this rant is really about is to ask that we make an effort to stop using the word “strength” in situations that don’t really mean the word and to start training for strength the right way. There will be arguments that some clients who work all day and just come to train with me to stay in shape and don’t need to use a barbell. My reply to that is, “Do you really think you are not teaching real strength training because of them or because of you?” You see, the problem is not that the client doesn’t want to squat 135 lbs. The problem is that you either don’t know how to teach that person to squat 135lbs., or you just don’t want to spend the time and risk the client becoming frustrated with you for making them learn. And this is where I see the issue in all of this. People either don’t know or don’t want to try. It is because of this that the trainers who do try to show clients the benefit visually and physiologically to squatting 135 lbs correctly. Your client want to lose fat? Bam, front squat/back squat/rdl/push press. Your client want to get faster? Bam, FS/BS/RDL/PP. Your client want to be healthier to be around for their kids? Bam. Any and all goals fall under this way of training and if you would take the time and communicate to your team, your clients, or your members that learning this way of training is by far the best thing they could ever learn in a gym we will all be better for it.

I am sick and tired of hearing that the TRX is used for strength with athletes. I am sick and tired of people wanting to accomplish their goals, and then explain that a barbell or heavy lifting doesn’t somehow factor into that. We need to be better and we need to be better right now. Science is in the process of making huge leaps in the next 10 years in our fields and if we can stick to things that have withstood the test of time, we can accomplish so much more as a group in our fields.

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The Blog of Author Tim Ferriss

Tim Ferriss's 4-Hour Workweek and Lifestyle Design Blog. Tim is an author of 5 #1 NYT/WSJ bestsellers, investor (FB, Uber, Twitter, 50+ more), and host of The Tim Ferriss Show podcast (400M+ downloads)