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Exercise Hacks Ep. 14 - Jump Rope & Sprint Mechanics

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bQj4CnMyU1M[/embed]

Going back once again to the podcast with Clinically Pressed, I mentioned the jump rope as a great tool for developing low grade plyometric qualities in the foot and ankle.

Let's take this a step further and demonstrate how these same qualities apply to sprinting. Front side mechanics or tripe flexion is extremely important to running and sprinting ability. Most people focus on the posterior chain and triple extension with little focus on triple flexion. There is a reason why sprinters spend so much time practicing and rehearsing front side mechanics with marching and skipping drills.

A critical part of triple flexion is dorsiflexion at the ankle. Often you'll see athletes sprint with a lazy foot that isn't brought into dorsiflexion during the gait cycle. This must be addressed and trained accordingly. We want to train an 'active' foot, not a lazy foot. Training an active foot will require cues but the use of external cues such as the jump rope will force an athlete to become more reactive, thus possibly leading to quicker learning of new skills.

The jump rope can be included in skipping drills to develop ideal foot/ankle mechanics as they are necessary for optimal speed and power development. If these qualities aren't trained and mastered then athletic potential will be hard to realize.

 
For more related reading:

https://gallagherperformance.com/health-and-sport-performance-improved-in-5-simple-steps/

https://gallagherperformance.com/a-few-words-on-athletic-development/

https://gallagherperformance.com/what-is-natural-talent/

Summer Grind, Summer Blast

Lately it’s hard to find time to keep up with our blog. Life and business have a way of keeping you busy. Ignoring our social platforms may happen for a period of time, but we always revisit them. If there is one thing I’ve always hoped is that our blog would be informative, educational, and entertaining (at times).

The summer months bring on increased work load. Once May rolls around, we take it up a notch or two at Gallagher Performance. Summer is a grind, but it’s also a blast. We love the grind, love the process. With the volume of high school and collegiate athletes training for strength and performance, along with the patients we see ranging from acute care to rehabilitation to return to play, summer provides tremendous learning opportunities.

Reflecting back on the past several weeks, there are some friendly reminders and lessons learned or re-learn that I wanted to share:

  • Power-speed athletes thrive on power-speed drills and exercises. Just because one can squat or deadlift 500+ doesn’t mean they are explosive and fast. Yes athletes need strength and for many they will need a primary focus on strength training. However, those newly acquired strength levels must also be displayed in more power-speed dominant means such as sprints, jumps, throws as they have greater specificity to athletics than anything barbell related.
  • Athletes need to rapidly absorb force and rapidly generate force and do it on a level of unconscious activation. That brings me to another point of muscle activation. Muscle activation is a craze nowadays and rightly so. The overwhelming majority of the population will benefit tremendously from learning how to activate and integrate muscles such as their tibialis anterior, glutes, and scapular stabilizers to name a few. A lost art in muscle activation seems to be the use of isometrics. There is always an isometric contraction during the amortization phase of movement. Even during the most explosive movements, there is an isometric contraction. Isometrics are also awesome for reprogramming and generating a powerful mind-muscle connection, making isometrics a great tool for performance as well as rehabilitation. We have been utilizing a select few isometric drills for uprighting, motor control, and priming for improved force/strength generation. In a relatively short period of time, they have more than demonstrated significant value.
  • There is a right way to go about training and a wrong way. The right way will always be dependent on the needs of individual and their specific goals. Don't get caught up in hype, trends, and empty promises. Trust the tradition. There is magic in the basics of the barbell, free weights, sprints, jumps, and bodyweight drills. They have stood the test of time. Fads and trends come and go, the basics remain. Using these exercises is one thing, understanding how to structure them in a training plan is another animal in itself. Find a trainer/coach that understands training specificity or else you are simply wasting your time and money.
  • We are problem solvers. Either as a clinician or trainer/coach, the heart of what we do is problem solving. Maybe it’s a matter of ability or effort, but clinicians or trainers either have the ability or they don’t. The ability to problem solve comes from knowledge and experience and even instinct. When it comes to effort, frankly some are just lazy and don’t care to think hard as it complicates their job. Whether it is listening to what a patient/athlete is telling you or just simply watching, you’ve got to process the source of the problem and how you’re going to solve it. When it comes to performance or rehabilitation, everything makes sense. If it is happening there is good reason for it. If we don’t understand it, it doesn’t make sense to us, but it always makes sense. Never dismiss a client or patient as not making sense. Make the effort to make a change. Change your perspective. Learn more.
  • We all need a coach. No one gets through life all on their own. We all have needed mentors and coaches at some point in our life. These may have been parents, family members, close friends, teacher, professors, bosses, etc. If we pursue something of significance, chances are someone helped us along the way. We need the help of others than have more knowledge, more experience, more accomplishments. I have had a number of mentors and coaches. For everything they did for me, I hope I can pass that on to those that I work with in the role as a coach.
  • Take time to get to know your clients and athletes. Show you care about them. We do more than just simply get kids bigger, stronger, or faster. We have an opportunity everyday to connect with our clients and athletes and hopefully make a positive impact. The reward goes far beyond cash flow. It’s about making a difference for the better.
That’s all for now. Thanks for reading and enjoy the grind!

More related reading:

https://gallagherperformance.com/do-you-really-need-more-mobility/

https://gallagherperformance.com/faqs-frequency-avoided-questions-of-strength-conditioning/

Does Practice Make Permanent? How Practice Rewires Your Nervous System

In our younger years, many of us likely heard the expression “Practice Makes Perfect.” This usually came from a parent, coach, or teacher. Some took the saying a step further, adding “Perfect Practice Makes Perfect.” Some even say, "Practice Makes Permanent". Regardless, still the message was clear – if you want to improve, you need to put in some time and focused effort. You need to practice.

But is all about simply practicing or do we need to have a different focus?

Research has provided a better understanding of how practice influences skill development, helping us understand how the nervous system is rewired during the process. While there are many components to consider during the process of motor learning and skill acquisition, in this article we will be discussing how a unique tissue to the nervous system called myelin plays a critical role in the acquisition and mastery of skills.

Practice Rewires the Nervous System
When we are exposed to a movement or sport skill that is new or unfamiliar, the result is typically feeling awkward and uncoordinated. To some degree, we may be apprehensive. This is normal and to be expected. But, as we practice, something happens. Things get smoother, we feel more comfortable, and the movement/skill becomes more natural.

What is happening?

What practice is actually doing is rewiring your nervous system to become more efficient during complex movement tasks through a process called myelination.

The Role of Myelin
Understanding all the intricacies of the nervous system is not the point of this article, but a little background will be helpful. Myelin is a tissue that covers our neurons, the cells that make up the nervous system. Myelin is mostly a fatty substance, with cholesterol being an essential component. It serves to insulate nerve cells and has a characteristic “white” appearance. This is why most people refer to myelin as “white matter” when discussing the nervous system. What science has helped us understand is that myelin improves the speed and strength of nerve signals, meaning that myelinated nerves transmit signals faster than non-myelinated nerves. Myelin helps our nervous system function at a higher level.

Ok, so how do we get myelin onto our nerves?

To begin with, the majority of myelination occurs during the early stages of development. These stages of development occur during the 2-3 years after birth and into early childhood. Children are myelin-generating machines. This can be seen not only in respect to movement, but also with language and comprehension skills as well. Where there is development, you will find myelin. This is why there are critical developmental stages that exist in long-term athletic developmental (LTAD) models. LTAD models help us understand that we cannot make up for lost time. Sure, as we get older we can continue to generate myelin, but it happens at a slower rate and requires more effort. This is why most young athletes who miss critical developmental stages tend to get passed up later in their athletic careers.

So what’s the big deal about critical developmental stages?

It provides children with graded exposure to skills through practice and repetition. The process of practice and repeated effort triggers a pattern of signals through our nervous system. With time and repetition, myelin is produced to increase the speed, strength, and coordination of these nerve signals. It’s a streamlining effect that your nervous system undergoes due to exposure to a repeated sensory stimulus and motor (movement) output.

Practice Makes Myelin, So Practice With Purpose
Understanding the role of myelination in skill acquisition has tremendous implications. Yes, volume and frequency of practice matters, but myelination makes a case for understanding why quality of practice matters. Practicing with an extreme focus on quality is equally, if not more important, than simply practicing a lot. Don’t just practice to practice. Corrections should be made as they are needed. You don’t want to spent the majority of your time practicing bad habits, as bad habits are hard to correct. Bad habits arguably are not permanent. However, the longer they exist, the harder they are to unlearn. Myelin is a big reason why.

In the context of training and sport skill development, if you lift/sprint/jump/practice with poor technique and no one corrects your mistakes, you will be myelinating those nerve pathways – which does you no good and only serves to lowering your athletic potential. Sure you may improve, but you will never reach your true potential. And the longer your bad habits remain, the harder it is to correct them.

The takeaway: practice of movement skills over time causes specific neural pathways to work better via myelination. To improve your performance, you not only need to practice FREQUENTLY, you also must practice CORRECTLY and receive plenty of feedback from a qualified coach so you are able to properly develop your movement and sport skills.
More related reading:

https://gallagherperformance.com/unlock_your_potential_with_this_powerful_tip/

https://gallagherperformance.com/movement-improves-brain-function/

Two Years at Gallagher Performance

April 2015 marks two years since Gallagher Performance opened and with the anniversary on the horizon, I thought it was time to start reflecting back on our second year in business.

All our services from chiropractic to massage to personal training to sports performance training continue to experience steady, consistent success. Sure we do not operate at the volume of more established businesses, but our business model places a greater focus on individualized instruction over pure numbers. To us, business success is not simply measured in terms of client volume or monetary gain. For us, success is also measured by identifying how others have been positively impacted by their experience at GP. This could be in the form of clients experiencing improved self-image and confidence that extends beyond the weight room, improved markers of health, improved ability to perform activities without pain or limitation, avoided surgeries, or learning how you inspired a young athlete to pursue a career in chiropractic or fitness. This is exciting to us and it is humbling to learn how you are making a difference.

In regards to our services, it has been another great year. GP’s chiropractic and rehab therapy has been recognized as one of the best in the Pittsburgh area. Our personal and performance training services continue to generate tremendous results for our clients and athletes. The results keep our clients loyal and the referrals coming in. We have truly cared about delivering quality in all services since we opened. It’s a great feeling to see how much our clients appreciate the attention, know-how, and confidence they receive while working with us. When you focus on quality of service and improving the consumer experience, only good things can happen.

Of all our services, this is most easily observed with our sports performance training. In only two years, we have seen our sports performance training services utilized by a variety of athletes from a growing list of amateur/club organizations, high schools, and colleges. In addition, GP continues to direct the Strength & Conditioning program for the Franklin Regional Hockey Organization.

Here is a glimpse into what types of athletes we have worked with and where they are coming from:

Sports/Events

  • Baseball
  • Basketball
  • Cross Country
  • Football
  • Golf
  • Hockey
  • Lacrosse
  • Physique (Bodybuilding, Bikini, Figure)
  • Powerlifting
  • Soccer
  • Strongman
  • Track and Field (sprint event focus)
High Schools
  • Franklin Regional
  • Greensburg Central Catholic
  • Hempfield
  • Penn Hills
  • Plum
  • Seneca Valley
College Athletes
  • Andrew Brncic, Alderson Broaddus University (NCAA DII) - Football
  • Colin Jonov, Bucknell University (NCAA DI) - Football
  • Colin Childs, California University of Pennsylvania (NCAA DII) - Football
  • Jake Roberge, Northwestern University (NCAA DI) - Soccer
  • Ben Dipko, Slippery Rock University (NCAA DII) - Football
  • Christian Wilson, Mount St. Mary’s (ACHA DIII) - Hockey
  • Ryan Grieco, Lake Erie College (NCAA DII) - Baseball
  • Evan James, Penn State University Greater Allegheny (NCAA III) - Baseball
  • Dante Luther, Washington & Jefferson University (NCAA DII) - Football
  • Charan Singh, University of Massachusetts (NCAA DI) – Football
We could continue on about each of these athletes, but suffice it to say that we are very proud of each of them, their work ethic, their character, and what they’ve accomplished.

Another Year in the Books
In wrapping up, we acknowledge that GP would not be what it is without the consistent support we receive. A sincere thank you goes out to all you – clients/athletes, parents, family, friends, social media followers, and professional colleagues – for your continual support over the past two years. Special thanks to our marketing firm, 4C Technologies, for their continual support and expertise. We also want to extend a huge thank you to Diamond Athletic Club for being second to none and providing us the venue to operate as a business. Without you all, GP would not be what is today, and we look forward to many more years to come.

More related reading:

https://gallagherperformance.com/four-years-gallagher-performance/

Why We Aren't Popular

Ryan and I have been fortunate to be influenced and mentored by some great coaches and athletes when it comes to the understanding of athletic development. There is no doubt that they have had a substantial impact on our abilities and coaching methodologies. Even with all the great mentors and book smarts, the lessons learned from being competitive athletes ourselves has had a significant impact on our coaching methodologies as well. From the point of view of an athlete, all that matters is wins and losses. At the end of the day, being an athlete is about developing your body’s potential for higher levels of performance. There are many coaches and many systems that currently exist which will have you believe their system is the only system. And they can be very good at it. With the amount of information that exists today in regards to developing strength, speed, power, etc., it’s not surprising why many trainers and coaches are doing their best to make the most “noise”. Noise may get you attention, but ensuring meaningful results is another story.

I find complete arrogance to exist when trainers or coaches speak in terms of absolute laws when it comes to specific systems or movements and their necessity for enhancing sport performance. For example, when one takes on the stance of broadly advocating movements such as Olympic lifts or powerlifting-based programs with a primary emphasis on the squat, bench press, and deadlift to develop strength-speed attributes of athletes, it must be examined very closely. There are many popular programs that exist today that can promise increased performance on a number of levels. It's all about selling a product. However, what escapes most is the fact that no element of an athletic development program should be carelessly added into the mix. You can't just randomly select a program based on it's popularity or how your buddy responded to it. You should not just add in something because someone told you to do so or you read it online.

What a lot of trainers, coaches, and athletes do not understand well enough is the impact movement has on the CNS. Movements such as the Olympic lifts, squat, bench press, and deadlift can all impose a significant amount of stress upon the central nervous system (CNS). The high CNS demand is generated from the necessity to execute these movements against maximal weights or submaximal weights at maximal velocity. The intent is to develop varying degrees of strength-speed qualities. It should be emphasized at this point that the typical athlete can adapt to only 2-3 CNS stressors at one time. Keep in mind, CNS stressors are not limited to physical training such as weightlifting, sprinting, jumping, etc. CNS stressors will also include practice, games, competitive events, and time devoted to sport-skill acquisition. These all come with a cost to the athlete’s CNS reserves. Understand that the athletes will take a significant beating from practice and competition. So any strength and conditioning work that is integrated into sport work will also draw heavily on the CNS. Trainers and coaches must accept the fact that they end up losing something in the weight room. But whether it is due to ego or fear of losing specific performance markers, there are many cases in which trainers or coaches may overly stress their athletes in the weight room, eventually leading to negative performance outcomes.

The importance is this: introducing movements, such as the Olympic lifts or variations of the powerlifts, while an athlete is focusing on more important tasks, such as developing sport skill, can come with negative consequences.

Now don't get me wrong. The utilization of the Olympic lifts, squat, bench, and deadlift have been used by elite athletes around the world. They more than serve their purpose in developing qualities that power-speed athletes desire. However, they should not be applied without first understanding the context. Sure an athlete may become stronger in the squat, bench, or clean, but are they performing at new levels on the field? Is their new strength level transferring into improved acceleration, speed, or power outputs in competition? Has the process of achieving increased strength interfered with their sport performance all because it was poorly planned?

This is exactly why educating athletes on what they need to focus on at the appropriate times during the competitive calendar is such a huge part of the process at Gallagher Performance. Young athletes want to work hard, but they need direction. The same can be said for any of our training clients, regardless of their training goals. They are all willing to put in the work provided it pushes them towards their goals. We have no “system” to sell our athletes and clients on. We address their needs while providing them the understanding of the sensitivity of the process. This, in turn, creates a more educated, more independent individual who understands how to achieve their goals despite all the noise and nonsense that exists in the fitness industry.

Sure many of our posts and articles may not be the most "popular" or most "liked". We don't give away a lot of information like other popular sites. We don't have a popular ebook. We don't give out sample training programs that are easy to follow or apply because the context will vary for everyone. One person may apply it and see tremendous results, while another may see no significant improvements. Rather, we write with the goal to educate. When it comes to fitness-related writing, it is definitely more popular to give people "fish" rather than "teaching them how to fish". This could be considered a bad business model when you look at what is deemed as successful in the fitness industry. So if teaching people how to be more sustainable on their own is not popular, we can live with that.

More related reading:

https://gallagherperformance.com/thinking-of-taking-your-child-to-a-trainer-read-this-first/

https://gallagherperformance.com/learn-how-to-spot-the-fitness-frauds/

The Hidden Causes of Sports Injury

The purpose of this article is to provide some basic information about the importance of understanding the role posture and function have in pain, injury, and movement dysfunction. The hope is that you will gain an understanding of why your chiropractor or therapist must evaluate and bring into consideration issues that may not seem related to your pain.
Patients come to us with symptoms and we want to get to the source of their symptoms. In addition to providing relief through manipulative therapy and treating muscular adhesions, it can prove to be incredibly valuable to identify the source of their symptoms. In my experience, the source of a client or patient’s symptoms is often found in painless dysfunction of the motor system.

All too common, providers become reductionist in their evaluation and treatment of the motor (aka musculoskeletal) system. In order to provide long-term solutions and minimize reoccurrences, a holistic or global approach to evaluating functional capacity is needed to identify what is driving pathology in the motor system. This concept is of critical importance when you understand that the majority of motor system pathologies exist because the demands of activity exceed the individual’s capacity. If the demands upon the motor system are at a high level, then capacity must be even higher. Even if demands are relatively low, capacity still must exceed the level of the demand. If there is a capacity “shortage”, the result is a higher injury risk. In musculoskeletal care, one of the greatest challenges is identifying functional capacity “shortages” and how to address them during the course of conservative treatment to provide both immediate and sustainable results.

Professor Vladimir Janda and Dr. Karel Lewit pioneered the process of identifying functional pathology within the motor system. The model is in contrast to the traditional North American orthopedic model, which focuses on structural pathology (ex: disc herniations, rotator cuff injury, labral tears, etc.) as the reason for pain and impairment. But simply focusing on structural pathology can take your eyes away from identifying key reasons as to why they developed in the first place.

Outside of structural pathologies, the functional approach to managing motor system pathologies includes identifying joint dysfunction, muscular imbalances, trigger points, and faulty movement patterns. Faulty movement patterns are protective movements that form in response to pain or the anticipation of pain. These are often the hidden causes of injury, the reasons why many structural pathologies occur. Czech physician Vladimir Janda likened musculoskeletal pain and dysfunction as a chain reaction, thus stressing the importance of looking beyond the site of pain for the source of pain. Janda observed that due to the interactions of the skeletal system, muscular system, and central nervous system (CNS), dysfunction at any one joint or muscle is reflected in the quality and function of joints/muscles throughout the entire body. This opens the door to the possibility that the source of pain may be distant from the site of pain.

Janda also recognized that muscle and connective tissue are common to several joint segments; therefore, movement and pain are never isolated to a single joint. He often spoke of “muscular slings” or groups of functionally interrelated muscles. Muscles must disperse load among joints and provide stabilization for movement, making no movement truly isolated. This ultimately is the reason why many providers within physical medicine are catching onto the saying, “Stop chasing pain.” Chasing pain and other symptoms (ex: tightness, stiffness, restricted movement) may provide short-term relief, but are you providing long-term results?

A common intervention in the rehabilitation of motor system pathology is therapeutic exercise and resistance training. These exercises are used to help restore any number of neuromuscular qualities, such as endurance, strength, and motor control. But often, even in a rehab setting, exercises fail to progress a patient in the recovery process. Sometimes, the application of exercise can make a patient's condition worse. Similarly, many people with the intention of being healthy and wanting to help their body “feel better” will use resistance training in their exercise regimen. Working out, exercising, strength training should improve our state of muscle balance, right? Sure they get the cardiovascular, endocrine, and psychological benefits of exercise, but they start to wonder why all their exercising is only making certain areas of their body feel worse. This is why it’s important to learn that unless exercising occurs in a thoughtful manner, based on a functional evaluation of movement and capacity, the benefits of reducing injury risk, improving posture, enhancing motor control, and restoring muscular balance will be difficult to achieve.

For example, what Janda discovered is the tendency for certain muscles within the body to become tight and overactive, while others have the tendency to become weak and underactive. So if someone is performing general exercises, the brain will select the muscles that are already tight to perform the majority of the work. This is a phenomenon knows as “compensation” or “substitution”. Muscles that are already chronically overused will continue to be overused, leading to greater risk of an overload injury. The muscles that are “weak” have developed a sensory-motor amnesia that will not correct itself unless the exercise is carefully selected and tailored to activate these dormant muscles. Such exercises emphasis the quality of the movement pattern over any prescribed number of sets or reps. The eye of the provider can’t be focused on isolated impairments, but on finding the motor control error. Finding the hidden causes of injury or motor system dysfunction.

Remember, what enhances performance also reduces injury. Finding the solutions to enhancing performance will often address hidden motor system dysfunctions. If you are training for athletic performance, you must build functionally specific or sport-specific capacity. If you are recovering from injury, you must build function rather than solely focusing on palliative measures and treating the site of symptoms. In either scenario, you are building a better athlete and fast tracking the rehabilitation process by taking a functional approach to motor system dysfunction.

More related reading:

https://gallagherperformance.com/powerful-innovative-approach-improving-body-functions/

https://gallagherperformance.com/the-importance-of-functional-evaluation/

The Value of In-Season Training for Athletes

 



The need for focused off-season training is well accepted. However, outside of the professional and collegiate ranks, the same cannot be said for in-season training. This is truly one of the greatest sources of misinformation that exists when it comes to progressive athletic development and minimizing the number of non-contact related sport injuries. Routine in-season training can benefit young athletes in a number of ways.

With the majority of our athletes wrapping up their off-season preparation and starting camps in the next couple weeks, we get several questions from these athletes and their parents about what 'should' or 'should not' be done during the season to continue progressing in an athletic development model.

For starters, we establish how critical in-season training is for any athlete. This is not a sales pitch, it's the truth. In-season training may not have the same public acceptance as off-season training, but that does not mean it is not valuable.

In-season training has been shown to not only maintain or improve physical qualities (strength, speed, power, etc.) developed during the off-season preparatory period, but it can improve the rate of recovery between competition and maintain healthy muscle/connective tissue qualities as well.

What does that all mean?

Continue reading

How to Develop Physical Fitness

Recently, I was having a conversation with one of our clients about what it takes to be ready to compete in sport. The conversation mostly centered around athletics and how to be in the best "condition" possible. Specifically, this client was talking about certain people they know and hold in high regard as having a high level of physical fitness. All was going well until they said something very interesting.

In regards to someone they know, they said, "Man, are they fit. They are probably the most fit person I know."

When I asked them what makes that individual the "most fit" person they know, they just stared blankly back at me. There was no response and you could see the wheels churning away trying to figure out the answer.

Fitness is a craze nowadays. Women want to be fit. Men want to be fit. Athletes want to be fit. People want to be fit. Health clubs, personal trainers, smart phone apps, and infomercials want to sell you on becoming more fit. Slogans such as “Forging Elite Fitness” and titles such as “Fittest Man on Earth” or “Fittest Woman on Earth” make the concept of fitness very intriguing. Many people have come to believe fitness is a complex process. To most, the idea of “fitness” brings to mind someone who is muscular, lean, strong, and has stamina for days. This “idea” of fitness seems to be nothing but mere marketing and often leads people down the road of overcomplicating their exercise or training program.

So, that begs the questions, "What is fitness?"

Physical fitness is actually quite simple if we define fitness as “the quality of being suitable to fulfill a particular physical task”. If your task is to compete in the 100m dash, then your fitness levels must enable you to successfully compete in that event. If your task is to start in the NFL, then your fitness must enable you compete at your highest level possible week after week.

Developing Physical Fitness
Physical fitness is achieved during the process of physical preparation or how prepared you are for competition. The ultimate goal of physical preparation is to have each athlete at their best during competition and is accomplished via a systematic process to promote adaptations that raise levels of both fitness and preparedness. Fitness adaptations thus follow the SAID principle (Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands). Meaning, if you want to gain muscle, get stronger, and be more explosive, you better be sprinting, jumping, throwing, and lifting weights to allow those specific adaptations to occur. The SAID principle also means that an athlete’s level of fitness should always be specific to their sporting demands.

Debating who is the most “fit” athlete or individual on the planet is a ridiculous conversation. How can someone say that an NHL defensemen who plays almost 30 minutes per game over an 82 game is more or less fit than an Olympic caliber decathlete? How is that Olympic decathlete more fit than a Navy SEAL? How is a Navy SEAL less fit than the “Fittest Man on Earth”? How is the winner of the Boston Marathon more fit than the World’s Strongest Man?

Do you see what I am getting at?

An athlete’s fitness levels (strength, power, stamina, energy system development, etc.) will always be specific to what is required by their primary sport form. Just because someone is the “Fittest Man on Earth” does not mean they will have the ability to withstand the demands of competing within another sport at elite levels. Personally, the “Fittest Man/Woman on Earth” title would be better renamed to “Fittest CrossFitter on Earth” because that’s all the title means. The notion that elite fitness in one event or sport is somehow superior to the fitness required in another is either arrogant or ignorant (possibly both).

Understanding Physical Fitness Adaptations
To better understand physical fitness and the specific adaptations that result from training, we must first consider the training system commonly used to achieve improvements in endurance, strength, and power. This training system is known as concurrent training. Concurrent training is defined as, “the simultaneous inclusion of strength training and endurance training within the same program.” Concurrent training may be a necessary means for some athletes and individuals. However, for most, the application of concurrent training is widely misunderstood and poorly organized in the pursuit of all things “fitness”. They want to improve endurance, so they do a lot of aerobic exercise. They may run, bike, or swim for hours each week. They also want to get lean and strong, so they lift weights 2-4 times per week. These are the people who train and train and train, yet fail to see significant improvements in any number of neuromuscular adaptations.

Aerobic and strength adaptations are very divergent. The human body is simply not capable of adapting appropriately to two very different training stimuli. You can go run for a long period of time or you can be explosive and strong from weight training. Now, I understand nobody wants to be both an elite marathon runner and Strongman. However, there are people who want high levels of aerobic capacity while also becoming muscular and strong at the same time. Unfortunately, many of these same people plateau quickly or fail to see significant improvements because concurrent training attenuates muscular growth, strength, and power gains. There is an interference effect created when one attempts to simultaneously improve both aerobic fitness and neuromuscular qualities such as strength and power. The training approach is doomed from the beginning if specificity and attention to detail in training organization does not enter the picture.

To understand why, we must then understand the competing long-term adaptations that occur from strength training and endurance training.

Competing Long-Term Adaptations
1) Strength Training (short duration, high force output)

  • Neural Adaptations – synchronous firing, recruits large populations of motor units, rapid rates of force development, improve rate coding
  • Endocrine Adaptations – Growth Hormone (GH) and Testosterone release, anabolic environment, stimulation of satellite cell activation and muscle protein synthesis
2) Aerobic Training (long duration, low force output)
  • Neural Adaptations – asynchronous firing, recruits small populations of motor units, slow rates of force development
  • Endocrine Adaptations – impaired anabolic hormone signaling, elevated Cortisol and catabolic hormone production, inhibition of mammalian target of rapamyacin (mTOR), essentially shutting down the pathways for stimulating muscle protein synthesis
This means that regardless of whether you perform aerobic exercise and strength training in separate sessions or during the same exercise session, the results can be negative depending on your “fitness” goals or needs as an athlete.

Fitness is Specific
Physical fitness is thus specific to the end goal of physical preparation. The physical preparation of an American football player should be different than that of an MMA fighter. Football players do not need to have the "fitness" levels of MMA fighters. Each of these athletes must develop their physical fitness qualities to meet the demands of their sport. Consider that American football players must develop power-speed qualities that are essential to their success at high levels of competition. Some trainers and coaches feel that some of their football players need better aerobic fitness or conditioning, so they have them perform high volumes of gassers or long distance runs in the off-season. As said before, this can prove to be a huge mistake. Being "fit" for football has very little to do with how many gassers you can complete, how fast you can run three miles, or what your Fran time is.

The same is true for other power-speed athletes (hockey, baseball, lacrosse, sprinters, throwers, etc.) Senseless and poorly implemented aerobic conditioning will have negative impacts on the neuromuscular qualities needed for successful participation in these sports. These qualities are important to their “fitness” as an athlete. Sure, go ahead and perform endless miles of running or biking. Go on with your absurd amounts of circuit-based training. But when you rob these athletes of their ability to develop higher levels of strength, speed, and power, it should be no surprise as to why it happened. Aerobic fitness cannot be prioritized to the point that more important qualities (strength, speed, and power) suffer.

But, isn’t a decent aerobic conditioning base essential for these athletes as well?

Yes. However, there are more optimal ways to develop their aerobic energy systems to meet the demands of their sport. Don't make the mistake of assuming aerobic capacity is the same as being "fit". Aerobic energy system development will always be specific to the athlete's needs. Similar to resistance training, aerobic development should be periodized and appropriately dosed to developed the specific energy system demands without impairing performance.

Conclusion
Fitness is not simply achieved by going nuts, but rather being productive in specific approaches to your sporting demands. If you are unsure of how to appropriately address your fitness goals or needs as an athlete, then first start with a knowledgeable coach who understands the complexities of physical preparation for sport and is able to guide you in the process. For some, the concept of fitness requires a bit of a “reality check”. Sure you may want it all. You want the elite level endurance, strength, speed, and power. But, often this is not realistic. Prioritize your fitness goals and address them accordingly in specific phases of training. This process requires patience.

Remember, fitness is a highly specific quality that is ultimately dependent upon the physical preparation process for your sport of participation. Understand your training must mirror your demands for sport. If training is not addressing your specific needs as an athlete, you are wasting your time. Don't let some general or poorly defined concept of "fitness" guide your training.

More related reading:

https://gallagherperformance.com/physical-preparation-vs-fitness/

https://gallagherperformance.com/the-truth-about-functional-exercise/

https://gallagherperformance.com/ultimate-runners-guide-to-injury-prevention/

Physical Preparation vs Fitness: Know the Difference

For athletes new to GP, physical preparation is a term that is unfamiliar to them. Sure they are familiar with “strength and conditioning” or “speed and strength” programs. Many of these athletes come from high schools and colleges that have a strength and conditioning (S&C) coach. If they do not have the luxury of having a S&C coach at their high school, they are often familiar with the “Bigger, Faster, Stronger” programs that many coaches hand out to their players, especially our football players.

There is a movement within the S&C industry that has more and more coaches referring to themselves as coaches of “physical preparation”. The concept of physical preparation, as it pertains to athletes, incorporates much more than simply strength and conditioning. Buddy Morris, current Head Strength/Physical Preparation Coach for the Arizona Cardinals, has said:

“We're coaches of physical preparation. What we do encompasses more than just conditioning and strength. There are a lot of variables we have to look at it with each individual athlete and each individual group. In this country, I think if anything, we place too much emphasis on strength. I'm not downplaying the importance of strength, but I think we put too much emphasis on it and too much volume."
Physical preparation accounts for both performance enhancement as well as injury reduction measures. It's important to us that our athletes understand the concepts of physical preparation and why the services and training they are receiving at GP have only one goal in mind: to prepare each individual athlete to meet the demands of their sport and competitive season.

From an outsider’s viewpoint, our programs may look very simple. And depending on the athlete’s age and training experience, our programs can be very oriented on the fundamentals. But the biggest mistake our athletes can make is assuming simple means easy. Our programs are very demanding.

Physical preparation is one area where many programs fall short in their attempt to develop athletes. Young, well-intentioned athletes want to improve their current fitness and/or strength levels. This is all well and good, but what some coaches and athletes must understand is there is a difference between fitness and preparation. It's one thing to be "fit", it's an entirely different story when it comes to be prepared for sport competition.

Preparation vs Fitness
I recently was given the privilege of developing and coordinating the off-season strength/physical preparation program for the Franklin Regional ice hockey teams. To say I am honored would be an understatement and it is a huge compliment to our business. This is a tremendous undertaking and one that comes with many challenges. Many of these young hockey players are novices when it comes to strength training, needing a solid foundation of stability, strength, and neuromuscular control. Others have more training experience and also play for other amateur hockey organizations in the Pittsburgh area. Some of these kids play 60+ games a year. Understanding the stress their bodies endured during the competitive calendar and collision nature of the sport must be considered in the development of their training program to promote continual adaptation and proper preparation for the upcoming season.

This is where the development and preparation of the athlete must match the biodynamic and bioenergetic demands of the sport of ice hockey, not merely developing “fitness” or “strength” levels. Considerations of biodynamics (biomechanics, kinematics, and kinetics) will govern what exercises are used in the development of the athlete. Bioenergetics characterizes the nature and contribution of the human bioenergy systems towards training and competitive actions.

The development of physical abilities and specialized work-capacity will be specific to the training stimulus. This follows the SAID principle (Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands). To help us understand the concept of specialized work capacity and how truly specific the development of “fitness” levels can be, let’s consider the nature of most team sports.

When considering the physical abilities that make an athlete successful in sports such as hockey, soccer, basketball, and lacrosse, what comes to mind is speed, power, strength and anaerobic-alactic capacity. To achieve athletic potential, all these abilities are necessary to train and develop so that physical abilities match the demands of sport.

What is not listed above and often a missing component in many S&C programs is developing the athlete’s ability to accelerate or how quickly an athlete can increase their speed. It is a rare occurrence in hockey, as with other team sports, that an athlete reaches top speed and must sustain that for an extended period of time. What you see far more often is that the ability to accelerate is a constant factor in athletic success.

Charlie Francis stated that most 100m sprinters do not reach top speed until 60m into the race. In other words, these athletes are accelerating for the first 60m of the race. This is not just true of sprinters, but the majority of other athletes as well and this has implications on their training.

According to Coach Francis, the major requirements for the 100m race are broken down as follows:
  • Start/acceleration: 0-30m
  • Speed/maximum velocity: 30-60m
  • Speed endurance: 60-100m
Training Implications
In this day and age, the marketing of gimmick products or programs towards athletes is driving much of the training industry. High-speed treadmills, High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) programs, speed/agility schools are designed to increase pocket books, yet often can fail to deliver promises on performance enhancement when it comes to speed, acceleration, power, strength, or energy system development as they relate to a specific sport.

The ability to accelerate has major implications for explosive, alactic-aerobic sports. Athletes participating in these sports must have the ability to perform repeated bouts of acceleration and recover quickly. Acceleration ability is trained through plyometrics, acceleration training, and strength training. The ability to recover quickly is developed through proper energy system development of both the aerobic and alactic components. This doesn’t mean that an athlete needs a separate and specialized program for each of these components to be trained. Rather it means a well-organized and structured program must account for biodynamic elements, acceleration/speed, plyometrics, strength training, and an understanding of the positional bioenergetic (energy system) demands of the sport. These attributes must be understood and trained accordingly.

 
Related Articles:

Are You in Need of More Intelligent Training?
Why Athletes Should Avoid HIIT Programs
Common Mistakes in Developing Young Athletes
Don't Fall for the Speed Trap

Thinking of Taking Your Child to a Trainer? Read this First

In order to meet the demands of working with athletes of all levels of preparation, the services at GP are constantly evolving and adapting on many levels. When it comes to the physical preparation of our athletes, there is no single program or method we use with every athlete. We are constantly assessing each athlete from day to day, learning what he or she is capable of performing during any given training session. Constantly assessing our athletes during their dynamic movements also allows us to identify weakness and address them accordingly from both an injury prevention and performance enhancement perspective.

Our approach can often times be a source of both intrigue and confusion for parents and their young athletes, since the majority of them are all too familiar with a ‘one-size fits all’ approach. Many of these athletes even come with ‘cookie-cutter’ strength and conditioning programs given to them by their coach or previous trainer. It becomes our job to explain our approach to training and athletic development and why these ‘cookie-cutter’ programs fail to address individual needs of each athlete. After explaining why each individual athlete requires their own individualized approach and why no two athletes will respond similarly to the same program, it makes sense to them. They often find this very refreshing. What doesn’t make sense to them is how so many coaches and trainers are ignorant of this fact.

In an interview with Buddy Morris, Joel Jamison addressed the heart of the matter by saying,

“Coaches and trainers maybe don’t do the best job of understanding the needs of the sport and they tend to let their athletes over train because of the….push of this country is more intensity, the quick buck, the fast results. The other thing I think that’s influenced our industry probably negatively more than anything else is the marketing aspect. That there’s products, and there’s training methods, and there’s everything being pushed to athletes and coaches from a marketing perspective. We’ve all seen the cross fits, the P90 Xs, all the functional training stuff. It’s the marketing driving the training rather than the training driving the results or the results being based on something scientific.”
Buddy Morris, now the Head Physical Preparation coach for the Arizona Cardinals, had this to say in response,
”We're trying to create circus acts in this country so, like you said, people can generate revenue. So if you actually read and you understand training methodics and you understand the athlete and training the athlete, you won’t buy into all this stuff out there.”
In my opinion, Joel and Buddy nailed the central issue when it comes properly preparing athletes not just when it comes to training, but ultimately for competition. Within the US, there’s a tremendous lack of scientific influence when it comes to the training and preparation of athletes. This is not always true of each coach or trainer, but it certainly is more common than not. The exact opposite was true of the former Soviet Union and the preparation of their athletes. The USSR’s dominance of international athletics can be attributed to a superior coaching education system and the development of highly sophisticated, multi-year training regimens that focused on long-term development over short-term results.

What the Soviets understood very well is that athletes are never immediately better after the training they just performed. Buddy Morris likens the training process to a ‘slow cooker’, emphasizing that results are best achieved with periods of gradual loading and de-loading to allow the athlete to accommodate to the stress of training. The stress of training is a poorly misunderstood concept as seen by the lack of planned restoration/recovery within many programs. Programs must account for high stressors and low stressors because athletes cannot be loaded with CNS (Central Nervous System) intensive exercises or drills everyday. This is a huge mistake and one that is characteristic of far too many programs.

Young athletes may be able to get away with this for one reason and one reason only, they have youth on their side. Young athletes are capable of handling enormous amounts of volume in training. However, this does not serve as a justification for this type of programming. It only serves as an explanation as to why older athletes who practice the same training methods they utilized when they were younger tend not to see the same results or are more likely to over-train or burnout. You’re not going to be able to train an older athlete like a younger athlete. Older athletes have attained higher levels of mastery, thus they require different training approaches with more focus given to recovery and restoration. This is why consistently analyzing programs when it comes to exercise effectiveness is invaluable. If there’s not a good reason for doing an exercise, get rid of it. The human body has a finite amount of resources, why waste them on unnecessary training?

To illustrate this, Buddy Morris speaks of Bruce Lee and how people could not understand how he continually improved as a fighter, even as he got older. Bruce Lee simply got more specialized in his training, he tossed aside all the unnecessary work in order to be more directed. Bruce Lee was famous for saying, “Don’t fear the man with 1,000 moves. Fear the man with one move that he’s practiced 1,000 times.”

These thoughts and philosophies when it comes to the preparation of young athletes are not at all unique to GP. There is a growing number of coaches and trainers that share these same beliefs. We are simply doing our best to educate the public at large. The more we can help open people’s eyes and get them to understand the broader picture of athletic development, it will only provide more quality training services and allow people to see through the nonsense and marketing tactics.

 
More related reading:

https://gallagherperformance.com/why-specificity-in-your-training-plan-matters/

https://gallagherperformance.com/why-athletes-should-avoid-hiit-programs/

https://gallagherperformance.com/understanding-the-benefits-and-concerns-of-youth-strength-training-programs/

 

Athletes Must Understand This to Be Successful

The emphasis of many athletic development programs is typically rooted in developing the physical qualities needed in the sport of competition. Physical qualities usually emphasized are endurance/work capacity, strength, body awareness, agility, quickness, speed, and explosive power. Improvements made in any of the previously mentioned physical qualities can certainly improve an athlete’s fitness and physical preparedness for competition. But great athletes are rarely defined by their level of fitness and how ‘in-shape’ they are. They are defined by their ability to play the game and perform the skills of the sport. Great coaches and trainers understand this, being able to take an athlete’s newly developed physical qualities and transfer them to into improved skill execution or technical mastery of sport related movements.

This is accomplished by specificity of training.

In order to ensure specificity of training, it is first necessary to determine the exact physical qualities an athlete is in greatest need of. Many coaches and trainers refer to this as ‘identifying the deficiency’. Once the deficiency is identified and an understanding is developed as to how the deficiency is limiting on-field performance, the deficiency can be trained appropriately.

To identify deficiencies, the majority of coaches and trainers utilize tests to determine an athlete’s level of strength, endurance, explosiveness, and even flexibility. While these tests are often necessary and provide quantitative information that will help assess how an athlete stacks up in comparison to others, what these tests fail to indicate is how efficiently an athlete can perform sport-specific skills or maneuvers.

Physical performance tests fail to indicate an athlete’s needs in relation to game performance. To ensure transfer of training into improved sport performance, identifying an athlete’s developmental needs must take into account an analysis of all components involved in successful competition. Often, this involves a complete biomechanical analysis of movements related to sport-skill execution.

For example, the deep squat is often a staple of many strength and conditioning programs. It can be a tremendous exercise for building hip strength and power and for a variety of other reasons. But when you examine the sport-related movements of many athletes, one can come to the determination that the need to deep squat is not a priority for many athletes. Consider hockey and basketball players. These sports require hip external rotation strength and power to execute sport-specific movements (skating, lateral cuts, change of direction, etc.). Rather than placing greater and greater emphasis on improving strength in the deep squat, these athletes will be better served in developing hip external rotation through other exercises which more closely mimic the external rotation demands of the hips in competition.

Again, great athletes are rarely the strongest or the fittest. There are studies that demonstrate Olympic-level athletes and World Record holders are not the strongest athletes (with the exception being in strength sports such as powerlifting and Olympic weightlifting). Athletes on the highest levels of performance do not lift the greatest amount of weight in commonly used exercises, such as the clean, squat, bench, or deadlift.

More commonly, athletes will fall in the midrange of strength numbers. What this is demonstrating is a ‘point of diminishing returns’. Many athletes reach a point at which increases in strength or other physical qualities do not always equate to improved sport performance.

Successful athletes must be able to execute sport skills with technical mastery and precision. Regardless if you are a hockey, football, soccer, lacrosse, baseball, tennis or track athlete, you need great acceleration, speed, agility (ability to change direction quickly), and the ability to jump high (which also requires explosive power). But arguably most important is the ability to perform all sport skills with mastery and precision of movement.

An athlete will never be successful if they do not have the ability to execute sport skills successfully. This is why technique must be closely analyzed and why the training of physical qualities must directly enhance the performance of sport-specific skill execution.

Analyzing an athlete’s sport skill technique and the demands of game play becomes a necessary first step to determine exactly what their training program should consist of. Often to correct and/or enhance technique, special strength exercises are implemented to develop the specific strength an athlete needs to execute movements more efficiently.

We addressed special strength exercises in this article. Special strength exercises are intended to replicate the exact neuromuscular pathways utilized in the execution of specific sport skills.

With proper analysis and identifying the ‘deficiency’ of the athlete, it enables the training program to have greater transfer into sport performance. The training program is continually adjusted as improvements in strength, speed, agility, and explosive power are integrated into technical mastery of skill execution.

Related Articles:

Training for Elite Athletes
Common Mistakes in Developing Young Athletes

Why Athletes Should Avoid HIIT Programs

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is a system of training characterized by high-intensity resistance or metabolic training with short/incomplete rest periods in between working sets. An example of HIIT is often advocated by Crossfit WODs (workout of the day) and other similar programs.

According to the American College of Sports Medicine, HIIT is now the most popular fitness trend. HIIT has tremendous appeal to those looking to shed unwanted body fat and ‘lean up’ or ‘get in shape’ quickly because of its ability to burn body fat more efficiently. HIIT has been shown to produce greater improvements in both aerobic and anaerobic capacity with less overall training volume when compared to individuals who only perform steady-state aerobic exercise. In the public eye, a huge upside to these workouts is they typically take less than 30 minutes to complete. Sounds too good to be true, right?

However, what is rarely if ever mentioned, is the number of injuries sustained by participants.

In my opinion and experience, which may be similar to what others are also observing, the number of injuries associated with HIIT appears to be on the rise. What is especially significant to note is that these injuries are often debilitating in nature.

Not only is HIIT growing in popularity among the general population, but it also seems to be a growing trend among athletes. The point of this article is to discuss why HIIT is not an appropriate training program for athletes and provide some insight into why athletes should avoid programs that advocate high-frequency application of HIIT methods.

Why Athletes Should Avoid HIIT
First and foremost, when training with heavy weights or performing complex motor skills (i.e. jumps, throws, sprints) it is highly critical that proper technique is learned during the initial stages of training. This is the key to not only continual development in regard to strength and all other physical abilities, but is fundamental to injury prevention.

Proper technique is the key to ensuring that strength developed becomes more useful not just in athletic skills, but also in everyday activities. For athletes, proper technique serves as the foundation for efficient execution of sport-related movement skills.

So why does HIIT fail athletes?

What appears to be most important in HIIT is overcoming a prescribed amount of resistance or finishing a prescribed number of reps in a designated amount of time, regardless of how it is done. From the start, HIIT does not place technique as the number one priority. For your viewing pleasure, Youtube provides numerous examples of this. I can recall watching a Crossfit workout during which a young female participant is doing her best to finish an overhead press. She had to contort her body in every way imaginable in her attempt to get the bar locked out overhead. Needless to say, I did not like what I saw.

What was even more disturbing to me was hearing the other members of the class cheering her on and applauding her when she finally locked out the bar overhead. They were encouraging her effort with absolutely no attention or care about her technique and safety. This is just one example of many that indicates how overcoming the weight was more important than how the lift was performed.
Other daily workouts may prescribe high-intensity metabolic conditioning that often requires participants to train to the point of exhaustion and, sometimes, to the point of throwing up. The mindset and main objective is primarily focused on overcoming a specific quantity of work as opposed to expressing quality in the work.
It is this mentality that can be detrimental to athletes and the general fitness population as well. There is a reason why physical therapists and chiropractors love Crossfit and other HIIT programs. HIIT programs are pretty good at producing patients.

Another unwanted factor associated with HIIT is the high degree of fatigue and lactate training loads. For athletes, how can they master movement and skill execution or build speed and strength in a fatigued state? The answer is they cannot. This is something the majority of coaches and trainers must understand. Lactate-based training is widely over-utilized and misplaced. This ultimately cuts into more productive training methods and increases the need for recovery. When it comes to HIIT programs, recovery is often not sufficient and will potentially push participants into a chronic state of fatigue or create an over-trained individual. Keep in mind, injuries are more likely to occur in a fatigued or over-trained state.

When it comes to HIIT, training principles regarding periodization, progressive overload, mastery of technique, specificity of training, and individualization of training are completely ignored. These principles, among others, are highly important when it comes to the safety and effectiveness of training athletes. They have been proven to be foundational in producing the most effective results from any training program.

Final Words
Training and sport science tells us that HIIT programs or any randomized high-intensity program is not conducive for efficient training and development of athletes in regards to strength, speed, power, and other physical abilities. Sure it may be trendy, but ask yourself does the program or exercise routine provide the development you want? Remember, development is always specific to your training demands. Also, ask yourself if your current training methods are more likely to make you a better athlete or a patient.

Related Articles:

Interval/Sprint Training vs Cardio: Which is Better for Fat Loss and Physique Development?
Training Hard vs Training Smart
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Training for Elite Athletes

Athletes Do Not Need Balance to Be Successful

In the attempt to improve athletic performance or prevent sports-related injuries, it is common to read that muscles in the body should be balanced. At times, what “balanced” means is never fully explained and is often assumed to mean that muscles on both sides of a joint should be equal in qualities such as endurance or strength. As a result, trainers and coaches may advise athletes to perform equal training for musculature on all sides of a joint to ensure balance.

The intent is to achieve symmetry. Not just at one particular joint, but often throughout the body. The goal is to see symmetrical movement on both sides of the body. Consider how therapists and coaches will use movement-screening systems to evaluate movement and then apply correctives with the goal to ‘balance’ the body or to reduce the risk of injury.

However, one must question if this the most intelligent thing to do in relation to high-level athletic performance. 
From the few studies done on this topic and from observation, symmetry may not be an effective means of improving performance. Rather, It appears that the majority of high-level athletes are asymmetrical.

This should not be surprising if you have been looking closely at high-level athletes. I recently attended the ACA Rehabilitation Symposium in Las Vegas over this past weekend. Professor Stuart McGill was one of the featured speakers and he has extensively researched the factors which make great athletes great. Professor McGill provided numerous examples from cases he has seen over of the years of athletes being ruined by someone attempting to 'balance' their body. The intent was on improving their performance or ‘correcting’ movement, yet the end result was making that athlete a patient. Essentially, he cautioned us all as chiropractors, therapists, and trainers to be very wise in what we do with our athletes.

One example he provided was Olympic sprinters and how many of them have very stiff, tight ankles. He stated how this is necessary for their performance and ultimately their success as elite level sprinters. Their ankles must be stiff to serve as ‘springs’ for explosive running. Yet, as he stated, many therapists would want to ‘mobilize’ their ankles and ‘release’ or ‘stretch’ the musculature surrounding the ankle to improve range of motion. However, now you have robbed them of the very thing that makes them a great athlete in their sport.

His example brought to mind a high school football player who trains at GP. He is our fastest athlete and his ankles are incredibly stiff. This stood out immediately upon his initial assessment. Did we do anything to mobilize his ankles? No. We didn’t touch his ankles, understanding that his ankle stiffness is what made him fast. Made him incredibly agile and quick.

If you try to balance muscular development or joint function, it can potentially interfere greatly with an athlete’s performance. It’s important to remember that what makes athletes asymmetrical also makes them great. It is not only a consequence of their training, but often what their sport demands. To take time out of their training to balance their body arguably interferes with more productive training.

This does not mean that they do not do exercises to keep their body healthy and prevent injury. We have our athletes perform many exercises for this purpose, but they are typically done during the general preparatory period, not in the competitive or precompetitive periods.

Former Soviet Union sport scientists studied this concept. The Soviets understood that asymmetry appears to be a key to athletic success. Asymmetry that is produced appears to allow athletes to go above and beyond what other ”well-balanced” athletes are capable of doing. It seems that the asymmetry allows the athlete to perform on a higher level.

There appears to be enough evidence to indicate that perhaps we should not be anxious to 'balance' every athlete’s physical development. Keep in mind that this does not mean that you ignore development of antagonistic muscles. But you do not emphasize them to the same extent as you do with the main muscles and joints involved in the execution of the athlete's competitive sports skill.

More related reading:

https://gallagherperformance.com/athletic-development-will-your-child-be-a-success-or-burn-out/

https://gallagherperformance.com/does-practice-make-permanent-how-practice-rewires-your-nervous-system/

https://gallagherperformance.com/commonmistakesindevelopingyoungathletes/

Is Weight Training Inappropriate for Young Athletes?

It seems almost routine now that we come across parents who are curious about what type of ‘training’ their child should be doing to become a better athlete. Ultimately, the majority of parents are concerned about their child lifting weights. Typically their child is 12-15 years of age and the parents feel that weight training at that age is inappropriate and could be potentially dangerous (e.g., stunt their child’s growth). Since this idea is so widespread, we felt it would be valuable to address the topic and the determining factors of whether weight training is suitable for a young athlete.

To start, let’s set the stage for our discussion by simply stating that weight training is one form of ‘resistance’ training. There are plenty of ways to apply ‘resistance’ to the body. From bands to weighted vests to body weight exercises, they are all considered resistance training. If you asked most parents if they had a problem with their child doing push-ups or walking lunges, the majority of them would likely reply, “No”. Lifting weights, at times, can provide less resistance than common body weight exercises yet lifting weights is somehow deemed more dangerous.

Why?

The majority of parents are primarily concerned about the risk of growth plate fracture and the possible result of stunted growth.

To address these concerns, the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) published a position statement. They determined that resistance training is safe, even for children as young as 6, and that the risk of growth plate fracture and stunted growth is completely unsupported. Simply put, it does not happen and weight training is safe with appropriate coaching and progression. Additionally, research has demonstrated significantly higher injury rates in youth sports (football, basketball, soccer, baseball, hockey, etc.) when compared to weightlifting.
When it comes to coaching and progression, this is where considerations from Long-Term Athletic Development (LTAD) models become invaluable in helping to understand sensitive “windows” during an athlete’s development. These windows identify when to capitalize on certain physical qualities. Looking at LTAD models, children around 12 years old are in a critical window for their speed development. This means that while they can improve in all athletic attributes (balance, coordination, rhythm/timing, relaxation, strength), speed development will experience faster rates of improvement. Speed simply comes down to putting a lot of force into the ground quickly. Explosive movement requires high power output and this relies on your “fast twitch” muscle fibers. Resistance training is one method to efficiently train “fast twitch” muscle. In this context, certain exercises aren’t always what they appear to be. For example, a young athlete performing squats may not be simply performing squats, but rather “speed training” because it’s a tool to teach them to produce force quickly and utilize their muscles in an explosive manner. Improve an athlete’s ability to produce force and they will get faster. Force production is directly controlled by the nervous system. Neural development is very sensitive for children 12-13 years of age. This means that the nervous system, which coordinates all movement, is primed for learning and improving efficiency of complex movements. This is one reason why resistance training is appropriate for athletes during this time period; it can capitalize on a sensitive period of neural development to help kids move with improved body awareness AND coordination, thus resulting in increases in qualities such as strength, power, and speed.
Concluding Thoughts
There are many factors to consider when it comes to “appropriate training” for young athletes. While there are safety concerns, age-appropriate and developmentally specific training methods can be extremely effective. For young athletes, weight training is a safe and effective means to develop body control/awareness and improve athletic qualities, such as speed. Weight training, as part of an athletic development program, should follow a structured approach under the supervision of a knowledgeable and qualified coach.

To ensure the highest quality outcomes and safety, GP understands and utilizes LTAD models in the training of their young athletes.

Related Articles:

Success or Failure: What Are You Setting Your Young Athlete Up For?
Don't Fall for the Speed Trap
Identifying Strength Needs for Athletes

4 Things You Need to Know About Improving Sports Performance

During my time in the fields of Chiropractic, Sports Rehabilitation and Sports Performance Training, I have had the unique opportunity to be mentored by some great minds. I know I can say the same thing for my brother and that is why he holds the title as Head Performance Coach at GP. Ryan and I are consistently working to get better in order to better serve our clients and patients. Whether that is through conversation with mentors, attending continuing education seminars, or simply reading. When it comes to rehabilitation or training of an athlete, one question we continually seek to improve our understanding of is, “How much strength is enough?”

One concern the ultimately comes to mind is whether the reward of high-intensity strength training is worth the risk? Certainly extremely high-intensity loads are necessary for the development of the strength athlete, or those who participate in the sports of Olympic weightlifting, strongman, and powerlifting. But when it comes to athletes who are not competitive strength athletes and are simply utilizing strength training as a means to enhance athleticism, how much strength is needed for optimal performance?

How Strength Relates to Sports Performance
Common sense would allow us to derive that if an athlete possesses greater levels of maximal strength and power compared to an opponent (all other factors being equal), the stronger athlete would have a distinct advantage. Suitable levels of maximal strength should include, but are not limited to the following considerations:

  1. Sport of Participation. Requirements of maximal strength levels will differ depending upon the specific sport of participation. The physical requirements of a particular sport will assist to determine the various strength levels that are necessary for the participating athlete. As an example, does the cross-country runner need the same maximal strength requirements as a hockey player?
  2. Position of Sport Participation. For athletes who participate in the same sport, the physical requirements based on their specific position will have an influence on their strength requirements. Consider the defensive lineman and defensive back positions in football. These two positions differ greatly in their physical requirements. Is the required maximal strength level going to be the same for both of these athletes to have optimal sports performance?
  3. Competitive Level of Sports Participation. Participation at specific levels of competition may require advanced levels of maximal strength. Maximal strength requirements may change considerably when evaluating the demands of a high school, collegiate, and professional level athlete. The same can be said of the differences seen in competitive levels of competition. To illustrate this, consider that NCAA athletics are divided into three divisions (levels) of competition (DI, DII, DIII). One could derive that higher strength levels would be required for athletic success at the higher levels competition and differences in maximal strength and power output levels between DI, DII, and DIII athletes have been documented.
  4. Competitive Standards. There are levels of strength that are necessary, not for guaranteed success, but necessary for an athlete to compete. This is common in the strength sports of weightlifting, powerlifting, and strongman. But adequate levels of strength are highly important in other sports as well. This is part of the reason various professional leagues (NFL, NHL to name a couple) hold annual combines. Athletes are tested on various physical and strength qualities and are then evaluated against their peers to predict athletic success. There is a physical “standard” that athletes must meet or exceed for consideration as a draft selection.
Strength and Power Development In Sports Performance
From an athletic performance perspective, there are two variables of interest in developing optimal sports performance. These variables include the peak rate of force development (PRFD) or “explosive strength” and power output. The concept of “explosive strength” is directly related to the athlete’s ability to accelerate objects, including one’s body mass.

The body’s ability to generate movement at maximal velocity primarily depends upon power production. In other words, it depends upon maximal strength in association with velocity. Activities that require a display of agility (i.e. change of direction) and acceleration are also dependent upon high power output.

If the influence of power is undeniable for optimal sports performance, then it can be reasoned that maximum strength is the fundamental physical ability that affects power output. Maximal strength has arguable the greatest effect in sports of participation where success in sport participation is determined by the athlete’s ability to overcome maximal intensities of resistance (i.e. strength athletics). The same can be said for sports requiring a high maximal strength component based on the nature of the sport as well as the position played, such football defensive linemen, track and field throwing events, and the start/acceleration phase of sprinting.

It is equally important to acknowledge the point of diminishing returns in regards to maximal strength and the development of power output. There is a diminishing influence in simply getting an athlete stronger and focus of training must adapt accordingly. To improve power or speed, focus may need to be placed on more important qualities, such as rate of force development.

Summary
Maximal strength is critical as a physical characteristic for improving sports performance. However, maximal strength in association with power output qualities are essential for the achievement of optimal sports performance.

During the application of high-intensity exercise, assessing the “risk vs reward” should be considered, as excessive high-intensity loads may place the athlete at increased risk of injury. Developing an appropriate level of maximal strength necessary for athletes is dependent upon a number of factors. How much is enough? Well that answer is: It depends. This is why the “eye of the coach” is invaluable and possibly the most crucial element in determining adequate strength levels. This is just one unique ability that separates the great coaches from the good ones, the ability to “see” what an athlete needs and identify the physical qualities that require development.

References
Fry, AC, Kraemer WJ. Physical performance characteristics of American collegiate football players. Journal of Applied Sports Science Research, 5(3):126-138,1991.
Zatsiorsky, VM. Science and Practice of Strength Training. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
 

6 Tips for Hockey Training

When it comes to athleticism, there is a sad misconception among far too many individuals that athletes are "born not made". People that believe this will often say, “You can’t teach speed” or “That’s just a gifted athlete”. While genetics can play a role in athleticism, arguably the greatest impact on an athlete’s development (or lack thereof) is the training system that is implemented. This would include all elements from its organization to exercise selection and other variables.

While all sports have their own unique considerations, ice hockey demands high levels of athleticism. The transfer of training from off-ice preparation to on-ice performance presents a host of challenges. With the nature of today’s game, proper off-ice training can provide youth and elite level hockey players with the advantage they need to elevate their game.

Here are some tips:
1. WARM-UP PROPERLY
In preparation for exercise, the body should be moved through large ranges in all three planes of motion (sagittal, frontal and transverse). Movement prepares the brain and body for exercise by activating the nervous system, warming tissues such as muscles and tendons, and lubricates joints. Movements performed in all planes of motion on a consistent basis will improve stabilization patterns, mobility, coordination, balance, and movement efficiency. Making the time to properly warm-up with allow you to get more out of your training. Simply put, it makes training more productive and will reduce the risk of injury.

2. TRAIN MOVEMENTS, NOT MUSCLES
The human body operates as an integrated system. Joints and muscles are all coordinated by the central nervous system to produce movement. Muscles never work in isolation, meaning that there is always a pattern of muscle recruitment that occurs with every movement we make. Depending on how we recruit muscles, movement will occur in efficient or inefficient ways. Athletes require mastery of movement. Unlike those who train to for basic fitness or simply to ‘look better’, athletic development and performance-based training programs aim to improve how an athlete moves. Goals focus on strength, stability, mobility, speed, and skill execution with a high degree of movement efficiency. Sure many athletes look good, but this is often a by-product of their training, not the primary goal.

There can be a mistake in young athletes simply go to the gym and “working out”, either by themselves or with their friends. Especially when they have no plan. If most young athletes are honest, they don’t know what to do during the off-season. Even some trainers have no idea what they are doing with athletes and just “make-up” a training session as they go or select a random workout off the Internet. As the saying goes, “One program on a dry erase board for your group of clients/athletes isn’t training, it’s babysitting.” Higher quality strength and athletic development programs are becoming more available to young athletes; those athletes not involved in those programs will be left behind.

This concept was detailed in our article on Training for Elite Athletes.

3. GET IN TOUCH WITH THE GROUND
This point builds off the previous one. The majority of sport movements and skill execution are initiated by applying force to the ground with the feet/legs. As with land-based sports, the more force a hockey player applies to the ice, the greater acceleration and speed they generate. Strength and power development exercises should be selected based on their ability to enhance ground-force reaction. The same can be said for both speed and conditioning drills.

Utilizing squat and deadlift variations, Olympic lifts, medicine ball throws, jumps, plyometrics, sprints, and hockey-specific agility/change of direction drills would be the most beneficial in developing ground-force reaction. Unilateral movements such as single-leg squats and jumps, lateral bounds, split squats, and lunge variations will also help to develop the movement proficiency need for a powerful skating stride.

4. TRAIN THE CORE FOR FUNCTION, NOT LOOKS
The core is the body’s center of force transfer and movement control. The core is not simply your abs. It includes almost 30 muscles that attach to the spine, shoulders and hips, which function to stabilize the areas during movement. When the function of the core is compromised, inefficient movement results and risk of injury is increased. Hockey and its movement skills require high levels of core stabilization, endurance, strength and power transfer. The demands of athletics on the core will never be met by performing thousands of crunches. Your core training needs a more specific, specialized focus.

Stabilization exercises should focus on things such as maintaining proper lumbo-pelvic posture and the ability to resist or control movement in all planes of motion. Once proper stabilization is achieved, greater attention can be given to rotational power and force generation exercises for increased transfer of training into sport.

5. BE SMART ABOUT YOUR CONDITIONING
The sport of ice hockey places demands on both the anaerobic (alactic and lactic) and aerobic energy systems of the body. For the most part, hockey is an anaerobic game, characterized by intense bursts followed by periods of rest. The anaerobic system is challenged during these intense bursts while the aerobic system is utilized during the recovery period between shifts. This illustrates the need for both systems to be well developed for optimal performance.

Thus conditioning for hockey should focus on an interval-based approach to meet the energy system demand of the sport. Place a priority on developing the capacity and power of the anaerobic-alactic system along with the use of tempo runs/bike sessions to develop the aerobic system. Anaerobic-lactic training is extremely taxing on the body and difficult to recover from. This form of exhaustive conditioning should be used less frequently in the training program.

Remember, conditioning does not mean the same thing as speed training. For more information of developing hockey speed, read this article.

6. RECOVER, RECOVER, RECOVER
Recovery from exercise can be accelerated with proper attention to flexibility, mobility, massage, chiropractic treatment, nutrition and sleep. These approaches facilitate the body’s ability to recover from exercise. Nutritionally, ingesting the proper amounts of whole foods and supplements at the appropriate times during the day can prove to be a huge part of the recovery process. Replenishing energy stores (i.e. muscle glycogen) and providing the building blocks (i.e. protein, fats, vitamins, minerals) for tissue repair and regeneration are just some of the primary goals of proper nutrition. Self-management strategies such as foam rolling and stretching/flexibility work are valuable components in the recovery process. Maintaining proper muscle function and joint range of motion is critically important to minimize injury risk and ensure that you get the most out of your training.

Conclusion
Keep in mind the above tips serve as guidelines. Individual considerations cannot be met in an article of this nature. However, if applied correctly, these guidelines can serve to provide aspiring hockey players with a better understanding of how to go about their off-ice training. For those interested, GP specializes in the training and preparation of hockey players. Contact us for more information.

Advanced Training for Elite Athletes

The concept of sport-specific training has continually gained popularity over the years. It’s a growing market and business-minded individuals are taking notice. Similar to trends in functional exercise, you have a growing number of trainers stating they offer the “latest in sports training”. Frankly, anybody online can say their method or approach is the best. In a competitive market, people enjoy using words to attract your business. There are plenty of gimmicks that exist, namely in the world of speed training. Often times, athletes acknowledge such methods did little or nothing to improve on-field performance. If these gimmicks worked, it's simply because the athlete was a novice or of low qualification. Novices have the unique ability to respond to almost any form of training. But does this mean what was done is most appropriate? Does it mean training was efficient or effective? Not necessarily. When it comes to the training of higher level athletes, previously used methods and/or exercises will eventually fail to produce continual improvements in sport performance. There is a point of diminishing returns and training must adapt accordingly.

For any athlete, sport-specific training must ensure maximal transfer of the training program to on-field results. If exercise selection or organization has little carry over to making athletes better, you are wasting valuable time and money. Transfer of training can be summed up with the SAID Principle (Specific-Adaptations to Imposed-Demands). The SAID Principle has been proven time and time again in both research and training. This principle implies that training is most effective when resistance exercises prescribed are similar to the target activity or primary sport form/movement. Furthermore, every training method will elicit a specific (and different) adaptation response in the body. There must be compatibility between training and sport. This becomes of increasing importance as an athlete reaches higher and higher levels of athletic competition.

As mentioned before, research has demonstrated how exercises that once worked to improve sport performance for an athlete at a lower qualification level, will eventually lose training effect as the athlete gains mastery. For instance, indicators of maximal strength (squat 1RM) often have a direct correlation in low-level athletes, but lose significant correlation with enhancing sport performance in higher-level athletes. Similarly, movement abilities such as sprinting and change-of-direction (agility) are each separate motor tasks, characterized by specific motor abilities. Improvements in linear sprint speed and change-of-direction ability have limited transfer to each other and the degree of transfer decreases as an athlete progresses.

Thus, in order to enhance the sporting ability of high-level athletes, there comes a time when we must get more detailed than simply chasing increased strength and 'quick feet'. It’s inevitable. There is no way to avoid it. The world’s greatest Sport Scientists understood this and proved the need to go beyond traditional training approaches to see continual improvements in performance as athletes reached higher levels of competition. This is where the concept of Special Strength Training (SST) becomes of importance in the training plan.

Introduction to Special Strength Training
Pioneered by Dr. Anatoli Bondarchuk, SST has been incorporated for decades by coaches in other countries, mostly in the Olympic sports. Dr. Bondarchuk is most noted for his involvement in the throwing sports, particularly the hammer, and his results speak for themselves. It was Bondarchuk’s identification and implementation of special exercises with the highest degree of dynamic correspondence to the sporting movement that became the focus of his athletes' training plan. His organization of training allowed athletes to set world records and win numerous international and Olympic medals despite the fact that they did not possess the greatest strength in movements such as the clean, squat, or bench press.

Exercise Classification System
Bondarchuk classifies exercises into 4 categories:

  1. GENERAL PREPARATORY EXERCISES are exercises that do not imitate the competitive event and do not train the specific systems.
  2. SPECIAL PREPARATORY EXERCISES are exercises that do not imitate the competitive event, but train the major muscle groups and same physiological energy systems as your sport. However, movement patterns are different.
  3. SPECIAL DEVELOPMENTAL EXERCISES are exercise that replicate the competitive event in training but in its separate parts. These exercises are similar to the competitive event, not identical.
  4. COMPETITIVE EXERCISES are exercises that are identical or almost identical to the competition event.
It’s important to note that as an athlete rises from general preparatory exercises to the competitive event, each category on the list becomes more specific and will have greater dynamic correspondence to the athlete’s sport. Thus, as specificity increases, exercise selection decreases. There are hundreds of exercises that potentially could be considered Preparatory exercises. Preparatory exercises prepare the body for more specific sport training, while Developmental exercises aim to develop strength and technique. Special Developmental and Competitive exercises have the highest degree of transfer. The greatest focus from a planning and organization standpoint is placed on these exercises in order to yield improvements in sport performance. At this point, exercise selection has narrowed greatly. Often, the competitive exercise is simply the competitive event. In the case of a track athlete, the competitive exercise is considered the event (hammer, shot put, long jump, 100m, etc). This can also include subtle variations to the event. For team-sport athletes, the competitive event is the game. The classification of exercises as they relate to specific athletes is not the scope of this article. That discussion is far too detailed and is always dependent upon the athlete, their level of qualification, and the competitive event.

In explaining SST, Bondarchuk said,
“General exercises have little relevance to the sporting action. Specialized preparatory exercises use the same muscles that are involved in a particular sporting action. Specialized developmental exercises include single joint actions that duplicate one portion of the sporting action. They also mirror the velocity and range of motion seen in the competitive movement. Competitive exercises are those that fully mimic the competitive movement in more difficult conditions and easier ones.”
Advantages of Special Strength
There are a number of advantages to programming SST within an athlete’s training program. Among many reasons, arguably the most important application of SST is the development of strength as it relates to specific movement and skill execution in an athlete’s sport. This advantage cannot be overlooked since very few approaches train physical qualities (strength, power, work capacity, etc) and technical skill development simultaneously. Programming should provide the avenue for athletes to achieve higher levels of sport mastery. Rather than applying appropriate programming, many trainers get caught chasing quantitative numbers (squat or bench 1RM, 40 yard dash time). While focus on general motor abilities is important for the novice athlete and provides performance-enhancing benefits, they lose their carryover for the more advanced athlete. SST ensures that strength gains will have a direct transfer into sport technique and skill development.

Special Strength is Task-Specific 

The effectiveness and accuracy of exercise selection within special strength training is dependent on a thorough understanding of what a given athlete is being asked to perform in competition. Selecting an exercise is great, but you have to put it into a program and a plan. You need to know your athlete and what exercise(s) works well for them. For team sports, task-specificity also takes into account that you understand the athlete’s position and the physiological/energy demands relative to their sport. Care must be taken to stay within certain parameters, above or below, the sporting movements to avoid yielding negative adaptations on the expression of sport skill. For example, applying loads that are too heavy will negatively influence technique by causing breakdown in mechanics that are important for developing speed strength. Speed strength is essential for throwing, jumping, and sprinting. Conversely, loads that are too light will also have a negative influence on mechanics since the lack of resistance with fail to promote the building of specific strength.

Summing It All Up
This article attempted to offer insight into the concept of special strength training and how it correlates with higher levels of sport mastery. Due to the nature of SST, it’s important to keep in mind that early specialization in training, similar to early specialization in sport, can occur too soon. Athletes like NHL stars Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, and Henrik Zetterberg (pictured above) don't train like novice, youth hockey players and young hockey players should not be training like them. Research has proven that athletes at low levels of training and physical ability need to focus on increasing general physical qualities such as strength, as strength will carry over greatly to movement speed. In fact, novice trainees have the ability to attain simultaneous increases in strength, power, coordination, speed, core stabilization, proprioception, and reduced injury risk. However, as an athlete reaches higher levels of mastery, effectiveness of basic training methods become limited quickly due to the specificity of movement and skill related to sport.

If you are unclear on how to properly utilize the training methods of SST, you should not blindly implement SST into your training. The incorrect application of exercise and program variables would likely have a negative affect on the neuromuscular actions involved in sport movement. Athletes looking to ensure the best results from SST would be wise to have their training overseen by a coach/trainer who is knowledgeable and competent in its application.

Sources

Bondarchuk. Transfer of Training in Sports. Ultimate Athlete Concepts, 2007.
Siff & Verkhoshansky. Supertraining. Ultimate Athlete Concepts, 2009.
Verkhoshansky. Fundamentals of Special Strength-Training in Sport. Sportivny Press, 1986.

 
 
 

What You Need to Know About Preventing Knee Injuries

There is no question that knee injuries are a common occurrence among athletes. The incident of devasting knee injury, such as ACL tears, has been on the rise for years. Once considered an adult injury, ACL tears are occurring more often in children as reported by orthopedic specialists, estimating that thousands of children and teens suffer an ACL injury each year. According to statistics presented at the American Academy of Pediatrics 2011 annual meeting, over the past decade youth ACL injuries have increased 400% and girls are at eight times the risk of an ACL tear as compared to boys. Clearly, there is a problem with knee injuries among youth athletes. But where is the solution?

Mechanism of Injury and Risk Factors
To identify a solution, we must first identify the problem. In this case, the problem is the mechanism(s) of injury most commonly associated with ACL injury. Keep in mind that about 2/3 of all ACL injuries are non-contacted related. Meaning, the athlete didn’t have someone tackle them or have a player roll-up on their leg, resulting in injury. Non-contact injury opens the door to the possibility that a large percentage of ACL injuries can be reduced or prevented. Here are the most common mechanisms of injury associated with ACL injury:

  • Jumping/landing improperly
  • Planting followed by cutting or pivoting
  • Straight-knee landing
  • Stopping or landing with the knee hyperextended (too straight)
  • Sudden deceleration of movement
As far as risk factors are concerned, there have been several identified as having an association with ACL injuries, such as:
  • Weak hamstring and gluteal (hip) muscles
  • Poor neuromuscular control and balance
  • Poor dynamic biomechanics (Jumping, landing, cutting, etc.)
  • Fatigue
  • Female Gender
It is important that all risk factors be evaluated for how they play into an athlete’s risk of knee injury. Currently, there are movement screens available to help in identifying what potential risk factors may predispose an athlete to increased risk of ACL injury. Although these can prove to be valuable, one cannot underestimate the importance of simply watching an athlete move outside of a controlled environment. This means keeping an observant eye on them during training or practice and stressing them to see how their movement changes. You may be surprised by how much you learn about the physical abilities of that athlete from just simple observation.

Understanding the Female Athlete
Now that we have identified some mechanisms of injury and risk factors, we will turn our attention temporarily to the female athlete since they have their own special considerations in preventing ACL injuries. While researchers are continuing to study and gain understanding of the possible causes that may place young females at an increase risk of injury, a number of factors specific to female anatomy and development have been the focus of attention.

Female Hip and Knee Anatomy
Despite many young female athletes experiencing pain in their knees, the root of some of the problem may actually originate in the pelvis/hip structure. There is a growing trend among sports medicine specialists who focus on the pelvis/hip to reduce the incidence of knee pain and injury.

According to the Women’s Health and Fitness Guide (2006), the female pelvis has a number of differences as compared to the male pelvis for the purpose of accommodating childbirth. Among those differences, the female pelvis has a greater forward tilt and more forward facing hip joints. These features of the female pelvis/hip result in the femur (thigh bone) being positioned with more of an inward angle and internal rotation at the knee as compared to the average male. It is this increased angle of the femur when compared to the vertical position of the tibia (shin bone). This anatomical difference is known as the "Q-angle" and is illustrated below.



What does all this mean? SImply put, it means the female knee is predisposed to having unfavorable forces placed on it and that the core, hip, and thigh musculature must be strong enough to compensate for the increased angle of the femur to the tibia, or else the female athlete may be at a higher risk for experiencing knee pain or injury.

What can be done?
Unfortunately, regardless of gender, there is no such thing as complete injury prevention. However, there are reasonable and appropriate steps that have been implement in programs that are successful in reducing the occurrence of knee pain and ACL injuries:
  1. Improve hamstring strength. The hamstring muscles have a critical role in maintaining healthy knees. Proper hamstring training and strengthening must take into consideration how the hamstrings function during the primary sporting movement(s). For example, land-based sports with an emphasis on jumping and sprinting ability will place a high demand on the hip extension action of the hamstring. The hamstrings must be trained accordingly to be able to meet and accommodate the forces generated during sport.
  2. Improve hip and core strength. The musculature of the core and hips have a tremendous amount of control on the pelvis and femur, and thus the knee. Poor hip control puts the knee in compromising positions, increasing the risk of injury. When the core and hips are weak, they needs to be a focus of treatment/exercises. This will serve to improve the stability of the knee.
  3. Improve Proprioception (Balance) and Neuromuscular Control. Sufficient proprioception and neuromuscular control is the difference between being able to ride a bike and falling on your butt every time you get on a bike. Understand that altered proprioception and neuromuscular control contribute to abnormal motion during dynamic sporting activities, such as cutting and jumping/landing. One study revealed, “Improved joint mechanics during landing were achieved regardless of the individual’s muscle strength, suggesting that strength may not always be a prerequisite for movement re-education.” This should demonstrate the importance that mental focus and repetitive use of proper movement has on correcting mechanics.
  4. Decrease fatigue. There are 2 types of fatigue, peripheral (muscles) and central (brain). Peripheral refers to exercise induced processes leading to decreased force production (typical muscle fatigue). Central fatigue relates to a gradual exercise-induced reduction in voluntary muscle activation. Essentially meaning the brain gets fatigued. It is plausible to say injury comes from both, however from an injury prevention stand point; peripheral fatigue is difficult to manage because your muscles will get fatigued. But targeted training of central fatigue might be the way to go in preventing injury. How does one train central control. As one study put it, “Exposure to more complex or cognitively demanding movement tasks may facilitate improved perception and decision making within the random sports environment.” This is were mental focus and developing an athlete's awareness of their body during drills becomes important. Mental imagery may prove beneficial in developing central control by utilizing “mental reps” to help engrain proper movement and ideal mechanics.
References:
  1. Powers CM, Souza RB. Differences in Hip Kinematics, Muscle Strength, and Muscle Activation Between Subjects With and Without Patellofemoral Pain. J Ortho Sports Physical Thearpy. 2009;39(1):12-19.
  2. Powers CM. The Influence of Abnormal Hip Mechanics on Knee Injury: A Biomechanical Perspective. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2010;40(2):42-51. http://www.jospt.org/issues/articleID.2396,type.2/article_detail.asp.
  3. Heiderscheit B. Lower Extremity Injuries: Is It Just About Hip Strength? J Ortho Sports Phys Ther. 2010;40(2):39-41. http://www.jospt.org/issues/articleID.2404,type.2/article_detail.asp.
  4. Mizner R, Kawaguchi J, Chmielewski T. Muscle Strength in the Lower Extremity Does Not Predict Postinstruction Improvements in the Landing Patterns of Female Athletes. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2008;38(6):353-361. http://www.jospt.org/issues/articleID.1408,type.2/article_detail.asp.
  5. McLean SG, et al. Impact of Fatigue on Gender-Based High-Risk Landing Strategies. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. October 2006.
  6. McLean SG. Fatigue-Induced ACL Injury Risk Stems from a Degradation in Central Control. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. January 2009.
  7. Hilgefort M, Winchester B. Preventing ACL Injuries in Female Athletes.

What is Natural Talent?

Today's post takes on a bit of a different focus. It's more thought provoking than informational, but let's just say I had some inspiration to write this.
When I was young, you could say I was considered a decent artist. I enjoyed drawing. So did my brothers. We preferred drawing mostly comic book characters and athletes. Our parents took notice of this artistic side and being the good parents they are, they signed us up for art classes to help us develop our artistic ability.

Outside of playing hockey, drawing was my main hobby. I did lots of drawings and many of them I still have to this day. It’s interesting to look back and see the progress in the quality of those drawings over the years. How I started out very unimpressive. Many of those early drawings are very amusing. But steadily, I developed my drawing abilities to replicate very detailed, very life-like objects or people.

I recall getting compliments such as, “You’re really talented” or “You have a gift.” I also remember hearing people saying, “I wish I could draw like that.” It was if people assumed I was naturally talented at drawing, that drawing somehow came “easy” to me.

Looking back though, I’m not so sure I was naturally talented when it came to drawing.

Yes, I produced some very realistic drawings. I did great work. But what fails to meet the eye is the understanding of how many hours and years it took for me to produce that very same artwork. Often times, hours were spent just to get a small feature to look the way I wanted it to. I wasn’t churning drawings out with effortless ease by any means. I would sit and study my subject matter. I would study each feature, the shading, the line angles, the negative space – anything and everything that made the object what it was. Then with my pencil and paper, I would work at replicating it until I got every last detail right.

Is that talent? To some, maybe it is. To me, it was not so much about talent as it was my willingness to spend more time at it than most. I wanted to get it right. I wanted my drawing to look just like what I was studying. In my opinion, the end result was the “appearance” of being good at it.

Now let’s fast-forward several years. I was considered a talented hockey player. I was pretty good. I accomplished a lot, but there are several other athletes that accomplished more that I ever did. The same can be said of my time competing as an amateur Strongman. I've won some contests and placed high in others. Yada yada yada.

What does art and all this talk about drawing have to do with my athletic accomplishments?

You see, it’s the exact same effect. I have never consider myself naturally talented as an athlete. It’s simply the attention to detail in the pursuit of my goals. It was spending countless hours skating and developing my puck skills, running sprints and lifting weights, and taking my rest and nutrition seriously.

Perhaps my only real talent is being driven and disciplined enough to achieve my goals, regardless of how long it takes me to realize them.

To sum up, I learned that if I want to be good at something, to be great at something, I needed to immerse myself in it. I learned that I need a high degree of focus and attention to detail. That I can’t waver in my pursuit. That if it takes me five hours to get a single detail right, that’s what I do. Anything less and I won’t improve. I won’t realize my potential.

Maybe you have learned the same lesson about yourself.

After all, who knows how many truly “naturally talented” people exist.

 
 

Hamstring Questions? We Got Answers

It does not take a professional eye to take notice of the frequency of hamstring injuries in sport. Evaluating the injury list for collegiate and professional teams, you will find that hamstring injuries are at the top of non-contact related sport injuries. Even more staggering is that roughly 1/3 of all hamstring injuries will recur, with the majority recurring within the first 2 weeks. Now these statistics mainly reflect sports which involve sprinting, however hamstring issues can create problems for athletes regardless of sport. It is important to understand that hamstring health becomes more critical as increasing loads and demands are placed on them. Given these statistics, one can logically bring into questions if traditional return to play guidelines and rehabilitation programs are truly ideal.

BRIEF ANATOMY
A quick look at the picture above and it becomes clear the hamstring is actually the collection of four muscles. The semimembranosus (SM), semitendinosus (ST), bicep femoris long head (BFLH), and bicep femoris short head (BFSH). Understand that three of the hamstrings are biarticular (SM, ST, and BFLH). This means they are 'two-jointed' and cross the knee and hip, thus influencing both knee and hip movements. The two primary actions the hamstring produces are hip extension (except for BFSH) and knee flexion (all 4). This brief overview of the hamstrings has implications as to the how and the why behind hamstring treatment, rehab, and training.



INJURY MECHANICS
The act of 'pulling' a hamstring usually occurs at high speed running during the terminal swing phase of the gait cycle. In the picture above, this phase is seen in the athlete's right leg. As the hip is decelerating the forceful momentum as the leg swings forward, the hamstrings are loaded and lengthening as you are finishing the swing phase before foot strike. There are predisposing factors that ultimately cause the hamstring to be compromised such as: poor neuromuscular control or the lumbopelvic region, asymmetries in muscle length and/or hip range of motion, and sacroiliac joint dysfunction. All of these factors need to be and should be considered when devising a treatment and rehab protocol to ultimately reduce the risk of re-injury.

The GP Approach
Effective treatment for a hamstring strain, and for any injury, must address not only the site of pain but ALL possible predisposing factors. As stated above, there are essentially three 'reasons' as to why hamstring injuries occur. Sprinting is not the problem. Focusing on each predisposing factor through progressive treatment and training will best prepare the athlete for return to sport activities.

The utilization of manipulation, massage, soft tissue techniques, and nutritional considerations to support tissue healing become the foundation of early care and recovery from hamstring injury. Everything used to facilitate healing is based on examination and identification of the presence of any predisposing factor(s).

The transition from rehabilitation to return to sport then becomes dependent upon a process that addresses proper tissue healing and exercise progressions to improve structural balance, lumbopelvic control, strength, and coordination of movement required by sport specific demands in output and movement patterns.

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