Thursday, March 31, 2011

Training the Athlete That Trains at School

If you work in the sport performance/personal training industry, then I am sure you have a lot of experience training kids that are required to workout at school with their teammates. Most of these kids are football players, but with “sport specific training” becoming the latest craze, a lot of other team sports such as basketball, baseball and softball are requiring their athletes to train at school. Some programs are better than others, some coaches are more willing to communicate with you than others, but the worst thing you can do as a trainer is ignore what is done at school and have your clients do “your” workout no matter what.

I have been in the private sector of the strength and conditioning industry since I started my business in 2002. Since then, I have seen hundreds of kids come through my doors that also train at school. After 7 years of training, I can classify these kids into 3 main categories and 1sub - category.

1. The BFS (Bigger Faster Stronger) or another general template. Although I am not a big fan of the BFS program for any athlete, it is very easy to draw up a workout that complements it. You know your kids are towel benching and box squatting on Mondays, power cleaning and dead lifting on Wednesdays and bench pressing and parallel squatting on Fridays – or some combination of those lifts. Some schools do a great job of adding the necessary auxiliary lifts, and some do not add any at all - or the kids just don’t do them. In my experience, BFS athletes do not do enough explosive work, upper body pulling, core or posterior chain lifts. I will talk more about how I work around BFS later in the article.

The bottom line is this - Whatever program it is (BFS, Westside, ect.) it is only as good as executed. If the kids are lifting too heavy of weight with poor technique, then injuries will inevitably occur.

  1. The Assorted Crap Workout. When you ask a kid who works out in one of these programs what they did at school, you will usually get an answer like this “We didn’t do much - uh we benched and we did curls.” These programs usually involve a coach writing the workout on a dry erase board or even worse the kids just go in and do whatever they want. Believe me; a lot of these programs still exist.

  1. The school that has a knowledgeable strength coach or trainer. This is becoming more common, and if you haven’t had a kid from one of these programs it means that all bases are covered at school.

Sub – Category 1 - The kids who are run into the ground at school. This usually happens with football kids who start conditioning in the summer. It’s important to know who these kids are because they will be coming to you with a completely taxed CNS, shin splints and sore hamstrings. I still hear of kids who run 800s for football conditioning. The bottom line is that if you train football players in the summer, you better know what they are doing at school.

Some tips to make the best program for school athletes

  1. Make the athlete accountable. I require my athletes to keep a log of what they are doing at school. In my experience, most coaches are unwilling to communicate their program to me, so it’s on the athlete. All I ask is that they write down what they do each day in a notebook or even a piece of scrap paper.
  2. Explosive, core, pull. This is actually the name of the programs I use for my BFS athletes. I know that they are not doing enough of those things, so that’s what is in their program. Lateral plyos, single leg plyos, and all sorts of exercises for the posterior chain are usually neglected in the school setting that doesn’t have a strength coach. Design programs that fill in the holes. It’s easy to do that if you have your athletes follow tip #1.
  3. Check technique in core lifts. I usually ask kids how much they squat at school. If they say 250, I have them show me a set at 135. Most of time, I see very poor technique with that weight - so imagine what 250 looks like! Coach them to be better at school because if there are 70 kids in the weight room and 2 coaches, obviously some kids are on their own.
  4. Ask kids if they can do their leg lifts with you and upper body at school. This is something that worked great for me last winter. I had a number of kids who either had knee injuries from the season or L5 fractures from lifting – most likely from poor power cleaning technique. Some coaches will be open to this - especially if the parent talks to them about it.
  5. Create a recovery workout. This is something I used last spring when my football kids starting running at school or doing some crazy explosive workouts that were more like fat burning circuit. The recovery workout should include lots of foam rolling, mobility and dynamic flexibility drills. Then, a little bit of explosive work if they need it. Lots of stretching at the end. Most kids have mediocre flexibility at best, so it’s on you as their trainer to improve it because you know it’s not being done at school or at home.

Trainers and strength coaches, I feel your pain. I know its frustrating to create a great program for a kid and then one week later find out they have to workout at school. Be professional and smart. Don’t bad mouth the program at school even though you know it’s the worst thing you have ever seen. Communicate with your clients and work with them to create the program that will benefit them in the long run.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Random Training Videos

Since I will have little time to write, I have compiled some training videos from the last few weeks at Soar.

The first video is a lateral single leg plyometric performed on a ladder. It involves quick changes of direction with hops to the lateral and medial side of the knee. Caution: This is not a drill I would use for beginners.

This next video is a drill we use for our advanced athletes to finish up a leg/upper body pulling day. It is a one arm sled row for 20 yds and then a crossover run with the sled. Its strength, its conditioning and its extremely functional! The only way the sled moves on the crossover run is if you apply force to the ground in the proper angle. We do 2 sets for each arm.

This is prone bridge variation with an ab dolly. NOT FOR BEGINNERS!

The next two videos involve reaction sprints. The athlete starts in an athletic stance and chops their feet in place. When I give them the "Go" cue, the athlete needs to apply force into the ground quickly and at the appropriate shin angle to allow them to accelerate forward.

In my opinion, this is speed training in a sport like situation. Whether it is football, volleyball, softball or basketball - quick and powerful reactions are the difference between making the play or getting burnt. Pay close attention to body angle, shin angle (no heels), strong core and unnecessary steps.

Reaction drill with forward sprint.

Reaction drill lateral - notice the role of strength in force application into the ground.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

T - Spine Mobility Drills

Click the link to watch some simple drills to improve Thoracic Mobility.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

What it Takes to Play on Sundays

This past Saturday, I was lucky enough to have to opportunity to work the NFL REGIONAL Combine in Chicago. I emphasize "Regional". This was not the NFL combine that took place a few weeks back. The NFL regional circuit is designed to find guys who maybe played small college football or have been overlooked at the Division 1 level. It is open to any player that is out of college eligibility and is willing to pay the fee to be evaluated. Of the 84 guys we tested, maybe two might get a chance to workout with a team and be on their practice squad.

This was the first year of my five years of involvement with regional combines where the NFL was directly involved. I had the opportunity to work side by side with former NFL players, NFL scouts and a former GM. I thought I knew a lot about football - not even close! This ended up being a tremendous learning experience for me and as a result there are many of my clients who will benefit from my knowledge gained.

The day started with defensive players. After instructions and warm - ups, the players were divided into groups and rotated through the tests - 40, Vertical leap, shuttle, height/weight, and body photo picture. I was the official shuttle timer and that is where my first lesson was learned. The NFL scout told me that it would be a foul if the player misses either of the lines with his hand (which I knew). It would also be a foul if either of their feet touched the lines (which I never heard of and clearly most of the players haven't either). The scout said they were only interested in seeing guys who could control their body enough to stop their feet short of the line and reach and touch the line. A lot of them struggled to the point that they fouled 3 times in a row and received no time - which is obviously bad! The scout looked at me and said "We are not looking for guys who cannot follow simple instructions".

At the end of the day, I sat in a room with the National Director and the scouts. We discussed who would move on to the final combine in a few weeks. Here is a brief rundown of what I took from this experience. I know there is a good chance that none of the kids I train will play at the NFL level, but this is good information for any athlete looking to play at a high level of competition.

1. How big and how fast.

In the meeting, the first thing we looked at is how big was the athlete for their position and then how fast were they. There were little fast guys - NO sorry. There were big slow guys.....NO sorry not playing on Sundays. If you were not good size for your position with good speed, you were done.

2. Can you follow instructions?

Sounds easy right? Run forward around the bags, then step over them going right without crossing your feet. Then shuffle with your chest up, butt down - smack the bags. Sprint through the cones.

Many guys messed this up and were immediately disregarded. If you can't perform a simple drill to perfection, then you sure as hell won't be able to perform your assignment in practice. A scout told me many great athletes are cut every day for this reason. There is no time to make mistakes. Listen to the coach, get it done right or get out!

3. Footwork, Footwork, FOOTWORK!

This was the main coaching point I took from the experts. If you ran a good 40 and were big - but you moved like Frankenstein in the drills - they didn't want you. If you were a linebacker with huge arms and a 35 inch vertical - you better be able to move your feet and change direction. In fact, the only linebacker they kept was a guy who was not that physically imposing, but he could move in space. He did every drill perfectly. His 40 was 4.8 and his vertical was 31 - not eye opening numbers. But the scout loved him.

So yes, still hit the weights hard. But if you are not working on your footwork and your ability to stop and change direction on the dime, you better start! Just in case it needs to be said - we work on that at Soar every week.

The NFL regional combine circuit comes to Columbus on March 26 at Ohio State. I will be in LA on April 9. Visit for more info.

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