Feb 162018
 

I am trying to wake my blog up from a period of inactivity.  Here is something I wrote 6 years ago and was still in the “draft” category.  When I re-read it and think about what I think now- If I was training a team in the off-season, I still believe in this.

We use traditional exercises to build both strength and power with our athletes. One way we look to increase total body power is by performing Olympic lift variations. We will utilize lifts such as the Hang Clean, Hang Snatch, and Dumbbell Snatch for the purpose developing hip and leg power. In these types of lifts, we are actually borrowing the methods from what you may see at the Olympic Games where the Clean and Jerk and the Snatch are the competitive lifts. Olympic lifters are some of the most powerful athletes in the world. Athletes can benefit from the same methods that develop power in the Olympic lifters. However, unlike the Olympic lifters who pull the barbell from the floor, we modify them by performing them from the hang position.

As I progressed in my career as a Strength and Conditioning Coach, I was exposed to Olympic lifting both from the hang position and from the floor. While working in environments where athletes lifted from the floor, I always knew what I would do when I was able to design my own programs. In the back of my mind, I knew that my athletes were going to do Olympic lift from the hang position. The reason is that I had seen far less inadeuqatge form from the hang position versus from the floor.  I never saw the benefit of lifting from the floor versus the hang position. To me, the perceived benefit of lifting from the floor simply wasn’t worth the risk of potential injury.

In the hang position, the chest is up, the hips are back, and the shoulders are in front of the bar, with the wrists rolled under. All we are asking the athlete to do is jump, shrug, and sit to get to the front squat rack position. Pretty simple to do, but like any other exercise, it does take some coaching.

When we perform power exercises such as Olympic lift variations, we will do them twice per week during the off-season and 1-2 times per week in-season. In the off-season, we spend 1 of those days performing the Hang Clean, while on the other day, we are either doing Dumbbell Snatches or Kettlebell Swings.

In the last few years, I have strayed away from the Hang Snatch. Now, I believe that they are in the must-do category. When it comes to the reasons why we don’t Hang Snatch, I have always thought of these:

– When I think of hockey players, I immediately think of the sport demands. Hockey isn’t an overhead sport so why should we use overhead lifts for a sport in which they never have their arms overhead?

– I am afraid of my athletes suffering injuries in the weight room. In the case of Hang Snatch, my primary concern here are shoulder injuries. I don’t like the wide grip position on Hang Snatches. I think we would be asking for trouble if we did large amounts of volume with that version.

– The Hang Snatch is a technical lift. I would not be 100% comfortable with the players following our program at home by themselves. The reality is that most of our players leave the area during the off-season.

Now that I have given a few reasons why we don’t Hang Snatch, a recent training session with one of my athletes has let me know that I could also look at why it is a great exercise. In this situation, the athlete had been training around a previous back injury for the past 2-3 years. One off-season, I discontinued the Hang Clean and several other double leg squatting and hinging exercises for this guy. We inserted alternatives such as Squat Jumps and Vertimax Jumps for power development. At the beginning of this past off-season, we discussed what he liked to do for explosive exercises. Immediately, he said he wanted to Hang Snatch. When I was done watching him perform a set, I said “Why did I stop doing these with my athletes?”

What did I see that was so good? I saw an exercise that was really hard to do wrong- once you got into the proper start position. These are the types of exercises that I really like- simple and effective with limited risk of injury with proper load. In this situation, he picked up the bar and slid it down to the position above his knees while simultaneously pushing his hips back. At the same time he had an arched back, his hands were rolled over the bar, his chest and shoulders were over the bar, and his hands were a tad wider than shoulder width and his eyes were up. From there, he proceeded to jump, shrug, and sit while extending the arms up in the finished position. It was really good technique.

Looking at the reasons I gave above for not using the Hang Snatch, I simply thought of the opposite of the reasons to determine why I would use them again.

Hockey is indeed not an overhead sport. However, I see the benefit of the Hang Snatch for the sport. Finishing the lift while holding the bar overhead under load is a great way to train the scapula-thoracic and rotator cuff musculature as stabilizers. The Hang Snatch is also a good exercise for hypertrophy and strength, specifically in the upper back and posterior shoulder girdle region. More importantly, although the load is lower than in the Hang clean- the velocity is higher in the Snatch. Every athlete who is trying to improve power and who don’t have physical limitations.  However, like any other exercise, there are some athletes who should not do them at first. For example, we don’t use the Hang Snatch with athletes who have shown asymmetries on the shoulder mobility part of the Functional Movement Screen. We will try to correct the asymmetries with corrective exercise strategies with these individuals. Once they can demonstrate symmetrical scores, we would start teaching them the Hang Snatch.

In regards to load selection during the Hang Snatch, lighter is OK. Especially at the start when we are learning. The proper start position along with the movement has to be dialed in. Like any other exercise in our program, we will add weight to the bar progressively as the athlete gets stronger.

Like I mentioned, the Hang Snatch can be a great exercise for power development. If I can prescribe an exercise that requires less load and can be done right, I am all for it.

Feb 022018
 

A common email that I get is usually from a younger strength and conditioning coach who is interested in working in professional sports. “What was the path that you took that got you to where you are ?” First, I am truly honored and humbled that some folks are 1- interested in a similar career, and 2- take the time to ask me what I have done in my experience.  I appreciate this because I remember writing and sending emails and letters to Strength and Conditioning coaches, head coaches, and management personnel on my old Dell Computer when I was first starting out.  I would like to take a shot at answering.

I would begin by saying that I was lucky to enter the professional hockey ranks at a time when the full-time Strength and Conditioning Coach wasn’t common.  At the time, there were part-time strength and conditioning coaches, athletic trainers who possessed their C.S.C.S. (Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist) who did it in addition to their full-time responsibilities, or outside consultants.  I was fortunate to be the first full time Strength and Conditioning Coach for an organization at the time (2002).

The reality it is that it is probably harder to obtain full time employment in professional sports now than it was 16 years ago.  Not only is it difficult to work in professional hockey but it is also difficult at every other level of any sport.  Strength and Conditioning/Sport Performance is an awesome profession and more people want to become Strength and Conditioning Coaches.

What I would like to do is let you know what I believe worked for me.  It is definitely a combination of having a passion for what you want to do, making the right decisions, education, experience, luck, and knowing the right people.

When I was an undergraduate Exercise Science student in college, I decided that I want to become a Strength and Conditioning Coach.  At the time, I was a football player who enjoyed strength training.  When I found out that there was an profession of coaching athletes in the weight room with the intention of improving performance and reducing the potential for injury- I knew it was what I wanted to do.

What I would like to say to the aspiring Strength and Conditioning Coach is:

Find mentors- I met great people who helped guide me throughout my career.  Without them, I wouldn’t be where I am today.  They also went to bat for me when a Head Strength and Conditioning Coach or a Head Hockey Coach was looking for a “Hockey guy”.  There are so many mentors that I had and still continue to receive guidance from.  I wrote about mentors here.

Volunteer/Internships- You will need to get experience.  Learn how to coach and interact with athletes, coaches, and administrators.  You never know who or where these people might be in the future.   Find a way to make it work.  Work another job if you have to.  I completed 3 internships/part-time opportunities before I went to graduate school.

Master’s degree- I’m not sure if this is 100% necessary.  Although I will say that I’ve spoken to several collegiate Head Strength and Conditioning Coaches who will disregard applicants who don’t possess a master’s degree when hiring assistants.  Considering that some professional teams that have Directors of Sport Science with PhD’s, I would strongly recommend it.

Take risks and adventures- For me, when I was in my early twenties, I didn’t necessarily want to leave the Boston area.  This was where my family and friends were/are.  I realized that if I wanted to do this as a profession, I would have to go .  I think this coincides with not being afraid of being uncomfortable.  Learn new ideas and philosophies from different coaches and work to develop your own.

Work hard- This goes without saying.  Arrive early and stay late.  Network and read everything that you can.  Some resources that I recommend are here.

There are also several paths to working in professional sports.  This isn’t necessarily what you have to do. I know of several of coaches who took different paths. I wrote my story to let you know that this is what I did because I believed that this process worked.  There were no shortcuts or situations where everything was perfect, but I think things worked out.

Jan 232018
 

In my opinion, RPR works and it isn’t going anywhere.  To me, it makes too much sense to do it especially when the results are so obvious to the athlete and the coach.  I wrote about it previously here.

I think hockey parents in general should sometimes take a deep breath and relax (myself included).  The reality is that there is a good chance that your son or daughter won’t play professional hockey.  So, enjoy the ride and encourage them to have fun and improve every day.   I try to read this before every season- My simple rules for hockey parents everywhere.

Sports technology is moving fast.  The key is to figure out what works for your situation.  How can you best apply technology to what you are already doing?  I am all for new advancements as long as it helps the athletes and team.  I still think the coach’s eye and ability to communicate appropriately is more important.  Know what you are doing and what you want to get out of your tools.

Does anyone else get confused with PRI?

Cold showers in the morning are awesome.  Read about Wim Hoff and his methods.

All of the breathing information is pretty neat. Whether it is for parasympathetic shift, creating stability, or “stretching”, the act of breathing is something that’s been taken for granted for a long time.

 

Jan 192018
 

Over the past year, I’ve read some really good books.  An author of books that I really enjoyed is Ryan Holiday.  His books include The Obstacle is the Way, Ego is the Enemy, and The Daily Stoic (which I read on a daily basis).

What Ryan writes about in those books is the philosophy of Stoicism.  To me, and what I took away from the books is pretty much trying to embrace living in the moment.  The idea of focusing on what is in front of you and not letting outside influences getting in the way.  Outside influences would include events or stress that have happened in the past, present, or in the future.

In the athletic world, when the word stoic is used to describe a leader or a coach, I think of Coach Bill Belichick’s “Do Your Job” and Coach Nick Saban’s “The Process”.  They are great coaches who emphasize performing the task at hand to the best of your ability with the end result being continuous improvement.

In the Strength and Conditioning world, the overall process can be a grind.  The athletes you work with need to be able to do what is in front of them to the best of their ability.   The focus must be on the repetition at hand.   It can’t be “Damn, I have 3 reps left” or “We have to run shuttles tomorrow”.  I think it’s the job of the Strength and Conditioning Coach to help keep your athletes in the moment.  Correct their technique, encourage their execution of the task they are performing.

This is important at all levels of athletics.  Student athletes in high school and college have way more on their plate.  Going to class, taking exams, studying, etc., are all different demands that each student athlete faces.  Then, adding team dynamics such as practices, games, role on the team, Iis Coach mad at me?”, on top of that creates a situation where the athlete has a tougher time focusing on the task at and.   This is also a reality at the professional level with the exception of being a student.  Except for them it is family, financial, and other responsibilities.

In the professional hockey environment, the better players that I have worked with over the years embrace the process of the season.  Playing 82 games is a grind and each season has its ups and downs in terms of wins and losses including streaks and slumps.  It’s a reason why I think many players are superstitious or have routines that they go through to help them prepare.

Oct 022017
 

I had the privilege of attending the Athletic Performance Summit Featuring the Legends of Strength and Conditioning back in May.  It was a seminar that I heard about only a few weeks before.  When I saw the lineup of speakers, I knew I had to attend.  What really attracted me to this seminar was that most of the presenters worked in the team environment successfully for several years and have the championship rings to prove it.

While the format of the seminar was outstanding, it wasn’t necessarily the information that these guys shared on their power points that made it worthwhile.  It was more of their ability to share experiences with the teams and individual athletes that they coached with the attendees.  This is something that I find extremely valuable.

These men opened up about their philosophies and programs and were accessible throughout the weekend.  For example, Johnny Parker, who was the Strength and Conditioning Coach for the Giants, Patriots, Buccaneers, and 49ers, gave out his phone number and email address to everyone.  Talk about a humble human being.

What I also found refreshing was that these guys were truly there to teach, share ideas, and learn.  Their passion for what they do really showed.  These are coaches who I aspire to be like someday.

These coaches clearly have learned and helped each other with their coaching philosophies as their messages were very similar.  For example, Charlie Francis was referenced by all of them numerous times.  Tempo running was a staple for a few of them.  Also, the Javorek bar complex was also a common theme from an evaluation perspective.

Here are some takeaways that I thought were great quotes or something that I can use now with my athletes:

 

Al Vermeil

Need to create impulse- explosive power

Never take an athlete to maximum

Adapt to what the athlete can do

Clyde Emerich- “Its not about you, its about them”

Have some speed development drills in your program all the time

Best test- “Can they play?”

 

Al Miller

Get players best at the start of the season

All players are novice lifters. Takes 10 years to develop an athlete

2400 yards maximum for Tempos in a given workout

600 yards maximum for sprints

 

Johnny Parker

Cleans and squats should occupy the greatest % of your program

Work on all qualities all of the time

Don’t be afraid to lead

Real players want to be pushed

Don’t let the star mentality affect your program

 

Rob Panariello

In Season- need intensity, need to have unaccustomed stress

Butt wink- spiderman stretch and hamstring stretch

Eliminate the shift in squatting

 

Don Chu

Skills:

Start Speed- Jumps in place, standing jumps, multiple jumps, depth jumps

Acceleration- Multiple jumps, box drills, bounding

Change of Direction- Standing jumps, multiple jumps, box drills, depth jumps

Vertical Jump- Jumps in place, standing jumps, multiple jumps, box drills, depth jumps

Horizontal Jump- Standing jumps, multiple jumps, box drills, bounding

 

Derek Hansen

Elite sprinter- 35%  high intensity work, 65% low intensity work

Hamstring injuries are brain injuries- software problem, not hardware problem

Rehab- start short and progress to long

Always finish training with low intensity cyclical activity

May 232017
 

I recently attended the RPR Level 1 Coach Certification in Edina, MN.  For more info on it, check out  www.reflexiveperformance.com/about/

This is what I took away from it:

Background- I had previously heard about Cal Dietz doing RPR with his athletes at the University of Minnesota and I was intrigued.  I heard some vague descriptions on what he was doing from some of his athletes and some Strength and Conditioning Coaches.  However, to hear athletes say they felt great and to hear several Strength and Conditioning Coaches whom I respect refer to it as a “Game Changer”- I had to find out more.

Back in the fall, I was fortunate to visit with Cal and see what it was all about. For me, I have had several injuries and surgeries over the years.  I think that has made me try to become a better Strength and Conditioning Coach so my athletes can best avoid what I went through.  My body has been beat up and I feel that I have learned to live in pain.

What I found out was that I was weak in several of the muscle tests that Cal performed.  For example, my hip flexors tested pretty poorly while lying supine while my glutes tested weak while lying prone.  Cal performed the resets on me and then I re-tested.  The change in not only my strength, but the initial action of the test was unbelievable.  My posture was dramatically improved and I felt different while walking.  I was now using the right muscles in the proper sequence to move.  More importantly to me, my pain was relieved.

Over the years, I have learned that some protocols either can be short-lived or can be B.S.  Honestly, I was a little skeptical of it before hand.  However, the reality is that I felt great and the effects lasted a few days versus a few minutes.

The certification was a great experience and Cal did a terrific job ensuring that the students learned the information.

Some of my thoughts and questions about it:

  • I really think the breathing reset is key.
  • I’ve always been a believer in activation exercises but also believe something may be missing. There is something more than stretching the hip flexors and performing glute bridges to activate the glutes.  What if the psoas is stuck and we are performing glute bridges?  Are we facilitating compensations even more? Do the resets fix these compensations?
  • Is this the best way to turn on the lights on quicker when our muscles are called to action to produce movement?
  • I believe in the process of strength and conditioning and understand that processes take time. Is this a shortcut?  Could some of what I have been doing be eliminated- especially if compensations are taking place?
  • Would like to FMS an athlete and then perform RPR and re-screen. If FMS corrections are performed to help get positive changes and if RPR produces a positive change, then is it ok?
  • Should RPR be performed by Strength and Conditioning Professionals or Personal Trainers who aren’t P.T.’s, ATC’s, or massage therapists? This is interesing.  I think the system is easy to learn and execute properly.  Sure, a newly minted professional with less experience may not be ideal but who says they can’t practice?  My observation at the clinic was that each person there got it.  Is that a bad thing?
  • I do know that athletes believe in systems that help them feel and perform better. Helping them achieve that is all that matters.  Is RPR a tool that can help them do that better?
  • Strength and Conditioning Coaches are implementing RPR and are doing a good job in team settings. For example, I’ve seen some videos of it being done with athletes of performing the resets on their own during warm up periods.  Here is one of Merrimack College Athletics:

Honestly, I think that’s great.  If it is something that has a positive effect, and doesn’t take long to perform, then why not?

For me, writing this helps me with getting my thoughts about it out of my brain.  I know that I will perform the resets on myself and use it appropriately when the opportunity arises with my athletes.