Insane Training

Insanity is doing the same training year after year with the same people and expecting different results. Look around and see how prevalent this is. There is no thought to progression, advancing training age, and adaptation. Each training year, for that matter each training cycle, should be a logical extension of the previous cycle and lead into the next cycle. Progression is not linear. I am convinced that is the genesis of many of the injury problems you see in professional sports. The programs NEVER change. That is the problems, what is the solution? The solution is rather simple, look at the individual. Work to meet individual needs. This can be done in the context of a large group. More on this in future posts.


Many Children Left Behind

We are in a crisis situation in this country (no this is not a political blog, although I am tempted) The crisis is with our youth. Instead of no child being left behind, we are hurting an entire generation who will struggle throughout their lifetimes to reverse patterns of childhood behavior. We have a nation of children who are essentially sedentary. Obesity is an epidemic. We are bombarded with solutions that ignore the root of the problem – lack of exercise. It is not about diet, although that is obviously a factor, it is a distinct lack of quality movement in everyday life activities. Even young athletes suffer from this problem, the only time they move is during organized team practices and even those do not demand a high level of activity. If the child is not an athlete forget it, they have no chance. The solution is to get Physical Education back in the schools, get after school sport programs back that promote free play. Recess also would be helpful. Instead of taking more time away from recess and Physical Education give the kids more time to play and move. I would be willing to bet that test scores would rise. The last time I checked reading was a motor skill. Attention deficit behavior would be reduced, ever try to sit in a desk for six hours without moving? Let’s give the kids a chance. The physical education must be physical, not the sorry excuse we have today where the teachers have to make it academic to justify its place in the curriculum. Wake up and move!!


True Sport

A week ago I had the opportunity to attend the Westmont Cross Country Invitational run on the campus of Westmont College. Westmont is a small private school in Santa Barbara California, my home town. It was great to see sport the way it is meant to be. There was real competition and real coaching. Nobody was running for a shoe contract or prize money; it really was the essence of sport. The emphasis was improvement and optimizing the athlete’s ability. I am convinced that this is what is missing today in sport at all levels. We have been corrupted by the ESPN highlight syndrome and the undue emphasis on records. Sport at the truest level is all about competition. I had no idea of the times the runners were running (I consciously did not start my watch) instead I watched the competition. It was great! Kudos to coach Russ Smelley of Westmont for putting on the meet and for the fine job of coaching his team.


Train Movements not Muscles

Movement of the body is not an isolated event that occurs at one joint or in one plane of motion. It is a complex event that involves synergists, stabilizers, neutralizers, and antagonists all working together to produce and reproduce efficient movement in all three planes of motion. The cornerstone of functional training and rehabilitation is to train movements, not muscles. The muscles are slaves of the brain. The brain does not recognize isolated muscles; it recognizes patterns of movement in response to sensory input from the environment. Training isolated movements, individual muscles, has the potential to create tremendous neural confusion. This is something to avoid at all costs. It may be more convenient to train an individual muscle, but it is not correct. It complicates the process of getting that muscle to work as part of an integrated whole. Integrated movements are simple because they take advantage of the wisdom of the body to solve movement problems..


Talent Selection

I have always felt that talent selection was the key to success. Talent selection is different than Talent ID. Talent ID is the easy part. The athletic qualities are fairly straight forward to asssess. It is the "other stuff" that is important. The following is from Charlie Weis, the Nortre dame coaching talking about his approach which reflects the Patriot way.
The Patriots won three Super Bowls with a lot of players whom others passed over, who were a certain kind of breed. Weis' eyes lit up over the possibility of bringing that model to college recruiting, trying out the Patriots' Sunday way on Saturdays.
"Everyone says, 'Here's the top 20 players in the country,'" Weis said, "but what guys are going to fit into what you do? What guys are your type of guys? I brought in a guy from Indiana that they weren't recruiting, that is a lot like our [2003 fourth round pick] Dan Klecko.
"So many times people get enamored with what the class is rated. Of course you want the best athletes. But you also want the guys that fit your system, and fit your personality. I'm not the most pleasant person in the whole world. You have to be able to deal with the personality of the head coach, because that's going to be the reflection of the team.
"All scouts want height, weight, speed guys. [Patriots personnel director] Scott [Pioli] goes the extra mile and worries about fits. I think the same is true in recruiting. You want to get the best athletes you possibly can, but can they read and write? Are they high character kids?
"Do they fit your system?"

For more on a similar approach see the bool "Scouts Honor" about the Atlanta Braves system of Talent ID and selection.


I urge you to comment on the postings. I have recieved many emails with comments on the posting. It would be great to have you post rather than writing me. My goal with this blog is not just to provide information, but to stimulate discussion and thought on key issues in the field of Athletic Development. There are many issues that must be addressed. My thoughts only represent one opinion, one voice.



In yesterdays NY Times (Sept 22, 2005 page E10) there was an interesting article on a commercial concept termed “Body Mapping.” Facilities are licensed for $300.000 a month to use an analysis to assess static posture based on an over head squat movement. I wish it were so simple. Posture is not static so, there is fundamental flaw in the assumption that it is possible to assess muscle imbalance from a static position.
Dynamic postural alignment and subsequent dynamic muscle balance are the basis for all training. Posture is a dynamic quality; it is not static! It is not a posed still position standing in front of a posture grid. Posture is highly individual to each person’s body structure and highly adapted to the sport activity the athlete is engaged in. According to Logan and McKinney, “The mature athlete tends to have a posture which is related to his particular sport if he has trained for years to become expert at his specific position or event. The reason for this phenomenon is the fact that the body tends to adjust or adapt to the various stresses or demands imposed upon it as a result of prolonged muscular activity.” (Kinesiology by Logan and McKinney, page 149) A good example of this is six time Tour France winner, Lance Armstrong who evolved a position on the bike that is not considered perfect. Some experts were considering changing his position on the bike. The team chiropractors answer to them was: “It’s an imbalance, yes, but it’s also Lance Armstrong.” (Lance Armstrong’s war by Coyle p 50)
Posture is a dynamic controlling quality. It is helpful to think of athletic movement not as one posture, but as a series of postures. Optimal dynamic alignment of the segments of the kinetic chain throughout movement yield coordinated movement. If one segment or link in the kinetic chain is out of sync, this sets up the potential for performance error as well as a predisposition to injury if the movement is repeated enough.


Training the Energy Systems?

When the concept of training the energy systems was first articulated in the book “Interval Training” by Fox and Mathews circa 1974 this was major breakthrough in training. It was presented in such a manner that concepts and ideas that had been the exclusive domain of the scientist in the lab were articulated in terms and in a context that coaches and practitioners could apply. Unfortunately as the concepts gained in popularity it seems we have deviated from some simple scientific facts.
Conceptually, the energy systems are intensity dependent, not time dependent. Somehow the misconception has arisen that the energy systems function like a set of timed switches that sequentially turn on as the duration of exercise increases. In actual fact all three energy systems are “turned on” at the beginning of exercise. Essentially the proportionate contribution of each system will vary with the intensity and duration of the effort. ATP is necessary for movement; it is manufactured aerobically or anaerobically depending on the intensity of the exercise. Furthermore, the energy systems must interact with the other systems of the body to ensure that the output is an efficient, smooth, and coordinated action. We always train the energy systems, but it will not be an up front objective. Consideration is always given to the dominate energy system demands of the various training activities relative to the demands of the sport. This is to guide us, but it is not the sole objective in a workout.


Aerobic Work for Non Endurance Sports

It is a given that we need to develop the aerobic component. The fundamental dichotomy is how to develop the aerobic power necessary to recover from the short intense bursts of activity that occur in a game without compromising the explosive power necessary for optimal performance during the bursts. It is during the bursts that actual game performance is measured and decided. To do this necessitates thinking and acting outside the box. Volumes of research literature and thousands of doctoral dissertations have been written on all the various factors of aerobic exercise. This is because it is a very measurable quality. Max VO2 is easy to measure; it is still considered the gold standard lab test to measure aerobic fitness. Remember, what is convenient is not always right. I maintain that taken out of context it is an overrated measure, especially for team sport athletes. I have seen basketball teams that have put an inordinate emphasis on aerobic fitness test well on aerobic fitness tests and be able to run forever, but not have the quick bursts necessary to compete in the game. Research has shown that sustained aerobic work will significantly compromise explosive power. For the intermittent sprint and transition sport athlete time whose games demand repetitive sprint ability and the ability to quickly recover from those bouts of high intensity work the effort could be better spent in other areas. Those athletes do not need max VO2 tests to test the aerobic component. Experience and research has shown that VO2 max an unreliable predictor of performance, especially for these athletes.

More Core - The Serape Effect

A key concept to understand in regard to core function is the “Serape Effect.” This concept was articulated by Logan and McKinney in their book “Kinesiology” over fifty years ago. The serape is a Mexican garment that is draped loosely over the shoulders and is crossed in front of the body. The concept serves to reinforce the concept of the muscles of the core as a connector. They identified the serape muscles as the rhomboids, serratus anterior, external obliques and internal obliques. These muscles working together are called the “Serape Effect.” Logan & McKinney state that: “The serape effect incorporates several major concepts which are vital to the understanding of movement. In ballistic actions such as throwing and kicking, the serape muscles add to the summation of internal forces. They also transfer internal force from a large body segment, the trunk, to relatively smaller body parts, the limbs. For example, the serape effect functions in throwing by summating, adding to, and transferring the internal forces generated in the lower limbs and pelvis to the throwing limb.” (Logan & McKinney p.154)
The serape effect clearly makes the connection that in overhead activities there is a definite hip to shoulder relationship. According to Logan and McKinney using the example of a right handed thrower: “There is a definite interaction between the pelvic girdle on the left and the throwing limb on the right by way of concentric contraction of the left internal oblique, right external oblique, and serratus anterior on the right at the initiation of the throw. The pelvic girdle is rotating to the left and the rib cage is rotating to the right.” (Logan & McKinney p 156) This movement paradigm is true in all overhead activities. It is a clear rational for training the core in diagonal and rotational patterns in order to take full advantage of core function. What is amazing is that this was articulated over fifty years ago and there are still people who do not take advantage of this naturally occurring phenomenon. This has broad implications in performance enhancement as well as injury prevention and rehabilitation.


The Ground

The ground is where we live, work and play. It is always there, like gravity, so a goal of training is to learn to use it to our best advantage. The role of the ground in movement is something martial arts practitioners have understood for thousands of years. A Tai Chi instructor summed it up best:
Rooted in the feet
Powered by the core
Reflected by the arms
Manifested in the hands
Movement begins at the ground. Everything is expressed from the ground upward; consequently all movement is a reflection of the quality of being rooted. The natural analogy of the tree is particularly appropriate. The size and strength of the trunk are not ultimately what determines the strength of the tree; it is the root structure. As we proceed down the functional path to build our complete athlete keep this analogy in mind. The athlete is built from the ground up. How force is imparted into the ground and the subsequent ground reaction go a long way to determine the quality of the athlete’s performance. The ability to use the ground effectively plays a significant role in injury prevention and rehabilitation.


Training to Your Strengths

Training to your strengths is certainly not a new idea but in many ways it runs contrary to the way most coaches think. There is something about coaches and coaching that lead us to do the opposite, train the weaknesses. It is so typical to hear a coach talk about what if. What if so and so had a better kick, was stronger or could just handle running heats? I propose that before you focus on what the athlete cannot do find out everything they can do. What are their strengths? How do they use their strengths at the present time? How is training structured now? Is an inordinate amount of emphasis being given to training to improve weaknesses to the exclusion of the strengths?

There are no quick fixes, even with the younger athlete; it is a long term process.
With the young developing athlete, ask the obvious question: Are they in the correct event? Instead of spending an inordinate amount of time working on a perceived weakness see if the athlete is better suited for another event. Sometimes what is perceived as a weakness in one event will be a strength in another. Find the talent that suits the event; do not try to make someone they are not. Know yourself and know your athlete. Recognize the patterns that are strong and build on those. Just as you should not be defined by the competition, the athlete should not be defined by their weaknesses.

Focus on weakness makes a fallacious assumption
1) that anyone can become competent in most anything
2) The greatest room for growth and improvement comes in the persons weak areasEach athlete’s strengths are unique and personal. The more that we as coaches can help the athlete explore their strengths the more sold they will be on the training. They will see progress and then begin to factor in work on strengths that can be systematically addressed. Do not focus on strength to the exclusion of working on the weaknesses; rather learn to manage the weakness

Sustained Excellence

Over the years I have been fascinated by sustained excellence. Championship teams and organizations are the ones that can repeat their success. They are not one shot wonders. I believe the New England Patriots epitomize this. I am not a Patriots fans or someone who has jumped on the bandwagon. I have carefully studied their approach and it is classically characteristic of a championship organization. Watching about one quarter of last nights Patriot game versus the Raiders was very interesting. The announcers were very effusive in their praise of the Raiders talent, especially Randy Moss. The fallacy of this is that a team wins, not an individual. The patriots have a system. That system dictates everything they do. Talent ID and acquisition are the cornerstone. They get players who fit their system. They have a plan, they stick to it and they execute it. They put a premium on coaching and teaching. Because they have a system when coaches leave that does not have a negative effect. They have an excellent conditioning program that is based on sound principles not fads. Sustained excellence does not happen by chance!


University of Michigan

I have just returned from four days working with the Women’s swim coach, Jim Richardson and the Women’s Tennis coach Bitsy Ritt. I worked with them on designing their Athletic Development programs. It is always a pleasure to work with professionals who are interested in improving their knowledge to make their teams better. They both have been successful and are sincerely interested in getting better.

This is my third year with Michigan Women’s swimming. Jim has embraced a very different approach to dry land training that we instituted three years ago. There is a direct correlation with what is being done in Dryland to what is being done in the water. The results have significantly improve performance and significantly reduce should injures. I want to wish both coaches and their teams the best of luck this year.


HIT Training

HIT, an acronym for high intensity training is a misnomer, all training to be effective must have a combination of volume and intensity. To term training high intensity training is a misnomer, because high neural demand activities demand high intensity. This is not the exclusive domain of resistance training.

The primary arguments for the HIT method are that it is safer and faster.
Concentrating forces at one joint that should be distributed over multiple joints is not safe. Also the machines do not fit people that are more than two standard deviations outside of “normal,” whatever that is. This is unsafe because the axis of rotation of the machine is outside the joint axis, once again putting undue stress on a joint. As far time utilization only one person can use one machine at a time. This results in too much standing around. Also it takes a series of machines to do a complete workout. Bodyweight, dumbbells and free weight can be easily adapted to the size of the group. As far as I am able to determine through my experience and research is that HIT is a sound method to use for six to eight weeks to gain bulk. The muscle isolation creates a hypertrophic response, it is essentially body building. As far as the one set to failure concept. Bill Kraemer did a very good job of refuting this argument in a published study reporting the results of a longitudinal training study. The study clearly showed that multiple stets were more effective.


Innovations in Training

There is very little that is truly new, so many of the methods that are being touted as new and innovative today are actually old. Currently electrical stimulation is back in favor. This was very popular in the early to mid Seventies. The difference is that the stim units are significantly smaller and easier to use, but the research regarding the benefits are still somewhat contradictory. In the book “The perfect Mile” I was struck by the advanced training methods used by Wes Santee, the American runner. That was in the early 1950’s. His workouts were comparable to the runners of today. In the interim science has given better direction as to the application of the methods and time to adaptation. The tracks are all weather and the shoes ultra light but the workout are very similar.

Some things that did not work in the past will work now. That is very important to remember. Just because it did not work before does not mean it will not work now, advancements in sports science have enables use to validate methods and refute others.

In my opinion the biggest innovations and breakthroughs in training in the near future will come from closer and more accurate monitoring of training and the adaptive response. Careful monitoring will result in more targeted application of training methods. In addition it provides for better assessment of individual adaptive response. For more on Monitoring of Training there is an excellent article in the current issue of Olympic Coach (Fall 2005, Vol. 17 #3)by Bill Sands and Mike Stone