Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Young Athletes Beware of the "Idiot Box"...

I wanted to wrap up 2015 with a few random thoughts on Sports Performance Training.  Over the past few months a couple of high profile professional athletes were “caught” on video seemingly displaying tremendous feats of athleticism. But as long-time strength and conditioning professional Mike Boyle points out in the excerpt below this should be a lesson in what not to do!

Box Jump Idiocy

The top box in the plyo box stack is either a 36 or 42-inch plyo box.
If you have one, please put it away. In fact, unless you are training some great athletes, put your 30-inch box away too. I have dubbed the big plyo boxes “Idiot Boxes”. Idiot boxes are jumped on by young men (it is always young men) looking to show off.

I have begun to refer to them as “skin donors”. I can tell you something for sure. If CSI showed up and dusted the high plyo boxes for DNA most of these boxes would test positive. There was a time when my athletes and I were foolish just like everyone else and did these foolish exercises. After coaching a few “skin donors” I realized that what mattered was the movement of the center of mass, not the height of the box. I no longer own a 36” box but own lots of 18’s, 24’s and a few 30’s.

Our rule is simple; jump and land from the same position. This means that take off and landing should look identical. If you jump from a ½ squat, land in a half squat.
I could post a few videos but, don’t want to get sued. Just Youtube “box jumps” if you want to see foolishness in action.

And please, don’t stack up a bunch of stuff to jump on. That’s even dumber. I just saw an article with a multi-million dollar athlete jumping on a collection of boxes and plates. Try to explain that during your deposition.
Remember, jump and land from the same position.

Mike Boyle- The God Father of modern sport performance training, has coached at the Olympic and Division 1 college level in addition to working with professional athletes and amateur athletes for nearly 3 decades. In short, no one has a better frame of reference than Boyle.

I can’t help but toss in my own two cents on this topic. The first thing I noticed in the most recent video (a certain Washington Nationals outfielder) was the location of his “act.” Needless to say once I understood where this took place I was not surprised in the least. There is a gigantic difference between and “trainer” and strength and conditioning professional SCP).  An SCP would never have allowed their athlete to waste time on a useless exercise like a maximum effort box jump.

Our time with athletes is extremely valuable wasting it on fruitless circus acts is irresponsible at best!

Gold Medalist calls it a career and calls out current youth sport culture in America

Abby Wambach is a 2-time Olympic Gold medalist and FIFA World Cup Champion (2015). Wambach is a six-time winner of the U.S. Soccer Athlete of the Year award. As a forward, she currently stands as the highest all-time goal scorer for the national team and holds the world record for international goals for both female and male soccer players with 184 goals. In 2012, Wambach was awarded the 2012 FIFA World Player of the Year.

Wambach was an elite athlete so her insight on her development and the current your sport culture in America is extremely valuable to all athletes/parents who dream of becoming an elite level athlete. I have preached on this topic for over a decade now but it always seems to be delivered with more impact when someone like Abby takes up the conversation.

While the whole interview is very good, pay special attention starting at the 56:00 make and the final 5:30 of the episode. Listen to episode #40.

2015 Male Golf Player of The Year is a tremendous role model for all athletes

I recently read a few end of year recaps in which Jordan Speith was honored with Player of the Year recognition. A few insights from expert analysts and competitors really stood out and should serve as extremely important lessons that all young athletes should work very hard at developing if they truly want to achieve great things in sport and in the game of life.

“What I admire most about him are the intangibles: the grind, the heart, the ability to get the ball in the whole no matter what.”

Zach Johnson- 2015 Open Champion

That statement from Johnson highlights the essential variable that must be present for any young athlete to maximize their potential. Without these intangibles you have no chance!

 I don’t want to dive to deeply into the intricacies of golf in this space but this next line is about Speith describing deficiencies/weaknesses in his game:

“It’s frustrating not to execute but at the same time I like having that weakness exposed, because it gives me direction in what I need to work on.”

Fellow competitor Paul Casey had this to say about Speith:

“I love that passion and drive and desire and that honesty. Ultimately, I think it’s that honesty that will keep Speith on top of our game for a very long time. You’ve got to have supreme confidence in your abilities, but at the same time you can’t be blind. That’s what Tiger was great at. He was never satisfied. Jordan is exactly the same way”

For young athletes that mind-set is golden. Speith is 22 years old and has proven it time and again. His fellow competitors acknowledge that he’s special. But notice they don’t mention qualities like his power or strength…

It’s the little things, the details that allow Speith to achieve the results on the Golf course.

Hard work and dedication are prerequisites but from there you have to be honest with yourself. You have to have a plan! All great competitors are open to a better way of doing things and they recognize that they don’t have all the answers.

I have talked recently about why strength and conditioning is a must for the modern athlete and it has little to do with advanced training concepts or “butt-kicking” workouts. In my world I see way to often athletes with good intentions wasting a lot of time in the gym. They don’t have plan. Sorry to say but Stack.com is not a plan! You can find exercises on line that look cool and are touted to enhance speed, power and strength but what’s often missed is context.

You need to be honest with yourself… do your goals and current training align? If you need help don’t be afraid to ask for it. Honesty and humility will serve you well in your athletic development.

Mike Boyle called out young men for their egos driving stupid acts in training. Young guys do dumb stuff in the gym, realize it’s a tool to help improve performance and it’s not where you should be doing a performance. All young athletes need a reality check. And I hear this all the time from young men but the truth is you “don’t got this!”

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Be a good cookie this Holiday Season and don't be afraid to have one either!

My wife and I have been busy with the usual chores: decorating the tree, sending Christmas cards, rounding out our year end charitable donations, and...

...delivering delicious cookies.

But before you ask me where to find our "healthy" cookies, I have a confession:

We're not delivering some low-fat, gluten-free, protein-packed,
artificially sweetened, possibly-hiding-beets, "healthy" version
of a cookie.

Nope, we're delivering the REAL THING, the kind of cookie that contains butter, sugar, and flour, the kind of cookie most "nutrition experts" will
tell you to avoid completely this year:

Anyway, when people learn that my family and I sometimes make
treats like cookies...or go out for ice cream...or don't eat 100%
protein and vegetables all the time...they get a little confused.
"But isn't a Life Time trainer all about eating good foods and
avoiding bad foods?"

The answer, I'm proud to say, is no.
Optimal nutrition is NOT all about eating "good" foods and
avoiding "bad" foods. (I don't even like those labels.)
In a minute, I'll share what optimal nutrition is really about.
But first I'm going to encourage you to enjoy some sort of
cookie, cake, or cocktail this holiday season, too.
In addition to songs, and friendship, and holiday cheer.

Here's why.
When men and women come into fitness, they carry their own ideas
about what food is...even if they've never really thought about
it before.
For them, food can be...
* fuel
* reward
* punishment
* escape
* shame
* freedom
* and more...
But for me, food is information. It's a story that shapes your daily life, your
health, and your function. When food is information, there is no "good" food or "bad" food.There are only choices. And that's it. But the choice IS the thing.

You see, every time you choose to eat one thing over another,
you're voting for what's really important to you right now.

Of course, you may not realize you're doing that. But every decision IS a calculation of what really matters to you, in that moment.

So, with the holidays here for most of us, what DOES matter to
you right now?
Is it...
Feeling good? Connecting with loved ones? Truly nourishing your
body? Feeding your soul? Remembering your heritage or family

No judgment here. YOU get to decide your priorities. And 
sometimes other things SHOULD win out over "nutrition".

So I'm not here to tell you what to do, think, or feel. Nor do I write this to make you feel guilty, ashamed, anxious, or deprived.

Instead, I'm here to help you think through the question. To help
you choose more consciously, with awareness and intention.
And the Life Time team is here to guide you along the path YOU choose.

Plus, we DO like to keep it real.
Because shortbread and latkes taste great when made with love and
shared with friends and family. They just do.

And, while some people in fitness have a hard time with this
notion, I think that feeling good is part of enjoying life and
being healthy.

Of course, if you struggle with this part of your "food story",
and would like to rewrite it to include joy, freedom, and
deliciousness - all the while working toward a better body -
Life Time can help.

Funny enough, here's my first prescription:

Enjoy a real cookie or two this holiday season! Or some other
thing you enjoy but think is "off limits".

Just do it consciously, mindfully, and - as we teach in our
coaching programs - slowly.
Instead of scarfing it down and waiting for the guilt, taste what
you enjoy, with intention. Then move on.

Because, with the right approach, you can work toward more
enjoyment and connection PLUS improved health and fitness.
All at the same time.

But even if you're not ready to embrace this mindset yet because
restricting is your only way to feel in control...
Because you can't believe that enjoying certain foods guilt-free
is possible...
Because you're stuck in the middle of a nasty cycle of restrict,
collapse, guilt, repeat... My family and I will still share some laughs, shed some tears, and nosh a few cookies this holiday season.

We might even raise a glass of egg nog in your honor.
Because, around here, we know that connection, love, and
enjoyment CAN exist while working toward better health together.
And we're hoping that somewhere along the way you'll discover the same thing. Besides, we'll probably burn up all those cookies climbing the
local sledding hills anyway ;-)

In case your looking for a last minute gift idea or love giving to terrific causes this will be sure to bring a smile to the recipients face while also warming your soul. You'll understand why after you read more about these cookies.

And after the Holidays if you feel you need to get back on track while still giving yourself a treat try these for a snack option.

Happy holidays to you and yours!

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Why Strength and Conditioning is Essential for the Modern American Baseball Player...

Here in the Midwest we are about to hit the fall sport season and high school football is about to "kick-off" and basketball/hockey seasons are just a few months away. It would seem that baseball would be the furthest thing from a young athletes mind right now.

Welcome to 2015 the era of sport specialization! Mother Nature used to limit our ability to play baseball during the late fall/winter but that’s not the case anymore. There is no shortage of facilities that cater to the needs of the baseball athlete. If an athlete wants to hit, throw or pitch during the winter they can do so under the expert tutelage of area hitting and pitching instructors.

I can opine until the cows come home that kids should take a break from year round sport participation but we can’t ignore the facts. Youth baseball is as competitive as ever and everyone is doing all they can to give themselves an edge.

I am not here to debate whether year round baseball is good or bad for developing young athletes… But if you truly have aspirations to be the best baseball player you can be you can’t ignore what happens as a result of this year round commitment to the sport.

I will circle back to the why but first allow me to introduce the what. Off-field strength and conditioning or Complete Baseball Performance (CBP) is essential for the modern baseball athlete!

As noted earlier everyone has access to expert baseball skill development through private/group pitching and hitting instruction. But there is a huge opportunity to set yourself apart with CBP. That’s because baseball players are an incredibly neglected population with respect to strength and conditioning.

Most training programs for young athletes are based off bodybuilding, football strength and conditioning or Cross-Fit. None of which are ideal, in fact they may do more harm than good.

A good baseball strength and conditioning program must address the unique demands of the sport. Baseball is a rotational sport with significant overhead activity with high velocity repetitive movements.

In fact throwing a baseball is the single fast motion in all of sport!

Humeral (upper arm bone) internal rotation velocity during throwing may reach 7500 to 7700 degrees per second.

And swinging a bat is not exactly a slow motion either…

During the baseball swing maximal hip rotational velocity reaches up to 714 degrees per second, where the pelvis rotates over a relatively fixed femur (thigh bone).

While qualities such as strength, speed and power are just as important in baseball as they are in other sports, it’s how you go about obtaining them that makes all the difference.

Now let’s get back to the why behind CBP.  First from a performance perspective two key qualities must be enhanced through training:

Durability- this allows you to stay on the field, where you’ll have the continuity to develop your skills. If you’re always hurt or experiencing pain you won’t be able to stay on the field.

Athleticism- the better athlete you are the better things tend to “stick.”  In other words the more fertile your athletic soil is the better the seeds your coaches’ plant will grow into something special!

There are also two other factors that necessitate CBP for the modern baseball player.

Sport Specialization- not only do you need CBP to counteract the demands of the sport, you’ll also need it to provide the diverse athletic stimulus that you’re missing out on by not playing other sports. This keeps your body fresh and increases your ability to adapt and develop elite level skill.

Athleticism is the foundation for sport specific skill; the more diverse and “deep” that foundation the better chances you’ll have to support high-level sport specific skill. If your foundation is to narrow it’s like trying to shoot a canon from a canoe! You’ll likely “sink” before you reach your potential.

Posture- due to modern technology kids are slouched and hunched over all day long leading to poor joint alignment and when you add on top of that extremely fast/one-sided/highly repetitive motions it can lead to significant muscle imbalances.

Start paying attention to how you stand at rest. Additionally, look around and notice how others stand at rest. I bet it looks a lot like the picture below (weight shifted into the right hip/low right shoulder/nipple, lower right hand, just to name the most obvious). This is something I see on extreme levels in some of our right-handed throwing athletes; they’re right handed people, in a unilateral sport, in a right-handed world!

Think of the poor alignment/posture as the athlete’s starting position. Their bodies have to work so hard just to play “catch up” (get the joints in position to execute the skill) it will likely lead to excessive stress on muscles, tendons, and ligaments in addition to the wear and tear on joint surfaces.

At least this will lead to poor timing and rhythm of hitting and pitching mechanics at worse it can lead to significant injuries to the shoulder, elbow, low back or hips.

Simply restoring alignment as close to neutral as possible could unlock significant gains in potential bat and running speed as well as throwing velocity.

Most strength and conditioning programs ignore this unique demand imposed upon the baseball athlete.

Baseball is an extremely fast sport and the one-sided nature and rotational demands require specific programming variables that simply aren’t addressed with Cross-Fit, Football based programs nor Stack.com.

The off-season is the ideal time to develop the body armor you’ll need to stay on the field and the athleticism that is necessary to develop elite level baseball skill.

Final Thought

Last week I spoke with my old friend Carlo Alvarez, Sport Performance Coordinator for MLB's Pittsburgh Pirates. There are two things from this conversation that I wanted to highlight.

First, Carlo told me that of the 40 athletes that the Pirates drafted this past June 39 had to be regressed from his basic conditioning program. He said they were a "mess" and lacked fundamental movement and general athleticism; they were not physically prepared for professional baseball. So essentially he had to take 39 kids that were skilled enough to be drafted and take them back to the basics (running, jumping, skipping, crawling...).

Secondly, the best athletes in America aren't playing baseball. 50% of the athletes in professional baseball were born outside of the U.S. Take a glance at the rosters of the 30 MLB teams and look at the starting shortstops... This is arguably the most athletically demanding position on the field and there are few American born athletes (7 out of 30 or 23%) playing that position at the MLB level.

What does all this mean? It tells me that there is a tremendous opportunity for those that make the commitment to improve their performance preparation and overall athleticism. If our best athletes don't play baseball then the kids that do choose the sport can make a huge leap by focusing on improving athleticism outside of baseball skill development. Further, skilled baseball players that are good enough to be drafted are grossly under-prepared for the demands of high-level baseball. This means athletes aren't doing the right things away from the field and they will likely stall out before reaching their potential.

The modern American baseball player spends plenty of time on skill development (possibly to much) and they are just as likely devoting time to speed and agility training and weight training that is not addressing their unique needs.  It's pretty clear (by the numbers) that the current formula is flawed, it's simply not working! If we keep running into the wall maybe it's time to find another way to get around it...