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The Future of Physical Conditioning for Tennis

A few weeks ago I took part in another webinar around physical conditioning for Tennis players – ”The Golden Circle of Physical Development- The Why, How & what.” The webinar was hosted by Dario Novak, and featured Ruben Neyens who spoke about young athletes at the U14 level.  The webinar explored ways to bridge the gap between sports science (Why & How) and the practical on-court implementation (What) of physical training.

 

–>Follow @darionovak_ph.d   (Dr. Dario Novak)

–>Follow @ruben.neyens        (Ruben Neyens)

 

I was interested to hear this coach speak as I was always interested in his exercise selection, and the drills he uses with his tennis players. Today I wanted to share a few of his insights that resonated with me from the talk and perhaps share some other pieces of information.

 

Firstly, this talk was intended for the development of 14U players, however, other age groups would benefit from these pearls of wisdom.

The talk built a case for the Golden circle, I believe the book it came from was “Start with why” In this case;

 

  1. Why = Reason and value of physical conditioning
  2. How = Method and plan
  3. What = Activity and coaching

 

Broken escalator problem

 

Unfortunately, I could not find the commercial on the internet. But, I was shown a clip of two people on an escalator, the escalator stopped working and rather than just walking the remainder of the journey, the users stood there in confusion. This led to some provocative and open ended questioning by Ruben.

 

“Do you the see the problem?”

 

“When you do find the problem, are you going to be the one that solves it?”

 

This boils down to a couple of key things. Understanding the demands of Tennis and the individual in front of you. With regards to the demands a colleague of mine referred to something called “performance backwards” which seemed to stick. This will lead us nicely on to the next topic.

 

 

Demands of Tennis (Reason & Value)

 

I am going to split this section up into two sections as the first section was interesting.

  1. General demands

Tennis (unless playing doubles) is an individual sport and also a fairly silent game. Well, what does this mean? It means that not only do players have to demonstrate problem solving abilities, they have to demonstrate high energy/intensity without the quarrying motivation from their coaches. Ruben honourably said as a young coach “He would shout at the players to augment energy within a session.”

 

This was interesting and reading some of Dan John’s work showing the importance of creating the right synergy between Physical tension, Heart rate and arousal level, an imbalance of this synergy can throw off performance.

 

The length of a Tennis game is often dictated by the score, highlighting its unpredictability. It was mentioned that Ruben tends to try and replicate this by creating some unpredictability in the length of his training sessions. I was scratching my head around this, in the real world this sounds like a logistical nightmare. However, I also know some coaches like to use “Trading conditioning”. This is creating a scenario where there is unpredictability how many repetitions are performed of a particular conditioning drill, athletes remain clueless and you keep performing the task until told to stop.

 

From a perception-action standpoint players are reacting to “visual cues” which I see Ruben complimenting, by using lights and various visual aids for his reactive based speed work.

 

  1. Physical demands

In this section I am not going to mention all of the physical demands I currently know, just the ones that stood out to me. Last year I wrote an article on “demands of the game” but I wanted to add to it by mentioning a few key points.

 

  • Average 3-5 changes of direction per point
  • Average 800 changes of direction per match

 

What I admired about this talk is Ruben is so honest with his mistakes, he mentioned that when he reflected on his programming he was training his players for long rallies (not the intention) which was not reflective of the game.

 

 

Stop start cycle

Tennis is characterised by what he called a “stop start cycle”. Where players have to start, move, hit & recover. Along with the locomotive demands players have to be able to orient their bodies well whilst maintaining balance, highlighting the need to control their bodies in order to hit the ball effectively.

 

 

Why do we need physical training?

 

So a question was asked. “Why do we need physical training on top of tennis training?” These four overarching topics were brought forward.

 

  • Fundamentals – Teaching fundamentals of good movement
  • Performance – Enhancing performance
  • Prevention – Injury prevention/keeping athletes healthy
  • Variation– Keeping training interesting and varied.

 

I don’t think I need to go into any of these topics in too much detail however, I quite liked the point he made about variation and providing a nice change (from tennis training) for young athletes.

How do you implement physical training

 

Building the Layers

 

Firstly, it’s determining what you want to work on, “what is my goal?” I particularly enjoyed this section because it succinctly connects the training puzzle. I have always believed that the art of programming is not the individual training units, rather how it fits together in the big picture you are trying to paint.

 

Coordination Speed Strength Endurance Mobility

 

At APA we refer to these fitness components as the 5 S’s- skill, speed, strength, stamina and suppleness.

 

It was mentioned that you may work on a number of these in a session however this is best delivered as a “starter” & a “main dish” where the main dish is the prolific quality and the “starter” may include other training qualities in smaller amounts. For example, the use of “Movement breaks” within a session.

 

From the qualities we are trying to develop, comes the delivery and the organisation of exercises, “Are we trying to learn, develop or perform the skill?”

 

Learn
Develop
Perform

 

This just follows a systematic progression of exercises. When we learn an exercise/skill we slow it down and reduce its complexity. As we develop a skill we may increase spatial and temporal pressure. Finally, there is performing the skill with added pressure, complexity and competition. But, the question is; “Does the skill survive?”

 

Types of physical training 

 

I am paraphrasing here but Ruben suggests that “The role of the physical trainer is to develop the physical qualities, not correct technique around tennis skills.”

 

This section refers to the degree of specificity. Is training, general, orientated, integrated or specific? Where orientated training may look like a footwork drill using a tennis ball “bounce and catch” to mimic the stop-start cycle or specific training where there is the use of a Racket and Tennis ball. An example of integrated training is using medicine balls throws preceding hitting ground strokes.

 

General
Orientated
Integrated
Specific

 

The 3-D model

 

 

This creates a 3-D model of training, and it is something I am going to reflect on in my training. Having drills where there is clearer system and intention on the type and intensity of exercises/drills, these can then be selected at certain times.

 

Learn Develop Perform
General Integrated Specific
Coordination Mobility Strength Endurance Speed

 

This was a great presentation with many more points however, I wanted to highlight the aforementioned points in particular. I hope you learn from the work of Ruben, I certainly did.

 

Do you feel that this would be a perfect time to work on the weak links that you have been avoiding? The things that you know you should be doing that you keep putting off? Would you like us to help you with movement screening and an injury prevention program? Then click on the link below and let us help you!

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Should We Treat All Children the Same?- Part 2

Hey Everyone.  My name is Daz, owner of Athletic Performance Academy and chances are you are reading this blog because you have an interest in the question, ‘should we treat all children the same?’

Please read Part 1 if you haven’t already.

One Size Fits All

 

In Part 1 I asked the question whether the mechanical model which ‘treats all children the same’ is part of the reason why some children seemingly fail in a system that is based on a ‘one size fits all approach.’  Do we just give our energy to the children who thrive in this environment, or do we need to change the environment, or at least give more opportunities to experience different environments, ones where more children actually want to learn in?

 

 

To answer this, this blog will firstly look at the CULTURE of our Academic institutions referring to what High Performance Systems in the world do, and also look at ‘Alternative Education programmes.’

 

I will then discuss COMMUNICATION methods to ensure that your coaching/teaching methods engage as many learners as possible by looking at Motivation and Skill variances in mixed ability groups and their individual needs.

Reforming Public Education

 

This section will propose some key ingredients to ensure the future success of Public Education in the 21 st century, based on some of the great work of the late Sir Ken Robinson, an international education advisor in the Arts who championed education reform.  He was passionate about creative and cultural education, with the goal to unlock and ignite the creative energy of people and organisations, which he felt was sadly lacking in the current education system.

 

 

Sir Ken has compelled us to think differently about capacity of the human mind- intelligence is diverse, dynamic and distinct.   Please watch How To Escape Education’s Death Valley which talks about the three features of High Performance Systems and thoughts on Alternative Education programmes.

 

Sir Ken highlighted that what all the high performing systems in the world do is currently what is not evident, sadly, across the systems in America:

 

  • They INDIVIDUALISE teaching and learning-  This system has to engage the student’s individuality, curiosity and creativity.  That’s how you get them to learn.
  • Attribute a very HIGH STATUS to the teaching profession.  You can’t improve education if you don’t pick GREAT people to teach and keep giving them constant support and professional development.
  • They DEVOLVE RESPONSIBILITY to the school level for getting the job done vs. command and control, and telling teachers and students what do to.  If you remove their discretion it stops working.

 

Education has been increasingly based on conformity and standardisation- and instead Sir Ken believes we need to go in the opposite direction, what Sir Ken means by changing paradigms!

 

One place to see evidence of this is in the ‘Alternative Education programmes’ that are designed to get kids back into education. They have certain common features.

 

  • They are very PERSONALISED
  • They have STRONG SUPPORT for the teachers
  • They have CLOSE LINKS WITH THE COMMUNITY and a broad and DIVERSE CURRICULUM
  • They often include programmes which involve students OUTSIDE SCHOOL as well as inside school

 

And they work! What’s interesting to Sir Ken is that these are called ‘alternative education,’ programmes. All the evidence from around the world is that if we all did that, there’d be no need for an alternative!

 

Daz comment: I can immediately see the value of applying those six principles into my APA company culture.

 

I have always recreated for CHARACTER first and credentials second.  It’s very important to recruit coaches who embody the APA values of Courage, Honesty, Respect, Enjoyment and Competitive Spirit.

I am often asked what I do for a living, I mostly say I’m a professional fitness trainer (to which the most common reply is, ‘you mean like a Personal Trainer?”) I personally don’t get offended by this but I know other professional coaches do.  Don’t get me wrong there are many exceptional Personal Trainers, but the simple reality is I know I have been to University for 5 years to get degrees in Exercise Science- this can’t be compared to a 12 week online course.  Having Professional status means I get paid to do this full-time for a living, something I never take for granted, since the vast majority of coaches are part-time or volunteers.

 

As far as my expectations of my coaches go, I agree with them what level of guidance they need.  APA can provide DONE FOR YOU templates when needed.  But to be honest, the roles I give them are largely self determined by their experience.  If they lack experience they will assist on sessions where someone else will be responsible for writing the programme.  By its very nature, the premise of the Lead coach is that I have determined that they have enough experience so I can ‘devolve responsibility.’  All my coaches tell me that they really enjoy this opportunity to have some autonomy over their training plans.

 

 

It goes without saying that the training plans are individualised, which I know a lot of people role their eyes at as everyone says their programmes are individualised.  In everyday life this simply means that I give the coach the license to adapt according to the needs of the individual or group, as long as it respects the principles of the APA method- a holistic approach to maximising athletic potential using the 5 S’s and 6 Stages of development.

Culture Reform

 

Up to 60% of children drop out of High school and up to 80% of native Americans (in some parts of the country in the USA).

 

But the drop out crisis is just the tip of the iceberg.  What it doesn’t count is the number of children who are in school, BUT ARE DISENGAGED from it, who DON’T ENJOY IT, who don’t get any real benefit from it.

 

Some people want to learn, and some don’t.  Every student who drops out of school has a reason for it which is rooted in their own biography.  They may find it boring, irrelevant, at odds with the life they are living outside of school/University.  These are trends but the stories are always unique.

 

It could be argued that education fails many people because it dislocates very many people from their natural talents.  Human resources or ‘talents’ are like natural resources- they don’t show up on the surface, they’re buried deep, you have to go looking for them and and CREATE THE CIRCUMSTANCES WHERE THEY SHOW THEMSELVES.

 

It’s about PASSION.  Passion is what excites our spirit and our energy.  And if you’re doing the thing that you love to do, that you’re good at, time takes a different course entirely, an hour feels like 5 minutes.  The reason so many people are opting out of education is because it doesn’t feed their energy, spirit or passion.

Create the Environment

 

In any environment, right beneath the surface are these seeds of possibility waiting for the right conditions to come about, and if the conditions are right, life is inevitable.

 

Take an area, a district, a school, you change the conditions, give people a different sense of possibility, a different set of expectations, a broader range of opportunities, you cherish and value the relationship between teachers and learners, you offer people the discretion to be creative and to innovate in what they do, and schools that were once bereft, spring to life!

 

Great Leaders know that leadership should not be about command and control.  The real role of leadership is CLIMATE control, creating a climate of possibility.  And if you do that, people will rise to it.

 

A case study: Sutton Tennis Academy

 

From February 2017 to Dec 2018 I was personally asked to go into Sutton Tennis Academy (STA) as part of APA’s contract with GLL which also owned Gosling Tennis Academy.  This has been one of the highlight’s of my professional career as a business owner and Head coach.

At the time I arrived, there was a culture change,  GLL had recently taken over, a national leisure centre operator.  The previous S&C department recently departed leaving behind an intern that wasn’t equipped to lead, and was being supported by the Gym Personal trainer at the time, who wasn’t previously involved in the S&C department.

 

I decided to make the intern and the PT interview for the S&C coach role, and I would bring in some additional interns.  It was a challenging process but in the end I had to let the intern go, and I chose the PT who I felt embodied the APA values most, and was going to be the best person for the job.

 

The greatest attribute I brought to the programme was a sense of possibility, a set of expectations based on the training plans I had been successfully implementing at other APA sites and supporting the coaches to be creative and innovative.  The environment changed, there was a sense of purpose, stability and energy.   I brought in another part-time coach and gave him and the PT a clear role so devolved responsibility which they both enjoyed.

 

It Matters How You Say It

 

Great coaching is as much about how you say it, as it is about what to say.  I have included an extract from two great blog posts written by former CEO of the IYCA, Brian Grasso, ”Cook Young Athletes Slow,” and ”How To Shape Speed Training- Part 2.”

”The ‘Lombardi-style’ coaching system doesn’t work. You can’t just bark orders and think that every young athlete you train is going to be listening. With coaching, one-size DOES NOT fit all. Just like physical ability, size, relative strength and potential, they way a young athlete needs to be communicated with is specific to that child or teen.  You cannot assume nor expect a given group of athletes, with their varying personalities and temperaments, to relate and respond to a singular style of coaching.

 

The aristocratic and authoritarian coaching style, long considered the most effective means of handling a group of athletes, is in actuality, a surefire way to negate the potential benefits of a lesson or training session.

 

From an ease of coaching perspective, it would be a wonderful scenario for us to only to work with those athletes whom were supremely motivated and exceptionally gifted, but in reality, this is seldom the case.

 

Now, I’m no fool. I’ve spent nearly 15 years in the trenches and know full well that when you have a group of kids (say 20 6 year olds) getting to know them well enough and being able to provide individual attention to them is challenging to say the least. But that doesn’t mean individualized communication isn’t possible. It just takes a system.

 

In any given group setting you have to accept the notion that your athletes will be divided in terms of both ability and motivation, and represent an eclectic cross-section of potential personalities. Over my years working with kids, I have found that every one of the young athletes I’ve trained fits somewhere into the following category:

 

1. High Motivation/High Skill
2. High Motivation/Low Skill
3. Low Motivation/High Skill
4. Low Motivation/Low Skill

 

Each one of the sub-classifications above represents an athlete in need of a particular coaching style in order to gain and retain your speed and movement shaping lessons optimally.

 

A brief overview of the template that shows how to communicate with each of these young athletes is as follows:

 

1. Delegate – Look to get this young athlete involved in the training and planning process. Have them lead warm-ups for the group. Have them create the warm-up within the boundaries of your system. If they are older, have them help you co-coach your younger groups. Keeping this young athlete engaged is a critical part of keeping them excited about the training process and provide a perfect communication scenario.

 

2. Guide – This young athlete doesn’t require more motivation – they need to enhance their skill. Rather than trying to incite them positively (because they’re already incited!) slow them down and guide them through the process of skill increase slowly. Breakdown complex exercises into specific stages and teach them in a whole-part-whole method. Communication will be automatically improved.

 

3. Inspire – This young athlete is great at everything, but lacks the necessary motivation to produce consistent effort (likely due to pressure from other coaches or their parents). Don’t ‘ride’ them or even ask them to work harder – they will tune you out quicker than you can say TRX! Instead, talk with them about what inspires them. What gets them excited? We all have a switch on the inside that can turn on when the situation is a quality and inspiring one for us. Find where there switch is and help them turn it on.

 

4. Direct – Don’t put this young athlete on the spot – even in a positive manner. They crave autonomy and the ability to just ‘blend in’. So give it to them. Provide instructions for the group at large and then quietly be sure that they know what is expected of them in the up-coming exercise or drill. Once they realize that your communication with them will be non-threatening, they will deem your training environment a ‘safe’ one and start to open up. That’s where the fun will start!”

 

Your first order of business then, is to adopt a dynamic coaching style which has wide spread appeal and attractiveness to any athlete – regardless of ability or disposition.

 

In doing so, your common denominator for coaching a diverse group of athletes must stem from use of the Pygmalion effect (often called the “teacher-expectancy effect”).

 

The Pygmalion effect infers that athletes will respond positively to the expectations placed upon them. This is a place in which may coaches and trainers fail to glean a positive response or change in there athletes when applying exercise stimulus alone as the sole variable used to elicit change or improvement.

 

You must quantify to your athletes what you expect their roles to be in the process of shaping there speed and movement skills. More over, your must consistently assert the specific skills you require them to develop at both the onset and conclusion of a given training session.

 

Herein lies the long-term approach to shaping movement and athleticism.

 

Each and every training session must have a plan for both execution, but be part of a long-range and dynamically conceived vision as to where you want your athletes to be at a certain point in time.

 

It is also critical that coaches and trainers assess the most viable ways of evoking an expectations-based philosophy with each group, in keeping with the varying personality, skill level and disposition of the individuals within that group.

 

It is equally important to understand the value of multidimensional instruction. Some athletes learn visually, some via verbal interaction and others still through kinesthetic means.

 

Each of these instruction strategies must be equated into the coaching puzzle in training sessions for true and lasting habitual change to occur in the quest to have your athletes maximise their potential.

 

In recap, the global behavior standards that must first be developed are as follows:

 

Understand that athletes have varying skills and motivations, and develop dynamic coaching strategies that will influence all of them.

 

Incorporate an expectation principle into each training session so as to have a measurable and tangible objective for your athletes to aspire.

 

Use verbal, visual and kinesthetic means of instruction to promote complete and full adherence.

 

Conclusions

 

Education is not a mechanical system.  It’s a human system.  It’s about people who either do want to learn, or don’t want to learn.  We need to find ways to unlock each individual’s natural talents and allow them to flourish.

 

One of the challenges is to innovate is hard because it means doing something that people don’t find easy; it means challenging what we take for granted.

 

Human communities depend on our diversity of talent, not a singular concept of ability.  And at the heart of the challenge is to reconstitute our sense of ability and intelligence.  It’s about passion to feed their energy, and spirit.

 

We have to go from an industrial mechanical method of education, which is based on linearity, and conformity and batching people.  We have to move to a model that is based on principles of agriculture.  We have to recognise that human flourishing is not a mechanical process; it’s an organic process and you cannot predict the outcome of human development.  All you can do, like a farmer, is create the conditions under which they begin to flourish.

 

It’s about customising your teaching/coaching to you circumstances and personalising education to the people you’re actually teaching.  Doing that is the answer to the future.

 

It’s about creating a movement in education in which people develop their own solutions, but with external support based on personalised curriculums.

 

Follow Daz on instagram @apacoachdaz

 

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Since you’re here…
…we have a small favor to ask.  APA aim to bring you compelling content from the world of sports science and coaching.  We are devoted to making athletes fitter, faster and stronger so they can excel in sport. Please take a moment to share the articles on social media, engage the authors with questions and comments below, and link to articles when appropriate if you have a blog or participate on forums of related topics. — APA TEAM

 

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Should We Treat All Children the Same?

Hey Everyone.  My name is Daz, owner of Athletic Performance Academy and chances are you are reading this blog because you have an interest in the question, ‘should we treat all children the same?’

Let me start off by saying that this is not a post examining some of the prominent issues of the day around gender equality, race hate or any other important issues of social inequality that plagues our world.  I certainly don’t feel I’m qualified in my coaching role to discuss these topics and I would respectfully say that this blog does not address these issues directly.  However, in my role as a coach which I define as ”someone who facilitates learning,” I feel that the notion of treating all children the same from a learning perspective warrants further inspection.

Role of the Coach

 

If you’re reading this blog as a coach, you may not identify yourself as a ‘facilitator of learning’ (which may sound more like a teacher) but I would encourage you to reflect on this. Ultimately whether you are helping athletes achieve championship winning performances on the sports field, or achieving Academic excellence in the classroom, the objective is the same- facilitate learning.

As I approach my 40th birthday and celebrate 20 years as a professional coach I’m reflecting on the apparent paradox that my coaching philosophy has been built on the idea of ‘conformity,’ which while it gives each child the exact same education and opportunity, may not actually be the best way to help my athletes learn!

Conformity is based on an industrial or mechanical model of education- a ‘fast food’ model where everything is standardised-  based on linearity, and gives every child the same educational experience.  This leads to a degree of certainty of what will come out at the other end (children educated to fulfill their role in the workplace). I too have largely coached this way for most of my career with a command and control style and a ‘mechanical formula’ for building athletes on my APA production line.  Like many things in life, this formulaic approach works better for some and less so for others.  But I’ve always tried to make it work for everyone, even if it sometimes feels like fitting a square peg in a round hole.

I recently spoke to two noteworthy teachers who I respect, one was one of my University Professors, who has recently retired and another is a former teacher of History in a well respected London independent school.  Both teachers shared the belief that you ‘can’t save all the whales,’ which basically means that there are some children/students who want to learn, and others who don’t.  Put your time into the ones who want to be there (and forget about the rest).  You can’t help them all.  I have always struggled with this concept, it just doesn’t seem to be the right thing to do.  I will acknowledge that teaching 30 children in a classroom will probably give you a different perspective, but I still feel that every child needs to be given an opportunity to realise their potential, even if it isn’t outwardly showing itself now. (For what it’s worth I did teach in Further Education for two years, teaching ”boring stuff” to 16-18 year olds, many who didn’t want to be there, so I do have some experience to base my comments on.)

My question is whether the mechanical model which ‘treats all children the same’ is part of the reason why some children seemingly fail in a system that is based on a ‘one size fits all approach.’  Do we just give our energy to the children who thrive in this environment, or do we need to change the environment, or at least give more opportunities to experience different environments, ones where more children actually want to learn in?

My definition of an APA coach is a ‘inspirational, honest, professional and courageous coach who is self-aware and coaches unconditionally to help their athletes maximise their potential.”

Many of my coaches have struggled with this concept of unconditional coaching; ”You mean you want me to give as much time and energy to the children who don’t want to be there, as the ones who do?” they would say.  ”You mean I need to spend as much time writing a plan for the children who have no talent, as the ones who clearly have a much better chance of making it?”

My concept of coaching unconditionally largely revolves around the concept that ‘no child gets left behind.’  You must meet them where they are at, maybe they are NOT READY to learn NOW, or perhaps they will never be ready to learn in the way you are presenting the information.  But never give up on them before they give up on themselves and always search for ways to ignite their fire for something.  Just find what they are currently willing/able to do and move them to the next step.  It may not be where they ‘need’ to be based on some expected or desired level of achievement, but if it is progress it still needs to be acknowledged and celebrated.

Reforming Public Education

 

In many conversations I have with parents I often draw parallels with the Academic journey to explain long-term athletic development.  Maybe you have too.  Furthermore, I certainly draw on my knowledge of teaching methods in the classroom to inform my coaching methods.  What is interesting is that there has been a call for education reform for many years now- the way we educate children in the classroom served us economically and culturally at the time of it’s creation- the mid 19th century.  But it no longer serves the children of the 21st century.

This blog will examine the current state of the education system, and some of the great work of the late Sir Ken Robinson, an international education advisor in the Arts who championed education reform.  He was passionate about creative and cultural education, with the goal to unlock and ignite the creative energy of people and organisations, which he felt was sadly lacking in the current education system.

My coaching philosophy has clearly been influenced by my understanding of how we learn in school, so I’d like to look at this first and then in a follow up blog, highlight some practical considerations for coaching practices I can employ in the next 20 years of my career.

Please stick with me, I hope you will see that much of what is good (and bad) in the classroom could be applied to the sports field.  Part 1 of this blog will address the challenges.  My follow up blog will address the possible solutions.

The Modern Challenge of Public Education

 

What follows is an overview of a talk by Sir Ken Robinson- Changing Education Paradigms

According to Sir Ken there are two reasons why we need to reform public education:

  1. ECONOMIC – how do we educate our children to take their place in the economies of the 21st century?
  2. CULTURAL – how do we educate our children so they have a sense of cultural identity, so we can pass on the ‘cultural genes’ of our communities, while we become part of the process of globalisation.

The problem is we are trying to meet the ‘future’ with what we did in the ‘past,’ and along the way we are alienating millions of kids who don’t see any purpose in going to school.  In the past, we were kept there with a story that if you worked hard and did well and got a college degree you would get a job.  Our kids don’t believe that (now)!  You’re better having a degree than not, but it’s not a guarantee anymore.  And particularly not if the route to it marginalises most of the things you think are important about YOURSELF.

The problem is the current system of education was designed and conceived and structured for a different age.  It was conceived in the INTELLECTUAL CULTURE of the ENLIGHTENMENT, and in the ECONOMIC circumstances of the INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION.

At the time it was a revolutionary idea to provide formal public education that was:

  • Paid for by taxation
  • Compulsory to everyone
  • Free at the point of delivery

People at the time could not conceive that the working class were capable of learning to read and write but it was seen as necessary to insure the future growth of the industrial revolution.

[Unfortunately] the view of intelligence at the time was based on the enlightenment view of intelligence known as DEDUCTIVE REASONING– or ‘top-down logic’ which contrasts with inductive reasoning (“bottom-up logic”): in deductive reasoning, a conclusion is reached reductively by applying general rules which hold over the entirety of a range of topics, narrowing the range under consideration until only the conclusion(s) remains. In deductive reasoning there is no uncertainty.

In inductive reasoning, the conclusion is reached by generalizing or extrapolating from specific cases to general rules resulting in a conclusion that has uncertainty.

People who were good at deductive reasoning were come to be thought of as having Academic ability.  People who were not good at this were thought of as non Academic, or not smart!  The consequence of this way of thinking that runs deep in the gene pool of education (even until this day in my opinion) is that many brilliant people think they are not smart, because they’ve been judged against this particular view of the mind.

Don’t get me wrong- this approach has been great for some, who have wonderfully benefited from it but many have not.

I am a case in point.  I wasn’t really sure of what I was good at until I arrived at University.  My entire formal education at University was based on deductive reasoning and I learned fast that I was extremely good at it- synthesising large volumes of academic research into a succinct conclusion based on the available evidence.  There was something very predictable about this method of learning and I lapped it up- gaining almost exclusively A grades for the majority of my time there.  It gave me an enormous sense of confidence but was also in my opinion one of the main reasons I went on to have some of the most severe and almost life ending depression one can experience, something that I have been very public about, and occurred when I left the relative safety of the Academic environment.

In my opinion modern education still serves people who ultimately aspire to be guess what?   A University professor!  It’s designed for people who ‘LIVE IN THEIR HEAD.’   For as good as it was for my development as an Academic I felt completely unprepared for a life outside Academia, and I often wondered if the depression I felt once I left Academia was comparable to how many students feel when they are inside it and are trying to force themselves to endure a system rather than enjoy it.

Our children now are living in the most INTENSELY STIMULATING period in the history of the Earth.  They are being besieged with information that pulls their attention from every platform- computers, Iphones, TV channels and advertising; and we’re penalising them for getting distracted- from what? Boring stuff! (at school, for the most part!).

Perhaps there is a place for more AESTHETIC experiences within schools.  This is known as DIVERGENT thinking.

Divergent thinking is a thought process or method used to generate creative ideas by exploring many possible solutions. It typically occurs in a spontaneous, free-flowing, “non-linear” manner, such that many ideas are generated in an emergent cognitive fashion.

 

Education has been increasingly based on conformity and standardisation- and instead Sir Ken believes we need to go in the opposite direction, what Sir Ken means by changing paradigms!

One of the things that Sir Ken concluded was that most great learning happens in groups- collaboration is the stuff of growth.  I had to have a chuckle as being an academic type myself, I absolutely hated group work at University.   I knew that the conclusions to be drawn were self-evident in the research and having more people (who I perceived to be less capable than myself at deductive reasoning) would just slow the process down. I didn’t need to share ideas, the Academics of the time had already presented the most noteworthy findings and our job was simply to present them in a logical way to draw a natural conclusion.  Having someone repeatedly ask, ‘but what if?’ wasn’t going to get me a better grade!

But for many, let’s say, more creative divergent thinkers, group work is at the heart of human spirit.  Please watch How To Escape Education’s Death Valley which talks about the drop out crisis in USA and the three conditions in which humans flourish.

I’ll wrap up this blog with a summary of some of the points made.

Drop Out Crisis

 

Up to 60% of children drop out of High school and up to 80% of native Americans (in some parts of the country in the USA).

But the drop out crisis is just the tip of the iceberg.  What it doesn’t count is the number of children who are in school, BUT ARE DISENGAGED from it, who DON’T ENJOY IT, who don’t get any real benefit from it.

Some people want to learn, and some don’t.  Every student who drops out of school has a reason for it which is rooted in their own biography.  They may find it boring, irrelevant, at odds with the life they are living outside of school/University.  These are trends but the stories are always unique.

It could be argued that education fails many people because it dislocates very many people from their natural talents.  Human resources or ‘talents’ are like natural resources- they don’t show up on the surface, they’re buried deep, you have to go looking for them and and CREATE THE CIRCUMSTANCES WHERE THEY SHOW THEMSELVES.

It’s about PASSION.  Passion is what excites our spirit and our energy.  And if you’re doing the thing that you love to do, that you’re good at, time takes a different course entirely, an hour feels like 5 minutes.  The reason so many people are opting out of education is because it doesn’t feed their energy, spirit or passion.

 

There are three principles on which HUMAN LIFE FLOURISHES, and they are contradicted by the culture of education, under which most teachers have to labour and most students have to endure.  Sir Ken Robinson

 

These are:

  • Human beings are naturally DIVERSE– school system is not based on diversity but on conformity.  Teachers are asked to find out what kids can do across a very narrow spectrum of achievement (and mostly through standardisation and testing).  Kids prosper best with a broad curriculum that celebrates their various talents, not just a small range of them.

 

  • Humans are CURIOUS– if you can light the spark of curiosity of a child, they will learn without any further assistance very often.  Curiosity is the engine of achievement.  Teaching is a creative profession; teaching properly conceived, is not a DELIVERY SYSTEM.  You’re not there just to pass on received information.  Great teachers do that, but what great teachers also do is mentor, stimulate, provoke and engage.

 

  • Human life is inherently CREATIVE– we create our lives by the restless process of imagining alternatives and possibilities, and one of the roles of education is to awaken and develop these powers of creativity.

 

Instead, what we have is a culture of standardisation.  Part of the problem is that the dominant culture of education has come to focus on, not teaching and learning, but testing.  Now testing is important, but they should not be the dominant culture.  They should be diagnostic.  They should help and support learning.  It shouldn’t obstruct it, which of course it often does.  So in place of curiosity, what we have is a culture of compliance.

Conclusions

 

Education is not a mechanical system.  It’s a human system.  It’s about people who either do want to learn, or don’t want to learn.

Our education system has mined our minds in the same way we strip-mine the Earth for a particular commodity.  And for the future, it won’t serve us.

In the follow up part 2 I will outline how we can go from an industrial mechanical manufacturing model of education, based on linearity and conformity to a model that is based on principles of agriculture. We have to recognise that human flourishing is not a mechanical process, and you cannot predict the outcome of human development.  All you can do, like a farmer, is create the conditions under which they begin to flourish.

 

Follow Daz on instagram @apacoachdaz

 

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Some clarity around Trunk training

With the initiation of a third lock down in the UK we thought it would be a great idea to engage our readers in some motivating posts to help keep you motivated.  We welcome back APA coach Konrad McKenzie with a weekly guest post.

This blog will be a follow on from my initial blog around training the core, it was inspired by a webinar I had listened to on “Trunk Training” kindly put together by Alex Wolf. I wanted to write about what I learnt on this talk in order to spread the word and create some real clarity on training the mid-section. I will mention some of the pertinent topics that Alex discusses and would like to stress that the issues discussed are from his presentation rather than my own. This blog, as the presentation was outlined, will be divided into several parts;

  • Functional anatomy
  • Trunk Function
  • Why we need to consider the hip when talking about the Trunk
  • Exercise classifications
  • Exercise functionality and coordinative demands

Consider for a moment this picture of a bonnet. How much faith would you have in a car mechanic who did not know the parts of a car, could not identify what the problems were or the tasks that could be done to solve the problem? Funnily enough, not too long ago I broke down and had to rely on a car mechanic to solve an issue with my car. He did so meticulously.

Some questions that arose from the presentation were;

What does the trunk actually do when completing a task?

What do we have available to optimize trunk function?

When we can define the function of the trunk, we are able to align the most appropriate training methods we can to create real clarity of outcomes. This is something I believe the best practitioners out there have, clarity.

 

Functional anatomy

Similar to my blog around shoulder health I will break this blog down into two parts the Local and Global system. In the case of the trunk, both systems help to stabilise the trunk.

Local system

Local system is mostly made up of deep intrinsic musculature, which are attached closer to the vertebrae and are attached onto the spinal processes feeding into the ribs. The total volume of these muscles is small and (in terms of muscle architecture) are vertically orientated along the spine which highlights how the muscles operate and their force production capabilities. Muscles of the local system typically support spinal segmental control, are highly resistant to fatigue and anticipatory in nature (Feed forward mechanism). These muscles (to name a few) include the multifidus, Diaphragm and Pelvic floor and deeper fibres of the Erector Spinae. Structurally, the ligamentous (non- contractile) structures also provide segmental control and spinal stability. Historically, the term ‘Core stability’ came from spinal segmental control and the deeper intrinsic musculature.

Global system

The Global system has larger more superficial musculature, which span many joint segments. Unlike the local system these muscles are more obliquely orientated thus, high force production capabilities and they initiate gross movement. Comparatively, the global system has lower fatigue resistance but this particular system provides stability and mobility to the spine. These muscles include the external/internal oliques, superficial fibres of the Erector Spinae and Rectus Abdominis.

Trunk Function

Muscles of the Trunk produce force to serve a few roles. Particularly in Generation, Transfer and Control. I will briefly highlight these in more detail

 

Generation

Transfer

Control

·         Rotation

·         Block Rotation

·         Flexion and Extension

·         Lateral flexion and extension

·         Proximal to distal

·         Lower to upper body

·         Posterior to Anterior

·         Medial to Lateral

·         Postural control

·         Resist deformation to external and  internal forces

 

Generation

This refers to the force generation capabilities, a recent topic of conversation in strength and conditioning is whether the trunk is designed to create/block rotation or both. Supporters of Block rotation suggest that the stiffening of trunk allows the arms and legs to work against it, rather than having a continuation of the movement which may dampen performance outcomes.

Transfer

Quite a common conclusion in strength and conditioning circles is that the trunk acts to transfer forces in athletic movements, through different planes of motion.

Control

Resisting deformation by external and internal forces, a useful example of external forces was a scrum in Rugby union as players have to manage external forces from the opposition. Internal forces refers to force that we ourselves generate.

 

Why we need to consider the hip when talking about the Trunk

Some may have heard the term “Regional interdependence” the notion that all systems of the body are interconnected meaning that we cannot ignore the fact that large amount of abdominal muscles attach to the hip and pelvis. Therefore, dysfunction in the hips can lead to problems in the spine. Two notorious mal-alignments mentioned were posterior and anterior pelvic tilt. I will briefly describe anterior pelvic tilt as it’s the most prevalent issue I see.

Anterior Pelvic tilt (APT)

APT or lower crossed syndrome is characterised by a rolling forward of the pelvis due to shortening of the hip rectus femoris, Iliopsoas and the weaknesses of the deep abdominal musculature causing issues in the spine at the L4-L5 level.

 

Exercise classifications

In this particular section I will not deep dive into everything that was mentioned, this blog would simply be too long. However, I am quite open to having conversations on this. What I liked about this presentation and paper is the clarity on the intention of each exercise classification, something I am going to use in my programming to add the extra layers of detail. The “what and the how”.

Function is defined by its intended outcome, it is not how an exercise looks in relation to the performance task

Alex has a great paper Spinal-Exercise Prescription in Sport: Classifying Physical Training and Rehabilitation by Intention and Outcome. The physical outcomes presented in his research were split up into four overarching qualities with further sub-classifications, which I will touch upon.

Just for the benefit of the reader the exercises were also further sub-classified described as functional and non-functional (NF). Functional (F) being exercises which allow their athletes to move in all planes of movement, for example a Squat. Non-functional exercises (example a side plank) are typically performed in partial weight bearing positions (single, lying kneeling etc) and across a single plane of movement (Spencer et al, 2016).

 

A)  Mobility (F) and (NF)Exercises used to develop, maintain, or restore global spine range of movement.

 

B)  Motor control- referred to as the maintenance of spinal integrity during a skill movement task. This is not only a result of the capacity of muscles but also on the ability to process sensory input.

This was further subdivided into;

1)  Segmental stabilisation (NF)

2)  Spinal disassociation (NF)

3)  Spinal disassociation (F)

4)  Segmental movement control (NF)

 

C)  Work capacity- The same as local muscular endurance, defined as the ability to tolerate varying intensities and durations of work.

This was further subdivided into;

  • Pillar conditioning (NF)
  • Pillar conditioning (F)
  • Segmental conditioning (F)
  • Segmental conditioning (F)

 

D) Strength- The ability for muscles to produce force.

    This was further subdivided into;

    • Pillar Strength development
    • Stiffness development
    • Power development

     

    As mentioned going into each sub-classification would be too lengthy and I will reference the article. However, I thought this was useful to organise exercise prescription by working backwards from the outcome!

     

    Exercise functionality and co-ordinative demands

    As part of Alex’s reflections on this paper he highlights an important topic “coordination” this is not going to be the usual way of thinking about coordination, but to describe it as truly functional to an athletic movement the muscle-tendon interaction of both tasks need to be identical, down to the;

    • Magnitude of contraction (How much)
    • Rate of contraction (How quick)
    • Timing of interaction (When)
    • Timing of interaction and contraction (How)

     

    “Unless there is a real identical muscle-tendon interaction (coordination) between tasks, it cannot and never will be functional. Therefore functional, within the article should be redefined as F= Multi-jointed & NF = isolated”.

     

    Interestingly, a point was made that the “Greatest success of achieving intended outcomes has been through NF exercises modalities”. Why? Because isolated exercises target specific tissues that need to be trained i.e. we are going directly to the horse’s mouth.

    Thanks for reading this article, it was not intended to give you specific exercises rather an explicit framework for you to build your exercise program on.

    Konrad McKenzie

    Strength and Conditioning coach.

     

    Reference:

    Research Gate. 2021. (PDF) Spinal-Exercise Prescription in Sport: Classifying Physical Training and Rehabilitation by Intention and Outcome. [online]

    Available at:

    https://www.researchgate.net/publication/308533366_Spinal_Exercise_Prescription_in_Sport_Classifying_Physical_Training_and_Rehabilitation_by_Intention_and_Outcome> [Accessed 18 March 2021].

    Liked This Blog?

    You might like other blogs on this topic from APA:

    APA review of the Middlesex Students S&C conference 2014

    The Dubious Rise of the Corrective Exercise ”Pseudo-Physio” Posing as a Trainer- My thoughts

    as well as two recommended articles:

    This article on weak Glutes during Squatting

    And this one on Exercise Modifications 

    Do you feel that this would be a perfect time to work on the weak links that you have been avoiding? The things that you know you should be doing that you keep putting off? Would you like us to help you with movement screening and an injury prevention program? Then click on the link below and let us help you!

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    Follow me on instagram @konrad_mcken

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    Since you’re here…
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    The Load Management Puzzle

    With the initiation of a third lock down in the UK we thought it would be a great idea to engage our readers in some motivating posts to help keep you motivated.  We welcome back APA coach Konrad McKenzie with a weekly guest post.

     

    This lockdown 3.0 I have been fortunate to gain some more knowledge from leading practitioners in strength and conditioning & sport science.  A few weeks ago I took part in webinar on load management by Dario Novak. This webinar series had interesting speakers on it including professor Ales Filipcic and Matt Little who currently leads Andy Murray’s strength and conditioning programme. This series inspired me to share the information and perhaps create more conversations around monitoring using some of my own thoughts.

    I will be first to admit that this was something I struggled with in the first years of coaching. Not so much the theory behind it, rather the implementation in highly dynamic environments. Usually, it is much easier to monitor this if you have  large sports science departments who can meticulously monitor training readiness, volume, quality & intensity of training. As mentioned in my previous blog (Keeping athletes shoulder healthy) training volume is a large stakeholder when trying to reduce injury.

    This blog will not go into all the different monitoring methods but will discuss the following:

    • Why do we want to collect data on player’s health and performance?
    • Painting the picture
    • Do we need to look at session content?
    • What we can start off by doing
    • Practical implications

     

    What and why do we want to collect data on player’s health and performance?

    I am going to split this into two sections to make it more reader friendly.

    What do we want to collect on player’s data health and performance?

    A range of metrics can be collected in my opinion, the higher the level of the athlete the more in depth analysis needs to be. Metrics include (not an exhaustive list):

    Player’s physiological and anthropometric  data

    Other metrics include time characteristics, in the case of Tennis these are:

    Time characteristics

    • Start time
    • Session time
    • Active time
    • Average rally time
    • Average real time

    Why do we want to collect data on player’s health and performance?

    Measuring a player’s health is important for longevity and injury prevention. We are all aware that high performance sports is brutal on the body.  If we think about the game of tennis for example, a high level junior player rapidly putting the brakes on when travelling at 6m/s is experiencing 3-6 times their bodyweight on each leg. Not only does this place structural and neurological stress on the body, training and competition can take a psychological toll on the human body. Additionally, those who work with growing athletes will also know the physiological stress around growth and maturation. In simpler terms we want to use data to:

    • Keep players healthier
    • Prevent OT & Burnout
    • Aim to Reduce Injuries

    Painting the picture

    “It is better to measure something than nothing”

    This was a quote that stood out to me from the webinar. I wanted to further add that it is also important to know what you are measuring and more importantly how you are going to use the data. Sounds obvious I know but it’s easy to get lost in a sea of data collection that will have no actionable consequences on day to day practices.  It is important that we use loading data to paint the picture of the athletes we are working with. Pertinent questions from the webinar regarding data collection were:

    1. What kind of data/info do we use for planning?
    2. How do we treat and approach our players?
    3. How do we collect and store player’s data?
    4. How many different aspects of training do we work in the training process?
    5. What is the role of players in the training process?
    6. How are the players responding to load?

    Do we need to look at the session content? Some food for thought

    Although when they spoke about session content it wasn’t focused on youth athlete training, it is a passion point of mine and definitely created some food for thought around this area. It was highlighted that a typical academy tennis session would be very high in volume and not high enough in terms of intensity.  The current training volumes may not be tolerable for a growing athlete. Also, if 60-80% of the average rally is over in 4-5 shots, are the current training volumes reflective of the game? This is an interesting question. My personal thoughts are, is there a period where we overload the volume? A period where we intensify in skill training load?  So, on different training days and/or phases we emphasize volume or intensity.

    A primary question from the webinar was do we know what types of load we are exposing our players to? Is this reflected in the session? Some humbling questions.

    It is quite common to see a session start with high volume drilling and end with high intensity match play. This webinar was in Tennis, however I see this across the board in a lot of field and court sports. Perhaps, flipping this structure will allow for a more optimal session, makes sense from a scientific point of view. Something for the skills and strength and conditioning coaches to converse over.

    What we can start off by doing

    Using Minutes alone, is not a good indicator of session load, without content of the session e.g. (Volume, intensity, quality)

    There are countless articles and papers by people who are much smarter than me on this topic so I am not going to dive into any monitoring tools. I will link the reader to this article which I found informative.  But I wanted to highlight an idea which may be overlooked and that is categorising sessions. I have tried to do this over the years working with technical coaches to identify different types of sessions. For example, high and low intensity days. But we can go even deeper and distinguish between high intensity match play and high volume drilling. Furthermore, we could pair this with conditioning sessions which complement the type of loading from skill work. Vertical integration is popular in the domain of Rugby union and football and I am a firm believer in learning from different sports.

    Practical recommendations

    After hearing the webinar I wanted to offer some practical recommendations from the talk and some of my own. Firstly, I want to stress that this is by no means an easy task. Especially, if you are working alone without a team of sports scientists. I want to start off by saying first;

    • Do the best you can.
    • Figure out what is important to measure and how it will affect your decision making, for example, peak height and weight velocity in youth athletes.
    • Build buy-in by educating coaches and athletes as to why you are collecting data.
    • The higher the level of the athlete, the more in depth the analysis.
    • Once you find out what you want to measure, find out the most cost effective way of doing this. There are a wide array of wearables that athletes can purchase which are fairly inexpensive. For example, Heart rate monitors for objective measurements.
    • Once you have the collection method for example HR monitoring, paint the picture by working out the intensity of matches and seeing how that compares to training for planning purposes. Are we wanting to work at or below match intensity?
    • Work with the technical coaches using your understanding of scientific underpinning of training and their knowledge of skill development to come up with an agreed monthly/yearly schedule.

     

     

    Thanks for reading guys,

    Konrad McKenzie

    Strength and Conditioning coach.

    Liked This Blog?

    You might like other blogs on this topic from APA:

    APA review of the Middlesex Students S&C conference 2014

    The Dubious Rise of the Corrective Exercise ”Pseudo-Physio” Posing as a Trainer- My thoughts

    as well as two recommended articles:

    This article on weak Glutes during Squatting

    And this one on Exercise Modifications 

    Do you feel that this would be a perfect time to work on the weak links that you have been avoiding? The things that you know you should be doing that you keep putting off? Would you like us to help you with movement screening and an injury prevention program? Then click on the link below and let us help you!

    👇 TRAIN WITH APA 👇

    Aspiring Pro Training Support Packages

     

     

    Follow me on instagram @konrad_mcken

    Follow Daz on instagram @apacoachdaz

     

    Remember:
    • If you’re not subscribed yet, click here to get free email updates, so we can stay in touch.
    • Share this post using the buttons on the top and bottom of the post. As one of this blog’s first readers, I’m not just hoping you’ll tell your friends about it. I’m counting on it.
    • Leave a comment, telling me where you’re struggling and how I can help

    Since you’re here…
    …we have a small favor to ask.  APA aim to bring you compelling content from the world of sports science and coaching.  We are devoted to making athletes fitter, faster and stronger so they can excel in sport. Please take a moment to share the articles on social media, engage the authors with questions and comments below, and link to articles when appropriate if you have a blog or participate on forums of related topics. — APA TEAM

    => Follow us on Facebook

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    Keeping Athlete Shoulders Healthy

    With the initiation of a third lock down in the UK we thought it would be a great idea to engage our readers in some motivating posts to help keep you motivated.  We welcome back APA coach Konrad McKenzie with a weekly guest post.

    This lockdown 3.0 I have been fortunate to gain some more knowledge from leading practitioners in strength and conditioning & sport science. A couple of weeks ago I took part in a webinar with Chris McCleod and Ben Ashworth regarding shoulder health which I wanted to share with you. Those that know me will know I currently work in a Tennis Academy and have had previous work in Rugby and Swimming. So you can imagine this webinar was of interest to me.

    Inherently, the shoulder joint is quite unstable, due to bony structures and lax ligaments most of its stability is provided by the rotator cuff musculature. It is particularly important to increase the structural strength of the local and global musculature around the joint. This blog will cover, what I learnt on the webinar with some of my own additions, the following topics will be:

    • Local and global musculature of the shoulder
    • Glenohumeral joint Stability
    • Thoracic Mobility
    • Volume load and Shoulder health
    • Some exercises for your tool box

     

    Local and Global muscles of the shoulder

    As always, I wanted to introduce this topic by giving a brief overview of the anatomy of the shoulder. Frequently, when describing the anatomy of the body we use the terminologies “global” and “local”.

    Local musculature

    These are muscles located proximally to a joint and these muscles produce force to create stiffness around a joint during movement. Regarding the shoulder, local muscles include the supraspinatus, infraspinatus, subscapualris and teres minor. The aforementioned muscles form part of the rotator cuff complex and provide stability to the Glenohumeral joint during movement.

    Global muscles

    Global muscles are predominantly larger, superficial and responsible for initiating movement. These muscles attach from pelvis to rib cage and/or the upper extremities and are central to absorbing/transferring forces  from upper and lower extremities to the pelvis. Global muscles in the shoulder girdle region include the Trapezius complex, Deltoids, Latissimus dorsi, Levator Scapulae and Rhomboids.

    Detailing muscles in any part of the body is like peeling away layers of onion, so it is outside the scope of this blog to highlight every superficial and deep muscle tissue surrounding the shoulder.

    The Scapula and Glenohumeral joint stability

    The joint between the Humerus and the Scapular is known as the Glenohumeral joint. Typically injuries are sustained in the structures of the Glenohumeral joint. However, we must not dismiss the role of the scapular in maintaining healthy shoulder function. I particularly want to draw attention to the serratus anterior, which is interposed between the scapula and posterior Thorax. Studies have mentioned that the mobility of the serratus and subscapularis are vital for healthy shoulder function (Codman, 1934). Furthermore, the gliding, rotation & tilting of the Scapula is known as scapulathoracic gliding mechanisms. I would like to add that the scapula and subscapularis are not the only muscles of the scapula, muscles such as the upper trapezius, lower trapezius, Pectoralis minor work synergistically (force-couples) to position the scapula optimally.

    Normal function of the Scapula is important. Shoulder strength can increase by up to 24% with appropriate scapular stabilization (Kibler, 2006).

    Scapula Stability and Shoulder dysfunction

    Sub-optimal scapula control due to over-activity in the upper trapezius and pectoralis minor is common. We know (particularly in overhead sports) that upward rotation of the scapula is imperative. Typically impairment is seen in a protracted and inferiorly positioned scapula. Additionally, the aforementioned dysfunction can decrease upward rotation thus decreasing sub-acromial space (Kilber, 2016).

     

    Thoracic mobility (T-Spine)

    I wanted to include this section because I believe, like the serratus anterior, T-spine mobility is important for healthy function. The thoracic spine is made up of twelve vertebrae (T1-12) in the middle segment of the vertebral column. In the Thorax the ribs articulate with each vertebra at the vertebral bodies and the transverse processes (Stull, 2016). Each thoracic vertebra rotates approximately 3°, therefore research has suggested that the thoracic spine should be able to produce 30-35° of rotation (Neumann, 2010). Now, you may be asking how this relates to shoulder function.

    The thoracic spine is engineered in a way that it can move in all planes of movement (rotation, flexion/extension and lateral flexion). The NASM suggest that the thoracic spine can produce 20-25° of extension (While this is not true extension, due to natural curvature of the T-spine) it is pertinent to shoulder function.

    So why is the small amount of extension in the upper back vital for shoulder movement?

    Well, to move the arm into full shoulder flexion, this requires the T-spine to move into extension. During shoulder flexion the scapula rotates upwardly & posteriorly rotates on the rib cage. Now, it is said that if the T-spine lacks the ability to fully extend, the scapula is unable to posteriorly tilt as a result. If this is the case, the Glenohumeral joint is unable to get into full flexion then the risk of joint impingement increases.

     

    Volume load and shoulder health

    It is common knowledge within the sports performance world, that injury is multi-factorial. However, one powerful way to reduce risk is load management. Interestingly it was said in the webinar that training load spikes of > 60% significantly increases the chances of injury, loads of < 20% also incurred an injury risk outlining the need to neither overcook nor undercook athletes. Now, what’s even more interesting is that a robust shoulder girdle was more likely to withstand training spikes in between 20-60%. This highlighted the need to micro-dose athletes with shoulder strengthening work, especially when away in competition.

     

    Some exercises for your toolbox

    Now, I want to introduce you to some exercises you can use for your toolbox. Some of these exercises are nothing special when looking at them, but that’s what I liked about them. They are simple and effective but the intelligence comes from how and why we prescribe them. The webinar described the exercise selections as “Shapes”, which I found very useful. I will now share these with you.

     

    Shape 1 – Single arm “Statue of liberty”

    It was said that single arm work is best, around 120° relative to the trunk (angle slightly above head height). This reduces the potential pec dominance and increases serratus anterior activity when executing single arm exercises.  With this in mind exercises, such as Landmine presses, single arm planks with arm slightly in front of the head make great exercises for shoulder stability.

    Fig 1. Take a notice at the angle of the shoulder, relative to the trunk.

    Benefits:

    • Supports upward rotation and posterior tilt of the scapula, to open up space and offload the shoulder.
    • With regard to tennis this exercise supports the avoidance of a shoulder dominant shot and “leading” with the shoulder.

     

    Shape 2- “Y- shape”

    This was said to target the connection between the posterior shoulder and mid-back. Additionally, on an EMG this shape was said to produce high activity in the posterior cuff and mid-back stabilisers. Furthermore, it was said that many people struggle to access this position. In my experience this is has been evident.  A regression I have used is on the knees. This allows the athlete to feel the right positions. When doing this exercise it is advised to place the thumbs back to place the shoulder into external rotation and recruit the mid back musculature.

    Benefits:

    • Supports the overhead connection between the arm and body
    • Protects against leaving the arm behind the body by connecting scapula to the Thorax

     

    Shape 3- The lateral line

    Muscles in the lateral line include the Obliques and unilateral trunk musculature. Exercises that target the lateral line include side planks, Single arm weighted carries and ipsilateral resistance training. Ben Ashworth suggested that athletes displaying a “buckling” of the hip during a single leg squat could be attributed with a weaker lateral line.

     Benefits:

    • Supports serve and overhead actions, which requires high amounts of side bend force, deceleration coupled with lateral hip stability.
    • Provides a strong base to transfer force from the lower body into the arm and racket.

     

    Shape 4- “Long Lat”

    We need strong Lats for a healthy shoulder (Think about its origins and insertions). But, we also need Lats that can produce force through a full range of motion. In overhead sports, this is important due to the racket and arm over the shoulder without any force leakage.

    Benefits:

    • Optimising efficient mechanics
    • Producing and maintaining force with a long lever arm.

    This was a great webinar, I certainly learnt lots whilst supporting my own knowledge already. I hope this blog has been insightful and causes you to do some of your own research around the shoulder. Thanks to Ben Ashworth and Chris McCleod for their outstanding work!

     

     

    Thanks for reading guys,

    Konrad McKenzie

    Strength and Conditioning coach.

     

    Liked This Blog?

    You might like other blogs on this topic from APA:

    APA review of the Middlesex Students S&C conference 2014

    The Dubious Rise of the Corrective Exercise ”Pseudo-Physio” Posing as a Trainer- My thoughts

    as well as two recommended articles:

    This article on weak Glutes during Squatting

    And this one on Exercise Modifications 

    Do you feel that this would be a perfect time to work on the weak links that you have been avoiding? The things that you know you should be doing that you keep putting off? Would you like us to help you with movement screening and an injury prevention program? Then click on the link below and let us help you!

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    Supporting Female Athletes

    With the initiation of a third lock down in the UK we thought it would be a great idea to engage our readers in some motivating posts to help keep you motivated.  We welcome back APA coach Konrad McKenzie with a weekly guest post.

    Supporting Female Athletes

    This lockdown I have been fortunate to gain some more knowledge from leading practitioners in strength and conditioning & sport science. A few weeks ago I was enlightened by some great speakers at the “The Well HQ”. The topic was around female health and performance. This was pertinent to me, as I am a male coach who currently works with a large amount of female athletes. I wanted to share some insights from this talk to enhance the awareness around this topic. This blog will be a synopsis of the webinar but will also contain some of my experiences training young female athletes, which will hopefully create some provocative insights. The blog will contain the following topics:

    • Knowledge gaps
    • What we do know about training female athletes
    • Menstrual cycles and how it can affect performances
    • Potential Barriers to sport and engagement
    • Steps we could take to support female athletes better

     

    “80% of active women said they haven’t had enough education in relation to their body and how it affects their sport”- Dr Bella Smith.

     

    What we do know about training female athletes

     

    There is a great book the “female athlete handbook of sports medicine” which I encourage you all to read. This book is quite extensive so I will give a very brief summary on parts of chapter 1&2 that stood out to me.

    Female athlete triad

    The female athlete triad is defined as a spectrum of three interrelated medical conditions 1) energy availability, 2) menstrual health and 3) bone health (ACSM, 2007). These conditions range from optimal/healthy range to a pathological state of low energy availability, amenorrhea, eating disorders & osteoporosis. It is said that in order for female athletes not to suffer any components of the triad, it is paramount that they understand their energy needs and train and live in an environment which supports healthy energy availability.

    Non-contact ACL injuries

    Female athletes are reported to have higher risks of non-contact ACL injuries. Interestingly, the research is trying to determine whether ACL injury is a result of gross failure of the ACL in one episode or multiple episodes over time. However, valgus of the knee and change in upper body trunk mechanics tend to be high risk factors for this. Although the research is said to be transient and the best intervention is not yet identified, changes in dynamic loading, proprioceptive training and sound coaching go a long way in mitigating these risk factors. Training programs containing a healthy dose of strength, power, plyometric and neuromuscular training, seem to have promising results.

    From the Well HQ talk it was said that women are 4.5 times more likely to sustain an ACL injury. Although the skeletal structure and the anatomy of pelvis is non- modifiable, factors such as muscle imbalance, proprioception and landing mechanics can be trained.

    Knowledge gaps in coaching female athletes

     

    The aforementioned quote is alarming right? A high proportion of female athletes still to this day are not educated enough about their bodies. Why? It was suggested, that there may still be a reluctance to talk about it, due to feeling ashamed or embarrassed. Whilst this is perfectly understandable, the more we communicate about this the easier it will become.

    “Trust takes years to build, seconds to break and forever to repair”

    Gaining trust is vital for clear communication pathways especially about sensitive subjects so this quote is important to bear in mind. Furthermore, I would like to note that it is important not to take offence if a female athlete does not immediately open up to you about what she is experiencing, this is a delicate manner thus, it is important to guide her to someone she feels more comfortable talking too. Women, unlike men, appear to value the quality of a relationship as opposed to the quality of a coach, meaning you have to take the time to cultivate and nurture the relationships you have with your female athletes.

    In my experience, I had a young female athlete who was going through her first menstrual cycle, you can imagine this was very troubling and awkward for her to mention. So she just gave me a sign and then I took the hint, to adjust certain exercises for her. Now whilst this is not very “scientific” it lead the way for her to download an app, which allows me to see when she’s entering that phase.  A pretty huge breakthrough if you ask me. More on this in “Steps we could take” Section

    Lastly, the women at Well HQ gave another profound statistic. I was pretty shocked about this myself. As little as 4% of sports science research is done on women only. Moreover, they had mentioned that the 70% of research done on mixed groups fails to control for the changing physiology and psychology during the menstrual cycle.

    Performance and the menstrual cycle

    The team mentioned that a 28 day hormonal cycle can really affect a woman physically and emotionally. From a performance perspective an elite 1500m runner with a 4:03 minute time could, on the day before  (or on the same day of her period) run the same event in 4:15 minutes. That’s a colossal difference. Interestingly, determinants of performance such as VO2 max, running economy, strength and power are not significantly affected during a healthy cycle. However, how a woman feels emotionally and physically fluctuates as her hormones change. As a result, this challenges her ability to tap into peak performance.

    It is known that having a period is a healthy sign of bodily function and health. On the other hand, 30% of female athletes lose their cycle at some point. To give an illustration of how significant this is, lack of periods meant a promising runner did not produce enough oestrogen (An important hormone in the cycle which aids bone strength) and thus developed osteoporosis in her 20s.

    Interestingly, Oestrogen creates a great physiological environment for muscle growth and repair. So much, that strength gains in the first half of the cycle can improve by 15%.

     

    Potential Barriers to sport and engagement

    I wanted to share some barriers to sport and engagement which, perhaps, is overlooked by trainers, coaches or Teachers.

    Bras

    It was mentioned that 80% of female athletes had poorly fitting bras. Furthermore, ahead of the Tokyo Games 72% had reported pain in training as a result. A poorly fitting bra can have significant effect on performance by up to 4% which is large at the elite level, where margins are thin. On the engagement side it was said that 33% of women with a cup size of D or above say they don’t exercise because of their breast size

    Pelvic floor

    It is common knowledge that pelvic floor issues affect older and post-natal women. However this is not the only category of women it affects, it also affects athletes. Leaking urine during training and competition as a result of pelvic floor issues (even in women who have not had babies) is quite common in high impact sports such as trampoline, sprinting or basketball. Pelvic floor dysfunction is an understandable barrier to sport. Positively, this can be rectified by including gym based pelvic floor exercise.

    Steps we could take to support female athletes better

    I wanted to share some ideas in how we could support our female athletes better, this is not an exhaustive or very descriptive list however I wanted to create some discussion and more awareness around this area.

     

    Education

    With such a large amount coaches and females themselves not knowing their own bodies, the first stage is education. However, educating is nothing if we do not create a safe space for female athletes to speak out and share what they are going through.

     

    Monitoring the menstrual cycle

    There are many apps out there including Clue, Flo and Eve. Although collecting this data is sensitive it would be great if we got to a stage where we had this information on the female athletes we worked with and tailored workouts accordingly in every club or academy. For example, focusing on strength and reducing the volume in speed and plyometric training during certain stages of the menstrual cycle.

    Environment

    As alluded to in the first paragraph, creating a safe space also means creating an environment where there is no scarcity in items such as sanitary towels or menstrual cups as an example. If this is evident in academies then I believe this will positively add to female athletes being comfortable enough to share their feelings.

    Training

    I will not go into this in too much depth as there is a lot of great work out there. Conditioning programs will have to address the areas of proprioception, muscle imbalance and strength to serve the needs of the female athlete better. It may be, that we spend longer in phases that address these qualities and spend more time to focus on things like landing mechanics and single leg squatting.

    “Check, Challenge, Change”

     

    Thanks for reading guys,

    Konrad McKenzie

    Strength and Conditioning coach.

     

    Liked This Blog?

     

    Find out more about Female Health at the Well HQ

    Do you feel that this would be a perfect time to work on the weak links that you have been avoiding? The things that you know you should be doing that you keep putting off? Would you like us to help you with movement screening and an injury prevention program? Then click on the link below and let us help you!

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    Pacey Performance Podcast REVIEW- Episode 331 Danny Lum

    This blog is a review of the Pacey Performance Podcast Episode 331 – Danny Lum

    Danny Lum

    Research Gate

    Background: 

    Danny Lum

    Danny is Head of Strength & Conditioning at the Singapore Sports Institute for seven years,and also currently doing a PhD with a research focus on Isometric Strength Training for Sports Performance.  Prior to that he was the Strength & Conditioning Officer for the Singapore Armed Forces so was dealing with Military Training.

    Danny completed his undergraduate degree at the University of Western Australia (UWA) prior to doing the role in the Military for two years.

    Discussion topics:

    What options have we got when it comes to Isometric testing?

    ”There are single joint testing options as well mainly using the biodex equipment for rotator cuff internal/external rotation of shoulder, knee flexion/extension.  We also have multi-joint isometric testing such as isometric squat, isometric mid-thigh pul (IMTP), isometric bench press and isometric prone bench pull.”

     

    Why would we go down that route in the first place with Isometric testing vs. something more dynamic?

    ”The information we can get from isometric testing includes not just the peak force, but also the rate of force development (RFD) and if we combine the data we get from the counter movement jump (CMJ), and IMTP for example, we can actually calculate the dynamic strength index, which I believe many coaches are using it as an indication of whether they should train their athlete more with plyometrics or with heavy strength training.

    Some of the advantages of isometric training is that it is much safer because there is no movement involved you don’t get injured that easily, and it’s pretty quick, 5-seconds and you’re done.  The disadvantage is you can’t really use it for exercise prescription, like a 1-RM strength test.

    Quite a lot of studies have shown the peak force and the RFD are significantly correlated to activities like sprinting, jumping and change of direction.  There are also studies that have looked at striking, throwing and recently we did a study with sprint Kayaking.  I want to think that isometric strength assessment data will have a high correlation with activities that has mainly concentric contractions like cycling and sprint Kayaking, but the relationship with dynamic activity that requires the stretch-shortening cycle with the eccentric and concentric phase might not be as great.

    If you look at the literature and take IMTP and isometric squat for example, the relationship you get from the peak force with CMJ range from R = 0.30-0.80 so the range is pretty huge.  There could be a lot of reasons for this; it could be because of the familiarization, different athletes with different training experience and different strength levels and also the time of the year and the training phase they are in.

    Another thing to look at is the joint position where the test is conducted.  So for example, if you look at the literature you will see that the isometric squat when tested at a 90 degree knee angle vs. 120 degree knee angle; the relationship between the isometric peak force obtained and CMJ jump height will be higher when the peak force was obtained at a 90 degree knee angle, and same for sprint performance.  What we can get from this, is that if you want to conduct the isometric strength test to see if there is any relationship with a certain activity, probably get the person to adopt a joint position whereby the concentric force is initiated at 90 degrees.  This makes sense because the CMJ is usually initiated from a position where the knee is at an angle of about 90 degrees.

    But there is something interesting- that works for squat, but IMTP doesn’t work that way!  You can see that a IMTP is usually conducted at a knee angle of around 130-140 degrees, yet the  magnitude of the correlation with the CMJ height is as high as that obtained for the isometric squat at 90 degrees!  This is something I personally do not understand!!”

     

    What is the dynamic strength index and why would coaches be interested in it/calculate it?

    ”First we collect the peak force from IMTP- theoretically that is the highest amount of force your lower limb can produce.  You can also obtain the peak force of the CMJ.  Then you can divide the peak force of the CMJ by the peak force of the IMTP

    Dynamic Strength Index = Peak Force IMTP / Peak Force CMJ

    The isometric peak force on an IMTP is the maximum amount of force you can produce and how much of this force can you translate into a dynamic movement.  The Dynamic strength index provides you with an indication, so I think if it is below 0.65 this indicates that your athlete might need a little more ballistic training like plyometrics.  But if the dynamic strength index is above 0.80 then the athlete probably needs more heavy strength training.”

     

    Isometric training as a training tool- what benefits are people going to get from isometric training?

    ”First of all, similar to the isometric testing, it is simple, the risk of injury is very low.  You can see that in most of the injury cases, injured athletes will start off with isometric training to get the muscles activated (even when they are in a cast).  The exercise physiologist would advise the patient to perform some form of isometric contractions.

    The disadvantage is that people believe that with isometric training you only gain strength in that specific joint angle that you train at, of course when you look at the literature, this is not true.
    It really depends on the joint angle.  If I position the knee angle at 90 degree vs. 150 degrees.  At 90 degrees my quadriceps will be stretched more compared to at 150 degrees.  So if I train my quadriceps at a knee angle at 90 degrees where it is stretched a little more then the strength gains will increase across a greater range of motion as compared to a quadriceps at a short length.  So based on literature, if you train your muscles at a longer length using isometric strength training, then the strength gain might range up to about 40 degree from the angle you train at.  But if say, you train at a short muscle length, which is about 150 degree knee angle, then the strength increment might range up to about 15 degree from the angle you train at.

    The adaptations from strength training are similar to dynamic strength training.  You still get increased neural firing, neural recruitment and hypertrophy of muscle.  One of the adaptations from isometric training that is superior to dynamic strength training is the increase in tendon stiffness.

    This has high implications on RFD, so with greater tendon stiffness the force transmission from the muscle can be more efficient and will improve force production and RFD.”

    When creating isometric exercises in some very sport specific positions what kind of creative process are you going through when thinking about integrating some of that into these sports?

    ”Two things.  First thing is I’m always looking where the concentric action is initiated, and second is the position which reflects the bio-mechanically most disadvantageous position, for example the sticking point of a squat.
    With a group of Kayakers I replaced two sets of squats, two sets of bench press and two sets of bench pull with the isometric version of it, and the joint position they adopted was initiated from a similar place where the pull phase of the Kayak stroke was initiated.   What we found was that by replacing two sets with isometric training as compared to a normal traditional strength training programme, the Kayaker’s strength actually increased and performance on the ergometer 200m time trial was improved more than the group that only did the traditional strength training.
    What I believe is that by performing the isometric training at the position where the stroke was initiated this increased their ability to overcome the initial drag force they would face as they initiate the pull phase.

    I just completed one study with recreational runners where we compared plyometric and isometric training for endurance running performance.   For the isometric training they did a IMTP and an isometric plantar flexed ankle, so the ankle was in a neutral position when they did the plantar flexion.  What we found was that running economy was actually improved with the isometric group as compared to the plyometric group.  One possible reason is because recreational runners tend to avoid heavy strength training so with the isometric exercises as a stimulus that greatly improved their strength.  In that sense, people might ask if that would work with elite runners, and that would need to be researched.”

    When it comes to programming isometrics within the wider programme (annual plan) where does it fit?

    ”That is an interesting question, and honestly, I have no idea at this moment in time.  Personally what I do with my athletes is slot in the isometric training somewhere in the middle of a strength phase, because we know that if you have been training with the same method for a long period of time you tend to plateau.  So with the addition of the isometric training for a few weeks that might help to break the monotony and you might see some improvement.
    We don’t know at this point in time that if we continue to get the athlete to perform isometric training, will there be a long term benefit (because all my studies have only been 6 weeks long)?
    The next thing I do is as we get closer to important competitions I get my athletes to perform complex training, and I usually use the isometric exercise as the conditioning activity to induce the post activation potentiation (PAP) effect, before they move onto the ballistic exercise
    One reason is because they get to perform maximal contractions so that helps to maintain their maximal strength and because it’s an isometric movement we are reducing the risk of injury close to competition.”

    Is it possible to manipulate some of the variables within isometric training to target different physical qualities such as hypertrophy etc?

    ”When you look at the research you can categorize isometric training into two different methods- yielding and overcoming.

    Overcoming

    Overcoming- is the method I have been researching where you push maximally against something you can’t move.

    Yielding 

    The yielding or ”holding” method where you lift a weight that you can actually lift around 60% of your 1-RM, get to your sticking point and hold it there for about 10-seconds before you push it concentrically.
    When you look at the research on isometric strength training, in order to get maximal strength increases you want to be contracting as near to maximally voluntary contraction (MVC) as possible in a range of 80-100% MVC and each contraction you don’t want to be holding for too long, otherwise you might compromise the adaptation.
    When it comes to hypertrophy you want to perform the contraction at a lower intensity and sustain the contraction for a longer period of time, as long as 10-30 seconds in one go.  Recently, there is one study which showed that the inclusion of isometric training might be able to induce a stimulus similar to blood flow restriction training.  So when you are sustaining the isometric contraction you are actually constricting the blood flow.
    Another study by Brett Shaunfield showed that performing isometric contractions in between sets increased the hypertrophy training effect.  So during the hypertrophy phase one of the things you could do is perform a lighter load in the final set and doing a long duration isometric contraction at the sticking point to increase the hypertrophy effect.
    In terms of other variables, first we need to know what we want to achieve before we start talking manipulating the variables.  Variables we can manipulate include the joint position.  I mentioned earlier that if we train at a joint position that induces a longer muscle length your strength improvement will be greater throughout a greater range of motion.
    At different joint positions you might induce hypertrophy at different parts of the muscle.
    So for example, if I was sustaining isometric contraction at a long muscle length most of the hypertrophy training effect might take place at the middle of the muscle belly (midsection).  If I perform it at a shorter muscle length, most of the hypertrophy might occur at the proximal or at the distal portion of the muscle, so these are things that people will need to consider.
    To increase maximal strength you will need to contract at a high percentage of MVC, and to increase RFD you will need to contract at a high contraction speed, so in sports performance you should always try and contract explosively because we are not just talking about how strong you are but we must also ensure the athlete can produce the force as quickly as possible.”
    Are there any gaps we are looking to plug in the research?
    ”Firstly there is training at long muscle length vs. multiple joint angles.  I mentioned that if you train at long muscle length the strength gains will be higher through a greater range of motion but if we train at multiple angles it might actually be more beneficial.  So if I compare 3 sets of bench press at 90 degrees vs. 1 set of 180 degree, one set at 90 degrees and one set at another angle we could compare multiple joint angles
    The other limitation of what we know is how long this beneficial effect can last?
    The other one is comparing the training effect of a yielding method (more similar to an eccentric method) to the overcoming method (more similar to a concentric method).  So get someone to push against 80% MVC and the other guy resisting against 80% MVC and comparing the adaptation.
    When doing this in training I would probably a certain number of sets so for example if I am going to get the person to do back squats 4 sets I might have them do two sets dynamic and two sets isometric.  The isometric is better at improving the strength at a specific joint angle, but when it comes to a full range of motion, isometric effect is still not as good as dynamic strength training, so I wouldn’t use isometric training as the main bout of the training but I would recommend the isometric training as a supplement to improve the force production at the sticking point or at the bio-mechanically disadvantageous position.
    In a complex setting, I would do the isometric exercise as the conditioning tool I would reduce the number of repetitions rather than trying to get them too fatigued.  But at the moment I haven’t done a study to identify the ideal number of sets.”
    Can you explain to us what we mean by quasi-isometrics (I know this is something Alex Natera has mentioned?
    ”Take the hamstring for example, which is a bi-articular muscle so when we are running and the hip is flexing the proximal portion of the hamstring is stretching but when the hip is flexing the knee will be flexing as well.  So the distal portion of the hamstring will be shortening.   So in that sense one portion is lengthening and the other portion is shortening, so that pretty much looks like an isometric contraction, and that is what is meant by a quasi isometric contraction.
    So if you take the hip thrust but with the knee in a slightly more extended knee position (around 150 degrees) with the shoulder on the floor, with the hip in the air, the hamstring closer to the knee will be trying to produce a concentric contraction so you can stay up.  But while the hip is heavy gravity will be pulling it down so the proximal portion will be in an eccentric contraction.  So the distal portion will be in the Push isometric contraction while the proximal portion of the hamstring will be performing a yielding contraction.”

    Top 5 Take Away Points:

    1. Isometric is a safe and effective way of performing strength testing and training.
    2. Dynamic strength index = Peak Force IMTP / Peak Force CMJ
    3. Importance of range of motion- strength gains will increase across a greater range of motion as compared to a quadriceps at a short length.
    4. Importance of tendon stiffness- one of the adaptations from isometric training that is superior to dynamic strength training is the increase in tendon stiffness.
    5. Considerations when choosing position- the place where the concentric action is initiated, and the position which reflects the bio-mechanically most disadvantageous position.

    Want more info on the stuff we have spoken about?  Be sure to visit:

    Twitter:

    @DannyLum82

    You may also like from PPP:

    Episode 297 Cam Jose

    Episode 295 Jonas Dodoo

    Episode 292 Loren Landow

    Episode 286 Stu McMillan

    Episode 272 Hakan Anderrson

    Episode 227, 55 JB Morin

    Episode 217, 51 Derek Evely

    Episode 212 Boo Schexnayder

    Episode 207, 3 Mike Young

    Episode 204, 64 James Wild

    Episode 192 Sprint Masterclass

    Episode 183 Derek Hansen

    Episode 175 Jason Hettler

    Episode 87 Dan Pfaff

    Episode 55 Jonas Dodoo

    Episode 15 Carl Valle

    Hope you have found this article useful.

    Remember:

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    How the ballistic quarter squat can support your athletic performance

    With the initiation of a third lock down in the UK we thought it would be a great idea to engage our readers in some motivating posts to help keep you motivated.  We welcome back APA coach Konrad McKenzie with a weekly guest post.

     

    During Lockdown, I have tasked myself with gaining an increased knowledge of anatomy and physiology so I have greater accuracy in my prescription of exercises. By this I mean, gaining a thorough understanding of how this particular exercise can positively affect performance. Today I wanted to talk about the ballistic quarter squat. Particularly, a concentrically focused variation. People looking at athletes performing this exercise and criticising the “lack of depth” need more context.

    So today, I wanted to talk about why I would like to include this exercise in my programme for field and court based sports. This blog will consist of the following sections.

    • Principle of specificity
    • What is the Ballistic quarter squat
    • Why is it relevant?
    • When to include the ballistic quarter squat

    Principle of specificity in Strength training

    I was digging up some old material and I found this book, which I plan to reread “Periodization Training for Sports” by Tudor Bompa. They say nothing is new, just repackaged so it seems prudent to go back over the old texts. I’ll briefly go over some of the components of specificity and give a brief summary of them. Specificity is of huge importance as the body adapts in specific ways to a recurring stress, see “SAID principle”. There is a reason you form callouses on your palm, not your face when participating in frequent weightlifting (I hope).

    SAID

    A common term used in the area of strength and conditioning is an acronym for “Specific adaptations to imposed demands” meaning that the body will make adaptations that will allow the body to get better at tolerating a specific form of stress that is placed upon it.  Some of the variables to consider when determining an exercise’s specificity to the sporting demands include:

    Joint range of movement

    This refers to the joint angles regularly displayed by athletes performing the sport. For example, a tennis player preparing to initiate movement from a ready position. Or a front row rugby union player pushing in a scrum.

    Bioenergetics

    This refers to the energy system demands of the game for example, a game of junior tennis is predominantly an aerobic based sport with intermittent bursts of anaerobic activity. Another example would be the short sprints with high demands on the anaerobic-alactic system. Understanding energy systems will help decipher the work to rest ratios of the sport you are working in. Check out my blog on the “demands of the game” for tennis performance.

    Planes of movement

    Body movements occur in different planes around different axis. The three planes that you are typically taught are the frontal, transverse and sagittal plane. Field and court based sports would typically move in all the planes mentioned. For example, when hitting a groundstroke in Tennis a player will be predominantly working in the transverse plane however, when moving forward for a volley or dropshot there may be more of an emphasis in the sagittal plane. This is quite reductionist and planes of motion in sport could be an article in itself.

    Muscle contraction (type and speed)

    This is interesting and most recent conversations in this lockdown period, have forced me to ask how a muscle is “behaving” during a specific activity. What is the contraction type? How fast and how hard does it contract? For example isometric activity of the glute maximus in the stance phase of sprinting.

    When constructing a needs analysis a coach would typically have these in mind when preparing a training programme. See my blog on Fundamentals underpinning a physical development strength program for the youth athlete.

     

    What is the Ballistic Quarter squat?

    Firstly, a ballistic method is a type of training where the athlete’s body (or object) is explosively accelerated throughout the entire movement. If we go back over our notes and look at Henneman’s size principle we know that motor units are recruited in a precise order according to their force output. It seems as though there is a superior activation of type two fibres with heavier loads as opposed to lighter ones (Henneman, 1965). Additionally, when exercises are performed in a ballistic manner they seem to have a superior potentiation effect compared to non-ballistic counterparts.

    The Ballistic quarter squat is a squat variation with a heavy concentric focus. The lifter is asked to concentrically propel the barbell vertically using upper and lower limb, from a quarter squat position, as shown in the picture below.

    Why is it relevant?

    The Ballistic quarter squat is an exercise that I have come across recently, what was interesting to me was the “Ballistic” element of this exercise and rate of force development required to perform this exercise well. High levels of Power is the result of work divided by time, or in simpler terms, applying the highest amount of force in the shortest amount of time, significant for most field or court-based sports.  With some more research I found that performing this exercise at around 90% of one repetition maximum had superior effects on sprint and vertical jump performances (Weiss, 2000).  Other studies have also advocated the integration of quarter squats in a conditioning program (Rhea et al, 2016).

    Possible reasons for this was again, the joint angle specificity but also the ability to overload the intensity at this joint angle. Highly trained athletes may squat 30-45% more in a partial range squat compared to a squat with full range.

    Whilst this blog is not going to compare the differences between the full depth squat and quarter squat variations (readers are encouraged to read this paper if interested in that) it enables us to understand the relevance of the ballistic quarter squat.

    1. Joint angles

    Although it is said that many explosive movements in sports are initiated from a knee angle of approximately 90° (Suchomel, et al 2015) these include sprinters in the blocks, wrestling NFL linemen etc, I would argue that knee joint angles shallower than this are also executed. Thus, if we remind ourselves of the laws of specificity, training explosive strength from these similar joint angle positions would be beneficial for performance.

    1. Propulsion

    In order to overcome the body’s resting inertia, athletes need to be strong. How strong, is a topic for another day. But, muscles of the lower body (Glutes, Calves and quadriceps) most forcefully extend to project the body forward. If you look closely at my first picture under “What is a ballistic quarter squat” you will see the athlete forcefully extending knee hip and ankle. This extension occurs with high levels of intent and speed, although a heavy ballistic squat may not be specific to the speed of contraction, it will certainly enhance the force potential of leg musculature.

    When to include the ballistic quarter squat

    If we tie in the joint angle specificity, the muscle contraction type/speed, motor unit activation from heavy loads and the bioenergetics of the movement, the ballistic quartet squat seems to have a place in my exercise inventory.

    Due to the reported benefits at performing this movement at 90% or 1RM it seems rational to include this in a power phase, more specifically a strength-speed phase of the annual plan.

     

    Thanks for reading guys,

    Konrad McKenzie

    Strength and Conditioning coach.

     

    Liked This Blog?

    You might like other blogs on this topic from APA:

    APA review of the Middlesex Students S&C conference 2014

    The Dubious Rise of the Corrective Exercise ”Pseudo-Physio” Posing as a Trainer- My thoughts

    as well as two recommended articles:

    This article on weak Glutes during Squatting

    And this one on Exercise Modifications 

    Do you feel that this would be a perfect time to work on the weak links that you have been avoiding? The things that you know you should be doing that you keep putting off? Would you like us to help you with movement screening and an injury prevention program? Then click on the link below and let us help you!

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    Are Banded Sidesteps Doing What We Think They Are Doing?

    With the initiation of a third lock down in the UK we thought it would be a great idea to engage our readers in some motivating posts to help keep you motivated.  We welcome back APA coach Konrad McKenzie with a weekly guest post.

    This Lockdown 3.0 I tasked myself with diving further into Anatomy to give me even more clarity as to what exercises I am doing, why I am doing them and how I can vary them to get the response I want. I quite like this personal auditing and I will be doing this more regularly.

    The exercise I want to discuss on today is the popular Glute Band Side Step, a popular exercise used to “activate” or “wake up” the Gluteal muscles. Whilst there is research supporting Gluteal Amnesia, your glutes simply do not switch off. Reciprocal inhibition (Sherrington’s law) teaches us that overactive muscles could cause a reflexive relaxation on opposing muscles. In this case the over activity in the hip flexor complex may cause underactivity in the Gluteal. Lastly, low levels of glute activation and coordination may lead to altered biomechanics and extra stress placed through the spine, as the hamstrings and lower back are asked to compensate in hip extension.

    The ”prehab guys” suggest that prolonged sitting may cause slight damage to the nerve supplying the glute however this is not significant enough to cause muscular atrophy in most cases. Moreover, your glutes do not simply turn off otherwise you would probably be a pile of human on the floor, due to the glutes’ role in keeping us bi-pedal humans upright.

     

    The role of the Glutes in Athletic performance

    The gluteals are the primary hip extensors, external rotators and abductors of the lower body. In athletic activities such as sprinting, jumping and throwing the glutes play a large role in hip extension. During sprinting it is said that the glutes play a vital role in hip extension velocity during acceleration and in the stance phase of sprinting.

    When performing exercises such as landing from a box on a single leg the hamstrings contract the hardest and the earliest but the Glute Medius performs a higher degree of muscular work in the frontal plane. Additionally, knee valgus seen in lower body functional tasks such as bilateral or unilateral squatting may give us an indication that the Glutes are under performing.

    The benefits of having strong gluteal muscles are now well established with more people more than ever hip thrusting, bridging or performing the glute banded sidewalks. But, is this exercise doing as much as we think it is doing? Is this an exercise being given, perhaps, too much of the limelight? Today I want to dive into this.

    Banded sidewalks and glute activation drills

    It is apparent that banded side step works the hip in abduction and external rotation. Not only does the band stress the stepping limb, it challenges the standing limb too, as the athlete is asked to perform a lateral walk. Some great research by Lewis et, 2018 has suggested that placing the band around the feet increases both Glute Med and Max activation

    Glute activation is quite a common theme in an athletes warm up, the idea is that the athlete spends part of the warm up performing, as an example, two sets of banded sidewalks for 15 repetitions to increase Gluteal activity, or in some case “wake up the glutes”. But, is this too simplistic? And does the side band walk have an increased performance outcome?

    Whilst, I take everything with a pinch of salt, the more I learn is that what’s occurring is a result of a pre-fatigue and whilst it may be great for an athlete to feel their glutes, I am not sure it helps with performance outcomes, such as fixing knee valgus. Some research even suggests that pre fatiguing muscles leads to muscle activation in the synergistic muscle groups as opposed to the specific muscle you are targeting!

    The aforementioned leads me onto the next topic post activation potentiation (PAP) which is a short term improvement in performance as a result of a conditioning exercise. For example, a countermovement jump (CMJ) and a back squat.

    A phenomenon by which the force exerted by a muscle is increased due to its previous contraction” (Robbins, 2005)

     The conditioning exercises is said to place the muscles in a “potentiated” or “Activated” state thus, increasing (in this case) CMJ performance. Whilst the research of this is quite mixed, heavy loads (> 80% of 1RM) appears to be more effective than using lighter loads. If we are talking about activation, then this is quite a contrast. Whilst I am not throwing the baby out the bath water my question is.

    “What assumptions are we making?”

    Ok so do we not do this exercise?

    Firstly, you will hear this in the strength and conditioning communities quite a bit. Context is king. There have been great research on side banded walks particularly in the rehab settings to help rewire neural pathways or to teach a young athlete muscle awareness.  I just do not expect a magical solution from this in athletic performance.

    Before I dive into specific exercises, I want to take you back to basics and suggest that simply getting your glutes strong, increasing the your hip mobility and stiffness in your core will go a long way in getting in enhancing performance outcomes from the Glutes and enhancing cross sectional area (size). Great exercises include Barbell hip Thrusts, high step ups and good old fashioned back squats, performed with good technique.

    Structural adaptation

    We know that in order to create structural adaptions we can:

    • Increase Cross sectional area
    • Increase muscle activation
    • Increase muscle- tendon stiffness

    The literature around PAP, forced me to think that high volume, low load was probably not adequate in the “activation” of these muscle groups for performance enhancement. So how could I alter what I do to potentiate these muscles? Here are some ideas (I would also love to hear yours)

    • Fewer repetitions
    • Higher intensity
    • Yielding Isometrics

    Whilst these are not revolutionary or specific exercises it gives something to think about, for example take the typical clamshell exercise pictured below

    There are ways that we could modify this, perhaps, by using a heavy plate loaded six second isometric or using a very heavy band that can only be pushed for 3-5 repetitions. With some of my full-time athletes I would typically use a heavier plate loaded isometric hold to “activate” the muscles of the glutes, which is progressed through time.

    On a final note, I want to stress that I am not anti-band sidewalks, I just think they need to be taken a bit more lightly for activation purposes. They certainly have their place in clinical rehab or as a teaching method, to feel the muscle but this comes down to your “why”.

     

    Thanks for reading guys,

    Konrad McKenzie

    Strength and Conditioning coach.

     

    Liked This Blog?

    You might like other blogs on this topic from APA:

    APA review of the Middlesex Students S&C conference 2014

    The Dubious Rise of the Corrective Exercise ”Pseudo-Physio” Posing as a Trainer- My thoughts

    as well as two recommended articles:

    This article on weak Glutes during Squatting

    And this one on Exercise Modifications 

    Do you feel that this would be a perfect time to work on the weak links that you have been avoiding? The things that you know you should be doing that you keep putting off? Would you like us to help you with movement screening and an injury prevention program? Then click on the link below and let us help you!

    👇 TRAIN WITH APA 👇

    Aspiring Pro Training Support Packages

     

     

    Follow me on instagram @konrad_mcken

    Follow Daz on instagram @apacoachdaz

     

    Remember:
    • If you’re not subscribed yet, click here to get free email updates, so we can stay in touch.
    • Share this post using the buttons on the top and bottom of the post. As one of this blog’s first readers, I’m not just hoping you’ll tell your friends about it. I’m counting on it.
    • Leave a comment, telling me where you’re struggling and how I can help

    Since you’re here…
    …we have a small favor to ask.  APA aim to bring you compelling content from the world of sports science and coaching.  We are devoted to making athletes fitter, faster and stronger so they can excel in sport. Please take a moment to share the articles on social media, engage the authors with questions and comments below, and link to articles when appropriate if you have a blog or participate on forums of related topics. — APA TEAM

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