Archive for Weight training

Which Squat Variation Should Athletes Use?

Posted in Z.S. Basketball Training, Z.S. Tennis, Z.S. Training with tags , , , , , , , , on March 7, 2013 by zenithstrength

I remember seeing Mike Boyle at the Perform Better Summit a few years back and he turned a lot of head’s when he stated that he didn’t back squat athletes. He preferred the front squat variation to the back squat. He eventually added the front squat to the list preferring to go with single leg variations instead. A lot of coaches took issue with his view-point which was that the low back was the weakest link in the bilateral squat lift and he could get better results with heavy single leg training.

I agree with his assessment that the low back is a limiting factor and if you have someone lift a lot of weight in a single leg stance it doesn’t necessarily correlate to bilateral lifts. For example if you can get an athlete to lunge with 225lbs it doesn’t mean that he can necessarily squat 450lbs.

As strength coaches, our job is to teach movements and while there are an infinite number of ways to  improve strength, I feel that there is tremendous value in using the squat while training athletes. Ultimately, it comes down to which variation of the squat front or back, limits the amount of risk while still providing a training effect.

In my opinion, the front squat is the safer choice for the majority of athletes and while also improving movement and performance markers implications such as the vertical jump and broad jump.

back-and-front-squat

There is a great series done on Ben Bruno’s blog written by Jim Reeves comparing the front and back squat in-depth.

He analyses joint motion at the hip knee and ankle and compares the two lifts and the data might surprise you.

Joint Motion/Alignment Front Squat Back Squat
Hip Flexion 56.1 43.8
Ankle Dorsiflexion 69.2 70.4
Knee Flexion 63.4 69.0

 

 

  • There is more hip flexion in the front squat vs the back squat while reducing low back shear. Basically the front squat allows for more hip motion while maintaining a relatively safer, more upright low back position vs the back squat.
  • There is more movement in the knee-joint during the back squat than the front squat which might be contrary to what most people think. That’s interesting to take in terms of knee pain and while squatting for some with knee pain won’t be an option it seems that the front squat is the more knee friendly of the two.

Now obviously there can be discrepancies between two people and what their squat looks like but in general the front squat allows you to keep the upper back more upright and its easier on the low back because of the reduced torso angle.

Core Strength

anterior-core

One benefit of the front squat is that it hammers the anterior core and works the obliques and rectus abdominis.  The load shift to the front forces a posterior tuck of the hip to engage the abs and glutes to keep the hip neutral. Most athletes generally are weak in this area so anytime you can shift the load to the front during an exercise you should.

During the back squat, it is much harder to keep a neutral spine and it will force more compression in the low back as you arch our back. Arching the low back disengages the abs and glutes and puts you in a mechanical disadvantage and puts a lot more work in the low back instead of having the glutes and abs help out.

This isn’t to say that back squatting will lead to low back issues but keep in mind that for the majority of athletes who “live” in extension the back squat reinforces the pattern and might not be the best variation for them.

Squats and Shoulder Health

Both the front and back squat can put stress on the shoulders. The front squat can put stress on the A/C joint with the front loaded bar position while the back squat forces the client to externally rotate the humerus which can be an issue for certain training populations.

We don’t back squat our overhead athletes, mainly because of the position it puts the athletes shoulder in. Since most throwers/tennis players need external rotation range of motion and generally have more range on their dominant/throwing side, putting them in that position can cause some instability in the joint and we feel there are “safer”  options such as the front squat.

While the front squat is a great variation for throwers, if they have A/C joint issues or injuries the pressure of the bar can aggravate that. In these cases use the safety squat bar for either front or back squats. We also have harness front squat variations as well.

I’ll put a post up of some different variations we use at Zenith Strength in a future post.

There is a more research needed to fully examine which squat helps improve vertical jump and broad jumps the most. However, if the goal is to minimize risk while improving performance I feel like the front squat is still the safer option.

Conclusion

While I have talked about the benefits of front squatting this isn’t to say that I don’t like back squats. Most athletes need to work on improving movement patterns, and again the goal should be maximizing performance while minimizing risk of injury.

I think it was Charlie Weingroff who said something to the effect of how you train your athletes and how you train yourself should not be the same. Just because you may have a bias towards a particular system or a set of specific exercises doesn’t mean your athletes need to train that way. Be diligent and match exercises appropriately to athletes who can perform them with solid technique.

Minimizing risk includes appropriately pairing the squat variation with the athlete while considering multiple factors. This is why we assess athletes and while we like the front squat there still may be instances where squatting might not be the best option for them. The last thing you want to do as coach is have an athlete tweak or injure something while lifting in the weight room.

 

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Strength Training for Youth Athletes Part 1

Posted in Z.S. Basketball Training, Z.S. Tennis, Z.S. Training with tags , , , , , , , on September 7, 2012 by zenithstrength

Our goal as coaches/trainers is to educate and obliterate the myths that exist in our industry pertaining to training specific populations, proper nutrition habits and teaching proper lifting mechanics.

Since most of our clients are athletes , the focus is on educating parents on the benefits of strength training for youth athletes and dispelling the myths that still exist regarding training this population.

Myth #1:  Strength training will stunt my son’s/daughter’s growth.

This belief has been around since the 70’s and funnily enough I remember worrying about the consequences when I first started lifting weights. It wasn’t until I attended a conference early in my career and heard Dr. Avery Faigenbaum present that I had anecdotal studies to prove that this myth was indeed just that.

Strength training can come in many forms but when most parents talk about it they are usually referring to their child lifting heavy weights. It’s also difficult for coaches to ease parent’s concerns when they have been exposed to watching gymnastics during the Olympics, seeing muscular athletes perform ridiculous feats of strength who also happen to be on the shorter side.

In fact, the original study came out in the 70’s in Japan, when researchers noticed that there was a correlation between the youth laborers moving heavy objects and their short stature. They essentially attributed the short statures of the kids with lifting heavy “stuff” and concluded that lifting heavy objects stunted a child’s growth. Unfortunately this myth has grown into coaches, pediatricians and other medical proponents preaching that kids don’t get stronger lifting weights and they are probably going to hurt themselves.

Luckily more studies have been published refuting the notion that lifting weights is dangerous and citing the benefits of strength training including this one by Beringer et  al. (2010). According to the New York Times article, the study was very comprehensive covering 60 years of collected data with boys and girl ages 6 to 18.They concluded that children and adolescents benefited from weight training but, maturity had a role in improved strength gains. However, there wasn’t a noticeable boost of strength during puberty which was surprising since the gains were linear for different ages groups participating in a strength program.

Furthermore, Dr. Avery Faigenbaum has been a huge in producing research, articles and books on the safety of strength training for kids. His website StrongKid.com is full of research based evidence of the benefits of weight lifting.

So, what does this all mean?

All the research and proof is great but ultimately, parents are paying coaches for results so proper programming is key. The coach needs to use appropriate progressions and often times that means starting out with a lot of bodyweight movements such as squats, hip hinges, lunges, bear crawls, and in many cases regressing movements such as push ups and pull-ups. In addition, younger athletes (6-10) should be involved in more discovery and play sessions. I see too many coaches who train little kids like they are young adults and I’ll admit that I have been guilty of that in the past. Discovering movement is essential for motor development and as kids age and demonstrate proper movement patterns you can begin to appropriately load them with med balls, bands or other forms of external resistance.

If the result of training is to produce faster, quicker, stronger athletes strength training principles must be used to increase force production. Make sure appropriate loads are used and that the athletes clearly demonstrate the ability to perform the body weight variations of the movements.

In part 2 we will go over progressions for a few of the lifts once the child masters  the basic movement patterns.

References:

Michael Behringer, Andreas vom Heede, ,Zengyuan Yue, et al. The Effects of Resitance Training in Children and Adolocents: A Meta Analysis, Pediatrics Vol. 126 No. 5 November 1, 2010  pp. e1199 -e1210  (doi: 10.1542/peds.2010-0445)

Gretchen Reynolds, (Nov 2010). Phy ED: The Benefits of Weight Training for Children. NY Times.
Retrieved from  http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/11/24/phys-ed-the-benefits-of-weight-training-for-kids/

Friday workout with Sled Drags and Farmers Carries

Posted in Z.S. Tennis, Z.S. Training with tags , , , , , , , on July 23, 2012 by zenithstrength

 

Farmers walks are a fantastic exercise to build grip strength as well as core strength and upper body strength.

Here’s some video of our training session using sled drags and farmers walks.

Bill Hartman has a great article on corrective carries using farmers walks and suitcase carries.

I like to use farmers carries in this case to teach proper core stabilization keeping the ribs down and the abs braced.

In addition, holding the weights also helps integrate rotator cuff stabilization as the athlete needs to have the shoulder blades in the proper position while walking. I like to cue our athletes to stay tall and keep the shoulders down. Once everything looks good, you want to load the weight heavy enough so they can still keep the proper form.

We also have the knee drive variation from the video (see 1:17). These are great to teach hip separation for sprinting and also hip flexion without rounding the low back. The kettlebells engage the core and create stiffness and prevent lumbar flexion and extension.
Cue the athlete to get tall which should help clean up the movement.

Give these a try and let me know what you think.

SS