Archive for Zenith Strength

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.

 

Should You Static Stretch to Improve Flexibility?

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

Toe touch

Should you static stretch to improve flexibility?

The answer will depend on which expert you ask.
The debate about static stretching and the potential pros and cons is still hotly contested among coaches and rehab experts today. Some will swear by it, such as those who practice yoga. While there are others such as sport performance coaches who will avoid static stretching like the plague because of fear that it will reduce power output and potentially lead to injuries. I tend to take the middle of the road approach and feel there is a place for static stretching but like most things related to training it largely depends on the individual.
If stability is your issue then static stretching isn’t for you until you address that first. There are two types of individuals that should put heavy static stretching on the back burner, at least temporarily. One case is someone who has mobility restrictions. Dean Somerset talks about how stability can affect your flexibility in his article Stretching Doesn’t Work. He goes over why stretching a tight muscle doesn’t work and the relationship between stability and mobility. I can relate to this with my myriad of hip mobility issues. I would stretch my hips with countless figure four stretch variations, groin (adductor) stretches, hip flexor variations and hold them for 30 secs to as long as 5 minutes. While I definitely noticed more range of motion after, it was always short-lived never lasting more than a couple of hours. I would get into a cycle of stretching, feeling good and then feeling tight again.
I figured something was going on and it was related to other issues such as how I was moving and how my nervous system chose to “protect” my body by tightening up certain muscle tissues. And here’s the deal, no amount of static stretching will change this. Going back to Dean’s article the reason this is happening is because there is probably an underlying stability issue which is not allowing the CNS to release that muscle tension.

anterior tiltThink about someone who has an anterior tilted pelvis. Typically this is associated with tight hip flexors and the hamstrings may feel tight as well. Most people will stretch what feels “tight” so they add a few runner/lunge stretches and hamstring stretches but nothing changes. However, if you address the issue of the anterior tilt by strengthening the glutes, hamstrings and obliques which helps the client/athlete control lumbar extension, the hips will be in a more neutral position and that chronic tension/tightness in the hamstrings should lessen based on the change of the pelvic position.

There’s another group who should hold off on static stretching and they are the hyper mobile clients such dancers and yoga instructors. Many times these folks already have extreme ranges of motion as they keep pushing the end ranges of the muscle to “feel” a stretch. They need to control that excessive range of motion and have their stability “catch up” with their flexibility. Once they can resume static stretching. Essentially, it is about creating a balance between stability and mobility as the inability to control excessive flexibility is a recipe for an injury down the road.

Dancer

Get Assessed.
How do you know if you need stability?

There are a few ways to address stability issues to help improve your mobility. The functional movement screen is great way to gather information on what the client needs and is something we use with our athletes. Tests like the overhead squat, hip lift variations and a plank hold with a dowel will give clues about someone’s stabilization patterns.

overhead squat

Postural Restoration Institute has tests to check hip positioning with more complicated issues such as anatomical restrictions like hip capsular stuff. They also assess breathing which can be associated with muscular tension especially in the neck and upper back. The assessments don’t have to be complicated but they can help with getting answers regarding how you move which will help to determine your programming needs.
Once you address any underlying causes of stability and hip positioning you will get much more out of your static stretching sessions. Basically, the more balanced you are with regards to stability and mobility around given joints, you can stretch to your heart’s content and see better progress with improvements in flexibility.

Make sure to add mobility sessions before workouts or on recovery days which are different from static stretches. While there is a correlation between passive flexibility and mobility, mobility will always be more important for athletes and individuals because it is demonstrated through movement.
Mike Robertson goes through a good warm up circuit here.

So, is static stretching for you? If you don’t have major stability needs and if you plan on hitting the splits or just feeling good, you need to add static stretching into your daily routine. However, if stability is lacking in the core or hips, you need to address that first before adding a ton of static stretching.
Leave your comments below and let me know what you think.

Shyam

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/

Form Tips on the Inverted Row

Posted in Guest posts with tags , , , , , on April 23, 2012 by zenithstrength

Today’s post is a guest post from coach Nick Tumminello from Performance University.  I think Nick is one of the more creative coaches in the industry and his dvd Angled Barbell Training is a great resource if you’re looking to learn new exercises to use with the Landmine.

The inverted row and its progressions are a staple in our programming but many times they are performed incorrectly.

Nick goes over some tips to work the upper back with the row.

Inverted Row-The Best Form Tips You’ll Ever Get!

by Nick Tumminello.

One of our favorite bodyweight exercises for increasing back strength (especially in the often weak and under-utilized mid-back muscles) is the Inverted Row!

More specifically, an overhand-grip Inverted row (using a barbell) done with a few simple tweaks, which we’ve found to make this great bodyweight back exercise much safer, smarter and more effective!

The video below reveals some very cool form tips and an innovative concept we developed, which demonstrates what we feel to be the best way to do Inverted Rows!

Additional Coaching Tips on Inverted Rows exercises and grip variations:

– When we’re doing underhand (more close-grip) inverted rows using a barbell, we don’t use the fat pad as the shoulders and elbows are in a different position, which we’ve found allows you to pull the bar into your ribcage without as much risk of “breaking” our desired form.

– Using a suspension device or rings is also a great option for doing inverted rows. That said, at Performance U, we prefer to use the barbell for the overhand grip option (displayed in the video) when we’re really trying to focus on strengthening the mid-back muscles; we feel use the fat pad provides great feedback for both us and the client.

– We really like using the suspension trainer option for our neutral grip inverted row variations and for our Triple Threat Back Blaster protocol, along with other circuit style options where we string together several pulling exercises back-to-back.

Coach Nick Tumminello has built a reputation as the ‘Trainer of trainers” through his workshops at conferences and fitness club around the world. And, for his consulting work with pro/college sports teams and with exercise equipment/ clothing manufactures.
He’s the owner of Performance University international, which provides hybrid strength training & conditioning for athletes and educational programs for fitness professionals. Based in South Florida, Nick is a Fort Lauderdale personal trainer who works with a select group of athletes and exercise enthusiasts.

You can check out Coach Nick’s articles, DVDs, seminars schedule, mentorship program and very popular hybrid fitness training blog at http://nicktumminello.com/

Lower Body Tennis Strength and Conditioning.

Posted in Z.S. Tennis, Z.S. Training with tags , , , , , , , , on February 14, 2012 by zenithstrength

I’m excited to announce that Zenith Strength finally got our Pit Shark belt squat machine in. Here’s a quick clip using the machine.

Here’s a quick video highlight of our lower body training session for our tennis players.

We started off with handle deadlifts on the Pit Shark belt squat. I really like this movement as it combines the best of two of my favorite exercises, the squat and the deadlift. It allows the athlete to sit back and load the hips but also hits the quads as well.

We followed that with reverse lunges using a Bulgarian bag for resistance and finished it off with lateral sled drags with a cross over step. Since tennis is over 70% lateral movement we want to develop lateral strength and stability for our players. These are also great for other sports that involve cutting and  lateral movement, such as basketball, football to name a few.

I’ll add more training footage of the Pit Shark soon.

In Strength,

Shyam

“Extreme” Review

Posted in Uncategorized, Z.S. Basketball Training, Z.S. Tennis, Z.S. Training with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 23, 2012 by zenithstrength

Jim Smith and Joe Defranco are two of the best and most innovative coaches in our industry, so when I heard that they were coming out with a new dvd called “Extreme”, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy.

Extreme is the third product that coach Smitty and Joe D. have put out within the last year or so. Power and Amped warmup are the other two products that I also purchased and highly recommend them if you’re a coach or athlete.

Extreme is a fantastic resource utilizing over 130   exercises that bridge the gap between traditional lifts such as squats, deadlifts and benching to improve performance on the playing field.

Ultimately, the  goal of a  coach is to produce gains that transfer on the playing field on game day and this dvd allows the viewer to gain insight to a smorgasbord of supplemental exercises to achieve those goals.

The exercises are broken into Upper Body, Lower body, Rehab and Core to name a few. The value is seeing the creativity behind many of the movements, and if you understand how the body moves and the rationale behind the movements you start to look at many basic movements from a different perspective and it allows the coach to really get creative with exercises.

Below is a video from going through a variation of the rollout they use in the dvd.

If you want to learn from the best and add more tools to your toolbox get your copy of Extreme here.

Train Hard!

Shyam

Core Stability in your Training Program

Posted in Z.S. Tennis, Z.S. Training with tags , , , , , , , , on December 4, 2011 by zenithstrength

Assessing and addressing core stability is an important part of a solid strength and conditioning program . The reason for that is the better you can control/stabilize your pelvis the better you can demonstrate force through movement. This applies to whether your goal is getting stronger and lifting heavier weights, or getting faster on the field. I have never seen an athlete who was fast and explosive who didn’t also have good core stability. Now this doesn’t mean that only thing one has to train is the core. I get asked that question a lot, and  the bottom line is that force production is the name of the game if you are an athlete. In order to get stronger, you must have stability in the right places to demonstrate force.

Here are some basic guidelines and exercises regarding programming some core stability exercises into your program.

1. Anti extension which is preventing and controlling back extension/hyperextension. This is especially important with clients who have an excessive anterior tilt and have back pain.

Some examples include front planks, ab roll out variations, body saws and loaded zercher sandbag carries

2.Anti Flexion which is preventing your low back from flexing. Consistent and repetitive flexion of the spine may potentially cause issues with disc herniations down the road.

Examples of anti flexion exercises include  hip hinging, dead lift variations and squat variations. In addition  the prone knee to chest mountain climber using sliders or the TRX is another great exercise that we use with clients who have a posterior tilt/flat back to teach them the difference between hip flexion and lumbar flexion.

3.Anti lateral flexion,which  is preventing the low back from flexing to the side.

Some examples of exercises include side plank variations, pallof presses, landmines, suite case carries using farmers walk handles.

4. Anti rotation, which is preventing rotation in the pelvis and low back.

Some great anti rotation exercises include bird dogs, renegade rows, single leg RDL’s and hip thrusts.

 

Both anti rotation and anti lateral flexion stability are important especially in rotational sport athletes like golfers baseball pitchers and tennis players. Since these athletes spend most of their time rotating its a good idea to throw in these exercises to keep the low back healthy.

You should have some combination of the core stability exercises listed. Depending on how many weight training session per week you lift,  the combinations are endless and don’t be afraid to get creative.

Eric Cressey has a great article on programming core exercises into your program.

Below, is an example of working anti extension and anti lateral flexion with the plank using a band.

You can make this more dynamic by adding two bands and pulling the athlete into lateral flexion. I originally got that idea from Jim Smith and Joe Defranco. They have a dvd coming out soon called Extreme, detailing creative ways to get stronger and faster.

Try some of these exercises out and let me know how they feel.

Train Hard!

Shyam