Today’s guest post is from a former athlete of mine that has become a strength and conditioning coach. It’s pretty cool seeing former athletes and interns grow and expand in their knowledge and ability and Sean puts together a nice little post here on Mobility.
Mobility and flexibility are essential to an athlete’s ability to perform and stay healthy but it’s kind of a tricky issue. As someone with a fairly large affinity for PRI, I’m keenly aware of some muscles that shouldn’t be stretched (Ex. Hamstrings). Now I am sure there are instances when these muscles need some stretching but I very rarely do it for my guys.
I always see guys with mobility/flexibility issues. Crappy ankle dorsiflexion, hips more cranky than Scrooge and limited thoracic mobility are commonplace in my weight room. For the purpose of this article, let’s examine the hips, specifically the hip flexors.
The hip flexors/psoas are tight on most every athlete I deal with. This tells me a whole gamut of things. L. AIC patterns, PEC patterns and rib flares are all things that I start thinking about but let’s just talk basics. The psoas are tight and we need them to not be, so how do we make this happen? Stretch ‘em! Well it’s not quite that easy.
Say we prescribe a 30 second stretch on each side for the psoas. What does that do? Well it gains us a new range of motion BUT you have not changed your tissue. Research shows that the minimum amount of time for you to achieve real tissue change is two minutes. This isn’t to say that stretching for 30 seconds does nothing; however it’s going to take far longer doing that way. So my first recommendation here is to stretch the areas that need it for two minutes at a time.
OK, so now you’ve stretched each psoas for two minutes each and you now have tissue change on both sides. You now have this brand new range of motion in your hips. Congratulations! Now what are you going to do with it? The next teaching point comes from the brain.
Your brain, over time, develops movement patterns. It learns how to move. Yay for you that you have a new range of motion, but once you get up and start moving, your brain is still going to go back to the movement patterns it knows. You need to tell the brain that this new range is acceptable.
You need to own the new range. So after you stretch, you have to include some stability exercises in order to own this new range. For the psoas, I like to include dead bugs directly after stretching.
We now have a new range and some neuromuscular facilitation in this area. Now we’re moving towards real change. Staying with the psoas example, I now want to be able to move through this new range. The psoas, when tight is going to restrict hip extension. Now that I have a freed up psoas, I want to move in and out of hip extension to further enhance the movement pattern. The glutes will now work more effectively and your brain is going to start understanding the new limits of your movement. For this aspect, I like to do glute bridges.
The last point I want to make is that we need to make sure we are encompassing all aspects of the joint so that they can all work in conjunction to generate the most possible change. The last area I target is the hamstrings. I want the hammys to be strong so they can anchor the pelvis down from the rear. This is going to provide some resistance for the psoas’ natural inclination to tighten up. For this, I do a 90/90 hemi-bridge while squeezing a medicine ball to activate the adductors which will further anchor the pelvis down.
At the end of the day, everything that you do is going to produce some level of adaptation but it is very important to know that when you’re trying to improve mobility/flexibility, there is a heck of a lot more that is going on than simply just a need to stretch the muscle.
Sean Light is a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and Performance Exercise Specialist (PES) specializing in injury prevention and performance training for professional level baseball players.
Currently, Light works as a Strength and Conditioning Coach with the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Light holds a Bachelor’s Degree as well as a Master’s Degree in Sports Performance and Injury prevention. He is a Level 2 certified Strength & Conditioning Coach in the Functional Movement Systems (FMS). He also holds certifications in Pelvic Restoration, Myokinematic Restoration and Postural Respiration through the Postural Restoration Institute (PRI).
Light is a 2010 graduate of Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Connecticut where he was a three year letter winner as a member of the Bobcat Division 1 college basketball team. While at Quinnipiac, Light helped record the most wins in school history as well as advance to the Northeast Conference Conference Tournament Championship Game and the NIT and CIT postseason tournament.
Previously, Light has spent time working with the New York Yankees and the Quinnipiac University Strength and Conditioning Department.
The goal of most strength and conditioning programs is to increase their athletes ability to produce force at higher velocities, which is known as power. There are a number of methods and exercises that can be used to develop power, such as plyometrics, medicine ball throws, loaded jumps and utilizing the Olympic lifts.
The Olympic lifts seem to be a staple of many collegiate strength and conditioning programs because of the high power outputs that can be developed with the lifts and the many benefits that can be achieved through the movements. The two lifts that make up competitive Olympic weight lifting are the Clean and Jerk and the Snatch. I haven’t seen many programs that utilize the Clean and Jerk in conjunction but separate the movement into two different exercises along with the snatch. Talking to most coaches, it seems as the clean is utilized by a large majority as an indicator exercise (test exercise) and becomes a primary focus of the training program. The following is an account of my personal experience of how we don’t perform the clean anymore as part of our programs. I hope it makes you think and you can better assess why you do what you do as a coach.
The clean has been a primary exercise in my training programs with all athletes since 2001 when I started training teams on a full time basis. This changed in 2004 when I started working with basketball and had a coach that didn’t want to perform the movement for fear of risking injury. I obliged and utilized other movements to develop power and started seeing great results with vertical jumps and sprint times. I continued to use these methods with my basketball athletes and continued to utilize the clean with my other athletes as I felt it was a fantastic movement to develop power and athleticism.
I came to Quinnipiac University in 2008 and began working with both Men’s and Women’s Ice Hockey and Men’s and Women’s Basketball. I continued to teach the clean to my hockey athletes but not to my basketball athletes. After our first year of training, our clean average for both hockey teams went up 25 lbs. but our vertical jumps did not go up accordingly. I started to look back at my athletes verticals from Holy Cross and noticed that their verticals didn’t improve as well as their cleans had and started to assess why I was performing the movement if it wasn’t improving our power based on the vertical jump. Were we just becoming more efficient at cleaning? Could we better utilize our time developing power performing another movement? I started to take notice of what position seemed to be the weak point in the clean (I’ve always implemented the clean from the hang position) and noticed that it was the above the knee position. This was also the position that we would jump from, so my thought process was to increase the amount of force we could develop from this position and then program jumps and throws for our power development. We tested our vertical jumps after the season with our hockey athletes and nearly everybody’s vertical jumps went up or stayed the same in a sport that doesn’t jump. I continued to go with my intuition and started to program the rack pull (elevated deadlift) and other deadlift variations (trap bar, sumo) in place of Olympic lifting in phases when strength was our primary goal. The other problem I realized with the clean was that if I wanted to improve my athletes’ clean, we had to perform the clean year round. But when we made the switch to a deadlift variation, we were able to perform more movement towards developing force in a strength phase and then progress that to a jump when we were in a concentrated power phase.
This switch has worked for our program and with all of our athletes and I’m glad that we made this switch four years ago now. I hope I was able to make you think critically about why you do what you do in an effort to make your programs better for your athletes.
I’ve put together some training videos of our teams so you can see how we train and what we do in-season.
This first video is of our men’s ice hockey team training during the playoffs.
This is womens basketball training session right before the playoffs.
This is a men’s hockey recovery session.