Saturday, May 10, 2014

Advancing the Ball

In the book my colleagues and I wrote for our Practical Strength project, Play the Ball As It Lies, we lay out the foundations of good training:  simplified mastery of a few tools and attention to the individual yield far more results than complicated one-size-fits-all programming.  I do feel, however, that we've just reached the tip of the iceberg in terms of reaching our target audience and convincing them of the benefits of strength training.

As is pretty clear  in most of my articles, I work with a diverse crowd:  Kids, competitive athletes, masters athletes, people in rehab, and average folks who want a better quality of life.  I want to focus on two of these groups in particular here:  Kids and older folks who are either just beginning fitness or trying to sustain a long term athletic career.  With these folks, strength is invaluable. I've seen it reverse long term damage, improve performance, and lengthen periods of time between (if not eliminate altogether) debilitating injuries.  In fact, anyone I know who has kids in athletics, aging parents, or are, themselves, experiencing pain or physical difficulty in every day life gets the same response from me.  Strength training is a must.

Strength training makes you stronger.  Duh.  But what else does it do?  Good question.  A lot.  Its like teaching a kid to read and its a very lucrative investment.  An investment in joint stability, core stability, tendon and ligament strength, increased coordination, injury prevention, and improved performance.  The catch 22 that I run into with this is when people ask me, "Who should I train with?  Should I let my kids strength train? Should I send my parents to X trainer?"  This is where I pause.

Two of these kids are mine.  The other is also mine, but only
in the sense of the coach/athlete relationship.  I care way more
about their health than my ego.
Not all trainers are created equal.  More importantly, not all trainers, or strength coaches, or certified strength and conditioning coaches, or exercise physiologists, have the training or experience to properly supervise anyone in the weight room.  I've worked in a lot of gyms and have seen a lot of things I wish I didn't see.  Thing is, a lot of it is subtle.  I've seen kids ruin their knees doing heavy squats that are "almost there" form-wise.  I've seen people performing cleans with a rounded back and pulling mostly with their arms (this is a hip movement).  I've seen deadlifts performed with backs rounded like a Halloween cat, all under the supervision of a "head strength coach".  Likewise, I had a weightlifter who had to cut her training short because her cheerleading coach never thought it was useful to tell the girls to land "lightly" on their feet.  This is a hugely important cue for jump training.  After two years of cheerleading, this 13 year old had no cartilage left in her knees.  I take this stuff seriously.  I believe in good strength training, but I don't trust many of the people charged with coaching or teaching strength to do it right.

I don't know what the solution is here.  Obviously, the training industry needs to take a leadership role in making sure their trainers are executing their training correctly and not just profiting on the tests they administer.  Even more so, the colleges selling degrees to students who are meant to be authorities in our high school and college weight rooms should make sure that their graduates are teaching biomechanically sound movements.  I think training is about teaching, correcting movements, and coming up with sound programming templates that advance the individual in a way that is safe and effective.  This doesn't seem to be the goal of most programs.  Hands on training and mentoring, which rarely happens, is far more important in this arena than all the questionable training theory based on experiments performed on novice athletes and electrical devices.  (That's purposeful snark, but check it out, its mostly true.)  Lastly, I think there should be a grassroots movement to educate our children and their PE teachers and sports coaches on how to properly prepare their bodies for the stresses of sport and play through focused strength training.  There are several individuals amd groups starting to target this niche with sound hands on teaching techmiques.  I teach this to third and fourth graders, it is possible.  Furthermore, I teach this to parents and coaches and trainers and I know there is a demand for it.  

Too bad being a bad-ass viking impersonator
isn't a sport.  Cause he'd have made
the pee-wee team.
Sports in the US are mostly about selection and not development.  You don't make the team?  You don't get to play.  Too bad there's only a few weeks of practice before we select who gets to play.   If we truly believed that most kids could get to about 75% at one sport or another and made an effort to get them there, we could get them there.  If we truly believed that middle aged men and women don't need back surgery, but instead, could strengthen their bodies in a way that would lead to lifelong improvements in both quality of life and acitivIty level, we could get them there.  If we truly believed that many of the symptoms of old age including loss of balance, cognitive ability, muscle loss, depression, and weight loss, could be improved with sensible resistance training, we could get them there.

Demand more of your coaches, your trainers, and your children's athletic programs.  This should be the norm and if we create enough of a demand, we will increase the supply.

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