Health Hazards of Sitting

Sitting is becoming the new smoking as far the negative effects it has on the body.  The human body wants to be efficient and it wants to survive.  Because of this, it gives us an innate ability to adapt to any and all circumstances, good or bad.   As a product of this adaptivity, the more we move in a certain way, the more our bodies will adapt to that movement thus allowing for more efficient  movement.  This is called the  Law of Repetitive Motion.  So on the plus side, this  allows for movement to become easier.  On the negative side, we can literally grow into these motions.  

The Law of Repetitive Motion can be expressed in an equation, I=NF/AR , which means Injuriesequals the number of repetitions multiplied by the frequency of those repetitions, divided by the amplitude of each repetition times the rest interval.   What does this mean exactly?  The more you do something, the more repetitive stress you place on your body, the more likely you will be to develop an injury.  "If you don't use it, you lose it."

The negative effects of this constant seated posture are discussed and shown in this great article from the Washington Post.  Some of the highlights:

- rounded thoracic and lumber spine

- weaken lower back

- short and tight hip flexors

- glute disfunction

- poor shoulder health

Back in the former Soviet Union, factory workers were given breaks during their shifts to perform exercises to counter the repetitive motions from their jobs.  A law was passed  in California in 1996 granting injured workers special training to alter their work routines.

The negative effects from these repetitive motions can be countered however, with activities that oppose these poor repetitive motions as well the use of strength exercise for the agonist muscles (muscles that cause the movement) and the antagonist muscles.  (muscles that oppose the actions)

Moral of the story...get off of your butt and workout!


Thoughts on Mental Toughness

In an article written by Olympic track coach Henk Kraaijenhof writes on his thoughts about mental toughness.

After reading it several times, I couldn’t help but think about the subject for the rest of the day. 

The idea of “mental toughness” is something that as an ex-athlete, sport coach and physical preparation coach, I have heard about all of my life with varying examples from the sports world to the real world.  From my experiences in the sports world, the term is always been synonymous with an acute event and or physical strain; “toughing it out”,  “fighting through it.”  Fighting through a tough point, or make a big catch in a game, or hit a game winning shot, or make a big hit in a big situation, are all phrases and examples that coaches use when demonstrating their point on mental toughness.

In his article, Henk makes a great point about what he feels attributes creating mental toughness:

•    Genetic make-up, (warrior or worrier)

•    Upbringing and education (your family surroundings in the first years of your life)

•    Practice and training: preparing for a wide range of situations and having the self-confidence to handle those situations appropriately

•    Experience: the perception of having handled adequately in previous situations,

In my opinion, there is an aspect of mental toughness that rarely gets talked about amongst coaches.  I believe that mental toughness lies in those that are willing to do what they NEED to do, rather than what they WANT to do.  Having the ability to do what NEEDS to be done, and sticking to the process even when our WANTS don’t want us too.    A single mother that works two jobs just to provide for her children, to me that is mental toughness.  The father that has to commute 2-3 hours each way, every day for work just so that his children can stay in the school district that they want and the house that they want to live in; he has mental toughness. 


A Process is – “a series of actions or steps taken in order to achieve a particular end.”


I truly believe the ability to stick to a process and do what needs to be done so that they do not deviate out side of the process of achieving their goals/dreams.  For some, it is hard to see the forest through the trees.  I believe that the ability of a person to stick to their long commitment regardless of how they feel, takes a lot of mental toughness.  I WANT to stay in bed and sleep, when I NEED to get up, make a healthy breakfast and start my day.  I WANT to hang out with my friends, but I NEED to go train.  I WANT to get practice/training over as soon as possible, but I NEED to do some extra work to get better.  I WANT to stay up late and party, but I NEED to get my sleep.  I WANT to eat pizza and drink soda, but I NEED to make dinner and eat healthy.  I WANT to play video games, but I NEED to turn off the TV and study.

The best example that I have of commitment and sticking to a process comes from when I first started coaching a high school football team 4 years ago at a school in Central New York, they had had previous records had been 1-7 losing seasons for 8 straight years.  Among many things, the athletes in the football program were by football coach’s definitions considered “mentally weak.”   In our first season, that mentally weak team went 3-6.  After a full offseason of training (9 months) and development with the team, the team went 9-0, and the following season the team went 10-1.  So what changed?  How did a football program after 9+ straight losing seasons all of a sudden become the best in their division and in their area?  Don’t get me wrong, there are several factors that went into this turn around, however the overall majority of the athletes on in the program bought into the system we were running, along with our offseason workout program.  It wasn’t hard to be “mentally tough” when we were winning games by difference of 5-6 touchdowns.  Moral of the story, they were prepared for tough situations because they stuck to the process and put their own needs and the teams NEEDS before their selfish WANTS. 

To quote one of the greatest sport scientists the world has ever known, "The most frequent coaching error is when he strives to obtain an increase in the athletes physical fitness level as soon as possible; increasing the training loads volume. However, "nine pregnant women together cannot assure the baby's birth after one month."   Although Dr. Verkshoshanskys quote is meant to explain the problem with too much volume, his example still holds true with the idea of not rushing a process. 

            The sports training process is exactly that…it’s a process!!!  Just as pregnancy is a long process.  Just like schooling and education is a long process.  Just as the maturation process IS A PROCESS.  There are a series of steps and actions that must be done over time to achieve a particular end goal. 

It is not always easy to stick with something that takes a lot of time and effort to finally reach a goal.  Too me, an aspect of mental toughness that I truly believe in and look for in athletes is the ability to stick to a process and do what needs to be done so that they do not deviate out side of the process of achieving their goals. 

Are Hamstring Injuries Preventable?

What causes hamstring injuries? If you read articles on this topic, invariably you will be told that overstretching or forcefully stretching the hamstring can strain or tear the muscle or cause sharp pain, spasm, swelling and bruising. If it hurts to run or if your hamstrings are bruised and tender, the diagnosis is overtraining, muscle tightness and fatigue. If you have pain while walking but not running, the diagnosis is possible low back injury.

You may also read that inflexible hamstrings limit motion and stress the lower back. If you have knee pain, it may be due to hamstring tightness (or weakness) because the knee has to work harder to perform extension movements. Some reports even state that the hamstring injuries are due to excessive strength of the quadriceps or simply an imbalance between the quadriceps and hamstrings.

If these symptoms were indicative of the true causes of injury and if everyone followed the recommendations for fixing them, (that typically include stretching and general strengthening); the number of hamstring injuries should decrease greatly. But we do not see this. Instead, injuries continue to occur, and, in some cases, are even more severe. It appears that once you have a hamstring injury the chances of getting another hamstring injury are increased.

It is rare to find a baseball, football, soccer, lacrosse or basketball team with no hamstring problems! Many teams, including professional ball clubs, continually lose great players for months because of hamstring injuries. It has gotten to the point where most teams now believe that hamstring injuries are “part of the game.” But does it have to be this way? The answer is no if you examine how the hamstrings are involved and how they can best be strengthened in a manner that is specific to the execution of various sports skills.

The problem is in a lack of understanding of how the hamstrings act during the execution of different skills. It is now possible to find reports stating that is the eccentric contraction, or more accurately the forced eccentric contraction, that is the culprit in hamstring injuries. I have been saying this for years (see first edition of Explosive Running published in 2000) so it is heartening to see others now beginning to comprehend this very important role of the hamstrings.

For example, in running or when taking a quick first step, when you drive the knee forward, the hamstring undergoes a forced eccentric stretch at the hip joint. When the shin whips out, there is an even greater eccentric contraction of the hamstrings and tendons at the knee joint. These eccentric contractions are needed to prepare (tense) the hamstrings for the pawback movement, the main force-producing action to drive the leg down and back to make contact with the ground and propel the body forward.

But what happens to the switching of the eccentric-concentric contraction at the hip and knee joints if they misfire when the player has incorrect running technique? For example, when the athlete tries to contract the hamstrings in the pushoff rather than relaxing them as occurs naturally in effective running. This is where it is necessary to pay more attention to see what the athlete does and if it is effective. In other words, it is the improper technique that is creating the problem and causing the injury.

Keep in mind that most injuries have a neuromuscular base. It is not simply a matter of how strong a muscle is. It is the firing of the nervous system and contraction of the muscles that determine how the skill is executed. Most important in regard to the hamstrings is how the muscles and tendons act during the execution of the pushoff in running and cutting. Muscle strength is very important but only in its role the timing and force of the muscle contractions.

Constantly stretching the hamstrings does little if anything to prevent injury, mainly because you do not need a great deal of hamstring flexibility. When you drive the thigh forward, the knee is bent which gives slack at the hip end of the muscle to give you an ample range of motion. Static overstretching creates conditions that do not allow the hamstring to function properly. Recent studies indicate that tighter hamstrings are more conducive to better performance and prevention of injury.

In regard to tight hamstrings causing back problems, I have yet to see a player who has such tight hamstrings that he does not have normal curvature of the spine. In other words, if the spine is held in its normal anatomical position while running, the hamstrings cannot be considered too tight to cause the back to flatten. Any back flattening or slight rounding in the lumbar area that occurs should be when the body is in full support on the ground at which time the hamstring at the hip joint is stretching (hip flexion) and thus, cannot be “too tight.” If you can do a half to three-quarter squat while maintaining normal spinal curvature, you do not have excessively tight hamstrings.

Constantly stretching the hamstrings as many players do is often the cause of many running injuries. Many players are proud of the fact that they can touch their toes when they bend over with straight legs or can raise their leg up onto a rail and then bend over and touch the foot with the fingers. However, in these exercises, because you have a rounded back to reach this far you overstretch the ligaments of the lumbar spine more than you stretch the hamstring. As a result, you end up with a looser back more prone to injury, rather than a safer or stronger back or hamstring muscle.

Athletes need strength with flexibility. Thus, instead of doing mainly static stretches, you should do strength exercises that simultaneously stretch the muscles and connective tissue in the same exercise. For example, doing the good morning exercise stretches the hamstrings eccentrically at the hip joint on the down phase, when you maintain normal spinal curvature. When you rise up, you strengthen the muscle in the concentric contraction. Some athletes prefer doing an analogous exercise on the Yessis Glute Ham Back machine with the legs in motion or with the trunk in motion.

In these exercises you stretch and strengthen the hamstring muscles in the same exercise. If you can not achieve a 90° angle in the hip joint, while still keeping the back in its normal anatomical position, lower the trunk as far as possible. In time you develop the necessary flexibility and strength to go through the full range of motion. This is known as active stretching, the kind that all athletes should practice.

Westside Sumo Style Rocking Box Squats

* Today's post comes from our friend coach Brian Matthews, out of Phelps Gym located in Albany NY

First things first, this is not a scientific study. I haven’t toiled hour upon hour in a state of the art lab with EMGs or ergometers in order to come to this conclusion. This is purely anecdotal, just one guy in upstate NY who’s spent a little bit of time training and lifting weights and came up with this idea.

Let me begin with a little background on me. I played sports all through high school and into college, and was an average player at best with marginal athletic ability on a bigger frame (6’6” 230). In high school, I did the typical 15-18 year old training split; curls and benching, supersetted with benching and curls. Lower body was an afterthought, as was any sort of sprint work. If anything, I’d grind my fast twitch potential into dust with long jogs or bike rides. College wasn’t much better. I was able to play early because of my size, but athletically I did little to push my genetic ceiling. Some spastic Olympic lifts were added to my regimen, still a lot of benching and curls, and the occasional team “plyometric workout. ” I use this term loosely because all it amounted to was 90 dudes in a small gym doing boot camp style circuit training. Difficult no doubt, but I don’t think anyone became the second coming of Bo Jackson as a result. We got tired. We got sore. We felt good about ourselves afterwards, but results were minimal.

So I’m out of college working jobs I hate and through a friend start going to this private gym/ athlete training facility (where I’m currently employed). We have bands and chains. We box squat just like the world’s strongest dudes. It’s like nothing I’ve ever done before and I love it. Fast forward a couple of months and my already tenuous knee situation (2 MCL tears and chronic tendonitis) is exacerbated, and my ankles don’t feel any better. I’m taking arthritis medication at age 27 and moving like a sloth made of tin. I certainly don’t feel “athletic” even though I’ve been told that developing the posterior chain is the absolute gateway to athletic success. So I keep squatting (back, back, back) making sure to keep my ankles frozen in carbonite while I do it, and my joints continue to feel like trash.

A colleague invites me down to a conference in Virginia with a bunch of speakers that I have never heard of and I decide what the hell, I’ll check it out. It’s here that I learn the difference between general and specific exercises, and that lifting like a geared power lifter may not be the greatest transfer of training to what you see on the field. Holy shit, I had just always figured that if you can squat 1,000 pounds than you can absolutely dominate whatever sport you play. Then I hear a guy who has actually squatted 1,000 pounds say, “You think waddling up to a monolift, getting as wide as the day is long, and moving a couple inches is athletic? You are kidding yourself. ” Man do I feel dumb. Here I was training the athletes I work with this way and thought I was doing something groundbreaking. Turns out I was a little off in my approach.

Athletes, as we know, have to move. You can’t move. You can’t play. You can be as strong as a silverback, but if you have beaten a motor pattern to death that has no transfer on the field, it’s going to be tough to make any impact. I’m not writing this to bash the powerlifting community. I have a tremendous amount of respect for those guys and am amazed by the raw strength many of them exhibit. But have you ever seen one of these guys walk, let alone run? Efficient is not a word I would use to describe their gait.

A boxer has to punch a heavy bag to get better at punching. Likewise, team sport athletes need to run, jump, throw, bound, skip, and perform exercises that replicate actual human movement. Powerlifting is about moving the biggest weight the shortest range of motion possible, hence the wide grip bench and wide stance squat. If your ankle moves in that style of squat, your shin angle changes. This makes parallel depth that much more challenging to hit. Compound that with the elastic multi-ply camp and you have equipment that makes heavier weights easier to hit, and a reliance on an external aid that isn’t present on the field or court.

The wide stance rocking box squat was developed as an exercise that has great carry over to geared lifting. If you aren’t geared, and you aren’t powerlifting, then why squat with that style? I think people saw the insane weights that were being squatted and immediately concluded that this exercise would help their athletes. Getting stronger will certainly help your athletes on the field, no one is disputing that. But is that the best way? Some would argue that this could even be detrimental. I can only speak to my experience and my athletes’ experiences, and I can tell you unequivocally that max effort rocking box squats with no ankle flexion have zero carry over athletically.

People are still going to train this way. My words alone aren’t going to change minds. My intent is to get people to start thinking critically about exactly why they’re choosing these types of exercises for their athletes. If there’s a better way, we owe it to our clients to use it to help them improve. If not, what are we really doing? Results on the field or court are what matters; everything else is just window dressing.

Book Review - Explosive Running by Dr. Michael Yessis

This book review was written by coach Brian Matthews, from Phelps Training Systems located in Albany N.Y.

Running.  It’s simple, isn’t it?  To quote Bacon from Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels “Left leg, right leg, your body will follow.”  Funny no doubt, but unfortunately this seemingly elementary task is done incorrectly throughout the world on all levels.  From the 40 min 5k crowd to the flawed start of the world’s fastest man, technical errors can be present at every spectrum.  Here’s where the book Explosive Running: Using the Science of Kinesiology to Improve Your Performance by Dr. Michael Yessis can become such a valuable tool for anyone who chooses to lace up and run.  Dr. Yessis is a master at what he does and his credentials are stacked a mile high: PHD from Southern Cal in Biomechanics, Professor Emeritus at Cal State Fullerton, consultant to several Olympic and Professional sports teams, author of over 2,000 articles and 16 books including Explosive Running, Editor-in-Chief of the Fitness and sports review international from 1966-1994, and Editor of the Soviet sports review from 1968-1972 where he also translated works from prominent Russian sports scientists.  

Dr. Yessis is the creator of many great pieces of exercise equipment such as the Glute-Ham-Gastroc-Raise (commonly known as the GHR), the Strength Bar, and Active Cords.  An industry leader, when Yessis talks you listen, what he writes you read and if he presents, buy a plane ticket or purchase the webinar because the man literally drops science with everything he does. 

Explosive Running is unique because it presents all the technical “science-y” data but does it in an accessible way.  Some chapters (which I’ll touch on later) include the kinesiology of running, special strength exercises for running and designing your exercise program.  Yessis gives the practical and applied means for improved running technique and speed.  A big proponent of specialized exercises, Yessis has developed an exercise tool called Active Cords.  It’s amazing to me that more people haven’t taken advantage of this totally unique product and its methods that can benefit athletes of all ages.  We use the Cords ourselves and have seen tremendous improvement with our athletes’ running technique.  The applications are nearly limitless, but two of the most beneficial exercises in my opinion are the knee drive and paw back exercises.  I know speed ladders and high knee drills are all the rage in the various speed camps throughout the country, and I’m not bashing them entirely because they can have their place as a general warm-up, but let’s use common sense people.  In sports, when have you ever seen someone move their feet in an agility ladder-style exercise? Furthermore, when have you ever seen someone run with their lead thigh above 90 degrees?  I’d venture a safe guess that the answer is never.  But time and again you see athletes put through a litany of these type of drills with “increasing” speed being the main factor.  This would be like having a swimmer flail their arms and legs about in water with hopes that their stroke and kicking would improve, it just doesn’t happen.    
One point Dr. Yessis touches on that I feel many coaches have encountered is the inconsistency of running advice.  Some coaches rely solely on opinion and disregard the basic biomechanics that occur while running.  This type of thinking is dangerous and could potentially lead to an injury for the athlete or client.  Another feature that he covers is the usage of video analysis for critiquing run technique.  Luckily in 2013 you don’t need to purchase a high priced stop motion camera.  If you own a smart phone there are many camera apps (ex: Coaches Eye) that are available to dissect mechanics at a frame-by-frame rate. 

From here I’ll highlight some of the main chapters and concepts covered in the text…

Kinesiology of Running
“Running speed stems mainly from three joint actions: ankle joint extension (pushoff), hip joint flexion (knee drive) and hip joint extension (paw back).”  That quote right there sums up the nuts and bolts of running.  This section examines every mechanical movement that can occur in ideal running form: a literal head-to-toe analysis starting with how the muscles and tendons in the arch of your foot work and ending with the importance of the upper traps and levator scapaule in maintaining the shoulders in their upright position.  No stone is left unturned; if you ever had any question on what happens during hip rotation while running Yessis has you covered.  

Active stretches for runners
Static stretches have their place but can oftentimes be detrimental in the world of running.  Running by nature is dynamic and requires powerful actions of the limbs (especially in sprinting).  When you do any prolonged static stretching “the muscles are completely relaxed, whereas in running the muscles perform both actively and dynamically in both concentric and eccentric contractions.”  The forces in the dynamic state of running far exceed the relaxed passive sensations in static stretching.  Therefore static stretching doesn’t adequately prepare one’s body for actual running and can potentially lead to injury.  This chapter also provides some useful dynamic stretches that target all of the major joints used in running, helping prepare the prospective runner for an injury-free experience.  

Special strength exercises for running
In order for an exercise to be considered “specialized” it needs to meet certain criteria. Namely, the exercise needs to mimic the “exact movement, range of motion and type of muscular contraction.”  So a throwing exercise, for example, can be done as the same movement and range of motion as a throw but if it is done at a slow speed then it is not truly a specialized exercise.  These types of exercises can have tremendous benefit to all that use them properly.  Weak joint actions can be strengthened and performance can be markedly improved.  Dr. Yessis covers a number of great exercises throughout this section and gives detailed pictures and descriptions of their execution.  As mentioned earlier, two of our favorites are the knee drive and paw back exercises.  The knee drive works hip joint flexion as seen in running and the paw back works hip joint extension as seen in running.  I’ve provided videos of both exercises below so you can get a visual on what the movement looks like. Additionally, I have provided a “before” and “after” video of a client of ours with a 3 month time frame between the clips.  Clearly, there is a difference between the two videos and through the aid of special strength exercises this athlete dropped almost a whole second faster in his 40 yard dash and is currently starting on his high school football team.

Here is a video analysis of an athlete before the use of the methods from Explosive Running:

Here is a video analysis of an the same athlete after several months of using the methods from Explosive Running

Explosive Exercises for running
Explosive exercises or speed strength exercises are extremely valuable in developing power and increasing running speed.  Dr. Yessis covers a variety of exercises and what particular part of your running they can aid.  Here are some examples: an explosive heel raise can result in a more effective push-off and a split squat jump can make a more effective takeoff.  Other exercises covered include a variety of skips, bounds, jumps and plyometrics. 

Special exercises to resolve common problems
This is a great chapter to assist in fixing those common flaws many runners encounter.  Heel striker? Try banded paw backs.  Lean forward too much when you run? Throw some back raises, ghr’s and lunges into your strength program.  I love this section because of its practicality.  Dr. Yessis covers virtually every running technique issue that can pop up and has an exercise that can help improve the technique.  The problems are covered with detail and the solutions are easy to follow and apply.
Overall, I feel Dr. Yessis has done some real groundbreaking work throughout his career and Explosive Running adds to his already impressive resume.  Easy to understand and follow, this book is a must-have for any track or team sport coach to aid in the improvement of their athletes.  Even casual runners can get great value out of this text.  I’d suggest everyone reading this article should buy a copy of the book and read it, video themselves running, and then apply what they’ve learned to make their running technique more refined and efficient.  Speed kills, but so do technical flaws.  Read, learn, improve and get ready to dominate on the track, field or court!

For more information on Coach Matthews, you can find him at

Are We Making Progress in Football Training?

Author - Dr. Michael Yessis

As more knowledge becomes available and as the field of science expands, we are seeing greater progress in understanding the foundation and tenants of many different professions especially in the sciences. This applies to almost all professions but especially in the engineering, electronics and biomedical fields. As a result, new ideas and practices are constantly being implemented with great success.

It appears that the sciences are the foundation for progress in almost all professions. It leads the way to not only greater understanding but to more innovations and improvements in practice. But science seems to be absent when it comes to the training a football player. Instead of seeing new advances we see the same concepts and methodologies being perpetuated.

Progress, if this is what it can be called, is seen in variations of old exercises and in new equipment for basically the same strength exercises. We do see progress in new and different strategies but these are indirectly related to the physical and technical development of the player.

Progress seems to be implied when coaches talk about and advertise their new training facilities. The bigger the facility and the more equipment it has, the more impressive it appears. These facilities are used as a recruiting device to impress young players.

However, I have not been able to find a team or university extolling their training philosophy and methodologies. I've been unable to find teams that boast of their ability to improve running speed, speed of movement, force or distance of throwing, and the ability to execute quicker cuts with actual results. In other words, teams don't boast of the specific results that they are capable of producing except in very general terms.

Because of this and other reasons that follow, I maintain that the training of football players does not have a scientific base. I see examples of it constantly in just about every sports or football related magazine and in various sports and football related websites and forums.
If you look into the archives of the literature in the 1970s and 80s, you will see that the training knowledge at that time was the same or superior to the knowledge that is being displayed today. In other words, there has not been any progress in expanding and understanding the information that we had available 30 to 40 years ago on how to best train an athlete to produce the best performance on the field.

This is the key element! How well the player executes on the field is the key to any player’s success. How well he executes the skills involved determines not only how well he plays but also the success of the team. Keep in mind that the best offensive or defensive strategy in the world will not be successful if the players cannot carry it out.

The foundation for all strategy should be based on the athlete’s ability to execute the required skills. But this strategy fails when the athlete is not capable of displaying effective technique and does not have the physical abilities that are specific to his technique. This is an often overlooked aspect of training, but yet, it is the crux of any success that a team may achieve.

Today it appears that success revolves around how well the athlete performs in the weight room. How much you can bench, dead lift, squat, snatch, press etc. seem to be the gold standards for a successful athlete. Overlooked is the fact that regardless of how impressive the gains in strength may be in these or other lifts, the players are not necessarily better performers on the field. In many cases they actually become worse players!

For example, in football combines, one popular test is to see how many repetitions the player can post in the bench press with a 225 pound bar. As good as this test may be, some top performers in this event have failed as players in the pros. Related examples can be given with some of the other tests which do not duplicate what the athlete does on the field. But coaches use these results as gold standards for selection of players even when done in conjunction with other criteria.

Another example of why I say that progress is not being made in football, can be found in the area of plyometrics, a critical training means to improve speed, quickness and explosiveness. Rather than adhering to the original definition and practice of plyometrics as exemplified by its originator Yuri Verkhoshansky, plyometrics has now taken on the same meaning as any type of jump exercise.
When I first introduced plyometrics to the United States, after working with Dr. Verkhoshansky, the creator of plyometrics in the former Soviet Union, I brought out how it was used to elicit a strong and powerful muscular contraction in the shortest amount of time. But today most coaches think of plyometrics as jumping without any true impact or quickness.

This is opposite of what plyometrics should be. In evaluating many football training programs I have found some examples of correct but mostly incorrect, execution of plyometric exercises. For substantiation simply look at execution of many plyometric exercises on YouTube. You can see many jump exercises being executed over a long range of motion or without the necessary fast switch between the eccentric and concentric contractions.

Even the concept of specialized training or specialized strength exercises is still not fully understood in football and is constantly debated. Most football strength and conditioning coaches, rather than doing mainly specialized strength exercises, spend most, if not all of their time, on execution of general strength exercises.

By this I mean they do exercises that are good for strengthening the major muscles of the body but that do not duplicate what the athlete does in execution of his skills on the field. Some of the exercises may however, entail involvement of the same muscles as used by players in execution of different skills.
But yet, general strength, explosive training and the role of specialized strength and explosive exercises was well-established back in the 1980s. I wrote many articles on this topic that appeared in various sports training and conditioning magazines such as the National Strength and Conditioning Association Journal. Understand that in specialized strength training the player gains strength in the same neuromuscular pathway as seen in execution of a specific skill. In addition, strength is developed over the same range of motion as it is displayed in execution of the game skill.
By skill I mean the ability to run, jump, cut, hit, throw, kick, etc. and to execute these skills well. In this case the specialized strength exercise couples the skill technique with strength in the execution of the exercise. Few strength exercises fulfill these criteria.

Specialized strength exercises are very specific to a single joint action or multiple joint actions as seen in execution of the skill. General exercises are a far cry from specialized strength exercises. The specialized strength exercises transfer directly to performance on the field but general strength exercises do not. This is why specialized strength exercises are so indispensable.
Specificity of execution of general strength exercises is also critical but yet it appears to be lacking in most football training programs. By this I mean the exercise is executed in a specific manner in order to bring about the results for which is being used.

A case in point is the glute-ham-gastroc raise (most often called the glute-ham exercise) that I constantly see being executed ineffectively. This exercise, when done most effectively, not only helps improve running performance but helps to prevent hamstring injury especially when the player also has correct running technique.

By ineffective exercise execution I mean the manner in which the exercise is done does not strengthen the hamstring muscle from both the hip and knee joint ends. When done correctly the athlete will feel a distinct change in muscle intensity when he also executes the knee band after the first half (hip extension) of the exercise. The way most players do the exercise today they, in essence, do a reverse knee curl rather than a glute-ham-gastroc raise.
Part of the reason why most athletes do not do this exercise most effectively is due to the fact that most of the Glute Ham machines do not have the necessary adjustments and positioning in order to do the exercise correctly. I created this exercise and the Glute Ham machine so I know how it should be done for the results that I mentioned. Only with my machine (the Yessis Glute Ham Back machine) is it possible to execute this effective technique. If you have a machine that copied my designs then you too may be able to do it correctly.

It should also be noted that with the Yessis Glute ham back machine it is possible to do up to twelve additional exercises for complete hip and core strengthening. Some of the exercises, especially for the abdominals and lower back, duplicate what the athlete must do in execution of many skills. In addition,  it is possible to isolate upper and lower abdominal strength, abdominal rotational strength, lower back strength and lower back rotational strength.

The glute ham gastroc raise is not the only exercise that is often done ineffectively. For example, when doing a squat backfield players typically do the sumo squat rather than using the narrow stance in which the feet are under the hips for some of the sets. The reason for this is that this positioning more closely duplicates the strength of the quadriceps, hamstring and glute muscles as they are involved in running.

More examples can be given but the key point here is that some general exercises can be made into specialized exercises when they duplicate what the athlete does in execution of his skills.
Even the concept of explosive or power training appears to be not fully understood. Many coaches still believe that explosive power (explosiveness) comes from the lifting of heavy weights or doing Olympic lifts. Other coaches believe that explosiveness is developed from lifting light weights very quickly. Even more definitions can be found that only confuse the issue.
Yet, I wrote about this back in the 1980s, in a series of articles that appeared in the National Strength and Conditioning Association Journal.  I debated this with Arthur Jones through one of his spokespersons until he could no longer argue to substantiate his erroneous belief that development of strength with slow intense movements developed explosive power as needed for football and other sports.

Periodization is still another concept that also appears to be misinterpreted and misused even though it was spelled out in detail by the Russians back in the 1960s and 70s. Its tenants are very simple and easy to understand but over the years the information has been so misused that it is now difficult to understand exactly what is meant and how it is applied. But yet, periodization is very important in football when considering preparation for spring training and associated playing, in addition to preparation for the season which follows a few months later.

Periodization is often also used for training physical qualities such as strength for which it was never intended. All periodization schemes for development of a physical quality cannot be substantiated.
As a result, this has only lead to more confusion rather than elucidation of the problem. Understand that there is no progression in the development of strength except for intensity and volume. When training is specific, the physical quality is developed with a specific training program.
For example, specific programs already exist for developing concentric, eccentric or isometric strength. Programs already exist for development of absolute strength, speed-strength, explosive strength, strength endurance and combinations of them. Well known programs already exist for the development of muscle mass, or strength with muscle mass, or strength without muscle mass. There are even guidelines for how strength training programs should be structured for beginners as well as high-level athletes.

This also includes training programs that are differentiated for the novice athlete and for the high-level athlete. Even the training of quarterbacks and other position players is different from other players.  But yet we see little of this in football training programs. Examination of most programs indicates that all or most of the players do basically the same work outs.

This lack of progress in developing more effective players is seen not only in the basic knowledge and concepts that underlie the training of football players, but can also be seen in sports magazine and journal articles. For example, there have not been any new or different innovations in the training of an athlete presented in American literature for many years. Most articles and training concepts are merely a variant or takeoff on something that has already been well-established in the former Soviet literature.
Suffice it to say that In essence, almost all training philosophies and methodology presently in use, have come from Soviet theory and practices dating back to the 1970s-80s. For those who are interested, much of this information can be found in the Fitness and Sports Review International, previously known as the Soviet Sports Review, and in the book, Secrets of Russian Sports Fitness and Training.
Isn't it about time that football embraced the tenants of sports science? This lack of progress in using science or scientific principles in the training of football players is seen in expanding the basic knowledge and concepts that underlie the training of an athlete.

It sometimes appears that we have forgotten what has already been discovered and proven to be beneficial and are substituting more popular but unproductive training practices. Because of this, very few coaches are looking at the results that they get in relation to player performance on the field.
It appears that more coaches are concerned with the results that they get from doing particular exercises in the weight room and with particular pieces of equipment. But how you play on the field should be the bottom line. Does the exercise or training program improve the player's ability to perform better on the field?

This is what we should not only be asking for but demanding from all exercise programs and exercises. This can lead to not only more football fit players but also players with better skill technique and fuller development of the physical qualities specific to their technique. This in turn will lead to more successful teams, fewer injuries and more spectacular play. 

Punching Back - Part 3: Practical Exercises

In part two of this three part series, I gave a brief explanation of throwing a straight right hand punch by explaining the joint actions involved, the sequencing of their actions, the muscles involved and how they are involved with the lower body and torso.  From the studies sited in part two, it was shown that the majority of punching force is developed from the lower body, and then transferred into the torso, and then into the shoulders and hand.  I believe that it is important to understand how and why these actions occur in order to recognize how punching forces can be generated and it will allow the physical preparation coach the ability to use exercises that better transfer to improving the combat athletes punching forces.
* I would like to note that there are many factors go into throwing a powerful punch: Timing, footwork, and style of fighter being a few.  The explanation that I had given was director explained the idealistic mechanics for a straight right hand punch by an orthodox fighter.  The same mechanics & exercises apply for a southpaw throwing a straight left hand

The first action that occurs in throwing a punch is getting the hips in motion, shifting the weight from the back leg onto the front.  As noted in the studies done by Filmonov[1] [2], the weight shift  (“push-off leg extension”) is the main source of force production.  A general-specific exercise to strengthen this joint action is performing hip ab-duction. 

            Once the weight has been shifted, hip rotation occurs around the front leg while keeping the shoulders side facing.  This separation is important in order to create a powerful “rubber band” affect with stretching of the oblique’s.  The more separation there is between the hips and shoulders, the stronger the contraction of the oblique’s wiping the shoulders around.   Reverse Trunk Twists [3]are a great exercise to create flexibility between the hips and shoulders as well as strength in a full range of motion.

            The Russian Twist is an exercise that often times gets overlooked for development of the oblique muscles.  Performed properly on a Glute-Ham-Back machine allows for a full range of motion of the oblique’s and is done against the direct pull of gravity.  Russian Twists have been modified throughout the years to be preformed in a seated position to make it easier.  Executing the exercise this way shortens up the ROM, and can allow for spine flexion, which combined with rotation can lead to injury. 

Rotational med-ball throws are a great way to develop rotational speed, power, and strength.  There are many different variants of med ball throws that can be used in the programming for a combat sport athletes ranging from general to specialized.  The use of specialized exercises is to improve the athlete’s physical abilities as it relates to technique.  Specialized exercises can be single joint as well as multi-joint exercises.  In order to make med-ball throw specialized, the lower-body and torso must duplicate how it is used in throwing a punch.  The overload of the med ball must be such that it does not allow for mechanics over the lower body and torso to change.
Most often rotational med-ball throws are performed with a simultaneous weight shift, rotation of the hips and shoulders.  In order to make it more specialized there must be a sequencing of the joint actions.  Otherwise it is best to use these general med-ball throws with lower level athletes, and or in the general phase of training. 

-       Figure 1 shows a side facing athlete to his target
-       Figure 2 shows the athlete shifting his weight onto his front leg by hip joint abduction
-       Figure 3 shows the athlete performing hip joint rotation. 
o   The axis of his rotation is in his left hip
o   His shoulders remain side facing as his hips reach full rotation
-       Figure 4 shows the athlete then coming around with his shoulders as he releases the ball

The goal of this series was to point out the short comings of  the original article published by the NSCA, give an explanation of the lower-body and torso’s role in throwing a punch, as well as give general and specialized exercise examples for physical preparation coaches.  There are many more exercises that can and should be used both general and specialized for the combat athlete.
When something registers high on my BS meter, I try and figure out why that is and how to better come up with a solution.  Articles like the one that I examined[4] leave a bad taste in my mouth for they are often times are too vague, give science that is irrelevant, and any of the practical examples given are all general exercises in nature, meaning they won’t have as high of a transference to improving sport performance.  I am not a scientist; I am a practitioner.  Having an understanding of the science is important, don’t get me wrong, but knowing what exercises have a high transference to sport, there timing and dosage is what is most important to me.  I just want results…

[1] Filimonov. Means of Increasing Strength of the Punch.  NSCA Journal. Vol 7, #6
[2] Verkhoshansky. Filimonov. The Dynamics of Punching Technique and Speed-Strength in Young Boxers.  Soviet Sports Review. Vol. 26, #4
[3] Yessis.  Biomechanics and Kinesiology of Exercise 2nd Edition.  Ultimate Athlete Concepts 2013.
[4] Lenetsky.  Harris.  Brughelli. “Assessment and Contributors of Punching Forces in Combat Sports Athletes: Implications for Strength and Conditioning.  NSCA- Strength and Conditioning Journal.  Vol. 35 #2