With the rise in awareness of the importance of fitness in sports like golf and baseball, undoubtedly the greatest area of interest has been how training can benefit velocity and swing speed gains. Now, as a general rule, “powerful” people tend to have a propensity for greater speed and force of movement no matter what the task. However, not all “power training” is created equal nor is even appropriate for athletes in rotational sports.
Anyone who knows anything about my coaching philosophy should understand that one of my core beliefs is that the athlete and situation dictate the exercise selection; no exercise is “great” for everyone. Hang out at Coastal Performance for a whole day and you will see this principle in action; from early morning adult clients doing bodyweight exercises to midday staff heavy deadlifts to afternoon athletes doing hang cleans. One thing you may notice about those afternoon athletes, however, is that they are not baseball players or golfers.
I heard recently of a PGA Tour player suffering an injury while performing Olympic lifts, which I’m assuming was an attempt at some power gains. There are two issues here: Number one, injuring a pro athlete who has already “made it” is like flattening a billionaire’s investment portfolio with high-risk penny stocks. The role of a strength coach in that situation is maintenance and injury prevention, just like the large portfolio money manager. If the player wants to do something “fun” and “intense”, have them push a sled around or do some hard Airdyne intervals. Coach Dan John has a saying, “the goal is to keep the goal, the goal.” The goal in this case is to keep the player playing efficiently, and losing sight of that goal by getting cute with “sexy” exercises just because they look awesome is, well, irresponsible to say the least.
Now on to my second point regarding Olympic lifts, box jumps, and other forms of vertical power training I’ve seen used for golfers and pitchers recently. These exercises focus on generating power through the ground and up with extension of the ankle, knee, and hip. This explains why there is such a high correlation between sprint speed and vertical jump height. However, I’m not convinced that this carries over to rotational power for many reasons. For one, using a simple anecdotal analysis, I’m fairly certain John Daly isn’t an alternate for the Olympic high jumping team. However, he’s extremely efficient rotationally and as a result, is one of the longest hitters in competitive golf (or at least was).
I’ll throw myself out there as an example also. I don’t know how to tell you this, but I’m kind of a long hitter. I would call my vertical jump very average. I do, however, own the staff record for medicine balls destroyed. Here’s the message:
To develop rotational power, you must train power rotationally!
Our pitchers and golfers do a ton of medicine ball work, along with a solid foundation of compound strength exercises and mobility work. The vast majority of the time you can literally hear who throws the hardest and hits it the farthest. Call it sport-specific if you must (painful words for me to type), but the truth of the matter is, this is where the best gains can and will be made. I would argue it’s even better for higher handicap golfers and young athletes who have trouble coordinating their sequence.
This power work will be enhanced with a focus on rotational stability through the core. Anti-Rotation presses, plank variations, and other related exercises add stiffness and allow the core to improve its function as a power transducer between the upper and lower body. Lastly, the lead hip (left for right-handed athletes) is generally to blame for a lot of rotational low-back injuries. A focus on tissue quality, mobility, and strength in that area will free up some more motion and allow for more speed.
So the next time you or someone you train needs more velocity or more clubhead speed, dump the jumps and Olympic lifts and start thinking about rotational power work instead!
“One does not accumulate but eliminate. It is not daily increase but daily decrease. The height of cultivation always runs to simplicity.”
The Power of Elimination | Part Two
It is a very American attitude to want to solve problems and make ourselves feel better by adding more, doing more, and consuming more. Fitness and health are certainly no stranger to this phenomena. I’m constantly asked what more can be done to expedite or compound results. What I’ve come to realize is that rarely is doing more the answer. Quite frequently it’s the exact opposite; something needs to be removed in order to achieve progress. Be it clients trying to lose weight, athletes, or even my own personal workouts, harnessing the power of less can create better results faster. In this three part series I’m going to talk about utilizing this strategy for different situations.
Athletes are particularly prone to overcomplicating the training process, often through no fault of their own. I’ve trained athletes who literally have 6 hour baseball practices in high school, complete with hundreds of crunches and pushups. This represents a total lack of appreciation or understanding of specific strength development, movement quality, and central nervous system fatigue. The reason that that military has and to some extent still uses this “calisthenic” type training has more to do with what’s possible to do with hundreds of soldiers, no equipment, and minimal supervision rather than what will actually make them better.
There is a phrase used when discussing body composition, “underweight, over-fat,” referring to the idea that although someone weighs less than they probably should, they are carrying a higher bodyfat percentage than someone ideally would at that weight. For athletes, I like the phrase “over-trained, under-developed” or more specifically “under-strengthened.” We see athletes that are perpetually tired and sore from “training” but yet are incredibly weak and lack stability. Usually this is the “more is better” approach taken too far by an overzealous coach or parent. In their mind, running mile after mile or doing a million crunch variations will have some sort of positive transient effect on their on-field performance. Wrong.
“Strong” as it applies to most team sports refers to maximal or near maximal force production over a short period of time. This type of strength is not developed as a result of just “feeling the burn” of lots of sets of high-rep crunches and curls, nor will distance running “strengthen” your legs despite what traditional training lore might tell you. It’s not just about how big your muscles are, either. Strong is the ability for your brain and body (neuromuscular) to create instantaneous expressions of force. It doesn’t take a lot of reps, time, or always cause a ton of soreness.
I think the best way athletes can utilize the power of elimination in their training is to cut out a lot of the “junk” in their training programs. Focus on progressing and mastering basic compound strength exercises and stay exclusively below 8 reps. Sixteen to twenty sets per workout total is more than sufficient to improve strength. It may seem counterintuitive to not have to crawl out of the gym from exhaustion, but it’s simply impossible to train that way and get consistently stronger. Noted Strength Coach Eric Cressey asks the question, “are you making your clients better or just making them tired?”
Don’t be constantly looking for more exercises or drills to improve athletic performance. What you end up with is a lot of subpar crap and little progress. Excel at the basics, focus on getting stronger, and forget the rest.
In Part Three of this series, I’ll discuss how I applied the elimination principle and increased my progress
This video is from Alwyn Cosgrove and the Nike Pro team describing the assessment process they use with their Nike Pro system. The Functional Movement Screen is the primary tool used to determine an athlete’s likelihood of non-contact or movement related injury. Essentially, its a view into how good a player’s foundation really is. keep reading
After reading about thirteen Iowa football players being hospitalized with symptoms of rhabdomylosis and kidney problems, I started thinking more about some of the intense training I have been through as an athlete in my life, particularly in the off-season or pre-season. (Btw, Iowa Strength and Conditioning Coach Chris Doyle is highly regarded in our industry, though if the rumors are correct about what they were doing, it’s a little concerning) Now that I am in the business of making athletes better rather than “tougher” I think my perspective has changed dramatically. I constantly worry about pushing kids beyond the brink of what is safe and productive, because there’s little to be gained over that ledge. keep reading