Tuesday, April 5, 2011

RE: Stability and Mobility Adaptations in the Overhead Athlete

First things first, specific to the images displayed I do not see significant alterations in the external rotation of the athletes pictured (just so that is said). I do see more of a laying back of the torso specific to foot positioning. This position is poor for hitting as we lose significant links to the kinetic chain. Essentially our anchor occurs in the low back instead of linking to the hip and ankle. I also do not see the opening of the pelvis we want to see in the athlete pictured on the bottom. This eliminates the same linking of the kinetic chain specific to the rotational power needed for the same activity. The top athlete is using this rotation, granted in the arched back position, and I would bet has greater range in her attacking ability (meaning where she is able to close and place the ball effectively). From a skill development standpoint the athlete on the bottom could very well be capable of doing this effectively and just be pictured in the incorrect posture for this single instance but experience tells me this is not the case (even when taking a "straight line" striking angle good hitters will take advantage of the rotational power needed as a way to gain valuable ROM).

Good Example of Powerful Jumping/Hitting Position with the Requisite Shoulder Mobility

Beyond that, and more specific to the content of my friend Sam's post, I have to say that the primary way that we communicate effective use of the shoulder is through effective use of the rest of the body. So what Sam communicated is important but for what I believe the majority of my role encompasses is presented in a fairly limited scope (essentially becoming a programming consideration and not necessarily a coaching cue). Within my practice the work is in the coaching and in getting the shoulder work done.

Developmentally speaking volleyball players are more limited in the volume of their overhead striking as there are many obstacles to doing this effectively at the youth level. So volleyball teams and athletes essentially have to earn the ability to attack aggressively and this tends to match up well with what they are prepared for as an athlete. I believe a major roadblock in this process is coaches doing private lessons or hitting clinics where they are teaching overhead actions the rest of the body is ill prepared for. So I don't go on a rant about this that takes this post further off-topic the easiest way to initiate some of the physical actions we want to impact overhead work is through the dynamic warm-up and in brief jumping and reaching progressions that teach athletes to complete vertical extension and close aggressively to a great landing position.

Many of the progressions I outlined in the 'Vertical Jump Methodology' post can serve as effective ways to vary the skill and effort. The need for variation is there because simple exercises only guarantee improvement in said exercise and the primary physical capacity it develops. There are skill development considerations that need to be adaptable to a constantly changing environment (in the video posted below what was she supposed to do?) and to me, it makes no sense to develop great vertical power, rotation, or upper body power and then attempt to apply it to the skill. It is more than just a high contact point, it must be integrated, and it must be practiced.

Stability and Mobility Adaptations in Overhead Athletes

A guest blog from my friend Sam Leahey. Sam is a brilliant strength coach who is focusing this piece on overhead demands for athletes. I will post some short commentary tomorrow for discussion. Enjoy.

Stability and Mobility Adaptations in Overhead Athletes

Overhead athletes require a delicate balance of both shoulder stability and shoulder mobility relative to their sport. Certain structural and functional consequences arise, and are magnified, depending on how hard the athletes throw, strike, or swim. Functionally, for example, it’s advantageous for swimmers to have hyper shoulder mobility given the correlation with greater stroke length and swimming speed as it is for a baseball pitchers to exhibit greater external rotation allowing for a greater “cocking phase” and subsequent ball velocity to home plate. Volleyball, handball, and tennis athletes also benefit from increased “lay back” of the humerus during the cocking phase. Interestingly, this increased external rotation at the glenohumeral joint is accompanied by a loss of internal rotation. The total motion of the shoulder (ER + IR), or “arc”, tends to shift backwards on the throwing/striking shoulder. This is due to the external rotators of the shoulder having to eccentrically decelerate the high velocity of throwing/striking and stiffening up as a result, hence moving the arc of total motion posteriorly. At the scapular thoracic joint, overhead athletes tend to have increase scapular protraction, decreased upward rotation, and increase anterior tilt.

More external rotation of the striking arm = more range of motion to accelerate through = greater striking force

Structurally, it’s common to find these same athletes with posterior capsule stiffening which many will agree has a cause and effect relationship with the concurrently acquired anterior hyperlaxity in throwing/striking shoulders. The anterior aspect (hyperlaxity) represents the end result of gradual stretching of passive shoulder restraints whereas the posterior aspect describes the stiffening of passive restraints. If the athlete has been engaging in high velocity humeral IR movements since their youth, it’s likely they’ll also present with varying degrees of humeral retroversion. This is due to the fact early in life, about 12-16 years old, our humeral growth plates are still not solidified and violent throwing/striking during these developmental years can cause the plate to twist backward because of the large amounts of deceleration and close in an altered state resulting in us having naturally more external shoulder rotation for the rest of our lives.

At the end of the day the higher the velocity with which the athletes throw or strike, the more likely they are to present with inefficiencies/dysfunctions or pathology. This tells us a lot about what to expect when dealing with high level overhead athletes who’ve been throwing, striking, or swimming for a long time.

Read more from Sam at his website SamLeahey.com.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Successfully Implementing the Olympic Lifts

Anyways, as said, I'd like to pick your brain a bit. A month ago I was asked to coach a college men's volleyball team. Strength and conditioning only.Since I've got nowhere near the experience that you have yet, thought I could stand on the shoulders of giants to help see better. Could you tell me what kind of things you mostly prescribe, and what do you stay away from? Some guys don't prescribe overhead lifts for overhead sport athletes (so no oly lifts variations), but I know of other coaches who use the Oly lift variations quite a lot. What's your take?

On average I believe that the Olympic lifts, and their nearly unlimited amount of variation, fit nicely into the progression of the program as a whole and I have seen no evidence that injuries or overuse are more common to programs with them in practice (assuming the same basis of rational thinking within the strength and conditioning program; there are idiots everywhere fully capable of injuring athletes with programming that is otherwise considered safe). There are a couple of issues that come with the lifts, and overhead work as a whole, and this can be primarily summarized to athlete's having progressed far enough in programming to make the introduction of the Olympic lifts at best tedious with less return on investment, and at worst allowing athletes to become injured because their training background has not progressed in a way to allow the lifts to be performed correctly. Coaches with a razor-sharp focus on implementing them can do so effectively because they are so uncompromising in their demands on how they are performed. If coaches are unwilling or unable to coach the lifts on that level then they should explore alternative methods.

Beyond that when it comes to programming or restricting overhead work, especially of the explosive variety, it depends greatly on the performance needs of the athlete. It is very common for me to limit overhead work through the competitive season and even overall in a program. Especially if an athlete has advanced far enough for me to be less concerned about their explosiveness and more concerned with the likely ill effects of having pushed their bodies hard for so long (assuming they have not had a system in place to manage their mobility and structural balance; my experience suggests that this is in fact the norm). Obviously with that increased wear and tear it is also more likely that they are having mobility limitations that should affect our programming decisions (perhaps even permanently). With that said I do believe in taking advantage of every available opportunity for growth since we have such limitations in place already so I believe you can program the Olympic lifts effectively in-season but you have to manage that process from day to day and be prepared to take a step back when necessary.

Further we all have to consider the unique needs of the athletes we are working with. My experience with volleyball tells me that there are still significant opportunities for the development of general skill, strength, speed, stamina, and suppleness that significantly aids the specific process needs, yet the time we have to effectively train all of those bio-motor abilities is still limited. So we have to program in a complementary fashion that allows us to accumulate a significant amount of repetition while not overdoing the athlete's resources. With volleyball being considered a "touch" sport, where athletes are wanting to practice and touch the ball constantly through the year and their schedules have grown to reflect that, we have to use the most effective tools at our disposal to maximize training time and my belief is the Olympic lifts fit that role perfectly.

In closing a good rule to follow when considering an effective training methodology is do not start anything you cannot finish. If the athletes only have the time to become competent with an unloaded barbell it is unlikely that they have benefit from the power that can be developed with the lifts. If that is true then it may have proven worthwhile to have invested time in less technical work that offers more immediate benefit (barbell squat jumps,complex training, med ball throws, plyometric variations, etc). At one point I had removed the Olympic lifts entirely from my EVP program for at least 90% of my athletes for this same reason. As I have worked harder to create progression and opportunities for growth I have managed to program them effectively and use them consistently in all of our training programs.