Monthly Archives: December 2011

Acupressure for Elite Performance

5,000 Year Old Techniques for the Modern Athlete

I’m a hired gun. I make a living making people stronger. If I fail, then I don’t get paid, as my athletes will not waste their money on someone who fails on their promises to make them better at their sport. Knowing that every one of my athletes demand my best, I spend an average of 15 hours a week reading research articles and books pertaining to athletic performance and health. I’ve spent thousands of dollars attending seminars, learning from others in my field to keep my word to my clients that I will make them a better athlete. Example: I attended a two-year massage therapy program because I felt that the massage therapists in the area were masters of the “fluff and buff” spa massage, instead of the special massage recovery techniques required for athletes. If it doesn’t improve my athlete’s performance and recovery, I don’t use it.

One of my favorite courses in the massage therapy program, was on acupressure/acupuncture.  During the course, I was constantly amazed at how quickly the positive effects of manipulating meridians were experienced.  Being a firm believer of the adage “work smarter, not harder,” acupressure techniques have been one of my most utilized techniques.

What is acupressure/acupuncture?

Both acupressure and acupuncture rely on the same fundamental principles. Both involve stimulation of specific points on the body called acupoints, but differ in their application. Acupressure relies on using thumbs, fingers, and even elbows to stimulate acupoints along meridians to restore normal flow of life energy.

Acupuncture also strives to bring balance within a meridian, but it does so with the use of specially designed needles.  For those seeking to improve their athletic prowess, acupressure presents numerous advantages over acupuncture:

  • Acupressure is safe to do, even if you have never done it before.
  • I have taught these techniques to numerous fitness professionals and athletes successfully in minutes.
  • Acupressure can be used anytime – anywhere.
  • The only equipment you need is your two hands.
  • I have performed the techniques you are about to learn on athletes during games and strength training sessions without any issues.

History

The practice of stimulating specific points on the body for the promotion of wellness and the treatment of disease has been used by numerous cultures all around the world for thousands of years. It is believed that the Chinese were the first to do so, as archeologists have found acupuncture needles made from stone, called bian stones, dating back approximately 6,000 years. But, regardless of who “invented” acupressure, the concept of using our hands to relieve pain is something that is ingrained in all of us. Have you ever rubbed your forehead when you had a headache? Have you ever rubbed your toe or foot after stubbing it on your coffee table? That is acupressure and you have been practicing it without even knowing it.

How Acupressure Works

The foundation for acupressure and acupuncture is based on achieving and maintaining balance of life energy. This life energy is called Chi (pronounced “chee”) in China, qi (pronounced “kee”) in Japan, prana in India, and rauch in Hebrew. When the smooth, perpetual flow of Chi is disrupted by internal or external events, the body becomes vulnerable to disease, illness, or injury.

Chi is transported through the body in channels called meridians. These meridians act like invisible pipes within your body that connect to every tissue and organ, supplying them with Chi. Along each of the meridians are numerous points called acupoints, where Chi flows near the surface of the skin, and can thus be easily accessed and effectively regulated. Depending on the needs of the athlete the flow of Chi can be strengthened, calmed, or unblocked by pressing these superficial acupoints along the meridians. By learning the acupressure techniques in this book, you will be able to correct these imbalances immediately, restoring Chi balance and improving your strength and performance.

Acupoints and Science

Acupuncture in the United States was virtually unknown until 1971, when Secretary of State Henry Kissinger went to China to negotiate a visit by President Richard Nixon. Traveling with Kissinger was New York Times reporter James Reston, who received acupuncture after undergoing an emergency appendectomy. Reston was so impressed with the post-operative pain relief he experienced that he wrote about acupuncture upon returning to the United States. Later that same year, thirty acupuncturists from China were invited to participate in a medical exchange program with UCLA Medical School. To this day, the UCLA Pain Management Center continues to use acupuncture as one of its main modalities for the relief of pain.

At the time of Reston’s articles, Western scientists knew very little about the workings of acupuncture and acupressure. Since then, a significant number of studies have provided a biological explanation for the “mysteries” behind the acupoint therapies.

In the mid 1970’s, it was shown that stimulating acupoints caused the body to release chemical substances called endorphins. Endorphins are neurotransmitters produced by the pituitary gland, which possess pain-relieving properties similar to morphine. In addition to their ability to reduce pain, endorphins also help reduce muscle tension and increase feelings of well-being. The decrease in muscle tension should not be over looked, as a relaxed muscle allows blood, which carries oxygen and nutrients into the area, facilitating healing and the elimination of toxins. Endorphins are responsible for the sense of euphoria that runners and exercisers have labeled “runner’s high.”

Do Meridians Exist?

Two French researchers, Dr. Claude Darras and Dr. Pierre de Vernejoul are believed to be among the first to demonstrate in humans, that meridians do actually exist. They injected radioactive tracers into patients at specific acupoints and used nuclear scanning equipment to follow the flow of the radioactive tracers. The researchers found that the tracers migrated 30 cm (11.8 inches) from the site of injection along routes that corresponded exactly with meridian pathways illustrated in thousand-year old acupressure charts. To ensure that the tracers were flowing through meridians and not blood vessels or lymphatic channels, some patients received injections in non-acupoint skin regions as well as in nearby blood and lymphatic channels. In these cases, the radioactive tracers diffused from the injection site into a small circular pattern. This demonstrated that meridians are a network of separate pathways within the body. The researchers further found that when acupuncture needles were inserted into distant acupoints within the same tracer injected meridian, a change was produced in the flow rate of the radioactive tracer through the meridian. This seems to support the claim that stimulating acupoints stimulates the flow of Chi though the meridians.

FYI

  • Acupoints have lower electrical resistance than the surrounding skin. This allows Chi to flow easier through the meridian.
  • Studies performed on the locations of acupoints found that the points correlate to large nerve bundles or nerve endings.
  • When tissue in the body undergoes trauma or microscopic damage, such as when skin cells are pierced with acupuncture needles, they leak electrically charged ions into the surrounding tissue. This electric current is called the current of injury and is known to stimulate a healing response from nearby cells.
  • Acupoints possess a high density of gap junctions, which are small channels between adjacent cells that allow material to pass freely from one cell to the other without having to pass through their plasma membranes. Gap junctions facilitate intercellular communication and increase electric conductivity.
  • Both oxygen pressure and the carbon dioxide output of tissue at acupoints are higher than in non-acupoint portions of the meridians and at non-meridian points. Since oxygen consumption and carbon dioxide production are a measure of local metabolism, these findings suggest higher metabolic activity at the acupoints

Locating Acupoints

Finding acupoints is relatively easy once you know the secret. This method has been used for thousands of years and represents the best method for finding acupoints easily and more importantly, accurately. In all acupoint therapies, acupoints are located according to their distances from anatomical landmarks on the body, using measurements expressed in cun (pronounced “ts’un”). This proportional body measurement takes into account individual physical proportions, as the patient’s finger widths are used as a unit of measurement. While other articles or books would have you solely use anatomical landmarks for locating acupoints, which only get you in the general area, by using finger cun measurements, you are precisely where you need to be, thereby greatly increasing the effectiveness of your work. So, whether you are trying to find acupoints on a 295 lb., 6’2” NFL lineman, or a 100 lb., 5’ gymnast, rest assured that you will be able to locate their acupoints with ease.

At its greatest width, the thumb measures 1 cun.

For example, if you are trying to locate an acupoint one cun below your kneecap, position your thumb at the base of the kneecap and the acupoint is on the opposite side of your thumb.

There are two methods you can use when palpating acupoints on others:

Method 1:

Place your thumb against the recipient’s and compare the difference in width. Is their thumb narrower or wider? Make a mental note of the size difference and then use your thumb to locate their acupoints, making the necessary measurement adjustments.

Method 2:

This second method might be easier as you simply have the recipient use their own thumbs or fingers, under your guidance, to locate their acupoints. This method can be used on the easier to reach acupoints, but unless the recipient possesses the flexibility of a Cirque de Soleil performer, certain acupoints will be unreachable to them. In which case, you will have to resort back to method 1.

Additional Proportional Measurements

Here are other proportional measurements based on finger cun that will assist you in locating acupoints.

Middle and index fingers together measure 1.5 cun in the most distal region.

Middle, index, and ring fingers together measure 2 cun in the most distal region.

Middle, index, ring, and little fingers together measure 3 cun in the widest area over the knuckles

Techniques for Athletic Performance

For centuries, athletes and coaches have searched for ways to improve sports performance. This search has led to advances in training techniques, nutrition, and equipment, but any advantage they provide can be nullified if you are suffering from Chi imbalance, causing strength imbalances between one leg and the other, or between the upper and lower body. Acupressure will correct any strength imbalances you may be experiencing, allowing you to perform to your full potential. These improvements in your strength and athletic performance will occur immediately, reliably, and without any negative side effects.

The techniques you are about to learn will give you an edge over your competition.

Acupoints for Strength Imbalances

This first section will demonstrate acupoints that correct strength imbalances between limbs and for the upper and lower body. The second section will demonstrate acupoints for various ailments that will negatively affect athletic performance.

Lower Body Strength Imbalances

Three Mile Point 

Chinese legend states that this acupoint got its name for its ability to boost endurance in the legs of fatigued army soldiers, allowing them to go for an extra “three miles.”

Benefits: Used to combat fatigue and improve strength levels in the legs and to revitalize Chi and strengthen the entire body. Can be used on both legs, or on the leg displaying a strength deficit.

Location: Three cun below the lower border of the kneecap, one cun to the outside on the shinbone. You are in the correct area if you feel the muscle (anterior tibialis) contract when you flex your foot up and down.

Wind Market 

Benefits: Relieves leg weakness and pain.

Location: The easiest method for locating this acupoint is by standing up, dropping your arms and hands down your side, and the acupoint is located where the tip of your middle finger touches your thigh.

Upper Body Strength Imbalances

Crooked Pool 

Benefits: Reduces weakness and pain throughout the entire arm, including the shoulder.

Location: With the elbow bent, the acupoint is located at the end of the outer crease.

Lesser Sea 

Benefits: Relieves fatigue, numbness and pain in the forearm and elbow. Ideal for pitchers and tennis players.

Location: With the elbow bent, the acupoint is located at the end of the inner crease.

Adjoining Valley 

Benefits: Balances Chi and strength levels between the upper and lower body. Ideal for sports requiring coordinated effort between upper and lower body (football, tennis, etc) and the Olympic lifts.

Warning: Do not press this point if pregnant.

Location: Position your fingers straight out, with the thumb alongside your index finger. The acupoint is located at the end of the crease.

Conclusion

UFC Welterweight Champion Georges St. Pierre undergoing acupressure treatment with Strengthology’s Wolfgang Unsoeld

As you have learned, acupoint therapies do not require magical powers, spiritual beliefs, or years of training in order to work. What it does require is some effort in learning the placement of acupoints. I recommend you print out this e-book and have the pages available for reference while first practicing these techniques. With regular practice, you will find the points easily, quickly and be well on your way to maximizing your athletic potential or that of your clients.

This article is a small excerpt from my book, Acupressure for Elite Performance: 5,000 Year Old Techniques for the Modern Athlete.

If you would like a copy of the entire book, send an email to Strengthology@Jessbanda.com, and enter “book” in the subject line.  You get the book FREE, that’s a $29.95 value.

It Pays To Be A Winner

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Weightlifting 101: The Overhead Athlete

“Without knowledge action is useless and knowledge without action is futile.”

Abu Bakr, Philosopher

 “Without applicable knowledge and its proper execution, you’re f*cked.”

Jess Banda, Humanitarian

Prepare yourself, here comes a truth bomb…knowledge, in and of itself, is not very useful.  The proper execution of knowledge however, is everything.  Why?  Because until knowledge is applied, it remains theoretical.  Given the option between working with someone who possesses either academic knowledge or practical experience, I’ll take the latter.  And while the dictionary defines a professional as “a person who belongs to one of the professions, especially one of the learned professions,” my definition of a true professional, is “one who applies the knowledge and insights acquired through academics to real experiences.”

In the strength and conditioning field, new methods are developed through practice and experience, not research studies.  I agree with Lyn Jones, former Director of Coaching for U.S.A. Weightlifting Federation, when he stated “Sport scientists are, in fact, only sport historians-they scientifically demonstrate what coaches knew a few Olympics earlier.”  Unfortunately, within the past few years, people have increasingly been confusing academic knowledge with practical experience.  And thanks to the sheer quantity of user-generated content found on the internet, where everyone is an “expert,” it’s become increasingly difficult to assess their credibility and determine whether they possess the experience to offer any perspective.

Within our field, there is no greater disconnect between academic knowledge and its proper and successful application, than in the training of overhead athletes.  For the first part of this article, we’ll look at a muscle group that possesses the greatest potential for improving throwing velocity: the rotator cuff.

My Experience

My research into designing effective rotator cuff training protocols began in 2005, when I was presented without he opportunity to work with Connecticut high school baseball pitcher Matt Harvey.  Expectations for Matt were high, as his fastball speed averaged between the 85-90 mph range and was generating a lot of interest among pro baseball scouts.  During his junior year in high school, it was a common sight to have over 15 pro scouts with radar guns, standing behind the backstop, clocking his throwing velocity.  However, in discussions with Matt’s father Edward, we came to the conclusion, that by adding a few pounds of lean body mass and building up the strength of his rotator cuff muscles, Matt could realize his full throwing genetic potential.  Before working together, Matt’s rotator cuff training program was based around rubber tubing and high reps.  During our first training sessions, Matt’s rotator cuff were so weak, he could only manage to perform 8 reps with 5 pounds on seated dumbbell  external rotations.  It was only after we sufficiently strengthen his rotator cuff muscles, working up to 37.5 pounds for 8 reps on the seated dumbbell external rotations, that he started to throw fastballs up to the 98 mph range.  Here’s a key concept: Matt was throwing at high velocities in spite of his original training program.  However, only by applying sound principles and putting them to practice, was he finally able to throw to his full genetic potential.  It’s the difference between adequate and optimum.  In 2007, Matt was ranked by Baseball America, as the top high school prospect.  After three years playing for the University of North Carolina, Matt was the seventh overall pick, by the NY Mets in the 2010 MLB draft.

Late 2007, I was presented with another opportunity to further develop my approach to rotator cuff training, working with another Connecticut high school pitcher, Hunter Brown.  As with Matt, Hunter’s rotator cuff training program was also centered around rubber tubing and pink vinyl dumbbells, which kept his fastball between 74-77 mph.  It was only after building his training program around dumbbells that his throwing velocity was finally able to break 80 mph, with his fastballs reaching between 84-87 mph.  Again, Hunter’s rotator cuff training program, was hindering his progress.  Only by applying training principles based on valid strength training principles and knowledge of anatomy beyond the standard “origin-insertion” that my athlete’s performance could be improved and more importantly, sustained.

What You Need To Know

Overhead motion athletes, whether throwing a baseball, swinging a racquet, or spiking a volleyball, repeatedly subject their shoulders to extreme forces and torques.  So a proper understanding of the function of rotator cuff muscles as they apply to overhead motion sports is vital, for both performance and injury prevention.

Overhead motion athletes include:

  • throwing athletes (baseball, football, javelin, cricket)
  • swimmers
  • volleyball players
  • racquet athletes (tennis, squash, badminton)
  • military/law enforcement (task specific needs)

And while not categorized as overhead athletes, I recently included military and law enforcement personnel into this category.  Due to the stress and mechanics of firing multiple rounds with long firearms, shotguns and carbines, strong rotator cuff muscles help maintain shooting accuracy and speed.  Giving credit where it’s due, I learned this from a discussion with Charles Poliquin, who experienced it first hand, while consulting for a major federal law enforcement agency.

Instead of focusing on each of these sports individually, even though this information is applicable to them, we’ll focus on baseball pitchers, as they produce the greatest velocities and torques of all overhead motion sports.  Just how violent of a maneuver is throwing a baseball?  Consider the following:

  • The point from which a pitcher cocks his arm back, to when he releases the ball, takes only .05 seconds, during which the humerus accelerates up to 9,500 deg/sec
  • Once the pitcher has released the baseball, he decelerates his arm to a complete stop within .03-.05 seconds
  • Upon release, momentum distraction forces up to 1.5 times body weight act on the shoulder and elbow joints

So what does this have to do with the rotator cuff muscles?  Everything.  First, due to their stabilizing function at the shoulder joint, the rotate cuff muscles keep the humeral head within the glenoid fossa.  Keep in mind, throwing a baseball is basically a controlled attempt at trying to throw your arm out and away towards home plate and the rotator cuff muscle’s stabilizing function becomes extremely important during the deceleration phases of throwing.  So if you’re a pitcher weighing 200 pounds, at the point you’re about to release the baseball, distraction forces up to 300 pounds are trying to rip your arm out of joint.  Second, once the baseball has been released, the rotator cuff muscles function as decelerators of the humerus.  While two large muscles, the latissimus dorsi and pectoralis major are accelerators of the humerus, deceleration of the humerus falls primarily to the four considerably smaller rotator cuff muscles.  When you factor in the distinct characteristic of eccentric contractions recruiting fewer motor units than a concentric contraction, thereby subjecting these fewer recruited motor units to a greater stress, you understand why the majority of throwing injuries occur during the deceleration

Now that you understand the function and level of involvement of the rotator cuff muscles in overhead motions, it becomes clear that throwing velocity, in most instances, is limited, not by the strength of your accelerating muscle, but by the ability of the rotator cuff muscles to counteract the forces and torques generated during the throwing motion.  This limiting of your throwing velocity to a manageable and tolerable level is a self-imposed restraint, a protective action, much like your golgi tendon organs protect you from injury and winning a Darwin Award.

So now that we have identified the muscle group primarily responsible for limiting your throwing velocity, the question then becomes, which are the most efficient methods for training the rotator cuff muscles?  To put us on the right path, we must first answer the following:

  • What muscle fiber type would best be capable of countering forces equal to 1.5 times body weight?
  • What muscle fiber type is best suited for decelerating a limb moving up to 9,500 deg/sec, in less time than it takes you to blink?

Low-threshold motor units?  High-threshold motor units?  The answer becomes obvious, doesn’t it?  However, when discussing my training protocols with “baseball performance specialists,” they attempt to dismiss my approach to rotator cuff training by referencing a study published in the Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy: “Fiber Type Composition of Cadaveric Human Rotator Cuff Muscle.”  In this often quoted study, the researcher’s aim was to identify the fiber type composition of the rotator cuff and teres major muscles, using tissue samples harvested from nine cadavers.  Their results found that “the rotator cuff muscles have a heterogeneous fiber type composition.”  Really?  However, a few issues arise:

  • tissue samples were harvested from only nine cadavers
  • the age of the subjects were between 53-87 years
  • the physical activity history of the subjects was unknown (needless to say, I don’t believe any major league pitchers were part of the study)

Realizing the shortcomings of their research, the researchers concluded the study by stating “The advanced age of the cadaver specimens may limit the extrapolation of our findings regarding fiber type composition to younger individuals.”  These same coaches who reference the study however, always forget to mention this last part.  This is a classic example of coaches going “cafeteria style” on a research study, referencing sections that support their personal preferences, while disregarding the rest.

Now that you understanding the extraordinary forces which must be opposed by the rotator cuff muscles, you’d be correct in concluding that elite pitchers possess a greater number of high-threshold motor units in their rotator cuff muscles compared to the average person.  Taking it even further, a pitcher throwing in the upper 90s mph, possesses a greater number of high-threshold motor units than a pitcher maxing out in the low 80s mph.  Yes, other factors come into play, such as overall conditioning, mechanics, and genetics, however even these factors cannot make up for weak, or improperly trained rotator cuff muscles.  Drill this into your head: you will only throw as fast as you can safely decelerate your arm.

So how do we design an effective resistance training program to strengthen these high-threshold motor units?  That’s the $64,000 question.

The Perils of Rubber Tubing

If you’ve ever experienced any shoulder discomfort and been evaluated by a medical professional, chances are you were given a handout sheet, depicting line drawings of a figure performing various external rotation exercises with rubber tubing.  These external rotation exercise “cheat sheets” have become the favorite of medical professionals for anything shoulder related.  Judging by the affinity medical professionals have for these sheets, you’d think that the 4-6 exercises depicted in them, could cure whatever your shoulder ails might be.  It’s a complete mystery how these few exercises can heal any shoulder injury.  Maybe they work like aspirin…they just “know” what to fix.

Unfortunately, rubber tubing has left the domain of rehabilitation settings and has become the implement of choice for the majority of baseball pitchers and quarterbacks.  The main reason, next to their low cost and maintenance, is because the majority of physical therapist and strength coaches, believe them to be appropriate for the “delicate” rotator cuff muscles.  Having previously dispelled the notion of the rotator cuff muscles being made out of porcelain, here is the main reason for getting rid of rubber tubing completely: linear resistance curve.

In every exercise, there are specific portions of the range of motion where you are stronger, due to improved leverage.  How your strength varies at various joint angles can be represented by strength curves.  There are three types of strength curves:

  1. Bell-shaped –  represents exercises in which muscular tension is greatest in the middle of the exercise and then decreases through the rest of the movement.  Arm curls, allowing you to lift greater weight if only the middle portion of the exercise is performed, represent bell-shaped curves.
  2. Ascending – represent exercises in which the muscular tension is greatest at the end of the concentric portion of the exercise.  Squats and presses, allowing you to lift greater weight if only the last quarter or last half of the exercise is performed, represent ascending strength curves.
  3. Descending – represent exercises in which muscular tension decreases at the end of the concentric portion of the exercise.  Rowing exercises, allowing you to lift greater weight if only the first quarter or first half of the exercise is performed, represent descending strength curves.

The key is realizing that the amount of muscular tension you generate varies as your joint moves through its range of motion.  The problem with rubber tubing is that initially, it offers little to no resistance, but as the band is stretched, it provides progressively greater resistance in a linear pattern.  This ascending linear resistance pattern continues for as long as the rubber tubing is elongated or ruptures.  So what you say?  For most exercises, rubber tubing generates the greatest tension when muscles are least able to produce force: at the end range of a joint’s motion.  Initially, this misalignment between the linear resistance pattern and the strength curve of the exercise won’t lead to catastrophic injuries, but if utilized for extended periods of time, it might lead to tendonitis.  Which makes you wonder why you see rubber tubing in physical therapist’s office?  Ensuring future business?  Much like opening a Curves fitness center next to a Krispy Kreme.

Inevitably, someone is always quick to mention that there are “100s of published studies….blah blah blah…in support of elastic resistance.”  My answer: everything works for a while.  As I’ve said before, it’s a matter of adequate vs. optimum.  However, one of my biggest gripes is in the way they’re utilized.  Usually, most trainees fix one end of the rubber tubing to a vertical stationary object, stretch the band and start banging out reps, without any consideration to form, range of motion, or tempo.  I’ve seen people exert greater mental effort when choosing a brand of bottled water than in how they’re performing their reps.  Other considerations:  How do you ensure you’re utilizing the same resistance with every set of an exercise?  Do you always stand the same exact distance away from the fixed end of the rubber tubing?  Is the rubber tubing you utilize impervious to flex fatigue?  Will it always provide the same resistance no matter how many times it’s been stretched…much like Rosie O’Donnell’s pantyhose?  And how do you determine whether to progress to the next larger diameter of rubber tubing?  Do you just wake up one day and think “Time to take this bitch to the next level, time for the orange bands!”  I think you get my point.  Progressive overload is a cornerstone of our field, but for strength adaptations to occur, the loads utilized must be applied in a consistent and progressive manner.  Rubber tubing supplies neither.

Training the Rotator Cuff Muscles

While the four rotator cuff muscles work synergistically to decelerate the humerus, both the infraspinatus and teres minor demonstrate the highest activity during the deceleration phase.  As such, we’ll concentrate our efforts to exercises which preferentially recruit these two muscles.  While there are literally hundreds of external rotation exercises variations, which might make it challenging to recall which exercise primarily recruits which muscle, here’s an easy to remember tip: the position of the elbow dictates which rotator cuff muscle has the most efficient line of pull.  When your elbow is positioned high, relative to your shoulder, the infraspinatus has a favorable line of pull and when your elbow is low, relative to your navel, the teres minor has a favorable line of pull.

The Magic is in the Details

The key to deriving benefit from my protocol, is to follow it exactly as written.  Everything has been combined for cumulative effect and removing one element diminishes the return on your time and effort invested.  Adequate vs optimum.

Frequency of training: For my protocol, you’ll be training your rotator cuff muscles twice a week.  Here are some options, based on different training splits:

Day 1: Rotator cuff, arms/shoulders

Day 2: Legs

Day 3: Off

Day 4: Rotator cuff, torso

Day 5: Off

Day 1: Rotator cuff, torso

Day 2: Legs

Day 3: Off

Day 4: Rotator cuff, arms/shoulders

Day 5: Off

Day 1: Rotator cuff, upper body strength

Day 2: Lower body strength

Day 3: Off

Day 4: Rotator cuff, upper body dynamic

Day 5: Lower body dynamic

Day 1: Rotator cuff, full body

Day 2: Full body

Day 3: Off

Day 4: Rotator cuff, full body

Day 5: Full body

Yes, there are numerous other training splits in existence, for instance, you might train your eyelids on Monday and your perineum on Friday, but whatever your training split, ensure at least one day off between rotator cuff training sessions.  Due to their size, the rotator cuff muscles recover quickly, allowing us to maximize training adaptations by training them twice a week.

Order of Exercises: Regardless of your training split, always perform the external rotation exercises FIRST within your training session.  Yes, even when training torso.  The only exception would be when training bench press with less than four reps.  One trait of all successful coaches is that they have their athletes perform exercises for their weakest exercise or muscle group first within a training session.  Giving priority to your weak links prevents you from training them when your CNS and involved muscle groups are fatigued.  While it may seem training rotator cuff muscles prior to pressing exercises, might decrease the amount of weight you use, I have yet to witness it.  In most instances the opposite is true, as training the rotator cuff muscles first within your workout, will improve the “mind-muscle” connection as well as their intra and inter-muscular coordination, thereby facilitating their stabilizing function.  This will be extremely visible with athletes that have neglected to perform any external rotation exercises, or utilized rubber tubing.  Ben Prentiss, PICP 5, who has produced four Stanley Cup winners, has all his athletes train their rotator cuff muscles in this manner.

Number of Repetitions: High-threshold motor units are best trained using low reps, no surprise there.  As the rotator cuff muscles are predominately high-threshold motor units, the highest number of reps you’ll perform is twelve.  While twelve reps are above a rep range normally associated with strength gains, they allow you to improve the neural efficiency of your rotator cuff muscles before progressing to a more appropriate rep range.  Strength training is about coaxing the CNS into a more efficient state.  While it’s common to see athletes perform external rotation exercises for 20 reps, this is strongly discouraged.  As the rotate cuff muscles are predominately made up of high-threshold motor units, training them with reps intended for endurance, encourages them to behave characteristically like low-threshold motor units.  Perhaps the steady increases in pitching injuries experienced in MLB and Little League Baseball, is due to the over reliance of rubber tubing, pink vinyl dumbbells and 20 rep rotator cuff training programs?  Is it possible to sue a strength coach for stupidity?

The Exercises and Implements Used: To ensure progression and relieve boredom, each of your two weekly training programs will utilize different exercises and implements, dumbbells and cable pulleys.  Alternating between different implements provides a different training stimulus in the form of two different resistance curves: dumbbells overload the stretched, or lower, position of the range of motion and cable pulleys overload the contracted, or upper, position.  Making use of the distinct loading characteristics provided by dumbbells and cable pulleys, allows for efficient strength development due to the unique muscle fiber recruitment patterns of the two implements.

The Exercises

External Rotation with dumbbell, arm supported and abducted

  • sit with your back against Scott bench, arm resting on top of support pad
  • shoulder is abducted 90 degrees, elbow is flexed 90 degrees
  • lower dumbbell under control to fully stretched position
  • keep back against support pad to ensure proper form

External Rotation with dumbbell, arm supported and in front of body

  • elbow of the working arm is positioned onto the VMO
  • the non-working arm is positioned behind you on the bench to minimize any swaying
  • lower dumbbell under control to fully stretched position

External Rotation with low cable pulley, handle over navel

  • stand sideways to low pulley, positioning your hand directly over your navel
  • keep your arm abducted approximately 20-30 degrees
  • externally rotate your arm outward, using your shoulder as the pivot point
  • ensure your elbow maintains the same distance from your torso throughout the motion
  • if necessary, place a rolled up towel underneath your armpit to maintain a consistent angle

External Rotation with low cable pulley, rope handle over navel

  • grasp the rope handle with your hand supinated
  • position your little finger against your navel
  • maintain a supinated hand position through the motion
  • follow the same instructions as for the handle variation of this exercise

The Program

The program will consist of two phases, with two training days within each phase.

Phase 1:

Day 1

A) External Rotation with dumbbell, arm supported and abducted

Day 2

A) External Rotation with low cable pulley, handle over navel

For both exercises, perform 3 sets of 10-12 reps, on a 2-0-2-0 tempo.  If performing this exercise solo, take 90 seconds rest between sets.  If supersetting with another muscle group, take 60 seconds rest between exercises.  Use a weight which allows for 10-12 properly executed reps only.  Higher reps ensure improved muscle fiber recruitment and the controlled concentric tempo minimizes cheating, which will build a solid foundation for the heavier weights used during the phase two.

Phase 2:

Day 1

A) External Rotation with dumbbell, arm supported and in front of body

Day 2

A) External Rotation with low cable pulley, rope handle over navel

For both exercises, perform 3 sets of 7-9 reps, on a 4-0-1-0 tempo.  Use a weight which allows for 7-9 properly executed reps only.  If performing this exercise solo, take 100 seconds rest between sets.  If supersetting with another muscle group, take 90 seconds rest between exercises.  Due to the heavier weights and faster concentric tempo utilized, it will be extremely tempting to cheat by swaying your upper body during the concentric contraction.  If this occurs, it’s a sure sign that the weight you’re using is beyond your current capabilities.  Check your ego at the door and utilize a proper weight.

When training smaller muscle groups, micro-loading because extremely important.  As the dumbbells in most commercial gyms increase at five-pound increments, it’ll be extremely difficult to individualize a weight to your current strength needs.  The best micro-loading system I’ve used is manufactured by Pace Weights.  Their magnetic micro-weights are available in 1/2 pound increments, making them a must have item when performing this program.

If you’ve made it this far, you now know more about training the rotator cuff muscles properly, than 90% of the strength coaches out there.  It’s important to note, that this program is not only for those participating in overhead motion sports, but for anyone wanting to optimize their shoulder function and especially for those wanting to improve their bench press numbers.  However, proper training of the rotator cuff muscles is only half of the solution, the other half involves proper training of the lower trapezius fibers, or “trap 3.”  While the rotator cuff muscles are the “brakes” which decelerate the humerus, the trap 3 is vital for injury prevention during all phases of any overhead motion.  Stay tuned for Part two.

If It Was Easy, Everyone Would Be Doing It

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Welcome

Welcome to Strengthology.  Our objective is to provide you with realistic and effective training protocols, which are not only based on valid exercise science, but tempered with pragmatism.

Along with our training protocols, we’ll provide educational instructions on how and when to apply these techniques to your training, or that of your clients.

Additionally, we’ll cover a host of other topics, anything which can affect your performance in the gym, or on the field.

And finally, know that we don’t take lightly, the time you’re investing in reading our blog.

We are Jess Banda and Wolfgang Unsoeld, and we look forward to reading your comments and suggestions for future blog postings.

The Need for Speed: Ladders Not Included

Speed, everyone wants it, few people have it and those who need it, are willing to spend money to get it.  As in any capitalistic endeavor, if a need goes unmet, someone is there to fill the void and make a profit doing so.  However, no one could have predicted the level at which parents would flock to these “speed merchants.”  How else could you explain the overnight financial success of the mega-warehouse speed schools that littered practically every strip mall in the US?  A parent’s desire to turn their child to the next Usain Bolt, is understandable, as speed is a vital component of athletic ability.  You’d be hard  pressed to find a sport in which speed isn’t a determining factor separating the winner from the loser.  Even marathon runners require speed, as the goal is to run the 26.2 mile race in the fastest time possible, not the slowest.  Problems arose however, when the vague and non-legally binding claims of the speed merchants turned out to be hyperbole.  It seems the speed merchants’ business model was one based on luck, rather than valid exercise science.  Luck, not being a replicable business model, explains why the majority of these speed schools disappeared fast than a French Crueller at a Weight Watchers meeting.  However, the techniques employed by these mega-warehouse speed schools still linger and are being utilized by people now branding themselves as “speed consultants.”

Speed Ladders

Walk into virtually any fitness center and you’ll find groups of all ages, performing endless sets of foot drills on speed ladders, grunting, huffing, puffing and in some cases, moving at speeds so slow that only 90-year-old blue-haired arthritic women can appreciate.  The drills are endless: Hop Scotch, Double Hop Scotch, Ickey Shuffle, and my personal favorite, I Gotta Take A Leak But I Can’t Find A Toilet Drill.

Proponents of speed ladder training claim their use will increase running speed, due to the following:

1. Speed ladders teach the concept of fast feet, thereby increasing stride rate

2. Speed ladders reinforce proper sprinting mechanics

Let’s see what physics and common sense have to say about this.

Myth #1 Fast feet lead to an increased stride rate, which leads to faster run times.

This concept was first utilized by the long distance running community, when researchers determined the majority of elite distance runners had a stride rate of approximately 180 strides per minute.  Once this information was published, countless weekend warriors spent their weekend with a clipboard and a stop watch, calculating their stride rate, trying to match that of elite distance runners.  Numerous hamstring injuries later, the masses realized their cardiovascular system couldn’t maintain 180 strides per minute beyond their drive way, and quickly abandoned the idea.  Unfortunately, the concept of increasing stride rate to increase running speed, was then endorsed by the strength and conditioning community, to be exploited for financial gain.  This allowed anyone with a $40 speed ladder, a $24.95 speed ladder drills DVD, and stopwatch, to brand themselves as “speed consultants.”  Thus began the practice of coaches instructing their athletes to “imagine you’re running on a giant hot pan and make quick contact with the ground.”

Here’s the science:

1.  Sir Isaac Newton’s Third Law of Motion states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.  So what you say?  This means that the greater the FORCE you apply to the ground with your feet, the greater the force that will propel you towards the end zone, or the million dollar signing bonus.  It’s the forces which you exert against the ground with each foot contact, that propels your body forward.  By instructing clients to focus their efforts on a high stride rate at the cost of applying force to the ground, you’re minimizing the effect of one of the fundamental laws of physics, an equal and opposite reaction.

2.  Additionally, as we don’t live in a vacuum, there are gravitational and inertial forces to overcome, which require significant concentric and eccentric strength levels to counteract these forces as you accelerate your body.  Keep in mind, when sprinting, you’re experiencing up to five times body weight with each foot contact with the ground.  In any running event, regardless of duration, the individual who possesses the strength levels to consistently and repeatedly overcome the downward force of gravity and inertia, is ideally suited to meet the demands of fast running and usually wins the race.

Here’s the common sense:

If “fast feet” was crucial to the development of speed, then why doesn’t Michael Flatley, of Riverdance and Lord of the Dance fame, possess multiple Olympic gold medals and world records in the 100m?

In 1998, Michael was recognized by Guinness Book of World Records for having a tap dancing speed of 35 taps per second!  And while he best exemplifies the concept of fast feet, how do you think he would fare against Usain Bolt?  If “fast feet” were required for speed, then tap dancers would be a dominate force in any sport requiring speed.  How many tap dancers have played on Monday Night Football?

Myth #2 Speed ladders reinforce proper sprinting mechanics.

The breakdown of proper sprinting mechanics is a function of fatigue and inadequate strength levels on the part of the athlete, not due to an inadequate volume of movement mechanics practice.  For example, once you reach your top running speed, your erector spinae muscles contract isometrically, keeping your upper body upright, allowing you flex your knees up towards your torso, allowing for a long stride.  However, once your erector spinae muscles fatigue, you lean forward at the waist, thereby shortening the length of your strides and the ground covered.  Watch any 100m race and the weakest athletes are the ones who, near the finish line, adopt a forward leaning posture, with their upper body in front of their lower body.

The Training Program

The following three-phase program is based on valid exercise science, but more importantly, encapsulates the practical experience which comes from having written hundreds of training programs for national level athletes.  Change anything in the program and you not only reduce its efficacy, but you waste your time.

Phase One 

A1) Petersen Step-ups, Dumbbells  4 x 20, 15, 12, 10  Tempo: 1-0-1-0  90 seconds rest

A2) Lying leg curl, unilateral, foot turned inward, Poliquin style  4 x 6-8  Tempo: 4-0-X-0  90 seconds rest

B1) Split Squats Front Foot Elevated, Low Pulley  4 x 20, 15, 12, 10  Tempo: 4-0-2-0  75 seconds rest

B2) 45 degree back extension, snatch grip barbell  4 x 6-8  Tempo: 2-0-1-6  75 seconds rest

C1) Seated Calf Raises, Unilateral, Foot Turned Outward  3 x 10-12  Tempo: 2-1-1-1 60 seconds rest

C2) Hanging Garhammer Raises  3 x 10-12  Tempo: 2-0-1-0 60 seconds rest

Total workout time: 41 minutes 18 seconds – 44 minutes 52 seconds

Highlights:

• Petersen step ups strengthen the VMO at terminal knee extension, which reduces the stance phase, minimizing the point at which both feet touch the ground while running

• Unilateral leg curls correct strength imbalances between the two legs, significantly reducing the risk of hamstring injuries

• Poliquin style leg curls: feet are dorsiflexed on the concentric and plantar-flexed on the eccentric

• The six second isometric hold at the top of the back extension, strengthens the erector spinae muscles in a manner needed to maintain a vertical running position while at your top speed

• Garhammer raises strengthen the abdominals, reducing excessive hip rotation and helps transfer forces generated by arm drive to the lower body

Phase One Workout Sheet

Phase Two

A) Bent-knee Deadlifts and Shrugs, Pins set below the Knee, Snatch Grip  6 x 4,4,6,6,8,8  Tempo: 2-2-X-0  180 seconds rest

B1) Split Squats Back Foot Elevated, Dumbbell  4 x 6-8  Tempo: 5-0-X-0  100 seconds rest

B2) Kneeling Leg Curl, 3 Postions Dorsiflexed  4 x 4-6  Tempo: 5-0-X-0  100 seconds rest

C) Standing Calf Raise Machine, Feet Neutral, Mid Stance  3 x 10/10/10  Tempo: 2-0-X-0  90 seconds rest

Total workout time: 41 minutes 22 seconds – 45 minutes 22 seconds

Highlights:

• Partial range of motion deadlifts allow for a significantly greater loading of the posterior chain, preparing hip extension for the high eccentric loads experienced at top speed running

• Rear foot elevated split squats place greater demands on the VMO at the bottom position, while helping to improve hip flexion flexibility

• Performing leg curls with various foot positions minimize strength imbalances between the three different hamstring muscles, further reducing the risk of injury

• On the leg curls, change your foot position every set: out, neutral, in, out.

• Standing calf raises are performed as drop sets, perform 10 reps, reduce weight and rest ten seconds, perform ten more reps, reduce weight and rest ten seconds, perform last ten reps and rest 90 seconds.

Phase Two Workout Sheet

Phase Three

A1) Squat Jump 6 x 4-6  Tempo: 1-0-X-0  10 seconds rest

A2) Snatch Pulls Above Knee, from Hang Position  6 x 4-6  Tempo: 1-0-X-0  120 seconds rest

B1) Front Squats  4 x 4-6 Tempo: 4-0-X-0  120 seconds rest

B2) Kneeling Leg Curl, Foot Neutral and Dorsiflexed  4 x 4-6  Tempo: 2-0-X-0  120 seconds rest

Total workout time: 31 minutes 32 seconds – 32 minutes 48 seconds

Highlights:

• This phase is designed to target the CNS, teaching your body to recruit a greater number of muscle fibers

• Squat jumps reduce the time spent between switching from an eccentric to concentric contraction, while further strengthening the VMO at terminal knee extension

• The shorter workout time, ensures only high quality, explosive repetitions are executed.  Performing explosive exercises when excessively fatigued leads to the development of faulty movement patterns and injury

Phase Three Workout Sheet

Conclusion

Everyone recognizes the significance of speed in sport, however few people realize the improvements a properly designed and executed resistance training program can have on an athlete’s speed potential.  Strength training will not only improve your ability to overcome inertia, but will minimize your risk of injury.  And while there might be some truth to the adage that “sprinters are born and not made,” anyone can utilize resistance training to reach their genetic potential.

Be Someone Special.

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