A couple weeks ago I spent a Saturday at Springfield College to attend the NSCA MA State Clinic. I have been to a bunch of these clinics but this is the first one I attended that was hosted by the NSCA. Bad on me since that is who I’m certified through. Anyway, this was absolutely the best clinic I have attended. The presenters and topics were tremendous. It was a very coaching-centric lineup. Three of the presenters are collegiate S&C coaches, one presenter is the coach at a 1-year college prep school, two coach at a private facility, and two are college professors. There was a very “in the trenches” vibe from all the presenters. Anyway, at the end of these clinics I like to think of three primary takeaways. These are the main things I can potentially apply right away to help my athletes and adults be better. So here are my three takeaways:

1. Brijesh Patel gave a great presentation titled “Understanding & Implementing Special Strength Training Exercises.”

What really made me think was a comment he made about Olympic lifting. As strength coaches, especially those of us who work with high school and college athletes, the Olympic lifts have become a staple to our programming.

But at Quinnipiac University the athletes do not Olympic lift. Coach Patel’s thinking is if you program Olympic lifts you have to do them all year. This is something I completely agree with and have struggled with myself. I know the ultimate benefits of the lift (Hang Clean primarily for me) but I feel like during the off-season I don’t want to take time away from GPP (General Physical Preparation) time. These phases are the furthest away from the beginning of camp and should focus on getting stronger. On one end of the spectrum is GPP.

On the other end is SPP (special physical preparation). SPP is represented by sport practice and developing specific sport skill. This is not accomplished in the weight room. This is accomplished on the field.

In between is SpPP. This is what we build up to in the weight room as the season approaches. For instance, when our focus is GPP we, for the most part, stay in the sagital plane and build foundational bi-lateral strength. As we shift to SpPP we gradually introduce Frontal and Transverse plane movements along with uni-lateral exercises.

We also ramp up our absolute power work. That brings me back to Olympic lifting. There are two issues I have been kicking around:

    1. Are there significant blocks during the year that we want to have laser-like focus on getting stronger? I say Yes, Absolutely!
    2. At what level of proficiency at the Olympics lifts does an athlete need to be to meet or exceed the power development benefits of other less technical lifts? This I don’t know the answer to that one. Some athletes learn the hang clean quickly. Others struggle mightily with the catch. Others might look good but they are never fully getting full extension. Let’s say it takes a couple years of year round practice for an athlete to really “get” the Olympic lifts. Now let’s say that represents an athletes first two years of college. How much power have we left on the table during those years by teaching a highly technical lift? Anyway, those are the questions that are kicking round in my thinky-brain right now.

2. My next big takeaway was from Joe Sawicki. He’s the S&C coach at Bridgton Academy. They are a 1-Year prep school. They use an Athletic Report Card. It is split into two sections. The first is Physical or Performance metrics. These include Function, Conditioning, Strength, Power, and Speed & Agility. These metrics are the responsibility of the S&C coach, to make sure the athletes are at least at or above baseline in all these metrics.

The second part consists of Makeup or Mental components. These include Attitude, Commitment, Concentration, Effort, Coachability, Accountability, and Leadership. These are the responsibility of the athlete.

Athletes are graded throughout the year on these components. I LOVE this idea (and have already “borrowed” it!) We talk so much about the importance of character and team building in the weight room, along with having the opportunity to work on leadership skills. I am always most proud when an athlete is named team captain. Anyway, I think this is a great tool to use to highlight all the other non-performance benefits that come from training.

3. My last big takeaway was from Jeff Oliver. Jeff is the S&C coach at Holy Cross. I   interned for him when I made my career switch so it was great to see him and chat a bit. His talk was about the hip and how hip structure more than anything else will dictate squat depth. We have these artificial standards for squat depth like “ass to grass” top of thigh parallel, or hamstrings parallel. Truth is, it completely depends on the athlete. I know I have made the mistake of telling athletes who have pain in their hips from squatting to “just stretch your hip flexors.” Um, whoops.

The femoral head (ball) sits in the acetabulum (socket) and allows for a great range of motion in all three planes. However, some of us have a more anterior orientation of the socket than others. Those with a more anterior orientation will be much better and deeper squatters than those who do not. It doesn’t have much to do with hamstring flexibility, core stability, or glute strength. It has more to do with your ancestry. Those with Eastern European ancestry, for instance, have a more anterior orientation of the socket, allowing them to squat deeper. Check out those Olympic lifters to see what I mean.

If I wanted to pull this one off I should have chosen different parents

If I wanted to pull this one off I should have chosen different parents

Anyway, when we bi-lateral squat we want to go to the point right before the pelvis tucks under (the dreaded “butt wink”) forcing the low back into flexion. That is the danger zone, both for the low back but also for the hips.

4. BONUS Takeaway!! Kristen Ohellette started the day with a presentation titled, “Work Capacity Training: Research Findings and Program Design”. Kristen was one of the instructors at NPTI when I attended so it was great to catch up with her and hear her speak. What struck me, but came as no surprise, is the research indicates that one of the biggest risk factors for injury, right up there with high BMI and smoking, is high mileage running. In men the odds of injury more than doubles when they get to 16 miles per week compared with staying less than 7 miles. In the same study, resistance training, on the other hand, led to a decrease in injury risk. Yet another win for getting stronger!!