General Warm Up

Warm up is the most fundamental part of every training!

When I was lucky to closely work together with John McEnroe, I asked him what kind of training regimen was back in a days when he was on pro tour as one of the best players. He told me “we were just playing tennis, almost without warming up, if you don’t count 3 minutes jogging before match or practice and maybe some stretching.” This is the BIGGEST REASON WHY CAREER OF PROFFESIONAL TENNIS PLAYERS ARE MUCH MORE LONGER TODAY THAN 20-30 YEARS BEFORE. Training equipment, better knowledge about human body, more skilled athletic trainers and physiotherapist, diverse medicine treatments and medicaments are part of the reason as well, but the fact that players are ready to spend almost equal amount of time on warm ups, treatment, prevention type of training is making a huge difference in longevity, durability and performance.

In his famous book “Functional Training Handbook”, Craig Liebenson has a chapter about warm:

“Warm-up before training or competition is important in order to prepare the body for an increased biomechanical load, in the sense of both improving the performance of the athletes and reducing the risk of injuries. Warm-up will increase the blood flow and oxygen transport to working muscles, make muscles less viscous and increase their elastic properties, as well as enhance cellular metabolism. It will also decrease the stiffness of the connective tissue, increase range of motion, and even increase speed of nerve impulses (18–20). Several studies, including a recent randomized trial, indicate that structured warm-up can decrease injury risk (21). Several injury prevention programs have been studied that include a structured warm-up as a part of the program (22–24).” – Functional Training Handbook; Liebenson;. page 7

Proper planned warm up, between other things, must be divided into general and specific warm up. General warm up consist of:
• raising temperature of muscles, tendons and fascia,
• joints movements and ROM,
• activation of all myofascial lines and slings,
• mobility,
• balance and proprioception,
• motor control exercises

On the other hand, with specific type of warm up exercises main objective is to:
• address specific body area because of a higher sport demands there (example of groin musculature during clay season in tennis) or because of individual history of injuries (example prevention of ankle sprains for athlete who had sprain ankle in past)
• type of activity after warm up (strength training or speed training).

Today I want to address general type of warm up with explanations and few examples. There are 3 major components of general warm up:
1) Myofascial Release
2) Controlled Articular Rotations
3) Activation drills

1) Myofascial release
If you don’t know about MFR that you are living under the rock for a long time! I’m aware that studies and researches about self-myofascial tools don’t back up everything what marketing is giving them credit for. As a coach who is spending most of the days in the gym, from practical standpoint, I argue that it makes a lot of sense! If your athletes are not regularly visiting some manual therapist who is taking care between other things about soft tissues, all what this athlete is left with for the purpose of tissue quality and recovery is stretching, nutrition and sleeping. In the world of tennis is normal for kids from 12-13 years old to train between 4-6 hours a day, and in this case soft tissue needs regular control. This is the point where self-myofascial tools can help athletes to address possible adhesions, improve neural flow or just speed up recovery after long session.

Here you can see some specific examples we are using with our tennis players:
a) Foam rolling quad and TFL –
b) Foam rolling upper back –

2) Controlled Articular Rotations
Best definition of CAR’s is coming from person who developed this system of training, Dr. Andreo Spina: “Active, rotational movements at the outer limits of articular motion.” Basically we’re rotating our joints through the biggest range of motion possible with tension and control. But why we want to do this? Because all starts with the joint capsule. The joint capsule is the first line of communication between joint and the brain, and rotation is the best way to interact with the capsule. We want our capsules healthy and communicative, sending info to the brain what our joints can produce, and control. Joints that move well (controllable and bigger ROM) receive better nutrition. Ligamentous soft-tissue structures and joints receive poor blood supply; it’s movement that gets nutrients to these area! And there is another hugely important benefit, CAR’s should be everyday screening process for our athletes. If today my hip joint is moving different than usual, or maybe there is discomphort present during moving in outer limits, we need to address this before athlete is starting to load this joint by speed, power or strength work.

I’m regularly using CAR’s in my daily training routine with professional players too:
1) Jannik Sinner hip CAR’s –
2) Maria Sharapova shoulder CAR’s –

3) Activation drills
The basic idea behind activation is to enhance the communication between neurology and biology – muscles, that’s why it’s also called neuromuscular activation. With these exercises we try to connect all myofascial lines and by doing so we have a better chance preventing injuries and improve performance.

There is another important function component of every warm up, NEUTRALITY. The better we find neutrality within our joints and our body in general, we will have less resistance to execute movement. When one joint is out of the optimal alignment, muscles that are antagonists to the movement being produced are firing so called protective tension, to prevent causing more damage to the joint itself.

Here are main benefits of the activation:
a) address muscular imbalances, joint instability, and mobility issues
b) “speed up” neuron traffic between nervous system and muscles
c) strengthens the connections between muscle groups within myofascial lines and slings

Below you can see a few examples of activation drills, but the eventual list of these exercises has no end:
a) supine hooklyine breathing

b) dns baby modified get up

c) TGU progression exercises

d) standing “arrow” mobilization

e) monster walk

I can’t stress enough how important warming up is in the training process. I see it as an evaluation before each training, and as a stimulus that will adequately prepare the athlete for the main part of the training.

References:
18. Green JP, Grenier SG, McGill SM. Low-back stiffness is altered with warm-up and bench rest: implications for athletes.Med Sci Sports Exerc 2002;34:1076–1081.
19. Rosenbaum D, Hennig EM. The influence of stretching and warm-up exercises on Achilles tendon reflex activity. J Sports Sci 1995;13:481–490.
20. Stewart IB, Sleivert GG. The effect of warm-up intensity on range of motion and anaerobic performance. J OrthopSports Phys Ther 1998;27:154–161.
21. Olsen OE, Myklebust G, Engebretsen L, et al. Exercises to prevent lower limb injuries in youth sports: cluster randomized controlled trial. BMJ 2005;330:449.
22. Ekstrand J, Gillquist J, Liljedahl SO. Prevention of soccer injuries. Supervision by doctor and physiotherapist. Am JSports Med 1983;11:116–120.
23. Junge A, Rosch D, Peterson L, et al. Prevention of soccer injuries: a prospective intervention study in youth amateur players. Am J Sports Med 2002;30:652–659.
24. Soligard T, Myklebust G, Steffen K, et al. Comprehensive warm-up programme to prevent injuries in young female footballers: cluster randomised controlled trial. BMJ2008;337:a2469.

Positional strength training – part 2

In the first blog I was explaining the importance of fascia fitness, what fascia is, and her purpose in the human body. In the second part I will try to explain one aspect of fascial training, so-called positional strength training. But before that please check in the table below some main consideration for optimal fascial fitness in general. There are “The big four” properties of fascia:
training_aplication

Positional strength training – tensegrity

As you can see in the table above, positional strength training has an impact on fascia remodeling property. If a person is sitting 8 hours in the office, after that driving home to again sit and watch TV, his fascia will remodel and adapt to this type of chronic demand. In this scenario, over time fibroblasts will cast the fascial web around joints and muscles in this “always flexed” and crouched position. As a result of this lifestyle, every day this person has less and less acceptable movement variability. With our athletes what we want is completely opposite, we want them to have high movement variability with proper integrity + tension = tensegrity of the fascial web. In The next video Thomas Myers, author of The “Anatomy Trains”, a Book that has been Game-changer for myself AND my coaching, explains what tensegrity is:

The principle of “tensegrity” describes precisely the relationship between the connective tissues, the muscles, and the skeleton. The skeleton, rather than being a frame of support to which the muscles, ligaments, and tendons attach, has to be considered as a compression component suspended within a continuous tension network. Try to imagine our bones in the body as they float in a “sea” of soft tissue – they are held in position by tension from muscles and fascia. Suitable tensile properties of our tissues and therefore their elastic integrity depend on the stiffness of the collagen matrix which is primarily low in deformation and relatively high in resistance to it.

For athletes, adequate tensegrity means the right amount of positive stiffness around and in between joints, tendons, muscles, and other organs which allow efficient transfer of force, better posture, less movement compensation and capacity to keep the body as a unit during starting, stopping, jumping, COD, punching/hitting.

Positive stiffness means suitable resistance to deformation, being able to remain composed during all athletic maneuvers is a basic prerequisite for athleticism!

One of the best ways to reinforce tensegrity in different fascial lines/slings is through positional strength training. Let’s look at some examples.

1) Birddog Row
birddog_row

Old fashioned birddog here is done on the bench with added rowing movement. Limiting factor here as well with all other positional strength exercises will not be the weight lifted, it will be the capability to keep integrity. Here you will find it difficult to increase lifting weight above a certain point, limiting factor will be postural control and alignment. We can “dissect” this exercises and talk about which fascial line or sling is under more pressure. Posterior and anterior longitudinal slings are doing the majority of the work here but what is important to understand, these exercises require absolute full-body tension, and by doing so we are building up necessary internal stability. Of course that we are paying attention to rowing technique: integration between scapula and GH joint movement, the elbow is not to close to the body (30-45° away), head of the humerus at the top of the row remains centered.

2) Split Stance Landmine Press

split_stance_landmine_press

This is whole-body exercises which again will not be limited with maximum weight you can lift but rather with capacity to hold position and integrity during pushing. The lower body is doing almost a pure isometric contraction while the upper body more isotonic. What is important to understand is that Jannik here is pushing with left arm but energy is coming from the left foot through his core and finishes in his shoulder and arm muscles. This is easy to feel when you try to push the challenging weight and you cannot rely only on upper body strength so you need to pre-tension your whole body to be able to keep position and simultaneously press weight. Myofascial front lines are under more stress in these exercises.

You saw 2 examples of exercises designed to build tensegrity through the myofascial system, and if you are a fan of definitions here is mine: Positional strength exercises can be called every exercise where there is a higher demand on internal stability to keep postural control and alignment. A long time ago I learned the principle “proximal stability leads to (or is prerequisite for) distal mobility”. The positional strength training approach fits perfectly with this principle.

At the end I will give you 4 considerations how we can incorporate positional strength training into our programming:
1. Maintenance microcycles = during competitive period
2. In season training = not creating high level of fatigue – no DOMS
3. Not aggressive on CNS = can be superset with high intensity work
4. Before a competition as a activation = reinforces myofascial lines / slings connection

Positional strength training – Part I

More than 20 years ago when I started to coach other people it was so difficult to find a good book about coaching. Usually, I borrowed and copied books and learned that way. Definitively was not easy to get exposed to new information and to learn from other, more knowledgeable, and more experienced coaches. Today, on the other hand, sometimes it seems to me that there is too much information, and is not easy to filter what is valuable and what is not. And so about two years ago when for the first time I heard about positional strength training, I was pretty much a little reserved about it. It was a strange combination of words, position, and strength, put together with training, and on the first seems to me it has something to do with isometric strength training.
Fascia – human spider web
In fact, it has very little to do with good old isometric’s, here we are talking about building tension throughout fascial systems in the human body or so-called fascial biotensegrity! But why do we need tension in our fascia? What kind of benefits we can gain with proper tensional integrity between our connective tissue, muscles, and bones? First things first, let’s first talk a little bit about fascia, what it is, and how this system can be trained.
Fascia is an extracellular collagenous matrix that is made up almost entirely of collagen (90%) and water (10%) (1). It is a fibrous tissue that surrounds every muscle, bone, nerve, blood vessel, as well as all of our internal organs including the heart, lungs, brain, and spinal cord. As fascia is found everywhere think for a second about this question/statement on the picture below.

1-fascia

Fascia is mostly created by cells called fibroblasts. These cells are producing fibers in the ECM (extracellular matrix), but also secrete collagenase, an enzyme that eats collagen where is no longer needed or where is too old. Fibroblasts are sensitive to the pressure and vibration signals in ECM and respond by building stronger and more resilient “spider web” where is needed. Fascia has varying densities throughout the body. For example, the IT band is a highly concentrated facial bundle and the same can be found on the bottom of the foot, but for example, upper extremities are spread more thinly. The most interesting aspect of the fascial system is that it is not just a series of separate coverings, but rather one continuous structure that exists from head to toe without interruption. This creates a web of support that facilitates (or inhibits) your body’s ability to move, as well as the ability of your organs to function properly.
According to Thomas Myers, creator of Anatomy Trains (a must-read for every professional in the field), there are 12 myofascial meridians or lines which connect different muscle – joints – bones for efficient and functional movement of the human body in all 3 planes of motion.

Lines-2

• Superficial Front Line.
• Superficial Back Line.
• Lateral Line (two sides)
• Spiral Line
• Arm Lines (four)
• Functional Lines (two – front and back)
• Deep Front Line
Moreover, new research shows that fascial tissue has nearly 6x the amount of proprioceptive and neural bodies than what is seen in the muscles (2). Another important consideration of fascia is that fascia is a non-Newtonian fluid. A non-Newtonian fluid is a fluid that does not follow Newton’s law of viscosity, i.e., constant viscosity independent of stress. In non-Newtonian fluids, viscosity can change when under force to either more liquid or more solid. In fitness terms, if we neglect basic fascial training principles or we are under constant mental stress, dehydrated then fascia with time becomes more rigid, less extensible what we definitively want to avoid.
Functionally speaking, fascia is involved in several responsibilities including (1):
1) Postural support/structure,
2) Transmitting and dispersing forces,
3) Tissue pliability and extensibility,
4) Proprioceptive/kinesthetic awareness

It is very clear if we want our musculature system to function properly we need to have our fascial system elastic, pliable and moving freely. By staying so fascia allows muscles to contract/relax freely, a force that is produced within muscle contractions can be transmitted through myofascial slings where is needed. Every time when a boxer is throwing a punch, he is not using only shoulder or arms muscles, the power is coming from the ground through the core up to the shoulder and arm. The same is true for the baseball hitter or tennis player. When we are running or jumping rope, more efficient we are and we spend less energy if our fascial system has the right amount of tension – tensegrity (tension + integrity). Optimal tensegrity means we are not absorbing to much force from the ground, we have the right amount of stiffness to bounce with the minimum effort possible. Fascial training is all about creating internal stability/stiffness around and in between joints, muscles, and other organs. This internal stability is crucial to allow efficient transfer of force and to keep the body as a unit during starting, stopping, COD or punching/hitting, etc.…
Here are some considerations why fascia training is equally important as training muscles:
Table-3
“Fascia has tremendous tensile proprieties that serve to stabilize the body, distribute forces, and amplify motion. Fascia continually remodels itself based on stress, load, pressure and vibration and because of that perhaps is THE most trainable system in the body.” – Fascia Training; p.22; Bill Parisi and Johnathon Allen
Everything what I wrote down by no means wanted to say that training muscles has no value and is not important anymore. Rather, balanced training is what I’m talking about, focusing too much on building muscles for power and strength is beneficial but only up to a point, after that continuous muscle stimulation training will ultimately slow athletes down and make them more prone to the injury.
In the second part of this blog I will share with you some of my ideas how to develop this positional strength to benefit fascial system training. Stay tuned!

References:
1) Anatomy Trains (Thomas Myers)
2) Fascia Training (Bill Parisi)

ATHLETICISM – What It Is and How to Improve It – Part 2

In the first part of this blog series, I was focused on the physical aspect of athleticism and how we can improve it. In the second part, I want to share with you another, different view on athleticism.

Let’s took an example of a marathon runner who starts the race with his full running speed, without calculating weather conditions, wind directions, terrain configuration – how far he can go like this? Or a football player who is trying to play the whole 90 min without stopping, always in a run or jog, without trying to anticipate ball movement, the opponent formation and position on the field etc.…How efficient that player can be and for how long he can stay like this in the game?

Next, imagine a tennis match where one player is under constant excessive mental tension. When we are talking about mental tension actually we are talking about not effective stress management. So for this tennis player, an environment of that match is really stressful (because of his or other’s expectations, the importance of the match). In this situation, his body will crank up sympathetic nervous system function (fight or flight) and by doing so he will burn much more energy (ATP) than he usually needs to play a single match! Stress is about the perception of the environment, the greater the stress, the more energy the body produces to handle it. But there is whole other negative reactions inside the body under high levels of stress, cortisol levels are high (producing inflammation), fascia gets tense as well (muscles can’t move optimally), etc… Because all of that what do you think is this player able to recover well enough between points, or how efficient he can be during long rallies? What about his body after 1 or more hours of playing? My point is you can be physically at your top but if you cannot control your stress response you can look like someone who is completely out of the shape. On the other hand is he able to make appropriate tactical decisions under these circumstances? Can he be technically precise to hit the ball with the center of his racquet?

Because all of that above:

Athleticism is best define as a game between:
•tension to produce power/speed;
•relaxation where is getting feedback to make necessary adjustment

During tension phase athletes are trying to go as fast as possible, consuming a lot of energy! The tension phase (strength, power, speed) is the “energy production” side of performance. Those things are important, but they just create the potential for performance!

During the relaxation phase, athletes are trying to recover and prepare for the next tension phase adapting and anticipating as much as possible to the situation on the court!

Athleticism2

This game between tension and relaxation can be different for every sport and situation on the court. An example of this interplay during tennis can be: tension phase is every time player is playing a point and relaxation phase is during 25 seconds between points. But we can also apply same principles during one rally or single point, every time player is preparing to hit the ball he is in “tension phase” but between two strokes whenever possible, a player should “relax” to recover as much as possible (by breathing properly), to adapt to the demands of that point (staying in the corner or move more to the center) as he is trying to anticipate opponent next shot. In the next two videos pay attention to the body movement and how Novak Djokovic keeps his body less contracted when he is moving between two shots. From my experience in tennis, this is the major difference between young and experienced players, between top players and others.

I hope I was able to show you a different view on athleticism. Definitely athleticism is not only about who can jump higher or run faster!

ATHLETICISM – What It Is and How to Improve It – Part 1

What is athleticism?

IMG_4430

We typically define the best athlete as the one who can jump the highest or run the fastest. But this is only part of the answer because every sport needs a different kind of athleticism to be successful. Marathon runner needs a different type of athleticism than a football player, swimmer, or a tennis player. Usually, when we are talking about athleticism we are thinking about different fitness qualities, here are some of the most important training consideration to improve athleticism in tennis players:

1) Taking Care of Healthy Joint System
– To develop fast and explosive movement we need healthy joints that can move freely. To keep joints healthy we need to expose them to the stress at the end ranges. By doing so we develop better movement potential

2) Stable Core as a Foundation
– Proximal stability leads to distal mobility and athleticism. A stable core is allowing extremities to move freely – proper positioning of the thoracic and pelvic diaphragm are an excellent foundation on which we can build speed and agility

3) Relative Strength Prior to All Other Types of Strength
– Higher relative strength correspond to improvements in agility, speed, power, and coordination

4) Develop Unilateral Strength and Power
– Majority sports movements, tennis included, happen from an offset stance and favor power development unilaterally

5) Incorporate Multi-planar Training
– Most lifts take place only in the sagittal plane, yet tennis is played with domination of frontal and transverse plane movements

6) Improve Rotational Strength and Power
– Power is vector specific, so it requires athletes to train rotational skills directly

7) Don’t focus on muscles only, TRAIN FASCIAL SYSTEM
– Fascial training is best developed through whole body movements with lots of degree of freedom, in a rich proprioceptive environment using elastic recoil properties

8) Elastic Power vs. Explosive Power
– Differentiate training for reactive/elastic power vs. explosive power

Plyometric-2

Sympathetic and parasympathetic type of overtraining

Overtraining, in general, is excessive frequency, duration, volume, or intensity of training causing the body’s inability to recover and adapt. There are two types of chronic overtraining: sympathetic and parasympathetic. If we can better understand the differences between them, then we can select the most appropriate recovery modality. Sympathetic and parasympathetic is referring to autonomic nervous system branches:

Nervous-system

Their functions are:

Functions-ANS

The Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) controls the fight-or-flight response, so is active during stressful situations like training and/or competition. During fight-or-flight, the body is releasing hormones like cortisol, epinephrine (adrenaline), and norepinephrine. Epinephrine’s job is to increase heart rate during periods of stress, he also constricts blood vessels which elevates blood pressure and helps to get blood to the muscles. Cortisol is responsible for increasing blood sugar in the body to provide readily available and fast-burning fuel. During fight-or-flight cortisol also suppresses the immune system and helps in fat metabolism.
Sympathetic overtraining (SO) is connected with high amounts of anaerobic activity and in general, is happening in sports where anaerobic energy mechanism is dominant – examples are MMA, boxing, basketball, American football, tennis, and short distances in athletics. SO refers to an OVERACTIVE sympathetic nervous system producing TOO MANY STRESS HORMONES. This is typically happening when high volumes of work are done around the lactate threshold, without adequate recovery between sessions and during a prolonged period of time. This type of overtraining is characterized by restlessness, disturbed sleep, weight loss, accelerated resting heart rate and delayed recovery. So-called parasympathetic recovery techniques are the best way to combat against it – meditation, massage, hot tubs, deep water floating, taking a nap during the day. Active recovery methods such as light intensity resistance training or low-intensity cardio training can be beneficial as well. Athletes should avoid taking any form of stimulants during this period – caffeine for example.

The Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) controls “rest and digest” hormones during a period of recovery after the stress is over. It works mostly by inhibiting uptake of hormones involved in fight-or-flight responses such as epinephrine and cortisol. Parasympathetic overtraining (PO) is associated with high volumes of aerobic activity – examples are long-distance running and rowing, Nordic skiing, bicycling. Symptoms of PO include depression and decreased heart rate, feeling of fatigue and decreased performance. In this scenario, you should include so-called sympathetic recovery techniques. Recovery program should include electric muscle stimulation (EMS), cryotherapy, contrast baths, saunas, or cold water swimming.

Both forms of overtraining involve malfunction of the Sympathetic Nervous System. In the state of Sympathetic Overtraining, the SNS is overactive, producing too many stress hormones that keep us in the “emergency” or “fight or flight” state all the time. On the other hand in Parasympathetic Overtraining the SNS is underactive or “fatigued” and unable to produce the necessary hormones to enter in the “fighting” mode.

SO-PO

These are considerations when we are dealing with overtraining symptoms but these are guidelines about how we need to approach recovery modalities with different types of athletes even when the athlete is not in overtraining state. And this is what my objective with this article was all about. What I want to explain is that we need to take into consideration what kind of athlete is standing in front of us before we decide about after session recovery modalities.

If we prescribe ice bath for the athlete who is always in the “on” mode (read SNS dominant) – hyperactive, easy get nervous but difficult to relax, naturally fast and explosive – we are doing more harm than good!

Cold-bath

Ice baths stimulate even more SNS activation (production of stress hormones). Even when you look at this photo and imagine yourself entering into this tub you can feel adrenaline spike inside your body! Any kind of “aggressive on the autonomic nervous system” technique will postpone the period when this athlete will finally enter into recovery mode. If we really want to speed up the recovery process for that athlete we need to introduce parasympathetic recovery techniques, where we want to calm down his nervous system!

Before we decide what to do for recovery we need to look at a big picture. Ask yourself questions like what kind of athlete we have from neurological standpoint (more SNS or PNS type of athlete), from what kind of activity we want to recover (running or weight lifting in the gym), when is next training session (same day or 24 hours later), HRV (heart rate variability) value last few days, training phase (GPP or SPP), etc.… Answering on all of this questions will help us decide about recovery approach.

Tennis and Olympic lifts

Power expression is what makes the difference between players in every sport arena. No matter in which way is expressed, as a faster acceleration, more powerful punch or higher jump, to have higher power capacity is a huge advantage on the court! For years the best method “prescribed” to develop power were Olympic lifts and their accessory lifts. In my opinion, they still are one of the best methods, but far from the truth that they are the only ones and that they suites for everyone.

When I’m creating a program for one athlete, first and foremost I’m always trying to analyze the cost and benefits of every exercise for an individual athlete. My first goal is to choose exercises based upon athlete’s need, movement patterns, preventative measures against injury, etc. There are no exercises that everyone must and should do, and the Olympic variations are no different.

In this post, I made a list of 4 biggest reasons why we don’t use Olympic lifts in Piatti Tennis Center, and why I’m against them for tennis player as a tool to develop power.

1) Highly technical

Olympic lifts are highly technical exercises and to learn them properly they need to be practiced almost daily for a long period of time. It takes a considerable amount of time to groove the proper movement pattern on such a complex lifts. Technique is something that can take weeks, months, even years to develop properly. Moreover, tennis is also a highly technical sport, players are spending a lot of time practicing. 3 and more hours daily at the court is considered normal. They need to do so to be able to learn how to execute every shot as perfect as possible, and for that, they need a lot of repetitions. In a perfect world, you should start with Olympic lifts at a young age, using stick to learn proper techniques which you need to repeat daily. But reality is completely different, after spending so many hours at the court there is almost no time left to work on some basic things outside the court. So, in my opinion, there are much more simple exercises solutions which we can introduce under power development.

2) Sagittal plane power

There is a big debate in the physical preparation community if bilateral, sagittal plane dominant exercises (like clean and snatch) are appropriate for rotational sports. Olympic lifts are not plane specific for a rotational athlete’s needs. What’s that mean? Olympic lifts are focusing mainly on triple extension in the sagittal plane of motion, they are missing hip and pelvic rotation, thoracic rotation, contralateral and ipsilateral force absorption and generation. Power for the rotational athlete is coming from the external rotation of the hip and so are we interested in too much sagittal strength and/or power? In my opinion, athletes can benefit more from med ball throws, different jumps and bounds, sprinting, pushing/pulling sleds…some exercises will mimic classic tennis movements from the court, using those means more pattering of force development in appropriate planes – frontal and transverse.

3) Accumulative stress

As mentioned before tennis players already at a young age (12 and younger) are spending a lot of time on the court (rarely less than 2 hours a day). By doing so they accumulate more stress in some areas of the body because of the repetitive nature of the sport. Olympic lifting puts extra stress on the same, already “overload” tissues = wrist-elbow-shoulder and back. There is a higher demand for wrist and shoulder mobility to be able to catch the bar regardless if we are talking about clean or snatch. When we start to load these patterns we start to put more risk in the lumbar region which is already under a ton of extension based stress during overhead movements = serve and smash.

4) Mobility demands

Proper execution of Olympic lifts – clean and snatch, require some specific mobility demands bilaterally. I emphasize this bilaterally, because rarely in my daily practice I can find a tennis player who has equal ankle mobility or hip mobility or shoulder/wrist mobility. Tennis is a unilateral sport, where there is always more stress in some areas like right shoulder girdle for right-handed players. Previous injuries, especially at the ankle or hip area are creating even more “mobility misbalance”, so I need to be very careful with my approach because the last thing I want to accomplish is to feed more into dysfunction! That’s why I put Olympic lift’s out of my toolbox. Why to take unnecessary risk when I have so many other choices.

Examples of Safe Alternatives to Olympic Lifts

1) Landmine Split Step Jerk

As you can see LSSJ does not require a true overhead catch, which automatically will eliminate stress on the shoulder – the lower back. Wrist is staying in a neutral position. Thanks to only one arm under load Jannik can adjust his elbow position to avoid too extreme closing angle. The overhead angle is far from vertical what is sparing compressive forces on GH joint. Exercises is easy to teach and execute, does not require high load when progressing because of unilateral pattern which makes exercises challenging. LSSJ can be regressed to bilateral starting position, or progressed to 1 arm Landmine Pivot Press which includes more rotational force production.

2) Medicine Ball Scoop Toss

This is pure rotational power. First 2 throws Jannik is trying to reinforce the pattern of using hips for more rotational power. Next he is doing lateral step to load back leg and then by using foot-hip-core-shoulders connection create rotational power.

3) Vertical Medicine Ball Squat Catch and Throw

If we want to incorporate some sagittal plane oriented work then this one is exercises we can use with everyone day 1. So easy to teach, only a few tips and med ball trajectory will show the athlete if he is using more hips or arm power. Actually, this one is a small progression because Jannik must react and control eccentric forces first and then explode vertically by using his hips as a primary source of power.

Arthrokinematics and Osteokinematics

In today’s post, I want to talk about 2 terms that are not so common in the world of physical preparation coaches or recreational fitness professionals. Usually, arthro and osteokinematics are more present in the vocabulary of physiotherapist and medical personal. Maybe we as physical coaching staff don’t need to have so deep understanding of these terms but some basic knowledge is so important and in this blog post I will try to explain why!
Let’s start with the meanings of these words:
Osteo = from the Greek osteon = bone
Arthro = from the Greek word arthron = joint
Kinematic/Kinetic = from the Greek word kinesis = movement
So in general Osteokinematics means bone movement and Arthrokinematics joint movement.
Osteokinematics is the gross movement that happens between two bones. This happens because our bone surfaces articulate at the joint where movements are: flexion/extension, abduction/adduction, and internal rotation/external rotation in different planes of motions.

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From my perspective is critical to understand these movements for every joint in the human body. Next step is to know appropriate ranges in different planes of motion. In the picture above you can see hip joint, we need to be aware of optimal flexion/extension ranges in sagittal plane for example, how to assess this ranges, what can create limitations and interventions on how to solve problems. The same rules exist for other planes of motion where similar movements between bones exist. Is that mean that every hip of every person should move the same? Of course not, the general rule of thumbs for every joint exists but every human body is structurally slightly different. If we are talking about hip joint here is a list of possible anatomical hip differences:
1) different variations of pelvis structures – round, wide, narrow..
2) variations in the angle of femoral neck
3) acetabulum position
4) acetabulum shape
Why we need to be aware of osteokinematics on daily basis?
Simply because our daily job is to evaluate our athletes or clients, how they move, how they create movement patterns. If one day we spot some changes in movement comparing one hip to another (what yesterday maybe was not the case) we need to react immediately. If one hip for some reason is lost movement of extension, and if this limitation persists for some time, the body will try to find other areas for that missing movement. That is called compensation.
Arthrokinematics represents the small movements happening at the joint surface itself. Movements are rolls, glides/slides, and spins.
A) Roll is a rotary movement, one bone rolling on another.
B) Spin is a rotary movement, one body spinning on another.
C) Slide is a translatory movement, sliding of one joint surface over another.

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Muscles are producing force, by doing so bones are moving creating movement at the joints as well. During movement, we need to respect proper alignment of the joints, if not passive stabilizers (ligaments, meniscus) are under more pressure. Let’s take an example of push up, in the bottom position head of the humerus tends to glide forward in the glenoid fossa (translatory movement), this can lead to either increased tensile stress on the tendons or compression of the tendons with excessive stress on anterior capsule!
To explain as simple as possible, in my daily practice I see Osteokinematics as something we need to be aware of even before the main part of the training start, before we start to load the body with high intensity. Does everything move correctly today? Is this person ready to “go hard” from the structural and positional standpoint?

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In the picture above we can see excessive pronation of the left foot together with flat midfoot comparing to the right. Also, there is noticeable left hip internal rotation, is this person clear to squat, deadlift or any kind of bilateral stance work? I guess not…
Arthokinematics, on the other hand, are especially important during training, meaning: I need to be aware when they start to lose efficiency with this small unnecessary extra movements at the joint area.

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Notice here during the end of row how humeral head is gliding forward putting excessive stress on anterior capsule. We want to avoid this with everyone, especially with overhead athletes. We must be aware during exercise execution what are joints positions!
Respecting osteokinematics as well as arthrokinematics is meaning that we understand the principle of joint centration, which is vital to joint health & overall performance!

Force absorption before force production

Developing power speed, explosiveness must be the ultimate goal for every coach who is training athletes, simply because this is what makes difference on the court, regardless of the sport. If you watch athletes competing, for example basketball or soccer in division II, and you compare them to the players from the top teams, everything seems faster, quicker and more explosive. This is mainly because of the capacity to produce higher power outputs compared to the players of the top teams.

Throughout my career I struggled a lot to find the proper way to make someone more explosive and faster on the court. I found it much easier to make an athlete stronger, but strength alone isn’t the best solution for most of the sports (if so, then power lifters would be known as incredibly strong athletes who also run fast, change direction explosively…). For me, the so called “game changer” was when I learned that to be able to produce force fast, I firstly must learn how to absorb forces. There is a huge advantage if an athlete is able to control efficiently eccentric forces before next jump, cut or when changing direction. We are all training our athletes too often with explosive movements where domination is put on concentric forces. Focusing only or mainly on this to create a faster athlete, we are missing another important part: deceleration and landing mechanics!!! Together with this I “figured out” that power development can be progressed and regressed not only through intensity and volume, but also through learning the patterns! I was already using this kind of approach for fundamental movement and during strength training, so first I did the progression continuum for power training which today looks like this:
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One of the most important, but so often overlooked components of plyometric is the proper landing mechanics! Athletes need to learn how to be able to ABSORB high forces when touching the ground; the critical point to understand being that these forces are always higher than athlete’s bodyweight! The ability to absorb force uses advantage of natural mechanisms that exist in our muscles and tendons. THE MORE FORCE AN ATHLETE CAN EFFECTIVELY ABSORB, THE MORE FORCE AFTERWARD HE CAN PRODUCE.     To properly teach landing mechanics, which are highly related to deceleration abilities as well, first we have to understand how body works during these movements from the biomechanical prospective. Deceleration causes a high neural demand that puts a lot of stress on our body because of eccentric muscle action movements. Proper landing or deceleration involves proper coordination movements, such as bending the hips, knees, and ankles while maintaining centre of gravity by having core pre-activated. Teaching athletes how to start and stop moving properly, how to change directions efficiently, how to jump and land correctly, helps not only to improve speed and agility, but can also significantly reduce the chance of injury.

There are many exercises to teach and develop landing mechanics and, honestly, only the trainers’ imagination limits them. The basic ones are the following:

Drop Squat

Drop to Split Stance

Drop to Single Leg Squat

Vertical Jump to Squat Freeze

Lateral jump to freeze (pay attention to how much more difficult is for me to properly land on my left leg)

 

ISOINERTIAL TRAINING

Isoinertial training has been invented as a solution for the strength training of astronauts. Because, during long travel in space, a problem to maintain strength and power of the astronaut’s muscles exists. In the absence of gravity, regular strength training methods with weights are useless. The term isoinertial comes from the words iso (same) and inertial (resistance). The primary concept of the isoinertial system is the same inertia in both the concentric and the eccentric phases of muscle contraction. The benefit of the isoinertial method and what makes it different from the isotonic muscle contraction is the fact that during isotonic type or conventional exercises (strength machines and free weights), the resistance is constant in both the concentric and eccentric phase. In the isoinertial method the resistance is adapted in every moment. What that means? It means that more force you produce in concentric phase, the same force you will need to control in the eccentric phase, which makes a HUGE difference from conventional type of exercising. So, an athlete needs to be able to absorb the same amount of force, which he/she can produce. However, the speed of action will vary as a function of the effort — just as in sports; there is acceleration and typically deceleration to break and stop and then change direction. This is how the skeletal muscle is designed to operate. If you follow statistics and researches, majority of muscle pulls or strains is happening during inadequate capacity to absorb high eccentric forces.

But what made me show interest about isoinertial training on the first place was the so called eccentric overload. After the end of concentric muscle action and during transition period there is almost zero resistance in the first 10-15° of eccentric phase, but after that you get “hit” with strong eccentric forces. When it comes to joints position and angles, this “eccentric punch” is happening around angles when you are on the court and want to change direction or do another jump! So, if you don’t understand it well, eccentric overload is happening at the most difficult and critical position to execute proper change of direction!

A number of researches have been carried out on the benefits of eccentric overload training in raising neural and muscular performance and in the rehabilitation and prevention of injuries. Some benefits include; higher forces are generated compared with traditional concentric action (LaStoya et al., 2003), unique neuromuscular activation which can be trained specifically (Enoka, 1996), stimulate specific micro-adaptations to regenerate a stronger muscle tissue (Brandenburg and Docherty. 2002), effective in injury rehabilitation (LaStoya et al., 2003; Lorenz and Reiman. 2011), increased hypertrophy adaptations when compared to other forms of training (Brandenburg and Docherty., 2002). 

 

Over-specialization with under-development

Early specialization by many sport scientists is today called the sickness of modern sport. In modern sport, young athletes need to spend so much time playing their sport because if they don’t do that, their opponents will! Let’s put it this way… imagine a 12-year old tennis player who is practicing at the court every day for 1.5 hours for 1 month. This means 45 hours/month. His friend is practicing 3 hours daily, which means 90 hours/month. In six-month period, this is 270 hours against 540 hours. If they play against each other on the tournament, it is not too hard to figure out who is going to win. At such a young age where physical characteristics are still not so dominant in sport with high technical demands, the winner is basically always the one who is training more specifically. Moreover, if that one continues to win a large per cent of his/her matches, we deal with the situation where, already at that age, managers, sponsors and possibly higher amounts of money are entering the game… Of course, with that amount of time spent on the court there is less time available to train outside the court and by training in that way we find over-specialized, but under-developed young bodies. What I mean is that these young athletes are already incredibly good at playing their sport but if you ask them to do the basic locomotive tasks such as forward/backward roll or simple bodyweight deep squat they are not able do it! Youth sports participation has evolved from child-driven, recreational free play to highly structured, deliberate practice devoted to sports-specific skill development!
And now, the big question is what can we, as S&C coaches, do with these kids who spend every day 3 or more hours on the court? First of all we need to step out from the classic S&C approach where we only think about jumping higher and running faster because kids are doing that on the court every day!! There are so many categories we need to develop to support the body to be able to jump and run during the actual play. Another important thing to consider is that modern children are not playing outside in the parks, they are not climbing and falling from trees, they are not riding a bike for the whole day and by not doing so they are not developing what I’m calling pre-athleticism!!
Here is a good example from TPI – Titleist Performance Institute training model for young golf players based on biological age. TPI is currently considered the best place for training young golf players and many facilities/academies of other sports are trying to copy their developmental training model.

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On the other hand, we have similar situation in professional sport too! With so many competition events during one week or month (look at the NBA, Baseball, top soccer teams in Europe, tennis tournaments almost every week) athletes are, all the time, under specific load (playing sport) and there is little or almost no time (if you calculate traveling and changing time zones) for actual training. And if athletes get into this rhythm for several years, suddenly we have a situation of over-specialized, but under-developed body. Athletes are highly specialized, sometimes on the highest sport levels, but we can find massive anterior pelvic tilt with always-tight hip flexors; they want to stretch their hamstrings and/or calves day and night, and they do not know how to breathe properly. In my opinion, here again we need to step out of the classic S&C coach’s head and start thinking how we can help the athlete to feel better and to move better by not only loading him even more, but by correcting his body posture and allowing him to move with less compensatory movement pattern.
For high-level athletes we need to find a training solution: HOW TO DO MORE WITH LESS. And here I mean less volume, less intensity! Many times we don’t even have 1 day in a week to do proper strength training. What we need is a smart and intelligent approach to the training. Breathing, posture, developing movement patterns during low level and high-level intensities, fatigue resistance training modalities…