Everyone has their own opinion on programming.
What they like, what they think works, what they think doesn't work, and what they think hurts (and not in a good way) are just a few things an individual considers when striving to create a good program. Writing good and efficient training programs takes a lot of practice, experience, learning and continued tinkering with your own theories and thoughts. And there is no one perfect program.
However, there are a lot of solid ones. But "solid" still has room for improvement. I've noticed that many training programs, even ones which seem fairly well-designed at first glance, are missing three key ingredients. Some of these ingredients may seem present when you first go over the program, but I believe they deserve bigger and more prominent roles.
When it comes to excelling at athletic activities and staying injury-free, we need ample glute strength, good scapular function and the ability to be strong on one leg.
Let's take a closer look at these ingredients which are often under-represented in your average training program.
1. Ample Glute Strength
Squats, Deadlifts, Lunges, Back Extensions, Hip Thrusts—the list of known glute-builders can go on and on. If you're like most people or coaches, you're probably already thinking, "Yeah, we're doing some of those."
OK, but is it working? We all agree Squats and Deadlifts can be great exercises to build glute strength, but are they the best option for each individual athlete? This is when good and honest communication between you and your athlete needs to take place.
"Where do you feel this exercise?" "Do you feel like this is working?" The questions don't have to be complicated—simple inquiries can be enough for a coach to get valuable intel and adjust accordingly. We don't all have the same anatomy nor the same level of mobility. Maybe a particularly tall athlete would benefit more from a Trap Bar Deadlift or Rack Pulls than your standard barbell Deadlift form the floor. Maybe an athlete finds Lunges and Hip Thrusts to target their glutes way better than traditional Squats.
Everyone knows glute strength is important for athletes across multiple spectrums, but it's important to recognize and appreciate that glute strength can be reached by taking different paths. Simply including a couple exercises known to build glute strength in some individuals doesn't guarantee they'll build glute strength in you or your athletes. Have an open mind, ask questions and adjust accordingly.
2. Good Scapular Function
I predominately work with overhead athletes, more specifically, baseball players.
Baseball players perk up and pay attention when we talk Scapulae, but scapular function is important to all athletes, whether it be directly related to their sport or simply a matter of staying healthy while training. Some programs completely ignore scapular function while others have solid exercises programmed but a lack of technique that holds back the effects of those exercises.
When we talk about the overhead athlete, we need to understand:
- the physical requirements needed to play each sport
- functional anatomy
- stress to the body accrued during the sport
- how to mesh the previous three together
For baseball players, we need to look at their ability to reach overhead, upwardly rotate the scapula and protract the scapula. Three specific qualities that can affect ability to throw efficiently. As the training professional, we need to implement exercises and movements that improve these qualities. Once these exercises are implemented, we need to coach them well. Push-Ups provide perhaps the best example to break this down.
Push-Ups offer many benefits—pec strength, core stability, shoulder stability, anterior deltoid strength, tricep strength, scapular movement to name a few. For a population that needs healthy shoulders, we need to correctly cue the athlete for them to get the most out of their Push-Ups. If we allow athletes to just "pump" through Push-Ups, we are allowing them to miss out on one of the best benefits: scapular movement. I like to cue athletes to slow down, retract their shoulder blades or squeeze a pencil between their blades as they lower, and push their blades apart as they push back to the top. For athletes who are stuck in downward scapular rotation and/or retraction, I'll even cue more of a rounded upper back position (Push-Up with a plus) at the top. This will allow for more Serratus Anterior activity and more protraction.
Like glute strength, simply looking at the fact you have a couple exercises in a program meant to address scapular function doesn't mean they're actually doing that. Scapular-focused exercises are often botched. And even if they're performed correctly, are they actually serving the individual's specific scapular function needs? These are the questions coaches and program designers need to be asking.
3. Serious Single-Leg Strength
Unlike the previous two points, single-leg strength is more often totally ignored. In a world where people love to brag about how much they squat or deadlift, single-leg strength is often put on the back burner or left out of the kitchen all together. Improved strength, balance, knee stability, athletic performance and less stress on the spine are just a few of the benefits of single-leg training. I would highly encourage everyone reading this article to do themselves a favor and check out some of the content Mike Boyle has put out in regard to single-leg training. Before you do that, here are a couple of quick thoughts on single-leg training.
- Train it more than once a week.
- Treat it like a primary lift and load it up. You may not be getting any benefits from single-leg training because you refuse to add weight. Everything doesn't have to be done for 3 sets of 10 reps. You can decrease the volume and up the load.
- Not all single-leg training is created equal. Progress and regress as needed.
- No, doing leg extensions one leg at a time does not qualify as single-leg training.
In summary, build glutes, but make sure what you are doing is actually building glutes. Take care of your shoulders, which starts with paying attention to what your Scapulae are or aren't doing. Train on one leg, and actually train hard on one leg.
Photo Credit: DragonImages/iStock
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