We all want our athletes strong…but what is strong?

Strength is a great way to bulletproof against injuries in sport. Get your athletes stronger and you help them develop resiliency and robustness. This make intuitive sense (stronger= less likely to break), and research indeed seems to back this up. But is there more to this equation than just “get them strong”? I am definitely in the camp of keeping training systems simple, and always a bit suspicious about the motives behind making things sound complicated. But as the saying goes; Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler. The early-2000’s brought in the functional training era of Strength and Conditioning, where athlete’s followed a physical therapy model and spent all their time getting ‘functional’ and forgot to get strong. A training program with 20 different exercises, unstable surfaces, cable machines, and focusing really really hard on getting the TA and multifidus firing. Then in the late-2000’s the pendulum swung towards the opposite extreme; lifting heavy weights and getting strong. Training programs had little variety, and focused on the Power lifts and a few sets of plank. This is what most of my physical preparation for hurling looked like when I was in college, along with some Olympic lifts. I focused on the numbers and on how much weight I could shift off the ground, off my chest, pull up, or squat with on my back. I definitely got stronger, but the harder I trained in the gym the more I broke down on the field. The extra strength and size may have been somewhat useful but my balance and coordination was poor, and I wasn’t very explosive....

Physical development of the young athlete: Doing it right Part 3

The first part of this series looked at the importance of providing the young developing body with lots of varied physical inputs, the pitfalls of sedentary living and early sports specialization. The second installment looked at gym training and how moving away from the conventional approach might serve us better in the long run. This third and final part will discuss nutrition; how our physical capacities are inextricably linked with what we eat. We understand that a good diet can reduce the likelihood of developing degenerative cardio-vascular diseases, but do we realize the effect our diets have on our movement? Less Grains, Please. The food we eat affects our organs, and our organs affect our movement. Paul Chek describes this connection in detail in this article: “Most people have little or no understanding of their organs in general, and because of their ignorance of what is inside them, they make diet and lifestyle choices that create stress on their organs and glands that disrupt almost every aspect of their body and mind” The practice of segmentalizing the body into separate pieces may be useful in terms of putting labels on body parts and teaching anatomy, but it has mostly served to diminish our appreciation for the oneness of the human body. Organs talk to and control muscles. Thus, Chek believes that you would be wise to look inward when dealing with chronic problems, describing how he has rehabilitated athletes with chronic muscloskeletal pain that could not be resolved until function was restored to the related glans and organs. The mechanism for this is explained as such: If an organ overheats...

Physical development of the young athlete: Doing it right Part 2

I have been taking a thoughtful look back at my athletic journey, from the day I first lifted a hurling stick as a youngster to the injury mire of recent years. Not-traumatic injuries don’t occur for no reason, so somewhere along the way my physical development was clearly hampered by some inefficient inputs to the system. Tracking back over the years to see what I could have done differently may selfishly help guide me going forward, but might also save others from making similarly perilous decisions themselves. The previous post focused on the need to supplement your sport with lots of fun and varied movement, and the injury-laden consequences of combining a sedentary lifestyle with participation in high-intensity sports.  As you become older and take your sport more seriously, naturally the more committed you are to improving, training harder and for longer. Paradoxically, in my case, that probably expedited my dates with the surgeon as I built strength on top of dysfunction. This brings me to those years between 17 and 23 where I trained the hardest and ploughed on through pain signals that were trying to tell me something, until I finally surpassed the body’s breaking point. If I could turn back the clock, here are some things I would do differently.   Body before Barbell I began to get stuck into weights when I went to College, and was lucky enough to have excellent guidance in the UL Arena. My goal was to improve my hurling by getting strong, and get rid of the crippling low chronic low back pain that had been a constant for years....

Saturday Movement

Here is a little movement session that I did today. Having not trained in a while, the aim of this low-intensity session was to just re-connect with the body and get going again. My current training goals are primarily to get back to pain free movement, working through hip and shoulder issues; so mobility training has been the main focus of my recent efforts. As well as working on the soft core, or inner unit as Paul Chek calls it. I actually spent longer on the Prep part of the session, around 35 mins, working on mobility and control: The squat hip rotations are from Ido Portal’s Squat Clinic. I used 6 adjustable Smart Hurdles for the over-unders, which my hips are really enjoying. Working on range of motion and control. I have been dropping in the Jefferson Curl every now and again to load the spine in flexion. I used a barbell @ 30kg, standing on a plyo box. Great stretch in the hamstrings too. Inspired by Gymnastic Bodies’ Coach Sommers who is a big fan of this movement. I used a broom with a 2.5kg plate in the middle, lying prone on the floor. Rolling Patterns are some of the foundational movements of the FMS corrective system for the soft core, described as a low threshold strategy that depicts asymmetries and deficiencies in a primitive pattern. I focused on not forcing the movement and not letting the lower body contribute to the roll. The Cossack Flow is an FRC movement. It was challenging to keep the movement fluid and really challenged my hip mobility. I chose four bodyweight strengthening/core movements and spent about 25 minutes rotating through them in...

Physical development of the young athlete: Doing it right

If you could turn back the clock and begin your athletic journey again, what would you do differently? This is a question I often ask myself, and the more I learn and experience as a coach in the physical development of young athletes, the more apparent the answer the becomes: a lot. My current journey is one of restoring my body back to pain-free movement after years out of sport with injuries and surgeries, with an increasing appreciation for the complexity of the human body. There is a lot to consider; the nervous system, somatosensory and circulatory system all working together to help restore quality function to the musculoskeletal structures, while resisting the conventional model of compartmentalizing the body into muscles and isolated actions. The body always finds a way to work around restrictions in joints and tissue, until it is eventually unable to positively adapt to the inefficient stressors causing mechanical failure, and pain joins the party. But what causes these compensatory and patterns non-traumatic symptoms in the first place? Why is there a pandemic of hip and knee injuries in the young GAA playing population? You won’t get a straight answer for these questions with a Google search but they are certainly worth investigating, some other time. For now, we can agree that an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure. While I don’t have all the answers on how to get out of pain, taking a look back at my training practices over the years and what was missing, based on what we know now, might shed some light on the matter. If...

What’s the Hot Fuss with Bikram Yoga?

Yoga has always piqued my interest as a potentially useful tool to help unwind years of unyielding stiffness and poor mobility. Although modern yoga is not a complete movement practice, any method of training that has survived for thousands of years and is used by many of the world’s best movers has something going for it in my book. The use of heat for the purpose of improving health is also centuries old, with a strong tradition of Sauna in the Nordic countries and Germany. Rhonda Patrick, a PhD in biomedical science, is a strong proponent of hyperthermic conditioning (sauna) for improved endurance, increasing muscle mass and formation of new brain cells, amongst other things. In this report she cites 37 studies to back up her claims that sauna is good for us. With these things in mind, and with the increasing popularity of Bikram yoga, Sara and I decided to give it a go last week. Of course, it is usually unfair and impossible to judge a particular method after only one attempt. So, this blog is in no way a definitive judgement of Bikram yoga, rather, my thoughts after the first experience. Read on to find out if it was also my last.   The Script As we took our place in 40 degree room, with the instructor standing on her podium at the top of the room, it didn’t take long to realize that the whole session was an ad-verbatim recital of a Bikram yoga script. It turns out that the script is standardized and instructors are told not to deviate from it, which made me feel like we were...