Sunday, December 27, 2009

Herb Brooks

If you haven't read anything about Herb Brooks, and you are interested in athletic development, coaching and leadership, you should. I am pretty clueless when it comes to understanding details of the sport of hockey, but I'm just fascinated by Herb and his strategies for producing excellence. Here are three books I recommend to anyone wanting to learn more about him:

The Boys of Winter by Wayne Coffey

Herb Brooks: The Inside Story of a Hockey Mastermind by John Gilbert

America's Coach by Ross Bernstein

And you can find the Herb Brooks Foundation website here.

I am looking forward to chatting up Jack Blatherwick this June at the GAIN Apprentorship and hearing some great Herb stories!

Hard to believe it will be 30 years this February. Where were you when this game was played?

Monday, December 14, 2009

Shoulder Position for the Snatch Grip

For my Crossfit friends who are visual learners.

Poor position

Corrected position

Got it? Now send this post to every affiliate you know and help them see what good positioning looks like.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Big Peeps Need Mobility Too

It is imperative to make the tall athlete mobile and strong. They need to train to move like their more modest-sized teammates; they need to be physically competent and well-rounded in their movement skills/patterns. It is a shame when tall kids get pigeon-holed into certain positions early in their career. They are capable of doing much, much more if given a process-oriented training plan and time to work with their bodies.

BTW, The Thin Man is literally busting out of his school pants and shorts these days. We don't focus on buns, not guns! Chris is up to 207 lbs and giving his older brother, Sean (Notre Dame sophomore rugby player, 6' 6" 230 lbs), a run for his money in the gym. Sean says he's got more than a little training to do back in South Bend before he can come back at Christmas break and hang with Chris.

USC Trojan men's volleyball coach Bill Ferguson will be in town in a few weeks to watch Chris practice. I think he will see a very different athlete from one he worked with this past July at the USA Volleyball camp in Florida.

Thursday, November 26, 2009


I would like to wish everyone a happy and healthy Thanksgiving. Please enjoy this NYTimes article that describes how a young man with cerebral palsy is learning to get his physical health back. Please also see this post by Daniel Coyle of The Talent Code blog, which is how I found the story. The human body is truly wonderful and resilient. And all health care professionals should look to examples like this for insight into the power of movement, time and purposeful practice. This is what physical therapy should be.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

OT: My Vet ER Visit Tonight

I was told my 4 month old kitten, Felix Frankfurter, probably just sprained his R front leg after leaping over the edge of the stairs after his crinkle ball--about an 8 ft drop. Now if you zoom in on either of these images, I think you might see something is amiss. If you spend any time watching the patient, you might think his behavior and your observations of the limb itself support what the image shows.

I have no formal training in radiology and I cannot tell you the anatomy of the feline forefoot. But I kinda know what a human hand/foot looks like; and if my hand/foot looked anything like this, I'm thinking there's something more than a sprain going on here. I was told there is no fracture in the R limb and that I should have Felix checked out in 3-5 days. I then insisted on a splint, paid my bill ($334.60) and made sure I had a copy of the xrays to give to my regular vet tomorrow.

I am definitely NOT returning to this particular animal emergency clinic. And I will always insist upon a copy of any records, images and reports with me upon discharge from an emergency clinic visit.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Straight Arm Pulls with Hexlite Bar

The Hexlite Bar offers a different way to do explosive pulls for those who do not wish to use a straight bar. I have been using this type of pull with my big boys (6'10 and 6'9"). Now, why do you think I would choose to use this particular movement vs. traditional barbell pulls from the floor or from the blocks? I would appreciate constructive commentary and feedback from those out there who use pulls in workouts for athletes who are not competitive weightlifters.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

An Update on The Thin Man

First things first: The Thin Man is finally getting thick! That's right. Chris is now 20 lbs heavier than he was in July, during the height of the boys' club volleyball season. And it definitely shows. He demonstrates increased strength in a variety of movements and he is putting some heat on the ball during volleyball practice with better quality movement and mechanics. And no, we didn't do it by squatting heavy (he never squatted over 155 for 5s) or heavy barbell cleans (blasphemy!), yet he put 20 lbs on his 1 RM squat. We did, however, do a bunch of single leg work and some moderately heavy lifts/jump shrugs with the Hexlite bar.

So, why has Chris finally been able to put on some weight? Well, there are several reasons. First, we are sure the pubertal turbo boosters are firing up. His appetite has increased and he is sweating more in training. Second, he is doing better at consistently eating more during the day and getting post-workout calories. Third and most importantly (in my opinion), he has had time away from volleyball.

From January through July, Chris had basically non-stop volleyball. High-stakes club qualifiers in Jan/Feb and then the high school season March-May (state championship), followed by an insane June club competition schedule leading up to July club national tournament and finally a USA Volleyball Youth Continental Team Camp in Florida. By the end of July, he was physically and emotionally toasted. And he weighed 170-ish lbs.

His 17s club coach and I both strongly advised him to take Aug-October off from structured and unstructured volleyball. No weekend grass tournaments, no open or positional practice gym time. Just sleep, eat, go on family vacation, get the senior year of high school started on the right foot and train with me 2-3x a week. No extra calories were to be burned with sloppy pick-up volleyball. The mind and the body desperately needed a break from any practice or sport training. And Chris listened to us in spite of peer pressure from many around him.

So in 10 weeks, he has refreshed his mind, his legs and that big swinging arm. What is the lesson here? Less is more. Better is more. Chris didn't need to play more volleyball to improve. He needed time away from volleyball to build his body and refresh his love for the game. He needed time to rehearse proper swing mechanics slowly, without the ball (see this post). At 196 lbs, he sees what he is capable of when his frame has the foundation it needs. My goal is to have him at 205 lbs by Thanksgiving and maybe 215 lbs by the time high school season starts in March, but the Jan-Feb club season might hurt us with lots of weekend tournaments and travel to Chicago and California.

And so this formerly awkward, pain-fully thin, 6' 9" middle hitter is slowly but surely transforming himself into a knowledgeable, powerful right-side hitter, capable of getting low and playing defense, even when no one but his 17s coach and I believed he could do it. We knew it would take time, but his dedication to is paying off. Chris has been invited to make official visits to UC-Irvine (reigning NCAA volleyball champions), USC, Hawaii and Pepperdine. Pretty cool for a Missouri boy to be courted by the West Coast power houses. He doesn't yet know where he'll end up, but he is excited to see what he can do over the next 6 months. And he now fully appreciates the importance of rest, recovery and the value being process-oriented.

Pearls of Wisdom from Tommy Kono

For those of you interested in the sport of weightlifting, Columbus Weightlifting recorded a short presentation by Tommy Kono (multiple-time US Olympic and World Champion) last March at The Arnold. I've embedded the second of six videos of the hour-long talk. I highly recommend the entire presentation. The link to the CWLC YouTube channel, and all six of the presentation videos, is here.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Get Psyched for Vancouver with HG and Roy

HG and Roy
were a complete joy to watch on Channel 7 each evening during the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney. This clip is from their show "The Ice Dream" during the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City.

Wisdom from Mini-Phinney

Some good insight from the young Mr. Taylor Phinney. No one can maintain the highest levels of competitive fitness indefinitely. Work smart; pick your battles; listen to your body.

Stairs? What a novel idea!

I find this video fascinating. I make a point of trying to take the stairs whenever possible and am frequently frustrated when almost forced to take an elevator or escalator. It is amazing how stairs are hidden in some buildings, particularly hotels. I have to take an elevator to the second floor? That's ridiculous. And it is amazing how people just step onto the escalator (or moving walkway in an airport) and immediately STOP moving, like their legs have suddenly become inoperable.

I guess I find the stairs to be an opportunity to exert a little effort in my day and celebrate the fact that I have the ability to climb them. There are those around me who cannot and that fact is not lost on me. You know, use it or lose it. Furthermore, taking the stairs is one of those many small daily choices that impacts our health over time.

Give your body small challenges and the right fuel and it will thrive. Think about why you do what you do; how you do what you do. If you don't, one day you might wake up to find you no longer have any choice.

Monday, September 14, 2009

My Sentiments Exactly

With permission, I've copied an excerpt from Greg Everett's article in the September Performance Menu--a publication I highly recommend to any affiliate owners or interested people. I am often asked to teach small group classes at local Crossfit affiliates, and many of you know I struggle with how these lifts are used in certain Crossfit workouts. From my perspective, most people have no business doing these barbell lifts for high reps for time.

If you want to jack your back, shoulders, elbows, wrists or hands up, go for it. If you truly want to learn to do the lifts correctly, you are probably setting yourself (and good technique) back with every poorly executed rep you do. During my classes, I really try to thoughtfully convey my concerns on this matter: These lifts are best done in 1-3 rep sets and in a rested state. The full lifts need to be practiced purposefully and frequently if you wish to do them well. They are complex, full-body movements used to train and develop lower body power. If you want to burn calories or have a high-intensity circuit workout, there are better choices.

Here is what Greg has to say about using the lifts for metabolic conditioning workouts, and I agree with him:

The Lifts within the Training Program

All this talk of mixed skill levels and the importance of
technical proficiency begs the question: How do we
use the Olympic lifts within metabolic conditioning
workouts in a group? The easiest answer is not to. The
reality is that the overwhelming majority of CrossFit
clients will never reach a level of technical proficiency
that makes the lifts’ use within metabolic workouts
a great idea, simply because the proportion of their
training time dedicated to the lifts is minimal.

There are better options for conditioning that won’t
hinder further development of lift technique while still
providing a large metabolic dent—arguably more of
one, in fact. Additionally, dumbbell, sandbag, and
other implement variations of the Olympic lifts can be
used to provide most of the metabolic effects desired
from the lifts—these lifts require far less instruction and
practice to be effective and are distinct enough to
not interfere with technique for the barbell lifts. (It
should be noted that these exercises do not include
the medicine ball clean, because it is hopelessly lame
and has no place in anyone’s training.)

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Volume Trap

A young JB works on his power snatch technique, back in the day.

Vern Gambetta has a great post on quality vs. quantity. For me and my athletes, training isn't an end unto itself. Many coaches, athletes and fitness professionals get caught up in the "more is better" mindset. Don't be fooled by the outliers that survive the volume trap; be cognizant of the many who don't.

Friday, August 21, 2009

It's Electric! The Miles ZX40S

Our new ride. No it's not a hybrid; it is a neighborhood electric vehicle (NEV). 90% fewer parts than a gas-powered vehicle. 45-50 miles per charge. Charges in our garage every night on a 110v/20 amp dedicated, non-GFCI outlet.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Korean National Team Training

For those who have never seen actual weightlifting athletes train, this video by US athlete Alex Lee (62 kg) shows the intent and precision with which the weightlifter moves. It is not about beating the bar with any means possible; it is about mastering movement with the bar. Sure these people are strong and powerful, but they are also masters of technique, body awareness and efficiency. Note their ability to lower the barbell between reps.

Thanks, Alex! (via GoHeavy)


If your barbell EVER looks like this, you FAIL. Learn how to load the bar. Learn how to take care of the equipment in your gym. Get some Hitechplates (the most excellent gray and white plates on the squat racks behind the bar) if you need to train with < 95 lbs from the floor.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Sequence Pic

Katherine Page (69 kg) makes a successful lift in the 2007 American Open.

Friday, August 14, 2009

A System of the Absurd

Charge for wellness checkup blood tests @ St. Lukes Hospital: $1142.20.

Amount written off by hospital as negotiated by Anthem BC/BS: $967.20.
The insurance company pays NOTHING for this service.

Amount patient required to pay: $175

Does any of this make sense? Does $1142.20 represent the true cost of doing the testing for the hospital? What if I had requested to pay cash for the whole thing? Same charge?

BTW, my mom's hospital bill (Des Peres Hospital) for her same-day surgery (rotator cuff repair)--ready--$33,000. Not sure what her insurance is going to cover yet, but she was at the hospital from 8 am to 5 pm, and in actual surgery less than 2 hours. Never admitted to a room, just in and out burger style. The surgeon had 8 similar surgeries on the schedule that day. Bonus!

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

The Boys are Back in Town

I'm psyched. Chris (volleyball, aka The Thin Man) and Ryan (basketball, aka PB&J) are about to begin their senior year of high school, after a very busy and successful summer competition schedule. They know they have a great deal of work to do, but they are ready. It is time to get busy and get beastly!

Monday, July 27, 2009

My Numbers @ 40

I had not been to my primary care physician since becoming vegan in June of 2005, and being that I am now 40, I wanted to get a baseline on my bloodwork to see what the dealio was. Now, I get a lot of shit for being vegan, especially from my friends in the iron game. And I constantly get the "where do you get your protein" question from my professional colleagues. My answer is "from the food I eat." As long as I get enough good quality calories from a variety of food and lift some heavy-ish weights, I keep a pretty consistent lean body mass and a modicum of strength. I am not a high-level athlete in training, so as long as my diet is between 10-20% protein (WHO recommendations), I figure I'm doing ok.

I don't focus on ratios of macronutrients. I do make greens and vegetables the foundation of what I eat--whole foods. I am about 90% gluten-free and do not eat processed grains on a regular basis, with the exception of a nice German Hefeweizen or a Belgian White Ale, or occasional seitan. I avoid dairy and try not to eat too much processed soy; both tend to kick my sinuses in high gear. I do have a weakness for soba and rice noodles, but I consider them a treat and do not eat them too often. Our house is basically vegan, with the exception of some egg whites and The AD's cheese (he is from Wisconsin). And The AD and I do enjoy an occasional sashimi splurge at Wasabi in Clayton. We try to eat well for our health, but we are not curmudgeonly about it; we like to sample and try cusine from all cultures.

I do take a B12/Folic acid supplement from Trader Joes, and am trying to find the DHA/Omega-3 combo I can tolerate I really don't care if it is vegan or not; I just don't want the icky burps.

So here are my numbers (12 hour fast), with the normal ranges in parenthesis. My basic metabolic panel, WBC, hepatic function, diff type, platelets, electrolytes are all normal.

Glucose: 81 mg/dL (74-106)

Cholesterol: 173 mg/dL (<200)

Triglyerides: 90 mg/dL (<150)

HDL: 76 mg/dL (>40)

LDL: 79 mg/dL (<100)

Hemoglobin: 12.8 g/dL (11.8-14.8)

Hematocrit: 37.9% (35.5-44.0)

Sed Rate: 10 mm/h (0-20)

Homocysteine: 6.2 micromol/L (<10.4)

Everything seems pretty good. My total bone density is 1.413 g/cm2, for a T-score of 3.6 and Z-score of 3.9. Normal is a T/Z-score of anything above -1. Bodyfat is somewhere between 15%-19%, with bodyweight anywhere between 140-149 lbs at 5' 8".

My goal is to be healthy and strong, maybe compete at the masters level in cycling, but I'm not gonna let my ego control the workouts. I never want to be beholden to any prescription meds or NSAIDs; and I'm hell bent on preserving my spinal discs and keeping my own hips, knees, shoulders, hair, teeth and eyes.

So there it is. The veg thing seems to be working for me. I still need to work on getting good fatty acids in my diet and keep my exercise frequency/intensity up. Do I think you should be vegan? Nope. I don't give a care what you eat or drink. That's your business. It is simply my hope that you are taking responsibility for your physical health, and that you use whole foods and exercise to promote longevity and health for yourself. And you have fun while doing so.

The Stench of AAU Basketball Gets More Foul By the Year

Check out this article from the NYTimes. I will be so glad when PB&J is out of this racket.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Teaching as a Learning Opportunity

Had the chance to teach a few guys at CF Valley Park yesterday. We worked on basics of the snatch--not even the full lift, mostly partial movements, skill transfer exercises, overhead positioning and the like. I think it was a good session for the guys. All three got a better idea of what it is to really get your legs to move the bar--ground based power via triple extension. This is much different than simply hauling the bar overhead anyhow, something strong guys can do with moderate and sometimes heavy weights; yet they never really learn to move optimally.

For me, it was the opportunity to problem-solve and find new cues to get people to move differently. I had no video for feedback, just verbal cues and demonstration. For the first time, I used the cue "jump." I find this fascinating, because in a previous life, I would have never been open to using this term. I would've considered it heresy; a four-letter word. But in this case, it was a fabulous way of teasing out excessive horizontal hip thrust, and demonstrating that the knee and ankle need to contribute to produce effective vertical force. Gotta love it when your eyes are opened to something different! I have to credit old Coach B for helping me see the value in this verbal cue. Just don't tell him I said that, because he will never let me forget it. ;-)

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The J

My friends know I'm a minimalist when it comes to my own exercise and training. I'm quite happy with a few free weights, some type of pull up apparatus and space in which to move. I have callouses, wear cotton t-shirts and usually have chalk on both by the time I'm finished.

The AD and I tend to train in our home gym; he likes to get on the treadmill and rock out to Queen. Sometimes I get a workout in at CFVP when there is a break in my work schedule there. There I can row, use the rings and throw med balls around--always very cathartic. I also ride my road bike--a lifetime fitness activity I would highly encourage anyone to try.

But the one thing we do not have access to now is a pool. Like road riding, I think swimming is a great lifetime fitness activity for anyone. Water is revitalizing and restorative. But there is no school pool at DeSmet, and the AD refuses to swim at Chaminade, and I don't blame him. They don't take care of the pool and the water/air quality is horrendous. There were many days he had to let the kids out early as they were coughing up lungs during practice. Our hamlet of Creve Coeur does not have a community pool or rec center; and we are not interested in a pool that is a kiddie water park (Maryland Heights). The Center of Clayton is close, but we cannot join since we are not residents; the nearest YMCA is 6 miles away and west of 270. What to do?

Enter the Jewish Community Center in Creve Coeur and the new Staenberg Family Complex! I knew this facility had just been dedicated but it never crossed my mind to check it out until Cindi and I rode our bikes past it last Saturday. We are just 3.5 miles away and now have access to an outdoor 50 m pool and two indoor lap pools! Our membership includes spinning and yoga classes, among many others. There are beautiful, but separate adult/kid locker rooms; and the adult section has a steam room, dry sauna, whirlpool and digital lockers--no keys or locks to deal with!

We had our first swim workout yesterday from 5:45 to 7. No crowds; great whirlpool and sauna afterward. I watched the sun rise from my lane. The AD is giddy to get in the 50 m outdoor pool and get back into swimming. Thank you JCC of STL for a great facility; it is the perfect compliment to our current routines. Our mental and physical health will definitely benefit from your presence in the community.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Simma Down Now!

Reina Sofia (black and white 5 y.o. female) and New Kitteh (9 week old female) in territorial negotiations. What will her name be? She kind of looks like a pointy-eared alien in this picture!

Hexlite: High Handle vs Low Handle Position

As demonstrated by The Thin Man, at 6' 9", wingspan of 6' 10". Teach the big people to get low and play low. It can be done.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Lil and Stan The Man

I had the great honor of meeting and working with Lil and Stan Musial a few years ago. You will not find two more down to earth, wonderful people.

For a few months, I trekked to their modest suburban home twice a week and spent time working with Lil. Stan was usually be around the house and enthusiastically kept us updated on the Cardinal game score that day. Let me tell you, Lil, never afraid to speak her mind, had some great stories about the journey from Donora, PA through a life in major league baseball. And like any good wife, she was quick to let her 24-time All-Star husband know that, at 80, he didn't need to be getting up on the roof anymore to clean the gutters.

Despite being in their early 80s, they still looked forward to making the journey to Florida every February for spring training. They made their children and grandchildren the focus of their time in St. Louis. Their house was a welcoming home, filled with wonderful pictures of Stan with many of the great players of the past, along with the many awards he had received throughout his career.

I could only smile as I parked behind Stan's car with the Cardinal license plate that had "3000" on it. What a thrill to meet one of the best athletes of the 20th century, and to know that he and his wife conducted themselves with dignity and humility in and out of the spotlight of professional sport. They are truly treasures of St. Louis.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


Process or Outcomes Oriented?

Is your training, or your philosophy of training others, process oriented or outcomes oriented? Is the what, why, when, how put into the context of a bigger picture or larger goal? Or do you just attempt to super-size each workout and if you (your client) survive(s), then it is mission accomplished?

People often wonder why progress stalls, performance lags or injuries creep up. Many times, these issue can be traced back to poor planning and a focus on outcomes vs. process. When working with competitive athletes, the athletic development coach must focus on process. It is about comprehensive development, not just getting stronger, bigger or faster as measured by some test. Sport coaches, particularly youth team coaches, and fitness professionals in this country tend to get caught in the outcomes trap. They fail to get the big picture and help the people in their care understand what the big picture is all about.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

My '09 GAIN Experience

Wow, what can I say about Vern Gambetta's 09 GAIN Apprentorship? I went to Ft. Lauderdale on June 19 with no idea of what the next 5 days would bring; I emerged a changed person. I have been super-charged from a personal and a professional standpoint.

For 5 days we (about 35 of us) were immersed in all things related to athletic development--physical assessment, skill acquisition, strength/power, speed/agility, martial arts, shoulder/core issues, rehabilitation of the elite athlete, current concepts in controlling MRSA, and cautionary tales regarding research in sport science. And I probably missed a few other topics. We started at 7 am and finished around 9 pm each day, and then usually retreated to the lobby bar for more discussion. Of course, by the last night, Mick, our Irish futbol performance coach from Abu Dhabi, took charge of the bartending!

There were extraordinary people from all professions involving sport, movement, coaching and physical health: strength coaches, PE teachers, athletic trainers, and physical therapists. I think most of the American participants were seriously impressed with our Australian Institute of Sport friends. These people have got it going on. They know their stuff and they are out in front when it comes to integrating athletic development, sport coaching, rehabilitation and sport science. We have so much to learn from them and their processes.

One of the highlights for me was meeting my blog buddy, Joe P. Joe can interpret the research literature and apply it in the most challenging of settings--the high school. This guy is not afraid to get in the trenches and work his tail off for his kids; he also does a great job of presenting some pretty technical information in a palatable and humorous manner. Bada-bing for tensegrity!

Thank you, Vern, for inviting me to participate in this wonderful, wonderful experience. I will be back next year, with the AD in tow.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Go See Food Inc.

Just watched Food Inc. in a theater less than 3 miles or so from the world headquarters of the multi-national company in the picture below. Interesting there was a cop cruising the end of the exit. The movie will make you think about what you eat, why, where it really comes from, the policies that support it, and who controls it.

It's time for a little blessed unrest.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Milwaukee Rocks

This sign hangs just after the TSA security area in Concourse C of the Milwaukee Airport. The person who got this done deserves a bonus. And you gotta love an airport that sells cheese curds and braunschweiger in the main terminal. Braunschweiger was a staple at my grandparent's house and cheese curds were a staple in the AD's house. I am pretty sure he enjoyed the cheese curds more than I enjoyed the braunschweiger.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Developing the Complete Athlete

Me: "Your dad says you've been bringing the ball up the court."

PB&J: "Yeah. No one wants to guard me. It's kinda fun."

Hell yeah!

I'm sure it is a little intimidating for some 5' 10" dude to see a 6' 10" dude coming down the court with the ball, with skill, at speed. Big dudes don't usually take charge and handle the ball; they usually lumber down the court, trying to keep up with the smaller guys. But my goal, beginning in February 2008 wasn't just to make PB&J a better post player. It was to make him a complete athlete.

Athletic development is more than just increasing a kid's vertical or improving their 40 yd dash. Or at least it should be. It is developing body awareness, mobility and strength that leads to a set of physical competencies that allow the individual to better perform sport skills. We want to develop all-around athletic ability; not pigeon-hole someone into a team sport position, or their height or weight.

When I first started working with PB&J, one of his goals was to improve his vertical jump. Both he and his parents asked me about "jump shoes" and using a Vertimax; I would smile and politely say that those things are not part of the plan. We were going to move, squat, lunge, land, jump, step up, rinse, repeat and do it again and again. His body did not have the foundation it needed to land and jump well; in fact, it had failed him in 2007, as he suffered a tibial avulsion fracture during a game. Even after going through rehab, he still struggled with pain and swelling in his knee; and it was hard for him to dunk, even at 6' 9". I didn't want him anywhere near a Vertimax or those stupid shoes. We had to start from ground zero.

Now, after a year of consistent work, PB&J is reaping the benefits of his work and becoming that well-rounded athlete. Coaches and scouts are taking notice. He is moving well, taking charge on the court--exploring his new ability. And the fun has just begun. His physiological furnace is finally running at full tilt and he now has the fundamental movement skills and infrastructure necessary to take advantage of this critical window in his physical maturation. Ryan can train with more intensity and use a wider variety of strength/power exercises. Because he has been patient and committed--really invested in himself--time is now on his side; he can be much more than a post player.

And the only special shoes he has are a pair of size 16 Adidas weightlifting shoes. We don't need no stinking jump shoes. :-)

Saturday, May 30, 2009

PB&J: Progress

Ryan "PB&J" Pierson is now ranked #26 in the class of 2010 centers, according to ESPN.


May, 2009: Pierson has completely changed his body since his injury a year ago. He is playing with more confidence in the low post and is using his strength to get position on his opponents at both ends of the floor. He is a little mechanical in his low post moves but does have a soft touch around the basket and can finish with either hand. He has a nice stroke on his faceup jumper and consistently hit the 15-17ft jumper as well as his free throws. He has ok lateral movement and must improve his fluidity of his low post moves.

I'm not one who is into the basketball recruiting industry, but it is nice to see that our work (since March 2008) has carried over to his sport skill and play. There is much more work to do, but this is one dedicated kid.

Monday, May 25, 2009

State Champions!

The video below features highlights from the semi-final match against rival SLUH (white jerseys)--we had to beat them for the 3rd time this season to advance to the finals. My camera and computer are set up right behind the SLUH student section (meh). But this game illustrates some of the great play and athleticism at the high school-level in Missouri. And for all you boys out there who still think volleyball is a "girls" sport--put your little faces in front of some of these hits and see what volleyball leather tastes like.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Some Not-So-Random Thoughts

This is for all of my friends who are Crossfit trainers.

If you don't subscribe to it yet, I highly recommend you subscribe to Catalyst Athletics' Performance Menu journal. This month's issue is particularly good as it has three articles (by Greg Everett, Nicki Violetti, and Dutch Lowy) that deal with programming and planning. If you don't have a ticket, this can be your ticket onto the clue bus.

As Greg says, varied training doesn't have to mean random training. No coach creates elite athlete through completely random programming. Really. Trainers should know how to vary the intensity, volume and load for each client in his or her class/training session. Injuries and limitations need to be understood and accounted for.

I cannot tell you guys how many people (trainers and clients) I have given advice to regarding exercise selection, intensity and volume, after they have completely jacked themselves up doing stupid stuff. After they've attempted workouts that are more like stupid human tricks--not worthwhile training.

Your job is to first do no harm. Yeah, I know you aren't a physician, but you should understand that improper dosing of exercise can hurt people. Many people survive, and some even thrive, in spite of what trainers do with them. More is not always better. One workout will not make an athlete, but one workout can certainly break an athlete.

Every day you should know why you are doing what you are doing with your clients. And you should be able to explain why it is appropriate for that person at the time. You need to communicate with your clients and harp on them for feedback, especially if they have an orthopedic issue that could be aggravated by certain movements. No matter what the name of the workout of the day is, it is not 1985, and you should not be Bonnie Tyler holding out for a hero. I don't know about you, but drama is not an integral part of my training sessions. Purposeful movement and effort are. From these foundations, athleticism and fitness follow.

Think about what you do. Educate yourself. Failing to plan is planning to fail. Know your own limits and those of the people who put their trust in you. And remember, varied doesn't have to mean random.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Hexlite In Action

I have been using the Hexlite training bar with all of my athletes. Some people have asked whether or not it is too big or two small for some people. I have not had trouble using it with anyone thus far, although I have not had anyone over 250# use it. The athletes in the above video range in height from 5' 2" to 6' 9". The light-weight, dual-handle design makes it a very versatile and portable training tool for those who need to develop hip-to-feet awareness, and lower extremity mobility and strength.

Sunday, April 12, 2009


The Spartans are playing well! The fellas are coming off a great week, earning the #7 ranking in the ESPN national high school boys volleyball poll. They won the Wheaton Warrenville Tournament, beating the #3 ranked home team, Wheaton Warrenville in two, and then they came back home to beat cross-town Jesuit rival, St. Louis University High (the current #3) in two, just four days later.

Pass well. Serve smart. Maintain momentum. Positive attitude. Teamwork. Keep it up, fellas.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Saturday Hoopla

I put together a few pics and vids from the Women's Final Four festivities today. I was giddy upon meeting the Stanford Tree and seeing Pat Summitt in person. Tara Vanderveer, her staff and team, were very nice to each and every person requesting an autograph. Geno Auriemma waved at us from the team bus. The UConn women are impressive to watch in person. It will be interesting to see how they defend Stanford's Jayne Appel.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Friday Notes

Typing this on my new pink--yes, I said pink--Lenovo S10 netbook. Still getting used to the keyboard, but it is a pretty nifty little machine. Purchased it with upgraded 7200 RPM 320 gb hard drive, bluetooth and 2 gb RAM. Chose the Lenovo because it is the only netbook with an express card slot, which allows me to run Dartfish with one camera. Super, ultra-portable video analysis. The only hiccup is the screen resolution is slightly less than Dartfish likes, but so the full-screen display gets quirky. But the video replay comes out just fine.

Heading down to the Scott Trade Center tomorrow to watch the Final Four women practice. The session is free and open to the public from 11-4. My girl AJ bought me a ticket to the championship game on Tuesday. Should be a fun time!

So did anybody think my April Fools post was funny?

Started working with the Incarnate Word girls basketball team this week. Right now we have 8 young women who are focused on gaining strength, mobility and better movement skills. Our first two sessions have been in a hallway, as the gym is set up for the school auction. The weightroom is quite small and has two selectorized circuit gyms and 5 treadmills, so there very little room to do much in there.

The athletic facilities at IWA (all girls) are in stark contrast to those at DeSmet (all boys). Where there are men, football and baseball, athletic facilities will be a priority, whether the school is co-ed or male only. At IWA, there is no track--there is no home football/soccer field--and there are no home fields; the soccer team uses a park field behind the school. There is a golf course across the street from the school and there are modest subdivisions around the rest of the school, so there is no real room to expand There are several tennis courts, a theater and a dance studio, but that is it. Back in the 1920s, when IWA was founded, there was no reason to have athletic fields for girls, right?

In contrast, the men at DeSmet have purchased several acres of land in the last 10 years for 2 additional grass practice fields, rebuilt the baseball stadium, put in a brand new Field Turf main stadium field and are getting ready to lay a brand new Mondo Track (same one as in Beijing) with a fully automatic timing system . I am gonna say they have invested over $5 million dollars in outdoor athletic facilities since we have been around (1995). Now there is only one gym, no pool (swimming and water polo) and no tennis courts; but most of the 40 or so club and varsity teams have nice digs. Ultimate frisbee and rugby get to play on the same new turf field that football, soccer and lacrosse get to use.


Wednesday, April 01, 2009

The Ultimate Tool for Strength and Health

People often ask me what the secret to my personal fitness and athletic prowess is. I tell them I make good food choices, get enough sleep and train regularly--with free weights, kettlebells, bodyweight exercises and on the bike. However, there is one thing I have recently added to my regimen, and to the programming for my athletes, that is making one hell of a difference.

Creatine? No. Crossfit? No. Rowing? No. Glutamine? No. The Zone Diet? Nada.

It's the Roller Racer.

This is the ultimate tool for lower extremity mobility, core stability and overall work capacity. PB&J, The Thin Man--this is the secret to the success of these athletes on the court. Wanna squat alot? Get your Roller Racer on. Wanna increase your snatch numbers, GS athletes? Roller Racer. I've got an appointment with Cate Imes tomorrow and I guarantee she'll set PRs in Chicago this summer after she incorporates the Roller Racer into her training plan.

At 6' 10" and 235 lbs, PB&J Pierson lacked explosiveness during his junior campaign. After using the Roller Racer this winter, he's put 6 inches on his vertical! The word is out and DI basketball programs throughout the country are clamoring for this kid. His bodyfat is down to 12%, his standing long jump is 10 ft, his mile time is down to 5:05 and he now benches 225 for 25 reps. You can see pics of PB&J below doing Roller Racer Tabata Intervals. They exhaust him, but he knows the effort will pay off in the long run.

The athletic directors of several prominent St. Louis private high schools have inquired about Roller Racers for their football and basketball programs. I have told them all that this would be a tremendous asset to the athletic development of their student athletes.

For me personally, the Roller Racer has been a real eye-opener. At 40, I'm now leaner and more fit than ever. I'm packing a a 27-inch waist, a 12-pack and some serious guns. In fact, several people have approached me to enter the 2010 Arnold IFBB contest.

If you want to take your personal fitness and the development of your athletes to the next level, then you need to invest in the Roller Racer.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Shane: The Not-Thin Man

I had the great pleasure of working with two-time Olympian, Shane Hammond a few weeks ago. He is one of the most humble, affable elite athletes I have ever known. And grocery shopping with Shane is a complete riot.

Shane is built to lift. Maybe 5' 8" and well over 300 lbs, he has the long torso and short femur/tibia combo that are the dream of every weightlifting coach. Both Sage and I have longer femurs than this dude. And he's not just strong; he's also powerful and flexible. Take a gander at the calf musculature and squat positions.

Thin Man Update

Congrats to The Thin Man for making the USVBA Youth Continental Team (alternate for the A2 Team)! He still has much work to do, but has the long-term perspective in his head. Filling out that now 6' 8" frame and creating powerful, coordinated movement in a new playing position has been challenging, especially since the high school season has started. We had put a solid 10 lbs on him, but that melted away with the high school practice schedule. More calories, more calories. He is only a junior, so the hormones will kick in at some point. I am very proud of him for getting in three one-hour lifting sessions each week (before practice), so he can maintain the strength he has gained since last September.

Here is a video of The Thin Man first learning the front squat/push press combo back in November. This is one of the staples in his program, along with bodyweight squats, hex bar deadlifts, single leg squats, multi-directional lunges and step ups. How many 6' 8" dudes have this kind of ankle/hip mobility? Many more could, if given the time and the opportunity to learn. Good foundations are the key to long-term athletic development.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Visions of Eight

If you have never seen or heard of the the movie "Visions of Eight" you are in luck. Some wonderful person appears to have put several segments of the movie, which is seriously out of print, up on YouTube. This is a fantastic documentary of the '72 Olympic Games in Munich, as captured by eight different directors. I have embedded the part on weightlifting, "The Strongest," for you. It was directed by Mai Zetterling, the only female of the eight. Hard core weightlifting fans will recognize the superheavyweights that are featured. Which athlete was a librarian for his day job?

Would love to hear your thoughts and comments. Anyone figure out the gender of the blonde? Anyone able to "duck hop" like the dude at the beginning? I find this segment to be very different from any other sport movies. Simply fascinating and wonderful. If you can score a copy of the whole movie, I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

What does it mean to have an active shoulder?

Danica Rue busts out a 120 jerk at the 2005 National Championships. You don't see her shrugging up, do you? But you can be damn sure her shoulders are "active."
Photo by Bruce Klemens.

The shoulder is a marvelous thing. Designed for maximal mobility for our bipedal, upright selves, it lacks the bony stability of the hip. Thus, it relies on active (muscle, tendon) and passive (ligament, joint capsule) structures around the joint to provide maximal stability with the overhead lifts; there is no ball/socket mechanism to rely upon. For the upper body to receive heavy overhead loads, we need to optimize the shoulder position to support not only the weight, but also put the wrist and the elbow in a strong, safe position. This is especially important in the snatch, with the wide grip.

At a weightlifting meet, you'll hear coaches yell "push" or "reach" to their athletes. The athlete must aggressively resist the downward forces of gravity and barbell to successfully receive the bar and complete the lift. Many people confuse this aggressive "push" with a shrug of the upper trap. Yes, the upper traps are strong, but we do not want to elevate the shoulder girdle and decrease approximation of the scapula on the rib cage; nor do even want to think we can hold that weight up with upper body muscular strength. We receive the bar at arms length, lock the wrist and elbow in a fully extended position, and maximize contact of the scapula with the thorax via serious isometric contraction of scapular stabilizers. The human body supports the overhead load with the greatest area of bony stability possible, and transfers that force over the entire musculoskeletal system.

The "active shoulder" musculature used by competitive weightlifters is the serratus anterior, the rhomboids and the middle traps. These aren't big, sexy muscles, like the upper traps are, so it might be more difficult for some of you to see and appreciate what is happening. But these little guys are the muscles you want to engage when receiving a snatch or jerk. These muscles also help the scapula upwardly rotate, rather than elevate, to give the rotator cuff room and seat the humerus in the glenoid cavity of the scapula.

Think of it as supporting the weight from the bottom of the scapula, not the top. Resisting the downward push of the weight with an isometric hold, not a concentric shrug up. Remember, we are stronger eccentrically and isometrically. The only way a human being can support 2-3x bodyweight overhead is to create a platform of maximal musculoskeletal stability, and that means keeping as much of the scapula as possible on the rib cage.

More on the shoulder and proper overhead positioning later this week.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

My Favorite Signing

A few weeks ago, the papers and sportscasts were all abuzz with what high school football players signed where. In my world, the most important signing had nothing to do with football; it had everything to do with academic excellence, character, determination, duty, honor and country.

Hats off to my friend Charles Gerber on being nominated by and accepted by the United States Military Academy at West Point. And kudos to Jill and Geoff Gerber for bringing up a terrific young man. Let the training for Beast Barracks begin!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Thank You, Mr. Cotter!

If you don't know Steve Cotter, you should. He is a wealth of knowledge and he walks the walk. This Tea Cup Shoulder Mobility Exercise is outstanding for anyone, particularly Crossfitters and weightlifters. Sagittal plane barbell junkies need dynamic mobility work like this.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

My Great Weekend

Thanks to Mike Manning and all of the people at Harbor City Crossfit in Melbourne, FL for a fantastic weekend of learning and fun.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

This Dude Gets Around

This is a cool time-lapse video of a 9 month old interacting with his environment. Pretty mobile for a non-ambulatory organism. And just dang fascinating to watch a tiny human build the foundations of physical strength and health.

(via BoingBoing)

Friday, January 23, 2009

The 2009 GAIN Apprentorship

I am looking forward to participating in the 2009 GAIN Apprentorship. This is a tremendous opportunity to interact with and learn from some of the best in the field of athletic development. I first heard Vern Gambetta speak in 1998. He has had a profound impact on my development as a physical therapist, coach and an athletic development professional.

I highly recommend this unique professional development opportunity. And I'm psyched that I'll finally meet Joe P. in person!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Werner Gunthor: One Powerful Dude

For The Thin Man (hey, it's in French), The Ab God, PB&J, The Big Red Machine and all my Crossfit Vally Park friends. One of my all-time favorites, the Werner Gunthor training video, is on YouTube. The graphics, music and hair are awesome; the content is priceless. Get strong, but make sure you learn to effectively apply it. The devil is in the details. Check out this segment (part 2). The best part starts at about 5 minutes in. Make sure you click through and watch the other three parts as you have time.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Is there OTW to pull?

Tastes great or less filling? Shimano or Campy? Mac or PC? iPhone or Crackberry? Kirk or Picard? Teach the double knee bend or not? As long at there are humans, there will be debates. And some people just get really fired up over certain issues. It's okay, as long as things are kept civil and the discussion is about the facts and doesn't degenerate into value judgements, personal attacks or whining.

Is there a one true way (OTW) to lift a barbell off the ground? Probably not. When human biomechanics and sport technique are involved there will always be some freak who defies conventional wisdom. Are there some best practices? Most people would probably say yes. Are there different approaches that are effectively used by various coaches and athletes? Yes.

For those interested in the particulars (especially pulling styles) of the quick lifts and the power lifts, let me suggest you peruse Dr. John Garhammer's web page of selected publications. In particular, his chapter five in Biomechanics of Sport is quite informative. You can download it in PDF form here.
Garhammer, J. "Weight Lifting & Training" (Chapter 5, pp.169-211). In: Biomechanics of Sport (C.L. Vaughan, ed.), CRC Publishers, Inc., Boca Raton, FL., 1989.
I think most people will find Dr. Garhammer's discussion of the mechanics of elite deadlifters and elite weightlifters quite interesting.

Personally, I think it is quite reasonable to think that a clean/snatch requires a different pulling style from a deadlift. They are very different movements with very different requirements with regard to bar height, velocity, acceleration and power output. It's like comparing hurdles vs high jump.

The weightlifter interacts with the barbell in a much more complex way than the powerlifter, moving the barbell a greater distance over a shorter amount of time. Weightlifters have to actually move their bodies around the barbell, while powerlifters do not. The complexity of the movement is not only reflected in the bar trajectory, it is also reflected in CoP (center of pressure) measurements of the foot during snatches and cleans.

While it would nice to be 100% efficient and have a purely vertical bar path, humans are humans and not pulleys. Humans are not world-beaters in mechanical efficiency of any activity. Thus, we see horizontal movement in bar path analysis of elite weightlifters. Most researchers have shown there are roughly 3-8 cm of horizontal displacement in the barbell trajectories of successful lifters. And there are even categories of bar trajectories. Tommy Kono has a very nice discussion of the various S-shaped barbell paths in his book.

We also see that most weightlifting athletes start with the barbell over the metatarsals, so the barbell can sweep in toward the body as it passes the knees to the mid-thigh (clean) or upper thigh/crotch level (snatch). While we want to keep the barbell close throughout the lift, it appears to be most effective for the weightlifter to start with the bar slightly in front of the lifter, rather than start with it close like the powerlifter.

Many times, if the lifter starts with the barbell too close the body (crowds the bar), the barbell has nowhere to go but forward, and the athlete ends up having to jump forward (see below). If the athlete is going to jump anywhere, backward is usually more reliable than forward. The athlete on the L missed; the athlete on the R did not. Most weightlifting coaches would say the athlete on the L started with the bar too close.

This starting position (bar over the metatarsals) also allows the weightlifter to use their knee and hip extensors effectively to push the weight off the platform during the first pull vs. pull the barbell off with a more hip/back dominant strategy.

So that's my take on the subject. Read the Garhammer chapter and some of his other published work, and see what you think. Is it reasonable to think the weightlifting and powerlifting pulling styles might be different, given the demands of the lifts and given the analyses of past and current elite lifters? Is there good reason for weightlifting coaches to teach pulling the way their do?

For those of you who haven't seen V-scope data of lifts before, below is the data from the best snatch and clean by Natalie Woolfolk (94 kg and Am Record 118 kg @ 63 kg bw) and Kendrick Farris (155 kg and 190 kg @ 85 kg bw) from the 2006 National Championships. Although you cannot see where the barbell starts in relation to the foot, you can see the horizontal movement in the bar path that is typical of elite lifters, and these are two of the best in this country.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

For Weightlifting Geeks

For those of you who enjoyed the January 5 post, here is the full lift by Jake Johnson, from two views. What do you notice about the lifter's starting position? Where is the barbell in relation to his foot? What happens as the barbell comes off the floor?

P.S. See Jon, he receives the bar below parallel. That's what you have to do to lift weights greater than double-bodyweight.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

From the Way, Way-Back Machine

If you ever need cassette tapes converted to MP3 files, Reclaim Media does a great job.

And remember, you might not score a bunch a points every night, but you can always play good defense, fight for rebounds and make your free throws. Hard work and sound fundamentals will eventually pay off.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Alert: For Weightlifting Geeks Only

When a weightlifting coach talks about "pulling under" or "shrugging down" against the bar, this is what s/he is talking about. Not a skill many other athletes need to learn, but one of the most important skills for the competitive weightlifter. Note the feet remain in contact with the platform as the barbell continues to move upward and the athlete begins to move down. This particular lift was a successful 155 kg clean and jerk by Jake Johnson (69 kg) at the 2007 National Junior Championships.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

PB&J Pierson

Congrats to PB&J on being one of the ten athletes selected to the All-Tournament Team for the 16-team Meramec Tournament. He had four consistent games, leading his team in scoring 3 of the 4 games.

Saturday, January 03, 2009


Amazing. There is an article from the AP in today's Post-Dispatch that says the digital television coupon plan may run out of money. $1.34 billion was allocated by Congress to subsidize the national transition from analog to digital television. Some consumers may not get their two $40 coupons. Tragedy of tragedies.

Let's see. We can find $1.38 billion and hours and hours of voluntary informative programming from local and national affiliates carefully explaining to us that we will miss Dancing with the Stars if we don't have the right television or television service. I find it absolutely obscene and indicative of our screwed up national priorities. Do you really think any American has trouble funding their television habits?

Imagine we made the same type of national effort to address some of the truly important aspects of national infrastructure, like public health. How about some government-sponsored coupons to subsidize joining the Y or having a session with a dietitian to learn how to eat better? How about infomercials about your local public health department and what low-cost or free health care services you can receive, regardless of income?

In my opinion, this whole digital tv thing is reflective of our society and our screwed up priorities. We choose not to invest in the important aspects of our national infrastructure. We make sure you can watch TV.

Thursday, January 01, 2009