When Do You Stop Assessing?

To piggyback this article off of the previous one, “Is the FMS Accurate for Rotational Athletes,” I’ve been led to the question:  should we just skip the FMS altogether?  Won’t there be things that you miss if you eliminate it?  When do you stop assessing?  Let me answer this quickly: the FMS is great- use it or use a similar screen that works for you, but NEVER stop assessing!  I firmly believe that if you never stop assessing, it doesn’t matter what screen you use.

This does not mean using the FMS weekly, but what it does mean is that you’re always aware and making mental notes on how players move.  I would argue that following this protocol would actually be more beneficial than any screen or formal assessment anyway.  Sure there may be some things initially missed, but each and every workout adds to your assessment.  Observing areas of tightness, weakness, and dysfunctional movement of your athletes is a screen in and of itself.  Obviously the dysfunctional movement pattern has the possibility of changing immediately on the spot (if it’s simply an incorrectly grooved pattern), but it may also be due to tightness/weakness issues.  This is why if an athlete can perform the “screen” correctly even if it means a few coaching cues, I am fine with it….because if the workout is part of your assessment*, you’ll be coaching them anyway!  Not to mention that when they come back to the screen for post-testing, they’ll have been coached on many of these movements already.  If they can perform it correctly, you know that it’s not a tightness/weakness issue, but simply a dysfunctional movement pattern.   Now we just need to reinforce that correct movement every single time.  If that’s the case, make note of it and include it in this player’s corrective work or group work.

*It goes without saying here that we’re being smart and not jumping right into deadlifts or power cleans on the first day.  Even if the screen is informal, stick to bodyweight or light weight workouts.  This shouldn’t be a problem since your season is still half a year away.

Watch players’ foot positions, watch their running form every day (do they get little to no scap involvement?  Do they have a large anterior pelvic tilt?), watch their movement patterns in the weight room, and you are getting more valuable information than one day of just screening.  I am not downplaying the importance of formal assessments- again I am a big proponent of having a plan.  But we all know there is no golden standard, so as long as you’re assessing correctly, you can get the majority of your information from watching the players move, and use this to drive your programming/corrective work.

 

Is the FMS Accurate for Rotational Athletes?

When do you stop assessing, and is the FMS accurate for rotational athletes?

First let me say that I am a huge Gray Cook fan (who in their right strength & conditioning mind isn’t?)  I have also been totally on board with the Functional Movement Screen since I had heard about it years ago.  I’ve taken athletes through screens, helped them with their corrective work, and the theory makes absolute sense that movement issues and asymmetries can lead to a higher possibility of injury.

However what happens when you’re a one-sided rotational athlete and you’ve gone through years and years of swinging/throwing repetition on one side of the body?  You are completely destined to have a bit of an asymmetry- especially (and almost always) on the shoulder mobility test.  The next obvious question then becomes, is it beneficial to correct this asymmetry?  Even if it were, is it even possible to correct with the amount of throwing/hitting they will continually perform almost year-round?

I may be wrong here, but my answer is no it’s not worth correcting.  In fact, I don’t think it’s realistically possible unless you really hammered on it.  And if you did somehow correct it, you may hinder the athletes’ performance anyway.  There is, however, a big difference between correcting and managing.  Correcting may not be possible or desirable, “managing” in this context is still a huge gray area…at least for me.

I was recently inquiring a contact at a great DI college sports performance program about this same issue, and when mentioning opposite side medicine ball throws to help “manage” imbalances, she brought up some valid points.  How much do you do?  For how long and at what intensity?  At what time of the year?  I do not have an in-depth answer to these questions (nor will I in any near future), but I do believe that having some kind of plan is possible and is better than doing nothing.

I recall reading a study that college softball players’ injuries are actually the highest during pre-season training (not in-season).  This does make some sense in that they are really ramping up their practice volume.  More throwing, more swinging, more sprinting, plus all of the other physical (and mental) stress they’re getting in the weight room and in school.  Do their asymmetries become exaggerated a bit more during such an increase of rotating volume?  Even if you haven’t done any opposite side rotating work with your team up to this point, I think this becomes necessary from a cost-benefit standpoint.  In other words, it’s worth taking some time to try to “manage” their asymmetries.  How much volume?  How much intensity?  How often?  Those are yet to be answered, but at least we are being proactive and doing something instead of nothing.  Keep in mind the athletes will still get some training benefit anyway by doing the med ball throws, even if they’re opposite-side throws.  In the recent past I’ve scratched (or really limited) the same-side throws in favor of opposite-side throws during the pre-season phase.

Additionally, the postural restoration institute has some interesting breathing and active stretching resources for baseball players, who of course have the same asymmetries as softball players.  This could be one way to “manage” the asymmetry as well (again, I highly doubt it would correct it, but remember that’s a good thing).  I have messed around with some PRI stuff just for the heck of it, but didn’t measure anything.

Finally, if you’re really ambitious, I suppose one way to see what might work and what might not is data collection.  Get their shoulder mobility measurement (who cares about the score for this comparison, just get the inches between each fist) and see if or how it changes during pre-season, in-season, and during your “management.”  You could even split the team in half for a control group.  Maybe that will be a goal of mine this next year, however there is so much more to learn in this context that again, I’d rather stay proactive instead of just leaving things up to chance.

See my next article of this “two-part-series,” When Do You Stop Assessing?

 

Other Authors’ Articles

This will be a running addition of articles that I think are well worth reading from great coaches:

 

Joel Jamieson- The Paradox of the Strength & Conditioning Professional

http://www.8weeksout.com/2012/07/03/the-paradox-of-the-strength-conditioning-professional/

Summary:  Great article on how vital strength & conditioning is (when done correctly) to keeping athletes healthy and performing well.  Bottom line is that you need to work out at a high intensity, lift heavy weights, and get into Han Selye’s “super compensation” phase.  Now obviously this can be overdone, so we need to be aware of the possibilities of overtraining.  But this is where good program design is so valuable.  If the body isn’t pushed out of its comfort zone, especially through heavy lifting for strength development, it will not adapt to anything.

 

Eric Cressey- Four Must Try Mobility Drills

http://www.schwarzenegger.com/fitness/post/four-must-try-mobility-drills

Summary:  A guest post from Eric Cressey through Arnold Schwarzenegger’s website on the importance of movement quality, mobility and stability.  Not many things bother me more than coaches who say tissue quality isn’t important.  Just because an athlete is extremely strong, has great aerobic capacity, or looks “fit,” doesn’t mean they are at any decreased risk of injury if their tissue quality is compromised (which it often is if we don’t devote time to it).  In fact, they are most likely at an increased risk of injury if they have sub par tissue quality.  While I always devote time to this for our athletes, we’ll devote even more time to tissue quality in-season while backing off the lifting a bit.

 

Joel Jamieson- Sports Injuries- Let’s Stop Blaming the Exercise

http://www.8weeksout.com/2012/08/19/sports-injuries-lets-stop-blaming-the-exercise/

Summary:  Great points on how we need to “fit the athlete to the exercise,” if we’re going to use the exercise.  This point is related to why I am constantly assessing how our players move.  Because of the regular issues softball players have, due to the nature of their sport, we avoid particular heavy overhead movements and Olympic Lifts.  Joel makes a great point in his article, which is that no exercise is inherently “bad,” it all just comes down to where you are willing to spend the most time/resources and what issues your players might have.  Everything has a small risk and a large reward; the point just comes down to maximizing that reward and minimizing the risk with exercise selection, volume, and intensity.  I love his points that WE Strength & Conditioning professionals have to take responsibility.  If players are getting hurt, the point isn’t to blame something, the point is to find out why and do everything under our control to fix it.

Nutrition Questionnaire

In the past, I used to just “tell” our players about health and nutrition.  “Here’s a good healthy snack option, here’s something that’s good to eat after a workout, here’s a handout on vitamin D.”  Honestly, the players who respond to this are the ones who want to get healthier anyway, and the players who don’t really care- or aren’t confident enough to care, are going to respond to this by zoning out or throwing my handouts in the trash.

(once you see three yawns in a row, stop telling them about nutrition)

 

Starting this summer, I’ve tried something different based on some change psychology research and what other successful nutrition coaches are doing.  Lets face it- eating is a habit done so regularly, it’s something most of us do not think much about.  Nor should we!  One of the best ways to counteract the benefits of healthy eating is to worry and stress about every bite.  The most sustainable and healthy way to change is by building better habits.  The only thing that separates myself nutritionally from an athlete who eats one meal a day…of McDonald’s, is our habits.  It’s second nature for me to wake up and eat a good breakfast.  It’s second nature for that athlete to skip breakfast.  It’s second nature for me to prepare a shake if I know I’ll be busy.  It’s second nature for that athlete to surf Facebook until the last minute.  It’s second nature for me to cook veggies with my dinner…you get the picture.  Once people change their habits, the results come on their own (better recovery, body composition, better focus/energy, better sleep, etc.).

So the nutrition theme for me this summer with our athletes is building healthy habits.  Everyone will be at a different spot on the spectrum of “good” nutrition.  An athlete who drinks pop and energy drinks all day will have different habits to change than an athlete who is eating very well and can start to focus on post-workout recovery nutrition.  With that said, how do you figure where each athlete is?  Well one easy way is a questionnaire.  The following are questions that I believe are prioritized on what’s most necessary first.  The first question that the athlete answers “no” to, is the first habit I will have them start working on.

 

1. Do you drink near 100 oz. of water or more each day (a “standard” small Gatorade bottle is 16 oz, so 6-7 of those throughout the day)? YES NO

2. Do you consistently sleep at least 7 hours each night (i.e. not 5, then 9, then 11, then 3)? YES NO

3. Do you eat breakfast every day (or a meal within 30 minutes or so upon waking)? YES NO

4. Do you take a Vitamin D pill daily (or a multivitamin with at least 800 IU of Vitamin D)? YES NO

5. Do you avoid pop and energy drinks, and limit juices, other sugary drinks, and alcohol? YES NO

6. Do you eat a meal immediately after a workout/practice? YES NO

7. Do you eat at least one serving of fruits and/or vegetables with every meal (1 serving = around the size of your fist)? YES NO

8. Do you take a fish oil supplement daily? YES NO

9. Do you eat often enough to sustain your high level of activity (i.e. at least 4 times per day)? YES NO

10. Do you eat a meal within 1-2 hours before a practice/workout? YES NO

11. Do your meals consist of mostly whole foods (i.e. minimally processed whole grains, fruits & vegetables, and minimally processed protein such as meats, nuts, dairy, etc.)? YES NO

*I could probably write a post on each habit’s importance and why I’ve included them, their order, etc., however there is a lot of good research out there and everyone does have their own opinion.  These are what I feel are best throughout my researching, experience, coaching, reading, learning, and unbiased observation.

 

Now how do we start working on these?  As with any type of change, the athlete needs to figure it out on their own.  They need to tell me how they will change.  If I tell them, we are getting nowhere.  If it becomes a lecture or if it’s MY goal and not theirs, the chances that they will change become slim.  I am there as a resource for suggestions and for information that they want to know.  This is where the art of communication is so great to master (which believe me, I still have a long way)!  If I get a read that they don’t think a certain habit is important, I’ll share with them some information in a non-confrontational way or ask them certain questions to lead them to realize the importance of that habit.  If an athlete isn’t even sleeping 7 hours a night, there is no need to talk about getting minimally processed whole foods with every meal, because their biggest window of adaptation for energy/recovery/blood sugar regulation/strength (plus a whole host of other benefits) is sleep.  Change psychology shows us that one thing at a time is hard enough to master when it comes to engrained habits, so unless an athlete is adamant on trying multiple habits, I want them to show me that they’ve nailed down the current one before we move on.

Finally, how do we measure their progress on a particular habit?  Well I’ve got to admit that many of my ideas have stemmed from the company Precision Nutrition (which by the way is one of the best at getting people in shape), and I like using PN’s 90% rule.  I tell each athlete to track via notebook or whatever else, whether they did or didn’t get their habit that day.  If they go 10 days and get the habit on 9 of them, we will move on.  If they go 5 days and have missed twice already, they can start over right then and there and try for another 9 out of 10 days.  If they forget to keep track, or lose interest, hopefully the motivation and pressure to succeed from the leaders on the team (who won’t forget) will keep the others going.  We have weekly goal meetings where players can keep each other accountable.  Additionally, you can bet that the ones who are following your nutrition coaching will get results, and hopefully this helps motivate the others.  Their motivation may be body comp, it may be recovery/energy, it may be sport performance, or it may be to please you (the coach)…but you know what?  I don’t really care what it is, as long as they are succeeding!

Of course, it’s not always this black and white.  If an athlete expresses that they don’t think they can reach 90% on a particular habit, we’ll shoot for 80% or even 70% initially.  Once they can do that, we’ll go for 90%.  Preach small changes at a time, because even little changes are better than no change at all, and they add up in the grand scheme of things.  Remember that everything is relative, and remember that just like you and me, no one is “perfect.”  Perfect depends on each person’s definition and doesn’t exist objectively.  It may be extremely hard for an athlete to get 7 hours of sleep per night not because they are too busy (although that is what they will tell you), but because of their engrained habits.  It might not even cross their mind to spend less than 2 hours per day on Facebook, which is why you need to be there to suggest/inform and get them to figure it out for themselves by telling you their plan of action.  Find their motivation, and run with it!

 

Front Squats or Back Squats for Softball Players?

As has been shown over and over, strength is a big component for decreased risk of injury, a necessary base for power, and optimal sports performance (instead of citing studies here, a quick and easy search will give you study after study showing correlations).  So what better to strengthen the legs and core than squats, right?  Squats are an important foundational movement pattern that can be loaded with a solid amount of weight, but what type of squat is best for softball players?

First off, as I touched on briefly in my post about why I Don’t Olympic Lift with softball Players, shoulder instability issues are common, and some players may not even be symptomatic until later on in their careers.  Shoulder instability (especially scapular) coupled with the abduction and external rotation of the humerus on a back squat grip can be a messy combination for softball players.  This position is very similar to that of bringing a ball back in preparation to throw, and being excessively mobile at the shoulder joint (an acquisition softball players will naturally make over thousands of throws in their career) means much less stability.  As I’ve mentioned before, with all of the great tools in a training toolbox, why go with the ones that have some risk?  There are other ways to load a squat pattern besides a back squat grip.

Additionally, Mike Boyle makes a great point in his functional strength coach DVD on back squats.  What happens when an athlete is lowering themselves, and starts to struggle on the way up?  Inevitably they will try to lift their hips faster than their torso, lean forward and turn it into a variation of a good morning/back squat.

(A good morning with the weight of a heavy back squat = not a good combination for the back)

 

Now, imagine on the other hand that an athlete is holding the bar on the front of the shoulder girdle with a front squat grip.  If they start leaning forward too much as they come out of the hole (like the above picture- a common tendency on heavy back squats- though maybe not that exaggerated), they will simply lose the bar as it drops out in front of them on the ground.  This really forces athletes to keep their chest up and drive backwards, recruiting more of the hips and glutes-  important especially in quad dominant females.  However as I’ve also mentioned previously, I don’t always like placing a heavily loaded bar on the front of a softball player’s shoulder girdle (another reason I don’t do Olympic Lifting with them).  With unilateral lifts, such as step-ups, back foot elevated single leg squats (“Bulgarian”) where the athlete can’t load the bar with too much weight, a front squat grip seems perfectly fine, again assuming the load isn’t bothersome.  But what about heavily loading a squat pattern?  We all know the importance of heavy lifting for strength development.

 

ENTER THE GOBLET SQUAT

We’ve had players goblet squat to a box with up to 90 lb dumbbells, so they can definitely be used for a heavy load particularly when considering variations like slow eccentric lifts and isometric pauses.  Similar to a front squat, if an athlete leans forward too much, they will lose the dumbbell, however I have never really seen this happen.  What’s more likely to happen is that they become forced to “sit back” and use more hip and glute recruitment.

(The dumbbell goblet squat grip = great way to get the benefits of a front squat without placing a bar across the shoulder girdle.  Please keep shirt on when attempting! )

 

After nailing down the goblet squat, several variations can be used (single-leg to a box, back foot elevated, etc.) to progress this and keep the athlete’s squat pattern fine-tuned.  Finally, while this may sound like blasphemy, who says squats are vital to a program anyway?  Sure, a squat pattern is an important thing to keep, but it’s not the end of the world if you’re getting most of your lower body strength work through deadlifts and other hip dominant exercises.

So, to summarize:

–          Use front squats sparingly, or use lighter weight with tougher variations (e.g. single-leg back foot elevated) to alleviate some of the load on the anterior shoulder girdle

–          Use heavy goblet squats for your “heavy squat” exercise

–          Make hip dominant lifts like deadlifts and variations, romanian deadlifts, and goblet box squats your primary bilateral lower body strength exercises, especially with female athletes (who tend to be more quad dominant, which may be part of the explanation of their 4-6 fold increase in ACL tears over males).  Knock on wood, but we haven’t had one ACL tear in my time with the team so far.