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What Makes an Elite Athlete?

A great athlete is more than just the sum of their attributes. A great athlete brings something beyond the average. Sport Science Lab (SSL) is in the business of making great athletes. We work on the necessary physical aspects: balance, control, flexibility, coordination, stability, rhythm. SSL also trains the mental aspects of athleticism: determination, power, and acuity. There are athletes that come along with that special something they were perhaps born with, ie genetics. But with SSL, you can reach that rarefied air where you have the chance to take that step to greatness.

Balance is vital, and a starting point for SSL. It means having proper range of motion in the key joints: toes, ankles, knees, hips, shoulders and wrists. Having good balance also means you have the proper ratio of flexibility between the hamstring, opposing quadriceps and supporting groin muscle groups. Imbalances in this area are critical, and will lead to injury, and falling short of the higher levels of athletic accomplishments. This is why SSL spends so much time remediating imbalances: without improving weaknesses, you cannot reach greatness.

Control of your body, muscles, and joints...all of this is achieved through the neuromuscular system. Neuromuscular control is body-wide, and leads not only to greater ability, but greater ability to replicate sport-specific movement. It allows you to control your extremities in all ranges of motion, on multiple planes while still reacting to ever changing surroundings. This must be trained. Martial arts provide an example, beginning slowly, imprinting the proper biomechanical movements, and increasing speed and repetitions constantly, allowing the nervous system, mind, and body to work at ever-greater levels. Without this connection from the brain to the body, the athlete cannot excel.

Related to neuromuscular control is hand-eye coordination, as well as hand-foot coordination. This connection between the hands, feet and body allows athletes to do things that seem unearthly to the untrained. With Sport Science Lab's NIS protocols, this level of coordination becomes accessible.

A final expression of neuromuscular control in great athletes is rhythm and timing. This ability to know when to fire those coordinated muscle groups, based on experience, imprinting, proprioception and awareness of the world around you is often the final differentiator between a good athlete and a great athlete.

Flexibility does not mean simply reaching the greatest range of motion possible, but the most appropriate range for the specific task your body is assigned to. Too much flexibility is as bad as too little flexibility, and can lead to instability and injury in and of itself. A great athlete has proper range of motion and cannot stay on the field if you are hurt.

While the system is firing it must have a core of steel. The limbs of a great athlete radiate from a core trained to maintain posture and stability, allowing the muscles of the arms and legs to fire fast and accurately. Without this stability an athlete simply cannot move at the same rate of speed, and, improperly trained, can leave themselves open to the most debilitating injuries. SSL trains the muscles along the spine and hips to provide an integrated, rock-solid core.

A final characteristic is muscular balance. An imbalanced body, with muscle groups improperly dominant, cannot engage in sport-specific movements at maximum speed and force. Proper muscle balance allows for the proper sequential firing and relaxing of the agonist, synergist and antagonist muscles involved in athletic movement, and thus a proper and maximal generation of force and speed. This allows the athlete to perform complex actions longer, faster, and more powerfully.

Training these physical abilities with an awareness of their mental processes allows the athlete to hone and train their mind as they sharpen their body. The increasingly challenging nature of the methodology attacks the athlete's weakest points, creating mental power, and constantly challenges the mind to react faster and more accurately to stimuli. The accomplishment of gradually more difficult goals gives a positive mental framework allowing the athlete to respond to difficult situations with a will to win. All of this combines to make a determined, winning athlete able to reach those highest levels of achievement. This is what makes an athlete great. This is what Sport Science Lab does—helping you achieve what you never thought possible. 
The Early years – The Forgotten Years

In recent years the importance of fundamental movement skills has been a focus of coach education and coaching practice. Indeed most coaches especially at age grade level are aware of the importance of developing a) a greater competence in the basic fundamental skills such as in Locomotion (running, jumping, landing and changing direction…. for example), Coordination (moving efficiently, falling, turning and twisting), Manipulation (striking, throwing, catching and kicking) and finally Awareness (perception of distance, boundaries and opponents on the field of play).
However, long before the child is able to develop these fundamental skills or at least has the capacity to do so, he or she has to have travelled through the reflexive and rudimentary phase of development. Here in this blog we look at what reflexive and rudimentary phases are and what movement skills are associated with these two key developmental phases that occur from infancy through to early childhood. Firstly, we look at a key concept that is development milestones.   

Developmental Milestones

A developmental milestone is a skill that is mastered or acquired by a child within a specific period of time. For example, one landmark developmental milestone is learning to walk. Most children learn this skill or developmental milestone between the ages of 9 and 15 months. This landmark milestone occurs as the end point of the Reflexive stage of development and marks the entry into the Rudimentary stage of development. 

Milestones develop in a sequential manner. By this we mean that a child will need to develop some skills before he or she can develop new skills. For example, a child must first learn to crawl and to pull up to a standing position before they are able to walk. Each milestone that a child acquires builds on the last milestone developed. Note that the proper balance of both the tonic and phasic systems are crucial in ensuring that the child can walk (refer to Page et al 2010, p 40-41 for a more detailed description of the importance of tonic and phasic muscular systems in the development of the normal gait or walking pattern).

As previously noted, each child is an individual and may meet developmental milestones a little earlier or later than his peers. However, there are definitely blocks of time when most children will meet a milestone. For example, children learn to walk anytime between 9 and 15 months of age. So, if a child is 13 months of age and not yet walking, there is no need to worry if he or she is crawling and pulling to a stand. The child has acquired the skills needed to learn to walk and may begin walking soon.  

Reflexive Phase of Development 
The Reflexive phase or stage occurs from birth to about 1 year of age. Some of the crucial gross motor skill development milestones in this stage include:

§  Lifting the head
§  Moving the head side to side  
§  Rolling the body (between 8-10 weeks)  
§  Creeping on the stomach (between 6-9 months)  
§  Crawling (between 7-12 months)

It is from these instinctive patterns of movement that we express ourselves in our very early years. We go on to refine these basic patterns. They are the foundation from which the later Fundamental Movement Skills and indeed all sport skills are developed. Without these basic patterns, we could not move.

While Figure 7 visually describes other various and typical milestones that occur within the first year of life, the 5 basic patterns are at the core of all these milestones. 

Figure 7. The key milestones of the Reflexive Phase or Stage of Development (from Gallaghue and Donnelly 2004). The sequential development of these patterns of movement is summarised in 5 distinct patterns and outlined below

Ironically as sport coaches both at amateur and indeed professional level we are actually returning back to this early stage when preparing the physical movement and fitness development programme some of our adult athletes and players. Imagine, many of our top athletes and team players actually roll, creep and crawl as exercises to help them perform better.

Further, several researchers and movement therapists are now returning to both Reflexive and Rudimentary movements to address restrictions or in movement and sport skill development issues later in life. An interesting study by Davis and colleagues in 1998 showed that a baby’s (4-6 months old) sleep position (whether they sleep on their side and back or their tummies) resulted in a difference in the rate of attaining key developmental milestones (Davis et al 1998). For example, the Rolling milestone was achieved earlier in those sleeping on their tummies. This is a controversial area as sleeping on the tummy is not advocated by medical and paediatric practitioners. However, the key point is that ‘tummy time’ is very important for a baby and the amount of time that the baby gets in this position is related, according to Davis and colleagues, to their rate of milestone attainment. Tummy time for the child can be gained in a safe environment on the tummy of a parent during the day-time.

Figure 8. According to a study by Davis
et al 1998, babies who lie prone (on their tummies) achieve key milestones earlier than babies who spend most of their
time supine (on their backs)

The key milestones as outlined below are associated with the Reflexive phase (from birth up to standing or about 12-15 months of age) and the start of the Rudimentary phase of development. The developmental sequence is the tendency for an orderly and predictable sequence of motor and movement control (Gallaghue and Donnelly 2004). Developmental sequence during the Reflexive and Rudimentary stages can be summarised as follows:  

§  Cephalocaudal or ‘Head to Toe’ development. The head develops first and then development moves down the body to the feet 
§  Proximodistal or ‘Trunk to Extremities’ development. This refers to the progression in development of the trunk or centre of the child’s body first with control over the wrist, hand and fingers occurring later

Further the movement patterns that are honed and expanded during the Reflexive and later Rudimentary phases should result in efficient, organised and rhythmical patterns of movement. Remember these patterns all stem from the integration of both tonic and phasic systems (Page et al 2010, p 40-41). The patterns are now summarised as follows:
1.    Opening and closing (a.k.a. ‘Core to Distal pattern’ or ‘Trunk to Extremities’). This pattern is the action of opening and closing the limbs of the body.  Think of a Starfish for this action
2.    Tucking and Stretching (a.k.a. ‘Spinal pattern’ or ‘Flexion and Extension’). This pattern is one of curling up and then straightening out. Think of a Cat curling up and then stretching and arching out it’s back for this action
3.    Upper and Lower (a.k.a. ‘Homologous pattern’ or ‘Separation of upper body from lower body’). This pattern is a symmetrical action with both arms working together and both legs working together as when a child learns to push and pull. Think of a Frog moving for this action
4.    Same-side movement (a.k.a. ‘Homolateral pattern’ or ’one-sided movement’). This pattern is one where the arm and leg on the same side do the same action. Think of Spiderman for this action 

5.    Alternating movement (a.k.a. ‘Cross lateral pattern’ or ‘alternating cross body movement’). The pattern is now a complex one where the baby will connect all the preceding patterns and results in actions such as creeping on all fours. This pattern is fundamental to many movements we see in sports and recreation, such as upright walking, climbing, marching, skipping and running. Think of a Lion or a Sprinter for this action

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Q&A With Al Vermeil

By Guest Blogger Al Vermeil

Al Vermeil is the only strength coach to have World Championship rings from both the NFL and the NBA. He is also the only strength coach who has been in the NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball.Al was honored by being one of the initial inductees to the Strength Coaches Hall of Fame in June 2003.His knowledge and implementation of new techniques and training methods have made  Vermeil’s programs highly visible and respected throughout the sports world. He has developed successful training programs in wide variety of sports including football, basketball, baseball and golf.

1)    How did you get your start?

I started lifting weights in 1960 as a freshman in high school. I lifted all through high school, college, junior college. When I started coaching, the first job I had as an assistant football coach, a guy asked me to run the off-season program because I had done strength training and conditioning. So that’s exactly how I got started.

 2)  Why did you decide to get into strength & conditioning?

Why I got started in to it. And then, when I was coaching high school as a head coach in Merryl high school in Hayward California then coach Walsh called and offered me the job at the 49ers and I had known coach Walsh through my brother Dick I had several other coaching offers to stay coaching football, coaching defence for several schools, but I went into strength and conditioning.

3) What’s your coaching philosophy?

My approach to coaching is that you’re never so good that you can’t get better and you keep learning. So in terms of coaching, I approach it like a football coach, where we went to coaching clinics all the time, so when I became a strength coach and even before that, when I was at Merryl high school, we flew guys in to learn from and Don Chu was right up a Cal State Hayward right above me, so I had someone there that led me to a lot of people so then when I went to the 49ers I did the same thing and at the Bulls we brought in people. So in terms of my philosophy is that you keep learning, and in terms of strength and conditioning, I don’t like to call it strength and conditioning, Its strength enhancement performance/ off-season conditioning, is if you train slow you’ll be slow, explosive power is the single most important thing in sports because you never quite use your absolute speed as much, so I think explosive power is the most important explosive strength and that’s achieved by squats, pulls, presses, Olympic lifts, medicine ball throws and then the short jumps and then sprinting. My opinion in watching American programmes today, they don’t do enough agility work and they don’t do enough sprinting. So I think you have to have all that in your program. Early on you’re working on strength and power then you don’t do quite as much sprinting, but you have some speed work all the time

4) What are the positives of being a Strength and Conditioning Coach/Trainer? 

I don’t consider myself to be a trainer. A trainer to me is not a coach, I am a coach. It means I can coach sports, I coach track and field Also when I was in high school. I coach sprinters and throwers. I think when you’re a strength and conditioning coach, anytime when you’re in a position of leadership, you must project a positive image, you must try to get people to reach beyond what they think they are capable of and you have to put demands on them, some people can handle those demands, and some cant. And I think coaching in sports and especially in the high school level is more about getting these kids to make the right decisions and some kids don’t want to pay that price. But I think in life there are achievers, and there are the underachievers and I always set my program for the achievers. It didn't matter about their ability, but they are people that are willing to pay a price

5) What are the negatives? 

No matter what coaching staff you’re on, you’re always going to kind of be the low man on the totem pole. I was fortunate enough, with the Bulls, through my association with Jerry Crokes and Jerry Reinstar to have a more, I would say, elevated position in the organization. When you’re the first guy in basketball Strength and Conditioning you always had the thing about you’re going to ruin the shot and do bad. So you go through those transitional periods, it can be difficult. But a negative experience could lead to making you a better coach so that’s my point.

6) What are some of the common mistakes that you see athletes make with regards to training?  

They spend too much time doing the ‘fluff’, you read this is a secret training for this or now we got a kettlebell like that’s a secret. There are no secrets, just stay to the basics. If you want to run fast and move fast then you have to do that, you’ll have to put force into the ground quickly and get it out of the ground quickly. Again, that takes strength, explosive power and some elasticity and obviously genetics play a huge role in it. You have to understand what the athlete can and can’t do. At a younger age you can influence things more but once you get a 23/24 year old athlete that has trained a certain way, they have so many traces on their nervous system that you can only train what they can do, especially if it’s the wrong traces. So you can’t make an apple an orange so to speak.

7)    Do you work with athletes with diet and nutrition? If so, what do you recommend?  

Yeah we worked with diet and nutrition, I’m not a great expert on nutrition and diet. I just think eat good basic food and take the proper supplements, I believe in the amino acids before a workout, protein and carbs after. At the Bulls we had a nutritionist that worked with our athletes but again, once you get an athlete that has a certain kind of diet it’s very difficult to change

8) Who are some of your mentors in the strength training field and in life? 

Some of my mentors in strength and conditioning? Well there is too many to mention but my family would be the biggest mentors and then the gentleman who thought me how to lift weights coach Bill Wood. Then Don Chu and I have been friends for almost forty years and Charlie Francais, the great sprint coach. People like Carmelo Bosco, I mean there are so many it would be unfair I’m sure I would forget some.

9)    Greatest achievements as a trainer: 

Greatest achievement again as a coach, I’m not a trainer. Achievements of a strength and conditioning coach are based on the athletes you coach, so if you’re fortunate enough to be blessed then you’re going to have some success and I was a successful High School coach. We won 3 Varsity championships and 9 championships at all 3 levels in 6 years. I was with the 49ers and we won the world championship in 1982 and then I was with the Bulls and we won 6 world championships. So all those are what I guess you would call achievements but again, it’s based on the people you coach. You’re only as good as the athletes you’re coaching and that’s one thing that really gets to me when I see all of these guys taking credit for someone. The people who should take credit for them is there mother and father for producing good athletes because it’s genetic.

10) What are some books that you recommend for athletes?

Anything written by Charlie Francais, Carmelo Bosco, Sitorski’s book I think “the principles in strength and conditioning”. There is many other books out there, so many that I’ve read but those three people, Fracais, Bosco and Sitorski.

11) If you could give one bit of advice to someone just getting into strength & conditioning, what would it be? 

It would be to realise there are no secrets and there is no magic exercise, or magic programmes. It’s a progress and a proper progression. You realise you’re going to learn something all the time, and you’re never so good you can’t get better. And if the information that you’re going to learn from people make sure it’s someone who’s played, who has been in the arena and understands it. Today in the United States we’re doing a lot of what’s called ‘safe training’, don’t do this or don’t do that but then they don’t look at the sport the athlete is exposed to. And if you've got an athlete that can’t squat then he shouldn't be playing sports. If your body can’t handle to do a normal back squat at one and a half times your body weight or a front squat of 85% of  your back squat for a couple of reps, then your body is not ready to support those loads. So when you have impacts your body is going to have a bigger chance of getting hurt and I believe in the free bar, Olympic lifts, all the basics. I think that’s the biggest thing, cover the basics and there is nothing new out there, the only thing new was what they haven’t learned already.

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Raw Strength Or No Strength

By Guest Blogger Brandon Richey

How many times have you been to a gym or in a weight room only to witness a trainee using straps before they lift on nearly every single exercise they do? In addition to this what about seeing them strut around the weight room with a weighted belt on only to pick up the curl bar for a quick bicep pump?
This is a very common theme in todays so called modern era of fitness and its a problem that I want to take the time to address today! After all, I dont believe in using crutches if one is able to walk just fine with the effort of their own legs.

Get Rid Of The Crutches
You see the issue is that too many times trainees see the gym gearand automatically think they need to suit up to look cool. I dont know for sure but I think the whole looking coolelement may play a part in why certain gym goers believe they should use some form of equipment for every lift they perform. I guess it gives them a sense of gym fashion, or they just want to come across as some sort of gym Batman or something of the sort with all the latest gadgetry.
Additionally at some point along their gym journey they have been led to believe that having that weighted belt, that new pair of gloves, and those very noticeable wrist straps are necessary for any amount of heavylifting.
This is something that has gotten way out of hand. I mean lets look at each piece of gear that I have described here and evaluate the needin terms of  its practical use.

The Weight Belt:
To me this is the biggest crutch and false sense of security that exists within the fitness equipment market. Now dont get me wrong if you are a powerlifter, or competing strongman hoisting a truck load of weight around by squatting or moving some seriously large object then you are not the person Im addressing in this post.
However, if you are are continuously wearing a weighted belt to perform every working set of your deadlift, squat, and press then you are using the weighted belt simply as a crutch and in my opinion hurting yourself more than you are helping.
Any experienced lifter knows that the point of the weight belt is to help the lifter to create a tremendous amount of intrathoracic pressure by pushing, or distending the abdominal wall into the weighted belt upon fighting against the resistance of the heavy lift. However, intrathoracic pressure can be created by steadily practicing the lifting of heavier and heavier loads over time particularly with major total body lifts such as the squat, deadlift, and bench press.
At one time the worlds strongest man, and arguably the strongest man to ever step foot on the planet, Paul Anderson never used a weight belt and could squat as much as 900 lbs. for 10 rep sets! Again I know this is the most extreme example, but the point is that the body can adapt and create its own stability without the need of a belt.

Lifting Straps:
Like the weighted belt I do believe that weight lifting straps do serve a purpose when it comes to lifting heavy weight, but so does having a solid level of grip strength!
There have been too many instances where Ive seen young lifters over the years jump at the chance of wrapping up prior to pulling a bar off the ground for either a clean or at an attempt at a deadlift. I mean its automatic. There is just simply no attempt without the straps! Ive even seen young trainees strap up to do pull ups for crying out loud.
This is something that I dont allow with my own students unless the weight is truly getting into their heaviest lifting percentages. Outside of that the straps are another crutch. Allow the grip to become stronger without depending on the straps to help you lift the weight and youll be a lot better off in my book.
In addition to practicing major lifts without the use of straps in order to increase grip strength another way is to just practice gripping, holding, and lifting various objects off the ground just for the sake of gripping. For instance, you can pick up dumbbells (from the end) with one hand, hang from a bar, grip a medicine ball, or just practice lifting stones up off the ground as Im showing here below.

Learning to utilize your grip for picking up various objects and for active holding in different scenarios will radically increase your grip strength over the course of a relatively short period of time. Once again Im not an anti-strap guy, but Im definitely pointing out that the gear is widely overused at times.

Lifting Gloves:
I said that I was going to address the need of these lifting accessories and as far as gloves there is no need unless youre lifting something that will burn your hands like a lava rock. Aside from that I have nothing left to say here.
The point to all of this is that you need to just use your body by training your raw strength or youre just going to become more and more dependent on other things. Its raw strength or no strength my friend.

The Takeaway:

I understand that there are certain accessories involved not only in lifting, but for performance as well. I mean aside from the straps and weight belts you have supplements to factor into the equation as well. There are uses for these types of items, but the problem is that in my opinion society tends to venture towards overblowing and overusing things to a large degree.

I mean with the rapid availability of information and people being able to order goods at the click of a button many times more of that seems to get done rather than any amount of true blood, sweat, and tears. The bottom line is that when it boils down to it youve just got to forget about all the bells and whistles and just flat out get to work!

I hope you enjoyed my post today on The Strength And Conditioning Blog. I appreciate them allowing me to tee off on this little pet peeve of mine. If you want to learn more about my methods and how to apply sound strength, fitness, and athletic performance strategies to your own program then make sure you subscribe to my list here for Free!

Remember that almost anyone can train hard, but only the best train smart my friend. Start your smart training here today. 

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Introduction to “Training”

By Guest Blogger Rob Anderson

My previous article addressed the importance of the initial “FUNdamentals” stage of Long-term athlete development according to Balyi (2001). This article looks to continue in the process of athlete development with a particular focus on the subsequent stage of introducing “Training” comprised of 2 stages.

Early Specialisation
Late Specialisation
     1.      Training to train
     2.      Training to compete
     3.      Training to win
     4.      Retirement/retainment
1.      FUNdamental
2.      Training to train
3.      Training to compete
4.      Training to win
5.      Retirement/retainment
Taken from Balyi (2001)

The Canadian Sport for Life website provides an updated version of Balyi’s initial model of athletic development. Within this updated model seen below, there is an additional component sandwiched between the “FUNdamentals” and “Training to Train.” This new addition has been titled “Learning to Train.”

The “Learning to Train” stage has been highlighted as belonging to the biological ages 8 to 11 for females and 9-12 years for males. It is worth noting the beginning of a divergence here between genders. In the previous “FUNdamentals” stage there had been no gender specific guidelines. Gender specific differences in the rate of maturation begin to become influential in this stage of development. This is due to the earlier onset of peak height velocity (PHV) at around 12 years in females and around 14 years in males (Malina et al., 2004). PHV, commonly referred to as a “growth spurt” is an important factor in the maturation process. Increase in height is in itself a method of monitoring the maturation process, many researchers have selected to segment maturation into pre-PHV, PHV and years post-PHV, with periods of maturation of specific biological systems occurring during each (Lloyd and Oliver, 2012). For example, the “Learning to Train” stage would be considered to occur during years pre-PHV, with the neural system still maturing and developing prior to puberty. Therefore, this period of time during which the neural systems are developing provides an ideal opportunity to cement the good motor skills learned in the previous stage of athletic development. These opportune periods of adaptation have previously been referred to as “windows of opportunity”. Historically it has been thought that missing these advantageous periods may lead to a decrease in athleticism or a disadvantage, however this has not been proven (Lloyd and Oliver, 2012).

It is logical then, that during the period pre-PHV, while the neural system is still maturing, that the outcomes of the “Learning to Train” stage center around progressing from learning overall movement skills to  learning general skills relating to sport. As such, these skills may take the form of organised training or games, compared to the free play or general play previously used. The introduction of skills in a sport setting begins to take shape with sport-specific training taking place 3 times per week, in addition to experiencing 2-3 other sports alongside a primary spot. It is during this stage that a child may present a certain aptitude for a specific sporting discipline, very often “talent identification” may commence in this stage. However, it is highly important that the additional sports remain part of weekly activity to ensure development of a range of sporting skills. It may even be prudent to select sports that are radically different to each other (eg. gymnastics, athletics, football, swimming, basketball etc.) to reinforce this development of a variety of skills. It is worth noting that recommendations state practice should comprise 70% of total sports time with only 30% spent in competition.

Within a strength and conditioning perspective, given the introduction to organised sport, it would be prudent to establish the good habits which will last a career in sport, in particular the practice of a proper warm up. This provides an ideal time in which to undertake appropriately aimed strength and conditioning exercises. Setting aside 10-15 minutes of a technical session to dedicate to a couple of basic movements which can be used as a dynamic warm up circuit, not only teaches good habits, but reinforces good movement patterns in what may form the basis of strength and conditioning programs to come. Typical exercises used in strength programs could be adapted to form an appropriate series of exercises.

For example a fun warm up game such as “stuck in the mud” could be used as a cardiovascular warm up followed by:
  •          Front raises using football/netball/basketball/rugby ball/ hockey stick/baseball bat
  •          overhead squats using a football/netball/basketball/rugby ball/hockey stick/baseball bat
  •          lunges using pitch or court marking to divide the feet
  •          press-ups on knees
  •          Glute bridges or “building bridges”
  •          Deadbugs holding ball/stick above chest
  •          Crawling drills
  •          Broad jumps

Using your imagination you can create appropriate terminology for exercises, so they can be made interesting for Children. Overhead squats could become “Football Squats”, lunges become “Giant’s Steps”, glute bridges could become “Building Bridges”. It’s important that an emphasis on technique is reinforced, again this may be done imaginatively using child-friendly language. For example “Angry knees” could refer to the valgus knee position and “happy knees” could be a proper position. The habit of an appropriate warm up, should be complemented with a cool down activity, during which the children can be engaged by being prompted to suggest some static stretches to be performed after an appropriate cardiovascular cool down.

These two components could form the basic strength and conditioning of the junior athlete during the “Learn to train” stage in conjunction with the sports skills and capacities gained via participation in a variety or organised sports training sessions. By utilising these two components of the training session to introduce children to a more formal strength and conditioning, this exposes the children to  vital movements which will form the basis of strength and conditioning programs in the future and prepares them for the progression to the next stage of the long-term athlete development model. Further information on the recommendations for the “Learning to Train” stage can be found on the Canadian Sport for Life website.


Lloyd, R., and Oliver, J. (2012). The Youth Physical development Model: A new approach to Long-term athletic development. Strength and Conditioning Journal, 34, p61-72.

Malina, R, M., Bouchard, C. and Bar-Or, O. (2004). Timing and sequencing of changes during adolescence. In: Growth maturation and physical activity. 2nd edition. Champaign, Illinois, Human Kinetics. p309-309
5 Highly Effective Bodyweight Exercises

By guest blogger Henry Croft

Bodyweight exercises are commonly overlooked in the majority of strength and conditioning routines today.
Walk in to any air-conditioned gymnasium up and down the country and you’ll more than likely see too much emphasis placed on flashy isolation machines and gimmicky bits of equipment that wouldn't look out of place on the Starship Enterprise.
Which is a shame, because not only are bodyweight exercises a highly effective and tried and tested way to develop strength and conditioning, they also present many other advantages.

For example, they do not necessitate an expensive gym membership and waiting half an hour for some clown to finish their German Volume Training routine before you can use the squat rack.
Bodyweight exercises are also highly adaptable and can be performed pretty much anywhere, be it your bedroom, the beach or the shopping mall while you wait for what seems like an hour for your missus to try on a new dress
So, without further ado, here are some effective bodyweight exercises which you can start incorporating into your program right away.
Remember: increasing the rep range will target endurance while increasing the intensity of the exercises will target strength.

1)      Push Ups
Targets: pecs, triceps, deltoids
Push ups, or press ups, are the undisputed king of bodyweight exercises – yet I hardly ever see anyone performing them in the gym.When done correctly, they can stimulate the chest just as much as the mighty bench press.When Arnold Schwarzenegger first started resistance training, for example, he would perform up to 200 push ups every day.To mix things up, try moving your hands closer to target triceps and putting your feet on an elevated platform to put more emphasis on your upper chest.

2)      Plank
Targets: core
The plank (also referred to as the abdominal bridge) was a method of torture exacted upon me by my old swimming coach, and to this day I still wake up in a cold sweat thinking about those gruelling sessions.
It hits pretty much every muscle in your core as well as developing trunk stability.
Essentially it involves holding an extremely difficult position for an extended period of time, the most common variation being the front plank (press up position).

3)      Dips
Targets: pecs, triceps, deltoids
Like push ups, dips are another extremely effective exercise for targeting your chest and triceps.
To focus on your triceps, keep your elbows in and your torso straight; to put more emphasis on your chest, point your elbows out and lean forward by around 30 or so degrees.
To up the intensity of the exercise, try performing dips with a weighted belt.

4)      Sit Ups
Targets: abs
Sit ups are a great way of hitting your upper abdominal muscles. When performing a sit up, remember to try and keep the movement as rhythmical and as smooth as possible and focus on the contraction of your stomach muscles. A similar – and equally effective – exercise is the crunch, which involves lifting just your lower back off the floor.

5)      Wide Grip Pull Ups
Targets: lats, rhomboids
The wide grip pull up is without doubt one of the toughest bodyweight exercises you can perform.
It’s an effective way to increase lat strength and develop an enviable pair of wing-like muscles in your back.
Remember, the wider your grip the more your lats will be activated. In addition to hitting your lats and rhomboids, the wide grip pull up also develops grip strength and forearm muscles as well as core strength (it’s no easy feat maintaining stability during the upwards and downwards phase of the lift!).

Signing Off
Bodyweight exercises and calisthenics are the best way to build a solid foundation of strength, so make sure you master these basics before incorporating some of the more sophisticated and flashy exercises into your strength and conditioning program.
If you have any questions or thoughts about the points raised in this post, I’d love to hear from you, just leave me a comment below and I’ll get back to you!

About the author
Henry is a fitness junkie with a passion for distance running, martial arts and strength training. You can find him blogging over at GymTalk and Running Junkies

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