For me the positivity scale starts somewhere around the music of Type O Negative and ends in the vicinity of the final scene in Rudy. Nick DeVito’s contagious enthusiasm just might make that famous Golden Domer look like Peter Steele. I’ve known Nick for several years now and have been impressed with his efforts in the gym and on the ice. But, I’ve been most proud of watching the way he interacts with younger athletes. Nick gets to know, encourages, and cracks up younger kids that most college athletes wouldn’t even bother to say “hey” to. That to me says more about who this young man is than any goal, assist, or personal record ever will (though, those are nice too). Averill Park’s very own was nice enough to agree to do this interview with me.
Brian: How has strength training influenced you as an athlete?
Nick: It has influenced me greatly. It allows you to be at peak performance on the ice. Your shot becomes harder, your skating becomes more powerful, and your ability to fend off opponents and puck protect becomes better as well. All things that are extremely necessary, especially for a smaller guy like me.
B: Have you seen any big athleticism, strength, or size gains from training?
N: I have certainly seen some gains. It may not show up with my overall weight, but getting faster, more powerful, and stronger certainly has come from being in the weight room. Every summer I see myself get stronger and stronger, and it’s something that will translate into my hockey games.
Nick benching nearly 100 pounds over his body weight
B: You have played hockey at many different levels- from high school, to prep, to juniors, and now your a college level athlete. What are the main differences you have seen at each level?
N: The main differences between each level are the speed of the game, how little time you have to make a play, and how strong and big some of the opponents are. People do not get smaller as you go up in level. They only get bigger. But like I said, the speed of the game is the biggest difference. It just gets faster and faster.
B: Some kids seem to coast in the summer, yet you always seem to find time to train even when working. How did you develop that work ethic?
N: I think work ethic starts from your parents and understanding how hard they work to allow you to follow your dreams. On top of that, there is always another kid that wants what you want. In order to be better than him, you cannot coast. Follow your goals and keep working. I certainly have my parents to thank for my work ethic.
Strong hams, strong hockey player
B: How has your training philosophy changed through the years?
N: I believe it has changed through the years. You need to be willing to learn new things as you’re training. There is always another exercise or method that can get you better. Incorporating those new exercises with the old ones is how you improve.
B: How important is your mental approach to your sports performance?
N: My mental approach is huge when it comes to my performance, especially right before a game. Your focus and confidence is critical. Understanding before the game what you want to do on the ice, and believing that you can accomplish your goals for each game, is what allows you to play well. For me a loose approach to a game doesn’t allow me to be ready for that puck drop. I need to get in the zone, and visualize what I need to do in order to help my team be successful.
B: How important is your warm-up to your success on the ice?
N: This is extremely important. I find that in order for me to be completely ready for game time, I need to get a good sweat going in warm-ups. I have to get my legs going and feel fully stretched out in order to feel like I am ready for the game.
B: Take us through a day during the season.
N: I’ll take you through a Friday- game day. I wake up and head to class at 9:00 am. After class I head over to the rink for a 10:30 pre-game skate. I do this to feel the puck on my stick, feel the ice, and make sure my skates and everything else are ready for that night’s game. After the skate, I head over to the cafeteria for some lunch before my last class at 1:00 pm. When I’m finished with that class, I head back to my place and take a quick nap. Next I grab a pre-game meal, normally Subway. I then throw my suit on for home games and head over to the rink at 5:00 pm for warm-ups. And then it’s game time at 7:00 pm.
B: What drives you to do well?
N: I would say the feeling of success. I love feeling like I have succeeded. Who doesn’t? I enjoy striving to be the best.
B: Your team just managed to beat the number 4 and number 12 teams in the country in back to back weeks. How do you want to finish the season?
N: Well, beating those opponents were two huge team efforts. We still have the ability to make playoffs if we sweep Cortland this upcoming weekend, which would be awesome.
B: What do you need to improve on?
N: You can always improve. I want to be faster and stronger, and a little bit bigger. When you are satisfied that is when someone has the opportunity to take your job. I always want to improve in every facet of my game.
Showing off his sense of humor and unparalleled finger strength
B: Sidney Crosby, G.O.A.T. or bum?
N: He’s the best player in the game. Everyone knows it. He’s smooth on the ice, knows exactly where to be, and the puck finds him. The puck always finds the good players.
B: Who is the biggest freak you have played with or against?
N: Tyler Kelleher. I played youth hockey with this guy, and against him growing up. He’s a senior at University of New Hampshire now. I think he is tied for second place in D1 in scoring. He’s shorter than me, but man can he play. I’ve never seen anything like it. He’s a pure scorer.
B: You do a great job of giving back to younger athletes, whether it’s volunteering on and off the ice or just being an awesome positive force in the gym. What shaped your attitude in that regard?
N: I think what shaped this attitude is what people did for me growing up. Every kid looks up to someone. I just enjoy giving the kids the opportunity to have someone to look up to. I enjoy trying to make them the best they can be from as early an age as possible.
All about the kids
B: What does the future hold for Nick DeVito?
N: I want to play professional hockey- maybe over in Europe. I definitely want to see what I can do with this sport and I’m certainly looking forward to seeing what is in store for me.
“Just because something isn’t happening for you right now, doesn’t mean it will never happen.”
4.5 forties, 300 pound bench presses, dunking a basketball, starting on varsity, a full depth squat, moving pain free- whatever the objective, chances are it requires some degree of sweat equity to achieve it. Furthermore, it make take some time. Long, arduous, self-doubting time.
W. Axl Rose knew the value in a killer whistling solo AND being patient.
Trouble is, in our instant gratification society, we want it yesterday. We want it to be easy and we often complain if we don’t get it. Not starting? Must be the coach’s fault. Came up short on that rebound? Must have been wearing the wrong type of sneaker. Didn’t get the test score you wanted? Must be the teacher’s fault. This reactionary, finger pointing mindset laughs at the “process” and puts the onus on others.
To me it’s a dangerous philosophy that discounts the value of hard work, and emphasizes looking for the easy way out. But, here’s the great thing about those who take the easy way… they get exposed. You can’t pretend to be strong or fast or lean or any other physical trait in competition. Fake it till you make it doesn’t fly in the world of W’s and L’s.
The majority of clients that I train are in high school. Anyone who has lived through that hormonal quagmire can attest that those four years can be crucial in defining who you are as a person going forward. I have the absolute privilege of working with some amazing teens, and have been wowed by the effort, commitment and care for others I see in the sessions they attend.
That being said, many lack the life experience to properly put athletics into perspective. Hot and cold? How about surface of the sun vs. absolute zero. I’d see a kid hit a big dead-lift and I’d swear he turned into Apollo the Sun God. Fifteen minutes later, he comes up short on his previous chin-up effort and his body language turned into Eeyore in a rainstorm.
Lebron showcasing the average teen athletes mood
There will be difficulty and there will be setbacks. It’s inevitable. However, it’s in these moments that one must accept this is part of what you signed up for. One must learn to use difficultly as feedback, not as a stopping point. Embrace that slow, challenging process.
This “embracing the process” phrase has caught on like wildfire in the past year or so. Check Instagram, tune in to a NFL game, or watch a Joel Embiid (who has actually gone as far as nick naming himself “The Process”) interview, and folks are embracing this idea wholeheartedly.
Gotta trust em
Part of it is marketing. Like most things marketing related, some find it cheesier than a Sunday in Lambeau. Others repost, reshare and are inspired like never before. Neither outlook is right nor wrong. For me, I just think it’s cool that people are starting to openly discuss that there is a whole lot of work required to gain anything of substance.
I had an athlete hit a PR yesterday that he had failed on a couple times before. He was disappointed in his previous attempts, but stayed patient and used his failure as fuel. I congratulated him today via text. His response, “Thanks, was so happy when I got it.” He worked hard, the process was embraced, and eventually he hit his goal.
That right there is exactly why I do this.
The climate of upstate New York has a little bit of everything. Summers on the lake, winters on the slopes, and the transitional 60 degrees of the spring and fall. For those of us trying to increase speed, the winter months can prove challenging in finding adequate space to open it up and do some serious sprint work. But, fear not! There are alternatives to developing and maintaining speed in these indoor-centric days. The following can help you get faster even when the weather isn’t syncing up with your speed goals.
Winter: great for skiing, not for sprinting
Running is both breathtakingly simple and mindbogglingly complicated. With the improvements in sports science technology allowing for even more in depth analysis, this is an exciting time for running aficionados. However, some of the big brains out there (PHDs and sports scientists in labs) still can’t seem to agree if vertical forces or horizontal forces are more important in human locomotion. I am a mere practitioner in this realm and lack the lab coat background necessary to get caught up in that battle. But, I have some practical experience that can help you clean your technique up and make your running movement more efficient.
We can break sprinting down into two basic components: the knee drive and the paw back. They are the cyclical yin and yang in running, and both can be improved with proper training. All you need is a set of active cords (or some rubber tubing variation), and a little bio-mechanics background and you are ready to go. I use active cords on a daily basis in our speed classes, and believe they should be as big a part of an athlete’s physical prep as a barbell is.
Jump better, run faster
Jumping metrics are huge in profiling athletes. There isn’t a professional sports franchise in the world that doesn’t look at different jumping numbers in analyzing prospective draftees. The gold standards are generally a broad jump variation (2 leg, 1 leg), and a vertical jump variation (2, 1, standing, running). While the jumping numbers don’t tell EVERYTHING about an athlete, they sure tell a good amount.
Jumping numbers can be used as a fatigue/over-training indicator. If jump numbers are down, it might be time to focus more on recovery. Jumps can be analyzed on a Bosco Jump Mat to determine different reactive qualities (ask my buddy Jeff Moyer more about this). But primarily, jumps are used to see what kind of force an athlete can generate to fling their body through the cosmos. The better the push with the jump, the better the athlete can get up and out.
I have seen and recorded hundreds of high school and college athletes throughout my years in this profession. I have yet to see an athlete I’d consider “fast” with less than a 7 foot broad jump or a 20 inch vertical jump. Their run technique can be impeccable but if they lack the ability to put any real force into the ground, then they are like a Lamborghini with a 4 cylinder, all show and no go.
In the world of high level football there are 300 pound men that routinely broad jump over 10 feet and vertically jump over 30 inches. Scary, freaky, and true. For the high school athlete, a broad jump over 8 feet and a vertical in the mid 20s is usually enough to find your way on the field or court SOMEWHERE. And generally speaking, the bigger the athlete with those numbers, the more likely they are to secure a starting spot. After all, 250 pounds jumping 8 feet is more impressive than 150 pounds jumping 8 feet. Lastly, I have yet to see an athlete with a broad jump over 10 feet run a 5 second or more 40 yard dash. It just doesn’t compute. The athletes who jump better, run faster.
Arguably the most important feature of zipping around the field or court, an athlete who accelerates well can simply get to where they need to quicker and get themselves into position to do something awesome. Depending on the athlete, true top end speed gets tapped into anywhere from 40-60 meters. While that 40-60 mark is covered in some team sports, it is much more likely that shorter, quicker bursts will be the bread and butter of your athletic arsenal. All you need is a good 20 yard strip of real estate, your body, and a willingness to run as hard as you can. Throw in some video analysis and you can really get an understanding of how your body should drive away from the ground in an acceleration pattern.
Get there quickly and put yourself in a position to dominate
There is an ancient study from the catacombs of Soviet sports performance that featured Olympic lifters hanging with Olympic sprinters for the first 10-15 meters of a 100 meter dash. Several coaches have used this study as a reason for including Olympic lifts in their athletic programs. Unfortunately, finding this study isn’t the easiest task and my attempts were fruitless. But, rest assured it exists somewhere out there and has served as an anecdotal piece for including Olympic lifts in athletic programs for decades.
High level Olympic lifters are extremely impressive athletes
And why not? World Champion Olympic lifters usually have a tremendous blend of relative strength, mobility, and jumping abilities. All features that anyone attempting to get faster should strive for. However, we run into this pesky thing called context that muddies up the situation. The time spent perfecting this craft to achieve expert level is nothing short of legendary. These lifts are highly time intensive, with a steep learning and neuromuscular curve.
Most high school and college sport and strength coaches aren’t reviewing technique and slowly progressing the way it should be approached. And in their defense, why would they? What’s more important, knowing where to line up on the field or proper hip position on the first pull of a clean? Having both would be nice no doubt, but prioritizing what’s more important for that particular athlete’s sport usually takes precedent.
I think Olympic lifts are a tremendous way to make an athlete more powerful and explosive… if the athlete can do them well. If a kid really wants to learn Olympic lifts, has adequate physical characteristics to even attempt them, and is coachable then I think they’re a great option. But I’m also a realist and think that blanketing CLEANS FOR EVERYONE is setting certain athletes up for frustration, pain, and potential injury.
Velocity Based Training
Velocity Based Training (VBT) is becoming more of an en vogue method in athletic performance circles. For the design of this article I won’t go into the ideas today. But, feel free to check out this video from Dr. Bryan Mann on some VBT principles.
Hopefully this winter is kind to us folks in the great northeast. If so, we can get outside and be flying around in no time. If not, these options can help tip the speed needle forward even when it feels like the beginning of The Empire Strikes Back outside.
Only Tauntauns sprinted on Hoth
Tell me if this scenario sounds familiar: You worked the whole off season and got bigger, faster, and stronger. Confidence was at an all time high going into training camp, and through the first couple of games you felt and played great. Problem is, between practice and two games a week you are starting to get some nicks and dings. Even worse, the body-weight you added seems to be whittling away and you are feeling like an extra on The Walking Dead. Welcome to the fun word of the mid-season! It’s now that many try to outwork the lull and end up grinding themselves up even more. Read the considerations below before making your next training move.
Before you pour your entire being into the weight-room consider the following: Practice, games, homework, eating, lack of eating, relationships, sleep, lack of sleep, jumping, and cutting all are stressors. Too much stress present and things can go haywire. Over training, fatigue, sickness, and injury could be knocking at your door if stress isn’t managed properly with recovery.
We can thank ole Hans Selye for our understanding of stress and the GAS.
Recovery is the yang to the ying of stress. For many athletes it’s an under valued aspect of performance. Look at the top levels of competition. Professionals sleep in hyperbaric pods, have manual therapists on staff, use acupuncture, have customized meal plans, and have pricey omegawave monitoring systems to manage readiness for competition. I’m guessing the average amateur athlete probably doesn’t have those resources to keep fresh and healthy. But fear not! There are two variables you CAN control to continue to feel fresh and ready for your next game.
In my opinion, if your young athlete gets their nightly sleep in (eight hours) and eats enough to keep up with the grueling demands of an in-season schedule, then they will already be ahead of most of their competitors. Sure, having an omegawave at your disposal would be a cool little tool to use, but people were able to manage stress and recovery without the usage of electrodes on their scalp for decades before its invention.
Sleep and food are huge considerations for staying on track. Without those two factors in check, I would really think twice about adding an in-season strength routine to their already full plates. But, if those two variables are solidly in place, I think resistance training can be a great addition. This will increase strength, keep them injury free, and break up the daily monotony of the season.
Train, recover, repeat. The yin and yang of improving.
I personally like to stick to full body lifts in-season for my athletes. Once a week should do the trick, with an emphasis on compound exercises, quality movements, and one set with higher reps. No reason to risk injury trying to do any max effort work in-season. In fact, for most (nearly all) high school athletes, max effort seems to be an unnecessary EGO based endeavor. Don’t get me wrong, I think a well executed max effort squat or deadlift is a thing of beauty. But, I have seen enough cringe worthy max effort high school squats that I really don’t think the juice is worth the squeeze. If you have an athlete that can do one, great. If not, don’t force it. Practice, get better, and EARN the right to try one.
Maintaining soft tissue quality is huge during the season. The amount of running, cutting, and jumping the average kid does during the course of a week can turn a supple athlete into an imbalanced tin man. If you are the type of athlete who feels like Herman Munster first thing in the morning, you will benefit from releasing tissue and moving your body around more.
This guy could have benefited from a little soft tissue work
Options for release include, but certainly aren’t limited to: finding a sports massage therapist, using a foam roller, lax ball or other Self Myofascial Release method, getting your hands on a body tempering product, or learning some RPR methods. Ankles, hips, mid back, and shoulders are all areas that take a beating. Staying on top of them so they keep working optimally will leave you feeling fresh and performing better. I see tremendous value in checking out Max Shank’s 5 minute flow series and implementing a variation daily on your own individual trouble areas.
Easy on the Plyometric Work
Team sports athletes be runnin! Whether in the context of the sport, additional “conditioning”, or just because the coach wants to punish the squad, chances are you might be doing more running than usual. Running is a shocking, jarring movement. While it might not fit the traditional plyometric exercise catalog, running still employs high ground reaction forces with a fast transfer from eccentric to concentric muscular contractions. With each foot strike amounting to a “rep”, most athletes will do hundreds of reps in the course of a practice. Doing extra jumping on top of that could be beating a dead horse. If you are an athlete who recovers quickly, jumping exercises could be an option, just make sure you keep the volume on the lower side.
If you jump a lot in your sport, more jumping might be overkill.
The greatest athletes often visualize success before it happens. Dream it and achieve it, right? There is enough evidence that the mind prepares the body for success that a whole cottage industry of sports psychology has emerged. The rigors of a sport season can be both physically and mentally grinding. Practicing some of the tips here can aid in staying mentally focused and performing your best.
Sports seasons can often be the highlight of a young athletes year. Hopefully this advice can keep you or your athlete feeling great, moving better, and dominating their sport of choice.
I’m thankful to be able to share these interviews with you folks. I do them for a number of reasons. One, I’d like to give the college athletes I have worked with a little shine. It’s not always a fun or easy task to balance school, sports and social life and I appreciate their efforts to go above and beyond the norm. Two, I want to share more content on my site and interviews are a nice way to meet that end. Finally, and maybe the most important reason of all: is to give the high school athletes and parents I interact with a realistic insight on what it really means to play at the next level. Hopefully after reading these the kids I work with can have a newfound appreciation of the sweat equity needed to play college sports.
Ryan Henchey is the first college baseball player I have featured in these and is a time management master. Taking a heavy course load in accounting at Ithaca, working and playing for one of the best D3 programs in the country has given him a great perspective on prioritizing and attacking his goals. He’s also one of the nicest and hardest working kids to come out of the 518. I thank him for agreeing to do this interview and hope he has a great spring in Bomber blue and white!
Brian: How has strength training influenced you as an athlete?
Ryan: Since I have been strength training I have noticed an increase in size, and my power in baseball has also improved greatly. Strength training has not only improved my game physically, but mentally as well.
B:Have you seen any big athleticism, strength or size gains from strength training?
R:When I first started weight lifting, it was tough to get into it because of the soreness and tiredness, but as soon as I saw results then I wanted to lift more. I have noticed through working out you are able to make jumps to higher weight. Once you see yourself plateauing you can add a variation to the lift. For example, you can go lighter weight and do a couple second hold for squat or have a slow count on the way down. This has improved my strength and has increased my gains as far as putting on more weight.
“Hench” working the posterior shoulder
B: You have played at many different levels of baseball. From high school, to elite travel ball, to college and twilight. What are the main differences you see in each level?
R: High school baseball you see a lot of raw talent, but never quite focus on the little things. I have noticed that facing a kid who throws 90 in high school, but may not hit his spots well or even have a secondary pitch is not as effective as someone who throws 85 with a variety of pitches he can throw for strikes. College baseball it is all the kids who were the “studs” at their high school. The coaches in college focus on the little things which translate into the big things when put in a game time situation. For example, taking a base on a dirt ball may not have been as important in high school, but for college 90 feet could mean a win or loss.
B: Some kids seem to coast in the summer, you always seem to find time to train even when working a 9-5 and playing twilight. How did you develop that work ethic?
R: The biggest thing for me is seeing improvements because when you look and feel good, then you should do well in the game. Baseball is a very humbling sport, and you cannot be too comfortable because there is always something you can better. Although working full time is tough at times when trying to work out and play, I come to realize that what makes me perform well during the game is due to strength training. The mentality of getting better and trying to achieve that “All-American” title in college baseball is what pushes me every day. Obviously, you are there for the team, but you have to improve yourself in order to contribute more. Work ethic is developed over time, but the best way to improve is by setting a goal, and once you achieve one then you set another one.
B: Has your training philosophy changed through the years?
R: My dad has always been into weightlifting and believes that it is a key contributor to my success in baseball thus far. He drilled the importance of strength training at a young age. I wouldn’t say my philosophy has changed, but I sought out new information from different sources and used it when applicable.
B: How important is your mental approach to your sports performance?
R: Baseball is a very mental sport, and everyone stresses on having a short memory. It is a long game with a lot of innings, and a lot can happen in an inning. You should hate losing more than you love winning. Using that as motivation allows you to go out there and outperform your opponent. Confidence is key, and for me being a catcher if I am confident then the pitcher will be confident, which then radiates throughout the rest of the team. As the catcher, everyone can see your emotions, so if they see you are moping around then they will think it is okay to do it. Being confident behind the dish helps others out on the team to relax, and eventually play to the best of their ability.
B: Take us through a day during the season
R: We have around 4-5 games on a normal week. Our conference has schools that a relatively close, so if it is a mid-week game then we will leave in the morning to go to our game, and then head home that same night. On off days we will have class until about noon, and have to be at the field by three for a 4 o’ clock practice. During practice, we will do BP on the field, bullpens, and we have conditioning station that we do behind the field on the turf infield. After practice, we are done unless you need treatment for an injury, and then you eat…A lot! I have noticed in season it is very easy to skip meals and lose weight; therefore, you need to plan out your day to make time to eat.
B: What are your thoughts on vision training for baseball players?
R: The first time I tried vision training was this past summer, and I thought it was great experience. There is always a lot of skill building and strength training, but for baseball you need to be able to see the ball to hit it. People seem to forget the importance of increasing your hand-eye coordination. I started off the summer in a bit of slump, but then I started using the vision training that Brian put me on. I ended up doing well at the end of the summer, and my team won the Stan Musial World Series.
a Text exchange with Ryan. Stronger eyes = more hits
B: What drives you to do well?
R: I have always had the attitude of hating to lose. It can be in ping pong, eating food, running, anything that you can make competitive. I think the fear of losing pushes me that much harder. As I mentioned before confidence is the best thing especially in catchers. Everyone is looking at you, and if they see you’re down, then your team will have the same attitude. So, what drives me is being able to win as a team, and I would like to help in whatever way I can.
B: Any big goals for your upcoming senior season?
R: My personal goals this season are to hit .380 plus with 8 or more home runs. Last year, I ended up getting injured which took me out for a couple weeks, and slowed my bat down a bit. I would also like to be an All -American, to say that you achieved something like that is and always has been a dream of mine. I think as far as team goal, we would like to win our third national championship. We have a very talented team, and we came so close to making regional’s last year that it left a bitter taste in everyone’s mouth. We want more this year.
B: What do you need to improve on?
R: I would like to obviously improve on my strength, but more specifically I would like to work my power. Getting the ball to jump off the bat, and work those quick twitch muscle fibers. Skill wise, I could be playing in the infield a little bit this year, so I would need to work on grounders. As a catcher, it should not be too difficult because it is also a reactionary position where you need to be on your toes at all times.
B: Do the Cubs repeat?
R: I could see the Cubs repeating because you can tell that the chemistry on that team is better than any other team in the MLB. The team is young, energetic and just a great team to watch. They had three pitchers that dominate, and offensively could be the best team in the MLB. So, I would say next year they could repeat it, especially, now that Kyle Schwarber is back and healthy.
B: How do you want to end the season?
R: I would like to end a season as a national champion just like everyone else. It is everyone’s goal to end up at the highest stage that they can reach and achieving the ultimate victory.
B: Who is the biggest freak you have played with/against?
R: The biggest freak I have every played with would probably one of my great friends growing up and even now Kevin Smith. He has always been a very athletic individual growing up, and has impressed everyone as far as what he can do on the field. But it has not come easy for him by any means, he had put a lot of time in the cages and in the weight room. Considering that he could be in the top couple rounds I would say he impressed more than just our community, but obviously caught the scouts attention as well. He is a great player as far as talent goes, but he is an even better teammate.
B: What does the future hold for Ryan Henchey?
R: I am a senior accounting major at Ithaca college, and I will be returning to Ithaca next year to complete my masters. After that I would like to pursue a career in my field of study, but if another opportunity arises that peaks my interest then I will do what is best for me. I think at this point in life you try new things and hope for the best.
B: Thanks for your time Ryan and best of luck this spring!
Strength/speed/athletic programs… there’s a lot of them. At a cursory glance we have 1 x 20, The Bulgarian System, French Contrast, 5 x 5, German Volume, Smolov, Conjugate, Concurrent, Low to High, High to Low, 5-3-1, West Side for Skinny Bastards (that’s an actual program), Body Spartan, Circuit Training, Tabata, DC Training. There may be more programs and systems and methods than there are Pokémon. It’s exhausting! There’s a ton of salesmanship involved and deciphering what’s fact and fiction can be challenging for the average consumer.
Sooooo many programs
And the dirty secret about all of them (that the others wouldn’t want to tell you) is that they all work. To a degree. There is no BEST. To quote legendary strength coach and bastion of no-nonsense, Buddy Morris, “EVERYTHING WORKS… but nothing works forever.” Adaptation occurs, previous stressors become old hat, and we stall. For me, the fun part of all of this is figuring out how to continue to tip the needle towards progress.
Most importantly, the APPLICATION of the program trumps any degree of sets, reps, and designated rest periods. Every summer many of my college athletes hand me a binder of exercises, figures, and percentages. Many are extremely excited to begin this odyssey of gains that will invariable come their way. I know that I was. I’m sure some of their collegiate strength coaches spent hours tirelessly putting their sheets together. Others probably just copy and pasted the same thing that they have been doing for years and went on their way (just being real here).
But here’s my point. Having a recipe from Hell’s Kitchen does not make you Gordon Ramsay. The why, how, and when of it all, separates a list of ingredients from a culinary masterpiece. A squat prescribed on a piece of paper doesn’t mean much. Especially if you have poor thoracic mobility, or FAI (femoral acetabular impingement), or glutes that don’t fire optimally, or femurs that are 40% of your body, or any other issue that could prevent you from doing that particular exercise well.
Having a cookbook doesn’t make you a chef. Writing a list of exercises doesn’t make you a coach.
To just have a list of things without looking at how you do them is missing a lot for your athletes to continue to improve. My favorite coach ever, Henk Kraaijenhof, doesn’t even look at exercises when profiling athletes. For him, right brain versus left brain, muscle fiber composition, and ability to handle stress, lead the charge to help the best get better.
For me, I think one of the more important priorities for the athletes I work with is getting them to run better. A lot of high school athletes I have encountered are in desperate need to improve run technique. Not just from a performance perspective, but an injury prevention consideration as well. Last I checked, there isn’t a bench press on a basketball court, or a squat rack on the pitchers mound. So, being able to move your own body quickly and efficiently is a huge priority. If you can run better then you put yourself in a better position to succeed.
Other physical qualities (hardware) I would prioritize (in no particular order) include: vision, jumping ability, relative strength, and tissue quality. Another key, under-rated feature in all of this is finding the right sport/position for your frame.
Improving this physical hardware on the front end can help out the sports skill software on the back end. David Epstein, author of The Sports Gene, references a study done in 1978 by the German Tennis Federation on the most talented 8 to 12 year old tennis players.
Epstein writes, “Of 106 kids, 98 eventually made it to the professional level, 10 rose to the top 100 players in the world, and a few climbed all the way to the top 10. Each year for five years, the scientists gauged the children first on tennis specific skills and then on measures of general athleticism… The tests of general athleticism- for example, a thirty-meter sprint and start-and-stop agility drills- influenced which children would acquire the tennis-specific skills most rapidly.” He concludes, “Over the five years of the study, the kids who were better all-around athletes were better at acquiring tennis-specific skills… superior hardware was speeding the download of tennis-skill software.”
You see this in other sports too. Now, there are outliers for sure (Tom Brady won’t win a 40 yard dash any time soon), but generally speaking the athletes with better measurables end up better pros.
Steffi Graf had enough speed to be a European Champion in the 1,500 meter. Instead, she was the #1 tennis player in the world for 377 weeks.
That’s where physical preparation comes into play. Get faster, get stronger, practice your skills, and reap the rewards in your sport. The concrete sets and reps of a program itself may not matter per say, but the execution of how it’s done matters. Find a reputable coach, have them educate you on how to individually improve, and adjust when needed. Understand what matters, pursue it, and get better.
I love a good “Aha” moment. Last Sunday I got one for the ages. For me, it was like getting hit on the head with an apple and getting my kite struck by lighting after getting a red pill from Morpheus. Mind blown. Through the urging of my good friend (and arguably one of the best physical performance coaches in the country) Jeff Moyer, I made the three hour trek down to New Jersey and took the Reflexive Performance Reset seminar given by Cal Deitz.
To say I was wowed is an understatement. Deitz is the head strength coach at the University of Minnesota and is highly respected internationally for his innovative and unique training methods. I was first introduced to his triphasic training philosophy over five years ago at the Central Virginia Sports Performance seminar in Richmond, Virginia and became an immediate fan of his teachings. Since then, Deitz has teamed up with South African physical therapist, Douglas Heel, and they have developed this amalgamation of physical therapy/sports performance/voodoo (maybe not that last one) which blew my mind. Now, I have been sworn to secrecy in actually sharing the drills and tests we learned at the seminar. But, I can tell you SOME of the main ideas behind the system:
Blue pill, same old stuff. Red pill, never see performance the same way again.
I have tried Reflexive Performance Reset on everyone that has been open to giving it a whirl and the responses have been overwhelmingly positive. Whoever wants to try it- my athletes, the areas best back surgeon, lawyers, even my wife and my parents. Instant reactions have ranged from, “How does that work?” to “That is crazy!” And probably most importantly, “I feel so much better.”
- Breathing drives physiology and can impact everything from circulatory efficiency to sleeping patterns.
- A muscle that has 10% extra tension in it can have 30% less blood flow than one without.
- Your jaw can often drive neurological firing patterns.
- Your glutes might actually be your quadratus lumborum.
- If we are talking injury prevention, an explosion is better than an implosion.
I included a video of myself dunking after performing the glute activation reset. I’ll be 35 next week and my best jumping day’s are well behind me. But, I applied some of the techniques I learned on myself and felt pretty good. So I had one of my students video me attempting to dunk. It went down easy. In dress shoes and khakis. Without stretching.
If I can accentuate my fading athleticism, then I am extremely jacked up about how this will work for the young athletes I train. Deitz referenced a high school football team that used this system for a year and had 15 players with a 30″ plus vertical jump on the roster. Not shockingly, this particular team went on to win the state championship. Tapping into correct muscular firing patterns is a huge athletic hack. Know how to do it and you can really tip the odds in your favor. I know how and hope to pass it on to the athletes I work with. Hopefully, they will see the Matrix for what it is. Heightened performance is just an activation away.
Life views post Reflexive Performance Reset
I can pinpoint the exact moment I became a four year starter. Strawberry field, Oneonta, New York, a hazy August morning in the not too distant past. That day was scheduled to be our first inter-squad scrimmage and both sides were chomping at the bit to let the pads do a little talking. I was an extremely nervous freshman who had just been told that he would be playing the first series at free safety. Now, at the time I looked like a human lollipop. 6’6″ 180 is a nice look for a high jumper, but an unusual build for an athlete flying around the secondary hammering opposing receivers. Adding to my nerves is the fact that I had only been playing this position for a week. I originally came into camp preparing to be the next great quarterback that Hartwick produced. But, the coaches asked me if I’d switch to defense. I liked contact, “sure” was the answer.
My key for the day in our base defense was reading our Senior all American tight end Greg Balcavage (A.K.A Balky). Great. Greg, and I mean this in the nicest way possible, was a freak. They called him the “creature.” 6’3″ 235, tough as nails, mean as a junk yard dog and still the best tight end that has stepped on to that field. He had hands like catchers mits, was faster than a human that size should reasonably be and a total mismatch nightmare for me, a walking skeleton in shoulder pads. So yea I was nervous. Though, on this particular day I had had an ace up my sleeve. I knew on one specific play I was gonna have his number. I just had to do the right thing at the right time.
The play was called Y delay. A basic tightend screen that the offense had run and embarrassed aggressive opposing defenses for years. Balky would feign like he was blocking, pause for a count or two and then release into the area that the opposing defenders had vacated. Usually, he was as naked as a jay bird with the nearest opposing color 5-10 yards away. He would snag the pass, turn up field and ramble for some big time yardage. I watched this scenario go down several times in practice and promised myself that when the time came I was going to haul my bony frame at him with every ounce of my being.
So the ball is snapped and I read my keys. Offensive line shows pass and Balky is staying in too. Thing is, his eyes are darting around like a rookie at the main table of the World Series of poker. Somethings up, he’s gonna release and I know it. I just have to time it up so I don’t hit too early and get a pass interference call, or not too late and risk getting trucked. After a second, he darts downfield turns and looks for the ball.
In all honesty I don’t remember whether he caught the ball and I tackled him, or I broke the pass up. The only thing that stays with me is the crack of my shoulder pads against his, the roar from the sidelines and the birth of my new nickname-sticks. Already resembling one, I now had a moniker that was fitting for how I hit people. Sticks stuck, and for the next four years that’s who I was. It’s funny, under normal circumstances, 1-1 or squared up Balky beats me 9.99 times out of ten. But in this particular setting, I got the best of him. The train came to the station, my bags were packed and I hit that train as hard as I could. Team mates went bananas, the coach who moved me there looked like a genius and my confidence was sky high. I told myself right then and there, that If I could rock an all American, then I could play at this level.
Now maybe my path would have been different had I not prepped for this particular play. Say I disregarded the tight end and vacated the scene. Balky catches the ball and runs down the field untouched. Business as usual, next play, life goes on. Maybe I still play early, as the coaches saw something in me that I didn’t at the time.
Or maybe we go the other way. Confidence drops, coaches lose faith and I’m off the squad in a season or two looking to transfer. Those little moments are big. Each practice, each game, each season is a chance to harness one of those and make it your own. Write your own story. The season is coming, the train creaks into the station for a moment. I hope those bags are packed well, all you gotta do is pick em up and step on board.