By Brian Snow
NASM Certified Personal Trainer, NASM Youth Exercise Specialist and Senior Fitness Specialist
Coffee and the newspaper – my idea of a relaxing, good start to the morning. I start with the sports page, of course, before embarking on the more often troubling accounts in the “normal” world I seek to escape through sports. And it seems so often that a daily read of the sports page has the latest injury news – another blown ACL, a new Tommy John surgery recipient in baseball or someone out with low back pain, and I’m glad when it’s not someone from “my” team. But I can’t help having feelings of “been there, done that” with my own injuries and wondering if proper (and way different training from my youth) technique and training could have prevented it.
I grew up in the 80’s, with big hair, parachute pants, L.A. Gear high tops and the thick socks rising above them, and all the other great fashion faux pas as we see them now. This was also the time of the first big push to place weight lifting in prime focus for sports performance.
Arnold Schwarzenegger, in “Pumping Iron”, brought the bulging muscles and bodybuilding world to the masses. “What’s your bench max?” And like “more cowbell”, more curls please.
Of course it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to conclude that more strength could lead to better performance, and this was a good trend that’s led to a continued emphasis today. But the bad news was that there was very little in proper technique being taught, and those big chests and biceps often included sore elbows and shoulders to go along with them. Poor pushup technique became poor bench press technique, to say nothing of the stress on the lower back with improper squats and deadlifts.
Muscle imbalances? Oh yeah. The emphasis on beach muscles was a not too distant second (first?) motivation to that bench max and endless curls. What back or hamstring muscles? They’re in the rear anyway and our eyes are focusing on the front muscles, right?!
This is why, as somebody that grew up in that era and made all of those mistakes and then some, with years of sore joints and injuries to prove it (both ACL’s torn), it has become my passion to teach proper training and technique to young athletes. I believe this can be especially important before high school and weight room resistance training. The old belief that youth resistance training could injure growth plates has instead been shown to be happening only with improper technique and/or from using too much, or near maximal weight. Body weight training for youngsters has been proven both safe, and beneficial, providing the foundation for proper technique for the later years’ (high school) more serious strength and power training goals for high school sports. Research shows that youth can safely increase their strength by as much as 30-74% while also adding the benefits of improving gross motor skills, positive changes in body composition, improved bone mineral density, improved psychosocial well being, decreased risk for cardiovascular disease, and decreased injury rates.
Today’s proper pushup technique is the proper bench press of tomorrow, and an emphasis on muscle balance in training prevents imbalances and injuries. So much of training today has positively evolved from the pure body building days of Arnold, but there is still a tendency to ignore the functional movements, balance and stability components, and rotational qualities (different planes of motion) that happen in all sports movements. Many exercises do a great job in developing power and acceleration, but the deceleration (slowing down) function of muscles is ignored. Deceleration and rotational movements are where many of the injuries are occurring (think ACL and rotator cuff). Think how often in sports an athlete is on a single leg. How often do you see that being trained?
What’s the most important exercise that all athletes need to learn? How can it be progressed and adapted further to specific sports movements? How often should youngsters train? What exercises? How many sets and reps? In what ways can the program design and progression be specific to the sports they play? These are the types of questions a certified personal trainer can answer and use to design a specific plan for the young athlete. And even if sports do not end up playing a big role in the youngster’s life, the habits and knowledge they learn can transfer nicely to a lifelong habit of good health and fitness to combat our ever increasing sedentary lifestyles.