Multi-Sportv2_updated (1)

How to Train HS Athletes: 3 Steps for Complete Athletic Development

These days, everywhere you look, someone is touting the newest and best way to make better football players, or volleyball players, or track athletes. Unfortunately, with so many out to make a buck, sometimes the real goal gets lost in the mix.

When dealing with High School athletes, we must keep the proper perspective. We’re dealing with teenagers, all at the very beginning of their athletic/fitness careers. Even when talking “sports performance training”, our true role is one of educator.

Step 1: Build a Proper Foundation

First and foremost, we must ensure that we aren’t ignoring an athlete’s long-term athletic development or “LTAD” (see our article on that here). Before we talk 40 times and squat maxes, we have to progress each and every athlete from the bottom up.

Want your senior captain squatting over 400 pounds? First they must master a proper air squat.

Only upon a secure foundation can we actively improve “performance” on the field. Too often, coaches are in a rush. We want results and we want them now. Instead of spending time learning the basics and developing a baseline ability, we throw inexperienced athletes into advanced training programs and expect them to perform.

This is both inefficient and dangerous.

The shortest path to any goal is a straight line. The only way to yield long-term results is through planning and progression. We must set common foundations, progress athletes through a holistic fitness education, then transition into more advanced performance programs that allow them to realize their fullest potential.

Step 2: Master the Basics… (Then master them again!)

High school athletes are NOT specialists.

As track coaches, basketball coaches, lax coaches, etc…it’s easy to forget that your athletes exist beyond and outside of your sport. An overwhelming majority, though, of high school athletes compete in multiple sports (as they should!).

If we have an athlete that plays 2 or 3 different sports throughout the year, how do we justify them specializing in their training at any point? Worse than hindering progress, this can inadvertently lead to an increased incidence of injury. By definition, “specializing” in something must come at the expense of something else. Imbalances are often the root cause of injury. You cannot be specialized and well-rounded at the same time.

We believe the best athlete is a balanced athlete.

Every athlete (every human) should be taught strength. It’s the basis of a healthy life. But, strength is only valuable to an athlete when it can be combined with contractile speed to produce power, so we combine traditional strength development with plyometrics and high velocity olympic lifts. Even power, though, is only good when it can be exercised with control and precision. So, we refine it by enhancing proprioception through mobility focused compound movements like the overhead squat, and targeted neuromuscular activity like jumping rope or agility ladder progressions. Beyond that, this newfound ability will only be beneficial if the athlete stays healthy and can fight off fatigue. Being such, we place a heavy emphasis on proper injury prevention and recovery as well as conditioning through a number of different methods. From classical aerobic conditioning, to interval work, to high intensity Metcon (Metabolic Conditioning) workouts.

We firmly believe that such a holistic training program will build a better football player, soccer player, track athlete…you name it. The skills may vary widely between sports, but the physiological requirements are far more universal.

Step 3: Challenge Your Perspective

Perhaps most important, though, is a reminder and understanding of who, exactly, we are training.

As high school coaches, we all want the same thing. We want to develop more dynamic athletes and better teams. But, training high school athletes is a highly unique endeavor. We tend to forget that, when it comes to performance training, the athletes in question are just plain young and inexperienced.

For the overwhelming majority of your athletes, their high school years will be the first time ever involved in an athletic strength and conditioning program. High school students lack a solid foundation of functional fitness on which to specialize. Most can barely squat or perform a deadlift properly, let alone do so with heavy weight or in any fancy variation. It is absolutely imperative these athletes are all given a comprehensive program that works to build a complete athlete from the ground up. We owe it to them as young athletes, as well as young adults who need to go on living healthy lives long after they finish our sport.

If your 18-year-old offensive lineman is scared to jog a mile because of a sole focus on size, you’ve done his long-term health a serious disservice.

Any athlete that commits to a complete training program with consistency will see results that translate not just in sport, but in life.

Want to see how we can help you educate and train your athletes? Click here!


**Where do these beliefs come from? Well, first and foremost it comes from real-life experience. Not only does the entire PLT4M team come from athletic backgrounds (we were all multi-sport HS athletes that went on to compete at the collegiate level), but it shares experience teaching and coaching at the college and high school level as well. Our team of trainers runs the gamut from CSCS coaches through the NSCA, to certified PE teachers, to credentialed trainers through Crossfit and USAW. We all still regularly work with athletes of all levels and experience. To make a long story short, we understand the issues facing high school teachers, coaches, and student-athletes because we’ve lived them. Our cumulative experiences have brought us to a common place in regards to strength and conditioning/fitness, and this vision is what shapes our programs here at PLT4M.**

Culture_cropped

4 Keys to Great Off-Season Workouts

1. Master the Basics…then Master Them Again.

The bedrock of any program is movement. Before you can apply intensity, volume, or anything else, you must master basic movement patterns. Far too often, coaches and athletes get caught up in the flashy things they see on Instagram (thanks, Lebron), or in using the program from a big time college team.

In doing so, we miss the point entirely. You can only dive into advanced training after building a rock-solid foundation of movement, capacity, and self-awareness. You wouldn’t skip Algebra and go straight to teaching Calculus, would you? Training is no different. Just like any subject in high school, there is an educational process involved.

You cannot assume that if something works for elite athletes, it is appropriate for your average high school athlete. All this does is set them up for failure and risk unnecessary injuries from training (1, 2, 3).

Your program should be built for your audience – the developmental athlete (regardless of sport or gender). Build your athletes from the ground up: first developing competency within all of the basic movement patterns, building full-body strength through compound lifts, and then utilizing a holistic range of capacities.

As the former S&C coach for the LA Lakers says, even for advanced athletes this really “isn’t rocket science”.

2. Balance in All Things

Even once we’ve made movement a priority, we must be highly cognizant of what we ask our athletes to do on a regular basis. As with everything else, balance is ever the key. If we push, we must pull, if we squat, we must hinge.

But, why? Well, performing one movement to the exclusion of another results in the over-taxing of one set of muscles and the under-development of another. This is the root cause of most injuries.

For example, let’s take a look at everyone’s favorite – the Squat. While it strengthens nearly every muscle in the core and lower body and correlates with faster sprinting and higher jumping (4), it neglects the hamstrings to a relatively significant degree. Hamstrings are activated 50% less than the quads, even in the back squat (5). Thus, if we want to avoid a strength deficit, which is strongly correlated to ACL tears, poor joint stability, hamstring tears and other injuries (6), we must balance out our movement. If we squat, we must also do targeted posterior chain work.

Don’t fall in love with one movement over all others, they all have a part to play. The best programs do it all, and do it all well.

3. Variety is the Spice of Life

The simple fact is, using just one type of training method over and over will never allow athletes to reach their full athletic potential. The best results in health, fitness, and performance come from programs that cover a wide variety of domains (78, 9). From volume, to intensity, to duration – it should all be planned for, trained, and well-balanced.

Variety, though, does NOT mean randomly selecting movements and workouts day-to-day. It must be a part of your larger PLAN.

We already know that movement choice is a balancing act, but beyond that we must consider the domains within which they are trained. It is CRITICAL to plan variations in volume, intensity, and exercises; as these variations prevent overtraining and maximize results (10, 11). Many of the high school programs we see lack this element. Often, we see coaches sticking with the same thing over and over to simplify planning and execution. Keeping weights, reps, and movements the same for weeks on end ultimately causes a break in progress and barrier to full recovery (12).

This is exactly why, here at PLT4M, we opt to utilize an approach similar to the “Conjugate” method. Essentially, shorter training phases, multiple training goals within each week, frequent movement and emphasis changes, all capitalize on the body’s rapid ability to adapt to external stresses (10, 11). We ensure that the training stimulus does not become habituating in nature, all while allowing for greater recovery within the training week.

Speaking of recovery…

4. All Things in Moderation

The beginning of the off-season is an exciting time for everyone. The slate is clean, the hopes are high, and the energy level matches the ambition. It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement.

We get it.

BUT, one of the biggest (and most frequently made) mistakes coaches fall into is asking too much of their athletes. We should always approach the off-season as a time to work smarter, not harder.

We now know we must preach fundamentals before intensity, be balanced in our movement choices to avoid injury, and provide variety to stimulate growth…but we must also practice restraint.

The human body is an incredible machine, and will adapt to training in impressive ways – but everyone has a breaking point. Pushing past the upper limit of volume, or work done, in a given time period is where we begin to see the point of diminishing returns. This is called “Overtraining”.

When discussing overtraining, we have to talk about training volume (total work done) and training intensity (percentage of a 1 RM). These two lifting parameters generally must exist in an inverse relationship. We must realize that more sets and reps doesn’t equate to more results. In fact, volume beyond a certain intensity yields no benefit and may even hold detrimental effects to training (10).

Proper recovery is paramount to long-term health and better results. Each week must be programmed with the balance of volume and intensity in mind. Each phase must consider the emphasis placed on various training domains. Each program must consider when to step back and de-load entirely…etcetera, etcetera.

Conclusion

Want to win the off-season? Don’t be the coach that walks in each day and writes whatever you’re thinking on the whiteboard and say’s “Let’s Go!” You wouldn’t do that at practice, don’t do it in the weight room.

Like in sports, the key is to have a plan, and execute it well.

In the end, the best programs are ones that see the bigger picture. They must take into account the educational development of every athlete, they balance their movement, train all domains, and plan ahead for proper restraint to ensure continued progress.

Front Rack

Why In-Season Training is the Key to a Winning Season

As coaches, we all want to win.

We implore our athletes to spend the off-season training to become bigger, faster, stronger. But, the moment practice begins, our focus shifts and training becomes an afterthought.

This is dangerous.

While in-season, your athletes will adapt to the rigors of practices and games, often reaching peak physical conditioning for that sport. At the same time, the absence of resistance training will always equal substantial losses of strength and power. Beyond affecting their ability to compete, this loss significantly increases their risk of injury on the field (1).

We get it, time with your athletes is precious. But, the desire to spend all your time at practice or film, at the expense of a short lift, could prove costly. The ability of your athletes to consistently perform at a high level throughout a long season will ultimately dictate your team’s success.

The point of in-season training is not to improve performance per say, rather its goal is to maintain the strength gains built during the off-season, and reduce the likelihood of injury.

A healthy team, performing at its peak all season long, is a winning team.

Let’s take a quick look at exactly why consistent strength training during the season puts your team in the best position to win.

1. “If you don’t use it, you lose it.”

Steve Carrell’s worries were actually well-founded.

When it comes to performance training, it’s all about consistency. The strength and power output adaptations gained in the off season through months of hard work will begin to drop off the day your athletes stop lifting. This is especially true for power (or the amount of work your athletes can produce in a given amount of time — think Olympic lifts and “explosiveness”). Following the SAID Principle, the human body will adapt to the stresses being placed on it or lack thereof, meaning if the squat or hang clean are no longer being utilized, the body will then adapt to the absence of specific stress, always choosing the path of least resistance.

2. Staying out of the depth chart.

In high school athletics, or any level for that matter, maintaining a stable roster is KEY. Injuries resulting in missed games and seasons change the landscape completely.

Strength deficiencies and overcompensation are often the beginning of the injury process. The human body will compensate whenever there’s an imbalance and the weakest link in the chain will break first. For example, there exists significant correlations between weak, tight muscles of the hamstring and increased ACL tears and strains and overall anterior knee pain (2, 3). Tight and weak hamstrings lead to an increase in the compressive forces impacting the patellofemoral joint and tight/weak quad muscles create a dangerous imbalance that can change the patella’s ability to track effectively (2). Even weakness/tightness within the hip stabilizers can negatively affect patellofemoral joint stability (4).

Keeping your stars on the field by avoiding injury is your best chance for competitive success.

3. More quality practice time.

It’s not only catastrophic injury that can derail a team. Every minute spent with the trainer or limited in practice due to strains, pulls, and soreness, is time wasted.

A common cause of overuse injury in athletics is a process called muscle dysfunction. Essentially, this refers to poor coordination within a series of muscle contractions once a movement is initiated. This is an issue regarding the relationship between the agonist muscle group (those that start the movement) and antagonist muscle groups (those that control the movement). If one muscle group is overused, the result can be inflammation of the muscle/tendon nearest the joint in motion. This is accompanied with pain and decreased range of motion.

Strength training, particularly compound barbell exercises, is one of the best ways to reduce overuse injuries. We strengthen the major muscles surrounding a joint while improving joint flexibility and muscle coordination. Contrary to the belief that lifting weights makes muscles tighter, using full range of motion under load is a great way to improve flexibility, even when compared to traditional static stretching (5).

Conclusion

Bottom line, if you want to win, in-season strength training is an absolute must.

If you need more proof, a well regarded study of youth athletics found that athletes were 3x MORE LIKELY to be injured during the course of a season if a weight training program was not utilized as part of the typical in-season routine (6). Another study found that use of balance training, strength training, and a proper warm up saw a decrease in injury rate by over 50% (1).  Over and over, in-season training has been proven to effectively decrease the risk of injury (1) (6) (7) (8) (9) (10) (11).

Teams that stay healthy, and are able to perform at optimal level all season long, are ultimately the teams that have the greatest chance for enduring success.


References:

  1. Olsen, Odd-Egil, et al. “Exercises to Prevent Lower Limb Injuries in Youth Sports: Cluster Randomised Controlled Trial.” The Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports, 24 Feb. 2005, http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download;jsessionid=F6BFCEB06C48B2C1E12479FCE9B9D53B?doi=10.1.1.493.4246&rep=rep1&type=pdf. 
  2. “Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome – OrthoInfo – AAOS.” Frozen Shoulder – Adhesive Capsulitis – OrthoInfo – AAOS, orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases–conditions/patellofemoral-pain-syndrome/.
  3. Leetun, Darin T, et al. “Core Stability Measures as Risk Factors for Lower Extremity Injury in Athletes.” Clara Barton: Angel of the Battlefield, June 2004, insights.ovid.com/pubmed?pmid=15179160.
  4. Donatelli, Robert. “Muscle Imbalance and Common Overuse Injuries.” Sports Injuries, Treatment and Performance Information, 2 Dec. 2017, www.sportsmd.com/performance/muscle-imbalance-common-overuse-injuries/.
  5. Morton, Sam K, et al. “Resistance Training vs. Static Stretching: Effects on… : The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research.” LWW, journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/Fulltext/2011/12000/Resistance_Training_vs__Static_Stretching__Effects.22.aspx.
  6. William, Hejna, et al. “The Prevention of Sports Injuries in High School Students… : Strength & Conditioning Journal.” LWW, journals.lww.com/nsca-scj/Abstract/1982/02000/The_Prevention_of_Sports_Injuries_in_High_School.6.aspx.
  7. “Avoidance of Soccer Injuries with Preseason Conditioning.” Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/03635465000280050601?url_ver=Z39.88-2003&rfr_id=ori%3Arid%3Acrossref.org&rfr_dat=cr_pub%3Dpubmed&.
  8. Olsen, Odd-Egil, et al. “Injury pattern in youth team handball: a comparison of two prospective registration methods.” The BMJ, British Medical Journal Publishing Group, 19 May. 2005, www.bmj.com/content/330/7489/449.
  9. Paterno, Mark V., et al. “Prevention of Overuse Sports Injuries in the Young Athlete.” Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports., U.S. National Library of Medicine, Oct. 2013, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3796354/.
  10. Wingfield, K. “Neuromuscular Training to Prevent Knee Injuries in Adolescent Female Soccer Players.” Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports., U.S. National Library of Medicine, Sept. 2013, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23989384.
  11. Faigenbaum, A D, and G D Myer. “Resistance Training Amount Young Athletes: Safety, Efficacy and Injury Prevention Effects .” Resistance Training Amount Young Athletes: Safety, Efficacy and Injury Prevention Effects , 20 Jan. 2010, thetitusreport.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/Faigenbaum_and_Myer_2010BJSM_resistance_training_youth.pdf.
Featured Video Play Icon

Teaching the Clean

One of the most technically difficult movements to learn and perform well, the clean is also one of the most beneficial. It’s a dynamic blend of strength and power development, full body mobility, and precise proprioception. It’s no surprise it’s often referred to as one of the most athletic lifts.

Starting new athletes in the clean can be a tricky endeavor due to it’s many moving parts. Here at PLT4M, we like to start at the “top” with the most basic element of the clean and work our way down over time.

Thus, we begin by teaching the “High Hang Power Clean” – basically focusing on the jump and pull with a catch in our front rack position. We introduce this movement in parts:

Hands & Feet:
The athlete’s feet should be in a neutral position directly under the hips. Their hands should be at least “thumb-swiping” distance from the thighs on the bar, with the arms hanging long and loose from the shoulders.

Position 1/Jumping Position:
From here, we instruct the athlete to simply “soften” the knees, or bend them slightly. The torso remains vertical, we’re not looking to lean forward, here. It is just a little 2 inch dip of the hips.

Pull & Catch:
We tell the athlete to jump with the legs while pulling the bar up the torso. Cue them to try and pull their shirt up with the bar, keeping the elbows high and outside. Once the bar has reached chest height, we shoot the elbows through and assume a quarter squat position – also known as the power position.

Even breaking it down to these most basic pieces, you will see many different athletes exhibiting many different faults, From here, it’s easier to identify individual issues and fix with each athlete, rather that try and break the movement down even further.

Fault 1 – Scarecrow vs Zombie:
One of the most common issues you’ll see with new athletes is the tendency to reverse curl the bar as opposed to the proper high pull. First, cue the athlete to mimic a Scarecrow, not a Zombie (elbows high and outside – video here: https://youtu.be/r2bFx9iJBQI). If the visual cue doesn’t work, provide them with a tactile cue, placing a physical obstruction like a pvc pipe in the way, forcing the bar to travel upward instead of out from the body.

Fault 2 – Starfish Catch
The next most common issue relates to hip and foot position on the catch. Often, athletes will jump the feet out wide in an effort to stabilize the weight. While this is instinctual for many, it puts them in an unsafe position under load, and also limits their ability to move weight. Cue them to avoid this starfish catch, and jump from hip-width to shoulder or squat width (video here: https://youtu.be/gA2PyfCHeps). There are a number of ways to fix this issue. You can use a tactile cue by placing your foot or other obstacle in the way of excessive width, or a visual cue with a taped target area on the floor.

Once we’ve mastered the high hang power clean, we can much more easily begin to introduce the other variations – moving all the way down to a full squat clean from the floor.

Always remember that we are looking to instill great mechanics before we add serious loading. Set good habits and the weight will come!

3 Keys to Warming Up Before A Workout

3 Keys to Warming Up Before A Workout

The Warm Up.

It’s the least “sexy” part of training. It lacks the competition and the intensity of the rest of the workout. Because of this, it is often overlooked by coaches and or avoided by athletes. The warm up, though, is one of the most important components of any training program.

Beyond simply preparing athletes for more intense work, a proper warm up simultaneously offers us a chance to work on movement technique, prevent injury in the gym and on the field, and become a better overall athlete (mobility/ROM/proprioception/etc). (1, 2, 3

How should you approach the warm up in order to achieve all of these significant benefits?

Let’s take a quick look at the structure of a well-executed warm up.

Important to note here, is the order in which everything is executed. Though we have laid out a specific sequence of events, a warm up does not always need to follow such to the letter. Often, these stages will overlap, and sometimes it makes more sense to perform a technique brief before mobility or perform your activation in place of dynamic movement. Bottom line: so long as you are using a structured warm up with purposeful intent, you’re doing it right!

Step 1: Get Moving! (Elevate Heart Rate)

1A: Light Cardio

Before we do anything else, we must prime the engine. 

To do this, we elevate the heart rate, incite blood flow to the entire body, and begin moving our muscles and joints in a low intensity environment. The goal, here, is to elevate body temperature and increase tissue elasticity. (4)

The simplest way to accomplish this is to hop into some light “cardio” work. You have a whole host of different options:

  • Jogging
  • Biking
  • Rowing
  • Jumping Rope
  • Jumping Jacks

Beyond the traditional cardio options, you could easily opt for something more entertaining to a group of young athletes. A casual game of knockout, tag, musical chairs (the med ball version is quite entertaining!), etc. are great options so long as it is casual and relaxed. All we are looking for is continuous movement at a very moderate pace. 

Perform for somewhere between 2 and 5 minutes depending on time constraints.

1B: Dynamic Movement

Once the heart rate is up and blood has begun to flow, we like to transition directly into another kind of continuous movement (you could also start the process here). 

Unlike our monostructural cardio, though, we are working through fuller ranges of motion about different joints. The goal is to expand our initial warm up into more athletic, movement-relevant motion.

Example: The Alternating Spiderman & Reach

Other possibilities:

  • PVC Pass throughs
  • Bodyweight Good Mornings
  • Inchworm to a Push Up
  • Continuous Line Drills

In each of these examples, the goal is slow, purposeful movement. These are not static stretches, but neither are they fast-paced. We want to reinforce great biomechanics (focusing on the maintenance of the lumbar curve during a bodyweight good morning, for example), and begin to warm up the muscles and connective tissues through a complete range of motion that will be used during the workout ahead.

Step 2: Mobility

After the body has been warmed up a bit, we sometimes like to slow things down a little with some targeted mobility work. 

Passive mobility holds (aka static stretching), or tissue mashing, can help prime our body for optimal movement and positioning in our upcoming training. When done consistently, it can also improve our overall flexibility, stability, and range of motion over time. (5)

For example, if we are getting below parallel in the day’s workout, we may prescribe some banded hip and ankle mobility holds.

Banded Squat Mobility:

Not only does this grease the groove for our squatting, it reinforces proper hip/knee/ankle alignment to prevent unintentional internal rotation of the hip (specifically the valgus knee collapse so often associated with ACL injuries) and also improves ankle dorsiflexion. Both are key to avoiding injury and improving performance when running, jumping, etc. 

Now, there is a LOT of debate on the place and the efficacy of static stretching and tissue mashing (foam rolling, etc) as it pertains to a training warm up. For years, many people trashed the concept as a detriment to subsequent muscular strength and power output, removing it from warm up protocols altogether.

Recently, though, much research has come out that seems to oppose this train of thought. (6, 7

In fact, research has shown that static stretching, when done in durations of greater than 30, but less than 60 seconds has been proven to improve range of motion while not impacting peak power or strength. (8, 9, 10)

Further, when it is combined with dynamic movement, static stretching at all has absolutely no negative impact on muscular strength or power. (11)

If there are no recognizable negatives, then, in our minds, passive mobility can set up the athlete for short term and long term success.

Step 3: Movement Prep

3a: Activation

Once we’ve gotten the blood flowing and our range of motion enhanced, we want to take some dynamic activity and make it specific to the training demands of the day. 

Our goal is to begin to “activate” the particular muscle groups and kinetic chains that are of primary focus later on. In conjunction with your mobility work, proper activation can lead to a significant improvement of overall movement quality. (12)

What does this look like?

Frankly it can take on many forms, all depending on your approach and goal for the day. One day you may choose to shore up the midline in preparation for heavy deadlifts by working some hip extensions or simple supermen. Another day it may be concentrated shoulder pre-hab before barbell pressing work. It may be specific glute activation before squatting to help prevent valgus knee collapse in inexperienced lifters. It may even be simple gymnastics of push ups and air squats, or barbell complexes to dial in lightweight movement patterns that will be used later on.

For example, this series of DB Carries is a great way to activate the shoulders and lockdown the midline all at once.

The beauty is in the flexibility – you can get a lot of things done while also preparing for your more intense work to come.

3B: TECHNIQUE

Arguably the most important component of movement prep. No athlete is at a level of movement competency that would eliminate the need to drill technique and form every single day. We are great believers in mastering the basics…then mastering them again!

We first like to grab a PVC or empty barbell and drill the movement in question, and all of its constituent parts. If it’s a heavy squat clean day, for example, we will likely run through our 3 position clean drill first. Then, we drill the exact movement for a number of light, perfect reps. 

Then we gradually increase the loading and resistance until we’ve reached our desired level of intensity. 

3 Position Clean Drill:

This process really serves two purposes. First, it allows time for technique work. Too often, coaches and athletes opt not to continually work movement technique to their detriment. It also prepares us, neuromuscularly, for the intensity to come within that exact movement pattern.

All of the above is a surefire way to prime the body for your training session. You’ll be less susceptible to injury, you’ll gain total body control and ROM over time, you’ll cement great movement patterns, and you’ll see the best gains – you’ll PR more.

So next time you train, incorporate a great warm up then get to work!

Featured Video Play Icon

Squat Therapy

Squat Therapy, or the overhead wall squat, is a relatively simple, yet dynamic training tool. At PLT4M, we use it for an array of different purposes. It can be used to dial in great squat positioning before a big below parallel day, assess current levels of mobility and track progress over time, or simply drill form during the development of new athletes.

Above all, though, we love these wall squats for their ability to act as a diagnostic tool.

Starting at least a full foot or more away, have the athlete face a wall, and settle into a shoulder width stance, with toes slightly turned out. Then, have the athlete raise their arms directly overhead in full lockout position. From here, we will ask them to complete a slow and controlled squat rep, during which we can look for common faults.

1. Do the arms unlock, or do the chest & shoulders drop toward the wall in a “hunched” position?

Take a look at the athlete’s shoulder and thoracic spine mobility. Many young athletes are incredibly immobile through their thoracic spine (section of the spine from the base of the neck to the bottom of the rib cage) from sitting in front of computers, hunching over cell phones, etc. We can reverse this chronic thoracic flexion through regular mobility and strength/activation work.

2. Does the athlete lose their natural lumbar curve – aka does the lower back round out?

This likely signifies a lack of core stability or the need for specific activation. We’re not talking “strength” here, or the active generation of force – we’re talking about the ability to resist movement. With so many crazy dynamic “core” exercises out there, we tend to forget that the primary purpose of our abs is to stabilize the trunk and keep the spine in a neutral position. A great way to shore up and activate the core is through isometric holds. Planks, glute bridges, asymmetrical DB carries, etc are all great options to turn on and improve that core stability.

3. Is the athlete unable to get the hips below parallel?

Lack of depth could be due to a number of different issues. First is basic strength – if an athlete is extremely “untrained” he or she may be unable to support their bodyweight through a full range of motion. Here we can scale depth with targets of decreasing height, progressing them to full depth over time, much like we would scale a push up or pull up. It could also be a product of supremely tight hip flexors – another wonderful byproduct of our sedentary/sitting/desk lifestyle.

Frequently, the lack of depth actually arises due to a lack of ankle mobility, namely the total range of dorsiflexion. There are a number of easy tests and fixes for this issue that will help athletes achieve greater depth while maintaining an upright torso. We will be addressing those tests in future videos, but working calf/achilles flexibility is an excellent start for any athlete having trouble.

4. Are the knees caving in?

Valgus knee collapse is likely due to poor hip mobility or a lack of glute activation and can be a serious risk of injury (both in the gym and on the field). Soft tissue work (foam rolling and poses like the Pigeon stretch) coupled with targeted glute/hip activation (bridges, banded crab walks, etc), can help to open up that hip joint for proper external rotation. This will allow the knees to drive over the toes and maintain the natural hinge position of the knee joint. (See our article on this specific issue here: https://www.plt4m.com/fix-your-squat-4…).

5. Are the feet spinning out, actively rotating on the floor during the descent?

This is most likely the athlete’s body compensating for a lack of ankle mobility. If the knee cannot drive out over the toe, the ankle will rotate outwards in the path of least resistance. It is also possible that the athlete suffers from a lack of stabilization through the foot arch – cue them to drive the big toe into the ground as the squat. Lastly, the spin could also be caused by a lack of hip internal rotation, which we can fix with mobility drills like the Frog pose.

By no means are these the only possible faults and fixes, but they should give you a great place to start with your athletes. Every athlete will follow a slightly different path to perfect form, and regularly diagnosing their movement patterns is a great way to help them along the way.

Still having trouble with an athlete even after utilizing this drill and trying some fixes? Not sure what the problem is? Give us a shout, we’d be happy to consult!