Aug 18, 2017
Help, Don’t Hinder
Aaron Goldberg

There are several common exercises that coaches place into typical routines. However, are these workouts really helping your athletes, or are they just there for novelty because they are so prevalent?

In an article by Joe Meglio, a strength and conditioning coach at the Underground Strength Gym, he advises that a coach’s priority should be to safely improve athletic performance. Therefore, activities that might increase muscle size are not always the best, as they can often lead to stiff joints and slow muscles. These exercises are the exact opposite of what your athletes need and can put them at risk for injury, while offering little or no performance benefit.

David Otey, CSCS, the Personal Training Manager at Equinox, describes these types of exercises as sport restrictive, or activities that “could hinder the natural athleticism of an athlete.” On the other hand, sport specific exercises are those used “with the intent of developing a particular athlete in their respective competition,” writes Otey. These activities can be just as damaging if not complimented by other natural lifts. For example, he argues that young football players should practice making one-handed catches like Odell Beckham Jr. However, they should also focus on speed, power, route running, and other fundamentals.

Otey illustrates strength training as comprising of two main goals — maximizing potential and minimizing injury. This idea means that your routines should be designed to push your athletes to compete harder, work more efficiently, and stay healthy. Thus, sport restrictive exercises highlight what they should not be doing to hinder their development in their respective sport. In fact, Otey describes four common situations that could be holding back your athletes.

The first is restricted hip drive. In most athletic motions, the hips dominate, and this force represents one of the most common strengths of any athlete. Explosion and stability are the key factors in strengthening your glutes, so exercises that concentrate on this movement are important.

Secondly, restricted shoulder mobility can be a problem for athletes. Shoulder strength and mobility is crucial because, in most throwing sports, a good toss is either amplified or hindered due to the shoulder. This makes activities that diminish the movement of the shoulders detrimental.

Next is the loss of rotational power generation. Creating this power in the core is key for maximizing output in athletic movements. This feat is only accomplished by training the body and your core in its full capacity, instead of just isolated segments.

Finally, Otey recognizes the loss of multidirectional movement. Your athletes need to be able to change pace and direction in dynamic ways, and activities that restrict motion to one direction will hamper their athletic abilities.

To help fix your routine, Meglio offers a solution — simply ask yourself, “How will this make my athletes better?” If you can’t answer that question, then these are exercises that you should probably avoid and replace with more functional movements. Meglio specifically lists certain activities that should be removed from workouts.

In terms of the upper-body, he identifies the chest fly, triceps kickbacks, upright rows, and lat pulldowns as inefficient athletic exercises. Offering alternatives, Meglio suggests push-up variations, dips, military presses, and pull-ups or chin-ups.

For lower-body exercises, you should avoid routines including leg extensions, leg curls, smith machine squats, and leg presses. Instead, lunges, glute ham raises, barbell squats, and step-ups are all performance-boosting substitutes.

Aaron Goldberg serves as an Assistant Editor for High School Athlete Performance while attending Cornell University.

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