I spent last week on holiday mountain biking in France and it got me thinking about the role rest and recuperation has to play in a professional athlete’s life. I know that it was nice for me to get away for a little while and think a little less about S&C instead focusing on staying upright on my bike on some of the downhill trails! As a result I feel refreshed and extra enthused going into the late ski pre-season.
This is something I think that can have a very positive impact on athletes too. Most spend all their time thinking about and training for their sport. To be able to sever the link for a short while and recover mentally and physically is an important skill for an athlete in their day to day life and can mean they return to training with greater zeal and determination. Also, managing social and organisational aspects of their lives requires this ability and for me is a necessity, especially when you look at LTAD and the eventual end of a career in sport.
How often and long the rest and and recuperation periods should be will be different for each athlete and this is where the trust and awareness of self you develop with your athletes comes to the fore. You could even combine some R&R with a little training stimulus; one of the downhill skiers I work with was waterskiing recently on holiday, a great proprioceptive bout and I can also recommend downhill mountain biking with a hardtail mountain bike for increasing grip strength!
There’s a lot of research on it, we know it’s important, we know there’s different types to be used at different times and we know you have to do it in really short shorts or lycra, but it’s still a difficult part of training to get right. The first big issue is adherence, it’s not as glamorous as the technical training, not as rewarding as strength training and definitely doesn’t feel as ruinous as a conditioning session. You try to mix it up, make it a group session by itself, put it at the end of other S&C sessions or utilise yoga and pilates sessions and have to alter athlete perceptions and attitudes as you go.
Then there’s the type of stretching. You have the yoga and pilates options already mentioned as well as static, dynamic, PNF, micro and resistance. All of these have their supporters and detractors. Resistance stretching is one I came across recently, like PNF but dynamic through the full range of motion (I picked up a book by the ‘inventor’ Bob Cooley, some good stretches but not too easy to understand from the pictures and descriptions and a little too much energy flow and ying and yang for my tastes, however it seems pretty effective).
I think they all have their place and, like introducing new lifts, I find it easier to get the basics right first, namely static and dynamics, and introduce the others once competent. Initially I introduce it as a session on its own to associate importance to it and can then add onto the ends of technical and non supervised sessions once I’m confident of adherence Then I experiment. Periodising stretching with programs is a useful and structured way to use of the variety of methods and change stimulus. I’ve also toyed with ideas for team sessions. I thought of maybe using a goniometer to bring some light hearted competition and a little fun, however I’m a little nervous about being the coach that proves the equation:
competition + stretching = dislocated hip
As a coach I always put aside some time each month for reflective practice to make sure my coaching is where it should be and my athletes are getting the best methods of delivery. I also spend a lot of time thinking about my methods; why I do what I do, what I hope to gain from it, what works with which athlete etc. In the words of the Fast Show sketch, this week I have been mostly thinking about…the overhead squat (not a bad idea for a series of blog posts this, so you might see it crop up again!). So here are my musings.
The overhead squat is a great exercise, as a movement screen tool it’s brilliant for highlighting flexibility, imbalance and movement issues. To progress with as a tool for developing movements and improving flexibility it is also excellent and will feature in the majority of programs I write, at the very least as part of the warm up.
When you start to use a little more load, I find great development of shoulder proprioception and core strength (particularly if you vary the loading at either end of the bar) as well as recruitment of upper back musculature for scapula setting. This last point is of particular importance I find with habitual desk sitters!
So far it sounds like the perfect exercise, one or two of you might have detected a ‘but’ on the way so here it is….but issues start to crop up when the loading continues to increase to develop lower limb strength. Heavy loads put a lot of strain on the shoulder and the wrists and it’s more often than not these areas that cause a failure rather than leg strength. Front squats, back squats and deadlifts, for me, are much better developers of lower limb strength. Standing dumbell shoulder presses provide great proprioceptive training (also try barbell standing shoulder presses and hang a couple of dumbells with bands at either end….see what you think) as well as improving shoulder strength. So where does the overhead squat fit in?
It’s a necessary component with athletes you’re looking to develop the snatch with, it provides a greater core challenge than many other lifts and it greatly aids shoulder girdle stabilisation. The amount of use and how it is used will vary dependant upon the needs of the athlete and it will appear more often with overhead sports, but care should definitely be taken when picking suitable and safe loads for your athletes.