Having the Courage to Put Your Program Under the Microscope

TAGS: critique, todd hamer, training athletes, athletic training, strength and conditioning, coach

elitefts™ Sunday Edition

I received a package in the mail from a student athlete this week. This athlete lives oversees, and the package was filled with tons of good candy and junk food from Europe. Additionally, the package contained the book It's Not How Good You Are; It's How Good You Want to Be. Immediately, I went on a sugar high and started reading.

The book is a very easy read and has some nice reminders about how to be successful. I like reading books like these because they refill my motivation tank. As I was reading, I saw this phrase: "Do not seek praise; seek criticism." This made me decide exactly what I needed to write about.

Last month, I wrote about the Pennsylvania NSCA conference. One person I didn't mention (but should have) is Todd Burkey, an athletic trainer and strength coach for basketball at Youngstown State. Todd and I know each other, but for some reason, we rarely speak. Because of this, at the conference, we decided to learn from each other. We decided that Todd would come visit and critique me and then I would return the favor. We didn't start this process as close friends, so I had no doubt that Todd could be honest in his review of me. I guess I was seeking criticism.

I asked Todd if I could use his critique for my article and he agreed, so here's his review of me with comments from me about what we were doing. Ask yourself if you would be willing to let the world read criticism about you?


TB: There was a definite beginning to the workout. My personal feeling is that each workout should have a beginning and an end. I have observed some other programs that operate loosely. I enjoyed the interaction that you displayed with your guys. As we discussed, the concept of the warm-up is a little out of control. As far as suggestions, I might include some more distinct hip mobility here or maybe some scapular stabilization/activation. However, that starts you down the path of over thinking. As an athletic trainer, I like to see this at some point in every program, either in the warm-up or in the actual training plan.

todd hamer gym warm up 073014

TH: Todd and I spoke about this while I had the rest of the staff run the warm-up. Often, I think we're getting a little crazy with warm-ups. The reality is squatting makes you more mobile, so don't waste 25 minutes working on something that will be worked on during the warm-up. With that said, because we mix up our warm-up each day, we sometimes forget movements and fall into a rut. I need to find a balance.


TB: It's difficult to give an accurate assessment having watched just one session, but I’ll give some thoughts on the workout last Wednesday and of the weekly plan. At some point in our programs, I have utilized nearly all the exercises that you have listed. My first thought is (assuming that your guys work out five days a week based on the sheet) that the number and variety of exercises seems high. There are 35 different exercises. That's a lot of movements to master. My suggestion is that you utilize variation in loads and volume of intensity with the same exercise. You may have greater potential for progression by limiting stimuli.

As far as the exercise selection, I see balance and appreciate your inclusion of single leg exercises. I have not included any Olympic type lifts with our guys for several training cycles. I have no pretension to Olympic weightlifting. I just think that they have a place if you want to include them. During the workout, the first exercise was the heaving snatch balance. I can't be critical of technique because I know my guys certainly don’t do everything perfectly. The athletic trainer in me did cringe a few times, but all in all, I didn’t see any issues with that.

The second exercise was a difficult one. The barbell single leg deadlift is challenging. I had it as part of our workouts several cycles back, but I took it out because I felt the risk versus reward didn’t balance out (no pun intended). I don’t like the rotation that occurs in the lumbar spine when technique breaks down. I found that the single leg deadlift holding a medicine ball allowed us to combat this.

The squat jumps looked fine. Your guys looked like they landed OK. When fatigue built up, a few of them went knock-kneed on takeoff. I see that in my guys, too. It needs corrected. The remainder of the workout appeared to be a time under tension concept. I utilize time under tension in our cycles, too. If I remember correctly, Dave Tate set the times from 30–40 seconds. It’s a similar time frame to the fatigue limit during a loaded rep max test (225/185 bench rep max), but I've extended the time in certain situations. In knee rehabilitation, I build lower body stamina with leg press progressions in time up to four minutes.

The workout ended with a team break, so the closure was there. I always like to give some group feedback at this time and I’m sure that you do as well.

TH: Todd made some great points here. At this time of year, we do have a ton of different exercises for basketball. I could argue that we have too many, and I could argue that we need all these. I'll add that I see this a little differently, as the single arm dumbbell bench press and the bench press are different, but I don't know if I could call this two completely different movements. We did both this week.

todd hamer coaching dave tate LTT 073014



TB: It's difficult to comment here because this day didn't have conditioning, so I’ll give my general thoughts on basketball conditioning in the summer. I’ve started to consider that conditioning is a way too general term. It can include a multitude of very specific aspects of training. I’ve actually started considering weight training just as much “conditioning” as anything else. Conditioning is changing work capacity, so I think addressing the specific modalities is more appropriate. Speed training, tempo training, agility training, jump training, and throws are some of the specific things that we've started to promote. Buddy Morris encouraged me to explore Charlie Francis's methods, so forgive me if I seem to be trending that mindset.

From the athletic training perspective, I see a tremendous benefit with this training style. I think our kids have stayed healthier using it or maybe we just have the right kids right now. I had been of the mindset that fitness in basketball in the summer was simply maintained by free play/open gym. My thought now is that to progress specific aspects of fitness (i.e. speed training, jumps, throws), these aspects should be carried throughout the training cycle. In addition, we've made them a priority. We train these modalities prior to or separate of the weight training session.

So far, I've seen tremendous progress with all our guys and I think it has a direct transfer to sport development. Or maybe it’s working just because it’s relatively new. The conditioning that we did see appeared as general work. The Prowler and barbell squat sequence will likely promote fitness in the oxidative range (one 20-yard sled push lasted 100 seconds). If that is the goal for training, then yes, but is there a day when speed, speed endurance, power, or agility are addressed? We can talk about this more when you visit because I enjoy the discussion.


TB: I've been fascinated (by reading your columns and posts) with your use of interns. I had always struggled with managing a large number of interns (the most I ever had was three and I almost killed one). I think your plan with them is solid. I've had (from a distance) respect for what you've been able to accomplish at your university, and I think your contributions to the field are worthy.

After observing the workout, it's apparent that you have a good handle on how you can thrive there. I hope that your administration will extend the athletic training contract for more coverage in the summer. After talking with your athletic director, I’m not sure he truly gets it. He has some idea, but he needs to be more progressive. I told him that he needs to keep you and help you for whatever that's worth.

TH: As for how I use our interns and educate, that's a trade secret (just kidding). I'll write an entire article on this soon.

cool down todd hamer gym 073014


TB: I like people to nitpick my program (I require my students to observe training sessions and I ask them to reveal everything). It’s funny how many times I get some pretty honest feedback. This is my version of that.

You have two really solid guys. They are the guys I talked to at Juniata. They gave cues and corrected. The girls just followed people. I saw one intern spotting the dumbbell bench at the elbows. The dumbbell ended up on the player’s chest. I didn’t see any intern coaching the dumbbell squat jumps. Does it happen at Youngtown State? Oh, I’m sure.

TH: If I had seen the intern spotting from the elbow, I would have dropped Hamer's elbow. : )


TB: I like the interaction. It's paramount that the interaction with our athletes is positive. My premonition to the visit was that is who you are—and it is. I’m mixed on the intern role. I like the premise. Perhaps at some point, we could exchange interns. The distance isn't too far and the experience would be expanded for the intern. The only dislike I have is the role of athletic training in the strength program. I assume the relationship is amiable, but it sounds like it could be more productive. I suggested to your athletic director that both of you be put on an even level and report coordinated to a common source. The athletic training room and the strength and conditioning program should be a continuous process.

TH: Since I arrived here, we've been trying to find innovative ways to improve communication. We haven't found the perfect mix yet, but I think I have some new ideas (stolen from Youngtown State).

This was Todd's review of what we do. The following week, we visited Todd and watched a short football lift followed by a basketball workout. I love to see different coaches coach. Todd has a much more controlled approach than I do. Logan, one of my assistants who traveled with me, mentioned that he never heard Todd raise his voice. This led to a long talk on the ride home about controlling your room. I told him that I sometimes do a disservice to my young staff members when I get a little loud. Loud is OK but so is quiet. Over the years, I've learned that screaming doesn't equal coaching, but changing your voice is a variable at your disposal. The take home was to be yourself, but remember to ask every day whether you're the thermometer or the thermostat.

My challenge to you, the reader, is to meet a new coach and get him or her to review you. You'll probably get more honest feedback than if you just invited your "boys" over to tell you about how you're "grinding."



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