Updated: Apr 18
"The Obstacle Is the Way"
A mindset introduced to me by Ryan Holiday as we sat in our football locker room reading the book as a team during a grueling two a day. This mindset is something that opened my eyes to an entirely different realm of how to look at the world. How could you make positives out of negatives? How could you grow while your competition stuttered? How could you create a winning edge out of anything?
It was a mindset that helped me go from a 7th string injured and nonathletic football player to an All-American. One that has helped me deal with the pressures of being a very young collegiate strength coach. One that has allowed me to push through starting a business and the struggles that involves. One that I hope helps us through this tough period of time we are currently in.
When I speak on this subject, I will mostly be talking about my main clientele and athlete group, which is collegiate American football players, but I hope that mindset is something all athletes can take into this period, whether they lost their spring ball or their season, there is a way to make a positive out of this.
In Football, The Obstacle Is Quite Literally The Way.
So what is the positive we can take out of this?
Well, honestly, I think it could be one of the best things that could have happened to our athletes for their development, in a long time, if it is approached in the correct way.
To understand why, lets talk about the current, typical athlete that shows up on campus.
The year is 2020, no longer are kids growing up, playing, learning how to use their bodies and developing a foundation of underpinning athletic qualities. Kids are specialized from the moment they show an ounce of potential in a sport. For football this means getting into as many camps as possible, 7 on 7’s, practice and games for middle school on. AND, I don’t even believe this is the worst part of it, because, at a bare minimum, they are moving, sprinting and playing in this time. The worst part, and bear with me strength coaches, is that in their off-season they are thrown into a weight room. A barbell or dumbbell is handed to them and they are told they need to get “Bigger, stronger and faster!”
While This Is Probably A little On the Extreme End, you Get my Point
Every parent is trying to create “The Next Tiger Woods” and it shows. No longer are they free playing and very rarely are they playing multiple sports. They are specialized athletes with a FRAGILE human foundation.
Want an example of how bad some of it is? I’ve had a kid who could squat 500 lbs but didn’t know what a cartwheel WAS, he had to ask and get a demo. This is an extreme example of course, but there are a ton of kids that come to our program that are physically developed and can lift the house, but you ask them to crawl, roll or perform any movement that involves some sort of flow (Per Andy Rylands definition of Brace and Flow) and they fall apart, fatigue or just plain can’t perform the movement.
To me, for a sport that involves both, bracing and flowing (as almost any sport does) I find this to be a major problem. Yes, having the physical development and being able to lift a lot of weight is great and I love doing it as much as the next strength coach, but is that really what our athletes need?
Is the effort, energy, wear and tear, calories, etc. that we put into getting that squat from 500 to 510 going to really be worth it in the end?
When does the law of diminishing returns come into place?
What if we spent that time in a better way in allowing them to move their bodies better? Teaching them how to flow? Giving them that base underpinning athletic ability so they can actually use that strength and specialization they already have developed?
You’ll hear coaches say all the time “The best program is the one you’re not on” because we know how amazing the body is at adapting to stimulus's.
I promise what led to this position had very little to do with the weight room
This is Why
I think this quarantine could be the best thing that ever happened to a lot of these athletes, because it forces them out of what they have done for most of their lives.
And hear me out….
it forces us as coaches to get our athletes out of weight room.
It forces us to get rid of our biases, egos and wants for our athletes.
To focus on their NEEDS.
It forces us to really focus on building these underlying qualities.
For the first time in their lives they will be forced to move better as humans first.
I also thinks it takes us away from squeezing the tube of tooth past (as Keir Wenham-Flatt puts it) of our athletes potential. Many times in high performing programs you’re asked to get results quickly with athletes (or if you’re not asked, the ego takes over and you want to) but many times these short term gains, will again, over mask these underlying qualities that aren’t sexy to work on and the long term results will not be what you want.
So with the thought process of “The Obstacle is the Way” lets take a look at things we can do to better our athletes in these qualities during this time period.
The Frustration Level of Strength Coaches Right Now, but fear not, this is a good thing!
As Nassim Taleb would put it, thinking doesn’t mean much if there isn’t action to put in place behind it. So lets put some skin in the game and look at how to attack this time period with our athletes.
When we normally program there are three main things that can be used as ways to overload and progress an athlete, Mass, Acceleration/Velocity and Tempo/duration. A change in any of these things with a progression accompanied with it will allow us to get some adaptation with our athletes.
Lets start with the old reliable, the one that a lot of coaches are having nightmares over not being able to control! While true, we don’t have our favorite barbells and aren’t going to have any huge squat sessions any time soon, there are still plenty of ways to overload, just maybe in a different way.
Lets start with developing the underlying human movements, while it may take 500 lbs to overload a kids legs (or back) with a squat, you can very easily overload them in other ways, like working on weak muscles or movement patterns. Here are a couple of my favorites that are going to give you a large bang for you buck.
A bodyweight pistol squat, I’ve seen many of 500 lb squatters not be able to perform one of these, whether it be a ROM, balance or just strength issues, these will expose a lot of athletes quickly and be an awesome exercise to allow them to see progress with. Athletes love progress, good athletes adapt quickly, this is a match made in heaven.
Another one that will be a money maker during this time are Nordic hamstrings. There have been a ton of articles on how great this exercise is and yet I guarantee most athletes can’t perform very many! Again an awesome challenging tool that will allow your athlete to see progress quickly.
Crawls are another money maker that most athletes are not going to be very good at and will help tremendously with overall body control and shoulder health.
Finally, foot,ankle,shin and calf care are things I know most athletes are not doing. Have them perform a set of 20 “Shin” raises and most will be crying over the burn. As this is the first point of contact for every movement they perform, taking care of these things now, will pay off huge in terms of being able to display their force through the ground, help with shin splints and keep those ankles from being sprained.
As a bonus for coaches that really want to get their strength work in, pulling and pushing against immovable objects (doors, playground sets or towels as shown here) is a way to get it in.
Acceleration and Velocity:
F= M * A and 9.81 m/s^2
Two things that are going to be where we make a lot of our money this offseason. Gravity has been and always will be undefeated by us mere mortals, so lets use it for what we can. As we know we can’t change a ton of the mass aspect of this equation right now so how can we get our athletes to produce a lot of force? Use gravity and as Fowler Fitness put it “go jump and fall off some tall sh**” I honestly think this is one of the best ways to develop athletic development anyways, but this time period forces everyone to experiment with it.
Landing Variations and Jumping Variations
Building ankle, lower limb, knee and hip robustness all while producing a ton of force and getting our athletes to develop natural movement patterns? Sign me up.
Plyo Push Up Variations
Same thing but with the upper body here! This is another exercise where you’ll see a very strong athlete not be able to display any of his strength!
Finally, sprinting, will produce the best neural outputs of any of these, don’t forget the basics. Run fast, rest for a long time and then run fast again. THIS IS NOT CONDITIONING and we are not “going for a run to stay in shape”
Before You Know it This Whole Quarantine will be Over and We'll be back here, lets make sure we are prepared
Finally we get into duration and tempo aspect of training which is where we can get a lot of structural changes and aerobic base development all in positions that athletes will benefit from being in for long periods of time! If you really want to dive into the rabbit hole, Dr. Tommy Johnny and Jake Tuura are the king of Isos and I’d recommend checking out our podcasts we had with them, but here are a couple of my favorites. Holding anywhere from 1-5 minutes, building up and progressing your volume in these positions.
Iso Lunge Hold with Heel Raise Video
Iso Split Squat Hold
Cossack Iso Hold
Push Up Iso Hold
Lateral Delt Iso Hold
Lat Iso Hold Video
As we mentioned at the start of the article, we can view obstacles as things in our way or as the way itself and hopefully we are able to grow and move forward as coaches, as a field an as athletes during this time! I think it has the benefit to open our eyes to a lot of things, if we allow it. Obviously I wasn’t able to include every single thing we do in this article, but I hope this gives a good view into how I’m looking to take this challenge and attack it head on!
Thank you for reading, I would love any feedback
Keep Chopping Wood