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Front Squat v. Hip Thrust: Which is Right For My Program?

There is a plethora of lower body exercises that can be used to build muscle, strength, power, and endurance. Two exercises that are most commonly used as staples of strength programs are the front squat and the hip thrust. When implemented correctly, these two exercises produce very different results in terms of changes in athletic performance. Choosing which exercise you want to implement as a staple of your program depends on the improvements you want to see in your athletes, as well as the VECTOR in which your athletes need improvement or is needed to perform at a high level in their sport.

The front squat is a variation of the squat that puts more stress on the quads as compared to the back squat, which puts more stress on the glutes and hamstrings. Because of the straight up-and-down vector path of a front squat, this exercise is great for improving vertical jump numbers. Therefore, the front squat is a good exercise for athletes looking to improve their jumping ability and should be a staple of any basketball or volleyball strength program.

The hip thrust is an exercise in which the barbell is placed on top of the hip joint and the hips are “thrust” into a hip bridge position with the feet flat on the floor and the upper back resting on a bench. The hip thrust exercise works the glutes and hamstrings directly. Even though the motion of the exercise is up-and-down just like the front squat, the hips are really pushing forward-and-back, which means the body is working in the same vector as running/sprinting. Therefore, the hip thrust improves the athletes ability to run/sprint instead of improve the athlete’s vertical jump like the front squat does. Furthermore, the hip thrust should be an emphasis for athletes looking to improve their speed and for any running-dominant sport where speed is important.

It is also important to recognize the muscles that each lift works as well as the muscles used in the movement that the lift improves. The front squat works the quads and improves vertical jump, which needs a fast and powerful quad contraction. The hip thrust works the glutes and hamstrings and improves sprinting, which needs strong and powerful glutes and thighs. I am not by any means saying that the front squat does not involve meaningful contractions of the glutes and hamstrings. I am saying that the FORCE of each contraction is much greater in the hip thrust as compared to the front squat. Front squats can improve one’s speed just as the hip thrust can improve vertical jump, however more gains will be seen in the vertical jump when utilizing the front squat and a faster athlete will be more quickly developed when using the hip thrust.

As a coach, I believe that it is important to find a way to implement BOTH of these exercises in you training program. The front squat and hip thrust can be included in any program as accessory lifts to a power movement, such as cleans or snatches. Decide what your athlete’s needs are and decided which exercise should be emphasized in your program and find an effective and efficient way to implement it in to your lifts.

For more information on this topic, read this great article by Eric Cressey: http://ericcressey.com/squats-vs-hip-thrusts-which-is-better

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Using Warmups To Assess Athlete’s Movements

It has become very common in strength training today to focus on just the “strength” part of the training. Although it is called “strength training,” there are other aspects that are just as—if not more important than strength. An athlete’s ability to move is one of the most overlooked aspects in sports. A lot of strength coaches at lower levels like high school believe that making their athletes strong is their number one goal. However, there are tons of coaches that recognize the importance of their athlete’s movement patterns. Furthermore, many of them will say that they lack the time to correctly and consistently assess their athlete’s movements via FMS (Functional Movement Screen) or SFMA (Selective Functional Movement Assessment). A lot of coaches will say that they do these tests on their athlete’s about once every 4-6 months, but don’t do anything to assess their athletes in-between these tests. If coaches aren’t assessing their athlete’s movement more often, how do they know for sure if what they are doing is working or not?

DWMA, or Dynamic Warm-up Movement Assessment, was developed my Mike Bewley, the head strength coach for Georgia Tech Basketball. It is an effective and time saving way to monitor athlete’s movement between testing periods. Mike has developed 10 specific dynamic warm-up exercises that he uses to assess his athletes. However, as a strength coach for a specific sport, it is important to assess what movements and mobility is most important in your specific sport and generate warm-up exercises that assess those movements.

DWMA also works as a snapshot of feedback for the coach as to where the individual athlete stands on that particular day. If you notice that the athlete has sore or tight hamstrings that day, then you can work on some correctives in order to loosen up that muscle group.

One of the movements that is pretty universal is the “inch worm.” The athlete starts in a standing position and then flexes at the hips and places their hands on the floor just in front of their feet. The athlete then proceeds to walk their hands away from their feet until the athlete is in a push-up position. Once the athlete is in a push-up position, the athlete will dip their hips toward the ground so that their back is in a hyperextended position. This position is most commonly called “cobra” position in yoga. The athlete will then return to push-up position and walk their feet towards their hands until they return to their starting position. This movement in particular gives tons of feedback to coaches via several joint segments along the kinetic chain:

  • Thoracic extension
  • Abdominal extension
  • Hamstring extensibility
  • Core stability
  • Shoulder mobility and strength
  • Ankle mobility

The human body has multiple joint segments that work together to make the body move properly and efficiently. Starting the foot, these joint segments alternate between mobile and stable all the way up to the t-spine area:

  • Feet = Stable
  • Ankle = Mobile
  • Knee = Stable
  • Hips = Mobile
  • Core = Stable
  • Shoulders = Mobile

When one area lacks the mobility/stability, it causes disarray throughout the entire kinetic chain. For example, a lack of mobility in the hips (which can be caused by tight hamstrings/hip flexors) puts an immobile joint segment between two stable joint segments (core and knee). This causes a major deficiency in the athlete’s ability to move properly. In the end, this could cause problems somewhere else along the kinetic chain. It is not uncommon to see problems in the low back or hamstrings that originate from long-standing problems in the feet or ankles.

Even though performing DWMA on your athletes will help you to discover problems in your athlete’s movements, it is a completely different ball game when find corrective exercises and correctly implement them to make improvements. The importance of correctives must be explained to the athlete to speak to the importance of improving movement for athletic ability in their sport. A lot of coaches will give good corrective exercises to their athletes to perform, but don’t take the time to explain to them how to correctly perform the corrective and why it is that they are performing the corrective.

As a strength coach, it is very important to keep track of the progress that your athletes are making. Whether it is via FMS, SFMA, DWMA, or a movement screen of your own, keeping track of how your athletes move and whether or not your program is improving their movement is of up most importance. By assessing your athlete’s movements during the warm-up, you can not only keep track of your efforts to improve your athlete’s movements, but also do what all strength coaches strive to do: make the most of the time they have.

The “Place” For Lateral Training in Track and Field

It is no secret that track and field is a sport that is dominated by linear movement. Besides shot put, discus, and hammer, every other event is done by running/accelerating in a linear or curvilinear fashion. To most people, it would only make sense to train these athletes in a way that matches what they do on the track. However, there are actually many perks to training track athletes LATERALLY as well. To be more specific, there are many perks for training in planes OPPOSITE the sagittal plane (transverse and frontal).

First off, it is important to understand that accelerating/running/sprinting is a full body movement and forces a lot of muscles to coordinate together. A great runner drives his/her knees, maintains a neutral spine and neutral hips, keeps a firm core, and correctly coordinates his/her arms and legs– among other things. With that being said, it is common to underappreciate what synergists and stabilizers do for us in sport. Synergists work along side our prime movers to reinforce the action being performed. Stabilizers provide the optimal environment for primary motion and help to maintain a desired body position.

But how do we train our synergists and stabilizers? If we continue to train in a linear fashion, those muscles will only ever reach synergist and stabilizer-type strength and power output. By training laterally, we are able to maximize the strength and power output of muscles such as our adductors, abductors, and glutes, therefore improving our ability to not only improve our running speed, but also improve our ability to stabilize.

Another reason to train laterally for track and field is to prevent injuries. In track, it is common to see a wide array of overuse injuries such as shin splints, tendonosis, and muscle knots. Most high school and collegiate track athletes train 6-7 days per week on their running along with 2-4 days per week of lifting during the season. That is a tremendous amount of linear stress that is put on an athlete’s body. That is why it is important to throw in some lateral training, especially in-season.

When programming in some lateral training, it should be most prevalent during the in-season and post-season because this is the time of the year that the most linear stress is being put on the body. Considering the wide array of demands that different sports can put on the body, the percentages of how much opposite-plane training should be done in the off-season and pre-season as opposed to the in-season and post-season can differ greatly. However, training more opposite-plane movements during the in-season and post-season will show a decrease in injuries and an increase in the athlete’s performance.

The Importance of Functional Warmups

Over the course of the past 30 years, warming up has become a bigger and bigger focus for coaches, trainers, and PT’s. During the 70’s and 80’s, warming up was looked at as a simple 5-10 minute jog followed by static stretching. Personally, having attended a small 2A high school in Kansas (about 100 total students), I know that this way of warming up is unfortunately still being used in some places today. It wasn’t until the late 90’s that coaches started to realize that dynamic stretches were a much more effective way of warming up athletes. Coaches were noticing a decrease in injuries and a higher performance level after adopting dynamic warm-ups.

 

Since the dynamic warm-up has been almost entirely adopted throughout the strength and conditioning field, the next step is to adopt more functional movements. Warm-ups should be used to not only get adequate blood flow to the entire body, but also to improve ROM, lube up joint capsules, make a neuromuscular connection, and improve the athlete’s ability to perform overall. When looking at the athletes you work with, you must prepare the athlete for the things that they are going to be doing in their sport. This can be done by both warming up the MUSCLES that are going to be used, but also by warming up the MOVEMENTS that are going to be used.

 

Making a proper neuromuscular connection is important for injury prevention as well as getting full muscle activation. Each muscle is connected to the brain by thousands of neurons. In order to gain full control and full strength from a muscle or muscle group, it is important to get as many of those neurons firing as possible. If an athlete does not have full neuromuscular control of a muscle group, their much more likely to suffer an injury. Adding in some sort of plyometric exercise to a warm-up is a great way to improve neuromuscular connection to the lower body muscle groups, such as squat-jumps, power skips, A-skips, or bounds.

 

By making an athlete’s warm-up functional and making sure they are doing a proper warm-up before every practice, you are essentially creating a secondary program that improves their sport performance. If the warm-up looks like movements that the athlete performs in their sport, by performing those movements everyday and practicing them, they are improving their ability to perform within that sport.

 

Functional warm-ups are important for properly preparing athletes for their sport. If you are a football coach, shouldn’t your athlete’s warm-up look/feel like the movements they are going to have to perform? High knees, butt kicks, and lunges are very universal because they are exaggerated running movements that free up the hip joint. Furthermore, coaches should look at what it is your athletes do the most in practice and develop an all-inclusive warm-up that not only warms the athletes up to perform at a high level, but also prepares the athlete’s neuromuscular system for worst-case scenario, both of which prevent injuries and make the athletes stronger and more prepared for their sport everyday.